Pema Chödrön talks about using meditation as a way to “lean in” to our sharp points, a way of making friends with them. This, I believe, is the key. A fundamental shift in the way we view our negative thoughts is required for us to break through them. When we view negativity as something to be fought, we are in fact engaging in a form of negative thinking; we are trying to fight ourselves. It is as though we are digging a hole in order to climb a mountain.
What if we instead looked at our negativities with gentleness? Negative emotions are a part of us; they are there for a reason. Negative thoughts often cover unmet emotional needs. If we are to remove the negative thoughts, we must fulfill those needs. The paradox is that we often don’t know what those needs are until we remove the negativity that covers them. The way we most often try to do that is with a hammer, beating against our negativity in an attempt to get rid of it.
There is another approach, that of kindness. Our sharp parts are well versed in defending themselves against attack. What if we instead approach with calmness, with openness to what our negativity has to teach us? Don’t worry if everything seems negative. There is a path through the forest waiting to be found.
Where do I start? That is the question I hear most often when women discuss approaching their negativity. They feel that they are facing a huge stone wall with no gates. The answer to this question is simple; start anywhere. Just start. Here is an exercise you can do this very moment.
What negativity are you feeling most keenly right now? Sit with it. Not with clenched teeth and a red face thinking, “go away, go away” but rather with gentleness and curiosity, “come here, let me see you”. Try to imagine what your negativity looks like. Draw a picture if you can, and label it. Now picture yourself holding the negativity in your hands, warming it as you would a baby chick. Not to destroy it but rather to comfort it. What images come to mind?
When you first try this, you will likely have an image of that baby chick biting the snot out of you. This is normal. Let that image go with a smile and continue to comfort your thought. Picture it melting away. You will eventually find that your negativity is gone and instead you are holding what was underneath, fragile, scared and shaking. That is the unmet need your negativity represented.
Describe this emotion. Sit with it as gently as you did the negativity. Write it down. What can you do to meet this need? Perhaps you don’t know right now. That’s ok; you now know what is really going on when you start to feel a particular negativity. You have just taken a stone away from the wall. You have begun.
The next time that negative thought comes up, you can address it gently, say to it, “I know who you really are. I want to help you.” Remember what need is not being met. Examine what is going on at that moment; what can you do differently? Seek ways to meet the need. In the end, you will find yourself in a happier place.
Books I suggest to delve more deeply into this subject:
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Library)
Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ