There seems to be this “epidemic” going round in later years: self-help guides and coaches, best friends and colleagues have learned, and are trying to teach us, that all we have to do is “think positive”, when something in life is hard. Not that positive thinking in itself is a bad thing of course, it is great, when it is available.
But what about when it ISN’T available? What about when the positive thoughts aren’t the ones that are coming, and “force thinking” so-called “positive” thoughts feels like it makes things worse than they already are?
“Positive thinking” is natural for human beings
I am writing “positive thinking” in quotes because it seems like that expression has accumulated a very own meaning, which it might not have been meant to have, originally. It is as if “think positive!” means the same as “pull yourself together!”, or “don’t bother me with your problems!”, or “you’re not really un pain!”. It has also acquired the meaning: “fight against what you feel and force yourself to feel something else!”. And even if it might be well meant, it still isn’t necessary especially helpful, neither in lesser irksome situations or in heavier life problems, rather the opposite, I’d say.
I think that one reason that this has become a kind of a standard phrase in the population when people are in trouble, must be that we don’t have any other alternataives. Yet. It is as if we believe that we have to force ourselves not to feel what we ACTUALLY feel, because we don’t know that there are other ways to meet what is experienced as “negative” feelings.
What if we were to believe that the “negative” feelings are carrying the “positive” inside? What if we were to think that “hearing” and giving space to, without becoming overwhelmed by what is seemingly “negative”, could then accumulate space for “the positive”, if we turn towards it as if there quite simply is something important there? Something we haven’t discovered yet? What would happen then?
Forcing yourself to somthing is the same as spending a lot of energy
Can you recognise the feeling of just having to pressure yourself as hard as you can, as if you’re pushing and pushing against, simultaneously, inside? As if you’re in an inner struggle, or even at war, with yourself? Despite maybe even originally wanting to do what you’re about to do, and now have to push yourself to doing? That’s consentration and energy spent! On basically nothing…!
It might of course be that you end up being glad you did it, afterwards. Of course. And it might also be that you have a bit of a bad taste in your mouth, or some unease afterwards, after all. And maybe you have to push yourself even more the next time…
Allowing what is there (a small, harmless example)
I would like to share a very simple, harmless, and seemingly insignificant experience with giving space to what I feel: I was on my way home from work the other day, and I was SO tired, that I couldn’t imagine staying on my feet, let alone making them move forward, for the 20 minutes it takes me to walk home. I was so overcome with sleepiness that I imagined walking straight into the wet field and lie down to sleep. It was the kind of tirendess that might come over you right after work, or in the middle of the day, or if you’ve gone to bed a little to late, lately, for example.
Anyway, I remembered that I could just “have” the tiredness there: really take inn how extremely strong and intense it felt, and how much it just wanted to sleep right now. It was as if I let the sleepy in me really “live out” how tired I was. i let myself even exaggerate the bodily sunkness that wanted to happen from inside, while I walked.
I could, of course, have chosen to “pull myself together”, push each step out of my body with willpower, or “think positive” about how beautiful the weather was that day. I could’ve tried to shift my focus onto how lucky I am to have such a short and wonderful walk home from work every day, and not have to take busses or trains, be stuck in traffic etc., AND get some fresh air and exercise at the same time. It’s not like I don’t think about those things usually. I do, they’re also true, of course. So there’s no reason to think that I (in a moment of madness? Or possibly “actual” madness?) am not “aware of”, or don’t “know about” those wonderful aspects of my own day.
But in that particular situation I was just so HORRIBLY tired and sleepy, and just wanted to curl up in a ball, even in the middle of the wettest field, and sleep. Sleeeeep…. snore…. please…!
Forcing myself to try to “think positive”, would’ve been to spend even more of my inner energy or strength, and probably would’ve made the sleepiness even more overwhelming, the inner struggle more intense. And maybe it would’ve felt like an inner betrayal not to listen to what my body told me.
So I let the sleepiness be there, let myself really feel how unbearably tired I was – and “poof!”, all of a sudden I wasn’t even the slightest bit tired anymore! It had disappeared as if I hadn’t been tired at all! And then, all by myself, I all of a sudden became aware of the clear autumn air, the beautiful colours of the fields, a few tones of birdsong in the grove over there, the sun that was finally shining after several rainy dais. Completely without having to use any energy on it…! Completely without having had to push myself for it, or remember it, or focus on it: it just came… From inside…
Because it is natural to be enjoying what is good in life. I (and you) mostly don’t need to be reminded about it. Not really. What I need is to be allowed to have what is there, exactly as it is. Because even if the so-called “negative” seems to “take over”, or even “push out” what is so-called “positive”, maybe they’re rather living side by side?
No thanks to spending energy on unnecessary inner resistance! 🙂
This is a very simple example. it’s not about hard life trouble, and can’t be generally compared to those. That it is such a simple situation makes it possible (at least in this instance) for it to not take many minutes for the inner shift to happen. This isn’t necessarily the case with larger and more complex life situations. But the points are still the same:
- Not having to spend energy on fighting oneself about something that is really quite unnecessary (often one has enough inner struggling to do when one has harder things to grapple with, that’s often what they’re about).
- Really “having” what is there, letting it come as it is, without judging or expecting it to change. This works on other things as well, at least in my experience (and I might share more about that in a different post).
Often it might take a little longer with bigger problems, because they are more complex, but the “shift” can be just as surprising and sudden some times. Other times it happens more slowly, and some times even almost unnoticeably, but it does come… Just through not fighting, but allowing, “having”, and really feeling, with curiousity.
It takes a little practice not to push oneself (something I’m also trying to do without pushing myself 😉 ). And it might need us to turn around this idea that the natural thing in life is that one has to fight to achieve what one wants (or “has to do”) in life.
I vote for not having to spend my life energy on fighting and pushing myself. for example by telling myself “You just have to think positive!”. I am very able to think positive, thank you, when that’s the thing.
Someone else’s support.
En annens støtte
When life is really hard it might be that we also need someone elses non-judgemental, open and warm curiosity, also. And that the other person “has it together with us” . I might write more about that too, some other time.