“We all experience negativity – the basic aggression of wanting things to be different then they are. We cling, we defend, we attack … We experience it as terribly unpleasant, foul-smelling, something we want to get rid of.” This is how Chögyam Trungpa begins his chapter on “Working with Negativity” in his book The Myth of Freedom.
For some time now I have been dealing with a situation that is causing a lot of negativity. And I’m struggling… With myself, with the people involved, with how to deal with the whole situation.
Not being a good person
Reading Trungpa’s words I resonated with “want to get rid of” the negativity. Yes! Sure! Definitely!
Why? Well, it feels terrible and takes a lot of my energy. And also because I want to be that good, open and accepting person. The one that is able to deal with personal differences, to work together towards improved collaboration and is able to communicate in an open, polite and compassionate way. That is who I would like to be.
Experiencing that I’m not able to do that – that I keep getting stuck in the negative emotions, not able to accept the different perspectives, not able to be receptive and patient and to communicate compassionately – is hard. It makes me feel like a bad, incompetent person. And it therefore creates insecurity about who I really am.
Being honest with myself
How do I define the thin line between my own conceptualization of the negativity and the truth behind the cause of it? Trungpa says: “The basic honesty and simplicity of negativity can be creative in community as well as in personal relationships. Basic negativity is very revealing, sharp and accurate.”
But how do I distinguish when and if my feelings about the situation are “real” or only a concept that I’ve created to protect myself? When do I sense things accurately and when do I misjudge the situation because it is threatening?
The positivity of negativity
In the face of a conversation that will put all cards on the table I find myself reflecting on the situation and my personal struggle. I find it interesting that by knowing there will be some sort of resolution, I am able to see more clearly the “revealing, sharp and accurate” nature of the original negativity. Although I still doubt and question myself, I also feel a calmness that I didn’t have before. I am now able to connect with the positivity of the negativity, with the truth of the situation, and to let go of my fear of being imperfect and incompetent.
The positivity of it?
• The negativity provided clarity about what is important to me and what I really care about.
• It made me realize that I need to develop the skill of taking a stance for what is important to me. As hard as it was and is, it provides me with the possibility to practice.
• I have had to continuously question the validity of my feelings and perspective. (I find it very helpful to have a few peers with whom I can reflect. They are hard to find because the situation calls for critical honesty. Few people are that brave!)
• The negativity has given me the realization that the way someone else manifests “good” can be very different from the way I might, and perhaps not compatible with my values.
• I have found that we all try our best. But sometimes we have to accept and acknowledge that things might not work out. If we are able to recognize that we are incapable of letting others thrive and shine, we should be brave enough to end the collaboration and prevent more suffering.
Negativity can easily take us from our ‘path’ and reveal our worst selves. I hope that this situation, which I’ve struggled with immensely and surely did not bring out the best of me, will help me to use future negativity in a more positive way. That it will help me recognize the sharp and accurate qualities earlier, and that I have the bravery to act sooner. Reading what Trungpa has to say about that, it will surely be a challenge!
“Keeping to the path does not necessarily mean only trying to be good and not offending anyone; it does not mean that, if someone obstructs our path, we should try to be polite to them… That does not work, is not the point. If anyone gets abruptly in our path, we just push them out. The path of darma is not a good, sane, passive and ‘compassionate’ path at all.”
And I notice my ‘critical self’ climbing on board immediately upon reading these words (but, but, ….)! I would love to hear how you are dealing with negativity in your life. What works for you? What did you learn from it? How are you able to hold your own dignity and that of the other(s)? Your thoughts are appreciated!
Karin Karis helps people, teams and organizations in sync. She is bestselling author, leadership consultant and executive coach. Her approach: self-awareness starts with body-awareness.
Karin is expert in the field of embodiment and somatics. Learning with the body as the frontline. She believes that by changing the workplace we can change the world.
By changing how we act in the world, we change the connection with ourselves and others.