We had a discussion in class a couple of weeks ago about negativity that has rocked my world, to say the least. One of my students brought up the question of how to stop the constant commentary about everything that’s wrong. This is a commentary that starts inwardly and then gets expressed outwardly into the world, as a way of interacting with others. It always seems to be in search of someone else to agree with it, because once two or more are gathered together in an agreement of idea, it becomes strengthened. We had a very interesting dialog about all of this and it’s been on my mind ever since.
I’ve actually been watching this phenomenon of negativity for quite some time now. It all started years ago when I began asking a very intentional question whenever I’m in front of a class teaching: “How are you?”
This is a plain, simple, three-word question that, for me, gets right to the point of why I’m asking it: connection. I want to know how my students really are, how their day was, how they’re feeling. I want to know what they’re bringing in with them so I can organically weave together a class experience that’s tailored to where everyone is at the moment. I don’t ask “how are you” to exchange superficial pleasantries, which is, strangely, often the level of where this question lives in our society. Superficial pleasantries and surface-level chitchat sucks the soul out of me. I want to dive under the chop of the surface water and drop down with people into something real: an actual experience of shared feeling, empathy, and heartfelt community.
When I started doing this in class (and subsequently doing it more in my daily life), I began to notice something very interesting. The response to my “how are you” query would fall into one of two answers. The first would be a flat-line response: “Good.” Or the even flatter answer, spoken with a monotone and no pause whatsoever: “Good-how-are-you.” How bizarre. The purpose of the question is to foster connection, but what was actually happening was zero connection whatsoever…just as if I had never even asked the question at all.
The second response that I began to notice was a litany of everything that’s wrong. “How are you?” “Ohhhh…I was stuck in traffic because of all the college students. None of them know how to drive. The roadwork is still going on. They never finish anything; it’s such a mess, a constant construction zone wherever you drive. I hate it.” To be clear, this type of second response I’m talking about is not someone who is sad or hurt or dealing with some type of real struggle. Those situations naturally seek real connection and empathy. What I’m talking about here is a trance-like, outward flowing stream of negativity that surrounds someone and travels with them wherever they go, sort of like Pigpen’s dirt cloud. It has a repellant quality, which doesn’t create any sort of connection, either.
Unlike the response of “good,” which is kind of like a big old wall that you can’t get around, the litany of negativity is insidious. As I mentioned earlier, it seems to be constantly seeking someone to agree with it, sending out big tentacles like a giant squid. Once another person drops into that negativity by agreeing with it…”Yeah, they can’t ever fix the roads around here”…then a new, stronger stream of negativity is birthed and rippled out into the world. Whoa.
The more I noticed this sort of negativity as a response to an invitation for connection, the more it really started to get my attention. First, I was really puzzled as to why this would this be an answer given to the question of “how are you.” I mean, “good” makes sense in a way, but a litany of negativity says nothing about how the person actually is, such as: “I’m feeling stressed out because traffic was so intense.” But then what stopped me cold, right in my tracks was this sentence I said to myself: “Wow, I’m so glad (speech slowing)…I don’t…(speech screeching to a halt)…do…that.”
Oh my God, I actually do this. This trance of negativity is so subtle and seductive that I didn’t even recognize that I had been under its spell.
I grew up with the trance of negativity in my family of origin; it was the way everyone communicated, actually. I remember being a little girl at my grandmother’s house at Christmas or some other family get together, listening to everyone talk only about how awful everything was. The answer to every single “How are you?” became a litany of how terrible everything was – the traffic, the drive, the this, the that. It’s interesting thinking back on that now, because I was always listening from some other room. I think even way back then, I knew something wasn’t right about that and didn’t want to be in the room with it.
But we often adopt those old familial patterns such that they become our own familiar patterns. This negative pattern becomes a sort of a walking trance state that feels like normal. I think a lot of us get caught in this eddy of negativity, such that it becomes our pattern of being in the world and our pattern of interacting with others. I certainly was caught in it.
My big realization, though, lies in this idea that I’ve read about in lots of different places: In order to keep it, you’ve got to give it away. There are many ways to interpret this idea that include sharing and being of service to others, but I’ve always understood it and applied it to things such as love, peace, and calm. The idea is that when I’m giving love and peace away – that is, when I’m emitting it out into the world – then that is the experience that flows through me. Whatever is flowing through me at any time is what I get to keep.
And here’s the mind-blowing thing: We are always emitting something. That something comes from whatever we’re centered in.
Whoa, so when I am flowing out the trance of negativity, then that is what I get to keep. This is a huge insight for me. Negativity has a certain feeling/tone. It makes me feel down and dis-spirited, depressed. It’s separation mentality in a very clever disguise; so much so, that I didn’t even recognize it. Negativity does not feel good; it makes me feel terrible. And then I when I have cycles of feeling down and terrible, I wonder what’s wrong and what caused me to feel this way. I only began to connect these dots this week. My trance of negativity brings me down! I hadn’t even realized it. And wow, and not only does my own personal litany of negativity bring me down, but when I join in the litany of negativity of others, which is so easy to do on social media, then down I go, as well.
The question then is what am I centered in and emitting, or giving away? There are only two choices: separation mentality (not experiencing my unity with The Divine) or yoga mentality (consciously experiencing my unity with The Divine). And the effects of those two choices are either conflict or peace. Tension or calm. If I’m not sure which one I’m centered in, I just need to have a look at the effects I’m experiencing, which is something I’ve been doing for a long time. But wow, when I’m too-tranced over to do that – because, obviously, sometimes I am – then all I have to do is look at what I’m agreeing with and what I’m giving away. Because, man, that is certainly what I get to keep.
So, how am I? So very grateful to have had this massive realization this week. Feeling very thankful to be on this ever-new journey of learning and self-discovery called Yoga.