It is startling that we desperately hold on to what makes us miserable. Our own woundedness becomes a source of perverse pleasure and fixes our identity. We do not want to be cured, for that would mean moving into the unknown. Often it seems we are destructively addicted to the negative. What we call the negative is usually the surface form of contradiction. If we maintain our misery at the surface level, we hold off the initially threatening but ultimately redemptive and healing transfiguration that comes through engaging our inner contradiction. We need to revalue what we consider to be negative.
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
This passage in John O’Donohue’s book provided an opportunity for me to pause. In that moment, as I considered the latest news about what is happening here in the US, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us can see where we are.
It’s as if we are sitting in the midst of a battle royale for the very soul of what this country was founded on nearly 244 years ago. The dark underbelly which has perpetuated division and all manner of negativity for aeons has been exposed in fairly stark terms against the powerful backdrop of a deadly pandemic. Yet, there are some who are not sure what they see, or are afraid of what it may mean to really see it for what it is.
There are so many questions that we must ask ourselves, as if we haven’t already been on a roller coaster of internal query already.
Simply speaking or sharing light and love is very important; and sometimes I cannot dig deeply enough to find anymore to offer. In those times, I must be still. In resting in stillness, I create an opportunity to tap that deep well within which more energy is present for the waning light within me when I feel it is beginning to dim.
When we are afraid, we hold on to what is familiar. Yet, letting go of what is familiar is where our true emancipation lies. I believe that O’Donohue calls us to examine the inner contradiction by looking at our negativity. Even as I type this, I know that my negativity – however subtle I think it is – always pulls me down and into a place that isn’t comfortable.
Like many, I do my best to maintain a positive outlook, attitude and perspective. And as a human, this can be difficult at times. And I know as I continue to examine my thoughts, beliefs and feelings, I will revalue what I consider to be negative. Therein lies a treasure, if I linger long enough to see it emerge.
Rilke used to say that difficulty is one of the greatest friends of the soul. Our lives would be immeasurably enriched if we could but bring the same hospitality in meeting the negative as we bring to the joyful and pleasurable. In avoiding the negative, we encourage it to recur. We need a new way of understanding and integrating the negative. The negative is one of the closest friends of your destiny. It contains essential energies that you need and that you cannot find elsewhere. This is where art can be so illuminating. Art is full of intimations of the negative in ways that allow you to participate imaginatively in their possibility. The experience of art can help you build a creative friendship with the negative.
The dance with negativity is part of the important work of remembering who we are. This work is both supported and challenged by where we are. The times we are in seem ripe for a deep exploration, integration and reclamation of those essential energies.
I send my best wishes to all, as we all continue to navigate the bumpy roads and white water of our human experience.