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When It Feels Like Negativity About Your Illness Is Sucking You In

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“The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.” — Francis Weller

I have had a long and intimate relationship with darkness — pain, anger, grief, sadness, fear, hate, skepticism, loathing. I was best friends and allies with all emotions dark, and worked to spread the negativity far and wide. I thought the world (and I) sucked, and I was reminded of that regularly. But it’s not very friendly, honestly, and I value friendliness. I love to hear stories. And there is simply no negotiating with dark, no “let’s just meet me halfway here” moments. Once you accept it as your way, it is so easy to feed. There is a lot of energy there, and it sucks you right in.

Recently, there is a lot in circulation about how love can end hate, how love stops negativity. But love is love. Darkness is darkness, and I believe one does not conquer another. They both exist. They will both (and everything else in between) continue to exist, as the peaks and valleys in the waves of life. There is darkness. There is light. And neither will be conquered. So here’s what I try:

Negativity does not have to become your identity.

Eckhart Tolle suggests that we not let pain attach to the essence of our self. We feel and acknowledge it fully, but it does not become us. I let myself go to that dark, dirty, childlike place of feeling hate. I let myself hide. Cry. Grieve. Hate. I feel it full on. Then I remember to let it pass. I do not try to deny the existence of it. I do not let it become who I am.

You don’t have to act on negative thoughts.

When I feel overwhelmed with negativity, I try to let that internal state of darkness exist aside from my outward actions. At those times, I am very reactive, and I try to find a bit of space with it. Am I in pain? Am I scared? Am I sad? Am I angry? And why? With reflection on those things, I can often find a more responsive place from which to take my next step. That darkness can inform my actions, but I don’t have to act on it directly.

Listen to your own darkness without guilt or shame.

Darkness exists in all of us. It is a part of the human experience. We simply don’t need to deny or be ashamed that darkness is part of our being. We can listen to ourselves and others, and learn from those stories. Darkness gives us information and energy. How we act on it makes all the difference. William Blake, in his poems, explores vitality as the movement between heaven and hell, with the energy in life being fed by hell. A denial of this dark energy leaves us lifeless, even in heaven, according to Blake. Sometimes I hate my body. I think it has betrayed me, or worse, I have betrayed it. I feel overwhelming stagnation for not being better with my exercise and diet, sleep, medications and self-care. I can let my migraines and their symptoms be reminders of how terrible I have acted in the face of my illness. Or I can choose something else. I can acknowledge that those dark places help me learn and grow. Acknowledging can be hard. Oh so hard. But it is real, and sharing it is courageous. And listening to others’ stories is courageous.

For me, yoga illuminates the spaces of light and dark.

Yoga helps me find space. In my body, and in my mind and my heart. Meditating, sitting and being present can offer the ability to acknowledge the present and be with opportunities to choose. Yoga can give the space to help us respond, instead of simply reacting on emotions. It can help us ride the waves of the universe, whatever life gives us, with more grace and ease.

Dark and painful things happen. How we move through those dark and painful waves is our choice. We can choose resilience and tenacity. We can choose courage. We can choose determination and fluidity. We can choose to remain open to experiences and the opportunities to share kindness and love. And all those experiences can make us more expansive beings. But we cannot rid ourselves of darkness. Even in the most challenging and darkest times in your life, may you choose to feel the entire spectrum of emotion, and experience and then act courageously for yourself and others.

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Lead photo by Kelley Tredwin

Originally published: November 16, 2016
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