Letting go of positive thinking

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house. 
Every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all! 
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, 
who violently sweep your house 
empty of its furniture, 
still, treat each guest honourably. 
He may be clearing you out 
for some new delight. 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, 
meet them at the door laughing, 
and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes, 
because each has been sent 
as a guide from beyond.

– Rumi

I didn’t truly understand this poem until I got sick.  

How many times have you heard the phrase “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”, been told to just “keep calm and carry on” in a difficult situation, or said it’s all about “mind over matter”? Have you ever told yourself to just “think positively” when things feel tough?

We’ve all heard about the power of positive thinking, and teaching the Law of Attraction to manifest your dreams is a lucrative industry, but have we taken this too far? Is it really possible to overcome our problems with sheer optimism? Can anyone really be positive all of the time?!

I haven’t updated this blog in so long because I find it hard to tell people when I’m not improving. It’s so much easier, when people ask how you are, to be positive and say you’re slowly getting better. So much more reassuring. But the reality is that in the past 7 months my health has been turbulent. I’ve been overall worse than I was before, and more or less housebound. I’m still not very stable.

There have been many days when I haven’t had the energy to get dressed or read 1 page of a book. When that cabin fever feeling I usually got after being too exhausted to leave the house for a few days didn’t even arrive, and I would barely register a week or 2 unable to put a foot outside. There have been days when just going to a doctor’s appointment has caused me to crash for days. And there have been better days when I’ve been able to leave the house for perhaps an hour or so, laughed and looked like any healthy person, and then headed straight to bed afterwards.

It’s very hard to say what caused this exactly, as this illness is so elusive, but when I look back on this period, a lot has happened. I’ve lost my job, been on a very restrictive diet and antimicrobial protocol to treat SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth), lost a claim for disability benefits and had to apply for Mandatory Reconsideration (like so many disabled people), been forced to move back in with family and caught virus after virus. All this on top of the day-to-day struggles of living with crushing fatigue, and not knowing how long it will stay, is almost impossible to describe. 

So how do I stay afloat when life seems to be throwing storm after storm? Do I look on the bright side? Tell myself it’s not so bad? Keep “fighting”…?

I allow myself to feel it all. The grief, the despair, the sadness, anger, frustration…

When a child is upset, we allow them to cry or be angry, and it passes, but as we grow up we’re taught to mask our emotions, for fear of making others uncomfortable. We minimise our problems; smiling and using that British stiff upper lip is certainly something I’ve done time and time again. But unacknowledged pain can linger. We may try to suppress or numb it with addictions – be that to drugs, food, shopping, social media, even self-help – but inevitably when you suppress negative emotions, you can also suppress the positive, leaving your life on mute. This can lead to depression, as this podcast with Johann Hari explains brilliantly.

But if we can allow ourselves to embrace our emotions fully, without getting caught up in our thoughts, and trust that these feelings will pass, we can ride the wave and they will leave when they’re ready. Sometimes our feelings just want to be acknowledged, heard, honoured. I’ve realised that having the courage to show up for each moment, whatever it brings, is braver than thinking positively no matter what. Once we can do this, it allows space for positivity to emerge organically, naturally, without forcing it or pushing away what’s uncomfortable. Then slowly, gently, the storm eventually passes, and a new feeling arrives. And like everything else, this too will greet us and leave again.

I’ve found that when you lose so many things that were once important to you, it can clear out space for something new and unexpected. Friends that leave make space for new ones. Losing a job opens you up for a whole new career. Life as you knew it disappearing before your very eyes leaves you free to choose a whole new way of being. Sadness makes way for peace, or joy.

As I love a good quote(!), I will end this with some lines from Jeff Foster:

Oh yes, for sure, there will be heartbreak! And you will learn to get out of your head and into your immediate embodied experience, coming out of mental stories and conclusions, and contacting the raw energy of the here-and-now, directly feeling the devastation of your dreams rather than intellectualising everything away, letting the grief, anger and sorrow of millennia surge through your pores, rather than dismissing it all as an ‘illusion’, or distracting yourself with fresh dreams.

Oh yes, for sure, there will be heartbreak! Yet there will be joy, too, the likes of which you’ve only ever dreamed about!

2 thoughts on “Letting go of positive thinking

  1. Wow Rachel, I’ve been wondering where/ how you are. Thank you so much for this post, and the Rumi poem, it really churned me up reading it. It is very powerful.

    I love the honesty and intelligence that shines through your writing, and I miss not hearing from you. I think you are a natural teacher, up there with the best. This process that you are in is bringing with it so much humility and wisdom. It is so beyond ‘ego’ and one of the most privileged places to be in life. Few of us get there. I feel very thankful that you are able to share some of it with us.
    Love,
    Michelle

    Like

    1. thank you, those are such kind words!! I certainly wouldn’t have learned the things I’m learning had this not happened. Glad it resonated and hope I’ll be able to see you again at some point 😊 lots of love xxx

      Like

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