"I don't understand - So much of Focusing is about being with the negatives. Isn't that counterproductive? Wouldn't it be far more helpful to Focus on the positive?"
This is a question I get sometimes in Focusing classes. Actually, we do spend time explicitly with the positive of our lives in Focusing.
But there is a very large grain of truth in this question: because we do spend an awful lot of time with the negatives of our lives.
Positive Psychology: You Need 3 Positive Thoughts for Each Negative
And yet, in the field of Positive Psychology there is a research-based axiom: for every negative thought, you should have at least three positive thoughts.
Useful for noticing the current quality of your state of mind!
But using this guideline as a rationale for the “zap the negative and replace with the positive” school of thinking has a real downside.
When a certain type of thought - worry, anger, "I'll never succeed," etc. - keeps recurring, there's something deeper going on.
In a type of energy healing I used to do professionally, Jin Shin Jyutsu, there was an illuminating distinction between "emotions" and "attitudes."
"Emotions" v. "Attitudes"
In JSJ, there is no such thing as a negative emotion. "Emotions" are defined as a type of energy that moves through the body, informing and enlivening your whole being.
"Attitudes" are another matter. Attitudes are STUCK emotions. If you find yourself constantly angry, constantly expecting failure, constantly worried and so on – THAT’s a problem.
Stuck Emotions = Problems
This emotional energy is literally stuck somewhere in your body. Instead of filling your whole being with vital energy, it repetitively loops around within a cut-off place inside you.
When you respond to one of these deeply stuck thought-loops with “zap-and-replace,” you are doing nothing as far as releasing this energy to flow into and through the wholeness of who you are.
You may get temporary relief, but that stuck place is just hunkering further down in its bunker.
Moreover, there's a tension and a struggle that develops inside you around what should be there and what shouldn’t be there.
You end up at war with yourself.
And yet - positive feeling is key in Focusing! A seeming paradox arises: the deeply positive is always right there as you Focus on the negative.
Focusing on the Negative IS the Positive: Uhhh... what Am I Talking About?
So – Let’s say there's a difficulty.
Maybe we're always worrying - undeniably an attitude of worry. And right now we're lost in yet another worry - maybe we're worried about whether we're going to have enough money.
Now, this worry could have some connection to actual circumstances – maybe you're running low on funds and haven't found a new job yet. Or it could be completely irrational - maybe you're quite wealthy with plenty of savings, but you've been driven all your life by a fear of not having enough money.
It’s obvious that in either case, worrying contributes nothing to resolving the situation.
Why Focusing on the Positive Here Would Be Negative
And yet in Focusing, we would never suggest something like, "That's silly! Look on the bright side. Think you have it tough? At least you're not homeless!" Or "That's ridiculous - you have money in the bank and no debt! Just think about how fortunate you are!"
Yes, the stuck anger, worry, depression, the loop of self-defeating thoughts – they are indeed destructive. No disagreement there.
And what makes them especially destructive is that when we've spun around in our loop long enough, we come to believe that this is actually who we are.
So why is it that in Focusing, we don't try to zap those negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts?
This is an important question, because this is one of the key places the negative and the positive join in Focusing.
It's All About How We Choose To Be With the Negative In Our Lives
We start by shining our awareness on this whole bodily sense of this worry. Ah! I can feel something very distinctly here, even if I can't describe it.
This gives us a little distance from it – enough distance to realize that this is not me. This is here, and it is in me – yet it is not who I am.
And because it is not me, I can turn to it. I can notice where it is in my body, which further reinforces that this is not the whole of me – this is only one part of me.
And noticing it there, I can keep it company, perhaps by putting a gentle hand on it. I can say, “Hey, little one! I see you there. And I see just how deeply worried you are!”
I can take a few moments to notice its response to that.
Maybe there’s a touch of relief that comes from that place at being heard. (“I can’t believe it! She didn’t tell me to look on the bright side this time – she actually LISTENED to me!”) And maybe it begins to relax and open up a little. Maybe for the first time in a long time, a big sigh of relief comes from that place.
There’s some fresh air there. There’s a bit more light, a bit more space. It starts stretching, becoming aware of itself.
It begins to flow, and as it flows out of its dark, previously isolated corner, its freed-up energy begins enlivening not only that place, but the whole of my being.
Let's Play God!
I often think of Focusing as being a bit like taking on a God-like role toward my own “stuff” – shining unconditional acceptance on whatever shows up, no matter how needy or messed up or just plain NEGATIVE it may seem to me at first blush.
What could be more categorically POSITIVE than shining the light of this unconditional acceptance on any dark corner that makes itself known in my life?
There is nothing that is more healing – nothing more positive – than shining this Godlike, unconditionally positive regard on even the darkest, most hidden corners of our lives.
This is the very heart of what we do when we Focus.
And there's an even deeper level at which the negative and positive are intimately entwined, which I look forward to exploring with you next month.
In the meantime... Shine on!
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