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Day 32: The Winter of My Discontent

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” -Carl Gustav Jung

Today I had a lump of discouragement living in me. The more that I leaned into it, the more it seemed a visceral thing, that was rooted in my physical body and not a product of my thinking. I thought to blame it on my chaotic hormones or my low hedonic set point, but what became apparent was that understanding where it came from was way less important than deciding how to live it. This is central to my new understanding of what a positivity quest is- both a process and a continuous choosing of the relationship we make to our respective situation.

I have known this discouraging place many times before in my life. It is easy for me to solidify this place into a perpetual storyline of hard knocks. Taking the low road makes for a solid victim mentality, which often can easily be justified by the challenging realities of living on earth. Today, it was clear that this discouraging mental space that filtered my day had little to do with the stories I tell about my life situation.

Instead of chasing the storyline, I worked to just feel the situation as it was. Living with yourself fully and letting yourself feel the range of emotions that can occupy our bodies is not for the faint-hearted. Being willing to stay with my emotional downturn without attaching all the negative storylines was my bold act of positivity.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by optimistic, cheerful people at Good Clean Love. They laugh while they work and are quick to point out the errors in my thinking and reflection. This kind of companionship is a loving mirror to the emotional states that confound the mind. But finding a way through these places is an inside job. Positivity that can transform your life and change your mind is a hard-won choice (sometimes minute by minute) about how to think about your experience.

It was interesting to note that as I worked my way out of this hole that it wasn’t positive affirmations that pulled me out. In fact, after today, I understand better how a recent Canadian study of 100 subjects with low self-esteem, demonstrated that the use of positive affirmations actually backfired. The subjects did worse with this kind of positivity than with no intervention at all. Saying the words over and over will never overpower an emotional life that goes unheeded.

The Buddhist training in mindfulness and non-attachment provides the tools for going through the emotional realities and offers a chance to choose a positive relationship with the experience. If I have any hopes of making this positivity quest real, I know now that it will not be a simple exercise in repeating the right phrases, but rather the arduous opening to perceiving the positive in all situations and amidst the whole range of my feelings.