Idiot Positivity: Why Negative Emotions Deserve Your Attention

photo credit: That Barista Thing 2013 via photopin (license)

“It is possible to twist the logic, and relate to meditating and coming back to the breath as a way of avoiding problems, but such avoidance is itself a problem … your greatest problem is not that you are an aggressive or lusty person. The problem is that you would like to bottle those things up and put them aside. You have become an expert in deception.” 

~ Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche: The Path of Individual Liberation, Volume I

“[There is a false premise that says] ‘if I push hard enough against unwanted things, they will go away’.” 

Q: “Would it be possible to be so aligned that you could drink bleach without getting sick?”
A: “If you were truly aligned, you wouldn’t want to drink bleach in the first place.”

“Pushing against wrongness will diminish your Well-Being”

~ Abraham-Hicks


Bill's Story

For eight years, Bill dreamed of opening a coffee shop.

He spent endless hours poring over coffee urns, business names, and color schemes. He mapped out every detail in his mind. The tables would have chalkboard tops. He would sell used books. He would stream classic movies and project them on the wall.

And he would do all of this debt-free.

Finally, an opportunity dropped into his lap. The owner of a local garden center approached him. She wanted to set up a coffee shop in her store. The rent and location were perfect.

His friends warned him. “Watch this woman. Everyone who has ever tried to business with her ended up getting screwed.”

But Bill wouldn’t hear of it. He was ecstatic. He happily filled out the paperwork for his business license, got his other legal ducks in a row, and eagerly waited for the garden store owner to move her things out of his soon-to-be new space.

He waited. And he waited.

Six months crawled by. Every day, he dropped by to check on the status. He even offered to help. But the store owner's reply was always “No, no, I’ll do it.”

A year came and went. The space still wasn’t clear.

Finally, tired of waiting, Bill simply went in, moved her stuff out, and started getting things ready.

Interestingly, the store owner raised no objection.

One of the things Bill needed to do was upgrade the plumbing under the floor. Bill did the work himself, wriggling through a spider-ridden dirt crawl space to replace the rotting pipes.

Finally, Bill set up shop. He moved in the furniture and books, set up the projector, bought coffee and food, and told all of his friends. He had successfully set up a business without a loan. His dreams had come true!

At this point, the store owner lived up to her reputation and began to show her true colors.

Bill started selling coffee in his shop at the back of the store.

The store owner started giving coffee away for free at the front of the store.

Bill put a beautiful new business sign in his window.

The store owner put big plants in front of it.

After four months, Bill was beginning to see a steady trickle of customers, including a few regulars.

The shop owner came in. She wanted his proof of insurance.

Bill didn’t have enough money to pay for insurance. So he sold his truck, borrowed a little money from his family, and scrambled to submit the application. The whole process took just over two days.

Bill walked triumphantly into the store, insurance paperwork in hand, but the shop owner said, “Sorry, it's too late.” She gave Bill a check for the plumbing work – just enough to cover the cost of materials – and kicked him out.

Bill moved all of his furniture and equipment. He was out several thousand dollars, and now he had no truck.

A month later, the storeowner opened her own coffee shop in the same space with the new plumbing.

Idiot Positivity

Of course, it’s impossible to know exactly what was going on inside Bill’s head during this process, but on the outside, he seemed to be doing everything right.

He never complained or said anything negative about the store owner.

When people asked him how things were going, he gave them an earful about his excitement.

He focused exclusively on the things that were going well.

In other words, Bill stayed "positive".

According to positive psychology/Law of Attraction, he should have prevailed against all odds and been wildly successful.

So what happened?

Here’s my theory:

1. Instead of using his discrimination to steer clear of a potentially difficult situation, Bill tried to use the brute force of his willpower to overcome it.  

On an energetic level, overcoming the obstacle was more important to Bill than opening the coffee shop, so he attracted the toxic store owner into his experience.

2. Bill funneled tremendous energy into pretending that the unpleasantness of his situation didn’t exist. 

In effect, Bill resisted the things he didn’t want. The effort it took to maintain this Teflon-like façade attracted even more effort and tied up life force that could have been used more productively.

3. Instead of honoring the wisdom of the universal warnings sent to him, Bill plastered them over with false optimism.

Bill might have been able to fool himself and his friends, but he couldn’t fool the universe.

Wise Positivity = Surrender

In our efforts to avoid feeding negativity, sometimes we make the mistake of swinging to the opposite extreme by trying to cut it out or deny it. Both extremes go against the flow of well-being and evolution.

You cannot stay positive simply by trying to cut out the negative. If it takes undue effort to drag your mind away from negative thoughts and emotions, consider it an invitation to surrender to them.

The answer always lies downstream, in surrender. 

If surrender means giving in to depression or anger, give in. If surrender means listening to your  inner guidance or the warnings of your friends, listen. Wait to take action until the next step is so ridiculously logical that keeping your foot on the brake is more difficult than letting go.

Then...let go!

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