Lately, I’ve been grumbling a lot. My grousing is like a frayed electrical wire zapping my brain with negative thoughts and energy.
The negativity can become so life-draining that pulling the covers over my head and lying in bed all day sounds like a tempting option.
So, I took advice from last week’s Simple Wisdom Reflection and spent time in silence asking, “What do I need from God to overcome my negativity?”
The answer flooded my grumpy heart like an overflowing fountain. “I need the grace of a grateful spirit.”
Doing Our Part
In asking God to fill my spirit with gratitude, I realized, first, I have to do my part and identify the habits that feed my negativity. Things like:
- Watching too much television, news, or distracting myself with social media
- Chastising myself for the extra ten pounds that’s engulfed my belly
- Focusing on what’s wrong with me and the world instead of what’s right
- Listening to my inner critic instead of the voice of love.
Positive Action for Healing
In the Zen Path Through Depression, Philip Martin says that negative emotions can take on a spiraling energy all their own. Because they create a sense of power—albeit one that’s undesirable—they can pull us in like a whirlpool and drown us with anger and frustration.
Because most of our negativity is rooted in fear that often morphs into anger, rather than running from our feelings or indulging them, we can meet them with compassion.
“Shunryu Suzuki Roshi once said about meditation, ‘You can let your thoughts come into your mind—just don’t invite them to stay for tea.’ We can do the same with our anger. We can let it come and go, but not create an environment where it feels encouraged to stay. We can deal compassionately with the underlying fear we feel. We can also take the energy of the anger, which is probably something we desperately need…and direct it toward positive action for healing.”
Doable Spiritual Practices
As I understand Martin, he’s saying we shouldn’t ignore or fight with our negative thoughts, but try and dig deep to understand where they’re coming from. Like pulling a dandelion out from its roots instead of just popping off its flower top, when we figure out the source of our negativity we can then root out its fear.
For example, when I look at the chaos the world is in, my fear comes from feeling unsafe.
When I observe the cancel-culture we’ve evolved into, my fear is God’s truth and wisdom will be drowned out by one-sided political elitism.
And when I face the day with a to-do list that’s longer than I can reasonably expect myself to accomplish, I understand my “gotta make everyone happy” ego is trying to take charge.
Identifying negative emotions as they arise and naming their source is helpful. But to move into what Martin calls “positive action for healing,” I have to take one step further and adopt a spiritual practice that replaces the negative brain drain.
There’s several practices we can lean into.
A helpful one: each time fear grips us, recall that we are safe.
A fun one: let a positive song take root in our hearts. “It is Well With My Soul” rose up in my meditation and carried me through the day. I even pulled up a YouTube video of the song to lift my heart to God.
A grateful one: making a mental or written gratitude list is also a powerful way to replace the negativity monster who tries to stomp out joy in our lives.
This Is How We Do It
Rooting out negativity has several practical steps.
Become Aware. First, we recognize that negativity has taken up root in our lives.
Name the Source. Second, we name the habits reinforcing it.
Seek Divine Help. Third, we ask God for the grace to replace negativity with gratitude.
Adopt a Spiritual Practice. Finally, we integrate a spiritual practice to exercise our renewed attitude of gratitude.
Be the Change
Our world has become fraught with negativity. The universe needs you and me to push gently against the chaos of pessimism and let the Spirit of love and positivity flow from our attitudes and hearts into the world.
Will you join me in giving up negativity for Lent? How about we do it together and see what difference it makes in us—in our world?
—brian j plachta