I’ve come to see that a big part of maturity – if not the core of it – comes down to our ability to perceive reality without bias, without denial, and without escape.
To be well-adjusted to life is to be at peace with it, for better or for worse, because, fact is, you will always experience unpleasant feelings: they are a part of life.
I have quite recently come to see that there’s just never going to be that day when I become Buddha; although, I have definitely tried (Psycadellics, meditation, Stoicism, CBT).
The point is, life is life: we have to accept it.
In the words of Albert Camus:
“At 30 a man should know himself like the palm of his hand, know the exact number of his defects and qualities, know how far he can go, foretell his failures – be what he is. And, above all, accept these things.”
And having acquired something akin to this, I can attest that acceptance is an integral part of wellbeing and inner-peace; however, acceptance is not everything.
Many of us, myself included, have long had an unhealthy relationship with negative feelings – so much so that we often seek caustic escapes in an attempt to avert ourselves from our unpleasant feelings, which often leads to a kind of vicious cycle wherein we create more problems for ourselves rather than simply facing our original adversities head-on.
I can’t remember who said this, but I recall a quote to the effect of:
‘One thing about humans is that they love to feel good and they hate to feel bad.’
I think it was Steinbeck. Anyhow, this is true: we don’t like to feel bad; in-fact, I would say that many of us are addicted to our feelings, always seeking to feel great, at the expense of good.
All this said, today I wholly believe in welcoming negative feelings.
Part of this comes from the idea of Positive Disintigration, and the other part of it just comes from my experience in learning to be courageous, in learning to face my feelings – to face life.
Facing negative feelings is the very mechanism by which I have grown.
Any negative feelings I experience come from some part of me: be it my ego, my soul, my anima, or my intuition. None of these are invalid; they are ultimately all just different aspects of me, and, in my experience, it does not serve me to ignore them.
I mean, aren’t we supposed to listen to our inner voices?
I think in theory we all relate to this idea as a valid practice; however, in real life, I think many of us are only wanting to actively listen to the happy, satisfied inner voice.
So it is, we live in our own shadows, standing in the way of our light; after-all, listening to our negative feelings would require facing some unpleasant, and maybe even scary feelings.
But this is the way; as Joseph Campbell said, “The treasure you seek is in the cave you fear to enter.”
After-all, isn’t our very reluctance to experience and examine our negative feelings born out of fear?
It’s fear that causes us to turn away from life. And in doing so, we shun our own development.
As Marcus Aurelius taught me:
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Without facing our negative feelings, we do not advance.
But I think part of the problem, and the reason why people cower and flee from negative feelings is that they don’t fundamentally know how to address them. They don’t know how to face their feelings – regardless of how capable they feel in facing their problems. In short, we need our feelings in order to face our problems. We are often just too scared. Too afraid to accept that we are uncomfortable and upset. Also, once we accept the negative, we become responsible for it, and that can be equally frightening.
In a sense, however, facing our negative feelings is not actually that mystifying or scary.
Our thoughts really fall into two binary categories: rational and irrational.
Unfortunately, few people examine whether their thoughts are rational at all.
For me, the ability to cipher rationality from thoughts comes largely from the Stoic perspective of asking whether something is in my control or not.
My reeling over the daily shit our government is taking on the people of America, for instance, is not rational; for I have no control over that.
On the flip side, my negative feelings about not getting to bed earlier or hitting my work goals, are rational, for those things are under my control.
But not all negative feelings are resolved or even realized as simply as that.
For the most part I think we just tend to feel slightly nervous and unsettled in general, never quite diving in and inviting our inner-voice to be the bearer of bad news.
Once we do that, once we listen to the negative inner thoughts behind our feelings, we suddenly uncover the ugly truths that have long been staring us in the face.
And when we do that, when we acknowledge the elephants in the room squat before us, we actually have a couple options that we can use to effectively face them.
But in order to face them, we have to break them down into what they are:
- A= Activating Event / Adversity
- B = Belief (About the event)
- C= Consequence
Note: Learn more depth about the above ABCs, here.
Most people only see the C, the consequence, i.e., we focus exclusively on the negative feeling.
For instance, I feel like shit because I don’t have more financial security.
That’s the C (Consequence). The A (Adversity) is not having the money to do more of what I want. The B is my belief: that I will be more comfortable with more money.
Essentially, in this case, there are two options within the ABC framework for me – since I can’t change the consequence directly.
Either I change the A, i.e., earn more money, or, I change the B: my belief that I will be more comfortable with more money.
For me, the belief that I will feel more at peace with greater financial security is fairly unchangeable; paraphrasing Drake here: I know money doesn’t buy happiness but I’m happiest when I can buy what I want to, get high when I want to.
In short, since I can’t change the belief (That I will be more content with more success), I can either suffer the consequences of that belief passively, or I can change the activating event, removing the burden from me entirely.
That example was a tad of a rant, but the alternative to not facing it, of not understanding what I have to change in order to experience greater inner-peace, is simply to suffer.
Are we really just supposed to live our lives taking pills for our feelings? Or are we meant to listen to them, to evolve and grow by facing them bravely, nobly.
When it comes to our negative feelings, many of which may have haunted us for years, I believe we’ve all got some spelunking to do.
“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers to the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.”
– Shakespeare, Macbeth