Personal Development

Why it’s better to be present than positive

“Everything you need will come to you at the perfect time.”

“You are the author of your life!”

“Believe in yourself and you will be unstoppable.”

“Live more, worry less.”

Does anyone else ever get sick of these “inspirational quotes”, or is it just me?

As humans, we are wired to automatically focus our attention on the negative. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obviously way better to approach life with a positive outlook. But sometimes, being positive is just plain exhausting.

Research shows that optimistic people are healthier, live longer lives, and are happier overall. But there’s also something to be said for feeling really shitty when you need to, and then moving on with your day/week/month/year/life.

Case in point:  For the past several weeks, I’ve been suppressing a lot of heavy emotions in an attempt to stay positive.  I know there is so much to be grateful for in my life right now — I have a job I really enjoy in an awesome little school, I’m making good money, I have a roof over my head, I get to teach meditation at my favourite yoga studio — and I do appreciate all of these things. But I know that for me, logic never stands a chance against the heart.

Initially, when I felt those all-too-familiar twinges in the pit of my stomach, I ignored them. Stop postponing your happiness, I could hear my meditation teacher, Sandy Newbigging, saying in my head. Your happiness shouldn’t rely on external conditions. Be grateful for what you have.

But, as all unacknowledged emotions eventually do, they reached their boiling point.  I was moody. Negative. And, finally, tearful.

That’s when I realized that I had been ignoring not just my emotions, but also a fundamental teaching of yoga and meditation: being present. And that includes being present with your feelings.

As the tears rolled down my cheeks in my car on the way home from work, I decided to just give my feelings space to exist. I felt each wave of pain as it rolled through my body. I felt the throbbing of my heart, the moisture under my eyes. I let go of resistance and stayed present with all of the hurt, anger, and frustration I was feeling.  I stopped judging myself for feeling it and just let it be.

And just like that, I felt a million times better.

I had to admit to myself that I felt overwhelmed. I had to move past my brain telling me that I was pathetic for feeling this way; that pretty much everyone works full time so I should just put on my big girl panties and deal with the stress.

How my mind is telling me I should feel is irrelevant. The reality is, going back to work as a full-time teacher after my slow, easy pace of living in Mexico was a shock to my system — not just because of the fact that I now have a never-ending To Do list, but because it is really putting my spirituality to the test. Every day, I meditate alone. I pray alone.  I spend my evenings and weekends alone, because most of my friends have their own families or a significant other.

I miss my sangha.

I struggle to be more aware of my thoughts, to practice non-judgment, to become aware of all of my numbing behaviours (mostly eating and shopping, now that alcohol is out of the picture).

I don’t sleep enough. I don’t have any energy left at the end of the day for my hobbies. I don’t make FUN a priority.

I am lonely.

Listen — you don’t have to deny your feelings in the name of being positive. As Jordan Grey, a relationship coach from Vancouver, says, “When you ignore your feelings, they go down to the basement to lift weights.”

BAM. Let that truth smack you in the face and wake you up.

I can attest to this — over the course of my spiritual journey, I’ve learned that repressing my emotions really does make things worse. It’s like a slow-growing cancer — you may feel fine enough for a while, you might start to feel some symptoms slowly creeping up on you but you disregard them, you push them down, until suddenly, one day, you realize something is very, very wrong.

Don’t hide from your emotions. Accept them. Surrender to them.

This doesn’t mean dwelling in them, getting stuck in them, or accepting awful circumstances in your life. It means bringing awareness to how you’re feeling, bringing compassion and understanding to your sadness/hurt/anger/frustration/shame, and then making the decision to release what doesn’t serve you. From a place of love, we can work on changing the conditions of our lives to create more happiness and peace.

For me, this means committing to getting to bed earlier, starting guitar lessons (something I’ve always wanted to do), eating healthier so that I have more energy, and connecting more with my friends and colleagues. It might also mean letting go once again of other people’s expectations of how I should be living, getting back in touch with my heart, and following it wherever it may lead me.

To those who are reading this right now, I hope that you can honour your own feelings and use them to guide you to a path of true happiness and authenticity.

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