Tag Archives: negativity

Negativity and inspiration

Inspiration isn’t always a lovely, fluffy thing. Sometimes inspiration is born of rage, frustration, annoyance and other ostensibly ‘negative’ emotions. I’ve written some really good blog posts off the back of being bloody annoyed with people. It’s important to acknowledge how these emotions can drive creativity and that they are just as important as feeling all magical and wanting to do something beautiful as a consequence.

When it comes to social justice, rage can be a really important source of inspiration. The trick is not to let the rage run unchallenged. Being cross doesn’t of itself get much done. Getting cross and thrashing about in an unconsidered rage somewhere on the internet can do far more harm than good. It’s important to take the time for the rage. Sit with it. Hold it close. Work out what needs changing. Take the energy of the rage and turn it into a push for change. Fighting against things is seldom that effective. Fighting for things is much more productive. Let your rage show you what it is that you need to fight for.

Boredom, frustration and apathy tend to get a bad press. If all you do is wallow about in those feelings, they can trap you in inaction and a sense of powerlessness. However, you can also use them as a spur. Breaking out of limitations is often difficult, but the need to escape from those stuck feelings can be a superb motivator for taking the plunge and doing something new.

If you’ve written poetry, you’ve probably at some point done the kind of agonised bleeding on the page that comes from depression and heartbreak. Misery and setbacks are awful to go through, but working out how to meaningfully share your pain can be a good and restorative process. You may be able to comfort others by showing them they are not alone in their struggles. You will undoubtedly become more able to feel compassion and empathy, which in turn points the way towards the kinds of actions you might take.

Oysters make pearls as a way of protecting themselves from the discomfort of grit that gets in their shells. Some people, and experiences can impact in much the same way. Creating can be a way of coping. It can be a way of processing shit into gold. It can also make it possible to deal more gently and kindly with people who were annoying you.

Suffering is not essential for creativity. But at the same time, our creations are richer, more thoughtful and better informed when we’re able to draw more widely on experience and aren’t focused exclusively on nice things and whatever makes us comfortable. 

Embracing the negativity

It’s a common thing in supposedly spiritual spaces – advice about how to free yourself from negativity, and how to avoid being affected by the negativity of others. It’s one of those things that at first glance looks like wisdom. Negativity doesn’t sound very spiritual, transcending it does. But let’s break that down a bit.

Who and what is negative?

People who are critical – and sometimes that is worth avoiding, but these can also be people who are trying to help and avoiding negativity because you don’t want to hear you’ve messed up, is not a path to growth, wellbeing or enlightenment.

People who are sad. People who are in pain and grief and depression, who have been wounded by life, who have no hope or confidence or the means to help themselves. These are people who often need help, warmth, companionship and compassion. Vibrating ourselves off to some higher frequency where we do not participate in that pain, is horrible. There’s no spiritual good to be found in protecting ourselves in this way, it is a selfish, privilege  rejection of the suffering in the world. None of us can fix everything, but we can be open, we can bring love and care, patience and gentleness where we can. A spiritual path that has no time for the distress of others, is a route to being inhuman, unkind and self absorbed.

People who are angry. Anger is a hard emotion to deal with, in ourselves and in others. Anger directed towards the self can feel threatening. But if we aren’t prepared to look at why that’s happening, we can’t learn, or improve. If people are angry and we make no effort to understand them, we may miss out important life lessons. If someone is maliciously angry all the time, seeking those higher vibrations to avoid negativity won’t really help, it may even serve to keep us trapped in dangerous situations.

People who don’t care. I admit this is the one I find hardest. It is perhaps the most subtle form of negativity. The people who don’t care, don’t respond, do nothing – they can quietly suck the life out of just about anything. It’s something I want to avoid, because I find it exhausting. But at the same time, these are people who maybe need lifting out of themselves inspiring, cheering and encouraging. It’s good to be able to show up for that at least some of the time.

When positivity is relentless it becomes toxic. It isn’t a force for spiritual good beyond a certain point. We are meant to feel more than just happy all the time, and the rejection of great swathes of what it means to be human does not make us better people. If you are somehow happy all the time, to be closed to those who are unhappy is not a spiritual outcome. It means being less compassionate. Love is a messy, complicated thing, spiritual love included and if we do not deploy our spiritual love to embrace those who are manifesting negativity, then what even is the point?

Guilt and creative challenges

We may feel guilty about not undertaking other forms of activism, we may feel our art *should* be able to do more and be frustrated that it can’t. The climate is not a good one in which to be a sensitive and creative person.

This is another case of knowing something with my head and having a lot of trouble feeling it with the rest of my body. There is more to activism than focused noise-making. We can’t spend our lives being against things, and fighting, that’s exhausting. We also have to imagine, and build. However, I think a big part of why I’m struggling on this score right now relates to another point I raised in the original post: Angry, hate-laden, nihilistic attitudes are everywhere.

I can’t imagine anything powerful enough to challenge that. How do you break through to people who are only invested in not giving a shit? Or people who are dedicated to hate? Which leaves me feeling I have no choice but to give up on a whole swathe of people – many of them young and shaped by campaigns of deliberate misinformation. I can’t make myself responsible for dealing with that, even though the question of how to respond to right wing radicalisation has been on my mind a lot for months now. And if we don’t all take responsibility for dealing with it, what happens?

My advice to people dealing with conflicts in Pagan circles has always been, ‘don’t fight them, simply put an alternative out there.’ When Pagan groups clash – over ways of working, ideas, use of spaces, and over egos, nothing good comes of feeding the conflict. Stepping back and simply offering an alternative is better in all ways than running some kind of hate campaign against people who are ‘doing it wrong’ from your perspective. Maybe many of our current cultural issues are the same. Calling out criminal behaviour – racism, sexism and abuse – is always the right way to go. The rest of the time, offering an alternative…

No one is obliged to care, or feel compassion, or be generous. No one is obliged to value the things I value. No one is required to worry about ecocide. If I want people to care about the things I care about, I need to lure them in, and I know that hard campaigning of any sort often doesn’t work. In fact it only works when addressing power – eg petitioning a government. Feeling guilty because I cannot save people from themselves, and I cannot save the rest of us from the consequences of that… isn’t working.

I am experiencing bouts of paralysis in face of all the hate and misery in the world. Maybe I need to deal with this by making more space to work through my own negativity – my own rage, fear, resentment, frustration. Not by attacking other people, but by processing this for myself so I can find a far side of it and come up with something better.

As strategies go, this one is still very much a work in progress, but ‘in progress’ is a good deal better than ‘frozen’ so, I’ll take it for now.