I don’t like to feel angry. Or irritated. Or distraught. Or indignant. Or defensive. Or threatened. Or offended. Or afraid. And yet, it seems almost impossible to avoid negative feelings these days. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I can filter on Facebook. I can tighten my circle of friends and the stores where I shop. I can block calls on my cell phone and screen calls on the landline. But the feelings will find me.
I don’t want to feel this way. How can I escape? Comfort food. A glass of wine. A nap. A trip to a favorite getaway. Exercise. A novel. A movie. A ball game. A snuggle. Some TV. Endorphins and distraction work for a little while, but they’re temporary. The planet keeps turning, and those negative emotions keep on coming.
What to do? Pray? Yes, ask for help from God, and invite others to pray, too. Meditate? Yes, sacrifice some time — the most valuable thing I have — every day, and sit with God. But isn’t there anything else I can do about the way I feel?
Well, maybe I can change my perspective on these negative feelings — look at them a different way. I just finished a little book called Taking the Leap, by Pema Chödrön, and I keep returning to the end of the chapter on The Importance of Pain:
Whatever pleasure or discomfort, happiness or misery you are experiencing, you can look at other people and say to yourself, “Just like me they don’t want to feel this kind of pain.” Or, “Just like me they appreciate feeling this kind of contentment.”
When things fall apart and we can’t get the pieces back together, when we lose something dear to us, when the whole thing just is not working and we don’t know what to do,…[t]his is our chance to come out of our self-protecting bubble and to realize that we are never alone. This is our chance to finally understand that wherever we go, everyone we meet is essentially just like us. Our own suffering, if we turn toward it, can open us to a loving relationship with the world.
Turn toward suffering? Yes, turn toward it. So if I can’t stop the bad feelings, perhaps I can use them. I can get in touch with my dark side. As Pema Chödrön says, I can “lean in”, and feel the negativity. I can recognize that the “other” I see around me and try to avoid, is also in me. By feeling the dark side, I can find more strength to act for the good.