Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Power of Negative Thinking

Happy New Year!

Yes, it's a new year, full of hope and promise, as every new year is. And we are all making resolutions to be better people and do better things. Because that's what you do in the new year. And, to that end, my social media feeds have filled up with all sorts of diet ads and inspirational memes.

You know, those little memes that show up every day on social media, telling you to embrace the joy. Positive thinking leads to positive results. Love yourself and the world will love you. Chirpy little cliches in a swirly font over a background of hearts or "nature". You know the ones.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having a positive outlook. I have one myself. I believe that the world is good and kind and generous, and that things will always work out in the end (though not always the way I want). I see beauty in every day, no matter how grey and bleak.  I encourage those around me to stay positive, because I really do believe that we make our own reality with our perceptions. If we perceive goodness and abundance, we see it in our lives. It's just there.

 I also believe that there are a lot of people out there who need to be reminded of the good in the world. That there is kindness and joy and sunshine. Depression is a real thing, and so are fear and loneliness and pain. Sometimes those things are huge and overwhelming to the point where the person loses perspective and they become the only reality they know. I have been there myself over the last few months, when the pain in my joints has been the only thing that I was aware of. Food doesn't taste the same, colours look different, sound hurts.

Most of the time, I think those chirpy little cliches are a way to remind ourselves that the sun will come out tomorrow, that we are stronger than we think we are, that others have recovered and we can, too. But, when they are flung around carelessly in place of active concern and the acknowledgement of the reality of suffering, they are more like a slap in the face to those who hurt.

 I have looked at life very long and very hard lately, as one does when one is facing some enormous changes, and I have come to this conclusion: Stop accentuating the positive.

Because there is a dark side to life. Everybody has bad days. Flat tires, the stomach flu, a car accident, a death, a cheating spouse, a scary medical diagnosis. Shit happens. To all of us. Laying a veneer of false cheerfulness over the way that that crap makes us feel is denying our natural response to crisis. And to deny us our natural response to crisis is wrong.

When something terrible happens, big or small, we need to accept our rage, our pain, our frustration, our disappointment. We need to name it and to release it, vent it out. If we do not vent it, it builds up inside us, like steam, until something breaks. Yet we are taught from infancy that it is not appropriate to be openly angry or frustrated or disappointed. Those are negative behaviours and nobody wants to see them. Be nice, smile, stay positive and it will all go away. Everything happens for a reason. The sun will come out tomorrow.

Painters understand the importance of the negative. The space around the focus of any visual artwork is called negative space and is as vital as the actual subject itself. It is the negative space that focuses the viewer's eye on what they really need to see. It is the negative space that highlights the beauty of the subject of the work. It is the negative space that gives the work meaning.

As knitters, we know the power of negative space, too. The holes and loops me make when we knit lace are what makes the fabric special. Without the holes, all we have cloth. When we add holes, emptiness, negative space, we make a thing of beauty.

When we look into the negative space, it helps us illuminate what is good and beautiful and positive. We see life from a different perspective again. We accept the darkness and the emptiness and the pain, because it shows us what is real, and what is good. We become more positive when we embrace the negative.

When we live our lives by those chirpy cliches, when we lay them over our darkness to hide it from ourselves and others, we deny the balance of art, of life. We need to visit our dark places, our negative space, from time to time. Oh, I'm not saying move in and live there, just drop by every now and then. Acknowledge the negative space and the role it has in making our lives beautiful.

So, though I do not make resolutions, I am going to state an intent for 2014. I am going to embrace the Power of Negative Thinking. And I am going to continue to love my life and find beauty in every day because of it.


  1. Hi Michelle!
    Thanks for these great thoughts. I agree that negative thinking can be a powerful thing that can help us become more reflective, realistic, and maybe even more grateful. This reminded me of a post I read on a fellow doula's blog, so I searched it out -- it happened to be written almost precisely a year ago (perhaps this healthy darkness is related to this time of year). Take a look:


  2. Thanks for the link, Noor! A really good read and I am in agreement. If we love our dark, we can better accept ourselves.

  3. Well stated. I love your phase "Stop accentuating the positive." :)

    BTW: Thank you for dropping by and commenting on my blog.