Getting rid of negative emotion
[Excerpt from SANE]
A thirteen-year-old girl I was working with said ‘I get really sad sometimes. I worry that I might cry in my class. Can you take away the sadness?’
Take away the sadness.
Take away the fear and the worry.
Make me always happy.
That’s what she wants.
And pretty much all of us say the same.
Take away the anger.
Take away the low state.
Take away the feelings of overwhelm.
Take away the grief.
Take away the fear.
Take away the anxiety.
Take away the frustration.
Take away the insecurity.
Take it all away and make sure it never comes back.
We want the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. We want it for ourselves and for the people we love.
And there is a world poised to provide it through whatever means - therapy, meditation, yoga, exercise, work, alcohol, sex, drugs, diet, distraction, video games, shopping… Much of it provided by people seeking the same end to suffering.
But again, what if we have it completely, utterly, absolutely, heart-breakingly wrong?
That little girl and I could have embarked on a journey to try to eliminate all experience of sadness, all fear, all low thoughts.
We could have done that.
We could have practiced all sorts of exercises and techniques in the attempt to cleanse her life of ‘negative’ emotion as we would wipe the traces of an ice-cream from the cheeks of a toddler.
And what would it have achieved?
It would have cemented in place the idea that there is something wrong with being sad.
That sadness has to be chased away.
That a self that feels sad has something wrong with it and must be corrected.
That a life of constant happiness and the eradication of sadness is not just possible but a requirement.
That happiness can be separated from sadness. That it can exist alone as though hot could exist without cold or up without down.
It would have turned sadness, that exquisite human emotion, into a demon.
We would be setting her on a never-ending, unfulfillable quest.
We would be setting her up for a life of self-blame and futile attempt to control every ‘wrong’ emotion.
Why on earth would we do that?