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The Necessary beauty of Negativity: Musings from Yogic and Applied EcoPsychology perspectives

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

Part 1 Yoga

Negativity gets a bad rap, no one wants to be around a “negative Nelli” and negativity can be draining.

In certain contexts that draining and lack can be a valuable thing which is why it’s both a necessary part of Yoga and is absolutely a part of Nature.

Our current cultural thoughts and perspective on negativity deems it taboo, unworthy, something to get away from and there can be a penchant for hyper-positivity. This can be observed in the knee-jerk reaction to mollify negativity or expression of non-positivity with superficial one-liners offering “insight’: “everything happens for a reason”, “if it’s as bad as it can be, then it’ll only get better”, “look on the bright side”, “you’ll be okay”…

Often these one-liners are expressed with a genuine intent to help, but there can be a deeper motivation lurking in their expression. An unwillingness to acknowledge and a helplessness of not knowing how to return from the negativity; as if in it one will be wholly consumed by it and therefor it ought to be avoided. Without the ability to be with the negative and the skills to navigate those treacherous waters, an individual will always be internally-divided, partially afraid of themselves, a dualism occurs.

Exploration of the negative can yield an understanding of a very fertile, mirrored beauty that can allow for the space of wholeness to arise; a place within where wholeness is reattached. By acknowledging* that life can be hard, that negativity exists within ourselves, others and life, we can start to build and gather the skills that we need to understand and navigate our way through the hardships and in doing so create a resilience within. It’s a keystone to a mature Yoga practice.

In Yoga, we actively seek out the negative. It offers space, freedom, insight, an opportunity for recharging but perhaps most importantly it allows the direct experience of deep understanding.

One of the yogic techniques is to explore what something isn’t to eventually directly experience what something is, it’s a way of working around the mental tendency to put boundaries and concepts around understanding some of the bigger aspects of life.

In the asana we actively seek out the negative in forward bends, legs up the wall, Savasana, these all create negativity - they help drain the energetic excessive-ness within us creating space, allowing us insight into what it’s like for something to NOT be there.

In meditation we learn that by resting our focus on the breath, the mind settles, drains, and empties which many seasoned practitioners will say is blissful and fulfilling in a paradoxical kind of way. This practice is also scary to many because our culture is so positive oriented, we have been given a directive to be positive so being okay with the negative goes against what we were trained and how we value and identify with ourselves.

One of the most notable Yama in Yoga is Ahimsa, non-violence, is presented as a negative. Instead of telling us to experience something (speaking in the positive) such as compassion or peace,

it implores us to explore the absence of violence.

It implies that the practitioner ought to delve into contemplation and to first understand violence: What is violence? Where is violence? Coming from this place of a deep understanding of violence before being able to see when it’s not there, when there is non-violence what can arise, grow, evolve?

Yoga isn’t about suppressing the negative to reside solely in the positive, part of the practice is to have the courage to see the negative, breathe with it, and dig deeper to understand what it’s communicating and most importantly to see what’s there in the negative.

The irony is that when we push our idea(s) of the positive onto the experience we are having before acknowledging and creating the space and understanding of the negative, we create dualism and a standoff between negative and positive arises. The skill, the mastery of the Yoga practice is the balancing dance of hatha - sun and moon and the mental 'evolution' of non-dualism


side notes:

* acknowledging is not the same as dwelling, rooting, and residing. I think the fear that many people have is that once they go into the negative they won’t be able to return, and if they do they will be hindered or weighted by it.

**Interestingly, neti means “not this”…so you are cleaning your nasal passages with a “Not this” pot. (That was an attempt at humour)

Part 2 Applied EcoPsychology

In Applied EcoPsychology there is something called “Nature Negatives”. It speaks to the tendency that we humans have to override our innate in-the-moment connection attractions with our abstract mental thinking.

Humanity’s ‘gift’ is also our burden; to have a mental capability that gives us the creativity and freedom to think abstractly, outside of the reality of this moment, comes with a need to have the skills to sort out when that gift is overpowering or leading us astray.

When we impose our mental will and forge ahead with something in-spite of, or often, over the wisdom of the communication from this moment Nature Negatives arise. The negative is a communication that we have missed an attraction, a deeper call to balance and harmony. It asks us to check in again a little and acknowledge the deeper attraction that was there before (or below) the frustration, anger, or whatever other negative is arising within.

The negative is rife with information about what’s real within us. Jealousy, for example, reveals a deep wanting of something. When jealous arises within we can push against the feeling and say to ourselves “I ought not to feel jealous” and demand we don’t feel that, essentially creating a war within. This is what we are basically saying to someone when we offer them a positive one-liner solution to their pain.

We can use this arising of jealous to further our understanding of ourselves. We can observe it and acknowledge that it’s presence is revealing that we want something, perhaps it was a little under the mental radar (subconscious), and now that we see it, we now have a choice. We can take steps to work towards that goal, or we can delve deeper into the jealousy to see if it’s actually something we want; what part of it we want, why we want it, and then take action if required to create something in our lives we may not have previously known or accepted that we wanted.

The negative is this beauty full space of just-before-creation, or realization - a gestation if you will. The hard thing for many of us is that we understand how to direct ourselves in the positive but don’t have the skills for the negative. If someone says “go do this” there’s a clear direction to follow BUT when we are told to not do something, it leaves a question… a space… of what is to be done?...

For many that’s a hard and uncomfortable place to be…especially because it often means changing our current course or “well-thought out” plans.

In Applied EcoPsychology when a negative arises in the moment we are asked to stop, breathe and feel deeper in order to understand the deeper attraction in the moment. What’s there underneath our mental directive?

Moment by moment we adjust to the communication of Nature and inner nature, being ever pulled into balance and a deeper relationship with ourselves...and something greater than ourselves.
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