Growing in the Dark: Why “Negative Feelings” Matter


“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” ~Pema Chodron

Pop spirituality and our cultural attitude would have you think it best to banish negativity from your life. Give it the quarantine treatment until it gets better and can rejoin our polite, positive, placative society.

We are encouraged to cleanse negativity, a blanket descriptor of things that don’t feel good. Push it away with an exhale and inhale positivity. Anger, sadness, and critical thinking can all be forms of “bad vibes” that are sought to be avoided.

This banishment of negativity is so simplistic. We are humans, capable of such a wonderful range of emotion and experience. Who are we to banish some of the low, dark, hollow notes from our octaves of existence? Too much cleansing makes us dry, brittle, and sterile.

When joy and exuberance are out for too long, they get stale. When you are always bathing in the light, the light bulb begins to wane and eventually will dim and burn out. A life of constant light is not sustainable. It’s also not possible. Life is much more wonderfully and tragically complicated. Some of the richest parts linger in the shadows or even in the deepest, dark corners of our lives.

It’s quite easy to sleep through happiness. A good, easy-going life does little to keep us awake and alive. The darker feelings bring us right into the present. The physicality of crying, shaking, with quaky breath and a hot face brings us into our bodies. To our emotional life. To our knees like no other. Darkness is what pops our eyes open to your life. It’s the catalyst for change and renewal.

At this juncture in my life, I am spending a lot of time in grief and anger. I do not wish to get into all of the intimate details of it, but the gist is that I am going through a divorce. An icky, shattering, tearing asunder of the life I once knew and the dreams I had for the life of my family.

It’s been tempting to push my feelings aside and pretend I’m okay. But a very small part of me recognizes there is this opportunity for something new. Renewal. Rebirth.

While I haven’t given birth myself, I have been in the room during a birth. Birth isn’t only the beginning of a delicate, new life. It is deep and wrenching pain. Pain that steals your breath and turns your voice into a howl. It is uncertainty and a dark intensity that knocks at your ability to stand on your feet. It is sitting among blood, sweat, and tears and still finding deep, undisturbed joy.

I can’t begin the process of rebirth by dimming the less favorable facets of the undertaking. If a rebirth is what I seek, then I am in line for one of the most wholly altering, body-shaking processes in our existence.

So, here is what I am doing: I am leaning in. I am sitting upon the jagged surfaces of grief and anger, and I am not moving. I am listening to what they have to say.

I am listening to anger proclaim my sense of self-worth. It rises each time I feel my innate human value has been violated. It reminds me to maintain a protective boundary around my sense of self.

I am watching grief slice into my heart and reveal its contents. The reason I feel loss is because I have loved and still possess a capacity to love. My grief reminds me of just how much I truly value and hold dear.

I am engulfed by the ravaging, purifying flames of my anger. I am lying in the center of my dark pool of sorrow.

I am a human. Delicate and strong. Tender and powerful. I am built for this. I am made to stand in the center of howling storms sent by mother nature and witness devastating wreckage. My skin pummeled by rain. My feet lifted by wind.

I am also made for watching the storm ease up and transform into calm. I am made for sunlight on my face and the joy of birdsong. The storm isn’t the ending. Neither is the birdsong.

Your pain matters. Your anger, sadness, discomfort, grief, confusion. All of those dark feelings matter. They matter just as much to your growth as your happiness and gratitude journals. Without fully allowing the dark feelings, the lighter feelings will be kept at bay. When you close off pain, you close off to the full dynamism that is human existence.

Discarding the hard shell that protects your heart can feel threatening and unsafe. I have been shucked open and shredded by life. I put my wholeness at stake and I am now piecemeal, the shards of my heart spread across the landscape of my experience. This allows my permeability. My walls are down which means I can allow the outer world in and allow my inner world out.

Things strike me. I am easily moved. I get attached. I cleave and for a time I don’t want to let go—of people, places, moments. The interesting thing is that this piecemeal version of me is actually more whole, more fully alive, more human the the version of me that protected and held it together.

At the moment, I am gutted. All my sensitive parts are outside of me. I have been opened and torn into with love and cruelty. But, if I can stay with this dark, wounded part of myself, watch the wounds bleed, redden, and pus, then I will also witness the end of the oozing. The healing of the infection. The beginning of scar tissue. A slow, soft mending. An offering to my tender history. A testament to my future strength.

About Ethan Somerman

Ethan Somerman is a blogger, parent, monster hugger, and firm believer that broken hearts are beautiful. You can follow her blog and sign up for her emails at www.HuggingMonsters.com.

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