There is a certain confusion that seems to exist around the ideas of 'negative' and 'positive' and 'good' and 'bad'. Many people seem to think that things that are 'negative' are bad and things that are 'positive' are good. This is not a very useful concept and leads to a lot of muddle, unwarranted judgments, and wasted energy. A brief consideration of electricity seems like a good place to start sorting out some of the confusion.

Anyone who understands a bit about electricity knows that it comes in two flavors — positive (+) and negative (-). Neither of these are good or bad electricity. In fact, they are both essential and that's why they run about side by side in little wires, not touching (which would cause great consternation and exciting chaos), but amiably speeding in opposite directions. Or, viewed another way, not really moving at all, but doing it in opposite directions at high speed. Is this clear so far? If not, that's okay — just keep going.

Thus, we see that takes both kinds of electricity to make an electrical widget work, and we can make an analogy from this to human subtle energy. Positive subtle energy is what comes into the system to make it work, but equally essentially, we must have negative subtle energy going out of the system. I don't know why, but that's the way it is. Possibly, it's about balance and if it didn't flow out to maintain that balance, we'd explode?

The system also must allow the energy to flow through it freely, without blockages, shorts, or the subtle anatomy equivalent of frayed wires. Blockages, shorts, and frayed wires lead to mental and physical problems. The human system only works when both kinds of energy are present and flowing freely. So where do we get this idea of negative energy, which is such bad stuff that it has to be shaken off of a healer's hands — and in extreme cases, swept up off the floor with a brush and dustpan and carefully deposited in a rubbish bin? (I kid you not, I have seen this done. Or at least, I've seen people who thought that's what they were doing.)

Energy is just energy. It may be negative or positive, but it isn't good or bad, saintly or evil, creative or destructive.

It's all in how we use it — and that may be in ways that are comfortable or uncomfortable. If — and here is where the confusion starts — we are uncomfortable, we label it bad or wicked. Then we immediately are caught in a nasty little trap of our own making. Obviously, if something is bad, we must do our best to avoid or get rid of it and to replace it with something good. This means that we can't use it to help us to grow — we are far to busy fighting and struggling against it to be able to learn anything from it.

It must be very frustrating for a kindly universe and our own higher selves to have gone to the trouble of setting up a learning situation for us, only to have us shriek, 'Oh! This hurts! It's bad!' and struggle to avoid it. In any such potential learning experience, we can choose to try to deny and avoid the lesson, which usually means it will just come back again later, only harder, because the universe and our higher selves are determined and stubborn, really stubborn.

Or we can choose to face it squarely (or at least obliquely), asking ourselves, 'What can I learn from this?' If we are diligent and persistent in our search, we will learn whatever it is, go through the situation, and come out the other side wiser and with deeper understanding of ourselves and compassion for others.

So, what I'm saying is that good situations are learning opportunities and bad situations are learning opportunities, only more insistent. We judge their goodness or badness purely by how we feel, not by any real value they may have. In fact, we make a false value judgment based simply on how comfortable or uncomfortable we are. And here we come to emotions, positive and negative.

What's a positive emotion? Why, one that makes you feel happy or peaceful, of course. And a negative one? That's obvious too — one that is uncomfortable or even painful, one that makes you or other people feel unhappy. A bad emotion is to be avoided or denied.

No. Sorry, wrong answers.

Let's go back to the idea of energy moving. Joy flows in, we feel bigger, we expand. Grief flows out, we feel diminished, we contract. But what if, instead of saying things like 'it's not fair' or 'why me?' to grief and anger and jealously and guilt, what if we asked, "What can I learn from this? How is this experience trying to help me to grow?" It's only a small, sideways step out of victim consciousness and into growth — a slightly different perspective, an opening rather than a closing of the self.

It's a very tricky step to take; we can't do it sleepwalking. We have to be awake and aware.

Negative emotions, then, are not bad. They are about growing through some self-imposed, probably culturally promoted concepts, through the pain and difficulty, and out the far side into a wider, wilder, more joyous, more sorrowful, more compassionate, richer way of being in the universe.

If we believe the mystic's bottom line truth that all is one and that One is God/dess, then there is no place in our universe for judgments about good and bad. All of it is just God/dess growing. We can block this process or we can facilitate it — and that doesn't make us good or wicked either. It's just about whether we are providing particular growth opportunities for others or doing that and growing ourselves.

What If?

What if, just as an experiment for a week, you use the words "positive" and "negative" only when talking about electricity, not as value judgments, and "right" and "wrong" only when talking about facts, such as 2 + 2 = 4 is right and 2 + 2 = 6 is wrong.

What if, just for that same week or so, you also eliminate certain words from your vocabulary (good, bad, evil, wicked) and replaced them and all of their kindred with 'appropriate' and 'inappropriate'?

What if, just for a while, each time you felt you had to judge something — behavior, emotion, or whatever — you only considered whether it was inappropriate or appropriate and asked yourself what made it that way.

What if, just for a week or so, instead of saying something is good or bad, you instead said, "I like this" or "I don't like this"? Kind of taking responsibility for the feelings rather that assuming the feelings to be "right judgement" in some objective and abstract sense?

How do you suppose this might change the way you see yourself and the rest of the world?

I try to Pay Attention to this myself, but I'll have to try extra hard now that this page is up, won't I?

Copyright ©1995 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This originally appeared in Otherworld Arts, 1995

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