April 2, 2019

Why I Don’t do “Good Vibes Only.”


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I started teaching yoga again last month after a year and a half.

It’s been a year and a half of change and growth and struggle and joy and all sorts of feelings that are hard to pin down since we moved across the world for the third time to come “home.”

I took a break from teaching because—in all the upheaval—I didn’t feel steady or grounded enough to guide anyone else in any kind of mindful practice.

Eventually though, I reminded myself that I didn’t need to be in some kind of perfectly balanced guru state to share the benefits of yoga. That it was precisely my difficult experiences and my up and down emotions that enabled me to teach in an authentic and compassionate way.

And that’s exactly why I objected when the sweet manager of the space I now teach in used a picture that said “Good Vibes Only” to advertise my class on Facebook.

I sent her a short note without much explanation to ask if we could replace the picture with something else, which she kindly did without question—but it got me thinking about how I could explain the reason for my objection to her and other dear, well-meaning, kind-hearted people who I often see and hear sharing this message of positivity.

After all, what could possibly be bad about being positive?

It can be hard to explain without sounding as though you’re encouraging people to wallow in the “negative.” But rejecting positivity is one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done.

It helped me cope with the raw grief when my brother died: just allowing myself to feel sad, to ugly cry, to be raving mad at life, without shooing away the dark feelings. In time, accepting and allowing the “bad” stuff is precisely what helped me to heal. And those people who truly showed up for me were the ones who allowed me to feel those feelings without flinching or changing the subject or encouraging me to “think of the happy times” or handing me a tissue to dry my tears.

Later, I learned, through my work here at Elephant, that being brave enough to embrace and hold space for the good, bad, happy, and sad is perhaps the most beneficial thing we can do for our wonderful, troubled world.

Not being positive doesn’t mean we’re miserable or nihilistic. After the “Good Vibes Only” picture swap, while scrolling Instagram I found this beautiful illustration that just nails it.


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So, I encourage you to question yourself next time you tell yourself or someone else to “be positive,” because it’s subtle aggression toward those parts of ourselves that are less shiny. It’s not real.

Better to embrace the darkness and the fear and the sadness and the loneliness than to push it away and pretend it’s not still there, lurking in the corners.

A funny thing happens when we make (reluctant) friends with and move through the heavy stuff instead of rejecting and ignoring it. It loses it “bigbadness” and we realize we can bear it.

We realize that it’s as juicy and tender and precious a part of this life as the light stuff, because, as Pema Chödrön puts it so much better than I could hope to,

“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness—life’s painful aspect—softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose—you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.” ~ Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape

So, next time you go to a yoga class and the teacher tells you to “smile and shine your heart light,” remember that it’s okay if beneath your smile there is sadness, and you carry some heaviness in that heart of yours.

Make room for all those vibes and you’ll find your smile comes from a deeper, truer place and your heart is able to hold so much more genuine love and empathy precisely because it is a little broken.


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