For years I was involved in a group whose adherents felt very threatened by any view of it that seemed to contradict what it was desperately trying to be: the "perfect" spiritual path. Any opinion (and the one who voiced the opinion) that could be perceived as "negative" with regards to the group was immediately attacked and blocked. You see, on a perfect path, the leader and those in high places in the organization could never make a mistake; were always doing what they did for our highest good; had no ulterior motives; were beyond reproach. If, and only if, you were a good devotee, had full faith and did everything you were told, you'd attract the all-knowing, unconditionally loving guru's grace (which, on the perfect path, you already have unless you do something to repel it), you would become self-realized (though as a good devotee, you could never acknowledge this as it smacks of dreaded "ego") and you'd have your heaven on earth.
If you doubted any of this—if, say, you dared to notice any inconsistencies, or refused to go against personal integrity...if you had questions about the teachings...or you had a problem with underage girls being used sexually by older men in power, or with goods being smuggled in and out of other countries...or with celebrities receiving V.I.P. treatment in a place where we were all told we were equal...or with blatant environmental violations, or with the presence of weapons and bodyguards in an ashram, or with "renunciants" sporting designer clothing and precious jewels—then you were deluded, had limited understanding, had fallen off the path, etc.
Oh the horror and danger of exposure to anything but positivity! Most of us suppressed or denied anything within ourselves that could be construed as anything less than 100% cheerful and agreeable. Needless to say, a lot of the devotees were secretly in therapy and taking anti-depressants...and doing more and more spiritual practices in an attempt to override our perceived impurities.
After many years and many experiences of being chastised for being "negative," I realized something: if our organization, its leaders and its teachings were sacred and sacrosanct, what could threaten them? And yet, there was a pervasive atmosphere of self-righteousness and unkindness which, beneath the surface, was pure, unadulterated fear. It seemed that what was going on in the organization was the exact opposite of one of the main teachings: that love was stronger than fear. Where was the love when all was not handled in an open and loving fashion?
Of course, religious organizations are not the only places where the fear of negativity reigns. Ashrams, like everywhere else, are filled with human beings; and human beings who have not questioned their stressful beliefs attack whatever appears to threaten their happiness (as if true happiness could be threatened). So we try to create safe havens for ourselves where sharing is welcome as long as what is shared aligns with the basic premise of our subculture. If anyone might burst our bubbles, indicate we could be wrong, or cost us our precious stuff, we tend not to welcome them with great respect and love. Places of business, family gatherings, groups of friends or neighbors and political parties are just a few of the places where individuals might not be embraced or even acknowledged—in fact might be shunned, shamed and shut up, even if we have to kill them—if they're not seeing our world through our particular brand of rose-colored glasses.
In the best-case scenarios, we close rank, turn off the TV, stop answering the phone, defriend our Facebook buddies who don't see things exactly as we do, avoid people or situations that might result in being "tainted" by another's "negativity." We have to call those people and things toxic, wrong, bad. We double up on our affirmations, surround ourselves in imaginary white light, run away.
That might work as a temporary measure. Until the bogeyman shows up at the door again. Or you think back on the person who threatened the sacrosanct belief that turned out not to be sacrosanct after all (at least not according to you), and you feel the fear all over again in the form of condescension, resentment, anger, sadness, disgust, stress, disturbance of your peace.
If you fear the "negative," it will appear to come a-calling for you in many guises: "negative" people, situations, thoughts. A loving universe won't let you get away with avoidance. It supports you instead.
What's the worst thing that could happen if you welcomed the "negative," sat down to tea with it, questioned it?
©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.