Positive Loving Kindness: Using Opposites to Banish Negativity

A few weeks ago, I posted the text and instructions for a meditation designed to find purpose and direction through cultivating loving kindness, in the grandest old Buddhist tradition. In my experience, the meditation is a great way to quiet the needy voice of the ego so that Spirit can speak, restoring the connection to your highest goals. I also noted that I’d recorded a guided version of the meditation, useful if you’d rather not memorize the whole thing ahead of time, downloadable here.

ire41But an Attentive Reader, Claire from Ireland, pointed out that there was a huge contradiction between the text of the meditation and an earlier post of mine on the proper phrasing of affirmations. In that post, I wrote about negation, vagueness, and other kinds of language that ought to be avoided when stating your intentions for Spirit. If evidence from phonosemantics is to be believed, negation (like “no”, “not”) and vagueness (“all”, “some”), and time dependencies (“will”) are completely ignored by Spirit, so that an affirmation like “I will not gain weight” changes into “I gain weight”. But Claire noticed that the text of the meditation is full of negatives, right from the very beginning:

May I be free from anger.
May I be free from sadness.
May I be free from pain.
May I be free from all suffering.

Confusing the issue further: Claire had downloaded the meditation and listened to it, and noticed that in the recording, almost all of these negative statements were replaced with positives:

May I be full of love.
May I be full of joy.
May I be full of good will.
May I be free from all suffering.

As Claire says:

In the recorded meditation … you only use one negative: May I (or they) be free from all suffering. There, the rest of the list is phrased positively. In the article, they’re about equally balanced between positive and negative. I have occasionally used a version like the one from your post since I was a teenager (i.e. on and off for over ten years), and I know from my own experience that if I’m very down and hating myself then it’s much more likely I’ll get stuck on the negative words and resonate with anger, pain and suffering than that I’ll be able to conjure a positive feeling to counter them. I haven’t used this meditation for a few years, which is why I downloaded your guide. I definitely hadn’t heard of intention-manifestation back when I was using it, so I wouldn’t have been paying any attention to how the affirmations were phrased. Today, having encountered the two different versions one after the other, and with the memory of your recent post (which really resonated with me) fresh in my mind, the difference was striking.

I totally goofed on this one!!

When I started recording the meditation, I noticed that the text I’d prepared was quite negative; I could feel the negative energy as I was speaking, sure enough! So I quickly tried to fix it. That’s what I recorded. Then later, when I was writing the article, I totally forgot about that, and just used my original text. Whoops!!

Banishing Negativity

Claire went on to muse with a great deal of insight about the best way to fix the text:

I can’t think of how to re-phrase some of the affirmations in a positive manner. What is the opposite of anger, for example? Somehow ‘peace’ feels different to me, broader somehow, than simply ‘not angry’. Similarly, one does not have to feel joy to not feel sadness — peace could cover that as well, or simply emptiness, or… Perhaps it’s necessary to identify the negatives in order to reject them? I was thinking of immediately countering each one, perhaps like this:

I love myself.
May I be free from anger.
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be free from sadness.
May I be happy.
May I be free from pain.
May my body be healthy and strong.
May I be free from all suffering.
May I be at peace.

but that feels all wrong, somehow. The four positives at the end build up a powerful feeling for me which this order doesn’t deliver. Any suggestions? I really liked the positive build-up in your recorded version, but maybe it’s good to remember what you’re trying to get rid of? It kind of corresponds to the release of fear…maybe it’s good to acknowledge that you have these negative feelings, then consciously replace them with positives? Perhaps run through the list at the start of the meditation, then focus on the positive? Maybe something like:

Anger vanishes.
Sadness vanishes.
Pain vanishes.
All suffering vanishes.

I like in particular the way Claire ties our emotional states into the communication we’re trying to make with Spirit. I think she’s right to focus on how the words make us feel — it’s much more important than their literal meaning. But I also agree that it’s important to evoke somehow the feelings you’re trying to banish, to acknowledge them and replace them. I’d argue, though, that you can do that without actually naming the emotions involved. The key is in understanding how opposites work.

The Opposite of Anger is…

Most people would say that the opposite of something — say, “X” — is “not X”, but that isn’t the case at all. The opposite of happy isn’t not-happy, it’s sad; and the distinction here is crucial. Not-happy includes all kinds of emotional states — melancholy, depressed, or angry, grumpy — or any other negative emotion. It also includes apathy, or the lack of any emotion; and it includes logic, and green, and anything else that’s not an emotion at all. But the opposite of happy isn’t any of that; it’s sad. Why? Because happy is a very simple, generic positive emotion, and its opposite needs to be a very simple, generic negative emotion. In other words, sad is just like happy except for one crucial difference.

Take another example: what’s the opposite of black? White, of course! Not any other color or shade, not music or logic or bananas or anything like that. Black is the absence of all kinds of light, and its opposite needs to be the presence of all kinds of light (ideally, all colors of light together in equal proportion). In other words, white is just like black, except for one crucial difference.

So you see how opposites work? Two things are opposite if they’re almost the same, but reversed in one essential feature. (Amazing how linguistics can come in so handy in totally unexpected places!)

So what is the opposite of anger? It really depends on what you think anger is. The American Heritage, my favorite dictionary, says it’s “a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility”; so we want something that means “a strong feeling of pleasure or non-hostility“. Joy is a pretty good candidate, but I don’t think it carries the idea of non-hostility far enough: anger is such a targeted emotion, we really need something that means “welcoming” or “taking delight in something”. The best word I know of is love.

The same exercise needs to be carried out with the other words in the meditation. I didn’t do this much analysis when I did my quick rewrite for the recording, so the phrasing could undoubtedly be improved by going through it more carefully.

Notice that doing this addresses the issue of acknowledging and banishing the bad emotion at the same time. Because you’re taking “anger” and finding out what it’s made of, and identifying an emotion that is its real opposite, you’re really targeting every part of anger and replacing it with its opposite. Contained in the word love is all the information you need to identify anger and dispell it.

Positive Loving Kindness

So below is the text of the meditation as it appears in the recording. There are still a few negative statements in it, but for the most part everything has been converted to positives. See if you can feel the difference, too.

I love myself.
May I be full of love.
May I be full of joy.
May I be full of good will.
May I be free from all suffering.
May my body be healthy and strong.
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be happy.
May I be at peace.

I spread this loving kindness out.

I send love to those who are dear to me.
May their difficulties fall away.
May they be full of love and strength.
May they feel only joy and good will. May they be healthy and happy.
May they be at peace.

I send loving kindness to my friends and associates.
May they be full of love, peace, and joy.
May they feel compassion and goodwill. May they be healthy and happy.
May they be at peace.

I send love and kindness to all the people of the world, known and unknown, everywhere on earth.
May all on this planet be free from suffering.
May they be full of joy, goodwill, and hope.
May they be happy and at peace.

May all beings in the universe be free from suffering.
May all beings in all universes, everywhere, be free from suffering.
May they be well, and happy, and at peace.

May all beings of all kinds, in all directions, be happy and at peace.
Above and below, near and far, high and low.
All types of beings.
Humans and non-humans. Seen and unseen. May they be happy; may they be at peace.

I open my heart and receive loving kindness of all beings in return.
I let that love into my heart.

May all be well and happy.
May there be peace.

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Comments

  1. “WWFD — What Would Frank Do?”

    I’m referring to Frank Herbert. I honestly consider the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear to be among the most powerful affirmations ever.

    One strength I think the LAF displays is an acknowledgment of the negative while transmuting it.

    While it’s certainly true that “inverse manifesting” is such an easy trap to fall into, I don’t believe that forcing a Happy Face that amounts to a teeth-biting grimace is all that authentic.

    Emotions — negative emotions, too — have a very practical use. Pain is the best indication of a problem that needs attention.

    Sticking your fingers in your ear like a child and saying “I’m not afraid I’m not afraid I’m not afraid” is not an absence of fear, and it’s a weak attempt at transmutation, you know?

    As the Litany against Fear demonstrates, there is power in an honest and straight forward meeting with the negative — what “counts” is the action you choose to take in response. How do you choose to behave?

    I think you already touched on something I was going to suggest, a kind of template, recipe, or formula for transforming the emotion, spelled out in the affirmation itself:

    Example: “When I am faced with ____, I choose to _____.”

    I employ this rule when journaling or writing about problems or challenges — no whining allowed. Instead of recording “I keep bouncing checks; I’m going broke.” make a pact with yourself to only present problems in the context of a solution which you are going to prescribe for yourself.

    “I bounced another check. I’m going to pay more attention to my account balance before writing another one.”

    That’s probably a lousy example, but the idea I’m getting at is to present a possible solution in the same breath as the challenge. Or think of a recurring issue in the context of “From now on, when presented with ____, I will ____…”

  2. Jeff Lilly says:

    Hey Slade, thanks for your great insight here.

    I definitely agree that acknowledging pain, facing it, and working through it is a vital process, and the Litany is a great lyrical trigger for that. The formula you present is definitely a powerful one, and simple to do, too.

    I think, though, that the action you take is not the only thing that counts here. What you’re after is developing a positive emotional state — one that doesn’t deny the pain, but which doesn’t focus on it, either. The strategy you outline aims to direct your attention away from the problem and onto the solution, which is awesome. But as Claire says, sometimes just mentioning the problem is enough to reinforce the negative emotions you’re trying to work through. Sometimes they’re just so strong that it’s hard to get past that trigger and focus on your positive plans.

    This is actually a problem I’ve always had with the Litany. I first got hooked on Herbert when I was in high school, when I experienced a lot of fear; and I was delighted to read about the Litany! I memorized it and tried it out… but it never worked like it did in the books. My mind would run like this:

    I must not fear. Fear. Fear. Fear…
    Fear is the mind killer. Mind killer. Killer. Fear…
    Fear is the little death… death! Death!…

    You get the idea. By the time I got around to “face my fear”, I felt so much worse I could barely concentrate on the words I was saying.

    I think that the Litany is a great formula for dealing with fear, but as an actual mantra, it never had the intended effect for me.

    Now, if you take the tack I described in this article, you’d want to find some word that means the exact opposite of “fear” and use that, instead. By activating the opposite of fear, you cancel the effect of the fear without directly activating it.

    What is the opposite of “fear”? Perhaps “courage”? Let’s go with that… So you should be able to “translate” the first part of the Litany (the part that describes fear) into something that means exactly the same thing, but using all-positive phrasing (with some other tweaks — for example, I’ve replaced the future tense of the Litany against Fear with present tense):

    The Litany for Courage:

    I am courageous.
    Courage enlivens the mind;
    It is the spark of life that brings forth new creation.
    With courage, I face forward.
    Courage fills me, and shows my path.
    The way ahead is open and plain.
    I walk it bravely.

    What do you think…?

  3. Very cool, idea, Jeff!

    I like it.

    Your blow-by-blow of how the Litany’s words act as triggers for you is definitely not my experience — but I can see where your responses come from. I think the key for anyone would be to do a personal breakdown and then do a “custom rewrite” in the way we’ve both suggested.

    The process should ultimately result in a unique affirmation or prayer — always the goal in my opinion. In my experience, very few borrowed affirmations, spells, or prayers out-perform those that I create according to my own unique needs.

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