The Beautiful Mess of Life: How to Allow and Move Past Negative Patterns

If water is too clear, it will not contain fish.
—Chinese proverb

As a culture, we have an obsession with cleanliness. It’s not just bodily cleanliness, though, it’s internal purification as well. We desire to be free of negativity and unwanted emotions and feelings.

So what we often do is push those unwanted feelings out. Or we cover them up with positive thinking. We think, “If I can just think positive enough, then the things I don’t want will disappear.” Yet, I’ve found that this hardly ever works.

I’ve tried it for a long time, and it hasn’t ever worked for me.

It’s in the waste, compost, and ugly mess that flowers grow. It’s through mess that beauty is able to emerge. Not by getting rid of it, but by transforming it.

The water that is too clean has no fish.

Let’s make an assumption. Each thought or situation that arises in your life that you would label as negative or unwanted has an underlying beneficial intention. If you go deeper into the negativity, there may be a lesson, an intended protection, or a concern. And those are there with an intention of doing you some kind of good (even though they may be keeping you stuck or causing you some kind of pain).

By pushing out or trying to escape from a negative situation or thought, you deny a part of yourself. You don’t transform something by denying it. You can’t. You must go through it.

In order to transform it, you must welcome it and give it space. Ask what it is there to teach. Ask what it wants for you. Invite it into your heart, and let it rest there. Make space for it. Only then can you address it and allow it to dissolve.

In this way, the mess becomes beautiful. Underneath the dirt and mess is a beautiful gem. But the mess was necessary in order to create and hold the gem.

If you remember this and practice inviting the mess, you will be able to move beyond it. By holding and loving the unwanted thoughts and emotions, you allow something beautiful to grow in their place. And then, real change can take place. You will no longer be covering up or pushing away with fake positivity. You will experience genuine transformation.

In every mess there is beauty. In every beauty, there is a mess.

Now you can see why denying what we don’t want (the negativity and the mess) we also deny what we do want. We cannot have what we want without going through the mess.

So instead of trying to move away from the mess, go through it. If you always make space for it, it will never control or hinder you again.

photo courtesy of cobalt123

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Ben Weston May 13, 2010 at 10:55 am

Well said Jonathan,

I feel there’s a balance to be made in the whole process, which you’ve described fairly well. We can enter the mess but sometimes spend too much time in it because it may feel more comfortable. As much as I can’t stand the “think positive” only trend, I think it could complement the process of going through our individual messes. By going through our messes, we clear and open ourselves up to something more positive.

Take care,
Ben

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Mars Dorian May 13, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Hey Jonathan, I’m still obsessed with inner cleanliness, no matter how poetic your post ;)

Mess isn’t an useful word, if you think of it, you have already invited it to your consciousness. While I think it’s true to embrace both, your dark and light side, you should only focus on where you want to be or go. And use the right words to back it up.

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Andre May 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Nice post. Permanent positive thought override mode is self-delusional. I’ve also tried it to pretty much no effect. I like the idea of acknowledging negative patterns/events before learning from them and then finally moving past/over/through them.

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Pea May 13, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I don’t like the way positive thinking gets a bad wrap when people use it incorrectly. It’s like using a television set to mow the lawn and wondering why the grass is still long.

Why use it to cover up reality? It is meant to put you in a state to gain a more resourceful insight and renewed energy to assist a problem.

But although I’m partial to order, I very much appreciate your overall message. I agree that you can emerge quite graceful from a difficult situation by confronting it, although I think your language is charmingly absolute, “We CANNOT have what we want without going through the mess.”

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Ms. Jenn May 13, 2010 at 5:32 pm

You may have just saved someone a sh*t load of money they would have spent on therapy to hear this. Going through negative feelings instead of avoiding them or trying to think them away with positivity is actually extremely harmful to your mental health. It can create what is known as an emotional split.

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Ms. Jenn May 13, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Sorry, meant that trying to think them away or avoiding them is extremely harmful! Going through the negative is good for you.

Kenji Crosland May 13, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Every time I fight my negative impulses, or beat myself up for negative thinking the problem not only persists, but often gets worse. It festers. I love your recommendation to “give our messes space.” If we stand too close, we find ourselves buried in it. If we stand back and observe, the root of our problems become clear.

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Sue May 14, 2010 at 12:35 am

Great post, Jonathan. It’s so true that it’s the messy stuff in our inner lives (and the outer world–to a point)that creates the compost that feeds the soil to nurture great beauty. Not only have I never seen fish in perfectly clean water (at least in their natural environments),I’ve never seen a lotus grow in crystal clear water, either. In fact the lotus really symbolizes the whole process of germinating in and then rising above the mud in our lives.

I do also think that too much chaos and disorder in our outer world can start to drag us down energetically and contribute toward inner chaos, and vice versa. The key, I think is to process it and transform it, rather than wallow in it or deny it.

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floreta May 14, 2010 at 2:38 am

definitely! That’s why I appreciate the “beauty in the breakdown”. Some of the most profound, life transforming actions begin at these fragile moments. But you must have the courage to go through it!

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Steve May 14, 2010 at 3:14 am

Jonathan,
Your post contains many interesting ideas that would deserve future developments:

- What you fight persists vs what you notice and accept without personal judgement finally dissolves. It’s like meditation, when you just observe & accept thoughts and don’t fight them, they finally dissolve.

- You can’t put make up to disguise or escape reality, but accepting reality as part of ourselves and learning from IS POSITIVE THINKING.

- Encouraging to face the mess is encouraging self-awareness. It’s about paying attention to moments that may contain seeds of greatness.

“We cannot have what we want without going through the mess” This is not necessarily true; sometimes, you get what you without going through the mess, which is nice too!

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John May 14, 2010 at 4:32 am

I usually don’t post on blogs, but I had to make a comment on this one. Very interesting take! I have to really ponder this and think it through, but I really like it. Nice Job!

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Leisa Watkins May 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I am all for positive thinking. But sometimes positive thinking doesn’t heal the past. Healing often need to take place. Often there is other actions that need to be done. And experiencing the negative thoughts can actually help us develop insight.

I found myself doing myself a disservice when I tried to “think the problems of the past away.” Sure, it works sometimes, but for some of the truly messy things in life it may not work.

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Steve-Prospering With Aspergers May 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm

You are so correct. I believe Americans, in particular, try to avoid negative feelings and events. In many other countries around the world, there is an acceptance that life includes a lot of suffering. Staying with and accepting adversity, while asking the right questions and reaching out for support along the way, are keys to resilience.

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Jonathan Wondrusch May 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Hey Jonathan (nice name haha), this post really hit home with me this evening. I’m currently in a men’s group and leadership training program, and one of the focuses of the training is that the darkness IS A PART OF US. It resides within is, just as our light does. When you try and hide from it, the shadows have a way of creeping up on you in ways that you’d prefer that they didn’t. Only when you give the dark side of yourself a big hug, and give that side of you love too, are you able to really move past the mindset of, “Gotta fix myself.” Thanks for sharing this post!

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Jonathan May 19, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Yes Sir

We was all brought up as kids with dirt and grubby knees. That way we built immunity.

Jonathan

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Aysel May 27, 2010 at 7:10 am

I tried to shield myself from all the negativity by thinking positive thoughts, reading positive books and blogs, etc. It felt so fake. Pretending that you don’t see the problem doesn’t make it go away. It’s like a child shutting his eyes not to see some scary looking stranger. But when he opens his eyes – the scary guy is still there. We cannot go about life with our eyes closed and our imagination frantically working to create tons of positive images. If we don’t open our eyes, we won’t be able to see where we are going and will inevitable fall.

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Marisa June 22, 2010 at 7:01 am

Jonathan- this is a very important lesson that I have been working on for almost a year. I had to stop struggling against the negativity, and exactly like you said, dig deeper and figure out the source and then go from there. Instead of lashing out at my fiance for “never helping out,” I take a minute to dig into that negative thought, and usually discover that I really just need a nap. And a quick 20-minute sleep is much better than a long, drawn out fight that is ultimately about nothing.

What I try to remember is this: I am not repressing emotions, I am allocating my emotional resources more wisely. Before letting myself get angry or upset, I stop for a second and ask myself “How will getting angry/upset/hurt/sad benefit me?” The answer is usually “It won’t” so I move on. Why waste my energy on negativity?

It sounds like a lot of work, but it has honestly been the easiest and best decision I have ever made, and after doing it for so long, the process is mostly automatic now. It’s just about being more aware of yourself and not letting impulsive emotions guide you.

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Nomvula Tshabalala April 1, 2011 at 5:34 am

Thank you for the topic. I have suffered for a long time as a result of denying negative emotions and choosing to be positive instead of dealing with my emotions. I like the way you refer to it as ‘fake positive’. Everyone else thinks that we are great and doing well when we are really hurting badly inside. I could not understand why I had all these negative emotions popping up anywhere and at anytime until I learned that it was a result of suppressed feeling, which is exactly what you’re pointing out in your article.

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