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The Double Meaning behind the blog title 'Dream Follower:'
First, for 14 years I was a ballroom & social dance instructor, and have studied both leading and following. I feel that learning to follow is full of nuance and is often misunderstood. I made it one of my personal goals to become a really excellent follow on the dance floor, and will probably talk a lot about the art of following - both in and out of the context of dance.

Second, I am a huge fan of author Michael Ende, probably best known for The Neverending Story. The book is incredible, and the first film captured some of the essence. (Please don't watch the other two films...I urge you to read the book though!) Anyway, at least twice in my life I have been caught in a storm of my own indecision, and my inner Moon Princess yelled to my inner Bastian...'Why don't you do what you dream?' I tear up even now as I write this little blurb. The tension between being practical, keeping my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds (at the risk of compromising my inner vibrancy, true self, and who knows what else)...and reaching for my true dreams (at the risk of losing everything) is still a very real struggle. In fact, one of those struggles lead to my 14 years of teaching dance, so we can see which voice won the battle that fateful day when I was staring at the want-ad...

And so I strive to be two kinds of Dream Followers in my life. One has to do with connecting with others, and the other has to do with connecting with my inner Moon Princess and the world of possibility that opens when I do...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Detachment--Healthy or Escapist? and some thoughts on why positive thinking might not be the answer...

There is a whole culture of positivity, choosing our reactions, responses, etc. I am in a love/hate relationship with it for many reasons.

On paper, it sounds great. I'm a fan of finding the silver lining, looking on the bright side, learning lessons, and on and on. And I agree with so many of the ideas, because we can use positive thinking to comfort ourselves, soothe ourselves, recover from trauma, avoid making things worse or inviting more drama and these are all pretty good results. One negative result I have also experienced is self-judgment or criticism from peers or friends. The lecture (whether from others who mean well or my own self) is the worst wagging finger, self-righteous, annoying and unsympathetic response to an emotional flare with negative connotations. Sometimes, it would be nice to be able to release emotion rather than stifle or swallow or minimize...and it would be even better if it was allowed to flow out without being judged immediately, or accused of indulging negativity.

Parsing this is a work in progress. I see virtue in not wallowing in misery or inviting more misery through self-fulfilling self-sabotaging negative thought patterns. I get that we attract what we focus on, and we need to build habits of gratitude and kindness and be solution oriented.

rah fucking rah.

But when bad shit happens, looking on the bright side is just another drug to numb the pain, and being pathological about being positive seems like an insane response in the  face of tragedy or adversity. Nor is it okay to me to just dismiss all emotional responseif it is out of our control. "When we can't control circumstances, we can still control our reaction to them, it's a choice how we respond." I say bullshit. The only way you have control of your response is a sociopathic detachment either from your own emotions or your fellow humans or both. We have an emotional response. Period. Then we can accept it or judge it or try to councel our way to a new and potentially less painful understanding. But we cannot control our response. All we can hope to do is learn to not give in to a knee jerk response by filtering what we say. And we do that to protect ourselves and our fellow humans, which is mostly still in service to protecting our ego and self-image.

I'm on board. Really and truly. But don't let's pretend that the goal is detachment or a pollyanna perpetual fake smile plastered on our faces when shit hits the fan. Neither of those is healthy, in my opinion, nor sustainable.

I studied stoicism in college, and as a highly empathic person the idea of detaching sounded like heaven to me, and I tried it for a while, unsuccessfully. There must be a balance between falling victim to the storm of human emotion like a boat without a rudder/paddle/sail or being trapped in a fortress of solitude.

Someday I will find a good balance, but I'm not willing to pretend that only focusing on my response to things and force-feeding myself affirmations all day long is enough of a solution. I might go one step further and say I'm not sure the response is what needs managing/fixing/yadayada. Maybe it's the judgment of self and others. As I said, I'm still parsing and wrestling my thoughts on this whole topic.


  1. Of course, people who want you to repress emotions are afraid of their own. We live in a nation of emotional repression. Not sure what people fear more, emotions or death. We just don't think about death much day-to-day. But we're surrounded by all sorts of emotions constantly, even in our sleep! No wonder people are exhausted and sleep-deprived. It takes a lot of energy to avoid feeling - and who wants to relax and sleep when it's all going to come out in our dreams!?!

    How about separating the issue into two aspects?
    1. Honest reactions to real events
    2. Positive thinking/choosing our reactions

    Someone dies. The honest reaction of people who were close to that person is to feel sorrow.
    I have it on good authority from many people that the worst things to say are those positive thoughts. "Not suffering any more;" "an angel looking down on you;" "in a better place." Yet we hear them said all the time, on sympathy cards and in real life. The other worst things to say are "buck up;" "time to get over it;" "s/he wouldn't want you to be crying."
    On the other hand, there's a difference between reacting to the sorrow with "I can't bear this, I just want to die, my life is over," or with the thought that you're strong enough to find ways to bear the unbearable, that it may always hurt but someday you'll smile again.
    One reaction leads to that wallowing you mention.
    The other leads to healing.
    But the only way it leads to healing is if the true emotion is allowed.
    It's an energy thing.
    Hold it back and it will find a way to express itself. If not through one emotion, then through another.
    Just think of all that road rage (and other rage). It's the one emotion we somehow give a pass (until it's expressed with bullets).
    In extreme cases, repressed emotion can become physical (or mental) disease.

    And I agree. A lot of people turn positive thinking into something pathological. Like saying a positive attitude keeps you healthy so if you get sick it's your own fault. Or like saying if you have perfect faith, God will heal you so if you aren't healed, you don't have enough faith.
    It's sort of magical thinking.
    And rushing in with positive thoughts in the middle of someone's emotional response is a way to brush aside what's uncomfortable (YOUR feelings that so vividly mirror THEIR feelings), and go back to sleepwalking.

    "Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better."
    But the message is more about focusing on where we want to go rather than on what holds us back, as you said.
    That's my argument with "The Secret." It's 95% of the time misunderstood to mean if we think about things, they will happen. But the thought is not the vehicle, it's the fuel we put into it. We still have to get in and drive.
    That's one thing I liked about the concept of writing affirmations on one page of the notebook and writing all the negative thoughts that come up in response on the other page. It's a chance to see and acknowledge what holds us back and bring focus back to the positive thought.
    Here's another positive thought:
    "My emotions are pure and healthy and I give them free expression in safe surroundings."

  2. You so get exactly what I mean. And yes, if we try to suppress or repress it is liable to dive under only to resurface somewhere strange. Also agree about the Secret, and it not being enough to 'think positive' we have to match it with actions.

    I like that last sentence, with the caveat about in safe surroundings. Absolutely necessary to weigh the risks and feel safe first, but then yes express and move on!