THE PROBLEM WITH LOVE AND LIGHT 💛🌟💩
You’ve seen them . . . The shirts that broadcast, in big bold letters, “Good vibes only!”
You’ve heard them, too . . . The words “Love and light!” sprinkled into closing remarks in Instagram stories and yoga classes.
These narratives, of good vibes being the only acceptable kind of vibes and of spreading only love and light, are prominent in the wellness world and run rampant in the modern yoga realm. And I will be the first to admit, as a yoga practitioner, a yoga teacher, and an all-around human trying to navigate life in the modern age, I try, as much as possible, to be a positivity junky. I try not to get too swept up in stress. I try to find levity where I can. I try to see the proverbial glass as half full.
But, here’s the thing: I do get swept up in very real stress. And, life’s plan, whether believed to be predetermined or to be unfolding unpredictably moment by moment, has no regard for levity. And the glass, frankly, does not always feel half full, and in fact, sometimes feels pretty damn empty.
So, I am going boldly where, as a yoga practitioner and yoga teacher, I am probably not supposed to go, and am proclaiming loudly and proudly . . .
Good vibes only is bull shit, and sometimes, “love and light” kind of feels like bull shit, too.
Listen: I know what the knee-jerk reaction to the sentiments above are likely to be. Don’t we have enough negativity in the world already?! Life can be so messy; what’s wrong with a little positivity?! Wait, isn’t yoga all about love and light and embracing the present with a smile and wide open arms?!
The answers are: YES! There is no shortage of suffering, of struggle, of negativity in this world, and we are wise to rise to the occasion and do what we can to eliminate it. And, NOTHING! There is nothing wrong with positivity and making a cognizant effort to maintain a positive perspective. And YES! Yoga is, in part,about embracing the present and cultivating the mindfulness to exist fully in the moment.
Yet, while I know all of the above to be true, I also know that not all of life’s trials and tribulations can be solved by simply reframing shitty experiences and challenging circumstances through a positive lens. In fact, sometimes, trying to assume a forced and false “glass is half full” perspective feels like akin to the futility of putting a band aid on a broken leg and hoping it heals. When I step onto my mat and hear phrases like “love and light,” sometimes it resonates, but other times I am not feeling love or light, and trying to force myself to embody those words when I am not up to the task actually takes me farther from my personal satya; farther from my personal truth.
That’s my problem with good vibes only, and with love and light. When we try to reduce life to good vibes only, we are effectively negating and neglecting a significant sector of the human experience. When we try to reduce and resolve conflicts by prescribing love and light, we are discounting and shelving the inevitable, albeit unpleasant, experiences of pain, loss, hurt, anger, and defeat. While unpleasant, these experiences and emotions are not only inevitable, but are capable of teaching us so much . . . About ourselves, about others, about how our world works and about how we can, perhaps, learn to navigate it more effectively.
Dismissing life’s less than ideal circumstances, hiccups, and even tragedies, and the associated and subsequent emotions that come with them, with the mindset of maintaining positivity at all costs can actually keep us from experiencing and processing very real emotions that, in all likelihood, need to be released and expressed. Minimizing our struggles, or those of others, with overly simplified, quippy one-liners like “everything happens for a reason,” or “stay positive,” however well-intentioned, can be extremely dismissive of basic human emotion.
The “buzzwords” floating around in cyberspace to describe this phenomenon of prescribing love and light to all of life’s troubles are “toxic positivity.” As one psychologist describes, “Toxic positivity minimizes and ignores painful feelings. It invalidates real experiences. Toxic positivity stifles feelings that deserve attention and compassion . . . sending a subtle but clear message that there’s no space for pain. There’s no room for hard stuff.”
To me, this is why phrases like “good vibes only” and the encouragement to embody only “love and light” are extremely problematic, especially in regard to my relationship with yoga. Because, to me, my mat is one of the places that I feel safe and comfortable arriving fully, whole heartedly, unabashedly, and unapologetically WITH my painful feelings; WITH my real experiences; WITH my feelings; WITH my pain; WITH my hard stuff.
If I only arrived on my mat when I was feeling good vibes and radiating love and light . . . I would seldom arrive. Because my mat is my safe haven. It’s where I go when I am feeling strong, and weak. When I am feeling positive, and negative. When I am elated, and when I feel like life has kicked the shit out of me. When I am feeling empowered, and vulnerable.
Some of my most profound moments on the mat have not been in times of triumph, but rather in times of strife. I have made it through several a yoga class only to sob in savasana. I have participated in a soulful breath workshop that entailed nothing but laying on my mat with a few props, breathing intentionally, and seeing what happened. And what happened was a massive emotional release, tears and all.
These experiences, while not necessarily pleasant, were absolutely necessary to my evolution as a human being. Had I been turned away from them, or unable to experience them, because they don’t proliferate good vibes, or love, or light . . . I can’t say for certain that I’d be where I am today, which is an imperfect perpetual work in progress accepting of my flaws and ever in pursuit of growth.
This is not written to be a downer, or a buzzkill. It’s written as a reminder that life does not, and likely will never, fit into the tidy narrative of good vibes only, and that we won’t always feel up to the task of embodying love and light.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
What if we did away with “good vibes only” and sending messages of only “love and light” and instead, simply encouraged each other to vulnerably come as we are . . . bad vibes and all?