Friday, October 30, 2015

Negative Imagination

In Julia Cameron's lovely book Walking in This World, I recently re-read something about worry and negative imagination that stood out to me. If you are a sensitive person who worries a lot and finds themselves tripping over unruly fears, then this might resonate with you too. 

Julia begins by telling us that we need working definitions for the mishmash of fears, anxieties and doubts that ail us. Only when we know what exactly we are dealing with can we start to work through it.

This is what Julia says about worry:  

"Worry has an anxious and unfocused quality. It skitters subject to subject, fixating first on one thing, then on another. Like a noisy vacuum cleaner, its chief function is to distract us from what we really are afraid of. " 

Its chief function is to distract us from what we are really afraid of. Even though it leaches all the fluidity and joy out of our lives, worry serves as a distraction. It leads our eyes away from our spaces of deep discomfort. 

How is worry different from fear?

"Fear is not obsessive like worry and not escalating like panic. Fear is more reality based. It asks us to check something out. Unpleasant as it is, fear is our ally. Ignore it and the fear escalates. A sense of loneliness joins its clamor. At its root, fear is based in a sense of isolation. We feel like David facing Goliath with no help from his cronies and a concern that this time, his trusty slingshot might not work."

Fear is healthy when it points to something that needs to be turned over, needs to be double-checked. But fear is also amorphous. We add to the drama when we let the fear fester. We don't pay attention to the kernel of true concern, and our fear becomes the monster that scares us. 

Unlike fear, worry is obsessive. It's a thought we pick up and smoke at. Today, we are worried about this one thing. Tomorrow, it is something else. We are hooked into this way of behaving. We might have little trust in the world around us. Maybe, we suffered from trauma at an earlier time and now worrying is our way of projecting into the future, trying to control it from hurting us. 

When we worry, what are are effectively doing is channel our creative energies into something that is not constructive. This is what Julia has to stay about an imagination that has gone haywire. 

"The more active--and even more negative--your imagination is, the more it is a sign of creative energy. Think of yourself as a racehorse--all that agitated animation as you prance from paddock to track bodes well for your ability to actually run.

In both my teaching and collaborative experience, I have often found that the most "fearful" and "neurotic" people are actually those with the best imaginations. They have simply channeled their imaginations down the routes of their cultural conditioning."   

Culturally, we are trained to worry about certain things. We are trained to prepare for any negative possibility. And we might have had experiences that cause us to always be on the defensive, that cause us to worry. But worrying about what can't be controlled obviously doesn't help us. It just casts a film on our experience. It muddies our world today. 

As someone who is prone to worrying, I know how insidious worry is, how it curls and hisses around you. It comes cloaked in reasonableness. It takes our energy and warps it into something that doesn't serve us. 

We could take that energy and start doing something with it actively. We could start channeling it by moving it from our bodies. We could distract ourselves by gardening or going for a walk or making something. We can see that the same imagination that brings us our gloom and doom predictions can be channeled so it becomes full and free.    

We can start seeing that worry really is, as Julia calls it, "imagination's negative stepsister." If that is the case, we are just a few steps away from dealing with it. We can have our arsenal of tools ready - our paints or our walking shoes or our camera. We can choose what we do with our attention and our imagination.

What do you think? What are your tools for dealing with negative imagination? How can you step away from worry and into the expansive possibilities on the other side? 

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