A Dialogue between Letting Go author Guy Finley and psychologist Dr. Ellen Dickstein
ED: Guy, it seems like there are many paradoxes in the spiritual path, and I think there is a lot of confusion because we don’t understand our role in the grand universal scheme of Life. One of the paradoxes that you write about quite frequently is that we can learn to use the power concealed within inner storms negative psychological states, like anger, worry, and fear to free ourselves from the stress that fills our modern-day lives. To be able to use negativity to end negativity sounds like a skill that would be extremely helpful for most people. Can you explain how a person can use negative states to find the peaceful, successful, stress-free life that we all long for?
GF: We are presently unable to tap the power contained within interior storms for one primary reason: When we are enveloped in an interior storm, we mistakenly believe that there is no difference between ourselves and the negative thoughts and feelings surging inside of us. But the fact is, who we really are our true Self sits above the storms that pass through it.
Let me ask you a question: if you throw paint into the air, does the air get painted?
ED: Of course not.
GF: Right. Because air and paint have two totally different natures. Another example is light shining from a lighthouse on a dark, stormy night. The higher nature of the light allows it to pass right through rain and wind to ensure the safety of passing ships. In the same way, our true Self cannot be “made” stressful even through stressful thoughts and emotions may be passing through us.
Herein lies a powerful lesson: any time we feel angry, frightened, worried, or stressed, we can realize that we are not the negative thoughts and feelings passing through our minds and hearts. We can awaken to the understanding that our true Self has a different nature and exists in a higher world than those negative energies. And we can use this simple truth to begin to examine exactly how negativity justifies its existence within us.
ED: Can you explain that further?
GF: The first thing we need to understand about interior storms is that they are produced by what I will call “unnatural” opposing forces.
Natural storms are formed on Earth (and in space) when two opposing energies collide with one another. For instance when warm air from the tropics meets a chilly arctic air mass over the North Atlantic, a storm is formed as the two systems exchange hot and cold air and moisture creating wind, waves, clouds and rain. The storm is the evidence of an imbalance that is created as the two systems strive to find equilibrium. In nature, storms are always resolved in a relatively short time because the energies that cause the storm in the first place just plain wear themselves out.
The beauty of natural storms is that they are always positive. Everything that comes out of the natural reconciliation of their forces serves to produce something new a new form, a new possibility, a new life. Natural storms freshen the air. They nourish trees and polish mountaintops. They wipe clean and renew what was soiled and aged.
ED: So what does all of this have to do with interior storms?
GF: As above, so below.
ED: Can you explain?
GF: Sure. When someone doesn’t share our values or ideals related to a particular subject, isn’t it our tendency to see that person as being a problem, meaning he or she obviously lacks our level of wisdom, i.e., he’s an “idiot”, or worse!
GF: So the values I hold collide with the values they hold. Do you know these moments, Ellen?
ED: Yes. Quite well.
GF: Right, we call it an argument. But isnt an argument just a collision of forces? Isnt an argument a storm? And heres the amazing part: unlike storms in nature, storms inside of human beings arent always positive and dont always get reconciled.
Any form of resentment for example (which all of us harbor in some degree) is proof of an unnatural, unreconciled storm that serves nothing but negativity.
Another example would be getting stressed over living up to our own, or someone elses expectations. All stress does is make us hurt, and steal the creative energy we need to accomplish whatever it is we have set out to do. Yet, especially in todays world, everyone is stressed out. The inherent power contained in colliding energies i.e. our wish for excellence and the forces that stand in our way is wasted by our own minds resisting the storm.
This is where it gets exciting. When we see this action at work inside of ourselves, we begin to ask the question, Why doesn’t that storm inside of me produce exactly the same outcome as does nature when she brings opposing forces together to produce new clarity, purity, freshness, and perfection?
ED: So the answer to the question is that in nature, opposing forces arent resisted, which allows them to be reconciled so that something positive and new can be created. But the human mind resists the healing energy of storms and continues in a cycle of negativity.
GF: Yes. Exactly. We are subject to these storms because there is a part of us our lower nature that defines who we are, and how life should go. This lower nature is the cause of our stress because it creates images, clings to them, and works to protect them in spite of how they cause harm to ourselves or to others.
ED: So the very things that we think are valuable and make life valuable our dreams of how life should go are the very things that are preventing us from living a true and valuable life.
GF: Yes and the “paradox” isn’t that there is anything wrong with one’s wish to achieve, to be excellent, to want to develop his or her mind. There is a natural upwelling inside of a human being to pursue excellence. It is natural to want to understand ourselves, deeply and through as many avenues as possible. But at a certain point in our lives we can start to see that there is an inherent limitation in wanting to know ourselves through the world outside of us. And this limitation begins to become clear when we see that all of the storms in our life are connected to our ideas of how we think life should go.
And then one day it dawns on us that these storms we experience arent coming to take something from us; they are evidence of Life trying to show us where we are resisting Its infinite intelligence. You see, the storms of life, and the immense creative energies contained within them, are always producing forms. After all, what is life but energy producing form after form in an ever more perfect upward transformation?
ED: So, when we begin to see that we suffer from these storms because of all these ideas we hold of ourselves, and we realize that being in a storm if we deal with it properly can actually begin to wash away these images and give us something new and beautiful, then we can actually begin to welcome storms.
GF: Yes. Most of us have heard the passage attributed to St. Paul: “I live and die daily.” This statement speaks to an order of ourselves waiting to be realized that doesn’t just “live” moment to moment, but that “uses” each and every event in life to die to what is old so that something new and better can be born. All of these ideas we are discussing point to the possibility of a completely different order of relationship with life where instead of fighting with storms, we learn to use them to wake ourselves out of the dream that is the cause of our conflict with reality which is the cause of all useless human suffering.
So, instead of allowing the lower self to justify its stress, to blame others, or to judge itself, all of which only accelerates the effect of the storm, we can do something all together new and different: we can expose the whole of our Self to the whole of the storm, and then let the natural, beautiful Intelligence that actually produces these storms, do what it will with us, which is to lead us through a process of transformation into a new and more perfect creature and that is quite literal!
ED: You’ve said that every storm passes, and it’s true. Even in the unconscious person, eventually they get worn out and the anger, or worry, or resentment goes away (at least for awhile). The real issue seems to be, what am I doing in the moment of the storm to allow it to do its work of transformation?
GF: Yes, that’s the whole thing. If we can learn to be storm watchers instead of storm fighters, we have a chance to let the stress in that storm do in our soul what it was always intended to do, which is to strengthen and renew us, to produce inside each of us a whole new Life.
Dr. Ellen Dickstein earned her PhD from Johns Hopkins University and was a tenured professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University. She is a leading authority on stress and anxiety in todays busy world and is the co-author with Guy Finley of The Intimate Enemy.