Many years ago I got a most valuable lesson in human relations through a workshop exercise that required a certain amount of courage. It might have come from anywhere but the Taoists are particularly adept at creating scenarios that cut to the heart of a matter and give you immediate tools for resolution. The point of this Qigong/Chi Gung exercise was threefold: 1) to understand when you are putting out what type of emotional energy, 2) to discern when what types of emotions are being projected at you and 3) to gain some control over both.
What required the courage was sitting face to face with a partner and deliberately sending and receiving strong emotions back and forth. Now of course we subject ourselves to this every day without much thought when we get into heated arguments and such, but we rarely stop to examine closely exactly what’s going on, particularly not within ourselves.
The specifics of the exercise are fairly simple. Two people face each other and one is the Sender and the other the Receiver. The Receiver may close his/her eyes to eliminate the visual cues and emphasize the kinesthetic, felt (or “sixth”) sense. The Sender then musters up and projects out a strong negative emotion such as contempt, aggression, hatred, etc.
The first lesson for the Sender is that these emotions can be turned on and off at will as opposed to them being involuntary. The first lesson for the Receiver is to perceive when they are on vs. off.
Once that is established the Sender will probably will get some insight into what their normal habits are, e.g. is contempt a familiar emotion? The Receiver will take note of their usual reactions to negativity whether it’s responding in kind, in fear, in escape, in denial, or even in empathy. Next the real trick is to neutralize the negativity so that it has no real effect and there’s no need to react beyond observation.
How do you neutralize negativity? A common idea is to create a barrier of sorts, but from an energetic viewpoint this is considered way too difficult to do effectively. Some folks would try the opposite, positive approach where you “kill with kindness,” which might work but could get much more complicated, as we’ll see in a minute.
The Taoist Qigong approach is so simple it sounds simplistic: Dissolve the charged energy into harmless neutrality so there’s no need to engage or not engage any further. And how is that Dissolving done?, you might well ask. On a fundamental level it means relaxing your physical body deeply enough that your heart rate, breathing rate, nerve firing rate, etc. remain stable and unchanged. Yes, that takes some real practice, hours of it. In fact it’s the main practice of the old school, Water/Yin methods. Usually it’s done solo, here it’s duo.
If you can learn to do some of that magic you might try taking it to the next level by dissolving the space around you, your personal space, your energy field. This is considered to be more difficult but a few, the more sensitive types, may find it easier. The advantage here is that the highly charged emotional energy won’t get to your body, so in effect you have a sort of shield without the need to build up one. Clever.
If you want to test your ability here try moving a step closer and dissolve the space in front of you until you can no longer feel the bad juju being projected. We did the exercise until we stood nose to nose, very definitely in each others’ personal spaces.
What could be the problem with counteracting negativity with positivity? Maybe nothing but it’s always good to ask if you have an agenda here: if you can’t successfully create a positive atmosphere is that still fine with you or does it become an issue? Some related problems are more insidious: What we think of as positive might be a mistake on our part and instead be an insult. A classic example is Compassion where you see the other as your equal vs. Pity where you put yourself above the other. We’ve all seen or put on smiles and other kindnesses that are not quite genuine. And very often we expect something in return for our goodness which misses the point entirely.
You could extend the game as we did to include Sending strong positive or almost positive emotions such as praise or flattery, which can easily turn into manipulation or seduction by the Sender and who knows what in the Receiver. We found this more revealing than the obvious negativity game.
Dissolving is meant to create neutrality, a lack of need for any other outcome. It’s equivocation, neither good nor bad, where you start over from square zero. From here you have the most freedom to be spontaneous, to act without constraint.
Paradoxically (or not) we found that when the Receiver did not engage, the Sender had less motivation to keep it going and got tired, so the situations never escalated. Anyone who’s had a class in behavioral psych might recall that no reward, no reaction is the quickest way to eliminate a behavior. (But beware, as the surest way to maintain a behavior is to give only the occasional reward/reaction.)
You may not find anyone willing to go through such an exercise but you can still try it by yourself in your daily existence without telling anyone. Pick easy scenes first such as a problem solving discussion, or a social media thread, or a struggle in which you have no interest. You may not graduate to the point of contending with armed opponents but whatever progress you make will make your life that much more calm and smooth.