Rick and I first started dating during one of the most challenging years of my life. I was experiencing a lot of personal ups and downs, and we had our fair share of relationship karma to work through. I lived in Hamburg and he lived in London, so we'd fly to each other every few weeks, or we'd meet somewhere else in Europe (I know, we were lucky to live this way), always bringing a camera along to capture our adventures.
While initially visiting each other, we'd pack our weekends full of plans and not much downtime. This enabled us to experience so much together, but it was also overwhelming during the times we were working through our patterns and conditioning. But even on the days we wore each other out, we still brought out the camera, and we still took photos of each other in every mood. Sometimes, one of us would grab the camera and delete the results, but other times, we'd let go and choose to keep our moments of vulnerability alive in photographic form.
My face of unease during those times became known as the Stinkface, ha. It usually manifested when I was deep in thought, feeling down about myself and/or circumstances surrounding me, and I was not comfortable being photographed.
The Stinkface was my facial rejection of the moment. It was my look of disagreement or disapproval.
I remember those days so well. There were times when I was facing a great deal of anxiety, and I recall how difficult it felt to be walking around with pain and loss in my body while others around me were able to joke so casually, keeping conversation light. I remember thinking, "There's just no way I can hide this pain," assuming everyone could see it. I shamed myself for it. And when I acted awkwardly because of the shame I was attaching to my pain, others often responded with discomfort, and it only sealed my experience of isolation and sadness. It's a cycle, and it's a brutal one.
At one point -- I forget when -- I stumbled upon the "Good Vibes Only" campaign. I saw it on social media, and then on T-shirts, and then on signs, and pillowcases... it somehow became ubiquitous. It was in Germany, London, and the U.S. People loved embracing the message. But as someone who was clearly struggling with keeping my head and my vibes up, I didn't feel good reading that message. And it occurred to me that although the author of the message likely had pure intentions, the message did not seem to be one of inclusivity.
The trend also showed up in my yoga teacher training, where there was regular advocacy for living a high-vibe life.
And, I get it. I understand the benefits of having a high vibration / tuning into a high frequency. It's helpful when we can "find the positive" in conversations and uplift people through our physical and verbal expressions.
It's also powerful to listen to an upbeat song, for example, and dance out any stuckness, elevating one's self into a space of greater joy and freedom. That stuff feels good! It's why I choose to dance my butt off some mornings!
To be clear, I'm not saying that creating love and attracting more love in this life is bad. The world certainly needs more love during times like these. When we have love, it's good to give it.
But there is something so crucial to grasp about the low vibes. Those vibes are there because our inner lives are hurting for one reason or another. Those vibes come with information and requests from our bodies and hearts. And if we ignore them, suppress them, numb them, or attempt to bypass them, we are not doing the true work of freeing ourselves. We are not taking care of ourselves or creating any lasting transformation. It's really important that we do not miss this step of leaning into and feeling whatever presents itself in the body. Life stressors will never stop cropping up until we die, and we need to feel them before we can let go of them fully.
Jack Kornfield touches on this notion in his book, A Path Filled with Heart:
The purpose of spiritual life is not to create some special state of mind. A state of mind is always temporary. The purpose is to work directly with the most primary elements of our body and our mind, to see the ways we get trapped by our fears, desires, and anger, and to learn directly our capacity for freedom. As we work with them, the demons will enrich our lives.
High vibes are fantastic when we feel them, but we don't need to glorify them and cast judgment upon what we deem to be low vibes. This approach is seen all over social media platforms, where we often find people only sharing the positive sides of themselves. It brings disconnect; our lives are not perfect, so why are we striving to prove that they are?
Clinging to the good and rejecting the bad is what the Buddha described as our fundamental suffering. When does it end? Every feeling is temporary. Every thought is temporary. We cannot control our thoughts in every moment. We cannot push ourselves to only create joyous, high-vibe thoughts. Alternatively, peace comes when we can bring a kind, non-attached mind to all thoughts and feelings that arise (here is one way to practice this).
And then the other piece is, we don't need to look down upon others because they're in a low place. We don't need to say, "Oh, did you see Sally today? Her vibe is so low. What's wrong with her?" Instead of judging, why not step inside of Sally's world for a moment, offer empathy, and give that heart chakra a massive squeeze? Who cares what frequency she's emanating? She obviously needs love.
The reality is that we are only able to see and be with another's pain without judgment when we are able to do the same for ourselves. This is a practice of true compassion.
Brené Brown writes extensively about the importance of owning our stories, no matter how grim they are. According to Brown, it is through owning and sharing our stories that we dissolve the trance of separateness and open to our inner lives and others' as well. I find this to be one of the most beautiful aspects of the human experience. We get to open our hearts and connect with others, consciously feeling the emotion of love, no matter what vibe we're projecting.
In the end, Rick learned to interpret my Stinkface as a sign of my need for love. More and more, he stopped reacting to my pain and created a space of acceptance for me. Every time he's done this, he's encouraged me to hold a tender space for myself, and when I've been able to do so, I've felt my wall of self-judgment melt away.
And so my wish today is that we may embrace EVERY vibe in ourselves and others. Love EVERY vibe. Trust that you are acceptable in EVERY version of yourself. We all need that trust. The world needs it.