Redirecting Negative Energy

August 28th, 2014

patience composureI’ve been reviewing some science homework with my ninth grade son. This is so much more fun as a parent, without the threat of a test looming. In any case, I was reminded that energy can neither be created or destroyed, only changed (redirected). Apply the same law to conflict, and EUREKA!

Nature gets this, naturally. We struggle with it. And that’s the key word, struggle. We struggle with conflict, and want to end it, which makes it last longer and take more effort to resolve.

If we learn from nature, we can start redirecting negative energy rather than buying into it. We can learn from nature how to get the best out of the worst moments. We can create more ease in our lives, linger less in struggle and refocus negativity into something which is productive.

The thing is we know how to do this, naturally. It’s just that we’re programed to fight tooth and nail when we feel threatened. We’re given two, seemingly contradictory, options.

1. An eye for an eye.

Conflict is usually a form of fear (born of the ego’s need to control and expressed as force or aggression).

Too often we assume that meeting force with even greater force is the only solution. This is because we’re aiming for control; the last word, the loudest voice, the strongest grip.

It’s like the 1960’s TV sitcom called “Get Smart”? The secret service goodies are even called Control. The baddies work for a terrorist group called Chaos. In one episode, the villain traps Max and 99 high on a cliff. They exchange threats before Max requests his dying wish, and lights up an exploding cigarette, blowing the baddies off the cliff to their death. Agent 99 watches in horror and then comments to Max, “You know, Max, sometimes I think we’re no better than they are, the way we murder and kill and destroy people”, to which Max replies, “Why, 99, you know we have to murder and kill and destroy in order to preserve everything that’s good in the world.” I can still remember the distorted look on Max’s face as he realized the absurdity of what he had just said.

This is one of the ways we perpetuate the cycle of conflict. Someone has to pay, someone has to be right, someone has to be wrong, and being right at all costs is the aim.  There is a better way, and it often involves a little chaos and some messy conversations.

2. Let It All Go

The other way we put fuel on conflict’s fire is by being passive or submissive. We think that by giving in that conflict will end quickly. But give a bully a taste of oppression and they will come back for more. Submission is not a solution for anybody.

Nature’s way is not passive or submissive. Healthy conflict resolution is not weak or passive. You don’t have to give up your own needs or tolerate bad behavior while resolving conflict. You don’t have to be anybody’s doormat. Take this story for example,

A woman (a student of Zen) was in India, riding with a friend in a rickshaw when they were attacked by a crazed man. He abused and threatened them. The woman was shaken and later asked her Zen teacher what the appropriate response to her attacker would be. The teacher said very simply, “You should have very mindfully and with great compassion whacked him over the head with your umbrella.”

I’m not advocating violence, and I don’t think the Zen teacher was either. Sometimes the element of surprise can alter a power dynamic, enough to change the conversation or redirect the energy.

There is an alternative to these two extremes or aggression or submission.

tai chiRedirecting Negative Energy

I’ve taken a few Tai chi classes and the message is always the same. Redirect force and you will neutralize negativity, and maybe even create mutual harmony.

Extreme fear (which is what extreme aggression usually is) needs to be met with an energy of equal power, extreme love. Extreme love doesn’t necessarily mean passive love. It could be VERY active, smart and forceful. But the important point is that it matches the passion of aggression and redirects it, breaking the cycle of conflict rather than escalating it.

But how do you do it?

1. Arrive Prepared

You are already preparing for battles you don’t even know you need to fight. Every battle is first won in the mind of the General then on the battlefield. Practice peaceful conflict resolution in the way you speak to yourself. Keep the practice alive with the people closest to you, those who are easiest to love. Make peace second nature for you. There it is again, that word nature.

2. Keep Your Head Up

Keep your head up and straight. Approach every interaction as an equal. No one looks up or down on anyone. If someone is behaving badly, take the high road. Keeping a posture of peace and calm will help you to stay balanced.

3. Debate With Honor

Debate an issue, not a person’s character. Attack problems, not people. Keep the conflict independent of the relationship (even a strained relationship). Write up the problem on a whiteboard or a piece of paper, so you can work together on the common goal of solving the problem and not crushing the other person.

4. Stay Open

There is a saying, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” Listen with an open mind. Even the most difficult people have some truth to bring. Honor their truth. Ask lots of questions. Spend more time clarifying than arguing. Don’t let debates get personalized or globalized. Keep the issues clearly in front of you.

5. Keep It Light

Be careful with this one. Laughing at someone who is already angry will make things worse. Create ways to lighten the mood for both of you. Use a little self deprecating humor as long as it doesn’t squash your own sense of honor. Laugh at the situation and it won’t become so personal.

6. Let It Out

If people are determined to be negative or critical, they will find a way, no matter  how well you handle it. So be prepared to let people rant without buying into it. Tai chi teaches to wait for people to expend all their negative energy. Don’t add any fuel to their fire but let it all come out. It’s often better out than lurking in the shadows within. Let people exhaust themselves on their own negativity. Then you might be able to approach each other with compassion.

7. Redirect Energy

Martial arts works WITH force, rather than against it. Sometimes the same thing works in conflict. You can either try directing conflict to its own illogical conclusion to show that it leads nowhere for either of you, or you can direct energy into open space. Redirect critical energy into problem solving. Redirect the person with no verbal filter to write a report. Carve the conflict up into mini issues, and for the person who needs to be right, let them be right where possible.

Bottom line, energy can’t be created or destroyed. Conflict can’t usually be ended, just redirected. And there is incredible power in doing so.

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  1. Barry Lee Marris says:

    After I read Ian’s article, I realized that the night before I had been watching a training film on “Redirecting Energy”, better known as the Ali-Foreman “Rope-a-Dope” heavyweight boxing match.  I had Youtubed it for old-times sake because I’ve always been fascinated by Ali’s uncanny strategy in that fight.  Foreman was a hugely powerful hitter.  I had watched him in a training gym when he hit the giant hanging body bag:  WAH-VOOM! the whole gym shook!  I thought Ali would be crushed by this human wrecking ball!  Then, when I saw the actual fight I couldn’t figure out why Ali was just laying on the ropes letting Foreman flail away at him, with absolutely no attempt to hit back (almost).  Until one of the announcer’s said, “Foreman may be beginning to tire…”  Sure enough, Foreman used up all his energy, and Ali, walked over and metaphorically blew him down like a feather in the wind.   Genius teaming up with physics.   Ali was demonstrating the Law of Energy and Aikido at the same time.   He redirected Foreman’s energy, and boom, Goliath hit the mat.  Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!Now, there is another Law of science that we should study at the same time:  The Law of Inertia.  I think it basically says that an object will remain stationary (inert) until another object in motion, or force of nature, strikes it.  That Law tell me to get up off my lazy ass and do something to effect someone else to get off their lazy ass and get up…well, you get the point.  It is hard to redirect anything from a recliner…except maybe the channels one is watching…   Barry Lee Marris

  2. Heather Lee says:

    It was helpful to have this come up again in my newsfeed today. I re-read it, or read it for the first time – I don’t remember. I applied it to a current conflict and incorporated the ideas into a letter to myself.On the bit about sometimes allowing people to just “get it out” and rant: I do not let the energy eat into my self-concept. (Well, I do –  but am gonna try not to.) I thought I’d try imagining all that negative energy as flowing into a prism in my hand, where it is transformed and redirected into a burst of positive energy, ready to identify issues and work towards solutions. Hmmm… dunno. Maybe I also need to visualise an emotional raincoat, where it runs off me.Ian, it reminds me of some work I did last year on assertiveness. It seems that lessons covered just keep coming back when you have forgotten; you need to keep practising some more. Calm. Lovingkindness. Assertiveness. Remember you are OK and connected.Thanks so much for your thoughts. They really do give people something to work with and hold on to. Heather 

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