Sandra Ingerman wrote and made available online a very powerful essay called “How to Heal Toxic Thoughts.” It’s about the negative energy we send out, and how unconscious of it we often are. She tells about a dream that brought her a powerful message about “psychic punches.” These are impalpable, intangible attacks done with weapons such as words and thoughts. Sandra says,
When we observe how people behave, there may not seem to be any hostility. We may see a smile on the face of someone listening to us. But what is happening on an invisible level?
Maybe you remember “The Shadow Knows,” the Sergio Aragones comic strip in Mad magazine, where the characters would be doing and saying one thing, while their shadows indicated something else entirely. It’s a graphic illustration of what Sandra calls the power of our invisible interactions. Those cartoons hold a profound teaching.
I was once in a situation where three meals a day had to be eaten at the same table, with the same three tablemates. One woman had a regional accent that grated on my ears and nerves so badly that after the second day all I could think about was strangling her. I acted civilized, but I was sending waves — no, tsunamis — of negativity in this person’s direction. One day she wasn’t there anymore. She had gotten sick, and I never had to hear her voice again. Tell you what, when I put it together, this scared me.
Sandra gives examples of the many common phrases we use that betray the similarity between psychic hostility and physical attack. There’s a reason for this. Violent energy might be invisible, but it can damage another person’s physical and psychological health. This connection is worth paying attention to. We need to be conscious of the automatic, unproductive feelings and responses in us that are triggered by other people. And, Sandra reminds us, we need to be conscious of those same reactions we might be triggering in others:
All indigenous cultures understand that there is a difference between sending negative energy, such as anger, and merely expressing it. When someone expresses anger without sending out that ‘poison arrow,’ he or she is simply acknowledging the feeling of anger, but the anger has no force or movement that could cause harm to another. In our culture, where we only acknowledge what is happening on a visible level, we deny this other level of awareness, so we send our ‘poison arrows’ unconsciously, not realizing the harm we do.
There is a realm called suppressed communication. A good deal of evidence supports the fact that suppressed communication makes us sick. The general level of poor health in dictatorships is due to the censorship and punishment of thoughtcrime, as much as to germs. People who are coercively silenced are people who fall ill. Stephen Gaskin, in one of his many books of teachings, had quoted a Guatemalan woman named Etta, who said,
If I got something in me and I don’t say it, it makes me stink.
This idea has been expressed in a lot of different ways. Robert Frost once said, “Something we were withholding made us weak…” Travel writer Paul Theroux has told how, in the midst of a dangerous encounter with some armed and hostile folks, the need to hold back and not shoot his mouth off actually gave him chest pains.
In the late 1970s, I completed the est training. We would do a process, as the exercises were called, followed by a debriefing session where you could raise your hand, and a microphone would be brought, so you could share whatever your reaction was. On the third day, there was something I thought of saying, but I hung back instead and dithered about it. Then, when I did raise my hand, I didn’t get called on. The program had moved on, and pretty soon I started to feel nauseated. I don’t remember whether or not I signaled for a barf bag. (Yes, the helpers stationed around the room’s perimeter were equipped with barf bags, which up until that moment I had thought was a little bit over the top.) I do remember having a headache for the rest of the day. I got the message: Suppressed communication makes me sick.
Naturally, on the fourth day, I looked for the opportunity to share about that experience, raising my hand during every sharing period. I didn’t get called on. But I didn’t have a headache either. I knew I’d gotten something, and knew I had a vigorous and sincere intention to share it. The opportunity didn’t arise, but I had done my part, so there was nothing to have a pain about.
In “How to Heal Toxic Thoughts,” Sandra also reminds us that we must express our emotions. To do otherwise causes illness in ourselves. The main idea is that we need to find the right balance. We don’t want to keep things in and make ourselves sick. However, we don’t want to let things out in ways that will make other people sick. The energy we generate can heal or hurt. As Sandra puts it,
We must learn how to express our thoughts and feelings while at the same time transforming the energy to positive energy that is healing energy for the planet.
How to do this on a minute-by-minute, case-by-case basis? It just so happens there is another very helpful piece written by Sandra, online at BeliefNet. It’s called “10 Ways to Transform Toxic Thoughts.”