Archive for January, 2012

Are you a positive thinker or an optimist?

You might think that optimism and positive thinking are the same. They do overlap, but positive thinking has a negative side. By its very name, positive thinking buys into polarity thinking of pitting positive thinking against negative thinking.

Here is the practical difference. You are feeling discouraged. Perhaps your house is in foreclosure, you are being outsourced or your daughter has joined a cult. You are worried. You feel quite awful.

Your optimistic friend will talk to you about solutions; what might be done to help, how you might find a solution to the situation, why it might work out despite feeling awful right now. This optimistic friend’s thinking is positive, but he is not minimizing your worry and fear.

Your positive friend, on the other hand – the one in the new thought movement – is offended and upset by your worry and fear. This person is likely to tell you something like, “Just don’t give power to it!” Think positive thoughts and manifest the money/a new job/your daughter’s safety.
This person’s intense resistance to your “negativity” has already given power to it.  Jesus of Nazareth advised, “Resist not evil.”  I think he was talking about this very thing.  What you resist, persists.

Faced with her own negative thoughts, this friend may seem to have Tourette’s syndrome, barking, “Cancel! Cancel!” followed by a positive affirmation. Aside from making her look silly, a “cancel” command is…well, um, I hate to tell you this, but…it’s a negative thought.

This sort of exercise, if done without understanding, can do a good job of cramming the negative thought and feeling into the unconscious. Being conscious of unpleasant thoughts and feelings allows you deal with them and let them go. Repressing unpleasant thoughts and feelings keeps them around like unclaimed baggage.

Then the fun begins, as the negativity you ignore or repress pops up like a gopher and upsets or embarrasses you at inopportune moments. Repressed feelings cause you to binge eat or drink, and say things you are sorry for. They make you burst into tears or into a rage when you least expect it. If you are a fan of The Secret, you will wonder why you manifest unpleasant circumstances when you are such a positive thinker.

When you get right down to it, it is only the story we tell ourselves that determines whether our thoughts and feelings are negative or positive. You cannot manifest anything of lasting value at this superficial level.

But below the flow of energy we call emotions and our mental chatter about them, is an enduring state of connection and love. The more you let the emotions flow, feel them and let them go, the more you will experience that connection and love.

I’m positive.

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Being Positive

I believe it is important to cultivate optimism and a cheerful, upbeat attitude.  In the last 20 years, the new thought movement has practiced this belief with a vengeance.

Positive thinking is… positively annoying when it is carried to extremes.

I realize this is heresy to many of the lovely, optimistic people I know.  But please, read on.  There is a danger to unbridled positive thinking.  It can have negative results!

Things happen that arouse negative feelings in us.  Everyone experiences frustrations, disappointments, losses, sadness, and hurt feelings.  Optimism can help us through these trials, but positive thinking does not make them go away.

On the contrary, ignoring our negative feelings keeps them with us longer.  I’m not suggesting that you dwell on your problems and make them more powerful than they are.  But, if you ignore them, you simply push the negative thoughts underground.  They get repressed in the unconscious.  This is not a good place to store your negative feelings.  The unconscious negativity will affect you in ways you do not expect.  The feelings will pop out at embarrassing moments and affect your behavior in strange ways.

Negative thoughts are only negative because we say they are.  In truth all feelings have important messages for us. If we ignore these “negative” messages, they will pop in surprising ways and scotch all our attempts to be positive.

When your gas gauge points to empty, you can ignore the negative thought it evokes and put a smiley face sticker over it.  Ignoring this important but negative message will ultimately make your experience more negative.  Instead of stopping for gas, you will run dry on the highway.

I am positive that I will be accused of being negative, but I am positively tired of being beaten over the head with other people’s positive thinking.  Optimism is very effective, interpreting all experience in constructive, encouraging ways.  But positive thinking that ignores negative feelings causes those negative feelings to be repressed.

For some reason, positive thinking proponents often take on the role of thought police.  Without much compassion, they will tell someone who is suffering, “Just don’t give power to it!”

I challenge you thought police out there (who are thinking right now about how negative I am,):  If you are truly a positive thinker, then why does my negative experience bother you?

I can tell you why.  When someone’s emotion seems negative to you, it resonates with your own negativity.  It makes you feel bad because of the feelings that are repressed.  My unhappiness wakes up your unhappy feelings.

If you want to be truly positive, you will feel your feelings – yep, all of them.  You will hear their messages, and let them go.  If you try this for a while, you will no longer tell a positive/negative story about your emotions – or mine.

Does my opinion bother you?  Just don’t give any power to it!

P.S.  Check out The Sedona Method, or Raphael Cushnir or even the recent work of Martha Beck for effective ways of dealing with stories and emotions.

The Map is Not the Territory

The map only hints at what the territory is like..I just bought a new planner and the calendar runs all the way through 2012. Does that mean I should feel secure that the world will continue that long? Chinese, Gregorian, Julian, American, Mayan…calendars are all arbitrary human inventions.

I like to imagine some Mayan calendar maker working out the calendar for hundreds of years in advance. His neighbor stops by to tell him there’s a soccer game starting in the square. He grunts, throws down his pen, and says, “Ah, that’s good enough,” and heads out to the stadium.

What is the real difference between today and two days ago, except that we call it 1012? The calendar is not time. Most philosophers will tell you that time is not time, either. Time is simply change.

And yet… and yet… I will admit that as we have approached 2012, I have felt some subtle but profound changes going on. I am not alone in sensing them. Even my hard headed rationalist friends believe that something has shifted, and they’ll even stick their necks out and call it energy.
The world is clearly in upheaval and many long standing business and financial structures are breaking down. This trickles down, of course, and affects us all. But there also seems to be a silver lining behind the difficulties.

Many people I know have had their best laid plans run right off the rails in the last three months. Far from doomsday situations, these people are often finding themselves doing something way better than they planned and in ways they couldn’t imagine.

For everyone I know who lost their job, I know someone else who found their soul mate. For everyone I know who took it on the chin in the stock market, I know someone else who had the doors of success suddenly fly open after they had been pushing on them for years.

I find it hard to believe that the end times are upon us, but am sure that the times have changed so radically it could amount to the same thing. The contrast between chaos and order, rich and poor, conservative and liberal seems to have become more profound than ever. Yet to those who do not wish to be trapped in these polarities, there seems more freedom than ever.

It isn’t what I would have predicted, but we do live in interesting times.

Happy New Year! May you enjoy the adventure.