My Positive Thinking Conundrum

Last night my husband and I watched a video on Amazon about healing energy. A large part of the message stressed the importance of positive thinking for health and healing. Norman Vincent Peale made this a popular concept with his book The Power of Positive Thinking, first published in 1952. He said: “Change your thoughts and you change your world”. I can’t argue with that. Positive thoughts always feel better, make us happier and promote wellbeing. But what if we are not feeling particularly positive? What is our child is sick, the house burned down, our spouse wants a divorce or we lost our job? Should we run for the hills, screaming? Years ago when I was an excited New Ager, the practice of affirmations was very popular. I was told it didn’t matter if I believed what I was telling myself or not, affirmations would still work. I’m not so sure that’s true.

I got up early this morning and sat to meditate, with this still on my mind. A few years ago I led several rounds of E Squared play groups. E Squared is a book written by Pam Grout that was a sensation. She lists nine simple, fun experiments that are intended to “prove your thoughts create your reality”. We could definitely see how our thinking influenced our experience. What was most interesting was how much fear there was about negative thoughts. If we prove our thoughts create reality, then bad thoughts are going to make bad things happen, right? We can be mindful of our thoughts and yes, we can choose to have good ones, but should we fear thoughts? What do we do when they rise up unbidden? Freak out? The brain is actually designed to have a negativity bias because it supports survival. We are set up with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. It’s not our fault, it is biology. So are we doomed? Back in the seventies I took a course that was called Silva Mind Control, developed by Jose Silva. That method instructed us to say “cancel cancel” every time we had a negative thought. It was an interesting process not without some merit. It was also really annoying. Imagine being in a room full of Silvans repeating “cancel cancel” over and over every other minute. But that practice showed us just how common negative thoughts are and got us to pay attention, which was the whole point.

Here is my bottom line message: Thoughts have as much power as we are willing to give them. The more you think them, the stronger the belief, the stronger the belief the more influence it has on our experience. For example, while meditating I felt inspired to spring up out of my seat to begin writing. Another part of me was urging me to stay still, which I did. In that moment of stillness I had a new thought: There is no rush. That simple thought moved me beyond measure and counteracted a lifetime of responding to fear and the impatience of others. It challenged the messages I had gotten to hurry up, don’t be late, don’t keep others waiting, make up your mind and on and on. I relaxed, and smiled. I felt deliciously peaceful. We can all benefit from being mindful of our thoughts. Welcome and entertain them all like the unexpected guest in Rumi’s poem “The Guest House”.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,

Do not be afraid of thoughts. Pay attention to them. Jot them down in a journal.  Allow the authentic, deeply personal, emotion eliciting, positive thoughts to find you. Those thoughts are way more potent than meaningless phrases you don’t believe. Good luck. Remember there is no rush. Thanks for your time.

Namaste

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