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.


MEDITATION: “Do. Or Do not. There is no try”, said Yoda

Meditation is one of the most useful things you can do for yourself no matter what ails you. I recommend it to every one of my clients. This morning in my meditation the thought came to me that there is no try. Thank you Yoda. I think there are a lot of expectations and misconceptions about meditation that keep us from “trying” and a consistent practice. A friend and lifetime meditator said there is only one rule for meditation: Put your tush on the cush. If you do that, you are doing it right. We don’t need to “try to” sit, we just sit. But isn’t that where the trouble starts? The thoughts can go something like this:

My mind is so busy how do I make it stop it won’t stop I must be doing it wrong I’m no good at this and I have so much to so today this is really a waste of time-time I wonder what time it is…and on and on and on.

Inevitably we give up and go see what friends are doing on Facebook, or something equally distracting. Our world offers no end to the possible distractions from being still. All of this is normal. You are not doing it wrong as long as you sit. Then one day, as you are sitting, a light descends from above, angels sing and you are enlightened. Ok, so maybe that won’t happen, but it could…and then the next day you will be right back to feeling uncomfortable and looking at the time. You’re not doing it wrong. That is the nature of the beast.

When we meditate, even those times when it is uncomfortable, annoying, frustrating and disappointing, we gain. It gives our minds and bodies a mini vacation from busyness, which is good for us. It teaches us patience and the ability to tolerate discomfort. It supports relaxation, dampens the stress response and promotes health. AND, this is the fun part, it enhances our spiritual connection, which means we are more connected to all things, inspired, creative, wise and peaceful. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to sit, do nothing, and have a better life? Make a commitment to sit for 15 minutes a day for a month and you decide if it’s worth it or not. Let me know if you need help or support. Meditation groups are a great way to start practicing. We have Wednesday meditations at Park Church in Norwich at 7 pm and 6:30 pm on Thursdays at my office in Niantic. We include silent meditation, singing bowls and chanting mantras. All are welcome to join us.

Have a peaceful day.