A Little Rant about “Positive Thinking”

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A song that loosely relates to this- feeling strong without feeling positive. – http://soundcloud.com/starshipjenerprise/before-the-flower

 

There have recently been a whole slew of “positive thinking” things in my Facebook feed. I’ll admit it. They irritate me. Here’s why.

Controlling Thoughts

Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes in meditation practice knows that thoughts arise whether or not we really have a conscious say in them. They come up. When we watch them, we realize that they sometimes have patterns and some level of predictability, but other times they don’t.

Some of us have really powerful imaginations. My own imagination seems to have moods of its own.

One day I’m imagining great things for songs, stories, posts and pictures. Another day, I’m imagining terrible things about my own demise or other disasters. Is that my fault? Am I not “positive” enough?

Value of Intention

I think that there’s a great value of intentionally thinking about some things. Like how it would feel to have a successful book, or how it would feel to not be afraid of singing in front of someone. Sometimes intentionally having these thoughts can make it easier to take steps of action towards those goals, or to loosen the grip of habitual self-depreciating thoughts.

But there are limitations, and also, I believe, dangers to clinging to this too strongly.

Limits of Intention & Effort

To keep propagating the idea that we can control our thinking to any large extent is just a little obscene to me. There is so much more to our experience than just thinking, and the thinking itself is one of the hardest things to control. Plus, if you try to force your brain into a certain pattern that is just not taking, maybe it’s the relationship to the thoughts that can be worked with.

I know for me, when I try to run away from my anxiety or negative thoughts, they sometimes get much worse and more powerful. When I see them and breathe into them, letting them be, they tend to have more of a chance to dissipate, or at least to not ruin my day with anxiety. But if I try to change them into “positive” thoughts, it feels rather like trying to wear jeans that are a size too small just because I want them to fit.

Find me one person who has successfully jumped on the “positive thinking” train and never looked back. But if you do find them, please just take a picture for proof but don’t bring them anywhere near me, because they would probably be rather irritating.

The Dangers of This Expectation

To me, the danger of this movement is similar to the danger that the media creates when it portrays people looking happy, healthy, young, and flawless all over the television. People start to assume that they are damaged for not being like that. They start counting calories and judging themselves harshly for not having the illusive “just got out of bed” look when they really just got out of bed.

The idea that “thoughts create reality” makes some sense, but on the other hand, what I tend to see is a lot of rather privileged people saying this as if their own blessed lives were of their own making. Sometimes, they were. But sometimes tragedy happens, regardless of how positive the person was during their lives. Other times, life turns out perfectly for those with lots of “negative” thoughts.

The Temptation to Think Thoughts Control Things

It’s fun to think that thinking controls our reality, but it also feels that such a belief is giving the holder an illusion of control over their fate that they really don’t have, while also creating an onslaught of shallow positivity that clings to itself for fear of waking up to the messy reality that sometimes shit happens no matter how much we didn’t think about it.

I think my point is this. If you are similarly bombarded with these “positive thinking” pictures with curvy handwriting and bright colors, and you find yourself feeling bad for your continued indulgence in the occasional negative thought, please don’t beat yourself up anymore than you would for not having Pantene-commercial hair even after using the same shampoo.

Controlling thoughts and feelings is very hard, if not impossible. Cultivating acceptance and actions that bring us where we want to go is a little more doable, at least for me. I just don’t want people to move from feeling bad that they aren’t perfect like people on TV to feeling like they are being too negative and inviting disaster into their lives because of it when really, disaster comes sometimes. Relating to the moment in a friendly way cuts to the chase and helps those negative thoughts have less power over our experience, without trying to fight them off for the sake of being positive.

There’s my rant. Thanks for reading.

I’d love to hear your experience. Maybe I’m seeing the whole “positive thinking” thing in a skewed way, and projecting my own negativity onto it. Maybe you can share how it’s worked for you, or how you think I’m wrong about what I think of it.

Feel free to rant below! 🙂