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29 November 2004 @ 10:10 pm
Positive Thinking  
I have a set of "Power Thought Cards" by Louise Hay. One of these says, "Life mirrors my every thought. As I keep my thoughts positive, life brings to only good experiences." This advice is good and true, but it falls short. Keeping thoughts positive is a worthy goal, but how can we learn to do this authentically? Thinking positively is a decision, but it is also a skill. It is not enough to say, "I'm going to start thinking positively." With the first negative thought we have toward toward a person or a situation that 'shouldn't' be provoking such thoughts, we may begin to abuse ourselves for being petty or spiteful or small-hearted. Or maybe not. Some people judge deliberately, regularly, and enthusiastically. Personally, I tend to feel uncomfortable with judgments because they create a distance between the object of the judgment and me. I am also usually keenly aware that I am lacking adequate information to make a completely informed judgment, especially character judgments about people. When I learn to climb inside another person's mind (a sort of perversely intriguing thought), I may feel that I have more adequate information to pass a judgment, but even then it would be difficult for me to judge with a feeling of impunity.

But judgments arise constantly anyway. It seems to be the way my mind works. I think most other people work the same way, unless they are enlightened or are making a conscious decision to learn how not to make so many judgments. So given this judging mind of mine, the most important question for me is how I will meet with and manage the judgments that arise, and what I will allow them to teach me about myself.

In her excellent book Loving What Is, Byron Katie suggests in so many words that we can understand every negative thought we have about people or situations as the cry of the self longing to evolve. Judgments always arise from our own minds, so we're only bothered by what we are prepared to notice (and dislike) in others. For Katie, the world is a mirror of one's own mind, nothing more, nothing less. This means that the only shit one can ever really call others on is one's own shit projected outward. It may seem like it's entirely out there, but Katie suggests that it's worth working to realize that it isn't, that it always derives from in here.

With this understanding of the judging mind, I find that I can often listen, question, and learn from my judgments of other people, and move forward in my own life. When I look at life this way, I can feel that everything that happens in my life, especially the annoying or downright painful occurrences, are all for my benefit. None of the judgments or negativities are 'bad' -- conversely, they are the best friends I have. Katie suggests passing through these difficulties not by trying to let go of the negativity that arises, but by creating mental atmosphere that permits the negativities to let go of you. As each negativity falls away, the inner light of the authentic personality burns more brightly and becomes ever more visible to the perceiver and consequently, to others.
 
 
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paisleychick on November 30th, 2004 06:45 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. I've been dealing or trying to deal with a lot of judgements about myself that aren't helpful or necessarily even real.
pbramante on December 1st, 2004 02:21 am (UTC)
Still learning how all this works...
We're in very positive company (see below), so all these judgments we make about ourselves and others are bound to seem lighter!

Thanks for suggesting Live Journal, Beatrice. I've been wondering how I might have more contact with you and Kragen. This'll work!

(Anonymous) on December 1st, 2004 12:32 am (UTC)
Positively positive
I am positively positive that the positive experiences you are experiencing now are positively the result of positive experiences you have experienced recently.
pbramante on December 1st, 2004 02:06 am (UTC)
Re: Positively positive
Jeez...are you absolutely positive?
kragen on December 1st, 2004 02:45 am (UTC)
This seems metaphysically ill-founded
Will thinking positive thoughts really keep my parents from being hit by cars and killed? When Pompeii was buried by Mount Vesuvius, did all the people whose relatives thought sufficiently positive thoughts happen to be out of town? Or did those relatives just not mind the loss of their families? Did the positive-thinking Jews all avoid the Holocaust, or did they just whistle a happy tune all the way through the death camps until they were gassed?

I'm picking extreme examples because they demonstrate the fallacy of this kind of magical thinking most clearly, but less extreme examples abound.

I am continually amazed by people's ability to make their lives better --- by how deep and broad our control over our lives is. But I do not believe that it is unlimited, but rather that we learn to exercise it precisely by learning its limits.
pbramante on December 1st, 2004 05:14 pm (UTC)
Re: This seems metaphysically ill-founded
Establishing and maintaining a powerful relationship with reality is not magical thinking. Car accidents, volcanic eruptions, atrocities of war and all sorts of other painful events happen regularly throughout the world. These things are going on as I type. Pain is inevitable, yes, but suffering is optional. Pain results from something happening to you directly or indirectly that is out of your control. Suffering happens only and (almost) always as a result of your response to it. (Some people take this as far as physical pain, but given my state of personal evolution, I do draw the line there. I mean, a Vietnamese monk did light himself on fire to protest the Vietnam war and had a peaceful look on his face throughout the ordeal, but I haven't achieved that level of enlightenment.) In the book I mention in the post (really highly recommended -- you could read it in a couple of hours), the author suggests that the pain that most of us experience in our ordinary lives derives from arguing with reality. I accept this assertion only because I've thought about it and paid attention to it in my own life and have found it to be true. That's all.

Don't get me started on the Holocaust. Hilter was a little man with one ball, but he had a vision. Look what HE did with reality. (Think about that.) To get two very compelling and powerful perspectives on the Holocaust, I recommend a DVD I watched recently and a book I read this summer. The DVD is available at Blockbuster and is entitled "Bonhoeffer." It's a sort of documentary on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant German Lutheran minister and theologian who became involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was executed in the spring of 1945. According to his beliefs, murder would have doomed him to eternal suffering, but he was willing to do it anyway because he could not accept that the role of a good Christian was to sit by and watch as friends, neighbors, and countrymen and women were slaughtered. The book -- an amazing, amazing book -- is Etty Hillsum, An Interrupted Life. It's the personal journal of a Dutch Jewess written during the last two years of her life. (She died at Auschwitz when she was 29.) It is an extraordinary piece of literature in many respects. One of the most astonishing beams of light that her text generates is her radical awareness of her personal power, of the only dominion she COULD control given her extremely unfortunate social and political context. The Nazis could, and eventually did, take everything from her, but they could not strip her of her refusal to hate. That, to me, is power, real power in the face of real evil. She let her awful circumstances teach her what was precious, and in so doing, she knew naturally how to protect it.