A Misunderstanding? It Is Not About Positive Thinking
Often when we see, read or hear about wise individuals with an abundance of energy and multitude of perspectives in coping with challenging work or life situations We erroneously equate their freedom of action and inspiring attitude with positive thinking. We see their unwavering resolve and creative actions working through these challenges and we marvel at their positive approach but we may be missing the point. Because we look through the mind-dominated lens of good/bad, positive/negative, we translate their clarity of mind, which is an ideal state, through our duality model of thinking and arrive at a wrong conclusion. We say they are positive and so we must become positive to be like them. But they would describe their experience as ‘awakened’ from a situation of being ruled by automatic-thought processes of positive/negative thinking and reaching a realm of intelligence that is highly creative and is completely opposite to ours. How did we fail to see this?
The faster and harder I run, The harder and farther I need to run
Habitual negative or positive thinking is still in the realm of rational critical thinking. If we think positive thoughts, we are still energizing the thought process, the very same thought process that gave us the negative thoughts to begin with.
One consequence of being driven by this over-active 24/7 mindset that automatically and indiscriminately churns out “negatives and positives” is to feel restless and agitated. Forever running away from the “negative” while fearing it will catch up unless we run faster or forever running after the so called “positive” while worrying we will never catch up unless we run more and farther. Restlessness, worry and exhaustion set in. We get so caught up with the running that it does not even occur to us to stop and question the causes. Where do these seeming opposites come from? Who or what is behind the mindset of positve negative labelling that causes us run incessantly?
To see the ‘duality-maker’ mindset busy at work, we need to stop the automatic and habitual thought chasing and allow ourselves to stand back to clearly observe what is happening. Stop immersing ourselves in the running and instead experience the light of being a witness to our reactions and their causes. Become aware (see above image) of the unifying consciousness that encompasses and transcends of all opposites.
While surely we cannot function without positives and negatives in the realm of mathematics, physics, technology, we need to be more careful in the personal and interpersonal realm where people’s feelings or experiences, and not just numbers and things, are involved. This distinction is essential, to dispelling illusions and nurturing clarity of mind.
Positive thinking – a delusion
In one of his books, Thought as a System, Dr. David Bohm, quantum physicist and a protégée of Einstein, claims that the function of the mind is neither to be negative nor positive, rather to be clear. As either positive or negative thinking can equally skew and delude the mind. Yes, we can positively delude ourselves! Bohm gives the example, if you try hard you can positively distract yourself from a toothache – it may actually go away at first – but the cavity will hit the roots and the pain will come back with a vengeance.
Indeed by thinking positively, we can delude ourselves into more serious problems. Too often people driving speedily and dangerously have positively deluded themselves into thinking nothing is going to happen to them. Petty criminals who think positively can delude themselves into bigger and bigger crimes believing no one can catch them. A case in point occurred in the last world financial crisis, as some CEOs aware of the build up to the financial melt down, positively concluded that the looming crisis would impact other businesses but not their own. Some of those leaders ended up behind bars serving prison terms for “positively” cooking the books while confidently thinking they could get away with it. Through the centuries, nation states have positively deluded themselves into thinking that through perpetual war and aggression, they will get their way. We are witness daily to the mayhem that kind of delusional thinking has created.
According to Dr. Richard J. Davidson, a renowned neuroscientist, the capacity to remain with your attention open with a sense of panoramic awareness, lets us attend with equanimity, without getting caught up in judging and reactivity as to whether events or circumstances are negative or positive. Ironically, research by Drs. Wenzlaff, Bates, and Associates shows that those who put more effort into keeping negatives out of mind, end up being more depressed than those who do not. From such research, many psychologists have reached the conclusion long suggested by meditative wisdom that trying to suppress unwanted thoughts is not an effective way to stabilize and clear our minds.
The Sacred and the Mysterious
So, is there a possibility of opening up to a form of intelligence that is beyond thought? The philosopher Ken Wilber, describes this as a higher state of consciousness that transcends and includes thoughts, or as Krishnamurti suggests a state of mind in which thoughts have found their proper place rather than running rampant.
Einstein’s quote “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift” may be pointing to this imbalance and hinting toward a creative resolution that restores balance and complements rational thinking.
No doubt about the absolute necessity and importance of rational thinking, the paradox is to know when to use it and when to lay it to rest. Healing from addiction to thoughts may open the door to other forms of intellegence and experiences that inject and infuse our lives with creativity, insight, purpose, meaning and mystery. By letting go of forced “positive thinking” the positive makes its way in naturally. Quoting Einstein again “the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious, it is the source of all art and science”.
It is like upgrading from an old black/white TV console to the modern 3D Home Theatre System. We still get to watch the images and so much more!
That is the experience that we hope to achieve through “positive thinking” but to no avail, because it cannot be achieved through that route.
A few simple practices to break away from the stream of thoughts and open the door to Einstein’s ‘gift’
1. Become familiar with your stream of thoughts. Develop a practice of checking-in a few times a day with your internal thought process. What are you thinking about?
2. In a meditative state, spend a few minutes observing the stream of thoughts flowing through the inner scenery of your mind. See the thoughts arise, change shape and disappear. Much like clouds against the blue of the sky – they arise, change shapes and move away. Simply watch the thoughts and images coming and going without judging them. There is no need to fix them or take conscious control of their direction.
3. Bring your attention to the body and then to the level of pelvic floor. Feel each arising and falling back of the abdomen wall with the breath and feel how it massages the pelvic floor – much like the gentle wavelets washing on the shore. The waves come in, pause and wash back to the sea – gently massaging the sea shore.
These are a few steps to facilitate clarity beyond habitual positive negative thinking and free the mind to new persepectives, insights and intuitions and ultimatlly more effective problem solving.