Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Bad News About Positive Thinking.


So my friend Kerry is going through a really nasty divorce.  The kind where there’s been some subtle but persistent domestic abuse.  The kind of domestic abuse that doesn’t show, except that there’s five physically beautiful people in this family—parents and children—and yet, when you look at some of their family photos, you might see something in their faces that all the dynamic bone structure and giant eyes in the world can’t quite conceal.

And things have built to a point where pretty much everybody wants out.  Except there’s no easy way out, for many excellent reasons.  And one is that all the money belongs to the dad’s family and they aren’t too keen on family disintegration, being of the fundamental religious “family values” persuasion.

And that’s just one reason.  If you’ve ever been part of a family, you can probably imagine some of the others.

Kerry gives me her bravest, brightest smile, and tells me that “Things are hard, but I’m trying to stay positive.”

I hold her hand and think, “Oh, crap.”

Don’t get me wrong—I am a big fan of the power of positive thinking.  I’ve been in some fairly dark places myself, and it was in those very places that I discovered just how quickly and strangely things can change once you make a choice to change your consciousness, to expand beyond your own personal “business as usual.”

You probably know what Einstein had to say:  “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.”

You’ve probably heard what Gandhi had to say:  “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

And the reason you’ve probably heard these things is that people all over the world are sharing them like never before, thanks to our friend The Internet, and our other friend, The Shift. 

If you’re not as familiar with this second friend, the short story on The Shift is that many wisdom leaders around the world agree that we are living through a time of unprecedented speed, complexity, and transition—a time when there are more people on the planet than ever before who are waking up to the realization that we are each the creators of our own reality, and we each have the potential to tell a new story.

Some of these visionaries claim that the speedball combo of all this intensity and interconnectedness is also contributing the inevitable breakdown of familiar but fundamentally flawed social systems, and that this breakdown is necessary in the same way it’s necessary for a caterpillar to become a big pile of indeterminate goo inside a pod before it somehow reassembles its cells to form a butterfly.

So.  Perhaps this is why we get to experience fun things like worldwide financial systems merrily restructuring themselves—who doesn’t enjoy a good foreclosure and the destruction of our personal dreams after some delightful sub-prime mortgage experiments in which we didn’t quite know we were participating?

And then there’s the survivors of family fallout, the dads who thought the whole point was to be glitteringly successful but also soccer-dad sensitive, the moms who believed that so long as you could raise an adorable family while maintaining the face, figure, and professional ambition of a twenty-five-year old, it was all going to turn out fine.

Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but as Americans, Goddammit, no matter what happens, you gotta stay positive.  You gotta stay open.  You gotta keep moving. 

We are the most relentlessly positive nation in the world, which for the most part, serves us well, I think. 

And yet, social psychologists say that only 25% of us report ourselves as being “overall, very happy,” a percentage that has stayed fairly consistent over the sixty or so years that social psychologists have roamed this earth to ask these questions and report these findings.

Which brings me back to Kerry and my initial reaction to her declaration. 

It’s not that I don’t believe she and her family members can find a way out of this hell into true happiness. 

Is it probable? Hell, I don’t know.  But it is possible, since there is a natural force in each human being that calls us to happiness.

It’s not that I don’t believe in this force, and that one name for it is Love, and that Love can find a way to illuminate the darkest places, and build bright new things out of even the most tangled messes.  If we open ourselves to It.  And sometimes, even when we don’t.  

Or that’s what I’ve found out, so far.

No, it’s not that I don’t believe in the power of positive. It’s just that I always get a little nervous when I’m talking to anyone (including myself) who’s trying to put icing on a shit cake.

What I will say to Kerry, if I can find the courage, is that while positive is good, it’s also okay to be really mad. It’s also an excellent thing, if you can stand it, to grieve like a banshee. 

You don’t have to do either of these things for a long time. In fact, it’s better if you don’t.  Just give yourself a short time to feel the feelings fully, and, gross and horrible and Un-American as they may be, they will pass on through. 

After all, the very word, emotion—it’s just “e” + “motion,” so it’s best to let it move. 

If you’re worried that once you start crying you might never stop, or that once you feel anger you might just go ahead and kill pretty much everyone you know, there’s all kinds of people who can help you and hold you to prevent death by never-ending tears or that old machete you just happen to keep in your garage.

These people go by many names: therapists, spiritual leaders, healers, life coaches, friends, mentors, sponsors, teachers, and even (in some select cases, if you’re very fortunate) family members.

What’s most important about the person you select is that he or she won’t try to fix you.  Instead, he/she will listen carefully, quietly, and hold you in a space of love and approval where you are totally safe to vent, to let the emotion get in motion. Once you’ve had a chance to do that, this person may offer a different perspective, but only once you’ve had your say.

If you select someone who’s not a professional listener—and sometimes, even when you do—it usually works best to let this person know that you just need to talk, to be heard, and don’t require anything but a good and spacious listening.

If you don’t have access to any of these people (or think you don’t), my friend Ginger Bowler, an incredible healer and teacher, says that EFT—Emotional Freedom Technique, also known as “tapping”—is one of the very best self-help techniques available for clearing trauma of either the fresh or festered variety. 

You can get a free tutorial on how to do this at creator Gary Craig’s website:

And finally here’s a method that sometimes works for me: 

Find a quiet place where you can be alone, but can also make noise, if you find it necessary.

Get yourself in touch with an image or energy of Love, Power, and Clarity. Something very, very strong, incomparably strong, who also happens to love the absolute shit out of you. 

To get the right flavor of this, you can picture or think of this energy as God, Goddess, Angels, Buddha, your ancestors, your awesome dead grandma, The Universe, a beloved animal, the ocean at sunset.  Personally, I often go for a combo.

I promise you that the exact image, name, or idea doesn’t matter so much.  Just tap into the idea of something really powerful that also approves of you. And can handle whatever fireballs you need to throw.  And is happy to listen

So. With these horribly vague instructions, how do you know you’ve got the right “idea” to support you?

You’ll feel like you are safe (or at least, somewhat safer) and in a safe place to say exactly what you need to say.  You can rant, cry, scream guttural screams, burn small non-living items, whatever supports you in your quest for self-expression.

If you feel stupid talking, crying, or screaming to yourself, writing it down (perhaps as a letter) is an excellent way to let the folks in the complaint department know you are not, in fact, having the best day ever.   

Don’t try to be enlightened. Don’t try to be transformed.  Don’t be “adult” or “appropriate.”  Just tell the truth.

You’ll know when you’re done, because you’ll feel some relief.  You’ll feel cleaner and clearer.  You might feel relatively “empty,” like there’s finally some room in your noodle for something new to arise.

Now, you’re ready for some positive thinking. 

Which I’ll talk about in my next post, but if you want to move ahead to the positive, I’m pretty sure you can find a thing or two about it on the internet while you’re waiting for me to catch up. 

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