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! :)

 

 

 

What Are Fears Afraid Of?

Recently, a few things happened. One is, I learned to relate to some aggressive sheep dogs. The other is that I played an open mic. I’m realizing that working with fear is less about solving a mystery or scaring it away or ignoring it, and more about making friends. 

Let me explain the sheep dog scenario. I live part time at a ranch, and there are a few sheep dogs. They are doing a job, which is guarding the sheep. The sheep happen to be right outside of my front door. So walking my dog anywhere quickly became a problem.

If you are any type of perceptive, you probably notice I have a lot of pictures of my dog up on the blog. That’s no accident. I’m his biggest fan. I love the ever-loving Hell out of him. I don’t want him getting bit up, beat up, or intimidated by some dogs based on a misunderstanding of the threat he poses to some sheep.

What I did at first was just run from them. That didn’t work, they felt powerful and chased me. I then started carrying a stick to raise in the air and scare them if they chased us. That sort of worked, except sometimes they got really angry and truth be told, that stick wouldn’t do much if they wanted to attack me or my dog. Then I tried something else, which was to come outside to actually greet them alone before walking my dog.

You know what happened? They freaking loved it. The girl one even let me pet her, which is nearly unheard of. She gets happy to see me in the morning now. The boy one does as well. They say hi to me, get excited, and then they leave us pleasantly alone while we walk by the river. They don’t even bark. If they do, I say their name, and they stop. It’s that freaking simple.

The open mic. There’s another one. A small handful of my friends have heard me play and sing, even though I’ve been doing it for more than ten years for just my own amusement. It’s not a side of me I show very much, yet have always yearned to in some form or another. Since joining Soundcloud, where things are safe and distant, I’ve learned that my lyrics really do have a great impact on some people. That’s a great feeling.

I was half-watching a movie called “The Waitress” last night (Nathan Fillian is in it, come on how could I not), and one of the things the main character Jenna said was “I was addicted to saying things and having them matter to someone.”

That’s exactly how it was. I became addicted to wanting to share, wanting to share my words with whoever would want to hear them. Plus I like getting over fears and hesitations. So I did the open mic.

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A new song about feeling proud of what you are even when it’s not much comparatively:
http://soundcloud.com/starshipjenerprise/until-its-done-by-jennifer

Before going, I addressed my fears one by one. I knew that if someone went before me and sounded amazing, that I would tap into a feeling of “I’m super proud that I get to offer something very different” instead of “oh jeez I’m going to just suck compared to them.”  I meditated, I even played in front of my boyfriend for hours and had him talk to me and try to distract me while doing it because I knew my mind would attempt such things later. I met every possible fear in a friendly way and worked with it so that when I was there, I felt prepared.

It went wonderfully. I sang three songs, I made some friends, I plan to go back and do it again next week. A few months ago, I would have probably bet my dog’s right front paw that I would never do an open mic for at least a few years. But working with my fears has really made my world feel bigger.

The way that I faced the fear of singing in public and really chose to want to work with it instead of run from it or fight it was very similar to how I finally learned to be less scared of the dogs. Maybe fears are as afraid of us really looking at them as we are of them. Maybe they are more afraid of someone being nice to them than of a direct challenge, because it’s amazing how fast they can scatter once you make up your mind to just let them do whatever they want after they get a friendly “hello” from you.  It’s easier than a battle or feigning ignorance, because even if you aren’t looking, they still have a strong prey drive.

How about you, have you overcome any fears lately?

Do you like to do things that are scary, or a specific type of scary? 

Do you ever look at your fear or fight it, or try to learn about it to dissolve it?

Hope everyone is well!

Running Toilet: The Rorschach of Household Problems

The other day, the toilet at my part-time house was running for too long. I had to turn the water off, and figure out what was wrong. I gave my dad a play-by-play of the situation over the phone as I turned the water on, flushed, and watched what happened in the back part. It was fun, connecty, and educational.

And it got me thinking. What if this was a metaphor of something?

In some schools of thought, you can view your house as a reflection of your self. If you always have trash piled up before taking it out, maybe you have a problem with letting things go. If you have too much food and can never fit it all in the cupboards, maybe you can use a better system for taking inventory of your day before adding more things to your schedule. It’s rather endless and fun, and I don’t really do it.

But this running toilet was interesting. I didn’t realize that you could just turn the water off to make it stop running, turn it back on, use the toilet, and then turn it off again. It was like empowering magic.

Do I have something that’s constantly running in my mind, something that ends up doing more than it should and causing problems because of it? Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. It’s called fear about the future. It’s always running, overflowing, doing more than it needs to.

A small amount of that fear can be fine in some situations. It helps me to be careful, to be safe, to take account of what’s happening and choose my actions accordingly.

But too much of that fear constantly running is just a waste of energy and creates an annoying noise in the background.

So I started applying what I learned about the toilet’s water system to my own fear. Turn it off. Twist the knob, make it stop. I can turn it on when I need it, but there’s no need for it to be running constantly.

I did that, specifically in relation to some dog issues that have been arising in this house, since it’s a ranch and there are many dogs and my dog’s a little nuts. I am constantly afraid that he’s going to get super hurt, but I also want us to be able to play by the river and have fun and get exercise.

I shut the fear off temporarily. I went to the river, I felt the ground under my feet and the sunshine and all the things that were not fear. It went fine. The fear came back, but then I went to the river again the next day. The fear didn’t come back that time.

And now, the toilet doesn’t keep running. Maybe it will again, but for now it’s working great. At the same time, I try to learn about the water pipe of my fear. Where’s the knob, how far to the right do I have to turn it before it stops? Can I find it in the dark if I need to? And can I notice the times when it actually doesn’t run for too long and appreciate them?

Just some thoughts.

Are there household problems that you feel could relate to your own mind?

Do you ever see your house as a reflection of yourself or is that just new-age hippie crap?

If you had to pick one random thing, like dishes in the sink or dust on the shelves, and relate it to your mind, do you get some ideas of things that pop up?

Hope you all are well :)

In the link under the picture is a song by Tom Waits called “Yesterday is Here” that I covered with a distant friend. Actually trying to “sing” was new for me, and I’m rather proud of how it turned out! Shuttin’ off the fear is fun!

Why I Love Loving What I Hate (AKA, Reality Doesn’t Pick Sides)

A lot of my favorite people had a hard time growing up. Some of us were made fun of by our friends, some had abusive family situations, some suffered real hunger and fear of imminent death and some suffered with extreme states of mind.

A lot of my favorite people have learned from these struggles, and have found a way of becoming inspiring because of it. And some of them are going to someday, I can feel it.

Recently I told a friend that I felt really confident about my new job. He suggested to really savor the feeling and write about it because “someday, you might really need it.” When my ravenous insecurity hits, I want to remember how it felt to feel confident and capable.

In the spirit of that encounter, I want to share something that I’ve been feeling good about lately, which is my ability to identify, appreciate, and learn from my hatred of some things.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned in my studies of academia and real life, it is that things are rarely black and white. One person full-heartedly believes one thing and someone else believes the opposite, and reality has never once really chosen a side. It has a compassionate ear in both directions to anyone who cares to listen.

So, my hatred of things is something that I’m pretty sure is not ever completely accurate. My insecurity, fear, anxiety, and repulsion is often times a red flag for me to look closer.

“I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight… I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

What’s really going on here? I mean, really?

Oh, right, reality doesn’t pick sides. It just is. Lots of things at once, like a minestrone soup. You can eat it in many ways. Maybe you eat the carrot pieces first because you want to get them out of the way before you get to the chunks of potato, or maybe you eat all the noodles first because you love them and want to throw away the rest anyway. Who knows. There’s lots of ways to eat it, and it’s all there when you care to look at it. If you try eating it in a new way, something new may emerge. Maybe you like carrots more than you used to when you slow down and savor their flavor, maybe the taste of asparagus is exactly what you needed. Can you even put asparagus in soup? Anything’s possible.

The more curiosity that I hold towards things that are unappealing, the more that I learn. I learn about my fear of a certain type of situation, I learn about what other nuances exist in it. This helps me when I want to write fiction, it also helps me when I want to work with people who have more extreme fears, anxieties, phobias and repulsions than I do.

We can all relate to each other. It’s really not that hard. And yet, it’s scary. It’s scary to relate to someone with depression when you feel as if you are happy. What if they bring you down? Well you know what? If you are avoiding relating to that person, I would question the authenticity of your happiness all together. Happiness based on protection from the things that are quote-unquote “not happy” is not any type of happiness that I would want to be a part of. No siree.

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”
Pema Chödrön

So as I step into a feeling of confidence with my job, and take a gentle inventory of the most useful things I have to offer myself, my curiosity about my hatred is one of my top faves. At least for now.

What about you, have you learned from hardship in your life? Do you feel like it has made you a better person in the long run?

Do you like relating to people with love even if they are in a hard place in their life right now?

I’m curious. As always, thank you for reading. You guys truly rock.

Harness Your Inner Opposite Day!

The other day I had this thought, and it has turned out to be a really useful one.

To set the stage, it was late at night. I fell asleep reading in a cozy bed with a dog at my feet. I believe my mind was saying something like,

“God I don’t want to get out of bed to brush my teeth. I just want to keep sleeping.”

And then it went,

“I wish I wanted to brush my teeth. How would that feel?”

And I proceeded to pretend like an actress that all I wanted to do in the whole wide world was get out of the cozy bed, put my feet on the carpet and walk myself to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I even pretended to look forward to the feeling of cold water.

The result was rather amazing. It made it a lot easier to do it than when I was fighting off my loathing for leaving the coziest place in the universe.

I continued to try this with other things.

“I am going to be so nervous when my friend asks me to sing with her later.”

Pause.

“I cannot WAIT to sing with my friend later. It’s going to be so fun. I am just so excited to see what happens!”

and then, even:

“I wish I never had to sing in front of anyone, ever. I don’t want friends. I don’t want to sing. I hate the whole thing!”

Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Sometimes you have to play around with extremes to see where you actually want to be.

The thing is, there are always many ways to see things. But usually we just stick with the first one. “I don’t want to do the dishes.” “I wish it was sunny out.” “I am not the kind of person that would enjoy walking in the rain, playing an open mic, dancing with a stranger, eating a salad for dinner…” anything at all. We get stuck and save time by not bothering to see things in the less familiar way.

We get these fixed notions, but what about trying for fun to see the same thing in the opposite way? And then maybe, a third way? A made-up way? A way that just reminds our brain that really, the first notion we have about the way something “is”, especially when that something is as complex and lovely as our human being selves,  is not necessarily the ideal one.

Just some thoughts for a Tuesday. I’m hoping that by continuing to do this, I’ll get through some aspects of stage fright and other patterns. Even if that doesn’t happen, the process of doing this is fun and leads to some cool perceptions. This picture, if it was moving, would display me singing in front of a new friend. So clearly, something is working.

Do you ever think about things in an opposite way just for fun?

Are you going to try it?

Do you know some of your most solid beliefs or ideas that you wish could change but you are just positive that they won’t?

Do you remember being different than how you are now, and wondering if life would ever change?

I hope your week is going well!