Thursday, May 1, 2008

How Does Positive Thinking View Emotional Anguish?

“Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’” John 12:24



Some would have us believe that Positive Thinking is eliminating any discussion of or reference to pain and suffering. This is not positive thinking, but potentially harmful negative thinking. Positive Thinking includes the realization and affirmation that all pain and suffering contain a kernel of awareness and new life. Like the seed pod containing the flower, bursting apart in the dark, dank soil, so to the soul expands by dying to the old self (selves) in the darkness. From the disintegration springs a completely new re-integration. Experiences of loneliness, fear, loss, confusion, sadness, depression and the like are God-created realms which reveal the failure of our self-obsessed thinking and behavior. These experiences take us into the dark underworld. Then, like the seed pod, we crack apart and begin to put down roots in the dark soil and open to the God-Self which gradually blossoms into the light. I say ‘gradually’ because there is always a period of putting down roots in the dark place.

We must remember that the potential God-Self always resides in the egopod-self, or our old limited self centered ideas. This truth of gradual emergence is seen in the image of the Eastern lotus which begins its journey toward unfolding in the dark sediment of a murky pond. That is why the Buddha, from which we get our term ‘bud,’ begins his teaching system with the first noble truth: Life is Suffering or dislocation.


I hear some Positive Thinkers affirm that we ‘move through life with ease’. I think this is a good affirmation, but if ‘life is suffering’ as the Buddha taught, then we are actually affirming that we ‘move through our suffering with ease.’ This statement need not affirm and attract suffering! Of course there are martyrs and victims who create much unnecessary pain and agony, but that is not the intention of such an affirmation. To affirm that we ‘move through our suffering with ease’ is a positive approach to the human condition which brings its measure of grief, disappointment, frustration, anger, resentment, loneliness and fear to all of us.

The spiritual teacher OSHO wrote, “This pain is not to make you sad, remember. That's where people go on missing.... This pain is just to make you more alert--because people become alert only when the arrow goes deep into their heart and wounds them. Otherwise they don't become alert. When life is easy, comfortable, convenient, who cares? Who bothers to become alert? When a friend dies, there is a possibility. When your woman leaves you alone--those dark nights, you are lonely. You have loved that woman so much and you have staked all, and then suddenly one day she is gone. Crying in your loneliness, those are the occasions when, if you use them, you can become aware. The arrow is hurting: it can be used. The pain is not to make you miserable, the pain is to make you more aware! And when you are aware, misery disappears.”


This also means that feelings of suicide need to be honored and listened to. The disintegrating old life is accurately telling us that something must die – yet not the death of the physical body as suicide victims mistakenly assume, but rather the death of the old life. All suicidal people are filled with remorse. The word remorse is related to the words mortal, mortem, murder and mortician – words referring to death. Remorse is mentally returning over and over to an actual or potential death or loss of something or someone valuable, usually a way of living to which we have become accustomed. The feelings are sometimes so overwhelming that a person might feel the only way out is to kill the body which contains the mind which chronically revisits the old painful loss, or potential future loss. If a person can realize that the primary purpose of life is to enter into, experience and emerge from such losses, he can wait for the cracking open to pass. Carl Jung said we develop egos in order to shed them. Some call this serpentine molting process, soul-making. The Chinese Tao Te Ching says it like this:

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

Poem 36, Mitchell translation


This is the nature of real life. We spend years developing an ego or self identify, and then it dissolves. Dissolution is often difficult. That does not mean that the old ego self is bad, but that it is just too small to contain infinite joy, patience and love. These old lives, like the seed that contains the flower, must break apart in the soil of suffering and grow into the light of an expanded soul. This is the way of life for humans on a planet of soul-making. This point of view is true positive thinking when it comes to pain. We do not deny pain, but we affirm it is a means to an end. Times of great sorrow contain the potential to be times of great transformation. But in order for transformation to happen we must go deep, to the very roots of our pain, and experience it as it is, without blame or self-pity.

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