We have all heard the advice "Just be positive!" at least once, but probably many more times. Even if we didn't, we have most likely wished we could be more positive. Based on that, it might seem like a positive attitude is the solution to all of our problems. But is it really?
I've always found positive affirmations strange. I never understood how standing in front of a mirror and chanting was supposed to make our words magically come true. It's kind of similar to trying to summon Bloody Mary. If I believe I'm stupid or ugly, repeating "I'm smart" and "I'm beautiful" will not solve my problem. Just like Bloody Mary won't appear if we keep repeat her name. Because when we are trying to chant such things, the problem is more deep-rooted than that.
The issue with positivity and the reason so many are drawn to it are the same--it's supposed to be a fast and easy solution. Sadly, there is no such thing.
So let's dissect this dilemma. Why do we we want to be positive in the first place? Probably because we are negative. We see ourselves, what happens to us, and the world as "bad." When we look at ourselves, we might see faults. When we look at our lives, we might see problems. When we look at the world, we might see evil. We might see them so much, that sometimes, it becomes all we see.
So in comes positivity. Because negativity is not all we should see, we know that, we are smart people. We know that there are good things in us, in our lives and in the world as well. So we try to force ourselves to see all those things. And that doesn't sound like such a bad thing. Because it's not.
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of all the good in us and around us. Because that is how the world is--it is just as good as it is bad. And with our instinctively negative minds, it is useful to remind ourselves sometimes.
Great, but this didn't really solve our initial problem, did it? Like Einstein said, we cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it. No matter how much we try to force a positive to take the place of a negative, it will always remain the other side of the same coin.
Trying to force ourselves to see the good is the same kind of self-deception as only seeing the bad. Because at the end of the day, both of them are just things we tell ourselves--they are just thoughts. And thoughts are not reality.
Once we realize that, a huge weight is lifted. We don't need to be anything. We don't need to force thoughts into our already crowded minds. What we can do is make a little more space in there.
I've mentioned my worst panic attack a couple of times before. I'm going to mention it again now. Because it was brought on by trying to force positivity.
I was traveling by bus, and this was at the time I was working through my agoraphobia, so as you can imagine, I was not feeling so great. Buses were my worst nightmare. But I wanted to get better, so I tried my best. I didn't want to feel like I would die if I traveled by bus, because that was just stupid and crazy, I knew that. I wanted to feel good, like a "normal" person.
So I sat on that bus and I tried to force as many positive things into my head as I could. I looked out the window and "Oh, look at the beautiful trees." You know, that kind of thing. By the time I got off the bus, my mind was so full of thoughts, I couldn't speak. My positivity plan didn't go so well.
It was horrible at the time, but it became one of the most valuable experiences for me. (So was it "good" or "bad"? Was it a positive or a negative experience? You can see that in reality, it was neither. Or both. You decide.) Among a lot of other things, it has taught me that forcing positivity does more harm than good. It's fake, just like any other thought in our heads--it's not real.
Since then I traveled by that exact same bus many times. It's still not my favorite pastime, but I do it with no problems most of the time. I think you know by now how I do it. That's right--by always practicing keeping my mind open, and not grabbing onto thoughts, may they be positive or negative ones.
Because life is what it is. We don't need to name and label every single thing, person and experience. Instead of cramming more thoughts into our minds, may they be positive or negative, we might benefit from practicing letting go of what is already there instead.
Nothing is as we think it is anyway.
"In Japan we have the phrase, "Shoshin," which means "beginner's mind." Our "original mind" includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything. It is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki