And How To Avoid Blaming Yourself When It Does"
By = Tempest Alexandria Arts (Fayanora Ahnabahn)
If you're at all involved in the New Age or pagan movements, you probably know that there are a lot of books out there about the power of positive thinking. There's no shortage of gurus ready to teach you all about how the universe really loves you and wants you to get what you want, and for a price they will teach you how to think in order to tap into this power. Because, as they quickly inform you, if you're confused about what you want or need, the universe will be too, which tidily explains why you aren't already rich and happy.
The power of positive thinking is real, of course, insofar as it can do amazing things because the human Will can do amazing things, but there are a major problems with this philosophy, and there are limits to what it can do that most of these gurus fail to address. First, the assumption behind why positive thinking works (that the universe loves you) works as a great excuse for why you need to be taught how to think positively (by buying their books or taking their expensive classes), but ultimately sets you up for failure. Secondly, it's a lot more difficult than the gurus try to make it seem, because the money is in providing a seemingly simple yet ultimately difficult and complex solution, so that you keep buying their books for more insight, more help. Third, it is far too easy to fall into the trap of victim blaming (especially victim blaming yourself) when it fails, which can become a vicious cycle. And fourth, the process can be made more difficult if you have conditions like clinical depression, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, and is not an easy process even without conditions like that. Hopefully, though, you will have a fair idea how to go about the process in a meaningful and realistic way, and be able to help yourself without expensive books or classes, after reading this article.
The central assumption behind the "power of positive thinking" in most New Age philosophy is that God/the universe/the Goddess loves you, and wants you to be happy, but that it can't do that if your thoughts are confused, or you aren't thinking the right way. The idea is that if you don't know what you want, the universe doesn't know what you want either. On the surface, it sounds reasonable and so innocuous, but there are real problems with it that don't really come to light until you've tried it for a decade or more and failed at it, and even then only if you realize there's a problem and stop to analyze it. Because ultimately, the philosophy as it is usually taught is doomed to failure, since the even deeper assumption is that the power of positive thinking can be learned by everyone, it just takes vigilance, and also because the way it is taught is full of flaws; flaws often left in on purpose or added in to begin with, since it makes selling more books easier.
The problem with that assumption that everyone can learn to wield the power of positive thinking is that it isn't true. Getting positive thinking to work for you as it should is one of those things that you can either figure out how to do or you can't, to various degrees. Take lucid dreaming as an example; some people can learn how to do it, and do it easily, others never figure out how to do it at all, still others only manage to lucid dream by accident, and reading books or taking classes doesn't really help much. Similarly, some people can learn to activate the full potential of positive thinking, others never manage it at all, and still others only ever do it by accident, or somewhere else along that spectrum. Books can help, at least in getting the process started, but they can only do so much, and most books on the subject are deeply flawed.
Furthermore, even if you do manage to change your thinking to be positive all the time, that alone may not be enough. The power of positive thinking is a kind of magick, and magick can only influence the odds of something happening, it is still up to other people to have opportunities available for you, and up to you to take said opportunities. After all, you can think as positively as you like in the middle of the Sahara desert, but that's not going to miraculously make water appear out of nowhere. And even if you find an oasis, you still have to walk towards it and drink from its waters; those waters will not come to you.
Now that's not to say the power of positive thinking isn't real, and can't do wonders. It can in fact work, but my stress here is on the can. It can work for you. But not because the universe loves you and wants you to be happy. That belief defies all the evidence. If the universe truly loved us and wanted us to be happy, we would all be immortal, eternally youthful, and eternally healthy, with either no need to eat, or with plenty of food readily available without the need for hard labor. There would be no more menstruation, and people would only be able to have kids if they really wanted to, and the planet would never get overcrowded.
So no, the central assumption behind the power of positive thinking is false. But positive thinking can work, because positive people have confidence, and they see every moment as an opportunity. This allows them to spot and take opportunities they would have otherwise either missed or dismissed. Furthermore, confident people tend to get hired for jobs more readily, or given other gifts or opportunities more readily, because employers and other humans tend to prefer confident people. Ever wonder why so many incompetent people get management positions or other jobs that they are completely unqualified for? It's because those people are too ignorant of the skills needed for the job to have any doubt about their ability to do the job; their basic thought is "how hard could it be?" It is a thought that may even carry on into years of doing the job; if they haven't been fired, they must be doing a good job, after all... right? Well no. But their confidence trumps their experience in most cases. This is a real, scientifically studied effect, called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which you can read about online.
So we see that positive thinking can indeed work. But what about when it doesn't? Sadly, this is a widespread problem, where someone has oversold the notion and now it's not living up to expectations. And if you go into such a journey not being realistic about things, it's easy to start blaming yourself when you hit a roadblock.
It's not just in new age philosophy, either. The idea can also be seen in Christianity and other religions, in the form of the idea that if you're living your life right, saying the right prayers, going to the right church, God will bless you with wealth and abundance. And if you are not so blessed, then you are doing something wrong. Which is strange to see in Christianity, because it defies everything Jesus Christ taught (wealthy people cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven, blessed are the meek, and so on), and is used as an excuse to look down on or even hate poor and homeless people (which defies Christ's teachings about helping the poor, the homeless, and the hungry). But it's basically the same idea: God/the universe loves you and wants you to be happy, but you have to think and behave a certain way to be blessed by Him/It.
In both the new age and the Christian versions of the idea, we are taught how to think and behave in order to recieve the blessings of wealth, though the new age version tends to be a lot more detailed because it's not as simple for those versions as "go to this church, and listen to the pastor." It instead goes into details about how to think. The version I'm most familiar with is the ' "Conversations With God" by Neale Donald Walsch' version, since I have read most of those books. In the books, Mr. Walsch tells us in detail, through the words of "God," that we should avoid negative words, even in our thoughts, and formulate all our words and thoughts into positive versions. For instance, instead of saying "I don't want to be poor anymore," change to to something like "I desire money to come my way" or "I desire a good-paying job." So far, it sounds reasonable. But the more into it you get, the more difficult it gets, so that eventually you're meant to reproach yourself every time you think "no" or say things like "I'm sick of (x)." Speaking from experience, this gets very tedious. The problem here is that it's being taken too far. Yes, when you're doing magick you need to be clear and word your desires clearly, and so to some extend the more positive wordings are better. But CWG's philosophy basically says, among other things, that every moment is magick, every thought is magickal, and so any stray thought going through your head can derail your plans. Handy little excuse there, really; if it doesn't work, you can blame some random thought or word of yours and start over again. The problem with this is, it can quickly go very bad, into a cycle of constant self blame and shame for "doing it wrong." But of course, you're encouraged to not give up, because after all, it worked for Mr. Walsch; he went from being homeless and living in a tent city to being independently wealthy! (Of course he did; he's sold millions of copies of his books, after all.) This also tends to discourage dwelling on confusion or doubt, which works to the author's benefit, since if you dwelled on your confusion or doubt, you might come to doubt what he's saying, and see the flaws inherent in his system.
With this in mind, how then do we take advantage of positive thinking without stepping into the pitfalls of it? By being more realistic about the process, of course. An important first step in that process is to realize that if you are not naturally optimistic, reprogramming your brain is not going to be a simple task; metaprogramming (changing your own thinking on purpose) never is easy.1 If you find yourself having negative thoughts, don't feel shame or anger at yourself, but instead laugh at the mistake. Banishment by laughter is incredibly useful against negativity. Don't take the mistakes seriously, and they won't have as much chance of becoming serious.
Secondly, don't take the process so seriously to begin with. You're fully within your rights to say no, or to use a few negative words now and then, you need not stress over everything you think or say. In fact, some goals even require a clear "no." For instance, "There will be no ants in the house" is a clear statement of magickal intent. Neale Donald Walsch would probably tell us to say something silly like "Make ants avoid my house," and while that might work, it sounds a little wishy-washy. The best magick has clear intent and firm words to mirror the firmness of your Will, and sometimes firmness demands a "no."
Third, is to keep in mind how magick works. The problem with CWG's philosophy and similar philosophies is it's basically forcing you to concentrate on your magick nonstop, 24/7. But magick works best if you concentrate really intensely on it for a short time, then forget about it and live your life. In fact, constantly focusing on your goal is self-defeating. It drains your energy, and it doesn't work because the magick cannot start to work until it's done listening to your Will; and if you're constantly telling it your Will, the magick cannot go out into the world and do its job. You might think that focusing all day on one thing and then letting it work at night would make the spell extra powerful, but no, that is not the case. The longer you draw out the spell-building, the more unstable the energy you give it becomes. Think of it as being somewhat like telling a person to do something for you; it's best to focus on telling them what you want as succinctly as possible, while making sure they understand what you want. But if you try telling that person for hours and hours what you want, they will get bored. This is more than a metaphor, in fact; magick comes from yourself, from your own consciousness; if you tire and/or bore yourself too much, it will mess with your focus and ability to do what you need to do. And the same idea is true even if the magick comes from a Deity or "The Universe" or other being; nobody likes being nagged at, especially if they didn't deserve it.
Then fourth, remember that metaprogramming yourself to optimism is not an easy process, but it need not be arduous or tedious. It also doesn't mean being cheerful with a spring in your step all the time. For one thing, that kind of cheerfulness is not only potentially energy-draining, it's also often used as a mask by people with depression to cover their depression; and even if you're not depressed, constant cheerfulness like that, if it is not your natural state, could potentially have the opposite effect. More importantly, though, that cheerfulness is not optimism. Optimism is the belief that things will turn out for the best. Also, one need not make excuses when things aren't going well, such as "oh God must have a plan for me" or the like; you can in fact recognize that you're in a shitty situation and still be optimistic. An example would be "Well, I'm unemployed, but I can make it through this situation. It's challenging, but I can weather this." (You could also meet such a situation with humor/laughter, but be aware: doing that too much runs the risk of having the opposite effect and/or becoming hysterical laughter.)
If the goal is to reprogram your brain to be more optimistic, then "stop saying negative words" is not very helpful. The human mind is very complicated, and negativity that blocks optimism takes many forms. You have to examine your thoughts and think about them to figure out if they're negative or not. Thoughts that put yourself down, as well as self-doubting thoughts, do not always have strictly negative words in them. For instance, "I wish could find a job" is a negative thought but does not have any negative words in it; it implies one cannot find a job. Similarly, positive thoughts can have negative words in them; "I am not worthless" is one example. And last, sometimes the best and most positive thing to do for yourself is to tell someone no, even if that someone is yourself.
There's more to it, of course. Addressing negative thoughts is a complex task, not simply berating yourself for saying something like "I'm sick of your attitude."2 It requires examining the thoughts you have, determining how they affect your thinking, determining how those effects relate to your goal of becoming optimistic, and replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Replacing negative thoughts is best done as you would clear a computer of viruses: that is to say, without harsh judgment. Negative thoughts are basically memetic (individual units of thought) viruses we pick up along our lifetime, so treat them as such. If the thought is an unwanted one - unwanted for being negative and untrue, or true but one you wish to make untrue - then figure out what you want to replace it with, and work to replace it. This "anti-virus" approach involves years of constant vigilance, but the key is to not get upset when you catch these "viruses" still in your system. In fact, do as stated earlier and laugh at them. Be like, "Oh, there's that crippling self-doubt again, that silly old virus. LOL! I know it's just a lie, and the truth is I can do it if I set my Will to it. I might need to rest in order to have the energy first, or I may need to fight against the quagmire of depression, but my Will is stronger than the viruses." But also don't be hard on yourself if that doesn't work. Clinical depression can be incredibly draining and can discourage you from thinking positively by making such thoughts sound hollow, as well as discouraging thinking outside of what is familiar; it is important to note that the metaprogramming process is difficult even for people without depression.
Bear in mind, too, that people are individuals; what may be inspirational for one person may be depressing for another. For instance, I find light and cheerful, "Don't worry, be happy" type advice to be highly irritating and depressing. I respond much more positively to a sort of warrior mentality, IE "I am a powerful Being, and I will conquer my challenges and burn my obstacles to the ground!" I even know someone who is optimistic via being morose. For instance, if the problem facing them was something like a bad illness, instead of being like "I'm gonna die," this person would say "Well this sucks, but I know the universe has too much fun making me suffer for me to die from this. No, I'm going to live a long and miserable life. *Sigh* Well I'll just hunker down and wait out the storm in silent suffering." To each their own, whatever works for you. In fact, I brought this up because all of the "power of positive thinking" philosophies I've read about focus on only one kind of optimism, not taking into account variations in personality and style, which is another flaw in such philosophies.
As easy as it is to become discouraged by the complexity of harnessing the power of positive thinking, and as easy as it would be to disregard this article and attempt one of the deceptively simple alternatives that are a dime a dozen in new age, pagan, and even Christian bookstores, it really is worth the hard work of doing it realistically and with critical thinking. Whether by accident or by design, the gurus who sell their deceptively simple approaches count on people to perceive the realistic approach as a lot more work than their own methods, but ultimately their approaches are far more work, and counter-productive work at that. It may be more difficult to admit there are no easy answers, no difinitive books to help you, and it may be more work, but at least it is productive work. So the question you have to ask yourself is, would you rather take a realistic and individual approach, analyzing your thoughts as objectively as possible and non-judgmentally working to replace thoughts that do not serve your Will with ones that do, or waste time, effort, and money on philosophies which take a superficially simple approach but end in frustration, needless guilt, and ineffectual tedium? That's for you to decide. Whatever you choose, I wish you success.
1 = Unless you had access to a professional trained in LSD therapy as pioneered by Dr. Timothy Leary, but such therapy is sadly not legal anymore/yet, Dr. Leary has passed away, and as far as I know of, nobody else has the needed training. Though there are books, like "Prometheus Rising" and "Quantum Psychology" by Robert Anton Wilson, that can help you get started on the path of metaprogramming without LSD.
2 = Though trying for different wording that is non-condemning and non-confrontational when speaking to others can facilitate better communication, communication with less negativity, which can prevent fights. But that's another, separate issue.
This was cross-posted from https://fayanora.dreamwidth.org/1347928.html
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