The Art of Positive Thinking

The Art of Positive Thinking

            There was a time in my life when the notion that our beliefs, thoughts and language create our reality seemed utterly preposterous, and I dismissed it out of hand. I was, after all, a rational thinker (or so I thought!), a scientifically-minded person who believed in a fixed reality “out there” that I could navigate and possibly manipulate to meet my goals through the sheer force of willpower, planned action and hard work.

I wasn’t having much fun, but by golly, I was successful in the way that our culture defines success: I earned increasingly impressive titles and increasingly impressive salaries in a fast-paced corporate environment. I was on my way up.

            Until I realized I wasn’t. In truth I was on my way down and out, busily working my way further and further from my heart, my soul and everything that mattered to me. That realization was the greatest gift, and with its expansive and inquisitive light I began to search the shadowy recesses of my mind for the false beliefs that had driven me so far from my truth. I uncovered all manner of unexamined assumptions I had taken to be fact, everything from “If it was fun, they wouldn’t call it work!” to “Only corporate work pays – it’s a good thing you have this job because otherwise you’d be a bag lady on the streets!” It was time to create a new set of beliefs that I could live into, beliefs that affirmed rather than denied my deepest longings for a passionate, creative, meaningful life.

            And so I took the first tentative steps on this lifelong journey of uncovering and expressing my authentic self, and along the way learned about the power of positive thinking. I discovered it’s true that the way we think actually does create a context for our lives, defining what is possible and what is real for us. And with that discovery came a newfound zeal to stamp out those pesky negative thoughts that threatened to sabotage the brilliant new creation that was my life. I simply couldn’t allow them in - they might ruin everything! So I ignored them with all my might and stayed focused on the new vision that beckoned me.

            An image now comes to mind of a person – we’ll call her me – wearing a wonderful coat that could protect me and keep me warm in all sorts of weather as I journeyed forward into my big, bold life. Inside the roomy pockets were all the fears and doubts that delighted in poking me with their incessant jabs about how I’d never make any money outside the corporate world and that I didn’t have what it takes to do this kind of work, anyway. So I zippered those pockets closed - tightly, so I couldn’t hear the squealy voices -and forged ahead anyway. The little gremlins inside those pockets might have been weighing me down, but they weren’t stopping me!

            But they were causing unnecessary struggle. Or rather, I was causing myself unnecessary struggle by working so hard to ignore them. I’ve since learned that, sometimes, the very act of trying to silence those voices of fear and doubt gives them power. Because the truth is, fears are the ultimate parasites: the only life they have comes from our belief that they are true. When we work too vigorously to ignore or silence them in our efforts to think only positive thoughts, we may be holding on to an unconscious belief that they actually are true - otherwise they wouldn’t threaten us and we could just let them go.

            I’ve learned that a far better way to deal with the gremlins is to take them out of my pockets and just put them on a table where I can look at them. Once they’re outside in the light of day, the uncomfortable charge they seemed to hold passes away, and I am free to examine them from a distance. I don’t engage them or deny them or stomp on them. I just let them sit there. They usually seem ridiculously small and petty and unconvincing, all exposed like that. Sometimes, though, they still taunt me with what appears to be the truth, so I take a deep breath and ask a few questions: “Is it really true that only corporate work pays? Really? Gee, I know a lot of people who are making good money outside the corporate environment. Why can’t I be one of them?” Slowly, gently, I coax myself into a roomier, more expansive belief.

            The art of the process is to hold a firm intention to claim the highest, kindest truth that we can. We are asked to challenge our fears without engaging in all-out battle with them (this is where the phrase, “What we resist, persists” can be an especially useful reminder!) For those really pernicious fears that have convinced us of their rightness, we may need the wise perspective of a trusted friend or coach to help us disarm them.

            And then we are free to resume the journey, filling our pockets with tokens of joy and affirmation that will provide sustenance and nourishment. We can create lives of meaning, passion and joy, and we can call on the power of our thinking to pave the way for us – kindly, brilliantly and artfully.

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