The Power of Positive Thinking...yeah....whatever....

I have to confess that I've always been a big believer in the "power of positive thinking." Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins, Maya Angelou, Marilu Henner... There is truly something powerful about people who think positively and conversely, the principle seems to work in reverse for the people who don't.

It occurs to me that for the most part "positive thinking" is about perception. You can focus on the positive elements of something (glass half full) or the negative (glass half empty). And that probably works about 80% of the time.

But what about the other 20%? What about my friends who are suffering from broken hearts? Those struggling with cancer? Devastating financial loss... Sometimes, if we are honest with the human stuff, there simply isn't enough positive to focus on and playing up what little is there feels fake.

Christians have a "power of positive" thinking clause too. It usually results in "just ask Jesus and He'll come and make it all better." Except, that sometimes, He doesn't.

I've grappled with this for a long time. And while I don't have total clarity there seem to be principles at work more powerful than positive thinking.

1) Forgiveness. There is something radically transformative about letting go of grievance. This can be intensely personal (ie. against a single person who has wronged you) or more general. Writer, John Welwood, puts it well..."one of the most insidious things about grievance is that it takes on a life of its own and poisons everything...what started out has a hurt feeling turns into a generalized grudge against the world."

I have to confess, I didn't realize until reading Welwood, that I do this. Feel on the lookout for wrongs directed at me. In some ways, it is "self-affirming." It provides protection. Very different from the passage where Jesus talks about allowing someone to slap your other cheek.

And while there are some people who pervert this by "playing the martyr" to garner sympathy or they simply don't value themselves enough to prevent abuse, there is actual power in believing you are worth something and laying down your rights for the sake of someone else.

2) Hope. It is interesting to me that the word in Spanish for hope "esperanza" is the same as to wait "esperar."

So what are we waiting for?

I know that some depression is medical, but I wonder if other times despair isn't simply a loss of hope. When too many bad things happen. Too many grievances block sight of love. When you can't see meaning in the world around you.

A friend of mine--a person of faith, one whose life has had a great deal of suffering--said the other day, "I don't get the point of me. I mean why am I even here?" Looking at her life, at the intense beauty of her soul and how she shares that with the world around her, I could hardly believe she could feel that way. She's amazing. She makes a difference. At the very least, my life would feel the lack without her.

What if hope is a gift? Something you don't generate on your own through positive thinking but something we share with each other with constant reminders of our beauty and purpose. Maybe what we are waiting for is a day when all of that is no longer hidden. The day when all of us are truly seen for who we really are.

3. Suffering. I have to confess, I don't understand it. I want desperately to live in a world without it. I don't want to experience it and I don't want to feel helpless watching my friends walk through it.

And walk through it we do.

We can sit in the floor and cry, refusing to move forward by anesthetizing (drugs, alcohol, the immobility of depression...you name it), or we can walk and cry. The worst part about suffering is the total lack of clarity. Nothing in the world makes sense.

This is probably the place where the power of positive thinking most completely falls apart. Yet interestingly, all of the people I listed in the first paragraph have gone through it.

Maybe the real work of suffering is what it does to us. Maybe the analogy of metal going through fire is accurate. And though it hurts like hell and is incomprehensibly confusing, maybe suffering produces something better on the other side. I do know this. Suffering is not without meaning. And as random as it feels, something inside me knows that it has to have purpose. And somehow, though I don't fully understand it, suffering enhances our capacity to both give and receive love.

4. Love. Love is a power of it own. I deeply believe it is what we are all made for and that it can change the world. Love causes doctors to leave six-figure salaries to work at small clinics where people need them. Love is what gets a mom up in the morning to sit in the floor and play with toddlers all day. Love causes two young people to live together in low-rent apartments without date money all glowy-eyed and unaware of their surroundings. Love clasps aged and lined hands at eighty and says, "you are beautiful" and means it.

Love is hard to define. The Apostle Paul tells what it looks like: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

But, he doesn't define what it is.

The scriptures say that "God is love." Looking at love as a Who instead of a What is an interesting exercise. One that isn't easily wrapped up in a blog post and would seem to be far more powerful than positive thinking.

I wonder if the principles of forgiveness, hope, suffering and love are the true key to the other 20%. Would love to get others thoughts on this.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall