Put On A Happy Face (or not?)
“It’s a wonderful idea, positive thinking, but what it usually means is that I have a little smear of positive thinking covering a whole mass of negative thinking, so thinking positive is not really thinking positive, it’s just disguising the negative thinking that we have.”
-Dr. Miceal Ledwith – From the film “What The Bleep Do We Know?!”
Today I got a lecture in “Positive Thinking” from someone who felt the need to explain to me the damage I was doing to the world by using the word “Killing” in the title of my new film. Ok, enough of the groans – “really is she gonna talk about this again!” Well, yes, I am. Because to me, this is what it’s all about. Getting down to the nitty gritty of what all of this stuff actually means and how I can actually apply it in my life.
So today’s sacred cow is Positive Thinking.
I hear people say all the time “Just think positive!” In theory it sounds good right — I mean who doesn’t want to “think positively”. And yes, it’s true when we have a positive thought — it can do wonders for our brain chemistry when it’s sincere.
But what happens when thinking positive becomes such an addiction that you use it to hide behind when things aren’t so positive? Or, more importantly, when you start to judge everything in your life as either positive or negative instead of just being? What happens when thinking positive means you create a fear of being exposed to anything you judge as not positive? Aren’t we just living in fear of negative thoughts, images, etc.?
I have a confession to make. I’ve so been there and so done that. I am guilty of being one of those always happy, always smiling, “Positive Thinkers”. But the truth is underneath that cheery smile was a lot of pain and sadness I refused to allow myself to feel. I would hide away from anything that wasn’t “Positive”. I would avoid anything that might poison my rosy outlook. Just as this letter writer told me she was “Hiding my posts” I thought to myself. Yes, I know you’re hiding. I was hiding too.
It took me a long time to realize that by forcing myself to “Think Positive” I was really just hiding from the darkness inside of me. I was hiding so much- living so much in fear that even a word like “killing” frightened me. I could not handle being exposed to the darkness of life. The fear of it bleeding into my “positive world” paralyzed me, squeezing my eyes shut chanting “happy place, happy place, happy place, fairies, Disneyland, love…..” As I shoved the real feelings deeper and deeper inside so I wouldn’t have to deal with them. Doing anything to avoid looking at why I might see it as negative. Ultimately giving my power away to it.
The other day my daughter nailed me on this. I hadn’t until that moment realized how I had been programming her the same way – to be one of those “Positive Thinkers”. I always tell my daughter to find the joy, to be happy. The truth is my daughter has a lot of things in her life that are hard for an eight year old to deal with, heck even without her parents getting divorced, being a kid is tough.
She was in a dark mood, brooding as she does and, well, I was busy and told her to find something to be happy about. She walked away and a few minutes later she came back. She had put tape over her mouth and drawn a smile on her face. She handed me a note that said, “All you want me to do is smile all the time”. Yep – she did. I sat there stunned at her honesty, her expression, the dramatics of it and yes the wisdom of it.
She wanted to feel and she wanted to know how to deal with her feelings, she didn’t want to put on a happy face. She didn’t want to think positive and couldn’t be forced to do it either. I learned in that moment that the most important thing I could do with her was allow her that. To sit with her while she expressed her feelings, even if they weren’t happy, even if they weren’t “positive”.
This person who wrote me the letter also said something interesting. She said she didn’t want to have her grand children see the word “killing” and have to explain it to them. I felt kind of sad. I mean her intentions are good. But, just like my daughter, if we never learn to deal with the “negative” how will we learn that it’s only negative if we allow it be? How will we learn that the power, the choice is within us and not outside of us? It’s not in a word, an image, another person. Every reaction we have to something is really an expression of what is inside of us. Slapping a smiley face on it isn’t going to change that.
I sat with my daughter for a long time while she talked about how she felt. She put into words the dark feelings she was having and you know what – after a while they weren’t so dark anymore. They were processed emotions; they weren’t the scary thought monsters we conjure as we attempt to layer the positive over them. After a while I see that gets harder and harder to do. The layers deeper and deeper until really all we are is a body caked with the sludge of denial and despair, our pearly whites shining through the film of positive goo.
Just so we’re clear — I’m not against positive thinking. It’s a valuable tool. Finding the positive is a good idea, hiding behind it probably isn’t. Being mindful of your thoughts, and intentions is important, being thoughtful about what your sending out into the world is key when you remember that what you put out is what you get back. But be mindful that you don’t allow positive thinking to lock you away in a prison cell of cheer. Sometimes taking off the rose colored glasses reveals a whole new world of positivity.
So what’s my take away from killing this Buddha? Think positive thoughts – if they feel right – don’t recoil in fear of anything you perceive as negative, instead ask yourself why you see it that way and then, once you’ve slayed the negative thought monster, grab some lemons and make some lemonade.