Can Positive Thinking Work as Powerfully as Meditation?
Another Quora question, which prompted the following reply.
There’s a problem with positive thinking – and that is, your mind is not an idiot. It knows all of you, both positive and negative. And it resents any attempt you might make to lie to it.
So you can chant positive affirmations and manufacture positive thoughts all you like, but at the end of the day, a little voice in the back of your mind will keep whispering, ‘why am I telling myself all this positive stuff …. oh, that’s right …. I’m doing it because I actually believe the opposite!’
So you see, the end effect of desperately manufacturing and clinging to positive thoughts … well, it actually affirms the opposite.
It’s called ‘toxic positivity’ and research has shown that it has a detrimental effect. The mind is an ecology of all kinds of feelings and thoughts, and they cannot be denied. So if the prevailing feelings and thoughts are negative, then that’s just what it is.
We do have power over what we choose to pay attention to.
So, if negative feelings and thoughts are arising, we don’t have to engage with them.
And this is where meditation becomes a powerful tool.
In meditation, we train the mind to develop a skill of being able to let go. We do this by working with our attention as we meditate, and we practice persistently letting go of whatever it attaches to – until it lets go of everything and goes still. The stronger this skill of letting go becomes, the more instinctive it becomes. And that helps us, during the course of our daily life, to let go of whatever we choose.
Which means, if negative thoughts and feelings are arising, with meditation practice, we have the ability of being aware of what is happening, while at the same time, mindfully disengaging from it.
Without our attention to empower the negative thoughts and feelings, they naturally weaken and disappear.
The other thing meditation gives us, is deeper knowledge of how we feel – below our conscious façade. And that gives us the ability to deal with whatever negative feelings that might be creating the thinking.
I learnt this from one of my teachers – Acharn Tippakorn.
I was having problems with powerful storms of thinking whenever I meditated. So I asked him if he could help me.
After listening carefully, he said, ‘Beneath all thinking are feelings. Feelings create thinking. If we did not have feelings, we would not think. Sometimes the feelings are subtle, so the thoughts are also subtle. But if the feelings are very strong, then the thoughts will also be strong, and very hard to let go of.’
I thought about this, then said, ‘But I’m not aware of feeling anything beneath the thinking … not that I know of anyway.’
Acharn Tippakorn nodded and he said, ‘That’s because you are not looking. You are too busy swatting at the thoughts like mosquitoes. So don’t bother noting the thinking. Look past the thinking into your heart and into your body … in this way, you go to the cause, not the effect. Look for the feelings that are causing the thoughts, then note those feelings.’
So if you are beset with negative thinking, sit down and meditate, and see if you can find the feelings that are beneath the thoughts – and when you’ve found them, feel them completely. Let them flood through you, without reacting to their story, and in being acknowledged, they will naturally dissipate.
Once the feelings have calmed, so too will the thoughts.
In the absence of negative feelings and thoughts, the positive naturally blooms. You don’t have to force them. Love and happiness appear naturally in the absence of their opposite.
***** Also, as a side note, thank you to all the people who have bought my recent book, as well as the audio book. It’s lovely to be read, and acknowledged – so thank you. And remember if you have any questions, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will reply.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)