If you’ve been following recent posts: the premise of “positive thinking” material is that our feelings and experience of reality reflect or mirror the quality of our thoughts.
If our thoughts are more positive then we feel better, and our reality changes accordingly.
The conventional view of life is the opposite: reality happens first and our thoughts and feelings react to this reality.
It’s not just a different sequence, it’s also much messier.
So for the sake of a cleaner and more meaningful view of life (not to mention happier), we can observe it from the standpoint of thoughts->feelings->reality.
Change your thoughts and you change your world.
But how? And why? And also what?
What is positive?
Looking closer at the positive thinking material, we might need to adjust our schema a little.
Because it turns out that our thoughts are also a reflection, in the same stream of causation as our subsequent feelings and reality.
You don’t control your thoughts directly, rather you receive them as a by-product of your focus or attention.
That’s why you can change the verbal content of your thoughts, yet still feel the same way about them and experience the same reality subsequently.
“I feel happy” can be just empty words.
There’s a potential disconnect between the verbal or sensory content of a thought and the… the… the what?
This is where things get slightly tricky.
Prior to our thoughts it’s very indistinct as to what is happening. It’s a non-physical realm and there’s nothing sensory or even conceptual to grab hold of.
So people who talk about this stuff are left trying to stick a label on it, a label that will never be entirely appropriate.
Positive thinking material tends to use words like “energy” and “vibration”. These are metaphoric labels drawn from a folk-level understanding of contemporary physics.
Traditional religion tended to use words like “spirit”, which is another metaphor drawn from a folk-level understanding of metaphysics and biology.
In either case, the label is used to designate an invisible something that exists prior to thought, and from which thoughts, feelings, and external reality come forth.
So we could say “Lord, send out your spirit, and renew the face of the Earth” with the old psalms.
But for many people these words have negative associations and are loaded with misunderstandings, social and familial baggage.
If you study theology you find out that words like “Lord” are also metaphors. Labels like “God” are attempts to designate something that transcends our language. Indeed, there are whole branches of theology and philosophy that discuss these issues.
Yet the pattern is there. It is a call for God to “renew the face of the Earth” through his spirit. It’s a call for one intangible thing to use another intangible thing to change reality for the better.
Terms like “energy” and “vibration” have their own baggage, but much much less than the traditional terms (for now).
You can find people explaining that what we call “God” is in fact “pure positive energy” or “the highest vibration”. We are (somehow) extensions of this energy. Yet we have the capacity to choose where to put our attention.
So within us is this pure positive energy, yet most of us spend our lives focusing on things that are less positive, or of a “lower vibration”.
Our thoughts, feelings, and reality are a reflection of this point of focus, and its positivity relative to the pure positive energy in us.
That might sound terrifyingly “New Age”, though technically I think it’s “New Thought”.
But the underlying pattern is basically the same as saying that the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, or that it is Christ who lives in you, or that you are remaining in God’s love, and all the associated observations and injunctions regarding what to think about, the movement of the will in God’s love, the fruits of the spirit, and so on.
What’s gone wrong?
There’s a line from Romans I really like:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
What’s gone wrong is that we have lost our connection with our source, with God, and so we live our lives conforming to the pattern of the world.
In positive thinking terms, we have turned our focus to our reality, which is an inversion of the true order.
Our reality is supposed to be the last reflection of our point of focus, the “energy” we are focusing on prior to thought. If we start focusing on our reality, then we get stuck in a kind of feedback-loop.
This is conventionally clear in instances of mental illness like anxiety and depression. When people are depressed they often lack the energy, motivation or desire to engage in activities that would otherwise make them feel a bit happier. Over time, chronic anxiety and depression can lead people to empty their lives of any sources of relief or happiness.
People’s empty or narrow lives can then contribute to their anxiety and depression, since they’ve eliminated anything that might have offered hope or reprieve.
That’s what happens generally when we conform to the pattern of this world, or wrongly treat reality as the determinant of our thoughts and feelings.
How to “positive”
For me it seems clear that I can direct my attention or point of focus to something that feels more “positive”. It’s a very small, subtle mental change.
But what I tend to do instead is focus on my experience, falling back into that feedback loop which keeps me trapped thinking the same kinds of thoughts, having the same kinds of feelings, and the same kinds of experiences.
The solution seems to be firstly to recognise that I’m doing this. Second, to remind myself of the correct order:
Focus -> Thoughts -> Feelings -> Reality
And not the other way around.
Finally, when I’m reminded of this, I feel a certain kind of detachment toward my reality.
It feels like I’m taking my reality a little less seriously, a little less intently.
That’s because my focus has changed to something that is not yet reflected in my reality, but will be in time.
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
I think that’s why there’s always an element of faith or trust required. Or perhaps just the realisation that you’re stuck in a feedback loop and would like it to change?