Blind-sided by the bright side

Blind-sided by the bright side

(I wrote this article in August 2010, but the day I wrote it, I had some terrible news and I never finished it or put it up. I think it bears reading, even though I am still unable to complete it.)

I have been thinking long and hard about how to respond to a variety of things lately. I woke up at dawn thinking about how the whole alternative health, wealth and positive thinking community seems to view the world and how much is spoken about “being IN the moment” and “shifting perspective” and somehow how they can choose to shape their lives.

There’s a lot of stuff talked about being in the moment. Most of it is utter rubbish. The most powerful way to “be in the moment” is to suffer severe and chronic pain, whether this is physical, mental or emotional. I suffer with all three(I leave out spiritual because that’s an obvious one for any being with compassion in this world) on a regular basis. There is no cure for any of them. Not one of the conditions I have has a cure, as such. That’s wearing, knowing that. I think there may be perhaps five days a month where I don’t suffer some physical pain and I face the choice of whether to endure the pain or somewhat disable myself by taking pain relief. In terms of mental and emotional pain, there is no anodyne for that you can swallow as a pill or rub on. Much of what I do in terms of writing and thinking is my own work towards living with the pain. The important thing is that I do not know whether it will cease. The most enthralling thing about watching a film or reading a book is wanting to find out if there is a happy ending; usually there are. In life, happy endings are not guaranteed. This is what makes life worth living. Telling me that wonderful things are going to happen when I change my perspective(can they guarantee this? No.) is harmful to my journey through the hard times.

Being in the moment means simply that; existing solely in that space without thought or concern for the next moment. Don’t make an assumption that the being in the moment is a sort of a magical precursor to making changes. It’s not. Being in the moment means that what comes next is a total surprise, good or bad. You cannot be in the moment AND think about what it is going to bring. It’s a logical impossibility.

 I’ve been in this sort of space before. There is nothing magical about it. Sometimes good things happen later, sometimes bad ones. It just IS. Telling me that something magical is going to happen if I shift my perspective is neither helpful, nor kind. It’s simply about them sharing their personal perspective in such a way as to diminish both my experience and me. It’s also slightly condescending. I don’t believe in magic, the way that many seem to, in the same way that I hated the 8 hours I spent in Disneyland and others loved it. We are different. My experience of being in this becalmed state is not yours. My journey is not yours.

Do you know the Monty Python film The Life of Brian? At the very end there is a scene where the hero is at a very unpleasant stage of his life indeed. Nailed to a cross one of the other characters starts harping on about how things might be worse and then the famous song “Always look on the bright side of life” ensues, as the credits begin to roll. It’s very funny in a sick sort of way, but I will make no bones about it: this is what some of the positive thinking brigade are doing. They are denying reality. Sometimes life really sucks. Sometimes the pain gets far, far too much. Being told at this point, either by someone else or by your own internal voice, to Look on the bright side is denying the reality. By denying the reality you are also denying yourself a very real chance to be in that moment and perhaps learn for the first time what that truly might mean. If you are always looking for the silver lining, you will never see the cloud. A cloud is itself a beautiful and marvellous thing; without them there would be no rain and the land would dry up and die. We need clouds, just as we need the dark side. Without the balance between the bright side and the dark, we are just smiling idiots without depth or breadth or meaning. It’s the interaction between the light and the dark, that dynamism of life, that makes living fully dimensional (choose how many dimensions; it’s currently in dispute how many there are)

I understand the very real temptation to try and cheer up someone in trouble or distress by telling them to look on the bright side; their pain can be hard for us to bear watching it. I have a compulsion to try and fix people. Sometimes I think this compulsion comes of wanting to somehow fix my own brokenness and other times I think it is out of real compassion. But sometimes compassion needs to step back and stand away while the experience is lived. If you find you have gained some sort of collateral benefit afterwards, great but this is a by-product. It is not the reason you went through it. It is not a reason for extolling the virtues of suffering.

Staying positive is touted as a way of overcoming everything from cancer to unemployment but the medical evidence is actually quite inconclusive. My thoughts are that if you can stay upbeat about an illness, without beating yourself into a frenzy of positivity, I admire you. In life terms, being positive has benefits such as you are less likely to give up trying, you see perhaps opportunities others may not and you step out expectant of things turning out well.

7 thoughts on “Blind-sided by the bright side

  1. I agree with you, Viv, that the idea of “being positive” does not always work and cannot apply to all situations. I struggled with this myself for years & an honest survey of my life led me to the conclusion that sometimes being negative is the best option, and absolutely the right thing. When you speak of your struggle with pain of all types, I can only wish for your healing but also feel for you in your account of what you go through. Sometimes we just have to come alongside people as they suffer. Where I can identify with you is in suffering migraines. For me there’s nothing like the pain of a migraine to keep you suffering in the present moment. And it reminds me of something my English tutor at uni once said (as we were talking about the mystical vision of Wordsworth): “there’s nothing like a headache for making you think you’re the centre of the universe”.


    • Migraines are indeed a *gift*. I suffer them too.
      I think being honest at the very least to ourselves about how we feel is a great step forward, to feel what we feel and not try and will it to be something different.


  2. I agree with you Viv…you have to live it to feel it. You can’t pretend something away. It needs to run its course. My struggle, at times, is trying to stay fresh, open, engaged, and grateful, when a lifetime of difficulty and pressure has dimmed my view of things.


  3. Just this moment came across this by Richard Rohr…I wonder if any of it might resonate..
    “Suffering is the teacher of transformation for both of them. It is the only thing strong enough to grab our attention and defeat the ego. Suffering, for me, is whenever we are not in control. It is our opposition to the moment, our inner resistance that says, “I don’t want it to be this way.” The ego is always trying to control reality and therefore it is invariably suffering, because reality is never fully what we want.

    Jesus’ suffering on the cross was a correct diagnosis and revelation of the human dilemma. It was an invitation to enter into solidarity with the pain of the world, and our own pain. Lady Julian of Norwich understood it so well, as if to say, “There is only one suffering and we all share in it.” That is the way all mystics eventually see it. That is the way the Buddha saw it. There is only one suffering, and for Christians Jesus personified that surrender to that cosmic mystery—a “non-resistance” to reality until we learn its deepest lessons. The ultimate lesson is always resurrection.’


  4. You make me very grateful that I’ve found my way out of the pain even though it took many years. So sorry there aren’t any answers for you. When I see someone like little Mattie Stepanek ( who smiled through everything it astonishes me–I’ve not been so gracious during my long journey (whiny might describe it better)… Wish I could find that space.


    • Me too.
      Mattie was a very special soul, a true saint if you like.
      The article was written 2 years ago, and some of the pain has diminished, thankfully. But it taught me a lot.
      thanks for sharing the link and thank you for commenting.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.