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.