What!? Being positive is a spiritual bypass? Why? What the heck are you talking about? I know, I know, it is radical but please hear me out.
Positive thinking sounds great on paper - when your mind is hijacked by negative thoughts and emotions, recognize, snap out of them and replace them with positive ones and voila! your life is all well and, positive! Hurray! Rinse, repeat and live until the last day of your life happy.
After all, why do we not want to live our lives in light, positive, pleasant ways at all times, right? I agree with you. If you are one of those rare species who can transcend the messiness of being human and are leading your life in 100% positive way, all the time... wait, better yet, 120% happy all the time, I'm genuinely happy for you. You can stop reading just about now.
A question for those who are still with me: raise your hands, my readers, if you do not have any troubles in life? No difficulties, no challenges? Has life been a smooth sailing all the time for you?
It's ridiculous even to ask to raise hands.
Just like you, my life hasn't been easy and rosy. Some wise part of me tells me that my life won't ever be always smooth and filled with happiness. No matter how hard we try not to, we sometimes feel sad, angry, jealous, irritated, alone, not enough, get sick, we divorce, get fired, lose loved ones, etc etc.... and we don't like any of it. Welcome to the First Noble Truth: there is suffering in life.
Neuro Psychologist Rick Hanson says:
"The first Noble Truth is that life contains inevitable, unavoidable suffering. (Some translators use the word, “stress,” to convey the broad meaning of the original word used by the Buddha in the Pali language: dukkha.)
This suffering encompasses the gross forms of pain, illness, and trauma we can all imagine, such as a broken leg, stomach flu, grappling with the devastation of a hurricane or the violent death of a loved one — or getting the diagnosis of a terminal disease.
It also includes milder but common forms of discomfort and distress, like long hours of work, feeling let down by a partner, a headache, feeling frustrated, disappointed, hurt, inadequate, depressed, upset, etc. And it includes the subtlest qualities of tension in the mind, restlessness, sense of contraction, preoccupation, unease, boredom, blahness, ennui, sense of being an isolated self, something missing in life, something just not fulfilling, etc."
I used to think that the best way to "achieve" a consistent happiness, contentment, a great life and spiritual advancement is how quickly I could get out of that negative zone.
Just so maybe I can be of your help, I'd like to disclose that I've failed spectacularly at this despite YEARS of trying with all sorts of methods like various types of yoga, Hinduism, Zen, Reiki, healing sessions with variety of Eastern and Western healers, following a guru (okay, more than one), chakra alignments, chanting sacred mantras, affirmations, gratitude, law of attraction.... you name it, I've studied it and practiced it. Yes, I'm proud to say that I've been very meticulous in my research.
I have a tendency to be rather serious and dark and I thought that if I tried harder, I would succeed at this "being happy and positive" business like anything else I did in life. Coming from Japanese culture with "kaizen" attitude also means that my DNA has been hyper conditioned for generations to continuously search for ways to improve everything, be more efficient, good at math (though I'm not) and thus be happier in life.
I kept trying to control and minimize my suffering, - the Dark Side, lower vibrational part of me, my shadow, negativity, whatever you want to call it - suppressing and bypassing it in the name of spiritual advancement. I'm not saying that they do not work. They do, but only to a certain extent and the results were always short-lived because this approach put me at a constant war against the reality of life.
I realized I was at war with myself and life because despite what books I read, what teachings I practiced, or what guru I followed, there were days I just felt like sh*t and I could not accept it. I fought against that reality incessantly. My self-talk went like "I should be able to feel happier, I can change my state of being if I did this", etc etc... I didn't like the idea of not achieving my goal to be better, happier and more spiritually advanced person. I looped between being ok with who I am on good days and being irritated or angry about who I could not be on other days (those were "stay out of my way" days). The cherry on the top of this cake was that I blamed myself for not being better and not trying harder. Can you feel my effort through my writing? Doesn't it sound so tiring and uptight? I tell you, being a Pollyanna is exhausting.
There is no clear winner in ANY war that is fought - with others or within ourselves.
So I decided to stop being at war.
In the Buddhist teachings, there are three tones to any of the events, thoughts, feelings or emotions we experience. They are pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. We are conditioned by our evolutionary survival instinct, society, family, friends, and our false belief system to crave for pleasant, push away the unpleasant and ignore the neutral. Yet everyone's life is peppered with sufferings. Our life beautifully fluctuates between those three tones like the weather system.
When we try to control the reality of what is, even veiling the effort with a positive reason and aspiring for a higher state, it is a form of control nonetheless. Just think about who is judging what experience is higher or lower, better or worse, lighter or darker? Whose voice are you listening to? Guess who likes to judge, be in charge and control things? The awakened state of being like the Buddha, Christ consciousness or ....your EGO?
Most of you have guessed it right, I think. Yes, the answer is our EGO. When we are judging, and preferring one state of being to another, even if it's a positive or higher state, it is our ego who is in our driver's seat. If you have ever been on a spiritual path, we've all done this plenty of times (I'm raising both of my hands here).
In Dr. Robert Augustus Masters' words, this common pitfall is called, "avoidance in holy drag" or "spiritual bypassing" (http://robertmasters.com/writings/spiritual-bypassing/). We can pervert any spirituality into a defense mechanism — a mechanism which enables us to disown any negative quality or behavior in ourselves or others.
When we deny, minimize, or disown ANY part of us, we deny and disown life as a whole package. When you love a child or someone, you accept everything about that person. Life is the same. We can't feel the wholeness, aliveness and LOVE for life if we only prefer the high, light and the pleasant.
Let's try a simple reflection here to glimpse where you are at:
Sit in a comfortable but alert manner. Consciously soften your abdominal area from inside out as you take few deep breaths and close your eyes before answering them.
Ask yourself those 2 questions:
1. What are the things I least others to know about me?
2. Can you simply accept what comes up? If not, what is in the way?
This kind of inquiry can start shedding light on the corners of your psyche you have long been neglected. It does require a tremendous courage to open up the door to the basement you haven't cleaned for years, but it is also fun because you never know what treasures you discover. It has a potential to truly liberate us by making what is under the blanket of our unconsciousness float up to our consciousness. What we suppress, controls us.
Some practical steps we can take daily to come out of this trance of ego:
1. Learn to observe your mind, thoughts, emotions without judging them as either "keeper" or "non-keeper"
Our thoughts, feelings, and emotions are like the weather system, Sometimes the weather is pleasant and sunny, sometimes unpleasant and stormy and sometimes neutral, then back to sunny. If we observe the nature carefully, we realize the impermanent nature of all things, including our thoughts. We are here to experience life in its all glory and misery. To try to control what you wish to experience, again, can create a never-ending war with the life itself.
2. Create a habit to be quiet on a daily basis so you can observe, familiarize and learn what stories your mind like to create.
We all have our favorite plots in our mind. When we sit down quietly, we start to realize the pattern of our thoughts and start to be identified more with the part of us who can calmly observe our mental dramas. Who is observing? That is our essence, our nature, which is a pure and vast awareness - the one that sees the reality with tenderness, and the sky that holds our weather system without wishing the weather to be different.
3. At least once a day, ask yourself "what is happening inside me right now?" and instead of becoming reactive or judgemental, be a curious and loving observer of your inner happenings, whatever it might be.
When we practice being non-reactive and non-judgemental often enough, soon we discover the vast field of aliveness, deep peace and equanimity in ourselves. If we stop constantly trying to manipulate what the experiences in life should be, you can easily unlock the door to that field.
"Out beyond ideas of
wrongdoing and right-doing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul
lies down in that grass
the world is
too full to talk about."
Learn how to meditate with other like-minded people in the community - I offer donation based drop in weekly insight meditation (aka vipassana or mindful meditation) class.