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Monday, September 15, 2014

** illuminating respect: what is positivity?

“We can as easily become a prisoner of so-called positive thinking as of negative thinking. It too can be confining, fragmented, inaccurate, illusory, self-serving, and wrong. Another element altogether is required to induce transformation in our lives and take us beyond the limits of thoughts.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are

            Ah, yes. Positive thinking. If we chronically ill people had a penny for every time we were told some variation of if you would just be more positive in your outlook... I'm pretty sure we would never have to scramble for rent money again. I don't think I'm alone in that when I'm reading some self-help book or other that is otherwise very helpful and friendly, and I come to the inevitable section on "creating positive energy", I can feel every single muscle in my body tense up.

             But there are hundreds of those damned testimonials out there, telling us that you can change your own life if you just change your own thoughts.  Nothing makes me a Negative Nellie and a Self-Righteous Sally more than than a testimonial in a self-help book. Sure, it's supposed to be uplifting,
Negative Nessie?
but those little blurbs just don't tell the whole of the story. They are the Disney-movie version of someone's hard-worked transformation. With only these big-eyed, tiny-waisted princesses of positive-thinking stories out there, it's hard to feel like that could ever work for a brunette glasses-wearing beastie like me, you know? Or am I going waaaay too far with the Disney thing? Anyway. It got to me, so I started doing some more research on positive thinking. What I've come away with is this:

              We define positivity for ourselves. Think about it. Is your chronic illness just like anyone else's? No. Are you just like anyone else? No. Our positivity is our own. For me, I try to maintain a certain base level of positivaciousness in my life. I don't try to smile when my muscles feel like they have been turned inside out and then set on fire. I don't think "Gosh, at least I'm still alive!".  But I do make up words like "positivaciousness" that make me smile. My personal positivity is the remembrance that everything is transient. This might make other people feel worse. It feels better to me to remember that my pain is going to change (if not get better, it will at least mutate into something different), that my bad mood is going to change, that the city I dislike living in will not always be my home, etc... It makes moments that are good a little more precious, remembering that they are fleeting. It makes me feel like less of a bad person when I can't summon up even an ounce of positivity. Because I know it'll be back later, and I can be a negative grouchy pants to my full capacity of negativy grouchaciousness and I will come back from it fully indulged and refreshed. If I don't let myself feel all my negative feelings when they're there, I feel like I haven't respected myself, and it turns into a perpetual wallow, which is just 100% no fun.

                     We have to respect who we are and what it is we are feeling.  I'm starting to think of "positive thinking" as "respectfully thinking". As in, when my muscles are doing the inside-out-on-fire-thing that they do, it's disrespectful to say "I AM FINE" because uh, duh, I'm not. But it is respectful, and (to me at least) still positive to think "This sucks, this sucks, this sucks. But it won't always suck. This still sucks." As long as I have the hint of "it won't always suck" flavoring my "this sucks", it feels more respectful and eases some of the mental discomfort, if not the physical discomfort of being in a situation that, quite frankly, sucks.

Everything is unfolding as it should
                 I've had difficulty doing positive mantra/affirmation meditation because I struggle to agree with most of the mantras/affirmations. I've been learning however, to alter them to my own personal tastes. Now, not only does a mantra feel powerful to me, but it feels respectful and kind. For instance, a mantra I read from astrologist Jan Spiller for those of us hanging out with a Pisces North Node** is: all is well, and everything is unfolding as it should. When I am not feeling well, it feels downright disrespectful to say to myself that all is well. But it does feel comforting to say that everything is unfolding as it should. It gives me that vague sense that while I am in a bad situation or a bad mood, it'll probably work out to something decent in the end. When I'm feeling well enough, saying "all is well" makes me feel like I'm just tempting fate. So I've just taken that piece away altogether, and now it also feels more like "my" mantra, not just one I picked up in a book.


  If positivity is about being respectful, then optimism about being hopeful. Most people that I have met with chronic illnesses, despite complaints that are perceived as negative, strike me as very positive and optimistic people. We try to care for our bodies and minds, and we try to keep quiet hope alive. I never hope to be 100% better, and many non-sick people view this as negative thoughts. But on every bad day, I still have hope and faith that there will be a slightly better day in my future. On every good day, I try to respect that I may not feel so well tomorrow.

 If you live with people who think you are too negative, who think you are not trying hard enough, you might benefit from really asking yourself what positivity means to you. Try to engage the people you live with in the thoughts too. You could easily be on different wavelengths, and might benefit from adjustments on both sides. I frequently have conversations with Jose about whether or not I am treating myself with respect, whether or not what he asks of me is too much (or, more commonly, if what I am asking of myself is too much). Chronic illness requires a lot of major shifts in thinking and worldviews. It's taken me years to not want to curl into a ball and cry when someone tells me to think more positively. I'm not confrontational, and I likely won't leap into telling a stranger why my worldview is different than theirs, but it helps me to know that they just don't understand my situation -- and that is not a crime.

Ponies keep me positive. 

For other fun articles on positive thinking that don't meander around philosophizing and blabberizing as much (but also with fewer pony pics), try these:

**I like looking through books like Jan Spiller's and using any mantra that feels nice. While technically I do have a Pisces North Node, I use mantras from other signs, from religions that aren't mine, and yes, from quotes in fantasy books. I liked a prayer I read in a Jaqueline Carey book so much that I adapted it for myself, even though the god it was meant for was entirely fictional. The world's your mantra oyster. Or something.


  1. Common sense? Positivity with a dose of reality and respect? Yes, you nailed it. Great post today!

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  3. "Your truth has no opposites. Take the opportunity to make space for the amount of divine life energy you are able to embody at this moment, and experience this as your truth in this moment." -- this is a modified affirmation/mantra I've been using -- the idea that whatever my capacity is that day, that is my truth that day, and to accept it. Like any truth, it doesn't require that I necessarily be delighted about it, but only recognize and respect it. Thank you for this post.

    1. Oooh, I like that. I love the way you put it -- " doesn't require that I necessarily by delighted about it, but only recognize and respect it." That in and of itself could become a mantra. Beautifully said. Thank you for sharing.


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