Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Perils and Pitfalls of Positive Thinking

flickr / Martin Whitmore
Positive thinking - simple as pie, right? Think good thoughts, good things happen, end of story.

Actually, not quite.

...My first brush with the concept of positive thinking couldn't have been more stereotypical: it was the book The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. When I was a freshman in high school, my dad gave it to me in hopes that it would help me to stop being such a gloomy teenager. And it did! What's more, it nudged me in the direction that would one day evolve into a career as a healer, teacher, and metaphysical author.

In the 20 or so years that have passed since that day, I've discovered a number of positive thinking related challenges common to those on the metaphysical path. In fact, I've not only guided my clients through the following challenges on numerous occasions, I've also personally encountered each of them myself.

Peril/Pitfall #1: New Age Guilt

You think Catholics have it bad? Try feeling like each challenge - whether it's a cold, a lost object, or an argument - is evidence of some sort of shameful personal shortcoming. That's what you call New Age guilt.

When I took Reiki level 1, my teacher asked me to get on the table so that she could demonstrate to the class. When she told everyone my second chakra was blocked, I immediately felt like a failure. After all, if I were truly spiritual, all my chakras would be open, right?

When I have feng shui or intuitive counseling clients who are in the grips of New Age guilt, they never want to come right out and tell me what's wrong, because they're watching their thoughts and words like a hawk, making sure that everything they say is some version of, "I'm doing great and everything's fine." Instead of helping them to move out of their challenges, however, this keeps them stuck because they are failing to state (or even think about!) what is actually true for them in the moment. 

New Pattern
If you're experiencing challenges, first of all, let yourself of the hook about it. Everyone experiences challenges. Even Wayne Dyer. Even Louse Hay. Even the Dalai Lama! If you're alive, you're going to experience challenges of some kind. In fact, life would be boring and stagnant if you didn't. (Would you want to watch a movie in which the character was always just sitting around being harmonious?)

Secondly, be aware that if you want to change something, you first need to bring your consciousness to it fully. This means saying, "I feel lonely," if this is true for you as a first step in manifesting a relationship, or "I have a cold," if you want to begin to heal the cold. Simply stating what is true for you doesn't mean you're being a negative person or bringing more negativity upon yourself. If, on the other hand, you state "I feel lonely and I'll always feel lonely," or "I have a cold and I always seem to catch colds and it's probably going to keep getting worse," you're going beyond stating the simple truth and are imposing even more challenging conditions onto your current ones. Just state the truth and then be proactive about shifting into a different condition, without judgment and even, if possible, with love for yourself and with excitement for the whole process.

Peril/Pitfall #2: Expectation of a Band-Aid Cure

If you think positive thinking can take the most surface aspect of a problem and simply turn it around so that everything's hunky dory, you're expecting a band-aid cure. The challenge with this, of course, is that everything is connected: no condition is an island unto itself.

The first time I met with a beloved feng shui client of mine, she worked from home. Her main challenge at the time was that she and her boss clashed, which made it hard for her to enjoy her job. I gave her a number of recommendations, she implemented them pretty quickly after the consultation, and then within one week, she promptly lost her job. She called me in a state of distress and confusion. After all, wasn't the feng shui just supposed to help her get along better with her boss?

New Pattern
Often acute challenges in the external plane mask deep-seated issues on the internal plane. In the above case, my client was not in a job situation that was suited to her most ideal life path. Because metaphysics and positive thinking work in a holistic way, they shifted things at a deeper level than she was expecting, giving her an opportunity to regroup and reformulate in a healthier, more sustainable, and ultimately more prosperous way. (Which, by the way, she did!)

The lesson here is to consider that while your life appears to have separate conditions and aspects, from an energetic perspective, these are all unified in a single melody or pattern. When a single challenge (or a condition that feels discordant) rises to the surface of your conscious awareness, it's more helpful to think of addressing this challenge as a doorway into a deeper level of harmony - as an opportunity to get into a more ideal flow in all life areas - rather than as tackling or remedying single, isolated issue.

Peril/Pitfall #3: Ego-Involvement/Over Emphasis on Outcome

You've heard it a million times: life is about the journey, not the destination. But in our goal-oriented culture, it's still sometimes easy to forget, causing us to go for a hike not to have fun, but solely to get in shape, or scarfing down cereal not too enjoy our breakfast, but merely to get food in our bellies before we run out the door. And, in the case of positive thinking, we change our thoughts not so that we can feel better immediately, but so that we can manifest some particular outcome in the (ideally) not-so-distant future.

A woman wants to get married, but she's not currently in a romantic relationship. She begins repeating the affirmation, "I am married to a wonderful man," and envisioning herself shopping for wedding dresses. Over the days and weeks that she is doing this, when she meets men, they are not naturally enticed by her relaxed, magnetic energy because she isn't radiating any. Rather, she's inwardly bemoaning how long it seems to be taking to reach her goal. "The positive thinking isn't working," she thinks to herself.

New Pattern
What we want to manifest is not in the future: it's in the present. And I mean this literally. Remember that as metaphysicians, we must look at everything from an energetic perspective. And energetically, everything we crave is already present in the form of a frequency. After all, when we say we want to get married, we don't want that because we love wearing white dresses or diamonds. We want it because we crave a feeling of love, and the energies of romance and companionship. And those feelings and energies are already present within and around us. You might think of them as radio stations that we just need to tune into.

Once we tune into them, we feel great immediately. Then, naturally, we will magnetize external circumstances that match our internal alignment with these frequencies. And, we will have enjoyed the whole process and journey.

Another way to frame this is that it's all about feelings, rather than thoughts (which is rather confusing since we usually say, "positive thinking" rather than, "positive feeling"). So consider what you can do to find the feeling of what you're looking for. You want to manifest more money? Actually, you want to feel more prosperous - the paper is just something that you think will help you feel that way. So what can help you feel more prosperous right now? Maybe a bubble bath, or mending the holes in your favorite jeans, washing your bedspread, or making your favorite dinner. Consider getting into the feeling you're craving as much as you possibly can, rather than simply seeing some sort of external result - and, almost definitely (and for some, perhaps counter-intuitively), the external results will follow.


  1. Great post, thank you, Tess. I love the thing about the New Age guilt. So true. I heard someone say that 2013 is going to be year where people are starting to be sick of being "spiritual" and just want to be. I so agree, we are embodied, which means we are here to have a human, physical experience. Blessings to you for the new year. xxx

  2. Hi Olga! And I can feel that, what you said about just being, rather than being spiritual. Uniting inspiration with simple presence, so that there is no separation between form and spirit - that's what feels right to me. Thanks for reading, and blessings to you too!

  3. Great stuff as always Tess!

    I think that there can be a related aspect to it too. Where folks in such circles, tend to assume that when something bad happens to someone in the circle they weren't being positive enough and brought it on themselves - shades of Job. Which indirectly encourages people not to talk about their problems which only adds to ones problems.

    I do believe in the value of approaching things positively, but when things don't work, acknowledge and learn from it rather than fuzz it over moving over to the next thing to think about positively! :-)

    1. Hi Michael! I am in complete agreement. That New Age-style disdain is such a drag, not to mention it's totally unrealistic to imagine that one might coast through life blissed out all the time. As if one is beyond needing to learn and grow at all in this incarnation, which would ultimately be boring anyway!

      Anyway, thanks again for reading and for your encouraging words. Blessings to you in 2013!


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