Healthy optimism – a reflection dedicated to mothers and meditators
Actualizado: 29 de abr de 2020
For quite a while now, I’ve been interested in the course social media is taking in terms of self-love and inspirational sources. Day in day out, I read messages of women, mothers, teachers, reminding me to be less hard on myself, and tap into the love for my true Self, with no reproach or wrong expectations.
As much as I love these messages, I can also see the danger behind an all-or-nothing approach to this mindset. I think that adopting an attitude that allows only for one side of the story to be told, is not the full picture, and we may be indeed missing on something important. Therefore, a question inevitably pops in my head: can too much positivity actually be bad?
After pondering much about this, the way I see it is that we should strive for a healthy positivity or optimism, rather than a blind trust that everything is and will be alright, just because. Healthy optimism for me means focusing on the positive that already exists, while acknowledging the negative as well. The reason why we want to do the second, is that we can learn a lot from those negatives. I feel that not acknowledging what is bad or wrong and pretending that everything is great, is a means of protecting oneself from the inner hardships of the spiritual path. Complacency does not invite personal growth.
Does that mean that we need to listen more to our inner critic? Not necessarily more, just the right way. To put it in a less abstract way, I’m going to give you an example we mothers encounter more often than we would like to admit: It’s a normal day, taking care of my little one, running errands, doing chores, trying to remember all the things that need to be done... The little one wants attention, maybe a hug, sitting on the rocking chair and nurse, play with me for a little while, or simply a glass of water. But I’m trying to get things done and these interruptions are not helping. I lose my patience and react in a far from gracious way, probably raising my voice in the process. Sounds familiar? You can imagine what comes after that in the inner dialogue. “Again, I lost my patience. I wasn’t kind. I am a failure as a mother… and a meditator! Why can’t I be soft and gentle and patient all the time? I will never get there.”
This guilt that so many mothers experience (if not all), is there for some reason. When I hear messages like “Mama, you are doing great” and positive sentences like such, yes, I do agree that mothers need to hear those things to counteract the inner critic that wants to bring us down. But erasing the fact that all that did happen and that all that negative self-talk did come up in your mind, defeats the purpose of the experience: learning a lesson on patience and kindness.
This example is very similar to the meditation practice. When people try meditation, many say that they can’t do it. They say that it’s not for them, because they can’t stop thinking and they can’t stay focus on their breath the whole time. But the truth is that: 1) thinking is a natural thing for the human mind, it isn’t wrong, and 2) when you lose track of your breath and realize about it, that’s the moment when your mindfulness practice is taking place. That’s when you go back to your breath and during meditation this happens once and again, and again and again.
There is a misconception that people meditate to be calm and happy, all the time. Mindfulness is not about being ok all the time. Mindfulness is about giving a space for everything that is to be there, without judgment or reacting. The negative too. It’s about learning how to sit with the discomfort of emotions like anger, sadness, fear, and be ok with it. It’s not about drowning it, in order to feel happy at all costs. In fact, it is those moments that hide the true treasure of this practice. Every time you are reminded that you aren’t kind, is an invitation to go back to being kind. Exactly in the same way as when you meditate and your mind wanders, the moment you realize and come back to your breath, is the true practice.
Acknowledging the negative, however, should not turn into wallowing in the despair of our imperfections. In fact, focusing only in the negative is very self-destructive and can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. Imagine telling a child, who has a tendency to being loud and naughty, that he’s a little monster. Hearing that every day would convince any child that’s the way he should be. And therefore, he’ll act like a “little monster” simply to prove their parents right.
Negative thinking presents itself in different forms. It can be filtering, when we magnify the negative aspects and filter out the positive ones. Somehow, we remember the things that went wrong and forget about what did worked out. Another form of negative thinking is personalizing, when we blame ourselves for the bad things that occur. Then there is catastrophizing, which means that we anticipate the worst. This is different to being prepared for what might happen, because we don’t look for possible solutions, but we directly believe that there is no solution. Finally, we have polarizing, when we see things as either good or bad. This attitude doesn’t allow any learning to take place.
When we meditate, we observe how our mind works. If we find patterns that fall into these categories in our way of thinking, this would be the first step toward a change into a more positive attitude, that can only be added value to our life. As Zig Ziglar says, "Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will."
The final conclusion is very simple: focus on the positive and learn from the negative. With this combination, you have positivity and personal growth. A win-win situation! Your path may be paved before you or full of stones. We can both feel blessed for the paved way and count the stones as blessings too. It’s just a matter of perspective.
If you are interested in reading more on positive thinking in general, check out this article. And especially if you are a parent, I can't recommend enough the book Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen. Here is her website.
May these words, thoughts and ideas be of help and bring you calm and joy. Namaste!