|In an interesting discussion yesterday with a friend of mine where we discussed the ‘negatives’ of positive thinking. Yes, sounds paradoxical. But it turned out that its quite right that there is indeed a little ‘negative’ to positive thinking. I remember a story, that a teacher told in the Vipassana meditation course, when he related the half glass empty syndrome with a completely new paradigm.
When you see a half glass of water,
its negative thinking to say the glass is half empty
its positive thinking to say the glass is half full
The negative thinker will dwell and dwell on the emptiness of the glass, basically on what is lacking rather than what is pleasing in life. A habitual negative thinker will find what is wrong with anything that he comes across in life, whether that is facebook, or mobile phones or work or friends or spouse or society or religion or just about anything.
The positive thinker will try to see the other side, the fullness of the half glass of water, basically on what is pleasing or fascinating even in the worst of life’s circumstances. Its not that positive thinker’s don’t have negative emotions or thoughts, but they ignore them, shift their thinking and focus on what is good in just about anything that crosses their path in life.
Life is hard for the negative thinker and for all his unfortunate past experiences in life, its not without a reason or evidence that he has developed that outlook. Any negative thinker does not think negative because he wants to make his life hard. Its a habit that they find it hard to break.
Now if we look deeply at the positive thinker, he also might have a hidden habit, he does not want to acknowledge emptiness. He ignores it consciously. He dwells on joy and wants to feel pleased. Look deeply and you see the same unfortunate past experiences in his life too, and its hard for a positive thinker to break his habit too. It is generally such positive thinkers that when driven by the harsh forces of life, will find it hard to bear or tolerate it and may tend to escape from life..into seemingly positive corners of life, whether that is a pub or a drug or a fling in a relationship or simple over-eating.
We all can identify sometimes and some parts of ourselves with both the negative and positive thinkers, isn’t it? Its just that one might be dominantly negative or dominantly positive. Now, it seems even positive thinking has its negatives, so what’s the middle way? I would like to call it serenity thinking or value thinking and that’s the interesting paradigm that the teacher put forward, through a simple story, which I have kind of built up in my own way here.
The story goes that, when a poor boy who has done this meditation, saw this half glass of oil needed for his house, he first saw that the glass was half empty and felt sad and hopeless. He felt very scared of using up the oil that was there in the glass. He felt insecure because of the view of emptiness and lack. He thought it was really difficult to buy that oil through his daily wages and yet the oil was essential to light his house. His thoughts were tending to resignation, to accepting that, well, that’s his destiny. He will now not want to keep his house lighted in the nights and he better resign to that fact and live with serenity and acceptance. But that wasn’t easy, the thought of the emptiness kept haunting him and making his life look dull and insipid, angry and depressing.
But he was a ‘meditator’…the story goes, so that was not for long, he now began to see the glass was half full. Felt happy. He realised its just not worth it to feel sad because the glass was half full and that was good news. When he began to see the fuller part of the glass, there was more positive energy in him, he felt more joy in his life. He started to now use the oil, because he loved the light that the oil gave to his house and the things that he could do in the night. As he began to feel the positive energy, he began to drown and savour the feeling of joy, forgetting completely that the oil was being spent and was becoming lesser and lesser by the day. Because he ignored consciously to see the emptiness, he only focussed on what was present and on ‘enjoying’ it.
But this boy was a ‘meditator’ and he had to be much different..the story goes. He soon came out of savouring the feeling of joy and gave it come considered thought to both the emptiness and the fullness equally. That did not stop him from feeling contented and grateful about the half-fullness. But that positive energy now helped him give way to the energy of clarity and powerful intention. He now visualized a full glass of oil and decided its possible for him to make his visualization come true. Despite the dire circumstances of his situation in the town, which hardly gave him very meagre daily wages, he evoked determined focus and unwavering persistence. With that energy, he went out, worked his day through, used his resourcefulness, proved his capability and started to earn more and more money.
Gradually, this boy managed to not only make the glass full, but many glasses full. He went even further, he made use of this little life experience of his as a purpose and as a means of contribution to society. He founded an oil factory which had innovative and inexpensive oil manufacturing techniques and made his name in his contribution to society.
Now, this is a story. But we can relate this to many a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Rajnikanth in real life, cant we? Generally, many of us attribute many of our unfortunate circumstances all to luck or destiny or And we tend to resign ourselves to think that we are not made for what we are meant to be, even if that’s not as great as Rajnikanth.
Between negative thinking and positive thinking, there is another level of thinking and state of mind, that the wise call it equanimity or serenity. Its the sharp clarity that comes out of a state of mind that is neither down in the dumps of disruptive emotions nor in the high of thrilling energies of joy and pleasure, but one that is in the middle – sharp, clear and calm, that has a penetrative insight, seeing both the lack and the abundance of life clearly as it is, in its true nature. This state of mind sees deeply into everything with clarity and is thus able to bring focussed action that can produce value and hence I call it ‘value’ thinking.
Whether life is going smooth or rough, there is a ‘value’ in it if you make up the mind to see and extract it. Perceive positively, extract the value of it and transform it into actions, that’s what ‘value’ thinking can produce.
Being aware of the success that positive and value thinking has produced for us, it is imperative that we begin to understand how to shift our thinkings more often to produce more ‘value’ for ourselves and others, out of any kind of a circumstance of life.
Also to make an effort to stop dwelling or savouring negative and positive states of mind for too long…. Both of them, needs to be acknowledged and experienced too, for its own good….and its even healthy to do so. Only as long as we know how to shift to ‘value’ thinking – with a state of mind tending towards equanimity and the resulting clarity which ‘makes value’ out of circumstances.
Be Happy, Be Serene
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