text and photo © Jonathan Zap
We can all see how the black magicians (advertisers, industrial psychologists, etc) of the Babylon Matrix deceive people with images of perfect bodies always in a state of just crossing the finish line and winning the prize. Movie romances, for example, typically feature well-groomed yuppie couples going through (supposedly humorous) manic courtship rituals whose finish line is a honeymoon or proposal of marriage, etc. But those finish lines are actually starting lines of long and difficult marathons that have nothing to do with movie glamour. The Babylon Matrix always fools us this way; it encourages us to see graduation, landing the right job, acquiring the dream house or car, capturing the Hottie, or achieving the ideal weight, as finish lines. As someone once pointed out, there are no finish lines, only moving forward. We’re supposed to be racing toward a finish line, a glorious moment in the golden spotlight of success, when in actuality we are being super-sized and depressed by the “happy meal” we’ve just bought. But it is not just major industry injecting us with sugary, caffeinated hype — it is also the power-of-positive-thinking fundamentalists who can be found in overlapping circles of hyped-up yuppie capitalists and marketing-oriented New Agers. According to them, positive thinking guarantees health and wealth because “you create your own reality.” But this is an absurd denial of the shadow. There is a germ of truth there, an important germ, but the statement would have to be heavily modified into something like: “You are the leading force shaping your inner reality which is often the most important factor shaping your outer circumstances.” Instead, they adamantly, dogmatically state the principle as they do, a fundamentalist belief in infantile omnipotence. So how come no sufficiently positive-thinking New Ager has created as his own reality (which he can share with the rest of us) an earth which is free of environmental pollution and war? If a community is devastated by a hurricane, was that a lapse in their collective positive thinking? (See Dynamic Paradoxicalism for a more thoughtful critique of you-create-your-own-reality fundamentalism.)
Success/positive-thinking fundamentalists actually manufacture suffering. They cause ailing people to think their health problems are their personal failure of attitude, and add whole new levels of low self-esteem to those struggling with finances and difficult circumstances (most of the species). These are the folks who have numbered lists, the ten things that ensure success, and simplistic formulas for mastering the vast complexities of life. Whatever success they have is often based on selling hype, their income as a motivational speaker or self-help guru motivating other people to do the sorts of work they avoid. “Positive thinking” is important, especially the avoidance of negative inner tape loops and victim mentality, but it does not guarantee success and omnipotence in the outer world. Beneath all the hype we find people more sad, lonely, alienated and depressed than ever before. In addition to dealing with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, they must now deal with positive-thinking fundamentalism that has them unhappy about being unhappy, assuming that life’s hardships and travails are their personal, cognitive failures. Fundamentalisms are delusory systems largely created to buffer us from the inevitable difficulties of human incarnation. I’m not much of a Bible quoter, but Ecclesiastes gives a rare dose of stark, profound realism:
Eccl 3:1 TO EVERYTHING there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven:
Eccl 3:2 A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted,
Eccl 3:3 A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up,
Eccl 3:4 A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
Eccl 3:5 A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
Eccl 3:6 A time to get and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away,
Eccl 3:7 A time to rend and a time to sew, a time to keep silence and a time to speak,
Eccl 3:9 What profit remains for the worker from his toil?
Eccl 3:10 I have seen the painful labor and exertion and miserable business which God has given to the sons of men with which to exercise and busy themselves.
Eccl 3:16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice there was wickedness, and that in the place of righteousness wickedness was there also.
Eccl 3:19 For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even [in the end] one thing befalls them both. As the one dies, so dies the other. Yes, they all have one breath and spirit, so that a man has no preeminence over a beast; for all is vanity (emptiness, falsity, and futility)!
Eccl 3:20 All go to one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Eccl 3:21 Who knows the spirit of man, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goes downward to the earth?
Eccl 3:22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his portion. For who shall bring him back to see what will happen after he is gone?
Try turning some of those phrases into an advertising jingle or New Age affirmation! But having said all this, I still favor the positive outlook as you will see in many of my writings. I favor the positive outlook with integration of the shadow and respect for the suffering of the world. Perception is more a choice than a matter of identifying the one, true reality so it is better to choose the more positive and empowering vantage on things.
A major study was done of optimists and pessimists several years ago. The pessimists were found to have more accurate reality testing, but in every other category — social, financial, health, etc. the optimists were found to be better off. So be optimistic, but don’t be a Pollyanna, temper it with a bit of realism as well. The real finish line for this incarnation is death, so do the high-value things you will remember well on your deathbed. Follow the warrior stance I call “existential impeccability” — act with spontaneous precision and integrity in the moment for its own sake and without expectation of a specific outcome. Follow this path and you may find within yourself deep fulfillment never to be found in the caffeine-sugar rush of hyped up superficial positivity.
For a more conscious, profound and humorous approach to positive outlook see Pronoia by Rob Brezny Read my review of Pronoia:
Is the World Spiraling Toward Eucatastrophe or is that just my Pronoia?
For more on the philosophy of reducing suffering by facing the darkness see:
The Capsule of Intentionality
For more on the path of the warrior:
For practical techniques on dealing with negative thoughts and feelings see part III
A Guide to the Perplexed Interdimensional Traveler
For more on the universal feeling that there is something wrong with this world:
A Splinter in your Mind
Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
I haven’t read this book, only seen interviews with the author, Barbara Ehrenreich, but it is obviously highly relevant to this theme