Optimism can lead you to Denial

Psychologists debate the topic of “optimism” versus “pessimism” frequently.  Their discussions generally center on the benefits and drawbacks of focusing on one or the other state of mind will either boost or deteriorate your mental health.  Not only have they yet to come to a consensus amongst peers on the matter, some of them can’t even reconcile the topic in their minds – vacillating back and forth as to whether unrealistic optimism is constructive or detrimental (instead of taking a stand, they just say “do both”).  What they do seem to be in agreement on is the fact that, as Americans, we are addicted to the perception that positive thinking equals successful thinking and successful people are happy people.  We are so attached to this notion that there is now an entire field of study dedicated to the observation of “human thriving”.   Great – now there is a whole scientific movement behind the ridiculous hippies preaching a rainbows-and-unicorns-fairytale-if-I-visualize-success-and-believe-in-the-bullshit-the-Secret-markets-to-me-I-will-be-insanely-successful FAD.  A recent study released by NYU shows that buying into this kind of BS and shenanigans will actually make you LESS successful – not more so.

And why, do you suppose, that could that be?  Positive fantasies do not motivate someone to take action necessary to create change to better their future.  All that fantasizing does is to prohibit you from moving through the normal mental processes needed for healthy transformation.  Rather than moving forward into a stage of acceptance that prompts the need for improvement in your life, you remain stuck in a state of denial.  Just ask the Gen-Y generation how all of those visions of success dancing around in their heads actually translates into a solid future, as they are the only generation worse off than their parents.  Sadly, you can’t get a realistic answer because they have no time to focus on the reality of a future when they are too busy trying to avoid their presently looming student loan debt from their over-priced higher educations that landed them in jobs making 15% less than they did a few years ago.

The Buddha taught that the only way to fully experience supreme joy meant you have equally and fully experience supreme suffering.  He cautioned his students that the aim is to observe a feeling, and notice your state of mind, as it arises, rather than become attached to it or avoid it (be it joy or suffering).  The Yoga Sutras (having been derived from the Buddha’s sutras) mention something similar about obtaining sweetness of mind means to be fully present for what IS, without being colored by your reactions.  Scientifically speaking without dark, the concept of light cannot exist.  Without shit, there would be no nutrients in the soil for plants to grow.

How many of us can say that we can be, or even want to be, fully present for the awful, painful, dark, shitty parts of our lives…..without being colored by reaction?  Would you remain non-reactive when a father murders his son, especially if the child happens to also be your six-week old cousin?  Or how about when politicians go out on a limb and begin tossing around accusations towards their competition simply to gain their share of votes?  I am sure we can all agree that being fully present is really, REALLY hard to do.  The Buddha’s teachings were clear on this point, that instead of reaction, he discussed the concept of right action – rather than NO action.  Karma = Action.  When my cousin was murdered, you can damn well bet my family took action and you can also bet that we didn’t stop for one moment and think that the situation was a “figment” of our suffering from lifetimes long ago – what was happening was awful, atrocious and unwarranted.  Guess what?  Sometimes life doesn’t always have purpose or meaning, sometimes it is just shit.

Regrettably, his own mother couldn’t accept the atrocity of what had happened.  This denial meant she looked the other way from reality because she couldn’t bear to believe that the man she loved was capable of something so heinous.  Instead of taking action sooner, she blocked it out.  Her complacency cost her everything.  By avoiding the reality of the situation – she lost her son.  She continued to avoid the facts, instead believing that the father had not caused Jack harm (even after the father admitted his faults) through the inevitable end of his life and, in turn, she missed out on some precious moments that I can only describe as divine occurrence.  Jack, with his innocent, endless capacity for love, showed us what it must feel like when one is in the presence of God.   When I chose to remain in and experience the reality of the awful circumstances Jack was faced with, rather than turning away because “it wasn’t my problem” or that “he would get better”, I had no idea that I would feel incredibly blessed to have to have been a part of an unequivocally painful venture.  Yet, by remaining open to the fullness of not only his suffering, but of all of our suffering, I found the joy in the meaning of unconditional love.

There are some negative thoughts that we can certainly do without – the ones that are self-defeating – the ones that lie to you as you lay awake at night and tell you that you are “a loser” versus the ones that tell you are in a dark place in your life, and you are going to have to work hard to overcome some challenges.  To the same degree, there are some positive thoughts that are equally self-defeating, the ones that lie to you if you are in an abusive relationship and say “he didn’t mean to do that”, or “he really is a nice guy”.  These thoughts will lock you into a hell from which you cannot escape until it is sometimes too late.  The idea that “things will always work out” isn’t real, nor is it fair to think that if things are bad, they will stay that way forever.  The truth is that all things in life are impermanent, as are feelings, as are thoughts, as are we.

Denying yourself feelings in the present moment of reality means you deny yourself the opportunity to live in the present moment.  When this moment passes, you will not be able to get it back – so enjoy it – relish the pain, cherish the sorrow, appreciate the bad, and savor the good.  These moments are all part of you – each one works to construct the pages of your story.  Without each one, part of the story would be missing.  Jack is a part of mine – and I am honored he allowed me the chance to tell a part of his.