Ashes of Destruction When the bountiful universe fails and we our stuck with reality BY: Troy Murphy |June 2015
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I want peace. I want happiness. Please, please tell me how. The happy life movement ferociously and powerfully has invaded modern thought. Survival has become a given; now we want to survive with a smile. No fears, we live in the age of capitalism; you want happiness, so you say. The happiness industry and the billions of dollars flowing through it has medicine men standing in line to sell you magic potions to cure your souls deepest needs—a smile. Wellness programs flood Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Google to save us from monotony, catapulting experience to new heights. Maybe we expect more than human experience can provide—then again, maybe not.
Modern philosophies have evolved from a rich and diverse history of thought with wisdom flowing from all corners of the earth—Islamic, Buddhist, Christianity, Hellenistic, Hindu, Vedic. Over the last several centuries science has made tremendous contributions adding to the tapestry of understanding. Many believes, with evidence, have been trimmed and discarded, others linger. Amidst the expanding world of thought emerged the positive-thinking movement, borrowing pieces from across the wide swath of history. More modern contributors include Mary Baker Eddie and the healing power of the mind, authors such as Norman Vincent Peele (The power of Positive Thinking), and Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich). The positive-thinking movement achieved a prominence with scientific support from experimental psychologists such as Martin Seligman. The benefits of a glowing attitude can’t be simply dismissed. But just because some evidence suggests benefits, not everything under the positive-thinking umbrella is proven fact. Many motivational thoughts, books, and programs lack substance. They give people what they want to hear (willing to pay for) but fail to comply with reality, ignoring facts and alienating more grounded thought. These false prophets reject many the bitter experiences of existence.
Positive-thinking consists of more than dream boards and motivational speakers—off-shoots of positive thinking. Positive-thinking feels good. We rather think of the pot of gold than the difficult journey to find it. From an internal perspective, think wonderful thoughts, believing everything is wonderful is aesthetic, numbing the mind to reality. But everything doesn’t work-out for our benefit. Sometimes we need to slow down for unplanned curves. With preparation, we mediate the future, avoid some nasties, and ultimately survive with more gusto than those tip-toeing through life in a blind bliss. Not everything that happens has a blessed reason; the child would fare better if the drunk-driver never prematurely robbed her of her mother. The limited income senior would enjoy more comfort with affordable health care. Life sometimes benefits one group while looting from another. Nevertheless, it feels good believing the universe magically fulfills our deepest desires.
Many enterprising authors, motivational speakers and mega church preachers use positive-thinking to attract followers. The masses love deception. Fanciful thinking fills arenas, sells books (t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. . .), motivates employees, and creates hope. But positive-thinking, the fanatical kind, ignores reality, providing an escape from the fret of working through the snags and hitches of existence. In healthy doses (moderated by reality), positive-thinking motivates; but with too much, we chase unrealistic, unachievable dreams. Achieving dreams requires them to be realistic and achievable. We must be able to map out effective steps toward fulfillment. When positive-thinking interrupts the natural path to success, it’s off course.
When we believe success is guaranteed, we take our foot off the accelerator; the unplanned obstacles, we conveniently ignored, then overwhelm and discourage. Notable changes to our lives require work, patience and skillful efforts—a positive attitude may help. The process of change stimulates discomforts—fears, vulnerabilities, shame. Change frightens us, we move from the well-worn paths of our past, responding to experience in new and difficult ways. The belief we must bask in positive feelings, at all costs, prompts rejection of opportunities to change requiring significant work and pain. Bad things happen—not just to those with negative thoughts. We suffer losses, failures, and eventually death no matter what our attitude is.
We can be comforted by modern philosophy but while embracing acceptance, awareness, and the ‘power of now,’ we mustn’t ignore the tragedies of human existence; loss, sorrow, and death.
Tragedy is integral to existence. Denial of reality doesn’t banish bad things—they still exist. We will experience despair; we occur losses in an impermanent, unpredictable world—the world we live in. But the strength of the human spirit expresses resiliency. Somehow we face demanding and dire circumstances —not always gracefully—and emerge victorious. Through struggles, we discover remarkable recuperative powers. We don’t need to happily welcome unplanned disease, loss or failure but when challenged, we emerge victorious.
When we struggle, the demands distract our resolve, diverting our focus from intended purposes, but we strengthen character through resistance, creating a solid foundation. The occasional solemn thoughts of humanity do not need fixing. We may entertain a negative thought or experiencing discomfort during times of struggle; the discomfort reveals our humanity. The difficulty and the associated emotions provide nutrients for growth. Once the ashes of destruction settle, a flourishing life utilizes the ashes of sorrows for wisdom to better pursue intentions with purposeful action. Inner-struggles temporarily immobilize; that’s okay. Heal first, and then move forward. From the ashes of tragedy, the soil becomes rich. In due time, new seedlings break through the sorrow of tragedy, and grow with new purpose, hope, and wisdom.