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    Archive for September, 2008

    I think I can’t. I think I can’t. Oh… oops, I was wrong.

    Sunday, September 28th, 2008

    From the “I couldn’t have said it better” department comes this op-ed from Barbara Ehrenreich that was in the New York Times on the 24th of September.

    Lifted, verbatim, with great appreciation…

    The Power of Negative Thinking

    GREED — and its crafty sibling, speculation — are the designated culprits for the financial crisis. But another, much admired, habit of mind should get its share of the blame: the delusional optimism of mainstream, all-American, positive thinking.

    As promoted by Oprah Winfrey, scores of megachurch pastors and an endless flow of self-help best sellers, the idea is to firmly believe that you will get what you want, not only because it will make you feel better to do so, but because “visualizing” something — ardently and with concentration — actually makes it happen. You will be able to pay that adjustable-rate mortgage or, at the other end of the transaction, turn thousands of bad mortgages into giga-profits if only you believe that you can.

    Positive thinking is endemic to American culture — from weight loss programs to cancer support groups — and in the last two decades it has put down deep roots in the corporate world as well. Everyone knows that you won’t get a job paying more than $15 an hour unless you’re a “positive person,” and no one becomes a chief executive by issuing warnings of possible disaster.

    The tomes in airport bookstores’ business sections warn against “negativity” and advise the reader to be at all times upbeat, optimistic, brimming with confidence. It’s a message companies relentlessly reinforced — treating their white-collar employees to manic motivational speakers and revival-like motivational events, while sending the top guys off to exotic locales to get pumped by the likes of Tony Robbins and other success gurus. Those who failed to get with the program would be subjected to personal “coaching” or shown the door.

    The once-sober finance industry was not immune. On their Web sites, motivational speakers proudly list companies like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch among their clients. What’s more, for those at the very top of the corporate hierarchy, all this positive thinking must not have seemed delusional at all. With the rise in executive compensation, bosses could have almost anything they wanted, just by expressing the desire. No one was psychologically prepared for hard times when they hit, because, according to the tenets of positive thinking, even to think of trouble is to bring it on.

    Americans did not start out as deluded optimists. The original ethos, at least of white Protestant settlers and their descendants, was a grim Calvinism that offered wealth only through hard work and savings, and even then made no promises at all. You might work hard and still fail; you certainly wouldn’t get anywhere by adjusting your attitude or dreamily “visualizing” success.

    Calvinists thought “negatively,” as we would say today, carrying a weight of guilt and foreboding that sometimes broke their spirits. It was in response to this harsh attitude that positive thinking arose — among mystics, lay healers and transcendentalists — in the 19th century, with its crowd-pleasing message that God, or the universe, is really on your side, that you can actually have whatever you want, if the wanting is focused enough.

    When it comes to how we think, “negative” is not the only alternative to “positive.” As the case histories of depressives show, consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite. The alternative to both is realism — seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. We ought to give it a try.

    Barbara Ehrenreich is the author, most recently, of “This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation.”

    Who you are really… AS IF!

    Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

    Life is like a bowl of cherries.

    NOT.

    I just walked outside and life was in no way like a bowl of cherries. In fact, it was so unlike a bowl of cherries I can’t even list the differences between life and a bowl of cherries.

    All the world’s a stage…

    Ummm… not really.

    As far as I can tell, the world does not exist in a theater, there’s no audience whining about how “People used to get DRESSED to come to the theater.” No scalpers outside the world giving people access for a hefty “surcharge,” and no intermission.

    Now, I know you don’t believe these metaphors are literal. But, man, I’m getting tired of spiritual sales-people who don’t know when they SHOULD be using a metaphor or, worse, don’t know when they ARE using one.

    My more specific bitch-and-moan of the day refers to the use of the utterly meaningless phrases: “Your True Nature” and “Who you REALLY are.”

    Want to fill a room with eager-to-spend-money spiritual seekers? It’s simple. Tell them that, in your presence, thanks to your woo-woo technique, or due to the grace of your guru they can “experience their true nature,” and “discover who they REALLY are.”

    We all have a sense that something’s not quite right in our inner Denmark, and these phrases offer the promise of making it all okay.

    Frankly, once you make this sales pitch, you could take money from the people that show up, keep them in a stuffy hotel room for 48 hours straight, do NOTHING else and, guaranteed, some people would end up giving you testimonials like, “I released thousands of years of karma, got my chakras spinning at an octave of the frequency of the universe, reclaimed my soul energy from 2,300,000.38 past lives, and met my soul mate… oh, and I discovered who I really am. I give this workshop 4 Pleadian stars! Two chi-filled thumbs up!”

    But, if you feel guilty taking money for letting people have a weekend projection-fest, here’s what you do instead to assuage your guilt (and win this episode of American Guru-Idol):

    1) Lead them to a paradoxical experience

    2) Tell them that what they’re experiencing is THEIR TRUE NATURE, who they REALLY are

    Don’t know how to do #1? Then, see a urologist.

    (Sorry, I was channeling Bart Simpson for a moment.)

    Here’s how to give someone a paradoxical experience. It’s simple. Give them these instructions:

    a) Look straight ahead.

    b) Place your hands near your ears; about 2-3 inches away from the side of your head.

    c) Notice that BASED ON WHAT YOU SEE in front of you, you have no hands. You can see your elbows, you can see your forearms, but because your hands are behind your eyes, you can’t see them. It’s as if they’ve disappeared into space.

    So far this is pretty straightforward, right? I mean, it’s not news to you that you can’t see something that you’re not looking at, is it? It doesn’t keep you up at night that you can’t see the back of your head, does it?

    Okay, here’s the “paradoxical part”:

    d) Now notice that you are aware of the “space” where your hands are.

    e) Without moving your eyes or head, look for the location of that awareness. Notice that “the part of you which is aware of seeing” seems to be in the same space as  your now-invisible hands.

    All you’ve done there is looked at something physical, so you know how to look. Then you used that same tool to “look” for something that isn’t a “thing.” It’s not possible to see a not-thing. Trying to do so creates a neat, spacious feeling, a paradoxical experience. A “feeling of knowing” without an object.

    Okay, ready to lock your attendees into your new religion? Proclaim: “That spaciousness is WHO YOU REALLY ARE. That is your TRUE NATURE.”

    Bow to the applause, put out the collection plate and take your saffron robes to the dry-cleaner.

    Let’s check this out again, in slow motion. TRYING to LOOK at something you cannot see can generate a feeling of spaciousness, of emptiness. Realizing, then, that you cannot see your SELF transfers that feeling of spaciousness and emptiness to your sense of “me.”

    The idea that this IS who you are, or that’s the TRUTH of you… is just a metaphor (and not even a good one).

    Our 100,000+ year old brains are constantly searching for the answer to the question, “What do I need to do in order to be happy in the future?” Tell people that their suffering comes from not knowing who they REALLY are and convince them that a paradoxical experience is the TRUTH, and you’ve got a new seeker. Give them a more elaborate cosmology to go with the experience and you’ve got a convert.

    The more accurate way to describe the experience would be, “When you look for yourself, doesn’t it SEEM LIKE you are invisible, spacious and empty? Doesn’t it SEEM AS IF you are a big void?”

    If you say that, though, people will respond, “Well, yes, it seems that way. That’s interesting and cool, I guess.”

    But, for experiencing a metaphor or an analogy, nobody will reach into their wallets to buy your books and CDs, they won’t come back the next week complaining that they LOST the experience of who they really are and need you to give them another hit, they won’t beat themselves up for having their regular ole’ feelings and thoughts and see you as the solution to humanity.

    And without that, you don’t get to be the special amazing person who introduced them to who they REALLY are.

    Damn.




     

     

     

     

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