There is a powerful book that is popular in the alternative and complementary health fields called, “You Can Heal Your Life.” It was written by Louise Hay who has an amazing story of personal transformation. For many years, I have included this book in the recommended reading list that I provide to Reiki 1 students. With the next printing of my Reiki 1 manual, I will be removing it.
Please note, this post is not a book review as I sometimes do in this space. Rather, I’m writing today about the dark side of the power of positive thinking movement. Also, please note that I am not opposed to positive thinking. Honestly, I think it’s a helpful tool. Our minds can be royal pains in the ass. When we bring awareness to our thoughts and consciously choose to reframe and reword them into a more helpful form, this can be incredibly empowering in our ability to manage our emotions and take action in our lives.
What I am opposed to in the positive thinking movement is the flip side. The side that says that if something “bad” happens to you, it’s because you caused it through your negative thoughts and general self-destructiveness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really admire Louise Hay and Wayne Dyer. They have helped so many people. What I don’t find helpful is the leap from “Positive thoughts are helpful,” to, “You caused this tragedy in your life. You invited this cancer diagnosis. You brought on this flu. You created the environment where your loved one is violently killed.” Really???!!!
Let’s start with one question, “How is that helpful?” How is it in anyway helpful to assign blame to the person who is facing a debilitating disease or the sudden death of a loved one?
Dr. Dyer’s final blog post recounts a story of a talk he gave where he used a metaphor about an orange being squeezed. In the post he states that when life squeezes you, if anything comes out other than love, it’s because that’s what’s inside of you. Really??!!
How is that helpful to the cancer patient, the widow, and to Andy Parker, for example. Each of them have probably felt anger, grief, and fear. Is this because they were not cultivating love? No, it is because they are wholehearted human beings. It is because they love that they also have these feelings. Life is squeezing them, what we should expect to come out is the whole range of human emotions. Let’s not shame those who are experiencing the so-called “negative” emotions. Let’s extend to them compassion, a shoulder to cry on, and a listening ear — even on their darkest days. Let’s offer them love, not judgement, so they can journey with this life. Suppressing or judging their emotional life will not help them to heal on any level. It will not help them to live their lives fully.
Now this point of view is not isolated to Dr. Dyer and Ms. Hay. (One only has to read the title of the book: “The Gift of Cancer” to get a glimpse of this perspective.) I remember several years ago being in an ICU where across from a cardiac patient’s bed there was a sign saying, “Ask yourself why you’re here.” Yes, please ask yourself, because we want to blame you and judge you and make sure you know this is your fault. Let me say it again, “this is not helpful!”
Megan Devine has written so eloquently about this subject in the Huffington Post. Her article is titled, “Your Pain Isn’t Your Fault: Why Some Teachers and Gurus Have it Wrong.” In it she recounts reading a book by Pema Chodron after she became a widow. She becomes infuriated with the book, “The thing that sent me over the edge, never to return again to fully loving or trusting Pema Chodron, was when she suggested that any pain or difficulty you are having in your life is due to a lack of self-awareness, or to some place you needed to grow.” After destroying the book, Ms. Devine resolves never to read, or recommend, Pema Chodron’s books again. As she writes, “Pain simply is. It’s a natural, normal response to loss.” Ms. Devine was not to blame for her feelings and trying to assign that blame to her was . . . not helpful, to say the least.
If you want to help people to make changes in their lives, you have to love them first. You have to take the time to understand them. From there change can happen. Change does not happen from a place of ridicule or judgment over completely normal emotions.
Please, all my helping professional friends, I’m begging you, love first. And remember, you can heal your life without having to blame yourself first.