My earliest memory of being directed toward the power of positive feelings is junior year of high school. My best friend, Bob Ivry said to me: “if I you are so sick of the garbage (he actually used a different word) why do you carry it with you everywhere you go.” His words stung, and didn’t keep me from traveling further into despair.
One Saturday night in February during my senior year, Barretta and I spent the night at our good friend, Eric Reicher’s house. One week later Eric killed himself. My “partying” changed. I began drinking and getting stoned in isolation. I blanketed myself in melancholy, and began thinking about following Eric’s example.
By my sophomore year of college, my substance abuse and depression were taking a heavy toll on me. Fortunately, I hit bottom, and slowly began moving toward recovery. I’m like a heart attack survivor who in the process of making lifestyle changes finds a better life. Facing my own self-destructiveness led me to paths of healing and spiritual treasure.
The path hasn’t always been clear, and my compass hasn’t always been reliable. For a long time I had an aversion to the “Positive Thought” genre of self help or spirituality. When people talked of positive attitude, I heard it as scolding, telling me to behave. Trying to be good, kept me from considering that I was already good.
Many times upset with myself, and being upset about being upset never helped me to feel better. I needed compassion. The word compassion comes from two Latin words meaning with suffering. I needed to learn to be with, to sit gently with myself when I was suffering.
I found a positive approach to overcoming my suffering in the tradition of nonviolence, as taught by Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Later, studies of Buddhism and other spiritual and religious traditions including ours have helped to make peace with my disturbed self. I’ve gained the ability to observe my emotions, without reacting. I have developed a holy curiosity to learn from my pain. Emotional pain tells us of a value or need that seeks fulfillment.
Negative emotion is like a barking guard dog. Many of us yell at the dog or try to beat it into submission. Adding more fear and anger doesn’t rid us of fear and anger. I have found it works better to thank the inner guard dog for doing his job.
My inner guard dog was hyper vigilant, and its constant barking was making me a nervous wreck. I needed to learn to help the dog feel safe and secure, to learn to bring peace into my distress. I’ve learned the value of the adage “don’t just do something, sit there.”
Gordon McKeeman, former president of Starr King School of Ministry, told me that most problems in this world are caused by solutions to previous problems. Even our best solutions lead to new problems, but some solutions are worse than the original problem.
For example, when part of our body becomes injured or over fatigued, the surrounding muscles tighten to form a protective armor and prevent further injury. The tension is an emergency survival strategy, but if maintained it will lead to other physical ailments and injuries. The constriction impedes the flow of nutrients and waste removal necessary for healing. The protection creates an imbalance that if maintained can lead to further injury.
After emotionally painful experiences, we may develop armor to help us avoid further injury. But defense mechanisms can be like a crutch, useful at first, but detrimental if used too long.
Similarly, our fear can be a magnet for the very things we wish to avoid. A wild animal is more likely to attack a fearful person than a calm one.
Many times in my life, I’ve watched the fearful images in my mind become reality. Leaving my home, I thought “Oh I don’t want to forget to bring this package with me.” Then having driven away I realize I’ve forgotten it. I saw loose gravel, and thought “Oh I better not slip on it.” Seconds later, that’s exactly what I do. Putting on a white shirt, I’d say to myself “I better not spill anything on it,” and then… “splat!” At other times, I’ve felt anxious and fearful of offending someone, and then in my discomfort I blurted out something foolish. “What just came out of my mouth? And why did I say that?”
Too often I have imagined danger, and it became real. Perhaps I had a premonition, an intuitive or logical foresight of danger, but then failed to take necessary precautions. What also comes into play are negative thoughts, feelings and pictures of our mind that can lead us into trouble.
At times I’ve blamed such things on God. Most of us were taught to think of God as Father, and like children we get mad when the allegedly all-powerful Daddy doesn’t take care of us. “God, why did you do that do me? I said I didn’t want that to happen.” The often unexamined belief beneath these was that God wasn’t listening, was being unfair, or being mean to me. Even those who identify as atheists project their distress onto life or the Universe. We adopt limiting beliefs , and say things like, “well you just can’t trust people,” in order to buffer ourselves from the pain of our disappointment.
Unfortunately, what we believe often comes to pass. We steer with an internal compass, set by our beliefs, our mental pictures and our emotions.
Stephanie Sepaugh, the pianist at Community Church in SA tells the story of a feral cat that she rescued. “Yellow friend” was a scrapper, and wouldn’t let anybody get too close. Stephanie found a country rescue to adopt him, and a woman named Joann came to get the cat. Without hesitation Joann picked up Yellow Friend, and held him as if he were tame. Faith opens doors.
Fortunately, we can choose. Sometimes loved ones offer their negative views and we say “no thanks.” My father was afraid of NYC, and tried to dissuade me from visiting it. Fortunately, I had relatives who lived there, and they showed me its treasures.
In 96, I went on a pilgrimage through the Palestinian Authority, just prior to the first elections there. So many people warned me that I wouldn’t be safe. No doubt there were dangers there, but I had wonderful experiences.
I must also confess to doing a lot of hitchhiking as a young adult. I consistently had unrealistic positive expectations, and they usually came true. Not only did I make great time and grand adventure. There were also coincidences or synchronicities of who I met, when and where they were going, and who and what they knew. Did my faith make good things happen? Was it luck? Was I riding a wave of good karma?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we ignore impending disaster, and simply declare it good. We want to be able to keep our eyes alert for potential hazards on the road of life. But we want to be able to imagine ourselves steering clear of those hazards and staying on the road.
What we focus upon can have great influence upon outcomes. Two times in my life, I have faced angry men with weapons in their hands. Once was in the parking lot of a pub, (I prefer to say pub because it sounds better than bar, doesn’t it?) The second occurred while working in a hospital. Both times the men ended up sitting with me telling me their problems and crying. “How did you do that? Witnesses asked. They saw angry men who intended to do harm. I saw hurting boys crying for help.
Charlie Kreiner, a leader of men’s workshops once stated: “to a large extent, our lives are a function of what we decide to put our attention on.” What is it that we give our attention to? Do we focus our lives on attaining status, power, money, and material? Do we gratefully pay attention to the wellbeing of our families, neighbors and ourselves? How much attention do we give to relationships? Our communities? Nature?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man will worship something- have no doubt about that… “that which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and character.”
I don’t think that it was coincidental that Emerson studied Eastern religion. Easterners have paid more attention to the way life evolves from consciousness. We westerners have assumed the opposite; that consciousness evolves from matter. We’ve looked at nature and seen mechanism. We’ve sought material gains expecting them to improve our consciousness.
Even our understanding of eastern thought tends to emphasize the material. We confuse karma, the laws of cause and effect with our ideas of a god rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior. Karma refers to conditioning. When someone steals, they adopt thief consciousness. Thief consciousness is victim consciousness that leads to more confusion and suffering.
Our western culture has overemphasized the mental and underemphasized the emotional. We tell ourselves that we are motivated by logic and reason. We deny our prejudices, and defend our cultural blind spots. If we deny our fear and our anger, it distorts our thinking.
Lynn Grabhorn, author of “Excuse me, Your Life is Waiting” explained the power of emotion. She says that things in the universe vibrate at various frequencies. When we react from negative emotion, we communicate to the world through certain frequencies. When we feel and communicate from positive emotion, we send out different frequencies. And what we put out, returns to us.
All negative or painful emotion originates in fear. Fear is negative in that it is focused on what we don’t want. It causes us to contract and tighten. When we focus on what we value, we experience expansiveness.
At times I’ve experienced the power of joy arising from within me. A real smile sends out waves of peace and good will, and I’ve noticed how on days like these, doors of opportunity open. I’ve also spent many days expressing and living in the energy of a disgruntled needy child. Things don’t tend to go as well.
I want to experience and send out good vibrations. I know that when I am creating or putting out positive energy, that I can’t help but experience it.
Every person has burdens of painful emotion accumulated from the past. When we can extend peace and acceptance to others, we get to experience it too. Compassion allows us to feel the power of our hearts.
The second way to create positive feelings is practice faith. I say practice, because for me it hasn’t come easily. I can look back on miracles experienced through periods of faith, and these have been punctuated by repeated intervals of panic. I have scurried, hurried, lived with urgency. I’ve acted desperately more times than I’d care to recount. Unconsciously, I have repeated an UN-mantra (a mantra liberates us from our mind. An un-mantra creates more bondage. My un-mantra goes: “I must have my way, or I won’t be okay.” Fortunately, I found a true mantra and affirmation: “I trust that God has me in the right place at the right time, no matter what.” Or you might say “I trust that life has me in the right place at the right time, no matter what.”
It’s impossible to feel like the victim of circumstance and feel grateful at the same time. So I like to steer into gratitude. Every day there is so much outside us that support us. We depend and are supported by life. We didn’t create life. Life created us.
The last trick for creating positive feelings is to focus on what we want, not what we don’t want. The Soviets used this technique in the Olympic training. Coaches asked athletes to visualize themselves attaining their goals. The result was a lot of gold medals.
In one of his early talks, Jack Canfield told of a study that measured the success rate of children shooting basketballs through a hoop. For several weeks, the first group practiced shooting the ball. A second group did not practice, but spent several minutes each day visualizing themselves making the baskets, and imagining cheers and feeling good with each shot. When the success rates were measured again, both groups had improved significantly at nearly the same rate.
In order to express and experience positive emotional frequencies, we must become conscious of our values. If we are feeling upset, we are focusing on what we don’t want. We are holding a picture of ourselves not having what we want. We can recite our grievance toward God or the universe, all day long and we won’t be any closer to creating the experience we want. Focusing on what we don’t have creates inner conflict and tension.
A.J. Muste wrote; “there is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
We can pray and meditate for peace and joy. We can practice allowing these into our hearts. We will change the patterns of our reactions and experiences by allowing and learning from our emotions in order to get in touch with what we value. Calling a ceasefire in the battle we wage against our feelings, we’ll come into the energy of our heart. Then we will be able to let go of our painful past and break unconscious habits that keep us stuck.
We can focus on what we want and cheer ourselves on as we learn to flow from the energy that is generated from being connected to what we value. Today you might only manage two minutes of positive emotional vibration. That is a start.
When we catch ourselves creating good vibrations, we will know we have the ability to do it. When emotional pain returns, develop a holy curiosity. Notice your thoughts. Is your mind filled with thoughts of what you don’t want? Great! From there you can identify what you do want, what you do value.
At any given moment, we can begin to imagine and remember what is most important to us in that moment. We can focus and set our sites on whatever we wish to create. Instead withholding your happiness until you get what you want, you can appreciate yourself as you journey toward greater fulfillment.
Then we will make use of the power of positive feelings. Appreciation or love is the fuel that runs the system. And unlike petroleum we have an endless source of this fuel. Fuel up your tanks.
Blessings for a joyous journey!
Our eyes see dignity in every person
Our lips give voice to kindness
Our ears hear love and requests for love.
Our hands offer gentleness and pleasure.
Our arms reach out to embrace humanity
Our legs carry us to a new day of hope
Our hearts flow with joy and compassion
The power of positive feelings grows stronger in us.
Today and forever more