I actually started this awhile back and decided not to post it. But I keep getting bombarded with Eckhart Tolle advertisements on Yahoo, on G+, on Facebook, so I figured I’d revisit the idea.
Lately I have seen an onslaught of requests for positive-thought-visualizations: “Please send positive thoughts,” “Please visualize X problem gone from my life,” etc. I can see where the idea that positive thought as the panacea for everything that ails us might be very appealing to some. But . . .
I part ways with the “I have room for positive-thoughts-only” assertion that turns its head on anything negative without actively doing anything about it. This is a newly-popular idea. I see this a lot in New Agey type philosophies which find their way onto Oprah’s book list. An idea that gets tacked onto Eastern concepts that don’t translate well into Western (binary) values.
Acceptance, acquiescence, submission, complacence.
I’m reminded of Ram Dass, who I somewhat like, and his echo, Eckhart Tolle who’s made a fortune and compiled more celebrity accolades than L. Ron Hubbard. In his The Power of Now, Tolle claims that “Thinking has become a disease,” and then he compares thinking to cancer (7).
Lord help us.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the effects of visualization and the law of attraction—like I believe in effects of motion and the law of gravity. But I don’t think we can “positive visualization” all of our problems away. We actually have to act. It’s banal, it’s not sexy, it’s hard. And, damnit, it requires accountability. Ew.
There is a book out right now, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. I agree with Barbara Ehrenreich’s assertion that convincing scads of people that positive thought will solve all of their problems, we set them up for failure—and then self-blame—and then even more tribulations. Though I like the overall idea and find that herlogic hangs together, I have some serious issues with Ehrenreich’s language: she’s caustic and makes some fairly cheap-shots at other authors. I don’t believe that the best way to critique positive-thinking is with negativity and vitriol. The book is short, but if you aren’t inclined to read even that much, have a look at these reviews for the gist: “Have You Been Bright-Sided?” “Happy Days,” and Ehrenreich’s own page.
Here’s where the new phase of positive-visualization self-help-philosophers are getting hung up, in my opinion. By interpreting Eastern philosophy and placing it in a culture habituated to Cartesian binaries, we have created a false-dualism in “True-Self” versus “Ego-Self.” One must be good and the other necessarily evil. This initiates an internal struggle which will never allow us to be whole persons; nor will we be able to find inner harmony. In original Eastern perspectives, there is no good/evil attached to “ego.” The goal is balance and release from the cycle of desire. Even desire is not evil. It just is.
From what I’ve read of Tolle and others like him, is that their goal seems to be a loss of individual identity through the superimposition of manufactured positivism; this is not the same as the (real) Buddhist concept of oneness.
Putting out the “vacancy” sign on our minds is certainly a desirable state for some kinds of meditation. (As a Sorcerer, I tend toward more active brain states–more on that in a minute.) Blocking everything out is not the solution to all meditative practices. It’s certainly not a good way to deal with medical diseases and financial obstacles.
I’m reminded of how I reacted to “church-folk” in my youth. There were always people who said things like: “God will work it out,” “One day our trials will be over,” and “Nothing on this earth matters anyway.” The latter statements just seem to indicate an unhealthy death-drive. But as for the first statement—faith is good, but even in magical practice, we know that we have to try all mundane solutions before resorting to magical interventions; we are responsible to try to do things ourselves rather than leaving everything up to the divine to do for us (lazypants).
This is just to say that (passive) “positive intents” and “positive visualization” can’t take the place of real (active) mystical pursuit of transformation. Consider: the Night of Pan, or N.O.X., is a mystical state that represents the stage of ego-death in the process of spiritual attainment. The playful and lecherous Pan is the Greek god of nature, lust, and the masculine generative power. The Greek word Pan also translates as All, and so he is “a symbol of the Universal, a personification of Nature; both Pangenetor, ‘all-begetter,’ and Panphage, ‘all-devourer’” (Sabazius, 1995). Therefore, Pan is both the giver and the taker of life, and his Night is that time of symbolic death where the adept experiences unification with the All through the ecstatic destruction of the ego-self. In a more general sense, it is the state where one transcends all limitations and experiences oneness with the universe.
This is not to say that I don’t think there’s a place for “positive thought and visualization.” Just that it’s only appropriate when it’s useful–when you are acting in the ordinary world and using visualization (active visualization, that is) to assist your mundane efforts–not in place of mundane efforts. If you allow (passive) thinking and hoping and visualizing take the place of health modifications and paying the bills on a regular basis . . . of course you are going to be unwell and the bill collectors are going to call.
I’m always willing to send someone positive thoughts when they have car trouble—but sometimes that will be in the form of: “I think it would be positive for you to change your oil more often.”
Love and light—and daily aspirin—and Make Good Choices,
 I once heard someone tease: “Newage – rhymes with sewage.” He wasn’t very nice.
 Tolle claims that “Thinking has become a disease” and then he compares thinking to cancer (PON. 7). Lord.
 I agree that ego can be perceived as a trickster (Dak Dzin in Tibetan. Dak = “self” & Dzin = “to grasp.” Therefore “ego” is always already “taken hold of”). But, with an understanding of the trickster figure, we can appreciate how the inherent humor of narcissism and emotional aloofness illuminate that our egos are both our allies and our adversaries. In most cultures, the trickster is the hero instead of the bad-guy. In Buddhist philosophy the ego is much more than simply a fear/attachment machine; it is in recognizing the ego that we are able to laugh. Through that laughter we lose attachments. This is why I tend to recommend a hearty belly-laugh as the best form of exorcism, grounding, or banishment.
 Used appropriately, ego is a support for the True Will, or Ātman to use a Buddhist term, not as a support for the “false self” or “will of desire.”
 Maybe I’m just too hard on Tolle. I have an admitted bias against him. Once, I needed – really needed – to be supported by a family member. Rather than sustenance, I got some Tollian mimetic pseudo-psychiatric nonsense about “pain bodies.” That conversation changed my family dynamics forever. So, I bothered to read the book. It was so nonsensical that I use it to teach my Comp students about logical fallacies. This guy agrees with me: http://www.blacksunjournal.com/books/1875_debunking-the-power-of-now-the-greatest-obstacle_2009.html
This post is for Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project: “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . . The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).