Author Interviews

On a scale of 1-10, how effective is positive thinking?

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The other week, I ran across an interesting interview with Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Wayne Dyer. At one point, someone asks them how they feel about positive thinking. Is it effective? Is it necessary?

I love this question. Really, really love it. I mean, positivity is such a polarizing subject. On the one hand, you have people who believe it’s the reason for everything good that ever happens (I’m looking at you, Rhonda Byrne). On the other, you have skeptics who view those other people as not only misled, but downright ridiculous. (Barbara Ehrenreich, for example, has become well known for books like Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Not the book idea I’d want to commit to for several years of my working life.)

But there are less skeptical approaches to this argument as well. In the interview, Dyer and Tolle agree that if a person really wants to achieve greater inner peace, positivity isn’t the goal, or even necessarily a great starting point. Instead, they say, work on being true to yourself, being honest–even if there’s some difficult emotions that come up.

Then Dyer mentions Anita Moorjani, who wrote a book (Dying to Be Me) about her near death experience and what she learned from it. In it, she says that it’s not about positive thinking. It’s not about manufacturing good feelings where there are none. It’s not about mantras, and the law of attraction, and The Secret, and Norman Vincent Peale.

Positive thinking is a mere substitute for the real thing. Real enlightenment. Real joy. Real love.

It’ll only get you part of the way.

Pema Chodron would likely agree. Her (awesome) books are full of insights about the importance of honesty and authenticity–even suffering. She has a ton–really, just a ton–of amazing quotes on this topic. Here’s one, from When Things Fall Apart: “To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.”

So, okay. Maybe positive thinking isn’t all it’s touted to be. But, well–what is, right? Any idea that has entered the popular consciousness with as much force and repetition (not to mention anecdotal and even scientific evidence, a la the placebo effect) suffers from oversimplification syndrome. Maybe positivity isn’t the cure-all, or even one of the truly great spiritual practices out there. That doesn’t mean I’m giving it up anytime soon.

Briefly, here’s my take: As many of you know, I’ve experienced chronic dysthemia (low-level depression) for most of my life. Spirituality and prayer have always been a source of help for me, as have many other practices. But the very first true breakthrough I ever experienced regarding my depression resulted from reading a book on changing one’s thoughts. It was called Telling Yourself the Truth: Find Your Way Out of Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, and Other Common Problems by Applying the Principles of Misbelief Therapy, and I still recommend it to this day (though there are other, similar books on the subject I prefer now). The basic message: your negative thoughts are responsible for your negative feelings. To change the feeling, change the thought. Oh, and by the way, those negative thoughts aren’t true, anyway–not nearly as true as the more objective–and yes, more positive–alternative perspectives.

The message was simple, and in some ways quite obvious, and yet, as a Christian who had always relied on prayer alone for healing, it was radical to me. When I began “taking my thoughts captive,” as the Bible teaches, I was finally able to cap off some of the depression.

These days, I use positive thinking as a tool every day of my life, both in a knee-jerk sort of way and as a dedicated journaling practice. Don’t get me wrong–I’d love to be more like Eckhart Tolle, who is able to “just be.” And Moorjani, who tells us that rather than try to drum up better-feeling thoughts, we should simply live a life that celebrates who we really, authentically are–whatever that may be.

I’m working on it.

Positive Thinking Effectiveness Rating: 8 out of 10

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It’s Zen, only more practical.

Get The Naked House: Five Principles for a More Peaceful Home on Amazon.

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Author interview: What does meditation feel like?

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I have this friend who is really, really happy. Her name is Leta Hamilton. She’s a channel, an author, and a mom of four–and the perfect person to grill for answers about life. Her books include The Way of the Toddler and a four-book series called 100 Daily Messages.

Here, our question-and-answer series continues.

Me: People describe the feeling of meditation in different ways. For some, it’s just relaxation. For me, it’s slightly increased peace–a bit of space between myself and my neurotic mind. What does meditation feel like to you?

Leta: When I meditate, I see myself as the vast universe. I feel a hugeness from the inside out that can only be described as vast empty space. When I see a photo of the universe, of galaxies and the lights emerging from them, the colors they display, I feel that is the best description, visually speaking, of what I feel inwardly as I meditate.

I feel the whole universe is the space of my inner self.

This feeling is cherished and it is why I return to meditation again and again. Even when I have moments without meditation (without that feeling of vastness from the inside out), I remember it and return to it. Whether I am in the kitchen, car or store, I return to the vastness I feel when I am in meditation. Maybe that explains why I maintain the notion that meditation is more than just sitting with eyes closed and legs crossed. It is any time the feeling of vastness comes over me.

Me: Are you able to feel this anytime, even when you’re not alone?

It is harder to accomplish in the company of others. When I am with others, I am pulled back into the world and the illusion of separation. I am pulled into the physicality present in our form-sense orientation. I am reminded of my humanness when I am with others. This is not a bad thing in and ofitself. However, I desire the balance of isolation as well to accompany it. I desire my own time without having to speak to another soul as much as I desire human interaction, love, friendship, and all the things intertwined with human-experiencing.

So I only have this to say: meditate. Breathe. Give back to society in whatever way you can. Volunteer. Think about others in everything you do. Lose yourself happily, because you are seeking nothing. Nothing means no-thing. Give yourself permission not to have goals–to have the goal of loving what is every moment.

That is the most awesome goal of all.

Vision boards, the law of attraction, bringing into your reality what you visualize/hold in your mind, etc., are part of the game of living on earth and they have their place, but I am more interested in being the galaxy and all the galaxies. I am more interested in returning to that place of great big BIG-ness that I feel when I meditate.

It must be a rush of endorphins or whatever brain chemicals rush through my skull that cause me to be so drawn to that meditative state. It is pure bliss and it comes whenever I am focused, steady and silent in my Self. It comes whenever I tell it to, but that is after years of practice.

Love.

Leta

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For more from Leta, and more from me on meditation, get The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation on Amazon.

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Author interview: Is everything really just a projection of ourselves? Even the mean stuff people do?

In the world of mysticism and New Agey-type spirituality, it’s become a bit of a cliche: Everything we see, everything we experience, is merely ourselves, reflected back at us. We are here to discover who we really are, say our Buddhist teachers (like the great Pema Chodron) and our channels (like Esther Hicks, Jane Roberts and many others). This is supposed to make us feel better when things go wrong, I suppose; it’s not really happening, right?

But that isn’t the only reason we appreciate this teaching. We also like it because it gives us a sense of control. In his awesome pop psychology bestseller, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo tells us about the human mind’s neurotic need for certainty and understanding–even in the face of very few facts.

Knowing what’s really going on at all times–with ourselves and everyone around us–is a major driving force of our actions and thoughts, he writes. There is a distinct physical and chemical pleasure response from coming up with a reason or explanation–no matter how accurate that explanation may be.

Enter all kinds of false conclusions. We even assign meaning to pure coincidence, making causal inferences from scant information.

And in Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Professor of Behavioral Economics Dan Ariely agrees.

So in a sense, believing the world is a projection of our own minds is a pretty attractive scenario. If I can change my mind, I can change my life, we conclude. Who doesn’t want that kind of power?

However, there’s a flip side to this perceived super power, a quandary to consider: What about when something goes wrong? Who do we blame when someone is truly mean, truly heinous, truly inconsiderate, truly . . . well, wrong?

Hmmmm . . . . That’s a hard one, isn’t it?

Clearly, your partner was not being nice when he told you he’d rather spend a night out with the guys than with you. Obviously, your mother should never suggest you go on a diet, and your sister is unfair to expect you to babysit her kids every week.

I mean, let’s face it: It’s one thing to believe in theory that everything that happens is a just projection of ourselves. It’s another thing entirely to act like we believe it, to truly believe that we’re the only ones responsible for our reality.

Some law of attraction followers have a code word for what happens when things go wrong. They call it “co-creation.” They think that even enlightened people experience bad stuff on occasion (in other words, even Esther Hicks gets sick). This is because, well, we’re not really the only ones out here on this plane of reality. And some, but not all, of the out-there stuff affects us.

We’re all in this thing together.

Another explanation, which I like even better, comes from a lesser-known but equally awesome teacher named Matt Kahn. (Get a free long excerpt of his book, Whatever Arises, Love That, here.) Kahn says that when bad stuff happens, it’s not because you didn’t create or visualize right; it’s because there’s some serious work going on inside you. The idea is similar to the Buddhist idea of working out one’s karma. (See Kahn’s video, “The Karmic Return,” for more.)

For quite a while, I accepted these explanations, and in fact I still do–partly. I do believe (for now, anyway) that there really are other people out there, and that those other people are actually doing things. If reality is a projection, I think it’s a collective one.

However, there’s another layer to this idea that I only recently truly discovered. And the teacher that led me to it was Byron Katie.

Here is Katie’s take on the topic in a nutshell. She says that it’s not that so-called “bad” stuff never happens to enlightened or “advanced” people. (She probably gets her disproportionate share of hate mail, for example, due to her nobody-is-a-victim philosophy.) But when you know that a comment just isn’t true, that comment doesn’t feel truly mean to you anymore. Instead, it just feels like pain. It feels like an angry child is speaking to you, someone who doesn’t understand you–someone who’s hurt and afraid.

So the question she asks is, How can people ever really be mean to you, if you’re never, ever mean to yourself?

I would really, really love for you to go down the Byron Katie rabbit hole with me. For a very short video introduction to her view on this topic, watch “Byron Katie explains a post: ‘Your partner’s flaws are your own, because you’re projecting them” on YouTube. And expect more posts on this topic to come.

 

Author interview: How do you stay in touch with the Divine throughout the day?

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I have this friend who is really, really happy. Her name is Leta Hamilton. She’s a channel, an author, and a mom of four–and the perfect person to grill for answers about life. Her books include The Way of the Toddler and a four-book series called 100 Daily Messages.

Here, part of a question-and-answer session that I am posting in installments.

Mollie: Other than saying “I love you, God” repeatedly, is there something you do to stay in touch with the Divine during the day? What do you do when you’re at loose ends?

Leta: When I am at loose ends, I usually muscle test. Muscle testing has been a huge tool in my life and I use it every day. (For more on this, read David Hawkins’ Power Versus Force.) This technique is so useful in my life I don’t know how to emphasize it strongly enough.

Loose ends means time to check in. I think of many things … and check in as I go along. Sometimes the guidance is to just sit, breathe, be patient, wait. Sometimes the guidance is to move to a different room. Sometimes it is to write. Sometimes to watch TV. There is no rule to it.

Listening, centering and checking in are my go-to pauses when I don’t know where to go next, what to do next. I wait until the thing comes. Often, it is a small micro-movement. It can be as simple as turning my body in a different direction.

I think that is why I am called to do yoga once a week. It is full of micro-movements. That is such a big thing for me. I was just thinking about that today … the micro-movements of my yoga class. It totally makes sense now.

I have a fun time on Netflix. I watch these shows that I love and just learn, learn, learn about people. The kids are directed by me about a fifth of the time and the rest is left to peers, Dad, TV and all the rest of the world (church, extended family, school, etc.).

It feels like a balance to me. If that helps, then I am glad. I never know if I am helping or not.

I just do my best to love God. That is pretty much the meaning of everything to me. To love God creates joy in my heart. I love God so much. I can’t express enough how much the love of God plays into my being-ness from moment to moment. It is the reason I live. I feel like a religious fanatic … but that really is how I function from day to day. Life is getting through the days learning how to love God more. God is not a concept or an idea, but a living energy that flows through me with every breath.

I love God!!! I don’t know how else to put it.

Thank you for letting me share. Peace out!

Leta

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For more from Leta, and more from me on meditation, get The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation on Amazon.

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