Positive Thinking: A Spiritual Path or Escapism?


The heart is constantly shifting and, try as we might to  remain happy and upbeat, it sometimes sinks into terrifying depths. At times like these, when you feel most naked, lost and alone, you stand for all humanity. Everyone at times sees happiness flicker and hopes dashed. Striving to be constantly ‘up,’ especially in the guise of a ‘spiritual’ practice, is not only unrealistic, it also divides you from the wide world of humanity. It blocks your flow of compassion.

But where’s the harm in making yourself feel better? Using religion, beliefs and mysticism to console yourself is just a way to keep the truth at bay; using them to get what you want implies that what you want is what you need.

What do you think? Does positive thinking pander to what people want to believe, or is it a genuine spiritual path?


Author: Stephen Schettini

Host of The Naked Monk

5 thoughts on “Positive Thinking: A Spiritual Path or Escapism?”

  1. Positive thinking is a useful tool, but as an exclusive path it doesn’t allow for the reality of life to unfold. It may create an illusory sense of security and more tension as people try to control their emotions and avoid what they’re really experiencing. So then how does one truly grow spiritually?

    1. @Caroline: You make a strong point in distinguishing the tool of positive thinking from the idea of it as a path, and you’re right about the consequences. A path of spiritual growth needs to be holisitic, in other words, it’s not just about being nice and getting what you want. If it can’t deal with conflict and loss, tragedy and disease, it’s not there for us when we need it most. Life may be a bowl of cherries for some people some of the time, but trying to keep it permanently up there is a recipe for profound disappointment. That’s what Chogyam Trungpa called spiritual materialism.

  2. Positive thinking and negative thinking = just more thinking!- is neither good nor bad but our minds make it so (to paraphrase Hamlet). Rather than look at it in this dichotomous this or that way, i find it more helpful to ask the questions that help me find my way through the “thicket” to dispel delusion and see things more clearly. So I ask myself, is what i am thinking/feeling now really true and if so is it helpful? No matter how i answer the question I do know that what i am thinking/feelingnow will change, will just not last. The “positive” thinking approach feels like it has a striving undertone – me wanting to think/feel in a way not congruent with what i am really and truly thinking/feeling right now. All to say; thinking positively? thinking negatively? – No problem !

  3. Hello Caroline & Stephen:

    I absolutely agree with both of your responses. We live in a culture where positive thinking is mass merchandised and often shoved down our throats. Do not get me wrong: like Caroline, I agree that positive thinking in terms of outlook can be a golden nugget but a real spiritual path has to be authentic. In my experience when you don’t make space for all your emotions and feelings , you put yourself on a fast track to a meltdown. Emotions and feelings need to be given space to breathe. We learn in the buddha’s teachings that there are no “bad” emotions. Acknowledging that no emotion is a “bad” emotion , creates space to feel every emotion without trying to label or rationalize or judge it. Fear, anger and sadness deserve to be honestly felt and then let go , just as much as love , joy or bliss. To not face all our emotions and feelings with an open heart is like pretending every day is a sunny day or life is always fair. We must live authentically in the world with an open heart that allows us to feel the depth and space of all types of emotions and feelings and a much richer and healthier life filled with gratitude , compassion and true optimism will often be the result. It is then we approach living life as a spiritual path or as an honest practice.

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