In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale’s prototypical self-help book, The Power of Positive Thinking, was unleashed upon the American public. This massively popular tome, although not secular in its orientation, popularized the idea that by replacing negative thought patterns with positive, success affirming ones, one will achieve the best life has to offer. Over the years, the idea that a person with positive thinking will succeed has entered the popular consciousness as an almost unquestioned dogma.
The good side of positive thinking is that it is positive. The other side is that it all too often is just covering up a subtle, fundamental insecurity: “ I have to be positive or all the good stuff won’t arise, negative thoughts will bring me bad things, I don’t want to suffer”. Concern for security in an insecure future, dread that it may not be achieved, and even fear that our negative thoughts will destroy us are the underlying worry. As Kyabjé Tulku Urgyen said to me years ago, “The very basis of our discontentment is our ongoing and never-ending evaluation of the quality of our experience.”
Inevitably, despite all our best efforts to think positively, we will be confronted with disaster, loss and unfortunate circumstances. Then how will we feel? Will that insecurity that has us constantly worrying about the future turn on us and say things like “See that all that positive thinking doesn’t help! It just kept us in denial”? What will we put our faith and energy in?
There is an alternative. Instead of relying solely on positive thinking, we can rely on present-moment awareness. Instead the living in the future, which can only be dominated by hope and fear, we can turn our mind towards the present moment. The present moment is a completely open dynamic unfolding of reality. You don’t have to wish for anything nor fear it, for it is always here. You can’t pin it down, but you can notice it and abide with it and ride on its flow. And what notices, abides and rides? Awareness. When we place our attention into this very moment, our natural present moment awareness is there. Else, how could we notice anything?
In positive thinking, there is a rejection of the negative, so there is always a negative inside all that so-called positivity; it’s inherently there. But in present moment awareness, there is no need reject any negativity, in fact perception of negatives is positive. It’s an awareness of what is rising in the present moment, an inherent process of affirmation, a fundamental positivity that is always available. It is a freedom from the constant cycle of hope and fear and all the karmic chains that bind us to a distorted view of reality. Underlying it all is awareness, the knowing quality of mind, that is not made by thinking it into existence.
Present moment awareness, not something we have to believe in, for we already experience it. Even the thoughts such as “I don’t experience it” can only occur because we have present moment awareness. For it is only within awareness that we can know our thoughts.
Dignity arises from the basic understanding that present moment awareness is always available; we have it, we don’t need to get it.