There is a tendency in society for people to praise so-called ‘positive thinking’, because it is believed to oppose negativity and negative thoughts. How do you oppose negativity? Opposition is not the same as allowing, and allowing is not the same as capitulating.
Fighting negativity is the equivalent of war on terrorism. You cannot cease aggravation with aggravation, and you cannot wrangle the world into a peaceful situation by insisting that your perspectives have raised you above it all. From the perspective of duality, you are always inextricably complicit in the world’s dysfunction.
While it may be true that the subject of your thoughts involves ‘nice’ things, say, generosity, or hope, or love, the upshot is that you are still dreaming the dream of duality. Reality is already here, and does not correspond to the thoughts and judgments we make about it.
Much of the motivation behind positive thinking, as with any other branch of dualistic thinking, is that it is crafted to oppose or ward off other kinds of thoughts or events, like a talisman. What appears to be loving and peaceful turns out to be an elaborate exercise in nonacceptance. Dualistic ways of thinking oppose accepting the way things appear at this moment at the cost of peace. Duality always has an agenda to push, whether it is destructive and wishes to make things ‘worse’, or constructive and wishes to make things ‘better’.
Things don’t ultimately get better in a dualistic world. This is the ‘bad news’ if you are intent on staying within that limited paradigm (in reality, this is neither ‘bad’, nor is it ‘new’). It means that all of your efforts to screen and filter incoming experience for both yourself and others will be doomed to failure.
This is not fatalistic, because this too is merely a perspective. This is a natural consequence of your insistence on seeing reality divided into fictional categories, including ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘holy’ and ‘unholy’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’, and most other polarized words you will come across in any dictionary. Things don’t get better in a world where you have designated the rules as dualistic and therefore inherently unstable and combatative.
From the viewpoint of unity, there is peace and deep acceptance of whatever comes to pass, because it is acknowledged deeply that everything is unified. This could be called many things, but essentially it means not minding what happens. This is not the same as apathy, or fatalism.
Apathy could be defined as not caring what happens because the world is seen as unsatisfactory, irrespective of what it should happen to contain. This is clearly an expression of duality.
Fatalism has two distinct philosophical meanings, the first is the belief that everything that happens is fated to happen. This may or not be true, and does not fall within the relevance of the present moment. How could anyone know this? What difference would it make to reality for you to believe it?
The second meaning is that of an extreme form of pessimism. This again is duality. Perspectives always see the world through a lens, which means they always imply an agenda – shoulds, should nots and endless efforts at negotiating with what is.
Reality has no agenda, it simply appears unfolding in the moment. Any notion of there needing to be something different to how it presently is occurs only within our cranial vaults. The view from beyond duality reveals the entire cosmos to be marvellous perfection. This can only happen when the false tyranny of the fragmentary mind has been deposed. When the conditioned structures which cloud your vision and prevent you from seeing clearly are removed or at least become transparent, you will see for yourself the breadth and perfection of the Divine.
People who despise the world, having mistaken part of the world for the whole and identifying suffering as essential to existence, are often some of the most vociferous. If you really don’t care, why is it that you care to have your opinions expressed to as many people as possible? Is it a sign of strength to want for others to know your opinion of not caring? What is the nature of the fleeting sense of satisfaction this expression offers you? Do you achieve a specialness from feeling more separate, do you feel adulated as a victim?
All cultures and subcultures, like all individuals, claim specialness, either overtly or implicitly.
It is ironic that there are even subcultures which claim their specialness by being indifferent to wider societal values. They are never so indifferent as to cease insisting that the society they wish to be seen opposing recognises them, even if only to push them away.
Even the most anarchistic and refractory of these subcultures insist on showing their open contempt for the rest of society and their rejection of its values and interests.
It is not enough for them to quietly keep their thoughts, beliefs and values to themselves. Like most egoic entities, they want you to either agree with them, or react against them. If they were truly indifferent and special in the way they would have us believe, why do they do they continue to insist that their differences be recognised by those whom they claim to be possessed of less wisdom?
Again, because all social divisions claiming special status or exclusion are ego based, it is that they want to be recognised as being different (and therefore special) by everyone else. Otherwise, ego would have no audience, and that is not a game that interests an entity whose only conception of being is based on perception of popular opinion – reflected image.
Within both society and individuals there is a strongly ingrained egoic yearning to appear special and to ‘stand out’. Advertising is built upon exploiting this self-induced fiction. The way that egos attempt to establish specialness and distinction is limitless, but they all derive from the same source, the same fictitious drive to appear in order to appropriate being or ‘realness’.
The compulsion to identify with unpopular or unconventional things is not indicative of freedom/authenticity or having somehow transcended the cycle of suffering, rather it is confirmation of the mind/ego’s insistence upon rating everything according to popularity and convention, even when expressed in ‘negative’ terms.
People are particularly aggrieved when something which they like which is relatively unpopular suddenly catches on as a craze. This is why there are bumper stickers and t-shirts which say “I liked (x) before it was popular”. Why should this happen? What is the relevance of this personal investment?
Liking something which is relatively unpopular confers a certain exclusivity. When this thing, whether it is a food, band, or a person, becomes widely appreciated, i.e. ‘popular’, then your claim to exclusivity is forfeit – a piece of life which you thought made you special is now lost, and there is a resulting pain.
This has curious effects. One might be that the thing which was previously identified with is rejected, and your attitude undergoes complete reversal in reaction to popularity – you become a ‘hater’. Otherwise, you might continue to enjoy it, but not feel the capacity to let go of your story about how at one point in your life you had the wisdom and refinement of taste to appreciate (x) before it gained popularity, hence the perceived need for the t-shirts and bumper stickers which congratulate your good taste.
There are people who reject popular films solely by virtue of their popularity alone and insist on praising the merits of less-popular films. This is where the terms ‘overrated’ and ‘underrated’ become especially relevant. You can be in chains by playing the role of the conformist, but you can be equally chained by playing the role of the dissident.
The lower self will happily work either way. One ego might see strength in crowds, popularity, and herd mentality, as in the case of most religions and global fads.
Another might reject the popular on the grounds that they would not be highlighted as sufficiently special, and adopt unconventional beliefs, dress, tastes, lifestyle in order to stand out. They see their implicit rejection of society as a show of force and a testament to their strength.
Ego will work with anything it has available in order to appear stronger. Going with the flow of society appears to have strength and momentum, and opposing it creates ripples. Either way, ego seeks confirmation of its relevance and specialness.
Awareness itself has no dog in the fight. It does not even register the conflict, since it does not arise from inherent duality as the lower self does. Mind is dualistic and therefore highly selective about the kinds of experience it would like to have and those it would rather avoid. It separates possible experience into categories and forms strategies for manipulating life in what it perceives to be its favour.
Awareness just watches. It does not discriminate between fictitious categories of experience or quality. It exists in radiant openness to this moment.
The more energy and ‘time’ that is invested in a life replete with mind, the more plans your mind will make for you, which means fabricated problems, disappointments, thrills and complications.
The more energy is withdrawn from mind and back into the source of that power, which is pre-reflective awareness, the more you live a life that is peaceful, ordinary, and free from the desperate need to stand out or ‘make it’. Identity is free to rest as itself in vibrant awareness.
From a higher perspective, none of this is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is just where you happen to be at this point in life. Not everyone’s relationship with this moment is dysfunctional, but most are. Some of the effects of this are stress, dissatisfaction, yearning for specialness and recognition, anxiety, depression and a persistent sense of disconnection from life as well as other people.
It isn’t surprising that people gravitate towards consciousness when their suffering increases. Some people feel that they are pleasurably lost in the complexities of life – that’s fine. That’s part of the game too, only sooner or later everyone will be reminded that all experiences are temporary.
Simon P. Murphy is the author of His Master’s Wretched Organ, a collection of short horror stories that deal with questions of transcendence, terror and spiritual absolution.