I am tired.
I’m tired in that way that happens when mind-overload, followed incautiously into concrete corners, limits the ability to conceive of solutions and dig up hope. I’m tired of reading commentary and I’m tired of thinking about the seeming impossibility of resolution, though I seem to be doing both compulsively. I read the news and it is overwhelming. I read theory and it is immobilizing: the more I learn, the more I realize how every possible choice of action is complicated by its impact on some person or power structure.
I’m tired in that way that happens to people who take in the world just as fully through their bodies – through touch, sound, breath, feeling, and movement – as they do through their minds. I’m tired in the way of those whose hearts well love and grief that flow up in gentle washes or powerful surges until they must escape in sighs and sometimes tears.
We live in tiring times.
We love in tiring times.
For several years, I was a leader in New Thought churches that held strict adherence to the “Law of Mind-Action” – that we change the blueprint of the universe to manifest according to our thoughts and beliefs – and the “Law of Attraction” – that we attract all experiences into our lives based on our thoughts and beliefs, whether conscious or unconscious. Under both of these principles, the material world, and thus the body, are subject to the will of the mind – subservient, docile, and reactive – just as women (traditionally associated in many cultures with the land and processes of the body) were considered inferior to and expected to remain subservient to men. While many early New Thought pioneers were women (Emma Curtis Hopkins, Mary Plunkett, Myrtle Fillmore, Malinda Cramer, Nona and Fannie Brooks, and H. Emilie Cady among them), this traditional gendering of mind and body remains largely unexamined in New Thought circles, as does the Western, liberal individualism whose ideals provide the definitions of success against which one’s “right thinking” is measured.
And yet I’m not unfriendly to positive thinking, to intentional joy, or to mind-action. People who know me in my everyday life know me for my laughter and my optimism. I have a handful of favorite affirmations and craft new ones as challenges arise. I enjoy creating vision boards, and writing and leading guided visualizations. Like Mitch Horowitz, author of One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life, I love the positive-thinking movement “for its sense of possibilities, its challenge to religious conformity, and its practical ideas” even as I struggle with “its lack of moral rigor, its inconsistencies, and its intellectual laxity.”
As with my understanding of gender, my mind-body conceptualization is one of mutuality. On a personal level, I respect work that has shown the power of positivity to transform lives; I likewise respect somatic therapists like Peter Levine, whose work focuses on healing traumas through the body first. On a larger scale, I similarly see ideology and social structures as mutually engendering, with neither being independently determinant and each providing a locus for generative action as well as deconstruction. And sometimes, when darkness or injustice challenge my spirit, the greatest healing comes from sitting with it, listening to it, and seeing what lessons it wants to bring me.
In 2012, I had the good fortune to meet with Mitch while he was researching his book on the history of the positive thinking movement. We had a heartfelt talk during which I shared some of my concerns about conflating positivity and spiritual development at the expense of our ability to sit with discomfort or stand in solidarity with the oppressed. After years of experiencing less-than-thoughtful responses from “positive-thinking” friends when I’d discussed social justice, I half-expected Mitch to blow me off as a pessimist or failure at positive thinking. Instead, he told me that I sounded like someone from the meaning-based school of positive thinking, or perhaps the conditioning school. He explained that he had identified four main “schools” within the positive thinking movement, each of which shares a common emphasis on optimism and hope while maintaining distinct approaches and different understandings of how positivity works in our lives.
The magical thinking school is the one associated with popular forms like The Secret, and the conversion school acknowledges the positive impacts of conversion experiences as they transform our lives and identities. The conditioning or reprogramming school of positive thinking takes a strictly psychological approach, focusing on the ways in which retraining our minds can contribute to greater mental health. The meaning-based school, Horowitz offers in One Simple Idea, encourages finding “personal terms in which suffering or travails amount to some worth in the world” in order to “dramatically alter a person’s viewpoint and provide new possibilities.” Popularized by Holocaust-survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl and expanded by New Thought writer Vernon Howard, meaning-based positive thinking is built, Horowitz says, on the core premise that “a higher perspective can rescue a person from an existence of aimlessness and undefined anxiety.”
This is where I find myself now as I consider current events – in that in-between space where anxiety is transformed to hope, and aimlessness to purpose.
I am tired, but I will not close my eyes to suffering, to injustice, or to the innumerable ways in which my nation’s past and present rattle with contradiction and pretense. The depth of my wisdom, practice of my perfection, and reach of my loving-kindness are not dependent upon filters that allow only positivity to flow through into my field of awareness. Rather, they are strengthened to the extent that I can find beauty in my practice of my role in this mystery. My practice is not learning to surf atop heavy currents but rather learning to become the wave; not trying to stay fireproof, but knowing how and when to burn brightly, fiercely. My practice is bringing in sweetness of breath from between the smoky plumes, digging deep, and nurturing the divinity that flows in and through and around me.
We live in tiring times, surrounded by beautiful opportunities to love greatly, live bravely, and shine a light of clarity into the world.
Christy Croft is a writer, teacher, and healer whose interfaith, personal spiritual practice is inspired by nature, informed by science, and grounded in compassion. She is a graduate student whose current liberal studies program has focused on religion and social justice. She has facilitated safe and sacred space for over twenty years, as a suicide hotline counselor, doula, rape crisis companion, support group facilitator, priestess, mentor, mother, and friend. Her research interests are ever-evolving and include spirituality, new religious movements, religiosity and popular culture, compassion, trauma, gender, sexuality, and intimacy, and she sometimes blogs at The Sacred Loom.