Copied below is an email exchange which has some content in that may be of interest. It is published with the persons permission.
What’s your/the soto zen point of view regarding positive self-talk? I understand (well, likely not, but you know what I mean) the benefits of looking at things as they are, but doesn’t a person sometimes need to lie to themselves a bit to feel better sometimes? Or just focus on the positive to get through a tough time?
In brief, telling the truth is telling the truth, be it to others or oneself. Telling oneself little untruths is like giving candy to a crying child. It works for awhile but doesn’t address why she is crying. As for feelings. Where there is feeling, good bad or indifferent feelings, there is an aspect of the ‘being’ (you) waving her hand (so to speak) and saying “hay, you can let go of this”. “Take a look“. This is the arising of the koan in daily life and the solving of the koan too if one chooses to: one, listen and two, act wisely where action is called for. The Buddhist precepts come in here as well as Compassion of course. Often it is only when somebody realizes that they hurt deeply, (really badly and for a long time), and they want an end to it that they take up a religious practice. That’s when they have really really ‘had it’ with pain and suffering, and at the same time trust that there is a path out of it. Amazing as it might seem it is often the case that realizing ones suffering and finding a religious path can happen around about the same time.
As for ‘being positive’. We talk about ‘looking up’, not looking down, maintaining a ‘bright mind’, that sort of thing. All point to not indulging in self pity and woe while on the other side of it, not deliberately going into another kind of self, a positive one. There is a difference between trying to think oneself into ‘being positive’ and ‘looking up’ which is not about thinking something. It’s more about returning to paying attention in the present moment. Look down and you are mentally stumbling about in the dark and tripping over oneself constantly. Difficult to explain all of this however all roads point to meditation. In this case returning to daily life meditation. That’s just doing what you are doing and not obsessing about what’s going on in the mind/body however nasty it might feel. Simple, yet not easy. There is a lot to all of this, however that’s the gist.
OK I guess if all else fails, the chips are down etc, it’s best to focus on the positive rather than dwell in the negative. It is just that there is this basic problem there. Negative and positive are just two sides of the same coin and to flip from one to the other side and back is ‘work’. Better by far to simply hold the coin, be still with it/within it and let the good and the bad times roll on by. Reference to a song there I think! We call this traveling the Middle Way.
Your question was a good one, simple and straight forward. I like ’em that way. I think this exchange would make a good blogger posting. Are you OK with my doing that? In gassho, Mugo
Sure! I asked (my question) because I’ve been depressed for a few days and was wondering. Thinking positive helps sometimes, but then I remembered reading stuff about…stuff…that made me question that practice. Not that I’m going to completely throw it out. Sometimes it’s useful. Thanks for your answer. I’ll have to chew on it.
Had you tried getting out and walking, briskly. That can help lift a depression if it hasn’t gone too heavy. Mugo
Oh yeah, I’m also really feeling it – not meditating regularly. I was noticing the effects, even of not going to your place (the priory) anymore. I’ll be glad when I can attend again next week. It’s really hard for me to get into sitting once I’ve fallen out of it.
So true, so very true for all of us. It is hard to get back into sitting. However, do you ever take a long break from cleaning your teeth? Think about, habits get to be habits through repetition. In gassho, Mugo
I wasn’t down last week, and last night just wanted to relax. I’ll be busy all this week, too. I was starting to meditate and exercise regularly – then really overbooked myself. Oh well.
Middle Way, all the way.