One of the top searches on Google in 2022 was ‘How to be positive.’
What this means is that we want to be open and upbeat. We want to be cheerful and optimistic. It seems like we don’t have much control over what we think. We don’t want to be dragged down by the clouds of gloom and doom. Often, we cannot help being sucked into hopelessness, lack of meaning and purpose. How to be positive?
The teaching of Vedanta lends itself to a natural, upbeat positivity that does not come from an attempt to be positive. How? See if these points work for you.
It is only in this human form that moksha, freedom from living is possible. As an animal or as a devata, you cannot gain punya or paapa. Imagine this! Just the right combination of punya-paapa fructified to have a human birth. Mumukshutvam, the desire for moksha, manushyatvam, the status of being a human being and mahapurusha samshraya, the presence and refuge of a guru, are considered difficult to gain and are blessings. The blessing of a human body, for freedom while living is reassuringly positive.
Yatha pinde tatha brahmande Yatha brahmande tatha pinde. As in the body so too in the cosmos and as in the cosmos so too in the body. At any moment, I can just pause and recognise my connection with the cosmos… The space present in the body cells is the space that accommodates all galaxies, the air that enlivens the body is the air that moves and enlivens all beings, the water that nurtures the body is the water from the clouds and the oceans, the fire that warms the body has been the fuel for our food and the matter that forms the body is the nourishing earth in the form of the plants consumed. Where the individual is, the total is and wherever the total is, the individual is.
At every moment devi shakti is available to us – iccha shakti, jnana shakti, kriya shakti svarupini..we chant these words in the 1000 names for Lalita Sahasranama. The power to desire, the power to act, the power to know are present in an uninhibited way. The shakti that has built ancient civilisations, filled the libraries of the world, powered the performing arts – music, dance, theatre, poetry are all gifts, which have allowed our spirits to soar. Even the desire to be positive and do something about it or look upon something differently is a dance of the three shaktis that is fluid grace. Being positive does not mean being unrealistic or ignoring problems. That I always have a choice can feel optimistic.
Understanding the Karma framework grounds me and frees me from self/other blame. All the situations I am experiencing in life are the result of choices made in this lifetime or previous lifetimes. Hence, I can go through the sorrowful experiences knowing that it is payback time and also go through the pleasurable experiences knowing that it is a rewards phase. The connection of karma and karma phala makes me a more deliberate, mindful and responsible person. It is better to contribute something constructive on social media than consume hatred and negativity. It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
The doom and gloom experienced earlier was because I thought things happened to me. By claiming my shaktis my relationship to karma changes. I move from thinking like a victim to an achiever to a karma yogi. Rather than lament on karma that happened to me, I shift from karma that can happen by me, karma that can happen for me and the other and even karma that can happen through me. I shift from always thinking about ‘What can I get’ to ‘What can I give? Where is the scope for negativity then?
The disposition of Karma Yoga makes me a devotee, a bhakta, a person lovingly connected to Ishvara. I offer the karma of my many roles to Ishvara and I accept the results of the karma as prasada. Bhagavan Krishna uplifts us by saying yogakshemam vahaamyaham – a devote will always be provided for, which is a living reality. Life stops being a burden and starts to feel like a blessing. We feel naturally grateful and can call upon our mind to remind ourselves of all the things we have been given. Gratitude and positivity hold each other and envelope you in a warm embrace.
At some point during the dialogue with Bhagavan Krishna, Arjuna asks, what will happen if my spiritual journey is not complete and one dies away? There is no reason to lament. You will pick up the thread exactly where you left off, reaping the benefits of your earlier sadhana – शुचीनां श्रीमतां गेहे योगभ्रष्टोऽभिजायते – by being born in the home of wealthy and cultured people who are committed to Dharma or योगिनामेव कुले भवति धीमताम् by being born into the family of wise yogis.
In Vedanta we do not try to be positive nor do we avoid the negative. We try to see the reality. We don’t have a raga for all that is bright and beautiful and a dvesha towards all that is dull and not beautiful. This does not mean being neutral like a robot but a pleasant neutrality that is not subject to the yoyos of positive and negative. If you are relying on your mind to generate positive thoughts as soon as you command it to..this will not happen. But You can be positive when the mind rises above the polarity of positive and negative. To understand this better let me share one of my favourite stories.
This is the story of an old farmer who lived many years ago.
He had one old horse that used to plough his fields. One day, the horse ran away into the hills. Everyone said, “We are so sorry for your bad luck.”
The old man replied, “Bad luck, good luck, who knows?”
A week later, the horse returned with a herd of wild horses. The old man knew how to tame them and now he had a bunch of horses.
Everyone said, “We are so happy for your good luck!” The old man replied, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”
While his only son was riding one of the wild horses, he fell off and broke his leg.
Everyone said, “What bad luck!”
The old man replied, “Bad luck, good luck, who knows?”
A few days later, the king’s men started to visit each village in the kingdom. A war had started between their kingdom and a neighboring enemy state. The king’s men were enlisting the eldest son from each family to join the army so that they could defeat the enemy state. When they came to the farmer’s house they saw the son with the broken leg. He would not be of much use in the army and hence they didn’t take him.
He was the only eldest son in the entire village who was not forcibly taken by the king’s men to fight the war. The neighbors, some of them with teary eyes, came once again to the farmer and commented – “Your son breaking his leg was really fortunate. He is the only one who was not taken. What a stroke of good luck.“
And the story continues.
Every single time the neighbors thought what had happened to the farmer was bad luck, it turned out to be good luck!
And just when the neighbor’s thought the incidents had brought the farmer good luck, it turned out to be bad luck!
And so if we hold situations in our life a little lightly, seemingly positive and seemingly negative for now, we may see the wisdom in the old farmer’s words..Positive or negative – who knows?
No situation is permanent – जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च। तस्मादपरिहार्येऽर्थे न त्वं शोचितुमर्हसि. For that which is born, there is an end. For that which has ended, there will be a beginning. This is how functional reality is. Situations are temporary whether they are positive or negative and hence there is no reason to grieve. All situations are looked upon as opportunities for us to learn from and grow.
So called positive thoughts or negative thoughts are all a part of the thought landscape and the capacity to think and feel has been given to us. In recent times, a new phrase is doing the rounds – toxic positivity – which is described as a pressure to stay upbeat however trying one’s circumstances are. People who believe so shun negative thoughts about loss and dying and also shun people who they believe to be negative.