Thoughts on Thinking

"When somebody persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?" John Maynard Keynes

"If you're unhappy with your life, change your thinking." Charles Fillmore

"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it." Eckhart Tolle

"People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them." Epictetus

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates

"Consciousness is a terrible thing to waste." PunditGeorge

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Placebos and Castes

The buzz about Rhonda Byrne’s astonishingly successful DVD and book “The Secret” continues. Those who “get it” get it. Those who don’t “get it,” can’t get it. The Secret presents a marvelous introduction to the universal Law of Attraction, a phenomenon taught world wide for thousands of years. Like any universal, or natural, law, it is in play regardless of our awareness. Yet when we are aware of such a principle, it becomes possible to use that principle for our benefit.

The Law of Attraction brings together things that are like unto themselves. Birds of a feather flock together, misery loves company - you know the clichés. Those folk who understand its nature are better able to hold thoughts that reflect what they want to experience. Thoughts attract, and are attracted to, similar thinking.

People who understand the completeness of the Law of Attraction will practice what is often termed “positive thinking.” By thinking “positive, uplifting, desirable” thoughts, such thoughts are increased (attraction) and move the thinker towards circumstances where those desired feelings can be experienced. Positive Thinking is not some magical process that chases away bad things.

I love Discover magazine and look forward to each issue. The July 2007 issue (cover story: “Science of Islam”) tackled “The Secret” in its Peer Review section. Calling “The Secret” as the latest “… in a long line of spiritual systems aimed at selling personal prosperity through faulty scientific reasoning,” the article never discusses the thesis of the DVD and book – the Law of Attraction – citing instead a property of electromagnetism where opposite magnetic poles attract and magnetic similars repel. Positive thinking is substituted as the thesis for The Secret. Granting that energy and matter are interrelated, the article misunderstands the Law of Attraction – “According to the book, happy thoughts will do more than affect behavior. It…allows people to change reality to their liking by changing the way they think about it.” The article considers this foolish, and has to be frustrating for someone whose belief system is based on an “out there” universe that has no connection with the individual. Yet even this dismissive piece still affirms the genesis of how the Law of Attraction can benefit people, whether by the placebo effect or self-confidence.

The placebo effect occurs because the patient/person believes and expects something positive – and does. The Law of Attraction is the process that’s in action, and it’s an inside job. The person thinks and expects (thinking + feeling) something. As for positive thinking, even the article concedes that “…speaking positively often leads to better results than whining about how tough life is.” Without knowing, the author has described the action of the Law of Attraction. All The Secret suggests is think more about what you want. You are more likely to have that experience. What can be wrong with that?

The Law of Attraction is an inside job – the individual thinks and therefore attracts like thoughts. The accumulation of such attraction results in physical and material circumstance reflecting the intent. Not everyone is pleased with such a dynamic. Use of the Law for personal improvement does not require an external intercession. That’s intolerable for those folks who insist that you do something/conform/act in a way pleasing to them. In short, when you change and do as they say, then they will feel better.

You know that’s true – especially if you have had a situation where you mortgaged your happiness or well-being to the behavior of someone else, or something else. When so and so does this or that, then I can feel good. And how often did you feel good? I suspect more thought time was spent examining over and over the faults or errant behavior of the person(s) who had to change for your sake. Uh, did the disappointment/angry/fearful feelings that accompanied such examinations displace good feelings? One can’t feel good and lousy at the same time. So, what is your preference?

That’s the essence of The Secret, and other methods of introduction and instruction into the Law of Attraction. The only way to feel more joy is to think about joyous things. Or, certainly better feeling things that the present moment. Slapping a sticky note on your head “I am joyful” won’t magically improve your feelings. But choosing at any moment to think a better feeling thought will result is a better feeling. (Keeping in mind that feeling pissed off is a better feeling than despair.) The more you do that, the better you feel and the easier it is to continue that type of thinking and so on. Practice makes perfect, they say.

The flip-side is also true. At any moment a person can observe something unpleasant and dwell upon it. The Law kicks into action and accumulates similar thoughts resulting in more unpleasant feelings. The greater unpleasant feelings are observed (a thought) spiraling another round of attraction of similar thoughts, resulting in greater lousy feelings (observed = thought) ratcheting another accumulation of foul thinking and misery and so on forever. Or until another type of thought is offered.

With placebo, it is the belief, thought, expectation that the individual will have improvement that correlates the sugar pill (or whatever) with the measured (positive) outcome. Thoughts come from the individual, are chosen by the individual, and directly affect the individual. What’s so scary about that?

Post Script

As I was writing this some 30,000 Guijars, members of a near-the-bottom caste in India, were rioting, and killing people. Why? What injustice motivated these people? What heinous condition were they overthrowing?

It seems these people, traditional sheep herders, were demanding their caste be downgraded to the level of the untouchables – the lowest strata – to gain an advantage on rival castes. An advantage? Gaining a new “low” would result in affirmative action preferences from the government for the group. The road to better living is not through better thinking, but from government largesse.

Perhaps it is more useful to read Mani Bhaumik’s Code Name God” for a better account of successful living. It’s an absorbing account of one man’s rags to riches to spiritual treasures. To illustrate the power, collective and individually, of the caste system, Dr. Bhaumik describes his birth. He literally lay on the dirt floor of the hut he was born in, still attached by umbilical cord to his mother who was having difficulties. Her life was in jeopardy because the cord needed to be severed. But, although the room was full of supportive relatives and neighbors, no one could touch the unclean umbilical cord. Severing the cord was a task only an untouchable could do. Family members were running around the village seeking an untouchable. Finally, an untouchable was found who could come and cut the cord, saving both Mani and his mother.

The power of belief. More on that later.

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