I’m interested in “positive psychology” and how this approach seems to pervade the discipline. Barbara Ehrenreich has written a book, Bright-Sided:
How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Have any Barque members read this? Business Week published a review of her book: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_43/b4152076096902.htm
I'm interested in looking at the phenomenology of shadow manifestations found in our Pollyanna-like optimism which one can see in those ever-so popular feel-good psychologies & spiritually abundant religions where they are given to judge negatively (i.e. "pathologize") otherwise soulful experience in the realm of the human affairs (e.g. grief of loss, anger, depression and relationship issues.)
We may be well-served exploring this territory even though (to some extent) over exposure to the less than bright side of things can result in jaded cynicism and nihilistic attitudes IF one is not appropriately guarded against these threats with the shield and armor of compassion and imagination.
Nevertheless it feels cathartic and chthonic digging up these much neglected aspects of the prima materia or base, rejected material in my alchemical experimentations...
Thomas Moore and James Hillman (amongst others) are exemplary advocates for adjusting our perspective of the pathos of our souls – they effectively turn popular notions of symptoms and “pathology” on their heads. They do this with the utmost respect and show what’s hidden underneath the dark side of the stones along our paths. This book seems to hold some promise in the spirit of this pursuit.
Thanks, Andy for your contributions. I like your pairing of compassion and imagination with the less bright. I see an undesirable shift from directly labeling psychology as "positive" to a position that assumes it to be the underlying strength and direction of the discipline, even with the contemporary influences of Moore, Hillman, Hollis and others. Ehrenreich's book may help to support this more inclusive perspective. I look forward to reading it.
I don't know a lot about this subject, but it seems to keep popping up. I know from personal experience being involved in the yoga that “positive psychology” prevails--this has often made me very uncomfortable (it sometimes feels fake). Maybe people prefer to think of themselves as "beings of light" or some such term related to ideas of transcending human nature. My current teacher talks about this sometimes; about how she used to be afraid of any feeling that wasn't positive and now she just "sits" with it. Sometimes you get off your yoga mat angerier than before you started (not something most are willing to admit, always hoping for an enlightening experience). Sure you're "allowed" to cry but I don't have the sense that you're supposed to go deep into it (certainly not like Thomas Moore writes) and it seems like you're expected to get over it and move on.
As always, I'd like to apply the principle of "going with the symptom" to the emphasis on the positive in psychology. If it's a symptom, and I certainly think it is, then what is it looking for, where is it going? It could be that we have trouble trusting life and feeling deeply positive in light of experience. Therefore, we settle for a sentimental version (the typical tactic). A more substantive positive attitude might look more like an attachment to life in the thick of challenges and in the face of failure. A strong philosophy of life is often lacking, one that would allow trust and hope during dark times. Many live by guilt, sometimes a profound guilt based on a too-demanding moral weight. In Writing in the Sand I tried to unveil a positive psychology that is deeply set in the Gospels, to replace the guilt-inducing one that invaded the churches 2000 years ago.
Thanks for the invitation to continue. Looking over what I last wrote, I realize that I both criticized and supported positive psychology. I should use two different words for what I mean. The initial posts seem to complain about a positive-only psychology, or a too-positive psychology: How wonderful life is! I see that approach as sentimental, meaning a strong wish for a fully positive existence, disregarding harsh realities. I'm recommending an approach rooted in hope and trust that does not skirt around the failures and stupidities that are a necessary part of life. Sentimentality clears out life as we know it, complete with its happiness and suffering, to look wonderful. I suspect that this sentimental positive outlook covers over deep distrust and betrayal. I agree with Hillman that trust should not be naive, perhaps his way of saying sentimental. But solid trust in life grows out of a willingness to live foward, even in the face of danger, unhappiness, and betrayal. Many of my readers tell me that they appreciate my aversion to the "be happy" approach to spirituality and psychology. I think this tendency of mine keeps my work inaccessible to the masses, but it allows me to be part of a serious tradition of "self-help" writing or practical philosophy.
Having learned from Thomas's books about 'going with the symptom,' I wondered for a long time how this could be applied to negative thinking; I've always struggled with negative thoughts about my worth as a person, and was intrigued by the idea that there is an alternative to such struggling.
No doubt the answer is stated explicitly somewhere in his books, but I've only ever found clues - such as 'inferiority empty of ego is humility' (p14 of The Soul's Religion) - to my current understanding: negative thinking is a sign of ungrounded spirituality. This spirituality wants me to transcend who I am and thus resists the soul's pull into life; such efforts may create the illusion of finally having overcome this pull, but when this illusion fails, I feel that I have failed and am thus critical of myself.
The value of this negative thinking is then that it deflates my ungrounded spirituality and points me in the direction of the reality of who I am - not towards worthlessness, because that is full of ego (=ungrounded spirit), but towards the emptying of my spirituality through its grounding in reality and thus towards humility.
Such 'negative psychology' shows me how to reconnect spirit and soul. In contrast, a positive psychology that resists negative thinking would worsen the disconnect between them. Of course, finding the value in negative thinking is itself a kind of positive psychology!
You can't always "be happy" when you're trying to get well, especially with a mood disorder. You need to dig deep into old feelings, old abuse perhaps and old beliefs and this is not often going to feel good... My spirituality and emotional growth depend on some not so pleasant days but with some extreme growth and some pretty good days to follow. Mr. Moores books have shown me how to care for my soul like i've never done before and it has not always made me happy, but I have always come out feeling fulfilled....and more spiritual.