The positive thinking cult I see some people being consumed into now is much the same as the positive thinking cult I escaped a decade ago.
This was before Oprah Winfrey broke The Secret on the Oprah Book Club.
This was after the 70s rash of positive thinking and yoga fads that lasted a decade (and looked stunningly similar to the current era).
It was after the 80s cult of America.
I left the positive thinking cult at the beginning of the new millennium—it seemed to be a good time for a change. Also, I was deeply unhappy, but unable to acknowledge it since I was supposed to be thinking positively all the time.
A heavy conundrum. We want to work to help change the world with our very thoughts, but to change the world, we have to acknowledge what’s wrong.
These were two of the reasons I left.
I also left because nothing was happening. It was like I lived on a hamster wheel, around and around going nowhere. Or like I lived on a fence.
Now I see positive thinking re-emerging again. It looks the same as it did back then.
I’m not going to knock it down as being irrelevant or worthless. I found lots of worth in my experience and have benefited greatly from spending a decade there, a decade ago. I did stay there too long and I would advise anyone interested in joining some positive thinking cult to cap it to a year—maybe. Two years, tops.
You’ll get a lot out of the experience, like increased confidence, though not the same as the true confidence I know now—it runs deep from the hard work that comes with mental fatigue—but a confidence necessary to head towards the most incredible dreams, at least in your head.
It was impossible for me to consider that I could want something more than a job as a secretary somewhere or as somebody’s wife (see my theory of feminism). But I began to think in grander terms in the positive thinking cult. This was good. I see now how that was necessary to the beginning of my journey.
It was impossible for me to see myself as pretty, or worthwhile, but not for any shortcoming on the part of my parents—my self esteem was stunted by the world around me that was confusing, chaotic and meaningless. The cult gave me meaning and my life meaning. It took away my meaninglessness, and that has never returned to me, though I have had to search to be meaningful.
But once it became impossible for me to move forward towards my impossible dreams and stay in the positive thinking cult, I left.
If you are currently trying to leave one of these positive thinking cults, know that I support you and I can offer you light at the end of the tunnel: It will be hard, but it will be worth it.
And as we begin to come out from behind this facade of limited thought and emerge as the essence of ourselves, I can offer some tips that will help us transition to our authentic selves:
1. Keep a journal.
I still keep a journal to this day: Three pages a day, 30 minutes every morning.
I got the idea from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. As an artist—one of my impossible dreams—I stumbled into this book that is also a positive thinking cult. Maybe I would suggest this to the person starting a positive thinking cult, but not to the person leaving one. Maybe just keep the journal.
My journal was the most useful tool in getting the thoughts out of my head. Literally, like they were pouring out of my head and flushing my brain clean. My brain emptied, finally. I also saw that I did the same thing every day. I wanted the same thing every day and I obsessed over the same things every day.
And it was boring. My journal was boring.
With mounting horror, I realized that my journal reflected my life and I would have to change my life to change my journal.
So I did. And I realize now that what I like is change. And my journal shows me how I want to change next. I can be as negative as I want here. I can also be positive. The point is that I am honest.
I also think a lot about other people and how I like giving them what they want and helping them change their lives for the better.
I like my journal. I like my life too. And I like my life better now than I did back when I was in a positive thinking cult.
My journal shows me the roadmap to my impossible dreams—the ones that I created in the positive thinking cult but had to leave to make them happen.
2. Meditate and be active.
Take walks in the woods and connect with nature. This was how I moved past the cult. I imagined that I was walking away from the past and walking towards my future.
This is magic: Nature. I don’t know if it’s the fresh air in my lungs. The silence. The beautiful trees to contemplate.
I would go hiking in the woods and meditate on what I had written in my journal. I watched the leaves turn gold in the autumn, watch them shrivel and die in the winter, and then watch them blossom into a bright, vivid, neon green in the spring.
Connecting with nature, I connected with my physical body. I forgave the past and connected with my end. I began to contemplate, instead of steeling my spirit to stay positive, what I wanted to leave with the world when I am gone. Some positive thoughts?
I want to leave so much more than that.
3. Do what you love.
This is the key to it all: What we love is our way to change the world. And it is more than just thoughts. It goes deeper, beneath language, to the very core of who we are and why we are here.
It is here, in love, that we summon the power and will to head further down this treacherous path that is life towards our impossible dreams. We have to see the rocks so that we can avoid them.
You know the one: It sits deep in your heart and is so big that you can’t even see it in its entirety, but you feel its pull tugging at your soul. Positive thoughts are not going to bring it out and put it on your plate like magic. No, you will work tirelessly and ceaselessly and endlessly towards your impossible dream and when it arrives, it will feel like you just thought it up. And it will be magic.
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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Animation: author’s own