I love Christmas and the holiday season around it. We had an especially sweet and fun series of celebrations in my family in December. That said, I definitely had moments I regretted: Not helping as much as I’d like with dishes, an ill-placed word to my wife, moments of being disconnected from the family and on my device when I wish I had been present, and so on. The crazy thing is, in the face of 99+% goodness, the loudest voice in my head is the <1% negative, UNLESS I choose to guide my thoughts. Why do my thoughts move quickly and easily toward the negative? Am I alone in this struggle?
“Fortunately”, scientific studies indicate I’m not. Research shows negativity is like Velcro, those experiences/thoughts instantly imbed themselves in our minds, sticking like Velcro. Positivity, conversely, is akin to Teflon, unless we mindfully choose to savor the goodness for fifteen seconds, those thoughts/events will slide away from us like Teflon. Isn’t that crazy? I wonder why it is? My hunch is it’s a combination of our animal fight-flight-freeze instinct and the cultural messages of needing to be/look perfect, scarcity, fear, violence, and not enough-ness we’re bombarded with.
I bring this up because based on my experience, negativity makes me angry, sad, insecure, unkind, depressed, and/or anxious; it’s a hell of my own making. Positivity, however, brings me joy, bliss, confidence, kindness, peace, and love; it’s a heaven. (Quick side note, anger and sadness aren’t “bad”, they belong, should be felt, and can be wonderful fuel to help us battle abuse, racism, sexism, other evils, and/or our own personal demons. I just don’t think they’re places we should live, and generally feel like the “why” behind what impels you or I to do something is best kept positive as it creates, while the negative destroys.)
Watching the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, it occurred to me this Good News is regularly preached in the films. In the original trilogy, the Jedi Master Yoda warns his apprentice Luke: “Beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force they are. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.” When Luke asks if the dark side is stronger, Yoda says, “no,” but it is “quicker, easier, more seductive.”
While enjoying the latest battle between light and dark in The Last Jedi, it seemed clear to me the temptation and pull of negativity in our regular lives on earth is the same as the temptation of the dark side of the Force in Star Wars’ fantasy universe: Negativity with its pessimism, anger, anxiety, comparison, disappointment, and worries comes easily and naturally to us; meaning you and I can easily fall prey to its life-sucking reality without even realizing it. It occurs to me it’s almost intoxicating to scream in rage, get pissed at people, berate our selves, throw something, and so on.
Quite honestly, a less kind and generous version of myself comes out during Seahawks football games (#gohawks). I quickly and easily go to screaming and yelling at the refs for bad calls, the players for dumb mistakes, and so on. The negativity flows freely. This brings me to something I heard Father Richard Rohr say recently and the journey of one of my family members.
In a homily, Rohr read and spoke on the following text: “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5.15-18, New Revised Standard Version)
Rohr’s and my reading of this passage are the same and can be summed up thusly: Choosing to set your mind on positivity is heavenly, it’s divine, it gives life and love, and brings the wholeness and bliss we’re all meant to experience. Note the bold language Paul, the author of 1 Thessalonians, employs in the passage: ALWAYS, WITHOUT CEASING, ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. The good vibes of positivity are meant to be enjoyed constantly … it just takes time, effort, and some divine guidance.
Something central to remember here is Rome was NOT built in a day. What I’m saying is changing our thoughts and habits does NOT happen overnight or instantaneously. Healthy and long lasting transformations of our body, mind, and/or spirit take time. Beautiful growth and change come one small, doable step at a time … much like a baby learning to walk.
A VERY MINOR SPOILER FROM THE LAST JEDI is in the next paragraph
In The Last Jedi, Finn, who used to be a Storm Trooper and is now a resistance fighter (aka good guy), is strongly motivated to fight the evil, dark forces of the First Order by his hatred of them. He is angry at how much harm they do to people, and in his rage he can’t think straight, disobeys and order, and sets off to sacrifice himself by crashing into the bad guys and harming them. His friend, Rose, saves him, injuring herself in the process. When he asks her why she stopped him, she replies: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”
A family member of mine has realized Rose’s mantra doesn’t only apply to wars; it’s a central message for life. It is EASY to hate, and while we should abhor racism, oppression, classism, poverty, cancer, etc., I think the life giving, joy making, peace creating roots and reason for detesting this is always and forever love. It’s positivity. This beautiful person has realized the damage negativity does to those around. This lovely soul has become awake to this truth: Negativity and its anger, pessimism, criticism, worries, anxiety, and fear creates a toxic environment for everyone around. So, this courageous person is slowly, but surely, taking one step at a time toward a positive, more heavenly approach toward people and life (Note: this, as with every journey of transformation, is often two steps forward, one step back. That’s normal and to be celebrated).
One of my favorite things about this latest trilogy of Star Wars movies is the humor, and one of the “funniest” characters is Kylo Ren, the main bad guy. I think he’s funny because he often throws fits of rage that are so over the top it’s hilarious. This, I think, is the natural and inevitable result of embracing negativity, being consumed by anger, fear, insecurity, worries, and the like; the dark side will more and more fill and control our thoughts and actions.
If you struggle with negativity, like my family member or I, I don’t point out any of its downside out to beat you up, discourage you, or condemn you. ALL of this is intended as inspiration and encouragement. Remember, none of us is a homicidal mass murderer like Darth Vader was, and even he was redeemed. Positivity, light, and love ALWAYS win and the gift of goodness is always waiting for us to receive it. Philippians 4.8, one of my favorite passages in the Bible, encourages us by saying: “Finally, Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Doing this, as the author Paul goes on to note, will lead us into peace, heaven, and the loving arms of God. It quite literally allows heaven and all of its bliss to burst forth in our minds, bodies, and souls. As author and journalist Krista Tippett concludes about the passage: “This is a prescription for mental and spiritual resilience.” While culture and perhaps our animal instincts for security, safety, and survival make negativity quick, easy, and seemingly natural, like the dark side of the Force, positivity is a choice. It’s a mindset we can decide to adopt whenever we want.
While we can’t avoid pain and troubles in life, there is literally always an overabundance of goodness and beauty that we can focus on and use to fill our hearts and minds. I could very well be a fool, but it seems to me heaven is ALWAYS around us and in us. We simply must decide to see and receive it. We must choose to savor the positivity, the light and love, so they don’t slip away like Teflon.
Krista Tippet points out: “Our world is abundant with quiet, hidden lives of beauty and courage and goodness. There are millions of people at any given moment, young and old, giving themselves over to service, risking hope, and all the while ennobling us all. To take such goodness in and let it matter—to let it define our take on reality as much as headlines of violence—is a choice we can make to live by the light in the darkness, to be brave and free … Taking in the good, whenever and wherever we find it, give us new eyes for seeing and living.”
My invitation to us, then is quite simple: May we heed Yoda’s advice and flee the dark side in our pursuit of the light. May we choose the life giving joy, peace, and love of positivity by setting our minds on the goodness and beauty that’s all around us and in us. Kindness from strangers, hugs from family, smiles from friends, beautiful sunrises, glorious sunsets, a fresh wind, a life giving rain, a fun snow shower, an energizing lightning storm, a yummy latte, your favorite adult beverage, a delicious meal, a good workout, a funny movie, a great book, an inspiring blog, an uplifting Facebook post, a game with friends, and so on, there is an endless list of things in all our lives to cherish, celebrate, and rejoice over. Positivity abounds in all of our lives. Choosing to savor it, mull it over in our minds, share it with our lips, type it with our fingers, and smile over it in our bodies will revolutionize our lives and worlds in the most amazing ways.
I leave us with some final words from Krista Tippett: “Hope inspires goodness to reveal itself. Hope takes goodness seriously, treats it as a data point, takes it in. This is a virtue for living in and of itself: taking in the good.” What do you think? What are your thoughts and experience on negativity versus positivity in your life and in our culture?
Grace and peace,