I posted on twitter something like "What does it say about me that I feel compelled to oppose the purveyors of all feel-good self-helpy advice?"
I seem to have some decent reasons for this. One thing I don't like about the dissemination of self-helpy advice is that they take experiences, attitudes of great beauty and worth and weave them into platitudes and then make money in some way.
Love, courage, beauty, truth. Eat, pray, love.
They write a book, have a show, make a website.They franchise the eternal goods, if there are any.
That is, they market what there is to value in the human experience into some cheap gimcrack.
All that is universal and true and belongs to us so should never be sold.
It's very American though. America is chock full of such cheapenings. If there is a community, a caring community (Main Street USA!) then why not make a false facsimile of such a community where everyone who walks through is an utter stranger to everyone else? What we have instead of experience is the experience of watching someone else perform experience.
The difficulty of what is peddled is wrung out from the feel-good. Thus, it puzzles me why the same people who are drawn to easy self-helpy solutions to the human condition like Buddhism and see it as something upbeat, positive, a slogan like 'Hang in There Baby, Friday's Coming.'
Buddhism is, at least as far as i can tell: You don't have a self. The reality you care about is riven through with illusion. Don't forget you will die. Existence is suffering. The only way to free yourself from suffering is non-existence.
One training for Buddhist monks (I read in a self-helpy book so I could be wrong!) is to meditate on the thought of oneself as a dead body. In order to realize the utter foamy ephemera that makes up who one is. There's no meaning, there's no substance, there's actually no point to anything. I find this idea very liberating but I don't think it is what people hear. They seek this peace but I find it hard to believe that Californians in the Lexuses listening to Buddhist books on tape are actually seeking their own non-existence. Maybe I underestimate them.
There's also compassion, incredible compassion to sweeten the ashes. Compassion for all that lives. But I'm not sure the self-helpy world sees the ashes.
These reasons for rejecting positivity are too abstract to be my real reasons. I don't think this is the reason I am opposed to platitudes and feel-good messages.
I think the reason I am opposed to platitudes and feel good messages is a bit less flattering to me: They scare me. I can intellectualize it. I am so very good at that. Also, they are utter bullshit so it is easy.
But why does it bother me? Because they are saying 'everything will be OK'
It's true it's also a lie that everything is OK or will be OK.
But I don't want to let my guard down.
Some of the people in my family live in a culture of pessimism and I know where that comes from. It comes from having very bad things happen to you and the people you love. How do you protect yourself? How do you keep yourself from shattering?
If only you could not love, could not feel. If only you had no hope.
I learned this.
I was thinking if I could ever have a New Year's Resolution it would to not live this way anymore--to not live expecting disaster at every turn. To hope.
But it would be wrong to think that because I am so in the grip of a certain kind of negativity, this would not be fair.
I really liked Schmutzie's gratitude thing (which is not self-helpy in the way I mean, but communal & eschewing platitudes) but I could not do the gratitude thing.
I want to change, ergo I would probably be attracted to some self help. So who am I to say what people should provide or seek?
Even so, my negative way of thinking about things has a kind of built in gratitude. I take almost nothing for granted.
Every day my child is a never ending delight to me. Yes, I worry about her incessantly. But I'm beside myself when I see her. If it were August in Manhattan and you'd walked for hours and finally got to a cool shower and a glass of lemonade, my kid is that shower and that lemonade for me every single day.
I used to wake up in my room in a flat I shared and be so happy for the tree outside my window.
I am always so amazed that I am married and happy. I feel intense gratitude. Of course, my gratitude involves hugging my husband tight each day and saying "But I love you so much. I LOVE YOU. Don't die! Please don't ever die!'
This amuses my husband. I'm sure you can guess that I wouldn't be married to someone who wanted an especially normal wife.
I do rather difficult things. I do things that are future directed. I get a PhD, for example. That was a terrible mistake in a way but it required a certain kind of faith in the future.
I'm not ungrateful, I'm not only pessimistic. I simply have a painful awareness that some things are very wrong and it seems to follow me everywhere I go.