How Positive Thinking is Like a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

I began some Skype coaching with the owner of a small publishing company in N.Y.C. last week. My client, whom I shall call Joe, was drawn to my work because he had looked at my websites and liked the fact that I work with the power of thought. Everything was going fine in Joe’s life – his business was thriving and his grown up kids were all healthy and happy. But as he approached retirement and was working quite a bit less, he found himself struggling with depression for the first time in his life.

I talked to him about the inside-out nature of life, and how we are living in the feeling of whatever we are thinking, every moment of our lives. But I soon realized that Joe wasn’t learning much, because he was filtering it all through what he already knew. ‘I know what you’re talking about,’ he said, because I used to do that all the time.’ ‘Do what?’ I asked, aware that I hadn’t suggested he ‘do’ anything. ‘Well, if I ever had negative thinking, I would bring in some positive thoughts to replace them, and then I’d feel better. I always had a good attitude about life. But now I can’t seem to do it anymore – it’s not working.’

Once I realized that Joe wasn’t able to really hear what I was saying, because he was filtering it all through what he already knew, I taught him a bit about listening. I could see his mind settle down just from realizing that he didn’t need to think so much while I was talking; that it was actually getting in his way. Then I explained the difference between the inside-out, single paradigm understanding of life and positive thinking.

‘Positive thinking is like a pineapple upside down cake’, I said, because that metaphor occurred to me at the time. ‘You have negative thoughts, and you realize it, so you think up some positive ones, which make you feel better for a while. Like the icing on a pineapple upside down cake, which seeps down a bit into the rest of the cake, the positive thoughts give you a good feeling and have a slight affect on all the negative ones. But all those thoughts, positive and negative, are still there, clogging up your mental inbox, and weighing you down. Eventually carrying around all that thinking is going to have its affect on you.

Understanding the inside-out, single paradigm is different. It’s an understanding of what your mind does when its operating optimally. You have a thought, you feel it, and the thought leaves, putting you back, for a moment, in the present, in the space between thoughts. When your mind is functioning like this, your mental inbox is emptying all the time. You get the benefit of what your thinking brings you through your feelings – information, insights, prompts as to what to pay attention to, creative ideas. And you get the benefit of landing back in the present on a regular basis.

Being in the present is the same as being in the unknown. You’re not in the future or the past, you’re just here. Thoughts settle down, making space for fresh ones to come in. This is the place where people naturally experience their innate well being. You often have feelings of calm, presence, and happiness. It’s also the place where insights can most easily occur. And when we get an insight, its like a light that shines on all of our thinking, bringing the light of understanding to our inner world, our world of thought. Its like a mini-enlightenment – it comes with a beautiful feeling, a feeling of lightening up at the same time as you feel connected to your inner world, your world of knowing. Why weigh yourself down with layering positive thoughts over negative ones, when you can experience psychological freedom, and the joy that is our birthright?

Joe’s face lit up when he heard this, and he said he felt hopeful for the first time in a long time. I look forward to seeing how his journey unfolds.

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