You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought
by Michael Braunstein
There's a scene early in the movie Fifth Element. Earth is being threatened in the 24th Century by a ball of ominous energy thousands of miles in diameter that is bearing down on our planet from the deep reaches of outer space. But our defenses are up. We have our space fleet stationed in the intruder's path. In the scene, Earth is about ready to launch its most powerful weapons from the spacefleet flagship. But a spiritual leader, a priest of some historic cult, interjects. He begs audience of the President. He suggests that to attack may not be the way to defeat the threat. Of course, neither the military nor the political types are persuaded. The missiles are launched and predictably, according to plotline, they serve only to make the enemy stronger and it grows even more powerful. You'll have to rent the movie to find the true "weapon" that is the "fifth element" and that finally saves Earth. Or you can read this column, I guess. I'd rent the movie. After all, Milla Jovovich is in it.
THE CASE OF THE PURLOINED PREMISE
"You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought" is the title of a book by Peter McWilliams. He owns the title but he doesn't own the concept. He would certainly be the first to acknowledge that, since his tome is filled with page after page of quotes supporting the idea. I have always found it curious that the title itself is a negative thought though, isn't it? But it's catchy. It's a simplistic idea and that's part of the beauty of it. It's something that doesn't cost any money, no special apparatus or ability is needed and something we can get better at with practice. It is simply the idea of cause and effect brought to the world of practical application.
Everything in the world of form is preceded by a thought. Thoughts are not in the world of form, form is not in the world of thought. But one actually precedes the other in all cases. This is what the premise is getting at. If one wishes to affect form, one must work with cause, not effect. Thought is cause, form is effect. And when we work in the realm of thought, choosing a negative one or a positive one will influence the outcome.
Another quality of a negative thought is the idea of attack. All negative thoughts are attack thoughts and attack has never successfully eliminated threat. Try to remember if that has ever happened in history. Of course, attack or wars have been won or lost. But has the actual threat been "defeated?" Even with the most notable conflict of the 20th century, World War Two, was the actual threat defeated? Certainly the archetypal enemy, Hitler, was killed. The Axis powers were left with no armies or means to fight. But was the actual threatening concept defeated? Not really. One who seeks for the evil elements that were evident then can certainly find them now. The names have but changed. All of the powerful attacking that the Allied forces presented did little to eliminate the conceptual threats that Nazism represented. Interestingly enough, looking at it correctly, we see that the very nature of attack is to fail, or attack itself would no longer be necessary. Gulf War ring any bells? Viet Nam? Etc., etc. But don't get distracted.
Yet turn to a different example from history. Just for the sake of interest, consider this. If you are over the age of twenty, you remember something called the "Cold War." The two combatants were the U.S. and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. If you are over the age of, say, thirty, you probably spent most of your life with the spectre of nuclear war as part of your awareness. Indeed, for parts of six decades, the idea of nuclear missiles raining down over our country was a very real fear, sometimes pervasive and obvious, sometimes only lurking, but always there.
It's gone now. And also gone from the face of the earth is a country, a political entity, the U.S.S.R. At one point, most assuredly, the U.S.S.R. was the most powerful military force in history. The megatonnage of destructive capacity was mind-boggling. And now, our arch-rival, our Cold War adversary, is no more. How did this happen? Does anyone remember? Was it a surprise attack that humbled the Russians before our might? Was it an inside job that felled the giant? Was it some out-and-out political attack that finally worked? Embargoes, boycotts, attacks in the press - did they finally lead to the fall of the Soviet Union? What did we do that finally crushed them? The answer? Nothing. We did nothing. After fighting the Soviets on every front, in every way, during the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s, the Soviet Union began its demise after we did nothing to it at all, but rather stopped doing anything to it.
In a series of events in the fall of 1989 and the spring of 1990, some interesting things transpired. The US and USSR had been haggling over some fine points on an arms treaty and things were not quite resolved by Christmas. In fact, tensions were pretty high. But President Bush started announcing some minor arms reductions unilaterally. This is certainly not to suggest that Bush was adopting some sort of New Age philosophical point of view. Surely, Bush probably had in mind financial cuts - the announcements were usually tied to a desire to cut spending. But the fact is, he began laying down our arms. Around April of 1990, he actually toured Offutt airbase near Omaha and attended a fund-raiser at Peony Park. The next day, the White House announced a huge 50,000 unilateral troop reduction in NATO. The very next week, Russia voted democratically to elect its first president. There was no tit-for-tat and a short while later, Bush announced that he was ordering the standing down of 30% of our nuclear strike force. SALT II, the arms treaty had not been finalized. It was not something he was doing in exchange for any concessions by the Russians. He just did it. (Sounds suspiciously like a Nike ad, doesn't it?) He laid down 30 % of our nuclear missiles without asking the USSR to do anything.
There is no claim here that Bush's non-attacking actions caused the transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. There is no need for that claim. This is not a battle; this is not a debate. This is not attack. But the Soviet Union is no more. Something the US would have given anything to defeat for oh-so-long, required no attack at all. It collapsed when we stopped attacking it. It's gone, isn't it? Answer yourself this: What exactly did we do to conquer the Soviet Union?
NOTHING "NEW" ABOUT NEW AGE
Recently, at a very brief presentation on the application of changing thought to affect our perception, an attendee noted that the concepts being discussed were very similar to his perception of Buddhism. Indeed, there have been many teachers who have pointed out the concept of the power of thought. We had been discussing a couple - Plato, Jesus, biblical lessons and so on. We became distracted momentarily by whether a recent movie about Buddha was titled "Little Buddha" or "Little Siddartha" or whatever. Somehow, I don't think the movie's producer, Bernardo Bertolucci, would have been too upset what we called it, especially since Bernardo works with his titles in Italian anyway. Having had dinner with Bertolucci and his lovely wife a number of times, I felt comfortable that he would forgive my mistake. One of my dearest ex-girlfriends is Carin, who was Bernardo's interpreter and Production Assistant on his 1979 film Luna. Since Bertolucci now lives in a small villa just outside of Palm Springs, we would often dine there with my good friend Matthew Barry, young male lead in Luna, often joined by Matthew's cousin, Lea Thompson.
The point? "The devil's in the details," they say. It's easy to get distracted from looking within for cause. Look how easily we were just distracted by a little story. We spun away from concept into a discussion of what the title of a movie was, as if the title mattered! The concept mattered. And our friend was quite perceptive, Buddha had already brought the concept to him. Had he heard it? The concept of thought being in the context of positive or negative is the point. Did Buddha teach "In all intellectual pursuits, gather all the facts you can and then make your decisions thusly. Therein lies the peace of God." I think not. It's a little more like "As you sow, shall ye reap." And not in the terms of physical as much as mental. As Job said, "My greatest fears have come up to meet me." Or was it Job? Or Satchell Paige? Or is the concept the point as our friend so unconsciously yet so deftly reminded us?
THE HEART PART OF IT IS...
Attack breeds attack. Attack also reinforces fear in our own minds. At some point we have to accept our own responsibility for our thoughts. But even more than that is what we are actually experiencing in our heart. Any attack, an attack on conventional medical practice by holistic faith healers, an attack by naysayers on do-gooders; it doesn't matter. Attack is attack. But the crucial part is not the action or the form. It is what is in your heart truly. Are your thoughts truly ones of love or of fear. If you can answer that question honestly when you have stripped away every veneer of self-interpretation and self-defense, you will know whether you are supporting the benevolence of the Universe or whether you will be seeing this impending sphere of doom grow bigger by absorbing your attack and negative energy. And, sorry to say, you will have realized the fifth element of the movie and spoiled the ending. Oh well.