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July 16th, 2019
We have all awoken in the morning with a sense of horror about what our life has become. Or at least according to the dream we’ve just exited. Perhaps, in the dream, we were fired, or cheated on a spouse or committed a crime.
When the mind finally settles into a sense of which reality is which, the sense of gratitude that washes over our sense of self can be immense and so strangely pleasurable that it can make one wonder why we do not actively seek out this state.
Generally most people do not, but it can be molded into a very useful practice.
Fostering a sense of gratitude can be done by focusing positively on the things we do have in our life, whether that be people or resources or situation, but we can also foster a sense of gratitude by devoting some creative thought to the misfortunes that have not befallen our circumstance.
Like the nightmare that we get to wake up from, we can day dream of terrible things in a way that is ultimately positive. It may at first seem morbid to imagine losing a loved one, but this difficult and potentially painful exercise achieves two things: it increases our gratitude for the current situation which is not marred by this event, and two, it imaginatively prepares us for the circumstance in which this terrible event actually doeshappen in the future.
While it can be tempting to hold the stance that we must always think positively and not bother with such morbid imaginings, the exercise, though difficult holds too great a benefit. Ignoring the terrible things that might happen and probably will happen is just as unrealistic as being hell bent on the negative. Being realistic is in some sense a solemn matter. William James defined ‘solemn’ as a state that holds some of it’s opposite. To be a solemn optimist is to be optimistic about the future without fooling one’s self into the delusion that it might turn out differently.
Arriving at gratitude via a negative avenue is one way to invoke the practice of solemn optimism. The exercise does two useful things: it improves the present and the future. One via gratitude and the other through a means of mental fortification. Ultimately we soften ourselves to the moment and strengthen ourselves to the future.
The paradox reminiscent in the contradictory phrase ‘negative gratitude’ has an effect that has a like wise contradictory paradox of both softening and toughening who we are.
This episode references Episode 345: Solemn Optimist