Monday, April 18, 2016

Booknote: The Tibetan Art of Positive Thinking

Christopher Hansard, The Tibetan Art of Positive Thinking: Skillful Thought for Successful Living. New York: Atria Books, 2005. ISBN: 9780743483261. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: spirituality, self-help
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I managed to finish reading this, and I am not quite sure what to make of it. I can say that this was not as interesting or good as I expected it to be. While the book offers some positive affirmations and common sense, it can also seriously stretch credulity. A weakness of the book lies in the personal anecdotes that the author tells to promote how positive thinking can work. Some of these stories sound more like happy miracles; so and so had positive thoughts and suddenly things changed, or maybe the change was not sudden but it was fairly swift. You see this in the segment on bullying, which I found to be a bit simplistic and idealistic. As a survivor of workplace bullying, I can assure you that simply being nice to the bully and simply using "skillful thinking" to redirect that negative energy is not going to make the bully go away. In the end, a lot of this book read more like a magical hocus pocus wishful thinking act.

The book does feature some decent meditation exercises that could be helpful for things like reducing stress and countering pessimism. They are often simple meditations that can be done in 10 minutes or so in the morning or while on a walk. I feel that if the cutesy stories were taken out and the meditations kept, the book could have worked out better.  It would have made the book shorter too.

Bottom line: this is a book I do not recommend.\

1 out of 5 stars.

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Some additional reading notes. Though as I mention in my review above, I do not recommend the book overall, one or two ideas caught my eye enough that I wanted to jot them down to ponder one way or another.

On anger:

"Anger comes into being when a person is overwhelmed by the world and feels powerless to change it. This sense of powerlessness grows in intensity and creates anger that becomes part of an individual's reactions to the world, both externally and internally. Anger is unskillful self-recognition, a burst of intense energy that creates a sense of awareness" (29).

One of the book's key ideas is that every person experiences nine key moments in life. The idea is to be aware of the thought energy behind the moment so you can act on it to create blessings, happiness, peace, so on. The key nine moments are:

  • Birth
  • Family
  • Love
  • Success and Failure
  • Meaning
  • Happiness
  • Acceptance
  • Independence
  • Death
Family is not the usual conception of family members but rather a broader communal idea that likely involves at least empathy. This is something seriously lacking in society today:

"In everyday life many people close themselves off from others, diminishing their interaction and reducing their quality of thought. Many opportunities to experience the power of family pass us by when we are closed this way. Opening up to family thought energy brings people together and cuts through prejudice. It creates a feeling of goodness, sharing, and togetherness. It teaches us the value of people in their own right-- not for what they can do for us or for what they have, but for what they are" (52). 

On acceptance, something that over time I keep working at. I feel I've gotten a bit better at it in recent years:

"Acceptance is not submissive; it is wise and dynamic because it gives you the courage to know when to accept things, events, and people and to know when you have no power to alter them" (66). 

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This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

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