Think positive. Be positive. These seemingly encouraging imperatives are at best, vague, and oftentimes, over simplistic and quite unhelpful. Is there a straightforward and easy way to change your mentality to one that is healing and uplifting? Yes and no.
I’ve realized that changing my mentality is much like changing my diet. I’ve been vegan for the past three years, and what I’ve come to know is that transitioning into a healthy diet is a process, a transformation, that requires commitment and discipline, much like transitioning into a healthy mentality.
Harmful thought patterns are much like the food addictions many of us grapple with. My food addiction was sugar. There are physical, psychological, and metaphysical reasons for my unhealthy relationship to sugar. It took me two years to manage my sugar cravings. Every once in awhile I relapse, but because of the lifestyle changes I’ve made, my body remembers my commitment to minimizing my (processed) sugar intake and will punish me with a headache and/or stomach ache if I eat one cookie too many. A couple years ago, I could have eaten a pack of Oreos or pint of Ben and Jerry’s and my body wouldn’t flinch…now that is true change. Is the same true for shifting into a healthy mentality? I believe it is.
If I can train my physical body to embrace healthy choices, I can do the same with my mind, which will heal my spirit.
In the nutrition world, the acronym SAD, Standard American Diet, is used to refer to the diet of many Americans, which is largely made up of processed, junk food, defunct in nutrition, and contributing to our detrimental rates of diabetes, heart disease, and a myriad of other ailments. What I have not heard of is the SAM--Standard American Mentality.
Worse than the junk food our taste buds so love, the Standard American Mentality, which includes racism, prejudice, sexism, ageism, classism, crime, capitalism, new age slavery, and all forms of separation, in its subliminal and direct forms, leads to the development of, if I may borrow the rhetoric of professor Cornel West, spiritual malnutrition, and poor self-image, which then causes emotional and mental imbalance.
Imbalance of this nature leads creates what I would call a zombie-like existence; there is no peace, no self-awareness, no understanding of our true nature and our true potential. To me, this is an illness, much like obesity, or any other disease caused by poor diet. Actually, such a poor spiritual state is directly tied to our physical wellness.
In improving my physical health, I’ve noticed the spiritual healing that needs to take place, and through that, I’ve become aware of the many negative thinking patterns and repetitive, self-sabotaging mental dialogues that go on in my mind. By reading the works of Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and many others, by having deep conversations with my partner, and my watching the inspirational videos of Infinite Waters, TED talks, and many others, I’ve learned how I can change my mental framework by reprogramming my subconscious mind.
Dietary veganism calls for the elimination of animal products from all meals. This process has changed me physically in countless ways. While I have been working changing my mentality for years as well, I now have a name for my mental diet: Positivism.
This diet is a continuous practice. First, you must develop the emotional sensitivity and awareness to delineate between positive and mental dialogue. A thought is negative if it makes you feel stressed, anxious, angry, or anything else other than peace, joy, or any love-based emotion for that matter. You only absorb the positive thought, as this is what is nurturing to your emotions. You don’t deny or ignore negative thoughts, for they bring to your awareness your dark and light sides, but you transmute dark thoughts by thanking them for revealing those parts of you that need healing and love. You wouldn’t make a salad without rinsing the dirt off your veggies, right? However, without dirt, your veggies wouldn’t grow.
So if you think to yourself, ‘I always mess up,’ you acknowledge that thought, thank it for revealing that you want to make fewer mistakes and that you need to stop criticizing yourself, then you send the thought off, thankful that you are healthier than you were before. The mental process may not always be this simple, but patience is a virtue. You don’t beat yourself up for that extra donut, so don’t beat yourself up when a negative thought seems to have a grip on your mental framework. You go back, and you start again.
Like choosing an apple over a bag of chips, once you experience the difference a positive thought can make in your life, you will begin to choose to think positively more often. Dipping back into negativity won’t feel as good. Actually, negative thoughts will start to take a greater toll, draining more energy and causing more upset, because your spirit and soul have begun to adapt to eating well, so to speak. In terms of diet change, eating junk food makes me feel even crappier now than it used to because my body has gotten used to eating nutritious, life-giving foods.
I do not formally practice any religion, but I do find the Bible to be powerful, as literature, as poetry, as spiritual guidance. There is a verse in the book of Deuteronomy that reminds me that we live in a world of duality, positivity and negativity, life and death: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants…” This is the way I view my thoughts as they pass through my mind. Thoughts can kill me, or raise me from the dead, curse me or bless me. So each day, I choose the life-giving thoughts, not only for me but so that I can positively influence everyone around me.