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Tag:positive thought

Tag:positive thought

Positive thought, unlike the chemical remedies for malaise, is completely harmless. You can't get addicted to meditation or music. No one ever died from singing in church.  Today's New York Times, in a piece about music therapy, notes:

In general what has power to heal has potential to harm. In the case of music, the truism appears not to apply. Allegations of adverse reactions, addiction or overdoses, to cite some of the most serious dangers, are rare, and those that might be cited seem either flatly incredible or specious in the extreme. In Wagner’s time some predicted that “Tristan und Isolde” would drive people insane, but where were the mental cases? And in our time we hear of military interrogators administering music nonstop at deafening volume as a form of torture lite. But surely the torture lies in sleep deprivation, repetition and trauma to the inner ear, not in exposure to the music as such.


Music, in fact is a terrific way to tap into the brain's link with the body, creating good health through good will.  This particular technique is a little newer and less well-understood than meditation and prayer.  But it has just as long a history as those other techniques as a part of religious practice, whether or not its practitioners understood its scientific underpinnings.  Like drugs, musical religious experiences can be euphoric in the short term; unlike them, it is healthy in the long term.  Music ecstasy may be attached to musical performances that are non-religious.  But these experiences lack the institutional and ideological focus that religion provides, which can enhance the musical experience beyond the joyous and into the realm of a component of a legitimate life philosophy.

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Research overwhelmingly supports the proposition that religion, in general, increases length and quality of life. In a forthcoming paper, McCullough and Willoughby attempt to fit an explanatory narrative to this well-established experimental result: that “self-control” is the trait promoted by religion that results in benefits in health and well-being. This paper is discussed in today’s New York Times Science Section. Unfortunately, the research cited by the authors of the paper is contradictory and does not support their conclusions.

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Several readers have commented that they think that positive thought can be oppressive or irritating. Surely it can’t be good for a depressed person to have relentlessly joyful person bounce into the room and tell him “Just cheer up!” Moreover, some of the most beautiful things that humans have created have been expressions of sadness and despair. And some people just like gloom.

To think of these phenomena as objections to the arguments presented here is a misunderstanding. The term “positive thought” is a shortcut; it is a way of referring to a set of practices developed and perfected by religions and other institutions over time. It does not mean optimism or ecstasy or joviality. Prayer, meditation, music and cognitive behavioral therapy are “positive thought.” The label is meant to refer to what all of these arts have in common – namely, the ability to influence behavior and emotion using the power of the mind in ways that are beneficial and healthy. All of these share in common the following characteristics:

A. They are associated with a method
B. The method requires discipline
C. The practitioner enjoys benefits as a result of practice
D. These benefits are the result of changes in neurochemistry caused by thought patterns

There are limits to positive thought. The brain only has power over things that occur in the brain, like thoughts and emotion. The brain cannot prevent outside events from occurring. Fortunately, most of what we all perceive comes through the filter of our brains. So despite our inability to affect the world, we can affect our mood and the way we respond to the world.

In order to achieve the goals of positive thought, its methods must be applied lightly. In music therapy, the music should match the subject's emotional state and then gently bring him up into a different state of mind.

Sturm und drang as an aesthetic value is not ruled out by this kind of positive thought. Those who like the Mozart Requiem and My Bloody Valentine can still be practitioners of positive thinking. In fact, much of religious music and art is gloomy, and religion (which defines positive thought) promotes that aesthetic along with its ideology.

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