A young man wrote to me about his own pessimism (co-occuring with a scientific attitude toward life) and asked me what spurs on my optimism. I wrote this reply:
Optimism and Transcendentalism
I guess a long time ago in my philosophical searchings I examined the kind of scientific materialist attitude you seem to be describing and.... utterly rejected it. I'm a transcendentalist - which means I see the world and everything in it (including my own self) as a kind of deep holographic dream projected by "my" consciousness (I put "my" it quotes because it's "mine" in the sense that I can make choices that influence it, but it's not mine in the sense that there ultimately is no me since "Carolyn" is just another part of the dream.... sorry if that's hard to follow, it gets a little complex).
The reason all this transcendentalism adds up to optimism is this: if everything is a dream, then it can change from a terrible dream into a beautiful dream. Whether the dream is beautiful or terrible depends on what angle of light, or motivation, I'm sending through the hologram projector (my brain). If I'm sending the self-centered motivation of gathering up pleasure and security and power just for myself, then I'm going to be faced with a hologram of an utterly ugly, difficult, barren and horrible world. I'll be in endless conflict with the people around me. I'll be miserable. I've spent years living in that "reality" and it's awful. I've also dipped down into that recently - I was hugely depressed and suicidal. I had lost my way and wound myself into a big mess of compassionless horror.
Generating Awake-heart aka Bodhicitta
On the other hand, I've found that if I'm sending the other-cherishing motivation of being committed to bringing all creatures into happiness (i.e., non-attached and unending bliss, freedom from addiction and craving) and I'm willing to project limitless loving-kindness (i.e., deliberately being willing to love and wish happiness for people I don't like and resent, being willing to delight in their triumphs and to work to spare them from pain)...
...well, then the hologram becomes beautiful, synchronous, full of joy and meaning and connection.
Life becomes easy and I find I can fulfill my basic needs and my big aspirations without much worry. I mean, there are still so many challenges - but the challenges are fascinating instead of frightening. It's not like hunger and war and tragedy and sickness and misfortune disappear from the dream - but they don't oppress me in the same way. Instead there's a light within me that is willing to take responsibility for healing all that pain in the world and in myself.
And ultimately, I think, this process of lightening and en-blissening just goes on and on until the dream becomes very transparent and dissolves entirely, leaving the consciousness in Nirvana or the Kingdom of Heaven or what-have-you.
My optimism is essentially this: that it's possible for everyone, including myself, to dwell in ecstatic happiness, and that there are things I can do to bring that about... and the very process of working to bring this about is incredibly fulfilling and fun. It's basically Mahayana / Vajranya Buddhism but I like to spice it up by thinking a lot about Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
I don't know if those are flavors of Buddhism that you've investigated, but I sure love them. I've also been influenced strongly by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Don Miguel Ruiz and Byron Katie.
Man, I could go on and on. I'm sure I've used some shorthand in explaining this that doesn't make sense and sounds very fluffy. But I assure you, it all makes razor-sharp sense in my mind.
image: [seyed mostafa zamani]