Optimism as a Way of Life

Relentless Optimism

The original article was published August, 2016 in Convergent Streams – this is the heavily edited version for personal publication.

Take a moment to sit back, sip on whatever beverage is beside you, and reflect on the major changes in your life – specifically how you reacted to those events. The events themselves are important, but for this moment I want you to focus on your reaction to the event. You see, most of us will react in extremes. We either knee-jerk react to what we hear without bothering to stop and think, or we do not react and instead withdraw our hearts and minds so that we feel safe – we do that for both joy and sadness, happy and angry. Some of us react appropriately to whatever the situation, and then there are those who in the moments of great joy or distress will pause to reflect on the moment – allowing the rush of emotions to pass through them while remaining present to the core of their BEing.

A few years ago I attended a local “Be The Change” conference and had the great honor to meet a man whose life was forever changed in a single moment – a gun shot moment. It was then I fell in love with an altogether different form of emotional expression – relentless optimism. It is a balance between two very different expressions of emotion. It’s neither positive (adding to an experience), nor is it negative (taking away from an experience) – it is simply an acknowledgment that something has happened or is making me feel a certain way and I am going to take that something and turn it into some sort of optimistic expression. Confused? Let me explain.

The person I had the great fortune to meet was a man whose father was gunned down in 2012 at our local Sikh temple. His father was the president and religious leader of that temple. Pardeep Kaleka was on his way to the temple that morning with his family and would have been in harms way had his daughter not forgotten her notebook. He was, and is still deeply affected by the events now so many years ago, but instead of engaging in unhealthy expressions of hatred and anger against those who are very much like the individual who took his father’s life, he relied on an old Sikh expression – Chardi Kala or Relentless Optimism. We who practice in the Christian tradition call this – True Faith.

Mr. Kaleka taught us that “’Chardi Kala’ is the spirit of relentless optimism: a philosophy that empowers us to persevere and grow from hardship” (Taryn Smith, 2016). Fundamental to the Sikh lifestyle and teaching is that “God is without enemies” (Majhill, 2010) and so loves all, including those who do wrong. If the God loves all, then we as God’s creation must likewise engage the world in exactly the same way – we must take what appear to be horrific events and turn them into life-lessons that allow us to grow beyond our own limitations. It is not altogether different than what our Christ empowered us to live, yet we somehow find ways of bastardizing the Christ’s expressions to suit our own agendas. But it doesn’t end there.

The biggest tragedies we experience in our lives are the ones we impose on ourselves – the “should haves”, “could haves”, and the “would haves”; something we therapists call “Cognitive Distortions”. No matter the event or emotional expression, we often resort to wondering what would be if we just did something slightly different. We impose on ourselves a state of eternal unrest because we can’t get past those three most dangerous phrases in the human language. Then, as we grow older, we look back on our lives and assess those things that may have changed our lives with some form of regret or, if nothing else, longing. Instead, we should look back on our choices and celebrate those moments because in the here and now we exist. We made choices based on what ever criteria we had and we moved forward with that choice. No matter the decision, we must take responsibility for what we did – the good and the not-so-good. Regardless, as we look back on those moments, we have another choice – we can either make our lives better or we can struggle and blame others for our actions.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. That expression is a perfect example of Chardi Kala. It is also an expression of the teachings found in our Christian Scriptures:

“10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:10-17, ESV, 2001.

Our emotions were given to us by the Creator as a celebration of our human existence, to help us process on those things that are good for us and those things that aren’t so good for us. We were meant to have dominion over our emotions, not the other way around. Instead, we have taken those emotions and used them to usurp power and to control over others, or to allow others so to do over us. We have also used those emotions to self-flagellate and beat ourselves senseless because we do not know how to find balance – the middle ground in our lives.

Rely, instead, on the expression of turning everything we experience into a learning opportunity. Then, perhaps – just maybe – we might be able to find a balance in our lives that can help bring us closer to our Creator. I don’t care if you do it through the teachings of the Buddha or of the Baha’i, Christian scriptures or Hebrew, Islam or Sikh. But if we find balance through the teachings we espouse, then we have a better chance of success – but we have to begin to engage in the authentic teachings. By that I mean we have to LIVE the teachings, not just rehearse them verbally. If, however, we throw away valuable life lessons because they do not come from our understanding of the Divine, then it is our loss – and the world’s – and we do so with hearts filled with judgment and avarice – the kind that controls and holds power over others though various means of manipulation.

In my own faith practice, we are a people who profess to love and follow the teachings and examples of the Christ, Jesus and of the God, our Creator. Yet the example we really follow is anything but those teachings. We instead follow the legalistic laws and dogmatic expressions of those who have sought power and control – and money – from a people longing for salvation.

Maybe it is time to learn a new way – turn instead to “Relentless Optimism” and find balance in the teachings of our Creator through what ever expression you choose. Turn away from extremes and find balance.