Positive affirmation has come to mean little mantras and memes we repeat to ourselves to help us feel better about things. I tend to find them hollow and unhelpful. It’s worth repeating a thought form when I am trying to change myself – it is ok to rest- for example. Too often what we ask positive affirmations to do is replace what isn’t otherwise coming to us. The universe loves me. I am valued. I am good and my life is worthwhile.
I think about the people (I’ve been one of them) who in times of stress apologise for existing. We’re sorry that we take up space and carbon, that we breathe and eat. To feel this way, I have realised, you have to be convinced that you are not entitled to exist. We don’t get there on our own and we don’t get out of it on our own either.
I’ve read two books by Brendan Myers in the last six months or so that have really got me thinking about these issues. (Check him out, he’s a brilliant author). He talks about how we affirm each other and how those acts of affirmation make life good. When we share food, we affirm each other’s basic right to live. Every time people do something life affirming together, they affirm life, and each other.
There are a lot of things we do as a culture that don’t affirm life. Pressure to diet and all forms of body shaming. Denying each other rest in order to work more. Favouring screens over direct human contact. Using sex as a weapon. Increasingly we treat the sick, the elderly, refugees, the vulnerable as figures and not humans. We have a culture of not affirming each other’s right to live and not affirming each other’s humanity and I think it’s getting worse.
No amount of saying ‘I am beautiful’ will counter the effects of living in a culture where that beauty is seen as a commodity for others to use.
The idea that emotional and mental health are personal issues is widespread and I think part of the problem. We are to create our own realities and be impervious to the realities around us – and what a cold, isolating world we would have if we managed it! And how crazy we would have to make ourselves to hang on to tiny bubbles of personal reality like that.
We can choose to go the other way. Not muttering to ourselves that life is good and we are loveable as we are, but saying those same things to other people. You are valued. You are loved. To hug each other as an expression of physical acceptance. To share food with those who are around us, with those who need it. To affirm the right of people to live by rejecting the politics of throwing the vulnerable to the wolves. Avoiding beating each other to death with deadlines. There are so many things we can do for each other, to be kinder, and to affirm each other’s humanity and right to exist.
It means collective responsibility. It means not seeing broken health as the fault of the person suffering. It means making an effort to care for each other, rather than jealously guarding what time and energy we have. It means it is not enough to be personally ok if people around you are suffering. It means having higher standards, and a bit of idealism.
More than this, if we start affirming each other, we affirm that life is worth living. It is a declaration that life is worth having, and that which is alive merits treating with care. As a Pagan, I hold life as sacred. I don’t think I’m alone in this. We can affirm that life itself is worth something. Sure, you can spend time gazing into a mirror telling your reflection that you are beautiful and the universe loves you (I’ve seen it recommended) or you can try telling people they are valued. One of these things will make far more difference than the other.