You can’t log on to Pinterest or Facebook without getting bombarded by inspirational quotes. Social media becoming a tool to spread good will and encouragement. But, here’s a question to ponder — why do people post those quotes? Is it because they really want to share the positive energy with others, or are they doing it for themselves in the vein of ‘write it down make it happen’, or is it for a sense of accountability? After all, if you’re going to blast it to the universe that you’re this spreader of positivity, you’d darn better be positive!

I suppose the answer is, all of the above. 

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who tends to post more than a few of these feel-good messages. She explained that her Facebook timeline is usually a pretty good indication of the type of day she’s having. The more motivational messages, the worse the days she’s probably having. Her theory here is that if she puts it out there, the words serve as a source of encouragement in her own mind.

We went on to talk about her bad days, and specifically something she posted recently about giving someone else the power to ruin her day.

This is where the yogi in me kicked in.

I suggested the idea that just as somebody else’s behaviors are taken with a certain meaning and given meaning based on our own thoughts, so too are motivational quotes. We are drawn to and assign maning to these quotes based on our own thoughts at that moment and how they can apply to our own lives. All of this is counter to the teachings of yoga about non-attachment.

Yoga Sutra 1.12 says:

Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah: These thought-forms are mastered through practice and non-attachment.

Explained, this says that it is through two things, (1) the practice of yoga and (2) the practice of non-attachment, that we are able to control the rippling thoughts of the mind. In other words, if you can separate yourself from action that take place outside yourself, then you can gain control of your mind and ultimately reach a state of peace  – or samadhi.

Of course, nobody is saying non-attachment is easy. Sometimes just putting happy thoughts in our heads and even posting them on facebook seems a whole lot easier! But, for one, this is temporary, and, second, it’s really just sort of a band-aid and doing nothing to actually help you deal with the reason you need encouraging thoughts.

Here’s another way to think about non-attachment. It’s the idea of reality versus our story. Something happens, and we assign meaning to it. In the case of a comment or a shrug by someone else, it’s usually a negative meaning. In the case of positive affirmations, it’s a meaning that encourages us to cheer up and think happy thoughts. Either way, the meaning is colored by our minds.

The idea of non-attachment takes the meaning out and allows us to look at whatever event is driving us to the affirmation as simply an event, void of meaning.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying affirmations are bad. In fact, they’re great. They serve a wonderful purpose in helping us average humans who still struggle with non-attachment, find positivity in challenges. And the fact that they’re blasted all over Facebook with people sharing positivity with others is super encouraging. But, what I am saying is that if we’re seeking the words of others as a way to find happiness, well, that’s about as bad as looking to others to find happiness within ourselves.

And with that, I leave you with this quote from Maya Angelou, that, yes, I applied meaning to and it seemed apropros:

maya angelou quote