Why is the Via Positiva Harder than You Think?

I’ve been teaching for years that the via positiva for Westerners is more difficult to get than, for example, the via negativa.  We love to wallow in our woe, in our sinfulness, and anything that depresses us.  We don’t take time for the via positiva

“Untitled” Photo by Nick Galluzzo on Unsplash

Buddhists are good at the via negativa and bring lots of tools to the table.  But I also think that behind their via negativa awareness lurks a presumption, maybe in Tibet, that life is rosier than it seems.  In other words, there is a via positiva that’s kind of taken for granted when you live up in the mountains close to the earth and the air is clear, and the colors are wild and all. 

Part of the problem is what has been called “the guilts” that we carry as Westerners.  I thought that as Catholics we carried a lot of guilt until I started talking to Jewish people.  We sometimes play a game called “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s carrying the most guilt of all?”….

Paperbark Maple, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. Photo by Phila Hoopes

It clearly takes practice to appreciate the via positiva then, and not just practice, but a healthy theology that you are an image of God.  Of course we’re all imperfect images of God.  Every beautiful tree is imperfect as well–if you go up close every tree has got dead branches, dead ends, and scars.  That’s how it is. So part of the neurosis is this perfectionism thing, too, which is sick, but is part of, I think, the original sin ideology and baggage that we carry from it. 

For me, when Jesus says, “Love others as you love yourself,” he’s presuming that we’ve got a via positiva going for us, and someone has loved us enough that we learned those lessons of healthy self love early.  Unfortunately, we can’t take that for granted.  So we need to work on the via positiva, and how it applies to us….

“Rowing at Sunset.” Photo by Mathias Herheim on Unsplash

Many people in service professions shortchange their own needs.  Eckhart instructs us that “Compassion begins at home with one’s own soul and one’s own body.”  A compulsive service treadmill can convince us we think all our loving is about giving to others.  And that’s just not accurate.  Time for meditation is appropriate, to pay attention to yourself and your own needs.  Healthy self-love is a starting point along with the realization that we are beloved by the universe.

From Matthew Fox and Lama Tsomo, The Lotus & The Rose: A Conversation Between Tibetan Buddhism & Mystical Christianity, pp. 187-188

For Deeper Contemplation

Meditate on how every tree is beautiful despite its imperfections and how this applies to you.

Meditate on how compassion begins at home with one’s own soul and one’s own body.

Do you jump over the Via Positiva too readily?  Do you take time to be with the awe, wonder, delight of your existence no matter what burdens your life also carries with it?  How can you change any destructive patterns of avoidance?

Recommended Reading

How can we move away from “us vs. them” thinking as our surroundings feel more divided and polarized than ever? Co-authors Matthew Fox and Lama Tsomo discuss how Tibetan Buddhism and Mystical Christianity answer this question from unique points of view, with many commonalities and practical tools to break down the barriers between us.

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

In this book Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology). Here Fox lays out the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.

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6 thoughts on “Why is the Via Positiva Harder than You Think?”

  1. Avatar

    Today’s Meditation is very applicable to me and my family and our needs today. Thank you for your simplicity of teaching in metaphors that we can “see with our hearts” and think with our understanding. Bless you.
    Barbara Miley

    1. Gail Ransom

      Thank you for writing, Barbara. Your comments are encouraging to us on the Daily Meditations Team. Your sentiments have been sent to Matthew.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  2. Avatar

    Having been raised with seeing myself as a sinner rather than a blessing; seeing myself as unworthy rather than worthy has made my upbringing heavy and sad. Thanks for bringing light into the darkness and letting me know I am beloved as I am. I am a blessing and not a curse. I love to experience awe and wonder at all of life now. Each morning I have the opportunity of taking time for the via positiva. This sets my mindset and my intention for the day to live in awe and wonder of the beauty of the life I have been given.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Larry,
      I am sorry for all the negative messages that you have received in your life. How dark and small we can be to each other. But you have found your way through it and can now experience wonder and awe, and appreciate of your self. None of us like it much, but often ourdark and difficult times provide a striking contrast to beauty and wonder. And so your present daily moments in the positiva are particularly blessed and bright!
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  3. Avatar
    Annette Fernholz

    A reassuring reflection to sit with under the new moon tonight. Thank you! Annette Fernholz,SSND

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