Anyone suffering from bouts of insomnia knows the trick: when you lay there wide awake, it is of the utmost importance to control your thoughts. No way you can have them straying leisurely into the vast plains of past failures and present fears. Neither is 2AM the time to ponder the state of the world or the sufferings of humanity.
No, with all your might you have to concentrate on the recollection of images of Bliss & Peace (listening to a Bach cantata in a church, sitting by the river in a late September sun, wandering through the sheltering spaces of a museum). Yes, escapism is the only way to make it safely into the morning, to be able to rise with a modicum of lust for life.
And surely this disciplining of one’s thoughts also helps in everyday life. Don’t all sensitive people know those days of downward spiraling, over-critical thoughts: analyzing in great detail past slights, one’s own and others’ shortcomings and imagining all possible worst cases for the future. Thus all mental energies are engaged in a near masochistic exercise that leaves one vulnerable and exhausted.
Oh, I’m the first to smirk about naive positive thinking – but there’s no denying that one’s own attitude has self-fulfilling properties: indulge in self-pity and self-hate and thou will have plenty of reason to pity and hate yourself in future too. Skate blithely over past failures , and thou will have plenty of energies to prepare future successes. Yes, I think that even consciously faking some positive thinking can have beneficial effects. (1) But, fear not, to back up these bold words, I will not go as far as to quote some American positive thinking guru, no, I rather stick to Milton’s somber and enchanting verse:
“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”
Or, to placate those who might think I have sold out to mindless optimists, here’s Pascal’s precept to allay fears of death and misery: ne point y penser …. (2)
“Since man has not managed to abolish death, misery, ignorance – he has, in order to be happy, resolved himself simply not to think about it”
(1) Gosh, do I really believe this myself?
(2) « Les hommes n'ayant pu guérir la mort, la misère, l'ignorance, ils se sont avisés pour se rendre heureux, de ne point y penser »