Optimist, Pessimist or Not
“The person over whom the future has lost its grip. How like the
birds of the air and the lilies of the field. No anxieties for
tomorrow. Total presence
in the now. Holiness!”
Anthony De Mello
People ask, “Are you a pessimist or an optimist?” “Do
the glass as half empty or half full?” We’ll then try to decide whether
filter experience through a pessimistic or an optimistic belief system.
pessimist typically believes that things will not turn out well.
Pessimists have the relative pleasure of not being surprised by bad
news. They seem unwilling
to risk hopefulness, because to hope and be disappointed would be too
The trade off is often a life lacking joy, and not infrequently,
Optimists expect things to work out. They project hope and are
to see problems as temporary setbacks. They may be viewed as naïve
the die-hard pessimist, but they are more likely to get things done and
more fully because of their hopeful attitude. They may also be more
to leave all their money at the casino.
Whether we are a pessimist or an optimist, we experience life
through a filter of our beliefs. Whether we think things will work out
or not doesn’t determine whether they will work out. The very idea of
things working out depends on a limited view that likely depends on our
personal ego. Optimism and pessimism are not the only options.
According to the legendary Taoist sage, Liehtze, an old man lost a
mare. His neighbors expressed their sympathy. “What a misfortune for
you!” “We’ll see,” he replied.
In time, the horse returned accompanied by a beautiful stallion.
“What good fortune!” said the neighbors. “We’ll see,” was all the man
said. The old man’s only son tried to ride the stallion, but fell off
and broke his leg. The neighbors were concerned and said to the old
man, “What bad luck for you.” The man merely said, “We’ll see.” Soon
there was war and the army came through looking for conscripts, but
because the man’s son had a broken leg, he was not taken away. And so
Good luck, bad luck, optimism, pessimism, a glass half empty or
half full—each is a projection of our limited view onto an ambiguous
would life be like if we saw the world without such filters? Would we
foolish? Would we have to give up worry?
One reason to meditate is to learn to perceive more directly. We
attempt to experience the world without prejudice and projection.
Through observation of our mental processes we can notice when we are
applying a mental filter, and perhaps we can stop it. When a glass of
water is seen as neither half full nor half empty, but as a glass of
water, we can stop philosophizing and
quench our thirst.
Practice sitting with an empty mind. Observe your tendency to
evaluate people, places, things, events and your own thoughts. Notice
worry crops up. If it does, drop it. If you fall into fantasy. Notice
too and let it go. Instead of sorting and classifying try just
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© 2002 Tom Barrett