Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
OPTIMISM AND PESSIMISM
OPTIMISM represents the spontaneous flow of love; optimism also represents trust in love. This shows that it is love trusting love which is optimism. Pessimism comes from a disappointment, from a bad impression which continues to be a hindrance on the path. Optimism gives a hopeful attitude to life, while with pessimism one sees darkness on one's path. No doubt sometimes pessimism shows conscientiousness and cleverness, and it may also show experience. But conscientiousness alone will never be enough to overcome the difficulties one meets in one's life; it is trust that solves its problems. The wise have understood that cleverness does not reach far; it goes a certain distance and then no further, for cleverness is knowledge which belongs to the earth. And as to experience, what is man's experience? One is only proud of one's experience until one has seen how vast the world is. In every line of work and thought there is no moment when experience is not needed, but the further man goes in experience the more he sees how little he knows.
The psychological effect of optimism is such that it helps to bring success, for it is by the spirit of optimism that God has created the world. Optimism comes from God, and pessimism is born from the heart of man. By what little experience of life he has, man learns, 'This will not succeed, that will not do, this will not come right'. For the one who is optimistic it does not matter if it does not come right in the end; he will take his chance. For what is life? Life is an opportunity, and to the optimistic person this opportunity is a promise, while for the pessimistic person this opportunity is lost. It is not that the Creator makes man lose it, but it is man himself who fails to seize the opportunity.
Many people prolong an illness by giving way to pessimistic thoughts. One will often find that for those who have suffered for many years from a certain illness, that illness becomes so real that its absence seems unnatural. They believe illness to be their nature, and its absence is something they do not know; and in that way they keep the illness in themselves. Then there are pessimistic people who think that misery is their lot in life, that they were born to be wretched, that they cannot be anything else but unhappy, that heaven and earth are against them; but they themselves are their misery, and pessimism belongs to them. Man's life depends upon the object of his concentration, so if he concentrates upon his misery, he must be miserable. A person who has a certain habit of which he does not approve, often thinks he is helpless before it as it is his nature; but nothing is man's nature except what he makes for himself. As the whole of nature is made by God, so the nature of each individual is made by himself; and as the Almighty has the power to change His nature, so the individual is capable of changing his nature. Among all the creatures of this world, man has the most right to be optimistic, for man represents God on earth, God as Judge, as Creator, and as Master of all His creation. Man is master of his life, of his own affairs – if he only knew it.
A man with optimism will help another who is drowning in the sea of fear and disappointment; while on the contrary, if someone who is ill or downhearted comes to a pessimistic person, that pessimist will pull him down and make him sink to the depths together with himself. On the side of the one is life, on the side of the other is death. The one climbs to the top of the mountain, the other descends to the depths of the earth. Is there any greater helper in sorrow or misfortune, when every situation in life seems dark, than the spirit of optimism which knows that all will be well? It is no exaggeration to say that the very spirit of God comes to man's rescue in the form of the optimistic spirit.
It does not matter how hard a situation in life may be, however great the difficulties, they can all be surmounted; but a person's own pessimistic spirit weighs him down when he is already at a low ebb. Death is preferable to being weighed down in misery by a pessimistic spirit, and the greatest reward there can be in the world is the spirit of optimism, while the greatest punishment that can be given to man for his worst sin is pessimism. Verily, the one who is hopeful in life will succeed.