learn to hold on to the past (without losing the present)
life through a clear lens: how to stop distorting your thoughts

beautiful afternoons & overcast mornings: a lesson on acceptance

Last Friday the day I woke to was a cloudy one. It was that hazy in-between sort of cloudy -- not dark enough for rain and craving a day of reading and snuggling, yet not light enough to have hope that the sun would come out by the afternoon. It was dismal. Bland. Unexciting and, from the looks of it, unrelenting. While I didn't want to hop directly back into my bed as I do on rainy days, I did have the desire to avoid looking at the sky and its infinite promise of gray. Driving to work, I felt glum. I couldn't shake the feeling with the sky surrounding me, the colors of everything dulled by the overcast sky.

I thought back to the day before -- in fact, less than twelve hours before -- when I had been driving home from work. The sky had been filled with those amazing can-you-believe-they're-real fluffy white clouds. The kind you'd swear you could bounce on if you could only get close enough to them. They were exploding and billowing across a vibrant blue sky and at every traffic light I would whip out my phone and try to take a picture, knowing full well I'd never be able to capture their beauty accurately with my Blackberry's camera. Still, I couldn't help but want to store those fluffs of white in my phone, to carry them with me everywhere. 

That afternoon I had already heard the forecast and I knew the next day would be gloomy, filled with frown-inducing phrases like "overcast" and "thunderstorm" and "take an umbrella." I knew I would wake and be disappointed with the sky, which I believed should be reflecting the sunshine and carefree attitude of a day privileged to be leading a three-day weekend. It has always irked me when the weather doesn't reflect my current life circumstances (which, yes, is a nod to anyone out there who has ever used the term "self-centered" to describe me...), but over the years I've come to accept the fact that the weather won't always suite my mood. Knowing that the next day I would be thrilled for the weekend and knowing the Friday weather would be a letdown, I felt even more compelled to capture the Thursday evening clouds with my camera.

As I was driving along, phone in hand, ready for the next red light and chance to snap an image, I realized the clouds I was so overjoyed to see -- those blindingly white puffs of smoke-like wonder -- were the very same things I would be dreading the next day. Clouds, it seems, have a power effect on me, both negative and positive. You see, I love nothing more than the sight of white against blue, a cloud coasting across the sky on a sunny day, but I have no patience for the clutter of clouds that crowd the sky on an overcast day. They are of the same make (whatever it is that makes clouds...) and yet they could not be more different in my mind. 

How many things can be like that? So positive and amazing if looked at in one circumstance and so negative and depressing if looked at in a different light? Could it be that, given enough thought and time, everything is like that? Everything we experience has the potential to be like the clouds I saw last Thursday and Friday? If pasted sporadically on a bright blue sky, clouds can seem like miracles, inspiring awe and wonder in a girl like me. However, if grouped together so closely that all of their shoulders are touching, leaving no room for even a glimpse of blue, clouds can be ominous and smothering, causing me to feel as if they might someday float so low that they will cover us all with their gloominess. There can be both good and bad when it comes to clouds, and I believe that's the case with most things. So many things can be negative or positive if looked at in a certain light -- and it can be hard to remember the flip side when caught in a particular moment -- especially a moment of the extremely good or extremely bad variety.

For example, it was difficult for me to really comprehend, on Thursday evening, how I would feel when those fluffy white clouds I was so fond of would turn grey and menacing on Friday. I knew, deep down, I would view them differently, but I couldn't really recall exactly how it would feel (though I'd experienced the doom of a gray day many, many times before). Likewise, when I drove into work Friday morning beneath a cloud-cluttered sky, it was hard to recall the sky from the previous evening and how much I had revered the clouds that hung there so perfectly, suspended above me in a way that seemed nothing short of magical. Often, when we are at one end of the spectrum, it's hard to remember the other end. Positive and negative seem so far from one another yet, in so many ways, they can be derived from the very same things.

Think, for a moment, about your bed. How many wonderful times have you had there? How many nights have you laughed and kissed and loved? And then think of those less-than-stellar moments spent in your bed. How many times have you wished you were anywhere but there? How many nights have you cried or felt lonely or tossed and turned with worry? Your bed -- the place you spend hours and hours in every day -- can be both a haven and a hell. It can be the place you long for and the place you long to get away from. Many places, experiences, and, perhaps, even people, can be that way. They can be the most amazing and the most heart-breaking. Though I don't have any of my own, I would imagine children are that way. People claim they are the best thing to happen to them, yet they can hurt their parents so deeply at times. They are the best and the worst, I would imagine. 

At this point (if you're still reading!), you're probably wondering, "Where is she going with all of this talk of clouds and beds and children?" Well, in essence, what I'm discovering for myself (and sharing the play-by-play here with you) is that the negative and the positive aspects of life are not as disconnected as one might think. In fact, most things that are immensely positive can also be incredibly negative. (As you read about in the example with the clouds). We often tend to believe that negative and positive are opposites, separate from another and, in an abstract way, enemies of one another. But, in reality, negative and positive elements are woven into almost everything. People, places, things, ideas -- they all have good and bad, layers of positive and negative. Some may have more of one than the other, but, when it comes to the terms "good" and "bad," those words are objective and what one might see as the worst thing another might see as the best. 

Therefore, we cannot be certain that what we are seeing as positive or negative is necessarily so -- or, maybe more importantly, that it will always be that way. When I drove home last Thursday and saw those brilliantly displayed clouds arranged so perfectly on the sky, it was hard for me to imagine me having anything but complete and utter love for clouds. However, I knew deep down that it was much more complex than that. Clouds can be beautiful, yes, but they can also be devastating. (Dramatic? Yes. True? I really think so.) The more I think about it, the more I realize that so much of life can be that way. All of its elements have the ability to be both amazing and awful. So what's a girl like me, who is striving so hard to focus on the positive in life, to do? Do I focus only on the things that are positive (when they are positive) or do I recognize the complexities of positive and negative in everything and accept things for what they are, when they are that way? 

Personally, I don't see living a positive life as only focusing on the things that are positive. You've heard it all before, but it's really true that there can be no light without dark. If I was unaware of the potential for dark, gray skies, I would never have taken so much delight in seeing those beautiful clouds littering the sky last Thursday night. Without knowing about the negative, I could never fully enjoy the positive. To know what it is like to live a negative-focused life, I now feel like I have the perspective to really appreciate those things that are positive. I've learned that living a positive life doesn't mean ignoring the negative (though, admittedly, I won't always be happy when I have to deal with negative aspects). Instead, it means recognizing both the good and the bad in everything and understanding that most elements of life are not one dimensional -- and that's what makes them so awesome. 

Know this: we are destined to see both the negative and the positive and, while it is certainly nice to focus on the positive, it does no good to ignore the negative. If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this: In everything, there is both light and dark and, to live a truly positive life, you must recognize and accept both the beautiful afternoons in which white clouds float lazily against a blue sky and the overcast mornings in which gray clouds hunch low from the heavy weight of the sky. 

Comments

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I think most things have a mix of positive and negative in them, and our attitudes create a filter which decided what we see more. I also think that more often than not, it's good to notice the positive, focus on it, and be a bit blind to the negative.

Great post! I'm in my bed all alone while reading this. It's one of those sad nights when I feel all alone in the world.

Reading this made me feel better, thank you!

Eduard - I agree that there is a mix of positive and negative in most things and we can choose what we want to see more often than not. Choosing a positive mindset is definitely the way to go -- but that doesn't mean ignoring the negative; it means accepting it and choosing to focus on what's good.

Marthe - Thank you! I'm so glad you liked the post and it spoke to you. I know what it's like to have those sad nights and it's made me very happy to know that something I wrote made you feel better. Keep thinking positively -- and remember that there truly is good and bad in everything. It's up to you to choose the lens through which you look at what's around you.

I agree that we can't be blind to all the negative; it will always be part of life so the best we can do is aknowledge it but let it go as best we can while we keep a positive attitude (which isn't always easy!). Maybe the reason why so many are unhappy is because they feel that happiness is only about positivity and good things happening, when everything is part of the mix. Good for some thought!

Luana - Thank you for the comment. You've highlighted some great points about how we have to have both the positive and the negative to truly be happy. As you said, everything is part of the mix!

As I read this post, I was reminded of an a-ha moment I had one day recently on the treadmill (is it obvious I do my best thinking there?), and that was this: Light and shadow are necessary to any work of art to make it interesting, three-dimensional, alive. Only shadow or only light = no depth = NOT INTERESTING.

I love how you have embraced both sides of the coin here and reminded everyone else of us to do so, too.

p.s. I love clouds too. But I REALLY love the ones you hate, the ominous dark army pitched across a skyline against a backdrop of sun, waiting to advance. Thrills me to the core.

Chania Girl - First of all, I think it's so interesting that you love the clouds I hate. It really just goes to show that it's so hard to define things as "positive" or "negative." Some things are really dependent on one's perspective and, as I'm sure you know, that can really change depending on so many factors in life. Second of all, you've made some great points about light and shadows. If you don't have the shadows, the light doesn't seem nearly as interesting or, as you put it, alive. I really love your comment and got a lot out of your insights. Thanks for stopping by!

Dani,
How many nights have you laughed and kissed and loved?

Wow this sentence tumbled right off the screen and on to my heart. If I haven't answered the question with every single one it's not enough.

I'll be changing that tonight;)

I believe (and just wrote a blog post minutes ago on the subject!) that positive and negative, happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin. A coin cannot exist without the two sides. By the same token, happiness would have no meaning for us, if we didn't also know about and experience sadness. While we are the ones assigning the labels (the circumstances themselves are neither good or bad), we wouldn't have the perspective from which to assign a 'good' or a 'happy' label if our loves lacked the experience of the 'opposites.'
Your shared experience and the analogies in your post further drive this point home to me. Thank you.

I am with Carla. I adore the big, ominous clouds. Great post highlighting how our personal filters determine what we see and how it affects us. I would respectfully add that beyond recognizing and accepting that which doesn't fill us with joy, that we also learn to appreciate it. Would sunny, gorgeous days be as wonderful if we didn't have the other ones to contrast it to? I love your blogs...they make me smile and think. :)

I've been reading your blog for the past few months and have never posted, but a lot of what you write about really makes me think and I like that I'm not the only person who loves to think and wonder.

This post really comes at an interesting time as I've just started reading "The Four Agreements" and this really seems to touch on some of that...or can be added to it. I'm just working on those agreements or rather starting to work on them. It's been a really rough time for me this year so far, and I find myself evolving more and learning more about me. I also find that as I try to move forward from things that haven't worked out as I hoped they would (and not all by my choice), what the real lesson is in that. The feelings hurt, but why do they hurt? Is it from something I was believing myself...or did they try and make me believe something that was never really so? Even though deep down you know you deserve the best and nothing less, you can still find yourself working through hurt to get to the healing.

I hope that makes sense since I really just started reading that book, and this post really just touched me. Thanks for always sharing your thoughts.

Tess - I'm so glad you liked that sentence! I agree that if your answer isn't "Every single one," something needs to change. Thanks for highlighting that point!

H&W - I completely agree that negative and positive are two sides of the same coin and we cannot have one without the other. I'm happy to read that you enjoyed the post and that it helped to echo the sentiments of your post. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Living a Balanced Life - So funny how different people enjoy different things, a fact that even further illustrates the idea that negative and positive cannot easily be separated from one another. Thanks for your thoughtful addition. I agree that we need to appreciate both the good and the bad because without the negative, we would never be able to fully appreciate the positive.

Saggleo - Thank you so much for leaving your comment! It makes me very happy to read that you enjoy Positively Present and find it thought-provoking. "The Four Agreements" is a great book and, though it's been awhile since I read it, I remember it really having a big impact on me and the way I view the world. It sounds like it's impacted you as well and it's great to hear that you're really working on evolving as a person -- something I think everyone should do more of! Again, I'm so happy this post spoke to you and I really do appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

Ok...this day just gets more and more interesting. I'm driving home today and I see clouds here and there..some of the very ones you mention above...that you want to just take a picture of. Well...I pull into my parking lot at home and what do I see...HUGE and right in my face? A gigantic cloud upon cloud upon cloud! I literally screamed out loud..OMG that's gorgeous. Rushed to get inside and grab my camera! I'll try and figure out how to send you a pic as soon as I check them out.

Saggleo - Wow! That's crazy! I'm so happy you saw what I was talking about in this post -- those big, beautiful clouds that make you want to run for your camera. Thanks for coming back and sharing your experience here!

I think being able to truly see the positive AND the negative allows us a greater appreciation and more mindfulness of whats really around us. great post Dani !

My dad would always tell me he likes it when its cloudy and raining cause the flowers are getting watered !

Rocky - I completely agree. We're able to appreciate life more if we can see both the good and the bad things about it. I'm glad you liked the post and thanks for sharing that little tidbit about your Dad. He makes a great point about how the rain (aka negative things) bring about the growth of flowers (aka positivity). Love it!

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