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April 2010
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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. 


learn to hold on to the past (without losing the present)

 



Have you ever had one of those days that felt so absolutely perfect that you wanted it to last forever? I know I have and, even as I'm trying to live my life in the present moment, it can be hard to stay focused when I know that, at some point, the perfect moment will be over. For me, thinking about the end of a perfect moment is one of those things that can drag me down when I'm in the moment, making it pretty to be present -- or positive. We all know that those breathtakingly perfect moments can't last, but there are ways we can hold on to them so that they are not lost forever, while still managing to live a very present life. 

In holding onto moments and memories, it's essential not to get bogged down in the idea that they are more valuable than what you are experiencing right now. Remember: the only time you really, truly have is now so it's pretty pointless to waste time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. That being said, I do think it's important to keep some particularly special moments with us, even as we live our lives in the present. There has to be, as with most things, a balance between remembering the wonderful experiences we've had and remembering to enjoy the life we're living right now. 

How can we strike a balance between living in the now and remember the good times? I've given this one some thought and come up with a few suggestions that should work for anyone -- no matter what your past or your present situations are. As you read these suggestions, keep in mind that the way to live your most positive life is to stay focused on the present -- but that doesn't mean we can't make a little room for the good things in our pasts. 



How To Hold On To The Past (Without Losing Your Present)

 

  • Save your most treasured memories in a special place. One of the best ways to help you feel as if you're not losing a special moment is to save a memento from it and keep it in a safe place where you can go back and look at it again. Or, take pictures of the moments that mean the most to you and hang them where you can see them all the time. 

  • Look for the good you remember in the moments you're living. A lot of the time we can find some of that good from our memories in the moments we're living right now. Take the time to look around and notice what's happening in your current moments to see if there are any of those memory-making qualities. Memories all start with a moment and it's important to realize that all moments will someday be memories. 

  • Appreciate what you had -- and what you still have. Of course it's essential to recognize what once mattered so much to you and be grateful for the good times and experiences you've had, but it's also just as important to appreciate what you have right now. I understand that not every moment can be an amazing experience you want to hold on to forever, but each moment is valuable and it's so important to appreciate every single one. 

  • Know what to hang on to and what you must let go of. It can be tempting to cling to memories (a.k.a., the past), especially when they have positive connotations, but you have to consider what's really valuable and what's not. This is important both in terms of physical mementos and mental memories. You only have so much space so it's up to you to determine what you really want to place the most value on. Remember: too much of the past (even the good past) can weigh you down. 

     

  • Remember that living now doesn't mean you're missing out. Sometimes, when you've had a particularly good experience, it can be hard to move forward because you feel as if you're losing a part of that experience with every passing moment. Keep in mind that just because you're living in the moment doesn't mean you're not conscious of the good things that have happened to you. Being present doesn't mean you're losing the best parts of your past; it simply means you're making the most of those memories right now.    

  • Share your memories with others, especially those who were present. One of the best ways to keep good memories close to you in the present is to share them with others. Whether you have photographs or merely recollections of an event, sharing those stories now can be a great way to make them last. It's especially great if you can share them with those who took part in the moment and connect with you now about things that happened in the past. 

 

It can be hard to live in the moment when you're longing for a moment gone by, but it's possible to be both present and nostalgic. I completely understand that there are some moments that you don't want to forget and it can be hard to be present when you want to return again and again to those moments. That being said, if you want to live a truly positive life, it's so important to live in the now. Hopefully the tips listed above will help you to live in the moment without forgetting about the good times you've already experienced. While it can be very detrimental to let the past rule your life, I think it's great if you can indulge in the past in small doses and doing this can, in fact, help to enhance the present moment. As you can see from the ideas above, it is possible to hold on to the past -- without losing sight of the present. 

 


How to you stay focused on the present
 without losing sight of your past? 
What are some of the best ways to enjoy memories
 without letting them dominate the present?


make a positive mindset your favorite accessory

 

“Sometimes you need the right accessory,” she said.

And I said, “I know...

Sometimes it takes me an hour to pick the right head.”

And she just ignored me.

 

Story People

 

 

I love fashion and, in particular, I love accessories. So when I read this quote (sent to me by my great friend Abbey), it grabbed my attention immediately. And when I got to the part about choosing the right head, I sat back in my chair and stared at the words. Picking the right head every morning, like an accessory, is an interesting concept. What if we had an assortment of mindsets, or “heads,” laid out before us every morning? What if we had the option to choose what head we would wear for the day? I’m pretty sure if that were the case, most of us wouldn’t be reaching for the angry or unhappy mindsets, thinking, “Oh, today I think I’d love to be really angry. I’m going to put on this angry head today.” No, I think if all of our various mindsets were laid out before us, we’d probably go for a happy mind, a peaceful mind, or an easy-going mind. I’m pretty sure most people would go for a positive mindset if given a choice to slip it on as if it were an accessory. 

Do you want to know the truth? We can wear different heads, different minds, just like accessories. Just like heading to your closet for a pair of shoes or a colorful scarf, you can reach into your mind and pull out the mindset that sets the tone for your day. I remember, as a child, loving the movie Annie. Though I can’t say I remember all that much of it now, I do recall a scene when Annie sings, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.” As I grew older, I recall thinking that was the cheesiest thing I’d ever heard. You’re never fully dressed without a smile? Puh-leeze. As a teenager and college student, a smile was the least of my concerns when it came to dressing. 

But not anymore. Now I realize that a good attitude -– a happy head -– is the best accessory you can put on when you start your day. Cheesy as it might be, Annie was right; no matter what you’re wearing, you’re never fully dressed without a smile. That being said, it’s not always easy to wake up and start your day with a positive attitude. Sometimes we have good reasons for being angry or unhappy. Sometimes we just plain don’t feel like waking up. Whatever the reason might be, starting off the day by screwing on the right head might not be easy, but it is important. 

Just like choosing the right accessory can significantly impact an outfit (in a good or a bad way), so can your attitude significantly impact your day. Overall, I think changing your attitude is the best thing you can do for your life, but looking at it as an overall lifestyle change can be really overwhelming at times. For that reason, it’s often a good idea to focus on changing your attitude on a day-to-day basis. Don’t think about changing your attitude forever. Think about changing it today. Think of it as an accessory – something you can put on now but take off later if you hate it. I guarantee that if you choose a happy mindset, you’ll see such great changes in your day that you’ll want to put on that happy head again the next day and, before you know it, your happy mindset will become your favorite accessory, like a comfy pair of tennis shoes or a cozy pair of mittens. Before you know it, you won’t want to take your happy head off, no matter what’s going on with the rest of your life. You’ll find a way – just like people often do with their favorite accessories – to wear your happy mindset with everything, to repair it when it gets worn down, to lend it to a friend in need. It will, in time, become your favorite thing and you will not be able to imagine what you ever wore before. 

Getting used to a new, positive mindset can be tricky so take it one day at a time. Wake up every morning and remind yourself that you’re going to choose to have a happy head. Get out of bed every day and tell yourself that, even if it’s just for today, you’re going to accessorize with happiness. Without even realizing it, if you choose happiness every day, your life’s wardrobe will become saturated with positivity and it will no longer feel like something you have to choose. Just like when you have a pair of shoes that you always go for because they are the most comfortable, your positive attitude will be so comfortable that you’ll grab it off the shelf without even thinking about it. 

So, go on, take a look in that closet of yours and choose happiness. Starting today, look in the mirror, and make the decision to beautify your life with positivity. If you make the choice every single day to put on your happy head, soon that positive mindset will be as comfortable and as familiar as your favorite accessory. 

 

How do you strive to make positivity your favorite accessory? 
What do you each morning to start your day off positively?