Do you find the word positive vague like I do? Does it make you feel like you are falling short of some golden state of being? “Stay positive”, “try to be more positive”, “practice positive thinking”. There is something unobtainable about the word positive when it is used alone. Are there people who wake up smiling and sip herbal tea instead of coffee because their natural enthusiasm for life takes over when their feet hit the ground? Do they speak in calm tones to their whining children and get ready for work while brainstorming ways that they can be of service in the world? God bless anyone who is wired like this, but for me staying positive is grueling work at times.
I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot control my first thought about a person or situation. My default setting has improved over the years, and it’s still short of something resembling positive. When I am centered, I am able to recognize my warped thought and construct a second thought with a broader perspective. I don’t have to curl up next to that first thought and share a meal. Being positive is about reshaping my thoughts to serve me and everyone around me. The way to gauge if this is working is by tracking my progress and mental state. Positivity feels good and moves me forward, negativity feels cruddy and keeps me stuck.
The other night at dinner, my husband told me that I should write a post that focuses solely on the positive. My mental reaction was composed of three rapid-fire thoughts: aren’t my posts already positive? Do readers think I am negative? It’s annoying that he is saying this at a relaxing Saturday night dinner date. Before I could verbally respond, he continued that I often illustrate my positive points with negative examples so why don’t I try using a positive to support a positive. The pressure in this equation almost made me gag on my beet salad.
Now it’s Sunday morning, and I am seated on our porch in Maine with my coffee and laptop. It’s a glorious day with birds singing and sunlight gently filtering through leaves stretched out above me; the kind of day I feel lucky to be alive. My husband just left with the kids for a long bike ride so I can have time alone. All is right with the world; perfect timing for my super positive post. I am going to milk this space for everything it’s got.
Scanning my brain for a shiny topic, the minutes start ticking by. I never write with an agenda like this, I just expand on whatever shows up. As I stare at the blank Word page, the pressure from the night before returns, collapsing the magical moment with its weight.
What’s wrong with me? Why is it a struggle to tap out a purely positive article when I feel so good? I am no longer on the porch, I am in my head, flailing around like a fish on a dock. How did I get here? With that thought, I return to the porch. Present again, it dawns on me that the reason I am able to recognize and appreciate the beauty I mentioned earlier, is due to the years I spent shackled to a cement block at the bottom of the sea. A sunny day couldn’t reach me there; I had forgotten they even existed.
True positive is identified by contrast. The bad stuff, what we interpret as the negative experiences in life, pave the road that leads us to the magical moments. I wouldn’t value the stillness this morning, had I not listened to my children arguing over breakfast. I wouldn’t appreciate my Yeti of bulletproof coffee if I didn’t go without it for a few days due to a broken blender. I wouldn’t be looking forward to a hike with a friend tomorrow who shares from her heart if I didn’t have friends who are guarded.
Then if I raise the microscope lens a bit higher, I can see that the negative has given me this porch at this rental house. The value I place on my husband and children, even when they drive me nuts and I dream about buying a one-way ticket to Africa, is due to years spent in the isolation of despair. Human connection is the most precious resource to me.
When I reference stories in my past, about my childhood or addiction, I do not hold them as negative, but I understand how they could be filtered this way. I am so happy that it all unfolded exactly the way it did, every ugly detail because I don’t want any other life than the one I am sitting in the middle of right now.
Trying to curate what happens to you day in and day out is not only exhausting but dangerous. When we shun our dark sides, we will eventually walk off a cliff; imbalances in nature always right themselves. The positive rapidly mutates into the negative when we use it to flog ourselves like I started doing this morning or make other people wrong. I am not suggesting that you speak to your cousin every morning who has been complaining about her marriage for two years. Consistently exposing yourself to negative vibrations will affect your thinking. But it doesn’t mean that you are better than she is because you’re positive. If you follow the energy forward, what doesn’t serve you will fall away. You won’t need to cut people out, the world will start organizing around your frequency.
My husband’s feedback is always valuable to me and what he said gave me this awareness. I no longer see the negative and positive as individual categories, they are ballroom dance partners who move as one entity. My work is to stay present to the dance.