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 suit 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.
About the Author: Dani is the creator of Positively Present, a blog focused on living positively in the present moment. After twenty-five years of living with a negative attitude, Dani decided to turn her life around and start focusing on the positive. Since launching her blog in 2009, her personal development site has grown and continues to touch people around the world. Find Dani on Twitter @PositivePresent!
Dani is taking part in a two-month guest series featuring writers across the blogosphere here on twenty(or)something while I take a brief hiatus to focus on upcoming projects. Want to participate? Email me at twentyorsomething[at]gmail.com or catch me on Twitter!