I realize if you read my last blog post, (“you are what you eat so eat good stuff”) I may have left you with the impression that I’m someone who moves through the world blissfully in a bubble of positivity, devoid of bad days or negativity of any kind.
In the piece, I shared some of the habits I’ve developed over the years to optimize my mental health. I explained my daily gratitude practice as well as some of the other behaviors I’ve incorporated to minimize stress and anxiety. Hopefully, readers found what’s worked for me helpful. However, I’ll be the first to admit that there are times when the “eat good stuff” strategies just aren’t suitable because life isn't always positive.
Much has been written about toxic positivity and the harms associated with extreme optimism and unrelenting (often ineffective) over-the-top “happiness”. While my “good vibes only” t-shirt is often my go-to on the weekends, I acknowledge that the phrase overgeneralizes the ups and downs of life and denies the validity of a genuine human experience. In the face of difficult times when those “good vibes” just aren’t cutting it – it's important to allow ourselves to genuinely feel the sadness, anger or frustration and not try to pretend otherwise. I do believe in doing the work to get through those feelings though with the goal of not getting stuck in a negative feedback loop – prioritizing mindfulness in the face of adversity to protect mental health.
In addition to a daily practice of gratitude, one of the ways I visualize and process the ebb and flow of my emotions as they relate to what is going on in my life is the weather. Let me explain.
The amazing thing about the sun is the fact that we can count on it to rise every morning and shine for us every day. Just as with turbulence in our lives, there are some days when there is something between us and the sun obscuring it’s beautiful light. Somedays what’s blocking our light is just a bit of fog that will burn off in a bit. Other days the block is more persistent with rain and hopefully, less often, the rain is part of a larger storm system that hangs around for entirely too long. I find comfort in this analogy because I know that even on my darkest days, the sun is just beyond the clouds patiently waiting to shine again.
One of my favorite articles “How to Just Be: 5 Life Lessons I learned from Watching Sunsets”, illustrates this idea perfectly. “Lesson #3: It’s about the unfolding” REALLY resonates with me so I’d like to share it with you:
Let’s face it: No one cares whether you watch the sunset. It’s not an accomplishment to list on a resume, or even an item for a checklist.
And that’s the point.
The value in watching a sunset comes in being present through the process. And every part of that process is beautiful. Life is the same.
Often, we want to skip ahead through the parts that are slow or painful or lonely, and to freeze at a single moment of achievement. Or ideally, consummate joy.
But life keeps moving. And that’s okay.
Until my teacher’s invitation, I don’t think I had ever taken the time to sit and watch an entire sunset from beginning to end. I certainly didn’t do it regularly.
On a good day I might have glanced up and noticed a moment of beauty in the western sky. I might even have snapped a picture. But then I went back to whatever I was doing.
Watching the whole process is different.
I learned that there is no single moment. The evening horizon is a constantly shifting tapestry. And it’s the interplay of light and dark, of clear sky and clouds, that creates the beauty.
So too in our lives. Joy unfolds in a mixture of light and darkness, and every part of the journey is beautiful.
Since having read the article, I often (especially on vacation) challenge myself to make sunrise and sunset appointments. I make it a point to be present throughout the entirety of the beautiful display and use the quiet time to reflect – not just a quick photo or glimpse. The human experience is often difficult and messy, but I take comfort in the impermanence and contrast of life’s moments. Even in the darkest gloomiest times, I have faith that just beyond the clouds, the sun is patiently waiting to shine again.