What Positive Focus Actually Means
So apparently, thinking positively is super good for us. Keeping a positive outlook on life and the future reduces stress and makes us happier, healthier, more loving people. If we stay positive, we raise our vibration, and then, through the magic of… crystals or something, good things will come our way. Think positive! #GoodVibesOnly
So, what do we do with this whole thing where the world is crappy and horrible a lot of the time?
I’d wager that most of you, like me, would love to always be happy and live lives completely filled with sources of positivity. I’d guess that most of you, like me, live in a world that seems to be absolutely bursting with situations that don’t inspire much positivity. In some cases, trying to “Just be positive!” feels tantamount to gaslighting, repression, or complete denial of the reality of our lives.
Real positive focus is not about masking the truth of anything. Saying positive affirmations about things that do not authentically inspire positive feelings in you is just plain old lying to yourself. Distracting your conscious mind with happy thoughts might help in the short-term, but if you are not authentically finding your perspective shift, as though on its own, to greater positivity, you’re not quite getting the full potential of positive focus.
Positive focus begins with picking out aspects of a situation you can authentically feel good about.
Doing so calls you to broaden your focus, to observe more of a situation you’re in than you were previously and turn your attention where you might not have turned it otherwise. This calls you into greater presence. Rather than deny what’s happening in an attempt to “stay positive” by force, you become more aware of what’s actually going on.
Likewise, you shift our focus away from what isn’t actually happening right now, and mitigate the mind’s tendency to fixate on fears, fantasies, or limited views of the situation. Sometimes, the total experience isn’t as terrible as the certain segment you’re focused on, and the main source of your negative focus is something that isn’t even happening to you right now.
This may seem doable when it comes to, say, missing your bus or getting into an argument, but what about the real horrors in the world? How on earth can we even justify focusing positively on those? I’m going to use a stark, and completely true, example to illustrate the point:
A few months ago, in fact only days after I vowed to practice positive focus in every aspect of my life, I read an article in The Guardian saying that doctors were performing forced hysterectomies on migrant women in ICE detention centers. It was a story so heinous and horrific that I nearly threw up reading it, and had to take a long moment to just lie down and feel, energetically flattened by the weight of such incomprehensible cruelty and dehumanization.
How on earth could anyone find positivity in this situation? To even slap a false positive affirmation on it is sickening.
The subtitle of this essay is: only assess your own experience. My experience, in this situation, was not undergoing a forced hysterectomy in ICE detention. My experience was reading an article about this happening. In understanding that as my experience, rather than the subject of the article, I can find authentic positivity in the situation.
I am grateful to the whistleblower who leaked that this was happening to the public. I am grateful to the courageous women who got their horrific story out. I am grateful to the journalist who broke the story. I am grateful to the newspapers running and rerunning this story. I am grateful to the activists fighting against the inhumanity of criminalizing migration. I am grateful to all people who move and travel, who migrate even in the face of horrific repression, and remind us all that migration is our birthright as humans on this earth.
Let’s broaden even more: while I read that article, I was at my mother’s house, in the backyard, by the garden. I am grateful to my mother. I am grateful that she is healthy and happy. I am grateful for the health and happiness of my father. I am grateful to have been with family during much of the pandemic. I am grateful that, while I read that article, I was sitting outside next to a garden I’d planted myself. I am grateful for sunlight and rain and cucumbers. I am grateful for how many people started planting gardens, sharing food, and engaging in mutual aid during this pandemic.
This may seem like a cop-out, but truly, it isn’t. Rather, it’s a valuable exercise in conscious curation of our perspective. Our perspective is always narrowed by our attention. We cannot put our attention on absolutely everything happening at once, even in an instant. Our attention cannot be on what we taste, what we smell, what we think, what we hear, what we feel, where we are, and what temperature it is in here all at once. Our attention is always selective.
We are at our happiest, kindest and most loving when we put our attention on what we embrace and celebrate in our present situation, and expend no energy passing judgment beyond that.
This does not mean we must embrace and celebrate the horrors of the world.
It means that we act to transform the world from an energy of loving it and bringing it into alignment with love. We need not act to change the world from a place of loathing it. We can act to build a future we want, rather than to avoid a future we don’t. We can focus on solutions rather than fixate on problems, and in so doing, find solutions easier and faster to create.
Positive focus is not about the denial of a painful present. It is not about lying, pretending, or ignoring. It is about focusing on what we love, and no more than that — wasting no energy on fearing and loathing what we don’t feel good about, so we have all the more energy to transform it.
You do not have to hate something to change it.