On a Tuesday night in late March or early April 2020 I attended a virtual meet-up for parents in a neighborhood located around northwest Denver. As everyone in the group commiserated the challenges of parenting tiny humans through a global pandemic, one member suggested that someone start a blog sharing stories of how people are taking their circumstances and creating opportunities, finding the silver linings, or making lemonade out of the lemons life has handed us—and call it The Lemonade Stand. After clarifying that this member did not actually want to write the blog themselves and that I was welcome to use the idea, I started taking notes about stories I heard. It did not take long to find more than I could keep track of and realize that others with farther reaching platforms had already begun broadcasting the stories they found. This was great, because it meant so many people were already focused more on the good and less on the fear and anxiety of the times we live in.
However, I have also been wrestling with some uncomfortable observations about the tendency to focus on positive aspects of life. As a yoga teacher I have spent a lot of time interacting with folks that, for better or worse, habitually hyper-focus on the positive…to the extent that the yoga studio I managed regularly sold graphic tank tops with phrases such as “No Bad Vibes” across the front. In fact, every day I walked past a stone someone had painted and left by the door, reminding me, “Good Vibes Only.”
To be sure, there are well documented benefits to being positive, maintaining a regular gratitude practice, and staying optimistic. By no means am I advocating for pessimism or panic to prevail. However, forcing oneself to feel positive, grateful, & optimistic often simultaneous results in ignoring, dismissing, or invalidating the actual feelings one is experiencing. This creates an incredibly unstable platform for mental and emotional well-being and can even affect one’s perception of reality. What I have found to be more helpful in my own life is to acknowledge what is real about a given moment, identify feelings and reactions, evaluate what is potentially beneficial, and then act on what can be controlled to produce a positive outcome.
To return to the lemonade analogy: first, to make lemonade, you must start with real, fresh lemons. Ignoring what is real and only focusing on what is positive or makes you feel good, is basically just reaching for the pre-sweetened Kool-Aid mix, and I for one, have no interest in mixing or serving Kool-Aid of any flavor. Also, be willing to admit whether the lemons are fit for consumption or not, because adding water and sugar to something that is already rotten (whether it’s fruit or a belief system) will not magically create a product less toxic than the rotten ingredient it started from. The same can be said for sweeteners. Though some sweeteners can be good when used in reasonable amounts—false optimism and forced gratitude, like artificial sweeteners, will only compound the ill effects of ignoring true thoughts and feelings. Then there is the watering it down part. If lemonade isn’t diluted properly, it’ll simultaneously be too bitter and too sweet. One of the most destructive thoughts I have clung to in the darkness of my own bouts with my mental health is that I, alone, am experiencing what I am experiencing. By zooming out and allowing a generalized perspective, I know that I am not alone and can handle the ups and downs with more grace. The flip side is to avoid over-generalizations, beware of watering it down too much or you risk losing the bitter-sweet real-ness of the situation altogether and will be left with something that resembles wishful thinking more than an actual solution.
Also, while the idea of a lemonade stand might conjure childhood nostalgia, budding entrepreneurship, and good old fashioned American values, the reality is that citrus fruits (such as lemons and limes) and sugarcane plants originate from Southeast Asia—so here’s a recipe for Indian lemonade, known as Nimbu Pani or Shikanji:
Fresh lemons or limes
Sugar or honey
Cut the fruit in half, squeeze the juice into a cup or container (depending on how much you want to make). Add sugar and water to taste. I’ve seen a multitude of variations, specifically with Indian recipes that call for different spices or ingredients to be added to the mix such as mint, ginger, chaat masala, coconut water, and/or a pinch of baking soda to make it effervescent. My advice is whichever variations you prefer: keep it real. Identify opportunities. Stay open to other perspectives. Share and enjoy what you can, when you can.