Change your thoughts and you change your world. –Norman Vincent Peale

A thought entered my mind yesterday. Like many thoughts we all have this could have been just a passing observation but, I decided I would put this down in writing. It is going to be one of the things I work on from now on. Putting thoughts down more readily. I may have just taught myself something today.

I received a message from a close person in response to a text I sent. I sent one of those (to paraphrase) “hope this puts a smile on your face” kind of text. I could tell from the response it worked. The response was simple. “Thanks, I needed that today”. That response sparked more than just my observation.

Places Of Darkness

First I feel a need to lay some background out on myself in an effort to give some validity to what follows and in no way do I believe I am alone in this. My life has seen some very dark days. Those days stretched into weeks, months and years. It took a deep understanding of myself along with Bill W. to begin a process of healing.

It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. –Aristotle

It wasn’t easy would be the understatement of my life. I thought it may be impossible and that my life would be a slow agonizing continuation of my past. It was during these challenging times that I met someone. A person that brought hope into my life and gave me something to look forward to. This was not the end of my journey but just the beginning. My struggles continued to the great despair of us both.

Less than a year would pass when for unrelated reasons I picked up a camera and began playing around with taking pictures. Sure I have had a camera of some kind for possibly 30 years or more. Not that different than many other people. But this time something was different. Almost immediately I became completely consumed with making photographs. I wanted to know everything there was about how to take or actually make photographs. All of the technical aspects completely consumed my mind and I knew I had to learn how to do this right.

Months would go by as I absorbed every bit of technical information I could get my hands on. It was as if I had just discovered something that had been hidden inside of me my entire life. When thinking back on this I realize I didn’t discover anything. It had just been brought to the surface by first, a person that truly cared for me, and second, a need to do something with myself, my life. Something besides what had led me down a path that seemed to have but one outcome, dying a lonely death with nothing or no one to share it with. Not exactly a “hope this puts a smile on your face” type of statement but, as they say, the truth shall set you free.

There Really Is A Light Out There

More months would go by. And as with all life changing events an ultimatum “the ultimatum” had been laid before me. Remain the same and die miserably alone or, commit myself to those changes that I had longed for but up until then refused to except were necessary to act upon. I hope the writing and your reading of this have made it clear the path I chose to take. Thank you Bobbi, Bill W., and Richard O., I could never have done it without you.

Those people are the important part. I would never try to diminish that, but the title of this post is, “What Photography Has Taught Me”. I can wrap that up in one nice little statement. “Life is to short to not be happy”. This is not just another feel good be happy statement. Life can throw us down into the deepest darkest bowels of hell without the slightest warning and without a care at all of how this affects anyone. Trust me, it is very very dark down there. But, and this is the ultimate but, it is never as dark down there as it is in your own mind. I really want to make that point. It is as truthful as the need for air to breathe. It is never as dark even in the bowels of hell as you can make it in your mind. Your mind is one powerful damn thing. It has the ability to save you or destroy you.

So what does that really mean? It means to me, that even though our lives can and will at times experience despair, heartache, and grief, what matters the most is what you hold important in your thoughts, posing this question. Are you happy? Do you want to be happy? Happy is not a thing. It is not something you do, you own, or can go get. It is you. As the blood flowing through your veins at the very moment is yours. It is how you think and how you allow yourself to think. “How you allow yourself to think”.

I know we are not all wired the same. Choosing to be happy isn’t just a matter of flipping on the happy switch. And many times the switch is hidden so far away that we will need to look long and hard to find it. Possibly walking through months even years of sloppy, muddy, snake infested waters just to figure out where it “might” be. Believe me, it is there. It is always there. We work most of our lives many times doing things we don’t really want to do, so we can buy things we don’t really need, so we can feel good and… be happy!

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. –Joseph Campbell

Happiness is too important to experience possibly only two days a week, referring to the weekends we all seem to look forward to. The older I get the more I believe this is the downfall of many many people. Wouldn’t you like to be happy three days a week? How about four? How about every day? What if you could be happy or at minimum what if you could experience happiness every day of your life? Would your life be different? Would it be better? Sound impossible? Impossible only if you make it that way. The choice is yours, the path is yours. I don’t know how long I could go on about this, for some time I’m afraid, but I don’t want this to be a rant about “my beliefs”. We all have beliefs, but the most important are the ones we hold about ourselves.

Now back to that text, “Thanks, I needed that today”. We all need that today, tomorrow, the next day, and the next. Don’t wait for someone to remind you! That happy place is right there in your head! You actually carry it around with you all the time like it or not. This doesn’t mean we will never have feelings of great despair not at all. It means we have the ability to understand those feelings and that we control them as well. It is, “the ultimatum”. Life’s ultimatum.

Pick the path you want, and remember there is no middle of the road. Walk it carefully, step over the obstacles that block your way. Step through the mud to get to the other side. Change your shoes when you have worn them out and keep on walking. The night will come as it always does. Dark, lonely, and possibly frightening. Remember that without the night the sunrise would not exist. Look forward to it, there is no need to remember only the darkness, or try to completely forget it. You can’t change it, so except it.

Nature is a way for us to reconnect with the self. Before modern day civilizations our ancestors lived mostly outdoors, hunting and gathering. Photography has taught me that we can learn a lot from Mother Nature and to appreciate her every single day. After all, she was here first.

That “is” what photography has taught me. You may be wondering, WTF? How does that have anything to do with photography? Everything, it has absolutely everything to do with it. Do you remember me saying I needed to do something with myself? We all need that. When you find that something let it hold your hand and help guide you through the dark nights. Remember, it is never as dark “out there” as you can make it “in there”. To this day photography has held my hand. It is my companion, my way of seeing life.

Photography has taught me to not linger “out there” and has taught me everything about making “in there” a good place to be. It makes each day a day of opportunity. These are the things that provide hope. The hope that can only come when we have something to look forward to. I love taking pictures. I love experiencing life more.

I am not a big people person and in fact, have openly admitted I would be considered by most a severe introvert. For some reason, I find peace and a type of comforting power in that. One does not have to be an introvert to experience this. I believe the quiet alone time is like a key to the magic lock. If you can use it to unlock the chest you will reap all the gold. The one catch is the key only works when you are by yourself, in times of true solitude. The secret is what you do with your solitude.

I will end this with a quote I came across not long ago. It so happens this quote if from a fellow Kansan so it fits into my thoughts perfectly.

“The next time someone says Kansas is nothing but flat land with nothing in it, do something. Take a back road and try to find a lonely hill covered in tallgrass. Stop and walk a bit until you can’t hear much of anything man made. Give yourself a minute of silence. Don’t say a word, that’s all it takes to make you say, “I’ve never heard that before.” It’s the sound of the prairie when the wind sends the bluestem tumbling into one another and the birds begin to sing a natural music that connects you to the land. It makes you feel that this place at this moment is exactly where you need to be.” –Bill Curtis

Winter's Bluebird

© Brad Mangas

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