Opinion

Seeing things: The art of positive thinking

Often we can't help ourselves; we default to the negative. Who knew it would be my camera that would teach me to see the world in a better light?

Before you know it, the day is ruined - you've allowed yourself to spiral down into the negative

Louella Lester says picking up a camera gave her a new, more positive perspective. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Sometimes it happens before you realize it. Maybe you leave for work a little late. The news on the car radio is not positive: assaults, a bad accident on the Perimeter Highway, an awful virus in Brazil is spreading across the Americas. The driver in front of you slams on the brakes and swerves to avoid another Winnipeg pothole. You almost hit him. Before you know it, the day is ruined. You've allowed yourself to spiral down into the negative and it seems impossible to re-focus.

I do it myself. Even now, as I sit writing at a coffee shop in Osborne Village, it's happening. A guy nearby is blowing his nose. The second time he did it, I glanced over, wishing he'd stayed home today. So now, the fourth time, I'm feeling quite irritated. I'm going to remember his face if I wake up coughing in a couple of days. I'm spiralling now. Oh, there he goes again, fifth time.

Of course I'm not thinking that the poor man may have had this cold for days and just couldn't stand being cooped up at home any longer. He needed to get out.

Often we can't help ourselves; we default to the negative.

Often we can't help ourselves; we default to the negative.

Over the last few years, I've tried to be more positive, with varying degrees of success. I meditate daily and I practice tai chi. But who knew it would be my camera that would teach me to see the world in a better light?

I've loved photography since I learned to develop black-and-white photos back in high school. I dreamed of having my own darkroom, but life got busy and it never happened. Then digital cameras came along and everything became so much easier.

After buying my first cheap little digital camera, I started taking photos of friends, family and pets, the usual awkward, blurry, nothing-special shots. Over time I remembered tricks about composition I had once learned and the photos improved. I began slipping my little camera in my purse, taking it wherever I went. Now I regularly go for walks, the only purpose being to take photos.

A photo walk is good for me. The exercise is great for my physical health, and it helps clear my mind. I have some great photos to share with friends. I use my photos to make gift cards and calendars. But most of all, taking photos helps me see things differently.

Holding my camera between me and the world, I see patterns rather than dirty brown snow in the driveway.

As I walk, I scan the space around me, searching for quirky, interesting things. Holding my camera between me and the world, I see patterns rather than dirty brown snow in the driveway. I notice a vibrant splash of red rather than just frozen berries on a dead branch. The wind doesn't seem so bad when, through the lens, I spot the delicate swirls of snow clinging to a fence. It's amazing how the mundane, or even the ugly, can become something else if you change the way you look at it.

You might not be into photography, but it isn't the only way to improve your view. You can use a paintbrush, the written word, music or any other pursuit that works for you.

Back at the coffee shop, I look out the window. It's cloudy, but the sun is doing its best to push through, turning the sky above the old church steeple an intense shade of pink. I don't like the colour pink, but it's beautiful when it's part of a natural sky. And I almost missed it because I chose to dwell on the guy with the cold. 

The guy now blows his nose one last time, stands and zips up his parka. I look over and catch his eye, give him a small smile. His face softens. He turns and heads out the door. Then I notice he's left his used tissues on the table. Darn! Oh-oh, I'm sliding again … wait … look back out the window.

Today's overcast sky is perfect for taking black-and-white photos at that street hockey tournament on Osborne St. What about those ice sculptures at The Forks? Or I could just wander along the Assiniboine River and see how nature reveals itself.

Louella Lester is a Winnipeg poet and writer.