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The Sunset That Changed Me

Back in 1986 on a beach in southern California I had an extraordinary life-changing event. It wasn't some crossroad where I had to make a choice but simply put, it was the right words at the right time.

The image used for this post is nothing like the evening of this mind-altering event. I say that up front because there is much importance about what I was looking at. Mind you, this was years before there were camera phones or digital photography. However I'd have been reluctant to have shared the photo had one been taken, because it wasn't just what I had seen that made a difference, it was how it was making me feel. So now I want you to try to recreate this image in your mind.

The sun is setting out over the pacific ocean with brilliant colors of pinks, oranges, purples. Try and imagine the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen. Add to that the light shimmering off the waves as they roll in, one after another. Further out in the water it looks calm and peaceful as it's reflecting the colors of the sky. Truly this was a breathtaking event. And as I was contemplating the forces of nature that drive the waves to keep coming in at a steady calming rate, the words that would change me were uttered by two guys walking down the beach. It was not their intent to lead me to enlightenment. It wasn't their intent that I should be changed for life.

So what was it they had said? "Look at all the trash on this beach." Eight little words took me out of my magic place for a moment. What?! How could they even notice trash when the sky was putting on a show like this? Could they not see that God had taken the time to personally paint a masterpiece across the largest canvas that we humans can perceive? Then, as if a gift to ease my concern over the fate of a humanity that misses the beauty of their surroundings, an epiphany hit me.

It's not where you look, it's what you choose to focus on.

That's it, that was my thought. I'm sure there may be those that question: "So what?" Or did anyone deal with the trash?" (I really don't know if the trash was really ever addressed), but for me I kept playing this thought through my mind. I had truly stumbled onto the key of happiness. This simple little phrase can change a gloomy day around as fast as you can say those words in your mind, should you choose to do just that. Look for the beauty around you. Be thankful that even in the trash heap there are beautiful bird flying around.

It's so simple that you could just miss the point on how life-changing this can be. So I propose an exercise. Try to go out for a day and every 30 minutes, snap a photo of something you don't like - the ugly, the broken, the things that give you an uneasy feeling. When you get done at the end of the day, I want you to write down how you feel about the whole experience. After that, go through the photos and write about each of them and how each makes you feel. The next day, try this exercise again but look for the beauty this time. Big or small, it doesn't matter. Once every 30 minutes, snap something you find pretty. Don't worry if you don't see it right away. It might take some practice, but trust me, it's there. At the end of the day, do the same things. Write down how you feel in general. Next, write about the photos you took. Compare the experiences of the two days.

Friends who know me have heard this story time and again. It's at the core of who I am and I wouldn't have it any other way. I hope to inspire you with my writing and make that positive change for you as well. If only one person were to walk away from this having learnt something, then I've done as much as those two guys that were walking down the beach on one extraordinary night in Southern California.

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