The preacher and I were sitting on the river bank discussing life, death, old dogs, dragonflies and curious synchronicities. Azul the elderdog had just recently passed and Akitsu the new pup was at our feet. The preacher was beaming, his heart filled with bittersweet sadness and joy and he radiated gratitude and amazement for the way life had unfolded for him. I was happy too.
But then his mood shifted and his voice took a more somber tone. He had found a box of photos taking of his family back in the 30’s. “They are all dead yet the images of the past continue to clutter my mind,” he said. I nodded, “and the damn thing is, I can’t seem to free up space in my head to go out and do anything meaningful. It’s like all that history all what’s past has got be let go of and buried, maybe forgiven but gone one way or another to make room for what’s real for what’s now and for what’s right in plain site.” “Maybe,” I replied not knowing what else to say.
I stood beneath a lattice work of wood and light watching the play of motion and line as we both danced about – the leaves in the wind – and me in my human condition together, waving back and forth connected by the focus of the lens, the perfection of the moment and my intent to snap the shutter. Luckily I was off the beaten path or more people might have stopped and gawked to see what in the world I was looking up at so ardently while standing in the middle of a garden? Only one person was curious enough to look. “Is it a bat?”
When I explained that I was watching the light flicker upon a few simple strands of ordinary green leaves contained beneath lattice-work of light and shadow he seemed uninterested and walked away. I did not mind.
I had faithfully returned to an old haunt – the botanical gardens in Denver, Co. A true gem of the cityscape. Once you glide past all the glass and stone of the entrance you enter a different world. A different zone of colors and fragrances, a universe populated in green of all shade, saturation, and hue; shadows and shapes you’ve never seen before and all around you a whirlwind of activity from the essential buzz and purpose of Bees to the largely non-essential buzz and business of people. I had told myself I was there to photograph but clearly after walking about trying to find something that grabbed me it became clear, that photography this day, was only a vehicle to slow me down and help me become mindful and settled of heart. I knew that it was merely a matter of waiting and trusting. So I went along with the game of pretending to be a photographer. Sure enough, after awhile what I needed to see appeared and I understood that the necessity of this visit was to further let go of the past. Of those past “Denver stories” when we lived nearby and by extension, to also let go of knowing what I would photograph until I saw it. Another lesson in having a beginner’s mind.
My wife uses the metaphor: “moving furniture around” in the mind, to describe the experiences of getting rid of mental clutter, deleting our various out-worn stories of who and what we are/were/might or should have been in order to create room to love and hold ourselves gently and in doing so create space to cultivate an equanamous mind and an open heart that loves all.
Experiencing fully then letting go.
It works in similar fashion in photography or any art medium I suspect. The more clutter in the image-creators mind during the process of discovering and imaging the less sharp, the more cluttered the images obtained and worse yet, the more delusional the actual experience of directly seeing becomes. One often end’s up photographing visual stereotypes of their past work, replications of-how-it-once-was, and continuing to get lost in the confusion in which we think that fact is real and imagination is an illusion. It is the other way around.” (Thomas Moore).
I was getting ready to go when suddenly a dragonfly whizzed past and turning I happened to glance up and have my eye caught in the glow of a single leaf. It was the visual gift of the day and likely of the entire “Denver” photo experience. It was luck and it was grace. It was love, God, and the Dharma waltzing we were all caught up in the moment.