We were having lunch and Bernie was thrilled for the opportunity to to share his life stories a new person – my partner. He told wild tales of his brother’s close encounter with a “nice jewish” blackwidow, and how at the age of 89 and having earned the equivalent of four Ph.D.’s he had finally met a course he could not conquer. Something having to do with theoretical math and physics I think.
I met Bernie during the mid-eighties when my partner and I were earning our professional degrees and trying to figure out who we were as individuals and as a couple. Dr. Bernard Spilka was and is a nationally recognized authority on psychology and religion of the American brand and there was something about this man I was very fond of and deeply enamored of to boot. I wanted to work with and learn from himand felt quite honored and grateful to be taken under his wing. He became my champion, my mentor, and my friend.
But, as so often is the case, what I thought were the reasons for doing something turned out to be something else entirely but at the time I thought by studying psychology and religion I would learn what I needed in order to be happy – to live a good life. Naively, I believed that I could find those answers and truths hidden in books or maybe the mind’s of very wise men. During the length of my study I read lot’s of books and came to some understandings about psychology and about American religion, but what I learned from Bernie about living is much more profound and simple. It’s this: trust my intellectual abilities, celebrate the achievements of others, and be curious….Desire to know. Observe. Inquire. Engage life – boldly go where you have not gone before.
Seems Bernie might have been on to something. Curiosity, as a factor of health and well-being is often overlooked and taken for granted but oddly enough curiosity turns out to be “crucial for the rise and cultivation of meaning, confidence, autonomy, spirituality, achievement, creativity, happiness and well-being.” (T. Kashdan).
One of the ways I express curiousity is through the process of camera-work. I photograph in part because I love exploring the worlds around me and the worlds inside me and how the two communicate, connect and commune. It’s never quite the same, this dialogue, just as it is never the same from day to day or moment to moment, in the garden and in life. I have no doubt that the daily practice of Buddhist constructs, meditation, and setting my intentions has helped me to explore and develop new ways of seeing, but it was the Bible and Jesus who first inspired my imagination with these words: “Lest you become as little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Through living the teachings as best I am able, practicing daily to be “as a child” sometimes I experience a glimmer of that kingdom… I was blind but now occasionally I see.
In my experience, generating sufficient curiosity and energy when photographing is not difficult. What is difficult is learning to see with mindfulness. Which is a way of saying we just see what is really there and not what we think is really there. Keywords: What we Think.
Here’s the thing, once we put a name or label on some phenomenon (sensory experience) we no longer truly see what’s in front of us. We see the thought, the idea, the concept “red poppy” and we relate to our idea (s) and memories of “red poppy” rather than to the color light and form framed in the lens. It’s the thinking that moves us away from apprehending the event or from seeing the subject. The thought: “flower” is immediately followed by a judgment: do I like/dislike,” with the answer largely determining our response. Do we stop and stay awhile – do welinger and get to know the subject or pop off a few quick ones and go back to imagining we have seen and thinking we know what a red poppy flower looks like.
Curiosity is a factor in creativity and it is a factor of enlightenment in Buddhist teaching (Boddhi, pg 72); for me, it is a factor in the process of awakening from the dream-like stories circling repetitively through my head and, it is an absolutely necessary requirement towards the cultivation and development of child-like qualities, e.g., innocence, wonderment, delight, generosity, and joy that one might need to “become like a child.” As such, curiosity manifesting as the desire to see, is a major aspect of my approach to art and my methodology of contemplation. With the former I use the camera as a toy to playfully explore; and with the latter I am paying more attention to the wholesomeness in self and others, experiencing the sweet fragrance of gratitude and resting in blossoms of delight. And an exciting thing is: I never know what will appear!
And as William James observed: “What we pay attention to determines our experiences.”
For me, curiosity is more than an attitude or a set of rote questions to ask. It seems to be more of a type or quality of energy – a force which inclines one towards life. Curiously, curiosity as an energy is magnetic and charismatic, it pulls you towards possibilities and/or draws possibilities to you. It’s an energy that is interested in things, in people, in ideas, experiences and so forth. It is the energy of desire and an energy that serves our needs of engagement with life. Curiosity a/k/a that itch to know, to explore, to see what’s just over the next ridge or just around that next bend, is a manifestation of our desire to know. In strict Biblical terms curiosity is the serpent and knowledge remains the apple. And as an aside, one might equally question what sort of Creator would punish “his” childrens hunger and thirst to know said Creator? It seems that as I practice curiosity the ability to concentrate has deepened and strengthened and I am learning to see stillness in the mind and the view-finder and observe degrees of both passing by and honestly, it’s a gas!
Curiosity and photography compliment each other beautifully and I suspect that this is one reason so many people love photography – it encourages one to be curious and it provides an excuse to express our child-liknesses. Every time I pick up the camera – every time a photographer picks up their camera – there is the opportunity to see something new – something never seen before. I often photograph things just to see what they look like photographed. I am always surprised, and some times those surprises turn out to be stunningly beautiful images. Or wordless experiences of joy and gratitude; or perhaps some insight or new question, or a fleeting glimpse through a window of imaginative seeing. Curiously, I’ve come to know that in the quiet spaces of time one can learn to let go of judgment and expectations…of self and subject and see with new eyes. Life can be an adventure.