Then, it seemed, I could pick up the camera and get lost in some subject without giving it much thought. And in retrospect thats what I did – I photographed mindlessly and for the most part my images reflected how I saw myself and how I related to the world. Back in those days, I acted and thought, as if it was all about me. I wasn’t ready to allow myself to see that the stories which filled my head and stirred up fears, doubts, anxieties and other hinderances to being happy, feeling successful and having fun were just that. Stories.
Photography has been one of the constants throughout my life and I’ve enjoyed it on different levels…as a student, a teacher, an expert pro-guy and now, once more, a beginner. I’ve always found joy through the activity of it if not the results of it. I say this now with benefit of better understanding, and the humble insight that much of the time my photography was in the service of something other than I thought. The story these days is that I was using camera work to train my mind and develop concentration abilities so that when I officially bumped into Buddhism I instantly recognized the relationships between what I was doing and experiencing as a photographer and what I then understood as the fruits of Buddhist practices. Still, the concentration necessary to see deeply and precisely and dance with the light came through the photographic practice and not initially through mediation or study. Dr. Wayne Rowe speaks of learning to enter similar states of meditative quality which he interprets through a Zen based reality experience in his book Zen and the Magic of Photography.
Then, we moved to Durango. More specifically, we moved to the countryside and I would complain that there was nothing to photograph. Boredom, by necessity, forced me to learn to see with new eyes and to learn that its not about where you are or what surrounds you so much as it is about what you allow yourself to see. The basic attitude is simple and very difficult to do. Each time we pick up the camera and head out the door to photograph, we start anew. We start with what is understood in Zen as beginner’s mind, and in Christianity the idea is expressed as “becoming a child.” Such a state of mind perceives the openness around and within, with innocence, and wonder, with playful delight.
We always have to start just where we are, and some of us need to keep re-starting till it catches on, but eventually most of us get there. A first step is learning to quiet the mind allowing it to relax into spaciousness. Then practice perceiving space as the subject. Seems that some days when the spirit is right one can aim the camera at just about anything and be given something and maybe just maybe an experience that allows us to drop our mental filters and to observe the artificial boundaries between world and self.
A mentor, a teacher, a sower of seeds and a friend told me once that what we are hoping to find when we go to photograph is a mirror of ourselves – a mirror to reveal us to ourselves. Me, I keep coming back to Little Giddings by T.S. Elliot who boldly declared that we “We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”
That’s kinda how its been for me with photography. When I first started my first subjects were ordinary things – people, trees, flowers, landscapes, buildings and such and since moving to the high desert where color is a little more sparse the beauty of flowers and the archetypal energies of forests and certain trees have called me home. I’ve explored and continue exploring and I also feel at home….knowing on some deep visceral level that yeah “I’ve been here before” but this time I remember and this time I am awake, mindful of grace and grateful…open to seeing with the heart of a child – each time learning to see with fresh eyes.
These days I am making up stories that free me to experience more joy and freedom – more love and more success. Of course I back slide and wake up to find myself longing for the familiarity and comfort of my old stories – my old ways – my old pains and torments but I don’t seem to stay there as long as I once did. Instead, I seem to remember to hold myself in tenderness first – then making space for beautiful flowers gets easier.