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Loving what you photograph in the sense espoused by Buber won’t make you a better photographer or give you better images……it will only help you love more. And yet, somehow, simply looking through a lens with loving eyes transforms the experience and I believe, transforms our lives. At some point, in some way, our images will reflect what we see and who we are. Loving what we see and relating to the world through our hearts transcends all religions and psychologies, and Buddhism, which is a science of mind, agrees with Christianity, in recognizing that love is the central core of being human…..But the emphasis in Buddhism is on our original blessings rather than sin.
A few years back I reached a turning point and made a decision to live as I wished to be known when I die. I was bored with the old patterns and habits of feeling and thought and I was bored with photography and what I was seeing through the lens. My partner and I had started practicing Insight meditation and I started too and for the first time I realized I had practical tools available to start checking the contents of my own mind.
Once I began practicing daily meditation methods I realized how easily and naturally photography and camera work blend with the attitudes and investigations of the Zen branch of Buddhism and the Zen Arts and both Rowe and Loori’s orientation are rooted in Zen traditions. But for me, my epiphanies didn’t start to click it until I began working with the heart qualities of Metta (loving-kindness) and Mudita (appreciative joy).
These are practices in which one is encouraged to be gentle with ourselves by applying the attention of mindfulness, and self-compassion. Working this way, we start to connect with our own noble heart and open to the noble hearts of others. As we open to our hearts, trusting our intuition, allowing ourselves to pay attention to the moment, the innocence and purity of our own very noble hearts begins to shows itself to us. Our perception of who we are and of what is really occurring begins to shift. To give you an idea of what is implied by the concept of Noble heart – seen from a radically shifted perception, while standing on a street corner one afternoon, Thomas Merton observed:
“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, or greed….I suppose the big problem would be that we would all fall down and worship each other.”
Another view of the qualities of a noble heart presented by Rachel Carson: “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that instinct for what is beautiful and awe inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence over the good fairy who is supposed to preside over all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”
Noting that the camera always points both ways it is true that what and how we photograph rocks and trees and flowers and faces we encounter out there is, on some level a reflection of what and who we are too. I have found that I can use photography to help center, to help quiet and calm the mind, and as a means of seeing what is preventing me from seeing clearly – as a way of becoming aware of the different filters (opinions and views) I place upon the mind – the stories we tell ourselves – the stale moldy contents of the mind.
A story: It was winter it was Thanksgiving and I was in a foul mood. So I went out to drive around, take some pics maybe, figure out what was making me such a grump. The light was overcast and it’s Albuquerque and there is no color and it’s just bumming me out. I drive looking for something to tap me on the shoulder I turn a corner and BOOM.
A fence – A picket fence – and each picket is painted a different color – all bright and it goes on for a block. This is the mother of all painted fences and with the light as it is I know the color is just going to pop. I brake and pull into a deserted parking lot grab the camera and hop out. I take a few steps and I start to feel wary. A second ago my mind was focused on the possibilities of that fence and now I am uptight, wary and tensed up. I do not know why – I only know that I am and somehow that simple noticing that my heart is contracted starts to give it more space. As I walk to the fence I continue to pay attention to my up-tightness. I see a guy crossing the street heading for me and the fence and suddenly I am afraid. Afraid and stuck unless I’m willing to turn and run. So I stop and bring the camera to my eye as if I were composing an image. Instead, I gave myself time to compose myself – to bring mindfulness to the situation. I see that my contraction is normal and my fears misplaced. We spoke, we looked each other in the eyes and as he walked away a habituated thought came up: “there but for the grace of god go I” then a more forceful voice – “No, there go I,” arose from my own noble heart and there immediately came a lightness in my step – a little bounce to my walk.
This is the first principle of Buddhist psychology: See the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings.
Notice how this perception affects your interaction with them, how it affects your own heart, how it affects the rest of the day? You can take a camera or not, you can go for walks or you can go hang out on Main St sitting on a bench sipping Coffee, or you can simply go about your everyday life but with a slight twist of intention and attention. “Nobility” derives from the Greek gnosis which in turn means inner wisdom. Each of us finds our own ways to perceive the underlying goodness in others. Go through the day as if you were the Dali Lama undercover. Pretend to be a child again. Just notice if there are differences in your day, in how you feel, how you see, what you allow yourself to see, how patient and kind you are with yourself. One last story:
Some years back the Dali Lama was to give a very serious Dharma talk at Madison Square Garden. His presence and the significance of the talk were such that great measures were taken to assure the comfort of the Dali Lama and to honor Tibetan traditions. Sand mandalas were painted, and an elegant speaking throne was set up, covered with rich brocades. After the crowd of thousands was seated, a colorful assembly of Lamas and monks intoned sacred chants accompanied by Tibetan bells, cymbals and mountain horns. When the Dali Lama entered he walked down the carpet and climbed the steps to take the Dharma seat at the top of the throne. When the Dali Lama sat down on the throne, it bounced. A smile lit his face. He bounced again, and smiled more. Then in front of thousands of people, before offering the highest teachings, he bounced up and down as happily as a child. BOUNCE!