Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hidden within the Light...

   Ever since I learned of James Turrell's work with light, I have been fascinated with the metaphoric capacity of sunlight.  As photographers we are, literally, "writers of light." (Photon + grapha = photography) One of my favorite demonstrations in my art room when I was a teacher was to use a prism to break a ray of sunlight into a rainbow.  Children were always amazed that all the colors are "inside" the seemingly white light.

   Every sunny morning when I get up at this time of year, I am greeted by a little rainbow somewhere in the hall outside the bathroom. Finding it is a morning ritual for me.  The beveled glass mirror over the sink serves as a prism creating the stunning light show and sometimes, like this photograph shows, the effect is quite striking.

   Light has always been, across many cultures, the grand metaphor and I am a commensurate light seeker.  I use to joke that I was solar powered...without my daily charge of sunlight my batteries quickly deplete!  All living things reach for the light and I see that as an intrinsic soul searching enterprise.  Somehow we yearn for enlightenment and we are constantly walking that path whether we fully embrace the process or not.  It is built into our genes.

   Every time I see this little rainbow I think about all that is hidden within the light.  The symbols, the metaphors, the color, the life giving warmth.  After this long winter, being touched by the light means even more to me.

   You can see some lovely interpretations of this theme on my Pinterest board.  How does the light touch you?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Visio Divina: Sacred Seeing

The last snow of the season.
  In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons are windows that allow the viewer to gaze into the heart of God.  The Hindu's call such seeing  darshan.  I've encourage you to learn to read your images through Photo Lectio and to create your own icons of experience.  These are all forms of visio divina or sacred seeing.

   As contemplative photographers this idea of sacred seeing is a comfortable fit but what does it actually mean?  I've said that I try to hear the whisperings of the landscape through my visual listening exercises and that all creation contains the stamp of its divine DNA.  In a real sense, if our seeing becomes beholding then all seeing is sacred.  The problem is to recognize it as such.

   Whether it is watching your cat sleep contentedly in the sun or taking the time to observe a single leaf drift down a stream or the clouds shape shift on a summer day, all that we behold is infused with divine presence.   At best, our photographs are inadequate translations of that presence.

   Through my work with SoulCollage® I've developed a whole new appreciation for the power of images to communicate.  We are drawn to images that have some meaning to us whether we gather images for collage or through our cameras.  Divine seeing allows us to open up a channel between ourselves and the image.  Intense regard brings the image into us in a very real way.  It is no longer just an object, it is a open door that leads us into a new way of being.

   Sacred seeing begins with sacred thinking.  The right mindset is crucial.  It is characterized by an open and non-judgmental thought process and a compassionate sentience. These are things we need to practice on a daily basis.  If we fully embrace sacred thought then sacred seeing will come quite naturally.  It is not that the mystics see differently than the rest of us, they simply practice sacred thinking much more than we do.

   For a more fully delineated description of visio divina, you can go to this link...

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Four Pillars of Contemplative Photography...

   I've tried to distill all that I believe about contemplative photography down to four core concepts.  Of course, this is my particular take on the subject.  Since contemplative photography is a very personal process, each individual photographer has to erect their own pillars to shelter beneath.

   What we believe about the process of making our photographs is crucial...the why is as important as the how.

Life is your art; an open, aware heart is your camera; a oneness with your world is your film.  - Ansel Adams
 Here are my four pillars with a notation of who, initially, gave me the insight. (I've tucked in my four "Be's" of contemplative photography as well.)

Pillar #1: Nature is divine presence.
                   (Thomas Merton)

                Be Still

Pillar #2: Absolute attention is a
                    form of prayer. (Simone Weil)

                  Be Present

Pillar #3: The soul speaks to us through
                  images. (Carl Jung)

               Be Patient

Pillar #4: The outer landscape is a 
               metaphor for the hidden
                                                 inner landscape.                                                                     (John O'Donohue)

                       Be Persistent

   I think that all other concepts can fit under these four pillars.  Why four? This image, made at the retreat center I stayed at recently, presented me with the idea.  Four strong, straight pillars grouped closely together.  I could stand in between them and it was such a wonderful sensation of stability and safety.

   I wanted to provide the simplest notions I could...ones that you could build on...ones you could personalize and make your own...ones that would encapsulate all I've come to believe about contemplative photography.  All the posts on this blog could fit under one of these headings.  All my posts, I realized, are just subtle variations on these four themes.  These four basic concepts are all I need to use my photography as a contemplative practice.  What would serve as your four pillars?


Sunday, April 27, 2014

"Dear Diary..." - creating an online photo journal

Another day...another squirrel!
   In yesterday's post I talked about the power of photography to remember, even long after we forget.  I thought I would talk a bit today about the idea of keeping a daily photo journal.

   I write every day in my "disposable" journals. (OK, I hear you gasping...again!)  I do throw them out when I've filled them up.  They are very personal and once I've written it all down and re-read them I'm done with it.  The ultimate act of letting go I've always thought but there has always been a wee part of me that wants to leave some sort of legacy behind after I'm dust.  I have this blog of course but I began to think an illustrated daily diary may be the way to go.

   Frankly, I have never been that disciplined in the past.  To make one photograph every day seems like a lot of pressure to me but maybe there is something to it.  I know lots of people who do try to make one photograph everyday and with the cell phone camera it couldn't be easier really.  But what do you do with those images?  Blipfoto is one vehicle to save those daily images along with a journal entry which, to my way of thinking, is equally important...what you saw and how you felt about it.  It makes it a true diary. Remember those little leatherette ones, usually pink, with the lock and key?  A wonderful memory from my youth.  (There are other possibilities, like the  You may know of more...)

   Since Blipfoto is entirely self funded, there are no nasty adverts junking up the pages.  You can do a basic membership for free but a full membership offers many more options and is reasonable priced.  I know this sounds like an advertisement but I just wanted to clue you into what I've found.  Other sites offer similar options I'm sure but I haven't checked them all out.  I only want to recommend things I personally know about.

    I started my on-line daily photo journal on April 15th with my first "selfie".  (I had to re-take my original since the photo you post must be made on the day you post it.  Then I had to change the one I'd previously added to my other sites. because the new one was much better...geesh!)  I've tried to add one image everyday.  Whatever catches my judgements!  I write a "Dear Diary...." caption for it just as I would have in my old pink leatherette one with the little gold key.  Even after a relatively short time it's fun to look back and see my life revealing itself one day, one image and one thought at a time!  You can see my photo diary at Memories4Me(I will keep a link in the side bar so you can check it from time to time if you want.)

   Now, it remains to be seen if I will be able to keep up the daily photo/journal thing but I am hopeful.  Blipfoto only allows one photo a day. Instead of a huge album of images from, say, your latest trip, this site makes you chose a daily 'icon'...what was the most significant thing you saw that day.  That's a great exercise in discernment!

    No pressure though.  If I skip a day from time to time that's fine with me and the site doesn't send out the Blipfoto police if you miss a day!  It is a place to archive those images I do make and any thoughts they generate...a place that will remember long after I on-line photo diary.  That has to be a good thing!


   One great feature about Blipfoto is that at the end of the year you can have a lovely book made of all your images, 365 if you've been really good, and the accompanying journal entries!  I think this a great feature.  Having a "hard copy" of your journal would allow you to slowly flip through your year...a retrospective of your thoughts and images over 365 days.  It would make a great gift as well.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Power of the Photogaphic Image...

   Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever. It remembers little things long after you have forgotten everything.

- Aaron Siskind

  Like elephants, photographs never forget.  Perhaps at times we wish they would.  Those old photographs of your awkward adolescence that mothers seem to love to drag out...well, they remember even if you wish to forget.

   Most people use photography that way; to remember things.  That sunset, that birthday party, that wonderful vacation...memories we want to re-live through the photographs.

   But photographs can also be seen as a journal of our souls development.  It records what we thought was important at that moment.  Looked at over time, we can see how our soul is evolving.  What was important to us a year ago may seem trivial now but it was all part of the journey.

    With the proliferation of cellphone cameras we always have at our fingertips the power to record the minutia of our lives.  What do these innumerable images, the countless "selfies", say about us in the end?  What is the digital footprint we are leaving behind? 

   At funerals now it is commonplace to present dozens of photographs of the person throughout their lives as if we are the sum total of all these captured moments.  It might be an interesting exercise to chose just three images you have made to represent you in a visual biography of sorts.  Which three photographs would you choose?  What do you want people to know most about you?  What would your digital footprint look like?

Speaking of elephants...

   I came across this article about the emotional life of elephants that blew me away.  I always knew they were very sentient creatures but this article highlights the amazing range of emotions of these wonderful beings, I can't think of them as "animals" anymore.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Happy Accidents...

   When my students use to make "mistakes" with their artwork, mistakes that actually  produce something interesting, I use to call them "happy accidents".  I had one myself the other day!

   I was printing out some interior images of an old house an acquaintance of mine is restoring when I inadvertently over printed an image.  Of course, my first reaction was, "Darn, what a waste of ink."  Then I looked at the result.

   I really loved the way the two images combined.  It was pure chance that these two images came together to create a beautiful abstract composition...a total accident.  I did play around with it a bit...inverted one of the images and altered the contrast and color balance until I got the image to this state.  It was great fun!

   I tried it, intentionally this time with two other house interiors, to see if I could make another "happy accident".  This has been the winter of coloring outside the lines for me so, why not!  I thought that I may have stumbled onto another avenue to explore...the layered image.

   The second one wasn't as successful, in fact it was down right horrible, I really didn't know what I was doing and simply over printing wasn't the way forward I realized.  This didn't put me off the idea of exploring digital photo collages further, perhaps even incorporating words in the composition.  The contemplative possibilities of this kind of image are endless.

   So I set out to teach myself a way to layer and "cut and paste" digitally.  The connection to the SoulCollage® process was so tempting.  It took me awhile to stumble my way through until I was able to create a digital collage.  Some I printed out for my SoulCollage® deck while others I added quotes to.  It was so exciting for this technologically challenged person to create in this way.  It also was a way to incorporate all the images I'd done of statuary in the past.

    The image on the right was made with a photograph I took out the window of the plane on my way to St. John, a photograph of a sculpture I made at the Museum of Fine Arts along with two more.  I love the quote by Merton and it seemed a perfect inspiration for my up coming trip. 

    Now, I realize digital photo collage is nothing new but I would never have even considered this photographic art form if I hadn't had my "happy accident".  Perhaps this is just another example of a serendipitous inspiration..the Universe's way of tapping us on the shoulder and pointing us in a new direction.  Synchronicity seems to be a current theme of late!  This kind of thing happens to me all the time when I'm traveling...coming across a location I had not set out to find...but this is the first time my printer brought me to a whole new place on my contemplative journey!

   I've created an album of my digital collages to date.  I invite you to take a peek and maybe you might be inspired to create on with your own collages from your contemplative imagery.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reflections on the Tao - III

   This is one of my favorite quotes from Lao Tzu.  It resonates for me on so many levels.  I began this blog two years ago with the Empty Bowl story and it bears repeating.  We cannot add to a cup that is already will only spill out and be lost.  

   As a photographer, we are constantly bombarded by new techniques and new equipment that promise to change our lives.  It is good to keep learning and expanding our knowledge of the medium we love but is there ever a time when "enough is enough"?  

To gain knowledge, add something every day;
To gain wisdom, remove something every day.

   I've reached the point in my life where I've come to appreciate more the empty space in the bowl than the bowl itself.  It is the potential that fascinates me.  I'm beginning to look more and more for the empty spaces in the landscape as well.  As a rule, Nature abhors empty spaces and rushes in to fill them.  We clear away and Nature pours in but there are other places one can study the potential of the empty space.

   I photographed the interior of a lovely old house recently. It had stood empty for several was stuck in this state of potentiality until a man decided to rescue it and return it to its former glory.  I'm sure he will do a splendid job but I must admit to taking a certain pleasure in the empty rooms where the only thing that "filled" them was the sound of our footsteps on the bare floors.

   Someone once said that the music happens between the notes.  I think that's what Lao Tzu is referencing in today's quotes.  Look for the beauty contained in the empty space, wherever you may find it.  Rest in the potentiality of the space and embrace the possibilities.

    When we remove the clutter that distracts us, even symbolically, we are left with the pure wisdom of the empty space.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Signs of the Seasons - Spring

   Ah, the rites of Spring...the first crocus, opening day for the Red Sox, the running of the Boston Marathon, the arrival of the Girl Scout cookies (thin mints, please!).  For me, one of my springtime rituals is looking for where Mama Robin has built her nest this year.

    It has become a bit of a game between us, Moma Robin and Me.  Robins do not normally re-use their nests but built new ones every year.  Sometimes, however, I've noticed that they will do a "re-hab" on an old nest.  In Northern New England the harsh winters often makes that difficult so they'll re-use material from the old nest for their new home.  Robins are very territorial, coming back each season to the same general location to raise their young.  Last year the nest appeared on the window ledge of my barn so I was able to watch it secretly until a painting project scared them off after laying just one gorgeous blue egg.  They built a whole new nest in the crab apple tree and raised a healthy brood, glad to say.

  In a culture that has gotten use to having whatever they want whenever they want it, seasonal rituals become less and less important.  Strawberries in January?  No problem!

At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows.

Love's Labours Lost (1.1) Wm. Shakespeare

   Celebrating and contemplating the seasons, each in their turn, is important for me. I love using my camera to record seasonal changes in the landscape. I want to embrace each season as it comes and I do not wish for another.  I want to be fully present to the joys each one provides.  Each has it's own particular jewels to offer us but I must be honest, I'm sure glad I will be in Ireland this year during Black Fly season here in Maine!


   There are contemplative possibilities in the humble Robin's nest which I was unaware of before I drafted this post - which is why I love writing them so...they lead me in all sorts of directions!  Of course, we've all heard of the old adage, "the early bird catches the worm" but there is a more profound insight we can gather from old Robin-Red-Breast.  The robin builds its nest from the inside out, being sure that it is warm and comfy before re-enforcing it with mud to protect its precious occupants.  I've often said we should make our photographs in the same way...from the inside out. You might think of other ways this could apply to your life or work.  Learn more about this wonderful little creature here. You can even listen to their lovely call...a sure sign of Spring!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day - 2014

...amen to that!

   Now I can't speak for all contemplative photographers but for me, Nature is divine presence.  I would no sooner throw litter in a forest than I would in a church.  There are many ways to celebrate our Mother Earth today...check them out:

   I would also suggest taking your camera to a favorite wild place and creating a photographic series on your encounter.

The Original Green Man:
 The most common and perhaps obvious interpretation of the Green Man is that of a pagan nature spirit, a symbol of man’s reliance on and union with nature, a symbol of the underlying life-force, and of the renewed cycle of growth each spring. - from The Enigma of the Green Man


Monday, April 21, 2014

The Infinite Web of Relationship...

Where does the
 temple begin,
Where does it end?
- Mary Oliver

   Contemplative photography has led me to understand and stand in awe of the powerful web of relationship that exists in our world.  Nothing, not a solitary leaf or moss or lichen, is not connected to this web...each playing it's part in sustaining all of creation, including ourselves.

    Through the camera's lens we can focus our attention on the tiny elements of this web and embrace the intimate and mysterious relationship close up.

      The most beautiful thing we can experience
is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art
and all science.  He to whom this emotion is a
stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder
and stand apt in awe, is as good as dead; his
eyes are close.   - Albert Einstein

    There is no better place to experience this mystery of relationship than the forest and living here in Maine I am surrounded by a wonderful temple of creation.  I have found an amazing video produced by the BBC that celebrates the inspiring web of relationship in the deciduous forests of North America...from Maine's immense woodlands to the dense rainy forests of the Pacific Northwest. It explores a phenomenon they call the Wood Wide Web.

    Tomorrow we celebrate Earth Day.  I hope this video will give you a whole new appreciation of our "Mother".   Prepare to be amazed and then take your camera for a contemplative stroll in a nearby forest!

by Wallace Koh

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Celebrating the Seasons - Easter

   Easter is late this year.  It's a good thing too or we would have been hunting for eggs in the snow!  These are natural Easter eggs, laid by the Araucana breed of hen, they come in natural pastel shades of blue, green, pink and orange.  With these hens, it's Easter every day!

   Easter is, of course, the highlight of the Christian liturgical calendar but the festival of Eostre, which gives Easter it's name, is ancient.  The Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, Eostre's festival was celebrated around the time of the March equinox.  Hare's are associated with the goddess and they, as well as the egg, are ancient symbols of fertility and re-birth, very appropriate Easter themes.

  ( Early Christians often melded their festivals with the ancient ones.  One would surmise it was to circumvent the old practices but I also like to think that the early church, at least the more enlightened thinkers, also saw some underlying similarity in concepts.  Dressed in new clothing, many of these concepts, like re-birth, are as old as mankind.  All of the world religions share these universal themes. )

   I've always thought of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, as a time of incubation.  A time to retreat into the shadow of deep thought and to let those thoughts rest.  Life is there, just under the surface, but it must born in it's own photographs.  The subconscious mind must work its magic and then, when you least expect it, there it is!   For those of you who celebrate it...

Happy Easter!


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Contemplative Possibilities - Minimalism

   When I was gathering images for my post on the contemplative possibilities of rust I had considered using this image.  But I saw the image as evoking another possibility for the contemplative photographer, minimalism.

   Minimalist imagery may have only 2 or 3 elements.  It is pared down in the extreme.  It is the difference between a vase over-flowing with flowers and the single bud.  There is a decided Zen-like quality to minimalist imagery that I find very tranquil and soothing.

   The rusted chain whose orange color contrasts so beautifully with the blue-grey of the stone was more about design and composition that it was about the literal elements of chain and stone.  This is the "artist in me" responding to the landscape.  (I talked about that way of relating to the world in a post on the five ways of contemplative photography which you can read here...)

   I have to admit a passion for this way of regarding the world.  Simply enjoying the inherent abstract design possibilities of a landscape element is a wonderful way to spend time with your camera.  I love to get in close and explore the minimalistic and abstract possibilities of what I come across.  You can see 4 simple techniques you can use to explore minimalism in your camera work here

Less is More.

   Taking away any external reference to place or time heightens the universality of abstract images.  I know this image was made on Inis Oirr in the Aran Islands of Ireland but it hardly matters.

   The image on the right was made in Kentucky but, again, it doesn't matter.  It was the contrast of the warm red brick between the white washed brick that caught my eye...simple yet open to many contemplative possibilities.

   I have referred to these sorts of images as Simplicities and you can browse my Pinterest board for other examples by following the link below.  You might like to try your hand at minimalist imagery.  It is an excellent design exercise for training your eye to see the essential elements of a subject.


Friday, April 18, 2014

The Sacred Place of Borderlands...

   Slowly, so very slowly, the landscape around my home in Maine is coming back to life.  As the sun warms and the edge of icy winter retreats, tiny signs of re-emergence can be seen.

   I've always viewed the planting of bulbs in the autumn as an act of faith...their appearance in the spring, a moment of joy especially this spring.

   We are all turning our faces to the light and basking in the warmth of a much delayed is heavenly.

   Although we've experienced this spring ritual of re-birth countless times, this year it seems even more poignant to my winter-weary soul.

   There is a magical quality to the experience of being on the edge of anything...the moment when a change is about to occur.  It could be at the moment of sunrise or sunset or, as in this photograph, the demarcation between cold death and the warmth of emerging life.  It is so clearly delineated here; you can run your finger along the edge.

   These are sublime contemplative moments, to be savored and internalized.  Living in this "in between" place, even for just a moment, is a delight.  One of my favorite edges to walk is where water touches the of those sacred boundary places that Margaret Silf calls the "borderlands of being".   There is something inherently mysterious about these places at the edge.  We can glimpse two ways of being simultaneously...look in two directions at the same time.  Somehow, these borderlands feel like a holy place to me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

In Their Own Words - Anais Nin

   A friend once told me that the more you come to understand science, the less you will be drawn to issues of spirituality.  In his way of thinking, the two were incompatible.

   I wish I had known these words of Anais Nin back then. Now, the more I know of science, the more I am in awe.  Answers only open up more questions...there is always more mystery!  And some questions can only be answered in spiritual terms. I suppose this is the primary lesson I've learned during the years I've practice contemplative photography; I don't need science to explain everything.

   I may understand the mechanics of  the migration of the Monarch butterfly (the longest of any butterfly on earth)  but it doesn't impede my wonder of the journey these little creatures make.  What brings them to one specific place year after year?  How is the knowledge of the journey implanted in each new generation?  What an amazing act of pure faith they exhibit...of course, my friend would say it is merely each his own.

   The following is a link to a beautiful video of the migration of the Monarchs each year from Canada to Mexico.  It includes some breath taking footage created by my favorite wildlife videographer, Louie Schwartzberg.  What a transcendent experience it must have been for him to film these lovely creatures.  Yes, knowing the science of their yearly migration does not dispel the mystery and sense of wonder for me.

   The monarchs are in trouble but you can help.  Creating small rest stops in your backyard or along the roadside for these amazing creatures will help them on their journey and it can be as simple as planting the common milkweed plant.  Find out why there has been a sudden decrease in this specie of butterfly and other ways you can help these wonderful creatures...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Attitude and Perception...

It was her smile that touched me most.
Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.
-Henry Ford

   Attitude is everything.  It is no less important in photography but perhaps in a slightly different way than what old Henry was referring to in this quotation.  

   When I was on a sabbatical at Harvard way back in 1997,  I was there to research creative thinking skills.  One of the things I discovered was the cliche of the power of positive thinking was, indeed, correct.  Now, all these years later, I find that wisdom is very valuable for the contemplative photographer as well.

   If you see the landscape as a thing to "capture" in your photographs; if you struggle for the right equipment, the right time of day, the right skill set, then it is a struggle that is as easily lost as it is won.  But if you see the landscape as wise teacher and a loving co-creator in your camera work your attitude is totally different.  It is a "win/win" situation.  In fact, you can never loose no matter how much or how little you have of the "right stuff". 

   Every time you venture out, camera in hand or not, there is something there to reveal itself to you. Every single time.   If your perception is attuned to this, you will see it. You will see it because you know it is there to be seen.  Attitude is everything.  It is so liberating really.  Your relationship to the landscape is no longer a struggle, some creative competition, but a co-conspiracy...a communion of kindred souls.  You and the landscape are in it together and you will always be given what you need.  Always.
   It's been quite some time since I told you a story!  Here is one of my favorites.  It really is about the journey we are all on as contemplative photographers...seeing the beauty in the commonplace, the sacred in the ordinary.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Unites Us....

   Today is the first anniversary of the tragic bombings during the Boston Marathon.  It is a day of solemn reflection.  I was at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky when I first heard the news and being in that sacred place had helped me cope with the horror of it. (You can read that post here.)  Now, another photograph is doing its part. 

   This image was made during my contemplative photography retreat in Kentucky last year.  It has remained tucked away in the file all this time.  Images are like that; they can lay dormant for months, even years, until their time is right.

   Looking at it again reminded me of the photographs I've seen of the shadows of people burned into the sidewalks of Hiroshima after that horrific bombing.  I had been able to visit the Nagasaki bombing site with my host family in 2007.  It  is a moment that still brings tears to my eyes.  My host's father had fought in the Japanese army during the war.  My father served in the US army beginning with the invasion at Normandy.  Here we were, all those years later, standing side by side at ground zero. 

Click here to read about this Icon of the Experience
   Nearly all his family had been killed by the bomb that day.  I remember asking him if he felt any hatred for what the Americans had done.  He smiled and shook his head no, it was a time of war he said.  He felt no animosity.  There was a need, he reflected, for forgiveness on both sides. I thought it nothing short of a miracle that had brought the children of former enemies together at this place and we stood in silence for some time, each wrapped in our own remembrances.

   This simple photograph of shadows on the sidewalk, one I hadn't given much thought to at the time, had finally found it's place.  In a world that is growing all the more fractured by ideology, religion, race and economic inequality, the simple words of JFK resonate even more sharply now.

    Our wounds are still fresh and the pain of that April day in Boston is still acute.  It will take much more time to heal and forgiveness seems an absurd notion.  But I can't help thinking of the famous Gandhi quote so I will end with it.  When does the cycle end?

An eye for an eye only ends up
making the whole world blind.


   Also at the site of the Nagasaki Memorial Museum is a peace pavilion featuring the thousands of paper cranes people have sent from all over the world.  The cranes have become a symbol of peace.  (Read the story of Sadako which has inspired the world.)

   When I returned to the states and my classes at the middle school, I taught my students how to make the little paper cranes after I read them the story.  The little paper cranes have always been a wonderful memory of my time in Japan.

   When I retired, one of my students gave me a crane to take with me.  I put it on my dashboard as I left school for the last time and there it has set for the past four years.  Its patterned paper has long ago faded and the folds are no longer as crisp as they once were but it rides with me everyday and I have no intention of ever removing the little guy.  It is a cherished contemplative souvenir.

   Should you wish to make your own paper crane, here is a link.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Contemplative Poetry Series - Jan L. Richardson


At lunch today
it was the purple
 of the olive pits
against my cobalt plate
that stunned me.

At tea,
the gold of peach
bloodstained by its stone.

I do not know
where the greater part
of the miracle lies;
that I should pause
to notice this,

or that I, 
a woman of
such great hungers,
should be so well satisfied
by such small things.

In the Sanctuary 
of Women
page 89

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Nature's Gentle Whispers...

   I think the amazing thing about contemplative photography is the way Nature keeps whispering in your ear, even when you are thinking about something else.  During my SoulCollage® retreat I was pretty involved with thinking about the process and my cards but it seemed as if the landscape wanted to give me a new vision of thresholds.

   I "stumbled" across this John Muir quote while I was there.  I put stumble in quotation marks because it really was just another of those wonderful moments of synchronicity I'm always going on about.  It wasn't difficult to find two little pine trees to create this liminal space to hold the quote.

   Walking back along one of the trails I was presented with another threshold icon to challenge me.

   These intersecting shadows created, in my mind, four thresholds.  I stepped carefully and slowly over each one.  When I'd finished this little ritual crossing over exercise, I realized that I had planned to consider only three thresholds during my up-coming pilgrimage.  Was Nature asking me to consider another?

   Staying open to these "whisperings" in the ear is a crucial way I practice my contemplative photography.  These messages from the landscape are meant to stimulate new ways of looking at things if we accept them for what they are. 

   They are meant to challenge us...shake us up in some way, not unlike the collaged cards I make.  The soul can only communicate to us through a visual reference of some kind.  I am always grateful for these gentle nudges from a Universe who wants to participate in our journey if we would only let it.  I hope I never lose this gift of seeing the messages in the landscape.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Power of Synchronicity...

Path to the Open Window - Star Island
Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have
 eyes to see.
- Carl Jung (1875-1961)

   To that I might add, "...and hearts to respond."  For some, everything is mere coincidence.  For others, and I would include myself in this, everything is some form of synchronicity.  However, we seldom view it as such.  This is not the same as saying that everything happens for a "reason".  It took me a long time to see the difference between the two.

   We are so engaged in our day to day lives that many of these tiny moments of sublime synchronicity go unobserved.  When they do hit us we are often taken aback..."This is so amazing!" we say, but is it?  When we begin to see the world as a dynamic and intertwined place we can more easily see these moments as, rather than unique, just the natural way of things.

Keep your eyes wide open.
Even the smallest things have 
the power to inspire us.

   I've come to not only embrace this philosophy in my own life but I have come to expect it.  I am never surprised by it anymore.  My personal process as a contemplative photographer relies heavily on synchronicity.  I believe it will put me where I need to be even if I don't know I need to be there!

   This image was made on my weekend on Star Island last summer.  Some may not see the little open window and the shadow it cast as anything to write home about but it made the photograph something special to me.  Earlier in the day the window was closed but when I later walked up the path it fairly jumped out at me.  Trivial detail perhaps but still it was one of those moments that made me pause.

   Try to train your eye and heart to be alive to these moments.  Embrace and fall in love with the mystery of it all.  Learn to welcome them with open arms and don't judge them by how big or small they are...they are all a wonder.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Coming to our senses...

Breaking Free
"Have you taken complete leave of your senses?"

   Well, have you?  We are a culture that values common sense and rationality.  For many folks this no nonsense approach makes the most sense to them. 

    Of course, these phrases all relate to the sense we can label and which resides firmly in the left side of the brain.  We know, through our work in contemplative photography, that there is a heart based sense as well. 

   Some might call it intuition.  I use the term "whisperings" a lot. This is a way of knowing that goes beyond mere knowing on a rational level...a "stuff in the gut" way of knowing. This is the sense I wish people would come back to.  I wish people would not only come back to this intuitive way of knowing but learn to value and celebrate it as well.  This is the sense we, as contemplative photographers, try to tap into as we engage the landscape in a dialogue of spirit.  This is what I mean by coming to our senses.  

   During my SoulCollage ® retreat I learned that there are two ways to make cards, intentionally and intuitively.  You  can gather photographs by either process as well.  You can intentionally set about looking for specific images or you can let your heart's GPS guide you.  The later process I also call gathering breadcrumbs as you go.  Sometimes you combine the two.  You might set out to photograph the ruined chapel you read about in the travel guide but come back with entirely different, intuited, images.  When I arrive at a specific destination I had gone looking for, I send the rational left brain part of me out for a cup of tea while I let my intuitive right brain respond to the location.

   Rationality has it's place of course.  Perhaps for most of our daily life, thinking our way through is even preferable. But there are times, especially when you have your camera in hand, when feeling your way through, following your gut rather than your brain, will lead you to a more engaging encounter with the a balance between the two senses...

One eye sees, the other one feels.
-Paul Klee


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Finding the little contemplative gems in daily life...

   Life is full of small contemplative gems.  I suspect we overlook many of them in our daily rush.  We miss out on so much when we fail to recognize these jewels. 

 I think that one of the photographic projects I will stay open to this year is Stillness.  I won't run around looking for it, I will let it find this simple image of a solitary swan. This is a contemplative gem I discovered recently.

   I like just about everything in this image...even the tiny orange marker on the right which seems to punctuate the path of the swan.  The moment of intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines...the passage from reflection into deep darkness; don't get me started!

   The funny thing is though that the first thought that popped into my mind when I looked at the photograph was something my Grandmother use to say about living our lives like the swan...serenely calm on the surface and paddling like crazy below!  That's what photographs can do, if we let them.  They open doors to memories as well as to contemplation.

   I photographed this sublime serenity from a friend's porch. (One of the few times I would have liked a more powerful lens!)  She said this was the first time she had seen the swan this year and I thought to myself, what a gift.  Moments like this, when the Universe presents us with tiny, exquisite moments to stand in awe before are truly the very best gifts because they are so unexpected and seemingly random.  They aren't of course.  We are simply standing too close to see the pattern.  We are presented with these gems on a daily basis, we just have to open our eyes to them.

Look around yourself right now...find a little gem!
(Let me know what you find by posting a comment.)

   As I said, you don't have to go looking for them, these moments of wonderment, they will come to you.   There is one right nearby you, right now.  I saw a tiny rainbow on the floor this morning...sunlight reflected off a beveled mirror had created it.  Had I gotten up a half hour earlier or later it wouldn't have been there.  I made sure I took a moment to acknowledge made me smile to see it.  Such a wonderful way to start the day.

   The trick is to keep that third eye open to them so you will be able see them when they do appear. That takes a kind of inner stillness and a deep desire for the encounter.  Practicing this kind of awareness day to day in your own home makes the chance of seeing them in the landscape all the more likely.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Discovering and Creating Sacred Space...

Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.
- Joseph Campbell

   One of the inspiring parts of last weekend's SoulCollage® retreat was the ritual of creating sacred space.  It is a very important part of the process of creating and reading your cards.    I have understood this concept through my labyrinth walking ritual, which I posted on Monday, but I love the idea of applying it to other spaces as well.  Like the SoulCollage® cards I made during the weekend, sacred space can be either intentionally created or intuitively discovered. 

   Nature, for me, is the supreme intuited sacred space but truly any place can become sacred by intentionally making it so.  This image is of the loggia at the retreat center.  I love the look of the vaulted ceiling painted azure blue to mimic the sky.  Painting porch ceilings blue is a tradition in New England and I like to think it is a way to welcome Nature into the enclosed space...opening it up.  It was too cool to access this space during the weekend but I could see this being a wonderfully uplifting and sheltering sacred space.

   When you are out in the landscape, find ways to bring the intention of sacred space into the experience.  It can be as easy as just welcoming the sacred qualities of the place into communion...the warm sun, the feel of the wind on your cheek, the buzz of the bees hard at work at their gathering task as you prepare to gather in images.  All of these are elements of the discovered sacred space. Visual listening exercises are my ritual for creating sacred space in the places I photograph.  

   When I do PhotoLectio with my contemplative imagery it is important that I create a special place and time to do it.  It only adds to the significance of the process for me.  That is what creating sacred space sanctifies the experience.  You might like to discover a few ways you can carve out sacred space for yourself.  The link below is a good place to start.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Thought for Today...We're all broken

  This was one of the "breadcrumbs" I picked up on my SoulCollage® retreat last weekend.  The split on this birch tree ran its whole length but it still seemed to be thriving.  I immediately recalled this Hemingway quotation. It also seemed appropriate for the workshop I was taking.  Essential parts of ourselves are often revealed when we allow our soul to open up.

   We had spent the morning talking about the "trans-personal" cards, Source, Soul Essence, and Witness.  These are difficult concepts since they are somewhat abstract and formless.  I later found an image during my contemplative stroll on the grounds that seemed to clarify the idea for me.

The three trunks are united at the base. Their roots go deep into the earth. They are three distinct entities with a common base. Coming from a Christian background, I naturally saw it in the light of the trinity.   But what I love about the SoulCollage®
experience is that it welcomes and honors all faith traditions or no faith tradition at all.  It becomes what you need it to become.  It is an expansive umbrella the shelters all sorts of people; it is inclusive and protective of each individual soul.

    If you are interested in learning a bit more about the
SoulCollage® process, follow these links.  Find a facilitator near you and take an introductory class.  It is really a fascinating process and it synchronizes beautifully with contemplative photography.