Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Thin Places...

Photograph by Andy Ilachinski
   As I wrote about in my series of posts on the Characteristics of the Photographic Sage, Qi is the essential energy that flows through all things and in all places. It is what the contemplative photographer seeks most earnestly.  Some places seem to allow you to tap into this energy more easily.  As you sit quietly, listening to the landscape, you can hear  its message with crystal clarity.  Sometimes, your sense of time is warped and while you may think you have only spent a few minutes there you discover that, in fact, it has been much longer. These places are called "Thin Places".

    There are many famous thin places all around the globe.  The Ancients viewed them as sacred sites and built many of their monuments on them.  Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides is one of them and the Ring of Brodgar in the Orkney Islands (located off the Northern edge of Scotland) is another.  Photographer Andy Ilachincki wrote about his experience among those stones in his wonderful blog. (I've included a link to it on this site.)

 "As I wandered around with my camera, looking for angles and compositions,
.....I felt myself drift in and out of the time of the "here and now" into a more
ancient, and ineffable, time; a time that lurks somewhere in the shadows,
and is part of the very fabric of the megaliths themselves.....The Ring o'Brodgar
is - for  me - a physical symbol of timelessness and transcendence.  It is 
a place for serious contemplation and meditation."

Andy Ilachinski

     The real challenge for the contemplative photographer is to find these thin places in ordinary settings because I believe they do exist everywhere not just in the established sacred sites like Callanish and Brodgar.  They may be a bit more difficult to find in places where the modern world seems so dominate and the energy is more material than it is spiritual.  That is what I found when I visited St. John in the US Virgin Islands recently.  Nicknamed the "Beverly Hills of the Caribbean" (there was my first red flag!), I knew I would need to look deeply to find its thin places but I can assure you they were there!

   It is not by coincidence that you need to step away from crowed locations and seek out a quiet retreat....someplace where you won't have the noise of modernity to muffle the sound of the landscape. And, for heaven's sake, put the Ipod away!  I'm not opposed to music but all your senses must be alert. When I see tourists walking around in amazing landscapes with those ear plugs I feel a certain sadness. People have become so detached from the natural world, even from human contact, that their senses must be numb. This is no way to experience the world and definitely not something a contemplative photographer would consider.  I'll get off of the soap box now but it is something to reflect upon.

   One of the thin places on St. John was a remote site along the Reef Bay Trail, deep in a gorge in the middle of the National Park where archeologists have found petroglyphs carved into the stones around some natural pools and a small waterfall. (Both of these are nearly non-existent on St. John...perhaps that is why the ancient peoples thought this site was special.)  The moment I stepped onto those stones you could feel the energy and peace that surround the location. Sitting amongst the carvings, which some say could be as old as 10,000 years, with dragonflies hovering nearby (the only ones I saw on the island) you are truly transported. The image on the left reminded me of one I found on the Burren in Ireland and it immediately connected me to that magical landscape. There are fascinating sacred places all over the world and they are all thin places.

   I discovered a wonderful site for those interested in traveling to some of these special places. Not all are sacred in the normal meaning of the word. One of my favorite places, a place I have returned to year after year, is Concord, Massachusetts.  You can see it on this site.

   I could have sat there, listening to the whispers of these stones, for hours.  Unfortunately, we could only stay for a brief time as we had to meet a boat that would take us back.  These stones are accessible from the road after a 3 mile hike but we came up from the beach, a much shorter, 1.1 mile walk.  I do advise those visiting  this place to pack a lunch and plan to stay for awhile...it is worth a much, much  longer stay than I was able to make.

   One of my favorite blogs is THIN PLACES written by Mindie Burgoyne.  She is a writer and she leads travel groups to explore the thin places of Ireland.  I recommend you visit her blog.  I've provided a link below to one of her posts on visiting thin places...it's excellent. I agree totally with the title:

   She also lists 5 keys to visiting these kinds of places and they are well worth noting in your travel journal for your next encounter with a thin place.

    In my next post I will talk about a place that gave me a complimentary experience to the Reef Bay site and which gave me way to reflect on phrase that has always haunted me.  "Where is God when the earth shakes?"  It was a terribly uncomfortable  place. My encounter with it stunned me and I had to find a whole knew way to create my photographs of that location. Was it a thin place?  If it was it was a kind I'd never encounter before.


1 comment:

Mindie Burgoyne said...

I love your blog, Patricia. You have such a deep sensitivity. Thanks for the mention of my blog as well. Blessings to you, and happy Easter.