Monday, February 25, 2013

Cultivating the Quiet Mind...

   My own words are not the medicine, but a prescription;
 not the destination, but a map to help you reach it. 
When you get there, quiet your mind and close your mouth.
 Don't analyze the Tao. Strive instead to live it: 
silently, undividedly, with your whole harmonious being.

Lao Tzu (c.604 - 531 B.C.)

   When I first began my journey as a contemplative photographer, I had a difficult time.  Not with the contemplative part after I made an image, that seemed to be part of my nature, to think deeply about things...even seemingly little things. No, the difficulty I had was in quieting my mind before I made any photographs at all so that I could be sure I was truly absorbing the wisdom of the landscape before me.

   Eventually, I developed my "visual listening" exercise, I began sketching the landscape before I photographed it and I wrote copiously in my field journal.  These three things were a great help.  What I found the most difficult was putting aside my training as a photographer (the "pre-contemplative" sort) and as an art teacher.  My head was so full of rules and prior knowledge.  Even when I made a conscious effort to dismiss it from my thoughts it would pop in and screech in my ear.  "Composition, framing, aperture, f-stop...." It seemed quite ironic that the very thing that brought me to my love of  contemplative photography was now interfering with my practicing it.

   As the title of this post implies, a quiet mind needs to be cultivated, patiently over time.  I try to plant the seeds here in this blog but there are no short cuts, no easy way to reach this state.  In our "silver bullet" society, we want instant success, immediate gratification.  If you truly wish to practice contemplative photography you must try to cultivate a quiet mind.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Go on a retreat that will physically distance you from your day to day life. Don't take a class or workshop in silence, practice it for a weekend someplace where there is nothing else for you to do. Have you ever tried to not talk for a whole day? Not easy!  Experience how emptying your mind allows space for new awareness to seep in.
  • Practice simple meditation on a daily basis.  There are many ways to do this but just closing your eyes and slowing your breathing is a start or sync your breathing to a simple movement like raising and lowering your arms.
  • Listen to music that quiets your soul. I play my Gregorian chants each morning.  They are sung in Latin and I have no idea what they are saying so I don't think about the words. I just love the sound of the music.  It lulls me into a wonderful, relaxed state.
  • Read a passage you love, over and over again.  It's like a literary chant.  If I choose a lovely verse that has meaning for me, it's repetition has a calming effect.
  • Another way I calm my mind is to pat my cat Emerson. (OK, I hear you snickering but it's true!)  His soft purring is so relaxing.  I don't think people realize what a tranquilizing effect animals can have.
  • Take a walk.  Find a quiet place in nature.  Practice "walking meditation".  I do that each time I visit Walden Woods in Concord, Massachusetts. (photograph above) Nature, for me, is the ultimate tranquilizer.
  • When you are "on location" don't take your camera right out.  Leave it in its bag for awhile and just sit still.  You might like to read my post on "visual listening" but there are no hard and fast rules.  Find a way that suits you.  Be Still, Be Present, Be Patient and Be Persistent.
       These are just a few ideas to practice.  I've found that over the years, with constant practice, I am able to quiet my mind in just a few minutes. It really becomes easier the more you practice it. The photographs I make afterwards are always so much better...take the time to cultivate your quiet mind.

"Only when you drink from the
river of silence shall you indeed sing."

Kahlil Gibran


1 comment:

Bill DeLanney said...

Great post. Thank you for the tips and reminding me of all the things I need to do.