Monday, April 1, 2013

Contemplative Acts...

   "To see and know a place is a contemplative
act.  It means emptying our minds and letting
what is there in all its multiplicity and
endless variety come in."
-Gretel Erlich

   I have never thought about the idea of "contemplative acts" but the Erlich quote above made me consider it.  In my lecture, "Photography as a Contemplative Practice", I discuss the ways I've used the images I make to give substance and meaning to my reflections and, many times, to generate the subject of the reflection itself.  So, I suppose you could call photography, when used in a particular way, a contemplative act.  What are other contemplative acts?

Praying Hands - Japan, 2007
   The quote says, "To see and know a place..." but for me seeing is one thing, looking deeply is quite another.  The former uses the eyes, the later the heart.  I think I would include "heartfelt regard" as a contemplative act.   My "visual listening" exercises are my way of encouraging a "heartfelt regard" of the landscape.

   Now, knowing is more of a rational response while understanding goes deeper, to the essence, the very truth of a subject.  We can "know" many things but what we truly understand is significantly less since it requires digging beneath the superficial qualities of a subject.  We must filter our knowledge through the sieve of understanding, removing the extraneous until we are left with the pure experience.  The search for a "personal understanding" is very much a contemplative act.

   The key to practicing contemplative acts is contained in the last sentence of the quote. "Emptying our minds and letting what is...come in".  We are our own worse enemy when it comes to the true art of contemplation and I do believe contemplation is an art.  We try to direct the experience and control the outcome when all we truly need to do is to sit still and just listen, the two most important contemplative acts.


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