Saturday, April 20, 2013

What is Contemplation?

Contemplation cannot be taught.  It
cannot even be clearly explained.  It can
 only be hinted at, suggested, pointed
to, symbolized.
-Thomas Merton

   For those who wish to practice contemplative photography or even just explore its scope and meaning, one has to first wrestle with the notion of contemplation.  While I admire and respect Merton's writings, the above quote is not particularly helpful for those of us struggling with the idea of contemplation, whether we chose to apply it to photography or not.

Out of the Cloister Walls
   I turn, instead, to Richard Rohr's definition - from his wonderful book, The Naked Now: learning to see as the mystics see.  In it he says, 

Contemplation is an exercise in
keeping your heart and mind
spaces open long enough for
the mind to see other hidden
-page 34

   That works for me.  Whereas an open (and I would add, patient) heart and mind is the right hand of contemplation, I've learned from my retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani that silence and solitude are the left hand.  Perhaps, in that context, Merton's words make sense.  Contemplation is something that must be experience to be understood but the more you do it, the better you get at it.

   For me, Contemplation is a method of deep regard that reveals a hidden mystery that casual observation overlooks.  It's like trying to see your way on a dark, moonless night.  All you can discern are vague shapes.  Put on night vision goggles and your world changes in an instant.  Contemplation = those night vision goggles.

Now, this shouldn't discourage you in anyway from exploring the practice of contemplation because it is well worth the effort.  I did wonder if after my retreat and contemplative photography workshop I would have to modify my "4 BE's" in anyway.  I think they still work as good starting point.  For those of you who are new to this blog, I will mention them again.  To practice contemplative photography you need to...

Be Still
Be Present
Be Patient
Be Persistent

  (Last night I began my weekend retreat at the  Bethany Retreat Center - right down the road from the Abbey, with contemplative photographer, Kim Manley Ort.  I am sure that by the end of it, my understanding of the concept of contemplation will be greatly expanded and I will be sure to pass on whatever I learn in future posts.)


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