Thursday, October 31, 2013

Links to Our Past...

   In Celtic tradition, Samhain (what we, this side of the pond, celebrate as Halloween) is a time of remembrance of those who have gone on before us.  Because it was considered a time when the veil between heaven and earth was at its thinnest, communing with ancestors was much more possible.  In Mexico, the Days of the Dead, November 1 & 2, is not a somber holiday but a celebration of the lives and influences of our ancestors.

   I've often spoken on this blog about the "chain of influence" we forge every time we meet someone who has, even subtly, an impact on our life.  We do not begin life, however, with only one link.  Our chain of influence was handed to us by our parents and grandparents, in fact, all our family members.  We simply add onto what they themselves forged.

   At this time of looking back, I want to acknowledge one such link in my chain of influence.  My father's passionate pursuit of photography had a deep impact on my early love of the medium.  He was our family's chronicler, for that was what photography was in the 50's and 60's, the great recorder of family life.  He felt that daily life was worth remembering and, in his own way, he saw the sacred quality of the commonplace. 

    November 1st is also the beginning of Winter in Celtic tradition;  a time of sheltering in by the fireside.  It is also a good time to look through old photographs and remember those on whose shoulders you now stand. Take time tonight, in between handing out candy to little "trick or treaters", to acknowledge your links to the past.  They have made us what we are, for better or worse.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Thought for Today....Gifts from the Landscape

   I've come a long way since I first took up the camera.  Back then I "took" photographs.  Later, I learned to think of the process as "making" photographs.  Then, when I began my journey as a contemplative photographer, I thought more in terms of images "received".   Now, I've taken that thought one step further.  I see my photographs as gifts.  The are often a great surprise to me and I'm as delighted by their appearance as a child would the presents on their birthday.

    I know to some this is merely semantics but I would beg to differ.  Your thoughts, and hence your words, are a reflection of who you are or who you would wish to be.  So, go out and welcome the gifts you receive from the world around you.  Open them up slowly and thoughtfully and don't forget to say "thank you'!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nature's Subliminal Messages...

   Back in the 1950's there was a big scandal when it was learned that advertisers on the new medium television were imbedding subliminal messages into  their advertising to increase consumer buying of their products.  The research on the effectiveness of subliminal messages in advertising is still debated but I want to employ this idea to the practice of contemplative photography.

   The word subliminal means "below the threshold of conscious awareness". We may not be conscious of it but some part of our brain is.  This information becomes part of our minds storehouse and, over time,  repetition of a message can subtly influence our thoughts and perceptions.  Now I have no scientific evidence to back up this statement, only personal, experiential evidence.

   In our interaction with the natural world there is a subliminal message underlying our encounters. It is the whole basis of contemplative photography for me.  This is not as far fetched as it may, at first, seem.   This subliminal understanding occurs because of the invisible thread of connectivity that exists between all of creation.  On some plane of existence we all communicate with each other even if we are unaware of it.  Some people are simply more adept at it than others and the practice of contemplative photography nurtures it.

   Harvard researcher, Howard Gardner , postulates 9 forms of intelligence.  The 8th and 9th, ones he didn't add until years after his initial book Frames of Mind was published in 1983, are natural intelligence and existential intelligence Natural intelligence is the kind of intelligence we all had at one time and which manifests itself most clearly now in native peoples.  They don't know how they know things about the natural world, the plants and animals, the patterns found in the weather, for instance, they just know it.  These individuals, in my opinion, are the ones who can hear very clearly the subliminal messages of nature.  Existential intelligence is present in people who seem to have a spiritual insight that is more highly developed than the rest of us.  They have the ability and the need to ponder the weightier issues of life, death, and Man's ultimate purpose on earth.

   I did my masters work at Harvard in the late 1970's when Gardner was formulating his theory of multiple intelligences.  It was a very exciting time to study there. His theories made so much sense to me back then and they still do especially as I delve deeper and deeper into contemplative photography.  In fact, these two intelligences, natural and existential, are what contemplative photographers seek to nurture in their practice.  Perhaps, if contemplative photography was made required study in our schools, we could raise a generation of children who could easily tune into the subliminal messages of nature and wouldn't that be a wonderful thing!

  Here is a short video that explains 8 of the multiple intelligences. The 9th, Existential Intelligence is still controversial and research continues to determine if it should or shouldn't be included in the list.




Monday, October 28, 2013

The OMG Moment...

   I was recently watching Louie Swartzberg's wonderful video, Beauty, Nature, Graditude, which I try to watch on a regular basis just for the sheer beauty and inspiration of it.  I posted a link to it on my post The Eternal Search for Beauty. (Watch it again here...)  On the video, Swartzberg relates how, when people watch his films they often exclaim, "Oh my God!" (or OMG to the texting generation!)

    I love his explanation of the words.   "Oh" is the heighten awareness of discovering something awe inspiring..."My" is the acknowledgement of the personal connection to the perception, and "God" is the acknowledgement of this yearning for the spiritual essence, the divine revelation, in the natural world.  For me it is a cry from the very depths of the human heart.

    When you practice contemplative photography, continually and over time, those "OMG" moments will come more frequently.  I try, whether I photograph or not, to have one OMG  moment every day.  What is a marvel to me is how these moments can come at the most unexpected time and in the most commonplace of settings.  It is not difficult to see the beauty in the glorious  clusters of hydrangea I walked by in France in the summer of 2012 but to see it in an old stump is something special.  Of course it was the light, the late afternoon light filtering through the trees and illuminating the old stump that created the OMG moment for me.  I stood in awe of it for several moments.

    Nurturing these moments is an essential practice of the contemplative photographer.  It all begins with heighten awareness, a child-like appreciation of the world around you and, most importantly, the ability to acknowledge it.  It is also the willingness to stop what you are doing and bask in the moment of suspended time.

    Swartzberg has a beautiful new film and below is a link to the trailer.  I am sure it will offer you an OMG moment today.  After you watch it, go out and experience another!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

PhotoTao Card #46 - Three Treasures

Three Treasures
The sage has three treasures: simplicity
patience and compassion.  Go slowly,
enjoying every step.

- Exercise -
A contemplative photographer has four
treasures.  She practices the Four Be's everyday...
Be Still, Be Present, Be Patient and Be Persistent.
These are all she needs to create meaningful and 
poignant images.  She quiets her mind, she focuses
on only what is in front of her, she waits for the
landscape to invite her in, and she returns as often
as necessary until the conversation is over.

   My whole philosophy of contemplative photography can be summed up in those 8 words. If I did nothing else, if I could just practice those 4 concepts every time I journey out into the world with my camera, I would consider myself successful...even if I never made a single photograph.

    My journey as a contemplative photographer has been enhanced by my study of the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism.

    You can read (or re-read) the Characteristics of a Photographic Sage - from which I derive this blog's name - my clicking on this link.  Of course, this is my own invention and play on words and concepts.

    If I could give you all one gift it would be that you will always approach the world you photograph with stillness, presence, patience and persistence.  You will always receive the images you need.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

The A,B,C's fo Contemplative Photography - O

O is for Open Ended (and also for Observation and Obscure and Objectify and Obverse and...)

Allowing for or adaptable to change.
Not restrained by definite limits, 
strictures, or structure.

   Years ago I taught a workshop for educators on creative teaching methods.  At the end I asked them to take a pledge to remain open ended questions.  The worse thing they could do is to fall prey to psychosclerosis...hardening of the attitudes.

   I think that was good preparation for my pursuit of photography as a contemplative practice.  I don't have, nor do I wish for, all the is sufficient for me to merely ask the questions.

   When I sit with an image and write about it's meaning to me I mean the meaning to me at that moment.  Meaning changes over time as I grow and change.  I can see a whole different story in a photograph months or even years later.

   Now this shouldn't imply any wishy-washyness on my part.  I simply believe to remain an open ended question and to allow my images to remain so as well is advantageous to my spiritual growth.   I think the truest indicator of emotional maturity is the ability to see another point of view.  I've often found the truth to lie somewhere in between.  Sad that our politicians don't see it that way....there is a severe outbreak of psychosclerosis in Washington these days.  (Sorry, I just needed to vent!)

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Sense of Urgency...

"So many little time."
   As the days grow shorter and the nights become cooler, there is a sense of urgency around my home in Maine.  The little chipmunks that live in the stone walls behind my house are furiously "to-ing and fro-ing" gathering in their winter stores.

   I've begun my autumn chore of  putting the garden to bed although, as I write this, there has yet to be a killing frost.  Most unusual for my neck of the woods.  Years ago we were happy to get through Labor Day without a it's Columbus Day.

   I spare the late blooming sedum and the wild asters from my secateurs...they are the bees last chance to gather life giving pollen to sustain them over the long winters months of snow and frigid temperatures.  They'll need it too if the Farmer's Almanac is correct in predicting heavy and early snow.

   I worry so for the bees.  They, like so many of the earth's creatures, are in peril.  Mainly, I fear, from the hand of Man.  Our climate too is being altered by our greed for fossil fuels and over production.  Some say that in the next century the Northern ski slopes here in New England will be unsuitable for skiing...not enough snow.

    Yes, there is a sense of urgency in the wind, on so many levels.  It is hard not to despair at times.   Here is a video for you to watch and to consider the plight of the honey bee.  Maybe it's not too late to help out our little friends.  Please post this on your Facebook page...spread the word!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Autumn Reflections...

   This little pond is very near my home in Maine.  It is very special because, unlike most ponds and lakes in Southern Maine, it has no development along it's shores.

   All the land bordering this pond is owned by one family who stock it with trout each year.  People come to put in their canoes and kayaks for a quiet paddle undisturbed by motor boats and jet skis.  How long it will remain this sanctuary of silence and peace is anyone's guess.  I hope it can remain so somehow for people need places like this near to home.
   While I was sitting on the shore recently, enjoying the last of the Autumn color, I found myself reflecting on reflections.  What stirs our hearts when we see a particularly beautiful one?  Why do we respond so strongly to these sorts of images?

   Perhaps, one of the reasons is that they are not always there.  The light and the wind conditions must be just right or there will be no reflection.  It reminded me of my many trips to the shore of Loch Bee on South Uist in the Western Isles of Scotland.  I was going to try and see the flock of mute swans that live on the loch but on my third trip it was the reflection that stopped me in my tracks. You can read about my experience at Loch Bee in the post, A Contemplative Photographers "Thought Flow".  

   Another reason might be the stillness of the experience...the lovely silence.  Nothing disturbs the surface and that must appeal to some deep need within us.

    Finally, there is the element of soft abstraction in some reflections.  While there is a mirror like property to some reflections, the most beautiful reflections, in my estimation, are the ones that take on an impressionistic distortion.

   This blurring of reality is very thought provoking.  Each of my photographs of the pond's reflections, from top to bottom, become increasingly blurred.  I've presented them in the order I made the images.  I find it is often very enlightening to look at the specific order in which you record a location.  What came first and the progression to the final image reveals a lot about your thought process.

   The next time you venture out to photograph, pay attention to not only what initially draws your eye but where your eye finally comes to rest.

   I am not alone in my Autumn reflections.  You can find out how others view this magical season of change, impermanence and transformation....


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Give Yourself a TIme Out....

No man ever will unfold the 
capacities of his own intellect
who does not at least checker
his life with solitude.

- De Quincy

   I spent many years as an elementary school teacher and one of the strategies employed when children were disturbing the class was to give them a "time out".  In the class room this meant a quiet corner with a "thinking chair" my art room it was a desk with paper and crayons.

   We all can benefit from a regularly scheduled time out.  Our days are hectic and filled with to do lists. Busy, busy, busy but I agree with De Quincy that without a life sprinkled with solitude, times when we can just be rather than do, little growth in our contemplative life can occur.

   I like to take my time outs with my camera occasionally.  Like my recent time out on Star Island.  I'd been walking the island, absorbing the beauty and glorious weather when I came to the little cemetery.  I decided to just sit on the grass with my back to the stone wall and bask in the late day sun.  I sat there for some time with my eyes closed absorbing the ambient sounds and sunshine.  (As James Turrell says, we are "light eaters"!)

   When I finally opened my eyes this tiny bee was inches from my face, oblivious to my presence, absorbed in his work.  My brief time out brought me back into the conscious appreciation of such small and "insignificant" happenings and after the bee moved on, so did I.

   Here is a link to a wonderful poster by Karen Horneffer-Ginter on her website Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Receptive Mind...

   I suppose if I had to point to only one influence in my camera work (and I assure you I have many) it would have to be Minor White.  Even when I was studying photography years ago, long before I even knew there was such a thing as contemplative photography, I new Minor White had a unique approach to the medium I loved.

...a very receptive state of mind...not unlike a sheet of film itself...seemingly inert, yet so sensitive that a fraction of a second's exposure conceives life in it.    -Minor White

   I loved the idea of the receptive mind and the notion implied in the quote that the landscape is a creative force engendering life in the mind of the photographer.  Pretty powerful stuff.

   I've floated the idea in this blog before that the landscape can be a co-creator in the image.  It is through this subtle dialogue, not the ego-filled monologue of traditional photography,  that the photographer can come into partnership with the landscape and reveal the hidden truth that lies within...within the landscape and the photographer alike.

   Nurturing the receptive mind is paramount for the contemplative photographer.  There is a paradox however and it is revealed in another Minor White quote...

Let the subject generate it's own
photograph.  Become a camera.

     Here White seems to be advocating complete passivity in the photographer; to become a thoughtless machine.  I doubt this is truly possible or even desirable but a highly receptive mind most certainly is.  Reaching a state where one can welcome the landscape into the process, listening for its whispers, before one even raises the camera to the eye, is allowing the mind to attain a highly receptive state of being.  I don't want to be a thoughtless machine, sorry Mr. White, but I do want to nurture a receptive mind.  For me there is a give and take, a gentle dance, that occurs when I move about the landscape in this way and I feel we both benefit from it.



Monday, October 21, 2013

Remember to Push the Pause Button...

   I was watching a dvd recently when the phone rang.  I immediately hit the "pause" button.  I was able to rejoin the movie several minutes later, no problem.  I hadn't missed anything.  It got me thinking about how great it would be if we had a personal pause button that would allow us to put things on hold and then I realized that, in fact, we do.  Like our internal GPS, humans come with a pause button, unfortunately, few of us utilize it.  It brought to mind the old film, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!   I think we can all relate to that sentiment.

  As often happens, once an idea creeps into my mind I find connections everywhere.  There it was, a post on Huffington Posts wonderful page, GPS for the Soul.  The writer, Dr. Stephan Rechtshaffen, co-founder of the Omega Institute, wrote a great post on ways you can learn to help yourself slow down.  One way he doesn't mention is to practice contemplative photography.

   This image on the right is one I posted on my Pinterest board, Contemplative Photography.  I think it says it all.  You can visit my board for additional inspiration.

   One of the great side effects of practicing contemplative photography is this ability to slow down and just be in the landscape.  Dr. Rechtshaffen says that most people are human doings rather than human beings.  He's so right.  Photographers are no different.  They rush from place to place chasing the shot...looking for the perfect angle, the ultimate subject.  They very rarely take the time to just be in the landscape.  Contemplative photographers make that the focus of their experience.  Through my visual listening exercises I push the pause button so that the landscape, and not my chattering mind, can inform the images I receive.  Read Dr. Rechtshaffen's post below and then, go ahead, push that pause button...I know you want to!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

PhotoTao Card #45 - Forethought

Don't hurry into things and don't
jump ahead of yourself.  Small
things done with great attention
outlast great things done

- Exercise -
When you go out to photograph 
today, give a little forethought to 
the experience itself.  Say, "I will
attend to the small things.  I will
take my time.  I won't let events
distract me."  Don't move ahead
when where you are is full of rich 
possibilities.  Decide to photograph
in one small attention
to the details.

    A public garden is an excellent place to confined yourself. It is has boundaries and you can pay attention to the minute details of the created landscape.

    In St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, at the Kingsbrae gardens I wandered in just such a created landscape. What attracted my attention surprised even me.

    There is a huge old hedge that separates one part of the garden from another and you walk through a sort of dark tunnel cut right through the hedge to get to the next sunlit garden space. But it was the dark forbidding space beneath the hedge that captured my imagination. The old trunks twisted and intersected in a kind of Dantesque dance.

    I expected to see a Hobbit or troll! There were figures implied in the trunks. Do you see the screaming lady in the background of the image on the right?   Definitely eerie.

    If I had been by myself, I think I would have ventured into the twisted and dark landscape of the hedge trunks. I honestly think I could have spent an hour within the hedges while everyone else enjoyed the sunlit garden spaces.

    This is what I mean by getting lost in the details of the landscape. This particular place made me think of being very young and lost in a dark forest..."lions and tigers and bears...Oh My! I don't think we are in Kansas anymore, Toto!"

    Find a  special landscape you can loose yourself in!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The A,B,C's of Contemplative Photography - N

N is for Nuance (and also for Narrative and Nothingness and Nature and...)

...a subtle difference or
shade of meaning...

   What one finds in the landscape is never carved in stone.  There is always a nuance to it.  I like the phrase "shade of meaning".   It can be open to interpretation.

   I am often asked if there are any universals in contemplative photography.  I would have to answer, not at all.  If beauty can be in the eye of the beholder, so can meaning.

   To understand nature's nuances is to appreciate the complexity of the eye of the beholder.  We all see what we are conditioned to see and, more importantly, what we need to see.  I also believe in the synchronicity of the experience.  As Rumi says...

What we seek is also seeking us.

   To really see into the nature of the landscape is to appreciate and value its varying nuances. You can never truly know nature any more than you can know the Divine. You can think all you'd like about it but in the end all you can really do is to behold.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Nature's Subtle Messages...

 The call of death is a call of love.
Death can be sweet if we answer it in the
affirmative, if we accept it as one of the
great eternal forms of life and transformation.
- Herman Hesse
The call of death is a call of love. Death can be sweet if we answer it in the affirmative, if we accept it as one of the great eternal forms of life and transformation.

   As I was walking out to the mailbox to retrieve my mail, my eye was drawn to the blanket of fallen leaves at my feet.  They had tumbled down from the old yellow maple in my dooryard and although my first thought was of raking, my next was to stop and listen to what they had to tell me.

   Each little leaf was experiencing their yearly transformation in their own unique way.  From a distance they may all seem the same but they were far from that.   One held onto its summer green not quite willing to "call it quits", another blushed a hint of red...a last bit of beauty, while another seemed deeper into its ultimate decay.  

   For many, autumn speaks of death.  The cessation of the lushness of summer.  But each tiny leaf had its own poem to relate.  How they embrace their own demise with graciousness and acceptance yet still determined to do it in their own way.  They have all answered the call of death in the affirmative.  

   They, far better than I, understand the eternal transformation they are silently experiencing as I walk by barely cognizant of the drama at my feet.  So much of life is like this.  Perhaps it is time we open our minds to the subtle messages that surround us.  Nature is gently tapping us on the shoulder and whispering in our ear.  Can you hear it?

The call of death is a call of love. Death can be sweet if we answer it in the affirmative, if we accept it as one of the great eternal forms of life and transformation.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Gift....

The Burnt Meadow Mountains in Brownfield, Maine
   The weatherman said today would be overcast and rainy and earlier in the week the economic forecast was equally gloomy.   What we got today was clear blue skies and warm temperatures and we all dodged the political bullet as well.  I will consider them both gifts. 

   This is the view of the Burnt Meadow mountains just a half mile from my home in Maine.  You can clearly see why it got that name and why I love these mountains which are really just foothills of their more famous big brothers, the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

   There's a "cease-fire" for the time being in Washington and I bask in the beauty of my tiny part of the world where bigger and more powerful isn't always better.  I will take whatever gifts I receive and be thankful....

Forging Connections: Discovering the Spiritual Essence of Place

   I am often asked, when I lecture on contemplative photography, if there is a religious connection to the practice.  I always try to dispel the notion that contemplative photography is associated with any specific faith practice.  As you can see, my influence is both Celtic Christianity and Taoism but I happily quote Buddhist and Sufi writers, along with the  Christian ones.  In fact, any writer on spirituality can find their way into my practice and this blog.  Contemplative photography does have a decided spiritual bent by its very nature though.

   Life is so full of meaning and
purpose, so full of beauty...beneath
its covering...that you find earth
but cloaks your heaven.  Courage
then to claim it, that is all!

- Fra Giovanni

   Lately it seems as if my connection in the landscape is with the humble bee!  I seem to photograph them everywhere.  This handsome specimen drew my attention on a walk around Fresh Pond Reservation in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I will be leading a contemplative stroll there this weekend and I was getting a feel for the place.  I made two bee portraits on Star Island as well.  As I have said numerous times, repetition brings revelation.  The bees had a message for me to contemplate and I will pursue that line of thought in my journal this week. 

    There is meaning and purpose to everything you choose to photograph.  With every image you are forging a connection with some element of the landscape.  I love Fra Giovanni's idea that "earth but cloaks your heaven."   There is a spiritual essence which is inherent in the is the role of the contemplative photographer to gather it in through their camera work.

   I will be developing this idea of the spiritual essence of landscape in future posts.  It is a subject that is near and dear to my heart as I try to continually to forge connections with living landscape.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Reviewing the Practice of Visual Listening...

6:40 am - Pembroke, Maine
   At the core of my practice of contemplative photography is visual listening.  It is the practice of preparing myself to engage with the landscape.  It might be helpful to those who are new to the idea of using photography as a contemplative practice to review this concept of visual listening.

   Although,initially, I want to quiet my mind to remove distractions and focus my attention, it is important to note that I am not trying to empty my mind of all thought.  Besides being pretty nearly impossible to achieve, it is not, in fact, a desirable state for the contemplative photographer.

   Visual Listening is an interactive form of mediation, not a passive one.  After all, the word meditation comes from the Greek word medesthai,  which means "to think about" or "to care for".  It requires a focused but engaged mind.

6:40 pm -  Pembroke, Maine
   Visual listening demands that you look into the landscape and try to hear its message - not with your eyes and ears solely but with your eyes and ears linked through your heart.  You must not only see the landscape but feel it as well.

   You can use many methods to quiet your mind but once it is focused on what is there, directly in front of you, allow your mind to think about what you see and, probably more importantly, allow your heart to care about what you see.

   When both the mind and the heart are brought into harmony, you will have reached what Alfred Stieglitz called: "the moment of equilibrium".  Now you can begin to receive your images...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Their Own Words - Wendell Berry

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

   I most often quote photographers on this blog but watching the Bill Moyer's interview of a man I have admired for years, Wendell Berry, I felt I needed to mention this amazing man.  Recent world events have left me despairing for the state of things.  I too long for the "grace of the world".

    Using photography as a contemplative practice I have, over the years, developed a very special relationship with the natural world.  As I said in yesterday's post, in many ways this relationship is an important way for me to practice my religion.  If that is so, Berry would be one of my many prophets...which is also what Moyers has called him.

   As contemplative photographers we have a unique ability to call attention to Mankind's mistreatment of the natural world. If you believe, as I do, that Nature is divine presence than this mistreatment is even more profound. In the interview,  Berry said that all of Nature is sacred and therefore our exploitation of Nature is a sacrilege. I would have to agree with that sentiment.

   Watch the interview in the link below and perhaps you will be inspired to enter into a new relation with the landscape.   Perhaps you can become one of the advocates for what Berry calls, "the precious things" of the natural world through your photographs.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Religion is Nature...My Liturgy is Solitude

I looked in temples, churches and mosques.  I found the Divine within my heart.  - Rumi

   As much as I love the sanctuary of sacred spaces, I have always felt a greater spiritual connection in Nature.   I suppose that is why I am so attracted to Celtic traditions that, before they were brought into the ways of the Roman church, were so entwined with the natural world. For them, and me, Nature is divine presence which is why, when I speak about it in this context, I capitalize the "N". 

   I find great solace in community.  It is so uplifting to share ideas and thoughts and laughter.  I also covet and cling to my solitude. I try to make space for solitude and silence every day and it is very much a part of my spiritual practice along with contemplative photography which is, of course, best practiced alone.  Solitude is my liturgy, the way I practice my religious beliefs.  It is in this apophatic silence that I feel most at home.

Religion is what you do with your solitude. - Archbishop William Temple

   When I am in the landscape I need the silence of solitude to hear the whispered messages.  As vast as it is, the natural world seems like a tiny chapel to me and I sit in reverence for all I experience there.  Every tree a sculpted column supporting a vaulted sky, each small plant and creature an icon, every stone a familiar pew.   Emily Dickinson, as in so many other instances, says it best...

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church --
I keep it, staying at Home --
With a Bobolink for a Chorister --
And an Orchard, for a Dome --

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice --
I just wear my Wings --
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton -- sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman --
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at least --
I'm going, all along.

The wonderful writer, Rev. Dr. J. Philip Newell, explores the nuances of the Celtic faith in his book, Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality. It is good introduction to the subject.  He quotes extensively Johannes Scottus Eriugena, the great early Medieval Celtic philosopher who recognized the divinity in all creation.  Human beings are only part of an immense web of life.  Harm one tiny part of it and you harm it all.  The Celts were the first ecologists in this thinking and perhaps the world would be in a better place today had we followed their lead.  

   John Phillip Newell runs the SalvaTerra foundation which you can learn about here.   Below is a link to a soul centering chant produced by SalvaTerra that I particularly love and in today's world, its message is especially wonderful:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

PhotoTao Card #44 - Mysterious Virtue

Mysterious Virtue
The simple meditation of turning 
your attention inward is the key
to experiencing Tao.  Let it
become a daily practice. 
- Exercise -
Contemplative photography is a form
of meditation.  It encourages you to focus
your attention on the details of life and
then turn inward through you reflections.
Create a series of "Meditations" based on
a simple concept like wind, symmetry or
joy.  Let the images inspire a piece of
writing...a poem perhaps.

Monthly Meditation - January, 2014
   This year I decided to look through my images and create a monthly meditation calendar for 2014.  This is the image I chose for January.

   In December, I will upload all twelve images which you are welcome to download and print for yourself.

   I encourage you to create your own series next year.  I make a small desktop CD case calendar that I can keep next to where I write each morning.  Each month I will  have an image and an idea to think and write about in my journal.

   Spending a whole month on one idea may seem like a lot of time but if you pursue it as an evolving process, where you read what you wrote before and build on it, it is actually a very fluid and interesting exercise.  You may actually end up in a totally different place at month's end!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The A,B,C's of Contemplative Photography - M

M is for Metanoia (and also for meditations, metaphor, meaning, mysterious and...)

   I love finding new words!  I found this one in a book I am reading by Carl McColman, Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path.  Although metanoia has various meanings depending on what tact you are taking, (psychological, philosophical, theological, etc.) I will use the one McColman uses in his book on contemplation...

...a new dimension of awareness,
a new unfolding of consciousness,
a new approach to being in the world.

   This is a very apt description of what happens when you embrace photography as a contemplative practice.  You simply cease to see the world around you in a simplistic, concrete way.  It becomes a palace of metaphor and hidden meaning that you wander through in awe and with joy.

   This has, for me, changed forever my relationship with the landscape.  It has made me much more thoughtful and insightful.  Sometimes it is a bit of a burden as well.  I see so much it is sometimes very difficult to turn it off!

   How has your photographic practice heightened your awareness?  How has your consciousness expanded?  Do you approach the world in a different way now?  You can say that through contemplative photography your metanoia has been triggered...where will it take you?


Friday, October 11, 2013

The Path You Take...

   There are always choices.  The journey we make, the path we take, is up to us.  

   Some prefer the safe track; the smooth and well delineated way where their feet will never get muddy and the path is clear.

   Others prefer the meandering and slightly obscure path.  Where the track is uneven and the way can be challenging and uncertain.

   I photographed both these paths on my trip to down east Maine.  Pathways was my word for the year and I love the way I keep getting subtle messages in the ones I've encountered.  These two examples gave me much to mull over. 

A Pitcher Plant
   The winding, somewhat muddy path on the right was a bit precarious to walk.  More than once I feared I may have taken a wrong turn.  There were no signs and I began to loose my sense of direction.  I wasn't exactly panicking but the thought did cross my mind that if I were to loose my footing and fall it might be some time before anyone came across me.

   The boardwalk on the left was a very easy stroll through amazing bog lands.   It was almost too easy.  Although I enjoyed my walk, the thrill of the unsure and the unknown was missing.  I think I prefer the subtle hint of uncertainty on my journeys.  Perhaps when I'm in my dotage the boardwalk will be my pathway of choice.  Until then I, like Robert Frost, will take the path less traveled and see where it takes me.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Charting Innerscapes....

The outer physical landscape people
wander through with all its varying
scenery is, in the pilgrim's tradition,
understood as a picture of the
inner landscape every person
carries with them.

- Arne Bakken

   The very foundation of contemplative photography is the conscious exploration of the "innerscape"...that mysterious place deep inside each of us.  It is a place we carry with us no matter where we travel.

   Just as the place we come from subtly tints our perceptions of each new encounter, our innerscape can enhance or detract from our every experience.

   Most people have no trouble charting the outer landscape; getting from here to there is as easy as consulting a map or, more likely, turning on the GPS device.  The innerscape is somewhat more difficult to chart.

   On my ferry ride back from Deer Island, Canada, I got out of the car to scan the water for whales and seals but it was the rusted ferry floor that drew my camera's lens.

   I thought the shapes reminded me of an aerial view of the world taken from far up in space by a weather satellite.  I decide to use it as an imaginary map of my own innerscape.

   Cultivating one's innerscape is as important to the contemplative photographer as negotiating the outer landscape.  In fact, the two are inextricably linked in a contemplative dance of sorts.  As the innerscape sharpens and clarifies, the "outerscape" becomes richer and more meaningful.

   Those who wish to cultivate their inner pilgrim, should begin by first carefully charting your own will only enhance your journey, wherever it may take you.

  ( My companions on the ferry found the temptation of photographing the ferry deck's "landscapes" irresistible! )

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Demystifying the Mystical Gaze....

Looking into the Beyond
   I don't think there is any word more misunderstood than that of "mystic".  Really, what image immediately pops into your head?  Skinny guy, sitting cross-legged on a mat mumbling obscure phrases?  Or maybe it is the pale, other worldly saint who gazes lovingly at something you can't see.  Definitely, mystics are not your average, run of the mill type person...certainly not like us...or are they?   If we strip away all the metaphysical baggage and exaggerated misconceptions we are left with:

A person who believes in  and pursues a transcendent truth that
 surpasses exclusively rational understanding or knowing.

   Sounds a lot like a contemplative photographer to me!  At least the kind of contemplative photographer that understands that wisdom can be revealed in the metaphoric capabilities of the landscape.  Even with that definition, I would hesitate to add "mystic" to my CV but I think there is much we can learn from the mystical gaze. 

   The eyes of a mystic, like those of the contemplative photographer, look beyond the surface appearance of things to find a deeper connection with the world around them.  They pass through the door, walk through the corridor of life but keep their eyes trained on the light beyond.  While the rest of us dwell in the minutia of daily existence, they see the "big picture" somehow.  If you ask a mystic, if you are lucky enough to know one, how they know what they know I'm sure the answer would be difficult to absorb. After all, that is where we get the words "mystify" and "mystery".  They all come from the same root.

   I think the average person, however, is fully capable of mysticism but for that to happen we need to loose our everyday eyes.  We must embrace everything we encounter with a loving gaze that accepts it for what it is all the while knowing that it is so much more.

    Intrigued? Here are some links you might find illuminating.  I've really enjoyed this book by Carl McColman. Beautifully written and easily understood by a mystic-in-training.  It is a good starting point for understanding mysticism and its relevance for today's spiritual seeker no matter what their leanings are.
by Carl McColman

Carl McColman's Website with a video
introduction to his latest books on mysticism 

The Christian of the future will be
a mystic or nothing at all.
-Karl Rahner



Tuesday, October 8, 2013


   All my life, even before I embraced contemplative photography, I have been guided by signposts.  These are things that appear unexpectedly and which let you know you are on the right path.  They are often metaphoric.  In fact, most of my signposts are in this category.  They are not overtly obvious but subtly indicative like learning the cove in Machiasport was called Howard's Cove, my friends last name.  The same friend whose cairn of remembrance I built on Campobello.   But sometimes they can be quite literal, like these examples.

   The wonderful blog by Mary A. DeJong, Waymarkers, is one I've been following for awhile now.    Waymarkers are like signposts...they mark a route and guide the pilgrim.  You have to be attuned to them and you can easily over look them in your day to day rush.  I like the term.

   I stopped for lunch at an Irish pub in Lubec while I was vacationing down east recently.  As soon as I sat down I glanced up and saw the sign above hanging from a rafter.  I was amazed.  Glendalough is the third leg of my Threshold Pilgrimage next year and I didn't expect to see a sign for it in Lubec, Maine.  Glendalough is not like Dublin or Galway or Limerick...those I would expect to see in an Irish pub.  But there it was, pointing East and it made me smile.

  Two days later when we ferried out to Deer Island, I saw this sign along the side of the road.  It was pointing to a little shop called The Pilgrim's Rest.  An odd, unexpected word to see on this little island in the Bay of Fundy.  I had been talking about pilgrimage to the group I was with and seeing this sign, again, made me smile.

   Coincidence my friends would say.  So would I except it happens to me constantly and in the most unusual places.  I prefer to think that when these signposts appear the universe is winking at me and letting me know it is fully aware of my intentions and approves of them...and that too makes me smile.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Thought for Today...The Wisdom of Woods and Stones

   Finding this quotation after returning from my trip down east and my experience on the "beach of metaphors" and Jasper Beach was like an affirmation.  I don't think you can practice contemplative photography for very long before the wisdom of the woods and stones becomes obvious.  You will also begin to notice these moments of synchronicity as well.   They happen a lot more frequently than we can imagine.

   I don't think Bernard was dismissing the wisdom contained in books.  I believe he was simply pointing out that Nature can be one of our best sources of contemplative insight.  I couldn't agree more.

   I invite you to spend some time in Nature's library very soon...where every tree has a message to impart and the stones speak volumes in  their silence.