Friday, February 28, 2014

Don't Try So Hard....

"What you seek is also seeking you." - Rumi
The Treasures’ Nearness

A man searching for spiritual treasure
could not find it, so he was praying.

A voice inside said, “You were given
an intuition to shoot an arrow
and then dig where it landed,”

but you shot with all your archery skill!
You were told to draw the bow
with only a fraction of your ability.”

What you are looking for
is nearer than the big vein
on your neck! Let the arrow drop.

Don’t exhaust yourself like the philosophers,
who strain to shoot the high arc
of their thought arrows.

The more skill you use, the farther you’ll be
from what you deepest love wants.

   This is one of my favorite Rumi poems and it speaks to so much of my thoughts on contemplative photography.  It shouldn't be so hard! 
   Sometimes we need to release our sense of control...abdicate some of our mastery of the medium to connect with what we are seeking... deeply contemplative imagery.
   We simply need to reach out and what we are seeking will reach out for us.  We will meet in the middle.  So much of Rumi's wisdom is about letting go.  So much of what I write about on this blog is about becoming empty bowls so the wisdom of the landscape can fill us up.  It is, in fact, the first characteristic of the Photographic Sage and, perhaps, the most important.
   Children have this natural capacity to engage the world as empty bowls.  We need to remember a time when we didn't work so hard on experiencing what the world has to offer us.
   Here is a past blog post that speaks to this very idea.  We need to re-experience the world around us as children do...with their kind of total engagement and lack of expectation.
           DEEP PLAY
Footnote: The image for today's post is a playful adaptation of one of my frost etchings from the window in my barn. It seemed to illustrate the Rumi notion that what you are seeking is also reaching out, seeking you. I wanted to disengage it from it's black and white world and playfully alter tone and color.  It was a huge leap for me!   I was inspired my Susan Fox's approach to intuitive photography and her willingness to creatively alter images. You can visit her blog at Finding My Bliss.  When I was an art teacher I often encouraged my students to "play with the materials". Thought it was high time for me to practice what I preached!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Secret of Seeing...

At the intersection of light and shadow
      We take our sight for granted.  We wake up, open our eyes, and see.  Training our eye to see "better" is often the obsession of those of us who love photography.  There are so many ways to hone our perceptual skills that it can, and does, fill volumes.  There are many excellent online classes like Kim Manley Ort's Photo by Design, which starts March 3rd.  I've taken a workshop with Kim and can recommend her methods of communicating the subtleties of the subject.  But I don't want to speak about that kind of high intensity seeing...

The literature of illumination reveals this above all: although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise.
-Annie Dillard

   This is an important thing to consider as you try to develop greater perceptual skills.  You must always remain open to the total surprise of the unexpected, the unsought after.  You must endeavor to leave some space in your seeing to allow those unexpected images to come through.  If we try too hard to see only the great and inspiring things, the little and the soulful things often get by us and they may be the most inspiring of all. That is the true secret of seeing...


That you will learn to look
and not to look.
That you  will focus your attention
and let your focus fade.
That you will give everything to see,
the give it up
finally to be surprised
by the treasure at your feet.

- Jan L. Richardson

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Scripture of the Landscape...

A Luminous Light
   Contemplative photography means, for me, being gifted images from a landscape that is eager to share its wisdom with those who possess a still and quiet heart and who are willing to sit and just listen.  The images I receive are the scripture of the landscape written not with words but with photons.

Light is the language
 of the landscape.

   Some days the light fairly sings, like this morning under the crab apple tree.  It was like this, soft and luminous, for just a few minutes.  Just long enough for me to record this scripture of light.

   Snow usually gives a sharp white light with stark blue/violet shadows.  It is not easy to photograph.  But this day, there was a warm glow to the snow and there was no glaring contrast.  It seemed to emit light rather than reflect it.  I know that may sound strange but it was the sensation I got as I look out the window at it.

    At moments such as this, I understand why light has always been associated with the spiritual.  Through time and across cultures, light is the supreme scriptural metaphor.  This day I finally "got" James Turrell's statement about the consciousness of light.  You can re-read the original post here.

   After I made this photograph, I just sat and gazed at the scene, afraid to blink for fear it would disappear in that instant.  It did slowly fade away after about five minutes and I was left with such a feeling of profound thankfulness that my camera and I were there to bear witness to the sight.

   I felt that after weeks of in-dwelling this Winter; of embracing both stability and the wonderful Taoist practice of Wu Wei, photographing only what comes to me, I was given an amazing gift in this image.  No, more than the image it was the experience...the photograph is but a translation of the experience and never equal to it.  This will be my Icon of the Experience for the Winter of 2013/2014.  The image that says it all for me.

   Another post on James Turrell's amazing installation at the Guggenheim last year may also provide some further illumination on light....


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Contemplative Masters Series - Minor White

Self Portrait
I have often photographed when I am not in tune with nature but the photographs look as if I had been. So I conclude that something in nature says, 'Come and take my photograph.' So I do, regardless of how I feel.

   This is a series I hope to add to over time because returning to the masters of our practice, be it photography or contemplation, is essential if we are to grow and stretch.  With Minor White, my first and perhaps primary mentor, we have a master of both.  I first mentioned White way back on May 23, 2012 and you can re-read the post here.  High time I re-visited this man's wonderful thoughts and images.

   Minor White's writing is so rich in inspiration it is very difficult to find just one quotation to illustrate his contemplative thought but the one above is one that intensely relates to my form of contemplative photography - forging the co-creative conspiracy with the landscape.  I often experience this whispered message from the landscape as it gently tugs on my perception's sleeve.
Frost on Window by Minor White

   I think that many people regard contemplation as a solitary and solely interior conversation.  I, on the other hand, see it as an external dialogue with the natural world.  I not only see what is before me as it is, in its purity and clarity, but I try to listen for its subtle message for my soul.

   If it is, as Carl Jung suggests, that the soul speaks to us through images then I feel the landscape communicates to our soul through the eyes of our hearts.  It is a circular thing.  Without this circularity of interaction, true contemplative images cannot occur for me.  And it is, as White alludes to in this quotation, sometimes a thing that happens on a more intuitive rather than a conscious level.  We may not be totally aware at all times when it is happening but we clearly recognize it when we see it in our images.  I prefer to keep some of the process mysterious.  The root of the word "mystery" comes from the Greek mystes, "to keep silence" and there is great power in silence.

   Simply being in the presence of Nature we will be silently drawn into its mystery and wisdom.  The more we remain open to the possibility of encounter the more likely it will happen.  So the next time you go out into the landscape, turn off the transmitter of your judgmental ego, become the in tune receiver of the landscape's message and see what you are gifted.


Monday, February 24, 2014

In Their Own Words - Albert Einstein

Look deep into nature, and 
then you will understand everything better.

    I have admired Albert Einstein for a long while.  He seemed to me to have a compassionate and deeply contemplative nature.  He saw the art in science and he was a man who embraced the mysterious.  I was so pleased to find this quotation by him recently.

   As a contemplative photographer who tries to see into Nature's divine DNA, I couldn't agree with his words more.  Nature is the commensurate teacher I find.  The lessons may be subtle or bold but they are always there.

   When I was a teacher I believed that for learning to take place all that was required was one mind to send unselfishly and one mind to receive thankfully.  Now, with my contemplative photography, I am the ever thankful receiver from the great mind of Nature.  I've learned so much.

  " A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” - Albert Einstein

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Touch of Blue...

Red, White and a Touch of Blue
Another snow storm and another peek at my crab apple tree.  Today, in a white white world I was rewarded by a touch of blue.

   The bluejays love the crab apple tree because the tiny, shriveled berries stay on the branches all winter and make a nice treat for the jays on a cold winters day.

   It was why I planted it many years ago in memory of a favorite aunt who loved to watch the birds out her window.  She lived in the city and had a tiny postage stamp sized backyard.  She cherished the birds who came to her feeder as emissaries of Nature...just as I do now.  I think of her every time I look out at it.

   One sometimes feels that color is not Winter's strong suit but one needs only to be patient to find touches of it here and there in the white landscape.  I've really been enjoying my Wu Wei Winter this year and I keep my camera near my kitchen window for moments just like this.  Blurry white snow flakes, red berries and that lovely touch of's no wonder that I keep returning to this "well" day after day.


Here's looking at you kid!

   The sun came out eventually, of course, and with it came Gaylord!  I thought I'd add this latest photograph of him for all the members of his fan club.

   I wonder what he's thinking?!  Probably, "Hey, no autographs please...can't you see I'm busy!"



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Returning to the Well...

    Wells are wonderful metaphors.  The idea of casting your bucket into a deep abyss and bringing up, with some effort, life giving water can easily be applied to those of us who seek refreshment for their spirits through their practice of  photography.

   Nature is an infinitely deep well of inspiration for the contemplative photographer.  Everyday, every moment in fact, offers a new and surprising revelation for hearts that are open and eyes that are clearly focused on what is before them.

   You might also discover special and individual wells within the landscape that you can return to time and time again to quench your soul's thirst.  The crab apple tree a few feet behind my house is one of my personal wells as you no doubt have come to realize this winter.

   One of the vows monks take when they enter the monastery is one of stability...staying put in one place.  Now, with my wanderlust that is one vow I would have a great deal of difficulty with at this stage in my life but Winter offers this "monk in the world" a taste of that stability.  I stay put, hunker down, and feel immense contentment with the near at my crab apple tree.

   This particular morning it's branches were etched with a silver light that, frankly, took my breath away.  It only lasted a few minutes.  I was fortunate to have seen it at all.  The sun at this time for year melts things quickly but I'm in the habit of checking out the tree several times a day.  For a few minutes I was able to take in the beauty and wonder of this sight.  Tomorrow, even this afternoon, the tree will present a whole different message...a new source of inspiration.  I don't think I will ever tire of returning to this well so, in my own way, I practice the monastic devotion to stability at least for the winter months.  Do you have a special well of inspiration?


Friday, February 21, 2014

The Long Journey to the 500th Post...

Solitary Window - Inis Oirr, Aran Isles, Ireland
   When I began this journey of contemplative photography back in 2005 I had no idea where it would lead.  I certainly didn't envision writing my 500th post for a blog on the subject!

   I had little understanding, really, of how complex and multifaceted the term it could mean different things to different people.

   What I learned, very early on, was that if I was to fully embrace this new way of regarding the world around me I had to define the term for myself.  I felt contemplative photography was a broad and gracious enough concept to allow for an infinite range of interpretations.

   I didn't begin my journey empty handed however.  I brought with me my love of Taoist philosophy.  I've always felt there were ways to twine the two illuminating and guiding the other...but I didn't fully understand how they could fit together until I began this blog.  Week by week, post by post I've journeyed into the concept of contemplative photography through a Taoist perspective.

   The journey initially took me along the bumpy and uphill track of exhibition and self-promotions which I quickly discovered was not my path.  I needed a new direction so when I came to a fork in the road in January of 2012 I took a different and less traveled route.  This blog has been a wonderful adventure for me and as I reach the 500th post milestone I am filled with gratitude for the friends I've made and the wisdom I've been gifted.  It is through the Celtic Christian tradition, which I was first introduced to by John O'Donohue back in 2006, that I was able to see Nature as divine presence and contemplative photography became a spiritual practice as well as a meditative one.

   In the end, I was able to fashion a concept of contemplative photography that fit my background and my interests.  That is the message I wish to pass on to you today.  You must make your practice of  contemplative photography unique to your own soul.  The only important thing is to begin...see where the path will lead you.  As the Cheshire Cat advised Alice, "You are bound to get someplace if you walk long enough!" 

   In the meantime, I welcome you to journey along with me through my daily posts as I seek ways to:
  You can click on any of the above subject areas to see posts I've previously written.  Again, thank you all for sharing this journey with me!  I'm looking forward to the next 500 posts!  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Contemplative Look at the Principles of Design - Emphasis

 Special attention is given to one part of a photograph.Emphasis can be achieved through placement, contrast, color, size, etc. Emphasis creates a focal point.

   Every day I look out the back door to see what is happening in the crab apple tree.  This particular morning the light etched the icy twigs beautifully.  I waited for quite some time for one of my little chickadees to land on the branches to create a focal point.  The right light, the right placement of bird on branch, it all contributed to a lovely composition in my mind...simple and elegant.

   The lines of the branches intersect at the tiny bird drawing your eye in. The bird is also located within the "magic box" and near one of the four corners which define the "law of thirds"...a compositional strategy I learned in art school.  This is always a good location for your focal point.   I've practiced this for so long that I really don't think too much about it when I'm photographing.

    Using any of the design principles I've spoken about in this series can enhance the artistic effect of your photograph but, like most photographic "rules", should not get in the way of your pure enjoyment of what is in front of you.  Perception first, appreciation second and composition third and in that order.  Practice the principles of design by all means but don't fixate on them.  It was the light on the ice that drew my attention...the rest is just me being "artsy".  Not all that important in the long run for my form of contemplative photography.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Contemplative Look at the Principles of Design - Harmony/Unity

The arrangement of elements to give the viewer the feeling that all the parts of the photograph
 form a coherent whole.

   Of all the principles of design, this one is the most difficult to illustrate, to understand in fact.  As I use to tell my art students, "Unity means that you cannot take away any part without damaging the whole."

   Like all the design principles, applying them to photography is a challenge because, unless you stage the photograph, what is before you is what you can photograph.  Framing becomes critical and cropping can emphasize various elements.

   In this photograph, made on South Uist, each element (the two flowering plants, fence post, the barn, the mountain and the sky) all flow together...each a crucial element.  If you take your finger and block out one, the whole photograph falls out of harmony.  Each is necessary.  The flowers anchor the foreground, the fence post creates a bridge through the middle ground to the horizon, and the focal point, the barn buildings, give your eye somewhere to travel to.  It is an inward and upward path.  The mountains delineate the horizon line and lift your eye into the sky.

   I  made several studies of this scene before I felt I had re-created the experience of being at that particular place in that moment of time.  The only cropping I did was to take a tiny bit off the sky so that horizon line didn't bisect the composition...something I never like particularly.

   With your first response to the landscape, you may not be too aware of the individual elements and their relationship to the whole.  Take your time and do several studies.  One will stand out for will contain the harmonious unity you seek. Again, it is with a conscious awareness that some level of mastery occurs.  It is the difference between the thoughtful conceived image and a "snap shot". 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Contemplative Look at the Principles of Design - Rhythm and Movement

The use of recurring elements to direct the movement of the eye through the photograph.  There are five kinds of rhythm: random, regular, alternating, progressive and flowing.

   These five mourning doves were sheltering in a recent snowstorm.  Puffed up to withstand the cold, they waited patiently for their turn at the feeder.  Doves are shy birds that are easily startled into flight, unlike my chickadees who seem to tolerate my presence.

   Sitting quietly and evenly spaced, they are regular notes along the branch.  Your eye will follow repeating shapes very naturally and the elongated format simply adds to the movement. I've begun to love long, lean formats...the Chinese scroll on its side!  Their peachy brown feathers a warm counter-point to the blue grey surroundings.  The eye will always go to warm colors first.  The light waves from warm colors reach our eyes first which is why stop signs are red!

    Another classic way to direct the eye is with the "S curve".  Again, your eye seems to want to follow an implied line in the landscape.

   This photograph, made in the Western Isles of Scotland, uses the regular rhythm of the fence posts and the subtle curving, linear road to lead your eye into the photograph.

   Soft, undulating curves are restful and sharp, zig-zag lines create a sensation of energy and quick movement.  All are artistic devices that will lift a photograph out of its stasis and energize the experience for the viewer.

   You will become more aware of rhythm and movement if you take the time to study it; not only in your own work but in the work of masters of our craft.  Slowly, over time, it will become instinctual and you will apply it to your work with nary a thought.


Monday, February 17, 2014

A Contemplative Look at the Principles of Design - Balance

A feeling of balance results
when the visual elements are
arranged symmetrically or
asymmetrically to create the
impression of equality in
weight or importance.

  I prefer asymmetry.  It comes, partly, from my love of Chinese landscape painting.  When things are symmetrical, I am overcome with a feeling of static and somewhat boring certainty.  Like the image is most unpleasing to my eye.  A horizon line right in the middle gives nothing makes no "statement" about what you are seeing and how you are seeing it.

   Now if I were to crop the image into an asymmetrical composition, I immediately like it far better.  There is a tension and a visual movement that is lacking above.  You can begin to see that even though the horizon line is still relatively centralize your eye moves between the large bail and small bales...into the picture.

   The large bale is balanced by the many little bales as well as the large open area to the left of it.  As in Chinese painting, "empty" space is very important, giving the eye a place to rest.  Interestingly, when I tried this with the left side of the photograph it didn't work.  The hay wagon and small bales were all on the same plane and didn't create the visual recession I like.

   Experiment with balance when you are photographing.  Try both vertical as well as horizontal compositions...symmetrical and asymmetrical balance.  See what each has to say to you.  Do you like to keep your focal point centralized or off to one side?  Do you think much about it at all?

   You might like to look at a post I did on "Framing Your World" as this also touches on the idea of creating different types of balance in your photographs.  Each will give a different interpretation to the landscape.

   Photographers are dependent on what they find in the landscape but you are in control of how you frame it...that will make all the difference in the world to the outcome of both the photograph and the reflection.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Contemplative Look at the Principles of Design - Pattern

A regular arrangement of alternated or repeated 
visual elements
(shapes, lines, colors) or motifs.

  A primary characteristic of human thought is the recognition of and search for pattern.  I make the search for pattern part of my love of "simplicities" or photographic abstraction.  You can find examples nearly everywhere you look.  This still life is in my bathroom.

   Patterns can say a lot to the contemplative photographer. As I've said before, repetition is revelation.  We feel comfortable with pattern because it is knowable and predictable.  But life is seldom that.  Perhaps that is why we seek it out.

   I particularly like to find examples of pattern that offer a counterpoint as well.  Like this photograph of the crumpled and imprecise facecloths in the uniform and repeating containers. People seem like that to me.  We seek the comfort of uniformity while squirming within its confines to express our individual uniqueness.  It is a love/hate relationship.

   Now, I've looked at this still life everyday for years and thought nothing much of it.  But when I went in search of pattern in my home for this post, it fairly leaped off the wall for me.  I use to tell my students that they can never really learn something until they perceive some need to do so.  It is like that with contemplative photography too.  We won't see the metaphors until we feel a need for them.  Imagine all the wonderful messages all around you right now just waiting for your contemplative eye to both acknowledge your need for them and then to seek them out!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Contemplative Look at the Principles of Design - Contrast

Fire and Ice
The juxtaposition of different visual elements in order to highlight their differences.

 In a previous series I looked at the contemplative possibilities of the visual elements.  Today I will begin a series that will show how the principles of design can be viewed from a contemplative perspective rather than an artistic one.  There are plenty of design books that will innumerate the artistic application of these principles.  Here I want to see how they might apply to contemplative thought.

    If the visual elements can be considered the building blocks of art, then the design principles are the instructions on how one can variously arrange those blocks.  It is a deliberate attempt to order your image for effect.  A painter has full control of this process...a photographer must rely to some extent on what presents itself to them.  Camera angle and viewpoint will then accentuate the idea.

   The first principle I will discuss is contrast.  In photography, we often speak of contrast in terms of light and shadow but I want to approach it from a contextual viewpoint.  It is a crucial one for this contemplative photographer who is inspired by Taoist ideas.  The yin/yang paradigm is central to Taoist thought.  All things exist in pairs and in this photograph, one such pair is illustrated.

   It is not just an exercise to find these pairings in the landscape.  What the concept of contrast does for the contemplative photographer is to stimulate a dialogue.  By placing these two concepts side by side, each becomes amplified.  This will then lead to new ideas that might reconcile the opposition in some way.

   I think the primary benefit, contemplatively speaking, in photographing examples of contrast is that it enables me to muse on both their individual meanings and the third, taken together, they offer a different message.  In my Photo Lectio with this image,  I saw fire as passion and ice as detachment...there is a time for both and an excess of either can be heatwaves and ice storms!  I also mused that taken together, passion will eventually melt away detachment and that can be good thing if it draws people into an important cause or idea.

   Looking for ways to use the principle of contrast in your photographs is a good exercise in discrimination.  It trains the eye to look for ways the landscape offers us points and counterpoints.  Contrast, as the Taoist principle eludes to, is not a bad is the nature of the world because in it it creates the balance we all strive for and Nature always seeks balance.


Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentines Day Message...Share the Love!

   Meet Emerson, my resident philosopher and my true soul friend.  Those of you who are pet parents know the special places these wonderful creatures hold in our heart.  He feels my pain and rejoices in my happiness.

   Now, as I journey with my contemplative photography, I know that there is more behind those soulful yellow eyes than some would believe.  The development of a strong empathetic attitude is crucial for me.  It effects how I look at the world and, I feel, it makes me more receptive to the images I am gifted.

   Feeling this profound connection with the living landscape is an important characteristic of the contemplative photographer.  You can never truly relate to something you don't first love on some level.

   Through my study of Taoism I have come to embrace the idea of sentience, the metaphysical quality of all living things that requires respect and care.   It is a very Celtic thing as see the divine in all of creation.  It is also a philosophy that is central to those of us who advocate for the humane treatment of animals.

   When we open our hearts to these creatures we can begin to understand the character of unconditional love.  The ability to feel and show love is not limited to human animals.  In the West, the idea of sentience in non-human animals is an often scoffed at thing but that doesn't phase me.  I am very attracted to photograph animals and their complete genuineness is something I've long admired.  They are what they are and they don't pretend to be anything else.  Humans could use a bit of this truthfulness of spirit.

   I found a board on Pinterest that celebrates sentience in the animal world.  The images will make you smile and also, I hope, bring a new respect for these creatures.  Put aside your skepticism and embrace the empathy.   This board of photographs of animals, great and small, displaying real emotions will make you feel good down to your toes and isn't that a great thing?  Happy Valentine's Day...Share the Love!


Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Thought for Today - "This too shall pass"...

   It has been awhile since I told a story so here goes...

   Once upon a time there was a kindly king in the land of Persia.  The king had all the possessions a king could possibly have but he was not content with his material wealth.  What the king wished for above all the gold and silver and jewels was to possess the ultimate truth.  

   One day the king summoned all the wisest and most learned men in his kingdom.  He said to them, "Go away and do not return to me until you can bring me the one thing that is true in all instances.  I seek the ultimate truth for all things, at all times and for all people."

   The wise men walked away shaking their heads.  They did not believe that there could be such a thing and they were, after all, the wisest and most learned of men in the kingdom.  

The king waited and waited.  He waited through the hot days of summer and the cold days of winter; he waited through the monsoon and the drought; he waited through times of turmoil and times of peace.  Finally, an old man approached the beleaguered king who was in the depth of  a deep despair. 

    "What troubles you your highness?" , he humbly asked.  "I am at a loss of ever finding the answer to my question, 'What is always and forever true.'  I feel I will never be happy again."

The old man simply smiled and said, "This too shall pass."  The king knew in an instant that he had been given the answer to his most sought after desire and he was able, at long last, to smile again.

   That is the story I told the mourning dove this morning as we prepared for yet another big snow storm.  "Take heart my friend.  This too shall pass!"  It made us both feel much, much better! 

Following the Tracks of the Spirit...

I tread in the tracks of the fox which has gone on before me...with such a tiptoe of expectation as if I were on the trail of the Spirit itself which resides in these woods, and expected soon to catch it in its lair...I know which way a mind wended this morning, what horizon it faced, by the setting of these tracks; whether it moved slowly or rapidly, by the greater or less intervals and distinctness, for the swiftest step leaves yet a lasting trace.
- Henry David Thoreau
January 30, 1841

   I woke one morning recently to notice these footsteps in the snow behind my house.  Later that afternoon I was thumbing through some old National Geographic magazines a friend had given me to use for my  photomontage collages.  I came across, in one published in March of 1981, an article on Thoreau and the quotation above which began the article by William Howarth.  It fairly jumped off the page for me.  A wonderful bit of synchronicity to be sure.

   I often speak of picking up "breadcrumbs" as I walk through the landscape...little contemplative tidbits that lead me on.  Now I have another apt metaphor given to me across time by one of my greatest inspirations, Henry David Thoreau...following the trail of the Spirit.  How beautifully put.

   Following the tracks of the Spirit is what we do as contemplative photographers.  We understand each photograph as a footstep along a path of self-wisdom or, as the Concord transcendentalists called it, "self-culture".  We cannot help following along, it draws us ever forward on our internal quest.  

   Thoreau was a visionary and a mystic "who saw God in both man and nature, who believed the earth and our minds are ever intertwined."  A description that would easily apply to this contemplative photographer and many of you as well I'm certain. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Finding your own kind of Enlightenment through Contemplative Photography

   There is a Taoist concept that states that what exists above (in heaven) also is present below (on earth).  There is no real separation between the two...each reflects the other.  This is also a Celtic world view.  It is that way of looking at the world that is the basis of my form of contemplative photography.  I search for divine "fingerprints" in the landscapes I photograph and I never fail to find them.

   I was reminded of these ideas as I stood, yet again, on my back porch looking at the crab apple tree for probably the 100th time this Winter.

   What I saw really wasn't anything dramatic, at first, until I put together the highlighted icicles and the illuminated snow under the tree.  The icicles were like pointing fingers and in the flattened space of the resulting digital image they seemed to be pointing to the sunlit snow.  While my eye didn't connect the two when I first stepped out on the porch because of their distance apart in reality, the unreality of the photograph pulled them together for me.

   Enlightenment or self-understanding can be found absolutely anywhere, even in this rather mundane scene.  It is, in fact, in these very ordinary encounters that I find the most profound understanding of all.  It tells me that the divine fingerprint I seek is everywhere and you need not journey far from home to experience it.

   For me, in the end, it is all about forging connections with the viewed elements of the landscape which are recorded in your photograph- through Photo Lectio - and some concept or idea.  Then the "enlightenment" occurs and it always makes me smile when it does! (I can't help but see that cartoon of the figure with the light bulb above their head!)  I wouldn't have, for instance, believed the common icicle could have so much to tell me in so many different ways but here it is again.  Winter is far from over here in Maine.  Maybe there are more stories these frozen finger prints have yet to reveal to me.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thought for Today...Growth

     This is a really old image and I've used it before but it is a good example of the fluidity of the messages we get from our images.

   When I first made this photograph, in New Mexico in 2007, I was seeing it more in terms of a composition, an arrangement of line and texture.  It reminded me of  Taoist scroll paintings which I so admire.

   Now it is a metaphor for growth.  I've grown so much over my 8+ years of following a contemplative path with my camera work.  As I was reviewing images for my Retrospective folios which I published back in December, this one pop out for me.

   Re-visiting your work is a great Winter activity.  Sit with them and see what they have to tell you.  You are not the same person you were when you made the photograph so the words you will hear now will be different as well.

   This reflection also brought me back to my word for last year, Pathways.  There is a distinct difference between taking a path and taking a road.  Roads have clear signposts and direction.  You can find them on the map.  You know where you've been and you can see where you are going.  Paths, on the other hand, can be more self-directed and meandering.  You have no real way of knowing where you will end up.

   One definite change I've encountered on this path is my slow drifting away from perfectionism.  Now it is enough for me to ask the questions and flow along with whatever answers I find.  Richard Rohr calls this "union".  You can read his blog post on the idea here....

   This has been my experience these last 8 years and as I begin to journey into 2014 I must say that I love the path I'm on.   I hope my little daily musings have been to some purpose for you all as well.  In fact, in a few days I will publish my 500th post!  That is amazing in and of itself.

   I look forward to journeying with all of you during the coming year and I appreciate your comments and reflections. Not being completely sure of where you will end up is a wonderful thing.  It leaves you open to synchronicity and the serendipitous occurrences that come your way.  Staying comfortable with stepping off the path from time to time is also a good thing and when you come to that inevitable fork in the road you will know which way to go...your heart's GPS will guide you.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Into Great Silence - a contemplative movie

   I've been thinking a lot about silence.  In my January 25th post I spoke about practicing the art of silence.  As always, intensely thinking about something usually draws related things to me.  This was the case when I discovered the 2005 movie, Into Great Silence.

    I'd never heard of the award winning film until a few days after completing my post on silence.  I guess the Universe wanted me to have a visual encounter to expand my understanding of the concept.  I immediately ordered the film and I was not disappointed.

   Now, if you are a person who likes action packed dramas this may not be your kind of film.  It is nearly 2 1/2 hours of beautifully filmed but nearly silent footage.  I think the length of the film is important since it takes time to melt into its contemplative nature.  In the beginning you may find yourself thinking, "OK, when does the story start?"  You have to turn off that mindset.  The "story" here is silence and it doesn't require words, drama or a back story.

   The director, Philip Groning, had to wait 16 years for the opportunity to film at the Grand Chartreuse Monastery in France which houses monks of the Carthusian order. (They are world renown for the green liquor that has given it's name to the yellow-green color). Then it was another 5 years of preparation, filming and editing.  Like the monastery itself, "hurry" had no place in the films creation.

   What resulted was a glimpse into the silent nature of the monastic experience.  I found myself drifting off into a unique encounter, the likes of which I have never experience with a film. I also found myself pushing the pause button from time to time so I could better savor some of the films exquisite stills.

    I was a film making major, along with photography, back in my undergraduate studies, and I could really appreciate the essential beauty of this film.  Now, as a contemplative photographer, I could embrace the concept of silence in a whole new and visual way.  You might like to experience this film because that's what you will don't watch it so much as you feel your way through it.  I found it profoundly captivating.

   So, dim the lights, pour yourself a nice hot cup of tea and put your feet up.  Prepare to enter into an experience of simplicity, profundity and, of course, all embracing silence.  It is a contemplative feast for your eyes as well as your soul.  You will wonder where the time went.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Tale of Two Icicles...

   This is another little breadcrumb* I picked up at my house recently.  It definitely fits into the category of Wu Wei, photographing what comes my way on its effort on my part...I just had to "pay attention".   I discovered these two icicles hanging on my front porch and I honestly was fascinated by them.

   The icicle on the right is your standard, run-of-the-mill variety but the one on the left...well, I'm speechless!  Not only did it form an organic, free flowing shape, it struck out horizontally in both directions.  (It reminded me a bit of the map of Italy!)  It even managed to form a small hole.

    The free-form icicle also looks stunning, and very different, from the other side...almost like a strange bird in flight. (Remember my recent post on the need to change perspective from time to time?)  Both icicles formed at the same time but in such totally different ways it is a bit hard to comprehend.  Same weather conditions, same slowly dripping water from the same roof but such radically different results!

   I've lived in Maine for 18 years and I can't remember ever seeing such an amazing icicle formation.  Perhaps I just wasn't paying so much attention to them as I have been this winter.   It makes me wonder what other amazing things I've missed by not paying attention the ordinary and commonplace! 

   It didn't take me long to step into a metaphorical reading, a PhotoLectio, of my two icicles.   People can be like these two icicles I decided.  Give two people the same conditions, the same starting point and some will take the tried and true path...the safe and easily predictable path while the other will opt for the beauty of the untried and unproven...they will risk possible failure to sail in uncharted waters.

   While it is so much easier to be safe and predictable, to do what the world expects you to do, it is so much more fun to be the risk-taker and explorer...not only thinking "outside the box" but dispensing with the box altogether.  Which kind of icicle are you?

* For readers new to this blog "breadcrumbs" are little contemplative tidbits one finds along the way. Gathering breadcrumbs is a form of walking meditation and is an intuitive and spontaneous process that is fun to do wherever you are with your camera.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Inspired by Mary Oliver...

Pay Attention, I say!
Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.  Be astonished.
Tell about it.

   Isn't it wonderful to find a quotation that sums up what you are trying to do in your life?  This one by Mary Oliver does it for me.

   Through my photography I have found a whole new way to "pay attention".  The ordinary, mundane aspects of everyday life are framed in my camera.  I pay attention to the small things as well as big.  Frankly, it all astonishes me in some way when looked at it through the lens of my camera.

   Through this blog, I can tell you all about these tiny wonders.  I can reflect on the beauty and meaning I find in the common place.  Everything is worthy of our attention and all things are connected by an invisible thread of relationship.

   If I had to reduce an entire life philosophy into the fewest words possible, Mary Oliver's instructions would more than suffice.  When you pay attention, what you get in return is pure wonderment...what a deal!

Friday, February 7, 2014

My Threshold Pilgrimage - Part Three

Onward and Upward!
 (Can you find the tiny plane?)
   Besides the flight from Boston to Shannon in May, I had two internal flights to schedule.  I easily booked the Shannon to Glasgow flight but for some reason the airline's website would not allow me to book the Glasgow to Dublin flight!  I tried day after day with no luck.  Then I thought, perhaps I was meant to return to Shannon and drive to Glendalough!  So I booked that flight only to find out the next day the Glasgow to Dublin flight was available.  No problem...I was going to drive.

   Now this would have been a lesson in itself but the "Flight Fairies" were not done with me quite yet.  Several weeks later the airline emailed me that BOTH my flights were canceled!  I had to scramble to find two more flights.  The first has me driving 2 1/2 hours south from Ballyvaughan to Cork to fly north to Glasgow but the second will take me from Glasgow directly to Dublin.  So I'm still driving but in a different direction!

   These sudden and unexpected "detours" in your travel plans should never rattle you.  It is all a part of the journey.  Re-routing is just a diversion and should be embraced as part of the experience of the pilgrimage. I give you again my favorite Hildegard quotation...

We must travel like a feather on the breath of God.

     I was certainly being blown around and I hadn't even left yet!  I actually like to experience these sorts of occurences when I travel.  It makes me think the Universe is taking part in my pilgrimage...directing me to where I need to go.  Besides, as my dear Grandmother loved to say,...

The angels laugh the minute we mere 
mortals make our plans!

   Good advice from both sources!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My Guest Post on Abbey of the Arts - Photo Lectio: The Image as Icon

Bell Harbor and Beyond  (Ireland, 2009)
   I am so honored to have one of my writings featured on Abbey of the Arts today, February 6 , 2014, as part of the Abbey's Monk in the World series.  I have been an ardent admirer of Christine Valters Paintner's work for some time and have written a review of her wonderful book on contemplative photography, Eyes of the Heart.   Her post on this blog, Quieting the Mind through Contemplative Photography has been a hugely popular post.

   My guest post looks at my contemplative practice of Photo Lectio...reading the visual text of your photographic images.  It is the heart of my practice of using photography to inform my meditative writings.  It is based on the monastic practice of Lectio Devina and the Jungian concept that the soul speaks to us through images.

   I hope you take the time to follow the link below to Abbey of the Arts to read the post.  For those who have followed this blog for some time, Photo Lectio will  be familiar to you but a quick review is always a good thing.  You might even consider trying the idea of Photo Lectio yourself this year.  The landscape is just waiting to share it's wisdom with you! Your soul will let you know what is important for you to photograph and, with practice, you will be able to read the images you create as easily as you read this post.  

Portrait of a Squirrel...

   In my on-going attempt to practice Wu Wei this winter and photograph only what comes to me, I submit my formal portrait of Gaylord.  He kindly submitted to my efforts at winter portraiture and it only cost me a handful of sunflower seeds.

   I know Gaylord because of his notched right ear.  Of all the grey squirrels that visit my feeding table, he is the tamest.  I've enjoyed his antics all winter so I thought he deserved being immortalized.

   Sharing his gentle nature with the world just makes me smile.  This photograph reminds me of one of those old Flemish portraits I've seen in the museum.  Such a coy expression and that halo of fur!

   Now, some of my friends are beginning to think I need to get out more but honestly I love these quiet sheltered days around the fire.  Studying the lovely light on Gaylord's fur is a very pleasant contemplative activity.  It also serves to remind myself that all Nature is sacred and is worthy of our attention and appreciation.  You might consider the contemplative possibilities of Natures smallest creatures.... (Sorry, got to run...Gaylord's seed bowl is empty again!)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Contemplative Possibilities - Nature's Sculptures

   John O'Donohue often referred to God as the great artist.  I would have to agree.  I love coming across tiny examples of Nature's artistry.

This little ice sculpture was right outside the window next to my desk where I write these blog posts.

  In fact, I was writing yesterday's post when I discovered this tiny frozen ice sculpture. So delicate and I love the muted background with the dark lines that seem to set off the icy foreground shape.

   I had to marvel at this ice formation.  One usually sees icicles hanging straight down but these formed at an angle.  Perhaps the wind was blowing as the water dripped off the roof.  No matter.  I don't need to know the "how" to appreciate the result!

    This is another example of the practice of Wu Wei, which I spoke about yesterday.  I simply had to sit quietly at my desk and look out the a few inches away.  In this case, the photograph was even better than the reality...blurring out and subduing the background distractions to enhance the focal point.  Why not spend some time gazing out your window this week and see what you discover in your own back (or front) yard!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Practicing Wu Wei...

   There's a new kid on the block!  This little Bob White Quail strolled into my dooryard recently. I had to be quick to gather in this image as they are very secretive and private creatures.  Their calls are distinctive and give them their name. You can listen to it here.

    Winter is a great time to practice the Photographic Sage's characteristic of Wu Wei...Effortless Effort.  I don't go looking for images, I stay put and let the images come to me.  (You can read the first post, back in February of 2012, on Wu Wei here.  There is also a PhotoTao Card on the practice.)

    Practicing Wu Wei is a a great way to ease into the contemplative practice of photography.  It is not a "doing" sort of thing.  It is simply "being".  (Not easy if you have a Type A personality!)  In actuality, Wu Wei is the ultimate visual listening exercise...a way to do without doing.  This is what I have been experiencing this winter because of the frigid temperatures, ice and snow.  It is a very restful and often surprising thing to "not do"!

   You might like to review all the Characteristics of the Photographic Sage by clicking here.