Monday, June 30, 2014

A Summer Sabbatical....

   My summer sabbatical ends soon! August 1st will be my next post.  It will be the first day of Autumn (according to the ancient Celtic calendar) so we will be celebrating the season of change.  I hope you will join me for a new year of contemplative photography posts!
  Perhaps it was the illness I battled through most of my trip or the natural let down after coming home, but I feel a need for a time of rest and reflection.  Publishing a daily post is a grueling schedule to maintain and it has become apparent to me that it is time for a sabbatical.

   You can follow my daily photojournal, Memories4Me, and I will be sharing interesting items on my Google+ page from time to time during this coming month.  You also might like to go back to re-read past posts.

    If you are so inclined, I'd like to remind you about the Star Island contemplative photography retreat with Kim Manley Ort and myself this Labor Day weekend.  You can learn about it by following the link in the right side bar.

   I hope to be back here, sharing my images and thoughts, in about a months time. I hope you will bare with me during this time of silence.  I also hope you too will take the time to rest and refresh yourself this summer and that the landscape will whisper wonderful things to you along the way.

Some photographers take reality... and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation. - Ansel Adams

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Non-Dualism and the Photographic Process...

  We all begin as dualistic thinkers.  We have to learn to discriminate between things.  It helps us develop a firm footing.  Unfortunately, some people remain in this mode of thinking their entire lives.  Its always "us vs. them", "good vs. evil", "right vs. left".  Theirs is an either/or, totally black and white world.

   When I taught art at the elementary level I would end a lesson on warm and cool colors with my Kindergarten folks with a little game.  Five years old are very dualistic thinkers and they love to sort things.  I gave them a big pile of colored circles and two boxes. One was labeled "cool colors" and one was labeled "warm".  

    At first it was all fun and goes here and blue goes discussion.  But then along comes violet.  One child said, "It's a warm color, see the red?"  Another said, "No, see the blue? It's a cool color." A third child turned to me and said, "I think we need another box, Mrs. Turner!"  Ah, the beginning of non-dualistic thought.

   Good photographs, bad photographs...the right light, the wrong light...the best camera or paper.  All this represents a dualistic frame of mind.  Watch the video below and open your mind to a non-dualistic approach to the photographic process.  (Thanks, Kim Manley Ort for the link!)  It is 45 minutes but well worth the watching...

Friday, June 27, 2014

Contemplative Master's Series - Henry David Thoreau

   No series on the contemplative masters would be complete without Thoreau.  I've written about him frequently on this blog.  I make my annual pilgrimage to the banks of Walden each year, as I have for nearly 40 years, and I plan to do it again this summer.

   I'm including an excerpt from his contemplative masterpiece, Walden, still one of my favorite books of all time.  He devotes a whole chapter to solitude.  The opening sentence sends chills up my spine every time I read it.  It is the way I try to experience the landscape when I photograph.  His masterful words clarify the relationship I wish to have with Nature.

The whole body is
 one sense.

    I am also impressed by Thoreau referring to Nature as "herself".  We are so trained to think in masculine terms, this feminine take is refreshing. Discovering the feminine side of divinity was apart of my time in Glendalough.  He was a man way ahead of his time in many respects.

   But it is his transcendent approach to Nature that resonates most with me.  When I struggle to find the words to express the experience I am having I remember that some things transcend our best efforts to put it in either words or pictures.Sometimes it is well to remember, as a contemplative photographer, that there are times when it is best to put the camera away and just experience the power of place to transform us.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Broken Wide Open...

   Awhile back I advised that we should keep our eyes open for the little contemplative gems all around us.  No need to venture far afield...they are right around us everyday.  This is one of my recent discoveries.

   A tulip in its last gasp, broken open and ready to shed its petals.  That was what caught my eye and that would have been enough but when I opened the file on my computer, I saw that little forsythia flower which seemed to be mirror of the tulips center color...all by itself at the end of the branch. The white tulip petal seemed to separate it visually from the rest.  It had burst out, escaped and was heading in a new direction.

   That is what we all must do from time to time especially when we find ourselves tightly closed and resistant to change.  We need to break ourselves wide open, shed the petals that once protected our vulnerability, and escape!

   Like the little forsythia blossom,  we must be willing to venture out of the security of conformity and get ourselves way out on the tip of the limb.  Every country girl knows that's where the best apples grow...that's where you will grow best as well.

   I love to find these little bits of wisdom close to hand.  It makes me feel that the Universe is participating in my souls evolution by presenting me with these contemplative tidbits.  The world is full of these metaphors for spiritual growth.  We just have to open our hearts and our minds and seek them out!

My final post on A Sacred Journey is up and you can read my last reflections here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Clarifying our Vision...

An insight from my Walden Wood walk.
..the camera becomes more than a means to record our vision; it becomes a means to help clarify it. 

 - David duChenin

   Every time we put the camera to our eye we are attempting to record our vision but, as David duChenin states above, the images that we make help us to clarify that vision as well.  We may think we are making an image for one reason but the landscape may have an entirely different message for us.

   We record and edit.  In the old film days, we thought long and hard before we made an image.  We didn't want to waste film. Now there is no need to worry about that but people still feel the need to "trash" images to save space on their memory card.  I use to do that and now I never do.  I bring an external hard drive and download the entire days images...every last one.  As a friend once advised me..."Save them all...the good, the bad and the ugly."  The photograph above, and many like it, is the reason why I stopped deleting images from my card.

   It wasn't until long after my walk around Walden Pond that I came across this image in the file for that days photographing.  It stunned me really as I looked at it on the computer screen although it had hardly registered when I made it.  

    It seemed as if half the image was in black and white and half was in color but I assure you, this is what my camera recorded.  I made this photograph when I was just beginning to photograph in color...just stepping away from an exclusively monochrome approach to my vision as a photographer.  This image seemed to acknowledge that transition in a very graphic way.  I was able to reflect on it and see that there will always be these two sides to me and that's just fine.  I don't have to be one or the other...I can be both.

   Read the rest of duChenin's wonderful essay on vision here.  Make a promise to yourself, right now, that you will save all your photographs from now on.  They all have the potential for meaningful reflection.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Charm of the Ephemeral...

   Photographers are always chasing the ephemeral...the fleeting...the transitory.  Light may be the greatest example of this.  After all, we're all about the light.

   One moment the light can be luminous and breath taking and the next moment flat and grey.  I saw that very powerfully when I was in the Outer Hebrides.  Light there could change dramatically in a matter of moments.

   Of course, one needn't look any further than their own backyards to experience the ephemeral moment.  I got up very early one morning just as the sunlight was illuminating the left over hydrangea blossoms.  Amazing really that after the heavy snows this winter these delicate, paper-like flowers were still there...still able to catch the glow of early morning light.  A moment later the glow became a glare and the effect was lost.

   Some may credit pure luck, to be at a location just as the light does something magical but I prefer to believe as the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats admonished...

The world is full of magic things patiently
waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

   In our obsessive search for the fleeting, the transitory, the momentary we may be missing out on the magic of our own backyards.  Become aware of these brief times of luminosity whenever and wherever they occur.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Up Close or Far Away?

   My first exhibit was called Up Close and Far Away and comprised my black and white images of the Outer Hebrides made in 2005.  I've always loved that phrase and one Spring morning, on my way to the mailbox, it inspired this image and post.

   Some photographers go for the "long view"...the expansive panorama...the breath taking landscape a la Ansel Adams.  Others  focus on the close up...the intimate, near to hand view point.  And then there are some who want an infinite depth of field so they can take in both...they want it both ways!

    I would say I am firmly in the Up Close Camp...the tiny, precious blue bells in the foreground as opposed to the dazzling mass of forsythia in the background.  I must say, however, I like them seen together and by having only one in focus, I can demonstrate my preference.

   Each season has it's own color contrasts.  Spring can offer either subtle soft contrasts or vividly stark ones.  I love both.  Seen like this, I can contemplate the contrast and not just the individual colors.

   The next time you are out in an immense and breath taking landscape, take the time to see what is right at your feet...turn your lens down here and not just out there.  Forget worrying about the depth of field...make a choice...up close or far away?


Sunday, June 22, 2014

A New Look at the Psychology of Color...

Goethe's color wheel
Colour itself is a degree of darkness.
- Goethe

   I didn't make my first color image until 2007.  I didn't really delve into color seriously until 2011.  I wasn't taking advantage of the vast contemplative possibilities inherent in the color image.
  Even now, I've barely scratched the surface.  This quote by Goethe really makes me pause and consider.  I think that creating a personal color wheel, not with watercolor but with photographic images, would be an interesting challenge.  I think I would add the neutral colors to the center of my wheel.

   When I taught middle school, my grade 8 students created a huge color wheel mandala with magazine images.  Groups were assigned a color and spent a week immersed in finding and creating that color. As middle schoolers are apt to do, they went overboard with the idea, some even dying their hair "their" color!  They became their color!

   This exercise opened up all sorts of questions for my students and myself.  When it is the color itself that becomes the focus and not the object it is on, it awakens personal responses in each of us. Color triggers memories and emotional responses as well.  We "like" some colors and not others...why?  We find some color combinations pleasing while others seem disturbing...again, why?  How does Goethe's quote effect your perception of your favorite colors? 

   You might find this article that explores Goethe's unique approach to the psychology of color inspirational.  Perhaps this summer you can spend a day immersed in color...who knows where that will lead.  Keep a journal of your responses...not to the object but to it's color.  How does it effect your response to the object itself?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Celebrating the Seasons - The Summer Solstice

Fairy garden at my house.
   This is one of my favorite celebrations in the Celtic calendar.  There is so much myth and legend surrounding the day. I often try to get people together for a party of some kind.  The traditions of this day are ancient.

    The solstice, mid-summer according to the Celtic calendar, is the night that the fairies come out to play.  Maine has a wonderful tradition of fairy house building.  It is a great activity for kids to do. I use to bring my first graders to a park near the school to build them and they loved it! You can learn how here.

    There are many ways to celebrate this day but you can see some here.  I've made daisy wreaths with friends and at the end of the evening we built a bomb fire and threw them in, after making a wish of course.

   Just coming together with friends and having fun is my primary goal.  This is the time for dragon flies in my area and according to Celtic mythology, dragon flies are fairies in disguise.  Fairies love to be around people and by using their dragon fly disguise they can hover close by without being recognized.  As kids, we use to think that if a dragon fly landed on you you were truly blessed.

   Take your camera and tripod out to record the twilight or do some macro images of flowers and butterflies.  Whatever you do on this day, be sure to say "thank you" to Mother Nature.  What would we contemplative photographers be without a lush and vibrant natural world?

   This last link is to a blog that focuses on all the seasons of the year which may interest you...

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Brief Moment of Illumination...

   I was reading in my sitting room recently and I caught a soft glow out of the corner of my eye.  It was the diffused light illuminating a single catkin of the pussy willow branch.  It appeared almost like an aura around the catkin.  I'm not sure why it totally fascinated me, (I did put it on my daily photo journal) but I sat transfixed, gazing at it for several minutes.

Whatever we look at today,
may we see it with fresh eyes.
- John O'Donohue

   It just faded away as the light shifted.  Such a simple, brief moment of illumination...the catkin's 15 minutes of fame...its moment in the spotlight.  It was such a lovely sight.

   I'm trying new things with my camera...trying to see things more softly and gently.  Not the tack sharp, high contrast reality that use to be an obsession with me way back when.  I wanted a more ethereal look to balance the extreme simplicity of the image...a glowing presence that spoke more of the spiritual nature of light than its physical reality.

   This moment of awareness brought me face to face with an idea of where I may be journeying with in my camerawork.  That remains to be seen but I do know that 2 or 3 years ago I would have never even considered making an image like this let alone having the experience of it effect me so much. Heck, up until 2011 I didn't even make color images!

   Every artist must experience this kind of evolution of expression otherwise they stagnate.  This is what the whole photographic process has become for me...a slowly evolving and awakening image, one reflection, one day at a time.  Always trying, as John says, to see with fresh eyes.  And, I might add, with a gently embracing heart.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Opening up the Conversation...

   Images have the power to open up a conversation with your soul.  They trigger thoughts, memories, and tickle the hidden parts of ourselves in sometimes unexpected ways.

   I had my first SoulCollage® workshop recently and I was so moved by how people responded to the cards they made.  The cards revealed things that were lying just underneath their conscious minds...things that needed to see the light of day.  The image made that possible.

   Having conversations with my images is a crucial part of my practice of contemplative photography.  Welcoming the landscape into the dialogue, letting it actually start the conversation that my camera will follow up on, is also essential for me.

   Meditating on a simple image of rain drops and delicate vines is a soothing way to settle into this kind of deep reflection that follows the image gathering.  I am always amazed, like the people at the SoulCollage® workshop, at where these conversations lead.  Sometimes they take on a life of their own!  Whatever needs to be said out loud will be said if we allow the image to speak to us rather than impose our ego on the image.  Visual listening can take place in the landscape or within the image itself.

You can read the third installment of my Threshold Pilgrimage on A Sacred Journey here. ( And you can see one of the SoulCollage® cards I brought along on the trip!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Savoring the Partial View...

  One of the things I always look forward to in June is the flowering of the Black Locust trees in my yard.  They produce wonderfully sweet smelling tendrils of white blossoms that the bees just love.

   I have an upper deck off my bedroom that allows me to stand in the midst of the trees and I spent some time there hoping to photograph a bee visiting the blossoms.  Standing there, I could hear the buzzing of the bees...the tree seemed alive with them...but they were difficult to actually see.  I had to wait patiently.

   I made a dozen or more images but none were quite right.  If the bee was flying I couldn't see the wings, he looked like a small black lump.  When he was" doing his thing", the wings were tucked in close to the body and, again, the black lump but patience rewarded me eventually with this partial view.  It was a perfect synchronicity of placement and light.  Had he landed on another blossom the sunlight may have burned out the wing's detail as well as the white flower.  Or if he had landed in a shadowed area, the shimmering iridescence of the wing would not have been there.  Had I been slower with my camera, the wing would have folded into the body but it was the perfect moment to release the shutter.  So much of photography is dependent on a bit of luck I've always thought.

   The light on his wing was so lovely and that little antennae, such a nice detail.  The extremely shallow depth of field rendered the background in a soft painterly way...all green and white except that tiny touch of yellow.  It may sound strange, but I think this is one of my favorite images, ever!  I doubt I would have liked it as much if it had revealed the whole bee.  There is something very appealing about a subject partially element of mystery to a partial view.  The Impressionist painters of the late 19th century understood this and now I think I understand it too.

You can read the third installment of my Threshold Pilgrimage on A Sacred Journey here...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Greeting old friends...

   As soon as I got back to Maine, even before I unpacked my bags, I went looking for the little friends that visit every year.  I took a contemplative stroll in my own backyard.

   Even this tiny butterfly moth on a chive blossom was a delight to my eye.  After four weeks of looking at beautiful landscapes, I am so ready to again embrace the near to hand.

   It will be several weeks before I can really acclimate to my old surroundings.  I think that is because you are, in many essential ways, changed by a pilgrimage.  It awakens things inside you, things that may take weeks to unfold.

   While I was traipsing about Ireland and Scotland, my little friends here were simply going about their daily business, pollinating flowers, building nests, bringing new life into the world.  My much loved dragon flies were the first to greet me as I got out of the car.  Not easy to photograph a dragon fly, they are constantly on the move.  I'll have to be content for the time being to
photograph the butterflies who graciously come to rest on a flower just long enough to allow me to make the image.

   The chive blossoms are such a great place to sit beside an await  butterflies.  This is another that visited shortly after the little moth.

   Sitting quietly in the garden and waiting for my little friends to visit is a delightful way to spend some time.  In a garden there is no need to go looking for things to photograph, they come to you!

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.  

~Rabindranath Tagore

Monday, June 16, 2014

"Stand Here for the Best Photo"...

   You may have seen signs like this in your travels.  This one was at the Roosevelt cottage on Campobello Island.  I really have to smile when I see them.

   They seem to suggest that to experience the place, it must be viewed from just this vantage point.  When I looked at the postcards in the gift shop, this was the view they offered.  So, I ask myself, why bother to photograph it from here?  Just buy the postcard!

   There is always the temptation when you are in any location to look for these spots, whether they are marked or not, they are always there.  When you find it you can delude yourself into thinking, "I've got it...I can move on now."  But you would be very, very wrong.

   When I did my First Person Rural series I spent 2 -3 hours with people mainly talking with them but photographing them as well until they got use to the camera and felt more at ease.  That's when I made the best images.  The landscape is no different.

   Take your time, walk around and, instead of talking, listen.  Sit still and absorb the energy of the place.  Walk around some more and see, with your "hard eye", what draws you in so your "soft eye" can embrace it. (Read about those designations here.) If you can, return and experience the place at another time of day or in different weather.  It will have a whole different message for you each time.

   But whatever you do or attempt to do in a location never be content with the "postcard", look more deeply.  Look beyond the postcard into the soul of the location.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Intention and Intuition...

  There are two ways to go about gathering your images.  You can approach it with intention or allow your intuitive self to lead the way.  Both are legitimate ways to approach the photographic process.  The vast majority of my images are received the second way.  I don't question or direct except in a general way and whatever I am gifted as I go along is fine with me.

   But are there times when we actually go in search of specific images?  And how does that figure into the "go with the flow" mindset I most often advocate?  Good questions.

   I sometimes set up challenges for myself as I did when I created my Alphabet series on St. John and Monhegan Island.  I find that if you narrow your focus to look for one specific thing, like a color or a pattern, it allows you to hone your perceptual skills, which is always a good thing for the contemplative photographer.

   But mostly, my intention is simply to allow the landscape to invite me in and then to see what captures my imagination.  My "breadcrumb" walk is a way I can let my rational mind take a coffee break and let my intuitive nature kick in.  As I've said so many times on this blog, you will see what you need to see if you don't fixate on creating the "perfect" photograph.  Not even sure what that means but I've seen people by-pass a location because the light wasn't right or there was nothing of "interest" to see there.  How very wrong they are.  Makes one wonder what amazing things they've missed!


Today is Father's Day so I'm adding a photograph of my father taken just a few months before he landed in Normandy for the allied invasion we now call D-Day.

D-Day has been in the news lately because this year marks the 70th anniversary of the invasion.   I visited the Normandy coast two years ago to see where my father landed.  It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  You can read a post I did about the day here.

I am so proud of what my father did, what all the soldiers sacrificed for our freedom.  My father made it through the war physically but I believe he carried the emotional scars of the conflict for the rest of his life which is the often unspoken of collateral damage of any war.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Contemplative Master's Series - Thomas Merton

   Thomas Merton has been one of my great influences since the mid-1970's when I read The Seven Story Mountain.  It was a biography that influenced my own soul searching in many ways.

   Merton embraced his flaws and showed that all of us can make that journey...if not into an actual monastery, at least into the monastery of our heart.

   I can't understate the impact visiting his hermitage in April of 2013 had for me.  The man was no longer an abstraction and speaking with Brother Paul Quinon, who knew Merton as his novice master 50 years ago, breathed life into the legend. (You can read that post here...)

  The gate of heaven is everywhere.

   I think Merton can offer us a down-to-earth mysticism that is very appealing.  It is made more personally attractive for me because of his embracing of Eastern philosophies.  He saw them, as I do, as just another road to the mountain top.  Once there, we all have the same view.

There is in all things visible
a hidden wholeness.

    As I sat on the quiet porch of his hermitage, I could hear the birds singing.  I like to think they were the descendents of birds Merton listened to all those years ago on this very same porch.  I was overcome with a tremendous sense of peace.  Just at that moment, the wind chime hanging there tinkled softly and I smiled.  "Thank you, Father Louie," I said..."for all you still are to so many of us journeying souls."

   Next January will mark the 100th anniversary of Thomas Merton's birth and there is a new film planned to commemorate it...The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton.  You can visit the link to see a brief introduction.  It is a film who's time has come...


   You may recognize the image above as the reflection I photographed in the sap house on Maple Sugar Sunday.  When I went to find an image to accompany this post and the Merton quotation on pilgrimage, it seemed the perfect one to me.  You can never tell where or when any particular image will shimmer for you.  That's why it is so important not to second guess your gut...photograph what draws you in and let the "whys" be answered later.


Friday, June 13, 2014

"I am so much more than my shadow..."

   A little nuthatch inspired me to think about shadows.  His little shadow gave me information about his overall shape and size, the length of his tail and the shape of his beak.  But that would hardly give me a complete picture.

   It wouldn't tell me of his comical way of hopping head first down a tree or his subtle markings or his sweet song.  He is so much more than his shadow tells us.

   We all have our shadow side and it is part of who we are but it isn't all that we are although we often fixate on it.  This all reminded me of one of my favorite childhood memories, watching Mary Martin play Peter Pan on our tiny television screen back in1960.  Remember Peter teaching Wendy to fly?  "Just think happy thoughts!" My girlfriend and I tried to think happy thoughts as we jumped off the chicken house roof...much to my Grandmothers astonishment and dismay.  Didn't work but I think we were missing the fairy dust!

   There is a wonderful essay on the symbolism of Peter's shadow here.  It is amazing the hidden messages we can find in children's stories.  Years later I saw a rebroadcast of the original Peter Pan.  By today's standards it was terribly amateurish.  You can even see the strings that allowed Peter to fly.  But I didn't see the strings when I was a child.  I believed in the magic of it.  I clapped and clapped when Tinkerbell was dying at the end because children didn't believe in fairies. I was 11 years old when it was first broadcasted on television but I still believed.  It was a much different time.  We were allowed to stay children much longer back then.  We loose so much when we cease to believe...something magical in our soul withers and dies.

   It doesn't matter what that belief is, the important thing is the capacity to believe in the first place. So many people have lost that ability.  I wouldn't wish that for anyone. So, my friends, clap really loud and repeat after me...

"I do believe...I do believe...I do believe!"


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Writing and Contemplative Photography...

   For me, writing and contemplative photography are inseparable.  It isn't so for everyone of course.  I think of my images as prompts in a way.  They open up thoughts and ideas that I wouldn't necessarily think of.

   That's why I love working in SoulCollage® for as Carl Jung admonishes, 

The Soul speaks to us through images.

   On my last two days in Dublin, I decided to focus on the written word.  I wanted to complete the circle in a manner of speaking.  I had visited Iona, where the famous Book of Kells had been written.  The monks fled Iona in about 806 AD when the Vikings invaded and slaughtered 68 monks.  They sought sanctuary in Kells, County Meath, Ireland, hence the name of the book.  The manuscript came to Trinity College in Dublin around 1653 to protect it from the rampages of the Cromwellian period when  the fervor of the Protestant reformation destroyed so many monasteries and religious objects.  Now I wanted to see what the monks risked their lives to preserve.

   For Columba and the Irish monks of his time, writing was very much a spiritual practice.  It was far more than merely copying words...recording thoughts for prosperity.  The physical act of writing in itself was sacred.

   The Book of Kells is a masterpiece of Celtic illumination.  The pages shimmer and dance with images and gold.  One has to ask, why?  If it were only a case of copying out the four gospels, there was really no need for all this painstaking decorative illumination. But it wasn't merely a copy of ancient texts, the Book of Kells was an act of love and a meditation in paint and ink by the monks who created it.

   You might find last weeks offering on Sounds True "illuminating"...
Julia Cameron
author of The Artist's Way

    After visiting Trinity College library in the morning, I went to the Chester Beatty Library at Dublin Castle. It is, perhaps, the worlds greatest collection of the written word.  Illuminated manuscripts from all religious traditions are housed in this fascinating collection. I spend several hours marveling at the beauty of the these ancient texts.

    So sad to consider how unappreciated the act of writing is in today's world.  Oh yes, you can type out the words on your computer, as I'm doing now as I write this post, but the actual act of putting pen to paper is something worth doing.

    As long as I pursue photography as a contemplative practice, writing, the physical act itself, will be a vital part of the process for me. It may not be the most efficient way to record ones thoughts but writing slows me down and allows my thoughts to catch up with the words and anything that slows me down is a good thing.  Here is a past post about why I write.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Thought for Today...

The Gateway at Russborough House, Blessington, Ireland

Visualize yourself standing before a gateway on a hilltop. Your entire life lies out behind you and below. Before you step through the gateway, pause and review the past: The learning, the joys, the victories and the sorrows-everything it took to bring you here. Observe it all, bless it all, release it all. For it is in letting go of the past that you reclaim your power. Step through the gateway now.
 ~ Ralph Blum

   A perfect thought at the end of my threshold pilgrimage, don't you think?  I saw this quote ages ago and filed it away and when I saw this gateway at Russborough House it popped back into my mind....its time had come!

Here is a link to my second post on A Sacred Journey:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Brief Moment of Glory...

   Somethings are so magnolia blossoms.  For just a few days they are at their peak and then they let loose.  They kind of  explode, fluttering to the ground like giant confetti.  So many people will not plant magnolias for this very reason.  "What a mess!"  they say.

   But I think there is a powerful lesson in the magnolia flower.  We all have just a relatively brief moment to bloom.  To show the world our beauty.  To bask in the sunshine and then, and sometimes very suddenly, it can be all over.

   I would rather see these magnificent flowers for just a few days; to look forward to their reemergence each year, than to dwell on their demise.  I have to say that one of things I took away from my Threshold Pilgrimage was this sense of embracing these brief, glorious moments.

   Standing under this tree, as the petals fell, was a lovely experience.  I was so thankful for the message those falling petals had for me.  Savor those golden moments and don't dwell on the inevitable.

The tragedy of life is not death but what
we let die inside of us while we live.
- Norman Cousins


Monday, June 9, 2014

My Good Crop from Ireland and Scotland...

   Trying to narrow down all the images I received while on my pilgrimage to the sacred sites of Ireland and Scotland to just twelve…my “good crop” as Ansel Adams called his twelve favorite images from a year’s work…was daunting.  Yet, it allowed me to really plumb the depths of this journey and what I want to remember as the essence of the experience.  

   I chose each for very different reasons.  Some were sublime moments of sheer rapture as in my walk through the bluebells, on my 65th birthday, on the isle of Inchmahome in Scotland.  Others were an attempt, as poor as it might have been, to reveal the mystical atmosphere I discovered in the thin places I visited...the atmosphere of luminous light, like I found on Iona.  Then there was the wonderful delight of seeing the seal pups, watched over by a solitary cormorant, on my way to Staffa.  Each image in the twelve is intensely personal...each an icon of the experience.

   I offer them to you to look at and enjoy as you wish and perhaps as an encouragement to take your own journey this summer, up close or far away, and then choose your own “good crop” of images from the experience.  I believe it will be a worthwhile enterprise.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Maze and a Labyrinth...

    On my last full day in Glendalough, I visited the Russborough House in Blessington to walk their hedge maze.  I hadn’t walked one in over 25 years but the moment I stepped into it the anxiety flooded back.  
(This is not my photograph but I wanted you to see the layout.)
You cannot see where you are going and every turn could be a dead end.  A maze is meant to confuse and, in my mind, torment you.  Some people get hopelessly lost and have to be rescued. They recommended you bring a cell phone to call for help.  I didn't have one so it was even more stressful. 

   The nice lady at reception had given me a map but I didn’t want to use it.  I wanted to feel the confusion and anxiety.  Life is often like that; we never know if we are on the right path or not and we often reach dead ends and have to backtrack.

   I finally made it to the center.  What a relief!  I sat at the base of the sculpture to collect myself.  I now had to find my way back out!  I took out my map and decided I’d had enough anxiety and stress for one day, thank you.

   How different is the labyrinth.  This is the one at the monastic city in Glendalough.  It is simple and open…only one way in and one way out...again, like life.  You just have to put one foot in front of the other and walk.  Instead of anxiety and stress there is only a calm peacefulness that washes over you.  You know you will reach the center and going out is as easy as going in, almost like breathing.

   I’ve written a lot about choices during this journey and this, perhaps, is the ultimate choice.  You can move through life as if you are in a maze or you can see life as a labyrinth.  I think I’ll choose the latter.  After all, we all come into this life the same way and we, ultimately, go out the same way as well.  Not much choice there.  It is how we walk along the path that differs and in that respect we do have a choice.
What would a trip to Ireland be without a sheepdog demonstration!  Michael Crowe gives a wonderful one at Russborough House.  I tried to video the demonstration, without much success, but I wanted to mention the experience. 

Wherever you travel, take the time to talk and interact with the local residents. (Which is why I took cabs around I could talk to the Irish cabbies!)  It will always be a delightful and illuminating experience.  Michael completed my wonderful day at Russborough House, thank you Michael, especially for the ride around the estate in your horse drawn carriage!  Give Millie a carrot for me! (You can visit his website at Irish Working Sheepdogs.)

I return to the States today.  Tomorrow I will post my album of "icons"...12 images that are ones that highlight my month long threshold pilgrimage.