Recently a friend asked if I thought of myself as a “roadside photographer,” or as an artist?” “artist,” I replied, not skipping a beat which took me a little by surprise. A year ago maybe less, I am pretty sure I couldn’t have said that – at least not without pause and not without experiencing a twinge – a certain mental wincing accompanied by near instant rebuke from the critical/judging mind. In my case, shame would then flare up quick and hot and before I knew it, my body would curl up inside and my world would seem very unpleasant – disconnected, groundless and floating. The small self and all it’s attendants of worry, doubt, guilt, and anxiety would be firmly ensconced inside my mind and the kicker is that all of the above I was doing to my self! Through the stories I’d created about “the way it was (and shall be),” and these self-sustaining thoughts controlled more than I could admit.
We all do this sort of stuff. We all make up stories as kids to help us survive and make sense of the all to often craziness around us. Some of us grow up addicted or conditioned towards addictive behaviors. Many of us simply lose ourselves in our various stories forgetting we made them up and in that forgetting we come to believe that the story is our reality – defines, desribes, and delimits our possibilities.
Kids are incredibly creative! The story I created kept me secure but stuck. And for years I remained deluded and stuck. But I cannot berate myself for this – we do the best we can and our motives arise from a noble heart – we just get lost somewhere along the path and as someone wiser than me once said: “most of us prefer the security of our misery over the misery of our insecurity” (S. Kopp., “If You Meet the Buddha on the road – Kill Him”). So I got curious. There is endlessness to explore!
So far in my exploration I am convinced the purpose of all these once-upon-a-time stories we create – is to keep us safe and we do it with noble intentions. The once-upon-a-time story I told myself was that I was doomed to molder in the shadows of more luminious souls but all was not lost because there would always be something special about me….only I couldn’t share it. This specialness had to be kept secret or else. Utilizing the tools offered by Buddhism along with some intense therapy, I started questioning the else and am discovering there was and is nothing there. Just reflections. Just the world mirroring our minds colored by our hearts or is that vice versa? Thomas More and The Little Prince remind us that “what is essential to see is invisible to the eye.”
So OK. Enough of this sentimental rambling! Get to the fruits – everybody goes for the juice man!
For starters I no longer conceptualize time as a linear dynamic. I experience time as a series of events in which I show up and am quite present but then I disappear for some ? time ? till the next moment of intentional mindfulness arises. I no longer experience past present and future as before. I suspect that part of this shifting has to do with age and the subsequent wake up call that life is really short. And I know part of the shift is simply that I live more in the present. But no matter the true or real causal factors I do know this. My experience of time has shifted and I seem to be relating to the phenomenon of time in ways I cannot quite yet articulate. Yet daily and clearly my experience of time and time passing feels very different than….well….then before. Life has become more fluid and I tend to experience life as rhythms and flow and people as energies and light and wave and patterns galore. It is all very curious and magical to feel self moving from a (pick) fearful, angered, hateful, envious, greedy, clingy, shame based small self to – to something else and for me it is a process requiring courage, confidence, and commitment – none of which I can control or make happen and yet somehow I am managing to cultivate. I do not know how a more experienced Buddhist practitioner would put it…I can only allude to it through images….
Honestly, as best I can recollect this turning and these changes which I embrace were clearly and powerfully set in motion by two utterly different yet equally compelling sets of events. The first was my conversion to digital necessitated by our move to fly-over-country, and the second was my discovery of Vipassana Buddhism and the teachers at the local sangha. Buddhism and a Nikon Digital SLR have changed my life. Digital capture, as the young refer to what used to be called photography, blew open the doors and windows of what I could imagine and of what I was able to achieve with the wonders of digital imagery – camera and Photoshop! But along came Buddhism and it put me in whole different world-view.
Each day starts with a simple meditation practice intended to cultivate wholesome qualities of the heart – stuff like loving-kindess, compassion, appreciative joy and the one I can never remember and probably need the most is Equanimity. Steadily doing this has changed my entire perceptual field. Including and most especially those self-perceptions which have kept me bound in knots unable to see past the self-doubts and nameless fears that in my ignorance I clung too and hearing a plot line that kept my gifts well hidden and defined who I thought self to be. Key word: Thought. The truth is, I hung on because I did not know that all I had to do was let go! Silly me. Letting go was just not in my repertoire of possibilities then….
Buddhism gave me new lenses through which I might learn to see self, world, and others in an entirely new light. practicing and studying Insight meditation teaches that it is always possible to see with new eyes. The Dharma (which owing to my Christian background, I just think of as “abiding love”) has blessed me in multiple manifold ways. Every aspect of my existence is shifting and changing. It always has been of course – as life does for us all. Before – back when I was blind I didn’t see that so much and now I do. Grace is amazing and comes to us all in varied ways.
When I photograph I just try to get out of the way and when I do – magic happens. Daily meditation helps me get out of the way and know it. Digital capture let’s me know immediately if what I did worked or not … the criteria I use to judge is surprise! Does it surprise me, delight me, amuse me?
The fruits of this practice arise in very unexpected ways and combination’s – there are sweet tastes of liberation from self persecution, a tart recognition followed by a buttery letting go of shame. Then there are crisp juicy textures of joy and gratitude, and spicy crunchiness of happiness. I think of Blueberry/Cherry/Kiwi – blood Orange and bubbles of lemonesque.