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With great joy and no clue what to expect I made my annual pilgrimage to Iris Bob’s place in Denver.   I’ve written about Bob and his great passion for beauty.  Beauty in the form of tall bearded Iris he’s been cultivating for nigh on twenty years now.  Bob’s love of Iris and mine are both labors of love.  Passions neither of us can explain.

My photography practice and my meditation practice mirror each other in the one sense that they are both practices of repetition. Just as one gently returns over and over to the breath so do I return over and over to Bob’s Iris patch and gently sit among the flowers with a camera and open heart and a clear head.  Each year, each day, each Iris, it is a practice of stillness, concentration,  beginner’s mind, imagination, and  intuitive knowledge of how the camera works.

Never thought I'd See the day You came home to meThis year my mind just seemed to slide right into the garden. A plethora of  images appeared each giving rise to a different feeling-tone.  Time stopped and I experienced rainbows of emotions throughout the  hours spent in the dirt.  I noticed as I worked that as long as my heart rested in the flowers and my mind delighted in composing and playing,  I could just be there.  I could just be in the moment just watching – observing and playing all inevitably leading to feelings of joy and gratitude.  But once I left the sanctuary of the garden, returning to the bustle of Denver, my mind would get revved up and before I knew it I’d be off spinning stories about all the things my neighbors might do to each other while I was gone.  Left to my own with nothing but time on my hands, I can spin some pretty crazy stories.

I had left home and a brewing battle between us and the folks in our three family subdivision, and a guy who runs cattle and uses our easement.  It was a simple issue really – the sort of typical situation that arises when no body bothers to pick up the phone and talk and everyone makes assumptions and we all get revved up in some version of the Blame Game.  But I was talked out and really ready to get away from the fray and just photograph and chill out.

Bob had some special cultivars in an adjoing backyard where this little dog stood on hyper-alert to those entering.  My first night in the patch this pesky critter kept yapping and moving threateningly yet harmlessly behind his wire fence and I realized that I would have to make friends with him if I had any hope of resting in stillness while working with this group of exquisite Iris.  Back at the hotel, a call from the wife confirmed that the neighbors were acting out – the young bull and the old bull – seeing which one has the biggest balls.  I slept fitfully as thoughts of the cattle guard and barking dogs wove in an out of the noises from the air conditioner and the big city life.

Dawn with the dog still yapping but not quite as ferociously.  I watched him run back and forth, you could see the tension in his body, the fear quivering through him.  I said hello to him and  to a group of lovely Iris I’d spotted the night before and quite happy upon seeing them still vibrant with color and life and sat down to wait upon the light.

Practicing being mindful of the breath is no different from practicing being mindful of a scent, or a sound, or in the case of a photographer, practicing watching light.  Sometimes when I am practicing insights arise – in this case I first saw that for me to do what I do with a camera my mind has to be empty and emptied in a gentle way.   I can’t simply force the dog to be quiet or the worries to go away anymore than I can force the wind to blow as I wish it may.  Both were distractions – both were opportunities to relate to the situation differently to apply skillful means and carve out a little more freedom for myself.

not ready for rocking chair

My stomach was growling so I packed up the gear and as I stood to go the little dog ran over to the fence and stood on his hind legs as he does when he is frightened and trying to scare a potential threat away and looked right at me and as he did something inside said “bow” and I did and when I looked up again the dog was gone and the same something said “the dog and your worries are the same.  Treat them the same and they will stop barking and then the mind can rest in emptiness and in the moment maybe you can awaken.”  So I did.  I bowed to the worries and the anxieties and the fears, recognizing their essential tasks of helping us stay alive – recognizing their core energies as Metta-like in quality.

Making love in the afternoon

.…and again that night (repetition remember) and again in that same spot near the fence – the boundary between the dog and I, for the first time there was a little girl in the back yard  and she and the dog were playing fetch and the light was golden and I asked the girl what the name of the dog was.  “Libido,” she said.  I nodded chuckling at the humor God has….how the Dharma plays out, and at the simple perfection of it all.