I’ve been aware of this technique of thirds with a blurry bokeh background for maybe a year or two, and I’ve been working on it. “Working” is a term I use loosely, because I don’t take pictures on any regular basis. But it’s nice when I’m composing a shot that now I have some guidelines in my head to apply. I would love to be able to say that I practice photography with some discipline. I would love to be able to say that I practice meditation and exercise with discipline. Sadly, I don’t. But I really admire people who do. Like Pablo Casals. Here’s my favorite anecdote about him:
When Casals (then age 93) was asked why he continued to practice the cello three hours a day, he replied, “I’m beginning to notice some improvement.”
I suppose that his practice has something to do with him being alive at 93 as well. Ya think? Follow your bliss, photographers, and practice for your own well-being!
Recently watched the animated film “Waking Life” – existential philosophies about consciousness smartly strung together. Here is my post from 3 years ago about death and waking….
As usual, he called me at the office that afternoon while he was working from home. “Hi. How are you doing?” I probably mentioned something about my ordinary frustrations on the job or something about our daughters. Then it was down to business. “What are you doing tonight?” It was Friday night. Our youngest had a rehearsal at a church only a few blocks from our house, starting about a half an hour after I got off work. “Do you want to go out to dinner?” “SURE!” It was cold, the roads were icy. We didn’t want to go far, so we dropped her off and went to a bar & grill that had just opened behind the strip mall in our little town. It was full of activity: TVs were on, people bustled about, artwork from the public schools was displayed on the wall. There was lots to look…
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If you’re puzzled by relationships…
Symmetry. A very interesting concept. Is it real or imagined? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how consciousness operates, how we impose ideas, structures, and order on the world to make it more…manageable? Less overwhelming? I think of Alan Watts who proposed that the real world is “wiggly”. More fluid, with less distinct boundaries than we tend to ascribe to it. Still, I suppose there is a lot of seeming symmetry in nature. Botany identifies symmetry frequently, for example, in compound leaf structures which are often classified as symmetrical or alternating. Do I have any photographs of a symmetrical leaf or flower? No. I don’t typically take architectural shots, either, and if I do, they’re off center on purpose. I think that means I am looking for the harmony of imperfect, wiggly things….like the Yin and Yang. That symbol seems symmetrical, but it’s really opposites in balance. I like that. Not that I don’t try to make things symmetrical in my life. I have a very orderly, Western brain. I’ve straightened pictures and lined up pillows compulsively for years. But I’m trying to break out of that habit. If I must impose symmetry in order to feel at peace, then I’m in for a lot of anxiety. It makes more sense to accept the wiggly world as it is. So here’s some man-made symmetry that I’ve photographed…imperfectly:
What a great thing to contemplate: scale. How overwhelming our lives become when our scale references are distorted! For example, how imposing our thoughts can seem on the landscape of our lives. My daughter gave me an illustration of this: imagine someone holding a large book in front of your face and asking you what you saw. You’d see the book and maybe a bit of the room from your peripheral vision. Now, if you moved the book to one side, you’d still see the book, but you’d also see more of the room. It’s hard to make thoughts go away, but you can take them out of the forefront. That’s what meditation is about — being aware of your thoughts, but not letting them dominate your view. We make so many mountains out of mole hills in this culture. There is so much OMG; like MSG, it can make us feel lousy. Media hyper-activity and fear-mongering is like that, I think. We need to dial down the lens, deflate our egos, maintain a humble perspective. We are one leaf on a vast and robust tree of life. We are beautiful; the tree is beautiful. We are not greater than or less than the rest.
Have you ever had an experience of ego awakening? I have. The first one I remember happened as I was sitting in church on a Sunday morning, listening to a sermon. I was a child of about 7, I think, squirming about in the pew beside my family members. None of them were paying attention to me. They were simply silent. I suddenly became aware that I was there and that it was possible that I could ‘not be there’. I could not be born, for example, or I could be something else. I wondered why I wasn’t a rabbit, but a girl, Priscilla. I wondered why I was aware of being present for this sermon when I had sat through so many others and not been aware at all. I paid attention to the words of the Rector for a time, staring straight at him, but his talk was not as exciting as this simple new awareness. I figured he wasn’t really addressing me. I think it was Spring, the stained glass windows were open a bit, and the sun was shining. I sat facing the windows, away from the pulpit, and in rapt and embryonic ego transcendence.
My ego returned to center stage, though, shortly after that. I was the fourth daughter in this church-going family. I grew up with questions about whether or not I was special, with feelings of redundancy. My sisters were always more intelligent and talented and capable, having the edge of years of experience beyond mine. What did I have to offer that they couldn’t deliver more readily? And what would be my share of the resources available? Could my parents really give their attention and their love to all of us equally? Somehow, these questions kept arising for me, causing anxiety and an eagerness to convince myself that I was unique and uniquely loved. I spent 47 years in the church-going habit, seeking to resolve these questions in community with others looking for a similar comfort.
Let me insert a different image now. David Attenborough on Christmas Island, surrounded by a moving mass of red crabs. It’s nighttime and quite dark. Thousands of females, heavy-laden with eggs, are approaching the tide in order to release their burdens into the surf. The water turns reddish brown as a surge of life heads out to sea. Millions, billions of little babies set adrift. Redundancy and abundance. Life in a beautifully mysterious burst of activity, at a specific time and place, choreographed by some ancient awareness and acceptance. It is awesome – possibly divine. Are those babies unique and uniquely loved? The question seems moot. They ARE. No less. No more. (http://www.arkive.org/christmas-island-red-crab/gecarcoidea-natalis/video-00c.html – this is not David Attenborough, but at least it doesn’t have advertisements.)
We were driving out to the University last week to attend an enrichment class entitled “Understanding the Mysteries of Hibernation” when Steve popped in an audio book CD, The Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle began to describe his pivotal ego experience: For years my life alternated between depression and acute anxiety. One night I woke up in a state of dread and intense fear, more intense than I had ever experienced before. Life seemed meaningless, barren, hostile. It became so unbearable that suddenly the thought came into my mind, “I cannot live with myself any longer.” The thought kept repeating itself several times. Suddenly, I stepped back from the thought, and looked at it, as it were, and I became aware of the strangeness of that thought: “If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me – the I and the self that I cannot live with.” And the question arose, “Who is the ‘I’ and who is the self that I cannot live with?”
He went on to talk about the False Self that is edified, criticized, and mortified in our Western culture. I nodded in complete recognition. Don’t we call that the Ego? And then…I began to think of that ‘I’, that divinely authentic, fully alive, completely unique and inter-dependent being that each of us is. It was like a flash. My face lit up in excitement as I turned to Steve, “YES! I get it!” The things I had been hearing about enlightenment and no-self in Buddhism finally made sense. It’s not about the abasement of your being, it’s about the shift from False Self to ‘I’.
An hour later, I was listening to a lecture about mammals who suppress their metabolic systems, who turn down the fire of life in order to more effectively harmonize their energy with their changing environment. They go through cycles of torpor and arousal, staying alive (and in some cases, giving birth) without adding any food energy into their system – for 5 to 6 months! This is fascinating! Heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, digestion – all of these vital systems depressed by as much as 75%, and still, there is Life. The speaker discussed implications for biomedical research, but I am not as impressed by what humans might do with this knowledge as I am by the beings who live it. They are the authentic ‘I’; they are themselves, in a web of inter-dependence and autonomy, using and conserving their energy in response to what IS, what is available in the environment and what is intrinsic to their survival. Descriptions, terms, charts and statistics become gibberish. Even Science is a False Self. These are “stepping-stones”, as are all words, in Tolle’s estimation, serving to propel us to the next place in the movement of existence.
The flow of Life, the flow of energy – what is that about? It’s not about clinging to stepping-stones: food, love, identity, thoughts, dogmas or practices. It’s about finding “the joy in change and movement” (as Steve would say), the dynamic of relating to an abundant, redundant, mysterious and unexpected Universe. It’s about waking up and being conscious of where we are right NOW…..and how beautiful and wonder-filled that place is. That consciousness is the beginning of Peace, an intuitive harmony with life that is unfortunately made dissonant by the noise of Falseness in this culture. What would it be like to give up that False Self more and more? Instead of giving up chocolate or the Internet for 40 days, I’m going to challenge myself to move more into ‘I’ existence. I don’t want to live with my self any longer. And that’s a good thing. 🙂 Namaste, Priscilla
This essay is featured in this month’s B Zine, published by The Bardo Group/Beguine Again. To see the rest of the contents of this collaboration, visit The B Zine here.