Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Serene

“Meditation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives. It’s about seeing how we react to all these things. It’s seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It’s about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness.” ― Pema Chödrön

“Being able to lighten up is the key to feeling at home with your body, mind, and emotions, to feeling worthy to live on this planet.” ― Pema Chödrön

“Clarity and decisiveness come from the willingness to slow down, to listen and look at what’s happening.” ― Pema Chödrön

“…The truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ― Pema Chödrön

“Precision, gentleness, and the ability to let go … are not something that we have to gain, but something that we could bring out, cultivate, rediscover in ourselves.” ― Pema Chödrön

“We sow the seeds of our future hell or happiness by the way we open or close our minds right now.” ― Pema Chödrön

I have been on a journey of mindfulness for more than a decade now as a way to metabolize the trauma of my husband’s death. One of the first books that I turned to was When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times by Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. The path to a peaceful life in my skin, in my mind, in my situation began with opening my eyes and seeing things exactly as they are…without telling a story or making a judgment about them. Photography is a beautiful art for exploring ways of seeing. While looking for a subject, framing a shot, and editing a shot, you can realize how perception and reality converge and depart. This exploration is about curiosity and courage, the same qualities that help you on your journey toward mindfulness and serenity.
I’ve chosen quotes from Pema Chödrön and photographs I took a few days ago -while walking down my driveway to get the mail – to illustrate SERENE for this week’s challenge. I was compelled to take along my camera because the sun was penetrating the fog in a way that made me think how unique and particular and impermanent that moment of elemental juxtaposition was. The environment around me changes visibly quite quickly here in the temporal rainforest of Oregon. Rain, vegetation, animals – everything is living and dynamic. As am I. Breathing deeply as I walked, step by step, through this reality, I became mindful of the serenity of simply being with things as they are. This is what I want to share, with a smile.
Thank you, Patti, for choosing a very worthy theme for this week! Click HERE to view her post and her invitation to participate.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Follow Your Bliss

“The way to find out about your happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you really are happy — not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what I call ‘following your bliss’.” ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

On Thursday, I headed out with my camera and a friend and spent four hours walking a forest trail through the William Finley Wildlife Refuge. I was surprised that so much time passed! I was also surprised that the rain never got heavy enough to make me think of heading back to the car. In the temporal rain forest of Oregon, there is so much to see, such tiny worlds of biodiversity everywhere that I find contentment in just keeping my eyes open and letting beauty wash in!

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
― Confucious

“We have to look deeply at things in order to see. When a swimmer enjoys the clear water of the river, he or she should also be able to be the river.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”― Albert Einstein

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive…”
― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

My new Oregon home is the perfect place to immerse myself in the beauty of being alive; of seeing Life all around me; of connecting my body, mind, and soul to the ongoing experience of living – from spore to plant to decomposing matter and back to spore. In the face of global instability on every level from climate change to species extinction to social structures, it is bliss and contentment to turn away from fear and toward Nature, and to feel again the circle of Love that is Life.

Many thanks to our guest host for this week’s Lens-Artist Challenge, Lindy Low LeCoq. I am so glad she got her inspiration from one of my favorite authors and thinkers and invited us into bliss! If you would like to participate, click on her name above and follow her lead.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Natural Light

“Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n,
and strikes The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light”
― Omar Khayyám

Our eternal message of hope is that dawn will come.― Martin Luther King, Jr.

“And when the dawn comes creeping in,
Cautiously I shall raise
Myself to watch the daylight win.”
― D.H. Lawrence

“Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.”― Henry David Thoreau

“Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”
― Annie Dillard

“There is nothing more musical than a sunset. He who feels what he sees will find no more beautiful example of development in all that book which, alas, musicians read but too little – the book of Nature.”
― Claude Debussy

Natural Light, the Sun, traces an arc in the sky each day, reminding us of how perspective changes with the passage of time. In every 24 hours, we witness hope, newness, growth, diminishment, and rest. That pattern is extended in a widening scope throughout history. It was my intention to choose words from writers who have observed and experienced the place of human beings in that cycle. Their voices mark the awareness of our longing to take our rightful place under the Sun, to know the wonder and beauty of living in dignity and in harmony with all things in Nature.

Thank you, Amy (The World Is A Book), for inviting us to reflect Natural Light in this Challenge.

 

New Year’s Eve

Reblogged from 2011 and dedicated to my Mom, born this day in 1934 and transitioned from this life on October 22, 2020.

The social tradition in this country is to spend New Year’s Eve with the person who is most important to you, someone with whom you’d like to spend your future.  That first kiss of the New Year is supposed to impart good fortune for the year to come.  For many Americans, then, it’s off to parties to drink up and link up in an attempt to avoid the curse of loneliness for the rest of your life.

Yeah, well, I’ve never seen it quite like that.  You see, New Year’s Eve is also my mother’s birthday.  We always spent it at home, having a family celebration.  When I got married and moved out, my new nuclear family did the same thing.  We dressed up in prom gowns and tuxes (and sometimes like pirates) and danced in the living room, sipping champagne and listening to the weirdest music we had.  Kisses were passed between husbands and wives and fathers and daughters and mothers and sons and sometimes siblings.  Our future was with the family; our past was with the family.  The two were intertwined, and we liked it that way.  We watched the ball drop in NYC some years, and sometimes we just let the kids run outdoors with big spoons and pots and pans and make all the noise they liked at midnight.  One year, we were visiting Jim’s best friend’s family, and the kids had a silly string fight in the middle of the street that afternoon.  They made a huge mess.   Which makes me wonder: who cleans up the confetti after New Year’s Eve in NYC?  How much gets recycled?

New Year’s Eve 1992 or 1993?

Who do I want to be next year?  My future is rooted in my past and lived in the present.  I will always live with my family legacy coursing through my veins, pulsating in my brain.  I am my father & mother’s daughter, Jim’s wife, my kids’ mother, and that will stay with me year after year.  I am also a writer, a budding naturalist.  I hope to become a home economist & ecologist.  I want to keep on practicing awareness, appreciation, attitude and action.  Ultimately, the person with whom I will spend my future is…myself.  At the stroke of midnight, I’ll look myself in the eye and say, “You and me, kid!  It’s gonna be a great year!”  Hopefully, I won’t feel cross-eyed and alone when I do.  And I promise I’ll clean up after myself.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: The Holiday Season

When traditions meet transitions…

For most of my life, my Holiday Season was centered around traditions that originated in the Anglican community. We celebrated Advent, then Christmas, and finally Epiphany. For forty years, beginning when I was 7 years old, I sang in an Episcopal Church choir and spent a good portion of my Christmas break in rehearsal and in church. The birth of Jesus was the reason for the season, and I never told my children there was a Santa Claus. The first gift they unwrapped was always the wooden Christ figure for the creche, in a golden box marked “Unto Us”. These traditions were rich, comforting, and firm. I think they provided many benefits to my four young children. As the children grew, our family made Christmas about broader values. We supported needy families, donated to organizations that contributed to world causes, and gave gifts that were homemade or from sustainable sources. As my children became young adults, we approached our holiday traditions with hard questions about life and meaning and community. What is truly holy and valuable to us? How do we celebrate the divine spark in all of life? Perhaps the most poignant question became “What is our family now that Dad has died?” Transitions are the hallmark of growth. Things that are growing change; living things evolve. There are Universal transitions that are holy. December 21 is the Winter Solstice, when the Earth is furthest from the Sun and daylight is at its ebb. This year, Saturn and Jupiter will align on that day. And three of my children will be living in Oregon with me. The list of transitions our family has braved over the last year is weighty. It includes several moves, relationship changes, and my mother’s death. In the midst of all these changes, we remember and celebrate the thing that makes a Holy Season: the invitation to Love and the recognition of divine presence in every living thing.

I’m sure that for many people around the world, this will be a Holiday Season that seems very unusual, perhaps quite unsettling. I wish us all the Peace of knowing that transition and change is intrinsic to Life. May we reach out in holy Love and celebrate the divine presence in all living things, expressing our gratitude and committing to doing good.

Thank you, Ann-Christine, for hosting this week’s challenge

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Inspiration

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.”
― Langston Hughes

Back in 2012, I participated in a WordPress Photo Challenge that asked what inspires me to blog. Here is my response. I am still inspired by all these things: caring for family (now it’s my mother who is in hospice with lung cancer), Nature (it still demands my maturity every day, especially with climate change dangers tangibly around me), grieving my husband’s death and caring for our children (which prompted me to move to Oregon to be near them), compassion for Life and our common suffering (spiritual lessons of positive and negative space inspire me every day), and education (there is always so much to learn). 

Today, in response to Tina’s challenge for the Lens-Artists this week, I revisit these inspirations.

Caregiving

“The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.”
― Kalu Ndukwe Kalu

Nature

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
― Maya Angelou

My children

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Compassion for Life

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
― Vincent Van Gogh

Education 

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
― Socrates

 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Negative Space

Amy, our Lens-Artists host this week, writes:

This week we will explore negative space in photography. Negative space is the area around the main subject of your photograph. This space is empty or unoccupied. Spencer Cox at Photography Life explains, ”Photos with high amounts of negative space are: empty, subdued, peaceful, calm, and isolated”.

If you’re familiar with this blog, you can imagine that I had all sorts of philosophical associations with the words “negative space”. Here I am in California, giving hospice care to my mother with lung cancer while the West Coast is on fire. Two of my children and their spouses live in Oregon, where I moved at the beginning of August, leaving Wisconsin. If you read the news, you know there is a lot of scary stuff going on in all of these places, a lot of “negative” energy.

However, now I know that “negative space” can just be the background that allows you to focus on a particular subject. Re-framing the shot, allowing the busy-ness surrounding the essential element to blur, highlights its unique and important features.

Empty, subdued, peaceful, calm and isolated.

So, maybe all of the disasters of 2020 are just the “negative space” that will allow us as humans to focus on what it supremely important about life on this planet. And what do you think that is? 

 

 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Creativity in the Time of Covid

Creativity. Creation. Creators.

Growing up, I was taught that I was called into being by a Creator and that I had the ability and the responsibility to become a co-creator. It seemed like a very daunting future. What was I to create? What could I offer the world?

I started with trying to discover what I might be good at. I majored in Music/Voice Performance in college, and I married my High School sweetheart in my senior year. By graduation, I was pregnant. I had a talent for producing children, turns out. I had four children by the time I was 28.

I met a celibate priest and author, Rev. Martin Smith, at a church event. He spoke of how people would always wonder at his sacrifice of creativity and fatherhood. He assured them that while he was not making babies, he was making meaning.

“Making meaning” became a phrase that stuck with me. When I was 30, I began to write poetry. I self-published a book of poems and parables and sold 50 copies in our church bookstore.

When I turned 50, I bought myself a digital camera and started blogging. I had been using the Canon AE-1 that my high school sweetheart and late husband had bought me as a teenager to develop a photographer’s eye. Having the ability to see the frames instantly fed my appetite to produce images.

All this time, though, I wasn’t sure if I was really “good” at creating anything. I felt like I dabbled. I thought that I might not have earned that co-creator status that I was supposedly destined for.

During “the Time of Covid”, I clicked through a lot of psychology videos while sorting out some major life transitions. That is how I came across the very affirming words of Brené  Brown, who maintains that we are inherently creative and that shame is the major obstacle to our living out that creative purpose. She and Scott Barry Kaufman (co-author of Wired to Create) did a podcast in which she shares this quote from one of her books:

“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastisizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.” -Brené Brown

Wow. So, on top of all the grief and rage of “the time of Covid”, not using your creativity will cause another layer of unhealthy detriment to your soul.

Must. Create.

I had re-entered the community theater scene last year after 14 years. I was in a musical last summer and a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in February. In March, I played Irish fiddle (badly – having first picked up the violin only two years ago) in an improv comedy act, but the last performance, on St. Patrick’s Day, was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Via the magic of Zoom and Discord, I have been able to connect with folks to do reader’s theater versions of plays by Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Thornton Wilder, and others. I do voices – English accents, Russian accents, old people, young people, men, women, and storms.

I started trying to learn to speak Spanish yesterday. My youngest daughter is teaching herself Russian. Together we are also addressing income insecurity and racism and politics in our precious face-to-face discussions. For me, making meaning in this “time of Covid” and after a cross-country move is about affirming life, affirming values, creating community, and living wholeheartedly into an uncertain future while braving the vulnerability and shame that always hovers around my humanity.

Creativity in the Time of Covid is essential for all of us. It is a practice for our individual mental health and the health of our shared humanity. We need to see ourselves as beings called to make meaning together and hard-wired to connect around our vulnerability. We are navigating in treacherous, uncertain waters. If we can make ourselves into a human life raft, we might just stay afloat. 

Thank you, Tina, for inspiring creativity and self-reflection with this challenge, and for the very kind “shout out” to my previous post, Under the Sun.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Under the Sun

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiates 1:9

The Sun, our home star, energizes the life of our planet from 93 million miles away. It has been doing that day in and day out for a very long time. When my perspective of change is tied to my own lifespan, it is easy to feel tossed about in dramatic arcs. To feel the peaceful constancy of the Universe, I need only to look up from my life.

While there is nothing new under the sun, there is more than enough that is new to me. If I ask around, though, I may find connections to the processes that continually have influence here and learn from them. That, I believe, is where wisdom is found. King Solomon might have been thinking about that when he set down the thought which opens this post. 

“Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”

― Hafiz

May you discover joy under the Sun and spread love generously, beginning with yourself! 

Thanks to Amy for the inspiration for today’s challenge!

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Surprise

The sudden sting of tears, unbidden. Grief leaking out along the edges of a prepared lid, supposedly clamped shut.

I have been surprised by joy often. Lately, it is surprising to find myself awakening to deep melancholy. I am not used to this. I think of myself as an optimist.

But I know that I live in a very protected world of my own design. I am educating myself intentionally. I am letting go of delusions.

“Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world…”

― Thich Nhat Hahn 

This morning, I awoke with a visceral feeling of sadness, of uncertainty, of betrayal and abandonment. I imagine it’s a response to the images and knowledge I’m absorbing through news media and films.

When emotions arise powerfully in me, I am taken by surprise. I was raised to regulate them with logic and religious faith. I have now learned to tolerate looking closely at them.

My housemate found a poem for me that helped me put the feeling into words. It is “Dover Beach”, by Matthew Arnold. 

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

“…Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sounds. By such means, …awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world. If we get in touch with the suffering of the world, and are moved by that suffering, we may come forward to help the people who are suffering.”

― Thich Nhat Hahn

Perhaps surprise is simply the evidence that we live in a state of unknowing. We delude ourselves in order to shelter for a time in the idea that we are in control and can predict events and outcomes. The “cosmic 2x4s” of life will whack us upside the head from time to time and wake us up. It can be painful, surely. And it is beneficial as well. Once awake, we can acknowledge reality with greater perception and take actions that will be more specific and appropriate.  

“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

It is my hope and faith that the sunshine of awareness can transform the  devastation of our man-made storms into guiding visions of beauty and light.

May we awaken and become wise and kind.

Thank you, Ann-Christine, for inviting us to ponder Surprise.