There is something special about not knowing exactly where you are – whether driving in a new area (sans car GPS) or hiking at a wilderness area for the first time (sans handheld GPS). At the point where I give up having to know for sure, is the exact point where body and mind and spirit go into a full-on awareness where every sight and sound and movement has significance. It is the exact point where mystery and mystique take over; where life shifts into being a puzzle that needs to be solved rather than a well-traveled road that needs to be followed.
Why do we strive so hard never to be lost? Why is it that we think that being predictably on course is the “best” way to get somewhere? Why do we choose to bypass our personal navigation systems – ignoring gut feelings, discounting hunches, and over-looking what we see, hear and feel? I have found that there isn’t a situation that I can’t resolve by becoming still and watching patterns and movement in my surroundings.
On a recent hike at a new area, I had to completely trust myself to find the path – for here was the informational kiosk on the path (I interpreted it to mean “trust yourself”).
And here was the initial trail marker for the red-blazed trail (I interpreted it to mean “make it whatever color you need it to be”). And, all was well!
I spend a lot of time walking and hiking in nature to get the “authentic” wildlife experience. I am guilty of not paying as much attention to the plants and animals that are right outside of our front door - as if the wildlife that exists in a neighborhood is relegated to second class status! I know that my mind shifts to life-indoors as I drive up the driveway, and life-outdoors fades into the background as uninteresting squirrels, ordinary bird feeder birds, and the occasional stray cat.
After 15-years of putting our yard on “nature autopilot” I have been given a wakeup call from nature itself – birds in particular. The last time I was out hedging bushes, the drone of the electric hedger was out done by the caws of a much distressed mother bird. Bird – 1, hedging chore – 0. An important lesson on paying attention in the here-and-now.
And, a year ago I was amazed as a flock of ~ 100 robins flitted into our yard with the noise and frolicking of a massive flash-mob on the move. I was in awe that I was able to witness this first-hand and up-close. This year it repeated with just as many orange-bellied delights, but for the first time I learned how one of our trees transformed from a red-berry-cluster-buffet to green-leaf-nothingness in the course of 2-days. How could I have been so oblivious of a tree going from a menagerie of green leaves and red berries to merely green leaves all in the matter of hours? It took me 15 years to really see what was happening just outside our front door. And, it rates right up there with my intentional quests out in nature. Who knew?
Five months ago, I set out on my own photography quest based on the book “The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes” by Andy Karr & Michael Wood (2011). Each month I randomly choose a focus (i.e., object, color, etc.) and set out to take eleven related photos sometime during the month; focusing on ordinary objects.
I’d probably sum up this project (so far) as “be the photo” rather than “take the picture.” The intent of contemplative photography is to have a photo reflect one’s internal experience (feelings, connection) rather than having a photo substitute for an actual interaction. This is at the other end of the spectrum from recording an experience to share with others; it is to capture the experience exactly as it is - including the feeling (soul?) that we feel finding and taking the picture itself. The photo should replicate the experience – no more, no less.
So, what have I learned so far? It’s not about the photo, it’s about me! There were the months that I just wanted to get it done – just like life … how many times do I focus on the end rather than the journey? There were the times that I got sucked into the perfectness of it all by connecting more with the camera (micro or macro? best angle? flash? best camera setting?) than the subject itself – how many times do I lose the original intent?
What about the photos taken? Many were “less than” the actual visual experience – I chalk this up to moving too fast, and not sinking into the moment before taking the picture. And, many were “more than” the actual visual experience – I sensed that something about the color or pattern or light was more than ordinary before taking the shot.
But, beyond all of this I found that I always went with the flow of what I really wanted to photograph – shifting to leaf photos in the fall because of the allure; and more recently shifting to snow photos because of the awe. What does this say about me? Intuition trumps following the rules; and, contemplation is only relevant within the context of seizing the moment.
I’m one of those people who still use a paper appointment book – not because I can’t do technology, but because it captures so much more than my upcoming scheduled world. I’m also interested in seeing the process of events that get scheduled – what gets scheduled then rescheduled across time; what gets cancelled; and, what I choose not to attend after all. And, I record those people, places and events that “made my day” by marking them with smiley faces (while adding a smiley face it puts me back in the amazing energy of the original moment). I also use it as a folder – holding flyers for upcoming events. And, as each day comes along, it gets used as a scrap book as well – capturing tidbits of my days that imbued them with meaning (e.g., ticket stubs, newly found quotes, fortunes, mental a-ha moments, pieces of conversations). By the end of each month it’s a technicolor scribble-scrabble masterpiece.
More importantly, I use it to go beyond my day-to-day appointments. Each month I challenge myself to undertake three out-of-the-ordinary explorations – checking out a new group/event, exploring a new location/business, or learning something new. These are what I call my “out of rut” moments where I push my own limits – especially when I try something new where I may fail or succeed, love it or hate it.
In September, one of my limit-pushing events was to learn to ride a motorcycle and get my license endorsement – first learning how to ride; then, passing a skills test and a written test. Why? I wanted to know, first-hand, the mystique that surrounds motorcycles since I have a son on the path to becoming a motorcycle mechanic. Long story short – I learned way more than the mechanics and rules of riding. I learned about the intuitive connection between a rider and her bike, the openness and freedom of 2-tires and no passenger compartment, and the unique personalities that each motorcycle has. It was no ordinary month!
Thanks to gullevek (Flickr) for the motorcycle photo