Accompanying photographs are mine. The intention is to share some of my work which is conjured with the approach and spirit outlined in this essay.
If we are lucky enough to have the gift of sight, we can express this gift to others. We can share and relate what we see and in so doing, discover how we see and more astonishingly just who is doing the seeing. We write about what we see and we tell each other what we saw in our dreams. We document our claims to experience through our photography. All of these activities are relational, and in relating we animate a mirror that defines ourselves, indicating the “I.” We learn about perception and the poetry of life is activated when we relate.
Perception is the gate leading to the belief in an unchanging self while serving as a portal going beyond it. Insight meditation can be useful in waking up our fixed notions of self. This can bring awareness to the interdependent nature of the objects seen with the person doing the seeing. Photography is a uniquely powerful method that enhances such an investigation. Perhaps time is just consciousness relating phenomenal experience to that self (and the inverse). And the photograph is if nothing else, confirmation of relative time and a tangible document to understanding our world and how we perceive it. It could be that we are trying to capture proof of and show ourselves our particular way of observing when we document a moment through a photograph. The desire to express beauty and meaning is embedded in this persuit.
Consider the following questions:
* How is existence abstracted or made more lucid through photography for us?
* What mirrored personal messages between our phenomenal world and our perceptions are contained within our images?
* How flexible are the ways we see when we are in a direct or enhanced (by a camera) perception of an object?
* Can we learn about perception and this ever-changing and unfixed “self” through photography? Can we consider this ever-changing self as just another “object” to observe?
Insight and Approach:
The prevailing wisdom for the gear aficionado who is interested in a documented manipulation of what is seen, is that we are beholden to the strength and flexibility of our tools. Devices wielded with the purpose to shape or to enhance our seeing and illustrate how we observe with the goal to present this to others- the audience/the other. In this case, the poetry of “mood” and the power of technology will reign.
A purist view of photography might be one that hopes to capture the truth. The goal would be to capture the moment as it was and as it is, calcified and displayed for posterity. The purist in us yearns to generate a product which declares: “here is reality.” The cleanest and most deft exposure to what a frame can capture would approximate this goal’s ambition. We can summarize this approach as “Realism.” Perception’s volatility and it’s features of subjectivity has much to say about Realism, as do poetry and modernism etc. Whether we tilt towards “the changing what is seen” approach or the purist’s way, I would suggest that studying perception is necessary for an approach to Art-making (and Life) in general. The boundaries of perception are murky and provocative to examine.
So, who is doing this observing? Directly observing the observer is the name of the game.
Consider the following questions:
* Who decides what is being seen, when the “who” itself is in contention?
* Is this “who” not just a part of the scenery, where do “we” meet our subjects?
* Are we not so deeply implicated with what we make that hard-objectivity is a dream?
* Why do we try to relate to others through our work at all, what are we trying to express about and through our perception?
The question of meaning continues to open for us here.
If all of this is obtuse or extraneous-seeming to the process, let me clarify. I am not suggesting these are questions to be actuated intellectually while making art or when working. These are the questions that may arise from meditative observation of observation itself! Behind the mechanistic relating with our experience resides the insight, that quiet background of the less revealed, less obvious process. Undoubtedly, we are all engaging with these questions from time to time. This process of insight generation conjures the entwined magic of how we are at once divorced from our subjects and laced within them, which is illustrated for us by our medium of choice, in our case: photography and the camera.
Active insight into our observational lens and into perception itself, the perceiver and how tools interface with our seeing, allows photography to become a true contemplative meditation! And this helps our art and our craft. Discussing perception is not about creating parlor games for the mind, it is about deepening our relationship with our minds and with our lives.
So, how do we expand our perception using the senses?
The First Mindfulness practice:
The first mindfulness practice is mindfulness of breath. It is a focus on the breath because the breath is both an automatic and a controlled process. If we stop what we are doing and focus our attention on the sensation of the breath rising and falling, we have begun to meditate through the first traditional vehicle of mindfulness.
Meditation and training the mind are merely choosing an object of focus and gently but persistently sticking with it. While we sit in an upright and relaxed posture, we soften our belly, straighten our backs and begin to focus on the breath as we naturally inhale and exhale. Not controlling our breathing, not analyzing it but merely watching it come and go. The body and mind become focused and relaxed at once.
We can try and sit like this for 15 minutes to start. If we find we are constantly distracted, with our thoughts flittering about, or if we are falling into a haze of dreamy dissociation and lethargy, we return to our object of focus each time. The breath, coming and going. We remain focused every time the mind diverts its attention. We are not trying to control or eliminate thoughts. We are just choosing an object of meditation and sticking with it with an ever returning commitment to stay with the breath.
Don’t worry if you can barely focus on the breath without being swept away in thoughts of the future, judgments of the present, regrets from the past or fantasies, these distractions and the nature of the monkey mind are precisely why we train in meditation. We are slowly training the mind and body to blend into an open and receptive space of present time awareness.
We should set up a clean and quiet space to do sitting meditation. We sit in a chair with our knees lower than our hips, for circulation. Alternatively, we sit in an upright posture on a cushion with our legs crossed, kness lower than our hips once again.
We sit in a clean and quiet space which we set out for our selves at a time and in an area where we will be undisturbed when doing so, each day.
Do not be discouraged if it is hard to focus. You are not doing it wrong. Just return to the breath each time you find that your mind has trailed off.
We will notice the most profound and subtle shifts in our consciousness if we can dedicate a small window of time to this practice.
Which brings us back to perception.
Perception is like an aperture. If through a regular mediation practice we can bring focus to our mind, our consciousness and the senses which are informing our consciousness, we can expand our dimensions of awareness. If we can observe through a calmed and focused mind the conceptual noise of the ego which is often full of dangerously exhausting chatter pulling our attention out of the naturally arrising present, we can begin to see our inner and outer environment in new ways. Through basic meditation, we bring many benefits to our work and play, engaging at a new level of open awareness, adding to our already excited artistic pursuit. Starting or reinvigorating a meditation practice with the first mindfulness training of breath invites deeper and more clear insight and cultivates an enigmatic and joyful approach.
The benefits of a sitting meditation practice are beyond listing here. It has been my experience.
Meditation and the now oft overused term Mindfulness are merely layers of attention. Likely most readers know very well what it is like to engage with this “extra awake” attention while taking pictures. It is that note of clicking into seeing the shot we didn’t know we sought, now manifest before us in a heightened space of conscious engagement. This feeling is a part of our photographic and artistic pursuit and one we wish to recapture again and again. We breathe and click into what is, capturing something personal at that moment made alive through action. The next breath is different.
This approach has a soft and focused feeling. It is open and allowing, observing whatever juts it’s head out with poetic energy. The conditions within and external to us fall into place with grace and energy when we practice art-making and photography like this. Why does this event or blink of an action feel so satisfying? The insight is unlocked by our ability to arrive at a sustained focus which is precise, dynamic and inflow.
Here is where the practice of insight meditation begins actively in real time, and the opportunities for realization and the advancing of our work are indeed endless.