Haiku and Photography

In Natalie Goldberg’s book, The True Secret of Writing, she introduces Shiki, a great haiku writer from the 19th century. He was “an invalid, who dragged himself to the edge of the tatami mat, overlooking his garden, where he sat all day waiting to receive a haiku. For Shiki the act of creating entailed an alert stillness.”

Goldberg says that “simple attention shifts reality” and “much can be done by doing little – with regard.”

I find that haiku poems are wonderful accompaniments to contemplative photographs. The words succinctly describe the experience of the moment without judgment. Charles Blackhall calls them “eyeku.”

What is Haiku?

Haiku originates from Japan. It usually consists of three lines, containing 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively. These three lines pare down an experience to its essence – meaning there is no interpretation, you say what happened in a few chosen words.

Last week, we were in Northern Michigan with my step-sister and her husband. A walk in the woods was both wonderful and annoying in equal measure, as you can see in the image to your right.

Try writing your own haiku with a photograph that describes a moment of simple attention.


Learn more about haiku here and here.

Read about Basho, a master of haiku at The Book of Life

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Adventures in Seeing – Beauty


Beauty is the harvest of presence. ~ David Whyte, Consolations

I loved David Whyte’s quote above – beauty as the harvest of presence. Since practicing contemplative photography, I’ve considerably expanded my definition of what is beautiful. When I look closely, and see with eyes of love and attention, beauty reveals itself.

The image above is from my morning walk this week, where I spent some time present to the stillness of Lake Ontario. For me, beauty is found in simplicity, which gets to the heart, core, or essence of the subject or moment.

When our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us. There are people who see only dullness in the world and that is because their eyes have already been dulled. So much depends on how we look at things. The quality of our looking determines what we come to see. ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

John O’Donohue has a lot more to say on the subject of beauty in his book. And, I’ve been thinking of his sub-title, “The Invisible Embrace” all week. When we truly connect at a heart level, it is like an invisible embrace, and there is beauty in that connection.

What does beauty mean to you?


This week at the Adventures in Seeing Google+ community, we’re depicting and discussing beauty. The words come from David Whyte’s book, Consolations.

Please be sure to check out the amazing contributions so far and feel free to join the community (if you haven’t already). Submit your photo and reflection, tagging it with the word for the week. Your reflection can be just the word, a metaphor, a poem, a paragraph, or an essay. It’s up to you. See how others reflect on the same word.


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To Revise is To See Again

This is one of those posts that ties together a few ideas that came across my radar last week.

Firstly, I’ve been writing lately and am struck by how the process feels like a constant revision. New insights are revealed to enhance the writing and unnecessary parts are whittled away. Every step is necessary to get to the next one.

In a conversation on writing memoir, writer Andre Dubus III reminded me that the word “revise” means “to see again.” And, of course this is what revising is like; seeing the writing in new ways every time.

Seeing, as if for the first time – with beginners mind.

In this post from The Painter’s Keys, a veteran painter writes to Sara that he wishes he could become a beginner again. Sara replies that it is always possible to go back to “beginner’s mind,” by paying attention, remembering your dreams when you started, exploring new areas without obligation, and imagining possibilities.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. ~ Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Another way to reclaim beginner’s mind is to try something brand new and experience the actual feeling of being a beginner and all that entails – falling and failing.

Last year, I decided I wanted to learn to kayak. I thought it would be easy, but that’s not been the case. It seems that I’m lacking in certain essential skills, as well as some upper body strength – both rectifiable with practice and persistence. It’s been a humbling experience as I flip the kayak over and over again. Yet, I’m determined to learn.

Life itself is a constant process of revision; best to approach it with beginners mind.

Life is an exploration, for each day is a new landscape, a new state of mind, a new body, with different creaks and strengths. The day-to-day shifts are minuscule, until you step off a cliff or a lightning bolt strikes you or someone you love. Then you are transported immediately to another land, where everything looks different, because it is, because you are. ~ Marialena Carr, Writing as Exploration

What if we were to treat each new day like this, as a blank canvas, and with beginners mind? It’s scary and vulnerable and so much fun. We don’t know what will happen, but the possibilities are exciting to imagine.

If you’re a photographer, no matter how expert, it’s always good to go back to beginner’s mind. We do just that in Photo By Design, a 6-week online workshop in visual design and seeing. We spend a week each focusing on individual design elements. It starts in less than a month – Monday, August 17th – and I invite you to register now.

Zen Habits offers 11 Aspects of Beginner’s Mind – a guest post by Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen

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