Saturday Blues

blueYou know how some of the smallest and most unexpected moments remain indelible in your memory? Ten years ago, I was at an environmental conference and someone read the excerpt below from a book by Rebecca Solnit called A Field Guid to Getting Lost. Read it slowly and take it in.

The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue edge of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

The language was so beautiful and the thoughts so magical that I never forgot them. After returning home, I immediately bought the book.

This past weekend I learned that Krista Tippett’s latest interview on the On Being podcast was with Rebecca Solnit. I went out for a walk early Saturday morning, before the heat of the day was in full force, specifically to listen to the interview. Highly recommended.

During that walk, I took the photograph above. It wasn’t until I got home and was processing photos on my computer that I connected it to the “blue” piece. The unconscious works in mysterious ways.

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The Benefits of Slow Walking

slow walking
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the benefits of wandering. Recently, at the meditation and writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg, we practiced slow walking before writing, and I mean very slow, at about a quarter of our regular speed. Natalie writes in her book, Thunder and Lightning,

The walk is not a hike; I might just circumambulate my room. I probably look like a zombie, but I’m not in a trance; I’m actually paying very close attention to my feet. I’m feeling my right foot flex – those adorable toes spreading, the light spongy mass of my heel lifting, my weight shifting to the left side. Then I sense my knee bending, my right hip dropping, my body falling forward as I move my foot a small space above the floor, then settle it on the ground again. As I slow down, space becomes immense, time is huge. Lifting, bending, placing – who am I? In this unhurried, compassionate life, what is it I want to say?

We practiced slow walking around the perimeter of the Zen center at Upaya; 70 of us in slow motion, occasionally stopping to check in with ourselves. In this unhurried place, we can see better what’s right in front of us. We can hear what we have to say.

Goldberg said that most of the time when we walk, we’re focused on the destination. Our minds are already at this future place, imagining or planning what we’ll do when we get there. Slow walking is a practice that helps us to focus on the journey, not the destination.

She advised a radical reframing – receive the world as it comes, one step at a time, and respond accordingly.

In terms of photography, slow walking gives us the time and space to see what’s calling to us to photograph in the moment, instead of looking for something in particular. Sometimes we need a practice like this to slow us down, not just physically but mentally as well.

Try a slow and purposeless walk sometime soon and notice how it changes your experience.
How to Slow Down – a short video with Bill Murray

The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking – Finlo Roher at the BBC

The Wander Society Book

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Bowing to Life through a Photograph

bowing to life
During the meditation and writing retreat at Upaya Zen Center, we spent much of the day in silence. We could speak at dinner if we chose to, but breakfast and lunch were always in silence. During this time, we acknowledged others and the spaces we inhabited with a deep bow, palms touching as if in prayer.

There is something very respectful about this type of bow. It’s not done in deference to someone superior or someone in power. Instead, it’s a way of pausing and honouring a person, place, or thing; a way of acknowledging and showing appreciation. Yet, even the bow can sometimes come across as rote.

One must bow with their whole being – heart, mind, and body.

Respect for all beings is a core principle in Zen. It’s an expression of what Albert Schweitzer called “reverence for life.” But it goes beyond that: we even bow to our cushion. We are grateful for, respect, and help maintain the inanimate world as well. Since everything in the universe is connected, everything is necessary for our own small individual existence. We show gratitude and respect for our cushion, the ground that supports us, the walls that protect us, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth, moon, and stars. ~ Why do Buddhists Bow?

Since arriving home, I’ve noticed that I miss the bow. In this podcast, True Prosperity: Nothing but the Bow, Genzen Kennell, one of the Zen priests at Upaya, says that once you start bowing, you can’t stop. He quotes Zen master Katagiri Roshi, who said, “Bowing is like a rock in your heart. You cannot remove it.”

Bowing is a form of humility, one of the nine contemplative habits.

In this post, The Value of Humility, I shared that the word humility comes from the Latin, “humus,” meaning ground. With humility, we place ourselves on common ground with everything, no less and no better.

We can bring this mindset of humility to our photography. In this way, the click of the shutter becomes a bow towards what’s right in front of us; towards life. It’s a form of reverence. A photograph becomes a connection borne from respectful relationship.

During the retreat, Natalie Goldberg advised us to be open, to receive and respond to the world in each moment. Every encounter is a chance to transform and be transformed. Every photograph that we receive in this way changes us.

Being open to receiving the world with humility expands our range of subject matter exponentially. Everything becomes worthy before the camera lens. Photographer Art Wolfe says it beautifully.

As an artist, I shoot without prejudice. And, it just opens up the world. I never run out of ideas.

Next time you click the shutter, think of it as a bow towards life.

Watch: Art Wolfe’s talk at Google

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