Last week, I talked about the problem with perceptions and asked you to get curious about your perceptions and what you might be missing.
Curiosity is one of the nine key habits for living a contemplative life and I am convinced it just might be the most important. I wrote about this subject back in March – Curiosity, the Antidote to Judgment and Anxiety.
Since then, I’ve been doing tons of reading about curiosity, noticing people who thrive on it, and trying to be more curious in my own life.
At the time I was still reading Todd Kashdan’s book, Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. Now that I’ve finished it, I wanted to share some of my biggest takeaways.
Curiosity is much more than asking a lot of questions. Yes, it is about learning more about things we find interesting, but it is also about seeing familiar things in new ways – being able to experience the present without letting past experiences or worries about the future cloud our judgment.
As soon as we think we understand something, we stop paying attention. ~ Todd Kashdan, Curious?
It is also a way to greater intimacy in relationships and helps us to grow as human beings.
1. Curiosity can help you identify your values, interests, and passions, allowing you to live a life that is richer and more meaningful.
2. Being curious can improve your ability to handle chaos. It is at the heart of resilience and recovery.
3. Curiosity is the antidote to judgment, complacency, and anxiety.
4. Curiosity is at the heart of keeping relationships new and fresh because you are more interested and responsive to those you are in relationship with.
Curiosity is at work when we feel open and receptive to experiences that offer more than what is already known. It creates energy, movement, discovery, exploration, and possibilities.
Kashdan says that research shows most of us spend almost 36% of our days doing unfulfilling tasks. If work is also unfulfilling add another 30%.
The first step is to quit doing what is unfulfilling AND unnecessary. Do more of the things that add meaning to your life. And, Kashdan shares ways to add meaning to those unfulfilling tasks that we can’t get away from.
* Begin each day expecting uncertainty and things you don’t know. Expect surprises.
* Notice when you are quick to judge and get curious about ways to reframe the situation. When you are open to possibilities, you will find them.
* Resist the desire to control. Let novelty unfold. Novelty exists everywhere.
* Be interested in others and in trying new things, not worrying about what others will think or whether you will succeed.
Another book I read on this topic was The Power of Why by journalist Amanda Lang. It is about how curiosity drives innovation – a very interesting book with many business case examples.
Curiosity requires the courage to risk being wrong – which in the end, doesn’t require all that much courage if you don’t view being wrong as catastrophic. ~ Amanda Lang, The Power of Why
While this book comes from a business perspective, she emphasizes how important it is for each of us to connect with ourselves, to know our unique value, and to bring it into the world.
See Todd Kashdan’s TEDx talk, Becoming a Mad Scientist with your Life.
If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern. ~ William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
On this blog I talk a lot about perception – noticing what is felt through the senses and then also noticing the labels we put on those perceptions. The photographic practice of noticing our perceptions helps us to really see and appreciate what’s right in front of us – a good skill for life.
In her fabulous article, The Mind is its Own Place, Tracy Cochran quotes Milton from the book Paradise Lost:
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
To me, this is the definition of heaven and hell, something we create ourselves, usually with our minds in terms of how we perceive things. This is why being aware of our perceptions and also how limited they are is so, so important.
My son posted a picture on Facebook that had words at the top and the bottom. It was related to Mother’s Day and he made a comment about the picture. That morning I pulled up my Facebook page and saw only the picture and his words, not the words at the top and bottom of the picture. This gave the picture an entirely different meaning and one that upset me very much.
Now, I am pretty computer savvy and know that you’re supposed to click on a picture to see the whole thing. But my emotions (and mind) got the best of me and immediately triggered past experiences where I may not have done everything right as a mother.
I sent my son a message asking him what the picture meant. He didn’t understand why I was asking and said that it was pretty straightforward. This upset me even more.
However, instead of saying “How could he?” – this really was not like my son (especially on Mother’s Day), I stayed with what I was feeling, and really felt the sadness and where it was coming from. No, I was not a perfect mother, yet my kids love me anyways.
We went back and forth a bit until I accidentally clicked on the picture and saw the words. Now, it was clear and his words took on a completely different meaning.
Luckily, we were able to communicate and stay with it until we both could see what had happened and finally laugh about it. By the way, the words were about loving your Mom unconditionally.
This is the problem with perception. It is always limited. And, if we truly believe our limited perceptions it can take on a whole new meaning that some additional information might completely change.
Cochran says that there is a space between perception and reaction where possibilities lie.
We need to aspire to something very small, to be willing to pause before we react, to be with our experience, to wait and see what arises.
Don’t let your mind get the best of you. Realize that there are always missing pieces in our perceptions. Get curious about what those are.
For the Contemplative Photographer, the camera is viewed as an extension of a person’s heart and mind and the resulting photographs as a visual, and highly personal diary of experience and expression. ~ Patricia Turner
I was totally thrilled to meet Patricia Turner at my contemplative photography retreat at Bethany Spring in Kentucky. She is the author of the blog, A Photographic Sage, where she writes about contemplative photography from a Taoist perspective.
Patricia just happened to be on a three week pilgrimage of sites related to the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, one of my mentors. During the retreat, she was able to visit Thomas Merton’s hermitage at the Abbey of Gethsemani, and she wrote about that experience here.
A delightful person and very knowledgeable and passionate about contemplative photography, Patricia is also a retired school teacher of art, who travels extensively. During that weekend, I learned that she had published a book called A Field Guide for the Contemplative Photographer, now available as a free e-book. It is a fabulous piece of work and this interview is based on questions related to the book. You can download the book as a pdf file at the end of this post.
I think I would say that it was contemplative photography that found me! I had gone to the Outer Hebrides in 2005 on a grant to photograph in the footsteps of Paul Strand’s visit in 1954. An image I had made of two horses seemed to click with a poem in the Carmina Gadelica, a book of ancient Gaelic prayers from the Western Isles that I had taken with me. The horses, which were looking in opposite directions seemed to mirror the opening phrase of the prayer, “As it was, As it is, As it shall be evermore…” It was the first moment that I realized that images could be more than just a document of something seen but a reflection of a thought or feeling.
Here’s a link to the blog post where I discuss this.
As an aside, I majored in photography and film making in the late 1970’s and spent the next 30+ years teaching art in a public school system outside of Boston.
I would say a journal and an empty bowl. Being a student of Taoist philosophy, the latter is the essential starting point for me. When one is able to clear the mind completely and be totally open to whatever one may come across in the landscape, without preconceptions and without judgment, then one is more capable of receiving the wisdom of the world around them. My classically trained photographic mind often interfered in the early days. The journal is necessary for recording the fleeting impressions, in words or sketches, that are more authentic, more valuable that those recorded in “hindsight”.
Here’s a post on the “empty bowl.”
Shunpiking is a very old Yankee term for avoiding the well-traveled roads. Turnpike is an old English word for a major road between two towns. It is the way I like to travel … I’m forever veering off the main roads to explore the less traveled roads. I’ve found some amazing places that way.
Here is a post where I discuss “shunpiking” as a perfect way to practice the Taoist method of Wu Wei…going with the flow!
I spend a great deal of time just sitting and doing my “visual listening” exercises which may mean a guided meditation based on a poem or passage from a book or it may mean journaling my thoughts, creating “word trains” and sketching. Sketching forces me to slow down and really behold the landscape in front of me … it is way too easy to “click and run”… drawing takes time. It allows me to delineate the essential elements of line and shape and shade and I write all over it. Drawing draws my attention to things I may overlook without it.
I write about things I want to remember about the place. Later, after I make a “rough draft” of the image, I refer to my annotated sketch as a reference. I also use a viewfinder, a simple cardboard cutout that artists use for composing, to try out various ideas. Then I will make photographic sketches and spend time looking at them. Does the landscape ask me to move closer or further away?
I can spend an hour or more in one place … sometimes I return again and again because for me, photography is a creative endeavor between myself and the landscape. I try to give the landscape plenty of time to inform my images.
It was John O’Donohue who got me to see this most clearly. I can wax almost metaphysically about the idea that we receive the images that we are meant to receive! Metaphors are simply ways to shape our thoughts and the ones that speak the strongest to me I call “Icons of the Experience” and I read them just as you would a stained glass window or a text.
Here is a link to my practice of PhotoLectio.
It’s very hard to choose one image to cite but I’ll offer the one I will use in an upcoming post on Metaphor. It is my image of the staircase in Rouen Cathedral which I photographed last summer.
As someone who writes incessantly (I’ve kept a daily journal for 40 years), I love how contemplative photography gives me artifacts of experience … something to sit with and reflect on slowly, over time. It stimulates my writing in new and unexpected ways.
It seems the longer I practice contemplative photography, the fewer images I need to make to be happily engaged with the experience. The more attentive I become of the simple and insignificant, the sacred in the ordinary, the more I understand William Blake’s words, “Everything that is, Is Holy.”
Download Patricia’s Field Guide for Contemplative Photographers right here.
And, be sure to visit her wonderful blog, A Photographic Sage.
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Images Copyright Kim Manley Ort
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