In contemplative photography terms, perceptions are gasp in the thinking process; characterized by being suddenly stopped or startled by something. It is pre-conscious – before thought kicks in. We’ve all had these moments when time seems to stop and we are totally present and in awe of something before us. Our whole body and mind lights up at what is before us.

Becoming aware of these perceptions is a skill that can be learned. But first, where does this process originate, and how is it related to intuition and the brain? I did a little research and had my virtual assistant daughter, Kelly, put together this infographic of definitions (by no means comprehensive).


Infographic by Kelly Ort

Side note: While this shows the left and right sides of the brain, as well as the conscious and sub-conscious parts of our minds, the mind is not the same as the brain. Wiser minds are in ongoing discussions about the definitions of mind, brain, and consciousness. Let’s just say that they all work together.

Here’s what I learned.

1. Approximately 5% of our behaviour is controlled by our conscious mind and 95% by the sub-conscious mind.

These numbers are debatable, however, no matter the number, it’s a huge difference.

The conscious mind is our thinking mind – the linear, logical reasoning part. It’s our language centre and very important for navigating the world. We tend to give our conscious thoughts the greatest importance, yet if they control only 5% of our behaviour, shouldn’t we be more curious about that other 95%?

Our thoughts are not who we are at our core. They are fleeting and ever-changing. I am more interested in how we can tap into that sub-conscious part of our minds – the part that holds the greater keys to our behaviour and our creativity.

Betty Edwards book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, is a fabulous book with simple exercises for anyone who wants to tap into their right brain.

Artists say that (when they are in the midst of creation) they feel alert and aware, yet relaxed and free of anxiety, experiencing a pleasurable, almost mystical activation of the mind. ~ Betty Edwards

Contemplative photography is another way. It is a process of aligning eye, mind, and heart – which means we bring our body wisdom or intuition into the picture.

2. Intuition is knowledge from within – non-conscious thinking.

Our bodies hold emotions and memories that are not always conscious. Intuition is processed in the pre-frontal cortex, where the brain picks up on recurring patterns. Often called the sixth sense, it is the next step after perception – the ability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses. It is conscious.


Contemplative Moment

Those gaps in thinking are fleeting – usually only a fraction of a second for the average person. As a matter of fact, most are not even aware of them. The conceptual mind quickly takes over, adding labels, meaning, and interpretation to the perception. However, we can train ourselves to stay with the perception longer (See The Practice of Contemplative Photography).

Intuitive thinking is perception-like, rapid, effortless. Deliberate thinking is reasoning-like, critical, and analytic; it is also slow, effortful, controlled, and rule-governed. ~ Psychologist Daniel Kahneman via Eva Schindling

It’s in those gaps where truth and wisdom reside. This is pure presence or direct seeing.

Internet Sources

The Science of Intuition – from Brain Pickings
Conscious of the Unconscious – Psychology Today
Intuition, Subliminal Perception and the Subconscious – Eva Schindling


Mindsight – by Dr. Dan Siegel
Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain – by Betty Edwards
The Practice of Contemplative Photography – by Andy Karr and Michael Wood

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