The Value of Humility

SeeingIsFreeing

Tara Brach begins her Podcast on Humility with a story about a prisoner in his cell. The prisoner sees an ant and spends some time watching it, engaging with it, giving it crumbs, etc. After some time doing this, he wonders why “it took him 10 long years of solitary confinement to open his eyes to the loveliness of ant.”

What enabled this man to value the ant was not only his attention, but the quality of humility. Once he decided the ant was worthy of his attention, he was not putting himself above or separate. The ant was sharing the cell with him and he was able to appreciate the ant’s qualities.

Humility is one of the nine contemplative habits and one we are discussing this week in the Adventures in Seeing workshop.

Tara Brach’s one hour podcast on the subject is full of wisdom and I highly recommend listening to it. Here is a summary of her words, along with some of the quotes she mentions.

“Be humble, for you are made of earth. Be noble, for you are made of stars.” ~ Serbian Proverb

The word humility comes from the Latin “humus,” meaning earth or ground. There’s a sense of common ground and equality with all of life.
 

What Humility is Not

 
debasement, false modesty, self-importance, arrogance, superiority, judgment

“It’s important that we learn humility. Modesty is a learned affectation. It’s no good. Humility is great because it says there was someone before me. I’m following in someone’s footsteps. There will be someone after me. We belong to each other. We’re inter-influencing each other all the time. Humility gets that we’re part of something larger.” ~ Maya Angelou

What Humility Is

 
honouring our particular talents, recognizing our limitations (the places where we’re conditioned or reactive); lack of self-importance or self-fixation; able to see the good in ourselves and others; surrendering the small, egoic identity (importance, pride) to realize our sacred connection

“But those talents and limitations are like ripples or waves on the ocean. We know the depth of who we really are. It arises out of this wise view – a deep wisdom understanding of interdependence. Everything we do, perceive, experience is related to everything else in the world. You cannot take yourself apart from things.” ~ Tara Brach

Brach says that, according to the Talmud, the words of the Torah (or spiritual wisdom) only survive in those whose minds are humble. Humility is essential for spiritual progress or the attainment of wisdom.

“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing, Love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

Deflation and Inflation

 
It’s quite natural as we evolve that we feel a sense of separateness and that this leads to deflation and inflation (of our ego). We all bounce back and forth.

But, self-importance (or self-fixation or separateness) blocks seeing the world as it is; it blocks wisdom and goodness.

Deflation (feeling bad about ourselves) – comes from a strand of truth. We want to feel a sense of belonging, which makes us vulnerable. We’re conditioned, we have fears, we get angry and reactive, we can cause harm. We’re far from perfect.

Brach describes deflation (and inflation) as delusions – owning the experience. This is a form of separateness, making us feel shame, that there is something wrong with us, or that we’re undeserving.

Inflation (feeling we’re special) – also has a strand of truth. We come from the stars. We’re consciously aware. We sense our radiance and luminosity and feel very special and awesome.

Again, the delusion is owning the experience, because this radiance comes from the earth, through us. It doesn’t belong to us.

Inflation makes us feel superior to others (and all of nature). It’s expression is arrogance, entitlement, pride, and we cling to this too, because it protects us from feeling empty.

Inflation is present when there is stereotyping, labelling, judging – as good/bad, better/worse, smart/dumb, right/wrong, etc.

With our continued evolution, however, we move towards a sense of belonging and oneness and interdependence.

Humility is shedding any feeling of superiority or inferiority. 

Humility is about moving towards that place of belonging, not separateness – a place where everyone and everything has a part to play, where nothing is better or worse than anything else.

Noticing our own episodes of deflation and inflation starts to recondition the patterns.
 

Seeing is freeing. ~ Tara Brach

 
Similarly, in photography Art Wolfe says that he “shoots without prejudice,” meaning that everything is a possible (and worthy) subject for his lens.

I can totally relate to this. Seeing everything as worthy has greatly expanded my photography repertoire. I see much more beauty than I used to.

What does humility mean to you?
 

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Dealing with Rain

RAIN
 

The RAIN Process

 
Buddhist teacher Tara Brach describes a process called RAIN* for dealing with difficult situations and emotions. It breaks down as follows.

Recognize what is happening. Notice what is happening and how it feels in your body.

Allow life to be just as it is. Let whatever arises be, even if you feel resistance. This is a part of the healing process. Feel the feelings.

Investigate inner experience with kindness. Be gentle and kind with yourself.

Non-Identification. This is a resting in present awareness and not identifying (or attaching) to the emotions, knowing that they will pass in time.

* Learn more about RAIN from Tara Brach – Working with Difficulties 
 

Getting Caught in the Rain

 
The image above was taken a few days ago (with my iPhone) when my husband and I were caught in a sudden downpour, without an umbrella. Now, I don’t mind getting a little wet, and sometimes it’s even fun to get drenched.

We had a decision to make.

1. Ignore it, keep walking and get drenched.

2. Run to a nearby store or restaurant (still a block away) and get drenched.

3. Stay under a building ledge, and wait it out.

I’m sure there were numerous other options too, but we chose #3 and spent the next 15 minutes watching the world go by and the people who chose to do the other two options.

We didn’t moan and complain. We didn’t berate the other for not bringing an umbrella.
 

An unexpected pause in our day turned out to be peaceful and intimate.

 

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Adventures in Seeing – Connect

This summer I’m offering a condensed version of my original Adventures in Seeing workshop, which focuses on cultivating the nine contemplative habits.

This new six-week version will be more photography-based and, I hope, a way for you to experience your summer in a new way. I’m calling it a summer camp because it will be fun and help you to engage more fully with whatever your summer holds – even vacations.

The nine habits will be split into three main areas – taking a pause, focusing our attention, and making the connection.
 

Today, Making the Connection

 

Connection

Connection

In photography, we pause, focus our attention, and then click the shutter (make the connection).

Connection is about establishing a relationship. When we make a connection or click the shutter, we’re acknowledging and honouring the relationship.

In any healthy relationship, we stay curious and open to possibilities. We let go of judgment and explore perspectives.

I believe that photography is about the relationship between photographer and subject. What we photograph reveals something about us (see Visual Journaling) and how we connect with the world. The photograph becomes the creative outcome of that relationship.

In the final two weeks of Adventures in Seeing, we’ll explore the relationships within the frame and the relationship between photographer and image.

Here’s one example of an exercise in making a connection. Photograph opposites – light/dark, form/space, under/over, top/bottom. Notice how these things are inseparable – always in relationship.
 
Further Reading

Creating Space for Relationships
Curiosity, the Antidote to Judgment and Anxiety?
Possibilities Open Up When We Shift Our Perspective

Learn more about Adventures in Seeing Summer Camp – starts Monday, July 7th. Read More

Adventures in Seeing – Focus

This summer I’m offering a condensed version of my original Adventures in Seeing workshop, which focuses on cultivating the nine contemplative habits.

This new six-week version will be more photography-based and, I hope, a way for you to experience your summer in a new way. I’m calling it a summer camp because it will be fun and help you to engage more fully with whatever your summer holds – even vacations.

The nine habits will be split into three main areas – taking a pause, focusing our attention, and making the connection.

In my last post I talked about taking a pause. Today, I’ll talk about focusing our attention, and next week, making the connection.
 

Focusing our Attention

 
Needles

Once we’ve learned to take a pause, the next step has to do with where we choose to place our focus or attention. And, it is a choice.

Do we really see the simple, ordinary things? Do we see with eyes of wonder?

Julia Cameron says that “attention is an act of connection.”

Attention connects us to the only life we have. There is less thought and more experience. We see more and appreciate what we see.

Thomas Merton speaks of the quality of our attention.

“There are degrees of attention: the glance, the cursory look, the look, the long look (self-forgetting, therefore, contemplative).” ~ Thomas Merton, Master of Attention

I think that this poem, recited by its author, Tara Sophia Mohr, says it all.

“You are here to pay attention. That is enough.” ~ Tara Sophia Mohr, In the End


 
We can start by noticing those times where we only take a quick glance. What happens when we pay closer attention? How does it change the experience?

Spend 20 minutes with one subject (a person or thing). For, the first 5 minutes, just observe. What do you see upon first glance, then after a cursory look, then upon longer looking?

Spend 15 minutes photographing your subject from all angles and perspectives and in the context of its environment. What do you discover?
 
Further Reading on Attention

The Importance of Focus in the Practice of Photography
The Art of Paying Attention
Is Anything Ordinary?
It’s the Little Things

Learn more about Adventures in Seeing Summer Camp – starts Monday, July 7th.
 

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Adventures in Seeing – Taking a Pause

9 habits for living a contemplative life

9 Contemplative Habits

This summer I’m offering a 6-week version of my original Adventures in Seeing workshop, which focuses on cultivating the nine contemplative habits to your right.

It will be more photography-based and a way for you to experience your summer in a brand new way. I’m calling it a summer camp because it will be fun and help you to engage more fully with whatever your summer holds – even on your vacations.

The nine habits will be split into three main areas – taking a pause, focusing our attention, and making the connection. We’ll spend two weeks on each.

For the next three weeks, I’ll be writing about each of the three main areas, beginning with taking a pause.
 
breathe
 
Let’s face it – taking a pause seems so ________________.

Fill in the blank with the word that first comes to mind. Was one of these your word?

* impossible
* wasteful
* scary
* unnecessary
* boring

Our culture does not reward taking pauses; it rewards busy-ness and productivity. Yet, pauses are an essential part of creating a work of art, a business idea or a life.
 

Pauses enhance productivity.

 
The space in our photographs or the space between the notes in a piece of music are an essential part of the whole but often go unnoticed or are under-valued.

Meditation teacher, Tara Brach, speaks of the sacred pause.

What would it be like if, right in the midst of this busyness, we were to consciously take our hands off the controls? What if we were to intentionally stop our mental computations and our rushing around and, for a minute or two, simply pause and notice our inner experience? Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal. The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life. ~ Tara Brach, The Sacred Pause

Brach recommends taking a pause in any situation, even in conversation. Notice what is happening in your body, heart and mind. Be with it and take your hands off the controls. See the situation as it is with mindfulness and compassion before deciding how to respond.
 

A pause is a place of opening – a moment to take stock, look deeper, see what’s really happening, welcome it and be open to possibilities.

 
TakeAWalkWe can take intentional pauses (meditation, yoga, a walk), situational pauses (breathe before reacting), and photographic pauses (why this subject).

If you don’t already have an intentional practice of pausing, could you add one, at least for the next two weeks?

It could be as simple as finding 5 minutes each day to sit in silence and stillness. Focus on your breath. Notice thoughts that come into your consciousness and let them go. That’s all.

If you have a practice of pausing, try to open even further. Where do you need to take more pauses?

For example, if you have a co-worker or relative that pushes your buttons, practice pausing in response to them. Don’t react. Just listen. Try to look at the situation through their eyes and then respond accordingly.

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.” ~ Tracy Cochran, The Mind is Its Own Place

In photography, practice pausing before clicking the shutter. What is your subject? What should and shouldn’t be in the frame?
 
Further Reading: 10 Lessons from Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance

Learn more about Adventures in Seeing Summer Camp – starts Monday, July 7th.
 

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The Subway

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about visual journaling with your own images. But, what if someone else journaled or wrote something about one of your images?

My good friend, Norah Oulahen, is a painter and a poet. A few years ago, we collaborated on a project called “Exploring Edges.” I gave her images that included edges, and she wrote a poem based on the image. It was a fun and creative process.

We are planning more of these types of collaborations and, occasionally I will share a piece with you.

Recently, Norah shared some writing she did while on the subway. I paired it with three images of mine (see below). I think she captures beautifully the experience of being in that moment.
 
Subway

“I sit pondering the subway buzz and the white noise I hear from the ear phones around me. A plug. A whimper. In this small space I see line and shape moving toward me. I sit so close to the man beside me that I feel his jacket lock my button. It is not awkward. I realize it is familiar to city crush, people in process, strangers on the move. Suddenly, light shines and the dark tunnel pulls the train forward as if “through darkness we will find an answer.” Each person dresses for a different season, some winter, some summer and other spring hopes. The blank thoughts seem to move in circles in the train. Looks lift, pause and drift again. I breath deeper. I sense everyone is part of my breath, I echo their pain, their stress. I know I breath. That much I know for sure. And they do. Other things are a mystery. I feel a tightness and a release. I don’t want to be anything, especially original, just me in transit. I love this moment. I hold my breath and wiggle in my seat. The man next to me moves and we smile. I know words are not needed in this social experience. We hear one another in motion.” ~ Norah Oulahen

Have you collaborated like this too?

 
Norah Oulahen – The Poet in Me
Our Project – Exploring Edges
Brenda Gottsabend and Lisa Ahn Collaboration – Wing-Feather Fables
 

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