The Importance of Remembering

As part of my preparation for the year to come, I’m taking part in Jeffrey Davis’ Quest2016 – 12 prompts from 12 visionaries. You are welcome to join in. This week, instigator Seth Godin asks,

“Would they miss you if you were gone? What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?”

Mom & Dad

Mom & Dad

As far as the first question goes, my answer is “I don’t know.” We can speculate but we have no say over how or whether we will be missed or by whom.

Before I get to the second question, I’d like to introduce a book that I read recently, one that’s had a profound effect on me and that I will be revisiting throughout the coming year.

It’s called Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, and is written by Stephen Jenkinson. Jenkinson worked in palliative care for most of his life – the “death trade” he calls it.

Through his work with dying people, he learned a few things about how we live and how we die and what terrifies us most at the end of life. Coincidentally, one of those things is how and whether we will be missed. His words below lead me into the second question.

The truth is that we cannot, nor should we be able to, choreograph the way in which we will be remembered, if we will be remembered at all. Dying people must stop trying to be remembered and begin to die remembering. ~ Stephen Jenkinson, Die Wise

To answer the second question, I wondered what it is that causes us to miss someone. And, how well do we remember others? Perhaps modelling a life where remembering is an essential part could inspire others to do the same.

How do I remember and how can we become a remembering people?

To be honest, I could incorporate more remembering practices into my life. I’m someone with a notoriously bad memory. I tend to let the past go and focus more on the future. I thought that was a good thing.

But, since taking up contemplative photography, I’ve come to a greater appreciation of the value of focusing my attention on the present. Photographs honour the moment and recognize the transience and impermanence of life.

2007 was the year I completed my first year long photography project, where I posted a photograph each day of my then hometown of Indianapolis. I remember so much about that year due to my attention and the visual reminders of the photographs.

Remembering those who came before.

I know a little about my ancestors and I often remember my parents, who both died in the prime of their lives. But, do I remember them daily or bring them into and part of our family get togethers? Not so much. One way I can teach my kids to remember is to honour aloud my own ancestors, whether I knew them or not. To tell the stories.

I do remember and am grateful for the mentors, teachers, family, and friends (living or not) who have impacted my life and helped shape my life. I try to give them credit as much as possible. Seth Godin and Jeffrey Davis are two of those people.

Remembering our interdependence.

Remembering is a form of gratitude and one important thing to be aware of is the interdependence of everyone and everything. I wouldn’t be here without my ancestors and the support and nourishment from other people and, of course, the natural world we are a part of – every single day.

By remembering that each day is a gift and that I can’t do it alone, I heighten my sense of responsibility towards life. And, the best way I can give back is to be and share myself.

What dogs teach us about remembering.

In Brenna Layne’s post on this topic, she mentions how much she misses her dog, who died this year. This really struck a chord with me since my dog, Daisy, also left us in 2015 and I miss her tremendously.

Dogs don’t do anything that we normally associate with being remembered. They don’t write books, run businesses, or create art. So, what is it that I miss about her? Her unconditional love, her presence, her cuddliness, her reliance on me. She was nothing but herself and she is truly missed, without ever wanting to be.

Something to think about.

Posts from Quest2016 that I drew inspiration from – Brenna Layne and Vanessa Herald.

And, here’s an interesting way to combine family stories with favourite family recipes – Sue Anne Gleason’s Luscious Legacy Project.

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Hold Life Lightly


Each December, I choose a word or theme for the coming year. It’s usually something I spend some time figuring out – through a worksheet or guide, like Susannah Conway’s Unravelling the Year Ahead.

For 2015, my word was devotion. Devotion has to do with where we place our attention. And, in 2015 I was devoted to my family, my daily photo walks, creating mandalas, writing, and my workshop community.

It is a beautiful and serious kind of word.

A couple of weeks ago, while driving home from Indianapolis, I was listening to a Good Life Project podcast with Buddhist practitioner Lodro Rinzler, and a theme emerged out of the blue.

Near the beginning of the interview, Fields says that the Buddhist’s he’s met who are truly connected to source are “so light; they’re goofy, silly, funny; they hold life so lightly.”

Rinzler affirmed this thought by referring to his teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and how at his place there’s constant celebration going on. It’s not a serious place. There’s a sense of simple joy in life, in a very basic way. The advanced practitioners he’s met have that sense of lightness to their being.

And, I thought, that’s it. Lightness would be my theme for 2016. But, what does that mean for me? How can I bring a sense of celebration to life, no matter what’s going on? And, especially in a time when there’s so much violence and sadness in the world?

How can I hold life lightly?

* Seriousness has its place, but lightness is not serious. This doesn’t mean making light of serious things; rather it’s seeing that there is both lightness and darkness in any situation. They go together. Look for the light and celebrate it.

* Recognize that this too shall pass. No matter how devastating our stories, or how great everything is, it will change soon enough. Don’t grasp too tightly to joy or sorrow.

* Remember that my opinions, ideas, thoughts, and emotions are passing things, and never the whole story. Be open and curious about what I’m missing.

* Allow life to unfold; for new possibilities to emerge. Be ready to let go when the time comes. And, don’t forget to play.
For next year, I will re-double my efforts to finish that book, to read, write, and travel, and to meet and share and celebrate life with others along the way. I’ll be open to whatever life brings and respond in kind. I’ll be open to new possibilities in my business and life. I’ll celebrate each day that I’m given.

How do you hold life lightly?


This post was inspired by prompts from Quest 2016, an amazing community where, during the month of December, we receive and respond to 12 prompts from 12 visionaries. It’s led by my writing mentor, Jeffrey Davis. We’ve just finished the first three prompts but you are still welcome to join in, if you’d like.

And, here are some other related posts from Quest2016 – from Suzi Banks Baum, Sally Drew, and Janet St. John.


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The Art Spirit (Part 1): Know Yourself

know yourself, leaf caught


Over the years I’ve read many wonderful quotes from a book called The Art Spirit by Robert Henri, a collection of writings, letters, and critiques about the nature and purpose of art.

It’s a book I’ve always meant to read but never did until now. And, I’m so glad I did. While Henri comes from a painting perspective, there are many applications to photography, which I’ll share with you over the next couple of weeks.

Henri (1865 – 1929) was a painter and revered teacher. He believed that the purpose of art wasn’t necessarily the art itself, but to be in the state that makes art inevitable.

To some degree every human being is an artist, dependent on the quality of his growth. Art need not be intended. It comes inevitably as the tree from the root, the branch from the trunk, the blossom from the twig. Because it is engaged in the full play of its own existence, because it is full in its own growth, its fruit is inevitable.

All art springs from a particular state of mind, where the inner spirit is revealed. Much of his teaching and critique revolved around encouraging students to trust and know themselves, which is the topic I’m exploring today.

Below are 7 lessons about knowing yourself based on quotes from the book. I’ve adapted them for photography.

1. Photographers can get stuck in emphasizing and learning technique and copying the conventions of the day, never really knowing what they themselves have to say.

One of the great difficulties is to decide between your own natural impressions and what you think should be your impressions. When going out into the landscape, intending to look for a motive, you often look for something you’ve seen and liked in the galleries. A hundred times you may have walked by your own particular subject, felt it, enjoyed it, but having no estimate of your own personal sensations, lacking faith in yourself, pass on until you come to this established taste of another.

2. Find the gain in the work itself, not outside it. Don’t get too attached to external approval or disapproval.

The thing to do is to wake up, to discover yourself as a human being, with needs of your own. Look about, learn from all sources, look within, and find if you can invent for yourself a vehicle for self-expression. Once you have the stamp of personal whim, technique becomes a tool, not an objective. You are interested and have expressions you must make.

3. Cherish your own emotions and never undervalue them.

A photographer must be capable of intense feeling and profound contemplation. One who has contemplated has met himself, is in a state to see into the realities beyond the surfaces of his subject.

4. Educate yourself by paying attention to what resonates with you.

Get acquainted with yourself just as much as you can. It is not an easy job, for it is not a present day habit of humanity. This is self-development, self-education. There is nothing more entertaining than to have a frank talk with yourself. Educating yourself is getting acquainted with yourself. Find out what you really like. Find out what is really important to you. Then, sing your song.

5. Don’t try to photograph “good” pictures. Show how interesting the picture is to you, what gives you pleasure.

If you could catch yourself while on some ramble in the woods and know the source of your happiness, and continuing the same kind of seeing, proceed to photograph, the work you would do would be eventually a revelation to you. What were the signs in that landscape, in the air, in the motion, that so excited your imagination and made you so happy? If you only knew what were those signs you could photograph that country, what it was to you.

6. Follow through on your ideas.

You should have a powerful will. You should be powerfully possessed, intoxicated with the idea of the thing you want to express. If the will is not strong you will see all kinds of unessential things. A picture should be the expression of the will of the photographer.

7. Have the courage to be and know yourself.

Courage to go on developing this ability to see in nature the thing which charms you, and to express just that as fully and completely as you can. Just that. Nothing else. Not to do as any other photographer does. When the thing suits you it is right.

This is only a sampling of what Robert Henri has to say on this subject. If what he says is true, that our photographs reflect our inner state, then they can also reveal that inner state to us.

One way to come to greater self-awareness is to write about your photographs. That is just what we do in the visual journaling workshop, Once Upon a Time: Photographs have Stories to Tell.

This workshop will be offered again beginning February 1st, 2016, and is now open for registration at an early bird price until the end of December. I hope you’ll consider joining us.

Learn more and register here.

How about you? Is self-awareness an important part, even the most important part, of your photography?


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Nine Favorite Books from 2015

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. One of the benefits of being a dual citizen of Canada and the United States is that I get to celebrate this holiday twice, in October and November. I’m currently with U.S. friends and family and feeling thankful for them and for you who are reading this post.

This is also a time of year where we start seeing favorite books lists. I’m an avid reader and so thankful for the books in my life. I enjoy looking back to see what books I’ve read during the year and which ones had the most impact.
Here are my top nine books for the year, some on photography and some not, although it all blends together.

1. The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer

Dyer describes the friendships between some of history’s greatest photographers and how they influenced each other and developed their own styles. If you’re interested in the history of photography and photographers, you’ll enjoy this book.

Here’s a post I wrote on quotes that stood out to me from this book.

2. Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers (including photographers) by Leonard Koren

Wabi-sabi refers to an elusive and elegant beauty. Wabi suggests a beauty of elegant imperfection. Sabi means loneliness or rather aloneness. It also refers to sparseness and austerity. Together, wabi-sabi suggests the beauty of ‘the withered, weathered, tarnished, scarred, intimate, coarse, earthly, evanescent, tentative, ephemeral.’ ~ Crispin Sartwell, Six Names of Beauty

Wabi-sabi is a style that I love to explore in my own photography. This book is a classic and beautiful book on the topic. Read my posts on this book – Wabi-Sabi for Photographers Part 1 and Part 2.

3. The Widening Stream by David Ulrich

Seeing is truly a form of magic, a perceptual pleasure, a source of real learning and questioning, and a doorway to invisible worlds. As adults, we have much to relearn. ~ David Ulrich

David Ulrich is a photographer and I always enjoy his writing. This book is about creativity, written by a photographer, Unique and enlightening.

4. The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer

Of course, I’m a fan of stillness, in mind and body. Pico Iyer is a smart man with lots of travel and experience under his belt, yet has such a gentle presence. In this short book, he explores the topic of stillness – how he came to it and how others incorporate it in their lives, from the Tibetan monk, Mathieu Ricard to singer Leonard Cohen.

Watch Iyer’s TED talk on “home” here.

5. and 6. On the Move, a biography by Dr. Oliver Sacks and Townie by Andre Dubus III.

These two are from the autobiography/memoir category and I couldn’t choose between the two of them.

Oliver Sacks is the famed neurologist who wrote this story of his life while dying from cancer. He is one of my heroes, someone who lived life on his own terms, continually evolving and working to the very end.

Townie is the story of Andre Dubus’ life growing up in working class Pennsylvania. It is one of the most well written pieces I’ve ever read and his story stayed with me long after the last pages were turned.

7. Blue Mind, The Surprising Science that Shows How Being Near, In, On or Under Water can make you Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What you Do by Wallace J Nichols

I first heard Wallace J Nichols speak at his alma mater, De Pauw University in Indiana, about his research about and love for sea turtles. I kept up with him and his work over the years and saw him advance to being a vocal advocate for the earth and our oceans. He hands out blue marbles at speaking events to remind people that they live on a planet made up mostly of water.

As someone who relies on the healing aspects of water in all forms, I was intrigued to read this new book on how water affects our minds. Blue Mind is the name he gave to “the human-water connection, a meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”

It’s a fascinating read.

8. A Hidden Wholeness, The Journey towards an Undivided Life by Parker Palmer

Palmer is one of my favourite writers in general, author of many more books that had a huge impact on me, mainly The Courage to Teach (a favourite book in 2011) and Let Your Life Speak.

In this book, he speaks to the human yearning to live undivided lives — lives that are in alignment with our core values. This is not so easy to do in a world that often rewards us for not being who we really are. He describes how to create “circles of trust” or “communities of truth” in our communities, where everyone feels safe to speak and be themselves. We used these principles in the online community for the Visual Journaling workshop.

I wrote more about this book at this post.

9. Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin

On a similar topic, but in a totally different vein, Bill Plotkin speaks of wholeness in terms of the archetypal stages in a human life.

Nature and the Human Soul introduces a visionary ecopsychology of human development that reveals how fully and creatively we can mature when soul and wild nature guide us. Depth psychologist and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin presents a model for a human life span rooted in the cycles and qualities of the natural world, a blueprint for individual development that ultimately yields a strategy for cultural transformation.

Absolutely mind-blowing.

What book had the most impact on you this year?


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What’s Essential in Photography and Life?


The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. ~ Hans Hofmann via Brainy Quote

Often heard advice from me – simplify, simplify, simplify. But, how do we know what’s necessary and what’s unnecessary? How do we know what’s essential?

Photography can help us develop this skill. One assignment I often give is to create an image with no more than five elements, where the main subject is clear and all other elements support the subject. In this case, an element can be an object or person or space or colour or line, etc.

Each element is necessary in getting the message across or to provide context or clarity.

I tend to keep my photographs quite simple, so it was difficult to find one that contained even five elements. In the photograph above, I noticed these pumpkins on an outdoor table. They and the leaves on the tree and the ground tell us what time of year it is. This house is on a corner, so I could have included part of the road and sidewalk, but they weren’t necessary to the main subject. I’ve included the pumpkins, the table and chairs, part of the patio and foliage behind, and part of the house for context. Colour is an important part of the image.

The same lessons in simplicity can be applied to our lives. What do we leave in? What do we leave out?

As we we enter this busy time of year, simplicity is needed more than ever. Which is why I offer my Keeping It Simple workshop now. It will begin next Monday, November 16th and run through Saturday, December 13th.

Only two emails per week to help you practice simplicity with your photographs and your life.

Please join us. Learn more and register here.

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A Meditation Day Experiment

Last week, a friend and I devised a day of silent meditation, each in our own homes.

From 9 to 5, we spent the day with only ourselves – no technology, no reading or writing, no other people. And, nothing “productive” in the traditional sense, nothing that could be crossed off a to do list, like cooking or cleaning or running errands.

Honestly, the anticipation freaked us both out a bit. Separated from our phones, our reading, our writing, what would we do?

We spent some time beforehand talking through the guidelines. Our purpose was to experience the day and ourselves, the ramblings of our minds and the realities of our place.

It was difficult to pick a day that both of us could devote to this, where we could leave our work behind, where we didn’t have appointments scheduled, and where we could tell our families not to contact us. And, we both realized that we were lucky to be able to do this experiment at all. Most people would not have that luxury.

Her theme was to move more slowly. Mine was to notice my thinking.

Doing it together was valuable. It helped us stick to the guidelines and we were able to share the experience with each other later.

For me, distractions to my own work and creativity come from ingesting more and more information. So, my main goal was to stop that flow for a time. The only information that came into my awareness that day was through the senses, and from my own mind.

It was a beautiful weather day and I was able to spend approximately three hours of the time walking. The rest of the time included stretching, sitting meditation, creating a mandala (intuitive), showering, and eating.

What I noticed was that I think a lot! Even after years of contemplative practice. When I found myself thinking about something from the past or about the future, I would say “thinking” and bring myself back to where I was.

I noticed that, without my camera, I actually think more. The camera does serve as a reminder to pay attention, so that I’m ready for a moment that calls to me to photograph.

Walking also provides the space for intuitive insights to emerge around things I’m working on or a situation I’m dealing with and this is truly valuable. These insights come up unintentionally.

Overall, I felt relaxed and comfortable, I moved more, and felt like I really inhabited the day. It’s one I’ll remember for a long time.

What did I learn?

I already have a habit of daily walking as a meditative practice that is essential and good for my health. But, for someone like me that inhales information, it would be good practice to go technology free at least one day a week. I’ll let you know how that goes.

What habit do you need to cultivate?


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