Ascend is the WordPress photo challenge of the week. These word challenges resonate when I can relate them to my living practice of paying attention to the world and responding skillfully to events and challenges, rather than simply following old habitual thoughts or actions.
To ascend simply means to climb up, or to rise. It is in the latter interpretation that I find an echo of my practice. To rise or soar, to my highest potential is ultimately my intention. I chose the word intention, rather than goal because I want to indicate that this is an ongoing practice, a daily paying attention, rather than a goal to aspire to. I am not certain that there is an end point, that would be the the purpose of using it as a goal. It is more a regular tuning in to how I am living. What I am doing, the choices I am making. The way I am through each day. Living a mindful life is regularly reminding yourself that you are intending to live a mindful life!
So to soar to my highest potential is a journey of small increments. Not of steps forward and retreats back, but more of flowing with the current of life’s river, my head above the water paying attention to my travels. It is about noticing when I fight against the general flow, or cling to the banks to avoid being torn away by the way life is heading, particularly when I am uncomfortable with the direction or speed.
I am fortunate, at least I call it good fortune today, I didn’t a couple of days ago. I get reminders if I cling to hard, or try swimming against the flow. My body reminds me that I am trying too hard. My breathing condition manifests as a physical change. I literally have to slow or stop, for my limited breathing will not allow anything else. After the initial anger, and the necessary medication, the breathing usually re-balances. And in that space, where I am right now I reflect upon my choices that led to the physical change.
Each time I get a little wiser. Only a little! Each time I learn a little more about how I am and how I could be. Soaring in your life is not a one time event, those ascensions are just happenings that bring us joy and make us feel alive. They are the opposite of the crashes. Both are to be treated with the same equanimity. They both pass, and by paying attention to how we are in them, we get a little wiser and more attuned to who we are and how we are. Living a mindful live is an intention not a goal.
The photo is simple metaphor for keeping your feet on the ground when you are looking at the heavens. It was created all in camera, using a double exposure and playing with the white balance.
I went to the park yesterday with the goal of creating a photo to illustrate the word serene. It did not turn out as I expected. In fact the only photo I liked of the set created (the one in this post) echoed how I was feeling rather than what I had intended. Demonstrating that what I teach is in fact true!
On my online course, and at workshops and live courses I teach about how to illustrate a feeling with a photo. In summary there are two approaches.
- Learn all the ways in which you can use the elements of design (shape, form, colour – or tone in b&w, line, texture pattern and space) to indicate a feeling. This relates to our cultural interpretations and familiarity with the visual elements. A good example of our cultural interpretations can be found with our emotional reaction to colour. Just think about how red or golden yellow make your feel. How much of that feeling is culturally driven?
- Alternatively you can just go out when you are experiencing a strong emotion, pay attention to what you are seeing, not look for a photo and then see what presents itself. I know that this instruction is a little Zen like. To see, but not look. But I can guarantee that it does allow something to happen that is quite magical, a connection with how you are feeling. However, you do have to practice.
Back to yesterday, and the serene photo. I went out with a goal and some preconceived ideas. I did not practice what I preach! It was a glorious day and I combined a few ideas about what I imagined would provide a serene photo with some technical experimentation in camera.
It was all a bit too much. I was trying to hard and nothing really flowed. I became a little agitated. BUT (and it is a big but for me) I noticed. I stopped trying, went and sat down on a bench in the crisp brilliant sunshine and had a cup of tea.
I sat and I just looked. I occasionally created a photo. I took a sip of tea. I chatted with a local. I rested. In this slowing down I became more present, although still a little preoccupied with my goal. I reviewed my photos and noticed that one (the one here) illustrated my emotional experience just after I had stopped trying.
The photo made me feel a little unsettled and I wasn’t sure why. Now I know. It reflected my disappointment at not achieving my goal, my restlessness, my trying to hard. There is something a little unbalanced and forced about it for me. It has done exactly what I have summarised above in point 2. It has connected with how I felt.
When you go out experiencing an emotion and don’t look for a photo you may well find that you are drawn to create photos that reflect your inner world.
“I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.”
Cartier-Bresson ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952