Posts Tagged ‘senses’

Announcing The ‘Good Eye’ Photo Workshop

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 ….Honing Your Photographic Vision: Use your camera phone to tune in rather than tune out.

Join us for 5 days, August 7-12 2016, in San Miguel De Allende for a lively workshop exploring photography as a tool for the practice of mindfulness and creative engagement with the world around us.

Anyone can develop a ‘Good Eye’ with practice; it’s a muscle we can build like any other. This workshop will focus on the pleasure and the power of discovering beauty in unexpected places. Have you ever wondered why some photographs of the mundane—the ordinary in everyday life—resonate with us so powerfully? What makes certain images so magical, original or illuminating? It’s about actively ‘seeing’ as opposed to passively looking, and understanding the aesthetic aspects of visual discernment such as composition, light and shadow, perspective, depth-of-field, color, symmetry, texture, line and curve. Through illustrated talks, daily exercises and explorations that bring us closer to real ‘seeing’, you’ll learn how to refine your critical eye and indulge in practices that awaken your creative spirit, as well as exploring the concept of Miksang, described here.

To learn more and be added to our mailing list email us at [email protected]

 

Beauty as a Core Value

Agave_window_blg“The saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is usually taken to mean that the sense of beauty is utterly subjective, that every person’s tastes are different. Another more subtle and relevant meaning: if our style of looking and seeing become sensitized to beauty then beauty will shine through in everything we see.” ~John O’Donahue.

Krista Tippett, who is the host of NPR’s OnBeing speaks to this aspiration in her new and resoundingly inspirational book Becoming Wise An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. She states the book’s purpose as offering a grounded and fiercely hopeful vision of humanity for this century—of personal growth but also renewed public life and spiritual evolution. It insists on the possibility of a common life for this century marked by resilience and redemption, with beauty as a core moral value and civility and love as muscular practice. How inspiring to see someone I so greatly admire validating sentiments I’ve been expressing here–beauty as an essential value in our own personal growth and human spiritual evolution.

The appreciation of beauty seems like something that should be innate or built in to our psyches— perhaps once it was more universally understood. But in recent years with the onset of technology and so much visual clutter competing for our attention, with so many new modes of creating and ways of understanding developing to handle this information overload, we have actually become impoverished in our enrichment by beauty on a daily basis….too many choices inhibit the appreciation of any one choice. ‘Popular’ and sensationalism (politics anyone?) as values have replaced Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

In her book Krista takes John O’Donahue’s definition of beauty as her own, for naming beauty in all its nuance in the moment-to-moment reality of our days: beauty is that in the presence of which we feel more alive….Beauty isn’t all about niceness, loveliness. Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming….about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”

So much to ponder there, and so worth the pondering. What resonates for me is ‘beauty as that in the presence of which we feel more alive.’ As a visual artist, this gives me something to aspire to…a great jumping off point for any human effort.

 

The ‘Good Eye’

goodeye_2Like many who have built a career around being a photographer, I’ve often been told I have a ‘good eye’. It’s more or less a necessary job skill. A question that has come up throughout my career  is whether or not having a ‘good eye’ is something that can be learned, or is it some innate ability? ‘Good’ here doesn’t mean good as we usually use the word, as in good or bad. For sure, some are gifted with a ‘good eye’ —a natural sense of the visually correct and beautiful. In my experience, some of the people with the best ‘eyes’ have not necessarily made it their life’s work to do anything with their innate ability. Democratizing social media platforms such as Instagram now offer an outlet for those amazing ‘eyes’—they abound—and humble me.

The Good Eye can be learned. On the one hand it’s very much about educating our process of Seeing— becoming more discerning observers. My eye was, and still is, honed by looking at great art-constantly, and asking myself: why does this work? We can break down and study the components of visual discernment— color, form, shape and proportion, light and shadow, contrast, texture, line, angles and curves, composition—and become more acute visual thinkers.  This is about the practice of seeing–deliberately. It’s a kind of sophisticated attentional training. By tuning in to the components of sophisticated imagery we wire our visual sense to the Good. Like anything else, the more you focus (pun intended) on a skill, the more automatic it becomes.

The second and equally important part of developing a Good Eye is the opposite of the analytical aspect above. Good here means that our mind is uncluttered by preoccupation, relaxed and open. It’s more about a letting go—of thinking, of preconceived notions, of labeling what we see. It’s about seeing clearly without filters and biases, it’s about allowing ourselves to be completely present and open to the moment, to feel the image—to re-present reality through the lens of our unique and pure perception. It’s an internal, intuitive, fearless kind of seeing. It’s a form of self-forgetting; it feels like flow. Photography approached in this way borders on spiritual practice, and images created in this space are the ones that resonate most with the viewer.

The Good Eye is a muscle we can build like any other. The fact that we have the camera now always in our pocket is an advantage if used rightly—to tune in rather than tune out—as a practice it is incredibly enlivening.

Reclaiming Beauty

bwverttulips_blogI recently came across a tagline for an interior design business which captures an idea I’ve been pondering for some time now. It read, simply, Creating beauty, Changing lives. Of course the reference to the very commercial enterprise of marketing home furnishings is blatant, but it also speaks to the idea that the presence of Beauty, in it’s purest sense, can add deep and immeasurable value in our lives—beyond the surface appearance of things. The Creation of Beauty in one sense has been a central theme in my professional life as a commercial photographer charged with beautifying everything from sanitary napkins to pet food. Then of course there was all the more obvious beauty when I had a choice of subject matter. Did I feel I was changing lives? Hardly. But the pursuit and creation of beauty as an ongoing theme in my life has been hugely enriching, something I’ve often taken for granted. Now with a little distance from the commercial aspect of it, and as I dive deeper into the study of the nature of it, I see the call to Beauty as an essential core value in all of our lives moving forward—as a way of being, as a philosophy, as a grounding principle. I’ve touched on this in previous posts here.

Huge trade-offs have been made in the unprecedented advance of technology, efficiency and productivity due to lack of attention to Beauty. With what-it-means-to-be-human being reinvented at an ever accelerating pace, we are looking for new frameworks for living our best lives, being our best selves. Our ways of approaching the world need to be informed by different values. How can Beauty be reclaimed, as per the Greeks, who held it equal to truth and goodness? How to separate and articulate the term from so many current shallow associations—where we are suffering from a poverty of discernment, where the media generates relentless images of mediocrity and ugliness, enshrining it as the norm, and where many of our built environments lack grace and spirit? The wonderful contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton speaks to this often and states: “One way evil reaches us is through ugliness”— something to ponder.

How can we apprentice ourselves to beauty?

Beauty is not a luxury. Real Beauty is not glamour per se; rather an invitation to order, coherence and unity…available to everyone in any situation. And whereas Beauty indeed is in the eyes of the beholder, there are centuries’ old standards informed and shared by cultures all over the world. We can only be enriched by integrating a certain amount of discipline around reconnecting with those standards, in large and small ways, internally and externally, daily. When we experience the beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming.

Aesthetic Arrest

lilyfaceI love this term—’Aesthetic Arrest’. It best describes the feeling we have when in the presence of a work of art, or any object of beauty, that has that ‘wow’ quality, that stops us in our tracks. We feel somehow altered by the encounter, taken outside of ourselves, elevated somehow. Robert Rye best expresses it here: “The contemplative instant at which (an artwork) is appreciated by the mind, which has been arrested by its wholeness, and fascinated by its harmony, is the luminous, silent stasis of aesthetic pleasure.”

I’ve always pondered what, if any, is the mysterious ‘recipe’ for creating work that resonates in this way. It’s a bit of an elusive thing, very much the result of letting go and really leaning in to the process of making art. Intention is just the jumping off point. ‘Rules’ tend to get in the way. Yet there are some aspects that ‘arresting’ works share. Sir Thomas Aquinas does a pretty good job of getting close with these suggested attributes for beauty: WHOLENESS (integitas)—the unity of the whole, HARMONY (consonantia)—balance, fitness, symmetry, rhythm of structure, and RADIANCE (quidditas)—’thingness’—a unique product of your thinking. I like this framework because it doesn’t imply rules, rather useful criteria that can be applied to any creation, visual or otherwise—anything in existence, whether man, woman or nature made. It speaks to the soul of a thing; it allows for the inexplicable….yet gives us a standard to aspire to.

When was the last time you were arrested?

The Upside of Exile

exileI’ve written of the need to have ‘Fresh Eyes’ in the pursuit of any creative endeavor here in the past. I came across this essay by Costica Bradatan a couple weeks ago in the NY Times column ‘The Stone’  which beautifully validates, and expands on this idea. It speaks to the upside of exile—typically a term carrying a negative connotation—banishment from all we hold dear, from our sense of  well being and identity which are so much a function of the place we call ‘home’. And yet, with regard any sort of  renewal, refreshment, reinvention, rejuvenation—a certain amount of self-imposed ‘exile’ is essential for new perspectives……

“For when your old world goes down it also takes with it all your assumptions, commonplaces, prejudices and preconceived ideas. To live is to envelop yourself in an increasingly thicker veil of familiarity that blinds you to what’s under your nose. The more comfortable you feel in the world, the blunter the instruments with which you approach it. Because everything has become so evident, you’ve stopped seeing anything. Exile gives you a chance to break free. All that heavy luggage of old “truths,” which seemed so only because they were so familiar, is to be left behind.”

“The redeeming thing about exile is that when your “old world” has vanished you are suddenly given the chance to experience another. At the very moment when you lose everything, you gain something else: new eyes. Indeed, what you eventually get is not just a “new world,” but something philosophically more consequential: the insight that the world does not simply exist, but it is something you can dismantle and piece together again, something you can play with, construct, reconstruct and deconstruct. As an exile you learn that the world is a story that can be told in many different ways. Certainly you can find that in books, but there is no deeper knowledge than the one that comes mixed with blood and tears, the knowledge that comes from uprooting.”

So the challenge (if you choose to accept it)  is how to create that sense of exile—that eye-opening fresh view of things—without sacrificing too much. As Anais Nin famously quoted “Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.” On my fridge 🙂 Not always easy, but we are infinitely richer for it….

 

 

Necessary Beauty

peonies_black_blog To the ancient Greeks, human society was characterized by three values, equal in importance: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. By that definition, the experience of beauty involved the appreciation of Aesthetics, Art and Nature. As someone who has made a living making things look beautiful, I’ve often questioned to what extent I was adding value to more than the clients’ sales numbers or my own satisfaction. I was therefore happy to come across this reference to Beauty a couple years ago—the creation and experience of it—as having equal value as those noble pursuits of Truth and Goodness. Even philosopher Alain de Botton goes so far as to state: “One way evil reaches us is through ugliness”. So, in terms of one aspect that makes life worth living: What is beauty?

In his book aptly titled Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed Howard Gardner speaks to the need to revisit the conception of beauty for this new age we’re living in “lest we succumb to such a joyless, or normless, or pointless existence.” He states that the pursuit of experiences that are beautiful constitute a crucial part of life. Of course this discussion would be irrelevant if more basic needs such as food, shelter and safety weren’t satisfied. Yet, in this time of over-abundance, ironically, we do seem to be suffering from a ‘poverty of discernment’, where aesthetic standards and ideals seem to have been abandoned and replaced by…anything and everything (Miley Cyrus anyone?). And yet…

Does the concept of beauty still hold its value? How do we introduce young people to the concept of beauty? To what extent should the rest of us re-conceptualize traditional ideas of beauty, leaving behind picture-postcard aesthetics and narrow definitions of what constitutes beautiful?

I like Gardner’s new criteria for beauty; it allows for a much broader range of possibilities:

  1. The object/subject is INTERESTING.
  2. Its’ FORM is memorable…sufficiently powerful or evocative.
  3. There is a desire to ENCOUNTER THE EXPERIENCE AGAIN, due to liking, curiosity, or a feeling of awe.

…So much more to work with there. At the end of the day I do embrace the cliche ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. The sooner we each identify what is beautiful to us, the sooner we can fill our lives with beauty as a virtuous path….I think it helps to have a new framework.  What makes you ‘Tingle’?

Image copyright Sacco & Watt.

What is Your Ikigai?

cherryblossomsI first came across this term a couple years ago in a TED talk by Dan Buettner on “Blue Zones”—communities (there are 4 in the world) whose elders live with vim and vigor to record setting ages. Okinawa is one of them. Ikigai proved to be one of the core factors contributing to life expectancy. It’s one of those words, often found in other languages, that sum up an idea requiring much explanation in our own. Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an Ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s Ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life—Passion, Purpose, and Fulfillment. It could be as simple as caring for a grandchild. It’s what makes us get out of bed each day.  Here in this country seems everyone’s looking for  their Ikigai. People are in search of themselves—their ‘Mojo’—unlike any previous point in history. Where did it go? Those that know their Ikigai don’t miss a beat when asked what it is—who wouldn’t want that feeling?!  Here’s the good news:  Creativity leads us there by tolerating uncertainty, opening to wonder and joy, becoming fully present, letting go, trusting the process, tuning in to intuition, allowing for the new and unexpected and opening to grace. Have you lost your Ikigai? Do you know where to find it?

Tip #2 Keep an Idea Journal

Keep a notebook/journal for each area of your life. Write down ideas, facts, questions, random thoughts—any information you stumble across throughout the day. There are many planners out there but it’s much more useful, fun and creative to make your own, organizing the information in a way that works best for you. I refer to mine as my ‘meaning maker’ or ‘idea bank. The more problems, thoughts and ideas that you record and review from time to time, the more complex becomes the network of information in your mind. Also keep a box of interesting advertisements, quotes, pictures, news clippings, doodles, words, swatches–anything you are drawn to that might trigger ideas by association. Chances are you’re drawn to an item for a reason; you just don’t know as yet how to apply it. By periodically reviewing the notebook you activate all the recorded information in your conscious AND subconscious mind, as a way of stimulating ‘mind-popping’. also, the practice of writing a thought or idea down embeds it in your long-term memory. Einstein was said to have 3500 notebooks which he referred to over and over again throughout his lifetime. Walt Whitman kept little pieces of paper with notes separated into envelopes by category. Charles Dickens would scan graveyards for the names of his characters (think Martin Chuzzlewit, Uriah Heep) all written in notebooks, and Thoreau kept detailed nature journals…both of which, and more, I had the privilege of photographing in the collection of the NY Public Library several years back.

My notebook of choice is a gridded paper, soft cover 5×7 Moleskine. I have tons of them going back years…I am never without one.



Fresh Eyes

Marcel Proust wrote: “The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having fresh eyes.”

It’s a bit like rebooting your computer. What moving to a new place and/or traveling do offer is a different perspective, a shift in our thinking—new possibilities, happiness! Until….we become again habituated to our daily routines and surroundings, losing that refreshed feeling.  What was once new and exciting inevitably fades. This is why some people are addicted to change…and most of us love to travel. Neuroscience supports this. So how can we have ‘fresh eyes’ without a move or travel?

Most of us walk through our days not even paying attention to our surroundings. We are slaves to the chatter in our heads.We can make a conscious decision to see the beauty we miss, daily—faces, geometry, architecture, colors, clothing, kitsch, nature…it’s simply a choice to pay attention, differently. Have you ever thought of how many shades of green there are, or yellow, or white? Pick one color and use your iphone to record as many variations you see over the course of a couple days. See how this wakes you up and enriches the quality of your day…..or choose any visual theme that speaks to you. Try using  your iphone to tune in rather than tune out.

 

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