Posts Tagged ‘vision’

Announcing The ‘Good Eye’ Photo Workshop


 ….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.

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 Artist and The Athlete

Toller_1I lost a new friend this week. We had only just met and had one extraordinary conversation, but he made such an impression on me. I was very much looking forward to seeing him again. Toller Cranston was found in his home here Saturday, lifeless apparently from a heart attack, at the all-too-young age of 65. I had initially become aware of Toller as one of the many eccentric, and perhaps best known residents here in San Miguel De Allende.

In addition to six consecutive Canadian men’s champion figure skating titles and an Olympic bronze, Toller introduced a level of artistry into the sport unseen before, paving the way for today’s more balletic performances. The NY TImes refers to him as ‘The Nureyev’ of figure skating and speaks to his contribution to the sport; he is to be inducted into the World Skating Hall of Fame. My experience of him had nothing to do with his skating accomplishments. I knew him only in his reinvented state as an artist. His paintings are mesmerizingly beautiful, informed by a uniquely imaginative and fantastical vision inspired in part by Russian fairy tales.

I was initially blown away by his his over-the top home, experienced on a house tour—chock full of amazing objects—many of his own creation. I then met him at a book signing event held in his studio. I had never encountered such a quiet presence—gifted, prolific, larger than life in his accomplishments yet exuding warmth, accessibility and genuineness. His output was prodigious. He painted 12 hours day, most days. I caught his attention when I asked him if he felt a parallel in the experience of being an athlete to the experience of being an artist. I knew the answer, especially in his case, would be a huge and mighty YES.

We spoke of the discipline required to accomplish anything in both realms. We spoke about the passion and commitment required and the ability to deal with critics and failure. But mostly we talked about FLOW–what it feels like to be ‘in the zone’ in either pursuit. He acknowledged that is what made Toller-the-artist and Toller-the- superstar athlete keep showing up each day to do the work—the intense immersion and subsequent ‘high’ produced from challenging oneself in a realm one is passionate about, every day. He saw them as one in the same. Toller is said to have produced over 40,000 paintings; many of which I have seen. I think his reputation as an artist would be greater had it not been eclipsed by his reputation as an athlete. A very rare thing for one to burn so bright in such seemingly different realms. In his mind it wasn’t such a leap (pun intended).

For a great read about the man who was his own work of art, written by a life long friend click here, or simply Google him. Pure entertainment: YouTube  has some great videos of Toller on ice.

Beauty Everywhere

beautyeverywhereThere is beauty all around us, all the time, often when we least expect it, if we’re paying attention.  A previous post here, ‘Necessary Beauty’, speaks to why beauty, the creation and appreciation of which, was so important to the Greeks—as a value equal to Truth and Goodness. I’d like to propose another reason to ponder beauty as a value—the appreciation of beauty can be a mindfulness practice—a way of enriching and embedding our moments, heightening our awareness and training our attention: an antidote to the hyper-distractedness of our time. What is essential though is a broader understanding and embrace of what constitutes beauty….as a way of integrating attentive discernment, as a form of meditation in action.

Howard Gardner proposes three criteria for a new understanding of beauty for modern times. First, the object, or subject is INTERESTING.  And since as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it simply has to be interesting to you. Second, it’s FORM is memorable…sufficiently powerful or evocative. This raises the bar a bit. …but still is subjective. Lastly, there is a desire to encounter the EXPERIENCE again, due to liking, curiosity or a feeling of awe. Again-suited to your personal taste. What’s missing here for me is some sense of universality–some criteria not based on personal taste or cultural differences. Is it possible to create some standard that we can all aspire to and integrate into our daily experience, as a way of centering ourselves, as a spiritual practice…as a way out of the perpetual visual clutter…as an antidote to all the distracting documentation of our every moment?

It’s about shifting the focus (pun intended). It’s about changing the way we use our devices. It’s about learning how to tune in rather than tune out. It’s about learning how to pay attention in different ways. It’s about learning how to have a ‘Good Eye’. Stay tuned….



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….





Miksang is a Tibetan word that translates as ‘Good Eye’, and is based on the Shambhala and Dharma Art teachings of the late meditation master, artist, and scholar Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Miksang, at its most basic level, is concerned with uncovering the truth of pure perception. We see something vivid and penetrating, and in that moment we can express our perception without making anything up—nothing added, nothing missing. Totally honest about what we see—straight shooting. As we allow ourselves to become more available to the things around us without the biases, filters and formulas often associated with photography, our experience and expression of day-to-day moments becomes more rich and endlessly varied—beyond what we think. One moment, one shot—fully present.

Your iphone can be a powerful tool for this practice. We’re not talking Instagram here…’s all about intention, and is available to everyone, all the time. It’s a wonderful way to give your mind a rest, take a break and get your daily dose of flow.


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.

Tip#5: How to have Lots of Ideas

©Maria Ferrari

©Maria Ferrari

The last ‘Tips’ post spoke to the importance of having lots of ideas whenever we’re trying to solve a problem or move our lives forward in some unprecedented way, as our first ideas are most likely perpetuating old ways of thinking. There are numerous tactics floating around out there. Some are more specific than others, and have been popularized by creativity experts such as Michael Michalko, Edward De Bono and Eric Maisel. All are about shifting perception, fostering a spirit of discovery and encouraging free flowing connections. Here is a distillation, with my own take, by way of explanation.

Sharpen the focus. The more specifically you define the problem at hand, the more infinite, original, (and appropriate) the possibilities. Contrary to what many think, creativity flows more freely from constraints and parameters. This is why some artists (Jasper Johns with his flag series) limit their subject matter and concentrate on creative process: how many variations are possible here? It becomes less about the what and the why and more about the how. Begin your brainstorming with questions to laser-tune the focus as much as possible. The likelihood of ‘Flow’ is much greater here as well.

Saturate yourself with inspirationYou need what I refer to as ‘fresh eyes’. Scan the universe for information and ideas related to your issue; fill your head with relevant facts, perspectives, ideas. Be joyful and curious in your approach. Be open to ideas coming from seemingly unexpected sources; seek them out, push beyond your comfort zone (it’s called that for a reason!). It’s all about connecting things in new and different ways. You will surprise yourself.

Set an ‘idea quota’. The popular version of the idea quota, often used in brainstorming sessions in business settings, is the ‘Paperclip’ model: come up with 20 uses for a (paperclip) in 10 minutes—no editing or judging of ideas. The time pressure takes thinking and judging off the table, and can produce some wonderful fresh ideas. The next essential step for this approach to be effective requires an editing phase, or the ‘verification’ as I refer to it in the formula. Which ideas are viable and useful? The best ideas then can be pushed and further developed through mind-mapping, below. This tactic is actually the least interesting to me personally, yet one of the most popular in business settings.

Engage with the Formula.  Another approach integrates the formula for creativity I’ve put forth in previous posts here, allowing right/left brain interplay to occur. Once the problem is defined, saturate (above) then let it go . Set an idea quota, but give it time to allow for the subconscious connections to occur— maybe  5 ideas a day for 5 days in a row. The first 5 might be the hardest, because you’ll be ‘thinking’ too hard, but then ideas will start to flow more freely. Chances are they’ll come in the form of ‘mindpops’ when you’re in a relaxed or distracted mode. I could write a book (hoping to) around this one approach. You could also call this one ‘summoning the muse’.

Work Visually. A much used tool in business brainstorming and strategy sessions is mind-mapping.  Countless software versions have been developed as a result, which I find relatively useless because the real power of mind-mapping comes from the free flowing physical aspect of charting and diagramming thoughts and ideas by hand, with big juicy markers, on a huge piece of paper on a wall, table, or floor . The mind-map breaks us away from a linear way of thinking, which I find often jams my brain because there should be some logic: A precedes B precedes C—too much thinking involved. When you work with ‘idea pods’—continually breaking the thinking down, jumping to other pods, capturing ideas as they pop into consciousness. There is no editing involved, to the contrary, this is hugely stimulating, and sometimes even emotional because it connects us more with what we’re feeling. The mind-map also lets you see all your thoughts and ideas–it’s like a crazy picture of the mish-mosh of your brain. When you can visualize all the seemingly unrelated and undeveloped thoughts, patterns emerge, new connections are made and you have the benefit of this hugely therapeutic mind-dump. I use this approach for my weekly to-do lists as a way of organizing and prioritizing my thinking.

Enough for now. It’s about developing a mindset for more creative thinking and being. Back to the CS mantra: “Change is an art form and creative productivity is a muscle we can build.” Would love to hear any tricks you all may have up your sleeve. I’d be happy to feature them here with credit given 🙂

And for some fun…..A great list of very specific tools for creating ideas can be found at

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