boredom!

Boredom!  An exercise from The Practice of Contemplative Photography – take 20 shots of an everyday item.

Ah! My favourite Hindrance!  This was fun to work with – intimacy with my dishwasher.  Not what I had planned for the rushed day before leaving on retreat so it was a surprise to have these details presented to me by a machine I see as only utilitarian.  Wonder what would happen if I spent this time with relationships that feel utilitarian?

we are often surprised

We are often surprised that our photographs do not show what we thought we were shooting.

The Practice of Contemplative Photography written by Andy Karr and Michael Wood has just been published by Shambhala Publications.  Karr and Wood’s biography on Facebook is simple but fitting of their teaching philosophy:

Andy Karr is a writer, photographer, longtime meditator, and Buddhist teacher. He is also the author of “Contemplating Reality” published by Shambhala in 2007.

Michael Wood worked as a commercial photographer in Toronto, Canada. After discovering Buddhist meditation, he began to synthesize his meditation experience with a fresh way of looking and seeing in his professional photography. He teaches contemplative photography workshops in North America and Europe.

The book, a testament to their teaching skills, is a manual of practice that is probably one of most lucid and captivating I have read in long while.  They make the medium of photography the cushion from which we can see how our perception can mislead us and how we tend to dismiss the true sources of light and love in our lives.  Karr and Wood are craftsmen, teachers of the craft and cultivaters of contemplation – quintessential dharma teachers using the technology of the camera and the processing of the heart/mind.

As you can see by the opening quote, this is the essence of practice: realizing that the eye and mind see very differently.  In this case, their teachings are the essence of mindfulness or sati – the re-membering, bringing together of eye consciousness and mind-consciousness. Chapter by chapter, Karr and Wood take us deeper and deeper into the heart of contemplation through the medium of  photography.

For us, the most interesting approach to photography emphasizes the experience of seeing.  It is what Henri Cartier-Bresson described as “putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis.”

They encourage seeing the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.  And we are invited to do so not to achieve some supramundane awareness but to have that seeing clarify the deep inner vision of the heart.

Just wiping the bathroom after you brush your teeth will remove the stains of resentment and carelessness.

I have to stop here for a moment and share that their exercises (which are discussed below) confronted me with the many subtle stains in my bathroom and kitchen.  So beware.  You may not get through this book because of the frenzied cleaning you need to do before the photography work!

The gentleness in their prose is refreshing.  The insights of the ever-present nature of creativity and the immediacy of contemplation are encouraging, especially for those of us who are, shall we say, driven to get that perfect shot.

Contemplative practice requires a basic shift in allegiance.

We are guided into making this shift with their three stages of

  • connecting with the flash of perception
  • working with visual discernment, and
  • forming the equivalent of what we have seen.

As our vision clears and the eye and heart are (re-)united, we live the contemplative photographer’s motto: Nothing added, nothing missing.

The book continues with a number of assignments – color, texture, form.  The practice chapter I love the most (yes, the preferential mind is present) is on boredom.  As a psychologist and a meditator, I am fascinated by boredom.  I never tire of its presence and likely take tea with it more often than I should.  Karr and Wood point out that boredom is a seduction away from the present, away from what is real to us right now.

We are afraid of our own hearts.. The heart is so sensitive, so ready to resonate with the world, that we keep it covered, fearing we won’t be able to stand being touched.  It might be too intense.  We might be overwhelmed.   We can’t afford to open up, because who knows what we might feel.  It seems safer to armor the heart, even if that shields us from the vitality of life.

Boredom is a sign that your heart is about to be exposed…. Boredom is the forerunner of this distress and a signal that you should seek some diversion to hold your heart at bay.

Karr and Wood have done well to open our hearts -not only by their luscious photography and intense eye but by their generosity in walking us deep into the darkroom of our spirit.

The photographs produced here are from their Facebook and thanks go to Carlos Inada of Dharma/Arte for facilitating this sharing and to Andy Karr and Michael Wood for their gift of dharma.

This is a practice book so over the week I will upload some of my homework assignments from practice with their teachings.

A deep bow to their teachings,

Lynette Genju

Note: Dharma/Arte is a non-profit organization promoting this book; the title link above and on the posts this week is their affiliated link.  Purchasing the book from Shambhala via the link provides Dharma/Arte with a percentage of the proceeds of the book.

junco

Love this little fluff ball…  a small taste of Monday’s post which will be a review of Andy Karr and Michael Wood’s The Practice of Contemplative Photography (Shambhala Publications).  You can check out the Facebook page here.  I’ve been practising with their exercises and since my eyeballs haven’t fallen out yet, I can say this is very cool stuff.  Review on Monday, pre-loading photo shoots of my homework for the rest of the week while I’m at Upaya.

If I’m not back by the following week, send in troops with chocolate-covered almonds!  Or just send the almonds!

Genju

open systems

The third turning of the Fourth Noble Truth is to make the Eightfold Path real (Realize it).

Not there yet.

Or more accurately, it requires digging deep into practice.  A few days back, I presented the Fourth Noble Truth as a network of practices that interconnected with the First, Second and third Noble Truths.  In the comments to that post, Barry noted that the Buddha had a good reason for making the Eightfold Path a systematic process.  We can never know why the Buddha chose this pattern of steps but they appear to proceed one after the other in a firmly set direction towards deep clarity.

I hadn’t thought the network version was in opposition to this although it may seem that way.  Perhaps it’s all just chaos ordering itself.  Or it may be order letting loose and having fun. In fact, as I dug into the three turning of each Noble Truth it was hard to see where one left off and the other began.  At one level, each can be “worked on” as a single unit – and it would follow that the Eightfold Path would be a systematic practice of well-being.  At another, the Four Noble Truths can be an open system that feeds itself and the world through a wide and deep circulation of insight, awareness, and compassion.

Regardless, realizing the Fourth Noble Truth, for me, means making a conscious commitment to practice.  At the same time there has to be an intention to not get distracted by the “stuff” of Buddhism.  As a religion, it has the same content and capability to disappoint me.  It’s priests and warriors are made of the same stuff as found in all religions.  Flies in the zendo.

All that matters is practice.  All that can be made real is practice as “an open system …in which material continually enters from, and leaves into, the outside environment.”*  I’m not sure of this (or of anything for that matter) but I think it is in that space between entry and leaving that the eight practices of the Fourth Noble Truth manifest.

Thank you for your practice,

Genju

*Ludwig von Bertalanffy, General System Theory, 1968

at the edge

There’s an edge that is always pressing into the space around it.  Even if it only serves as a support for something else to push outward, it lives its purpose as the staging area for growth.  But growth can’t happen unless all parts of the system are involved.  The trunk of a tree can’t just decide it’s going to grow and head off into one direction while the branches head off into another.  It sounds obvious yet how often have I decided to dive into something without really considering how it’s going to be sustained as I stretch at the growing edge?

Growth also happens continuously.  It may slow at times.  Get re-directed.  But it tends to be a continuous process.  I forget that too.  When practice seems diverted or stagnant, I feel like “nothing’s happening.”  Or when plans tumble into disarray, I feel stunted in my aspirations.  Depending on my state of mind, I might take all or none of the responsibility for the mess.

Whether I am committing myself to something without appreciating the available resources or misunderstanding my situation, I tend to act as if I (meaning my perspective) am the only one who matters.  I think the real definition of narcissism is “thinking you can be a branch without the trunk, leaves, flower, fruit, or roots.”  Or maybe that’s the definition of “clueless.”

The second turning of the wheel of the Fourth Noble Truth is the study of what encourages or reinforces healthy growth.  There has to be a willingness to stay at this edge where growth happens.  What that means in terms of living my practice is hard to put into words.  It’s noticing how, these days, my eyes click like a camera shutter.  I’m more likely to pull out the camera than to say, “Oh, that would have been a good shot.”  Or it is feeling the steadiness in my tone as I make a dreaded phone call.  There was a moment when chaos ruled because I had overlooked a detail – and then order asserted itself because I got out of my own way.  Oh, and there was that awesome moment when an old, familiar demon appeared and tried to set two of us up for a dog fight – only to find I am much better at letting go.

These are just the buds.  The whole system that sustains and nourishes this growth is comprised of innumerable beings.  It arises from the blogs I feed at and bloggers I harass with my comments.  The interconnections of authors, books they’ve written, and those to be test-driven are a series of roots pulling nourishment up into my branches.  Chaplaincy readings are challenging my comfort zone or taking me back to decades past when I thought I understood Joanna Macy, Fritjof Capra, or Thich Nhat Hanh.  Friends are surfacing after years and new forms of connections are strengthening.  Family is coming together, quietly in the background.  Friends are moving on and I quiver at this edge of letting go which I preach constantly about: Walking the entire path they take is not given to you, only to their threshold.

Thank you for practising,

Genju