conttemplative 7

Seeing begins with respect, but wonder is the fuel which sustains vision.~Steven J Meyers

I believe we all intimately know of that moment…the moment, an early morning moment, that occurs just as we lift a window frame.  That fleeting moment as morning awakens us…before the mind discriminates, defines, labels, associates, and tucks away into memory…the moment of awareness to, awakening to the touching, the greeting..our vulnerability to morning’s sensual presence…That’s magic, the “things in themselves.”

our eye consciousness and ear consciousness can touch the world of suchness without distorting it.  With mind consciousness, we tend to distort…

Thich Nhat Hanh (Understanding the Mind) writes that there are three fields of perception: perception of things-in-themselves, as presentation, and as mere images, and that the way we perceive reality has everything to do with our happiness and suffering.

The perception of things-in-themselves is when we are perceiving directly without distortion or delusions. This is the only one of the three modes of perception that is direct. This way of perceiving is in the stream of…suchness; that is, “reality as it is.”  … Everything—a leaf, a pebble, you, me—comes from suchness. Suchness is the ground of our being, just as water is the ground of being of a wave.  

Are we capable of touching reality-in-itself? … A flower can be the manifestation of the world of suchness, if we perceive it directly.  It all depends on our mode of perception whether we touch the suchness of a flower or only an image of it that our minds have created. Our perceptions rarely reach the mode of things-in-themselves, however.  We usually perceive things in the other two modes, as representations or mere images. 

The first five consciousness-the sense consciousness of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body—are capable of touching the realm of things-in-themselves, especially when they contact their objects of perception without the participation and intervention of mind consciousness.  When mind consciousness gets involved, however, there will always be some thinking and imagination, and the image brought to it by one of the sense consciousnesses will become distorted. 

We are capable of reaching the field of things-in-themselves, the world of suchness, but because we think and discriminate we don’t usually perceive things as they truly are.  The nature of our mind is obstructed.  This means that we build a world full of illusions for ourselves because of the distorted way we perceive reality.  Meditation is to look deeply in order to arrive at reality—first the reality of ourselves and then the reality of the world.  To get to that reality, we have to let go of the images we create in our consciousness… Our practice is to correct this tendency to discriminate and think dualistically, so that reality will have a chance to reveal itself. (pp 65-71)  

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Miksang, a Tibetan word, has been translated to ‘Good Eye.’ Miksang photographers write that when we see with/through a Good Eye we see the world as it is for the first time.  This is because this way of seeing is absent of memory and association.  The world is manifesting to us, as it is out of nowhere.

Julie DuBose wrote (Shambhala Times, April 7, 2017, “What is Miksang Really?”) that the basis of Miksang photography

…is the open space of availability in our minds. When our mind and eye connect directly with a visual perception, it is like a flash of lightening arising from this empty open space. Without the voltage, the electric presence of the flash of contact inherent in the image, it is flat and lifeless, somebody’s idea. This is the juice of direct perception. If we can maintain our connection to this raw energy of perception through to our expression of the perception with our camera, then it will be completely expressed in our image. 

There is no halfway, half a flash of perception. The perception and the resulting image either does, or does not, have the living, raw experience of that moment of voltage embedded in it. There is no in between. This is the joy of “fresh” seeing.

A. Karr and M. Wood (The Practice of Contemplative Photography) notes that contemplative photography begins with “the flash of perception.”  

In the flash of perception…there is a space for things to come to you. Experience is definite, because there is no doubt about what you are seeing… Whatever it is, it is here, and there is no doubt involved, no shakiness.  The nature of perception is sharp, with a brilliant, clear quality.  The flash of perception is a moment of seeing that is one-pointed, stable, and free from distraction.  Experience is not diffused or scattered or moving. It is direct and in focus. It is stable because it is not tossed about by winds of thought or emotion. There is a stillness and roundedness as awareness remains with perception.

W. Rowe (Zen and the Magic of Photography) introduces the reader to Roland Barthes’ description of the essence of photography, the “punctum”,a small, distinct point.  

The punctum, “will break (or punctuate) the studium*…photographs that are “in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points; precisely, these marks, these wounds, are so many points.”  Punctual rises out of the scene, seeks out the viewer, disturbs the studio, wounds, cuts, pricks, and stings the viewer…also has the power to provide sudden enlightenment… a tiny shock, is usually found in the detail bringing “certain photographs very close to haiku.”

Only the moon

and I, on our meeting-bridge

alone, growing cold ~Teiga (S. Hill, The Sound of Water)


Torsten Andreas Hoffmann (Photography as Meditation: Tap into the Source of Your Creativity) indicated that within:  

the context of photography and shooting images, the photographer must be at the right place, with the right lens and the right aperture, at exactly the right moment to capture the picture.  Successful images, however, are not guaranteed based solely on having the correct posture and intent. However, by letting go of intent, the stillness of the mind can take over and you can attain oneness with your surroundings. Barthes refers to this concept using the term “satori,” which describes the highest state of enlightenment and comprehension in Zen. I prefer to use the term “Samadhi,” which indicates a state of utmost vigilance and attention. Photographs taken while in this state may achieve the quality of puncture.

As I was pondering my understanding of “the flash of perspective”, as an experience of a shock that is like being awakened from sleep by a loud noise and Barthes’ punctual that “disturbs, wounds, cuts, picks, and stings the viewer to an haiku moment, images of Buddhist masters who drop a book or strike with a stick as a means of wakening wandered into my thoughts.  As a therapist, I came to understand that there is an immediate response to “shock” that may be expressed as denial, laughter, tears, shaking, screaming, or tears that occurs as a way for the body/mind to re-establish a state of equilibrium.  Also, my own personal life experiences have taught me that expected moments of “shock” (as opposed to those horrid moments that come out of the blue) are more likely to be responded to with a more grounded and contemplative state of being. 

“Wounds, cuts, shocks, picks, stings…are not these words of violence incongruent to a contemplative state?  With all this said, I find myself wondering if these “shock” elements identified by contemplative photographers may have, even the smallest tendency, to blur and distract me from those now moments of “things in themselves.”  If so, then how could I open myself to being a photographer who receives and shares the gift that awaits my awareness? To lessen the tendency to shift away from an “awakening?”  What are they ways to cultivate an attitude of receptivity, an openness to what might be given to me?  To engage in a photo walk that is more like meditation or a spiritual discipline than a search or a hunt?  


I have come to a place of consideration that one small way in which to become acquainted with underlying attitudes and be in a more graceful receptive place to receive “things in themselves” is to begin to become aware of the words/attitudes that have the potential to define the process by which I photograph. 

I ask myself will I be more able to see with respect, as noted by Steven J Meyers, if I intentionally silence the words “shoot,” “capture,” “frame,” “take,”  “exposed,” “cover,” “take the shot,” in order to open myself to  “receive,” “connect with,” “create,” “be present with,” “wonder,” “surprise,” “reveal.”

And then, will I be more able to open myself to the expression of a temporary enlightenment, in which I see into the life of things.”


the intention of the photographer…the elements of an image rather than the sum of the image’s information and meaning.  …the elements of the punctum penetrate the studium—they have the ability to move the viewer in a deep and emotional way.  

In this world, time is like a flow of water, occasionally displaced by a bit of debris, a passing breeze.  Now and then, some cosmic disturbance will cause a rivulet of time to turn away from the mainstream, to make connection back stream. When this happens, birds, soil, people caught in the branching tributary find themselves suddenly carried to the past.   ~A Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

Reality in itself is a stream of life, always moving.  ~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart

Cartier-Bresson’s photograph of children playing in the rubble of war…may become a metaphor or symbol of hope. The image over my desk of a grieving mother and child after an earthquake in Armenia, made by my photographer friend Mark Beach, symbolized for me the sorrow and tragedy that is part of life.  An image I once made of the source of the mighty Susquehanna River–a spring flowing into a bathtub in a field that serves as a water tank for cows, then spilling over to begin a stream–reminds me that the restorative juice “river,” with which I am associated, has many small sources.  ~H Zehr, The Little Book of Contemplative Photography

One autumn day while walking in a park, I became absorbed in the contemplation of a very small and beautiful leaf in the shape of a heart. It was turning red and barely hanging on to the branch, about to fall. I spent a long time with this leaf …. Usually we think of the tree as the mother and the leaves as its children. But contemplating the leaf, I could see that the leaf was also a mother to the tree. The sap that the tree’s roots take up, called xylem sap, is only water, amino acids, and minerals, not rich enough to nourish the tree. So the tree distributes that sap to the leaves, which, with the help of the sun and carbon dioxide, transform it into phloem sap, rich in sugars, which the leaves send back to nourish the tree. So the leaves are also a mother to the tree. …

“We are like that leaf. When we were in our mother’s womb, we were also linked to her by a stem, an umbilical cord. All our nourishment came through the umbilical cord. Our mother breathed for us, ate for us, drank for us, did everything for us. Then one day that cord was cut, and we started to think of our mother and ourself as two different entities. In fact, our mother continued to nourish us like before. Our parents are present in every cell of our body. We continue to receive nourishment from our mother, as well as the suffering and the troubles of our mother, which continue to influence us, as they did when we were in the womb. That cord is still there, not just until we turn eighteen, but for our whole life.

”When we can see the umbilical cord, we can start to see the countless umbilical cords that link us to life all around us. There is an umbilical cord that exists between us and the river…. So the river is also a mother and there is an invisible umbilical cord between us. … There is another umbilical cord betweens and the clouds, between us and the forests, and another between us and the sun. The sun is like a parent to us. Without our link we to the sun we could not live, and neither could anything else. We are nourished and sustained by countless parents….

Excerpt From
The Other Shore
Thích Nhất Hạnh

contemplative photography
Nikon D750  f/5.6  1/400s   170m   450 ISO

“…there is thinking as a result of mind and object of mind, but there is no thinker. There is feeling, but the feeling and the one who feels are not separate.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Other Shore

“In this acausal world … artists are joyous. Unpredictability is the life of their paintings, their music, their novels. … Most people have learned how to live in the moment. The argument goes that if the past has uncertain effect on the present, there is no need to dwell on the past. And if the present has little effect on the future, present actions need not be weighed for their consequence. Rather, each act is an island in time, to be judged on its own. Families comfort a dying uncle not because of a likely inheritance, but because he is loved at that moment. Employees are hired not because of their resumes, but because of their good sense in interviews. … it is a world of impulse. It is a world of sincerity. It is a world in which every word spoken speaks just to that moment, every glance given has only one meaning, each touch has no past or no future, each kiss is a kiss of immediacy.” ~ A Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

“…Go on transforming a square canvas in your head until it becomes a circle. Pick up any shape in the process and pin up or place on the canvas an object, a smell, a sound, or a colour that came to mind in association with the shape. ~ Yoko Ono (cited: J F Simon, JR, Drawing Your Own Path)

A. Kaplan (Jewish Meditation, New York, 1958) noted that when one is in a meditative state, one has obtained the ability to turn off the faint after-images that are constantly with us and interfere with seeing objects with total clarity. He noted that when one is able “to turn off the spontaneous self-generated images . . . the beauty of the flower . . . seen in these higher states of awareness is indescribable [and] appears to radiate beauty.”

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 The possibilities of perception are limitless, and clear seeing is joyful  …we get caught up in cascades of internal dialogue and emotionality. Immersed in thoughts, daydreams, and projections, we fabricate our personal versions of the world and dwell within them like silkworms in cocoons.  ~A Karr & M Wood (cited: The Practice of Contemplative Photography)

Hindrances to Receptivity  (H Zehr, Contemplative Photography)
Many aspects of our lives and habits hinder a mindful approach to the world.

  • An acquisitive, aggressive approach to photography
  • Preoccupation with technique or with the technical side of photography
  • Preconceptions and pre-established rules about what to photograph and how to compose
  • A discriminating or judging attitude that constantly labels, categorizes, and elevates ourselves.
  • Concern about the approval and disapproval of others or about what some ‘authority’ has said.
  • Perfectionism and/or a goal orientation, over-concern about an end product
  • An appreciation for the extraordinary and a devaluing of the ordinary
  • Being so used to the world around us that we take it for granted
  • Over-reliance on the ‘head’ and on the intellect rather than on initiation and feeling
  • Preoccupation with ourselves: too much self-consciousness or self-criticism
  • Lack of spontaneity; an obsession with prediction and planning
  • A need to be in control of the process and to impose one’s concept and viewpoint
  • An intolerance for unidentifiable or unknowable

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Knowledge can be an obstacle, and we are reminded that truth can only be found in life, and not in the accumulation of knowledge…If our mind is burdened by worry, suffering, confusion, anger, or strong views, then it is very hard for us to practice mindfulness, concentration, and insight and look deeply into ourselves and into reality. Our mind must be free from views, preconceptions, and afflictions if we are to see ~Thích Nhất Hạnh (The Other Shore)

Generally we are unaware of these current of mental activity; and it is hard to distinguish what we see from from what we think about. ~A Karr & M Wood (The Practice of Contemplative Photography)

“Photography can be used to help distinguish the seen from the imagined, since the camera registers only what is seen. It does not record mental fabrications. …we are often surprised to find that our photographs did not show what we thought we were shooting

“In contemplative photography the camera’s literalness is uses as a mirror to reflect your state of mind . It shows when you shot what you saw—what actually appeared—and when you shot what you imagined. When a properly exposed photograph faithfully replicates your original perception; you saw clearly. When your original perception is masked in the photograph by shadows, reflections, or other extraneous things you didn’t notice, you were imagining. Clear seeing produces clear, fresh images.

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“Concepts about pictorial techniques can further constrict your vision. Trying to see the world through the rule of thirds to create good composition, or shooting very early or very late in the day because the light will be warm, or, playing with exposure and color balance to make the image more dramatic, turns photographers away from things as they are, and toward their thoughts about how they want them to appear. This separates them from the immediacy of what they experience.” ~A Karr & M Wood (The Practice of Contemplative Photography)

Contemplative Photography Exercise

Consciously or unconsciously, we have all learned many rules about when and how to photograph. These limit our ability to be open to new possibilities

  • Think of some of the rules reviewed in past “a photo study” posts or assumptions you have made about what and when you should photograph. For example: rule of thirds, rule of space, rule of odds, don’t photograph during mid day.
  • Create a list of these rules/should do or not do.
  • Make a series of photographs in which you consciously break as many of these rules, and in as many ways, as you can.
  • Reflect on your images.
    Do your photographs suggest that the ‘rules’ were worth taking seriously? What happened when you did not? Were there any surprises? What do they suggest about how you may photograph in the future? Do any of the hindrances impact your creativity?

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I am excited about this phase of my photo journey. Yet, my identified hindrances, silencing composition/technical rules and should do/should not do will be a challenge after the investment of time, energy, and mental ‘focus’ that has thus far directed this photo study project.

Am looking forward to reading your throughs and seeing the images you created after being freed from your hindrances.   Please tag with #aphotostudy.

“We must look deeply to identify the real suffering of our times and to understand how it has come to be. Our modern way of living brings tension, stress and pain to our body; we are exposed to anger, violence, and fear; we live with the threat of terrorism, the destruction of the ecosystem, war and famine, climate change, the economic crisis, recession, poverty, social injustice, broken families and divorce, and so much more.

Toy Store…  Nikon D750   f/1.8  1/25s  35m   100 ISO

How are we living? How are we consuming? What violence, fear, and anger are we ingesting every day through the media around us? How is our lifestyle polluting the environment and creating a toxic level atmosphere for our bodies and our minds, for our families and for future generations?  If we can call the suffering, the real ill-being of our times, by its true names and if we an see how it has come to be, we will know exactly what kind of medicine, what kind of healing we need in order to deal with it. The truth of ill-being will reveal the end of ill-being.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh (The Other Shore)


“Before the cloud appeared in the sky she was not nothing. She was the water in the ocean. She was the heat generated by the sun. She was the water vapor rising up to the sky. And when we can no longer see the cloud in the sky, she hasn’t died; she has just transformed into rain or snow. The notion of death is also created by our mind. It is impossible for something to become nothing. The cloud hasn’t died; it is manifesting in its new form as rain, as hail, as snow, as the river, and as the cup of tea in my two hands. So the true nature of the cloud is no-birth and no-death.


“… we can start to see the countless umbilical cords that link us to life all around us. There is an umbilical cord that exists between us and the river. The water we drink every day flows down from mountain springs and streams, right into our kitchen. So the river is also a mother and there is an invisible umbilical cord between us. If we cannot see it yet, it’s because we haven’t looked deeply enough. There is another umbilical cord between us and the clouds, between us and the forests, and another between us and the sun. The sun is like a parent to us. Without our link to the sun we could not live, and neither could anything else. We are nourished and sustained by countless parents. The river, the wild animals, the plants, the soil and all its minerals are our mothers and fathers, and are mothers and fathers to all phenomena on planet Earth. That is why in the sutras it is said that living beings have been our parents through countless lifetimes.


“There are umbilical cords linking us to all that is in the universe and in the entire cosmos. Can you see the link between you and me? If you are not there, I am not here; that is certain. If you do not yet see it, look more deeply and I am sure you will see”

Excerpt: Thich Nhát Hanh, The Other Shore 

“We tend to think of human beings as falling into two groups: those who are similar to us and those who are different. We allow political boundaries to obscure our interconnectedness. What we often refer to patriotism is actually a barrier the prevents us from seeing that we’re all children of the same mother. Every country calls its nation a motherland or a fatherland. Every country tries to show how it loves its mother. But in doing so, each country is contributing to the destruction of our larger mother, our collective mother, the Earth. In focusing our human-made boundaries, we forget that we are co-responsible for the whole planet. …

Nikon D750   f/4.5   1/200    85mm    100 ISO

“Every one of us, regardless of nationality or religious faith, can experience a feeling of admiration and love when we see the beauty of the Earth and the beauty of the cosmos. This feeling of love and admiration has the power to unite the citizens of the Earth and remove all separation and discrimination. Caring about the the environment is not an obligation, but a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival. We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.”

~Thích Nhát Hanh (Love Letter to the Earth)

Nikon D750   f/7.1   1/800   85mm   100 ISO

…Just as we are made of non-human elements and the flower is full of non-flower elements, the Earth is made of non-Earth elements. Like us, the Earth contains air, fire, and water, as well as the sun and particles from distant stars in faraway galaxies. In fact, we can se that the Earth is made exclusively of non-Earth elements. The whole cosmos has come together to produce the wonder that is this planet…

~Thich Nhát Hanh (Love Letter to the Earth)

Nikon D750      f/7.1    1/500    85mm   100 ISO

Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is earth…home.
~Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut (cited: Thich Nhát Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth)