early morning readings


“The citizens of every country are human beings. We cannot study and understand a human being just through statistics. We can’t leave the job to governments or political scientists alone. We have to do it ourselves. If we arrive at an understanding of the fears and hopes of a citizen from Iraq or Sudan, Afghanistan or Syria, then we can understand our own fears and hopes. If we have this very clear vision of reality, we do not have to look very far to see what we have to do. 

“We are not separate. We are inextricably interrelated. The rose is the garbage, the soldier is the civilian, the criminal is also the victim. The rich man is the very poor woman, the Buddhist is the non-Buddhist. “This is like this, because that is like that.” No one among us has clean hands. None of us can claim that the situation is not our responsibility. The child who is forced to work as a prostitute is that way because of the way we are. The refugees who are forced to live in the camps have to live like that because of the way we live. The arms dealers do their business so that our economies can continue to grow and they can benefit. This helps to create that, and that helps to create this. Wealth and poverty, the affluent society and the poor society, inter-are. The wealth of one society is made of the poverty of the other. Wealth is made of non-wealth elements, and poverty is made of non-poverty elements.

“We are responsible for everything that happens around us. …we see the young prostitute, the child soldier, the starving mother, and the migrant worker; we bare their pain, and the pain of the whole world.” ~Thich Nhát Hanh, The Other Shore.



the passage has occurred:

as I brood,

autumn dusk dew drops 

fall on my pillow ~Princess Shikishi

contemplative photography 7
Nikon D750   f/4.5   1/400s    56mm   200 ISO

“…I asked the leaf whether it was afraid to fall, since it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, ‘No. During the spring and summer I was very alive. I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree. Please do not think that I am just this form, because this leaf form is only a tiny part of me. I am the whole tree, I know that I am already inside the tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. … As I drop from the branch and float down to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.'” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Other Shore

early morning readings

contemplative photography 5
Sony RX100 III  f/4  1/80s  23.9m  250 ISO

“This LeWitt drawing [All Two-Part Combinations of Arcs from Corners and Sides, Wall, Drawing #842, white crayons, black pencil, grid, 14×18 ft.], white lines on a large black field, created a strong presence in the gallery. That presence was beautifully offset by the simplicity of the system it described. Until that show, I believed that conceptual art was about the idea-the concept–and thus that the drawing on the wall was only there to display the idea. I believed this until one day during the show, when I found myself alone in the gallery in front of the wall and my vision was filled with black paint and the pebbly, waxy marks of the white crayon. At that moment the piece seemed to open a door in my mind. Rather than the concept being processed like art in my brain, I felt a sense of integration–my eyes and body were involved, a union between the concept and the materials, neither standing alone. My view transitioned from an analytical appreciation of a system called ‘art’ into an utter, complete presence with an artwork…” ~J F Simon, Jr., Drawing Your Own Path

“Observe the changes that take place in your mind under the light of awareness. Even your breathing has changed and become ‘not-two’ (I don’t want to say ‘one’) with your observing self. This is also true of your thoughts and feelings, which, together with their effects, are suddenly transformed. When you do not try to judge or suppress them, they become intertwined with the observing mind.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart

a photo study: contemplative photography V – things in themselves

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.  

early morning readings II

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

contemplating the leaf

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

early morning readings

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 photo study: contemplative photography III – hindrances

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.

Toy Store

“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)