It’s never been easy for me to stay in one place for very long. I always seem to be wishing that I was somewhere else. Growing up, I dreamed of living in a big city. Everyone seemed so glamorous, interesting, and important. My weekend trips to New York increased my fascination with city life. Adventure beckoned at every street corner, intoxicating me with each step I took down the avenues. Every experience seem magical, even the mundane moments like crossing the street.
“Maybe one day I can live there. Then I can be glamorous, interesting, and important, too” I would wonder to myself every morning I woke up somewhere else.
When the city became my reality, my experience was stripped away of all of the magic and idealism. The frenetic pace wore me out. I never seemed to have enough time or money. Working long hours, taking the subway, and walking down the cement-encased open spaces made me feel like a caged animal. I longed for the solitude and peace of the forest. And quiet honestly, this was a pattern. I moved to a foreign country, to California and still felt the same way. When I was single I wanted to be in a relationship. When I was in a relationship, I wanted to be single. If I was making art, I longed to make money. When I achieved financial success, I worried that I had abandoned my creative life. Would I ever manage to be happy where I was? Or would I always be chasing something just out of my grasp?
One day, I talked to my friend about this. She smiled while I expressed my bewilderment and frustration. Then, she asked me to draw a tree. I scurried around the kitchen to find paper and a pen. The tree grew effortlessly from the ink I held in my hand – a sturdy trunk; tall, willowy branches that reached skyward; and a few delicate leaves. There was no foreground or background, just the dark ink of the tree centered on the white paper.
In three minutes, I forgot all about the city, the country, and if I would ever really be happy. I was just sitting in my kitchen with a friend – drawing and talking – doing things I loved to do. When I finished, I presented my drawing to her with a big grin. Then she pointed out to me: “You didn’t draw any roots! That means you had a difficult past. Maybe that’s why you can’t stay in one place for too long. But it also means you are free to be spontaneous and go where ever you’d like.”
In my pursuit of happiness, I became confused. I somehow misunderstood the act of pursuit as happiness. The planning and idealism of obtaining a goal became a joyous fantasy, but when I finally arrived the journey was over. When it was finished, I was sad and frustrated. But why should I be? Both the journey and the destination are enjoyable. In the moment of drawing a tree for my friend, I realized the duality of my thinking. Life is both doing and being. It isn’t one or the other. Life is about experiencing the contrast of opposites.
I realized this contrast of opposites appears not just in my love of both the city and country. It shows up in my painting, in my photography, and in my relationships. The truth is, all opposites need each other. Black implies white. Form must occupy an empty space. A subject needs a verb. Self implies other. When you see the unity between opposites, things change. There’s no need to choose one of the pair – city or country, black or white – because you need both. One simply cannot exist without the other. When you realize duality implies unity, every moment becomes magical again.
Time is one of the great mysteries of life. The way in which moments elapse is fluid. While we have agreed upon a standard time to keep society orderly, the passage of time is deeply subjective. We have all experienced this. Moments of great boredom or anticipation seem to drag on and on, while periods of fun and elation seem to fly by. Even Einstein proved that time expresses itself differently throughout the cosmos with his theory of relativity. The way each of us experiences the passage of time is relative to our environments, momentum, and consciousness. Great athletes and artists agree that time can be slowed down when you become completely focused and total absorbed while competing in a race or creating a work of art. With a clear mind and a singular focus, time can be manipulated.
This slowing down of time is why I love photography. It allows me to capture and share a moment of singular focus. I can catch small moments that I observe – ones that occur at a fraction of a second, like fire burning. It’s also why I love nature. (New to my site? You would like my previous post, The Beauty of Nature.) Time and nature are so inextricable intertwined – the sun passing across the sky, the changing of the seasons. Yet time occurs very differently outdoors without the ticking of a man-made clock.
I recently went on a shoot, and wondered how another photographer might experience the passage of time while working. I poked and prodded him with all of the questions that flowed through my mind. One question, though, seemed most important:
“How do you know when you’ve gotten a good shot? Is it a feeling? Or is there some other verifiable way of knowing?”
I’m not sure that anyone had asked him this before. Silence blanketed us like falling snow in winter. The question was as much for me as for him. Suddenly, every moment where I had taken a photo flooded my memory bank. Years of trial and error, the good shots, the bad shots – they all made a sort of mosaic in my mind. Time suspended. We both smiled. I felt like I was floating over canyons and rays of light, traveling backwards through time to arrive at a future answer.
While it’s true that I can capture images at fraction of a second, I still feel something when I take a good photo. A mood, an emotion – something more than just idly clicking the shutter button. Then, the answer came to me so suddenly that I must have blurted it out:
“For me, I know when I get a good shot because of the way I feel. I get goosebumps and feel a sense of . . . nostalgia. The goosebumps happen because I see how perfect and beautiful the moment is. Then I snap the photo. I look at it happily, but then feel nostalgic. . . because that beautiful and perfect moment is now over. It passes so quickly. As fast as I have caught it, it has already disappeared.”
While the answer may seem melancholy, photography is such a joy for me. I enter that state of singular focus, where all I see are perfect little moments of beauty around me. While these scenes and moments may be fleeting, I’m so captivated by their charm that I lose all sense of time or identity. Time ceases to exist.
Jay Griffiths, a sociologist and author of “A Sideways Look at Time”, explains that the deepest, most ecstatic experience of time is when you lose it.
“In prayer, in meditation, in art, and in love, that is where people lose that frightful ticking of clock time. And what you fall into is something transcendent. All that you have to have done is to love somebody to know that. And to hold them for a half an hour, you can know that that half an hour has lasted an eternity. . .the moment meets the eternal. That is all that matters – just the moment that you’re holding in your hand.” (Jay Griffiths)
After listening to Griffiths’ ideas of time, I sat around and looked at the photos from my shoot. I studied them carefully, trying to summarize the ineffable feeling they evoked in me. Then I smiled as these words came to mind:
“It is a paradox – every perfect moment somehow lasts forever.”
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein
Julia: I think I learned about synesthesia in college. Honestly, I wonder if I really have much of it at all. I always associated numbers and letters with colors, but just in my head. Until I learned about synesthesia, I thought everyone did that. I don’t see colors when I look at text on a page, it’s more like in my mind the letter D has to be green, 8 is a cool, dark color, etc. That said, becoming aware of it and learning how our senses can be connected has certainly changed how I see the world. I like what you said in your article “The ability to successfully link apparently unrelated ideas and concepts is the very definition of creativity.” I think I’ve subconsciously explored that in both my collage and floral work— grouping unexpected things together based on color and using repetitive “rhythmic lines and shapes.” The collages I’ve been making started off more as a design exercise before turning into their own obsession…
Monica: Do you have any images of your work for collages and floral arrangements that you think best illustrate the ideas of repetitive rhythmic lines and shapes,and also your exploration of linking unrelated ideas and concepts? For me, my paintings are illustrations of both of these concepts. I find that picking out the paints and materials is one big meditation. I stand in front of cans and tubes of paint silently. Then, a particular color will grab my attention and a sort of creative, ecstatic energy guides me. I’m very absorbed by the process of picking out colors; they each seem to have this emotional language that captures my attention. It’s an experience that is really outside of words and letters, so it can be difficult to explain . . . but I feel a variety of emotions and states of being when I look at different hues and colors. This is one of the types of synesthesia, and Joan Mitchell talked a lot about the emotional states of her paintings this when describing her creative process.
- I no longer have to focus on the misfortunes of the past or on judging myself.
- Each moment, I can direct my focus towards the pursuit of happiness instead of tearing myself down.
- It takes courage to be the person what I want to be, but I believe in myself.
- In finding the courage to believe, anything is possible.
As the photo shoot progressed, I felt like I was living a major moment in art history. All of those books I read about my favorite movements, like Impressionism and Pre-Raphaelite art, were swirling around me. I was living art. Finally, I was proud of who I was. Everyone around me was living art, too. It was so liberating to see each person as who they really were – a beautiful soul in the artwork of their own body. There was no shame or judgement. There was only appreciation and joy. And that is the only way I choose to live.
“Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends.” ― Aberjhani
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
– Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
“Continue until you see yourself in the cruelest person on Earth, in the child starving, in the political prisoner. Practice until you recognize yourself in everyone in the supermarket, on the street corner, in a concentration camp, on a leaf, in a dewdrop. Meditate until you see yourself in a speck of dust in a distant galaxy. See and listen with the whole of your being. If you are fully present, the rain of Dharma will water the deepest seeds in your store consciousness, and tomorrow, while you are washing the dishes or looking at the blue sky, that seed will spring forth, and love and understanding will appear as a beautiful flower.”
The many stories I sorted through painted a picture of fear and blame. None of them seemed to express any truth. I looked and looked for something that made sense to me. I decided to pay attention to the photographs surrounding the matter. I saw people that were frustrated; people that wanted to be heard and appreciated, not be turned into a villain that would be hunted and killed. I saw parents desperately worried about the safety of their children. I saw people working to promote peace by shaking hands. I saw groups congregate bravely and open-heartedly ask for compassion and understanding of their experience.
Yes, there may have been hot-headed people rioting out of frustration. Those people may not have been able to express their emotions in a healthy, constructive way. Yet there were countless people seeking understanding in a peaceful way. Let us not ignore that message: We are all souls in human form. Each of us wants the liberty that is only available through compassion and equality. We all want a fair chance to be understood and make our own unique path in this life. This is a birthright for all human beings regardless of age, gender, race, or religion.
Let these images remind us that we are all capable of compassion, understanding, and creating solutions when we ditch our fear and blame. Let us work together, bravely, and create a real solution.
Many thanks to the artists, writers, and photographers that captured and shared these moments of truth. Your vision and bravery are appreciated.