we lost a friend this week, Wendy Chioji, who died after a long battle with cancer. She modeled how to approach the end with humor, courage and grace. This was written on the morning I heard of her passing. For Wendy….
For the last couple of years, I’ve written here on Oldbones and posted photos on a couple of other sites. These all began as a bit of a dare, a challenge to myself to show more and to protect less. And while the response from those who’ve generously taken the time to read, view and comment has been encouraging, maybe the most frequent question I get is “why don’t you promote yourself more, get your stuff out there…”
Why indeed. Why not inflate the social media balloon, get the “like” machine going, chase a “following?” Well, maybe it’s because my stuff isn’t as good as the work from others with 10,000 followers. Not really mine to say.
But more to the point, maybe that’s not why I make images and write.
The other day I had a conversation about this with a friend of mine, Buddhist teacher and author Ken McLeod (unfetteredmind.org) Ken has written a lot on his unfettered mind blog and elsewhere about the pervasiveness of the exchange mentality of our culture. This is the mindset where you don’t do anything without an expectation of somehow getting paid. In running a business or working by the hour, this makes all the sense in the world. Time, after all, is money (isn’t it?) The problem arises, however, when we extend that need for payback outside the marketplace.
This comes up often around meditation and practice, where the most common question I get is “what do you get out of it?” There was a time when I might have had a pretty crisp answer to that – “I’m so much calmer/saner/centered…” But the longer I practice, the less I have to say about it. I know that my practice gave me my heart back, a heart that I’d somehow misplaced in that same marketplace I refer to above. Not really a payment, but pretty rich nonetheless. How that happened exactly and where it goes from here, well I’m less clear about that. Nor, frankly, do I care anymore.
I shared with Ken that when I even think about “promoting” my images, my chest gets tight. While I love it when someone really connects with one of my images, I couldn’t care less about selling them (and I say this with all respect for the professional photographers who look to feed their families by it, that’s a different situation.) But over and over again, this is the encouragement I get.
Ken cut to the heart of the matter- “that’s not why you take pictures – you do it to find a deeper connection.” And as I’ve considered it, I see that he’s right — connection to this heart, to this world, and through sharing the images, to others, in the hope that they can touch the same or a similar experience. To touch beauty. A cliche to be sure, but then when did connecting with beauty become trivial?
My friend Sally referred the other day to my “vision.” Yikes- do I even have one? Yeah, on reflection I think I do, both with respect to my photographs and my poetry. It is, as Ken says, about exploring a deeper connection. It’s not about selling or followers or likes.
In the next couple of days, I plan to relaunch my photo site. My aspiration is that you might find a measure of beauty there. The invitation will be to linger a bit and see, sort of an anti-instagram.
Last Sunday evening, I drove straight from staffing a weekend meditation retreat in Salt Lake City (Shambhala Training Level 2 – Birth of a Warrior) up to the top of Guardsman’s Pass above Park City. With camera and tripod in the back seat, my plan was to grab some pictures of the famous “blood moon” eclipse that was to happen that night. Rich with visions of the solitude of the mountain ridge beneath a disappearing moon, I was more than a bit surprised by the mob scene that greeted me at the top. Cars and people were EVERYWHERE, hundreds of folks brought out by the relentless press coverage of this “once in a lifetime” celestial event. Oh well, the sky was still the sky, so I beached my car (which later yielded a modest parking ticket…) and headed up the hill in the dark.
Below us, the entire Salt Lake valley was shrouded in clouds, but up here, all was clear, except for one thin band of clouds that seemed designed to obscure the rapidly eclipsing moon. Bright as this overly large moon was, it was completely hidden. Looking at the rest of the sky, one could tell that the cloud would eventually move on and that the rising moon would eventually emerge, but the crowd around me wasn’t in a waiting mood.
The local press had publicized the exact time of the total eclipse, and dang it, this moon was late! Cars began to pull out and families to leave. As the clouds began to part, there was still more disappointment – “I thought it would be bigger” I heard. “It’s not very red, is it?” said a teenage girl standing with her friends. Slowly, the hill began to empty, the air growing colder as it neared 9 pm.
In the Shambhala teachings, we talk a lot about hope and fear. In the Sacred Path teachings on the qualities of an enlightened being, it is said that the Garuda, symbol of outrageousness, of freedom and authentic response to the world, can only be captured by driving it into the valley of hope and fear. These narrow valley walls, each the inverse of the other, are how we struggle to constrain the future into the specific outcomes that we desire.
Through hope and fear, we’re basically saying I’ll be fine if THIS happens, but not if ANYTHING ELSE happens (hope, as used here, doesn’t mean optimism, but rather a kind of greed for a specific outcome.) Over time, I’ve become acutely aware of how this mechanism of hope and fear, of expectations, is clanking along almost constantly in my subconscious mind and coloring my experience of the world.
Like a mental map of acceptable possible futures, my mind is always scanning this imagined future and comparing it to whatever is actually arising. Like so much dharma, I think this is probably an evolutionary adaptation that serves us well sometimes, but often gets in our way in a modern world. Specifically, it gets in our way by triggering a sense of poverty, or disappointment, when the real world fails to comply with our often-unstated preconditions of hope and fear.
Just becoming aware of this machine can be huge- the other day I had a real sense of disappointment about something that happened, but I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. Only when I stopped and asked myself what it was that I thought I expected could I see how I’d created a narrow valley of hope and fear and then tried to push the rich world of experience into it. Didn’t fit.
Back on the hill, the night was growing cold and the moon, doing what it would, was now in full eclipse. The hillside was nearly empty with only a few of us still there to witness the moon’s eclipse and its gradual emergence from the shadows. My earlier thoughts of solitude on a mountain ridge beneath a vanishing moon were coming to pass. Camera shutters clicked. The wind began to blow and the moon to brighten. It was big, and very red, and very much worth the small parking ticket.