I receive emails regularly from The Tricycle Community, an organization that focuses on Buddhist wisdom, and I was struck by their offering this week entitled “A Zen Teaching for Troubled Times.” Here it how it begins:
The 9th-century Zen master Linji Yixuan said, “There is a true person of no rank who is always coming and going from the portals of your face.”
I know; it takes thinking about.
What might it be like if we were able to extract the essence of ourselves from all that we have conjured to create the facades we present to the world, and could see and hear one another as true persons of no rank, in the knowledge that we live and share this planet only by divine grace, not of our own doing? Unimaginable, but I’d love to live there.
I had actively employed these two words during the preceding “stay at home” months to try to think about things other than derailed plans, and force myself off the sofa with exercise classes. When another on-line photo class popped up with class segments entitled Focus and Movement, led by well known and very creative nature photographer Eddie Soloway, (eddiesoloway.com), how could I not sign on?
My past photography experience has primarily been the luck of being in a beautiful place where the “point and shoot” approach can’t miss. Focus and movement work is entirely different, and much more challenging for me. How does one direct focus to something in a photo while minimizing other distractions in the frame? How does one stop motion, or show motion intentionally that doesn’t just look like a blurry mistake? How does one “make” movement if none exists in the subject? I really knew very little about “creating photos” rather than “taking pictures”, and I liked playing with the camera a lot. I was certainly helped during the “stop motion” exercises by a family of ducks who arrived to live in our pool for a few days just as I needed them.
The final assignment for the on-line photography course Homescapes: A New Paradigm, offered through Santa Fe Workshops, was to photograph our “sense of self” at home. We had already completed an earlier assignment to take portraits of people or animals living with us, and I had not enjoyed that task. This assignment did not make me happy either. I rarely photograph people when traveling and never take selfies. So I worked to define who I think I am at the moment and photograph those ideas. These were my conclusions: (1) I am a housekeeper, (2) I am hiding from society, (3) I am living in a disembodied state from any earlier life; yet despite current conditions I am (4) blessed beyond reason, and (5) able to do whatever I feel like doing, enjoying my hobby on line when I can’t travel. It was another useful exercise in clarifying life at home at present.
I also include a portrait of my home companion(s), who make life much more fun.
Each assignment in the Santa Fe Workshops on line photography class entitled “Homescapes: A New Paradigm” has become more provocative. This time, our fabulous instructor and founder of the Workshops, Reid Callanan, challenged us to photograph memories of our childhood evoked through elements of our current home, and to push our photographs into more figurative than literal space. It took me several days to think about and create these photos, which need some explanation to connect with my memories, but perhaps on their own they will challenge you to look at your surroundings and find elements that are bound to your childhood, maybe in ways you don’t often consider. I found it a very interesting exercise.
The second assignment for the class I’m currently taking on line with Santa Fe Workshops was to make five photographs depicting metaphors for home, a more challenging task than the first assignment about light. It could perhaps be a photo of a coffee cup and a book, or a pot of soup, or fresh bread from the oven; whatever serves as a representation of home as I see it. Inasmuch as anything to do with the kitchen has little to do with me, I had to think about the elements I needed to create a home from a house. I submitted the following photos, which I will not explain here (although we had to define our choices in class). A really good photo doesn’t need an additional explanation. Several others in the class managed to achieve that goal; I did not.
We’ve been in our house for nearly 6 weeks now, and I’m restless. So I jumped on an offering by Santa Fe Workshops to take a photo class with one of their outstanding instructors (the man who started it in the first place) via Zoom. There are 12 of us from across the country in this undertaking, twice a week for three weeks. And there is a lot of work to be done in between classes. I have been to these workshops before, either in Santa Fe where it is nearly impossible to take a bad photo, or traveling with them to some other photographic destination, and class camaraderie is built over a week of togetherness, which is part of the fun. This experience is different in several ways.
First, in isolation at home, photo subjects seem limited to me and I am not in the company of others who are stirring my creativity. Second, I rarely really look at my surroundings and household items during the course of daily life among them. Photo assignments are always an opportunity to try to see things from new perspectives, and this class, entitled Homescapes: A New Paradigm, is encouraging me to do just that.
The first assignment was about light, and how it plays inside and outside the house, over the course of the day, in color, and in black and white. It’s an interesting new view of ordinary life. I’ll post more as classes progress and you can try to look at your surroundings in a new way too.
Spring has arrived in my part of the world, a certainty re-appearing within these uncertain times. Among spring’s daily unfoldings, vibrant colors have returned to my garden, visible gifts for gratitude. I have found it reaffirming to welcome purple blossoms this Lent, the color representing both mourning and celebration in the church calendar. The mourning part is particularly meaningful at present.
As part of his sermon, the Rector at our church read the following poem, which I liked a great deal. When the time comes for celebration, I will wear purple.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
some of her other work can be found at www.lynnungar.com