Discernment, the Effort of No Effort – Part 3.

Part 3 says discernment is about ‘the effort of no effort’. Another way of saying the same is ‘nothing needs to be done’ or Wu Wei, the Chinese concept of ‘non-doing’. These cryptic expressions are often used in Zen. Let me try to unpack them by applying them to photography.

Obviously, it does not mean we don’t have to do anything, nor is it possible to attain calmness of mind without any effort.

What kind of effort is required?

Habitually, we live our life in a world of concepts and are not present to the present moment. We operate on the assumption that there is always something that needs to be done, something we have not done yet. It seems impossible for us to do just nothing. When we take pictures, we struggle to concentrate on being present or we struggle letting go of expectations, outcomes and techniques. Whatever we are struggling with, we affirm there is always something to struggle for, that there is always something that requires a response – either in thought or in action. They all reaffirm our sense of self.

The effort that is required in contemplative photography is not the struggle to grasp, gain or achieve something. That is not at issue. The struggle is in seeing that no struggle is necessary because we are inherently creative. In order to activate one’s creative intelligence, one should go from achievement to non-achievement. But to go in this direction requires all of one’s energy. This is an entirely different kind of effort. It is not the effort of ambition, of getting results, of reaping rewards or of getting rid of something. The effort we have to make is to forget ourselves in all our struggles to get something done.

The effort of no effort

With the sense of self out of the way, one is able to function from within a place of stillness and all effort disappears. Daido Loori refers to it as ‘working samadhi’. For example, if you are going to write, you let come into the mind whatever enters. It may or may not be ordinary. This, however, is of no concern. What is important is ‘to be one with’, to be fully committed to what you are doing. Then the writing writes itself, the painting paints itself – effortlessly. If you focus on the results you become self conscious and freeze up. The same is true for photography or any other medium of expression.

Speaking about photography, it is always an extraordinary experience when contemplation, to see directly, steps in unexpectedly. It is special because it is always surprisingly new, fresh and free of tension and it feels the picture has not been taken by myself. Yes, my intention was to go out and photograph – but without a particular focus, without a subject in mind, without expecting anything in particular. The outcome depends on the connection that gets established while one is present to the present moment. When a contact clicks into place, the process of taking the image unrolls by itself. It’s a bit like going out on a blind date. So, perhaps it is not surprising that I feel the picture is not mine because it was not the ‘I’ or ‘me’ who created it.

The picture happens by itself while the selfless moment lasts. There is nothing esoteric about this process but it is a profound experience – surprising and always new.

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