More on Seeing Creatively

More on Seeing Creatively is a roadmap that gives directions as to how one can access creativity, using photography as a medium of self expression. A roadmap is not a guarantee for success but it provides guidance along the way.

Many photographers try to cash in by claiming they can unlock your creativity. They promote meditation techniques in conjunction with photography – often in the name of Zen Buddhism. These techniques come from an intellectual, calculating, analytical mind – a mind with a purpose. Their goal is to satisfy ambitions and fulfill a particular expectations. It is an approach that emphasizes outcome and technique, relying heavily on our conceptual capacities. We may call it shooting from the head.

The Contemplative Approach

When we contemplate, we shoot, so to speak, from the heart by shifting our viewpoint inwards. We forget about titles, techniques, outcomes and purpose.  In doing so we sacrifice our personal agenda. Instead, we get involved in the process of seeing. How can we, however, prepare ourselves to discover this different way of seeing? How is it possible to switch to a different perspective?

Most important is to shift the emphasis from what we think we see to what actually is. This transition is crucial. It takes discipline, honesty, patience, and courage. Being told or telling ourselves to let go of thinking or to empty our mind or to force ourselves to be present is not going to work. Even if we could empty our mind it would be a useless mind. Neither would it work to tell oneself the opposite, like don’t think, don’t judge, don’t imagine etc. To change our thinking habits requires a more subtle strategy.

Daido Loori suggests  interesting and useful practice exercises. One of them is seeing without labeling. It helps to center, to calm the mind and free it from ingrained mental routines. With time we get better at it but it is a practice that has no end. In this way, we can gradually develop a different attitude towards photography and towards seeing. It is an attitude that is directed towards openness, spontaneity, and receptivity. If it succeeds it allows creativity to slip through our conceptual filters.

When I decide to go out with my camera I have to feel a genuine desire to do so. It is natural to have desires. They are a problem only when we insist of satisfying them in a special way. Then they run our life and imprison us. And here is the dilemma: On one hand desire is essential. Without it, there is no motivation to pursue anything. On the other hand, the more we desire a particular result the more it seems to escape us. The more we identify with an expected outcome the more we feel controlled by it. As a consequence we loose our spontaneity and get self-conscious. Athletes are very aware of this dynamic. To give their best they have to forget about the medal they are craving for in order to win that medal.

How can we let go of these attachments to our wishes and fantasies that prevent us from being present? It requires a mind that is attentive and alert. By spotting these distractions we can allow them to be. We don’t repress and don’t refuse them! We acknowledge but do not feed them. Like uninvited dinner guests we don’t provide them with food. Without food, they will fade away and disappear.

What is important in all this is one’s willingness and discipline to return simply to just seeing whenever we are aware of any distractions. Seeing without labeling, without judging or identifying, without expecting something in return. This is difficult! When we try it, we feel a great deal of resistance and want to abandon the process. The frustration to continue with our practice mounts because there are no longer any labels to hold on to. All certainty and predictability have gone. It means sacrificing the protective armor we have built around us and allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable and exposed.

Eventually, when we succeed in giving full attention to what we see, we have forgotten our ‘self’ and relate totally or directly – without interference by our reflecting mind. Then, allowance is made for something new to emerge. It facilitates the occurrence of flashes of perception, of selfless moments.

What remains when we forget our ‘self’ and get fully engaged in seeing ? Everything is included. Nothing is left out. For a moment we see directly and every moment is a new creation – a gift.

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