Fulfillment and photography are the culmination of a creative process. Our desire for creativity is perhaps the strongest transcendent desire. When we feel fulfilled we feel free and no longer identify ourselves as ‘something’ or ‘somebody’.
For children, it is natural to be one with creativity because they have not yet been conditioned. They have the fresh eyes of beginners, love to play, explore, discover and learn. It is easy for them to suspend disbelief and improvise.
Along the way of growing up, we get separated from creativity. It dries up. Why? What is more important in traditional educational institutions and at work is not creativity but to have the right answer or do the right thing to achieve specific goals and be successful.
In later years, when we try to reconnect again with creativity and fail, we give up. We find it very frustrating and confusing because we no longer know where the true North is. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why creativity has become such a commodity. We know it is there for all but at the same time, it has become very elusive. In photography, there are countless books written about it. Countless workshops promise to unlock the creative self or genius in us.
For me, fulfillment is not the achievement of a particular goal or meeting a requirement. It is the culmination of a creative process that is always available but difficult to access. When it happens it is a moment of perfection that makes one feel real, alive and complete. We all have experienced moments like that – moments of oneness. They vary in intensity and duration. Falling in love, responding to a joke with a sudden burst of laughter or the sudden resolution to a difficult conflict are all examples we are familiar with. Whenever we are challenged our creative intelligence comes into play and surprises us with fresh solutions that come suddenly and unexpectedly. There are many famous and dramatic examples in the field of scientific discoveries that illustrate a similar process.
Contemplation and Creativity
The contemplative approach to photography facilitates access to the creative process by eroding our sense of self that dictates how or how not to take pictures. We intend to get away from seeing conceptually. The aim is to allow a seeing that is immediate, unrestricted, free of experience, free of judgment, free of any conscious effort. Allowing to see what ‘is’ may sound easy and simple but it is difficult and takes a great deal of practice.
The practice I am talking about is zazen , the bedrock of zen meditation.
Some guidelines for practice
Simply put one has to get one’s self out of the way which requires a change in attitude and habit. To embark on this process of change there needs to be a deep sense of dissatisfaction with one’s present photography. This will drive the process.
It means letting go of the habits of the expert or amateur. One no longer follows a particular agenda. One no longer accepts to engage in visualizing anything. Expectations close the mind and leave no space for discovery. Technique is, of course, important but not the focus of our attention. One gives one’s undivided attention to ‘seeing’ and pays full attention to what is in front of oneself. It means not to see just with one’s eyes but with body and mind. Any thoughts, ideas, feelings that come up are acknowledged but not pursued, analyzed or judged.
If one persists with this attitude, sooner or later, one will land in the present moment. Then creativity can flow freely. At that moment the mind is clear like a mirror. It reflects only what is in front of it – with the self out of the way. Some call this the ” flash of perception “. In The Zen of Creativity , Daido Loori refers to this sudden, intimate connection as “resonance”. My Zen teacher used the expression “to be one with”. He means being one with the whole situation. At that moment of openness there is no sense of “I am this” or “I am that”. One no longer is one thing among many things. When the perception is at its peak one releases the shutter and keeps taking pictures as long as the intimate connection lasts.
Of course this process comes with ups and downs. There are periods when nothing seems to happen and one may feel discouraged. Allow it to happen. By welcoming one’s failures and shortcomings, including boredom, it is possible to dismantle these barriers to ‘seeing’. They become grist to the mill. As long as one has faith in the process one always can start from the beginning and be again vulnerable to creativity.