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Little things

Starfish

I spent a week playing on an Koh YaoYai in Thailand.  This is a beautiful little island, not as well known as some of the others and so not crowded and not quite so touristy.  I was able to wander about, take trips on the long-tail boats to other islands and generally explore.  The scenery was magnificent, and I did take a couple of hundred photos of amazing islands leaping from the water, but in the end it is always the little things that fascinate me.

Half the joy of life is in little things taken on the run… but let us keep our hearts young and our eyes open that nothing worth our while shall escape us.

Victor Cherbuliez

I spent ages wandering along the beach looking at the tiny shells, the small crabs and enjoying how they fit so well into the environment.

Snorkelling gave me the chance to look beneath the surface – and now an underwater housing for the camera on is my wish list. Beneath the surface so much life occurs, and we are so unaware of it.  However, I also explored the mangrove forest from the sea and found this energetic mangrove snail, hiding from predators and looking for food. These are perennial pursuits for all of us – safety and nourishment.

Mangrove snail

A walk around one of the islands hit by the tsunami revealed this beautiful little fossil shell, uncovered by the waves after millenia of hiding.

Fossil shell

And what is an island without a beach?  Again though, the small waves caught my attention, the force land and sea exert on each other to create a changed state.  Small, but persistent and finally creating a new beach, new sand, new motion.

 

Looking for the little things that make up our world keeps me balanced.  Not everything has to be bigger than Ben Hur to be wonderful.

Lotus Light

Temples bring out the contemplative, even if we have no clear or strong beliefs.  The years of meditation, saturation with prayers, blessings, pleas all linger and create a place where we can slow down and look inwards.

Symbolic

Again it seems no matter what our beliefs, we relate to symbols very strongly.  In the business world, we look at logos; in the physical realm we see symbolism in mountains or oceans or rivers; in our homes, the symbols of peace or love can be many – from Nanna’s favourite piece of crystal sitting on a shelf to a special mug we use for a warm drink.  Religious symbols connect us to a spiritual world and create meanings within ourselves, not always dependent on how the priests or religious leaders interpret them.

Prayer wheels and flags

We have many ways of sending our thoughts into the universe.  Through formal church or temple rituals, through personal meditations, through feeling the beauty of what is around us in our hearts and minds.  No matter the form, for me it is the connection to something deep within myself that relates to the universe that is important.  This connection should create peace, within ourselves and maybe across our relationships with all others.

Fire prayers

What I have found fascinating though, is that all spiritual experiences seem to deepen when there is fire present.  Candles, campfires, incense, fireplaces… wherever there is flame it seems as if a part of us meditates.

The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.

Ferdinand Foch

Hidden sun

I’m experimenting with my camera, looking for a couple of things.  Firstly, to understand the camera and its capabilities better and secondly, to increase my own ways of viewing the world, looking at it with fresh eyes.  HDR – even the letters scared me! – but the plan I had for improving my photography had  a section on HDR, and even though I tried to skip passed it, I felt I had to have  one try.  So – this is my first HDR experiment – and not a really good choice for HDR – just the sun hidden behind branches.  Definitely not the world’s best HDR image, but when I made it, different ways of seeing appeared for me.  This now looks almost 3D and that was a surprise.  HDR isn’t as scary as I thought.  :)

Looking to the sun

As I was looking over the results of my different experiments, I realised a small theme of ‘in hiding’ was emerging.  The techniques and capabilities of the camera are in hiding until I deliberately go looking for them. I could just as easily set it on Auto and let the camera do all the work.  My creativity is in hiding until I start pushing it, by trying different things, looking at things in different ways.

Many of the subjects are in hiding – only glimpsed through leaves, or trees, or behind fog.  They also need to be found before they can become part of our conscious understanding.

When life is comfortable it is so easy to move through it without looking beyond the obvious.  Things are smack in our face, telling us clearly what they want us to see, do or think.  It’s easy to skip past the hidden pains and losses around us.  We also try to slide over the top of our own ‘hidden’ bits – the stories we don’t want told.  In not seeing, and choosing not to see, these things, how much are we losing?  Bypassing the chance to search for the hidden means we miss out on the hidden surprises and joy as well.

My photography will improve with more experimenting, and I hope my creativity will grow the more I see and understand of both myself and the world I live in.  Each of the steps I take along these paths of experiment and investigation brings me closer to seeing and understanding more of what is hidden in the world.

I have been working on a couple of projects, but am never sure when they are ended!  However, I’ve decided that for this particular project, I have at least enough to post here.

I have worked with so many young people who have come from tiny, rural and impoverished villages and are now successful university graduates or working in good jobs.  When I look at where they have come from, how they have had to move into new places and new lives and how amazing this transformation seems I am inspired.

The beginning of the path to...

Man improves himself as he follows his path; if he stands still, waiting to improve before he makes a decision, he’ll never move.

Paulo Coelho

“There are always two choices. Two paths to take. One is easy. And its only reward is that it’s easy.”

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Walt Disney

If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.

John D. Rockefeller

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.

Greg Anderson

We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.

Ben Sweetland

The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place.

Barbara DeAngelis

“The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created–created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.” 

So if we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well: Hoping for a peaceful death, we must cultivate peace in our mind, and in our way of life.

“Go for the moon. If you don’t get it, you’ll still be heading for a star.” Willis Reed

There are days that no matter how strong and independent we are, we need a little protection, a little TLC to help us get through.  We can pride ourselves on our capability, on being ‘the strong one’, but just some days it is so nice to have someone to stand in front of the bitter cold or the rough winds and protect us.

Winter wrapping

When we look at protection, for ourselves or others, what is it we really need?  Trees, in their natural habitat need nothing more than their DNA and situation to survive the driest, coldest, wettest or worst conditions.  Out of the natural habitat, it is a different matter.

Covered

Protection from the elements can allow us to survive and perhaps to grow.

White warmth.

But when we look at the protection offered, does it really protect?  Or does it just look as if it protecting? Is it really necessary? Or effective?

 “I’ll be the one to protect you from your enemies and all your demons

I’ll be the one to protect you from a will to survive and a voice of reason

I’ll be the one to protect you from your enemies and your choices, son

They’re one in the same, I must isolate you

Isolate and save you from yourself”  ― A Perfect Circle

Unreal

How much does this protection eventually warp us into something we are not, or were never meant to be?

“Nothing is true in self-discovery unless it is true in your own experience.

This is the only protection against the robot levels of the mind.”

Barry Long

The human touch

Hohenzollern castle

Castles, cathedrals and massive tomb relics. I’ve spent some time looking at these lately.  The treasures in them are beautiful and I can spend hours looking at the delicacy of the carvings, the beauty in the paintings and the lovely design of the brickwork.  The construction itself is amazing – my mind boggles at how many people worked, or literally slaved, to create these very beautiful edifices.

Strasbourg Cathedral

I have enjoyed the beauty and artisry of these buildings very much, but there has been something lacking in them for me.  When I wander through them, looking at the grand rooms, raising my eyes to the heightrs of the gloriously arched ceilings, I have felt awe, I have felt amazement.  But I haven’t felt a connection to the people; I haven’t felt any relationship to what occurred in those fantastic buildings.

It seemed to me that the cathedrals weren’t about any connection to God or a god, but rather were constructed to create awe, demonstrate power and create a touch of fear in those coming to the buildings.  The castles were, again, not about relationships or connection, but about power and control.  These buidlings seemed to me to suggest separation and division.

The fascinating tombs of Chinese emperors and their familes are similar in their lack of connection and relationship to the people in the country around them.  Size mattered, numbers of things sent to the afterlife to keep the rulers in comfort and power mattered, beauty of objects mattered.  Connections and relationships had no place.

Workers, builders, labourers, brickies, artists, sculptors – all of those who created these beautiful relics of the past were not important.  The tombs celebrated teh individual – but only the individual with power.  The castles celebrated the ruling families, but not those who built or worked in them.  The cathedrals were presumably designed to create a space for people to connect in a spiritual context.  But in none of these magnificant places did I see or feel a human touch that would bring people into connection with the rulers, or the gods.

However, in the Xi’an Museum I finally found a connection between that which was created to celebrate others, and the creators, the workers.

I was here

This handprint from the Tang Dynasty tells me that at least one worker saw himself as important enough to leave his mark.  One man was sure enough of his place – no matter whether he was a slave, prisoner, craftsman or indentured servant – to make a connection with what he was building and himself.  Nearly 1400 years later, I can see this person’s individual spirit, his human touch in the bricks that made up the tomb.

Did it detract from the beauty of the structure – probably not, it was probably hidden deep inside walls, layerd over with other bricks and maybe limewash and murals.  But his spirit is there, no lost in awe of the emperor, not disconnected from what he is doing.

How often do we remove the ‘human touch’ from our photographs in order to create a less connected beauty?  We smooth skin for models, clone out small pieces of rubbish floating in the water or lying on our otherwise pristine beach scene, disappear blemishes on our strong coloured walls or blur the crowd scenes to focus more directly on the market.  We look for perfect beauty in our images, without realising that we may be losing that tiny touch that is a shared connection, that speaks to others, that makes our images more human.

While still appreciating the soaring cathedral, I’ll be looking for more of the human, looking to make a connection.

 

 

Accepting the challenge

Luscious

Slugs in love

I’ve been in Germany for a month, exploring and having adventures.  This holiday was fantastic as family and friends took me to the out-of-the-way places only locals know, introduced me to inspiring people and really made it a unique and unforgettable holiday.  I came back with over 100G of images and am working my way SOOOOO slowly through them, deleting and keywording.  Not finished yet, but at least on the downhill run now.  The memories are revived by the images, and the feelings, laughter, awe and delight come back as I look at them.

One of the things that I have taken away from this journey has been not from the beauty and difference I have seen but from the people I met.  People living fascinating lives and living their lives not limited by the normal expectations of the world around them.  Working, researching, contributing well past ‘retirement’ age; working in environmental conservation and protection even though it is slow; people creating beauty for others; living their lives enjoying the world around them and happy to share it with others.  These people taught me that I also do not need to follow the conventions, that dreams and ideas have no ‘shelf life’.  Individual unique-ness rules – I loved it!

Challenge accepted!

These inspiring people have, without knowing it, challenged me to keep dreaming, keep pushing my own ‘socially-inculcated-not-necessarily-real’ limits.  I know that I can continue to live a full and dynamic life – I have seen it.  I saw that age, living place, lack of wealth or expectations of others are not barriers to creating change in the world.  Making a difference locally  and internationally is possible if the mind-set is right.  That achievement does not depend on wealth or power, it depends on interest, drive and persistence.

Individual and society

A wonderful journey, with new vistas, new knowledge and new inspirations.

The gentle prison

                                               I existed in a world that never is – the prison of the mind.   Gene Tierney

It seems to me that no matter how much we long for freedom we continue to create our own prisons.  They are such enticing and seductive prisons as well. Prisons such as the bonds of love and friendship, gaols of goals, cells of comforts.

I’m watching a friend struggle with the end of a relationship, clearly one in which she wasn’t valued and respected as an individual.  Her desire to make this relationship work, to finally gain love and warmth reflects my own struggles. A desperate need for belonging and love fetters our emotions and deprives us of autonomy.  Even within a good relationship, we lose some levels of freedom.  We choose to limit ourselves to the codes of conduct of those relationships.

I have been extraordinarily lucky to have been enriched by many friends.  But these people, people I love and care about, also confine me.  Their love and companionship warm and delight my soul at the same time as they prevent me from furthering my internal self-exploratory adventures. Our joint activities, our long afternoons and evenings of talking and laughing, limit my ability to meditate, create, write and dream.

My desires to expand and develop also create boundaries. If I am to reach goals I have set for myself, then I have to ignore competing pathways, reject competing interests.  How much do these self-imposed bars prevent me from growing?  These decisions are usually sensible, logical, well-reasoned – but they mean choosing and rejecting.  What if the path fails to take me to the planned destination?  What have I lost by creating these limits?

Work, even work we love, creates more cells for incarceration. I enjoy eating, travelling, drinking fine wine, reading and taking photographs.  All of these pursuits require money.  Work enables me to enjoy them, but confines my days, pushes my thinking in certain directions.  I have broken some work chains, but the necessity for at least some money equals the necessity for some level of imprisonment.

The locks we surround ourselves with can be beautiful. Family,friends and dreams are  vital, important and so wonderful.  But they are still limits that require us to waive some of our freedom.

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.   John F Kennedy
Conformity is what society requires of us – to conform allows us to fit in, to be accepted, to uphold the norms and mores.  We are aprt of it all, and not alone. Work requires conformity, to enhance and make production efficient. Love requires us to conform to make everything peaceful. Our goals require us to conform to the steps to reach them.  We want to conform to be accepted seen as valuable and worthwhile.

These bars and cells are our own choices.  The biggest difficulty we face in wanting to choose freedom is the idea of hurting others. The idea of being seen as selfish, egotistical, uncaring.

The question then becomes, how many bars are essential? Which bars on this warm and wonderful prison can I remove? How much freedom do I want?

I’ve just finished a really busy semester, with work, coaching, judging, social activities, writing, editing, studying, visitors, friends, family and many other commitments.  I love the feeling of being important in people’s lives, just as I want them to know how important they are in my life. I enjoy being involved in making even a small differnce around me.

But this level of commitment also creates a serious lack of alone time, a curtailing of freedom, and a realisation I lose myself in the process.

Creating the freedom I look for means saying no.  It means limiting the connections and commitments.  Saying no to friends and colleagues is not easy.  It makes me feel ungrateful for teh richness of my life.

And the gain in freedom means the loss in relationships. Real freedom, total freedom, no ties, no commitments also means no love, no belonging.  This is a fearful prospect. One few humans are destined to survive.

How much freedom is important?  This is a question that can only be answered individually, and must be answered almost every day. Each choice we make limits our freedom in one way or another.  Each relationship, each commitment creates another link in our chains.  I love those links.


Looking for difference

You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. Paulo Coelho

Blue leaves?  What why, who, how?  I have no answers to these questions, but being different, they definitely pulled my eye.

Individually and as a society we grow when we embrace the differences.  No progress is made unless we think differently, act differently.  No inventions, no new ideas, no philosophies are created without difference.  And yet we are so afraid of it.

Our social structure requires conformity, our families ask us to fit in, our workplaces promote conformist slogans that tell us to focus our attention in one direction.  There is no reward for difference, but it is the foundation of our civilisation.

How do we manage this tension? How do we live different lives without being seen as rebels, pariahs, weird, eccentric, odd, selfish, egotistical, unrealistic, dreamers, and all of the other epithets that are flung at those who do not walk the same path? To walk this path requires strength and determination. It requires an ability to believe that even if we do not conform to the expected, to the norms society and our family and friends place around us, we are still of value.

Believing we are valuable seems to me to be the hardest challenge for those who step away from the common path.  We can convince ourselves of our internal value “I am a good person” etc.  But when we are faced with the strange looks, the pain of family and friends who do not understand our choices, the laughter of workmates when we propose new ideas, the subtle distancing of others – how do we convince ourselves that we are still of value and offering value?

Walking the expected path feels safe, conforming to norms makes it easy for us to live within our group. There is danger and doubt in difference.

The only validation I can give myself is that if I conform, if I step away from my own choices and live the life others believe is good and proper, then I lose myself.  I am no longer me, and therefore no longer valuable to myself or society.  I become fodder for whatever ideology is around me, a cog in an economic machine, and an acquiesent supporter of conformity and fear.

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.   Friedrich Nietzsche

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m experimenting with my camera to encourage me to look at things differently.  Each week I am setting myself a ‘task’ – use only the 28mm lens, take movement photos, only take images of 2- and 3-wheel transport etc.  These experiements teach me more about my camera and lens, teach me about techniques and thinking about what I want each image to be, rather than taking photos of everything that takes my eye.

Have I missed having my ‘walkabout’ 18-270mm with me at times?  Too right.  Do I want to take a different view sometimes?  Yes I do.  But for now the learning is outweighing the missed opportunities.

I’m not only experimenting with my camera and my vision here, I am also experimenting with life.  So many opportunities are outside my windows.  So many paths available for walking.  Right now, I have chosen a path, and set a particular aim.  Once that aim is completed, then the path can veer in any direction and I will experiment with a new world, new ideas, new beginnings.  My current path was a huge veer from the ‘safe’ path of gov’t official, safe job, busy social life, close to family and friends. I learned many many things on that path,  had wonderful experiences but also found areas within myself that were not fulfilled.  The need to experiment grew stronger and stronger until it was an imperative.  So I took the plunge – safely at first, leaving the way open to return to my previous life.  But the more I travelled down the experimental path, the less the previous life fit me.  I finally left it behind althogether, and closed one of the ‘safety’ doors.  Other ‘safety’ doors remain open – family and friends will always be my lifelines, my beacons if and when the new paths become too dark.

What did this experiment teach me? Adaptability, confidence, self-reliance, independence and more about myself.  What will the next path teach me?  I have no idea – but whatever it is, it will be valuable and I will be glad that I experimented with life once more.