Archive for January, 2011


The ideal space

I think that the ideal space must contain elements of magic, serenity, sorcery and mystery.
Luis Barragan

Queensland is pretty well inundated. Huge areas of land are underwater and it is still raining.  It’s raining so heavily that the mountains surrounding my sister’s place have disappeared and even the neighbours only a couple of hundred metres away are misty. The roads are cut and I am stranded here for another couple of days at least, until the rain stops and the floods recede.

However, it is a very comfortable stranding for me.  I have no real responsibilities – no crops to be destroyed, no work I can’t reach.  We’ve stocked up with food from the local supermarket, and have books, movies, cards and each other to keep ourselves occupied.  I have no young children here to keep entertained and from climbing the walls.  My sister and brother-in-law work from their computers, so I have long periods of uninterrupted ‘alone’ time.  So, for a flood experience, it is the ideal space.

This enforced period of stability is lovely. I can work on some projects, read, drift off to sleep, chat and relax after a long semester and a, so far, very busy holiday.  Virginia Woolf called for a room of one’s own, but for me, with plenty of rooms of my own, it is time for myself.  Time to contemplate, time to read, time to be alone. Uninterrupted time to be at peace.

The nuns at Chenrezig have their time for meditation and the meditation room is filled with the sense of peace.  I am not a strong religious observer of any particular brand of religion, but I have found that when I am in a religious space, no matter mosque, temple, monastery, church, synagogue etc, there is a pervading sense of peace.  The peace creates the ideal space to be serene and relaxed, allowing a sense of well-being to reach inside.

This ideal space has given me the chance to let everything else go, to just be.  And after a period of time, the serenity and the emptiness of letting go gradually becomes a space to find the magic – new ideas and new creativity.  I start to feel a new energy and clearer, stronger resolutions for my goals. Without this peace, I feel as if I bounce from activity to activity, idea to idea, person to person.  I achieve all of the things I am supposed to – work, deadlines for articles, social activities etc.  But nothing new and creative can fight through the busyness, can be heard above the daily hubbub.

The beauty surrounding me create a balm for city-tired eyes and ears.  The low hills, extensive gardens, trees close by, birds and native frogs calling and even the constant rain change my world view. Pollution and poverty are far away, politics and power struggles recede into the distance.  The sorcery of nature takes over and clears my eyes and I can look for the small beauties. The natural sorcerer transmutes my daily concerns into internal and external discoveries in this ideal space.

And the mystery of the ideal space – where and how to find it on demand!  The choices necessary to go to the space are difficult.  They mean saying ‘no’ to people I hope I can help create a new life; saying ‘I need to be alone, I don’t want to come” to my family and friends and most of all they mean saying ‘Relaxation is not watching a TV series or reading a crime novel while eating nibblies and having  a glass of good red. Real relaxation is meditation and allowing nothingness to occur’ to myself.

This ideal space – time to be quiet – is so rare, and finding a way to increase it is one of my biggest challenges. I can’t rely on being stranded in lovely surroundings all the time!

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Ambition is so powerful a passion in the human breast, that however high we reach we are never satisfied.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

It’s raining and causing flooding over huge parts of Queensland.  More rain is predicted for the next couple of weeks, more flooding will happen.  This is being called the biggest natural disaster  for the last x years and likely to cost $5 billion in clean up, lost revenue, damages etc.  Clearly we have had enough rain – for now.  But Australia is an arid country that floods. A fact of life.  In 6 months we will be complaining of how dry it is, and worrying about the loss of crops and how little water there is for the cattle.

We swing between too much and not enough.  Floods and droughts are extreme examples of this seesaw of life.

In my own life I am always looking for the next thing that will make things easier, better, more interesting etc.  Today I was on-line looking for camera bags.  I already have several; some too small for my current camera, another too big to take on long hikes, but necessary to take when I travel to hold all my gear.  I am looking for a bag that carries my camera, flash, maybe another lens and looks like a handbag, I am also looking for a bag that allows me to climb mountains, stay balanced so I don’t fall, hands free of camera and stuff, and yet can easily grab the camera while holding on to the rocks or branches.

I have to ask how often I will use these bags, what real necessity there is for them?  How many camera bags are enough?  How many lens are enough?  Ultimately, how many images are enough?  When will I say, I have enough, I have seen enough, I am enough?  Or will I always be looking for the next piece of equipment, the next country, the next image, the next version of me?

On the other end of this spectrum, yesterday I went to the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Nuns community. Set on a ridge, surrounded by natural bushland, this community runs classes, retreats and provides a home for those wanting to live a life of simplicity and meditation.  Giving up the desires of the world for the expansion of the soul.  Is it another ‘what is enough?” process?  Material ‘stuff’ is gone, but will there ever be ‘enough’ connection with the universe or the Bodhisattva?

The search for ‘enough’ goes on.

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

C. S. Lewis

These eggs were still warm from the hen when I took the image. Their soft blue colour shells held the warmth and when I held them in my had, warmed me as well.

Their fragility made me walk carefully, taking care not to slip in the waterlogged grass, fearful of dropping them.  Yet the hen can sit on them for around 4 weeks without breaking them, letting the chicks grow until they reach the right level of maturity and need to peck their way out.

External forces can damage them, but the internal pressures don’t cause the shell to crack until the need for protection is finished. This process seems to me to be reflected in my life.  The only time there is a real problem is an unwillingness to take the next step to growth and leave this warm, slightly snug shell behind.

This image is from the “Ordinary Joys” series, and there is nothing much more ordinary than an egg.  Breakfast eggs, egg sandwiches for lunch, eggs in cakes and biscuits, souffle for dinner… such an ordinary thing.  And yet, holding it, warm and textured, takes me to many places.  Birth, genesis, change, growth and on and on.

The ordinary

I am in Australia visiting family and friends, and it is summer. In China it is winter, with my favourite seasonal happening – SNOW!  So many people brought up in places where snow is common place, and in fact more of a pain than a joy, laugh at me for my delight in this magic stuff.  For them it is so ordinary and sometimes frustrating, and dangerous.  For me, it is magic.

This delight in the ‘ordinary’ is important.  The ‘ordinary’ of a lovely sunset after days of rain; the messy smile of a baby learning to eat solids; a breeze through the trees in the back yard, a crisp sweet apple; a friend’s smile; a comfortable bed after a long day; a cool drink on a hot day.  These things create our lives and missing the joy in them because we are looking for greater joys – a large financial win, a fantastic job, overwhelming romance – means that we lose the joy that appreciating the ordinary can bring us.

For now I am planning a series of ‘the ordinary’ to see if I can capture the happiness, satisfaction and joy in these small events of life.  There is no difficulty in finding these small things to photograph, but I think the difficulty will be in making the image reflect the happiness it creates.

 

The edges of things

We’re always attracted to the edges of what we are, out by the edges where it’s a little raw and nervy.
E. L. Doctorow

My home country is an island, a pretty big one, but still edged by sea (or as we say – girt by sea 🙂 ). Oceans fascinate me and make me feel sane.  But I have come to realise it is not just the ocean, it is the meeting of the ocean and the land.  The edges of both.  Rocks, cliffs, sand beaches, mangroves, all the places where change happens.  This clash of one against the other, or melting from one to the other creates so many images and so many thoughts.

Where I live is edged by mountains with rocky outcrops, steep drops and twisting, climbing roads and walking trails leading to waterfalls, or cliff edges with views across forever.

The edges of the days, sunset and sunrise, bring beauty and change, mystery and light.

And then there are the edges of towns and farmland, with women still working in the fields while new buildings are constructed on old farms. Nature and architecture edge against each other, creating tensions and juxtapositions that in turn create images.

Looking for the edges, where change inspires, saddens, transforms and challenges is important. It is in these places I can find new ways of looking at old ideas, old views, and hopefully create new images.