What if you walked around your world and looked for red? Would you see it? Now look for blue, do you see it? Then Yellow? Would you be surprised how many times you walk by things in your life never noticing what color is there? What if you were receptive? What if you saw the world, moment to moment. What if you saw what was there instead of a story the mind is running about what is there or not there?
I’ve spent two whole Sundays, walking around with a camera in hand, doing just that. I’m taking a series of three classes on Miksang in Photography. Miksang is a Tibetan word that means ‘good eye’ or ‘purified eye’. In essence, it seems to me to be a way of relating directly to my world and capturing the feeling something gave me in an image I can share. It is a Dharma art practise.
After our instructor Charles Blackhall explained the concept, and showed us some examples of his work shooting colour, we were sent off for a few hours with our assignment. The task was to employ the Miksang process and take pictures of colour in the world. Just colour. You were to walk around, and when a color caught your eye you stopped, closed your eyes, looked again and asked yourself the question-‘ what did you see that spoke to you?’ Take that shot.
So off I set into the neighborhood on a beautiful fall day.What I was supposed to do was: see the color that spoke to me; I’d stop, breath, and spend a few seconds experiencing what I was seeing. Then do a point and shoot. No bells or whistles of equipment was allowed. You can’t manipulate reality so don’t try to fool yourself or the viewer. Trust what you saw. You shoot what the naked eye sees.
What a slice of life this was. First of all, I kept just jumping in and feeling like “I have to get a shot”. Undeniably life can feel very much like it is about getting from point A to point B. Set the goal, achieve the goal. But that isn’t what I was to do. I had to stop, wait, and shoot. And if I didn’t get the shot, then walk away. No second tries. My frustration with this was a reminder of how I approach most tasks and how far this was from my daily world. At least with digital photography I had lots of times to try it. The assignment was to shoot color and I needed only 10 good shots to show the class. (Okay, no one said ‘good’. Just 10 shots, but my mind sure did hear the judgment word ‘good’.)
So, I’m roving the streets and being aware of color. When a color caught my eye I wanted to get that shot. But to do that, I’d have to be aware of what struck me, and to do that, I would have to stop and take a moment. How many times did I see something and my mind would jump in, like an overzealous tour guide and say “All right now, here is the color we have been looking for, point and shoot and let’s get on to the next one, we’re due at the next color in 10 minutes!” Once my tour guide sounded the alarm, then my inner critic would jump in and judge what my eye saw through the viewfinder.
‘Point and shoot without me? Don’t be ridiculous! Let me help.’ It pleaded.
My inner critic would then declare the color I chose to be pleasing or not pleasing, well composed or boring. Often declaring that it could be better if I changed the shutter speed/aperture or zoom, which is not allowed in Miksang. No tricks, just shoot what you see. The moment my inner critic leapt in and ‘composed’ the image to suit what it ‘thought’ the world would like, then my moment of real connection was already gone. The flash that I’d had was lost. The unique calling I felt to that image was severed by my trying to control and repackage it out in a way my mind thought was most effective/safe/artistic/accepteble etc. Every time that inner critic showed up, I felt it. I absolutely felt the loss of what I can only call the flow of my experience. My inner feeling about what I’d seen.
And so, after the frustration of the tour guide and inner critic getting their two cents worth in on the colour assignment, I was determined this week when we were shooting texture to follow these Miksang rules more carefullyWhen you see it:
- Look at it
- Close your eyes for 5 seconds and look at it with a ‘fresh’ eye, what did you see that caught you
- Point and shoot just that
I was down by the beach and I saw some driftwood. I saw the ragged edge of the tree stump. Texture! But rather than rush over with my smart mind and find the light and set up the macro shot, I just knelt down closer and closed my eyes. I counted to 5 and I looked at it again. I shot it. This is exactly what I saw in that moment.
The next thing that caught my eye, seaweed that the tide leaves behind. The texture of this one caught my eye. The wet, the translucent. I stopped. It’s so hard to stop! How my mind wanted to run that shot. Every stock meditational shot of rocks on the beach that I’ve seen at every spa I’ve ever been at is yelling at the door of my mind saying “Let me take this picture!”
But I ignored all that. I closed my eyes. I breathed. I counted to 5, and I looked again with my fresh eye and realized what I had felt when I saw it. With the most simple, clean thought process, I leaned over and only put in the shot what I had seen and ‘click’. Took the shot.
Is this better photography then if I had used my limited amateur photography skills to shoot yesterday? I don’t know. But I do know that when we shared our work in class, I believed I felt the pictures rather than admired them.
It was so obvious to me at the end of yesterday’s class that Miksang isn’t about photography at all. It’s about stopping and seeing life with a fresh eye. Not the eye of experience, that has seen it all, that writes the story of what happens next. Not the eye of assumption and of a jaundiced view of the world. An eye that sees, directly, what is there. Taking the picture was just and excuse to stop, breath, reset my inner dialogue, and just be with what was in my frame. The sweetness of what was in each of those moments. A balm.
Imagine if I practiced this in life. If in my day, before I picked up the phone, or answered that question or opened my mouth to sing, I stopped. Closed my eyes. Breathed. Then began again. What if I took a moment of stillness, and then, after that gap, with heart and mind connected, I entered the world again?
This week I’m shooting patterns, but I’m also stopping more often to see, whether or not I have a camera. I want to see what is really in my life.
See more of my colour and texture shots here on Flickr