How we present ourselves to others

Many years before I was introduced to the Ancient Maya, a little book by Erving Goffman entitled, The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life,” set me on the path of becoming an armchair anthropologist. Actually, it may have been his insights that sparked my later interest in the Maya, in part because their kings and artisans developed an astonishing and unique capacity for expressing their worldview and myths through costuming, gestures, dance and poetic speech.

One of the principle tenants in the anthropology of visual communication is that “everyone notices everything.” Paying attention, especially to people, has always had survival value. We notice what people wear and don’t wear, how they walk and talk, adorn themselves, tend to their fingernails and hold their forks. Body language helps us trust or not trust what people say. Kenetics, formalized as the study of motion, helps us maintain social versus personal space, even make judgments about how people move.

Dr. Goffman’s thesis is that we’re actors in everyday life, performing on various “stages”—as parent, child, spouse, artist, professional, priest or politician. We dress the part and present ourselves on these stages in ways that we think or hope will gain us admittance, acceptance, an advantage or convey an impression. How we present ourselves is our unique expression. And it shapes other people’s perception of us.

My master’s thesis demonstrated that observers walking through homes of people they didn’t know—and who were absent—could make accurate judgments about their values based on a standardized test taken by both parties. In addition to family relationships, marital and economic status, lifestyle choices and interests, the evaluators picked up on personal matters—creative expression, ethnic and political orientation, worldview, philosophy of life and religion. The homeowner’s choices, their books, magazines, CD’s and DVD, even the size and placement of the television set(s) were revelatory.

We don’t just notice presentations, we make judgments based on them because they reflect choices—about clothing, shoes, makeup, hairstyle, tattoos, jewelry, cars, food, schools, sports teams, etc.—and these represent values. Aside from these material clues, what we say and how we say it is noticed and judged as well. Judgments made by reading our presentations may be accurate or wrong, but either way they largely determine how others choose to see and relate to us.

So, personal presentation matters greatly. It is a matter of life and death for the peacock—his ability to reproduce and maintain the species. So too for the  12-year-old who was shot for wielding a toy gun in front of a police officer. More commonly how we appear to others determines our acceptance, advancement and fulfillment—in every aspect of personal and social life. These terms may fall flat on this page, but the everyday realities of depression, suicide, murder, crime and domestic abuse attest to what can happen when individuals are not accepted, are blocked from realizing their potentials or chronically dissatisfied with life and living.

Particularly troublesome for parents are the presentations of film and television celebrities. In part, boys notice that aggression, violence, crude language and ignorance are considered “cool,” signs of strength, the best way to fit in and get what they want.

Girls notice that to get what they want—or “should” want—they have to be aggressive or slutty. Ideally both. My daughter, Jennifer, is a regular contributor to NBC on a variety of parenting issues. Around Halloween a few years ago, they interviewed her on the subject of over-sexualized costumes being marketed to young girls and teens. It’s a hot topic again this year because parents are  objecting to these costumes—and finding support.

As we observe each other, we also observe society and how people are—around the world. One of the complaints I have about popular culture is that it’s entirely manufactured, a created reality based on presentations designed to stimulate commerce and consumption. Nonetheless, I also see it as an appropriate and necessary phase, an evolutionary driver of sorts, that will bring about a shift toward more authentic and respectable presentations of self in everyday life. Sometimes we often need to learn what doesn’t work in order to discover what does. As always, I realize that change begins with me.

Choose your self-presentations carefully, for what starts out as a mask may become your face.   

Erving Goffman, Sociologist

Simplicity vs Complexity

In imagery and in life

My dad, a toolmaker for Ford Motor Company, used to say he could make anything out of metal. He also said, “The difficult I can do tomorrow; the simple takes a little longer.” It’s the same with photography—or any kind of art or design endeavor. Although there is an underlying order in nature, she appears to be complex on the surface. So attempts toward simplicity, whether in creative expression or lifestyle requires concerted effort.

In my Visual Communication classes we discussed the continuum of complex imagery at one end of the spectrum and simplicity on the other. It’s not just the number of visual elements within a frame that makes an image complex. It’s also the fact that the expanded relationship—element to element—provides a high level of potential for viewers to “read out” and “read into” the image.

The upside of complex imagery is that it carries a great deal of information. That’s the downside as well. With so much potential to read or interpret, there’s a tendency to treat complex images superficially, to give them a glance—long enough for recognition and  move on. This is how we consume magazines, movies and the electronic media.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but as a culture we in the western world tend to be information hungry and rapid consumers, like we have to get it all in as quickly as possible. Since childhood, we’ve been taught that more information is better. That’s certainly true when it comes to the maintenance of both mechanical and living systems. But there’s more power to be realized in an image that simple, focused, so there are few if any distractions from the subject. Because simplicity is rare visually, it excels at triggering emotion. 

As noted, the creation of simple images requires more attention and effort. Make a frame with your fingers and look around your room. Try to find any subject matter that has very few elements within that frame. There isn’t much. Outside, it becomes even more difficult. Exceptions include certain Japanese temples and Zen monasteries where simplicity of lifestyle and environmental design is a lived discipline. The message and practice in these places is “consume less and appreciate more.”

Simplicity is largely absent from our everyday environments—and lives—because it requires the reduction or elimination of elements. We have lots of stuff and few places to put it. And consuming more—media and smartphones especially—leaves little time for appreciating, really attending to what we have. In composing visual elements within a frame, neither complexity nor simplicity is right or wrong, good or bad. Each derives from different perceptions of the world, life and the cosmos, and each delivers a different experience. For instance, compare the simple image above, with the complex one below.

A simple design requires a process of elimination. As the number of elements are reduced, the emotional impact that an image has will increase. In the image of the single push-pin there are only three elements—the black background, the plastic holder and the metal pin. In contrast, the complex image contains the identical subject matter, but the number of elements is significantly higher and relationships are involved, making the brain work harder to make sense of the increased information. After a quick glance, we move on—so not to be overloaded. With a simple image we engage longer, study it, because simplicity is unusual and appealing. There’s less demand to ascertain what’s going on. And there’s harmony, a quality of satisfaction and interest that comes from tapping more into the essence of a subject.

Thus, the principle for image makers: If the communication objective is to convey information, complex imagery or design is the advisable approach. When it’s to convey an experience or emotion, it’s better to go with simplicity—sometimes. Like verbal communication, visual communication can be messy. There are always exceptions.

Applying these observations to my life, I notice how difficult it is to simplify. I seem to need a lot of space and stuff to maintain an aesthetic and comfortable home, do my work and pursue my interests. I think of the Native Americans who, living in teepees, could gather their belongings in a morning and move on. At the other end of the spectrum I think of the “rat race,” where people educate themselves and work hard for many years to achieve prestigous positions and salaries, only to find their jobs stressful and unfulfilling. 

Simplicity of thought and mind will lead to a reduction of the desire for material things. It may seem paradoxical but the gift of simplicity is the gift of abundance.

Satish, Kumar, Indian British activist and pacifist,

Author, Elegant Simplicity: The art of living well.

In his groundbreaking and visionary book, Voluntary Simplicity, Duane Elgin made the case for living with balance and ecological awareness, a life that is “outwardly simple and inwardly rich.” More recently, Linda Breen Pierce’s book, Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World provides compelling stories of people who chose to simplify their lives. An example close to home, my friend Glenn Geffcken and his wife Maria, moved to a remote location in New Mexico to live off the grid. As homesteaders, they’re constructing the life they want to live from the ground up. 

Considering the above images together, I notice that they depict different states of consciousness as well as communication and lifestyle strategies. Waking consciousness is extremely complex and dynamic. It needs to be, for us to engage in and process information. Recently, brain researchers found that sleep performs a cleansing function for the neurons, equivalent to erasing the buildup of chalk on a blackboard. The mind becomes renewed. The act of contemplation does the same thing in a waking state by focusing for a time on just one thing. And perhaps the ultimate reduction of mental complexity comes with meditation. The reason, I suppose, is that meditation’s proper object is being rather than doing or having. Simply being present.

Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

Steve Jobs, Entrepreneur, business magnate, industrial designer

The City

The consequence of collective, enduring and respectful attention and collaboration

Dictionaries tend to define a “city” as an inhabited place of greater size, population or importance than a town or village. While size is a factor, social scientists emphasize that a city represents the collective consciousness—beliefs, values, aspirations and visions—of the people who live and work in a center of commerce and culture. Reflecting on this image of the Cincinnati skyline, I see the city upside-down and observe that it evolved from the Ohio River up, so to speak.

Since the mid-forties I have witnessed both top-down and bottom-up development—wealthy individuals initiating major projects (building skyscrapers and three sports stadiums) and major progress being made by small group initiatives (tree planting, waterway cleanup, downtown mural arts program). Across time and diverse cultures, monumental structures came into being as a result of charismatic and wealthy visionaries—pharaohs, kings and queens, religious leaders, captains of industry, philanthropists and business executives. Those at the top of the social pyramid provided livelihood, incentive and opportunities for those below.

City skyscrapers may be monuments to commerce that reflect the dreams and aspirations of those at the top, but those buildings and the city streets below would be empty and would crumble were it not for the simpler and more fundamental values and aspirations of the everyday workers who built and sustain them. We know the names of corporations (Apple, Chrysler), philanthropists (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett) and businesspeople (JP Morgan, Rockefeller Plaza) associated with grand structures but it’s important to remember that without the legions of laborers, craftsperson, artisans and professionals who struggled to feed their families and advance through education and hard work, these buildings would never have been built.

When I see the downtown areas of cities in crisis—abandoned office towers and stores, dilapidated housing, broken sidewalks and trashed neighborhoods I remind myself that cities are dynamic living systems where people congregate, largely because they catch the spirit of the place. Something’s happening there and they want to be part of it—or they don’t want to be part of it and they move.

When that spirit is gone, the buildings become empty shells. Revitalization initiatives often fail or fall short because the substantive challenge—beyond window dressing, attracting businesses and government loans—is the more difficult task of generating and vitalizing a new and fresh spirit, one that gives people a reason to care enough to want to work or live  there.

The world around, ancient indigenous peoples vitalized a place by ensouling it with guardian spirits, and by continuously enacting rituals that brought people together. Respectful attention is how “sacred sites” came into being and were sustained. I’m reminded of an early morning photograph I took of a man sweeping the dirt in front of his little shop in Taxco, Mexico. That small act demonstrated respect for himself, his family, the shop and those who  would come to browse. It makes me wonder what American town centers and neighborhoods would be like if more people and businesses cared for the property they own, manage or rent.

Continuous and respectful attention to a place, indoors and out, keeps its spirit alive. As a photographer, I observe that the slightest tasks such as cleaning a lens, editing images, signing prints, cutting mattes and entering metadata are acts of respect. They demonstrate caring for the whole by attending to the parts—subsystems, that constitute and determine the quality of one’s experience and that of others.

Systemically, by attending to the integrity of the parts, the functionality of the whole is maintained and the dark shadow of entropy is averted. At least for a time. Conversely, the way to eliminate something, to hand it over to the forces of entropic dissipation and decay, is simply to deprive it of attention. “Give it no energy,” as the saying goes—neither positive nor negative thoughts or deeds. A prominent example in the political sphere is when The Late Show With Steven Colbert instituted a policy of never mentioning the name of a former President.

From this perspective the reflected Cincinnati skyline prompts me to see the city’s populous, our interaction and commerce as a consequence of collective, enduring and respectful attention payed to specific values, dreams and aspirations. And they help to define us. Personally, it encourages me to pay attention and offer respect to the aspects of city life—the people, places, institutions and events—that I find uplifting, educational, inspiring and empowering.

The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Former President of the United States

The Individual

A unique entity with the potential to do more and be more through engagement

The image of this drop of water on a stem reminds me of a common metaphor used to describe the nature of the human-divine relationship. While each drop of water is singular, unique, individual and ever changing regardless of its size, shape or location, they are all water. Human beings are like that—drops of spirit in the infinite ocean of the divine.

Considering the mass shootings that are occurring so often, one of the predominant patterns being reported in the news indicates that the perpetrators were disenfranchised individuals, people who for various reasons “fell through the cracks” within their social circumstances—family, school, church, workplace or other. Even those involved in hate crimes or terrorist activities are often individuals who were neglected, abused or otherwise marginalized in their youth.

Whether an individual is mentally ill or has a troubled background, feelings of anger and resentment escalate when a person is disregarded or discarded. I’m not a psychologist, but common sense suggests that these individuals need the right kind of attention, whether it be love, support or friendship. When they don’t get it, feeling depressed and hopeless, that life has no meaning for them, it’s understandable that they may want to strike back or commit suicide.

Linda tells about the nuns in high school who encouraged their students to never let anyone feel excluded. Her group in particular took it to heart by inviting a particularly shy and quiet girl to sit with them at lunch time. Years later, the popular girls again invited her to sit with them at their fiftieth reunion.

Another example: on “Fun Night” at my parent’s retirement center, my mother always encouraged anyone sitting alone on sidelines to dance. Several of these widely diverse people—who said they didn’t dance but did with her—became her best friends and helpmates. Of course, there’s no way to know how those lives might have been otherwise, but engaging those who tend to be shy, alone or even preferring to be alone, is something that everyday people in everyday situations can take notice of and as a result attempt to make a difference in someone’s life.

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu observed that “Persons… come into being only through social interactions. The interacting person finds the meaning of his life in his relations with other persons and their thoughts and activities.” Without interaction, an individual feels—is—adrift.

Social psychologist Erich Fromm articulated the consequences of feeling alone, disrespected or ostracized. “Unless a person feels that he belongs somewhere, unless his life has some meaning and direction, he would feel like a particle of dust and be overcome by his individual insignificance. He would not be able to relate himself to any system which would give meaning and direction to his life. He would be filled with doubt and this doubt eventually would paralyze his ability to act—that is, to live.”

The statistics on teen suicide are evidence of this isolation—and a call for those who see something to say something. We think of that phrase in terms of public safety. “Be on the lookout for suspicious activity.” But equally important, we can notice people. If so many “loners” are part of the problem, one of the solutions is for us, wherever we are, wherever we go, to engage the people we see who may be in dire need of “How are you, today?” What are you up to these days?” Even more, to probe a little to see if there might be a common interest.

In that drop of water, I also see an individual filled with potential. Although the details within it may be obscure or hidden, they can come into focus through engagement with other drops. Merging, they have the potential to create a pond, perhaps to understand their nature.

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne, English cleric and metaphysical poet

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The value, precautions and prospects of machine-made images

Inspired by Jerry Uelsmann‘s photomontages in 1975, I spent the better part of a day searching through my proofs to find images that might work together to make an intriguing composite. 

On another day, I did the actual printing in the darkroom with a variety of masks, using quite a bit of chemistry and photographic paper—trial and error—to get the above image. And that was only possible because I had a fully equipped darkroom, the appropriate materials on hand and had done the research on how to combine elements on a single sheet of photographic paper.

Today, anyone with a computer could accomplish a similar composite in a matter of minutes, by using an AI software program and typing in a request. For instance, “Florida beach symmetry with boulders in the foreground, one of which has the face of a stone statue in it.” Within seconds of pressing the Return button, the composite would appear on the screen. If printed on photographic quality inkjet paper it would be ready to hang in a gallery, certainly to be used in advertising or part of a portfolio. Now that it’s so easy to create top quality images that are captivating, composites or not, the question arises: “Is it art?” 

Words Matter

The French began using the word “Art” in the 10th century, borrowing it from the Latin artem, “practical skill; a business craft,” which derived from the Greek artizein, “to prepare,” the suffixed form of the root ar– “to fit together.” (Online Etymology Dictionary). In keeping with these traditions, the word “art” applies to a creative process, not its outcome. 

Ancient indigenous people all over the world, didn’t have a word for art. Objects were created for utilitarian, ornamental or religious purposes. Whatever the medium, the process of making something by shaping or fitting things together was part of everyday living. 

Today, we use the word “art” loosely. In a capitalist society it’s natural to attach a monetary value to everything we make, do or perform. Without established values on goods, trading one’s creative output in a complex society would be too problematic. But selling it is easy; values are much better agreed upon. When we refer to both a creative process and its outcome as art, the monetary value of the object tends to supersede the intrinsic value of the creative act. It’s why I try to make a distinction between “art,” the process of stitching things together, and “artifact,” the outcome.  

Who’s doing the stitching?

When a computer is given a command such as the one above, it’s the hardware and software that’s doing the actual combining. The process was designed by the individual(s) who conceived and manufactured the computer and instructions. And the outcome, the image that appears on the screen or is printed, is an artifact, evidence of the operator’s creative imagination. 

Applying these distinctions to AI, the art is in the conceptualization. So, to that extent the operator can rightly be considered an “artist.” What comes out of the printer is an artifact—until someone begins to call it “art.” It was the same with photography. For many years, there was a debate about whether or not it could be considered an art form. When George Eastman mass-produced a series of Kodak cameras (Kodak #1 in 1888, a box camera loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film), the critics claimed that “anyone could do it.” But that changed when master photographers demonstrated that not everyone could produce high quality, “expressive” photographs.  


As noted, the output of an AI image or print is an artifact of the operator’s imagination. But increasingly, as the results demonstrate a producer’s creativity, it will be considered an object of art. As we’re often reminded, art is in the mind of the beholder.

Imagine yourself to be a collector of fine art photography. You’re considering the purchase of a print of the above image. The gallery owner shows you two prints, one made by hand in a darkroom by a lifelong photographer, and the other an inkjet print generated by an AI program. Side-by-side the prints are top quality, they’re equally compelling aesthetically and the price is the same. Which would you choose? What makes the difference?    

Okay, now you’re the art director for a big-city advertising firm. You’re shown a series of color photographs taken by your in-house photographer, and you’re about to approve one you think the client will like when an employee comes in and shows you an AI image she made on spec. Her image would work even better for your client. Of course, you choose the AI print. Application matters.

The Marks We Make

One of the defining characteristics of human beings is the urge to make marks, to express ourselves, who we are, what we’re doing and thinking. Whether those marks are as simple as handprints on a cave wall or as complex as pixelated electrons on a computer screen, we’re fascinated by any medium that can extend our being and experience. Mediums extend. And when the results can be shared, traded or sold, so much the better.

Whatever the expression or message, the marks we make contain an unconscious subtext that says, “This is me.” “I am here.” And “This is what I am experiencing.” In a complex society, our marks (words, images) help us to explore and improve our perception of self, others, the world and our place in it. Additionally, as certain creative expressions attract attention and become increasingly admired, their exchange value increases; the greater the attention, the greater the value we place on a person’s marks. Baseball trading cards, paintings by recognized masters, photographic fine art, Broadway plays and movies are examples.

Now take the case where several squiggles and a line are generated on a computer in response to an operator’s command. A viewer, not knowing the operator or how the printed image was created will try to make sense of it. In one of Steve Martin’s movies, observing a piece of modern sculpture in a museum, he asks a companion, “What kinda deal is this?” When something doesn’t make sense, we move on. 

But if the viewer learns that a well-known artist made the squiggles and line on a computer, it doesn’t matter. We stop and pay closer attention. Isn’t this what we do walking through the halls of a museum? We look for the artist’s name because their marks have been validated and will likely stand the test of time. Whether we know it or not, their creative output represents a life of soul-searching, perceptual and technical evolution and fascinating personal experiences. There’s substance and history behind the work. And an observer can find it there, if they care to look. 

Relative to AI-produced images, it’s important to know the person behind the computer. Who’s doing the stitching together? What was he/she thinking? A dazzling image produced on a computer by a trained monkey may be visually appealing, but the consciousness and experience behind it lacks substance and meaning. It may excite us and produce a sense of wonder, but that’s it. On the other hand, an experienced and highly skilled artist using the same computer program is likely to produce an image that is loaded with these qualities and more.

Art, as process, resides in the consciousness and experience of a human being. The artifact is an expression of that thinking and process. As the AI movement gains momentum in image-making, it will become increasingly important to know the conceptualizer, the person in front of the screen. For me to take an AI image seriously, to see it as containing substance, particularly for use in my contemplative practice, I would want to know the producer’s motivation and objectives.

Creative Challenge

Whatever the medium, we live in a time when we can’t afford to make images that sacrifice the future for the present, that draw attention to the abuses of freedom, fan the flames of separation, self-centeredness and fear and distract us from the task of uplifting the human spirit and consciousness, and building the world in ethical and sustainable ways. 

So much of our creative energy is spent directing our attention to the dark side of human nature. What we attend to we make more of, so negative images, irrespective of the medium, promote self-fulfilling prophecies. The pressures of the moment are urging us to instead, invest our creativity in ways that demonstrate and encourage the higher human characteristics—love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, collaboration, the making of images that contribute to human and planetary flourishing. 

Dark moments exist to provide contrast to experience the lightheartedness of pure joy–doing work that regenerates and restores vitality in humanity and the planet. The invitation is to evolve toward embracing a unified view of life both at home and at work, living with multicultural perspectives, compassion, and oneness. 

Dawna Jones, Business consultant

Author, Decision Making for Dummies

Hope is Rising

Wisdom teachers are putting the abuses of freedom in check.

The iris symbolizes hope, wisdom, faith, trust, and bravery.

The biosphere has hit a limit, delivering a constant stream of evidence in the form of more frequent and increasingly destructive fires, flooding, droughts, tornadoes and earthquakes. At the same time, and probably related at some level, the social sphere is tightening and convulsing due to war and the fear of it escalating, political polarization, self-centered and nearsighted nationalism, disregard for truth and ethics, gun violence and police abuse. 

This is nothing new. Human beings have always faced survival threats, environmental and social.  That homo sapiens diverged from Neanderthals and earlier hominids is an indication that our ancestors successfully adapted to the challenges of their situation—they developed social brains, an expansion in cognition that facilitated information-sharing where knowledge could be gained and passed on.  

Our situation is unique and momentous. Through our abuses of freedom, we created and are sustaining a mortal threat. Now, given the nature of our stresses—feedback from nature and storied on the nightly news—our challenge requires another brain adjustment. This time it’s a mental reset, a cognitive adaptation that prioritizes love, respect and concern for the whole as well as the individual.   

Motivated by the knowledge that the sixth extinction is underway and that we are driving it, the “adult” in us is waking up to this challenge, learning and leading the way to awaken more of us so we can respond appropriately and in time. Actually, we know what to do. And the first step—acknowledging that there is a problem—is well underway. We’ve learned the root causes of our metacrises, thinking that once held benefit and comfort for some—materialism, consumerism, unbridled individualism, short-term gratification, greed, disregard for the environment, nationalism—has turned out to be toxic to the whole. 

Now, the consciousness of empathy, soul-based decision making and taking responsibility for the whole of life—Earth and all living things—is lifting its head, getting ready to sprint toward critical mass. Social scientists characterize this period as a phase change, like when water boils to become steam. The required shift is—

  • from hate and apathy to love and engagement
  • from separation and fear to unity and love
  • from treating Gaia as a resource to treating her with respect as a living being
  • from endless consumption to ethical and creative contribution
  • from short-term thinking to long-term consideration
  • from “me” to “we”
  • from quantity to quality
  • from pleasure-seeking to meaning-making
  • from “winning” to “participating”
  • from “receiving” to “giving”
  • from feeding the wealthy few to creating the prosperous many

This is unprecedented, radically new. In large part, this generation and the next are here to bring about internal and external coherence—whole-centered thinking and acting. The former encourages a system’s inner viability and health,  the latter the adaptation of self to the world. For a living system to survive and flourish, both are necessary.

If a critical mass of concerned people would accept the challenge of purposive intervention in contemporary social evolution, the future of humanity could yet be assured… the evolution of our societies, and therewith the future of our species, is now in our hands.

                                                                  Ervin Laszlo, Concert pianist, systems scientist

                                                                  Author, Evolution: The Grand Synthesis

I said we know what to do. Typical of evolution, seeds of the new are planted in the old. On this turn of the spiral, hope is rising because the required shift in thinking has been taught and demonstrated for eons. It’s just that we’ve been distracted by the personal stories of wisdom teachers. Now, the stresses of this evolutionary moment are calling us to actually adopt and apply their teachings. It’s how we overcome the abuses of freedom resulting from toxic thinking. And it’s how we give birth to the flourishing of people and planet. As a reminder, here are the voices of a few wisdom teachers.

Jesus of Nazareth, Endowed with Christ consciousness

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind

Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”

Do unto others whatever you would have them to do unto you. 

What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? 

Siddhartha Gautama Buddha

Teach this simple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.”

Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.

Consider before acting, whether an action is beneficial.

Speak that which is truthful and useful.

Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim

Conduct yourself in this world as if you are here to stay forever, and yet prepare for eternity as if you are to die tomorrow.

The greatest of wealth is the richness of the soul.

You will not enter paradise until you have faith. And you will not complete your faith until you love one another.

Strive always to excel in virtue and truth.

Moshe Rabbenu (Moses)

The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 

You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.

Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a {mere} shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.

Be the change that you wish to see in the world. An ounce of patience is worth more than a ton of preaching. In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits. And your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.

Civilization, in the real sense of the term, consists not in the multiplication, but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants. This alone promotes real happiness and contentment and increases the capacity for service.

Geswanouth Slahoot (Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation

Love is something you and I must have. We must have it because our spirit feeds upon it… Without love, our self-esteem weakens. Without it, our courage fails. Without love, we can no longer look out confidently at the world. We turn inward and begin to feed upon our personalities, and little by little we destroy ourselves. With it, we are creative… With it, and with it alone, we are able to sacrifice for others.

Laozi (Lau tzu, Chinese philosopher, Founder of Taoism)

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, and compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.

The voices of wisdom have been seeding our modern consciousness with values and behaviors that can affect the shift from self to whole-centered concern. This kind of thinking is emerging around the world. To get it into the mindset of corporate executives, politicians and dictators where positive change can happen rapidly, we their customers and citizens have to demonstrate a shift in that direction. It’s up to us to motivate them. We do that by aligning our values with those of the wisdom teachers, and allocating our time, attention and resources more toward feeding the soul and prioritizing our needs over wants. 


For inspiration, my new blog—Love and Light Greetings—features wisdom teachers from diverse cultures and fields, past and present.

True Dialogue

Thinking together to learn and make sound judgements on behalf of a whole system

The Free Dictionary defines dialogue as “An exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, especially with a view to reaching an amicable agreement.” In the image of these spheres, diverse in size, tonality and texture I can imagine the exchange of electrochemical information that resulted in harmonious interaction within this dynamic system where drops of oil sought to maintain their integrity within a vessel of water.

The order and pattern of the spheres provides evidence that, although the water and oil molecules are diametrically opposed to one another, they continuously strive for, and in this instant, reached an “amicable agreement” where the whole system, enhanced by diversity, contains more information and complexity. Aesthetically speaking, there’s balance and harmony among opposites. It’s a picture of individual elements engaging each other in the context of a common purpose within a shared environment—”culture” we might say.

Individual integrity (read dignity as well) is maintained, and from our point of view the system displays stability and organization. The molecules of oil didn’t ask to be deposited in the vessel of water, but once together the interaction and exchange of information within the system became more of dance than a battle. Accommodation rather than destruction. Indeed, true dialogue is a kind of discursive dance.

Human dialogue is unique. It involves discussion, but “discussion” is just an exchange that tries to sort things out. The emphasis is on back and forth inquiry and analysis where there may be many points of view. Discussions can be amicable or heated. Either way, participants generally aim to win an argument, score points or have their viewpoint prevail. “Debate” is another kind of discourse. Here, the individuals do battle with one another by offering proofs and counter arguments so their points of view will win. The context is purposefully polarized so there’s a winner and a loser. Having been on a college debate team, I can attest to the occasional glory of winning and the more frequent agony of defeat.

“True dialogue” on the other hand is a process that flows from a base of commonalities and allows conflicting views to court each other so a fuller perspective can emerge from spirited and respectful interaction. It occurs when the participants follow their hearts and souls, when they are allowed to have their full say, are heard and taken seriously—within an atmosphere of trust and discovery—where there is open mindedness, respect and a mutual desire for achieving a common goal. Finding the best way forward or discovering the truth. Simply put, dialogue is how we think things through together so we can individually learn and make sound judgements on behalf of a whole system.

One of the primary purposes of dialogue is to affect a transformation in collective consciousness… it asks us to suspend our attachments to a particular point of view (opinion) so that deeper levels of listening, synthesis and meaning can evolve within a group.

Glenna Gerard & Linda Teurfs, Business and organizational consultants

Whether in a small informal group or a large formal setting, the practice of dialogue is not easy. First, it requires a clear and commonly held picture of the whole, its fundamental purpose and goal—what the system needs in order to function and evolve. With a goal agreed upon, points of agreement need to be identified before differences in perspectives and approach are specified and argued.

Throughout, broader truths, those relating to the well-being and development of the whole system must be allowed to emerge. According to Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, the goal of dialogue is to allow us “To comprehend each other well enough so that common goals and understanding is possible.” True dialogue builds and maintains good relations among the participants as it builds consensus among them regarding the good of the whole system.

Psychologists observe that, as individuals, we tend to think we know what’s best for ourselves and the larger systems within which we participate. We believe our perspectives are not only right, they’re better; others just don’t understand or know what we know. And so there’s a strong tendency to champion our perspectives and methods above all. But where there’s an openness to discover what is actually in the best interest of the whole system, that tendency can be tempered by structuring interaction as a formal (true) dialogue, and making sure that everyone knows the Multicultural Ground Rules For Dialogue beforehand.

I have observed evidence of true dialogue in families, special interest groups, religious organizations, universities, corporations and non-profit entities. That we humans have evolved the capacity to rationally and respectfully think through and transcend our differences while safeguarding our relationships and seeking the common good is reason to hope.

Dialogue is the art of thinking together. It involves listening and thinking beyond my position for something that goes beyond you and me.

 William Isaacs, Founder, Dialogos consulting firm, Cambridge, Massachusetts

None of us knows the truth, but together we can come closer to it.


Intelligence requires that you don’t defend an assumption. The proper structure of an assumption or of an opinion is that it is open to evidence that it may not be right.

David Bohm, Physicist


I invite you visit my new blog—Love and Light Greetings—featuring wisdom teachers from diverse cultures and fields, past and present.

Reverence For Light

Reverence For Light


I dedicate this posting to my friend, Marty Ducheny, who kept me laughing and admiring his ability to turn a phrase. On one of our many walks in Spring Grove Cemetery—where he is now buried—he commented that my photography reflected a “reverence for light.” It was such a fine and true statement, I put together an exhibit of about eighty black & white photographs and exhibited them at Xavier University’s art gallery using that phrase (and this image) as the title. It was very well attended; very gratifying. Afterward, I published a Blurb book by the same title using this photograph for the cover.

Light is energy and it’s also information, content, form, and structure. It’s the potential of everything.

David Bohm

Light created the eye as an organ with which to appreciate itself.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe



It’s not nothing; nowhere is it empty


Photographing on the American Great Plains was heavenly—not only for what was on the ground but especially for what was overhead. In 2012 I ambled the backroads of South Dakota and Nebraska for ten days, intent on capturing space, in addition to landscapes. My interest in “space” as a creative challenge was sparked by readings in science:

  • The Quantum Universe by Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw: “What we call ‘empty space’ is really a seething maelstrom of subatomic particles. The vacuum has an incredibly rich structure made up of all the possible ways that particles can pop in and out of existence.”
  • The Higgs Boson Discovery by Lisa Randall: “Empty space is not truly empty. It can have energy and charge. It just doesn’t have matter.”
  • The Fabric Of The Cosmos by Brian Greene: “Empty space is teeming with quantum activity. It is far from empty. Particles fluctuate. They’re created and destroyed, come in and out of being. Space is “teeming” with fields and particles. It’s so flooded it has been shown experimentally to force things together. One of the properties of space is that it “wants” to expand, faster and faster.”

Scientists writing about the contents of “outer space” being filled with invisible particles, waves and fields prompted the realization that these energies and more, permeate our world and everyday life. For evidence, we need only observe the many and varied electronic towers and satellite dishes that have become ubiquitous. Right this moment, we are bombarded with radio and television waves, microwaves, photons, ultraviolet light, infrared rays, X-rays and gamma rays, cell phone waves and sub-atomic particles such as neutrinos and bosons. And that’s on top of the more subtle and mysterious “stuff” called dark matter and dark energy, which has not yet been identified.

Indeed, space is a teeming maelstrom of invisible energy waves. I observe this, not as a complaint or a cause for distress, but to marvel at the complexities and geometrical beauty of these energies and fields which, although invisible, are natural and powerful components of the universe.

It made me wonder if there was a way that I could capture the sensibility of those forces on film. Linda offered an idea: For space to be seen or noticed, it needs to have a material reference or context. She offered my photograph Solitude—a high contrast black and white image of fishermen in a rowboat surrounded all around by pure white space—as an example. (See my posting of February 8, 2014).

After much consideration and research, the quest for wide open vistas led me to the Great Plains. And I found what I was looking for—vast fields and open skies. Considering that the universe is constituted of only 5%  matter, I composed many of my landscape shots so the sky would occupy 95% of the space within the frame. I also emphasized converging lines to convey distance. In a closeup of whisp grass, the wind blurring the feathery strands served to demonstrate that invisible force. And cultivated fields provided a metaphor for, well, “fields.”

Part of the joy of photographing in those wide open spaces, was not contending with visual obstructions such as billboards, businesses, expressways or jet trails. The challenge of working around telephone poles, wires, fences and road signs was minimal. I could set up my 4×5 view camera in the middle of the road with no concern about traffic. There were times when I wouldn’t see a car or another human being for nearly an hour. And the clouds were spectacular, like they knew I was wanting to capture the sensibility of immensity and space. It was a time of great joy, creative outpouring and freedom—being in the flow.

While these images do not actually show the particles, waves and fields mentioned above, they take me to a place where I can imagine them beyond the sky. And that evokes appreciation, sometimes awe.

The non-visible world’s nature differs so radically from the material world that it cannot be  pictured. It’s both nonmaterial and non-visible. Even so, it is profoundly real and powerful. The new cosmology depends upon an understanding of the reality and power of this realm.

Brian Swimme, Cosmologist












Wisdom Of The Spheres

There is no chance and anarchy in the universe. All is system and gradation. Every god is there sitting in his sphere.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Sphere 754


Sphere 782

From atoms to galaxies the sphere is a prominent form because it requires the least amount of energy to form and has the least possible area for the volume it encloses. That makes it the most economical, energy-efficient way of enclosing and separating two volumes of space. In this instance, pools of oil lying on the surface of water in glass containers.

Sphere 779

Sphere 750

Sphere 725

Sphere 741 (c)

I wanted to create images that would contain sacred geometries and fine gradations. As in all my work, I was looking for subject matter and qualities of light that encourage contemplation and ideally lead to numinous experience. The spheres accomplished that for me by evoking the sensibilities of the micro level of living systems and the macro level of the cosmos.

A  description of the making of these images—and many more—can be found in my Blurb book entitled “Wisdom Of The Spheres.