Phase Transition

For me, every element of this image provides opportunity to reflect. The color alone evokes the sensibility of winter, the time of year when, for many of us, the often overcast sky tends to dampen the desire for activity. The lines where snow meets ice meets water recall phase transitions: changes of state, chapters in our life where, instead of changing form—as the combination of hydrogen and oxygen do under different temperature conditions—our perceptions and attitudes change under the influence of experience and reflection.

The little ripples in the water evidence both wind and energy alternatively reflecting light and darkness as life moves forward. In the tree I’m reminded that my personal reality is a reflection of Absolute reality, allowing me to interpret its reflection freely. I understand that the reflection is not the tree, but does it even come close to representing it faithfully or fully? Of course, that’s the great mystery. When we look at images of stars and galaxies, are we seeing the universe as cold and lifeless, a place filled with immense objects that collide with unimaginably gigantic consequences? Might the processes—there and here—be the very means by which consciousness expands as part of its reach to attain fuller realization of the Absolute? Of awareness itself. Might spacetime on this planet be a local phase transition for consciousness as it reaches for that awareness?

The “tree” of our personal reality may at times appear to be barren with only the forces of change and chance moving the branches. But wait! Within them lies the  potential for new growth and radiant color. I observe that on the right side of the reflected tree, life appears to be solid and gritty. On the other side, it’s liquid and flows smoothly. In between, in the center, stillness propagates a reflection. And as this image demonstrates, the greater the stillness the fuller and more true the reflection of reality.

Zooming into the molecular level, I find a social consideration represented along the “shoreline” where water meets ice. Indeed, at 3:1 magnification on the computer it closely resembles the coastline of Maine. On one side the molecules stubbornly seek to maintain the status quo as a liquid, whereas the molecules on the other side are just as rigid—literally so—to remain solid. By zooming in even closer I arrive at the place where individual molecules conflict. I imagine their conversation. “I’m liquid and I’m going to stay that way.” “Well, I’m solid and there’s no way I’m going to change!” Well and good. But they are forgetting two things. They are both the same in substance. Irrespective of location and form, they are both water. And they do not exist in a closed system.

A change in the climate, particularly the temperature in this case, would force the change in one direction or the other depending on the presence or absence of heat. Living systems are self-making, but their fate is inexorably determined by changes in the environment. The inevitable choice for all living systems is either resignation or transformation. As George Land put it in his classic book on transformation—“Grow or Die.”

Because atoms and molecules are invisible we tend to think of them as being still, lifeless and without consciousness. Of course it depends on how we view life and consciousness, but if characteristics such as individuality, vitality, self-making (autopoiesis) and community building are part of the formulation, the universe is literally teeming with life and consciousness.

The interface between opposites is the place of transformation.

William Erwin Thompson

A new phase occurs when communication between agents makes cooperation and interdependence more beneficial than conflict.

Eva Jablonka

 

ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Tree Reflection; Water  and Ice

File: DC1757

It was February and I was photographing in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery where there are several ponds and a wide variety of trees. On one of the ponds there’s a fountain and it created the ripples that inched against the ice that was forming along the shoreline. I made several exposures from different angles, some emphasizing the ripples, others the reflection of the tree. As a result of this contemplation I now understand why this particular image appealed to me—it illustrates a phase transition, a phenomenon I always found fascinating.

Fear

My posted contemplations are primarily about appreciation, gratitude and perception. While fear is generally an undesirable sensation, I appreciate it as one of the primary forces that affects human behavior universally. It has survival value for individuals, and socially it’s an evolutionary driver. I also appreciate it’s significance as one of the most poignant topics of our national conversation today. That’s why I chose it. Further, it provided an opportunity for me to reflect on it and put it into perspective. To do this I referenced “fear” in my files and databases to see what the experts had to say. These are some of the observations that stood out.

You can’t see wisdom, but you can see its reflection. Its reflection is happiness, fearlessness, and kindness. Silvia Boorstein

Environments that motivate through fear literally shut down the potential for growth. Those that motivate through vision, open us up to express unforeseen possibilities. Bruce Lipton

As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Marianne Williamson

What you think is what you get, what you fear is what you attract, what you resist persists. Neale Donald Walsch

The move from one era of civilization to another causes anxiety, especially among those whose egos are weak and whose sense of mother love, earth love, wisdom, and love as children has been truncated or aborted. (Religious fundamentalism) results from mysticism repressed and denied, and it always leads to scapegoating—the projected hatred of others. Matthew Fox 

We have to treat others as part of who we are, rather than as a ‘them’ with whom we are in constant competition. Robert Bellah

The crisis that threatens our planet, whether seen from its military, ecological or social aspect, derives from a dysfunctional and pathological notion of the self. It derives from a mistake about our place in the order of things. It is a delusion that the self is so separate and fragile that we must delineate and defend its boundaries, that it is so small and so needy that we must endlessly acquire and endlessly consume, and that it is so aloof that as individuals, corporations, nation-states, or species, we can be immune to what we do to other beings. There is no logical or scientific basis for construing one part of the experienced world as “me” and the rest as “other.” That is so because as open, self-organizing systems, our very breathing, acting and thinking arise in interaction with our shared world through the currents of matter, energy, and information that move through us and sustain us. In the web of relationships that sustain these activities there is no clear line demarcating a separate, continuous self.  Joanna Macy

We have imagined that we are a unit of survival and we have to see to our own survival, and we imagine that the unit of survival is the separate individual or a separate species, whereas in reality through the history of evolution, it is the individual plus the environment, the species plus the environment, for they are essentially symbiotic. Gregory Bateson

There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life. John Lennon

Fear of any kind throws us into an ancient survival mentality that, when fully active, shuts down our higher modes of evolutionary awareness. But it is these higher realms of our neural system that hold the open-ended possibility through which we can modify and modulate the reality structure of a particular moment. (The shift from our higher verbal-intellectual forebrain, the neocortex, to the lower reptilian, limbic brain) shortchanges our intellect, cripples our learning and memory, and can lock our neocortex into service of our lower brain. Joseph Chilton Pearce

On evil: excerpted from: “Radical Optimism: Rooting Ourselves in Reality” by Beatrice Bruteau

We have developed a cult of the descriptive self, our own personal image industry. It is indeed a matter of images—pictures of reality, but not reality itself. The living person cannot be pinned down in any set of descriptions (for instance, black or white American or African, male or female, married with two kids, Protestant, Republican, businessman, golfer, weighs 180 pounds, has an IQ of 120, drives a Mercedes,  prefers wine over beer…).  These are all conventional categories that we use as a kind of shorthand for organizing our affairs for getting acquainted, identifying people, and carrying on a conversation. But all these descriptions could be otherwise and that person, the real person living inside, would still be there with the same interior sense of ‘I am, I am here, I am now, I am I.’ It is this interior sense of actually existing in this moment as a sheer ‘I am’ that is the real living person. This person is undefined, indescribable, and transcendent of all categories and descriptions.

Because it is not defined, the real person cannot be thought about. Whenever you think about something, you are attending to an image, a definition, a description. Similarly, your feelings are about and toward a descriptive image because the image and the descriptions are as they are, relative to you. 

It is my contention that evil comes about because of what is perceived as a basic metaphysical need in the agent, the need to stay alive, to maintain one’s being. Where moral evil is involved, the agent identifies exhaustively with the image self, the descriptive self, and instinctively recognizes the primordial need to stay in being. It is the self-image which the agent endeavors to maintain in being and enhance in being, because the agent believes that this is all the self-being the agent has, and that if the agent does not tend to its sustenance and welfare, it will suffer diminishment, because nobody else is going to sustain it. It is in order to avoid these life-losses that people do what we call evil. 

In the concrete, we find that evil is not usually done just as a response to the possibility of loss. Nearly always the agent of evil is a person who has already actually suffered severe losses on some level of life. (I am not saying that everyone who has suffered loss will engage in evil, but that someone who commits evil will probably be found to be someone who has suffered loss.) Therefore, the agent seeks urgently to protect the self and put down, diminish, dominate, and destroy others. All this is done to keep the self in being, in bigger and better being.

All this comes of not understanding the nature of unconditional, creative love, that it is addressed to the true Self which transcends all the descriptions. Only the self that has realized itself as transcendent of descriptions so it can afford to lose them, is able to love the enemies of those descriptions, or to love one’s enemies in spite of their descriptions. 

__________________

The image of barbed wire is here represented as a symbol of separation, fear and domination—the components of a paradigm built on male superiority and the perspectives “Survival of the fittest” and “Subdue the Earth.” The paradigm of separation may have gotten us to where we are, but now we’re experiencing the realities—and consequences of interdependence. We live in a world where the thoughts, words and deeds of a single individual are having instant and profound global influence—for better and worse. We’re increasingly relying on each other for safety, the quality of our food, medicines and other products. The gap between haves and have-nots has widened in this country to the extent that “three Americans hold as much wealth as the bottom 50%” (Scientific American, November, 2018). Security measures surrounding air and rail travel and congregating are tightening. The crises in the Middle East are heating up. And populations are shifting. Fencing (as depicted above) literally and figuratively, sustains the paradigm of separation and fear.

The paradigm of love however, represented by the sun in the background of the image, represents the Source emitting unity and unconditional love, illuminating the deeper reality, which is interdependence. Our minds, accustomed to constructing a dualistic reality—up/down, good/evil—tend to see these as being in conflict, each battling for supremacy. But they are two sides of the same coin, part of the unfolding process of human evolution, as trial-and-error demonstrates what works and what doesn’t.

Because love is the antidote to fear, the need is try to see and regard the true Selves or souls of those around us—young or old, known or not known to us—beyond their descriptions and behaviors, especially those who appear to be disenfranchised or suffering from mental illness, abuse or neglect. It can be as simple as a thought, word or deed. It takes very little to pay attention to someone, to provide a genuine sign of caring or support—unconditional love where conditioned love appears to be lacking.

It may be too late for those who have already been marginalized or radicalized, deprived of or blinded to the deeper truth of their being. Hopefully not. But there is hope for the future. Across cultures, parents can prevent destructive indoctrination from happening to their children by making sure they feel safe, loved, nurtured and supported as they seek the realization of their unique and constructive potentials. Importantly, young minds develop resilience and intellectual integrity in a context of free and open inquiry, where they have the opportunity to acquire critical thinking skills and apply them to diverse and opposing points of view.

The challenge of our time is one of definition—identifying who we are as a people. By our individual choices, behaviors and the quality of our interactions we are defining who we are and how we will be perceived. Are we allowing ourselves to be defined by descriptions, attributes and possessions that require constant feeding and defending? Are we just a higher form of animal life, one that’s absorbed in inordinate consumption and self-indulgence, one that has knee-jerk reactions to social and political change? Or are we members of one, whole and integrating body of intelligent and creative individuals working together to facilitate the realization of everyone’s higher potentials and close the gap between the haves and the have nots? Are our hearts and hands open or closed. Many of us want to make a difference in the world. I can think of none better than the exercise of open minds and unconditional love.

ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Barbed Wire

File: 132-C3

This image was made on a day trip in the country. With the camera on a tripod, I aligned the principle barb above the setting sun and used a wide aperture to blur the other barbs as well as the background.

Belief

 

Life isn’t ever a straight line on a single track. Rather, it’s a progression along many tracks with lots of switching going on. Although I have switched “tracks” purposefully, there were many instances, probably more, where a switch occurred and I didn’t see it coming. The analogy raises questions about control and self-determination. How much control do I really have?

Certainly, I can choose a destination and get on board with ideas and plans to get me there. That’s “entrainment.” But what about those switches, the plans that don’t—or do—work out, the emergency phone call, lottery ticket, birth, diagnosis, failed plans, new interest or the person we meet who changes the course of our lives? Some things happen beyond our control that changes us, at times even altering our destination. In large part, I think it’s our encounter with life’s unexpected turns that urges the search for meaning. Is life just a random sequence of events—over which I have some but not much control? And why all the unexpected switching along the way? What are we to think? How do we respond to change and uncertainty? When switches altered my dad’s life journey he would shrug his shoulders and say “What can you do?” Indeed, when life is leading, the wise course is resignation, go with the flow, align and allow. Resistance can be painful.

Somewhere along the line, likely paralleling philosophical tracks, I found comfort in the notion that the inner animating force—I call it the “soul”—of each individual is like the engineer on a train, making decisions about which tracks to take and which switches to activate, when and where. Looking back I can see how my life as been punctuated by unanticipated events, people and experiences that altered my course. Some were outright challenges that were either met or not—opportunities for growth. Others were tangible opportunities, like when a full scholarship to graduate school was presented to me without my even applying. Others were gifts, one of the most memorable being a friend’s sale to me of about $8,000 worth of high-end darkroom equipment for one dollar. And then there’s the lost opportunity as when Ansel Adams offered to sell a group of us students at RIT, original photographs for fifty dollars—prints that now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In retrospect I can barely imagine that I was all those people who did what I did and didn’t do what I now wish I had. That every switch and each new track presented an opportunity of one kind or another adds credence to the soul being in the driver’s seat.

One thing is certain—each track provided a unique set of life lessons, chapters in the story of me and my becoming. Hard lessons learned leave little to regret. Rather, ideally, they lead to constructive intentions and choices when a familiar lesson comes again. My belief for now, and it could change tomorrow, is that life stories are written before we appear—already complete, perfect and happening in the Eternal now. That we don’t remember them allows us to freely choose both tracks and switches. The tracks we’re on lead us toward destinations appropriate to the soul’s plan. The engine of belief provides the momentum. And so, whether or not we’re aware of it, we move in the direction of our beliefs.

I’m a believer in belief. I think it’s creative, determinative of our personal realities and prerequisite to manifesting the components of that reality. Gandhi described the mechanism—

Your beliefs become your thoughts

Your thoughts become your words

Your words become your actions

Your actions become your habits

Your habits become your values

Your values become your destiny.

Mahatma Gandhi

Through years of study, personal experiences, readings and conversations with people like Dr. Beatrice Bruteau, the mentor who I mentioned last week, I’ve come to believe that the soul, which is already one with the universe, has constructed a plan for each individuation. However, once embodied, the egoic personality can choose to alter it. Further, I believe that we will ultimately need to confront the lessons of the plan that we ourselves have made—lessons that balance, correct and lead us toward realization. The question is, “With regard to the more difficult choices, when life throws a switch that’s uncomfortable or undesirable, will we face it now or later?”

There are instances when a particular track or switch is obviously part of the plan—as when I discovered photography, met my wife and saw my daughter for the first time. More often it’s by hindsight that I learned an event was part of the plan. In either case, knowing that my universal Self is driving my life toward the fulfillment of my purpose, that it’s setting me on the right tracks at the right time and will continuously throw the switches that favor of realization, I feel like the story is unfolding properly and beautifully. I’m grateful for that, including the privilege of feeling that way. Of course, there is no way to know if my beliefs are in alignment with Absolute reality. But they are comforting and the effects are constructive.

I harbor another belief that personal realities are relative to the individual. Obviously, they’re personal, and as I said, creative. As we believe, so we tend to become. Certain eastern spiritual traditions go so far as to say that when we die our experience coincides with our beliefs about the afterlife. Christians will walk with Jesus. Buddhists will sit with Buddha. Muslims will feast with Mohammad. Again, we cannot know. The tracks we’re on lead us toward destinations appropriate to the soul’s plan. And the engine of belief provides the momentum. And so, whether or not we are aware of it, we move in the direction of our beliefs.

NOTE: If this is a topic that interests you, I highly recommend a book by cellular biologist Bruce Lipton entitled, The Biology Of Belief. He presents recent studies on the biochemical effects of the brain, showing that all the cells of our bodies are affected by thought. Further, he talks about the profound effects this has on our personal lives and the collective life of our species. It’s a great read!

This is a make-believe world. We make it according to our beliefs.

Jerome Perlinski

The most powerful thing you can do to change the world is to change your own beliefs about the nature of life, people and reality to something more positive… and begin to act accordingly.

Shakte Gawain

 

About This Image

On a two-day photographic expedition driving through Illinois, I came upon this scene at sunset. I got out of the car and worked the location, shooting a variety of shots through sunset.

 

Entrainment

 

 

The image of these tractor tires calls to mind the word “entrainment” because they are essential components of vehicles designed to pull and plow. According to several dictionaries, to “entrain” is to pull, drag or draw along. Because the word describes a process, social scientists apply the word “entrainment” to a variety of topics.

Writing in Evolution’s End: Claiming The Potential Of Our intelligence, Joseph Chilton Pearce ascribes it as significant in relation to child development. “Play,” he says, “is the foundation of creative intelligence… the child who is played with will learn to play. The child who is not played with will be unable to play and will be at risk on every level.” He says that storytelling is a vital component of play. “The child listens to the storyteller with total entrainment; he grows still, his jaw drops, his eyes widen, and he stares fixedly at the speaker. His vision, however, turns within where the action is, for the words of a story stimulate the creation of corresponding internal images.” Indeed, the words of a story are linear, like a train. They pull us along a fixed path of images, a sequence that lead us to the author’s destination—the point, lesson or truth of the story. “This imagining,” Pearce continues, “is the foundation of future symbolic and metaphoric thought, both concrete and formal operational thinking, higher mathematics, science, philosophy, everything we consider higher mentation or education.”

Entrainment occurs in nature as well. In an unpublished article by James Anderson entitled The Physics of Meditation, he describes the principle of rhythm entrainment, “The ability of two or more oscillators to get synchronized. For example, you’re walking with a friend, and you find yourself in step with that person… Pendulum clocks in the same room will eventually swing together. Soldiers marching across a footbridge are commanded to ‘break step’ so their steps will not act as a driving force for the natural resonant frequency of the bridge. Fireflies which begin blinking at random will tend to synchronize after a while. Nature simply finds it more economical for periodic events (of nearly the same frequency) to get in step with each other.”

In his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman cites entrainment as a social mechanism relating to “emotional contagion”—how we are influenced by others. “When it comes to personal encounters, the person who has the more forceful expressivity—or the most power—is typically the one who’s emotions entrain the other. Dominant partners talk more, while the subordinate partner watches the other’s face more—a setup for the transmission of affect. By the same token, the forcefulness of a good speaker—a politician or an evangelist, say—works to entrain the emotions of the audience. That is what we mean  by, ‘He had them in the palm of his hand.’”

Television programs, commercials and movies are equally powerful vehicles of entrainment. In a linear fashion, they lead our attention and thoughts along tracks toward specific destinations. Whenever we surrender our attention to language or images produced by someone else, we hitch our thoughts to their values, consciousness and agendas. Adults are supposed to be wise enough to realize this, so they can stand as witness to what is being offered and apply critical thinking. Children, however, haven’t yet developed the capacity to understand manipulation or discriminate between what’s real and what’s not. Play and storytelling exemplify the higher vibrational applications of entrainment. The lower vibration is it’s power to radicalize and brain wash.

In Radical Optimism: Rooting Ourselves in Reality, Christian philosopher and contemplative Beatrice Bruteau wrote of entrainment as “The phenomenon of two rhythmic beings gradually altering their phases until they are locked together in the same rhythm. Insects that chirp or blink will do it; even two human beings talking to each other will do it.” She said whatever we continuously think about or meditate on, we become. In her words, “What we think of, we tend to become.” Filling our minds and especially our imaginations with the life-rhythms of a person, ideal, event, place or idea, we latch on to them. And they carry us along, dominating our choice of reading materials, electronic media offerings, music, sports, personal relationships and affiliations. Dr. Bruteau writes, “Everything that ever enters the consciousness has some effect on it and takes up some kind of residence there.”

Whether by mind or heart, there’s a tendency for us all to connect and follow along with others. The above photograph and others like it, remind me to be aware of the trains of thought that I’ve coupled my mind to. Whether the exposure or influence is to an idea, organization, company or product, a writer, political candidate, artist or television program, I want it to be a conscious choice based on a destination that’s constructive, harmless and desirable. I want to travel along the tracks that will take me to where I want to go, not where somebody else thinks I should be going. So basically, managing entrainment is about continuously and exclusively making choices that are authentic to who we are as unique persons. And it’s a defense against false news, trash talk, conspiracy theories, and social/political manipulation.

NOTE: I highly recommend the books above that have active links. I consider Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book to be essential reading for parents interested in child-through-teen development. Especially important, he talks about the significance of media entrainment, how prolonged exposure to an electronic screen retards the mylination of neurons—resulting in decreased ability to concentrate and imagine. Daniel Goleman’s book is a primary resource for understanding the nature and significance of social and emotional learning.

Beatrice Bruteau‘s book paints a picture of what a mature and mindful Christian life looks like from an integral and evolutionary perspective. Click here for a brief sampling of her perspectives on spiritual evolution. Beatrice encompassed the fields of mathematics, physics, whole systems theory, psychology and East-West spirituality in an attempt to bridge the gap between science and spirituality. In God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World, she does this masterfully. She and her husband Jim Somerville were long-time dear friends to me and my family. She passed this life on November 16, 2014. I dedicate this posting to them.

Emotional entrainment is the heart of influence. 

Daniel Goleman
ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Tractor Tires

File: CDC 5919

At the intersection of Illinois routes 36 and 71 there was a lot of junk lying around. With no one there to ask permission I photographed a number of items, among them these discarded tires. Always looking for textures, I went in close to exclude the weeds that were about two feet high. The original image is in color, but because the tonalities worked so well I made the transformation to black and white using Adobe Photoshop (Under “Adjustments). It’s an ideal way to do this because the application lets the photographer manipulate the full spectrum of colors—so each can result in a lighter or darker shade of gray or black.

 

Order

 

In nature and in the world of man-made objects, geometric order evidences the interrelatedness of all things. Using the above image as a model, humanity may be said to consist of a single string within the spacetime continuum. Rather than forming a straight line—the way we experience time—the process of human evolution has been an ever unfolding and ordering spiral. For the most part we have not yet realized or accepted that order, novelty, expansion and complexity are ultimately unifying forces. But even conflicts over diversity can be seen as drivers, urging us to realize and accommodate to the reality that we are one, interrelated and interdependent species.

In the above image, if one of the segments of string represents a lifetime, we can see how it overlaps and aligns with many others. With a little consideration we can see the process of ordering at work. And we can see that an individual life is just a small segment of an unfathomably long string, one that’s shaped by an enfolded and fundamental order—the core—characterized by infinite potential, patterning and exquisite beauty. Notice how the mind’s eye sees a star in one place and then another. As in certain geometries considered “sacred,” the pattern in this ball of string is dynamic. It seems to move.

Socially we find examples of this dynamic in the messy domains of business and politics, where over time, conflicting perspectives, goals and methods eventually produce more ordered systems and solutions. A crowning example of this is the founding of the United States of America. Because the founders—and we today—differ in perception, values, goals and desires, there was and will always be conflict, argumentation and debate. In the messy process of sorting things out, an order emerges that overcomes psychic entropy—negative thoughts, ideas and ideologies that, if held long enough by a system’s members, leads to dis-integration and eventually the system’s demise. Order then, along with information, is negentropic. It overcomes entropy, at least temporarily.

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes, “Psychic negentropy refers to an ordered state of energy or knowledge, a state in which work can be carried out with the least waste and effort. A negentropic system, whether physical, informational, or mental, is one in which the parts function together in synergy, with minimal friction or disorder.” In his book, Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in the Teenage Years, co-authored with Reed Larson, Mihali identifies the specific traits that carry the highest negentropic potential. These include positive feelings toward self and others, happiness, friendliness, joy, meaning, a sense of energy, competence and intrinsic motivation to be involved with people moving toward constructive goals. Projected to adults, I can easily see how these would be the forces, among others, that are urging us toward alignment and synergistic engagement. In this way, on each turn of the evolutionary spiral, the invisible hand of Nature winds the string around a core, albeit one that imposes a design that is in process. And one that we are not yet privileged to see.

Writing about traumatic events experienced by adults—such as occur in family life as well as in business and politics—Csikszentmihalyi goes further to say in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, that the ability to draw order from disorder is what transforms negative experience into meaningful challenges. Paul Cézanne famously said it was the artist’s task to become “concentric” with nature, to align with it. I see that happening in this image. I also see how the center—the core of an object or idea—determines the pattern that will emerge as time goes on. For instance, if the string here pictured were wound around a cube or a triangle a very different pattern would result. The same with an idea or ideology. The core of a belief system shapes thinking, which produces patterns of behavior. It’s the reason for the biblical injunction “By their fruit you shall recognize them.” (Matthew 7:16). Others know us by what we do.

In the above photograph, the winding of a string around a round core results in a star pattern with concentric circles. Standing back, it resembles an eye. Computer scientist, Christopher Langton and others in the field of artificial life observe that the essence of living systems is in their organization, not the involved molecules. It couldn’t be otherwise, because at the atomic level it’s the organization of atoms that determines and discriminates one element from another.

At the heart of the most random or chaotic event lies order, pattern, and causality, if only we can learn to see it in large enough context.

Corinne McLaughlin

It is the natural tendency of life to organize — to seek greater levels of complexity and diversity.

Margaret Wheatley

When driven into far-from-equilibrium conditions, systems do not just break down, they generate new structures that pull higher forms of order out of the surrounding chaos. It is as if nature reaches into herself and draws forth structures that reflect the inherent potential of the system for higher orders of self-organization.

Duane Elgin

About This Image

Title: Ball Of String

I came upon this ball of string at the Cincinnati Zoo. About the size of a grapefruit, it sat on a table with a number of other items. I had a macro lens on the camera, but without a tripod and no direct sunlight I had to increase the ISO setting to 2000 so I could use a fast shutter speed to minimize the blur from camera movement. I was pleasantly surprised that the image was sharp and there was little detectable noise from the increase in sensitivity.

Trust

Seen from a distance, the colors of Autumn evidence the seasonal transition. The leaves turning brown, yellow or red and then falling from the trees at once signify death and the cyclical nature of life. Up close however, as this image reveals, it is also the time for the deposition of seeds, the first act in replacing the life that came before—and through mutation enhancing the species.

Observing the image of this mature grass with its “finger” of seeds, I think about its forebears, all of whom experienced and survived the vagaries of dramatic changes in soil and climate. Beyond the beauty of this blade of grass, enhanced by the backlight of late sun, the camera has captured the moment in its lifecycle when it’s about to disperse its seeds. I marvel at how this living system, constituted of billions of individual cells, each of which is continually making decisions in its own best interest, knows when and how to manufacture seeds in the first place and then disperse them. I could be wrong, but I don’t imagine there’s much intercellular competition or squabbling going on at that level. In my readings on the life of cells I notice that there isn’t the divisiveness caused by leaders and followers, haves and have nots, liberals and conservatives. The primary differentiating factor for individual cells has everything to do with the choice of function and location. There’s no question that the priority and driving force is the construction of a viable whole system, one that can sustain in order to reproduce.

This particular plant’s existence alone is evidence that its member cells have responded appropriately to both internal and external changes, allowing the whole system to survive, grow and reproduce. Every living cell contains the plan (DNA) for constructing a whole system. And through electrochemical processes, each cell chooses to play a specific role to contribute to the fulfillment of the plan. This is true of all healthy cells. At the level of the human individual, we have brain-nervous systems that function as the stimulus-responding mechanism to monitor and adjust the body to internal and external changes. What plants have that we lack is a plan for securing the health and well-being of the higher order bodies—the social and global bodies. Human beings are not naturally endowed with a drive to collaborate with other members of the species to construct a society—or world—that can survive, grow and evolve as a unit, a functioning whole system. As a species that is both conscious and social, humanity struggles to coordinate, largely through trial and error. Looked at over just several generations, barely a blip on the evolutionary timeline, it can appear that we are taking two steps forward and one step back. Civilizations, like all living systems, have lifecysles. Should we expect otherwise? The plant kingdom has had the advantage of 140 million years of evolution, compared to our mere 200,000 years.

Whether or not it’s appropriate to parallel our species with the plant kingdom, the fact that both are on  growth trajectories, cycling through internal and external changes is for me reason to trust that nature knows what she’s doing, that the life that’s living us is purposeful and patterned for complexity, expansion and increased consciousness—constructing who know what? As Buckminster Fuller often said, “We can’t learn less, we can only learn more.”  For the moment and from the perspective of evolving life, there’s every reason to trust that, although we as individuals and nations have much to learn about social, political and planetary management, progress is being made. Despite  personal ups and downs, trials and tribulations, all is well and on course. Through the  past winter and summer months—actually and metaphorically—we’ve been busy creating the seeds of our future—the values we hold dear. Now, it’s time to release them so the world can bring forth the next best thing.

I trust in nature for the stable laws of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant and autumn garner to the end of time.

Robert Browning

About This Image

Title: A Finger Of Grass

Ordinarily I would walk or drive past a patch of weeds and grass and not give them a thought. But by stalking that same patch with a camera I’m on heightened alert, looking for something that stands out—a pattern or a quality of light that enhances form and texture. Whatever the attraction, I’m compelled to compose the elements in the viewfinder. If it doesn’t work there I move on. If it does I enjoy the sound of the shutter and come away hopeful.

I was photographing in a local park two years ago and came across this blade of grass. What attracted me was the backlight, how against the dark background of forest it created a bright rim around the finger of seeds. Using a macro lens, I critically focused on the finger and opened the aperture wide enough so the background would be out of focus.

Stop! Pay Attention

Whenever I bring up this image it reminds me to pay attention to the commonplace items and situations that tend not to be seen or are easily passed over. It may be the act of seeing beyond looking, more than anything else, that enriches the present moment. Brief acts of perceiving are the visual equivalent of contemplation. One of the benefits of conscious photography is that it requires us to stop and spend an unusual amount of time pondering, perhaps just soaking in, the beauty of the subject’s form and texture, how it’s situated and lit.

I sometimes recommended a little exercise to my students: when they’re in waiting situations—an airport terminal, doctor’s office, business meeting or just at home with the electronics turned off—to pick a subject, put an imaginary frame around it and forget any words or functions associated with it. As a blind person seeing clearly for the first time, enjoy the subject’s attributes. Notice how it’s lit, and how the light accentuates certain features while diminishing others in deep shadows. It’s a practice that not only cultivates aesthetic perception, it accomplishes the Buddhist practice of mindfulness—accomplished by being aware in the moment, of the moment. Being present with what is, no matter what it is or where we are. Indeed, paying attention to singular being—like a towel, push pin, wrench or chair—can evoke appreciation for all being.

I thought of titling this post “Perception,” but the point that I most need to remember is to STOP NOW! PAY ATTENTION. Just sit or stand still with no distractions and appreciate what’s in front of me, what I normally take for granted. Even the computer display, the keyboard, the picture on the wall and the tissue box. As I look at these without naming, the question arises, What did it take for this to exist? Right here, right now. How many people were involved in bringing this into being?  It’s part of the Great Mystery—that we and everything else exist and are present as witnesses. One of the teachings in Zen is “unitive perception,” the experience of being able to see the temporal and eternal simultaneously, the sacred and the profane in the same object. By stopping and paying attention to the little things, that can happen. And afterward, through the act of deep awareness there comes a feeling of exhilleration from having tapped into essence, the Reality beyond the personal reality.

A person has not only perceptions but a will to perceive, not only a capacity to observe the world but a capacity to alter his or her observation of it—which, in the end, is the capacity to alter the world itself. Those people who recognize that imagination is reality’s master we call “sages,” and those who act upon it, we call “artists.” 

Tom Robbins

About This Image

Title: Hand Towel

My producer and I spent two days in a fire station waiting for an ambulance run where we would film a traumatic situation for a program on paramedics for a prime time series called A Matter Of Life. For hours and hours, we sat with batteries charged, the camera and it’s attached light ready to go at a moments notice. This towel was hanging on the bathroom wall. Fortunately, I had a still camera with me. Ever since, the photograph reminds me to stop and pay attention whenever a form, texture or ray of light attracts my attention.

To finish the story, on the second day a call came in—a man having a heart attack. Due to the paramedic’s quick and competent action, he survived and we got an hour’s worth of footage showing the process from the sirens screaming out the door to the patient resting comfortably in a hospital bed. As dramatic as that was, the towell is the more poignent memory.

Presentation

 

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 world view 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 a gun in front of a police officer. More commonly it determines ones acceptance, advancement and fulfillment—in every aspect of personal and social life. These terms may fall flat on the 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 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. In life, as in politics, 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

About This Image

Title: Peacock

We were walking around the Cincinnati Zoo and I came upon this peacock and a crowd of people standing around watching his display. Not to frighten him by approaching too quickly, I sat on the grass with my camera and slowly inched my way forward. Apparently he was as curious about me as I was about him because he stopped and stared at the camera, giving me enough time to wait until there was near perfect symmetry on both sides of his head before snapping the shutter. Thank you Mr. Peacock for such a lovely display—and image.

The City

 

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 and major progress being made by small group initiatives. 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 proverbial pyramid provided livelihood incentive and opportunities for those below. And they in turn, sufficiently motivated, realized their visions.

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, aspirations and visions of the everyday workers who sustain them. We can recite the names of corporations, philanthropists and business people 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, they 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 have to remind myself that cities are dynamic living systems, that people congregate and care about a place when they catch the spirit of something appealing that’s happening there. 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 spirit for the place, one that gives people a reason to care and to be there.

The world around, ancient indigenous peoples vitalized a place by ensouling it with guardian spirits in many cases, 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. This small act is a demonstration of respect for himself, his family store 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 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 each of the subsystems—like the Mexican man’s sidewalk—that constitute and determine the quality of the experience and its output.

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 obliterate 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. 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 the 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

About This Image

Title: Cincinnati Skyline Reflection

I’d purchased a new, wide-angle lens for my view camera and went to the Kentucky side of the Ohio River to try it out. Windows and signs in the distance were especially good for testing the lens’s resolving power and area of coverage. I’d made the black & white exposures, and because the sky was clear and the river calm I got out the digital camera and took some color shots. This was one of them.

Individuality

 

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, separate and ever changing no matter its shape or location, in essence it is water. Human beings are like individual drops of water in the ocean of the divine.

Considering the mass shootings that are occurring so often, one of the predominant patterns being reported indicates that the perpetrators were disenfranchised individuals, people who for various reasons “fell through the cracks” within their social systems—family, school, church, workplace or other. Even those involved in hate crimes or terrorist activities are often individuals who were abandoned, 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, encouragement, empowerment or regular medical care. When they don’t get it, when they feel disconnected and hopeless they may want to strike back.

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. Years later she sat with them at their fiftieth reunion. Another example of this was my mother who, on “Fun Night” at her retirement center always invited people on the sidelines to dance. Several of these widely diverse people—who said they didn’t dance, but did for her—became her best friends and helpmates. Of course there’s no way to know how those lives might have been otherwise, but engaging people who tend to be shy, alone or even preferring to be alone, whatever the reason, is something that everyday people in everyday situations can take notice of and 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 additional evidence of this, and a call for those who see something to say or do something.

In this drop of water I also see an individual filled with potential. Although the details within it may be obscure, they can come into focus through engagement with other drops. Together, they can constitute an ocean.

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 he 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

About This Image

Title: Raindrop

There’s a condition under which I can almost always make images that evoke a Wow! in me. It’s after a hard rain- or snowfall when the earth is still and the sun shines brightly. Conditions like that urge me to get out in the garden or walk the neighborhood with a camera, a closeup lens and a tripod—necessary to do fine compositional and depth-of-field adjustments to increase or decrease the sharpness of the background. I mention this because this happens occasionally—at home.

This particular image however, was made at Longwood Garden in Kennett, Pennsylvania. I wandered their magnificent conservatory with a closeup lens and tripod, and came into a section where the plants had just been watered. By opening the camera’s aperture as wide as possible, the struts in the window behind the plant blurred out completely, but you can still see them in the drop. Notice also the slight blur in the vine due to movement caused by the air handling system. The sharpness of the drop could not have been made without the tripod.