Indigenous Principles

The ways of harmony with nature and other human beings

Until they were overpowered by warfare, ancient cultures developed worldviews, philosophies and lifestyles that were largely Earth-oriented and sustainable. While language, rituals and lifestyles differed across cultures, there was consistency in many of their beliefs. That these principles survive in places today is a testament to their success in binding people to the earth and each other.

I believe that the modern world will eventually reinvigorate these principles because they serve as an antidote to the principles of separation, self-centeredness, short-term thinking, greed and materialism which are accelerating the forces of entropy. When a critical mass of people understand this and experience diminishment in the quality of their lives, or when life itself is threatened, they will act. 

In graduate school I minored in anthropology. All my coursework focused on Native American and Mesoamerican cultures. Since then, as an armchair anthropologist, I’ve  stayed current in these areas and recently came upon a web site that does an excellent job of describing the fundamental principles that indigenous peoples have held and continue to hold to this day. Glenn Geffcken, author of Shift: Indigenous Principles for Corporate Change, has codified them into “a system for living and working that will bring about lasting positive change.” Because, in my view, the principles are important, inspiring and extensive, I offer a taste of them here—in the author’s words. If the subject peaks your interest, I highly recommend a deeper dive into the web site—Balanced Is—to better appreciate the anciently derived mentality of those who understand how to live in harmony with each other and the earth. 

Everything Is Alive  

Everything is alive including the rocks, mountains, rivers, thunderclouds, and even the Sun and Moon. They make no distinction between biological forms of life and those we see as inanimate. To the Indigenous, everything is life.

Respect For Elders

To be an elder in the Indigenous sense is not so much about age, rather how a person has lived their life, the compassion of their heart, their humility, and their willingness to share their knowledge, teachings and stories. In Indigenous culture they are the link from the past to the present, the connecting cultural link, and the example we strive for.

The Four Directions

The principle of the Four Directions is about seeing oneself as a part of a system, that from each of the directions comes different elements, colors, animals, ways of being, and spirits. The four directions is illustrated with the medicine wheel showing us in the center, but not the kind of center that says that everything revolves around us, rather that we are surrounded by a dynamic system that works together to create and sustain life. We are no higher or lower, no better or worse, and we have neither dominion over nor are we in subservience under. We are a part of. 


Building great things requires time, consistent effort, passion, purpose, dedication, and so much more. Most importantly, it requires the patience to enjoy the process today, the building and creating, the designing and cultivating, and the eye to catch the nuanced signals telling us that we’re on the right track.


All the small rituals and formalities, each with their own meanings, collectively represent a process of engagement in physical and mystical acts with clear and highly focused intention… Indigenous elders, those that reach the state of “walking in beauty” have arrived at a place of wisdom, compassion, and dignity through many years of intentional acts and intentional living… Acting with carefully thought-out intention means we are thinking more broadly, with a long-term perspective. Even if our decisions are entirely self-centered, we can still make significant improvements in our lives and our work by extending our thought process beyond immediate gratification. Even more powerfully, we can dramatically change outcomes by looking for the connections between serving others and our own success.

Roles Of Men And Women

In Indigenous Society, women are held up as sacred life givers, the more spiritual gender, and the ones responsible for maintaining compassion and balance in the community. Therein lies a great misunderstanding of Indigenous culture by the Western mindset, that viewing women as nurturing compassionate life givers is diminutive to the men who hunt, go to war, and do the hard physical labor. It is considered of greater strength and courage to maintain compassion in the face of adversity than to go to battle, and of much higher importance to show one’s emotions than to pretend detachment.

Seventh Generation Unborn

Living for the seventh generation unborn means that we live each day of our lives with full cognizance that everything we do, every food we eat, every speck of dust we disturb, every piece of trash we leave behind, every natural resource we utilize, as well as every thought we have, the words we use, the kindness or compassion we express, or the selfishness we indulge in all have an effect that can carry through the generations to our great, great, great, great grand children.

The Oral Tradition

In Indigenous society wisdom and culture are handed down through stories, painstakingly memorized through years of repetition. A person who tells a story does not own the story, but rather the storyteller “carries” a story, as if the story has a life of its own independent of the storyteller. Therefore the storyteller holds a great responsibility to tell his or her stories accurately, not just in terms of the accuracy of words and details, but more so in terms of the wisdom and meaning conveyed. Each story has more to it than mere entertainment—it’s a piece of the heart of the people. It is through the listening and experiencing of the stories that the listeners learn a style of communication that empowers a person to communicate with intention, thoughtfulness, and purpose. 

I have found that a great many Native Americans will just not argue, and if one attempts to argue with them, they’ll just sit and ponder your words and say nothing, or in some situations they will listen to your point of view and only after a long pause will say something so concise, resolute and contrary, that at least in my case, I’m left without anything further to say.

Glenn Geffcken, Author, Shift: Indigenous principles for corporate change

The Way Of Love

The way of love is not so much a direct teaching of Indigenous culture as it is a byproduct of their way of life. Each of their principles for living represent a way of being that loves each part of their lives. They see themselves as a part of a living system, not separate from, but integral with. And in so being, they naturally love the system, which provides for all life… Even some of their greatest warriors, those demonized by our American history as slayers of the blue-coated soldiers, were known among their people as incredibly loving beings. 


Many, if not all, of the indigenous principles relate in some way or another to the need for living our lives with very high ethical standards. It is not important to be honest so that people will think of us as good people, or that our company is good, or so that we can think of ourselves as being good people or running or working for a good company; the need for integrity is so highly important because it is necessary in order to be right with all that we are connected with … which is everything.

The Spirit World

The principle of the spirit world is truly vast and precisely consistent from one end of the globe to the other in the Indigenous mindset. It relates to all levels of their society. It is the starting point and the ending point for their understandings. Direct connection with this universe of knowledge and guidance is what anoints the medicine person with the right to perform ceremonies and healings. It is the guiding voice in their ceremonies, their interrelationships, planting cycles, direction for hunts, how to resolve conflict, and so much more.

The Warrior Spirit

The “warrior spirit” in the Indigenous sense, is largely regarded as a person, man or woman, who has vowed their life to the betterment of their family, community, nation, collectively “their people,” and that they will act and make decisions for that greater good regardless of how hard it may be or the consequences as they pertain to the warrior him or herself… We are required to behave like warriors, willing to do what it takes for the greater good regardless of what it requires of ourselves personally.


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Today’s playmates; tomorrow’s citizens and leaders.

2020 has been rough on all of us but especially kids. According to the National Library of Medicine (NIH), children were hit the hardest by psychosocial factors. “Being quarantined in homes and institutions may impose greater psychological burden than the physical sufferings caused by the virus. School closure, lack of outdoor activity, aberrant dietary and sleeping habits are likely to disrupt children’s usual lifestyle and can potentially promote monotony, distress, impatience, annoyance and varied neuropsychiatric manifestations. Incidences of domestic violence, child abuse, adulterated online contents are on the rise.”

To underscore the critical importance of securing a better experience for kids going forward, I selected some perspectives and insights from notable individuals.

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. — Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them. — Lady Bird Johnson, Former First Lady of the United States

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. — Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and statesman

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. — James Baldwin, novelist and social critic

Children are our most valuable resource. — Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States

The best way to make children good is to make them happy.  — Oscar Wilde, author and poet

Only where children gather is there any real chance of fun. — Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author

Anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me. — Fred Rogers, television personality

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. — Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist

If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children. — Mahatma Gandhi, Indian political and spiritual leader

For details on how to help children in the coming years I recommend a Harvard study. It examined the impact of the pandemic on children, youth and families with recommended principles to “Improve outcomes for youth at the practice/community, systems and policy levels.”


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Meaningful Human Connection

An antidote to polarization and violence

A birthday celebration (Birthday girl not shown)

I enjoyed Susan Vreeland’s novel Luncheon of the Boating Party so much I seriously considered a visit to The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.  to see Renoir’s painting by the same name. I didn’t go, but in visiting Vreeland’s website I found a gem of a quote for my database. (Curiously, if the above photo were blurred it would bear a slight resemblance to Renoir’s painting).

Where there is no imagination of others’ lives, there is no human connection. Where there is no human connection, there is no chance for compassion to govern. Without compassion, then loving kindness, human understanding and peace all shrivel. Individuals become isolated, and the isolated can turn resentful, narrow, cruel; they can become blinded, and that’s where prejudice, holocausts, terrorism and tragedy hover. Art and literature are antidotes to that. — Susan Vreeland, Novelist

Reading this in the context of a recent mass shooting, again by a man who was a “loner,” someone who wasn’t sharing his life or engage in their lives, Susan’s suggestion that art and literature could be antidotes to the lack of human connection triggered “What if…?” ideas that would apply equally to other situations where people are estranged due to prejudice, tension, mistrust, hatred, fear, injustice, local fighting or even warfare.

For instance, what if fine artists, representing polarized parties, were to begin a process of regularly displaying joint exhibitions of their artwork outdoors in a variety of public places, promoted as a call to encourage diverse expression and personal interaction? I imagined people connecting—conversing—over both the subject matter, aesthetics, presentation and other exhibition opportunities. 

What if performing artists in music, dance and standup comedy, those representing diverse identities, issue, worldview or philosophy were to perform together periodically, outdoors, free of charge in different neighborhoods? The purpose would be to provide opportunities for the performers and those in the audience to have a joyful and uplifting shared experience. During breaks, organizers would go around making introductions and facilitating conversations.

What if an organization such as a library, church or park commission were to hold summer outdoor picnic style book fairs with discussion groups in local parks? Books to be discussed would be announced in advance so on the day of the event readers would recognize their group. I imagined the events being facilitated by people well-versed in the books’ subjects or stories. In addition, he or she would make introductions and get people talking to one another. To encourage attendance, the events would be promoted in diverse neighborhoods., people would bring food for their family and friends—and some to share.  

Those are just a few ideas for bringing opposing parties together locally, featuring art and literature. My “out of the box” musing relative to adversaries on the international stage derives from prescedents throughout history—you don’t commit war on a neighboring king if your son or daughter is married to his son or daughter, especially when they live in the same area. 

For example, among the ancient Maya cross-polity marriages increased trade and made allies of kings who might otherwise be regarded as enemies. Many of these marriages endured—and created peace—through several generations. It must be noted, however, one particular king married off his daughters for the express purpose of creating allies to war on his ancestor’s bitter enemy.  

While cross-nation marriage between nations isn’t a realistic option in the modern era, there’s wisdom in the idea that it’s against human nature to harm, kill or destroy a city where your relatives or loved ones are living. In my opinion, the leaders of nations who perpetrate violence on another nation, for whatever reason, have yet to learn—in Gandhi’s words—that “All men are brothers.” 

Engineer and visionary Willis Harman tells the story of talking with a Native American leader about how white people have difficulty understanding the Indian way of looking at the world. The Indian replied: “It’s easy. You only have to remember two things. One is, everything in the universe is alive. The other is, we’re all relatives.”

At a personal level, we need to be on the lookout for loners and others afflicted with mental illness—at all ages—to ensure that they get the help they need. The tendency may be to stand back and not engage them, but in many cases reaching out and engaging could become a life-saving gesture. Here, I’m thinking of teen suicide. And we can teach our children to include anyone who has a tendency to be excluded by others. Linda, my wife, can even name the individuals her group included as a result of the nuns teaching them to do so.

What we think about we make more of. It’s how an adversarial mindset, whatever its roots, grows and develops into a perception of the “other” as an enemy to be separate from and defeated. He or they are no longer perceived as persons. Like hammers that only see nails, adversaries focus on differences. To be effective, any resolution to these situations requires a shift in perception—from “He’s wrong and I’m right.” “God and history are on our side,” and “Their way only makes things worse,” to “We both have something of value to offer, so let’s focus on that.” To get there, all parties (personal, political and national) need to come together in a context that provides meaningful human contact.    

Internationally, the world stage is immense and remote and the principal players are caught up in power grabs and gamesmenship. Is there anything we can do at that level? Because consciousness is fundamental and we’re all related, we can pray for the world leaders who are bent on killing, creating miserys and destroying property like we would a relative who’s suffering. Naming their names, we can visualize them immersed in light—cocoons of love and compassion. Meanwhile, we can intend that they be at peace with whatever their souls require. Ultimately, at all levels, everything happens for a good reason.

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

Mohandas Gandhi




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The Holographic Universe

All that we are and all that we know begins in space; the part contains the whole

Recently, I was looking through a window screen and refocused my eyes to see the screen itself, the grid pattern with thousands of tiny, same-size boxes or holes. Defocusing again so the background became sharp, I became aware of brightness differences in sections of the screen and that led me to see the screen as analogous to pixels on the screens of electronic devices. A step further and my thoughts turned to the hologram, where any portion of a holographic plate contains the whole image. 

To make a hologram, an object, for instance a rose, is illuminated with the light of a laser beam. Another laser beam is then bounced off its reflected light, creating an interference pattern in the area where the beams combine. The pattern is then photographed on film. When it’s developed, the image looks like swirls of light and dark lines—a typical interference pattern. But when the film is lit by another laser beam, a three-dimensional image of the rose appears. If the hologram is cut in half and illuminated by a laser, both halves will contain the entire image of the rose. No matter how many cuts are made, each piece of film will contain a smaller but intact version of the whole object. What’s significant about a hologram is that every “part” contains all the information about the “whole.” 

In his landmark book The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality, Michael Talbot says the hologram accounts for seemingly mystical occurrences including out-of-body experiences, quantum strangeness, telepathy and miraculous healing. In the forward to his latest edition of his book Lynne McTaggart, a long-term researcher into mind-science phenomena relating to healing, says his conclusions “continue to be proven true by today’s most advanced physics, cosmology and string theory.” 

We are of a universe in which individual brains are actually indivisible portions of the greater hologram and everything is infinitely interconnected.Michael Talbot, Science writer

In 1982, experimenting with lasers to produce 3D images—holograms—French physicist Alain Aspect found that under certain circumstances subatomic particles such as electrons can instantaneously communicate with each other whether they’re 10 feet or 10 billion miles apart. Each particle always seems to know what the other is doing.  The problem for physicists was that it violated Einstein’s tenant that no communication can travel faster than the speed of light. 

Nonetheless, University of London physicist David Bohm worked out (mathematically) comprehensive theories of reality by considering the universe to be a “gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram.” He argued that subatomic particles are able to remain in contact with one another regardless of the distance separating them and this is not because they’re sending a mysterious signal back and forth, but because their separateness is an illusion. At the quantum level of reality, “particles” (more properly energy packets) are not individual entities, but extensions of the same fundamental something. Today, physicists are talking about that “something” as a “unified field” or “quantum vacuum.” We know it as space. It shows that, below the level of the reality we experience, everything in the universe is interconnected, parts of a whole. 

At this momentous time, we are coming to recognize that everything we call physical reality is expressed as a cosmic hologram, and that each of us is a holographic microcosm. There is no real separation between cosmos and consciousness, and that the appearance of separation is merely the perspective from which consciousness in the cosmos views its own projection. — Jude Currivan, British cosmologist, author The Cosmic Hologram: In-formation at the Center of Creation

It’s the part-whole relationship that took my mind on this journey from window screen to pixels and then the hologram. The screen has holes or spaces between the wires; pixels hare virtual spaces that contain potentials, and at the atomic level holograms consist of “fields,” empty space with infinite potential. I find it intriguing and beautiful that matter emerges from pure potential. Like the pixel that can be made brighter or darker with variations in color that can harmonize or contrast with their neighbors to produce a whole image, I can select from the field of potentials—universal consciousness, the whole—to become and express the best possible version of myself.  

If consciousness is the universal whole and we are the experiencing parts or members, our connection isn’t just with each other. It’s with all that is.   

The universe presents itself to us as a system composed of parts-within-wholes, of systems within systems, organized through time and evolution as interdependent levels of complexity. Each part, including you and me, is integral to the whole; and, in some holographic sense, each part is a microcosm of the greater macrocosm. Each part contains within itself the seed or template of the whole. — Christian De Quincey, American philosopher, author of Radical Knowing: Understanding Consciousness through Relationship.


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The “Me” in Media

Is media the boss of me? Or am I the boss of it?

What we communicate internally—whether in dreams, fantasies, fears, or aspirations—are to some degree written large upon the billboards, headlines, screens, and ads of our civilization. In this sense, inside media becomes inside me. —  Tom Cooper, Professor of Communication, Emerson College.

What we think about consistently, we make more of. Individually and collectively, what’s on our minds are largely concerns and values. Our purchasing behaviors reflect them, and these get projected onto billboards and screens. In this way, the culture reflects the personal. Because each of our purchase decisions is a vote for more of the same, the shaping of the culture begins with me. 

Commerce is an essential social activity. But when it becomes pervasive to the point of distraction and manipulation, when it takes center stage in the environment, it diverts attention away from the thoughts that inspire and lift us up, including the vital processes and values that make us more fully human. My list of these includes the discovery of identity and purpose, the development of unique potentials, expanding consciousness, integration of head and heart—and  thoughts about the expression of virtues in everyday living such as love, compassion, kindness, altruism, empathy, humility, generosity, honesty, morality, consideration for others, the experience of beauty and the exercise of wonder and awe.

Consideration of the ”me” in media, simply means that I’m in charge. Looked at from the whole population the influence seems remote and minuscule, but from the personal perspective the influence and be immediate and powerful—by being more conscious and intentional when it comes to purchasing, consuming and viewing. For instance, when on the highway I avert my eyes from billboards, mute the sound on television ads, ignore or click-off ads on the internet, go directly to the products I want in a grocery store and block robocalls. There are so many places where I can find inspiration and be productive. I don’t want to be distracted. And my attention is not for sale.

Our minds are being addressed by addictive media serving corporate sponsors whose purpose is to rearrange reality so that viewers forget the world around them. — Paul Hawken, Ecology of Commerce.


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Teachers and Teaching

A guest posting, taken from my daughter’s recent blog

I will forever love this photograph taken in my Mother’s freshman high school English Literature classroom in the late seventies (check out my teeth!). Mom — and Dad — were my very first teachers both in their professional and personal lives. I watched as they strived to recognize the assets in each student and bring out their very best (even when those students had no faith in themselves). They showed me how teaching could be one of the most meaningful contributions to the world.

As a child, I pretend played teacher with my stuffed friends, acted in plays at school as a teacher, and envisioned what I would be iike someday when I could become a teacher. Since then, the teachers who have left a lasting impression are the ones who taught my heart and spirit to soar with curiosity, wisdom and compassion. I’m honored to now be a teacher and have learned that teachers, in order to fulfill their sacred role, must be consummate students. Teaching has become a whole family affair as I teach alongside my partner, Jason in homeschooling this year and we invite in guest teacher friends and family – yes, Mom and Dad are back teaching their grandson – with powerful lessons in the Ancient Maya, the arts, Shakespeare, writing poetry and more.

Because teachers are learners and change-makers, we are well-equipped for changing times, times of division and times of trial. We realize that the whole world is our classroom if only we observe, question and reflect with our students on the lessons to be learned from social, political and environmental challenges. We know that if we bring our whole heart and mind to our students — paying keen attention to their needs, their gifts, and which issues ignite their passions — we will become just the support they need to thrive not simply survive.

So to all the teachers who are making the world a better, kinder, more inclusive and just place, thank you!

Jennifer Smith Miller, Author, Confident Parents Confident Kids

(Her book: Confident Parents Confident Kids)


Inside and outside, it’s the place where peace resides

Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.

 — Meister Eckhart, Christian mystic

Coming across this quote, I noticed that stillness has been and continues to be one of the prominent themes in my photography. When I go out with a camera, the word in my searching mind has long been “simplicity,” one of the aesthetic dimensions. Upon reflection, I see that a large part of the appeal of simplicity, that is, few visual elements, is stillness. The fewer the elements, the less there is to distract the eye. And this applies as much to life as it does to art. Both of these images convey a sense of stillness, but the one below has fewer elements—greater simplicity and an increased sense of stillness. 

Regarding Meister Eckhart’s quote, the greatest potential representation of the Divine in a photograph would be no visual elements at all. Consequently, no “image.” Of course, God, Infinite Intelligence, the Ground of All Being, Great Mystery or whatever name we choose cannot be imaged, that is, represented by anything physical or mental. At the same time, assuming a Creator that’s both imminent and transcendent of creation, everything in the cosmos is an expression of That. 

What breaks the paradox, for those who choose to see it, is that the hand of every artist, including God, is available to be seen in all their creations—simple or complex. It’s in this regard that St. Ignatius of Loyola challenged his “Jesuit” followers to “See God in all things.” It’s what my photography has been about since 1964. 


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Stepping away from distraction and divided attention

The light of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. — Jesus (Matthew 6:22)


To be whole, authentic, we’re advised to be single-minded—present in the light of Now, present in the light of consciousness. I refer to the Now as “light” because focused attention on whatever we’re doing in the moment illuminates the true self. Single-minded concentration—centering on the breath or a significant word—is what we do in meditation. In the East they call it “one-pointedness.” We can practice this at other times as well, by focusing wholeheartedly and whole-mindedly on our thoughts and activities throughout the day. 

By removing distractions, even significant ones, single-minded focus promotes deeper understanding and appreciation, greater efficiency in performance and lessens the prospect of  challenges becoming a burden. Also, we get to the essence of the situation quicker. Double or multiple-mind divides consciousness into parts that vie for prominence. Single-mind is like a laser. When thought is focused and sustained it becomes coherent.

Coherence means the quality of forming a unified whole… The cornerstone of coherence is the experience of being a unified whole in our own right as individuals.Diana Durham, Author of Coherent Self, Coherent World: A new synthesis of Myth, Metaphysics & Bohm’s Implicate Order.

Because our reality is constantly changing, divided mind is the norm. Thoughts and images race through our consciousness continuously, like a stream of television channels that can only be paused momentarily. With many of them being meaningless distractions, at times annoying, frustrating and exhausting, it’s refreshing to pause and focus, to become single-minded, to allow the observer and the observed to become one. For many, a time comes when there’s a hunger, an urge for this, for that which endures despite change. 

According to my dear friend and mentor, Beatrice Bruteau, the “unification of consciousness, usually called concentration” accomplishes this. The following is from her book What We Can Learn From The East.

How do you do this concentration? You just BE what you’re actually doing at the moment, without thinking or feeling about the fact that you’re doing it. When you set your hand to the plow, you just concentrate on plowing and go straight ahead without looking back to see what you plowed, or how well you plowed. You don’t allow the mind to divide into two, half on plowing and half on plowed. You notice the plow, the field, whatever you have to attend to in order to plow straight and merge your whole mind into the objective reality of these things in order that the plowing be done correctly. Put all your feelings into this plowing because this is where your life is at the moment. You have no other life here and now except is plowing. Therefore, feel this plowing thoroughly, feel it everywhere you can… Become plowing. This is you at this moment. This is where you really are what you are really doing. That’s how you center yourself, how you concentrate. You will be in your inner chamber, and you will be aware of that life is gushing up to you at that point, that your being is being sustained from moment to moment. You are in immediate contact with your Source. This is keeping the consciousness single. And sure enough, when this eye is single, the whole body is filled with light.

In his famous book, Be Here Now, Ram Dass (whom I had the pleasure of interviewing in the early ‘80s) talks about the busyness of life, and how, when he found himself reflecting on the past and planning for the future, he reminded himself to be in the moment, present in the light of Now, the place where our true self resides. 

I find that being single-minded, present, observing what I’m thinking, seeing or doing and holding my attention on it for a while, is expansive. I think this is what photographer Dorothea Lang meant when she observed that “Photogaphy takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” Holding, noticing, attending, concentrating, focusing the mind in the midst of change and distractions may be one of the great appeals of photography. When the eyes of mind and camera are single, the whole body and experience is full of light.  

If you continue worrying about what might be and wondering what might have been, you will ignore what is… It is good to learn from the past, but the future can only be positively fulfilled by focusing exclusively on the present. It’s the only action that supports life, that enables everything to be the best it can be, all unfolds from and happens only in Now.  Isira Sananda, Australian spiritual leader and author.


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We continue to speak as though we “came into this world.” But we did not come “into” this world; we have come “out” of it—as leaves come out of a tree, we have come out of the universe. As leaves are organically parts of the tree, we are organically part of the universe.

Thomas King S.J., Theology professor, Georgetown University


When a child is born it appears he came into this world, as if the soul resided in another world or dimension—a common belief among traditional faith communities. Speaking just physically, our bodies don’t come into the world so much as they emerge from previous organic substances that, as Fr. King noted, can be traced back to the stars. 

In concert with this perspective, just as the spirit of a tree gives rise to and inhabits its leaves, the spirit of the universe gives rise to and indwells its most complex expression—human beings. And everything else. In part, it reveals to us further understanding of the phrase, “We are one.”


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The Universe in a Chair

There’s more space than matter here, but the combination served a beautiful purpose.

Photographed in Venice, Italy


When we look at a chair, we see the wood, but we fail to observe the tree, the forest, the carpenter or our own mind. When we meditate on it, we can see the entire universe in all its interwoven and interdependent relations in the chair. The presence of the wood reveals the presence of the tree. The presence of the leaf reveals the presence of the sun. The presence of the apple blossoms reveal the presence of the apple. Meditators can see the one in the many and the many in the one… The chair is not separate. It exists only in its interdependent relations with everything in the universe. It is because all other things are.

Thich Nhat Hanh


A lesson from both quantum physics and Buddhist philosophy: the farther and more deeply we extend our perception into matter, the less there is of it. At base, there’s string-like vibrations, energy fields. As more and more scientists recognize that energy as consciousness, I think about the carpenter who made this chair. What a wonderful contribution, a comfort to all who rested on it. So many. And here, again, as an image, it points to the tree, the forest, the sun—everything.  


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