As Above, So Below

Realities that appear separate are one


One of the benefits of a photographic image is that it presents us with a moment, a fraction of a second that holds us there so we can reflect and appreciate the subject matter—and possibly some significance it might have.

The live scene or situation in front of the camera is part of our continuous experience, so mentally and physically we’re always on the move with respect to it. We give it fleeting attention. Ah, nice forest, we think. Beautiful trees! And then we’re on to the next thing. Thoughts change in microseconds. We loose interest. We become distracted. And the scene changes. Everything changes.

But when we sit with an image, the act of focused attention—contemplation—promotes the inner assimilation of the subject matter in that captured moment. Spending time with a beautiful image can have the same, albeit more subtle, effect of recharging our batteries and resetting our priorities, like when we spend time in nature or goes on a retreat. We especially recognize these benefits are occurring when the experience or observation produces an inhale, a deep “breath of fresh air.” It’s an indication that we’ve made a connection, tasted the Ultimate Reality, and all is well. A bit of the life force has been assimilated.

Beyond assimilation, there’s more to be gained by contemplating an image (thus the nature of this blog). For instance in the above image the colors are beautiful and they mark a transition from one season to another. But spending more time with the image we go deeper and begin to see what else is going on.

There are meanings to be gleaned beyond surface appearances in every image, whatever the medium. A consideration for me here, is the nature and source of color—the sun and an interpreting brain, the experience being a mental construct based on a complex of wavelengths, surface characteristics, biological, neural and social conditions. I also think about the diversity of different species of trees and how they blend together to create a “symphony” of harmonizing colors, forms and textures. Going deeper still, the image serves as a metaphor for change itself—life, death, transformation and renewal.

As I observe the reflection of the forest on the water, an ancient adage came to mind: “As above, so below”—how human beings shape their world based on what we observe in the cosmos.  But the analogy doesn’t quite hold in this image. The reflection on the water is not a detailed or even accurate representation of the forest. Nonetheless, it is complimentary.

The reflection itself generates an opportunity for meaningful contemplation. When I put my hand up to the screen and crop out the line of trees, the reality and its “message” is “forest.” The reflection presents a different reality, prompting a sense of blending, merging, motion, and unity. Where we are, in time, space, family and culture determines what we see. And believe. Above, the forest reality representing the absolute is clear without distortion. Below, the reflected reality representing human consciousness— thoughts about what is real— is limited and distorted, constantly changing and blending. Nonetheless, it’s shimmering. Beautiful in itself. And a tantalizing preview of what’s to come.

Meanwhile, we keep looking up—literally and figuratively. Those who have stood back far enough, tell us that, although our personal realities are as diverse as there are persons, they and the Absolute are actually One.

As above, so below.

Hermes Trismegistus, Legendary Greek sage



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