The soul’s feedback mechanism


When I first printed this image, I thought it was a nice expression of childhood exuberance. Looking deeper now, I see  humanity standing between earth and cosmos expressing joy. Given how our bodies evolved from the earth, it’s like the planet’s rising up here, now conscious, reaching out in a celebration of life and a yearning to connect with the great mystery. 

Images coming from the Hubble and James Webb telescopes are revealing the unimaginable scale, beauty and variety of the cosmos. It’s humbling on the one hand, yet there’s also an immensity within. Noted poet-philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson referenced it when he said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Beyond plants and animals, we can   come to know and realize our potentials, and in the process discover what and who we are and why we’re here.

Shakespeare’s despondent Prince Hamlet, contemplating suicide, wonders whether it’s nobler “To be or not to be.” Living may be painful, extremely so at times, physically, mentally and spiritually. At the other end of the spectrum it can also be joyful. It’s been said that every experience is “Grist for the Mill,” an opportunity to realize what we’ve come here to learn. 

Philosophers from Socrates on, regarding happiness as the ultimate good, debated its nature and how to achieve it. Today, formulas and strategies abound in every medium to help us in the pursuit of happiness. I believe they should have been talking about and promoting “joy,” which is not the same as happiness. While joy can deliver happiness, it’s very different, a subtle quality of alignment with one’s reason for being and connection to the greater life—spirit. For me, it comes in moments of gratitude, appreciation and increased focus, brought on by a sense of satisfaction that comes from immersion—being in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, defines “flow” as “A state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.” In his talks he says flow is the secret to happiness. Indeed, but in my worldview, happiness stands on the shoulders of joy. As I see it, happiness is a positive emotion that ripples like waves on the surface of the ocean. Joy is more fundamental, an emanation from the depths, a confirmation that says the current thinking or activity is aligned with purpose, in harmony with the soul’s agenda for this lifetime. 

Soul emanations like joy are subtle. They tend to emerge in silence and calm emotions. And they usually surface in reflective moments after an immersive experience. May you have lots of joy, and may it bring happiness along with it!

With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.

William Wordsworth


Photography Monographs (Select a book. Click on in it to turn pages)



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