Continuity

The Persistent Seeds

It’s not unusual to see vegetation sprouting through cracks in the pavement, but these little plants were growing in mud alongside a railroad track that had been thoroughly covered with oil. They speak to me of the resilience and continuity of life. In this instance, seeds from dying plants sunk into the mud and were overlaid with more mud and water, snow, ice and oil spills. Nevertheless, despite these conditions and a harsh winter, when the moment was right, the cells within these plants awakened to the call of Spring and, rising in the direction of heat and light, gave birth to the forms of their “ancestors.”

Observing this process—and relating it to the lifecycle of maize plants—the ancient and modern Maya adopted the belief that death gives rise to life. While the ancients believed that only divine kings would reincarnate, the general population believed—as many do today—that their sons and daughters “replace” the souls of their grandfathers and grandmothers, providing continuity of their lineage essences. Ethnographers studying the Maya report that within certain societies, when an elder dies his relatives begin to look for his “kex,” a newborn replacement for him within the extended family. (It’s similar to the Tibetan’s search for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Also for the Maya, as with maize and other crops, birth and rebirth demonstrates conclusively that life is not a straight line of events from birth to death, but a continuous cycle, a sacred round wherein life—and consciousness—“breathes” in and out, allowing old forms to die and new forms to be born.

Although the forms we take bear some resemblance to those of our fathers and mothers, and we carry within us their genes—along with many of their values, beliefs and aspirations—we are, like the plants in this image, new and unique individuals carrying forward the biological essences and thought patterns of our ancestors. Just as the composition of the soil influences a plant, the physical, mental and social composition of the environments we grow up in condition our thinking, responding and creating, often in ways that are different from our parents. Because consciousness increases with complexity, each generation is more knowledgeable and aware than the last. And this increased awareness, particularly as it multiplies and globalizes, will lead us—gracefully or painfully—to assume greater responsibility for the quality of the “soils” that will nourish our grandchildren and their grandchildren when they “Touch the Earth”—the Maya’s way of referring to a soul’s incarnation.

For indigenous people the world around, maize was the perfect metaphor for life because a single stalk will be toppled by gusts of wind. To survive, it must grow in close community where there is support.

To live is to communicate life, because life is essentially a spreading, growing phenomenon. Therefore, the more one communicates life, affirms life in one’s fellows, gives oneself to enhance their lives, the more one is alive, is truly living, and thus, is truly oneself.

Beatrice Bruteau

About This Image

Title: The Persistent Seed

File #: DC4169

Before 9/11 I often photographed in railroad yards. Since then, because of security restrictions, it has become difficult to gain access. This image was captured at a railroad crossing close to the highway. Judging by the number of pools of oil up and down the tracks, there had recently been a leak or spill from one of the tankers. This little green plant, poking its leaves out of the muck, called to me and I couldn’t resist. In Photoshop I increased the contrast of the ground and raised the saturation of the green leaves just a bit.

Perception

 

In part, our uniqueness as individuals traces to our capacity to perceive, beyond merely seeing. Aldous Huxley famously observed that “The eyes and the nervous system do the sensing, the mind does the perceiving.” The eyes gather information and the nervous system delivers it to the brain where it is sorted, referenced to memory and interpreted. The object of my reflection here is that everything we sense and know comes down to interpretations based on perceptions. In this light, the mystics and physicists who observe that this world is an illusion makes sense, particularly when we consider that our perceptions—and the acts that follow from them—are determined by the lenses through which we view each other and the world.

Even as we use instruments to learn about objective reality, interpretations relating to it are subject to the “lenses” of our observation—our biological inheritance, family upbringing, peer group, exposure to physical and social environments, education, affiliations, status, belief systems and accumulated experience. In a sense, each personality is a culture unto itself,  uniquely formed and constantly under construction. I am not the person I was ten minutes ago, much less ten years ago because my personal and social lenses are dynamic, ever changing. Recognizing that everyone is seeing through different lenses should urge tolerance and compassion in our interactions, or at least some respect and patience when our perceptions, judgments, preferences or choices differ. Yet across cultures, people are willing to risk everything for the satisfaction of being “right” or being in possession of “the truth” or the “best way” to accomplish something. We will kill and be killed holding onto a perception or belief that derives from it. Is my personal reality fixed, so dependent upon my way of seeing thing and being right that my world would crumble if it were proved otherwise?

I can’t imagine. But considering that one of our primary lenses are the stories we’re told—and understanding the power of story, which provides the basis for all religions, cultures and most everything we believe in—I can see how personal realities could become fixed and immutable. I think of the radicalization—brain washing—process. But there’s survival value for the individuals who are open to different points of view and change. Writing of the power of story and storytelling, Jean Houston asserts “Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.” Given that, the way to win a war or achieve political office is to tell stories that affect changes in perception.

In many instances, clashes over differences in perception have more to do with strategy than outcome. Americans generally agree on the fundamental rights and privileges articulated in the Constitution and Bill Of Rights, but we are divided on how to realize them. Some see political power as an opportunity to strengthen the whole of society by empowering the governing body to act on behalf of citizens. Others, fearing the possibility that those who govern will overstep or abuse this power, prefer to empower individuals and corporations directly, believing that they can and will take responsibility for themselves. We may want the same outcomes, but we see different ways to achieve them.

Differences in perception are often the root cause of conflict. Archaeologist David Freidel defines “culture” as “the shared conception and perception of reality in a society.” In places like the Amazon where nakedness was pervasive, there was no shame in it. Indigenous peoples the world around perceived rocks, mountains and art objects as being alive, while we only attribute life to animated organisms—and the environment is paying the price for that perception. Farmers destroy rainforests in order to feed their families, whereas environmentalists view those same forests as the lungs of the planet. A dandelion for one person is an object of beauty; for another it’s a weed.

So what is the truth? Who is right? In one lens better than another? According to the Bible, it’s by our actions—consequences—that we shall be known. Philosophically we can say that, for the most part, each individual’s perception is valid for themselves. It’s their personal reality. But actions have consequences. If the dandelions in my yard are crowding out the grass, I can run the lawn mower over them with impunity. But when I put down poison to kill them, animals and birds can be affected, and that has consequences for the neighborhood. For instance, a neighbor of ours had a cat that died from eating another neighbor’s grass treated with weed killer. We say that “Seeing is believing.” Like all good formulas, it works both ways: Believing is seeing. Thus the popular phrases: “We tend to see what we believe,” and “We see what we want to see.” Perceptions are always biased by what we already believe. The “truth” or “rightness” of a belief or perception is and can only be personal, a singular viewpoint.

Perceptions gain credibility by consensus. Lacking objectivity, the best I can do is be respectful of others’ perceptions and try to consider the consequences of my actions. Easier said than done. Arguably the greatest teaching of Jesus was to “love they neighbor.” In this context it amounts to respecting that we’re all together, experiencing different realities, and make room for them, at least in consciousness. In practice, it comes down to having an open mind and making a good faith effort not to judge. Now, when I see the image of these vintage eyeglasses, I will be reminded that we all “wear” unique and ever changing lenses.

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

Power rests in the conjunction of what the individual perceives of his own internal being. What he perceives in the world about him, and how he relates these perceptions to establish his relations with other human beings.

Richard Adams

The world you perceive is made of consciousness; what you call matter is consciousness itself.

Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj

About This Image

Title: Vintage Eyeglasses

File #: 849

Linda purchased these glasses at an antique fair. I was intrigued by the shape and the glass, so I set them on a large sheet of artist’s paper and moved a single light around them to see what would happen. I choose a bare bulb because I wanted the shadows to be crisp. The bright highlights in the deep shadow at the bottom of the image were a complete surprise.

Attention

Staples in Telephone Pole

I often told my students that the art and challenge of a film and television director is “attention management,” capturing and holding the viewer’s attention and moving it from place to place within and between scenes. In ancient cultures chiefs, rulers and landlords played that role, sending out “criers” who went around shouting the news and information they wanted their subjects to know about or take action on. Ever since, the rapid evolution and expansion of communication technologies has occurred as a consequence of complex societies where many more people wanted attention—and for many more reasons.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a monk, nailed a list of grievances against the Catholic Church onto the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany. A consequence was the Protestant Reformation. In June of 1982, I tacked a notice on telephone poles and community bulletin boards inviting people to come to a local park to discuss ways to promote Cincinnati as a “City Of Light,” a place where notable thinkers and achievers in the arts, sciences and humanities would come to dialogue and express their views on stage and on television. Fifty people showed up and met once a week for four months, but the financing we needed didn’t materialize and that was the end of it. In July, 2012 I photographed this thoroughly stapled telephone pole near Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. I imagine that, as a consequence, uncountable numbers of people attended theater performances, convened at symposia, lectures and recitals, found lost animals, bought and sold property and goods, offered and secured services and met their significant others. Represented on this pole is a nexus of attention. And while it may still be used to attract attention, we now have an intercommunicating network of technologies performing that function through cables and between satellites and land-based towers, enabling potentially every person on the planet to capture, hold and direct the attention of everyone else.

Technology pundit Esther Dyson wrote that “The most important finite resource in the late 20th century is people’s attention.” More recently, author David Shenk observed that “As competition heats up, in order to get our messages across, we have to wrap them in ever more provocative and titillating packages; we TALK LOUDER (his emphasis), wear more and brighter colors, show more cleavage, say shocking things.” It’s the phenomenon of “desensitization.” Because repeated attention  diminishes our response to dramatic sights and sounds, filmmakers and television producers feel they have to keep raising the bar on violence, sexuality and special effects in order to gain and hold our attention.

Executives in the radio, television and film industries say they’re in the business of delivering news, information and entertainment. Increasingly however, it has become apparent they are actually in the business of maximizing attention, arguably with less interest in content and more interest in securing “eyeballs for advertisers.” Having invested many years in the television industry professionally, and after having researched its history, structure and social function, I’ve come to the conclusion that commercial television is stuck in a period of prolonged adolescence  because that’s the current state of the dominant culture. Television is a social mirror. It reflects the mentality of the people it serves. So as long as we viewers are passive consumers rather than active advocates demanding intellectually stimulating, inspiring, empowering, personally enriching, useful and socially responsible programming, we will continue to complain that there are “hundreds of channels and nothing’s on.” Nonetheless, as a long term optimist, I believe there will come a time when television will reflect and serve a society that has evolved into adulthood.

Where we are right now is not a bad place. A multitude of pressures, especially those relating to economics, environment and security, are urging us to learn that our communication “toys” have the potential for higher purposes. But before these can be realized we have to learn how to use them securely and responsibly. I believe that, through these pressures, including long term public dissatisfaction and industry experimentation, television professionals will come to appreciate the medium’s higher potentials and discover that delivering substance has survival value. Currently, power is perceived as residing in the technologies themselves, but these are just the means of message production and delivery. The greater power resides is the delivery of real value, images and messages that contain substance—content that matters, that helps us relate better, construct meaning and build more satisfying and contributing lives. As a nation becomes more complex and realizes its interdependence with other nations, it could even become necessary for the media to turn its attention more toward matters of personal safety, growth, social development and environmental stewardship. Public television has been a leader in this regard.

Because attention is a choice, it’s formative. It shapes us. And it defines us. A guideline prescribed for novelists is to reveal the truth of a character more through their actions than through their words.  Socially, because the mass media, particularly television, provides a common “reality” reference for most of us, our collective attention generates “memes”—units of culture, including colloquial language, gestures, fads and trends in fashion, food and music. Memes largely define what is “cool” and acceptable in the culture, so advertisers keep them in front of us to entice us to “spend” our attention capital—dollars— accordingly. Anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, wrote that “Culture is what we pay attention to.” So knowing that my attention is simultaneously cultivating myself and society, I can more consciously choose to direct it.

What we pay attention to is no trivial matter; we are what we attend to. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

About This Image

Title: Staples In A Phone Pole

File #: DC2201

Location: Columbus, Ohio

I went to the Ohio State University campus in July, knowing that there would be fewer students and therefore less chaos and more freedom to shoot. After photographing some architectural features and other subjects, I was returning to the car when I saw this telephone pole. Because of the many staples, it “spoke” to me as an example of a low-tech way to capture the attention of passers-by. Using Photoshop, I increased the sharpness and contrast. Also, I boosted the color saturation to make the wood more vibrant than it appeared in the original.

Particularity

Ribbed Bivalve Shell

 

Linda and I have been visiting outdoor antique shows in the summer months for many years. While she looks for an occasional curiosity for the house or a gift, I look for objects to photograph. Although the above image was made in the studio—and neither object was obtained at a fair—it calls to mind an important observational lesson acquired by walking around and scanning items on display at these fairs.

In the early years, I used to wear myself out walking up and down the rows of vendors, looking for that rare situation where the quality of light illuminating an object peaked my aesthetic sensibility. Later on I noticed that there was a pattern to the places where I was more likely to find something to photograph. They were the booths that were less cluttered, and the objects on display were separated by some space. When the items were all clumped together in one case or on a table, none of them seemed important. Visually is was chaos. But when one object was singled out for display, isolated, my eye went right to it. Now, when I see a cluttered display I pass it by. If the vendor doesn’t care enough about his or her offerings, it’s not likely that I will either. Conversely, when I see objects separated out, displayed on a clean surface or cloth where the sunlight enhances its form, color or texture I have to investigate.

Our minds are visually impatient. When presented with a rose bush we look from one blossom to another. And when we’ve seen them all we move on. Whether it’s cars, food, furniture or shells on the beach, we want to see everything. That’s natural and appropriate. But by taking it all in—the wide perspective—we can miss the deeper experience that comes from focusing on just one object and staying with it for a time. We all know the greatest compliment we can pay an artist is to spend time with his or her creation.

Novelists use “particularity” to describe a character, setting or situation. Here’s the description of a scene: “Sam pounded the bar, insulted the bartender and threw his beer bottle on the floor.” We get the idea, but particularity makes it sparkle: “Sam’s eyes lit with rage. He pounded his black fist on the bar, grabbed his Budweiser by the throat and, cursing the bartender, threw the bottle to the floor. It shattered and people scattered as peanut shells rose and floated along on waves of dark liquid and foam.” In writer-speak, particularity amounts to “showing” rather than “telling” what happened. Since “God is in the details,” it behooves us to go in close and examine one item at a time.

An object surrounded by space creates a context of value. It’s why museums and gallaries give as much space as possible to their important holdings. And sometimes and artist will choose wide matting within a frame to surround a picture with blank space. Likewise, filmmakers hold on a shot so viewers have time to examine the elements within the frame. And to set them off, jewelers display their finer pieces with lots of space around them. The message of space surrounding an item or image is clear: “This is precious, worthy of your undivided and sustained attention.”

Out in nature our visual strategy is more often deductive—scanning the whole beach before looking for the particulars on the sand that appeal. The shell in this image is very common. Ordinary. But when it is displayed alone with care and lit to enhance its features, it becomes extraordinary. With our attention held on a particular shell—an inductive approach—we gracefully ease into appreciation and gratitude for all shells, and nature itself. I’ve noticed: while a forest can evoke a “Wow” in me, a single tree can speak more poignantly to me of “treeness,” of essence beyond but including magnitude.

In environments like antique, flower and car shows where there’s a lot to see, the mind wants to move on once we’ve recognized an object for what it is. But the soul is better served by focused attention, beyond recognition. So in these situations, I avoid the booths or areas where there is visual “noise,”  and gravitate to the displays where there’s evidence of order and caring in both subject and presentation. That’s when I’m more likely to find something worth photographing. Presentation matters.

 Always to see the general in the particular is the very foundation of genius.

Arthur Schopenhauer

About This Image

Title: Ribbed Bivalve in Wood Bowl

File #: 852

The above shell was found on the beach in Florida. I was in the studio playing with the light on a wooden bowl, trying to see what a highlight on the bottom would look like under diffuse and specular conditions. I liked that the diffusion created a cloud effect, so I looked around for an object that might be appropriate to put in the center of the bowl. I thought the shell was too big at first. But when I moved it above the center and looked at it on the ground glass it seemed to be floating above the “clouds.” The bowl sat on a light table, so the background was bright white. Finding this distracting, I used a voltage regulator and brought the brightness down to middle gray.

Equifinality

Alphabet Letters

 

The whole system’s principle of “equifinality,” a term coined by the father of systems theory, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, holds that in open systems, those that have external interactions, a given end state can be reached by many potential means. To lock on to a single pathway, observation or solution can overlook a simpler or better way to reach a goal. The advice then, for managing complex human and social systems, is to reserve judgment and keep an open mind.

One of the implications of this principle is that each and every member of an individual human or social system has equal opportunity to affect the outcome of the whole—by paying attention to potential solutions and staying open to alternative pathways to reach a goal—noting that any change will affect the output or outcome. Change any element, person or function, however slightly, and the system will perform differently than it otherwise would. Stated positively, no matter how small, invisible or seemingly insignificant a person’s function, he exerts an influence on the system’s performance and outcome.

A rock group is an open system composed of interacting members. As such, it performs differently each time the performers take the stage. Things happen. One musician substitutes for another. A guitar is not properly tuned. The drummer is trying out new sticks. The lead singer is depressed. The amplifier was replaced and now the sound is different. Likewise, corporate cultures change when an employee begins to eat lunch at his desk, when a mother brings her toddler to work and when an executive begins wearing jeans. It’s the reason we can’t step into the same river twice. Every millisecond, the water molecules are different; stones move; leaves fall in; the wind and fish contribute to turbulence. The example I cited for my students has to do with film and television production considered as a social system. Change one word in a script, decide not to stop for lunch, swap out a microphone or a light—every decision alters the outcome. We see it in television series’, where success in the first season generates more money, more expensive talent and new writers who have their own ideas about what will succeed in the next season. Time and larger budgets brings changes and suddenly The Good Wife isn’t so “good” any more, Sherlock’s cases become more complicated and are anything but Elementary and Person Of Interest shifts the story emphasis from an interest in persons to cyber warfare.

Equifinality gives us a reason to appreciate that our everyday choices and decisions are already making a difference. My wife’s switching from merely “fresh” to “organic” head lettuce affected changes—in our bodies, in local retail and national farming systems, health systems and the economy. Slight, yes. But nonetheless real. Little things add up. Every time we make a purchase, turn on the radio or television or engage in social media, we contribute to the sustainability of the medium and cast a vote for more of the content. This is especially the case with internet interactions because producers, marketers and distributors garner profits by watching and tabulating our choices.

Knowing that my choices and decisions are constantly affecting change, brings me to the realization that I have the potential to affect positive change in all of the systems within which I operate. That’s an empowering thought. At the same time I want to be more aware of my choices and decisions. Is this the message I want to send? Do I really want to sustain this activity? Do I want to cast a vote for more of this product to be produced? Is this information, service or philosophy in alignment with my values? Does this situation lift me up or inspire me? Do I want to support a company that isn’t socially responsible?

As I write, it occurs to me that this sounds like a lot of self-regulating introspection. Editing this piece, I hesitated and observed that the individual letters I put together, the letters and words I’m choosing and the questions I just posed are affecting the whole system—this contemplation. Do I really want to recommend these kinds of self-regulating questions for myself and you the reader? Indeed I do, because I’m advocating that we dig deep into our authentic selves before making our choices. Making them with more awareness of the consequences, however small, seems to me to be better all around, and more responsible personally and socially.

I have to admit that there are times when I go against the voice of my authentic self, as when I consume more sugar than I know I should. Sometimes we just want what we want—and we accept the consequences. On balance, I find comfort in the act of making “a good faith effort.”

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

About This Image

Title: Alphabet Letters

File #: DC2437

Location: Lawrenceburg, Indiana

Walking the grounds of an antique fair, I came upon these unusual looking magnetic letters sitting on top of an oil drum.

Perspective

Being six-foot-six, I’ve always viewed the world from a slightly higher perspective than most people. For instance I see the tops of furniture and people’s heads, and I can see farther in a crowd. No big deal. But that each of us perceives the world and other people differently—sometimes dramatically so due to our unique physical, parental, educational, psychological, racial, social circumstances and belief systems—is a big deal. Differences in perception, with its attendant communication challenges, is at the root of prejudices, disagreements and abuses that can provoke violence, even war. It has long been my opinion and personal experience that the effective management, perhaps even healing, of the negative consequences of conflicting perceptions lies in a closely related word—“perspective.” (Latin: perspectus, “clearly perceived.”)

I selected this image for contemplation because it beautifully depicts the nature of perception in the context of a whole system. Here, individual drops of oil are seen moving in relation to one another in a tank of water. Although the drops are identical in essence they are all different, each unique in size, shape and tonality due to its position relative to the light source. If they had eyes, each individual would perceive a “reality” different from the others. And we would not be surprised to hear them say, “Get out of my face!” “I’m bigger than you!” “I was here first!” “I will only merge with drops my size!” “You’re blocking my light!” “You don’t belong here!” “You’re ugly!” 

In these instances the individuals are operating from the point of view of “I,” or ego, defining and ordering their world from their limited point of view. Given our senses, that’s normal and natural. Eyes, for instance, evolved at the top of our bodies so we could survey the immediate physical and social surroundings. Relating to—and as—members operating within larger whole systems is how we survive, grow, acquire and contribute. Even when we look up at night, the stars and planets seem not to be relevant to our everyday lives. We know it’s vast out there, but beyond its beauty and curiosity the cosmos seems to have nothing to do with earning a living, parenting, managing work, getting an education or making a difference in the world. Except when viewing a cityscape or mountain range, from birth to death our eyes are largely fixed on a plane not much wider than a football field.

At times I become so focused on and engaged in what’s happening around and in front of me—especially when it involves other people—it seems that life is only about my personal interests and concerns. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Since the beginning, narrowly focused perceiving has and continues to have survival value. But on December 7th, 1972 the astronauts of Apollo 17 expanded our vision by showing us the Earth from space. Suddenly, many of us awakened to the broader reality—that the planet is a living system, whole, undivided and evolving a species that’s profoundly altering it. Since then the Hubble Space Telescope and other technologies have been expanding our perception of the universe dramatically. The knowledge of processes and immensities scientists are currently glimpsing are beyond imagination.

  • The big bang occurred about 14.5 billion years ago.
  • Seventy percent of the universe is dark energy; twenty-five percent is dark matter; and only five percent familiar matter.
  • With light traveling at 186,000 miles per second, it takes one million years for the light from the center of our galaxy to reach the Earth.
  • Nearly ninety-nine percent of our solar system’s mass is in the sun.
  • Our galaxy is 100,000 light-years across and 1,000 light-years thick.
  • There are more than 200 billion stars in our galaxy.
  • The solar system orbits the Milky Way every 200 million years—at a speed of 570,000 mph.
  • Earth resides 25,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way. 
  • Light from the sun takes 8 minutes to reach us. We never see the sun in the present moment.
  • The Carina Nebula lies 7,500 light years from Earth. It’s 140 light-years wide.
  • There are at least 125 billion galaxies in the universe.
  • Star V838 is 600,000 times brighter than the sun. Its size would engulf the solar system out to the orbit of Jupiter. 
  • In the center of the Sombrero galaxy there’s a black hole with a mass equal to a billion suns.
  • Hubble has imaged 10,000 galaxies in the Fornax constellation, which is 13 billion light years from here. 
  • Galaxies 300 million light-years from us are moving away at about 16.5 million mph—and the expansion is speeding up.
  • By one astronomer’s calculation “there are tens of billions of potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way galaxy.”

How do we respond to such immensity? What are we to think? How does it affect our perception of “God?” Astronomy magazines and images from space always increase my sense of wonder and appreciation. It’s like seeing the face of the Great Mystery. Beyond that, something more subtle is happening. And it took me a while to notice—the expanded perspective of the universe was occasionally asserting itself as a way to contextualize the challenging circumstances of my life, including the disturbing information and images being reported in the news. Standing back, a planetary and then cosmic perspective puts everything into perspective. Tragic events, personal and social breakdowns, disfunctionalities, violence and so on can trigger compassion rather than fear, disappointment or confusion. I found that a cosmic perspective also promotes understanding and patience by recognizing that humanity is engaged in a learning curve with respect to personal interaction and planetary stewardship. Especially, it impacts the arena of meaning—Who are we? Why are we here? What is the best use of our time and energy? As a species, What does it mean to be fully human? How do we get to right relationship? What’s the proper use of our power? What kind of world do we want for our children four generations out?

I observed above that a broader perspective can contribute to the management and healing of negative consequences due to conflicting perceptions. What has happened in the Congress of the United States is an excellent example of the disfunction, divisiveness and stalemate that occurs in a living system when its members vigorously champion and cling to their perceptions rather than debate their differences with an open, respectful and receptive mind. Collaboration and compromise is difficult; we have to give something of ourselves. We all like to think we know what’s right and best, and we’re advised to have the courage of our convictions, but it’s critically important to understand that the universe is indifferent. There is neither judging nor measuring. No “objective” right or wrong. There is only choice and consequences. Like the oil bubbles in water, we have to decide who we want to be, how we want to behave, how we will use our power and how we choose to perceive each other and the planet? The choices we make are critically important, because we create in concert with our perceptions. So what is it we’re creating—by our attitude, work, family life, votes? 

I saw a bumper sticker recently that read “Life Is Good.” Given what we are, where we are (physically and in consciousness) and how we got here, I’d say life is astonishing!

The impossibility of arriving at ultimate formulations of reality does not represent a defeat for the inquiring mind. It is only final assertions that are suspect, not the process of knowing itself. For we each have a valid and important perspective on what is. And to the extent that we can acknowledge the partiality of this perspective, what we say stays clear and true.

Joanna Macy

About This Image

Title: Cosmic Bubbles

File #: CDC915

The camera was placed above a fish tank filled with water, sitting on black paper. Using an eyedropper, I placed a small pool of cooking oil on the surface, stirred it up and in total darkness made an exposure with a flash unit to light the bubbles and freeze the motion. Being a random process, there was no way to predict the resulting image, so I shot nearly a hundred frames to get perhaps two dozen images that looked interesting.

Flow

“Going with the flow” is an expression that suggests it’s a better life strategy is to align with rather than resist what is happening. As guidance for individual behavior, paddling with the “current”—in the context of home, work and relationships—is certainly easier than paddling against it. In this image of waving grass, sometimes called “Whisp” or “Foxtail,” there’s more to be observed than just the blowing wind. From a whole systems perspective, I note that the stalks that support the tassels are rooted in the ground. They stand together as a community of sorts, and they lean in the same direction in response to the wind. Systemically, as a group, they can be seen as evidence harmony.

Considering flow at the most basic level, I think of atoms uniting to form molecules, molecules combining to form cells, cells joining to form organisms, organisms integrating to form bodies and so on. In nature, flow is represented in schools of fish, crop fields, herds of wild mustangs and flocks of birds, all moving together in harmony with each other and with their environments. Human communities that evidence flow include high functioning families, teams and synergistic work groups where people are all moving in the same direction. On a grander scale, Sweden, Japan and Canada are often cited as societies that are harmonious and less militant, places where there’s less social discord and more people living happier lives. Why is that?

The question is too big and complex to even approximate a reasonable answer, but it elicits a smaller question that peaks my interest—What are the energies that result in or give rise to flow in human systems? An answer to that would also suggest the qualities that contribute to harmony. One thing for certain, they are notas evidenced by religious and political polarization—the energies of intolerance, inflexibility and interfering.

Because analysis of living systems begins with an assessment of individual members, specifically their behaviors and relationships, I pulled up a list of some of the higher human character traits that were part of my “Vision For Television.” Here, I think they go a long way toward suggesting the energies that contribute to flow in individuals and society.

Acceptance • Altruism • Appreciation • Awareness • Caring • Compassion • Confidence • Cooperation • Courage • Creativity • Curiosity • Empathy • Faith • Flexibility • Forgiveness • Goodwill • Gratitude • Helpfulness • Honesty • Humility • Humor • Imagination • Integrity • Intelligence • Intuition • Kindness • Love • Patience • Respect •   Responsibility • Reverence • Tolerance • Trust • Wisdom • Wonder • Zest for Life

I believe these characteristics, or qualities, are contageous. As we experience them in others, they are awakened in us. And given even a small group, they can shape the direction of social change. On balance are the energies that retard flow and harmony, evidenced by the destructive “winds” blowing in the Middle East and other parts of the world where separatist factions and fundamentalist ideologies are bent on destruction rather than construction. Like grasses on the prairie, it makes a huge difference where indivisuals are planted or located. Those who paddle against the flow of life may expend a great deal of energy, but relatively little is accomplished that is enhancing and sustainable; the nature of conflict is merely to escalate.

Feeding my long-term optimism are the seeds of reason, respectful communication, intelligent creativity, wisdom, planetary stewardship and the rule of law, energies that are on the ascendency as evolution favors increased freedom, order, complexity and consciousness. How grateful we are to have been planted in such rich soil.

The evolution of consciousness always moves in the direction of greater love, inclusiveness, tolerance, synthesis, freedom, and empowerment, however slowly and painfully.

Corinne McLaughlin

About This Image

Title: Foxtail Grass

File #: DC4489

Blunt, South Dakota

I’d stopped to photograph an abandoned granary alongside rusted and weed covered railroad tracks. At the road’s turnaround I noticed several clumps of this grass waving in the breeze, so I settled myself on the ground in front of the largest clump and took several exposures, varying the shutter speed and screening the results each time until I had a variety of levels of blur to suggest the wind.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography

Love

 

The King James Bible, One Corinthians 13:13, states, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” The Aramaic Bible in Plain English reads, “For there are these three things that endure: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” One translates “charity,” while the other reads “love.” St. Paul doesn’t explain why charity or love is greater than the other graces. For this contemplation I prefer the term “love” over “charity” because these days sharity is more related to the giving of money or other gifts to helping organizations or people in need. Love, however, is free of this baggage and much more expansive—the reason I chose this photograph.

I noted in previous blogs that faith and hope have higher and lower “vibrations.” Like frequencies of light and sound, they have higher and lower frequencies—and therefore potencies. I use this terminology, not to rank one frequency as better or lesser than any other, but because they are vibratory and irrespective of application, the mysterious substances of these graces are consistent throughout their spectra. 

In my worldview, love has a much higher frequency than either faith or hope, which are uniquely human experiences that give rise to action characterized by a desire for unification. Love encompasses and transcends human experience. Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J., wrote that love is “The affinity of being for being.” I favor this view because it recognizes love as an energy that’s intrinsic to the universe. In support of this notion, engineer and philosopher, R. Buckminster Fuller, often said that “Love is metaphysical gravity.” That is, it holds all things together, in relationship, at all times, everywhere. And with regard to the action that love gives rise to, Mother Teresa said, “It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.” Putting these together, what we know of love is that it’s an energy, a force the favors relationship and bonding throughout the universe. In the human experience it prompts the desire for unification.   

Country singer, Clint Black, sings a beautiful song that says, love isn’t something that we find or have, “It isn’t something that we’re in, it’s something that we do.” The song references the frequencies of love that are the subject of literature, theater, film and mass media—romance, intimacy, amorous relationship and marriage. As biological creatures it’s natural and evolutionarily necessary for these to be paramount in our consciousness, rites, rituals and celebrations. Within these frequencies we marvel at the process of “falling” and “being” in love and lament the falling out of love. Indeed, love at the lower frequencies is something that we do.

The ancient Greek philosophers understood that there’s more to love than finding it and making it. Their term “Eros” referred to this kind of elemental love—eroticism and intimate love, the kind of love where there’s an expectation of return. “If you make me happy and I’ll make you happy.” “Storge” was their word for the natural affection between parents and children. It says “I cannot help but love you.” “Philia” was affectionate regard for friends—“If you show me virtue, equality and familiarity, I will care for you.” And “Agape” was the term applied to brotherly love, charity, the love of God and God’s love for man. Significantly, this was unconditional love— “No matter what happens or what you do, I will love you.” Thomas Aquinas wrote that Agape was “to will the good of another.” 

All these distinctions regard love as a quality of relationship between human beings or humans and God, given our senses and common interpersonal experience. But at the highest, most potent frequency, “transcendent” love steps away from material, space/time relationships and moves into the realm of Ultimate Reality, the present moment and union at a cosmic level—where there is no object at which to direct love. It simply is, occurring as an unexpected, fleeting and uncontrollable upwelling, a completeness that encompasses all that is, as it is. And it urges no action. Sri Nisargadatta wrote, “When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that’s wisdom. When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love. Between these two my life turns.”

If love is metaphysical gravity, the energy that holds all things together, might it be that the experience of transcendent love occurs when this is fully realized? I’m reminded that we only know such energies by their effects. For instance, we know how atoms and sub-atomic “particles” interact and unite to form matter And we know that they’re forces operating in space rather than particles. But we don’t really know what they are or why they are. The same is true of love. If Bucky is right about the energy of love holding everything together at every level, might it be the fundamental force of the universe? In that case, besides love being something that we seek, have and do, love would be something that we are. Full disclosure, this is what I believe.

Benjamin Disraeli wrote, “We are born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end.” If all the above is true, what would be the consequence of living in such a universe? My view combines what Mother Teresa and Thomas Aquinas recommended, that as conscious beings, evolution encourages us to maximize the amount of love in all that we do and, as much as possible, widen our circle of love until it becomes universal and unconditional—willing the good of the universe and all it contains.

On the day-to-day practical side, awareness of these vibrational distinctions can ease suffering. From a Buddhist perspective, the more we move from eros to agape—from thoughts and words of judging to non-judging, from controlling to allowing, from disapproving to supporting, from criticizing to empowering, from denying to accepting, from doing to being—the less we suffer in the face of breakdown and disappointment, and the more we contribute to those we love, to good karma (response to action) and future happiness. Irrespective of the frequency of love on the energy spectrum, it promotes union, the refinement of personality and the expansion of consciousness.    

Some day, after mastering the winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

About This Image

Title: Sunlight Streaming Over The Gulf Of Mexico

File #: DC2876

With my digital camera on a tripod, I made this exposure from the third floor of our rented condo. What you don’t see are the numerous exposures made before and after this precious moment.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography

As a reminder: My email address has been changed to: smitdl@fuse.net

Faith

255-B3

 

Dictionaries generally provide two definitions for the word “faith,” one being the trust or confidence we have in someone or something, the other a strong belief in God or a doctrine of religion irrespective of evidence. This image of a mother holding a child’s hand clearly speaks to the former, but in it I see where both aspects have their origin.

As infants and through childhood we are completely dependent upon others. Trust is given and “a given” if we are to survive. We take on faith that someone, usually parents or guardians, will be there—and able—to provide for our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. It seems like this should be an inalienable right as a prerogative of birth, because care given by responsible adults is what it takes minimally for children to become whole, healthy and contributing persons. That too often these essentials are not provided, deepens my appreciation for what I took for granted as a child. Even as adults, we have faith in family members and friends. They are the ones we can usually turn to in difficult times.

We also have faith in the systems that provide the contexts for our lives—schools, churches, small businesses, corporations, non-profit organizations, local governing bodies and the Federal government. My careers in education and business were all grounded in faith—that my teachers knew what they were talking about, that higher education would lead to desirable and creative work opportunities, that the economy would be such that I could find employment, that there would be a demand for what I had to offer, that salaries in my field would be enough to comfortably support a family, that employers would recognize my talents and reward achievement and that there would be people who would share my vision of a cable television channel dedicated to programming in support of human development. And so on.

Along the way we discover that some of our faith in people and institutions was misplaced—as in the latter television initiative. And so we learn that neither individuals nor institutions can always be trusted. Not everyone is responsible, not everyone behaves ethically. People and circumstances change. And so, through disappointments we develop some discernment as a hedge against misplaced faith.

As with “hope,” faith has higher and lower vibrations. The higher is acceptance of what is, as it is. Bo Lozoff, an American writer and interfaith humanitarian wrote that “Faith is a profound acceptance of life’s ultimate goodness no matter what happens.” At the opposite end of the faith spectrum is fanaticism—excessive, irrational, uncritical zeal characterized by an unwillingness to recognize and respect differences in opinion or belief. Robert Pirsig, author of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance wrote that “No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it’s always because they are in doubt.” In this regard I think of John Vasconcellos’s often quoted political perspective, that “We are engaged in a struggle for the soul of our nation. A struggle between two visions of human nature: faithful and cynical.” Indeed, held lightly and with an open mind, faith can unite and lift us up. Grasped too tightly it divides and holds us down.

In the long run the fate of a civilization depends not only on its political system, its economic structure, or its military might. Perhaps, indeed, all of these ultimately depend in turn upon the faith of the people, upon what we believe and feel about man; about the possibilities of human nature; about our relation or lack of it to such intangibles as the meaning of morality or the true nature of value.

Ashley Montagu

About This Image

Title: Mother and Child Holding Hands

File #: 255-B3

As I was unloading my camera equipment from the car, I noticed bright specular sunlight streaming into the living room. Linda and Jennifer were there, so I took out the camera and asked them to stand in front of one of the windows. I positioned myself with the window to our side and made several hand-held exposures of different poses. This one stood out.

I didn’t want the room to show in the background, so I grossly overexposed the film. Even so, the negative has some out-of-focus detail showing, so I overexposed the background when I printed it.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography

Also a reminder: My new email address is— smithdl@fuse.net

Legacy

Feather In Rock

 

PLEASE NOTE: MY EMAIL ADDRESS HAS CHANGED TO: smithdl@fuse.net

What do we leave behind? Does it matter? These are questions that comes to mind as I contemplate this image. Without any pretense or intention, a bird left behind not only a feather, but also the potential for a human being’s aesthetic enjoyment and growth—and in the context of this blog, contemplation. My being in this place with a camera and finding the feather attractive actualized that potential and as a consequence extended the bird’s “contribution” to the world by many years. It’s a kind of redemption. Posting the image here as an electronic image extends it even longer in time and much further in geography. So time and distance are part of the bird’s legacy, its contribution.

Another factor relates to the material left behind and how, over time, it transforms. For instance, this feather could have been picked up, added to a collection, used on clothing or for decoration, or made into a writing instrument. Physicality is the initial condition of material, be it natural or man-made. When that material disintegrates, if a human being remembers or finds beauty in it, the locus of contribution becomes mental. Aspects of the initial condition then reside in consciousness. Relative to this image then, the question becomes, What does the image of this feather contribute to consciousness?

Certainly, for me there’s an aesthetic contribution. The feather is beautiful in form, gradation, contrast and texture, particularly as it lies enshrined within the hard and jagged rock. Another contribution for me is the evocation or consideration of source. I imagine the bird that this feather belonged to, consider its lifespan and environment, the species and rekindle an appreciation of the evolution of birds in the period of  the dinosaurs.

Applying this to human beings, physically speaking, we leave behind our stuff, our belongings, the objects we made and acquired. What to do with it when we’re gone is a serious issue for collectors and producers. In my case, it’s photographs. So I asked myself—since everything under the sun, including the sun, has been photographed, even considering my unique motivations and point of view, does the world really need another photograph of a mountain range, flower, street scene, or cocktail glass? Short term—perhaps. Long term—no. Everything, even images and words projected as electrons on screens, has a limited lifetime. Eventually, all matter succumbs to the law of entropy.

Years ago as I considered the issue of legacy I played a mind game, imagining a very long chart where, along the x-axis there were increments of one hundred years stretching from 40,000 years ago when Homo Sapiens first appeared in Europe, to 40,000 years into the future. Then, I put one thing at a time on that chart, assigning it a line that extended from first appearance to last, marking along that line in red the duration of its maximum vitality—it’s period of contribution to the world. I began by looking at the lifespans of some of the acknowledged grand contributors—philosophers, mystics, prophets, artists, scientists, engineers, warriors and inventors. Their physical lives were short, but their contributions and names still enjoy some vitality—largely through modern education. When I assigned lines to ancient civilizations, I observed that their beginnings were gradual and their endings relatively abrupt. Established religions and nations were too recent to imagine much more than their beginnings, although some primitive religions and early nations have died and their vitalities have waned. Were these lines to be animated, each would fade in and fade out. With the x-axis representing time and the y-axis representing contribution to consciousness, it was easy to pinpoint spikes, for instance with the appearance of Confucius, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and so on.

Then, I imagined myself and my collection of archival photographs on that scale. I will be gone in less than the space of one increment. And stored under ideal conditions, my photographs will have disintegrated within one or two more increments at best. It was a sobering thought. And it generated some really good questions about how best to invest my time and energy. What matters? What is worth doing? Should I stop photographing and conserve the materials? Should I destroy my collection of prints rather than burden those who come after me with it? Does it even matter that I leave something behind? If so, what would it be?

I pondered these questions for quite some time. Then I had a realization. Indeed, the world does not need and can well do without another photograph by me. So with respecst to my being here, what does the world need? What of a person survives in the world? What moves the species forward and upward? My answer is the quality of thought and the integrity to live responsibly as individuals with unique potential. What the world does need are human beings who are growing and contributing to the quality and expansion of their own and the collective consciousness. Both. Specifically, human evolution is advanced as individuals progress along the lines of their higher potentials—the consciousness of love, compassion, wisdom, ethics, tolerance, cooperation, altruism, empathy and the like, living these qualities into the world. This, because human evolution is less about physical change, and more about the refinement and development of consciousness as we become planetary citizens, ideally stewards of the Earth. Any activity that contributes in this way matters greatly relative to the development and long-term success of the species.

Typically, insight generates more questions. What is the substance of what we contribute? Is it positive? And what are we contributing to? Am I just making someone else wealthy? Am I serving an agenda or values I do not respect? Is the workplace contributing to well-being of the planet as well as my growth? Is it helping to expand my consciousness and deepen my appreciation of others and the world? What we do to earn a living is an enormous and significant part of our contribution. So also are the contributions of time and energy devoted to helping others. But consciousness alone is the contribution that both matters and endures. Even more significant than work and enrichment in this regard are personal relationships. They may be the most challenging at times, but they can also be the most productive in terms of raising the consciousness of self and others.

Referencing the evolutionary timeline again, I do not wish to minimize the contributions of those who amass the most “toys,” money, achievements, fame, knowledge or friends. Rather, I just observe that such contributions have a relatively short lifespan on the x-axis and tend to actually diminish or distract from progress on the  y-axis. Why? Because of a simple axiom: As we think so we act. As we act so we become. As we become so we model. And as we model so we contribute to consciousness—personal, social and universal.

If Carl Jung is right about the “collective unconscious.” If Teilhard de Chardin is right about the “noosphere,” the thinking envelop that surrounds the Earth like an atmosphere. If Irvin Laszlo and the Theosophists are right about the “akashic field,” where every thought is recorded and can be accessed, then every thought, word and deed is a contribution that endures. Nothing is ever lost. So rather than being saddened by the reality of physical impermanence, these observations  encouraged me to engage more in the activities and relationships that optimize my potentials and expand my consciousness. And what does that? Whatever brings joy. Not excitement or happiness. Joy is much bigger. It’s the sense of satisfaction and rightness that comes from being in the moment and in the flow. It’s when the soul is being fed. It’s feedback that tells us we are progressing on the y-axis.

We must become the change we want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

Every piece of the universe, even the tiniest little snow crystal, matters somehow. I have a place in the pattern, and so do you.

T.A. Barron

About This Image

Title: Feather On Rock

File #: 675-C2

Point Lobos is a little park on the Pacific coast near Carmel, California where photographer Edward Weston spent years creating some exquisite black and white photographs. What makes the place extraordinary are rock formations that abut the ocean with tide pools rich in marine life. Also, because the wind is strong there, the trees have taken on unusual shapes.

I happened on this feather, sitting in the little crevice just as you see it, so there was no manipulation on my part. All I did in Photoshop was to reduce the contrast so the highlights in the rock displayed some texture.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography