But what we do know, from our own experience and the experience of history, is that photographs can change the course of things, turn one’s head, alter one’s thoughts, enlighten one’s darkness. To shoot with that awareness, to know our images, made of light, can contribute light—that is the true joy of photography.
— Jan Phillips from God Is at Eye Level: Photography as a Healing Art
Contemplation is any way one has of penetrating illusion and touching reality.
— Parker J. Palmer
Eyes of the Heart
Photography is a deeply contemplative practice. If we approach it with reverence and intention, it can help us to see the holy moments all around us. In the process of slowing down and lingering over moments of beauty, you will cultivate sacred seeing, your ability to see the world beneath the surface appearance of things.
Photography is essentially about the play of light and dark, illumination and shadow, much as the spiritual journey is a practice of paying attention to these elements of our lives and how the holy is revealed in each. Photography is also about the choices we make in the visual framing of elements, what to include and what to exclude, whether to zoom or pull back. This is a practice of visual discernment: a way of choosing what is important and what needs to be let go of. We begin to see things differently, and in our images also discover aspects of ourselves and God. In our discussions we will explore how to distill wisdom from the images we receive.
This practice is not about developing your technical proficiency as a photographer – it is about cultivating your ability to see with the “eyes of the heart” (Eph 1:18). In biblical and mystical traditions, the heart is the seat of our whole being. To see with the heart, means we bring the whole of ourselves to whatever reality we find ourselves in. We will explore photography in service of expanding our contemplative practice and compassionate presence to the world and to ourselves.
— Christine Valters Paintner from Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
— Anaïs Nin
The Power of the Present Moment
Some people live in an world of nostalgia: ‘things were much better back then.’ And others focus on what they perceive was wrongs done to them. They hang on to resentment for years. Holding a grudge takes energy. With attention or energy locked up in the past you don’t have any left over to take care of the present. When I’m focused on one magical moment of nature everything else disappears. I notice my heart begins to open up. My energy soars and I feel light, optimistic, and grateful. Each day is a precious blessing to be enjoyed. We always have a choice. When we find ourselves in a place doing something that makes us unhappy, we have options. We can remove ourselves from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. I have the ultimate power over my life provided I follow my heart. Stay present, in this moment all is well. Stay focused. There’s enough Divine plan working through all of us.
Stay grateful. The Living Universe is offering its gifts to you day by day, moment to moment. And as you move through your day be mindful of your thoughts. Should the slightest doubt arise, stop what you’re doing, take a breath, and take a brief time to say: ‘I give thanks to the Living Universe by focusing on my passion and sharing it with the world.’
— Louie Schwartzberg
The question is not what you look at, but what you see.
— Henry David Thoreau
Photography and Meditation
Taking photographs and practising meditation might seem at first glance to be unrelated activities. For while photography looks outwards at the visual world through the medium of a camera, meditation focuses inwards on unmediated experience. And whereas photography is concerned with producing images of reality, meditation is about seeing reality as it is. Yet in taking photographs and practising meditation over the past three decades, I find the two activities have converged to the point where I no longer think of them as different.
As practices, both meditation and photography demand commitment, discipline and technical skill. Possession of these qualities does not, however, guarantee that meditation will lead to great wisdom any more than photography will culminate in great art. To go beyond mere expertise in either domain requires a capacity to see the world in a new way. Such seeing originates in a penetrating and insatiable curiosity about things. It entails recovering an innocent, childlike wonder at life while suspending the adult’s conviction that the world is simply the way it appears.
The pursuit of meditation and photography leads away from fascination with the extraordinary and back to a rediscovery of the ordinary. Just as I once hoped for mystical transcendence through meditation, so I assumed exotic places and unusual objects to be the ideal subjects for photography. Instead I have found that meditative awareness is a heightened understanding and feeling for the concrete, sensuous events of daily existence. Likewise, the practice of photography has taught me just to pay closer attention to what I see around me everyday. Some of the most satisfying pictures I have taken have been of things in the immediate vicinity of where I live and work.
Both photography and meditation require an ability to focus steadily on what is happening in order to see more clearly. To see in this way involves “shifting” to a frame of mind in which the habitual view of a familiar and self-evident world is replaced by a keen sense of the unprecedented and unrepeatable configuration of each moment. Whether you are paying mindful attention to the breath as you sit in meditation or whether you are composing an image in a viewfinder, you find yourself hovering before a fleeting, tantalizing reality.
— Stephen Batchelor (photographer for Meditation for Life)
Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.
— George Eastman
Prayers to Breathe With
God you breath life into us each day,
You breath love into us with each breath,
You breathe your presence into us at each moment.
May we see each breath as a gift from you,
And receive it with thanksgiving and gratitude.
Let each breath you take breathe in God,
Let each step you make live for God,
Let each word that you say glorify
The One who fills our world with life and love.
— Christine Sine from Return To Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray
Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.
— Camille Pissarro
Maybe it’s not about having a beautiful day, but about finding beautiful moments. Maybe a whole day is just too much to ask. I could choose to believe that in every day, in all things, no matter how dark and ugly, there are shards of beauty if I look for them.
— Anna White from Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith
You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.
— Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love
You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere, and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost. What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.
— Hellen Keller