What is contemplation? Typing the word contemplation here eases my muscles a bit and slows my breathing. Being still has a profound positive effect on our human biology and being still with a focus on a specific word or object slows our breathing, relaxes our muscles, and our blood flows more easily through the body.
What is contemplation?
- The act or state of contemplating.
- Thoughtful observation or study.
- Meditation on spiritual matters, especially as a form of devotion.
(From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.)
Contemplation and solitude as a practice or method can be taught. The aim of this practice is to surrender to unknowing, to rise above and simply notice the senses, and to observe the thoughts of the intellect. We train ourselves to pay attention to what is appearing at this moment.
Contemplation also means to “mark out a space for observation.” Solitude is the home of the contemplative mind. During solitude, the mind’s constant chatter can be observed. Observing the mind in action we learn to discern the raw or virginal seeing of what is appearing as life before the mind begins to label what is being seen or observed.
Contemplation is also about holding attention or noticing each thought bubble, perhaps to let it organically unfold in new and unexpected ways, places, and times without the mind immediately deciding what is appearing. Of course, some of us are wired to enjoy contemplation and others initially find solitude unbearable. Go slowly, practice being alone, especially early in the morning, at or before sunrise, and you will come to relish your quiet alone time. Early morning sunlight is good for your brain and your body and helps you sleep better at night.
Using photography as a tool for contemplation, I’ve practiced creating a quiet and sacred space of simply observing, quieting, and stilling the mind and body. This softens me into yielding to nature, allowing, and surrendering the urge to name and label what is simply an appearance.
In this present moment, I merge with the camera, the lens, as the watcher, observer, lens, and camera as one fluid movement of this holy instant. There is no separation between me and the camera, just pure seeing without a seer. Seeing subject and object and lens as a unified and edgeless holy now.
As a spiritual practice, photography can cultivate a sustained mystical awareness of the union between the human eye and the camera lens. It is no surprise many photographers are naturally introverted and curious, often seeking a deeper, contemplative orientation to daily life.
I’ve practiced Contemplative Photography since 2001. A few of my contemplative images are featured on the home page of my website under the widget heading of Mother Nature.
Additionally, here are good books I recommend for further investigation of Contemplative Photography:
Another Day Not Wasted – Meditations on Photography, Art, and Wildness – Guy Tal
Effortless Beauty – Photography as an Expression of Eye, Mind, and Heart – Julie DuBose
The Photography Storytelling Workshop – Finn Beales
Eyes of the Heart – Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice – Christine Valters Paintner
The Creative Photographer – Catherine Anderson
The Practice of Contemplative Photography – Andy Karr and Michael Wood
I’d love to hear from those of you interested in Contemplative Photography!
Anita White Avent
Do you notice the internal commentary and chatter zipping through your mind? Your head? Most of us do notice this incessant chatter and wish it to be quiet. We meditate and practice yoga or walk to lessen our stress of listening to the constant chatter. We have deep habits of internally commenting, critiquing, judging every thought stream, every moment, according to our preferences, emotions, opinions and desires. We begin to see the thought stream is uncontrollable as we cannot create it or make it disappear.
We are taught from a young age to take ownership of the internal thoughts and claim them as belonging to a me at the center of the world look out upon a world of people, places, and things.
Claiming these thoughts as belonging to a personal me is the root cause of great drama, fear, and emotional pain. Yet, we cannot delete the thought stream but we can watch it, observe it, and from a place a calm detachment and focused attention we can simply notice the stream of thoughts and go about our day. Meditation and mindfulness practices are the tools for learning to be the quiet detached observer of all thoughts and actions taken by the body.
In 1992 I started to meditate and learn how to observe and notice my thoughts without judgment, without trying to make my thoughts different than what was appearing. When I initially began meditating I was absolutely blown away by the intensity of how much I was thinking and the negative overlay I placed upon the passing thoughts in my head.
After many, many years of meditation practice I was finally able to notice the thoughts with a sense of curiosity, ease, of simply noticing what was arising, and opening to accept thoughts as a condition of being human, of being conscious, yet knowing they are not personal unless I believe they are. I had no idea I had this choice!
Seeing thoughts arising the same way we see clouds passing across the sky, allows an opening to curiosity, wonder and amazement. This attitude seems to neutralize passing thoughts into passing fragments of energy and keeps the body much calmer. This process of simply noticing thoughts also opens the portal for a deep inner peace and acceptance to settle and remain while the thoughts continue their incessant parade. When we are able to have compassion and a sense of acceptance while listening and watching our inner dialogue we can become more compassionate towards others as well to ourselves.
The space that holds the thoughts, that holds the thinking, that holds the thought stream is the same edgeless empty space that holds the cosmos. But believe the space is in our heads until we investigate this for ourselves. When this is felt inside the body there is a wonderment and amazement, a sheer bewilderment at how any thoughts and external experiences are even seeming to appear. These thought fragments and streams are so effervescent and momentary that they are like empty particles dancing through a prism of light, reflecting and refracting into a prism of possibilities as life.
Without a personal me to claim these thoughts, to own and manage the thought stream, there is an enormous freedom to be present, to experience openness and spaciousness, to feel the fluidity of this moment without any mental story, without any mental critique, without any need to change what is appearing or make it any different than it is.
We’re conditioned to perceive life/reality as unfolding inside or outside a person/body. This caged way of perceiving life is held by the vast majority of humans and is the root of all emotional and psychological suffering. It’s been said by many folks, many times…with our thoughts we create our world. This is how the brain/mind works…conceptualizing, rationalizing, and objectifying what is perceived…and this is how we are programmed and trapped in the mind’s naming, claiming, and labeling cage.
After the unspeakable perceptual shift here in 2011, I noticed the perception of reality was replaced with a simple timeless, indivisible, immeasurable, unmovable, impersonal lens. I saw clearly…our beliefs and thoughts create and inform what we perceive as reality or life.
Before the awakening, I believed I was enclosed within a body as a separate and individual anita. After the shift, I no longer perceived life as being contained and enclosed within the edges of a human fleshiness named anita. I appeared to extend as far as the eye could see…edgeless, undivided, unbounded, still, and vast. There are no boundaries to the anita character anywhere…just fleeting appearances of edgeless, seamless, undivided, and timeless aware presence, a metaphorical canvas of no-thing-ness and not no-thing-ness…spontaneously appearing/not-appearing as uncaused and fleeting impersonal awareness.
Seekers ask what is “seen” when my eyes are closed…since I have to use words to communicate, it like this…appearances dissolve into a brilliant-yet-inky silent and aware endless void…the same aware, silent, and inky void present when consciousness ceases and the body appears to die. The felt experience of the anita character is of unbounded and overwhelming sorrowful gratitude that anything at all appears upon the silent stillness.
I know it sounds crazy and as a character would not have believed or conceived of this shift of perception fifteen years ago. These unspeakable shifts of perception and identity appear to arise spontaneously and to no one in particular, ignore words claiming otherwise! There is no cause and effect in play here, life seems to appear here, now, spontaneously, edgeless, and uncaused.
I understand why the misunderstood and those perceiving differently (including artists, musicians, saints, and sages) are often ridiculed, reclusive, or sedated and locked in mental institutions. Society is generally fearful of what it does not understand or what is outside the leaky edges of normalcy…and the going consensus, whatever the majority agrees upon, is labeled normal.
Perhaps we might consider, even briefly, the nature of what is… a vibrant aliveness we call reality or life…perhaps even consider the scientific evidence suggesting humans are misperceiving themselves and the world. This is a sadly funny exercise for the few who question reality. Quantum physics attempts to describe and explain the unexplainable and unspeakable shift in perception in terms of probabilities and collapsing waves and particles. Words and descriptions move us away from the essence and into our thinking brain/minds so give attention to the intimate feelings of awareness — just don’t claim awareness as your awareness!
What you are…is…what you are…improvement is not possible or needed…as the “you” is simply impersonal awareness, always aware presence, appearing as a vast and edgeless field of fleeting potentialities. Yes, most misperceive what is and believe what is to be distinct, measurable, and operating within time and space. I have seen the folly and felt the suffering of these tenacious and socially endorsed beliefs.
Our perceptions and sensory experiences are shaped by conditioning, the influences of society, science, religion, philosophy, and various tribal and ethnicity beliefs. There are many perceptual lenses and ways of seeing. For a simple example, just imagine seeing life with the fresh and clear eyes of a pre-verbal toddler…seeing life/reality as a little child sees it…undivided, spontaneous, outside of time, unmeasurable, and fleeting.
For more than 25 years I suffered through daily panic attacks, agoraphobia, depression, learning disabilities, addictions, and more, you get the gist. This website describes the profound healing I experienced once learned to get out of my own way.
There is an infinite intelligence, cosmic love and mystery available to each of right here, right now, that will move us through dark times and episodes of panic and despair. I call this infinite intelligence “Presence” though there are many names for what cannot be comprehended by a human mind. Of course, there are many names for Presence and here are just a few:
God, Creator, Absolute, Source, Universe, Divine, Oneness, Tao, Spirit, Buddha Nature, Universal Field, Emptiness, Stillness, Brahman, Pure Awareness and there are other names for this undivided and timeless primal energy.
This website is an offering for you. I now swim in the deep peace that is beyond human understanding and I want to share what I have uncovered with you so you can swim in the unlimited peace, love, and joy already present inside your beautiful heart.
But first, you gotta get out of your head and journey down into your heart. I’ll show you what I found on the path towards the heart. I call these breadcrumbs on the path. Not original but it works to convey what I am offering you.
If you are like me, at first, these promises feel hidden and distant. I know what it feels like to suffer emotional and physical pain and to want to be anywhere but inside your skin and mental thought stream.
The title of my website is from a comforting phrase from the Sufi Poet Rumi: “…we are always inside presence.”
The photography, the writings, and the poetry on this website are mine unless otherwise noted.
Do reach out to me if you have any questions or comments about these essays and posts. I truly hope you find some measure of comfort as you glimpse the deep inner peace and healing already alive within you as you spend quiet time with my assurances, the teachings, and the poetry and wisdom of Jesus, Rumi, and the Buddha here on this site.
A Single Brushstroke Down
(interpretation by Coleman Barks)
speaking of presence.
~ Rumi the Poet
Attempting to describe the indescribable points directly to the challenge of using the mind to explore the mind. I have seen my mind in action and it is like a runaway train of stories, opinions, observations, and a good measure of worthless trivia. Having seen how the mind functions, especially the thinking mind, I have much more inner peace and acceptance of that is appearing as my life. I have also seen how the mind claims all my sense perceptions as belonging to a separate and personal me. And this is the root cause of all suffering.
I have been blessed with the gift of seeing beyond the mind and directly into the heart of being. On this website I will be sharing with you what I have discovered and how you, too, can uncover the freedom from thought.
Most of us ache in our hearts for wholeness, connection, acceptance, and unity what is referred to as Source, Mystery, God, Universe, Omnipotent, Omnipresence, Supreme, Divine, Infinite, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Absolute.
These labels point towards what is indivisible, edgeless, infinite, everywhere, and yet never understood nor comprehended by the human brain’s mental processes. And yet we try over and over to explain and relate to what is not explainable. We continue to use our heads to attempt to find peace of mind not understanding that the path to deep inner peace and freedom from thought is through the liberating furnace of the Human Heart.
Mostly, we apply our human focus towards an outer Grace, God, or Intelligence which we desire to be in union with us. We assume this God, Grace, or Intelligence is separate from our being. I am from a Christian tradition where we asked God for mercy, love, and protection from Sin. Your faith tradition, if you have or had one, may be different, and it does not matter. What does matter for our purposes here is that you begin to see that the belief you have in being a separate person is the main source of all of your mental, psychological, emotional, and physical suffering.
A regards this naming of this God or Presence, or Absolute Love, it is beyond our human understanding. We live in a relative world and words will be able to describe what is Absolute, is Presence as it is beyond relativity, beyond words. The best we can do is to point towards the paradox of not knowing and practice seeing freshly each moment as a toddler sees and perceives from a blank slate which has not been tainted with the residue of the mental processes and knowing.
And it’s not that you let go or lose control. It’s realizing there is no one, no you, there never has been, to hold on or let go, and no one to have or lose control, to fear or to dread, to fall or to sink. Your belief that “you” are a “you” does not make “you” real, it just holds “you” hostage, in vicious circling around an imaginary you.
This believing in a “you” is holding you separate from the incredible peace, wonder, and love you already are. Letting go…all beliefs, concepts, and stories until there is nothing left to call a you…and there never was a you.
Yes, there is a Mystery and Grace at play here that is beyond human comprehension. The paradoxical words I type here are not mine nor yours, they are simply breadcrumbs upon a pathless path to freedom and wholeness and the deep peace you already are underneath the incessant mental processes.