Return to Royal Roads


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There are definitely benefits to returning multiple times to the same place to take or teach a contemplative photography course. The first time we come to a new place, we engage in the unabashed pleasure that comes from being in a visual playground with our favorite toy. It is like picking low hanging fruit from the trees. Every place has its textures, colors, style and design of architecture, quality of light, and ordinary phenomena, presented in unique combinations. In retrospect it always seems almost ridiculous how pleased we are to be let out of our backyard, released from the ordinariness of our everyday lives. We can laugh at ourselves because we have seen this whole thing before. The newness is like a feast of new flavors arranged for us to sample and enjoy.

 The second time we visit the same place, everything is different. We hope we can experience the same excitement as the first time, so we are always a little let down to find there is a quality of sameness to what we are revisiting. The easy discovery of new phenomena is now not so accessible. We wonder why we didn’t go somewhere else this time. In the case of Royal Roads, the temptation to photograph a peacock in a new pose is not very compelling.

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 Since I have seen this whole thing replay many times in my photographic past, I have learned that there is a way through it. In fact, Making Contact, the second course in our curriculum, offers a way through this boredom and restlessness. Michael and I have realized over time that this uncomfortable state is the best opportunity of all, the time we can really transcend entirely our database of previous experience.

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 I find I can just appreciate something I have photographed before, and while feeling pulled by the impulse to duplicate my previous successes, I notice the itch and I let it go. Many perceptions I have seen and appreciated before greet me once again, fresh, and vivid, and yet I recognize my perception as an old friend and walk by. As I let go of the desire to hold on to my previous experience, I begin to see more subtlety and experience more fully, deeply. I am more relaxed, and after a time I begin to feel like I’m almost floating freely through the environment without experiencing the push and pull of my mind as it tries to engage, judge, evaluate, calibrate, all of it. I expand my awareness beyond my sense of self into whatever is happening, abandoning my attitude about what I want and my doubt about whether I can do “it” or not.

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Then something new starts to happen. Everything, the world I see, and myself, opens up into gentle receptivity. I really don’t care much about anything particular, only being here, now, in this place, walking around, feeling the air, the ground under my feet, and touching the visual world with my being. This is the joy, the relaxation, that we all experience when we abandon our ideas about our worthiness, readiness, ability, why we can’t see anything we want to photograph. Each day we go through this sequence of wanting to see, getting frustrated and bored, then giving up and giving in, and finally experiencing deep pleasure in our visual experience.

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Then we go back to our home. We wonder if we understood. And the next time we come back, everything is different. Because we did understand, but we didn’t even know conceptually what we learned. That is the conundrum. We learn without conceptualizing, but we do absorb the whole experience. We gradually learn the lesson that underlies the entire Miksang journey. There is no other moment.

 So this time, when I return to Royal Roads to teach, I have no idea what I will see. But I have worn out my excitement about the heavenly Japanese gardens and all the spring flowers that will be reflecting in its waters, the European flower garden that will be in full bloom, and the brilliant display of male peacocks as they woo the females. I will be more humble, more open, and less ambitious. And I have no doubt that there are endless, previously unseen perceptions just waiting to be connected with in this wondrous place called Royal Roads.

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