The Good Human Camera
In my first blog for the Huffington Post about contemplative photography, “Contemplative Photography will Change Your life by Changing How You See”, I explained that contemplative photography is not so much about photography itself, but more about how to connect directly with our experience of seeing and express that precisely through the medium of photography. By training ourselves to be present and available to see, in other words, working with our minds, we will find that how we experience our lives will be profoundly affected by seeing in this way.
Recently I received an email question from one of our participants at the Miksang Institute Summer Intensive. She spent three weeks in Boulder, Colorado doing the first three courses and being thoroughly immersed in the waters of direct seeing.
“Is there such a thing as an auditory outcome to the Human Camera? Recently I’ve noticed that my experience of listening is beginning to bear a resemblance to the way I see during the Human Camera exercise. It’s as if listening is starting to happen without thoughts bubbling up quite so quickly.”
The Human Camera is a visual exercise we have developed that very quickly helps us experience what happens in our minds as we see something. It is always an ‘eye opening’ discovery to see how quickly our thoughts and labeling processes spring up in our mind and eclipse the actual experience of seeing itself. We step outside of our experience to decide in a basic way if we like, dislike, or don’t care about what we have seen. Then we evaluate and contextualize it. It is like we are putting our perceptions into classification folders, grouping the folders into a notebook, and filing the notebook away in our memory. Practicing contemplative photography is all about letting go of the impulse to file our perceptions away in notebooks, and gradually shifting our allegiance from our thoughts about our experience to the experience itself. That’s where the juice is, the vividness, the joy of connecting with our visual world.
She then had more to say about her post- Institute experience:
“I’ve had several instances in the last few days where I’ve had encounters with folks and was able to just ‘be present’ and listen during the interaction. (It sounds like such a cliché, but it seemed like ‘being present’ was really the feel of what was happening). It was a huge relief to not feel a need to try and alter things in any particular way, no need to fix anything, or correct anything, or invest any energy into making things turn out a particular way. It was great to not have that burden! It sort of left space for things to be – or maybe another way to express it is that there was more openness. It all seemed to stem from just listening without being overtaken by the mental chatter. Anyway, thank you for letting me bounce this your direction and thank you for introducing me to the Human Camera!”
We love letters like these. She has taken this practice to heart, and it is changing her life. Contemplative photography isn’t about learning to become a better photographer, although that certainly happens. It is about learning to make seeing our world an aspect of our experience of daily, moment to moment living, and allowing our perceptions to meet us on their own terms, to be as they are, not as we want them to be. This orientation brings about a deep shift in how we allow phenomena to express and communicate with us. As we become more adept at being still in order to see, openness, and accommodation begin to leak into our experience of our day to day activities. We feel peace and equanimity.
Contemplative photography is about becoming better ‘see-ers’, which translates into being better “be-er’s”. If we can be present and available in each moment, our experience of living is transformed into the simple experience of being. What we see becomes a source of pleasure and richness in our lives.