Working with Our Minds in Contemplative Photography



Julie DuBose

My friend Kim Manley Ort wrote me with four questions that she hears from contemplative photography students. They are great questions! This week I will talk about the first one. I will answer the next three over the next three weeks.

Kim: A common comment I hear about contemplative photography is that we can never be completely free of judgments or filters and also that the process of composing within a frame is in itself a type of filter. How do you respond to that?

Of course, mind thinks, it has an endless ability to generate thoughts. Filters develop as we develop an identity and learn to cope with the overwhelming influx of data, stimulation, and rules for successful navigation in our lives. We are not trying not to destroy this, but we are working to free ourselves from its grip as the arbiter of all experience.

Another way to look at this is that we are developing the ability to broaden the scope of our experience, so that it is not predominantly composed of what we think about it, but is more mixed with a mind of openness and permeability. What does this mean? We can rest in the basic state of mind that exists before thoughts arise in each moment. This way we can connect first to what we see with our openness, our pre-thought mind. That mind is a big place, and when we can rest there, we find that the world is full of sights and sounds we haven’t been available to see and experience.

If someone has done any meditation, then they know that freshness and spontaneity, even the possibility for new experiences and growth, are blocked by our belief that our thoughts are real. Thoughts are not solid, rather they arise, appear to us, and then dissipate. We can make them seem solid by fixing on them, fleshing them out with more concepts, developing a point of view, and fueling them with emotion. When we do this, there is no fresh perspective, nothing occurring to us outside of our frame of reference, nothing new under the sun.


I have heard that no matter what, it is impossible for thoughts to cease. This is not true, they cease every second, and they arise every second. What we have to do is train ourselves to see them come and go without attaching ourselves to them. We have to let go of our desire to secure ourselves with our point of view. When we do that, when we stop fueling our thoughts, they subside and we notice the space between them. This is a process of shifting our allegiance from our attachment to our thoughts, to the fundamental space of openness and relaxation that exists always, just on the other side of our conceptual mind. This requires intention and a desire to taste the electricity, the potency of our unmediated experience.


For those who think that it is not possible to do these things, I would suggest to them, stop believing in your thoughts. They are useful for many purposes, but not for direct seeing. And come to a course at the The Miksang Institute for Contemplative Photography. Our visual exercises will give you a taste of what we are describing.

We want to loosen the grip of conceptual mind on our experience of seeing. When we do that, all sorts of possibilities for new beginnings arise.

250 Cover with Seal

For more on this subject, go to Effortless Beauty. The whole book is about the experience of non-conceptual seeing.

You can read Kim Manley Ort’s Review of Effortless Beauty on her blog.