Thursday, September 17, 2009

The flash of perception

In the Miksang workshop I attended last weekend we spent a lot of time exploring the concept of "flash of perception" -- that moment when something calls out to you to be photographed.

We were usually working from a basis of intention, i.e., "Today I am looking for color" and then watching to see what flashed at us. But inevitably there were moments when something other than color would call; this was one of those moments.

I can't claim it's a great photograph -- that's one of the problems when you're catching something on the fly: your camera doesn't always see what you see. But it does seem to capture that sense of "outsider-ness" that so often plagues us humans -- especially the artsy ones.

The two girls in the restaurant -- young, beautiful, being fed, sharing friendship, attractively dressed -- provide an intriguing contrast to the street person who is watching them. But as I look at the photograph, and the slope of his shoulders, I don't feel anything other than observation emanating from him: not jealousy, or hunger, or lust, or despair. The girls, on the other hand, show a little wariness, a hint of unease.

It would be easy to jump to some pat conclusions; to suggest that the homeless man is more comfortable with himself because he is unencumbered by possessions or the need to impress, or to suggest that the girls are somehow handicapped by their relative success in the world. But I think instead I just want to stay where I am, looking over his shoulder; to remind myself that when I feel most like an outsider it's not always bad or uncomfortable, nor does it always mean I want to be other than who and what I am. Sometimes it just is what it is: a moment of observation, of seeing self and other and knowing we are different without judging or making pronouncements.

Which is what the flash of perception is about: it's that moment when you just see, and take in what you see; the moment before the monkey mind kicks in and starts talking about the picture. It's all about being present to what is, without trying to draw conclusions or make judgments or frame what you see in a way that makes you look good, or feel good about yourself. Which is really the heart of being present, resting in the now -- a way of being I am still working to cultivate. So far my camera -- and this homeless man -- are better at it than I am. But that's okay, too; one step at a time.

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