April 11, 2018

The Zen of Seeing: The Mindful Eye

I’m most excited to be developing a new workshop entitled The Zen of Seeing. It’s been several years in the making, and is an offshoot of my Good Eye workshop, where I hone in on the aspects of visual discernment. Here I introduce how we can use our cameras as a mindfulness tool:

“The second and equally important part of developing a Good Eye is the opposite of the analytical aspect above. Good here means that our mind is uncluttered by preoccupation, relaxed and open. It’s more about a letting go—of thinking, of preconceived notions, of labeling what we see. It’s about seeing clearly without filters and biases, it’s about allowing ourselves to be completely present and open to the moment, to feel the image—to re-present reality through the lens of our unique and pure perception. It’s an internal, intuitive, fearless kind of seeing. It’s a form of self-forgetting; it feels like flow. Photography approached in this way borders on spiritual practice, and images created in this space are the ones that resonate most with the viewer.”

I credit the title to Frederick Franck, an artist, writer and visionary who wrote a jewel of a book in 1973 entitled The Zen of Seeing: drawing as meditation. He saw drawing as a spiritual discipline, in the way that it encourages real seeing, presence, and awareness. He described how we move through our days looking at everything but seeing nothing, overstimulated and under-aware. That was 44 years ago.

My tagline for this updated approach, using photography rather than drawing to achieve the same end, is Use your Iphone to tune in rather than tune out. I’ve written here in the past about the difference between seeing and looking, and Seeing Clearly:

“Another benefit of ’seeing’ rather than merely looking is an enhanced quality of existence. Our ability to experience our surroundings, no matter how seemingly mundane, keeps us in the present moment. Seeing can be a form of meditation. This has always been a gift photography has given me—the gift of awareness.”

“We spend so much time caught up in our turbulent—disturbulent mindset, that we miss so much around us. How restorative to our mind, body, spirit to simply take a moment to bring our attention to whatever beauty is unfolding around us; to know we always have a choice about what we pay attention to, to break our habitual mindsets. Awareness is available to us always. It’s a muscle we can exercise just like any other. five minutes a day, anywhere you are; simply look around you in stillness, and breathe.”

We don’t just talk about how to take a great photograph, we re-learn how to see; how to create great photographs by taking ‘subject’ and ‘outcome’ out of the equation and focusing more on the process of seeing itself as a mindfulness process. Much of the time we won’t be talking about photography at all, rather, how the mind works in relation to seeing, and how it can be such an enlivening and expanding practice to educate our eye in this way—to see beauty everywhere and in everything—very often in the form of abstraction, or what we normally consider mundane and ordinary. It’s about re-framing our vision so as to open up to endless possibilities in front of us always, but often overlooked.

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