Photography: The Practice of Making the Familiar New

Earlier I shared a quote by William Thackery about the two most engaging powers of a photograph.

“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new”

As a photography enthusiast I think that capturing something new is part of the passion.  We all want to get that shot of something people rarely see or, if we’re lucky enough, something no one has ever seen before.  We go to new corners of our cities or travel to distant shores to capture the new.

But what about breathing new life into the familiar of our lives?  Thackery’s quote got me thinking about how I can use the familiar to become a better photographer.

It isn’t easy to make the familiar new.  You’ve got to position yourself both physically and mentally in a new place to see the familiar differently, to envision how we can portray it differently, and thus make it new.

As we begin 2017 some are thinking about new photography projects and others may be thinking about resolutions.  Endeavouring to make the familiar new could be a great project to improve your photography but it can be so much more.

Looking at our every day lives with fresh eyes and capturing it from a different perspective may well give us a renewed perspective on our lives.  It could be a creative practice of mindfulness.  You may find you are surrounded by more beauty than you were aware of and you may see all the things you can change to make things better for yourself.

Wishing you all a prosperous 2017!

Review: The Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran

The Dhammapada is a collection of the sayings of the Buddha in verse form.  It is one of the most widely read of the Buddhist scriptures and the most essential.  There are many translations but I chose Easwaran’s because of a recommendation – the source of which I can’t for the life of me remember.

“As irrigators guide water to their fields,
as archers aim arrows, as carpenters carve
wood, the wise shape their lives.”
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The Dhammapada is an easy and enjoyable read.  It is full of simple wisdom some of which may seem likeThe Dhammapada Eknath Easwaran common sense but is lovely to be reminded of from the Buddha’s unique perspective.  He has a very simple and down to earth way of delivering essential truths which is the essence of his teachings.

“…the Dhammapada seems more like a field guide. This is is lore picked up by someone who knows every step of the way through these strange lands. He can’t take us there, he explains, but he can show us the way: tell us what to look for, warn about missteps, advise us about detours, tell us what to avoid. Most important, he urges us that it is our destiny as human beings to make this journey ourselves. Everything else is secondary.”
Eknath Easwaran, The Foreword

The Dhammapada is described as a handbook to the teachings of the Buddha but it is Easwaran’s informative introduction on Buddhism and the text that give an extra insight to the seemingly simple words of the Buddha.  I enjoyed reading his introduction and it serves as a great starting point not only for this text but for Buddhism on a whole.

If, like me, you’ve never read any Buddhist texts (or much about Buddhist teachings) this short book of verse is a great place to start, particularly Easwaran’s translation.  The opening verse of the Dhammapada is a profound reminder that our lives are shaped by our minds and we become what we think:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought:
we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those
whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts
give joy whenever they speak or act. Joy follows
them like a shadow that never leaves them.”
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It happened that earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, then some weeks later Easwaran’s Dhammapada, followed by The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which in retrospect could not have been better planned.  I didn’t read them back to back but each prepared me for the next and I think I was able to take a great deal more from each one’s message for having read them in this order.  Obviously you don’t need to read them like this but if you’re interested I enjoyed this reading order.

I enjoyed and recommend reading The Dhammapada.  A wide variety of translations exist but I found Eknath Easwaran’s Introduction a highlight of reading this book.  He has also done translations of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita which I hope to get to at some point also.

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Review: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I have found that I’ve read many books at just the time I needed them, no matter whether they were fiction or non fiction, and on occasion the order in which I’ve read some books has been just right that it helped me fully digest or appreciate the books that came later.

This is true of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle for me.  I’m sure by now everyone has heard of this book.  It has been translated into over 30 languages and even Oprah sings its praises.  I’ve been meaning to read it for ages but honestly if I’d read it before now (no pun intended) I’m not sure I would have got the message.  Earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse which led me on internet travels of Buddhist thought and I’m currently reading Eknath Easwaran’s translation of The Dhammapada whose introduction was very interesting reading.  Both those books got me into the right frame of mind for The Power of Now.

It’s not the easiest self help book to get through.  At first I wasn’t really comfortable with the question answer style of certain parts as I prefer a narrative style but you do get used to it.  You may or may not be familiar with some of the ideas that form the basis for Tolle’s message.  Your familiarity with or exposure to some of the concepts in the book could potentially affect how you feel about it.  Stick with it, read slowly, let it percolate.

I do think it is an important book for us all to read at some point.  It’s a short book but best read slowly.  There is a lot to take away from The Power of Now but the most basic message as you may have guessed is related to time.  There is no time but Now.  The past is but memories and the future is imagination, the only thing you need to concern yourself with is now.  This is quite liberating if, like me, you often find yourself worrying about a future that doesn’t exist yet and a set of problems that may never exist.

The more time that passes since finishing it the more I realise about its implications for my life.  I’m sure that no matter what you’re going through; good, bad, or meh, there’s something for you in this book that will help you.  If you’ve already read this book I’d love to hear what you thought about it.

 

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New Year, New Goals: Setting Goals for a Mindset Refresh

We are two weeks into the new year.  By now many people have already defined their new year’s resolutions and a few may already have given up on them.  I like the idea of resolutions but I tend to prefer goal setting at the beginning of the year.  Rather than focus on things I want to stop doing I like to focus on what I want to achieve during the year, where I want to be by the end of the year, and what I need to do to get there.  Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.

I think what’s important is not so much the goal (although achieving it would definitely be wonderful) but rather the mindset we get into by thinking carefully about what we want and how we will get there.  Getting your head into the right gear at the beginning of the year is a powerful way to let go of the year just ended and prepare to be open for the new.

I’m not sure that looking back over a year and judging it as either good or bad is the right strategy for life.  There is no doubt that some years leave us drained or depressed while others have filled us with joy and hope.

“And just as he who, with exhausted breath, having escaped from the sea to shore, turns to the perilous waters and gazes.” – Canto 1, lines 22-24, The Inferno of The Divine Comedy by Dante

The quote above is how I see looking back at a tough year.  You got out alive and there’s much to be grateful for in the lessons we learn in tough times.  These make us stronger and prepare us for greater challenges.  This, too, is important as is happiness and prosperity.  Another quote I like that often helps me see what I initially perceive as a tough year as part of the greater picture of my life is from Zora Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God:

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

If last year wasn’t the year you hoped it would be, don’t worry.  Everything is preparation.  Get out a fresh, blank piece of paper and think about what you want to achieve and what kind of life you want to have.  Then write down the things you need to do to get there.  Be specific.  Each day you can work a little more on completing task after task until you get closer and closer to where you want to be.

Last year I asked questions about where I am and where I wanted to be.  It was about coming to a realisation that I wanted a drastic change and that I needed to take risks to get it.  This year I have a better and clearer idea of what I want and the steps I will take to get there.  Among the many changes I will try to bring about this year the main one is focus on developing skills that will better help me to express the creative side of myself.  I will be taking courses in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, focusing on developing my photography, and working towards creating better content for digital publication.  Doing these things will bring me joy and satisfaction because essentially my goal is to do more of what makes me happy and not put any more time into doing stuff that doesn’t fascinate and inspire me.

What are your goals for this year?