When the author signed up for a course on introspective photography at a meditation retreat, she experienced the perfect convergence of inner and outer vision
We have two kinds of eyes. One is the physical eye, which looks outward towards the sights and sounds of the world and is our gateway to the path outside. The other is the inner eye, with which we look inwards in self-contemplation and is a gateway to the path within.
The outer eye is my connection to the world, and indeed constructs my world through the images I choose to see. The inner eye comes to life when I am with myself. The outer eye’s visions may translate as the sunset shots of a photographer, the brush strokes of an artist, or the lyrics of a poet. The insights of the inner eye are extolled in the Vedas, other scriptures and by innumerable seers down the ages. The path within and the path without – where, if at all, do they meet?
The Deer Park Institute has been my platform for the path within. Nestled in the high mountains between Palampur and Dharamshala, lies the cozy picturesque village of Bir, which houses this centre for study of classical Indian wisdom and traditions. The place provides an ideal setting for study, contemplation, learning and immense self-discovery, or simply for chilling out on a vacation.
I first attended a silent retreat here and recognised that it was the ground zero of the path within for many across the globe. My own experience here was intense, marking the first step into my inner journey.
For me, the outer eye is best represented by the lens of a camera. It is my tool
| “To know what you are, you must first investigate and know what you are not.”
to capture the nuances of the big world out there; the visuals, sounds, tastes, thoughts, emotions, interactions, relations, and everything else that comprises ‘life’.
Therefore, my present foray at the Deep Park represented a beautiful convergence of the paths within and without. For I was here to do a photography workshop with an ace photographer and teacher, Nrupen Madhvani. He has worked in Japan and received awards from the Advertising Club, the Commercial Artists Guild (CAG), the International Pegasus awards, Luerzer’s, among others.
Insights through photography
`Insight’, the photography workshop at Deer Park, aimed at an exploration of the self through the medium of photography and visualisation. The idea was to see how our insights shape the world we view and how it is reflected in our own creative endeavours.
The Talmud says, “We do not see things as they are. We see things the way we are.”
We see the world as ‘we’ are, not as ‘it’ is; because it is the ‘I’ behind the ‘eye’ that does the seeing. The world simply assumes the hue imparted by the beholder’s state of mind.
Being a chronically depressed person, I see every cloudy day as a sad and gloomy grey, whereas my friend, chronically in love, sees everything through rose-tinted glasses.
This fine picture of a lofty eagle in flight is an example of the
Miksang moment Attar says,
“You can never see your own face,
only a reflection, not the face itself.
So you sigh in front of mirrors
and cloud the surface”.
The world becomes a mirror showing a reflection of ourselves. But our vision is unclear, distorted, veiled, so we end up clouding the surface. We think we are seeing ourselves, but we see only a vague shadow of our true nature.
Not surprising then, our very first exercise at Deer Park, was a self-portrait.
In each of the pictures I shot, I saw my own life. The three stones precariously balanced on each other represented my own strife to balance my different roles. In the picture of the majestic snow-capped range seen through a barbed wire, I discerned the soaring spirit within me restricted by self-created constraints. I realised that my ceaseless attempts to go out in the world, travel places, explore sights and experience life, was actually a need to discover myself.
The first step
So the first step towards self-realisation was to remove the ‘I’ from the ‘eye’. As the caddie, Bagger Vance, tells Rannulph Junah, in the movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance, “There’s a perfect shot out there tryin’ to find each and every one of us… All we got to do is get ourselves out of its way, to let it choose us…”
The movie is actually a fictionalised version of Krishna (Bagger Vance), guiding the hero Arjuna (R Junah) as in the scriptural Hindu epic, the Bhagavad Gita. The setting is of a caddie helping a world war hero find his “authentic” swing on a Savannah golf course in 1931.
Bagger Vance further says, “Yep… Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing… somethin’ we was born with… somethin’ that’s ours and ours alone…
|The Talmud says, “We do not see things as they are. We see things the way we are.”|
somethin’ that can’t be taught to ya or learned… somethin’ that got to be remembered… Over time the world can rob us of that swing… It gets buried inside us under all our woulds and coulds and shoulds… Some folk even forget what their swing was like…”
The Insight workshop was an attempt to get back into that authentic self, to find the true and perfect shot which was in me.
To further assist me, came this quotation from the well-known advaita guru, Nisargadatta Maharaj:
“To know what you are, you must first investigate and know what you are not. Discover all that you are not – body, feelings, thoughts, time, space, this or that. Nothing concrete or abstract which you perceive can be you.”
Simply translated it means that the first step is to develop a clear vision, a ‘good eye.’
Miksang is a Tibetan word that translates as ‘good eye’, and is based on the Shambhala and Dharma art teachings of the late meditation master, artist, and scholar, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It also represents a form of contemplative photography in which the ‘good eye’ is in synchronisation with the contemplative mind.
The Miksang website says, “Good means that our mind is uncluttered by preoccupation, is relaxed and open. Its innate nature is clear, brilliant, and extremely precise. When the steady mind, clear vision and soft heart come together in one single moment, the ‘good eye’ manifests.”
It is a vision that is inherently pure, unobstructed, unblocked, free of depression, free of aggression, free of interpretation, free altogether.
When we synchronise eye and mind, we abandon all concepts and predispositions and become completely present in the moment. As we allow ourselves to become more available to the things around us without the biases, filters and formulae of art, our experience and expression of day-to-day moments becomes rich and endlessly varied.
I realised how important it was not to let our past experiences, disappointments or inherent tendencies colour our vision of this present moment. Could I then, in this moment, leave all my troubles and stories behind, attempt a fresh approach and be in ‘this’ moment, in the purest, most pristine way? Could I look as if at the first flower upon the earth, yet unnamed, when nothing had a history or a description, when language or thought was not born?
Mary Oliver says,
“Here in my head, language
Keeps making its tiny noises.
“How can I hope to be friends
With the hard white stars
Whose flaring and hissing are not speech
But a pure radiance?
“How can I hope to be friends
With the yawning spaces between them
Where nothing, ever, is spoken?”
For two days we learnt the modalities of photography in terms of light, composition, lenses and things like aperture and shutter speed. The theory classes were interspersed with viewing of brilliant images, videos and films from all over the world. The teacher also shared with us a few of his own films showcasing the best a student could learn.
As I walked out of the Deer Park campus, back to the bustling city, I found the sights and noises of the streets very distracting. I wondered how to rest my mind without becoming stagnant, caught up as I was in the daily struggle of life.
The answer emerged slowly. It lay in the integration of the two worlds. Of the fusion of opposites: the world outside and the one inside. And by and by you realise that instead of night opposing day, or the dark obliterating light, they converge into a unified whole, each flowing into the other, each containing in its deepest core, the seed of the opposite.