Cultivating Wakefulness

I know.  It's not a beautiful image -- if anything, it's a reminder that you should always be wary of photographers who drive with their cameras close at hand: when this pattern caught my eye on the truck in front of me, I grabbed the camera only to discover he was planning to make a left turn when I was planning to make a right turn, so I snuck (is that a word?) up behind him, grabbed the shot, and then moved over two lanes to turn.  Fortunately there was no traffic behind us...

It seems like the perfect image to introduce our newest ECVA exhibit, an open studio exhibition entitled "Intersections," which you can visit here.  But I confess that was not necessarily on my mind when I shot it, though certainly I'd been in the process of preparing for that exhibit's opening at the time, so I was probably primed to be looking for/at intersections.

What I did see was a woman (the chains looked a bit like long hair) braced against opposing forces: she could be holding it together, keeping them apart, or just... hanging in there -- or maybe even pinned to the wall, like a butterfly. 

And isn't that curious?  What do you see in this image?  And why do you see it that way?

So much of what we see is conditioned by what we've just seen, or how we're feeling, or by events and experiences in our lives -- so how, then, can we know what is true, what is real?  Is it possible, knowing how thoroughly our perceptions may be colored by our expectations, to begin to understand that some (and obviously not all) things we assume are bad, or dangerous, or hurtful could simply be misunderstandings?

We were talking yesterday in class about habits, and I found myself thinking about habits of perception, and how they can color so much of what happens to us without our even understanding that to be true.  If -- as I learned recently -- the brain is inclined to reduce its workload, and habits and autonomic reflexes are the structures it creates to simplify life -- then couldn't it be possible that we get in habits of seeing offense or rejection where none is intended?  Couldn't it be possible that we, understanding that, might rebuild our habits of perception to bring about a more open, compassionate, accepting and cooperative lifestyle? 

Jack Kornfield, in The Wise Heart, describes that conscious reconstruction of thought patterns as "the deliberate cultivation of care.  More than refraining from harm, we cultivate a reverence for life.  More than refraining from stealing, we act with stewardship for the things of the earth.  More than refraining from lying, we stand up for truth.  More than refraining from the misuse of sexuality, we respect our intimate relations.  More than refraining from the misuse of intoxicants, we cultivate wakefulness."

Certainly one of the blessings of carrying a camera is that it helps me to cultivate wakefulness.  But what I need is a sort of emotional camera; some way of being present to what is felt as well as what is seen, so that I can have a more objective response in the moment.  Some days I think meditation is helping me develop that.

Other days?  Not so much...


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