Surrendering to Being; A Photographer's (a Human's?) Greatest Challenge

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Surrendering to Being; A Photographer's (a Human's?) Greatest Challenge
Surrendering to Being; A Photographer's  (a Human's?) Greatest Challenge

Yesterday on a morning walk in a gentle rain, I stopped to watch raindrops distort a reflection in a puddle with perfect concentric circles; randomness and remarkable order coexisting, emerging before my eyes (and my camera).

Later a friend, commenting on my photo, thanked me for “creating such beauty.” While I appreciate my friend's kind words and admit to being flattered by such a compliment (hey, I’ve got an ego, too!), the truth is that I was given a gift and was, fortunately, in a space where I was able to observe and appreciate it. The beauty was created by nature and the gift is that I was in a space where I could receive it.

The awareness for me is that these gifts are always there for us but we’re not always in a place where we can receive them.

Yesterday on my walk I had no purpose, no expectations, no agenda. I simply walked in the falling rain and was in the scene, a part of it all.

Often I’m too much in my head; plotting, seeking, worrying, thinking about all I have to do, or mad about who last “wronged” me or cut me off in traffic or other insignificant nonsense. When that rare moment comes when I can let go of all the meaninglessness, the richness is everywhere. There is the possibility for magic.

The Catch-22 is that we can’t set out to have or create such an experience because there come the expectations! To relinquish the illusion of control and just “be” may be the biggest challenge of all, but it’s so gratifying when it happens. I think the most any of us can do is to create opportunities for the conditions to simply “be” and then surrender to them. There is potential for profundity in every instant of our lives if only we are there to feel it. This puddle became a canvas upon which light, reflections, and falling rain drops created a visual and auditory masterpiece. The gift to me from the universe is that I was a witness. I was simultaneously privy to it and a part of it.

Last September my Nancy nearly died. I’m not exaggerating or being melodramatic; it’s a fact. She spent three weeks in intensive care enduring unspeakable indignities and extreme suffering after a botched surgery that is almost always routine. In her darkest hour, she later revealed to me, she surrendered to accepting whatever was going to happen. She was able to feel gratitude for her life and came to terms with the possibility that she might not survive this nightmare. Understand that she did not give up. On the contrary, she fought like a demon for her life, but she surrendered to all possible outcomes which allowed her a kind of peace and laser-like focus that gave her the strength to fight —and win — the biggest battle of her life. Today she continues the journey to recover her physical, spiritual, and emotional health and we’re both grateful for her progress.

Since her ordeal, we have talked about the idea of surrender and how it applies to our lives and to our art, two things that are often one and the same. Nancy is a talented and skilled metalsmith. For twenty years she has fabricated metal to create beautiful works of art from silver, copper, and gold, embedded with colorful gem stones or adorned with enamel. We often talk about and share our artistic pursuits and we have reflected on the role of surrender and how that might impact our creativity and our art.

Clearly not every day is life and death in the immediate sense, but this idea of surrender has stayed with me. Surrendering to all possibilities is a way of being present and being present in any instant allows us to experience, to feel, the world more honestly, fully, meaningfully. The world around us with all its wonders is always there for us, but until we surrender to all possibilities we may not be capable of taking it in.

So how does this pertain to our life and to our photography? You may think to compare our very life and our artistic endeavors is to aggrandize artistic pursuit. I thought so, too, at first, but I’ve come to a different conclusion. The creative pursuit is life. It is breath for many. To be present in our life is to be present in our creativity, too. Surrendering to possibility allows us to strip away the distracting trivialities that can interfere with our ability to receive the gifts around us as well as to find the focus, determination, and inner strength to create, or, to fight against an assault to our very existence.

Standing over that puddle yesterday observing nature create a masterpiece in a pool of rain water, I surrendered to all possibilities. I stopped trying to control, I stopped thinking, and in so doing freed my mind and soul to create a space to receive the gift. That is a state I want to be in more often, to live in, as a photographer and as a person. I don’t believe surrender is easy or even a place at which we arrive. Rather it’s a fluid practice that will ebb and flow and be whatever it is on any given day. The key is to be conscious, have awareness, and to be receptive to the range of profound possibilities in any moment.

My friend and artful photographer, Steve Koppel, says this beautifully in these few choice words: Arrive without expectation and leave with gratitude.



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