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(This article was published online in The Shambhala Times)

Nothing Happens and We Notice It – Contemplative Photography in Hawaii

Traveling from the middle of a Canadian winter to the sun-drenched shores of Hawaii is a welcome feast for the senses. Bright blue skies, fragrant tropical flowers, azure waters lap the shore. Our bare feet love sink into the warm sand. My wife Kerry Crofton and I are here with our daughter Deki on the island of Oahu known in ancient times as the gathering place.

Who gathers here these days? Surfers, fellow tourists and sun seekers from all over the planet, and, it seems, dralas and dakinis in abundance. This tropic isle feels charged with potential energy; fertile with life. It is the kind of place where you could drop seeds on the ground by seeming accident and they would flourish.

Hawaiian.DSCN0670

Hawaiian culture has great respect for the natural world. Mountains are goddesses. Islands, lakes and rivers are sacred. Trees are honoured. Hawaii is rich in the Aloha spirit. This manifests as basic friendliness, joyfulness and appreciation. Although there is a resurgence of their traditional heritage, much of the ancient culture now appears in touristy scenes like seaside restaurants, yet there is still something delightful. Cheerful-looking musicians in brightly colored shirts or mumus entertain with their ukeleles and rousing native songs. Not that we need any cheering up, at this point.

Aimlessly wandering along the beach one day, feeling the texture of the wet sand and refreshing cool breeze, our minds are stopped by the surprising sight of two low-hanging rainbows. It is as if the devis of the phenomenal world are offering an endless array of brilliant colours and pleasing sounds. We are saved from any god realm traps by the buzzing traffic, jostling crowds and then the most shocking a painful sting as a box jellyfish wraps its tentacles around my neck.

One purpose of our sojourn is to slow down, or chill as Deki would say, and come back to our senses.
We are also here to present our Mindful EYE contemplative photography workshop for the Kailua Shambhala Center. We are being hosted by Dean and Jaynine Nelson and their son, Makini. Our workshop took place in and around their beautiful home with its open veranda and flower-filled gardens.

This series that Kerry and I have developed is inspired by the Shambhala Art teachings of true perception by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The view is that we can synchronize eye, mind and heart in order to see things as they are.

As you may know, this relaxed and awake state of mind, and open heart, are cultivated so we can reconnect more directly with our phenomenal world and our perceptions can be more deeply felt.

May I describe some of the images from our workshop participants:

Shadows of prayer flags on the green lawn
Blueness of the swimming pool
Texture of the woven wooden chair back
Yellow fish with prickly spikes
Green knotted hose
Blue bowl on the stone path
Sunlight on the windowsill
Sandy shoes on the front step
Woven bamboo chair

The Mindful EYE brings appreciation of ordinary life. Unlike exotic places where everything is new and fresh, or at least for a while, I find familiar turf is good practice. Our own backyard and kitchen sink are fertile ground as we often take these everyday scenes for granted, not worthy of our attention. With our digital distractions and cluttered daily lives, we are often moving too fast to notice what is right in front of us.

The mind which is turned inward and involved with continuos dialogue and naming, judging, categorizing misses the moment. We preference: I like it, I don’t like it, or I don’t care.

Preoccupied. So we miss the life-enhancing juice that being open to the colours and textures of daily life can bring: The morning light illuminating subtle patterns on the curtains; drops of water on blood-red tomatoes in the shiny chrome sink; branches waving in the wind creating shadows on the path.

Slowing down, tuning in, waking up is the Mindful EYE practice. There is no particular goal, just look, be curious, engaged. Learn to stay with your perceptions, look deeper into what it is that caught your eye. This is the wonder we see in young children who simply look at the shaft of light coming through the window. See the light change, the dust motes floating in that timeless moment of magic. Simply in that moment. This is the joyful work of meeting our visual world on its own terms, as it arises. Then you can seal the experience by expressing it with the camera.

And we don’t have to wait for that calendar moment of the tropic sunrise, worthy perceptions are right here. Right now. Right in front of our eyes.DSC06180