WORKOUT SESSION: THE INNER SEA

February 12, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

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When I grew up, loosely speaking, common wisdom stated that we use only 10% of our brains, as if 90% of our gray matter has nothing more to do than absorb unfortunate amounts of alcohol, zone out on reality tv, or think about the 3 million ways to avoid balancing the checkbook. Nowadays, in more enlightened times (in loose-speak), it's understood that we do indeed use 100% of our brains. Hooray for scientific progress. However, only 2% of the aforementioned brain is "awake" at any given time, and under our control. The 2% bit thrives on logic and behaves like the tiny rudder aft of the USS Enterprise. Or the Titanic. The other 98% of our humming gray cells is not the ship, but the iceberg, barely acknowledged in our culture. There's a lot of spooky action in the distance between 2 and 98, the stuff of dreams, art, music, novels, imagination, quantum entanglement, creation itself. 

It's not such unfamiliar territory for us though. Remember the scene in Jules Verne's 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' in which the intrepid explorers descend into an Icelandic volcano and stumble across an inner sea where there be giant mushrooms, refrigerator-sized insects, nonhistoric reptiles, thrills, chills, and complete artistic license? What do you think - metaphor perhaps, applications we can use here? Our own inner seas are too unvisited, unrecognized, increasingly unfamiliar. They desire our exploration; forays into the sanctum keep the waters fresh, vital and alive. So keep your backpacks well stocked as we drop into the volcano.

By the way, that 2% equates to about 2 tablespoons of brain matter, slightly less than one ounce. That's what we navigate our lives with. And we wonder why we crash into so many icebergs.

I watched a remarkable movie last week, from which some of the above statistics are borrowed. It's called InnSaei - the Sea Within, and it's high on my current recommendation list. If you have a Netflix account, give it 90 minutes of your time, and you'll be glad you did. It's a solid dose of the sort of analog reality that is rapidly eroding away to soul dust. We need it, and we need to share it.

InnSaei probes a single subject - intuition, how it was lost, and the critical need for its reintegration into our daily lives. The payoff is getting off the 2% dreadmill and back into the integrated 100% wholeness of artistic expression. Photography fits hand in glove with this approach as our images begin to draw not only from the technical and logical, but from the subjective and intuitive, as well. In this worldview, the power of stories, with all their weird twists, matter more than how sharp the photo is.

This can be murky stuff (until it isn't), so we'll start with an easy assignment. That is, it sounds easy, and may be child's play for some, a challenging effort for others. Unlike some assignments, however, this one needs to be practiced repeatedly rather than merely read and checked off. This is one assignment in which the work is its own reward.

So here it is, the 30/30 routine:

Pick a pleasing outdoor natural location where you can go and sit for 30 minutes, alone. If the weather is torturous, find an indoor location - but consider sitting outside even in inclement weather. You must leave any communication device in the car or at home. That means no cell phones, beepers, signal mirrors, or semaphore flags - nothing. And here's the tough one - you may NOT take a camera. You will be your own camera.

Then go sit. Get comfortable, breathe slowly, then watch, see, with detachment, without labeling. Become aware of everything in your visual and auditory range. Be fully in the moment, now. If... no, not if - when your 2% control center starts chattering at you and demanding immediate attention, treat it like a 2-year old and firmly state that this is your time and please remain silent for 30 minutes. Resume your vigil. Your mind will begin to slow down eventually, the chatter will recede, and you'll enter a contemplative state, perhaps unfamiliar, but peaceful and aware. It may take several attempts, but over time you'll experience short periods, perhaps just flashes, of super-awareness and intense concentration alternating with lengthening periods of no thought whatsoever. Don't push them, let them come and go.

If you start seeing things you'd like to photograph, acknowledge them, then let them go. Let nature surprise you; if she trusts you she will bring you visual gifts. Accept them, then let them go. You may end up with a full roll of not-photographs and each one will be perfect. The point is to be able to see potentially beautiful images and to purposely not desire them.

After 30 minutes, or whenever you feel like moving (whichever comes last), go to the car or your house and retrieve only your camera (remember, you must not have it already with you). Return to your outdoor location and let nature bring you her gifts once again. Photograph one, two, or maybe three of them. Or none. What she gives is enough so don't be greedy. 30 minutes, thank her, and go home in a state of simple grace.

If you do this several times during our two week assignment, you may very likely end up with a collection of photographs that differ significantly from your normal accumulation. Instead of looking for things 'out there' to shoot, you'll find that your quiet state of mind finds things 'in here' reflected in your outer world, not unlike a mirror. You recognize them because you've 'sean' them before. When you point a lens at something, it's reflecting in equal measure right back into your inner sea.

IDEAS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING THE INNER SEA:

  • Watch InnSaei. 90 minutes. Just do it.
  • Do the 30/30 routine every day if you can - 30 minutes watching and being, without a camera / 30 minutes with a camera, quietly shooting. That's only 1 hour per day. 
  • As you sit, your attention will drift, especially at first, perhaps violently. Catch yourself, snap back to attention. Repeat as necessary. This exercise will slowly build the skill of intense concentration, like a muscle. The more you inhabit it, the easier it becomes to access at will.
  • Less is more, both in mental chatter and the number of photographs you bring home. Purposely do not shoot something now and then. Absorb it now, on the spot, then let it be.
  • Turn off your labelmaker. Study an object until it tells you something you can't translate or identify. Follow that rabbit trail.
  • You won't know if the 30/30 technique works unless you try it. If it doesn't, what have you lost except a few hours alone with nature? Could be worse. If it does work, your vision and connection with the world will begin to perceptibly change, and your photographs will too. 
  • Don't like sitting? Try walking instead. Same rules.
  • As you become accustomed to inhabiting the receptive mind, you won't need to power through a 30/30 routine every day. It might take 15/15 or 5/5, and eventually you can just call up this state of mind at will. But it takes practice - it's a muscle.

THE INNER SEA will run two weeks, from Feb 13 through Feb 26. Happy shooting!

NOTES:

  • If you'd like to share in these workouts with other people (always a great idea), you're invited to join my Facebook Photo Assignment group where you can post images and comments, learn from others, and help other budding photographers learn our amazing craft. 
  • If you're interested in bettering your Photoshop and Lightroom skills, I have an aptly named second Facebook group called Circle of Confusion. You're invited to join it, as well, but you'll need to be a Photo Assignment member first. Join both and you're good to go.
  • Need some hands-on training? I teach several classes during the year through Sawtooth Photo Pros. Current class schedule is available here: SPP-CLASSES

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