Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Gravity and Illumination

This afternoon, I went to see the movie, Gravity (in 3D), with my son, on the opening day of the new Bow-Tie Criterion Cinemas in town. What a spiritual experience! The movie is a meditation on the theme of letting go as each of the two characters, adrift in outer space following a disaster, come to terms with their mortality in their own ways. I’m not going to give any spoilers regarding the outcome. The characters’ reactions to their situation is what I found compelling. One of them seemed to have lived a full-bodied life with lots of colorful stories to tell and was able to embrace the likelihood of imminent death much more readily than the other character, whose existence had become like death-with-a-pulse following a traumatic experience that shook her world to the core.

I found both characters’ processes so beautiful. Adrift and untethered in space, one was in awe of the way the sunlight was shining on the Ganges. This brought to mind the Zen story of the wild strawberry, in which a man was being chased by a tiger and ended up at the edge of a tall cliff. He grabbed onto a vine and swung himself over the edge of the cliff. As he dangled, clinging to the vine, he became aware of a couple mice gnawing at the vine. Realizing it wouldn’t be long before he plunged to the ground, he noticed a wild strawberry growing on the side of the cliff. He reached out, picked the strawberry, and savored the sweetest, most delicious strawberry he had ever tasted.

It’s all about entering the fullness of the present moment despite outer circumstances. Every moment is an opportunity to awaken.

For the other character, the sounds of a dog barking and a lullaby being sung to a baby awakened her and provided solace and healing as she entered the realization that this would be the day she would die. Her spiritual journey brought to mind a line from a Janis Joplin song: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When you come to terms with death or otherwise choose to face your fears, fear loses its hold on you. When you have nothing left to lose, you can let go and enjoy the ride. And that’s when you stop resisting the present moment and begin to truly inhabit it. You move on, letting go of whatever is holding you back. You begin to truly live.

After the movie, I dropped my son off for his next engagement and drove home alone. As I drove through town, the rising moon appeared enormous against the landscape of trees and streetlights. It was an astonishing sight. I drove along looking for a place to pull over and photograph it before the effect was lost. I ended up going into the woods, where the huge moon floated just above the treetops (and looked much more incredible than I was able to capture on camera).

Continuing home, I thought about how photography is such a huge part of my spiritual journey now. It has opened me up to the awe and beauty all around and transcends all else. Finding beauty in the natural world – and photographing it so I can share it with others – has become my reason for getting up in the morning.

And that changes everything.

I know a few college students who seem to be on a similar path and began thinking about how I’d have done so many things differently if only I knew back then what I know now – if only I had this interest and depth of awareness earlier in life. But then it occurred to me that I couldn’t have had that awareness back then because I was who I was at every step of the way, and the only way to have that kind of awareness would be to have been someone different, or to be me at a later stage in life. Plain and simply: Earlier in life, I was not who I am now; I was exactly who I was supposed to be at that age. Does that make any sense? That is one of two realizations during the past week that literally made my hair stand on end. It is one heck of a liberating realization because it causes you to let go of all regrets. It seems we need to honor who we were at every step of the way – the “full catastrophe” (to borrow from Jon Kabat-Zinn) because each step was part of a journey that led to this very moment. This moment when I am more awake and enlightened in certain ways. And I can carry this awareness with me going forward, as a torch that lights the way, illuminating paths and possibilities that until now remained in darkness. When the time is right, the light will become brighter still.

There is nothing to regret!

Spiritual insights seem to be a lot like scenes in nature. Even the slightest change – in the angle at which sunlight shines upon it, the time of day, the angle from which it is viewed, the amount of light, the weather conditions, your energy level and state of consciousness – and it doesn’t make as much of an impact; it doesn’t grab you and stop you in your tracks. But if you’re in the right place at the right time, in the right frame of mind – BAM!

Intention, awareness, effort, and timing all come together, and you find yourself swimming in the depths of something that seems so simple and obvious to the logical mind. But there’s so much more to it than the logical mind can comprehend. You awaken to a reality that embraces paradoxes.

The insights I have had this week might not impress others the way they did me. And they might not have affected me the same way if I had come upon them at another time. Similarly, my impressions of Gravity might be greatly at odds with the impressions and interpretations of others. Any good story offers myriad levels of interpretation. You can watch a movie or read a book again and get something completely different from it, just as the entire ambiance of a scene in nature will reveal different qualities the next time you come upon it.

Every moment, circumstance, interaction, etc. is an opportunity for new understanding. And so we carry on, a little wiser than we were before and not yet as wise as we will become…

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The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

 © Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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