Bald eagles have commanded my attention for the past few days. It began during the Spring Equinox sunrise when one glided through the frame as I composed a landscape, making its high-pitched piping sound all the while.
Bald eagles have been showing up daily in my field of awareness ever since. As I drove home this morning, I noticed one flying toward me when I was stopped at an intersection. Even after I turned, it continued to fly overhead until I pulled in my driveway, and it continued along the river. But then I looked up and noticed another bald eagle flying over the yard! I parked, took out my camera, and waited for an opportunity to photograph an eagle. I waited for quite some time but didn’t see one and eventually gave up.
Interesting. I just happened to notice bald eagles (quite literally) out of the blue on several occasions over the past few days, but when I looked for them, they were nowhere to be seen. I waited and waited, and they didn’t show up…because apparently it doesn’t work that way. It’s not about willing something into being like that. It’s about awareness of what is presenting itself. And there is always something.
Later in the day, I sat in my warm, sunny car and observed a red-bellied woodpecker at the back yard bird feeders. I wanted to photograph it but didn’t have my car key, so I was unable to lower the window for a clear shot – and didn’t want to open the door and risk scaring it away. Eventually, I went inside the house to get my keys and returned to the car…and waited. No sign of the woodpecker. However, for several minutes I had marveled at the fiery, red glint of the woodpecker’s head as the late afternoon sun caught it just right – and in those moments my life was richer. It didn’t matter that I was unable to capture an image (until much later). Noticing is what mattered.
There have been many occasions when I have waited to photograph something that had yet to manifest. I’ve waited on the river for waves and ripples to subside in order to capture clear reflections on the surface of the water. I’ve waited for the sun to emerge from behind a blanket of clouds to illuminate objects, and I’ve also waited for clouds to conceal and subdue sunlight for better exposures. Through waiting, I have developed patience. But I’ve also learned to expand my awareness in the moments in between. Countless times, I’ve gone in search of a certain thing only to discover what is really there! Then I found it unbelievable that I’d never before noticed the phenomena that all of a sudden seemed so obvious, present, and relevant. How could I have lived all these years without them registering in my awareness?
Depression-era American documentary photographer, Dorothea Lange, stated, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” I agree wholeheartedly. Since taking up photography, I have developed a different way of seeing that involves opening my awareness to perceive beyond the more obvious features that I’ve been conditioned to notice or value. I’ve become mindful of more subtle details that I previously would have overlooked and have found that when I open my awareness to what is there (rather than what I want to see), so much reveals itself! It’s like seeing the pregnant spaces in between, much like rests (silences) in music.
One of the benefits to this kind of perception became obvious throughout the long winter from which we are beginning to emerge. Many times, I left home without my camera on overcast days after convincing myself that I wouldn’t encounter anything worth photographing. And almost every time, I regretted that decision because something showed up unexpectedly and made an impression on me that I would have liked to capture and share. I learned not to hold out for blue sky days and began to notice the little things, such as shadows and light, and frost on windows. There’s something every single day that is worthy of attention. It’s not about going out and looking for a particular thing but being open to whatever arises in your field of consciousness. One of my favorite winter impressions was when flowing shadows and light from the river were projected upon the bedroom wall like a gray-scale movie while I listened to gentle music. When I noticed the interplay of shadow and light on the wall and the way it fit with the music, I was filled with the exquisiteness of the moment. With practice, you can train your eyes to see the little things that can awaken you, enrich your life, and make you feel more alive and connected with the world around you.
Awareness is an antidote to boredom and desire that can release us from our personal prisons. While waiting for what’s absent or missing, we can open our eyes to what is. Then the waiting will cease and ultimately become irrelevant. When we focus on what is, life becomes fuller and more robust. I believe there’s nothing that isn’t here right now that is necessary for our completion and contentment. There are so many perceptual possibilities. Let them reveal themselves! Open the windows to your senses, and allow yourself to become aware and perhaps even delighted or astonished by the subtleties so often overlooked that are waiting to be discovered and appreciated – the details that present themselves for your awakening.
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