This past summer, I was in a bit of a fog. It was so easy to look at my life and see what was missing–or rather, how it didn’t match up against all the expectations and dreams I had built up. Even as I wrote endlessly about being in the present, I felt the future tugging at me and taunting me with visions of how what I had just wasn’t enough, how we hadn’t yet arrived, how everything was supposed to be different at this point in my story.
I have always had a hard time with staying here in this moment. Even as a little girl I spent many hours daydreaming about a better life, the life I would lead some day. In some versions of those dreams, I was rescued. In other versions of those dreams, I stumbled upon luck and fortune. In still more versions I myself had moved mountains to create the change. But the common theme was always a change, something different, something other. Now, in the tough times, when life is hard, it feels so easy to console myself with imagining the future–simpler, brighter. Things will get better I tell myself–and I dream it in technicolor.
But there is a problem with this and we all know what it is. Life rarely goes as we plan it and disappointment is inevitable. And while I sit dreaming of an imaginary life, my real life slips by with little notice.
Which brings me to this summer. I was stumbling along, a prisoner of my own discontent. Surely, I would grumble, it was time that I would be rewarded for doing my soul work, for the pain and suffering I endured through my divorce. Surely life was going to get better than THIS…this mundane, difficult, stressful, day in and out slog. And truth is, I hated myself for thinking that way because I knew that I would one day miss that slog. Because even while I complained I saw out of the corner of my eye that it was full of tender kisses, a boy growing up, dear friends blossoming, kindnesses and sorrows too poignant to miss. But there I sat grumbling. I knew I was missing my life by wishing it away to be replaced by a better “someday” and worse still I would catch myself and beat myself up for my lack of gratitude– suffer over my own suffering. It was exhausting.
It was one day in July when I was lying on the acupuncture table, contemplating this crazy space I occupied. Even as my mind wandered I kept bringing it to my breath, to the play of the light against the crystals hanging from the ceiling above me, desperate for a way to ground myself to the present. And it was then, the wisdom bubbled up–at first a whisper and then more of a roar. “You just need to learn how to see”. And I seemed to know, even then, that what I needed was a creative practice that would force me out of contemplation and rumination and into the act of pure observation.
It was not more than a week later that I bought my camera, my first REAL camera. And I began a practice of looking through my lens for no other reason than to simply see. As a beginner photographer I need to pay complete attention to what I am doing. I cannot go on autopilot–every thing is new and requires attention. And attention, I am learning over and over again is nothing short of love. When I lift that camera to my eye I am immersed in details I never bothered to register before: the light, the contrast, the depth of field, the speed, the way that everything changes in a second–one second boldness in her eyes, the next moment fear. Take too long and you might miss it. Taking photos of things I love has helped me to pay attention to them in ways I never have before and it is grounding me, and breaking me open. It has been a creative and spiritual practice.
For the last several months, I have been struggling with what to do here on this blog. It seems as though all the stories I wanted to tell have told themselves. Other stories I have are still too raw or tender or unformed to tell. I had once upon a time imagined a story arc I would hope would play out here, a narrative that would provide adventure, excitement and lots of rich material for writing. But life plays out differently and those stories are not. I have been wordless, something which has been both a relief and a source of deep pain.
Instead, my creative life has looked like this: Me with my camera, living my life, stopping to breathe and relish. My camera has been a tool, like my sitting practice, helping me to hold all that I love about my life RIGHT NOW in front of my own eyes. At hockey practice, or work, at the Max’s school or in the park, at coffee with a friend or a community dinner I may be taking photos and learning to see my life, not as I hoped it would be but isn’t but exactly as it is–sparkling, hopeful, tender, sad, joyful, messy but beautiful and fleeting and mine.
I feel somewhat tender and shy about sharing my photos more broadly. As a lover of photography, I am aware of all the technical ways my photos fall short. I recently showed some of my favorites to a good friend who is a gifted photographer and a pro. And so like a little girl wobbling along on her first two wheeler I am practicing so many things at once: balance, observation, movement, creativity and most importantly love. She was encouraging and kind. “Keep going” she said. “You are doing it!”
I showed up today, hoping to write but realized that my stories flow from these photos now. I have little to say that is new. Instead, these tender shots are the only story I have to tell now. So we will be doing something different for a few weeks here. Its time to start sharing what I have seen, what I love, what is mine to cherish in this miraculous moment unfolding. And maybe the words will come, but if they don’t we can sit in silence together and marvel at how exquisitely life loves us.