In ancient times, the gods marched in procession to the rim of heaven and there nourished themselves by gazing into a formless, colorless void, an ocean of darkness. Here resided the "arche" or original cause of universal patterns that included justice, beauty, compassion, heroism, and loyalty. All that is manifest in the material world today emerges from these ancient cosmic patterns. When we witness archetypal images we are once again renewing our bond with source, and like the gods, finding ourselves rekindled.
Animals wake the imagination. On a game reserve, I was greeted outside my living quarters by a South African Kudu, a member of the antelope family, poised and silent, staring at me as if to say, "Welcome to a world not your own." In the presence of eagle, deer, owl, elephant, wolf, elk, and lion, I have felt both kinship with and distance from my own animal nature. In the presence of animals I become more instinctually alive, more aware of liminal space, balanced between human and animal realms - an invitation to embrace the interconnectedness of life.
Cities have remarkable energy, punctuated by physical buildings, orchestrated by places for gathering, animated by the flow of street life and seductiveness of markets. I marvel at the expressive nature of human face and form merging together and standing apart. Walking through a city with eyes of wonder is to enjoy an ever changing kaleidoscope of images. Cities, ancient and modern, fascinate us, leaving their human traces everywhere.
The inward journey evokes the wisdom of the unseen world. Images of interiority provoke our sense of mystery, metaphor, and mystical union with a greater spirit. The great paradox of interiority is that it connects us to the cosmos and reassures us we are not alone. When we contemplate images of interior space, our imagination is free to travel to far away places or dive into the center of our most passionate feelings.
Flora was the Roman goddess of flowers, a symbol of awakening, rebirth and also resilience. Her ephemeral qualities and association with fragrance, delicacy, and beauty linked her with spring and fertility. She was lover to the God of wind and friend to Hercules. When we encounter images of flowers and indigenous flora, we are touched once again by these associations. Spring is eternally present within each of us and from the harshest soil, new life can emerge.
When people talk about spiritual feelings, it is common to make reference to nature and natural landscapes. There is a beauty in nature that elevates our own natural perception of the world, lifts us in awe, and sweeps us down the river of wonder. In nature, we see images of evolution, erosion, and emergence without the limiting container of language or arguments over definitions. We see a world that was and is becoming. Beauty has its own language and images of nature are its grammar and punctuation.
A door, an entrance, a gate, a path, an archway. Images hold encoded information. The imagery of portals and pathways suggest an invitation, the promise of something more: "Come this way." But some portals and paths are closed to us or only partially open. Some may be hidden in mists or disguised to the eye. We must be willing to accept the invitation and open to new ways of seeing and being.
When we train the eye to glimpse the portals and pathways all around us, we develop a keen sense for adventure and transformation.
Reflection brings to the surface a new awareness, a more careful consideration, an opportunity to see again. Images of reflection evoke the soul's way of seeing, suggesting a slowing down, a meditation, a memory, a deeper respect for beauty and meaning. When we engage with reflection, we naturally go deeper into ourselves, open a pathway to feeling, and a channel for kindness and thoughtfulness. For me images containing reflective power are akin to medicine; they heal, mend, and stimulate the psyche to re-make the world.
If we only follow the light, we miss out on the extraordinary nuance, beauty, and depth that shadow brings. Yes, shadow can harbor fears, contain danger, and symbolize chaos and destruction. It can also be the dark womb from which our greatest strengths emerge, the seat of creativity. When we interact with shadow, we are elevating our capacity for conscious awareness, bringing wholeness to one-sidedness and renewal to an arid landscape scorched by only partial truths.
OBJECTS & STILL LIFEThere is a stillness within us. When we connect with this stillness, there is infinite time, infinite space, infinite joy. I recall a friend who told how he stopped in front of an extraordinary piece of art and lost track of time. What seemed like a few minutes was actually many hours. Images help us connect to this infinite place within. When we see an object, even ones quite familiar, in a different light or unusual context, time can stop for us. We are left refreshed, transported, elevated to a higher state of awareness.
SPIRIT OF THE CANYON
There is nowhere else the skeleton of the earth's geological form is so laid bare as in the canyon lands of the Southwest. Rock arches, hoodoos, windows, towers, buttes, spires, and mesas dot the landscape and evoke the spare, open, surreal expanse of the outer and inner imagination. In photographing them, I found myself taken into a spirit realm of shades and shadows and ancestors so distant little is even known about them.
In each new turn was a surprise, a wonder, a beautiful error, an opening to spectacular beauty and a panorama of glowing vistas.
The great Rabbi Heshel wrote that a human face is a message, a living mixture of mystery and meaning. No two faces are exactly alike and even the same face is not the same for more than an instant.
Beyond the face is the whole human form, gesturing, crouching, bowing, leaning, embracing, spinning, creating, leaping, appearing in all forms of comic, erotic, innocent, tragic, and heroic poses.
What if we could look upon human expression as forms of poetry or prayer?
Snow Monkeys of Nagano
Does spirit exist in all forms of life? Is there a divine spark within us if we look closely enough?
I had the great fortune of being welcomed into a community of macaque monkeys in Nagano, Japan. The macaque remind us of our inter-species connection, beings who share with us the capacity for self expression, empathy, social learning, and close family bonds. They have been known to roll snowballs, and we observed a young female drawing in the sand with a stick; a budding Picasso.
Look closely, there is an illuminating spirit that surrounds them and lives within.