A beautiful thing

How to Master the Art of Living
Posted: 30 Jul 2014 12:09 PM PDT
By Leo Babauta

Imagine you had a gorgeous blueberry sitting on the otherwise empty plate in front of you. You pick it up gently, place it on your tongue, and begin to taste it.
You already know how a blueberry tastes, and so when this one is a bit riper than you’d like, you make a face, feel the disappointment, swallow it with displeasure.
Or perhaps it tastes exactly as you’d expected: no big deal. You swallow, and move on with your day.
In the first case, the blueberry was disappointing because it didn’t meet expectations. In the second, it was boring because it met expectations.
Now try this: have no expectations of how the blueberry will taste. You don’t know because you haven’t tried it yet. You’re curious, open to a variety of tastes.
You taste it, and really pay attention. You notice the tanginess, the firmness of the skin, the sweet mushiness of the center, the complex flavors that emerge as you eat it. You didn’t know how it would taste, but this is brilliant! It’s new, because you’ve never tasted anything quite like it.
This is sometimes called the Beginner’s Mind, but I think of it as a mind free of expectations.
The blueberry, of course, can be anything in life: any experience, any person you meet, any cup of tea, any task before you, any interaction with a loved one, any thought that enters your head, any moment of the day.
If you approach any of these with expectations, they will often disappoint or frustrate you … or be bland, blah, usual. And you move on to the next disappointing or frustration or usual experience, and so on, so that life is nothing but a series of things you barely like and barely notice.
If you approach each moment, each task, each person, without expectations … and just see that moment or person as they are … then you will really see that moment. Really appreciate it. Experience it like you’ve never experienced anything before, because you haven’t.
This is the Art of Living.

The Worlds That Open Up
When you learn to approach each person and moment and task without expectations, it transforms everything. New worlds open up to you.

A handful of examples:
• Procrastination: Let’s say you have been putting off a big task at work because you’re dreading doing it. Maybe it’s a big project, and you have this feeling of overwhelm. It’s a lot of work! You are expecting to have to do hard work you’re perhaps not good at, expecting failure or difficulty. But letting go of the expectations means you don’t know how this task will go … you go into it with an open mind. You try it and see how it goes. You learn from the experience no matter how it goes.
• Habits: You enter a new habit with the expectation that it will be amazing, change your life, and you’ll do great. And when it is inevitably harder than you thought it would be, and you’re less successful at it, you’re disappointed, discouraged, frustrated. So you lose motivation, and give up. If instead, you let go of the fantasy of how this habit will go, and just be open to what emerges … you can just do the habit. Just be in the moment with it. Then, no matter how it turns out, you’ll learn something.
• Frustrating person: This guy at work is frustrating you because he’s not doing the work the way he should, or maybe he’s being inconsiderate somehow. Your frustration stems from an expectation of how this person should act. They don’t act according to this ideal, and so you suffer. Instead, you can put aside this expectation that people will live up to your ideals … and just be open to them. They will behave imperfectly, just as you will. Accepting the person as they are doesn’t mean you do nothing … you can let go of the frustration, and see how they’re having difficulty, and it as a teaching opportunity or an opportunity to help them … with no expectation that they’ll love your lesson or follow it, but just with the intention of helping someone.
• Kids don’t behave: When your kids behave badly, it’s the same problem — they aren’t acting according to your ideal. But of course they’re not! No kid behaves ideally, just as no adult behaves ideally. Do you behave ideally? I certainly don’t. I’m rude when I’m in a bad mood or tired. I’m not proud of that, but I struggle to be considerate or cheerful sometimes. Everyone does. Your kids are struggling, and you can be compassionate and help them. Kindly. That is, if you can let go of your expectations that they’ll behave perfectly, and accept them as struggling, beautiful people who just want to be happy, just like you.
• Your body: You aren’t happy with your body, because it’s not perfect. It doesn’t meet your ideal, your expectation, and so you dislike it. That’s not good, because this self-discontent means that you’re less likely to do healthy things. Often we think that dissatisfaction with ourselves motivates us to change, but in my experience this discontent means that you don’t really trust yourself to stick to changes and so you make excuses when things get hard, and quit. I’ve done that a lot. When I am content with myself, I trust myself more, and I stick to things more. So let go of expectations that your body will be perfect, and just see your body as it is, for the beautiful thing it is, independent of society’s ideals of perfection. You’re great!
• Each moment: As we enter each new moment, we expect things from it. We want it to be fun, amazing, productive, according to plan. And of course each moment has its own plan, and will be its own thing. So we are not happy with it. Instead, we can drop the expectations and just see the moment as it is. Just experience it, noticing, appreciating, being grateful. This is mastery.
This is just the start. We can learn that plans, goals, ideals … these are all fantasies of what we’d like life to be like, and they’re not real. We can learn to let go of the fantasies that inevitably occur, and just experience life as it is, as it happens.

This is the Art of Living.

How to Master the Art
Mastering the Art of Living is not as easy as you’d expect, as you’d fantasize. It takes practice. It means learning to be mindful of when you have these ideals, expectations, fantasies. It means learning to see the frustrations, anger, sadness, loneliness, and irritations as signals of the expectations you have and didn’t notice.
It means practicing that, and then practicing letting them go.
That means a lot of practice, and a lot of remembering to practice.
But that’s the fun of it. You drop the expectation that you’ll be perfect at this practice, and just try it. You learn from the trying. You get better. You learn some more. And each moment, along the way, is a miracle to be appreciated and enjoyed, so the process of mastery is a succession of miracle moments.

That’s a beautiful thing.

Words of wisdom from Zen Habits.
Photo by me.

The air was full of shimmering…


I Stood Against the Window

By Rose Fyleman

I stood against the window
And I looked between the bars,
And there were strings of fairies
Hanging from the stars;
Everywhere and everywhere
In shining, swinging chains;
The air was full of shimmering,
Like sunlight when it rains.

They kept on swinging, swinging,
They flung themselves so high
They caught upon the pointed moon
And hung across the sky.
And when I woke next morning,
There still were crowds and crowds
In beautiful bright bunches
All sleeping on the clouds

*I captured these ‘fairies’ descending upon my woods one evening at twilight. I used a slow shutter speed while moving the camera and did some post production work with curves and filters in Photoshop.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I seem to always be drawn to mirrors and reflections.

Maybe its the element of surprise of not knowing exactly what you’ll get.

Here’s an experiment to try.

Take an image of an interesting juxtaposition and then, later – take another with little available light.

It may give you a completely different perspective and cause your imagination to run a little wild…

And we can all use a little wild every now and then.

Twinkle, Twinkle

Take a look at the night sky this month, and you’ll see lots of amazing things…

Venus is a very bright object in our sky that’s always easy to spot. It’s often mistaken for things like planes or even the mythical UFO. In May, Venus will be particularly bright, shining at its maximum magnitude of 4.7.

Mars is visible through a telescope, where it shows up as a large red dot. If there’s a good enough view, you can even see the Martian polar ice caps. Depending on your telescope, those ice caps may look like just a thin band of white along the outer edge of the globe, but it’s pretty neat to know that you’re looking at a gigantic swath of ice.

Saturn: If you’ve got a telescope, point it toward Saturn — if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to make out its rings. The planet is one of the favorite targets of amateur astronomers.

Moon: The first weekend in May (this Saturday!) will reward celestial enthusiasts with a celestial double-feature…the biggest full Moon of 2012 AND the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Coinciding with the Moon’s perigree – — aka its closest proximity to Earth — this super bright and extra-large full Moon will be big and beautiful enough to qualify as a supermoon.

While you can see the Moon perfectly well with your naked eye, if you point your telescope at it, you can spot some amazing things. The large impact crater in the southern part of the moon, called Tycho, features a notable ray system that spreads out in all directions. If you look at the edges of the moon through a telescope, you’ll likely be able to see mountains (actually the rims of craters) pushing up past the encroaching darkness.

The Constellation Lyra: As legend has it, the god of music and knowledge, Apollo, gave the famed Greek musician Orpheus a beautiful lyre to play. After tragedy struck his wife, Orpheus became inconsolable. All the women around him tried to make him happy again, but none could. The women, upset over Orpheus’s continued depression, tore him apart and threw his lyre into the River Herbus. It is there that Apollo snatched the lyre out of the water and put it in a place of honor among the stars.

Look for the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere, Vega, and you’ve found the tip of the constellation Lyra. Some 23 light years away from Earth, Vega is about two times as massive as our Sun. In the popular 1990s movie Contact, Vega is the source of the alien signal picked up by Jodie Foster that eventually leads to her interstellar journey.

Below Vega, you’ll see four other stars that make up the diamond-shaped pattern of Lyra, as well as one star to the left of Vega that forms the other side of the top of the mythological instrument. Picture a series of enormous harp strings strung throughout the constellation, and you’ve got what the Greeks envisioned ages of years ago.

Eclipse: When the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun in the right way, a solar eclipse happens. There are four different types of solar eclipses. The most recognizable is the total eclipse, where the moon completely blocks out the sun, leaving only the spectacular solar corona visible. A partial eclipse occurs when the sun is only somewhat obscured by the Moon, which can often be seen alongside total eclipses. The annular eclipse, which is what we’ll see on May 20, happens when the Moon appears slightly smaller than the Sun. A hybrid eclipse is when the eclipse flips between a total eclipse and an annular eclipse.

Throughout the late afternoon on Sunday, May 20, you’ll be able to see the Moon pass in front of the Sun to various degrees, depending on where you live in the country. Unfortunately for those of you on the east coast, you won’t be able to see anything. On the west coast, however, you’ll get a truly amazing view.

If you can see it from the best vantage point possible, the annular eclipse will peak when the Sun forms just a small ring around the Moon. The last time a total or annular solar eclipse happened across the United States was in 1994, so get ready to watch this amazing event!

Be sure you’re watching the solar eclipse safely. If you look directly at it, you risk permanent eye damage. Look for safety tips online on how to view a solar eclipse or get a pair of specialized eclipse glasses.

Apps: Star Walk (iPad or iPhone users), Sky Map for Android users – are fun, interactive maps that show you what you’re seeing as you point your phone or tablet at the night sky.

Information gathered from: tecca.com and huffingtonpost.com

Breaking the Rules one Photograph at a Time

I used to be in a camera club a few years back.  I would go to these meetings religiously because it was about the only way I could connect with other photographers.  We would always have a competition at each meeting and the winning photographs would continue on to the next level (regionals) and sometimes to the state and national levels.

To the members of this club the rules were carved in stone and it was mandatory for each new member to understand them clearly if they ever planned on having their photographs included in the winner’s circle.

All the winning photographs always looked the same too – …beautiful sunsets with orange and blue skies, pretty flowers in pretty vases on pretty tables, still life arrangements with fruit, etc., etc., etc.  And each one sharp as a tack with textbook exposure.

I’ll never forget the time one of the (senior) members was looking at one of my photographs (one that I was pretty happy with as I’d just gotten back from two  weeks at The Maine Photographic Workshops (now known as Maine Media) in Rockport, ME, and said, “Now see, if you’d only used a tripod here – you’d really have something!”.  I just smiled and shook my head in agreement and thanked him for the advice, knowing that at that very moment my camera club days were numbered.  Not because I thought I was a better photographer or because I thought I knew more than these people – it wasn’t that at all.  I just knew, at that very moment,  that if I continued to stick around i ran the risk of letting their limited thoughts and ideas on what ‘real’ photography was influence my ideas of what I thought ‘creative’ photography was.

And I haven’t looked back.

I learned a lot about the foundation of photography from these generous and friendly folks and appreciate what they shared but I also learned it was just the jumping off point.  Creativity can’t be boxed in like that.  It ceases to be creativity!

I enjoy making images using the Lensbaby, toy cameras, plastic cameras, pinhole cameras, I love SX70 film and Polaroid cameras, I hate hauling around my tripod, I love to shoot through the window or a dirty windshield, will shoot while jumping up and down, I like an occasional blown out highlight, I love really high key images, I’m a self portrait freak, I take more photographs of my feet than you’d ever believe, (I take pictures of other people’s feet!), I shoot at odd angles, no angles, wide angles, in the dark, in the bright light, in infrared, a LOT in infrared, use wacky filters, shoot from moving vehicles, use the wrong exposure intentionally… and I do all these things on purpose!

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, ‘every photograph is a self portrait’.  It just means that the images we make reflect something of who we are and how we see the world because we put something of ourselves into the image.  It’s what makes that image our image and no one else’s.

I can spend hours browsing through images I’ve taken – it truly is an enjoyable past time for me.  These photographs aren’t necessarily great or award-winning but they hold some magic sometimes.

I guess its kind of like keeping a diary; a visual diary – full of memories and emotions that couldn’t be put into words if I tried.



A Cool Yule

Frosty and Jupiter

November’s full moon is nicknamed, Frosty – and I grabbed this shot with my cell phone while standing in front of my car’s headlights at the end of my driveway the other evening.  I shot it through the tree branches.

Can you see Jupiter?

What’s in a Name

One of the first things I do after looking through images is to name the ones that stand out (whether I like the image a lot or I think it has some possible future value).  This serves a couple of different purposes. One, it helps me locate an image by its appearance rather than by the time or location; it basically helps me remember it better.  Another way is by helping to prioritize images when I’ve shot several exposures of one subject.  Sometimes I shoot dozens of the same subject – using different lighting or exposure or shutter speeds.  Naming them in this way may not be the most efficient way (for some people) but I find it an enjoyable process.  The part I enjoy most is how sometimes a story will start to build and I never know where that will take me.  Sometimes I let the story tell itself.

Here are some images where that happened.  The names of the images are…alien invasion, the landing and twilight zone.

Sometimes its fun to just let the story unfold.

Every image doesn’t have to be a ‘work of art’.

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