Having a spiritual path has a value which I readily recognize, especially so if it helps leads to the truth of who we are and brings one more present into his/her own experience. For me, I recognized for myself several years ago while traveling in India that “the world is my cushion.” I’ve spent hundreds of hours on meditation cushions in my life and while I have found the time spent to be very valuable, there is something about being engaged with life, being in the world (whether at home or abroad) and engaging heartfully with others, that brings me much closer to the truth of my own spirituality.
I am writing this, however, because I noticed something yesterday while wandering the streets of Patan, Nepal. I had taken a day for myself to stay in a warm and comfortable hotel, and wander with my camera through a new (and what turns out to be wondrous) place. I walked for probably 7 hours combined between evening, night and morning, preferring the long light for photography at those hours much more than mid-day. While wandering, I noticed a few times how “not present” I was in my own experience. It can be easy to get caught up in the moment, in deciphering new surroundings, in the excitement of discovery, in conversation with others, in surviving crazy traffic, and in the technical aspects of photography, but I paused several times noticing how “not there” I was in the moment. Blessedly, the beauty of a person or scene as seen through my camera would often snap me back.
When I say that the world is my cushion, I mean that my path is much more about striving to live my spirituality rather than having a more contemplative or devotional path. The main intention for me is to remain true to my soul while in relationship with others. In life we have constant opportunities on a moment-to-moment, day-to-day basis to practice self-awareness, to recognize when we are loving and when we are not, to practice acceptance in all types of situations, to keep silent unless we have something valuable to say, and to unblock the channels of our hearts so that love and support can flow freely. While I acknowledge that this may not be the “spiritual” path that others may choose to lead, for me life is most fulfilling when we strive to realize our individual unique human potential. This task is a very human endeavor and, at least for me, cannot readily be achieved upon the meditation cushion.
But……, and this is what I am noticing here, without a meditation/prayer/devotional practice of some form or another, I am losing a bit of my connection to myself. It was this lack of that connection that stopped me in my tracks while meandering through Patan. My connection point to presence has generally been my belly. My meditation practice (when I have one) uses a point in my belly as it’s focus. Depending on tradition, this point is referred to in chi gung and other martial arts as the dan tien, as the kath point in Sufism. or the hara in Zen Buddhism. When I meditate in this particularly focused way, it helps dramatically with engendering awareness and establishing a general sense of groundedness and connection to self. I am recognizing that while my true practice may be in the world, I also would benefit from rekindling a supportive, more formal meditation practice to strengthen my capacity for awareness while moving about on that “world cushion.”
Photography can be a path back to presence for me, and my camera often helps to bring me back into the moment. When I look through the viewfinder on my camera, beauty has a way of naturally appearing and it is often my recognition of beauty that brings me back. When photographing another human being, I sometimes find myself saying to myself, “oh, there you are sweetheart,” or “thank you, beautiful” or just tap into a silent appreciation of the preciousness of connection with another. There are such beautiful people in Nepal, and in every country, and in every person really, and in you, and dare I say even in me. My connection to presence is what helps me to recognize that. If I’m lucky, patient and present enough, hopefully I’ll be successful in capturing that in an image.
It can be very easy to simply go through our days from task to task, and interaction to interaction without being very present at all. When we are truly present, whatever is happening in that moment becomes all that matters. One is being impacted in a very comprehensive way with the mind doing very little to understand what is happening or to steer the experience in any particular direction. When present, the senses as well as the emotional body are actively engaged. Whether arrived at through heartful engagement with another, meditation, or for me at times through photography, the loveliest part of presence is that it is often times accompanied by a very clear sense of appreciation, grace or blessedness, such as I’ve been feeling quite often here in Nepal.