This morning I was greeted with a wonderful, unseasonably cool summer morning. The mist was rising up off of the pond and I was reminded of why I love autumn so much, even if it is still months away. Sadly, I suddenly remembered that the temps were supposed to climb up to 106 F this weekend and I was mentally transported out of this moment into dread for something that hadn’t even occurred yet. Over the past year or so, I’ve been working very hard to become aware of these drifts. How many moments have I squandered over the span of my lifetime while chasing these imaginary scenarios?
Zen Buddhists call the practice of focusing on the moment “Mindfulness.” There is a quote that Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hahn discusses in his book “You Are Here” that says, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I breathing out.” Just by focusing on our breathing we become grounded in reality and realize that we are alive here and now. That today is the only moment that is guaranteed. There is a sense of freedom that comes from being grateful and aware that we are alive in the moment.
How many of us spend much of our waking hours seeking that goal or achievement that will fix our lives or make us successful? If I could only photograph this subject or win this award then I will be recognized for all of my hard work and people will love me. Sound familiar? I’ll be the first to admit that I spent the first few years of my career desperately and exhaustingly chasing this dragon but there comes a point where you have to ask yourself, “how much is enough?” There is a line in a song by the band Radiohead that I really love that says, “you can try the best you can, the best you can is good enough.” We need to give ourselves permission to enjoy our lives and our passions.
Being mindful allows us to see through the clutter in our minds and gain a greater perspective for the moment. Personally, this allows me to better focus on the details that surround me while I’m out shooting. I have been watching ants a great deal over the course of the last few months and at first it was very difficult for me to spend a couple of hours watching these minute creatures moving to and fro. I would make a few images and then become distracted and want to move on. In all honesty, I could hear that nagging voice saying, “ You’ll never sell these photos. What’s the point?” However, the harder I worked to quell these demons, the more engaged I became in what I was looking at. I was able to transcend any worries about those things and simply enjoy the moment. As a result, I’ve not only been able to make some of my best photographs in years, but have also taken my love affair with natural history to a new level. At this point I should apologize to my wife Kari for even more drivel about mouthparts and life-cycles!
A few months before my Grandfather passed away last year, he and I were talking about the brevity of life. Although he was 92 at the time, he said that he still felt like he was 18 and that his full life seemed like a flash. I have no doubt that if I am blessed to live as long of a life as he did it won’t be long enough. Each day is rich with more wonders and miracles than we can ever take in. Tomorrow will be here tomorrow. Let’s strive to be grateful for today, today!