Walkabouts and wonders

"A life not examined is a life not lived" – Socrates

Tag Archives: perception

Network living and why I think my Buddhist friends are (probably) mistaken

This blog has reached its fifth draft, partly because I have hesitated over putting too much profundity into what is, essentially, a travelogue. But without wishing to follow Socrates all the way, I really ought to worry a little less about losing my audience.

A few years back, the in-word in business was “networking”. Of course, they borrowed the term from internet circles, who probably got it from somewhere else, like the telephone. But as I blog about this walkabout, I am starting to see that networks are really everywhere – indeed, it seems to me that life and existence are much more to do with networks and cooperation than to do with individuals. This is where my Buddhist friends will probably be saying, “At last, he gets it”, but I’ll get to them in a minute.

A while back, when I was in West Bengal a biologist I was talking to (who is also a Buddhist, as it happens) remarked on how Darwin was only very narrowly right. Yes, she said, competition may determine which particular plant survives in a particular circumstance, but it is cooperation that shapes ecology and therefore evolution. From the complex interactions of predators and prey in the Serengeti, to the way in which our whole metabolism depends on bacteria with which we have no conscious connection, the evidence for the interdependency of life is overwhelming.  My brains work – indeed live – by the formation of ever developing networks, whole cascades of which have to cooperate in order to get a fork-full of food into my mouth. And so we can see that it is the whole environment and the networks within it that evolve, not just the individual species.

Itinerant painter and philosopher Horatio

Itinerant painter and philosopher Horatio

And these networks, of course, stretch into our more immediate realities. Families, clubs and nations, professions, religious congregations and high wire trapeze acts all form networks which, in their interactions, form larger and more intricate relationships across time and space. Take, for example, my meeting with Horatio, the painter. A less likely pairing, you would work hard to find – me, the semi-retired business man, with his camera and laptop – him, the itinerant who travels and lives on the strength of abstract pictures that he draws with acrylic pens. My questions about his art and his about my accent, lead to a conversation that stretches from Paris to Wellington and from Martin Luther King to Henry David Thoreau, while we sit in the shade of a café awning in Fremantle. As we talk, we explore our common and different networks and it is thus that most relationships are formed and strengthened. Do we not say of someone we find of no interest, “We have nothing in common”?

But here’s another question; what is it that sustains the network? Well, clearly there is huge variance, but it seems to me that the most fundamental features are energy and incompleteness, after which come value and then inertia. Energy only flows and therefore, associations and networks only form when things are incomplete or hungry (be it for energy, social interaction, influence, recognition). When a person declares that they ”love” Paris, or they “hate” New York in winter, are they not conveying to us their values and therefore their networks; inviting us to join with both?[1]

But, if our lives are really about the ebb and flow of networked values and energies, what then is the value of our sense of individual self? My Buddhist friends might have us believe that our sense of self is effectively an illusion; existing only by associations that will die as soon as our brains do or as we free ourselves from demeaning attachments. But surely, for any network to exist, it must have nodes by which it is bound and forms by which it is channeled.  Yes, they may evolve, develop or diminish, but we all have that experience in life, of changing yet, in some fundamental sense, continuing. And if networks are really the whole, why should we seek to detach from them? Surely the passions of the great “yes” or the great “no”; the great love or the great defiance, the great comprehension; those great moments of spiritual incandescence  – these both announce and make a powerful something, a permanence of value and belief, distilled from our very being and the networks that we are part of, that can extend beyond death, making us permanent carriers of those very values that we cherish and the networks of which we are part. And so, in some sense, is part of the meaning of this life, to forge the values, the beliefs and the networks that we will carry into the next?


[1] Curiously, I think this suggests that in some profound sense, we humans are the most incomplete of all. Do we not form the widest and most varied networks, not just between our kind, but with animals, plants, localities, that we add to, incessantly, as we travel from place to place?

Singapore limits?

Statues in the Museum of Asian Civilisations

Statues in the Museum of Asian Civilisations

This blog is meant as a kind of plea, just in case I am doing some five million people a significant injustice. You see, while I was there, I seem to have hit a wall, or perhaps a ceiling in my understanding of this place.

It is not that it lacks soul – there is definitely a feeling to the place and to the people – but it does seem very confined; focussed upon the singular pursuit of commercial and material success. Perhaps, I am mistaking newness for shallowness, the absence of bookstores (I have only seen one, and that, inside a museum, since I got here) for a lack of intellectual enquiry, the city’s extraordinary cleanliness for sterility.

Businessmen chatting in the forecourt of the oldest Buddhist temple in Singapore

Businessmen chatting in the forecourt of the oldest Buddhist temple in Singapore

Yes, I have seen that the Buddhist temple and the main Mosque (situated within 200m of one another) are well endowed and enjoy a regular stream of devotees, unperturbed by the equal stream of curious tourists, like me.

Preparing for New Year in China Town

Preparing for New Year in China Town

And I don’t doubt that the careful courtesy that I have met from most people is genuine, unforced. And, yes, it is certainly true that I have not explored the city as widely as I could have.

So, maybe it is I that is being too shallow. If you have been there, or better yet, live there, please let me know what you think. I hesitate to add a poll because that would just restrict answers. Instead, here is a contact form, to make it easier for you to comment.

 

Has Photography Lost its Soul?

I met Patrick Keough on a street-corner in Vienna when we were both lost looking for a photographic exhibition. Later on, after we had found the exhibition he mentioned this blog – enjoy!

KeO BLoG

Photography has a rich and illustrious history and is a relatively new medium compared to other art forms.  I mean painting has been around for 0ver 30,000 years compared to photography’s relatively short history. Photography has also borrowed much of the visual language from painting and applied it for both composition and content translation purposes.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 11.53.14 AM

I personally believe our true goal as photographers is visually translating external /internal references (landscape, nature, people, architecture) and metaphorically (symbolically and/or blatantly) translating our expressive/emotional response to our subject matter into a conceptual bridge (path) for deeper awareness and understanding of the world around us spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. This can be accomplished realistically or in more abstract / conceptual ways.

Last week I spent 2 days reviewing photographic portfolios in Bratislava for the European Month of Photography and also have attended many photo exhibitions and opening during my travels in Eastern Europe over…

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Why all the aussies?

Over recent months, I have noticed that a lot of the “likes” I get on this blog are from Aussies – given that wordpress seems to be dominated by Americans, I have wondered why that is. For a little while, I thought it might be just the time of day I post my blogs – usually late at night. This means they are probably being picked up on the WordPress threads around lunch-time along the East coast. But the thing is, I am now writing from India, which is five hours closer, but  it’s still happening. So, unless these particular people like being up at 6.00 in the morning….

So then, I think,”Could it be the incisive but easy humour and deep perpective quality of my writing? But there’s a catch – most of the Aussie likes are from photographers – female ones, at that, a fact which appeals to my vanity until I am reminded that its the writing I am really interested in doing – the photos are supposed to be there just for illustration…..

All of which goes to show that you really shouldn’t try to analyse your audience, too much. Just be grateful you have one, :-).

Cameramadrama 2

Today, a month after getting this new camera, I gazed out upon a beautifully snow-filled scene and realised, to my horror, that my feelings about my surroundings were being overwhelmed by the desire to get a picture of it. “Hey”, said I to my brain,”This camera was bought to be able share what moves me. Impressing others with pretty pictures is just so, not the point!”.

So, when it came to walking out into that stillness, the camera stayed firmly in its bag. It took about half an hour for those feelings that herald natural connection – expanding awareness – peace, to appear. Only then could the camera be allowed to join the process.

It would be nice to report that this led to getting a better series of photos. Not as such. But here is a shot of something.

Newfdland dr_008

Camadramarama, mama.

This morning was full of discoveries and re-discoveries. As well as the winter wonders I found, there was the funny little battle that went on between the long-standing “take it all in” me, and the new “Wow! Look at the picture I just took – I wonder how that happened” camera-toting me.

That last – about the camera – came as a bit of a surprise. Both my most recent ex-s are serious photo-heads who always puzzled me by disappearing into their camera bags just when things got interesting. I found it difficult to see how anyone could experience the same degree of awe looking through a narrow, squared off view-finder , that I felt at the thunder of Niagara Falls or the panorama of the English south coast in May.

Whose is that teddy.....

Whose is that teddy…..

But something has changed. I think I get it now, at least for me – that narrowness forces one’s focus into finer details; lifting what you might ordinarily miss into an enhanced significance. If you can resist the early frustrations of hitting the wrong button here, missing the focal point there, and mixing the aperture with the shutter-speed (yes, really) you will emerge with a new love of light and shadow, angle and texture. Of course, you will see immediately that I was not using the auto-function all the time. And maybe that has something to do with it. For all the advantages of point-and-shoot, the care demanded by working the camera is reflected in the experience and, I think, in the quality of the photograph. It is probably true that a lot of good shots appear out of a process of auto-shoot and photo-shop, but the really great photographs – the ones that convey energy and mood, they always come out of the care of the photographer.

Our instant photo-technology is great, but at the end of the day no camera can equal the immediate all-round visual genius of the eye and brain – that is why I think I was always disappointed by my photos – not realising that the care that more devoted camera-users put into their pictures can give the eye and the brain and the mind some new focus or angle through which to appreciate the world.

Which brings me by a quite unintended route, to my mother’s coat – pictured here, where it hangs by my front door, ready to envelop me in its thick comforting warmth, just as it did my mother, when she first wore it heading going ashore in Antarctica from a cruise she went on when she was about 80, some ten years ago. After she passed away, I found it hanging in her wardrobe – easily big enough for me, and I have used it from time to time, ever since, for cold days like today. And what’s this got to do with cameras? Well, not a lot, except she was my mother and so gets quite a lot of credit for my being here, able to write and enjoy life’s opportunities as I do.

You can just see the badge.

You can just see the badge.

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