The Raindrops Are Perfect

Oregon Rain photography by Lisa Ernst

Oregon Rain
photography by Lisa Ernst

The raindrops are perfect
because they’re not.
They fall without ideas
of size and sound
how long or how much.
They just fall,
they touch what’s
exposed and open
and not under cover
like a heart without
a veil or a shield.
It rains in my heart
until we entwine
like lovers
who no longer know
where one ends and
the other begins.
A smile, a tear,
a heart drenched through.

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Mindful Photos from Saturday’s Retreat

Last Saturday I led a Contemplative Photography and Meditation Retreat at a farm outside of Nashville. It proved to be a particularly rich environment for shooting. The day was sunny, slightly cool and windy in the afternoon. Great cloud formations too. Here are a few of mine:

Patsy's Farm

Patsy’s Farm

patsysfarmadj windyskyTo see the full album from our group, go here.

Contemplative Photography and Meditation Workshop

Cultivating Clarity, Receptivity and Joy With a Camera

Saturday, October 5, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Penuel Ridge Retreat Center

Led by Lisa Ernst

bluewaterPlease join us for a day of mindfulness as we combine meditation and the practice of contemplative photography. We will use our cameras as a means to reflect our mindful awareness of this moment in its myriad, ever changing forms. This contemplative approach to photography often yields unexpected and remarkable results that differ from conventional shots. There’s no need for expensive equipment or technical knowledge, just a willingness to meet the moment with your camera in an open and receptive state. A simple, yet profound joy often arises in this alliance of mind and heart, camera and surroundings.

Led by meditation teacher and artist Lisa Ernst, the workshop is suitable to beginning and experienced meditators. In addition to morning and afternoon photography sessions, the workshop will include meditation, silence and group interaction. The beautiful retreat site at Penuel Ridge includes many acres of wooded hills, open fields and a lovely, secluded lake.

The retreat fee is offered on a sliding scale from $75 – $100. Two reduced fee spots are available for those who need financial assistance.

A $50 deposit reserves your space and is due by 9/27 (or pay the full amount if you prefer). Paypal is available here. If paying by check, please make it out to One Dharma Nashville and send to One Dharma Nashville, c/o 12 South Dharma Center, 2301 12th Avenue South, Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204. Be sure to include your email address. Additional details and directions will be provided in advance of the retreat. For more information or to reserve your spot email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

The Joy of Mindful Photography

I originally posted this article last July and decided to re-post it now as I have another photography and meditation workshop coming up on October 5 at Penuel Ridge Retreat Center. If you’re in the Middle Tennessee area, I hope you can join me. Info is here.

As a visual artist, painting was my primary form of expression for many years. It still plays a large role in my creative retinue, but over the last several years I have discovered and fallen in love with mindful photography. This type of shooting, also known as contemplative photography,  is accessible to anyone who cultivates mindfulness in their lives – no special equipment or technical skills are needed.

Many people think of photography as an activity that creates separation from present moment experience because the photographer is always seeking that perfect shot.  From this perspective, the great shot is always in another moment, something to strive and search for. But every good photographer knows the value of training the mind to be completely present and aware in each moment, where great shots often reveal themselves, no seeking required.

When I use my camera in a receptive and open state, my shots reflect how the moment presents itself in its myriad, ever changing forms. I’ve found that this approach yields unexpected results that often differ from conventional shots. Advanced camera equipment isn’t important; being present and open is.  A simple, yet profound joy arises as my sense of “I’” as the photographer dissolves into the alliance of mind and heart, camera and surroundings. When the shoot is complete, I am always deeply relaxed and refreshed.

One of my favorite places for contemplative photography is Reelfoot Lake, in West Tennessee. In mid to late summer the lake is covered, even clogged, with huge yellow lotus flowers. Often the park rangers have to thin the plants out a bit. The endless vista of lotus flowers across the lake is truly an amazing sight. Locally my favorite place is Radnor Lake, just a block from my home. I can go any time of year and enjoy the ever changing weather conditions and seasonal transitions. To me, they are all beautiful although I have a special affinity for foggy mornings and icy winter afternoons.

Although I use my photographs as the basis for many of my paintings, I do most shoots simply to experience the joy of the moment, immersed in my surroundings with a camera. Occasionally  an image stands out that I want to paint, such as this one, “Lotus Lake” from a shoot at Reelfoot Lake a few years ago:

Lotus Lake, Acrylic on Canvas, 48″ x 36,” private collection

If you’ve never experienced mindful photography before, I hope you’ll give it a try. All you need is a camera and an hour or two to shoot.  In September I plan on offering a meditation workshop where we will practice the art of mindful photography in a rural setting. The day will include meditation, photography and group interaction. No special photography skills are needed; any camera will do. I’ll post more details soon.

Reelfoot Lake at Dusk

Reelfoot Lake at Dusk

Contemplative Photography and Meditation Retreat Recap

On Saturday, September 22 I led a contemplative photography and meditation workshop at Mercy Convent and Retreat Center in northeast Nashville. It was the first of its kind in Nashville that I’m aware of, although I’m sure not the last. The idea, suggested by dharma friend Lila Wheeler, seemed intriguing to me, but initially unclear in execution.  Where would we do it? Who would be interested? And how would the day progress?

The first and most significant hurdle was finding an appropriate place. After researching several options that didn’t quite work I settled on Mercy Retreat Center, a convent for retired nuns in Northeast Nashville. They’re local but rural, and rent their facilities to groups for reasonable rates. I booked it sight unseen. Finally, after a few months of only imagining the place from the few photographs available, I went to see it.

As I arrived at the center, I wasn’t too impressed. The building was generic looking other than some stained glass windows and a long, covered entrance. The grounds were pleasant but lacking in drama. I wondered if I had made a mistake. How would the plain facility and grounds translate into a day of photography? I had brought my camera and spent about ten minutes photographing outside prior to my meeting. This exercise began to ease my concerns. The grounds held enough diversity to allow for interesting shots without being so dramatic and obviously beautiful as to render any effortless, mindless shots successful. The point of contemplative photography is to pay attention, to cultivate a receptive, intimate way of seeing that allows the shots to reveal themselves. Drama and obvious beauty aren’t the point. The more mindful the photographer is, the more he or she will perceive the surroundings with a clear and fresh perspective.  At times the conditioned mind melts away into the unconstrained intimacy of camera and surroundings. Often this practice yields remarkable photos, but that’s not the goal.

Our small group of 11 (two additional people had to drop out last minute) spent nearly two and a half hours in the morning immersed in contemplative photography. The day also included several rounds of meditation. In the afternoon we went out to shoot again for about an hour. Some people reported that they were more connected with the activity in the morning, while others found the afternoon shoot (even in bright sun) to be the most fruitful.

At the end of the day I gave everyone access to a Flickr account where we could all load our photos to create a slide show.  Over the past week I have truly enjoyed seeing the images as each person added his or hers. What amazes me the most is how people see the same things so differently, or simply see different things. Each individual’s contribution is unique.

I’m offering another contemplative photography and meditation retreat next fall, at a different location: Penuel Ridge If you’d like to see a slide show of the day’s photographs, go here.

Post Script: Thanks to Shelley Davis-Wise, we created and sold a beautiful calendar based on the photographs from our workshop. The first batch sold out and we had to get a second order in to fulfill demand!

 

 

Mindful Meditation and Photography Workshop

Contemplative Photography and Meditation Workshop

Cultivating Clarity, Receptivity and Joy With a Camera

Saturday, September 22, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Led by Lisa Ernst

Led by meditation teacher and artist Lisa Ernst, the workshop is suitable to new and experienced meditators. We will awaken contemplative awareness in our photography, supported by periods of meditation and walking practice.  The wooded, private grounds at Mercy Retreat Center, in Northeast Nashville, include open fields, wooded hills and some interesting architectural elements.

Please join us for a day of mindfulness as we combine meditation and the practice of contemplative photography. There’s no need for expensive equipment or technical knowledge, just a willingness to meet the moment in an open and receptive state.  A simple, yet profound joy often arises in this alliance of mind and heart, camera and surroundings.

Led by meditation teacher and artist Lisa Ernst, the workshop is suitable to new and experienced meditators. We will awaken contemplative awareness in our photography, supported by periods of meditation and walking practice.  The wooded, private grounds at Mercy Retreat Center, in Northeast Nashville, include open fields, wooded hills and some interesting architectural elements.

The retreat cost is $75. Two sliding scale slots are available for those who need financial assistance. You have the option of bringing a sack lunch or purchasing an onsite buffet lunch for $8. The buffet is not vegetarian, but there are plenty of options if you prefer a meatless meal.

The workshop deposit without a buffet lunch is $35; with lunch its $43 (advance planning is required for the buffet meal). Deposits are due by Friday, September 14. To pay online through Paypal, go here and scroll to the bottom of the page. If paying by check, please make it out to One Dharma Nashville and send to One Dharma Nashville, c/o 12 South Dharma Center, 2301 12th Avenue South, Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204. Be sure to include your email address. Additional details and directions will be provided in advance of the retreat. For more information or to reserve your spot, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Joan Halifax on Mindful Photography

I found this blog post this morning and thought it was quite timely considering my last post about  mindful photography. This is Roshi Joan’s  own moving journey with a camera.

Seeing Inside by Joan Halifax

When I was a kid, I got really sick. For two years, I couldn’t see. It was then I discovered I had an inner world, and it was a visual one. Since I was born with two good eyes, I knew the visual experience. Then suddenly, one morning, I felt my way down the hall of our house in Coral Gables, Florida, my hand sliding along the wall, and told my parents that I couldn’t see.

A cascade of physical disabilities followed and after a while disappeared. During the time when I was in bed, recovering from an unidentified virus, another world opened up to me. I began to re-create the outer world inside of me; I began to see inside.

When I got better, my mother and father gave me a Kodak Brownie Box Camera. Just as my interior life had appeared to me when I was sick, here was a little box that would capture what I saw. It could see inside. I was fascinated, and I was hooked. And I began to photograph the world that caught my eye, beginning from the age of six on, and now I am 70.

Today, a collection of nearly a hundred thousand photographs exists, a thread of images that span time and the world. When I was a kid, I photographed my handsome father standing proudly beside his Lincoln Continental. Soon thereafter, I photographed Cologne Cathedral with my Brownie. The haunting black and white image captured a heavy sky hanging ominously over the bombed cathedral. Recent photographs portray the faces of Tibetans, riven with the elements, Burmese elders, incandescent with innocence, and the landscapes of Zen and the Himalayas.

I never cared about or studied f/stops and shutter and film speeds. I only cared about composition and connection. I never took a class in photography, though I had friends who were great photographers, including Robert Frank, Ralph Gibson, Julio Mitchell, and others. I thought Diane Arbus was nothing but courage, and met her several times when I lived in New York. I was a huge fan. I loved the work of Ansel Adams and traveled with his daughter. Dorothea Lange’s photographs always took my breath away, as did the work of Gordon Parks and Eugene Smith. In the 70’s, I stayed in Eliot Porter’s house on occasion in Tesuque, and studied his work. More recently, the photographs of Matthieu Ricard show a view of space and light that is resonant with my Buddhist practice. Yet, though the work of other photographers interested me, I had no interest in emulating anyone. I just did my own thing, privately and joyfully, capturing light, seeing inside

As I lived with the camera, the camera was not only my eyes but also my heart. It captured and held light, light that I was always seeking and finding, light that filled the world, even the world of suffering, when light shines through the darkness.

When I was in my twenties, I discovered meditation. What a surprise! It was not so different than the gift of my childhood blindness. I could, through meditation, see inside. I could also see the world in a different way, a way the camera had taught me. The camera had given me a view, a view that accepted everything into its lens. I had a viewfinder (meditation), and a way to develop the world or action. View, meditation, action are one way that Buddhism is described. It is a summary of the Eight-fold Path of the Buddha. And it was to become my way of life, and the life I have followed and noted through my friend, teacher, and constant companion, the camera.

June 13, 2012
Prajna Mountain Forest Refuge