Monday, June 30, 2014

Catching a Glimpse

"A Splash of Morning Sunlight"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

It's Monday morning and people everywhere are beginning the work week. Lots of folks got up this morning mulling over their plans, plots and strategies for the week to come, thoughts about upcoming meetings or classes, checking on the calendar, lists of tasks to be accomplished, maybe answering some emails.

As I sat in my garden on this Monday morning for my usual quiet meditation time, I got to thinking about the flurry of activity that was going on all around me as people were plotting the course for the upcoming week, and I immediately called to mind a lesson I learned a few months back when I was taking my photography class. 

I enrolled in the class because I wanted to get some tips about how to use my new camera, hoping to get some photo-snapping pointers, and while I did learn some photography pointers, I also discovered that I was actually enrolled in a spirituality class, and the lessons I learned will stick with me for the rest of my life.  

The instructor in that class was a crusty looking character, a big guy with a long scraggly beard and a baseball cap who looked more like a mountain man than a photographic artist, but he did have some astoundingly beautiful desert photos in his portfolio, so one day I asked him what he did to take such great photos. I asked my question because I was hoping to get some practical advice from him that I  might be able to use- how to get the proper lighting, how to figure out the best camera settings.

He looked at me rather bemused and I will always remember his wise simple answer to my question as he said, "You've just got to pay attention." He didn't talk about the proper technique or mechanics of good picture taking, instead he simply told me to "pay attention."  He went on to say that, when he walks in the desert he always has his camera in hand, and he just watches and waits. Sometimes he catches a glimpse of "beauty" - a moment of revelation, and when that happens he snaps a photo. 

I realized that my photography instructor was essentially teaching me a lesson about the spiritual practice of "mindfulness," and I found it more than coincidental that he used the words "pay attention" in his answer about how to take a good picture. 

The ancient Christian desert monastics (who I hail as my spiritual ancestors) used the same exact words, "pay attention," to describe their life of contemplation in the wilderness. They got up every morning, went out into the wilderness of a wild, untamed, stark, beautiful desert, and they  "paid attention." Without dwelling on the past or plotting for the future (in fact with no thoughts at all),  they just "paid attention" to the present - in the moment. With uncluttered minds and open hearts they embraced the revelation of what "is,"and in the moment they saw the face of "God." 

Ever since I took my photography-spirituality class, I've been keeping my camera close at hand and doing my best to practice the discipline of "paying attention." 

On this Monday morning I have no plans in mind. After all, I don't want to miss what life may have to offer me this day. 

As the sun began to rise this morning, one brief and fleeting moment of revelation came to me - a flicker of morning sunshine on a green desert shrub. It was so exquisitely simple and so elegantly beautiful that it took my breath away. That splash of flickering sunlight on a single green branch only lasted a few brief seconds, and the sun would never shine on that branch in exactly the same way ever again for all eternity; but because I was "paying attention," I caught a glimpse of "beauty unveiled," and I snapped a photo. 

This morning I took a picture of the face of "God." 

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