Greetings from the Miksang Institute!
In this issue of the Miksang Newsletter/Journal:
• The Mechanics of Seeing with Michael Wood and Julie DuBose
• "The Mistress of the Dance" History and an Image Gallery
• “There’s Nothing to See There.” Brian Sano Re-discovers Georgetown
• "Seeing Quiet Moments" - A Description and Images
Opening the Good Eye: The Mechanics of Seeing
with Michael Wood and Julie DuBose - June/July 2022
Michael Wood and Julie DuBose will be presenting the foundational course of Miksang Training, Opening the Good Eye: The Mechanics of Seeing this June/July. The Mechanics of Seeing focuses on developing the basic skills that we need to see our visual world free of any personal interpretation and bias we might apply to our visual perceptions. When we see with a mind that is still, open, and receptive, our experience of perception can be a doorway into profound and joyful connection with the depth and vastness of our visual world.
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"The Mistress of the Dance"
History and Image Gallery by Michael Wood
Michael Wood's Core Practice that became a Motif
"Mistress of the Dance" by A. Santini
On a day in 2014 in Toronto I was walking along Dupont Street when I noticed a small antique store with a couple of interesting things in the window. I decided to go in and explore.
Once inside I immediately noticed that it was filled with doilies, old spoons, old dolls, old dishes, Royal Doulton mugs, and lots of other junk. I thought, “I’ve got to get out of here – this place has nothing of interest.”
As I headed towards the front door through piles of clutter, the arm and hand of a white statue caught my attention. I cleared away the rubble and lifted the statue out, placing it onto a table to have a look. It clearly had an Art Deco quality. It had an elegant, slightly flawed appearance with a few chips here and there which suggested it had aged. I knew this wasn’t an original, but I was very drawn to its Deco quality and sales price of $49. After doing a little research, I found out the original statue was done by an Art Deco sculptor, A. Santini, circa 1929. I learned that the statue is well known, with numerous copies, and Mr. Santini named it “Mistress of the Dance”.
This is the first picture I took of her in 2014.
So I bought the Mistress of the Dance and brought her back to Colorado, and she lived in our home for four years. She became a constant magnet for me, attracting my attention whenever I walked by. When we moved back to Halifax, Nova Scotia, she came along and has been with us here for four years as well. It’s been more than eight years now and I notice her almost every day.
The images here represent eight years of continuous relationship. I just keep noticing deeply, and noticing more, and noticing more again. It’s a matter of noticing the light changing and the shadows coming and going, changing shape and becoming lighter and darker.
In Colorado she was on top of a mantle, then she moved to a table where there were blinds and light. During those four years my exploration, for the most part, was what we call in Miksang a “Core Practice.” What this refers to is an ongoing exploration of one thing again and again.
Here in Halifax it began as a “core practice”. We put her on a table next to a window in our living room. When I come down the stairs, she is the first thing I see.
At some point in the past year, the experience turned into something called a “Motif.” A motif is the experience of seeing the same thing over and over in a changing environment. In other words, the subject is exactly the same, in the same place and photographed from the same perspective, and the environmental factors change. This could be the quality of the light and shadow, or ambient light illuminating the subject.
Sometimes Julie will call to me and say, “Come and look at the Dancing Lady.” There are windows beside her and we have the window blinds more or less open. Light often bounces off the window of Julie’s car and through those windows onto a wall behind her.
I’ve noticed over the four years we’ve been here that almost every day the light around her is different. There is something unpredictable about the changes around her, which are light and shadows of different shapes and angles. Sometimes the changes are subtle, and sometimes they are not. It’s never the same way twice.
When you find something or a place in your world or in your home that magnetizes you over and over, that is a perfect situation to visit again and again. Then you start forming an ongoing relationship with it. It can become a joyful, deep exploration.
" There's Nothing to See There"
Brian Sano Re-Discovers Georgetown D.C.
“There’s nothing to see there.” That’s what I used to think of the Georgetown area in Washington DC. Over time, my view changed. I have my Miksang practice to thank for seeing this neighborhood and life in a fresh way.
I’ve lived in Washington, DC. for nearly 20 years now; I took my first Miksang class with Michael Wood and Julie DuBose in 2009 and have been practicing nearly every day since. Until I moved to a house nearby, I rarely went to the Georgetown neighborhood. Although it was never too far from where I lived, went to law school, or worked, it still seemed distant and uninteresting to me.
I had already made up my mind. I only saw Georgetown’s faults: insufficient public transportation, terrible traffic, no parking, tourists queueing for mediocre cupcakes, drunk college kids, the pretty but polluted river, etc.
Through Miksang, I’ve learned how to see Georgetown in a more simple and open way, without these opinions clouding my experience of what I see there. Typically, we aren’t aware that we aren’t really seeing anything beyond our pre-formed ideas and perspectives, wherever we happen to be. We gloss over our visual world, we are lost in distraction or our busy-ness, just going from point A to B. Or, we might approach our visual world as experts – already having predetermined what is worth seeing, appreciating, or even photographing. The flowers, the cute puppies, the sunsets, the expensive cars, the Washington, DC monuments, the famous restaurant or place from that movie, etc.
Miksang invites us to take a leap, to explore our visual world in a more curious and intimate way, with fresh eyes and an open mind. Recently, I applied this approach to my judgment and preconceived ideas of Georgetown. Just before COVID-19 hit, we moved to a house in the Palisades/Kent area nearby.
Months into the pandemic, while the shops were still closed, the traffic tranquil, and the tourists and students at home, armed with my camera and the mindset I learned from Miksang, I headed to Georgetown. I tried to let go of any judgment or ideas about the neighborhood or what I should/would see.
Since that first trip, over the past 18 months, I’ve taken the same walk around Georgetown almost every weekend, resulting in hundreds of photos. I’ve included some examples here. No matter where I was, each moment, each visual perception felt fresh. Unique. Intimate. It was almost like my visual world was talking to me, inviting me to dance, to relax, to not be so serious, to have some fun.
Once I was able to let go, I was able to enjoy my experience. It was playful and fun. I felt like a child again, exploring in a toy store, not knowing what I’d find. It reminded me of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I grew up with – every step, every street corner was like turning a new page…I wondered and wanted to see what I’d find next. Each time I went, I felt like I was experiencing Georgetown for the first time.
When I was out with my camera, I often had no agenda. No worries. No big deal. I just committed to doing what my Miksang teachers taught me. First, being open and available to whatever I saw, wherever I went. Then discerning and understanding the perceptions that stopped me, eventually expressing them clearly and authentically, as they appeared.
Sometimes, it felt like I wasn’t seeing anything– nothing was clicking with me (literally and figuratively). Other times, I had fresh, powerful perceptions that I couldn’t express with my camera. Then, there were times that felt magical when everything came together in an effortless way. Visual perceptions just appeared, out of nowhere.
And when I got out of my own way – not judging or labelling what I saw as pretty, ugly, or worrying about it being “photo-worthy,” I was able to genuinely appreciate these perceptions. I hope you enjoy them as I did.
Interestingly, while practicing Miksang in this way, I also felt relaxed and at ease. It helped me settle into a calm contentment, to let go of worry and stress from my job, the pandemic, and everything else I was dealing with. This was more than an escape. This mindset extended after and in between my photography excursions. My views of life's challenges started to change too, appearing less overwhelming. I felt able to meet them with more curiosity and less judgment.
Looking back, I wondered what changed. Was it Georgetown? Or maybe it was me? My mind? Or my relationship with my visual world?
This experience made me reflect deeper on my Miksang journey and wonder: How often do we actually experience our experience? How often are we truly open and available to experience what we see – beyond all our thoughts about what we are seeing and what is happening to us in our lives?
Place by place? Day by day? Moment by moment? Especially the visual perceptions dancing all around us?
This is perhaps the most significant thing I’ve learned throughout my years of practicing Miksang. It’s not about Georgetown. It is no special place. Nowhere is. Everywhere is.
In other words, “Georgetown” is everywhere. Visual perceptions like those I’ve shared here can happen anywhere – they are always appearing – always available. In our own neighborhood, our office, our car, our home, our dog, our bathroom, or even our kitchen sink.
Wherever we go, we can see and connect with our visual world. But whether we see and appreciate it, as it is, depends on us….
"Seeing Quiet Moments" - by Julie DuBose and Michael Wood
When we become able to see our world directly in a continuous way, with a mind that is still and receptive, our experience is soft and gentle. We feel delicately suspended within the experience of seeing as we encounter elements of our visual world coming together, being together, and changing form, as one unified experience of perception. And we witness it, quietly, gently, appreciating. We know, we feel, that this is a delicate visual formation that cannot and will not survive its existence.
Quiet Moments can be seen when we are quiet and still in our minds. Quiet on the inside, quiet on the outside. We cultivate an inner environment of receptivity and openness and then we pay deep attention to the subtleties of our world. There is a deep resonance that occurs when our quiet mind encounters a delicate visual formation.
If your mind is still and receptive, you will feel the qualities of these Quiet Moments. Once you become familiar with the quality of this experience, you will be able to recognize it in your own visual world.
What follows is some images that have the flavor of Quiet Moments:
MIKSANG VIDEOS AND INTERVIEWS
The Miksang Institute of Contemplative Photography® was established to promote the expression of direct, non-conceptual visual experience through various related disciplines. Learn More...
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