The Gift of Silence

Why are we often afraid of silence? In David Whyte’s book, Consolations, he says this.

Silence is frightening, an intimation of the end, the graveyard of fixed identities. Real silence puts any present understanding to shame; orphans us from certainty; leads us beyond the well-known and accepted reality and confronts us with the unknown and previously unacceptable conversation about to break in upon our lives.

No wonder we fear it. At the time this post is published, I’ll be beginning a four-day meditation and writing retreat, led by Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, and many other books.

We will be spending each day until 4 p.m. in silence; the idea being that in this time of quiet we’ll experience the uncertainty and perhaps that unacceptable conversation we don’t want to face. The writing will come from this place. I’ve never done anything quite like this before and I welcome it as an adventure, open to whatever it brings up.

It just so happens that “silence” is the word we’re depicting this week on our Adventures in Seeing page over at Google+ (you’re welcome to join us). I chose the image above, for the gift of silence is that it allows us to immerse ourselves in the reality of the moment. Whyte says,

Out of the quiet emerges the sheer incarnational presence of the world, a presence that seems to demand a moving internal symmetry in the one breathing and listening equal to its own breathing, listening elemental powers.

Silence is not always about being still or quiet. It is a true listening, an almost merging with what or who we are listening to.

How does silence play a part in your life?

The Science Behind Silence

The photography of Nathan Wirth – A Slice of Silence

Silence and the Space to be Amazed

Looking forward to this film – In Pursuit of Silence

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I Wonder as I Wander

A wander is a special kind of walk. One where we meander, this way or that, walking slower than normal. There is no predetermined destination. There are no time limitations, thus no sense of hurry. We follow our nose, open to what we might find.

This mindset allows us to see more and leaves our minds free to wonder. Here’s a report from one of my recent wanders.

This creek runs about a block behind my house and I cross it almost every day when I walk into town. It makes me wonder where it begins. And, how about this tiny garden around a tree on town property. I imagine the owner of the house here created it. Who is this person and how did they become so generous?

The local elementary school closed down last June. I realized that I’d never walked through the schoolyard, only around it, so I decided to wander through. In less than a year, it’s already showing signs of abandonment – the painted metal benches outside that kids would sit on were rusted out and the basketball hoop had no net. The painted on hopscotch was still in good shape and I wondered how many games had been played on this particular one. I hopped through it myself.

This sign stopped me, because it seemed very odd. But, it didn’t take long to realize that it makes perfect sense in a tourist town.

I wondered what was behind this ivy-covered window at the Prince of Wales Hotel and about the story behind local legend, Chris Smythe, the chef of their restaurant, Escabeche.

One mystery became apparent as I wandered. Grafitti is suddenly popping up all over town, very unusual for this area. I wondered, is it a protest of some sort or just some kids with nothing better to do? There are a couple of symbols I’ve seen repeated, such as this one, found at an abandoned house in the process of redevelopment, the closed school, and a new commercial building on the main street.

I wondered who owned this cool, touring bike. Probably someone local.

The tourists are back, now that the Shaw Festival Theatre has reopened for the season. I wondered whether these people with their dog were local or not. I sat on a bench and watched people go by and listened to the many different languages being spoken.

Then, I checked out the books at the Little Free Library around the corner. Nothing interested me but I left an offering, a pocket version of The Art of Idleness by Stephen Graham.

I wondered about these peonies, that were barely breaking ground only a week ago. What was it about this past week, still a bit chilly in my opinion, that let them know it was time to shoot up?

I wondered if this tree enjoyed being a bench for tourists now and what would entice golfers to play on such a crisp day. The outcroppings on this tree were interesting, like a growth rather than a fungus.

I wondered why I like yellow doors so much. Who was the doctor that lived in this house almost two hundred years ago? I was thankful for this tree that is so perfect in every season.

It was a very good wander.

In her newest book, The Wander Society, Keri Smith describes wandering as a state of mind. When we wander, we are present, our senses are awake, and we leave the complications of life behind. We are completely immersed in our surroundings, open to what we might find, knowing that anything is possible. We’re outside of time, feeling no need to be productive, letting the experience guide us.

She says that you can identify a wanderer by their curiosity. They are generally non-conformist, even rebellious and daring. They tend to be solitary and self-sufficient. They know who they are.


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Visual Stories and Poems with David duChemin

In my last post, I shared some highlights from an all-day seminar (through the Latow Photography Guild) with world and humanitarian photographer David duChemin, on the topic of voice. Today, I’ll share with you what he had to say about story.

One of the workshops I offer (along with Sally Drew) is Once Upon a Time: Photographs have Stories to Tell. I truly believe that our photographs are one step ahead of our conscious minds. They hold clues to what we’re thinking and feeling, to what we truly love, to our voice.

Photographs also tell stories, using visual language rather than written language. This visual language is expressed through how we compose elements – light, lines, shapes, texture, patterns, etc. – and through symbols, metaphor, contrasts and perspective. Stories are expressed by the decisions we make about what we leave in and what we leave out.

In the seminar with duChemin, I appreciated his delineation between visual stories and visual poems.

Visual Stories – evoke meaning, hope, empathy, curiosity

These images tell a story similar to a written story. They have some or all of the elements of story – theme, setting, character, action, conflict, change, empathy, mystery.

Conflict (or tension) is the heart of story, In a visual story, conflict is visualized through contrast – of ideas (light and dark, men and women, work and play, etc.). It is expressed through relationships and other differences – tonal, colour, texture, lines, light, etc.

In the image above, the strongest contrast is between the surfers going one way and the non-surfers a different way. And then, there is the group standing along the shoreline. It tells a story about this day, that there is something happening.

Visual Poems – evoke mood or emotion

blue water
These images don’t necessarily tell a story. Instead, they are evocative. This is a different way to connect that is similar to music and poetry. They go straight to the heart.

Mood and emotion can be expressed visually in many ways – through light, colour, gesture, facial expression, mystery, etc. I’ve found that abstract photography is a form of visual poetry that bypasses story and goes straight to the emotion.

In the image above, the colour blue and the swirling waters draw me in to the mood of swirling, complicated emotions.

I find that my photographs tend to be visual poems rather than stories, as I’m attempting to tap into the emotion of the moment. Sometimes, a visual poem can be a story too. How the image is perceived, as a story or a poem, depends on what the photographer is trying to communicate.

If you’re interested in learning more about visual stories, I recommend this Craft & Vision e-book – The Visual Storyteller by Oded Wagenstein and to read David duChemin’s post, Tell Me a Story.

And, do consider joining me and Sally at some time for Once Upon a Time: Photographs have Stories to Tell. We’re just finishing our second session of this workshop with a stellar group. The experience has been powerful. Sign up for my email list (above right) for bimonthly inspiration and notification of the workshop schedule.


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