Saturday, November 14, 2009


On this the second day of the Miksang workshop, we talked about equanimity ... the art of staying steady when the rest of the world is rocking and rolling. Miksang is a way to develop equanimity as we learn to see without judging, without labeling, simply seeing our perceptions and what "stops" us.

So, on this chilly November day, we bundled up and walked to a neighborhood pond surrounded by weeping willows. The pond was glassy and the reflections stunning. It was easy to fall into the peaceful beauty of the place. Every direction you looked, there were a hundred pictures. And there were layer upon layer to see and attempt to capture ... reflections spreading across the water, leaves scattered across the surface gently held by the surface tension, sticks breaking through the surface creating a calligraphy of stick and reflection, yellow willow branches weeping into the water, and leaves and debris creating a colorful, patterned mosaic floor of the pond.

But, there were also the tennis balls ... dozens of them, maybe even hundreds ... dark, muddy ones, green ones, yellow ones, orange ones ... jarring, incongruous notes in the idyllic setting. But equanimity means seeing things as they are and not judging them, not labeling as beautiful or ugly, so tennis balls belonged just as much as the fallen leaves and wispy reflections. It was so easy to see the beauty and there was so much of it that it was hard to take pictures of the tennis balls. I had to remind myself that the purpose of this exercise was developing equanimity not creating photographs that would be considered beautiful by the world. It wasn't an easy assignment when so much beauty was there just for the snapping. I'm not sure I passed this one either ... it was extremely hard for me to take a picture of the tennis balls.

And, now that I re-read this, there's a LOT of judgment going on in this note ... and actually in the workshop. At our end-of-day slide show where each student shows their images, there is a lot of ooing and ahhing going on by the students and many comments by the instructors as to which images are "miksang," or rich, or lovely, or "ab fab" (absolutely fabulous), or "that should be a print." When you think about it, the very word "miksang" is judgmental since it means "good eye." So, now I'm back to the drawing board ... back to the definition of miksang taken from the website:
‘Good’ here doesn’t mean good as we usually use the word, as in good or bad. Good here means that our mind is uncluttered by preoccupation, relaxed and open. Its innate nature is clear, brilliant, and extremely precise. When steady mind, clear vision and soft heart come together in one single moment, ‘Good Eye’ manifests. It is vision that is inherently pure, unobstructed, unblocked, free of depression, free of aggression, free of interpretation. Free altogether. When we synchronize eye and mind, we abandon all concepts and predispositions and become completely present in the moment. The world becomes a magical display of vivid perception. We can develop the ability to experience and express these experiences precisely through the practice of contemplative photography.
While this definition doesn't mention the word "judgment," in order to "abandon all concepts and predispositions and become completely present in the moment," wouldn't we have to eliminate judgment? More to chew on.

In the meantime, the image at the top was part of the beauty ... the one at the bottom is obviously the ugly duckling tennis balls. More images are at the Miksang Water gallery.


  1. Part of me wishes I were there with you; I agree there's some sort of odd disconnect around the judging. But I also agree with them that there is beauty in ugly and ordinary... maybe it's just harder to find? How did YOU feel about the images the others were cooing over? I think that's really the critical piece...

    But I really love the image at the top of this post. Just because it's beautiful, does that make it less miksang? or does it just mean it doesn't fall in with this particular assignment?
    Don't know...

  2. Wish you were here, too! The images today were as a whole totally beautiful. Some people even took beautiful ones of the tennis balls. I just can't quite get my head around the judgment ... sidewalks were easier because they are sort of neutral ... not expected to be beautiful so when I found beauty there, it was cool. Tennis balls and trash though have me stumped. The top image was well liked by students and instructors ... but isn't that just being judgmental also? Postive judgment is still judgment.

  3. Joyce, might it help if you think of, for example, the photographs of Burtynski (he's now showing at the Corcoran)? Normally, the subject matter of his photographs -- oil is one -- would not be particularly compelling to me; yet his images are, because they are so extraordinary. I also think of the photographs of Arbus. Her subjects often were not within a definition of beauty, yet in the Arbus images they hold our attention.

    I, too, like your image at the topc of the post.

    Judgment: the word itself connotes so much.