Thursday, May 7, 2015

On the Bus and Chanting: Getting ready for the streets

Daydreaming Girl (Melbourne Australia October 2014)

It's a thirty minute bus ride from where I'm staying to the centre of the city where I've been going to wander the streets and photograph. Not far really and not such a bad ride. The bus cuts through a range of suburbs, past parks and altogether it's nothing to complain about.

Yesterday I began the ride as I usually do: staring out the window and just kind of looking at the passing scene. But, then, I thought: I don't want to look around, I want to close my eyes. So I did. Not to rest as such, but to just get centred, grounded if you like. More than this though there was a sense that I wanted to prepare in some way. Now, of course this was not the first time I'd felt the need to prepare for a session on the streets; it's just that I liked the way it all just seemed to "happen" this time.

So, I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths to relax a bit (not the easiest concept for me this relaxation business). I didn't sense that I wanted to just let my mind wander, so I began to chant:
Om Mani Padme Hum
This Sanskrit phrase is the most widely used mantra among Buddhists. Of course it can be literally translated, but that would only give a partial clue to its meaning. Over the years I have settled on my own interpretation:

Allow the wisdom which is inherent in all things but usually unseen and unknowable make itself known to me

So, why a Buddhist chant? Well, firstly let me say I do not use it because it is a Buddhist chant; I use it because I've come to feel it is right for me. On one level I like it because of the meaning, on another level it is the repetition of the sounds that help settle my mind, help ground me and even (on some rare occasion!) help me to really relax. As a humanist, I see no contradiction in using a "religious" chant. The meaning of this one is really about tapping into something that lies within us all. A kind of spiritual idea, it is true. But spiritual isn't always religious

Okay, you might ask, but why on the bus on the way to a session of photography on the streets? Well, this is the good bit. Spending that almost 30 minutes chanting, helped me to clear my mind to a degree; it calmed me; and it allowed me to feel open to receive.

Being open to receive is important for me as I walk the streets with my camera. It allows me to wait for a person, scene, situation, photograph, to come to me as opposed to me really having to look for or seek out those opportunities. But, while I am not "looking" I am more able to actually "see". And, at that moment of seeing, I am in a mental state that enables me to act and to make the photo I am meant to make. It allows this to take place without all the intellectualizing and over thinking that can so easily take over (and you can trust me when I say I need all the help in this area that I can get). It's the old right brain vs left brain story; the difference is that this time of preparation (which in my case involves chanting) helps to get the two halves of the brain working together.

So, did this all help me on the streets yesterday? I did feel more open, more relaxed and more "available". That's a good word: available. I guess another way to put it is that I was ready for whatever came my way. Did it result in "better" photos? I suppose that's not really for me to say. But in a sense it's not the point. Being more open as a street photographer is only partly about making better photos; it's also about being open to enjoy the experience, to be available for quality interactions with other people and above all to not be quite so judgemental as we (okay I really mean me here) might normally be.

By way of a finish, I am going to paste an image of the mantra in its original script form. Why? Because it really is quite a beautiful image in its own right and I like it a lot.


1 comment:

  1. Great article! You should cross post your link on this article here:

    These aspects of human psychology have been known for so long, but like so many seem to have been forgotten. There are such easy and natural solutions for assisting our creativity.


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