Presence

Forgetting what you love

by Steve Brock on April 25, 2014

Landing in Salt Lake CityLast week I was in Chicago for work. I had an early morning return flight, so I was up before the sun and walking into the terminal a little after 6:00 a.m. As I did so, I turned and looked out on the pinkish glow of the morning sky. “Nice light,” I thought, the photographer in me about as awake as the rest of me. Then I turned and walked into the terminal.

Even as I waited in the security line I wondered this, “What has happened? A year ago, I would have had my camera out and would have found something – anything – to photograph here.” Even in the terminal, waiting to board, I looked out the large windows near the “L” concourse and thought about taking a picture.

“Nah,” I reasoned. “Too much of a hassle. Plus, I already have a ton of airport shots.” At that point, I headed to the gate to wait and to forget I even had the brief desire to photograph.

Two days later at home, I’m on my desktop computer where all of my photos are stored. For some reason, I toggle through the screens and end up on Lightroom, the program I use for processing and organizing my images. The photo you see above was displayed. I have no idea why. I hadn’t been looking at it or any other photos taken around the same time. But Lightroom can have a mind of its own sometimes.

It’s not a great shot. In fact, I added some texture to it in Photoshop to cover the reflection from the inside of the plane cabin that occurred when I took the photo one evening landing in Salt Lake City on a stopover heading home. But I just stared at it, entranced by the colors and the clouds and the reminders that images can bring to you of trips past.

It made me sad.

Why? Because it made me realize that in the busyness of the last several months, I have let photography slip away. I had my trusty point and shoot camera with me in Chicago and the camera on my phone is quite good and always with me. It’s not like I lacked the means. I just lacked the desire.

We can become so busy with things, often very good things, that we let others go. It’s natural in a world where we cannot add even a second to our daily allotment of 24 hours. But last week made me realize that in the inevitability of limited time, I don’t want to lose what matters.

The funny thing is, my busyness right now is mostly spent on other things that matter a great deal. It’s not like I’ve become addicted to video games or watching marathon sessions of House of Cards. In life, we will always have to make choices not so much between good and bad – we’re usually OK with that – but between good and best.

So here’s my question for you: What’s your best? What brings life and joy to you? And are you spending time with it, whatever that might be? Are you investing in what you love or are you allowing the distractions of life to pull you away? What, in your heart of hearts, do you miss right now?

I think I’m in a season of rest, a pause from photography. I’ll still take a shot here and there, but I think there will come a time when the longing to create a powerful image overwhelms me. I will at that point do whatever it takes to take whatever it is that moves me.

But how about for you? Are you in a season of rest? Or have you simply let slide that which fulfills and satisfies you? Listen to those longings. Heed them. After all, you only have 24 hours each day to do not just what seemingly has to be done, but what should be done.

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Pastpresentfuture travel

by Steve Brock on January 2, 2014

Getty PatioI typically try to avoid going back to places I’ve been to before. Doing so tends to be like eating the same meal for a week. After several rounds of leftovers, that once favorite dish is well…you know what it’s like.

In some ways, I wish I could be more like my dog. She eats the exact same dog food morning and evening and has done so for years. Years. And yet each time, she does her own happy dance, skipping and leaping around the kitchen as if she’s not eaten for weeks and I’m serving up filet mignon. Oh to be that excited by the same old thing.

One place that I do return to with my own happy dance, however, is the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. I get down there probably once a year when I’m visiting my in-laws as I was a week ago for Christmas.

Museums tend to be exceptions to the “don’t go back” rule because, like movie theaters, what is showing usually changes on a regular basis. The building may be old, but what’s inside is new.

On this trip, however, I had the curious experience of appreciating both the old and the new at the same time. Or more precisely, in my short visit there, past, present and future all combined to make for a remarkable trip.

The past: One of the main exhibits there “celebrates two rare masterpieces of English medieval art: stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral and pages from the St. Albans Psalter, an illuminated book of psalms.” Old windows and old books, all for 21st century visitors to see. It was beautiful.

The present: There’s something about seeing the same thing in a new way. The scene above is looking down on the Getty’s outdoor café. We arrived in the late afternoon, so the café itself was closed and only a single couple lingered. But this scene of tables and chairs, one I’ve witnessed a dozen times in the past, still fascinates me. Simple changes in timing, light and activity make this place I know well fresh each time I’m here. Same with the photos below of the fountain or, further down, the special holiday lighting.

Getty Fountain at Dusk

The future: Here’s where it gets hard to explain. We visited the exhibit of Abelardo Morell and his exquisite photography. I had not seen his work before, but now I want to find out as much as I can about it and him.

What happened is something that occurs on the best of trips. I was totally present to – engrossed in – his photographs. But even as I’m viewing them, I’m reminded of past images and at the same time, I’m inspired to think about my own photography and future ways of making better photos. Past, present, future all at once.

Getty holiday lightingHave you ever had that experience? I think it occurs when we encounter places, events, people, art or just something of beauty that deeply touches us. It moves us because it resonates with some past memory, often available only to our subconscious. It makes us pay such attention that we’re lost to anything but that present moment and place. And it leads us to dream of what might be even as we’re engrossed in what is.

It’s a wonderful place to be but a rare one to find. I doubt that the next time I return to the J. Paul Getty Museum I will have the same experience.

But it won’t keep me from trying…

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The lost art of noticing – Part 2

by Steve Brock on December 13, 2013

I may not notice every female convict that comes my way. But I do pay attention when things jump out at me. Literally.

I was on a hike at Smith Rock State Park near Redmond, Oregon a month of so back and I saw, or rather sensed, rapid movement near my feet. The area has its fair share of those long slithery creatures with the rear end rattles so I paid a good deal of attention to what was causing the motion. Instead of a snake, however, I spotted this small tree frog frantically hopping to avoid becoming one with the bottom side of my shoe.

Tree Frog

I noticed it because it surprised me and stood out from the norm. Such occurrences usually garner our attention. But what about an ordinary day when nothing unordinary seems to happen? What do you notice then?

Usually not a lot. And that’s a shame because when we stop noticing, we stop participating. We go through life as numbed spectators or rather, life passes us by unobserved.

Not the best way to live.

So how do we change this? Recently I started reading a book called, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God by J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram. The book looks at how to encounter God with all five of your senses or, as they put it, “to help more of you experience more of God.” We tend to engage God primarily through our minds. This book helps you expand on that.

Early in the book, they have an exercise I’ve found remarkably helpful for improving my ability to notice and be a player in the life all around me. Here’s an abbreviated version of their exercise

First, wherever you are, take a minute to observe what’s around you and write down two or three things that you see, smell, taste, feel, and hear. Simple, yes? Now comes the fun part.

Do the same thing, only instead of just noticing these things, pay attention to them with love. As the authors note, “When we look with love at something, we regard it. We notice the nature of it; we respect and appreciate it for what it is.” (p. 19)

This seems like a small distinction, but try it. Right where you are, look, smell, taste, feel and listen as you did before, but do it with love. When I tried the exercise, the first round I noticed our ukulele on the shelf. The second time, I saw the same musical instrument but became grateful for the gift of music, for joy it brings in playing and listening. Seeing the same object with love transformed how I perceived it.

This exercise works particularly well with the people you know best and often regard or notice the least. See them with love and you will find that life no longer passes you by but is right there before you. With you. Around you.

God packs more wonder into the narrow confines of the space you currently occupy than you can imagine. But you can begin right now to see it – to truly notice it – if you do so by paying attention…with love.

Try it.

And see.

 

You can read Part 1 here

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The lost art of noticing – Part 1

by Steve Brock November 29, 2013

How could I have missed the woman in the orange jumpsuit in handcuffs? Noticing and paying attention aren’t that easy…

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The best trip

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The best trip may not be the most exotic, the longest or the most anticipated. It may, in fact, be much closer than any of those.

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Notice the glory

by Steve Brock May 8, 2012

I finally saw the movie Tree of Life. Twice. Had to. I didn’t notice so many things the first time. And what it shows me is how much I rarely notice every day.

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Cairo: the value of being there

by Steve Brock February 12, 2011

Experiencing first-hand events such as those in Cairo, Egypt as President Mubarak steps down demonstrate the amazing value of being in a place at a pivotal point in history and how doing so with others forever changes us.

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