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KNOWING vs. BELIEVING

A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Saturday, 30 May 2015

SO, THIS IS YOUR LIFE...

Recently I have found myself getting more and more grumpy about #loadshedding. Actually, downright hacked-off and pissy, if the truth be told. We got through it in 2008 when it was arbitrary, unscheduled and could last for half a day. However, eventually it passed. Now, although scheduled and slightly more predictable, there is no end in sight and I feel fed up and almost worn out. Ok, maybe that dramatists it a bit, but I really am over it now.

(For the benefit of overseas readers, loadshedding is the switching off of all electrical power to different areas of the country at peak periods most days so that the power utility, #Eskom, can conserve power in the grid because it has insufficient capacity to supply power to the whole country. I won't get into a discussion about how that situation came about.)

Anyway, it's patently clear to me that my irritation is triggered by two parts. The first is that I am not accepting graciously and unconditionally that loadshedding is a real part of my life, like bad weather, taxes and poor drivers. There is a part of me demanding that it be different, demanding that Eskom should have foreseen and done something about this much sooner, judging them for being incompetent fools, resenting them for the inconvenience caused and bitching about the effect on the economy. The other part is my bloody-minded refusal to run off and buy a diesel-guzzling generator, inverter or something else which might alleviate the hours of darkness and inconvenience, but will cost me money which I shouldn't have to spend and will pollute the environment or draw even more power off the grid. So I'll rather just curse Eskom when the power goes off and behave petulantly.

Of course, there might be some other options available to me. I could, for instance, go and live in another country where there is no shortage of power supply. That would be a high-commitment, major inconvenience solution, but not inconceivable. The simplest option, however, might be simply to say to myself: 'This is your life and this is what you choose'. 

The moment I take responsibility for myself, my feelings and actions  instead of playing the blame game, I can sit quietly and contentedly during my daily two hours without power and read a book by lamp or candlelight, meditate, chat to Kazalette about the day and our lives, go out and exercise or a host of other options. I can almost start looking forward to the quiet downtime offered by loadshedding, rather than blow off steam about loss of productivity and ability to do things that require power, like watching the telly.

And so it is with anything we don't like in our lives: 'This IS your life, so get used to it, get on with it and make some choices which align with and support your circumstances.'

It's as simple as that, so bring on the next blackout, Eskom!


Thursday, 21 May 2015

CREATING WITHOUT EGO

I saw a moving documentary last week about a street photographer called #Vivian_Maier. She worked as a nanny in #Chicago and #NewYork in the 1960's through to the turn of the century. All the while, however, she carried around with her an old #Rolleiflex box camera and privately photographed her charges and the ordinary, often down-and-out people on the streets of the city in which she lived.

Over her lifetime she took over 150,000 photos, all on 12 shots-per-roll print film, getting through about a roll a day. The photographs I saw in the documentary (and on the Vivian Maier website) were beautiful, candid, evoking and of extraordinary quality, the more so given the basic equipment she was using.

As she had no home of her own, she spent most of her nanny's income developing her pictures and then hiring space to keep them in bins at a storage warehouse. At the end of her life she had an accident, was hospitalized, never recovered and her photographs were auctioned off by the warehouse for a pittance. Today her work is mostly in the hands of three people who have exploited the collection for millions of dollars.

A sorry tale by most standards, especially as Vivian Maier's fame was posthumous and she had no idea of its value and contribution to the art world.

What makes the story all the more remarkable is that she apparently never showed any of her pictures to another soul before she died. No one knew much about her, she was reclusive and a private person. She didn't try (and perhaps didn't want or feel the need) to be liked. Despite her photographs now being recognized as one of the most important bodies of photographic work, it seems that at no moment in her life was any photo shot with the intention to exhibit, sell or otherwise display it. This was her work, created for her sole  satisfaction and we may surmise with no desire for personal acknowledgment.

Yes, Vivian Maier might have been described as a little odd, perhaps even disturbingly odd, but what shines out of her work is a creative spirit who saw the world and its inhabitants for who they were and are. Perhaps the celebrated photographers of our time can do the same, but it seems that Ms Maier was able to see into the hearts and souls of her subjects because she had placed herself in a situation where she had nothing to prove, didn't need (or want) to be judged on her work and so was able to go about her creation in a place where the ego played little or no part.

What's in this for the rest of us to learn? Perhaps it is simply that when we do not demand or require recognition and acknowledgement, have no fear of judgement and are not slaves to the ego, we are free to unleash and exploit our deepest talents. The moment we are creating with an underlying purpose to satisfy the ego's greedy needs, that agenda interferes with the integrity of the creation.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

STRETCHING BEYOND THE ORDINARY

Kazalette and I have just completed an extraordinary five days on a photographic workshop at the #BuddhistRetreatCentre with the magical #AngelaBuckland. I come away with new skills, but more importantly I take away the urge to stretch and see beyond the ordinary and obvious.

I have been taking photographs on and off since I was a child. Technically I know what I am doing with a camera in hand and generally I produce a pleasant enough composition from a particular scene.  However, what Angie draws out of her students is the passion to look beyond 'pleasant enough'. Most people will do 'pleasant enough' in any aspect of their lives if they practice for long enough, but how different does Life look when they go for the X- or Wow-factor?

As part of our week, in the evenings we watched videos about extraordinary photographers - Sally Mann, Vivian Maier and Annie Leibovitz, to name some of them. Each of them has (or had) the capacity to have their audience see the world in the way they did, to see the beauty, sometimes the darkness but always the extraordinary-ness of the world and people who inhabit it. To look at their work is to gain another perspective on the world and be inspired to see beyond the obvious.

So it occurred to me that we can easily do Life in a 'pleasant enough' way, or we can stretch for the extraordinary, and offer Wow to ourselves and others. Whether we ever achieve it or not is a subjective judgment and therefore doesn't especially matter. It also doesn't have to be photography, art or music. We can stretch in any direction in which we may be pulled.

What matters more is that we have the experience of seeing the extra-ordinary, of touching and feeling and doing the extra-ordinary and of knowing that we have drawn on all the wonderful gifts with which we were blessed.

Sure, cruise along and do 'pleasant enough' when that is where the energy levels are, but every now and then stretch to a place beyond the ordinary and discover what's there.

You'll be so glad you did.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

MANAGING THE THIEF IN THE NIGHT

I know someone who wanted a career in the arts world, but ended up studying for one of the traditional professions and then followed a career which was neither.  His original purpose was intercepted by a cross-purpose which was intercepted by another until eventually he was following a completely different path from where his heart originally lay.

On the other side of the coin, a couple of days ago I sat next to Dama do Bling on an airplane. Dama WHO, you might be asking? Well she's the hip hop queen of Mozambique. She told me she studied law and then decided that wasn't where her passion lay, so she started singing and has never looked back.

The cross-purpose is the thief in the night, the beautiful Siren which lures us onto the rocks and leaves our dreams and goals high and dry. It is the force which allows us to buy a flash and unnecessary car when we're actually trying to pay off a house, or which gives us permission to stuff our faces full of high calorie carbs when we're trying to lose weight, or has us chase seductive and unattainable prizes at the cost of stability and security.

In my last blog I spoke about the challenge of balancing the multiple (conscious) purposes we have in our lives for our health, careers, relationships and so on. However, at least in that scenario we know what we are trying to achieve and just need to prioritize and balance the purposes thoughtfully.

The issue with the cross-purpose is that it is an imposter, much of the time unseen and unnoticed, which sneaks in and sabotages the best laid plans. For those of you who play golf, how many times have you set out to play a conservative, sensible round of golf, more or less to your handicap, and then towards the end of the round discovered that you have actually been trying to play like a glory-boy, have played high risk shots and have paid for it with a dismal score? Something inside your head changed during the round and you didn't notice until it was too late.

The first technique in seeing off cross-purposes is to ensure that you have well defined and realistic purposes in place in your life which you have bought into and honour with all your heart. When you know where you are going, the path becomes as clear as a highway and you will simply not deviate onto the rocky ground when a goat track materializes in front of you. As the saying goes, 'If you don't know where you're going, any road will lead you there'.

The second technique is to notice when what you are doing is simply not serving you. It may be impacting your health, harming your relationship, luring you away from your passion or simply sabotaging your bigger picture. The moment you notice something like that, you can be sure a cross-purpose is at work and you are already a part of its manipulation. Identify and render it powerless over you. Like Jason's (of the Argonauts fame) approach to the Sirens, perhaps you will be required to tie yourself to the mast of your own ship in order to resist the lure. You know what it will take, but understand that cross-purposes come into play because of their allure, so that is what needs to be seen for what it is: a false promise of gratification at the expense of what really matters.

The important question for you is: How clear are you about the purposes you have for your life and all its facets? Any lack of clarity will open the space for a cross-purpose to come galloping in and steal what you stand for.