Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Unnecessary Judgements

I don’t take photographs. I always feel a little guilty about this. On my recent trip to the wilderness I love I took my camera and dutifully carried it in my bag on drives and hikes. The leaves had just begun to change colour. Everywhere I looked amidst the dark evergreens and pink granite, leaves were turning to crimson and gold. Over and over I paused to take in a scene, occasionally thinking, “That would make a great photo.” But I didn’t take a single picture.

I’ve wondered about my resistance to taking pictures. My youngest son, several close friends, and the most recent wasband, Jeff, all have a great eye for seeing and taking good pictures, and I love looking at the pictures others take, particularly appreciating the ones of trips we have shared.

Jeff bought me a camera when we were together, hoping I think to cultivate a common interest. We took walks together through the conservation forest that surrounded our home. He almost always  took dozens of pictures, which often left me waiting on the trail, sometimes being eaten by pesky mosquitoes. Eventually, when he’d suggest we “take a walk,” I’d ask if we were going to walk or take pictures. He got defensive, reacting in part to the edge of judgement that had no doubt entered my tone. Instead of just sticking with how it can be somewhat understandably frustrating to spend more time waiting than walking on one of his suggested “walks,” I was semi-consciously building a case for why taking so many pictures was somehow not “as good as" simply taking a walk. When he urged me to take my camera I replied that I was more interested in “just being present” than in taking pictures.

Ah yes, the human ability to endlessly build a case of moral (in my case usually spiritual) superiority for what are simply our preferences. Sigh. I had a little aha moment about this on my recent trip north.

Toward the end of my time away I returned to a place I had visited twenty-eight years ago- a huge outcropping of white quartz granite, several hundred feet high. You can see for miles from the top. 

For reasons too complex to describe here (stay tuned for the book,) the trip down from this peak was. . . . an ordeal- difficult, frightening and potentially very dangerous. When I finally got back to my car, I realized something: the way I had managed to stay calm and continue without injury was by “writing” a story in my head about what was happening. And doing this- puzzling over how to describe the lichen that was particularly slippery as a dark purpled brown, the colour of packaged dulse- brought me more fully into the moment, made me more present to the world around and within me, allowed me to see more clearly how to proceed.

And suddenly I got it: that’s what taking pictures does for Jeff- it makes him more present to the world around him, gives him a way in to see more clearly, a way to fame what he sees so that he is not just an observer but a participant.

Taking pictures does not do this for me. I marvel at how all visual artists seem to see and depict luminosity and colour, shading and shape with pigment or carved stone. That’s their way. Mine is to feel for the words that hold the arc of the story that is unfolding in the moment. Storytelling with words deepens my experiencet, helps me stay present when distracted thoughts could take me elsewhere. 

Just different ways of seeing, of being here. No need to judge someone else’s way, or my own, as better or less than.

Nothing like a little humility mixed with the pleasure of deepening self-awareness.

Oriah (c) 2013


  1. a good smile with my coffee this early morning. I take a lot of pictures - mostly of sunsets - and I judge myself, probably in as many ways as I can - am I ignoring my friends, family who may be present, am I keeping back my walking partners on Saturday mornings, am I missing 'just' being present? But gradually I've realized a happier medium where my using photography is just as you describe your writing about that descent (without the danger though!) I am more present and have seen so much more now, of the beauty in the sunset sky I have loved all the life I can remember. And the joy the photos bring to friends and family brings them closer to me - to knowing my joys and me theirs.
    Yes, 'Just different ways of seeing' no less or more for the difference to our own: that's a realization I try to keep alive inside me each day, for each difference that comes along

  2. Dear Oriah,

    I will carry with me your idea that words hold the arc of the unfolding story in the moment and blend it into my pictures.
    Thanks for a refreshing spiritual touch to reality.


  3. Dearest Oriah, would you like to be a guest on my show to talk about CFS? Many blessings, Edie Summers

    1. Edie, have put a hold on doing any more interviews right now as the writing is moving along and I want to keep my focus there. Thanks for thinking of me though. Blessings, Oriah

  4. Yes, so true. Each of us have our unique way of absorbing, observing and relating to our surroundings. And it is also true there are times when we think we are superior to the other who has a different take on life. I guess we all make these mistakes but few learn from them, as you have. Funny isn't it that a small incident (like your climbing down the peak) can trigger off a remote memory and help us gain wisdom! I have been through such moments of 'revelation' and endeavour to be more understanding towards others. Great reading your blogs, Oriah. All the best for your new book.

  5. Thank you, Oriah, for putting into words that which has long eluded me. I am a picture taker, too. I find that just by carrying a camera with me, I see more detail, more nuance of light and color, more character and texture than when I go out without my camera. There is a longing as well, to capture the moment and preserve it in some way, to share it with others, and to add it to the string of memories that makes up our lives.