Far shore.
Off to the far shore. (photo by Mary Hulser)
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Cool, Calm, and Collected

For most creatives, our process involves seeking clarity — mostly about those things that inspire and move us to create. In my case, the intuitive impressions I began feeling, literally moved me — for miles and miles across a desert lake.

It became routine for me to kayak for several miles out to the far shore of the lake. I would carefully pick a spot to go ashore that felt about right. Hoisting pack and camera, I would head off into the hills, gently allowing my intuition to guide me to one of those cool and calm “sacred places.” It got to be like a game, a treasure hunt, often bringing up memories of my childhood excursions into the forests of North Carolina.

And so this daily movement through nature and my introspective time of silent observation, became a spiritual exercise of sorts. This ritual, that started out as an experiment to explore my creative process, gradually extended into weeks, then months, and finally a year. Over this time, I began to realize that my perception of myself and the world around me was subtly changing. I began to feel a calmness I hadn’t noticed before — at first just during my time out in the desert, and then gradually extending into the rest of my life.

Healing

It wasn’t long before this calmness went all the way to my core. It was as though I was going through a healing process of sorts. A healing from the past traumas of my life that had rendered my body rigid and my emotions fragile. With this healing came a clarity that began to expose misconceptions and illusions that I had just assumed as being true. As I addressed these old beliefs and judgements, one by one, they just gradually faded away. In their place, came a calm sense of “knowingness.” Knowing that everything in each moment, of my life, of my world, was just as it needed to be. This awareness fostered a warm sense of gratitude about my life, which in turn began to open a heart that had evidently been shut — for far too long.

“For things to reveal themselves to us,
we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

As a part of me healed, out there in the silence of those desert hills, this calm clarity settled into a new awareness. My awareness shifted more into the present moment as I developed an ability to quiet mind’s infatuation with trivial things — like past memories, or concerns like, “what brand of dish washing soap is really the best?”

The world around me even began to “look” different. My environment became more “vivid,” maybe as a child sees things. Rather than pushing through life, with eyes half glazed, I was beginning to notice new things — textures, colors, smells, the breeze across my face. And as I noticed these things, I wanted to stop and be in the moment — to fully experience whatever I was sensing. I didn’t want to miss anything.

Training

It was as if I was undergoing a kind of perceptual training in clarity and awareness. In how to calm my chattering thoughts — to allow the emergence of a new set of heartfelt “inner” senses. Senses that I realized were barely noticeable and too illusive to be aware of for long — like slipping in and out of a day-dream. And the only evidence of ever having connected with these flashes of insight is that you are left with a knowingness about something, like a distant memory — a new awareness that you eventually realize has to be coming from somewhere.

But the mind is fast to label this (and any) subjective experience as just a figment of the imagination, vaporware, not real, and quickly moves on. It does this to maintain “balance” and reinforce the comfortable status quo of “itself” (and its belief system) as being in control of your life. Yet once your heart is routinely open, this new inner awareness will continue to activate, prompting you to explore more deeply into the source of these intuitive feelings and insights. Love, instead of the mind, becomes the basis of your balance. And as you gently cultivate this process over time, these inner senses become stronger, clearer.

“The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as profound as the voyages of the person who descends into the depth of their heart.”
~ Julien Green

Before long, I began to see tangible evidence of this evolving clarity. My photographic style was changing, as my awareness and perceptions of the world around me expanded. With practice, I began to perceive landscape scenes in a new and novel way. For example, I could become aware that a particular scene has triggered an intuitive feeling. As I explored this feeling, it was like trying to remember something long forgotten. So I would relax and play with this process of “remembering.” Eventually visual elements would begin drifting onto my inner visual screen — appearing like a transparent overlay upon the physical scene framed in my camera’s viewfinder.

Imagination

Some people would say this process is simply one’s “imagination” at work. Yet, have you ever wondered what one’s imagination actually IS — especially at this level of activated perception? More on imagination in a future post, but for now, let’s just look at this spontaneous and very subjective experience. It’s an intrinsic process that is manifesting a new perception, a clarity, about something physical, from some place non-physical. This process creates an opportunity to give birth to and then capture an inner awareness triggered by a particular scene — to bring it into the world via a camera, voice recorder, sketch book or whatever creative tools work best for you.

Sound intriguing? This practiced and learned creative process, this journey into self-awareness, has become the basis for the creation of my conceptual photographic art. And it’s a creative process that can be used in whatever you do — your art, your writing, your job, your life.

Please join me next time to learn how you, too, can begin your own journey of creative self-discovery. Until then, with camera (or whatever) in hand, try following your heart — out into a natural place of silence, into a natural state of clarity.