Live with limitation, that’s my best advice. Not that you have any real choice in the matter. That’s one of the lessons of photography and life. Photography is about living with limitation. Photographers, like the rest of us, are limited by ten thousand things. They wake up, like the rest of us, and take what the day gives them. They do not, any more than the rest of us, dial up their days. They are, like the rest of us, always where they are, when they are, how they are, who they are, what they are, why they are. Nothing they can do about it.
If they go somewhere else, then they are where they are there. See? Wherever we are, we are there and not somewhere else. We are limited by our place and time, and all the other things that define and restrict us. We can only do what we can with what we have to work with. Other photographers have better opportunities, better choices. That can’t be helped. If we had only been here last week, or could only be here next week! But, here we are, today. This is it for now. What are we going to do?
Always the question, what are we going to do? Now what? That is the question that opens us to the moment and the moment to us. What are we going to do now? What is the next step, the step that is waiting to be taken now? The question awakens us to the choices we have, to the opportunities that exist in this moment, to the decisions that are to be made here and now. What here? What now? What next?
We cannot do a lot of things, but what CAN we do? And, of all that we can do, what are we going to do? What’s the next step? Here’s what Carl Jung has to say about that: “Be simple and always take the next step. You needn’t see it in advance, but you can look back at it afterwards. There is no ‘how’ of life, one just does it… It seems, however to be terribly difficult for you not to be complicated and to do what is simple and closest to hand… So climb down from the mountain and follow your nose. That is your way” (Quoted in The Tao of Jung, by David Rosen, p. xx).
Here we are. Aqui Estamos. Now, what are we going to do? No more complaining. No more whining. No more moaning about this old life and these old choices and wishing things were better. Here it is. This is it. What are we going to do, now? What is the next step? What is to be done, NOW?
What is our life asking of us? Where is our life taking us? What is trying to be born in us and through us? How do we know? Certainly not by thinking about it. We do not think our way to a life worth living. We do not think our way to the Grail. We live our way there.
We think knowing is a function of cognition, of thinking. We are all enamored by thinking and think it’s the only form of knowing. We live under the curse of “I think, therefore I am.” But, that pronouncement merely means, “I think, therefore I think I am.” We know more than we think we know. For example, we know our heart’s true love when we see her, or him, And, we know it isn’t the person standing next to her, or him. And she, he, might not have any of the qualities we think are important before the encounter. And, we can’t think that up, or out. It’s just there.
Folks who stand for us as witnesses of events we aren’t privy to say that particles, whatever they are, know what is going on with other particles instantaneously over vast distances. And, other folks, who also know what they are talking about, say bacteria communicate instantly (or close enough) with other bacteria all over the world, so that when you hit them with a vaccine, they figure out a way around it and pass the word just like that, and the vaccine stops working. And, the animals knew the tsunami was coming and made for high ground, while the human beings were thinking what a nice day it was. Thinking is not the only form of knowing. We need to know how to know what cannot be thought, or simply trust that we do.
We can’t be thinking about what to do here and now to make then and there what we want it to be. We have to be opening ourselves to what we know needs to be done here and now, never mind then and there. What needs doing now? What is the next step in this moment?
This present state of affairs is not going to last, that does not make the present moment expendable, or meaningless. That makes it precious. We cannot throw the moment away in an “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!” frenzy, or in a “Woe are we, we are all going to die!” gloom. We can only live the moment as well as the moment can be lived without having to have something to show for it, without having to have a future that establishes the value of our investment, of our effort, over time. Life is not an investment! Life is life! It is to be lived, enjoyed, loved, shared, honored. We live to do right by the life we are living. What does it mean “to do right by the life we are living”? We live to figure that out.
We don’t live to make the future what we wish the present were. We live to make the present as good as it can be without spoiling the chances of a good present in future generations (after Fritjof Capra), and, we understand that it all hangs in the balance, and everything can be lost in an instant (when the Yellowstone caldera goes, for instance). Catastrophes have always wiped out life as it was being lived, and life has always started over. The tide is going to wash away our sand castle. That cannot diminish our joy in building sand castles. Live for the joy without ruining the chances for joy of future generations. And, don’t be thinking you have to have forever to make life worth living now. The moment is precious. Adore it. Live it.
The idea is to live now with the limitations present in the moment. Don’t think we have to have all the limits removed before we can live and breathe in the wonder of endless possibilities and infinite choices. That’s a dream world which keeps us from doing what can be done with this here, this now. Life is always grounded in a particular time and place. Time and place are always limited, restricted, conditioned. We live in a certain context, within certain circumstances. Here is where we are, now is when we are, what are we going to do about it? What is the next step? We have to come down off the mountain of wishful thinking and follow our nose, our knowing, into the next thing, feeling our way along, not knowing (with our heads) where we are going, or how it will all work out, but trusting ourselves to what our nose knows.
The answers we seek begin to stir in the stillness of not-knowing (with our heads). They take root in the fertility of expectant waiting. They grow in the nurturing atmosphere of wonder and delight. How long since we played with an idea? Since we laughed at the very idea of us doing THAT—and did it? How long since we settled into the dull routine of being ourselves, without any consideration of who else, or how different, we might be?
Abraham, you remember, left his father’s house and took off to a far country. Moses did the same. Jesus was a rebel without a place to call home from the start. No one who has known God has played it safe, stayed in the driveway, did the same old things in the same old ways—in the way they’ve always been done and, therefore, ought to be done—until they died. God trashes the same old same old. To know God is to try new things and risk ourselves in the service of the unheard of and unknown. No woman or man of God settled for the blah, blah, blah talk of their ancestors. Every woman or man of God spoke of new things, danced a new dance, launched out in a new direction, and everyone said they were crazy, touched in the head, over the edge.
But that’s where God lives. Over the edge. Outside the camp. Way-Out there. The heart of creation is free falling into the endless emptiness, calling us to follow our noses into taking the next step, over the edge, to jump in and enjoy the ride. That means creating an inner and outer stillness in which we can be engaged by our imagination, which is another term for the voice of God. Oh, surely not, you protest. Surely not! Well, you can’t tell them apart, imagination and the voice of God. It’s all the same to you. So, if you think something is “just your imagination,” go with it as though it is the voice of God. You could do a lot worse, mainly by ignoring what imagination is calling you to do.
Oh, but, terrible things could happen! WILL happen! Life is no lark! This is no waltz on rose petals in the soft moonlight. This is LIFE that we are talking about! Being ALIVE! You think it’s all sweetness and light? Being alive will break your heart! And, if you think that’s bad, try being dead!
Every great adventure is an ordeal. We may not survive—aspects of us, perhaps the things we have grown most attached to about us, say our favorite perceptions and perspectives, most certainly will NOT survive, which makes being alive a lot like dying. It will push us to the limit, and beyond. Being alive asks hard things of us, terrible things, wonderful, joyful, delightful things. And, we would be crazy to say no to any great adventure that comes along, that our imagination cooks up, that the voice of God suggests we go and do, that our noses sniff out and offer as the next step, the one to be taken here and now.