Change positions to access the diversity

Landscape photography has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of how time, space and object, interconnect to create and define the reality that we observe.

If you go to the same place over and over again, and keep your focus on a specific object of interest, you will notice the impact of time. The belief that you know the place due to the familiarity, gets challenged when you consider how time changes the landscape. From a psychological standpoint, the person you are today, will not be exactly the same person you are tomorrow. While you may think or believe that you are the same, small (and maybe unnoticed) changes are unfolding as you evolve over time.

In a previous article, I mentioned that a beginner’s mind (that makes no assumptions when you encounter sameness or familiarity) gets cultivated when you are open to ‘seeing’ the ever changing dynamic of time.

So what do you experience if you keep time constant (which is not actually possible) and then change space or perspective of the object of interest? You get diversity.

At any given point in time, when a group of people are discussing a specific topic of contention, different perspectives (or positions) will emerge. Diversity is all about viewing the same object but from different positions in space. Space is context. Context defines meaning.

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There are daily patterns of events that recur at approximately the same time everyday. The A380 Airbus passing overhead at approximately the same time of day, everyday, is a case in point. It is a beautiful plane and has such presence when flying above.

To reveal the diversity of perspective of the plane in different contexts, I set up my camera in different places and waited for the plane to pass by.

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IMG_8464-2When considering any issue, try and shift your position or perspective so that you get a more ‘richer’ understanding of the complexity that surrounds the issue. However, this requires that you give up your usual perspective, which feels safe, comfortable and ingrained. That is why most people find it extremely difficult to let go of the familiar position that they take. Holding on to one’s perspective is driven by fear of change, or fear of losing oneself, or fear of being negatively influenced by another perspective. It is this fear that rigidifies and intensifies a stance or position, which then increases the possibility of conflict and blockage.

A dominant voice that prescribes to others closes down possibilities and increases feelings of resentment and anger. All perspectives need to be seen and considered in order to gain a deeper understanding of an issue. The challenge is to then integrate this diversity (incorporating all perspectives), so that more complex solutions can be formulated for a resolution to unfold. This is especially true when dealing with global concerns that do not have a ‘simple, one answer’ which is driven by a one size fits all, type of thinking.

Deaths in schools highlight the internal threat

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Here is a frightening statistic that US politicians and the president cannot intellectualize, offer some weird explanation for, or defensively suggest a solution for:

In 2018, there have been more school children violently killed in schools on US soil than military personnel serving their country.

To date, there have been 29 school children killed in an educational setting, while 13 military personnel have died (seven of which were killed in a helicopter accident). The harsh reality of this simple statistic shows that it is safer to serve in the military today than it is for an adolescent to go to school to learn. Formal school settings are now becoming war zones.

It is obvious that politicians have covert agendas (relating to financial support/benefit) regarding their stance to gun control legislation in the US. Given this, mind boggling reasons are being forwarded by politicians, for this devastating epidemic: abortions, ritalin, too many gates (entrances) at the schools, video games, the media, type of clothing worn, lack of religion, and so on and so on. I have previously written about the stupidity of the suggested solutions that have been forwarded by the president to deal with this societal issue.

The absurdity of how politicians are thinking (and speaking) about the most serious social issue facing America would not instill any confidence in a parent who has a child.

The thought of the possibility of a mass shooting occurring at a school that one’s child goes to, must now be in the forefront of the mind of every American parent. This thought will gain more and more intensity as time goes on, as parents live with the uncertainty and anxiety of realizing that the biggest threat to American society is an internal one. In February 2018 it was the Stoneman Douglas High School, in May 2018 it was the Sante Fe High School, in ….. it will be the ….. High School, and so on as the copycat ‘cancer’ gains momentum. Who and when will be next? Waiting for the next tragedy heightens anxiety:  It is only a matter of time…

The idea and metaphor of building a wall (a) to keep the enemy outside and (b) to protect and keep safe those living inside, no longer holds water given the ongoing nature of the mass shootings in schools.

Imagine being a student sitting in a classroom, constantly worrying whether you may be the next horror story in an ongoing cycle of destruction. Imagine the underlying suspicion that each student feels when looking around the class at fellow students, worrying about who the next shooter may be. Imagine the intense, anxious and stressful atmosphere in a classroom that is supposed to instill enjoyable creativity and learning. Imagine what it is like for students to return to school after the horrific event, walking through the previously blood stained corridors and classrooms where dear friends had been wounded or killed. Imagine the post traumatic stress reaction that each and every high school student of America is having to deal with, even those who may not have witnessed the trauma first hand.

Given the above, it can be argued that the next generation of Americans may be traumatized, anxious and fearful individuals who will not feel emotionally safe in any interpersonal context.

Many individuals take their cues from what leaders and public figures say and how they say it. This may be especially true for young, formative minds that can be easily manipulated. Words that spew out of a leader’s mouth offer suggestions of how members in their society should engage each other. In this regard, leaders need to assume responsibility in how their societies function and behave.

Aggressive and autocratic narratives, intolerance of diversity, fear-based rhetoric, self-centred and demanding comments, and suggestions that one stands above the law, are the building blocks for behaviours to manifest in society, families, and schools.

So sad, so very sad…

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The story that is revealed in the eyes

On a physiological level, the eyes absorb visual sensory data, which then gets interpreted by the brain. This interpretation is a complex process and is influenced by many factors such as experience, beliefs, assumptions and social conditioning.

I have come to understand that there is so much more to the eyes than just their physiological aspect. The eyes are the ‘windows to the soul’ and reveal the most inner thoughts and feelings. They are constantly communicating, without the necessity for a word to be spoken.

A young, talented hockey player was telling me how well she was dealing with the stressful demands of competition. As she spoke, however, her eyes were telling me otherwise. They were filled with sadness and insecurity.

As she spoke, it was clear that she had learnt to put on a brave face and not reveal her true feelings. When I mentioned to her that her eyes were telling me a story of sadness, she burst into tears. After composing herself, she said that she felt relieved that her true feelings had been noticed. Since she was the youngest in the team, she was always concerned about what the older girls would think of her if she made a mistake during a match. This was starting to affect her emotionally and impact on her performance, resulting in her constantly feeling stressed and insecure.

Your eyes are also the director of your energy flow. They are connected to your intention. While this is linked to goal setting or creating a vision, it is also connected with what you notice in your experiences.

There are an infinite amount of possibilities and perspectives that can be seen in any situation. There may be times when you get stuck in some detail, which in turn, negates you seeing another perspective. While this is a natural phenomenon, you should consciously guard against becoming rigid in your focus. The eyes need to be flexible as they explore the range of perspectives that present themselves. When feeling stuck, you may need to consciously remind yourself to look elsewhere in order to take in more of the complexity that exists in the situation.

In the mechanical world of things (where there are specific objects to focus on), the eyes can find a resting point fairly easily. In such situations, there generally is consensus about what is seen. In contrast, in interpersonal contexts, there is so much fluid visual information available for the eyes to absorb. The challenge is having to piece together snippets of behaviours that are unfolding rapidly in time. In such situations, the eyes scan for patterns of interaction in order to give meaning to what is unfolding. For example, a frown on a face, a sigh in a breath, a nod or turn of a head, a clench in the jaw, etc., need to be integrated visually, interpreted and given meaning. How this gets done is a subjective process, and highlights that in an interpersonal context, there is no such thing as a single fixed reality that the eyes will see. Depending on where you look, a certain reality will emerge for you.

Responding to major change

Adapting to a major change process is a challenge, especially when it comes to having to deal with a foreign language. I have recently re-located to Germany for an indefinite period, and have had to deal with many administrative processes that require not only knowing how the system works, but also having to understand a foreign language and all of its subtleties.

As I encounter those around me, it feels like I am enveloped in a sea of ‘gibberish’. Nothing makes sense. There are no anchors to hold onto, no cues to connect with. It makes one feel powerless.

My work as a therapist is all about language, stories and the creation of meaning. My struggle with not being able to ‘converse’ effectively with others was therefore acutely heightened. I was having first-hand experience of the power of ‘not having language’.

As I thought more about my situation, the image of a one-year-old responding to his(her) environment came to the fore. This image offered me ‘an attitudinal approach’ to how I should respond to the major change that had occurred. Four ideas were activated by the image, which helped align me to a clearer philosophy and methodology going forward.

In time

‘In time’ suggested that I need not rush or panic about the new unfolding process. I needed to be patient with myself. With consistent practice, it would only be a matter of time, before I would be acquiring new knowledge and the necessary language skills. This realisation helped to settle me.

Beginner’s mind

A beginner’s mind is an inquiring mind that engages the environment in a non-judgemental way. It is also a responsive mind that acts spontaneously. Unlike the mind of a one-year-old which does not have any previously ingrained knowledge and language codes, I was filled with an old established pattern of language. I now needed to let go of the ‘old’ and embrace the new input in order to acquire a new set of codes and meanings.

Being present and playful

To be effective in any learning situation, you need to be fully present and focused in the unfolding moment. In helping babies perform on television commercials I have always been amazed at how concentrated and focused a baby is when playing and exploring. As I thought about this, I realised that I needed to lighten up and become more playful in the process. I had become too intense. I needed to laugh more and not take myself so seriously.

Appreciation

Joy and appreciation are linked. Without appreciation, there can be no joy. As I thought deeper about the challenge of learning a new language, a part of me started to feel excited. The situation was offering me a gift to expand myself and to encounter the true diversity of life.

Concluding remarks

On a general level, internal resistance is activated initially, when encountering any change. The greater the change, the stronger the resistance. In dealing with change, however, adjustment is required. Adjustment and resistance are inversely related: the more the resistance (the more the rigidity), thus reducing the ability to relax, which in turn, impacts on one’s ability to adjust.

Letting go of resistance, and aligning yourself with the attitude and playfulness of a one-year-old allows you to embrace change in a flexible way. Opportunities to learn more about yourself occur and new knowledge and skills can be acquired more effortlessly.

On a therapeutic level, dealing with the change has offered me insights into the intra- and interpersonal complexities of what it feels like to be an ‘outsider’, due to the inability to access and utilise the vehicle of connection, which is predominantly language (for adults).

Watch me play
Playing

On the balcony – Reflection

Zurich put on a beautiful fireworks display to usher in the New Year.

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Welcome 2015!

Being on the balcony seems in the distant past. While there is a part of me that wants to leave it there (especially since I have been away), I did commit to do a reflection of the process in order to tease out some of my most significant learning. I want to honour that commitment.

How it started

The first thought that I have as I begin writing, is that the project started as a personal, private endeavour. I took my first photograph looking out into the distant, expansive East. After taking the photograph, I remember reading about a photographer who took (I think) 30 photographs of the same scene, in the same place, at the same time, and looked at the change that unfolded across the photographs taken. While this activated my thinking regarding the project, I felt I needed a slightly different challenge. I did not feel inspired to always set up the camera in the same way, with the same lens, and take the same scene with the same camera settings.

As I looked out from the balcony, my predominant thought was that there was so much in front of me. I wondered what I would capture if I took 30 photographs from the same place (on the balcony) and at the same time period (18h00 – 19h00)? There was a vast, complex sea of visual information that surrounded me. The question of where my eyes would look and what photograph would emerge intrigued me.

I wanted the process to expand and challenge my usual ways of looking at the world.

After taking my first 3 or 4 photographs, only then did I decide to share my experience through my blog articles. As part of my blog, I also decided to extend the challenge and see what meaningful life lesson (if any) would be triggered by the photograph that I had taken.

Walking onto the balcony

Before walking onto the balcony, I never could anticipate what photograph I would take. So I could not plan for each day. In fact, the process called for me to do the opposite and walk onto the balcony with no preconceived thoughts about what would unfold.

As I walked onto the balcony, I thought of myself as a blank, clean canvass that was going to be imprinted. I needed to be open to what the visual field would offer me.

Being on the balcony

Once I stepped onto the balcony, my intention was to create. A significant part of the creative process is performance. On a basic level, performance and creation are processes that have an end result. Since the end result is a consequence of the dynamic interaction between oneself and the environment (while doing a task or playing a game against an opposition), it is impossible to know exactly what the end product would be.

On a general level, I experienced one of three emotional and mental states during the creation (performance) process. Before walking onto the balcony, I could not predict what mental and emotional process I would go through. In other words, I never knew what was in store for me.

  1. There were about 5/6 photographs that I almost instantaneously knew that I would take as soon as I stepped onto the balcony. It was as if my visual and mental system connected immediately to a certain aspect of the vast visual field that was flirting with me. It acted as a magnet, which seemed to result in an immediate picture in my mind, which in turn, gave me clarity of how the photograph should be. These were powerful synergistic moments, where little effort or thought was required to take the photograph. I was mentally clear, emotionally calm and had no doubts that my mental map and the actual photograph (end product) would match. This could be defined as the calm, clear, knowing state that is in touch with the unfolding reality just before it manifests itself. It can be likened to a premonition.
  2. There were other days when I just sat and looked around not knowing if I would be able to get a photograph. I found myself searching and looking around to see what I could photograph. It was hard work during these times since I seemed to be consciously forcing the process. I was trying too hard. I felt an inner panic as I searched. This process was emotionally taxing.
  3. There were times, when I patiently sat on the balcony, not knowing, yet not worrying about what sort of photograph would emerge. This was a calm, not-knowing emotional and mental state. While waiting patiently in this state, something invariably jumped out of the visual field and caught my eye. It was as if the visual world presented me with a gift.

To expand further, if I had to quantify the percentage of each of the above states that I found myself in, I would say approximately 20% (6 out of 30 photographs) was in the clear, knowing state; about 50% was in the panicked, not-knowing state; while 30% was in the patient, calm, not-knowing state.

The second state was more dynamic, fluid and/or chaotic than the other two states. The challenge for me was to see if I could shift my panic into a more calmer place. I would guess that I was probably successful in about 33% of the cases. For the rest, I had to learn to live and embrace my unease as the process unfolded (and not to panic about the panic). This is a mental skill that many top athletes possess: the ability to embrace the internal panic without dropping the standard of their performance.

Despite being in one or other of these states, I was still able to produce a satisfactory, meaningful photograph at the end of every day. If I had known this before, it may have helped me to relax more in those times when I had so much doubt about not being able to produce anything.

Taking the photographs

My first and last photographs were the easiest. The first photograph was an obvious one. Our eyes always see the obvious first. As I walked onto the balcony for my last photograph, I knew that I wanted to incorporate and capture all that was before me. While it may not have been obvious, my mindset was very clear about what I wanted to do. My clear mindset, created a clear picture that could be translated through my eyes into my environment, to create the photograph that I envisioned.

On some days, I took a number of shots of one particular scene (maybe using different lenses and focal lengths) and then decided on the best one once I had loaded them onto my computer.

On other days, I took some shots of one scene, then changed my focus and shot another scene and so on; eventually arriving at a scene that felt right to me.

I noticed a number of patterns while on the balcony. There were bird patterns, plane patterns, sun and moon movement patterns. Certain birds, for example, flew overhead at approximately the same time every day, flying in the same direction. Once I had photographed a plane, for example, the possibility of taking a photograph of another plane was excluded in the future. This was a self-imposed decision that I took since I did not want repetition and instead, wanted my photographs to reflect the diversity of reality that surrounded me. While this decision made it more difficult for me since I was reducing my options over time, it forced me to look in different places thus opening up other possibilities.

Taking the photographs reminded me of the mining and exploration process (for resources). In the beginning, you have a vast expanse of easily accessible resource. But as time moves on, you are challenged more and more to refine your search of the resource since you have already consumed or exhausted what was easily accessible.

Loading the photographs on the computer

The number of photographs taken on each day varied. Understandably, there were more photographs taken on those days when I was consciously searching for a scene to take. It was as if my panic had increased my efforts and in turn increased the quantity of photographs taken.

However, having taken more photographs did not seem to improve my chances of finding better quality. The idea of just shooting as much as you can to eventually find the winner did not apply to me.

The life message of the photograph

The life message jumped out at me as I saw the photograph that I wanted to post in my blog article. For me, the words and the image seemed to complement each other. I felt that this integration helped to convey a meaningful message.

Recently, I spent an afternoon in a skate park in Zurich. Taking some photographs of one of the skateboarders reminded me of the excitement, challenge and joy of the creative process. Outstanding performance has no limits, it is an ongoing endeavour.

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On the balcony – Part 5

12 December 2014

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Looking out west

Today was going to be the 25th photograph in the project. As I walked onto the balcony I was aware that I had yet to take a photograph looking out west.

The vision out towards the east is more expansive, while the view towards the west is more restrictive. Given this, my dominant tendency (and perspective) was to look out towards the east. Setting my camera to face west, was breaking my dominant perspective.

13 December 2014

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A gift

One of my wife’s students gave her this Christmas reindeer as a year end gift to thank her for everything she had done. Giving a gift is an act of appreciation and gratitude.

My wife was inside putting up some Christmas decorations. She joined me on the balcony and playfully placed the little reindeer in the bush. She had brought me a gift to photograph. We smiled as I focused the camera on the little reindeer. One of the most powerful gifts we can give to others is a smile.

14 December 2014

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Same and different

I took this photograph of a small succulent plant we have on the balcony. Each stalk is unique, yet has the same structure.

As humans, we are unique. Yet, we are no different from each other regarding our basic needs. In addition, each one of us needs acknowledgement, respect and most importantly love, to grow.

We all have 24hours available to us each day we live. Our uniqueness unfolds depending on how we utilise this time.

For me, the photograph also reflects over-population and lack of space, which lies at the heart of our biggest global concern.

15 December 2014

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My neighbour

Sitting on the balcony, looking at me on the balcony.

In South Africa, we tend to live behind high walls, which separates us from our neighbours. The challenge is to re-connect to our neighbours and to build communities that are supportive and respectful.

16 December 2014

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Taking care

The garden below is beautiful.

Processes that are taken care of, usually result in beautiful outcomes.

17 December 2014

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Integrating everything around me

Today is the last day of my project. As I walked on the balcony I knew what type of photograph I would like to take, but I didn’t know how it would turn out. I needed to wait until it was dark.

I wanted to include all that exists before me in a single photograph.

Integrative thinking connects parts into a complex unified whole.

On the balcony – Part 4

4 December 2014

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Shine your light

Eskom has been load shedding, and candles are playing a bigger and bigger role in South African lives. Candles bring light into darkness.

The candle on the table on the balcony reminds us to shine our light when interacting with others.

Life is not always easy and we may encounter many dark moments. Candle light in darkness can be likened to a lighthouse during a storm where visibility and navigation is severely impaired as ships pass by. The candle light reminds us to always try to see ourselves in our highest light, especially during those difficult times in life.

5 December 2014

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Moon energy

I took this photograph at 18h46 on the 5 December. It preceded the full moon, which was to occur at 14h25 in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 6 December 2014.

I have been told that from an astrological perspective, that this full moon is in Gemini. According to astrologers, it is time to celebrate your life, and even your smallest accomplishments are worth noting. As you focus on what is working in your life, a positive energy is awakened allowing good things to flow to you. In addition, it is recommended that you open your heart and speak your truth and also make space to receive the truth of others.

The moon reflects the yielding feminine or yin energy in each one of us, and reminds us to be gentle and caring in our relationships with others.

The moon also rules our emotional, and at times, darker, shadow side which we tend to repress and deny. To feel whole and integrated, the full moon reminds us of the necessity to acknowledge and embrace the darker side of who we are.

6 December 2014

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Confusion and not-knowing

This was the third consecutive evening that Eskom was load shedding. Coupled with this, there was a huge storm developing in the East.

For this photograph, I decided on a long shutter speed and then panned across the horizon to cause the blur to reflect confusion, uncertainty and not-knowing. These are mental states that are activated when we confront problems and/or paradoxes that life throws in our path.

I knew that the beautiful full moon was shining brightly behind the clouds. I just couldn’t see it.

7 December 2014

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A rainbow the next day

How quickly things change. Yesterday the air was laden with dust, confusion and uncertainty. Now a beautiful rainbow. A rainbow is synonymous with having a dream. But there is no easy short cut to success. A dream will only be realised if you are prepared to do the hard work to get there. In particular, this applies to young aspiring athletes who want to reach the top in international sport.

8 December 2014 – Out of town

9 December 2014 – Out of town

10 December 2014

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A healthy ecosystem

Many birds fly over the balcony. Above, an African sacred ibis flew by.

A healthy ecosystem supports a complex web of inter-connections of all living things. The diversity of birds flying around remind us of this living web. We are only part of this web. We do not own the web.

Unfortunately, many species are threatened by man’s actions.

11 December 2014

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Thumbs-up attitude

I was standing on the balcony contemplating today’s photograph when Freddy, our complex maintenance manager, walked past. I enjoy interacting with Freddy. He is optimistic and always approaches issues with a thumbs-up attitude. A couple of days ago I was talking to Freddy about the nature of problems and how as humans, we tend to create the very problems that we then seek to solve. Freddy’s comment to me: ‘Don’t trouble the trouble until the trouble troubles you’.