Sunday, September 24, 2006

Are you a genius?

Laughing Reindeer, Nara, Japan, June 2003, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/160 sec @ f5.6, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

OK, sorry -- he's not laughing at you given the question above. I just couldn't find a better photo for this post. But it is amazing how much he does look like he's laughing, doesn't it? Anyways ...

Just where does genius come from? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Genius can be mathematical or scientific, like Einstein, or it can be in the arts, like Mozart, and many other ways as well. Are these people simply born as geniuses? Are they just really smart, or is it that they have an ability to tap into something that the rest of us struggle with daily. Perhaps they are not as constrained as you and I, for some reason. Perhaps they are inspired -- “in spirit”. And can this capability ever come to us common folk?

According to an extract from this article, Orlando Serrell did not possess any special skills until he was struck in the head by a baseball when he was 10. He has remembered where he was and what he was doing almost every day since.

Serrell is what Treffert calls an "acquired savant," someone who exhibits savant skills after suffering a head injury or a stroke to the left hemisphere of the brain. Treffert believes the brain injury somehow frees acquired savants from the language and logic that rules our everyday lives. [emphasis is mine]. You will also read (and hear) about other savant's extraordinary skills at the link above.

"We tend to think of ourselves as having this blank disc in the marvelous piece of equipment called the brain, and what we become is everything we put on this disc. And I'm saying there is much more to us. That we come with software," Treffert says.

In short, Treffert says, there is genius in all of us.

Think about that — or perhaps don’t think about it. Instead, consider it, contemplate it, reflect upon it, imagine it, do almost anything but think about it using standard words and conventions. As Treffert says, try to free yourself “from the language and logic that rules our everyday lives.”

And then, perhaps -- just perhaps -- you too can have a taste of your own genius -- without even trying. Either because you can unleash the true untapped potential of your brain (for materialists), or because you are in touch with that which is the source of all inspiration (for the metaphysical among us).

In any case, why not try to unleash your real potential. Or just rest in the knowledge that more lurks beneath your superficial self. Dig, my friend, dig deeply.
Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius. -- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Invitation

Namaste, Tachileik Shwedagon Pagoda - Golden Triangle City, Union of Myanmar, November 2005, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/400 sec @ f4.5, ISO 64, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

This lady was sitting outside a large Pagoda just over the border of Northern Thailand (into what used to be called Burma). She was very friendly, and when I asked to take her picture, she put her hands together as if to say "Namaste". I've chosen this picture for an entry entitled "The Invitation".

Why? Because every day you will interact with people in one way or another. And each time you do, you are offered "The Invitation". This is your opportunity to express yourself and to find out about the other person. And when you do, I hope you take "The Invitation" seriously, and bring gentleness and depth to your interaction -- offering something soulful about yourself, and hopefully getting the same in return.

You've probably read this poem, I suspect. As I understand the story, it was written after Oriah Mountain Dreamer attended a typical dinner party, and felt the conversation was just too superficial (do you ever feel that way?)

Here it is, reprinted in full, as it is to me, very moving and very important:
The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it's not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tap, tap, tap

Tap, tap, tap, Old Delhi, India, August 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/160 sec @ f2.8, ISO 180, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Your attention is focused on the road ahead — you need to navigate all manner of vehicles and pedestrians, going in just about every direction. And then as you slow down for an intersection, your attention is shifted from the windshield to the “tap, tap, tap” on one (or more) of your passenger windows. You imagine the request: “Hey Mister Westerner, how about some change for me? For my family? Please?” It was hard for this girl to see into our car, since the windows were darkened. So she stuck her nose up to the glass and tried to see inside, as well as to make herself known.

This is Old Delhi — a spider’s web of streets overlaid on a predominantly Muslim population. (India also has the 2nd largest number of Muslims in the world.) We had been advised earlier not to roll down our windows to provide any money, nor to buy from the street vendors hawking cheap trinkets and eager to test out their English in hopes of a few rupees. “If you give to one,” we are told, “they will quickly engulf the car.” A very strange situation. Do you look? Do you ignore? Do you try to help anyway? What would you do?

This situation is surely not the most grim in the world, but at the same time, it is unmistakable material poverty. It makes me think of this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, quality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.
-- Martin Luther King Jr.
And what is it that makes me see beauty even here? What else ... our humanity. If you do not see, how will you be moved to consider this situation —- to decide what, if anything, you would like to do about it. Perhaps only accept it. Perhaps only be present for the suffering, for the stark difference in material wealth in the world. Perhaps only to wish for something better. Or perhaps to consider the current realities and expect something better for our humanity. And then perhaps to take one step -— one beautiful step -— to acknowledge, to understand, to feel compassion, and to move us upward, collectively upward, as we are most certainly capable of doing.

I see beauty in that potential -— in that intention. Don’t you?
Intention is the core of all conscious life. It is our intentions that create karma, our intentions that help others, our intentions that lead us away from the delusions of individuality toward the immutable verities of enlightened awareness. Conscious intention colors and moves everything.
-- Master Hsing Yun, Describing the Indescribable

Monday, September 18, 2006

A love that burns

Sunset through the trees, Christian Hill, Amherst, NH, August 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/200 sec @ f4.7, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Love is a powerful emotion. Indeed it is a powerful force. And very complicated, at least in our everyday lives. But really, very simple, right?

The love I’d like to consider — the one that can burn through layers upon layers of conditioning, of impoverishment, of heartache, and even through defeat — is unconditional love. Do any of us have the ability to offer such a powerful force?

It is the love that Jesus spoke of — offered even to your worst enemies, by your other cheek, because you realize that they are your best teacher, because this is your best weapon, and because you realize, deep in your heart of hearts, that you and your enemy are one. It is the compassion that Mother Theresa showed to the untouchables in the gutters of Calcutta.

And it makes me think of this poem, by the Sufi mystic Rumi:
O Love, O pure deep love, be here, be now, Be all;
worlds dissolved into your stainless endless radiance,
Frail living leaves burn with you brighter than cold stars:
Make me your servant, your breath, your core.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The art of disappearing

Translucent wings, Pickity Place gardens, Mason, NH, August 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/1050 sec @ f4.5, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Take a look at this dragonfly — if you can see him (click on the picture for a better look). His wings are 99 and 44/100% translucent, with only one cell of color on each. As a result, he almost disappears into the background. I think this is a useful metaphor for each of us as well. To counteract our cultural and societal messages of standing out at all costs.

We dress in bright clothing, or tatoo our bodies and color our hair. We paint on eye shadow and lipstick, and cook our bodies in the sun. We straighten and whiten our teeth for sparkling contrast to our tan skin.

And then we have our behavior. Push to the head of the line, try to find a “brand” to characterize what we, uniquely, have to offer. We raise our voices or our hands, we laugh loudly or whine or cry for attention.

I suggest that each of these measures serves to reinforce and amplify our ego, and serves to highlight our individuality. And I think that does not serve us well in the long run, nor humanity. And I offer to you this insightful poem, as you reflect upon the dragonfly as it blends into the background of life. And consider especially the last three lines of the poem, for which another photo might help you internalize.

The Art of Disappearing, a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye
When they say “Don't I know you?”
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say “We should get together”
say why?

It's not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

So much happiness

Rubber duckies, Tucker Pond, Salisbury, NH, July 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/540 sec @ f4.5, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I came across this poem today — sent to me like any other e-mail, easily lost to the junk folder or removed by a mindless delete key. But thankfully not.

Take a look at it. No! Taste it, consume it, bathe in it, relish it, savor its spices, cuddle in its warm embrace, lay down in its bed of truth, slow dance to its gentle rhythm, while you sing along with its lyrics.

For I have nothing to add. Just let happiness be -— you don’t have to do a damn thing.

So Much Happiness, a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
A wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
Something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
And disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
And now live over a quarry of noise and dust
Cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
It too could wake up filled with possibilities
Of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
And love even the floor which needs to be swept,
The soiled linens and scratched records….

Since there is no place large enough
To contain so much happiness,
You shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
Into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
For the moon, but continues to hold it, and to share it,
And in that way, be known.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What do you see?

Eerie Oilslick, Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, HI, February 2002, Sony Cybershot, Exposure 1/400 sec @ f5.6, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Now here is something weird. I knew I took a picture of this oilsick (over 4 years ago). Small amounts of oil or gas are still leaking out of the sunken battleship, the U.S.S. Arizona, from the attack on Pearl Harbor more than 60 years ago. The attack that brought us into the WWII, and killed 1177 men on this ship alone.

What I never noticed until now is the 'face' in the oilslick. Can you see it? It seems unmistakable, and the face looks anguished, like those souls lost in that fateful attack. That's kind of eerie, don't you think? [BTW, there was no clever use of Photoshop here -- this is just how the image came out of the camera.]

I didn't see this 'face' when I took the picture -- I just wanted to capture the sunlight on the oil-water mix. For it looked beautiful to me. The colors of the oil sheen change as the waves move back and forth. So every instant, you will see something different.

And that's a metaphor for life. Look in the moment -- right now, and "see" what you see. Relish that moment as eternity. Then look again. And again. In each moment, life will present you with new images and new perspectives. Train your eye to enjoy them all. The world, born anew, every moment you are aware.

Oh, and by the way. If you think that "face" was somehow connected to the Arizona, consider this picture below -- do you see all of the "diamonds" rising up from its rusing hull as reflecting the individual souls lost on board? Hey, I just take the pictures. You have to interpret the Rorschach tests ;-)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why do I photograph?

Chro-me-um, Milford, NH, August, 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/525 sec @ f4.5, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Recently, I've been asking myself: "self, why do you take so many pictures, and then why bother posting some of them to a blog?" And here is what I told myself.

The world is an incredibly beautiful place. Certainly the natural beauty, but also man-made affairs. Indeed, just about anything can be seen to be beautiful when not labeled, not judged, and just experienced. Yes, I think even dead things can be beautiful.

Sometimes it is the scale on which you observe the world. Most of us are rushing from place to place, we don't take the time to examine our surroundings, especially in detail. Life exists on a multiplicity of scales: cells, simple organsims, plants and animals, the garden, your town, visiting a new country, earth itself, and beyond. Everything we interact with exists on all of these scales at the same time -- we can choose to examine them from any perspective.

So I guess I am consciously taking some extra time to examine my world -- with my camera at the ready. I like to look for a unique angle, perhaps capturing an everyday object up close, or an interesting pattern. Look carefully, and I think you'll see beauty in there. It is not my photograph, but the world, that is beautiful. I'm simply the recorder. All you need to do is look, and I guess that is my contribution. I'm looking, and then sharing what I see.

So that is why I photograph. Even strange things like you see below. Because -- paraphrasing a famous song -- "sometimes you're the bug, and sometimes you're the radiator", but either way, it can be beautiful. Don't you think?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Butterfly Effect

Spread your wings, Garden Pond, Amherst, NH, September 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/380 sec @ f2.8, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Have you ever watched a butterfly closely? So delicate, so graceful, so relaxed, so unhurried.

Why not spread your wings and follow its lead. Can you tread lightly upon this earth, floating from place to place? Can you offer a smile, and a kind word to everyone you meet, full of grace? Can you take a deep breath and let your mind settle down, and relax to your Authentic Self? Can you slow your tempo, and observe more of the world around you, patient and unburdened by those racing to and fro?

You see, it is that easy to become a butterfly yourself. Floating along, in wonder. Alighting here and there, barely noticed. Except that your radiance shines forth and catches some attention. And causes those who see to pause, and contemplate becoming a butterfly themselves.

And when you get stuck on the need to force a change in the world you see, remember the butterfly effect:
The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or, for that matter, prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.

-- extracted from Wikipedia

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Howya doin?

Howya doin?, Amherst, NH, August 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/500 sec @ f6.4, ISO 50, with flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Hey there -- howya doin? Me? Oh fine, thanks for asking ... I'm just hangin around. Why? Just to get your attention -- to see if you are paying attention. Hey, go ahead and click on the picture so I can get a better look at you.

Now, can I offer you just one thought for your day? Here ya go ... Take care now, ya hear?
If you could get rid of yourself just once, the secret of secrets
would open to you. The face of the unknown, hidden beyond
the universe would appear on the mirror of your perception.

-- Rumi

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Another specimen

Another specimen, Garden Pond, Amherst, NH, August 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/317 sec @ f3.6, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Look at how beautiful this one is. Another type -- I don't know what kind. Is this yet another for my collection? Do not worry, I'm just talking about photos. This one (and all of them) gently floated away when my camera became just a little too annoying.

But recently I read this quote from Ken Wilber, and though perhaps a little harsh, it does express my sentiments of organized religion versus spirituality:
When I was a youngster, and being the mad scientist type, I used to collect insects. Central to this endeavor was the killing jar. You take an empty mayonnaise jar, put lethal carbon tetrachloride on cotton balls, and place them in the bottom of the jar. You then drop the insect -- moth, butterfly, whatnot -- into the jar, and it quickly dies, but without being outwardly disfigured. You then mount it, study it, display it.

Academic religion is the killing jar of Spirit.

-- Ken Wilber, One Taste: November 24


Peeking, Hilton Hawaiian Village, Waikiki, Honolulu, HI, February 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/150 sec @ f4.5, ISO 64, with flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

He's peeking. You're peeking. I'm peeking. We're all peeking into a world so unimaginable, so undescribable, so undeniable -- it is beyond belief. Because it just is.

So as you catch a glimpse, glance in that direction, espy something deeper, gaze inward, and have a peek into this world, ask yourself just who is the "I" that is peeking?

“The inner growth is very still and very silent. You are growing, and even you cannot be aware of it unless something totally new happens and makes you aware that you have reached some space that was unknown to you. And that can happen any moment. On your part great patience is needed, and a trust that the whole existence is in support of all those who are trying to grow spiritually. It is not you who are trying to grow spiritually; it is existence who, through you, is trying to reach to its utmost heights.”


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Say 'ahhhhhh'

Say 'Ahhhhhh', Concord, MA, August 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/200 sec @ f5.0, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

There is something very pleasing about a beautiful flower, recently bathed in rainwater, and now illuminated by everpresent sunlight as the clouds move to and fro. Can you say 'ahhhhhh'? Just say it, and you relax a bit.

No, not the 'aaahhhh' when you visit the doctor and he looks down your throat. Not the 'aawwwhh' when you are disappointed that things did not go as you had planned.

But the 'ahhhhhh' when you slip into a warm bath. The 'ahhhhhh' when you snuggle under the covers and leave all of your cares crumpled in a heap with your clothes at the foot of your bed. The 'ahhhhhh' when you sip a full-bodied wine and twirl it in your mouth with your tongue. The 'ahhhhhh' when you smell fragrant flowers in your garden, and it brings back many memories of days gone by.

This delicate 'ahhhhhh' belongs to a Hibiscus that my mother-in-law planted many years ago. And while she passed on a few years ago, the beauty of her garden remains, and is rejuvinated every year. What a wonderful way to remember her.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, August 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/600 sec @ f5.4, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I know, I know, it looks just like a tourist photo, but I said I would post one, and I didn't really take any artsy ones. But the Taj Mahal warrants special note anyways -- it really is a beautiful building and landmark. And some of the stories surrounding it are rather interesting. For example ...

You can probably guess that the Taj Mahal is made out of marble, but did you know it is a unique nonporous kind of marble. That hardness both keeps the acid rain from destroying it, and also enables its embellishment with inlaid semi-precious stones over much of its facade. When you get close, you would think the designs and Arabic writing are painted on because they are as smooth as the marble, but in fact, they represent the inlay of millions of pieces of semi-precious stones and black marble.

The Taj Mahal is entirely symmetrical. There is even a mosque on the left side, and to keep the grounds symmetrical, they built a duplicate on the right side, but it isn't an actual mosque because it faces away from Mecca. Also, the king who built this tomb for his wife (she died in childbirth with her 14th child!), was going to build a contrasting duplicate of it totally out of black marble across the river, as his own mausoleum. But the king's son (and head of his army) felt that was just too extravagant, and instead had his father placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. So instead he was buried next to his wife, thus creating the only asymmetry of the Taj Mahal.

Anyways, I found it interesting, and worth the visit. Even though that did involve back-to-back four-hour drives between Delhi and Agra, and let me tell you, that is quite an experience.