The Tao of Glass: Focus and the Present Moment

There are many ways in which I see the act of photography as a metaphor for Taoist concepts. In these “The Tao of Glass” posts I want to take elements of the philosophy and examine them in comparison to philosophical elements that resonate with me.

Taoism and Stoicism both emphasize that it is unhelpful to dwell too much in our past actions or our future desires. To be sure we must make time to plan out what we will be doing later in the day, in the week, etc. My wife and I regularly make time to look at what we will hope to be doing more than two years down the road (travelling mostly), but not with the firm sense of exactly how and when it will happen. Likewise there is wisdom to be gained from the past, learning from our mistakes and remembering to be grateful for what has helped to bring us where we are.

It is when we are tied down by what has come before us, or what we dread ahead of us, that we begin to lose our connection to where we really are in the world right now.

Looking through the lens of a camera has become a physical manifestation of this concept, a reminder to be present with myself. Framing a shot in the viewfinder makes it difficult to think of the past or the future. One is suddenly present, engaged with the subject, noticing details that would normally flow by unnoticed.

The lens has become a personal metaphor representing this presence of mind. Having it in my hands helps to clear my mind and allows me to experience more sharply the world around me. I take so much inspiration from the details that nature provides. Knowing that I am in “photography mode” primes me to look for interesting things, and opens my vision to new possibilities. Noticing things becomes a virtuous cycle. The more details I see, the more that catches my eye, the more in the moment I become, and the more I am able to absorb of my surroundings.

When I find myself distracted, ruminating on the dread of upcoming challenges, or imagining other things that I might be doing with my time in a given moment, it is helpful for me to think of the lens. Every aspect of reality has its own expression and its own beauty. If I can bring myself to focus on the moment, to focus my presence, I will inevitably discover something interesting about the world around me that I had been overlooking.

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