The Tao of Glass: The Stoic Machine

Cameras, like humans, come in a multitude of models, and each model can vary from its brethren when it is combined with a different configuration of lenses, strobes, memory cards, recording equipment or filters. These unique combinations of innate technology and/or mechanics are set up in such a way that they are able to deliver a suite of results based on software settings and configurations that further differentiate them from one another.

Each camera contains these qualities inherently, and retains them regardless of the setting and surroundings. My Fuji X-E1 is capable of capturing images at 16mb with an ISO setting pushed to an extreme of 25600 with a shutter speed set at 4000. It may not create anything other than a blown out white wash, but it might capture the details of something moving quickly at dusk. The results are up to the interpretation of the third party viewer, but the environment doesn’t have any effect on what the camera itself does.

We have our own built in skills and capabilities, and it is important to remember that our surroundings don’t change that. No matter what is happening around us there are somethings that we will always have no matter where we find ourselves.

The camera doesn’t complain that it is only being taken out to do street photography rather than taking pictures of weddings, or landscapes, or families with squirming children. It will always be focused on executing the skills it was created for no matter what is exposed on the film.

The stoics talk about this as duty. One isn’t usually able to choose the job or position that one has in life, but it is important to attend the to duty that one is given as best as possible regardless of what it is.

If you set yourself to your present task along the path of true reason, with all determination, vigor, and good will: if you admit no distraction, but keep your own divinity pure and standing strong, as if you had to surrender it right now; if you grapple this to you, expecting nothing, shirking nothing, but self-content with each present action taken in accordance with nature and a heroic truthfulness in all that you say and mean – then you will lead a good life. And nobody is able to stop you.

Marcus Auralius, Meditations Book 3, 12

It is easy to frame the events unfolding around us in ways that seem to shape our lives and our options. At any given point in our lives we may be feeling boxed in, or limited in other ways. However, just because we aren’t in the job that we want, or the place we want to be living, doesn’t mean that we can’t execute the skills that we have to the best of our ability.

Cold as it may seem, the perspective I want to focus on is this: the machine can only perform its function, unaware of the context, uninfluenced by the perceived outcome. The camera doesn’t worry whether the image was over or underexposed, or whether the gallery visitors appreciate the composition of images that it created. It is focused on the execution of its duty regardless of the skill with which it is manipulated.

We can choose ourselves how much we need to be influenced by the perceived outcomes of our work and how it is received by people removed from us. We can choose to focus on aspects of our surroundings and circumstances that we imagine to be limiting factors, or simply not ideal. Or, we can keep in mind the purposed to which we are trying to apply ourselves. Perhaps it is artistry, or being a skilled worker, or being a parent who is present and emotionally available.

Regardless of the situation we can choose to focus on how we execute those actions, rather than worrying about what might come of them once they are beyond our control.

Let any external thing that so wishes happen to those parts of me which can be affected by its happening – and they, if they wish, can complain. I myself am not yet harmed, unless I judge this occurrence something bad: and I can refuse to do so.

Marcus Auralius, Meditations Book 7, 14

Photo Story: Post Oak Sunrise

This weekend my wife and I were able to get away from an overnight together and a trail run. We are both distance runners for a variety of reasons. One of them being that it gives us a reason to travel and check out races in parts of the country that we would not normally have occasion to to go to. This began for us as road marathons, and taking part in the 50 state challenge, but in the last few years we have both been enjoying adding trail runs here are there. Not only are they more interesting, they are nearly always more scenic and smaller.

This time around we drove south for a race just outside of Tulsa, OK. The Post Oak challenge is a series of races over three days held at a resort in the mountains overlooking the city.

Due to the timing we arrived in the evening with just enough time to check-in, grab some food and get ourselves to bed, all while it was dark out. The next morning we would be starting out early, hitting at the trail at 7am, just as the sun had come up. I had done the math, and realized that I wasn’t going to have any time to actually take pictures on this trip, but some part of me said: “just bring the camera anyway, who knows”…

As a good omen for our day, and a reward for my decision to bring the camera, we were greeted at the starting line with a gorgeous sunrise coming up over the ridge. It gave us about 8 minutes of good light, just enough time to grab a few shots and appreciate the view before we had to pack our stuff and hit the trail.

As it turns out, I did have the opportunity to take some pictures later. One of the reasons trail running is fun has to do with the challenge of the unexpected. In my time on the trail and the time I had to reflect on not completing my second circuit, I put together several thoughts about what running means to me and how it connects to the bigger picture which I plan to lay out in another “Tao of Glass” post coming up. Until then, here is our good morning good omen sunrise. Hard to beat a day that starts like that.