Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Miksang Photography

Photos by Melinda Rothouse

Miksang is a practice of contemplative photography that fosters a deep engagement with the phenomenal world. Like other contemplative arts disciplines, Miksang emphasizes the experience of pure perception, of opening oneself up to the inherent beauty and energy of the world itself, rather than attempting to cultivate any notion of creativity or “skill” within the individual artist. It is about appreciation rather than mastery, recalling Suzuki Roshi’s “beginner’s mind,” in which many possibilities exist, rather than attempting to achieve any sense of expertise.

Miksang in practice begins with what is called a “flash of perception,” in which the photographer encounters the world as it is, before labels or judgments, even before concepts come creeping in. It is the raw, naked moment of “seeing,” an intimate encounter between the perceiver and the perceived, which underscores the inseparability of self and other. It’s not about taking beautiful pictures (though beautiful pictures may emerge), but about dancing with the world of forms, colors, and textures. It’s about noticing, and resting in, the space around things just as much as in the things themselves. Sometimes the subjects of the photos remain unrecognizable—it’s impossible to identify "what" they are by our usual conventions of naming and labeling—and this is just the point: to get beyond our habitual tendencies of categorizing and conceptualizing experience, and to return to the immediacy and freshness of our sensory experience.

Even photographing people and landscapes becomes a new experience, as the photographer senses and communicates the energetic exchange between people and within nature; as a practice it’s a way of opening oneself to the world of experience. Often the results can be quite humorous, even ironic, as when the Miksang practitioner begins to explore the connections between seemingly unrelated images or objects, like the “orderly chaos” of graffiti, objects in shop windows, or various elements within an urban street scene.

I have had the pleasure of attending several Miksang photography workshops, and have found a deep peace in the practice of wandering around the familiar streets and parks of Austin while allowing new, surprising, and fresh sensations and experiences to wash over me. There is a great joy and contentment that arises when we simply relax and allow ourselves to open to the wonders of the phenomenal world.

Many thanks to Miksang teachers Jake Lorfing, Miriam Hall, and John McQuade.

You can learn more about Miksang practice and workshop opportunities at The Miksang Institute and Miksang Texas. There is a Miksang Level I workshop happening at the Austin Shambhala Meditation Center on January 29-30, 2011.