Photograph as Icon 6: Interiorization of Stones

The Photograph as Icon VI  
The Interiorization of Stones  

Meditate on the external universe,
considering every bit of it--animate and inanimate--
as pure Consciousness.  Not only the supremely effulgent
Consciousness within one's heart, but also
 the senses and the body are the
 same Citi Shakti.

Regarding all aspects of the world this way, 
with the mind free from thought, 
one rises above the state of
bondage and merges
into supreme

Baba Muktananda, commentary of Shiva Sutra 1:16

"On a scale of 1 through 10, how much consciousness would you grant a mountain, or a hill, a tree, or a stone?  A lake, a pond, a tide pool?  An old automobile, a shoe, a styrofoam cup?  A mushroom, an ant, a piece of chalk, a rusty old nail?"

I would ask these questions to my Photo II students at the beginning of my lecture for the "Thing" assignment.   We would discuss what the word "consciousness" meant and then I would write the list of object names on the chalk board and ask them to shout out their number rating for each of the objects.  I would write the numbers next to the names so we could see the collective range of consciousness ratings granted to each of the objects.  Many students wanted to give a zero rating to certain things, such as the styrofoam cup--things which didn't seem to be worthy of even a "1" rating.  

They could photograph any inanimate object they liked, but the picture had to be about a solitary thing and it should be more about the relationship between the photographer and the thing than about the relationship of the thing to the space it was photographed in, or the thing's relationship to the edges of the photograph.  The photograph was to honor the thing and reveal the "life" within the thing . . . some "essential quality" of being that pervaded the object.  Even if a student didn't believe an object contained "consciousness" they were to make photographs as if it did.  I asked them to imagine their objects having the same amount of consciousness they would grant themselves.  


I have been making Thing photographs since 1982.  My experience tells me the things of the world have something to say to us . . . but most of us simply are not listening.  (Just look at the ecological disasters we are facing associated with climate change!)  The act of making thing photographs can be--for me--a way of "listening" to what a thing is wanting or needing to say.  A Thing photograph which is alive with presence, himma, or shakti--in other words a photograph that is functioning for me as a symbol, or Icon--gives "voice" to the essential mystery that lives within the thing photographed.  

As a contemplator of thing photographs, the creative power of the heart and the creative power of the Icon allow me to see inside the thing photographed, to enter into the heart of the image.   Inside this sacred "place" I can have a silent dialogue with the essential being of the thing.  The image of an Icon contains the thing's messagewhen I engage the Icon with the "Eyes" of my heart an interior or imaginative union is achieved in which a deep nonverbal, intuitive understanding occurs--because of the same consciousness we share. 

"The contemplator is the contemplated; 
the contemplated is the contemplator." 

"I Am That"

All the world is an iconostasis, says Corbin: every thing is a divine sign, a divine message.  It is up to us to pay attention, look deeply, and enter into--interiorize--the world; then through the silent dialogue, and listening, we can receive that which the things of the world have to say to us.


In 1982 read a book of collected poems edited and introduced by Robert Bly entitled News of the Universe which truly changed my life, the way I see and understand the world.  Bly's entire book--and I especially love his introduction to the chapter on the Object poem--carries an important message which has continued to impact me even to this day.  The poems he included in the Object chapter, by Rilke and Ponge, and the poem presented below by Charles Simic, are remarkable for their interiority.  

I continue to make Thing photographs today; the project is an ongoing "work in progress" for me.  To see some of these photographs I invite you to visit the project Thing Centered Photographs; also, many of the photographs in the Studies project and in the Still Life project are thing photographs.  The symmetrical stone photographs presented here, below are also--though in a different way--"thing" photographs.


The poem entitled Stone, by Charles Simic, is one of my favorite thing poems in Bly's book News of the Universe.  I am presenting the poem below, but first I want to introduce it with the words of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, my meditation teacher.  The text was originally published as an introduction to a collection of sacred poems and prayers (Darshan Magazine, 1991, #53).  

Gurumayi wrote:

Do you want to know one of the most magical things about God?  He is both transcendent and immanent.  You cannot separate God from His own creation.  ~  The sages do not hesitate to say, Every form is the form of God, every form is the form of the Truth.  In every form is the eternal Witness.  ~  Baba Muktananda used to say, This world, with all its objects and subjects, is nothing but an outfit for God, different cloths for the same Lord, for supreme Consciousness.  ~  The same supreme Consciousness has become an ant and also an elephant, a pebble as well as a mountain, a fool and also a scholar--all that is and all that is not.  Having experienced the splendor in all things and all beings, all times and all places, the sages burst forth into songs of praise, attempting to capture the experience in syllables, which are themselves a form of the light of God.    


Charles Simic

Go inside a stone.
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill--
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.


The symmetrical photograph above has been haunting me with its strong presence since I made it several months ago.  It is of course a symmetrical photograph; the source image I used constructing the image was photograph of stones I took in Acadia National Park.  For me, the image is about being "inside a stone."  It's as if the picture's space is opening,  expanding like a flower, allowing me to come more and more deeply inside . . .  as if I am going deeper and deeper into a meditative state.  In this regard the image has the character of a mandala for me.  There is a warm, glowing, spreading light within the center of the picture--a light "as though behind a hill" that allows me to see the "strange writings" on stone's "inner walls."

This photograph, and Simic's poem are, I believe, examples of what Henry Corbin meant by the word interiorization.  It is not an easy concept to grasp, however it is what most artists do.  It is the process of Interiorizaton which gives poems and visual images their inner life, their essential meaning, their presence.  Interiorizaton is what transmutes words and images into symbols or Icons.


Corbin published an essay (1964) entitled Mundus Imaginalis in which he asserts that the Imaginal World is indeed not unreal or "imaginary."  He says it is no less "real" than the outer, sensory world we are most familiar with.  In fact, Corbin argues, the sensory world originates from the invisible world, the Imaginal World.   

Indeed the whole essay attempts to show the relationship between the external, physical, natural world and the internal, spiritual, invisible world--the exoteric and the esoteric.  Corbin says the Imaginal World is an intermediate world, a world that exists between the external and the internal worlds.  The Imaginal World is the world of "subtle bodies" that links pure spirit and the material body.  These subtle bodies are the products of the Active Imagination, "which is the preeminent mirror, the epiphanic place of the Images of the archetypal world. . .  images which "symbolize with one another . . . "   

The Active Imagination transmutes internal spiritual states into external states, into vision-events symbolizing with those internal states.  To see the divine, the sacred, the Creative Imaginative Life inside the things of the world requires a process, a mode of perception and a mode of being which Corbin terms interiorization.  He writes:

It is a matter of entering, passing into the interior and, in passing into the interior, of finding oneself, paradoxically, outside. . .   

But an odd thing happens: once this transition is accomplished, it turns out that henceforth this reality, previously internal and hidden, is revealed to be enveloping, surrounding, containing what was first of all external and visible, since by means of interiorization one has departed from that external reality.  Henceforth it is spiritual reality that contains the reality called material.  Corbin: Mundus Imaginalis, quoted in Cheetham: All the World An Icon.    

The soul encloses and bears the body: we are in the psyche, says Corbin, rather than the other way around.  Through interiorization the seer is transformed into an imaginal person--one who is living inside the Creative Imagination and thus can see imaginal spiritual realities.     

Tom Cheetham sums all this up when he writes: Interiorization is seeing with the "eyes" of the heart, the eyes of prayer, the eyes which regard the Icon. 

Corbin devoted an entire book, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, to his idea that the external world perceived by the senses originates from within the Imaginal World.  It provides some fascinating material that supports and expands upon this idea.   

Visual artists, poets, composers, etc. use their Active Imaginations in conjunction with, and through their chosen mediums, as a means by which they pass into the intermediate world where they find themselves enveloped by images-- "outside" and "inside" images -- which symbolize with each other.   It is the artist's dharma or sacred duty to conjoin those corresponding archetypal images within their media--and then bring these images of unity, these symbols, these Icons back into this plane of sensory reality for the rest of us to see and contemplate and use as a threshold by which we too can gain access to the interior world, the world of our hearts and the "invisible worlds beyond."  It is the symbol, the Icon which brings us News of the Universe, revelations of our own Divine Self.

"Within Us, 
the Entire Universe." 
Sutra 15 ~ the Pratyabhiijna-hrdayam

The yogi eventually brings about the assimilation of the entire universe--he becomes one with it!  The very nature of yoga is inner expansion.  As we go within, our own consciousness begins to extend beyond the body and the mind and to take into itself all that it encounters. . .  The whole universe is seen as . . . one's own being. "The universe is a play of light and shadow within my Self."  The awareness "I Am" brings . . .  everything in existence into the heart.  Swami Shantananda, commentary on Sutra 15 ~ the Pratyabhiijna-hrdayam ~ from his book The Splendor of Recognition.  

The Symmetrical Stone Photographs
The collection of symmetrical stone photographs presented below have been selected from four parts of two earlier projects: the Angels project, parts VI & VII, and the Acadia : Arcadia? project, parts II & III.  I felt these powerful images, these Icons, needed to be together.   They share, as a collection and individually, what for me is a particularly strong sense of interiority.  The source photographs with which I constructed these images, were the stones and tide pools I encountered in Acadia National Park, in September 2014.   




Icon 6, #1  (source photograph: stones, tide pool, Acadia National Park)

Icon 6, #2  (source photograph: stones, tide pool, Acadia National Park)

Icon 6, #3  (source photograph: stones,  Acadia National Park)

Icon 6, #4  (source photograph: stones, tide pool, Acadia National Park)

Icon 6, #5  (source photograph: stones, tide pool, Acadia National Park)

Icon 6, #6  (source photograph: stones, ocean's edge, Acadia National Park)

Icon 6, #7  (source photograph: stones, ocean's edge, Acadia National Park)

Icon 6, #8  (source photograph: stones,  Acadia National Park)

Icon 6, #9  (source photograph: stones,  Acadia National Park)


This part VI of my project regarding the Icon was first posted 
ithe"Latest Addition" section of my Website's 
"Welcome Page"  0n January 31, 2015

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.