Photography & Yoga 4 God Exists In My Feeling

Photography and Yoga  ~ Part 4 ~
God Exists In My Feeling

God Exists
In One's Feeling

I open and fill
with love
and what
is not love

All the learning
in books stays put
on the shelf.

the dear words
and images of song,
comes down
over me like
mountain water.



To have great and intense absorption in God is called love.
Love is truly a great sadhana.
Love means the inner intense feeling for Him.

Swami Muktananda


You feel love for God,
and that feeling itself is God.

Swami Chidvilasananda


In the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord said: 
"This world is my own cosmic feeling and nothing else."

Swami Muktananda


God exists in the form of feeling.  The Bhagavad Gita says 
 "The world is the embodiment of one's feeling. 
  All one's activities take place according  
to one's understanding."

Swami Muktananda


Rumi's poem strikes a deep cord in me.  When he speaks of the "dear words and images" of poetry, I think of my photographs that function for me as symbols--feeling in the form of visual images.  When he says the poetry "comes down over him like mountain water" I know too that I have been showered with the grace of the Guru, her divine energy in the form of feeling, grace that has opened my heart when I contemplate my experiences and my photographs.  I have an insatiable hunger for images, especially images that are radiant with meaning and feeling, images that stills my mind and opens my heart.  Only those images that "come down over me like mountain water" . . . the rain of grace . . .  can satisfy this desire of the heart.


When I was an undergraduate college student at RIT (1963-66) my greatest hero-artist was Alfred Stieglitz.  Minor White had published an entire quarterly issue of Aperture magazine devoted to Stieglitz (1960, issue 8:1), and  that issue became my "holy bible."  Stieglitiz's pictures and his words awakened something deep inside me, a feeling that burned like fire within me.  It was a new feeling, one that excited me, and most importantly, it generated in me a feeling of inner necessity.  I thought to myself upon discovering Stieglitz's pictures and ideas: "This is something I must understand and make my own."  That feeling remains alive in me today, though in 1987, when I was introduced to Siddha Yoga, I would find a teacher that would become even more important to me.


"There seemed to be something related to my deepest feeling in what I saw, and I decided to photograph what was within me."  Alfred Stieglitz

Stieglitz called his most important photographs equivalents.  He wrote: My cloud photographs, my Songs of the Sky, are equivalents of my life experience.  All of my photographs are equivalents of my basic philosophy of life.  All art is but a picture of certain basic relationships; an equivalent of the artist's most profound experience of life.

Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalent  1926

If what one makes is not created with a sense of sacredness, a sense of  wonder; if it is not a form of love-making; if it is not created with the same passion as the first kiss, it has no right to be called a work of art.  Alfred Stieglitz

When I am no longer thinking, but simply am, then I may be said to be truly affirming life.  Not to know, but to let exist what is; that alone, perhaps, is truly to know.  Alfred Stieglitz

If one cannot lose oneself to something beyond one, one is bound to be disappointed.  
Alfred Stieglitz


The great Hindu traditionalist-art historian, Ananda K. Coomaraswami, loved Stieglitz's photographs.  In fact he was responsible for getting the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to acquire a large collection of Stieglitz's photographs in 1924.  Dorothy Norman, a writer, (and editor of the Stieglitz-Aperture issue) met Commaraswami in 1928 and asked him which modern artists in America he admired.  Commaraswami answered: "Not any.  And no Europeans either.  The very term modern is an absurdity.  The notion that one should attempt to be original in art is sheer nonsense."  

Norman then asked him what he thought of Stieglit's work, and Commaraswami responded enthusiastically: "His work counts.  He is one arist in America whose work truly matters."

Mystified, Norman asked why this should be so, since Stieglitz was no more of a "traditionalist" in the strict, Hindu sense of the word, than were any of the modern artists whose work he supported and exhibited in his New York gallery.  Coomaraswami responded: "Stieglitz's photographs are in the great tradition.  In his work, precisely the right values are stressed.  Symbols are used correctly.  His photographs are 'absolute' art, in the same sense that Bach's music is 'absolute' music."  Dorothy Norman, Aperture 8:1, 1960.


My awakening through Stieglitz's photographs and his ideals initiated in me a deeply felt commitment to photography and the creative process: I would strive--and achieve--in my photography a quality of the absolute, the sacred that I sensed in Stieglitz's equivalent photographs.

After completing my undergraduate studies in photography, first at RIT and then at the Institute of Design at IIT in Chicago, I moved to New York City in the summer of 1968 to be closer to Gloria who was going to school in Brooklyn.  My friend Gary Metz, from RIT days, was in New York City at that time; he insisted that I read several of Coomaraswami's books, in particular: The Transformation of Nature In Art, Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art, and The Dance of Shiva.  Little did I know then, as I read Coomaraswami in New York City, that one day I would be making photographs inspired by the yogic teachings and the grace of my Siddha Yoga Meditation Master, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, a true Indian Saint.  

My Personal Story 
Shaktipat Initiation 

The hunger for God, for God's love, 
has a very high place on the spiritual path.  
When you are deeply hungry for God, 
God appears in your own heart.

Gurumayi Chivilasananda

Gloria and I had gotten married in the summer of 1969 and we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I studied photography at the graduate level at UNM on a full fellowship.  I earned my MFA in 1972, which required not only an exhibition of recent work, but a substantial written thesis as well.

I discovered through my friend and fellow graduate student, Richard Knapp, about the work of depth psychologist C. G. Jung.  I became fascinated by Jung's conception of the Self and his way of defining and structuring the psyche; I saw in his studies based in medieval Alchemy a corresponding relationship to my creative process in photograph; Jung's research and conviction about the transforming power of visual symbols, and his experiences and writings about the phenomena of synchronicity all seemed to relate to my  creative process in photography.   I later was to discover that Jung's transcendental concept of the Self was closely aligned with yogic teachings that I would eventually come to hear repeatedly in Siddha Yoga--that God, Guru and the Self are identical.   

And so it came to be that my MFA written thesis was inspired by Jung's ideas.  I came to the rather naive conclusion in my thesis that one could realize the Self, or "Individuate" as Jung termed it, through a concentrated self-effort of making and contemplating one's own spontaneously created symbols.  Jung focused on dream images and cross-cultural archetypal images; I argued that the Symbolic Photograph could function in the same way; that its archetypal imagery could heal--i.e., conjoin--the fragmented, separated psyche--the ego and the Self.  MFA Thesis

After spending nearly thirty years studying Siddha Yoga with Gurumayi I have come to the understand that Self Realization, the goal of yoga, is possible only with the guidance and grace of a Siddha Guru, an enlightened saint, a true Meditation Master--one who has actually attained the goal within him or herself through their own yogic self-effor performing the yogic practices in combination with the grace of of a true teacher or sadguru.  

I met Gurumayi in 1987 and have been practicing Siddha Yoga ever since.  I would go to the Siddha Yoga Ashram in South Fallsburg, NY during the summers when Gurumayi was there; I studied the great yogic scriptures; I read all of the writings of Gurumayi and her  teacher, Baba Muktananda.  I had a very auspicious transforming meditation experience in which I formed an internal bond with Baba Muktananda's Guru, Bhagawan Nityananda.  Story #15   

I have written about many of my personal experiences as a student of Siddha Yoga and they are collected in the Epilogue to my project  "An Imaginary Book."  You are welcome to explore this material if you are interested.  In the context of the teaching "God exits in your feeling" I wanted to share with you, here, my shaktipat experience with Gurumayi.  

Shaktipat is called the Initiation Experience in Siddha Yoga, because shaktipat sets in motion an internal creative process, an awakening and movement of what is called Kundalini energy that is said to lie dormant in each human being.  I have had many powerful experiences of Gurumayi's grace, or shakti, since my first meeting with her, but I believe that my shaktipat experience made all the others possible.  My shaktipat experience was an intense, emotional revelation; an experience overflowing in feeling, and probably the most important yoga experience of my life.  So it had to be at the center of this project, thus I am going to share it with you now. 

So make this your practice . . .  
see God in everything and everyone, 
see God's hand in your destiny.

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Story #13  
My Shaktipat Experience ~ Gurumayi's Hands

Can you be awakened?
Can you drink the nectar of your own Love?

Can you recognize your own Self
in millions of forms?

If you can do this,
you are truly alive!

Swami Muktananda

I met Gurumayithe current living Master of the Siddha Yoga Lineage, in August of 1987 at her U.S. ashram in South Fallsburg, NY.  Gloria and I went there to take a two day meditation Intensive with Gurumayi.  The story I am about to tell you is what is known in Siddha Yoga as my Shaktipat Initiation experience.

Intensives are meditation programs, originally created by Gurumayi's Guru, Baba Muktananda, with the specific intention of giving shakitpat initiation.  In our two day intensive Gloria and I sat in a beautiful meditation hall with hundreds of others and listened to Gurumayi (and others) give talks, we chanted God's name with Gurumayi, and she led us into meditation several times.  Throughout the Intensive we were being exposed to an outpouring of her creative, divine energy known as shakti.  I definitely could feel the energy building in the Hall, and it became more and more palpable as the Intensive progressed.   The increasing thickness and heaviness of the energy in the room made me feel very sleepy.  I could hardly keep my eyes open at times.  

The Guru's shakti affects each person differently according to their capacities and needs.  Not everyone experiences shaktipat initiation in the rather dramatic way that I did; on the other hand, as I learned more and more about Siddha Yoga and the practices, I came to understand that my experience of shaktipat was relatively typical in many aspects.


The first day of the Intensive was physically painful for me.  I sat on the floor cross legged, and I wasn't use to that.  My back hurt, my legs hurt, my whole body ached.  A hall monitor noticed how uncomfortable I was, and in the morning of the second day asked if I would prefer sitting in a soft chair near the back of the hall that had become available.  ~  I am so grateful that she saw me struggling and suggested this change in seating; and I'm so glad I accepted the offer!  I think being more relaxed physically and feeling cared for by the hall monitor helped me to be more receptive to the energy of the Intensive.  

In the morning session of that second day, after Gurumayi gave a long talk, we chanted with her for a while.  During the chant I began to feel some pain in the heart area of my chest, and I felt like crying . . .  but I fought back the tears.  

After the chant we were given a break, and as we were filing out of the meditation hall to stretch our legs and refresh ourselves a few people spontaneously began softly singing the chant again . . . and again my heart started aching.  

It was a bright, sunny, summer morning, and just as I got outside, in front of of the Nityananda Temple, the pressure in my heart became really - really intense.  The pressure grew in waves: the feeling would grow stronger, then it would subside . . . repeatedly.  After a few rounds of this expansion and contraction in my chest, I began to feel overwhelmed and rather frightened--but I was certain that what I was experiencing was related to the process of the Intensive so I tried to remain open and receptive to what was happening.

Then I saw an interior image of two beautiful hands; they were the hands of a woman, with long elegant fingers.  The hands were pushing hard against two large rusty steel doors--the kind of doors you might see in a medieval castle.  As the hands pushed harder and harder, my heart ached more and more . . .  The doors remained unmoved; they had become sealed together with rust that had formed from years and years of disuse and neglect.    

Then I saw an internal image of Gurumayi's face.  Her image . . . Her presence, was looming large before me, and then I started to feel as if her presence (her energy) was somehow enveloping me.  I felt her so very close to me that it seemed she was inside my entire being . . .  and surrounding me.  It seemed her presence was everywhere.  All this was happening as I stood on the dew covered grass next to the Nityananda Temple in the bright morning sunlight.

I then understood that it was Gurumayi's hands that I had been seeing pushing on the rusted-sealed doors: she was trying to open the doors of my heart.  

Finally the pressure in my heart felt like it had grown full to bursting . . .  and at last there was a release -- the doors broke open . . . and I began experiencing an unleashing of emotions I could never, ever have imagined.  It was as if a great floodgate had been opened inside me: I sobbed with ineffable love; I grieved with sadness and anger; I sobbed with gratitude, and then I sobbed even more with love.  Everything that had been held inside me, locked away, unfelt . . . was being exposed, released and experienced.  

I fell to my knees and just kept sobbing.  I couldn't stop it.  My tears were burning hot--hotter than I could ever have imagined tears could be.  They seemed to be comimg from a fire deep inside me.

I felt embarrassed, and yet I kept on weeping and weeping.  Later it occurred to me that many of the intensive participants nearby understood and accepted what I was going through . . .  It was OK, it was good, it was cleansing.   And most importantly it was an important part of the intensive process and it was being initiated and guided by the Guru--by Gurumayi.

Then I heard a voice inside me, full of anguish and longing: "Where have you been all this time!?"  

I felt angry at God.  Memories of painful experiences from my life were flashing through my mind--so many memories of the things that had made my heart ache and close shut, but also that had driven me to search for a true teacher.  Until this moment I actually hadn't consciously realized or admitted to myself that I had been longing for a true teacher.  

(The idea of a Guru was outside of my world view.  I had never really considered that a relationship to a Guru from India could be a possibility for me, something that I would ever be able to accept for myself.  At that time I was still very involved with the psychology of C.G. Jung.  I believed that I could grow spiritually though my own efforts alone: through studying and making art, especially art that had a symbolic "spiritual" meaning,  and working with these images with psychotherapists.

I had actually taken the intensive because Gloria's sister, who had been practicing Siddha Yoga for many years by that time, had given the intensive to each of us as a gift.  She wanted us to meet Gurumayi in person and see directly from our own experience what Siddha Yoga was all about by visiting the ashram and taking an Intensive.  Gloria and I accepted the offer, mostly because we felt it was our duty to learn what Florence had been into all those years and to make sure she was being blindsided by a "cult."  We would help her  and protect her if need be.)

The anger I experienced surprised me, and then those feelings became mixed with waves of love and gratitude.   Finally my focus became fixed only on gratitude and love which was now washing over me "like mountain water."  accepted, then and there, Gurumayi as my teacher; my secret "hunger" for God was at last uncovered and fulfilled.  I remember saying to myself with with relief, love and gratitude:  At last! I have found you.       

For the first time in my life--that I could remember--I felt open, pure, clean; I felt full; fulfilled, alive.  A wonderful stillness pervaded my entire being.  I felt content.


I have told my shaktipat story many times to many people over the years.  However, one day, as I was preparing to share my experience yet again for a public Introduction to Siddha Yoga program in Milwaukee, my friend Pat, who was helping me prepare my talk, provided me with a possible new insight about my experience.

When I spoke those angry words I had heard inside me: "Where have you been all this time?" Pat responded intuitively with a question that suggested an alternate way of perceiving that expression of feeling.  She understood that I thought those words had come from a deeply wounded part of my ego--the hurt inner child; that it was striking out at God, at Gurumayi, for having remained hidden up until now.  However, Pat asked: Could it be that those words "Where have you been all this time?" had come from a higher or deeper aspect of myself?  Perhaps those words came from the inner Guru, the pure Self, the God within my heart.  Rather than the child-ego addressing God, it was God addressing the ego.  

"God exists in my feeling."


The emotional charge of my shaktipat experience, and the feelings and images and contemplations and understandings which followed that amazing experience, had begun a deeply transforming process and released a tremendous amount of creative energy within me.  I went home after the intensive and began voraciously reading the yogic literature, especially Gurumayi's and Baba's books;  I started meditated regularly; I got involved with the local Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in Milwaukee; I subscribed to Darshan magazine and even purchased all the available back issues.  And my relationship to Gloria, and to my practice as an artist, began to shift to new levels of growth and understanding.

*          *          *

Feelings and Photographs
Many of the greatest artists I know and respect have said in one way or another that their art was about their feelings; that art gives visual form to one's feelings and intuitions and spontaneous, imaginative visions.  It has in fact become something of a cliche to speak of such things in the contemporary art world.  Today, artists are expected to be armed with vast conceptual worlds of intellectual, wordy complexity.  

Back in the late 1960's when I was a young artist, if I were asked what my work was about, of course - the answer would be ". . . how I see and feel; how I feel about the world and my life."  Though it never satisfied the professors, my response was modeled, at that time, after Alfred Stieglitz, W. Eugene Smith and Robert Frank.  Their photographs were often dramatic in quality of light and dark, moody in feeling, and they were insightful.   

When I met Gurumayi in 1987 I was in the midst of a project entitled Family Life 1985-88.  I had become highly influenced at that time by a book of poetry, News of the Universe, edited and introduced by Robert Bly.  I was exploring in particular Bly's ideas about the Object or Thing Poem; I was trying to see the world as if everything was alive, a form of consciousness.  My pictures were "about" giving voice to the silent world of things.  Interestingly, or perhaps I should say, not surprisingly, this perspective was closely aligned with the yogic teachings I would be reading and contemplating when I began practicing Siddha Yoga.  

The Family Life photographs for the most part are thing-oriented, they are dramatic in light, and they are moody.  They are radiant with presence; and the feeling which they transmit somehow carries the "voice" or consciousness of the thing I photographed.  I worked from the premise that "things" have something important to say, and the photograph is a way for me and others to listen.

This mode of working continues to be as vital for me today as it was then.  It's not that I know what the things I am photographing are saying, what the photographs will be about; but particularly when I'm out in the world with my camera I have the intuitive sense, the subtle feeling that the picture will somehow unveil some hidden secret, the silent voice within my subject; a feeling that has been longing to be expressed and "heard."  

When I think about this in relationship to my shaktipat experience, clearly the same thing applied to me personally; the divine aspect of myself had been locked away in some deep hidden part of my being, my heart, and it needed to be released and allowed to speak its truth.  

   Four photographs from the Family Life project  1985-88

*          *          *

True Path, True Guru
For quite a long time I tried to conceal my involvement with yoga, that I had a Guru, etc.  I was afraid it would have an adverse affect on how my colleagues, the curators and gallery directors, and even my friends would respond to me and to my photographs.  Some of my closest friends at the time gave me a hard time about having a Guru.  I understood their doubts and fears: even I shared the same concern about false Gurus and cults.  I didn't want to be one of those people who had blindly become manipulated and abused by their teacher.

Gurumayi, and her Guru, Baba Muktananda have always said, "Test the Guru" and "Trust only your experience."  During the early years of my involvement with Siddha Yoga I kept a vigilant eye open and constantly questioned if my yogic path was true, if Gurumayi was a true Guru, a sadguru.  Indeed, one of the primary reasons I went to the South Fallsburg Ashram and took my first Intensive with Gurumayi was to see for myself if this path was true, if what my sister-in-law had gotten herself into was safe. 

But Gurumayi and Siddha Yoga have "passed" every one of my "tests."  My many experiences tell me--deep in my heart--that Siddha Yoga is a true path; that Gurumay, Baba and Bhagawan Nityananda are true Indian yoga saints, or sadgurus.  I never met Baba; he died in 1982, but whenever I read his remarkable books, and transcripts of his talks, his words are vibrantly alive for me with his shakti, the grace of his attainment.  

My journey on this path has been profoundly meaningful and constantly blessed with the grace of the Siddha Lineage--with Gurumayi's, Baba's and Nityananda's shakti.  I have felt the presence of God in my teachers, in the path, and most importantly, in my own heart.  My experience has moved me, it has opened my heart, and has transformed me.  I feel so much gratitude and love for all that I have received.  I understand that Siddha Yoga is not for everyone.  Destiny is part of the play.  But I feel this path has been nothing but my great good fortune. 

                                       Photography & Yoga      Image #10       Early evening mist rising over the meadow, June, 2015   

Commentary the Meadow photograph
The photograph above was made in early June, 2015, shortly after my wife Gloria experienced a fall and cracked her pelvis in multiple places.  At the same time there were also infections that complicated her situation; the doctors could not explain what was going on.  Gloria's condition became quite frightening for a few days: I agonized over the possibility that I might lose her; that she might die. 

I had experienced--in my relationship with Gloria over the years--this particular kind of anxiety on several previous occasions, and so memories of past experiences were causing flashbacks in my mind which made my anxiety of the immediate situation all the worse. 

For example: In the spring of 1969, six or eight weeks before Gloria and I were to get married, she was sideswiped by a car in Brooklyn.  She had gone out to get some groceries and when she hadn't returned I went looking for her.  I came upon a crowd that had gathered around the scene of an accident near the grocery store: I looked down at the street and saw a chalk outline of her body; inside the drawing were puddles of blood.  I thought she had been killed.  Though Gloria had suffered severe injuries and a serious concussion, we were able to get married on schedule and then move to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I began my graduate studies. 

In 2003 we discovered that Gloria had a very aggressive form of cancer which posed a very real threat to her life.  After a very long and difficult period of chemo therapy, she survived and has been doing remarkably well ever since.  

I have had other brushes with death:  when I was nine years old my father died; my daughter almost died when she was one year old.  I almost died in the Wisconsin River when I turned 39 years old--the same age as my father when he passed on . . .   

So, death has become a constant companion and an ongoing contemplation for me.  Most importantly, in this regard, my practice of Siddha Yoga has provided me with new insights, understandings and attitudes about death.  Still, the old memories and anxious feelings associated with my past experiences continue to get pulled up from the depth of my psyche in certain situations.  The yogic term for these recurring psychic impressions, or mental patterns, is samskaras.  

The meadow photograph I made, above is I believe related to my samskaras about death, fears of loss, and at the same time my love of the natural world and its beauty.   I took the photograph in the early evening after a storm had gone through our area.  The cloud of mist that was rising above the dark, wet meadow behind our house was catching the last faint light from the western sky.  It was like watching the soul of the world leaving the dark, moist earth.  

At the time that I took the picture I had been intensely worried about Gloria's condition after her fall.  The scene clearly was reflecting how I felt inside.  Though I am not so much afraid of death itself (I feel I now understand death from the yoga perspective see below), when I took the photograph I was indeed suffering from the fear that I might lose Gloria.  I made the picture instinctively, essentially out of inner necessity sparked by my strong feelings.


For several years I had been doing an ongoing study of the changing light and atmospheric moods of the meadow behind our house.  It did occur to me when I made the above photograph that the image might add a new visual dimension to The Meadow Series.  But more immediately and personally, I made the picture because of how I felt.  Indeed, the image functions for me as a symbol--or equivalent.  Besides having a personal significance for me, however, at the same time the image has a sacred presence for me.  The beauty of the image, its shakti takes me beyond personal feelings to a higher or deeper feeling--of love for the natural world, love for the beauty and mystery of life, and the kind of love Rumi and Baba Muktananda and Gurumayi have written and spoken of so often.  The meadow photograph is for me both a carrier and a transmitter of grace; as such I believe it has transforming and healing powers that can in some way change me and my world; the image opens my heart and unveils within me a dimension of poetry that, as Rumi says . . . comes down over me like mountain water. 

Does Death Really Exist?
I have written a long essay about Death click here and made photographs that are essentially a visual contemplations on Death (The Persephone Series, The Color Diptychs).  Death's presence has helped keep me focused on the most important reason for being alive in a physical body.  I believe I have embraced Death and understood through direct experience that it is one of life's greatest teachers.  

The yogic teachings about Death are for me very powerful, and I am fascinated by how they are directly associated with the concepts of karma and destiny.  Everything in our lives happen for a reason, for the best of reasons; each experience is an opportunity for us to learn and grow toward the higher spiritual meanings in life.  Ultimately the goal of yoga, the goal of life, is to realize that God dwells within us, as us; that God, Guru, and Self are one. 

Baba Muktananda wrote a small book entitled Does Death Really Exist?  It has been a great help to me.  Below are a few excerpts from his book; please be mindful they are taken from a much larger context.  I hope you will read the entire book yourself:

Find out Who you are
"If a person does not use this birth to know himself, to understand his own inner Consciousness, then his life is wasted.  A person's duty is to find out who he is."

"Kabir wrote in a poem: 'What is so remarkable about this body? . . . this mind?  . . .  your wealth and everything else that you have?  As you are watching these things, they fade into dust.  Look at your own life.  As you are watching it, it just withers away.'"

Worldly and Divine Wealth
"Worldly wealth exists only here in this world.  It has no value after we leave our bodies.  Divine wealth takes us to God.  Divine wealth is our love, our compassion for others, our devotion to God.  It enables us to attain happiness and peace in this world, and it goes with it when we leave."

Beauty and Fear of Death
"The Bhagavad Gita says 'Just as a man casts off worn-out cloths and gets new ones, so the  Self casts off worn-out bodies and enters new ones.'  When this is the case, why does one worry?  Why does one weep?  For a wise person, death is beautiful, it is only when one lacks knowledge that one fears it."

"A person's true Self, his innermost Consciousness, is completely free from all bodies, all pleasures, and all pain."

Departure of the Soul
"'Death is simply the name we give to the departure of the soul (blue pearl) from the body. . . .  Destiny does not leave anyone untouched.  No matter who a person is, death pursues him. . . It does not come early and it does not come late.  The moment of departure is set at the time of birth, and it does not change by even a minute.  Death is the one thing in this world that is always on time."

"There are two paths after death.  One is filled with light and joy, and the other with darkness and fear.  Very naturally we take one or the other.  According to our actions (karma), God decides what we will experience after death."

"The circumstances of our present birth were determined by our actions in past lives."

"How can a person free himself from the wheel of death and rebirth?  He can do so only by going within and, through meditation, discovering his own inner Self."

The Ego
"In meditation, we discard our individual ego and merge with the Self.  The ego is a veil which hides the Self and keeps us bound to the body.  The ego is nothing but our sense of limited individuality, our identification with the body and the mind, with our sex, our family, our country, our position. . . .  Because of [the ego and] the three malas [three impurities] an individual soul is born again and again.  When the malas are removed through spiritual practices and the grace of a pure being, the individual soul goes beyond birth and death and is never again reborn."

"The truth is that it is our own ego which is death for us.  When we have gone beyond the ego, death no longer exists. . . Our ego brings us again and again to our death.  In order to conquer death, we have to transcend the ego, to overcome our limited individuality.  We have to realize our identity with the Universal Consciousness.  We have to merge with that Consciousness."

God and Death
"A great being said, 'There are two things you must remember all the time.  One is God, and the other is your own death.'"

"The Bhagavad Gita says 'Whoever at the time of death  goes forth from the body remembering Me alone, attains My being.'"

"Kabir wrote:  . . . We forget the reason we are here'"

The Light of the Self
In this world, everything that comes also goes.  But the Self does not die.  The inner Self is ageless and unchanging.  Death cannot reach it.  Therefore, live with this awareness:  'The Supreme Truth lies within me; the flame of Supreme Truth is shimmering and shining inside me.'  That light is the Self."

"Through the light of this knowledge, may death die for you.  I wish this for you all.  
Your own Swami Muktananda."

                                      Photography & Yoga     Image #11     Symmetrical Photograph   Bedroom, late afternoon light and shadow No. 1

                                      Photography & Yoga     Image #12     Symmetrical Photograph   Bedroom, late afternoon light and shadow No. 2

Truth Seeing God's Hand in your Destiny
A common way to understand truth is to ask, what is correct and what is incorrect, what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong.

There is only one Truth, however, and that is God.
When you look into your heart, that's what you perceive.

So make this your practice --  to see God in everything and everyone, 
to see God's hand in your destiny.

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Many people ask me to explain surrender.

When you do not understand the secret of surrender, you 
do not feel like surrendering.

When understanding arises, surrender takes place of its own accord.
You do not have to do anything.

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Commentary the two bedroom photographs
The two symmetrical photographs above represent my attempt to come to terms with some feelings I experienced while I was helping Gloria do some theraputic exercises following a fall in which her pelvis was cracked in multiple places.  It was an early June evening; the sun was low in the West but because the atmosphere was extremely clear the light coming into the room was crystalline, strangely surreal.  The shadows projecting onto the walls created odd visual spaces; a mysterious presence filled the room; the light seemed to be coming from inside the walls.

Gloria was in a lot of pain at the time; the exercises we were working on were intended to help build back her muscle strength and balance.  Though I felt a strong impulse to make photographs of the strange light in the room I wondered if it would be appropriate to take my attention away from her and the exercises.  I was very worried at the time about Gloria's physical condition, and I was trying to care for her needs and in general serve her as best I could.  Would it be OK to disrupt the exercises, leave Gloria and go get my camera?  I had made a personal commitment to myself to put my photography on hold until she was feeling better.  I believed I needed to be disciplined about this so that I would be sure to stay focused on Gloria's needs.

And yet when this strange light entered the room and seemed to be transforming everything within it, I felt conflicted; I really wanted to to try to photograph what I was seeing and feeling.  

Though I hadn't thought of it until later, the strange light in the room echoed a powerful experience I had had many years ago when I was in a hospital room in Piqua, Ohio with my mother the day before she died.  I felt the sacred presence of Gurumayi, Baba and Bhagawan Nityananda enter the room in the form of an other-worldly light that inexplicably filled the room.  It seemed as if the light was radiating from within the walls of the room.  This mystical event lasted a few minutes, then faded back to normal.  I had understood then that my mother was soon going to die, and that this visitation was a blessing for her and for me from Gurumayi, Baba, and Bade Baba.  To read a full detailed account of this personal story go to Story #20. 

Obviously, I decided to go ahead and take some pictures, and Gloria was fine with the slight delay--if fact, she playfully took a photo of me.  After our little photo session we resumed doing the exercises.  No big deal.  The real struggle was a conflict going on inside me.  How to be true to my seva--that is to say, how to serve Gloria selflessly, with one pointed focus and commitment--and at the same time honor the spontaneous interior call of the shakti to make a few photographs?  I thought it had to be one thing or the other.  Perhaps both were possible after all.

I had been contemplating what Gloria's fall meant to me personally and I came to understood her physical condition provided me with an opportunity to practice seva, to serve her with love, and to serve her selflessly.  Seva is a powerful yogic practice that requires great discipline and devotion; its a in part about seeing the divinity within others.  Seva also is a practice that works on the ego of the sevite; it can cause some burning to the ego, friction and internal struggle, which is part of a purification process.  It is a challenging practice that must be performed in the sprit of true surrender, compassion, generosity, sacrifice and love for the one in need of care.    

There have been several moments--like the one in the bedroom--in which I felt challenged and failed in my attempt to honor my  commitment to Gloria and my seva, instances when my ego desired to be doing something other then what was happening and necessary in the present moment.  I would feel a very strong pull to get back to work on the Yoga and Photography project whenever the demands of helping Gloria began to be stressful.   This "pull" generated an internal struggle--that included guilt--that often drained my body of its energy to the point of my feeling totally exhausted.  Despite all the good things I had done for Gloria under the circumstances, I have often would judge myself too critically.  

Selfless service can be a purifying and liberating practice when done with an open heart; but I have at times been letting my desires steal my attention and my energy away from my seva, and in those moments I have personally suffered as a consequence.  Still, there has been learning for me in all this: though it is important to fully surrender to the process of seva, on the other hand, I must have patience and compassion for myself, especially when I have created high ideals very difficult to achieve.  I must allow myself to go forward one step at a time, live in the moment, and to allow space for the other practices, including making photographs, to come into my life--when it is necessary--as well.


Intention & Surrender
I have learned long ago that in my photographic practice, my creative process, "intention" must not become too oppressively dominant.  Intention may be acceptable as an initiating force that might help generate work, but truly speaking, the shakti does what It wants to do, and when It wants to do it, despite any of my intentions.  Surrendering to the shakti is the most important thing in any true creative process, in any spiritual practice.  The creative process is a manifestation of the Self . . .  not the ego.


Image #9
At first I thought Image #9 was too luminous, too joyful, too "spiritual" given the fact that I took its source photograph against what I thought was my better judgement.  Guilt had become associated with the image and this image does not appear to be suffering from guilt.  I thought: the image is too simple, too clean, too orderly.  It lacks mystery, and most of all, it veils the "darker" conflicted feelings that were part of my experience when I decided to make the photographs.  I put my need to create pictures ahead of my seva and Gloria's need to work on her healing process.  I felt I had failed at my seva, and I had failed her as well.  Still, the light in this image is undeniably alive and almost dancing in this image: 

. . . live with this awareness:  'The Supreme Truth lies within me; the flame of Supreme Truth is shimmering and shining inside me.'  That light is the Self."  Baba Muktananda

After having contemplated this image, I have come to accept it, and respect it as an affirmation of both my creative process and as a reflection of the light of the Self within me.  The light in the room was indeed the playful and mysterious shakti, the light that reflects that which is "shimmering and shining inside me," and the photograph celebrates that.  The image functions as an equivalent for me.  

The image also has served me as a reminder to trust my impulses and allow them to have their voice.  When the feeling of inner necessity spontaneously enters into my awareness I must go with that desire, the desire of the heart, which is far different than the desire of my ego.  Distinguishing between to is always a challenge, but when I allow myself to open to the image and the feeling I get when contemplating it, I know that it is a manifestation of the heart.  

My seva is no more, nor no less important than my photography.  Both are equally important spiritual practices for me.  There is enough space and time for both practices because both come to me from a feeling of dharma, a desire from the heart to do what's best, what's good and righteous.  Both these practices are a form of meditation in action, and both are means of attaining the ultimate goal of yoga: of consciously realizing and living in the constant awareness of my divine Self.  

Rather than becoming caught in a conflicting battle between the different yogic practices, I must continue to be vigilant and strive to allow all of yogic my practices into my life in the right and necessary balance, and to be mindful of how each of them is important in its own unique way toward moving me forward to the ultimate goal.  My entire live is a creative process.


This experience has reminded me how I had confronted a similar issue earlier in my life, when Gloria and I decided she must go back to school for a post-graduate degree in Social Work.  We agreed that we would need extra income to get our kids through college.  In order for her to be able to get her Social Work degree I would have to commit to staying at home more, rather than going out to photograph; I would have to do more family life chores: food shop, clean the house, spend more time with the kids, cook more often . . .  whatever would help Gloria to attend classes and get some major blocks of time to study in peace and quite.  So I decided to restrict my photography to family-life subject matter.  Visit Family Life.  The choice to photograph at home made it possible for me to serve Gloria and the kids while at the same time being able to conjoin my family life seva with my creative process in photography.  


Image #10 represents an alternate attempt at trying to visually articulate the feeling of the light and my conflicted feelings about photographing rather than focusing on my seva with Gloria.  It is different to the #9 in many ways: the shadows of the lampshade are pointing away from the center out toward the edges of the photograph; the light is "heavier" -- more golden, and the over all tone and mood of the image is "darker;" the composition is more complex--and most tellingly, the pictorial space is dramatically divided into halves--left and right--which is undoubtedly a metaphor for the ambivalence I felt when I was taking the picture at the time.   

I like Image #10, though I am not happy with my conflicted associations with the making of it.  Still, I am grateful for having recognized the internal struggle; the two photographs, and my contemplations of them, have helped me to better understand what I was feeling and experiencing when I took the source images.  As an artist, of course I want to create a good looking picture; but as a yogi, if the picture is hiding or veiling some internal truth, or some personal ego struggle, it is essential that I be willing to uncover the truth that belies the image.  

The creative process is profoundly rich in the ways that it can layer many levels of meaning simultaneously within the symbolic form and content of an image.  Each contemplation of an image is a unique process with its own unique revelations, and that is true even if I perform a series of contemplations on the same one image.  I make pictures to help myself progress on the yogic path, just as I meditate, perform seva, and study the yogic teachings every day.  The goal of the practices is to go beyond the personal, the ego, to the universal,  the inner Self:

"How can a person free himself from the wheel of death and rebirth?  He can do so only by going within and, through meditation, discovering his own inner Self."

"In meditation, we discard our individual ego and merge with the Self.  The ego is a veil which hides the Self and keeps us bound to the body.

Any spiritual practice requires being true and honest with one's self about one's goals.  Each practice requires surrendering to its particular shakti.   My creative process is multidimensional--it is not photography alone; it includes many yogic practices as well.  To become free of the ego requires constant practice, constant contemplation, constant vigilance.  I feel blessed with the great good fortune to have a true Guru who guides me and showers me with grace, with the "poetry" that comes down over me "like mountain water."  In my next project I will attempt to explore the great mysteries of The Guru and the Guru's Grace.  



As I am completing this fourth part of my Yoga and Photography project in mid-July, eight weeks after Gloria's fall, she seems to be healing well.  Perhaps in four more weeks she will be flying around with a cane.  Some normalcy is at last coming back into both our lives;  Gloria is much more independent, doing more things on her own; she's back to computer sending emails to everyone; I am spending more time on my computer working on the Yoga project. Indeed, it feels like we may have moved through the most difficult part of Gloria's healing process now.  She has handled the challenges of her medical situation very well, never losing touch with her yogic practices and the gratitude that comes with her awareness of the grace in her life.  As for me, it has been a great help to be able to make the photographs and write about my experiences for this fourth part of the yoga project: God Exists In My Feeling.  Now, on to the next chapter of the project and the next chapter of our lives.     

      Photography & Yoga      Image #13       Sunset  over the meadow, July, 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.