Essay: Seeing the Grand Canyon

Seeing The Grand Canyon
Regarding the perception of Nature as a projection
Steven D. Foster

I was on a road trip with my wife Gloria in June, 2000 to visit the Grand Canyon.  We assumed there would be plenty of places to stay overnight near the rim because of it being such a popular vacation destination, but we didn’t realize until we got to the park entrance that the North Rim was an hour’s drive from the nearest town through a beautiful meadow-like space, and that reservations for park lodging needed to be made over a year in advance!    

It was late afternoon when we arrived at the visitors lodge, and we immediately went to the reservations office. There was a long line of people checking in; when we finally got to the man at the reservations desk he told us there were no available rooms, that cancellations were unusual, and since they didn’t have a waiting list the only thing we could do was try checking back from time to time to see if any cancellations were called in.  

Just has he finished speaking his phone rang . . . a couple had just canceled their room for the night and we were permitted to fill the new vacancy!

We walked out to the lodge terrace for our first view of the Grand Canyon.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the canyon.  The late afternoon light softly filled the canyon’s vast misty space with a mysterious golden luminous presence.  The subtle colors in the layered canyon walls gently separated from the dark browns and grays and floated, suspended, in space and seemed to me to move toward me.  I felt very close to the canyon’s gentle, graceful, precious gem-like beauty.

The next morning we drove along the North Rim.  At the first look-out stop we got out of the car, looked out over the rim into the vast Canyon space and saw three different thunder storms spread out before us!  Amazingly, each storm had it’s own rainbow!  

At the next stop we were able to walk out onto a long narrow viewing point.  As I looked out over the vastness of space of the Grand Canyon I noticed the wind was blowing into my left ear in a rhythmic way; my awareness gradually began to shift that seemed related to the pulsating sounds of the wind in my ear.  

Eventually my whole being became pervaded with a sense of stillness.  I could hear children playing in the parking lot behind me, and yet I felt enshrouded in a sense of profoundly deep silence.  Time seemed to be slowing down.  My awareness began to shrink or contract; I was getting smaller and smaller and smaller until I was perceiving everything as if from a single concentrated point.  

A wedge of luminous imagery was being projected out from my point of awareness onto something like a large screen.  I was the projector; and I was the screen, and I was the viewer of the screen . . . all at once.  I was seeing brilliant images of the Grand Canyon, and these images appeared to be coming from inside myself onto the screen.   At the same time, my experience was that I was in the center of the space.  ALL space.

And yet . . . I was somehow watching all this in a very detached way with these understandings:  I was the source of the world;  my perception of the world was a projection of that world which was inside me; everything “outside” comes from the world “inside” me.
I felt open and expanded for some time, then gradually this extraordinary state of being began to dissolve away.  Finally I had mostly retuned  “to my senses” and time was running along as usual again, but my "heart" felt open.  It stayed open for several hours after that experience.   I had been shaken to my core, as if my whole being had been opened and turned inside out.  I felt full of awe and wonder.   Every time I tried to talk about my experience with Gloria I just broke down and sobbed with a feeling of great love and gratitude.

Later I realized I brought only one thing to read on the trip:  a series of yogic teachings on multiple themes including the following which relates to my personal story:

~our world, our life, is as we create it, as we see it 
~we imagine the world into reality from one moment to the next 
~the Eternal Present Moment
~in a state of pure openness we dwell in an inner space of absolute stillness and silence 
~the space between thoughts
~we must see ourselves from the inside out in order to remember who we are
~From the Yoga Vasishtha, the sage says: "It is the infinite Consciousness that perceives 
   the universe within itself, through its own power known as maya."


A poet once wrote that contemplation was the necessary first step to writing poetry, and he defined contemplation as the inward seeing of outward things.   

When I am out with my camera I photograph on impulse.  The exposure is like a gesture of honoring what I am seeing and feeling and intuiting at that moment.  I think of the camera image merely raw material, as a picture possibility, which I can run through a series of exploratory, transformative processes in order to discover, “to see” what the picture might want to look like.  In a sense I make myself at the service of the creative process, trying to allow it to do what It needs to do.

I keep working with the image until hopefully I intuitively know I’ve discovered the image I’d been searching for, the inner image that needed to be given outward visual form.  The photograph just looks and feels right in very undefinable terms.  

Edward Weston has written about “the flame of recognition.”  For me the experience of making or seeing a meaningful photograph is like recognizing an image, remembering something I had lost but that had always been inside myself.  The photograph seems to represent a “re-union”, a conjoining of matching interior and outward images.  This relates to CG Jung's idea of Synchronicity, Alfred Stieglitz's idea of equivalence, the medieval theory of correspondence, what I have termed the Symbolic Photograph. 

Related topics:

The Symbolic Photograph
The Sacred Art Photography Projects
Sacred Art  &  Sacred Knowledge

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.