1/27/17

Grace--Photograph--Symbol-Universe


Grace
  Photograph 
Symbol
Universe




Citi-shakti, Consciousness, 
in her freedom, brings 
about the attainment  
of the universe.

Sutra 1 of the
Pratyabhijna-hrdayam


Introduction
In recent projects I have used the word "grace" frequently in relation to photographs which function for me as Symbols.  Though each of us may have some sense of what grace is, it is truly one of the greatest, most numinous mysteries.  I am dedicating this project to a more pointed definition and discussion about grace, and how it relates to my creative process in photography and my practice of Siddha Yoga.  Before I embark upon that discussion, first, the photographs and a brief introduction to them.

"Straight" Black & White Photographs

I am presenting only "straight photographsin this project, and with but a few exceptions, all were made in January, 2017.  All--save two--of the photographs are black & white renderings of the original color image files.  (I make color digital photographs with my camera, however I do have the option to change any image into a "grayscale" or black & white rendering.)  The two color images included in this project are nearly grayscale photographs; what colors can be distinguished in them are very subdued.

I make the distinction of "straight" photographs primarily because of my sustained interest in making the four-fold Symmetrical Photographs, which I began making in 2011 for my project 
"An Imaginary Book."  The symmetrical images have been central to my Sacred Art Photography Projects.


Truly speaking, "straight" photographs (like the appearances of the world) are not what they appear to be.  I have created a page that tries to explain this: visit Straight Photographs.  Also, for more information about the symmetrical photographs and how they are constructed, click here



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Three Sets of Photographs
I have always loved the way snow transforms the world.  Gurumayi Chivilasananda, my meditation Master, has spoken often about the "rain of grace."  She says grace is pouring over us all the time.  I like to think of snow, each crystal, as a ray of the Light of Consciousness which blesses the earth and all that inhabits it.  Grace transforms the way we see ourselves and the world.  In this regard then, snow--in this project--represents for me a form of grace.  The first two of the three sets of photographs presented below give visual form to the magic and transforming power of snow.  The third set, though quite different in tone and subject matter, were inspired by the snow photographs.  In fact, the first image in the third set is a snow image.  The three sets of photographs, for me, function together as a unified visual whole.

In the first set of photographs dark shapes or objects are suspended and configured in the snow's white space.  The images remind me of a calligraphic visual language or sign-system of unknown origin.  The calligraphy is of course not decipherable, at least not in any systemic understandable way; nonetheless their graphic configurations are clearly trying to signal us, trying to make contact with us; they have something they want to "say."  Thus, we must quiet ourselves, pay close attention, and listen.  If indeed the images are functioning as symbols, they can provide us with News of the Universe

The second set of snow photographs are more "abstract" and "minimal" tonally--they are very light overall with faintly darker grey shapes that move about within the white space . . . like brief gusts of wind, or birds dancing together in the sky.  These images are also speaking an unknown language.  It may be possible to at least begin to understand what they are saying if we open to their grace by becoming silent and carrying the images deep into our hearts.  In the silence of the heart all things can speak to us and each other without words.  We must simply become silent and listen.  The yogic saints tell us the entire universe exists within our heart.

The Third set of photographs is, one could say, a graphic inversion of the first.  The images are overall dark in tonality, with glints and flashes of highlights which provide a visual structure to the images.  With the exception of the first image--a mound of white snow on a dark concrete driveway--all the photographs in the third set were made inside my house.  The subject matter appears to have more prominence, perhaps more importance in this set of images--indeed they may at first seem to hint at a kind of meaning that pertains directly to the subject matter photographed.  I would argue, however, that it is the photograph as symbol--as opposed to what was photographed--that must be considered the real "subject matter". . . and this is probably the case for each of the photographs in the project.

*

Why are these pictures rendered in black & white, rather than color?  All I can say is they "looked" or "worked" better that way after I tried many different approaches to fine-tuning the images.  As black & white renderings the images feel much more introverted, and thus more attractive to me; when I contemplate them they seem to insist that I take them deep inside myself.  When I was preparing the photographs for this project, the original colors actually seemed a distraction to what the picture wanted or needed to be about . . . which brings up the issue once again of the symbol.

My intention for the photographs in this project--indeed, my intention for most every photograph I have ever made in the last 45 years--is that they function for me as symbols.  I cannot make it happen, but I have learned to facilitate my creative process such that grace is given the opportunity to enter the picture, so to speak.  It is grace which transforms an image into a symbol.  I will write about this later, below.  It's certainly easier to get caught up in the kinds of meanings and ideas associated with subject matter and process, but that is not the kind of content that is of most importance to me.

This is enough introduction for now.  Following the photographs I will continue my written exploration about grace and the photograph-as-symbol.   ~   Welcome to the project.




________________________________________________________________


The Photographs
First Set 




Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 1, Image #1







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 1, Image #2







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 1, Image #3






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 1, Image #4






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 1, Image #5






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 1, Image #6







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 1, Image #7







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 1, Image #8







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 1, Image #9




________________________________________________________________


The Photographs
Second Set



Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 2, Image #10






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 2, Image #11






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 2, Image #12






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 2, Image #13







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 2, Image #14







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 2, Image #15







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 2, Image #16






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 2, Image #17




________________________________________________________________


The Photographs
Third Set






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 3, Image #18







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 3, Image #19






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 3, Image #20






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 3, Image #21






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 3, Image #22






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 3, Image #23







Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 3, Image #24






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 3, Image #25






Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe  Set 3, Image #26




________________________________________



Grace 
Photograph 
Symbol
Universe


The Guru pervades everything--every sentient and insentient thing.
Once I went with my Guru on a walk along the bank of a river. 
  Near the road was a huge rock.  He said, "Do you see 
this rock?  See the miracle?  See the doings of the
 universal Consciousness? Here it has become
a rock, here it has become a human being,
and here it has become a tree.  But
although it has become all this it  
does not lack Consciousness
in its fullness."

Swami Muktananda
Bhagawan Nityanada of Ganeshpuri



The Guru's grace is Citi-shakti, the divine power
of creation, the power from which the entire
cosmos arises.  . . .   This Shakti, this 
Citi is most amazing.  She has 
eyes everywhere . . .  She 
sees all the different 
worlds in a
moment.

Swami Muktananda
Satsang with Baba  III




Grace does not come either because we want it or because 
we do not want it . . .  grace is always there whether
we want it or not.  When we make a connection
with that grace, we experience revelation. 
  Everything we do, all the practices
of Siddha Yoga, are to become
aligned with God's energy,
God's grace.

Gurumayi Chivilasananda
Darshan Magazine #27




The Grace of a True Master
Over the past forty-five years--since 1972, when I completed my MFA Written Thesis--my sole preoccupation with photography has been the making of images which function for me as a Symbol.   We have been conditioned to assume that photographs are mere recordings, mechanical renderings of the apparent world; however, for me, the symbolic photograph is an abstraction, a transcendent transformational image, the Imaginal grace-filled embodiment of Unitary Reality.

This feeling for the Oneness of Being is something I have consciously longed for since I first met Gurumayi Chidvilasananda in 1987, when I experienced her grace, and began practicing Siddha Yoga.  Since then my photography has become heavily influenced by her teachings and the practices of Siddha Yoga.  Most importantly, though, it has been Gurumayi's grace that has made everything in my life come more alive for me.  It took me some time to fully understand this, but it now is quite clear to me that her grace is at the very center, the very heart of my creative process in photography, and the creative process of my life as a whole.

Of course meditation is one of the primary practices of Siddha Yoga; and another is the contemplation of certain traditional yogic scriptures.  But it is the grace of the Guru, the grace of one's Meditation Master that makes any of the yogic practices radiant with living meaning, palpable with divine presence and transformative creative energy.  

Based on my own personal experience I would have to join thousands of others who have said that Gurumayi is a sadguru, a true meditation Master--one who lives in the constant, fully conscious union with God.  She is radiant with sacred energy known in Siddha Yoga as Citi-shakti.  Gurumayi can willfully transmit her shakti, her grace into those who are prepared to receive it.  Some people, however, experience her grace spontaneously, simply by being near her or by seeing a photograph of her.  Some people may even experience the grace that pervades all the things of the world.   It is a matter of timing and a seeker's preparedness to receive grace.  

Most importantly, the experience of shakti--which is known as shaktipat--can be a life-transforming creative process;  it sets in motion a yogic purification process which could continue indefinitely, perhaps for an entire lifetime.  It is the seeker's duty to make an effort to connect with the Guru's grace, and maintain that connection so that he or she can proceed in their process with the guru's protection and guidance.  To sustain a connection with the grace of the Guru, however, the seeker must attract or draw the grace to them, and this is accomplished by a heartfelt commitment to the yogic practices and its ultimate goal.  (More about this later.)

    
The Five Acts    
One of the most important (and interesting) yogic scriptures for me--one that I've been studying over and over again, and never tire of--has been the Pratyabhijna-hrdayam, a traditional 11th century text of Kashmir Savisim.  It consists of 20 very brief and concentrated teachings, or sutras which require expansive commentary by one who truly knows the historical, cultural--and most importantly-the spiritual context in which the sutras were originated.  Fortunately a wonderful modern-day translation and commentary on this remarkable ancient text has been published by a Siddha Yoga swami.  Swami Shantananda's commentaries on the sutras come from deep within his heart; he explains some of the most complex principles with examples from his own personal experience; and most importantly, his work has been blessed and guided by the grace of his teachers, the great Siddha Yoga Meditation Masters Swami Muktananda and Gurumayi Chidvilasanada.  Indeed, Swami Shantananda's writing is quite noticeably permeated with the shakti of his teachers as well as his own.  I highly recommend The Splendor of Recognition to you, even if you are not familiar with other yogic texts, for Swami Shantananda's writing makes the ancient yogic teachings come alive in a remarkably accessible way.

Here are a few examples of the chapter headings in his book:

          The Creative Power of the Universe
          Perception and the Human Condition
          The Five Acts of the Lord
          Within Us, the Entire Universe.  

"The Five Acts of the Lord" is discussed in the context of sutra #10, and it is in this sutra where grace is discussed at length and in detail by Swami Shantananda.  Grace is the Creative Power of the Universe, and it is one of the Lord's Five Acts: 
          
          Creation
          Maintenance
          Dissolution
          Concealment  
          The bestowal of grace  

Based in my own experience, I know that when we have fully received the grace which the Guru is continually bestowing upon us, our perceptions of the world change; grace gives us a glimpse of the entire universe that exists within us, the divivne Unitary Reality which is hidden behind the illusions of the dual world.  Swamiji writes:  "With these five acts--creation, maintenance, dissolution, concealment, and the bestowal of grace--the Lord carries out everything that happens in the universe."

Swamiji then writes: "Concealment is the reason that grace exists: Grace is the solution to concealment.  By means of grace, the Lord ends the concealment he has imposed on himself.  He comes to the recognition that his own Consciousness penetrates the cycles of the universe.  In other words, grace resolves--or dissolves--the illusion of duality inherent in the individual's universe."

It is God who is looking for God 
and it is God who finds God.  
It is God who questions 
and it is God who  
answers. 

Swami Muktananda  

The Symbol
Symbolic photographs are images made with grace; they are images overflowing with grace, and radiant with divine Consciousness, Citi-shaktithe Creative Power of the Universe.  Symbols are the Imaginal embodiment of the divine Unitary Reality, the Origin of the created dual world.  The grace of the symbol can unveil--within the heart of a committed contemplator--the illusion of duality, sometimes referred to as maya.

We live in a world that is full of mystery and beauty; but there is nothing more mysterious, ineffable and yet palpable beyond the ordinary senses, than grace.  It is grace which transforms a mere human being into the Conscious divine-human-embodied form of the Guru.  It is grace which transforms a mere photograph into a living symbol.  And it is the grace of the symbolic photograph which allows one to see and experience the miracle, the "doings of Consciousness"--the Creative Power of the Universe in, for example, a rock, a snow drift, a paper bag .  .  .


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This project is part of an ongoing series of projects I have collected under the title The Sacred Art Photography Projects.  The series as a whole was initiated by the questions: What is Sacred Art?  and, Is it possible to make "sacred art" today, in a contemporary art practice such my own?  Understanding the symbol and its relationship to grace has provided me with a profoundly meaningful answer to my questions.


If you are in tune with the Guru, if you have an inner link 
with the Guru, you do not need any outer words from
him.  The Guru is not a particular body.  He is the
inner Self of all. One becomes a Guru only upon 
becoming the inner Self of All.  Nityananda
did not speak many words to me, but 
he spoke much within me and he 
had not ceased speaking.

Swami Muktananda
Bhagawan Nityanada of Ganeshpuri


Staying Connected With Grace                                              
When I first met Gurumayi, in August, 1987 I experienced her grace, her shakti in a deeply emotional and visceral, classical form of shaktipat experience.  (see my project Photography and Yoga.)  Since then I have made a concerted effort to stay connected to her grace.  Of course the primary way for me to align with the grace of the guru is to perform the Siddha Yoga Practices.  However, I eventually came to the realization that my creative process in photography was a particularly effective way to do that--after all, grace is the Creative Power of the Universe.  Now, I whole-heartedly embrace photography as one of my yogic practices.  When I am photographing, or working with my images in Photoshop on the computer, I shift into a mode of being very similar to a meditative state: my mind becomes stilled and my heart opens, ready to receive inspiration, intuitive ideas, the creative energy, the "news" of the universe.

There are moments when I have camera in hand that grace seems to transform my entire world into a symbolic image, a sacred image.  In a Imaginal way, then, the photograph has already been made; I simply have to frame the image and make the exposure.   

However, I must pause here to make certain that I am being clear about who or what, exactly, is making the symbolic photograph.  Symbols emerge spontaneously from the Creative Process.  It is my duty to make the necessary effort to serve or facilitate this magical unfolding of the sacred into a photographic image.  My highest intentions as an artist is to get out of the way and allow the Creator to do His-Her-Its necessary work, that is to say, the creation of symbolic images.  All good works must necessarily be made with the blessings of the Guru, and this requires of any artist aligning with the grace that is ever present.

It is said that "self-effort and grace are the two wings of a bird."  Indeed, my effort consists of going out into the world with my camera, and opening to grace in a receptive attitude, with a willingness to allow grace to function through me.  I become content with wanting to see what my Creative Process gives me.  And in proceeding this way I become connected, aligned with the grace, the divinity, that dwells within my own heart and which pervades the entire universe. 


Life consists of what we do in God's universe with God's time.
It is great that God lives in our hearts, but we should live 
as if we are living in the heart of God.

Gurumayi Chivilasananda
Darshan Magazine #27


I have come to recognize that the true nature of Sacred Art is to understand the role grace plays in its creation--in any medium, in any form, in any spiritual tradition.   It is grace which dissolves illusion, which reveals the Creator who has concealed itself within the created world.   And it is the grace embodied within the symbol which opens the eye of the heart within me, not only as a photographer, but also as the contemplator of the symbolic image.  When we are living consciously in grace we can see, as Gurumayi has taught, that we are not just living in a universe, we are living in the heart of God.   



News of the Universe  
Being in alignment with grace is something like having a "silent conversation" with the universe.  If after making a photograph a living symbol emerges from within my creative process, this "conversation" can continue and be taken even deeper through the process of contemplating the symbol.  The contemplation symbols is an act in which one embraces and absorbs a symbol's sacred energy.   Its a very special, intimate interaction with the image, which offers a very special kind of knowledge.  Gurumayi calls it "knowledge of the Heart" or "knowledge of the inner Self of all."  The poet Robert Bly has called it News of the Universe.  When I am photographing in alignment with grace I often have the sense that a thing or place or space is trying to "speak" to me.  It has something that it wants or needs to tell me.  It is perhaps, what Rilke experienced when he heard a voice in the wind at Dunio Castle, a voice that gave him the first words of his first Dunio Elegy.  (see my project: Snow Angels-Rilke's Angel of the Elegies)   

Photographs made in alignment with grace often seem easily made, as if they have been offered up to me as gifts of the process, gifts of grace.  It's as if I am simply recording the world that has already been transformed into a symbol, a world glowing with grace.  It's as if "every thing has eyes and everything is looking at me."  In these special moments of seeing, there is a revelation of the Creative Power of the Universe, a revelation that is unfolding within me as it is simultaneously unveiling itself within the things of the world.  The symbolic photograph holds this alignment of the inner and outer revelation of grace in equipoise, in the Unitary pictorial form of The Symbolic Photograph.   Such images seem at the time of exposure in the camera as if the universe had reached out to me with its ineffable arms and embraced me wholeheartedly.  In this moment of shared recognition, the "news of the universe" becomes perfectly clear and even palpable to me as a gentle inner pulsation, a humming-living vibration within the center of my being.     

Regarding the Photographs in this Project     
The photographs in this project came to me as I have just described.  The world had transformed itself right before my very eyes into a living symbol; I simply "recorded" the unveiling with my camera.  The resulting photographs, though they could be characterized as "straight" photographs, are more than ordinary mechanical renderings of the outer world.  They are the extraordinary gifts of grace, symbolic photographs, images alive with the creative power of the universe; images which speak a special, silent language of the heart, "news of the universe," sacred knowledge of the heart of God.   


The Cycle of Grace
Gurumayi, and her teacher, Swami Muktananda have taught that it is not only the disciple who needs to be graced by the Guru.  They say the Guru needs to be graced by the disciple.  Simply by doing the yogic practices with love, devotion, with a longing for union, the devotee graces the Guru.  And this accomplishes a great and mysterious thing; the grace offered by the seeker to God attracts grace.  Grace begets grace.    

When I make a photograph in alignment with grace it is in affect a devotional act--an act of prayer, of praising, of honoring and recognizing the Creator who dwells in the things of the world and within my own inner Self.  In this regard, then, there is a creative cycle of exchange, a reciprocity, in which grace moves back and forth between God and the seeker of God, between God who blesses the devotee, and the devotee who blesses God.  Longing for grace . . . attracts grace; meditating, silencing the mind, photographing with the intention of making symbols . . .  draws grace.  The yogic sages tell us that at some magical, miraculous turning point, we will finally become graced with the realization: I am alone; there is no "other:"  

          Because of your existence,
          Creation exists.
          If you do not exist,
          nothing exists.
          Muktananada, know your Self.

          What are you looking for

          east and west,
          north and south,
          above and below?
          Muktananda, the whole universe
          you alone are, you alone are,
          you alone are.

There is only Grace, there is only the light of Consciousness, the One Supreme Self.  Finally, as Swami Shantananda writes in his book The Splendor of Recognition, there is the recognition:  "I Am Shiva.  I am the one who performs the Five Acts of God."  And this is the potential revelatory power of the true, living symbol, the Imaginal embodiment of the Creative Power of the Universe:  When we contemplate symbolic images, it is God looking for God; it is God looking at God; and it is God who finds God.       


It is God who is looking for God 
and it is God who finds God.  
It is God who questions 
and it is God who  
answers. 

Swami Muktananda


The Grace of Contemplation
Swami Shantananda tells us the dual world--with all its dramas, emotions and ideas--is "nothing but a flash on the mirror of the mind."  In other words, it is all God's lila, God's play, the play of Consciousness--Citi-shakti.  Contemplation, one of the most important of the yogic practices, can help us "pierce the shadow of the appearances," and go deeper, below the surface of illusion, to the heart of the divine inner Self.  In this regard, I think of my creative process in photography as a form of contemplation, a way of looking deeper into the true nature of things, beyond duality.  

Once  the symbolic image emerges from within the creative process, it can be contemplated.  Indeed it must be contemplated as a way of completing the creative process.  Contemplation is an interiorization process, a profoundly intimate engagement with the grace-filled image within the silence of one's own heart.  It has been characterized as a "diving into a deep pool of nectar."     

When I contemplate my photographs I enter into a mode of being very similar to that which I experience when I am photographing.  I silence the mind and open my inner self--my heart--to the grace within the symbol.  When the heart is open I can receive and absorb the symbol's divine, creative energy which is radiating out from the image.  Equally importantly, if I can allow the grace of the symbol to absorb me, then "I" can dissolve into its creative energy . . . then there is nothing but grace.  As Gurumayi has said,  All of life is grace.      

Living in grace consciously, continuously--unbrokenly--is the goal of yoga.  Making symbols and contemplating symbols are but steps along the way, until finally it is grace upon grace, there is nothing but grace--the Consciousness of God, the Creative Power of the Universe.      

Contemplation, turning within is not just closing the eyes,
it is probing deeper and deeper into the things we do, 
and seeing everything as Consciousness.  As you
probe more and more, you become freer and
freer.  Grace is so powerful.  Once you
give yourself to contemplation, grace
will do everything for you.

Gurumayi Chivilasananda
Darshan Magazine #27




This project was published and announced on
the Welcome Page of my website on
January 27, 2017




Related Projects

This is the first in a triadic project which also contains an Epilogue.
Listed below is the complete set of the four related projects:
Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe
Creation-Dissolution of a World
The Pulsating Uncreated Heart : Origin & Center of Creation
Epilogue  
The Siva Sutra Rock Photographs

          *          *          *
The Complete List of Sacred Art Photography Projects


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

















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