Reflection of trees in the Big Sur river
Reflection of trees in the Big Sur river


Four nights ago we entered into a special month, the month of Ramadan.  For close to 1/4 of the world’s population, this is a month of worship, a month of struggle and a month of reflection.  Prayer and devotional recitation of the Quran increase throughout the day but especially at night, and sometimes well into the wee hours of darkness while the world sleeps.  For the entire month, Muslims abstain from eating any food or drinking anything as well as abstaining from any marital relations with spouses during daylight hours, – these being the outward acts of fasting.

But fasting has an internal aspect as well, one that requires a person to reflect on one’s own condition.  Reflection and introspection are an important part for anyone who is on a path of self-improvement.  We suffer greatly as a species when we fail to reflect upon our actions as a whole.  If we stop and just realize what it is we are doing day to day I think we would be shocked.  If we are not making head way to higher states of existence then we are falling back.  There is no standing still.  For most people, they never act in any manner that is higher than any other animal that populates the Earth.  We wake, defecate, urinate, ingest food, copulate and fall asleep again.  Now that seems harsh on my part to say such a thing of my fellow humans, but in essence I do just the same, in fact we all – animals included – all fall back to this very basic common thread of existence.  However I don’t think that that is all life has to offer us.  I don’ think that this is all we are supposed to do in this life.  It most definitely is not the state that I want to exist at.

As humans we have a differentiating faculty that puts us above most other creatures of our world and that faculty is the intellect.  We have the ability to think, reason and act based on the knowledge we have garnered from our world as well as the collective knowledge of our predecessors.  We have this collective wisdom that directs our actions in such a way that we tend to continue climbing to higher more refined states of existence.  However the potential of our intellect cannot be fully realized without reflection.  Without questioning our own actions and the intentions behind them we can’t expect our intellect to guide us properly to achieve states of existence greater than that of any other animal.

It is through reflection that we are able to see ourselves, both physically and spiritually.  In the physical sense we can see our own reflection in a mirror or in a still body of water.  We see our form and we marvel at its symmetry, its compexity, its beauty.  When we look out into the world we also see a reflection, for infact everything we see is only a reflection of the real object.  We only see the light that emanates from it or reflects off of it.  No one truly knows what any object is in reality, for we can only perceive the light that come off of it.  The beauty is that the world is a reflection of our own souls – for in the world we come to see what is harbored in ourselves.  If we look out into the world and see beauty, peace, love, gratitude, and care, then we house those qualities within ourselves.  If we look out into the world and see ugliness, conflict, hatred, avarice and disregard, then beware of those qualities harboring refuge within ourselves.  For we can only truly know something by experiencing it.  Thus if we can recognize those repugnant qualities we either are inflicted by them or they were once active and now dormant within.

In the past four days I was witness to the start of a another lunar month by observing the light that reflected off the surface of our Moon, starting the fast of the month of Ramadan and conducting a landscape photography workshop in Big Sur California.  The witnessing of the new moon alone always brings me to a state of introspection as I realize the passage of another month of time and wring my hands at how much of that month was squandered on meaningless pursuits.  The start of Ramadan also brings me to a state of extensive reflection for now I have to question my base desires and deal with them at a cerebral level with the hopes that by conquering those desires I will be able to rise above mere existence.  But this time around, coupled with these reflective times that I am used to, I found myself in the midst of instructing others on how to perceive and capture the light that is reflected off the objects in our world in a photographic workshop. 

In the course of instruction I used the words ‘reflected light’ countless times as we cavaliered between the stoic redwoods, quiet rivers, and majestic coastline attempting to capture a slice of what we saw and reveled in.  The beauty was at time overwhelming and at the same time a soothing refuge for the soul to regenerate in.  Photography, and in specific, nature and landscape photography, forces us to examine the world closely in scientific, artistic and spiritual terms.  In terms of the spiritual, we tend to point our camera at scenes that have moved us in some way.  We then engage that scene through artistic means as we struggle to compose it in a meaningful way as we confine it to a two-dimensional frame.  Once framed to our liking, we then engage it scientifically as we measure the light that reflects off our scene and we determine systematically how much of that light we need to capture to render it in our camera the way we have perceived it.  For most, the endeavor ends here.  However upon further reflection, post capture, most photographs miss what the spirit reveled in.  And then every once in a while, the photographer manages to successfully merge spirit, art and science together and come away with a photograph that not only captured what was seen but can convey that same spirit moving moment to others.

I think as photographers, we are out looking for something to fill a void that is inside.  A void that can’t be satisfied by physical, material things.  As we wander through the canyons, over the ridges, among the trees, slosh through the waves and look out over vast vistas, we recognize that there is something bigger than ourselves, individually and collectively.  Sometimes we are able to communicate that in our photos, sometimes with our words, sometimes with both and sometimes not at all.  In any case, with each experience we find that we have become a little more filled with what we are after, and through reflection, both physical and spiritual, we come closer to understanding how to be more than what we are.  If you have not taken the time to reflect upon yourself or the world lately, there is no beter time than now to do so.  The days are long, and time is abundant, so make use of it and reflect a little.