Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.

-- Meister Eckhart

Every photograph is still; hence, the name of the medium: still photography. But not every photograph conveys stillness, which is evoked from a place deep within oneself. So how does a photographer convey stillness in a still medium? “When you approach something to photograph it,” Minor White advised, “first be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence. Then don't leave until you have captured its essence.” Being still with yourself is the key; indeed, if you are not, you will never find stillness in your subject. As to how the object of your attention affirms your presence, I cannot say. That is a bit of a mystery. How does the Zen archer hit his target without aiming?

Not every subject lends itself to stillness, of course. When I am photographing my young granddaughter, I am too busy trying to keep up with her to worry about finding stillness in myself. So what sorts of subjects best convey stillness? I did an image search recently using Google and discovered that a great many of the pictures linked to the word “stillness” were of water. I can’t say I am surprised. Water, when it is still, becomes a mirror to the world, just like the mind.

Once, when my boys were still small, we walked to a nearby pond with a wooden footbridge at one end that crossed over a dam to the other side.  I lay on a high grassy slope overlooking the pond while the boys played by the water's edge.  It was a fine spring day, with no breeze blowing and not a thought stirring in my mind. Looking out, I saw the sky mirrored in the still water below.  My field of vision was almost entirely taken up by luminous blue sky and high puffy clouds reflected in the glassy surface of the water.  For a brief time I could sustain the illusion of being suspended between the sky above and the sky below. 

The mind is a mirror of the world, I thought, just as one of the boys lobbed a rock into the water, shattering clouds and sky and sending ripples to the far shores of the pond. 

It was as if my thought had instantly congealed into stone.  And there below, spreading out in silent circles on the surface of the water, was the reason it is so hard to see the world as it truly is.  Every thought is another stone cast into the still pool of the mind.  The world that ebbs and swirls around us isn't the world at all but an image in a funhouse mirror.  How do we see straight when our perceptions bend to every thought?  Our thoughts are not, as we might suppose, a mere gloss on reality.  We don't just think about what we see; we see what we think.

There is a story in the New Testament in which Jesus is crossing a sea in a boat with his disciples. A great storm blows up, threatening to swamp the boat. Alarmed, the disciples awaken their master, who has been asleep in the stern. According to the gospel account, Jesus “rebukes” the wind and commands the sea to be still. Instantly the wind ceases, and the water grows calm. The disciples are understandably in awe. “Who then is this,” they wonder, “that even wind and sea obey him?” In this circumstance, it is not the mind that is a mirror of the world, but the world that is the mirror of a mind -- or, more likely, world and mind arise from the same place in the depths of being.

Mark 4:36-41

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