A Zen Thing

Minnehaha -- Zen?My sister-in-law left a comment on one of my photos last week. She said, “I’m not sure exactly what Zen is, but that word comes to mind when I look at this amazing photo.”  It’s funny because zen is exactly the way I would describe my state of mind when I’m out shooting.

The day I shot the photo in question, I had set out with my friend Roman to shoot some waterfalls. The days leading up to our trip, and even the day of,  we had a significant amount of rain. it wasn’t enough to break the drought, but enough to significantly increase the volume of water running down these rocks.

On the drive up, I had begun to feel quite ill.  My head was pounding to the point that I was nauseated. So, when we finally got to the trail, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make the very short hike to the falls. I didn’t feel well and it was still raining. Still, I decided that getting out and shooting would be better than sitting in the truck being  sick. I hadn’t driven two hours just to puke in the woods.

Minnehaha AbstractQuite gingerly I walked up the path to the base of the falls, setup my camera and tripod, and began shooting away. An interesting thing happened as I stood there with the rain dripping on me, and the water fall roaring in front of me: I forgot about my headache. It was still there, and anytime I had to stop to think and make a conscious choice about something, I could still feel it. However, when I was shooting, my actions were almost completely automatic. For the most part, I didn’t have to think about what I was doing. Composition, camera settings, everything just sort of happened intuitively. I don’t know how long I stayed there taking pictures, but I know Roman got bored long before I was finished.

I shot some of my favorite photos that day.

Then, about a month later, I drove down to Callaway Gardens to shoot some azaleas.  Some of the more popular spots were quite crowded with photographers, but there was one shot that I had thought about doing and wanted to make sure I got, so I was willing to wait my turn. Again I setup my camera and tripod and was composing my shot, waiting for the photographer in front of me to finish up.

Where the snake livedI was just standing there in the garden, when something caught my attention. In my memory, I just sort of sensed something was there.  I looked down, and just on the edge of the creek, about 20 feet from me, was a snake with his head poking out of the water. I walked towards it for a better look and realized I was looking at a copperhead. He didn’t seem to notice me, though, and continued to swim through the water, just off the bank.

The photographer who was in front of me was lying on the ground with his feet nearly in the water. I let him know that there’s a poisonous snake headed in his direction. I’m not sure whether he believed me or not, but he stood and asked me where. I pointed it out, and he quickly packed up his stuff and left the area. The snake, too, went on his way.

In relating this story to my wife, she said I have a very keen survival instinct. Athletes call this being In the Zone. Psychologists call it mindfulness. I’m pretty sure it’s what Buddhists would call Zen. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but these seemingly mystical, higher consciousness moments are just one of the many reasons I love photography.

4 thoughts on “A Zen Thing

  1. Victoria

    That is a really cool story and what a wonderful way to share those moments with others through your photographs.

  2. marcus Post author

    Thanks for the link, though wikipedia barely scratches the surface of the concept. For two years I ran a research project studying how mindfulness helps mediate the effects of post traumatic stress disorder. I’m quite familiar with how it’s been defined, but the attempts to define it fall short. Thus, I’m still not sure exactly what it is.

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