I know that nothing has ever been real Without my beholding it. All becoming has needed me. My looking ripens things and they come toward me, to meet and be met. - Rainer Maria Rilke
A child of illusion.
The flickering lamp of images have fascinated me all my life. I sought to capture them as a child, the way one might capture a firefly in a glass jar to be marvelled at. When I was twelve I wrote a letter to the Eastman Kodak Company requesting a free pamphlet entitled, “How to Make and Use a Pinhole Camera.” Upon its arrival in the mailbox, I feverishly set to work constructing a variety of small handmade cameras, with which I began photographing my world: pets, childhood friends, the wilds of the wooded land behind my house.
I went on to study photography as an art student, and the world before my lens expanded as I studied, traveled, and worked my way around the globe. My practice of meditation has given me further insight into the curious nature of images. A traditional Tibetan lojung, or mind training, slogan reads, “In postmeditation, be a child of illusion.” The idea is to remember as we move through the world, that our very experience of the world exists as light particles dancing upon minute nerve endings at the back of the retina. By the time this raw signal has been decoded and filtered through layers of interpretation and concept in the mind, the fleeting light of the present moment has already receded into the past. The camera lens delivers the world to us in splinters of time pared down to 1/4000 of a second. Somewhere in the depths of that fraction of a second lies the frontier between one moment in time and the next; the frontier between past, present, and future. Where exactly is that line? Our search to find it reveals the absurdity of this conception of time and space that we layer upon our experience of the world.
Similarly, there is a marker high atop Mount Roraima in the jungles of South America, where the borders of Venezuela, Brazil, and Guayana come to meet. Experiencing such a place, where one can literally sprawl one’s body across three countries, the absurdity of our conceptual ordering of the physical world can be felt viscerally. Naturally, international borders, nations, geopolitics, and economies exist on one level and play a functional role in our world, but straddling the frontier on Mount Roraima, one comes face-to-face with the ultimate reality that these are all on another level illusory. In order to see our world whole, we need to look beyond them.
Rilke speaks of the way our “looking ripens things,” of how they “come toward” us, “to meet and be met.” And so we can meet the world as a child of illusion; we can let the images of the world wash over us, seeing the infinite complexity of what is unfolding before us and within us from moment to moment. We can see the world with fresh eyes. We can meet the new world being born in each moment, and we can be met by it.