Have you ever found yourself walking down the street, lost in thought when suddenly you notice a flash of perception, such as seeing a reflection in a plate glass window…and you pause?
One moment you are thinking of what you’ll prepare for dinner that evening, and the next, without shifting your gaze, you are looking at the sky, or trees, or buildings or people reflected off the shiny glass.
For a moment, your thinking mind stops thinking and you enjoy an instant flash of perception. Within seconds, you are back in your head again, where conceptualizing thoughts stir round and round in the great washing machine of the mind.
These small gaps in thinking occur all the time, briefly, where you are shot out of conceptual thought and into a pleasant, vivid perceptual experience.
Many years ago, when we were house hunting in the Eagle River valley, where we live now, I experienced a very vivid flash of perception that stayed buried in my mind. We were looking at a house deep in the valley and all I remember about the visit is the flash of perception I experienced there.
I was standing outside looking around the yard when my attention was drawn to the expansive “great room” window facing east. The glass reflected the alpenglow of white capped mountains and the Eagle Glacier at the valley’s terminus. For just a few moments, I was stunned by the beauty and I knew clearly, all at once, that this was where I wanted to live. The moment was captured. This was the so called “money shot.” Gone was the deliberation of floor plans, well logs, property lines and in its place a sudden rich flash of perception connected the dots. Even though we didn’t buy that particular house, I knew instantly (but not consciously) I wanted to live in this valley, in a house that reflected trees and mountains and sky.
In The Practice of Contemplative Photography, Andy Karr and Michael Wood explain further: Flashes of perception occur only when there is a gap in the thinking process. They happen in natural breaks in the flow of conceptuality where you stop thinking and just observe.
When a strong perception provokes a break in thinking, conceptual mind stops in its tracks. Staying with the flash of perception has a quality of motionlessness; you are not distracted, jumping at every little thing that happens and getting caught up in it. You don’t project out. You just allow yourself to be in the stillness of the moment, appreciating whatever you see. These breaks take place all the time, but generally slip by unnoticed. When we have the intention to recognize them, these breaks become much easier to spot.
The mind is free from preoccupation, and this is when the eyes clearly see.
The thinking comes a few minutes later, though. Consider this photo. I am standing on the deck, shooting back into the house. An interesting array of objects come into view; you can see the stained glass window and a lamp in the house yet you are also aware of the chairs and table out on the deck…and further out, the trees and mountains. Items appear to be floating in space and are not connected to each other in a meaningful way. Interesting. There were no expectations about whether I was getting a good or a bad shot; this juxtaposition of objects is simply what I saw, what was unexpectedly perceived.
Here I am shooting into the bedroom, my eye goes in one window and out another revealing brown trees and a cold gray sky. Mountains tower over framed photographs on the wall above our bed. The landscape here has not yet revealed all things green. The crocus and daffodils are still stalled under an icy ground. Snow still shawls our mountains.
But I wait patiently, with camera in hand. I will watch for new and rich experiences in real time, in the flash perceptions I’m aware enough to notice without labeling, categorizing and over thinking.
Just get the shot with a refreshed mind and the images will speak for themselves.