When There is Joy

Photography is not merely the process of capturing an image.  It’s not just looking at the world, looking at the things that are beautiful.  It’s not finding cruelty or kindness, nor is it just looking for excitement, nor is it documenting the commonplace and the mundane.  Photography is looking at the world and finding in it something that stirs your soul.  It is not always bright and cheerful.  It is not always gloomy and dark.  It is, if you are honest with yourself, a reflection of who you are at the moment.

And because who you are constantly changes, the images captured is never the same.  One can hope, however, that as in life, we can always find hope, even joy in all that we see.  In the depths of despair there is always the promise of a better tomorrow.  In the heights of happiness there is always a realization that moments like this are treasured, but not what we ultimately strive for.

Finding meaning in life, where you know yourself and understand that imperfection is not a curse but a blessing, when you see a world that is not closed but open to possibilities.  When you look back not to long for what is past, but to learn that failure is not permanent but is always necessary.  To know that success is not a singular achievement but a communal experience.  To know that at the center of it all, is not the selfish tyranny of pride and conceit, but that in spite of one’s frailties, generosity and love prevails.  That in every moment, great and small, the inner light illuminates the soul and that in all that we are, in all that we do, joy gives meaning to our existence.

And so it was yesterday afternoon, on a surprisingly cool day in July, I walked the grounds of Meadowlark Gardens.  Paths walked so many times before.  And yet, each step is always different, and so are the pictures.

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The Inner Light

My favorite episode of Star Trek is “The Inner Light.”  Star Trek has always been a show about what it means to be human.  Yes, it has a lot of flashing lights, special effects, green aliens, esoteric worlds, starship battles and journeys to countless planets and stars.  And yet for all the glitter, the show, at its best, is a grand exposition of the human condition, the human experience.  In “The Inner Light”, Captain Picard is thrust upon a life totally different from his own.  Instead of commanding a starship, he was a man with a wife he didn’t know, on a planet slowly dying.  He didn’t want to be there, but there was this woman he didn’t know who nevertheless tended to him, nurtured him, loved him.  Slowly, the fantasy became a reality and in a scant twenty minutes, Picard experiences a life he had never known.  A love he had never known.  A wife who adored him, children who loved him, needed him and in the end, taught him that being a parent elicits emotions ranging from worry, consternation, disappointment, pride.  All the by product of the most basic human emotion of all.  The ability to feel and to give love.

It is a masterful story and when I need to find meaning in my own life, I watch this show again and remember that all that glitters is not gold.  Kamin was not rich by any means.  His family was but one of many families in a village being ravaged by drought.  Yet the life he was living seemed so much more complete, so much more fulfilled than the life he lived as the dashing captain of a Federation flagship.  And when the illusion ended, when he realized that what he had thought was his life was actually a mental recreation, he did something extraordinary.  He took a flute, sat by a window, gazed at the stars, and he began to play.

We can go through life and be dazzled by the success that we are taught to go after.  We can go through life looking for the next star, hardly stopping to even look at the world that we are in.  We can go through life and experience ecstasy, the heights of fame, the allure of power, the spoils of wealth and yet feel empty, broken.  When we look outside ourselves for validation, we allow others to judge us from their point of view; to tell us that in order to be happy or successful, we must follow someone else’s dream, live the life that someone else envisions.  Is it such a surprise that a life that always looks outward misses the simple joys that life can bring.  A fluttering butterfly.  A cool breeze on a warm day.  A sprinkle of rain blurring one’s view of the world, for an instant.  So many small moments that can bring meaning to a life.  Do we spend the time looking at the world in its own terms, feeling the infinitely small breezes of fluttering wings, feeling the hair on our forehead dance, just a little.  Do we look inward and in our heart find that inner light, the one true beacon that can bring meaning to one’s existence?

It is like the nondescript houseplant pictured above.  Green leaves on a pot.  These leaves have a secret.  They are the leaves that will bring sustenance to this plant, that will eventually provide the nourishment for flowers to bloom.  These are the leaves of a sampaguita plant.  Jasmine.  Beautiful and sweet.  A flower, that to many, symbolizes purity and humility.  It is, in many ways, ethereal.

So as the year ends, I think of this special Star Trek episode.  And of a beautiful flower.  And look inward and see the beauty that the inner light reveals.  It is within all of us.  And when you find it, share it.  Be kind.  Be gentle.  Be generous.  In the grace that the beatitudes bring, we experience the greatness of all creation.