The yoga of photography– “Spiritual practice with the camera”

“Why aren’t you doing more posts about your trip to India?”

I’d call this the most frequent question I’ve been asked by friends who are also readers of this blog. I think I can answer that question pretty succinctly here: India is not easy for me to write about. I suspect the same is true for Steve. News? That’s easy. India requires more thought.

So, for this post, I’d like to cheat a little by introducing some reflections by friend of The Confluence Countdown, Michelle Haymoz. Michelle, you might recall, traveled with us on our yatra. She had been in Mysore before the trip, and bravely decided to continue her journey, heading for the Himalyas, with no plan, and all on her own. I admire this greatly, and I miss her. Traveling with her not only improved the experience I had of India, it fundamentally changed me. She was inspiring, without trying to be.

It should be clear by now (to regular readers, anyway) that our yatra was something beyond a guided tour. We didn’t go to tourist sites, mostly ate in or close to our hotels, and spent a lot of time on the road. We did go into the inner sanctums of very many temples. We were, throughout the journey and up until the last day in Mumbai, the only Westerners in the crowd. What we saw was the interior art and architecture of a wide variety of temples, and daily life among the people who live around those temples.

The people we met were, exclusively, other worshippers.

Every temple was different, but the deep sense of love and dedication to the careful tending of an inner life was always the same. Sometimes we saw three temples in one day, each one, different.

Still, none of these places were particularly photograph-friendly, in spite of being visually stunning. I have to say I admired and agreed with “no photographs” policies. It may be the very definition of a “tourist” that you are experiencing a culture as an outsider, and that the symbol of that distance is the camera you place between you and the experience. It’s a mediator. It keeps things at a safe distance, and is a demonstration of your desire to show things off to the folks back home. It’s like you’re loudly pronouncing you’re not really there. There you are, before the Air Lingam, a spatial representation of Siva, seeking Grace. A cell phone shot seems not only rude, but radically missing the point of Presence.

Michelle making an offering to Mother Ganga.
Michelle making an offering to Mother Ganga.

This is not, however, how a photographer works. Photography is their art. This means that they are actually experiencing the moment through the lens, through the shot. It’s not for later, or for proof they were there, or even “cool.” Taking the photograph is an actual experience in and of itself.

I watched Michelle work all during our journey. Many times I would turn to her, standing next to me, faced with a stunning composition of color: saris, dhotis, and a murti covered in blossoms, and I could see the pain on her face that she couldn’t see it through her camera. You might say, for her, a camera is a more useful eye, one that can capture the experience better than the experience itself, like a beautiful iridescent beetle trapped in amber. I would see that look of pain, and I would look again at the scene before me. Her pain would reveal the true beauty there. At least, it would for me.

It was also this ability to see more clearly that gave Michelle unprecedented access to the temples we visited. I’ve remarked before in this blog that she has that invaluable skill in a photographer, the ability to disappear—and she seems to radiate respect for her subject. This allowed her to shoot without disturbing those around her. Many, I’m sure, never noticed she was there. She carried her heavy equipment without fuss, moved quietly and gracefully, and used extreme patience.

Which brings me to her current journey. Michelle has gone to the north of India. She is visiting the swamijis who travelled with us on the yatra (Robert Moses profiled one of them, and the area where Michelle is staying, in Namarupa 9.3–she’s in Uttarkashi).

Michelle Haymoz Photography

Michelle Haymoz photography

She occasionally posts on Facebook, and is sending me shots she’s taken (two of them above)—I asked her to do so; I find her work inspires my poetry. I thought you might be interested in what she has to say about her journey so far. So this long set up is for these words, along with the image she posted:

The Indian Himalayas present themselves as fairly challenging to me. Arrived in the worst weather conditions in heavy rains and blizzard. I wanted to go home right away, broke out in tears. But the sun came out the next day and conditions started to ease gradually.

Though the struggles with the cold and other aspects, like the lack of simple things we take for granted in the Western world, seem to continue, I also experience and start to see the incredible beauty in nearly everything. I’ve been given privileges and access to photograph in sites that have not been granted before. Feeling very blessed.

Also enjoying photographing nature and capturing portraits of the local people, connecting with them on various levels, the chapatti man who cannot speak but his eyes tell stories, the ladies up in the hills, the children who follow me and we sing and play together, Mother Ganga, the many Swamijis, Pujaris, the temples. Heinrich Harrer actually came down to Uttarkashi when escaping Tibet around 1939 and called it “temple town.”

The vibes and surroundings are indescribable. We do not need to do pranayam: Nature and Mata Ganga are doing it with us, says Swami Anandaji. Indoors is too cold for asana practice, so I meditate and do spiritual practice with the camera.

Here an image of one of Swami Janardanandaji’s students, an 8 year old boy. Swamiji has a larger group of children coming to his house daily so he can help them with homework and teach them how to perform ceremonies, to awaken and cultivate their spiritual side.

The little boy in the photo performs aarti in Swamiji’s little tiny temple. I live right next door in a simple guest house. Swamiji invites me over, helps me to deal with the struggles, shares his immense wisdom, encourages me to continue to stay and go through the transformation, learning to detach from the weakness, so that only strength will remain, so that the I AM will eventually become fully present.

Perfect light. Thank you, Michelle.
Perfect light. Thank you, Michelle.

Posted by Bobbie