Watching out my window this evening as the sky slowly abandoned the light of day, fading slowly into twilight, my heart was following along as the sky darkened. In some ways, my heart knows me better than my mind. Within the realm of thoughts and emotions, thoughts have always seemed to eventually defer to my emotions, not because my thoughts were faulty in some way necessarily, but more because the way I feel sometimes tends to be more accurate than my thinking.
In a recent preparation to deliver remarks at a memorial service, I quoted Descartes well-known axiom, “I think, therefore I am,” and suggested that for me personally, it seemed more correct to say, “I feel, therefore I am.” Feeling any potent emotion has always felt more compelling to me as an indication that I truly existed, as opposed to even the most considered and volatile thoughts. Of course, in order to “know” what I felt required the ability to acknowledge intellectually the arrival of the emotion within me, or to even recognize that emotions were active in my experiential awareness. Cognition and awareness of existing subjectively are vitally important partners in experiential reality.
Looking out my window at the still reasonably bright sky, when I initially arrived in the chair which provided the view out the window, found me both thoughtful and emotional. Intellectually, I knew that the time of day and the view out the window were already conspiring to reveal the day’s relentless progression toward the night, but my emotional state was not only reluctant to allow this acknowledgement to take hold, but also fully engaged in the recognition of how keenly the gradual diminishment of light in the sky mirrored the same in my heart.
Intellectually, I was fully cognitive of the causes for the light to fade, and the expectations one must have as the day concludes and the night arrives, but emotionally, even though my mind told me that it was inevitable and unstoppable, my heart wanted the light to linger, and felt keenly how much I longed for the light to remain. This longing held sway mostly due to how I felt about it, rather than what my mind knew was the cause of it. In my mind, I knew it was inevitable, but for my heart, it was a painful and lamentable development, for which no amount of thinking would provide even the slightest solace.
Aside from these meandering thoughts and feelings about the loss of the light, which were mostly secondary in the moment, there was an emotional reverie taking place in both my heart and mind, which formed the foundation for the contrast in the first place. Having nearly a lifetime of sunrises and sunsets to look back on gives each new arrival and departure of daylight and nightfall greater import, based on the recognition that there are clearly fewer opportunities remaining to experience them, compared to the approximately 21,000 which I have already experienced.
Reviewing the hundreds of photographs from my family history that I inherited some years ago, I was struck by the absolute lack of images other than those of family members and family occasions. Even when the images in the family archive began to appear in color in the late fifties and early sixties, there were perhaps less than a handful which consisted of landscapes or mountain vistas, and most of them had someone else in the foreground.
The same review of my own personal collection of photographs showed a relatively greater number of images of the natural world that surrounded me, regardless of whether or not the final images included friends or family members. Almost immediately, as I became more familiar with the process of photography, it occurred to me that the world itself provided many scenes which were worthwhile to capture, and which, in some cases, meant more to me than the simple fact of their existence at the time they were photographed. The motivation for me to remember the beauty and the atmosphere of some of these places was often on the same footing, and was informed by the same degree of interest, that I had in remembering the people who occupied those spaces.
Reflecting now, after all this time, on the experiences surrounding the events and the locations in which they took place, it seems to me that the environment and the scope of the surroundings themselves became such a vital aspect of these experiences for me, that in order to fully represent the totality of particular events, and to help me to subsequently reconstruct the fullness of my experiences, it became necessary to expand the collection of photographs to include whatever else made those experiences feel the way they did to me. It may have been the natural inclinations of the budding artist within me, or it may have been the impending spiritual awakening which was, unbeknownst to me, shortly to appear on the horizon, but as time passed, my photographs began to reflect a much more thoughtful approach, and often were created from the wellspring of emotion bubbling under the surface of my life. Looking back on it now, I am almost embarrassed to report that I had not even the slightest inkling of what was transpiring within me at the time, but by the time I had reached the period of my life which took place overseas, the universe had conspired to point it out to me in ways that I could never have anticipated.
After the abrupt and traumatic events in 1973, the escalation emotionally and psychologically of my world view was the perfect vehicle to launch my intense interest in photography, and it clearly fed the fervor of my investigations into the world within me to such a degree, that almost every important moment of those times required me to record that urgency in every way at my disposal.
The depth of my understanding of the world, and my awareness of the extent to which spirituality would eventually direct the course of my life, prior to my awakening in the autumn of 1973 in Massachusetts, was so limited and incomplete, it hardly seems possible that such an expansion of my artistic and spiritual senses could even have taken place without some drastic change or pivotal event.
Whatever indications there were in my personal photographic evidence, and in the products of my various artistic endeavors up to that point, none of them apparently penetrated sufficiently into my daily waking states of consciousness to provide the necessary spark of creativity that would press me toward my destiny.
***more to come***
5 thoughts on “The Fading of the Light”
Thoughtful and of course necessarily mournful. The passage of the days and the seasons. Our passage. I very much look forward to the “more to come”. Beauty it seems does not preclude sadness. And vice versa.
I’m sure it won’t surprise you that, among other various activities in service of my writing these days, I have lately been re-reading the Stoic Philosopher King, Marcus Aurelius, and your comment brought to mind a particular passage that speaks to the very ideas you expressed:
“The time of human life is but a point, and the substance is a flux, and its perceptions dull, and the composition of the body corruptible, and the soul a whirl, and fortune inscrutable, and fame a senseless thing. In a word, everything which belongs to the body is a flowing stream, and what belongs to the soul a dream and a vapor, and life is a warfare and a stranger’s sojourn, and future fame is oblivion. What then is there which can guide a man? One thing and only one; philosophy…Cast away then all other things, hold on to these few truths; bear in mind also that every man lives only in the present, which is an indivisible point and that all the rest of his life is either past or uncertain.”
On the subject of beauty, Marcus really nailed it:
“Whatever is in any way beautiful is beautiful in itself, and has its end in itself, and praise is no part of it. Neither worse then nor better is a thing made be being praised. I say this too of things called beautiful by the vulgar, for example material things and works of art. That which is really beautiful has no need of anything; no more than law, no more than truth, no more than generosity or modesty.”
In preparation to begin my review of all that surrounds me in this space I now occupy, one other passage stood out:
“For nothing so elevates the mind as to be able to examine methodically and truly, every object which comes before you in life, and always to look at things so as to see at once what kind of universe this is, and what kind of service each performs in it, and what value each has in relation to the whole.”
There is, indeed, more to come, and it is uncertain how much time might still be expected for these ideas to be expressed and for all the fruits of contemplation to come about, but whatever kind of service this work will perform, hopefully, the value it has in relation to the whole will eventually be apparent…John H.
Beautiful, beautiful quotes. I must dig out my copy of the diaries when I get back to London. Incredible that almost 2000 years after his death his words remain as relevant and poignant as the day they were written.
It is incredible to think that his words, described in the introduction of the book by Irwin Edman, were “…written by the Emperor of Rome to comfort himself while he was a general conducting an ultimately victorious but difficult campaign in a long discouraging war,” and also as “an eminently placed, lonely man talking to himself to keep up his courage, trying to persuade himself that if all goes wrong, it cannot be too disastrous to a free spirit, nor if all goes well, can success be distracting to an independent mind.”
There is much of value in these “journal entries,” written mostly for himself, and it seems he was mistaken, in his case at least, that even though “…the time that any man lives is short, and short too the longest posthumous fame, that is handed on by a succession of poor human beings…who know not even themselves, much less one who died long ago.” Marcus Aurelius is still known today and held in great esteem by many of us “poor human beings,” but thanks to the publication of his ideas and hard-won wisdom, his posthumous fame remains intact nearly 2000 years later.