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Contemplative practice requires a basic shift in allegiance. Normally we ally ourselves with thinking-mind: we obediently follow wherever it leads. When we think about going out for dinner, we soon find ourselves walking out the door (unless a contradictory thought intervenes). Sometimes, emotions well up and we follow them, no matter how much thinking-mind protests. Thinking-mind is like a political leader, and the emotions are like subversives that undermine the leader’s authority. These seem to be our only possibilities: to follow the leadership of thinking-mind or go along with the flow of the emotions.
The contemplative approach presents an entirely different alternative: we can align ourselves with intelligence that is not bound up with either thoughts or emotions. This intelligence is called insight, mindfulness, awareness, wisdom, and so on. (In the traditional Zen analogy, these terms are all different fingers pointing at the same moon.) This intelligence is knowing-mind, which is neither conceptual nor emotional. It exists within each of us but is covered over by discursive thinking and emotionality. Fortunately there are natural gaps in these coverings where the wisdom can shine through. In contemplative practice, we work with these gaps and shift our allegiance to this intelligence.
The practice of contemplative photography connects us with this nonconceptual awareness and strengthens that connection through training. The practice itself has three parts, or stages. First we learn to recognize naturally occurring glimpses of seeing and the contemplative state of mind. Next we stabilize that connection through looking further. Finally we take photographs from within that state of mind.