Ambient Light

By Margaret Kirschner

My friend, Mary, a photographer, captured an unusual image of a water lily. Her photo was taken on a dark day, over a dark pond, without a flashbulb. She set her camera on a tripod, opened the shutter wide and let the camera wait as long as needed for whatever light might be there to reflect onto the film.

She had read an essay in the National Geographic magazine about photography in the Egyptian pyramids where no flashlights were permitted, despite the pitch blackness of the tombs. The cameras, with their shutters wide open, would simply be left on their tripods for hours, days, up to a week or more, until they received enough light to form the picture. This light was referred to as "ambient light."

Mary's picture is revealing; the outer petals are shaded in subtle nuances; they gain brightness closer to the center, until the light appears to radiate out from the core. It makes us aware that no matter how deep the darkness, there is always light if we have the confidence to wait for it. A flash would have lit each petal with an equal, momentary brilliance, obliterating the shadings and robbing us of our knowledge that ambient light exists; that it has subtleties; and that it is centered.

The same phenomenon is true of sound. When we sit in silence, listening with openness, and waiting with confidence for however long it takes, the words we need to hear arise out of the quiet. They often come like the light does, first in quiet images or whispered thoughts, much like the shadowed outer petals of the lily. Gradually they gain strength until the core idea resounds, the word ready to be spoken. Like the lily blossom, the focus is centered. In meditation we call this "going deeper." The results are new understandings of ourselves; our behaviors change, often spontaneously.

Ambient: surrounding, encircling, encompassing, and enveloping. All words to describe what is always there, but undetected by us until we remove ourselves from the artificial light and sound of our technological world. The vision and the sounds of the essential are there to be seen and heard when we become aware of the silence and the darkness. We might call this the Universal Consciousness that is recessed in our own store consciousness.  It waits for us to call upon it.

The same holds true when we listen as counselors, whether as parents, fellow workers, or professionals. When we sit in the other's silence, as in time-lapse photography, openly, without bias, the ambient message comes through as mysteriously as the ambient light that forms the photographic negative. It is intriguing how often it comes in the darkness of a still night. It is this understanding that helps us break through to new perspectives and the behaviors they generate. Actions that follow are compassionate and constructive because they have come, not just from our bits of information, nor from our logical processes, nor from our biased perspectives, but because they have come from the ambience. They have arisen from the history, the ancestors, the children, the friends, the conditions of the universe, from more complexities than one person seems capable of knowing. They bring a deep understanding to the listener as well as to the one being listened to. They carry the ambient light and sound, wisdom as beautiful as Mary's lily blossom.

So we sit quietly focused upon our darkness with our lenses open in confidence for as long as needed until ambient wisdom comes.

Margaret Kirschner, Mutual Support of the Heart, is a retired medical psychotherapist living in Portland, Oregon and practicing with the Portland Community of Mindful Living.

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The Heart of Creativity

By Aleksandra Kumorek mb65-TheHeart1

The work of artists, creative practitioners, and those working in the media has an impact on the collective consciousness. But which seeds are being watered? What would it look like to live and work according to Buddhist ethics? How can we be part of a wholesome, supportive community of creative practitioners?

“Together we are one,” reads a calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh. This statement became the motto of the first retreat organized by the Mindful Artists Network, which took place at Findhorn, Scotland, in June 2013. Fourteen dancers, musicians, actors, writers, and visual artists from Germany, Great Britain, and Canada came together at the Victorian retreat centre, Newbold House, in order to meditate, dance, celebrate, and practice creativity. Under the spiritual guidance of Sister Jewel (Dharma teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) and Sister Hai Nghiem, and with co-facilitation by the network founders Susanne Olbrich and me, this newly formed “tribe” spent a weekend enjoying the magical Scottish midnight sun.

In the opening ceremony, everyone placed an object or image on the “altar of creativity”––something that represented each person’s connection to his or her individual creative source. It was an act of consciously joining the great stream of our ancestors, inspirations, and influences. This marked the beginning of an intense weekend of shared joys and tears, dances and performances, deep reflection, and heartfelt laughter.

In addition to sitting and walking meditations, the focus was on creative practice. Sister Jewel introduced the InterPlay* method and dance meditation, which helped us connect deeply with ourselves and with each other. In the large, walled garden of Newbold House, groups created mandalas from natural materials and then gave impromptu performances. In small groups, we reflected on ethics and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

An informal tea ceremony provided a frame for participants to present their own creative work: music, dance, painting, sculpture, performance, movies, photography, and poetry. One of the particularly memorable artists was a most uncommon “Zen” master: a clown who works with terminally ill children in hospitals and who made us laugh that night.

By the time we parted Sunday afternoon, we’d grown into a loving community that had brought Thich Nhat Hanh’s statement to life: Together we are one, indeed. We couldn’t resolve the world’s problems during this weekend, and living our lives lovingly and mindfully will continue to be a challenge for each one of us. We know we must not allow the seeds of greed, stress, and competition, which are so dominant in our society, to be watered. We must remain true to our way of compassion and non-harming in everyday work. But we know that we no longer walk this path alone.

The next Mindful Artists Network retreat is scheduled for July 17-20, 2014, at the Source of Compassion practice centre in Berlin. It will be guided by Sister Jewel. Please visit www.mindful-artists. org for information about the previous and upcoming retreats.

*InterPlay ( is a creative practice that integrates movement, storytelling, silence, and song to unlock the wisdom of the body.

Amb65-TheHeart2leksandra Kumorek is a writer, director, and lecturer in Berlin. In 2012, she became a lay member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing. She has practiced with the Sangha Source of Compassion in Berlin since 2005. She and pianist/composer Susanne Olbrich launched Mindful Artists Network at Plum Village in 2012.

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