Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
November 2015 - Volume 15, No. 11
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Autumn Thoughts

The Camera - to grab and store

My first clue came in the middle of October. I was driving in northern Michigan, and pulled off at one of those “scenic view” rest stops, to capture a few photo moments of the rich Autumn colors. After a few rainy days, the sky was for a moment a deep Michigan blue, spotted with some decorative clouds. The cool air and time of day enhanced the colors.

My current ‘toy’ camera is my iPhone 5s, at which I’m quite proficient. In earlier days I was well-trained by my father, an amateur then professional photographer. At his death many years ago I inherited his beloved Pentax Spotmatic F. With the skills he had given me, I never felt I needed anything ‘fancier.’ (This was before the digital camera era.) 

Yet at the same time, I began to sense when wearing that camera around my neck, bouncing at my chest, it seemed to induce an uncomfortable barrier between myself and the people or scenery around me. So over the years I carried that camera less and less. Even when replacing it with a (pocket sized) digital Canon PowerShot, I still was sensitive to that barrier. When the iPhone became my camera of choice, I found myself sneaking it out quickly, grabbing a photo, then quickly putting it away again.  

That afternoon in northern Michigan, there was a moment when no other visitors were present. I was alone. And as I sought the best settings and framing for capturing the scenery, my camera said to me directly, 

“All you are doing is looking for scenes to grab and store, which you’ve been doing for too long a long time. How about you put me (your camera) away and just take time to pause and fully memorize the scenery for yourself?”

Wow!  And I found it works - my memory at this time is far richer than the few photos I did take!

Yes, the camera has a place, my father was a master at the art of photography.  (Those who have seen my office and waiting room decorated with his work, readily know that.)  But when it gets in the way of the subject being photographed, something deep gets lost.  

I consider the great caution some indigenous peoples have about being photographed. They feel something is being taken, even stolen from their soul in the process. (From some earlier years spent learning the art of dowsing, I’ve come to understand and appreciate that.)

To grab and store is like stealing and hoarding - apt characterizations of our current culture.

The Summer - dormans tentatif

I find this past Summer, as so many past Summers, a time of happy busyness, as well as some (too few) moments of relaxation and leisure. There’s a lightness to it in both color and attitude. Even when we vacation at other times of the year, we are drawn to locales of ‘summery’ character.

It can be a time of high spirit - a time of upwards movement.

I take my cue here from the the late Jungian psychologist James Hillman, who somewhere in his writings delineated that ‘spirit’ is an upward movement, and ‘soul’ is a downward movement of human engagement and consciousness.

I love my Summers; I have since childhood. They are often filled with much that is ‘bright and wonderful.’ But when Fall arrives, it seems as if I awaken from something I have come to call a dormans tentatif[1] or tentative sleep.

Autumn (Fall) - the awakening of the Soul.

It’s my soul that was asleep (dormant) and now awakens. That’s what happened that day at the northern Michigan scenic turnout. That was the challenge of my ‘camera.’ Don’t just grab and store. Take life in with your full humanity and treasure it’s experience. Savor it all.

It’s like welcoming home an old friend, who has been absent all Summer, and with whom much of this can now be shared.  

For me, it’s the (Flint) Symphony season starting again. The Metropolitan Opera (live in HD in a local Flint theater) has already broadcast three operas of this new season, which I faithfully attend. The entire season already has preemptory places on my calendar. In the Church calendar, today (Nov 1) is All Saints’ Day. These are not Summer events! They take us down into our deeper selves.

Autumn is the making more deeply human what Summer has granted us. In a sense, Summer has to die, so its human legacy can come to fruition. Like the English folk legend of John Barleycorn, in the Fall he has to harshly die, by which the gifts of beer and whiskey emerge in which he may live once more.

And what is our legacy? In the Genesis account of our beginnings, we were born into the Garden of Paradise.[2]  But human necessity or destiny (I don’t call if ‘fault’ - that’s for the theologians, psychologists and moralists) brought us to the Fall, the entrance into life as it is for each of us.

When we are born, the only people we know are all alive. But as we ourselves age, we suffer the loss of others, hence through loss and grief do we come to knowledge of the larger “Communion of Saints.” This central tenet of Christian experience (All Saints’ Day) has parallels in the veneration of ancestors present in other spiritual traditions. The ‘ancestor shrine’ of many of our homes has been the photo panoply that decorate many a parlor’s upright piano.

From goodness to richness

Through the knowing of suffering and difficulty, much of the goodness (Summer) of life can merge into the richness (Autumn) of life. This is the great time of the “holidays” (holy days).  First there is Halloween - All Hallows Eve (The Celtic New Year begins at sundown on October 31, November 1 being our All Saints Day).

I find it fascinating how much emphasis we Americans place on Halloween. Perhaps it’s because of the childlike playfulness in even our adult partying. It doesn’t depend on family ties like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hence it can be more free of holiday depression.  

Thanksgiving as well as as marking the conclusion of a successful harvest, has among its roots a celebration of plenty after surviving a disastrous year for our Pilgrim ancestors.

Then comes Christmas, the end of Autumn. If the Autumn is an encounter with the depth of our humanity, the Winter implants the hope of a new beginning (New Year), as well as the birth of a Savior. Winter marks our own silent waiting, marking a turning point in the pattern of the “Fall” of humankind, learning to trust the deep stirrings (beneath the frozen Winter landscape) toward hope and redemption - Spring and Easter. The Native Americans call Winter the “Dreamtime.”

Now my narrative of these events and meanings are those of an American Midwesterner and a Christian. But I believe that there is a synchronization of our homeland, our spiritual heritage and the deep archetypal stirrings of the human soul that can lead us through this larger pattern, each from the gifts of our geography and heritage, to a full richness of life.

And for each of you may this Autumn gift you and those with whom you share life, with the Blessings and Balance of a Life Lived to the Fullest.

For me, the time is right.

Pay attention


[1] Please forgive my amateur linguistics here.  The phrase popped out of my head one day, and I haven’t been able to locate it as having a true linguistic integrity.  I mean it to carry the meaning of tentative sleep or sleeping while partially awake.

[2] I find it a fascinating consideration that our Summer may be analogous to the pagan “Summerland” - the place between earthly cycles of life.

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    Please share one or two of your photos in your monthly letters.

    — Cynthia Hamilton, 11/3/2015
  • Share

    Please share one or two of your photos in your monthly letters.

    — Cynthia Hamilton, 11/3/2015

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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