weareallpilgrims

Camino de Santiago

Words Matter

20140924-horn-castro-26-finalAs many of you know, I am fond of using quotes at the start of my blog articles. This time I am going to start with my own quote that came to me today.

“Words Matter. In fact, it is possible to sometimes renew or redeem our marriages and relationships with the words we use.”

Terri and I recently have been mentoring a newly engaged couple that are going to be married this Spring. In our first session, we talked about the importance of consistent and sincere affirmations and how they can lift us up and help us feel better about ourselves.

Some of the material we used said some real truths about how we can renew and redeem our relationships.

“Looking for and affirming the goodness in the other lifts our spirits and cultivates an attitude of gratitude and generosity in us.  Conversely, criticism damages the sense of worthiness in the partner…When we criticize the other, we also damage our own spirit; instead of focusing our blessings, we see only his or her inadequacies. Criticism saps the enjoyment out of our life and is like a poison to a marriage.”

When Terri and I walked the Camino, we were at some very low points both physically and emotionally along the way. There is a tendency when we are very tired to sometimes criticize and it is hard to find ways to affirm the other. Yet at our low points is exactly when we need to be reaffirming each other.

I read recently that one of the best indicators of success in marriage, is a ratio of positive to negative interactions of 5:1. When I read that ratio, it felt right to me. It seems to me that positive affirmations in our relationships are like putting oil or grease on gears. If we leave the grease or oil out eventually those gears are going to grind down and fail.

Words matter. We need to be consistent and sincere with our affirmations of each other. Let’s keep the gears of our marriages and relationships running smooth.

Blessings and Merry Christmas to all!

John

Photograph of the Week

Ancient Skellig Michael Island

This photograph was taken on our fantastic voyage and journey to Skellig Michael Island off the west coast of Ireland. The island was made famous by the movie, “The Force Awakens”. This photo is of the very last set of very steep stairs leading to top of Michael Skellig Island.

Stay Awake – Be Present

 

adobe-spark-91

” Our real worry should not be that the world might suddenly end or that we might unexpectedly die, but that we might live and then die, asleep, that is, without really loving, without properly expressing our love, and without tasting deeply the real joy of living because we are so consumed by the business and busy pressures of living that we never quite get around to fully living.” Fr Ron Rolheiser

I like this quote because it speaks the truth that we all need to be reminded of continually. We need to stay awake and present in the middle of the busy pressures of our lives. It is so easy to let the combination of  pressure, anxiety, laziness, depression, tension and weariness break us down so we “fall asleep” and are less vigilant to all around us. We miss living life fully. We are not present to the people, situations and beauty that surrounds us all. We “sleep walk” right on by these precious moments.

In photography, being vigilant, being present and alive is one of the keys to good photography. It is something that my hiking friend, Bob Maier, and I share together. We both are very present and alive to throughout the our day of hiking. We are both very spontaneous and alive to capture the beauty of nature as we hike.

The same should be true for all aspects of our lives if we want to be fully living our lives.

So as we approach one of the busiest seasons of the year, let’s all try and be more vigilant and awake and present to all!

Blessings,

John

Photograph of the Week

The Wild Atlantic Way

I fell in love with the West Coast of Ireland. It is referred to as the Wild Atlantic Way and it is truly one of the most scenic coastlines anywhere in the world.

 

 

Receptive Listening and Storytelling

 

160912-culross-rossilyn-fuji-5-final

“Receptive Listening and Storytelling, are unvalued and under practiced skills in society.” Merna Ann Hecht

I read this quote in a Seattle Times newspaper article that was on how to survive the “stress trigger” of the most recent Presidential Election. The woman quoted is a storyteller, poet, author and teaching artist who works with children who have suffered loss.

The words that stuck with me was storytelling and receptive listening. I started thinking how good am I at these important skills that as a society we seem to undervalue. Since reading that article it seems that I have had a number of occasions where these two themes seem to be coming up again and again.

Our two and half year old grand daughter, Kay, has become quite the “storyteller” these days and I have found myself enchanted with her “tall tales” she weaves. I listen as she take us through an imaginative journey through all those people, animals and things within the house or yard or even some place like the zoo that she has visited. (see example below)

This started me thinking that if we have this great imagination and gift of storytelling when we are young what happens to us as we get older? What is there to learn here?

Receptive listening and storytelling were a big part of our 6 week journey through Scotland and Ireland. Both Terri and I especially loved the storytelling of our Scotland guide, Robin MacGregor. As we looked back, we realized it was the great stories Robin told of the people, history, culture and landscapes, that was often very personal, that really gave us our new insights and appreciation of Scotland.

Terri and I were fortunate to be able to be in attendance this past week for a full day of listening  TEDx talk speakers at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. We were totally captivated by many of the speakers but the ones that really hit home the  most are the ones that told their personal stories that drove home their a few critical insights that really stuck with you and you took home with you.

Storytelling and reflective listening. I really want to learn how to get better at these important life skills! I hope I might have inspired you as well.

Blessings,

John

P.S.

If your are interested here is a video of Kay that I got about midway through a long story on penguins (they were in the Splat the Cat book we read just before we sat down to eat lunch). Kay our little storyteller.

I will also give you a link to the TEDx talk speaker, Bridget Foley, who is an author, actor and screenwriter. She told a story on breast cancer that is totally captivating and gets you right in the heart.

2016 Sno-Isle Libraries TEDx Talks – You will need to select the second video post. Bridget Foley’s story begins about 1 hr 40 mins into the video (so you can select this point in the video and got straight there).

Photograph of the Week

Mt Baring Stands Tall

Talk about a “tall tale” this photograph was made on a recent hike to Barclay Lake on near the town of Baring on Hwy 2. The north face of Mt Baring is only 500 ft shorter than El Capitan in Yosemite and most folks never see it since you don’t see that side of the mountain from Hwy 2. You can access the view of the north face of Mt Baring by taking a short 2 mile walk to Barclay Lake. Well worth a visit!

Making More Interesting Photographs

160920-conor-pass-nikon-1-final-glow

“How do I make more interesting photographs? Become a more interesting person” Jay Maisel

One thing about travel is has the potential to change you. I believe you become a more interesting person when you step outside your comfort zone. It draws you out of your normal routines. You have the opportunity to learn and grow as you travel to see new people, lands and cultures. There are less distractions of the daily life and more time to focus on those around you and the beauty of the lands. This opens you up I believe to makes you a better person, a more interesting person and maybe even a little better photographer.

I think another aspect of making more interesting photographs is imagination. Our two and half year old grand daughter, Kay, has recently got me thinking of the importance of imagination. After reading a “Splat the Cat’ book to her, during lunch as she was talking about the story, she spent the next several minutes spinning a new tale involving the penguins that were a part of the book ending and wove them into the surroundings of the house (the space she knows well). It reminded me again how powerful our imagination can be in creating things anew. Taking ordinary places of daily life and making them extraordinary. One of the keys to making more interesting photographs is our imagination. To see the ordinary of life anew with our imaginations.

Blessings,

John

Photograph of the Week

The Burren Is Alive

The Burren is very desolate but there are also amazing pockets of life growing all through it.  I chose to use the combined B&W and color composite technique to visually accent this story.

Myth and Mystery

160906-lock-sheil-fuji-79-final

160906-lock-sheil-fuji-77-final

“Mystery is the essential element to every work of art”  by Luis Bunuel

One of the more important insights from our trip to Scotland and Ireland that I came away with is how special the elements of myth, mystery and folklore are in the culture of Scotland and Ireland. The ancient Celtic culture is filled with myth and mystery and the great stories that were orally passed down from generation to generation. The folklore of Scotland and Ireland is very rich and has a long history. The photo at the top of this blog is of a water spirit called a Kelpie. The Kelpie is a powerful and beautiful black horse inhabiting the deep pools of rivers and streams of Scotland, preying on any humans it encounters. Stories of malevolent water spirits served the practical purpose of keeping children away from perilous areas of water. These 30 metre-high horse-head sculptures were in Falkirk, Scotland on the Forth and Clyde canal (a 35 mile canal crossing Scotland).

It is my believe that in America we suffer from the lack of mystery and myth. We don’t have this long history like they do in these Celtic countries (although the Native American tribes certainly had the long heritage of myth, folklore and mystery). In the United States, we mostly have a “scientific method” mindset. We have the belief that there is an answer to every question or problem (even if we don’t know right now what it is we believe science will discover it someday). There is no such thing as a mystery. I think we are missing something even though I am not sure I can put my finger on it.

Maybe it has something to do with the quote that I included at the top of this blog. It is making the linkage between a work of art and mystery. That work of art is really something that comes out of someone and in many cases the artist doesn’t even know how it works. It just comes out. There is no scientific answer to how this works. I love that. It inspires me in some way. I guess I really do embrace mystery and maybe that is why I love the creative and artsy photography that I have been drawn to lately. Not sure.

Blessings,

John

Photograph of the Week

Mystery is in the Air

I loved the wonderful skies of Ireland and Scotland. They were endlessly changing and were so dynamic and breathtaking. This “work of art” was created from a very dynamic sky above the treeline in the distance. The pattern of the trees seemed to be repeated by the sky. I love how the sky made me feel.I hope you also can feel the mystery of it.

A Deeper Reading

160927-mohr-burren-82-finalI have a favorite photographer (David Du Chemin) that I like to follow and I have read most of his e-books as well. He wrote a book called the “A Deeper Frame, Creating Deeper Photographs & More Engaging Experiences” a few years ago that I was recently re-reading. He draws a distinction between what he refers to as “readers” and “viewers” of photographs. He sees “viewing”of something as a passive activity, the opposite of participation or interaction. David feels that when we are a “reader” of something when we are more engaged or a participant in it. He (and I) hope that our photographs engage people, draw them in, make them more than viewers but readers, instead.

I certainly have noticed the difference between the readers and the viewers of my photography. During the Art Festivals I have done over the years, I have seen folks come into my booth and spend time really looking at each image and reading the labels about the image. They take their time and you can see they are getting enjoyment from the experience. I love it when I see that behavior. It means I have told a good story and they are enjoying reading it.

Now that we have been home now for several days from our long journey to Scotland and Ireland, I have had some time to reflect a bit more on our trip. It came to me that we definitely were not “viewers” but were went deeper and were true “readers” of our Scotland and Ireland experience.

The length of our trip was close to six weeks in length and we used a combination of guided tours (Road Scholar) and independent time on our own exploring. We really got a deeper reading of Scotland and Ireland. It as awesome learning experience and we both now have a much better understanding of the people, the culture, the history, the archeology and landscapes of these most amazing people and lands.

All travel is good for us as it breaks down myths and builds up understanding. It is even better if you can have a “deeper reading” during your travels rather than the brief “viewer” experience. We are more likely to be lastingly affected.

Blessings,

John

P.S. The photograph above is from the area of Ireland called “The Burren”. This image is a good one, I think, of what is meant by a “deeper frame” image. I draws you in and you are left with a little mystery as the landscape is strange and different you wonder that the story is about it.

What Have We Learned?

161001-glencolmcille-137-2

As our long journey through Scotland and Ireland is about to end, I was thinking to myself, “What Have We Learned” from our experience? Since we took two long trips in Scotland and Ireland with the “Learning Tour” agency, Road Scholar it is a fair question to ask ourselves.

During our 4 weeks of touring with Road Scholar, we have had outstanding, professional teaching experiences, in fact, many of the guides that we had were teachers at university or other institutes. We had so many wonderful guides too, that were expert in “peeling the onion” on the very layered and complex history and culture of Scotland and Ireland. Our eyes were opened and we had a number of “myths” dispelled as well.

One lesson, I was thinking about lately, was how both countries were shaped so much by those who wielded the power and how religion played such a powerful role for both good and bad. I guess this is not a shocker for any of you but it was such a strong theme in the history of this region, right up to the present day that it just is so real and present.

Terri and I both experienced great empathy for those that were “conquered” and lost their land and heritage. It makes you sad at times to see how they were so dramatically impacted and changed by those that “conquered” them.

Our Ireland guide, Alan, is a delightful young man (same age as our son, Matt). When we traveled through Northern Ireland on our way down to Dublin he gave us the story of “The Troubles” (the war that raged in Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics between 1969 and 1998). Before he began his talk, he provided us his personal position he had reached in his young life, regarding “identity” to religion, country, language and blood. He felt that he had reached a point where he was able to not tie his identity to a particular religion (he was raised Catholic), region or country, or even sports team he rooted for. He told us he considered himself a “citizen of the world”. That was his identity.

I thought about this and was wondering if I could feel and think the same way. Not sure I have come as far as this young man has in his short life. I passed on to him yesterday and article I read that I found really spoke to this important point he was making. It was written by my favorite writer, Fr Ron Rolheiser.

The article is titled “The Struggle To Not Make Our God Our Own Tribal Deity“. I encourage you to take the time to read it. The article provides some very profound insights for us all to ponder and some takeaways on what we can do about this problem we are all prone to have.

I will end this blog with a quote from the last lines of the article:

“God is everyone’s God equally, not especially ours, and God is too great to be reduced to serving the interests of family, ethnicity, church, and patriotism.”

Blessings,

John

 

 

A Hard Scrabble Life

160929-aran-37-final

We recently visited, Inis Mor island, it is located 7 miles off the west coast of Ireland near Galway. The island has about 850 people living on it and has 2 primary schools and one secondary school. As seen in this photo below the landscape is quite barren as the island surface is mostly limestone rock similar to the region nearby called the Burren. We visited the Burren and I thought the area looked like a alien planet surface. (check out this photo I made from our visit to the Burren – Out of this World)

160929-aran-81_2_3_default-cropped

 

What is amazing to think about is that this island they believe has been inhabited by man since about year 3000 BC. The island has a number of “ring forts” that date from year 500 BC. Carving out a life on this remote island by living off the sea and the land is not easy by any means! The thought that kept coming to me was the word “hard scrabble life”, these folks sure know what this means.

The method they used to build up a bit of soil on which to grow plants was to haul seaweed and layer it with sand and then turn back into the soil the plants after harvesting. It made me think of the movie, “The Martian” with Matt Damon growing potatoes from the recycled waste. Hard work and ingenuity.

160929-aran-39-final

I think it is such a good reminder for us all about the key ingredients to success in anything we do. Be consistent, work hard and work smart.

Like Cal Ripken, Sr said about his son when asked about the record he broke for consecutive games played:

“What all this is about is a man going to work to do his job.”

Blessings,

John

Photograph of Ireland

Amazing Ireland – Full of Beauty

This is photo was made on our visit to the ancient ring fort on the island of Inis Mor. I love the way the huge wave crashing up on the wall is a mirror of the beautiful clouds above.

Small Details Matter

Small details matter when you talking about quality and things that last. That is the thought that came to my mind this evening as I was looking back at some of the photos from the last two days of some of travel. The two images were one of a restaurant we ate lunch and dinner at in Dingle and the other was the ancient beehive stone huts.

The restaurant in Southwest Ireland in the town of Dingle, was called “Out of the Blue”160925-dingle-tour-55

They have a motto “either fresh or still alive” for their seafood. What stood made this great Seafood restaurant stand out was there attention to detail. The seafood was to die for and was so fresh and cooked to perfection but also the sides of the dish were so thoughtfully selected and perfectly prepared. As Terri pointed out, the sides of a main dish are often just an “after thought” with little attention to their selection or preparation. Attention to the small details can really make a huge difference in the quality! We are so glad we found this little out of the way little restaurant as they were a good reminder of this truth.

160925-dingle-tour-54

The other image I mentioned that caused me to think about the importance of details was the amazing design and construction of the ancient stone beehive huts of Ireland built, in some cases, over 1500 years ago. The ones we have visited all remain intact just as they were constructed. The used a stone building technique called “corbelling”. It required amazing patience and attention to details as each stone was carefully selected and chiseled and placed in just the right position so the final beehive hut would provide shelter against the very tough Ireland climate and they continue to stand to this day just as strong. Truly and amazing engineering and craftsmanship feat.

There is no substitute it seems to me if you are interested in quality or things that last, you  have to pay attention to the small details!

160925-dingle-tour-105-final

160922-skellig-fuji-38-final

Blessings,

John

 

 

A Slice of Heaven

a-slice-of-heaven

One of the wonderful things about travel, especially when you are traveling on your own like we have done for the past week, is getting to meet and talk with the local people of the region you are visiting. Yesterday we experienced what I would call a “a slice of heaven”, when we met a beautiful Irish woman at the bus stop. She had missed the bus in the morning and was waiting like us for the 11:40am bus to Killarney. Her name was Bridget and she had grown up in the area.

As we talked during our wait for the bus and on the bus ride to Killarney, we experienced what I term a “slice of heaven”. Bridget was the quintessential Irish woman full of life and hospitality and warmth. She “lite up the room” as the saying goes. Her vitality and love of life and people just flowed out of her.

I read in the book I am reading that “Everyone is in heaven when he or she has plenty of room for communion and no need for exclusion”. There was no exclusion in Bridget. She was all about communion with others. She inspired me to be more open and loving to all I meet. She was a true inspiration and we only spent a short time together.

We all need to be more of a “slice of heaven” to all we meet!

Blessings,

John

Photograph of Ireland

Little Skellig Painted Birds

Love this image. I spent some time in my “creative processing” after I took the image to make it look like this.