“What you fear is an indication of what you seek.” – Thomas Merton
I am nervous.
I signed up for an 8-week online class called Photoshop Creative Techniques, taught by a well-known photographer, Jim Zuckerman. Zuckerman is the author of 15 books on photography. His images and articles have been published in Life, National Geographic, Omni and Conde Nast Traveler magazines. He’ a contributing editor to Photographic Magazine, and has led photo excursions to exotic destinations all over the world. For each weekly assignment, I study the written lesson materials and then, using detailed examples and sample photographs, apply the techniques to my own images. I upload those photos, and Jim provides a personal critique, promising to provide “honest” but “nice” feedback. His introductory email said,
“I’m honest because I think that’s what you’re really paying for and expecting – an intelligent and experienced assessment of your work. If I praise your work endlessly when your photographs don’t merit compliments, you will be cheated out of a learning experience. You won’t grow as a photographer. I’m nice because I don’t think it’s necessary to be degrading or hurtful when teaching. I will often offer other ways of looking at something, and you should feel comfortable in disagreeing with me at times. Art is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.”
I am self-taught in Photoshop, and have struggled to master the breadth and depth of its capabilities. I’ve been frustrated at many turns, and have wanted to learn more about it since I installed the software two years ago. This class wasn’t cheap, but it’s a commitment I wanted to make to myself; a step toward improving my photography skills. A step toward finding and following my dharma.
Dharma is a Sanskrit word, which can mean many things – “path”, “teaching”, “vocation”, “sacred duty” or “truth”. In the yoga tradition, your dharma is your own unique path of possibility. The journey to find your dharma is the journey to find the work you were personally meant to do in the world. Unfortunately, many people never find that place; they lack aim, or are beset by inaction, or fear or doubt. Your dharma is the work for which you have a true calling. It is the work in which you are most fulfilled; where you live in the intensity of “flow”; the work where your soul is awake.
The yogis say there is a path, a roadmap, to help you hear and heed that calling. In his book, The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope describes the four central pillars on the path of action toward your dharma.
- Look to your dharma.
- Do it full out!
- Let go of the fruits.
- Turn it over to God.
There is so much in these four short sentences. Each one deserves its own treatise. But tonight, while I search through my photos for some that are worthy of posting for critique by a master, I am thinking about the third pillar, Let go of the fruits.
Let go of the fruits means to perform your work, your calling, without a longing for fame, or recognition, or outcome from the effort. Let go of your attachment to the product, and immerse yourself in the act of creation. Cope writes about the poet John Keats’ struggle to live his dharma. Keats said, “That which is creative must create itself.” He realized over time that, when he was most creative, he was not the Doer. If he surrendered his attachment to the object of his creation, gave up his ‘grasping’ to own the outcome, he found its essence. As Cope says about Keats, “his having written it mattered more than what he had written.”
I love that message. It’s more important to do the thing – to write the poem, to paint the picture, to create the image – than to worry about how it will be received. In fact, the act of worrying about how it will be perceived actually inhibits the outcome. Give up the attachment, and surrender to the power and joy of the dharma. Let yourself be the channel for the gift to come through, regardless of whether others see it as a “gift” or not.
Well, all that is MUCH easier said than done. But tonight, in addition to my fear of rejection and my possessive reticence to let go of the fruits, there is a seed of excitement. I’m ready to learn, to dive in to that flow, and see what emerges.
Let’s just hope he truly is “nice” as well as “honest”. I’ll let you know how it goes.
If you’re interested in seeing some of Zuckerman’s work, here’s the link to his website.