"Man came from Nature in order to see Nature in himself; that is, Nature came to itself in order to see itself in Man."

–-- D.T. Suzuki, "The Role of Nature in Zen Buddhism," 1953

On My Images of Nature

Since I began this weblog in 2004, I have occa­sion­al­ly been asked why I include images of nature with many of my posts. How, for exam­ple, do pic­tures of the sea relate to a post on fair­ness or ones of a riv­er con­nect with writ­ing on self-worth? Not every post has pho­tographs of nature, but most do. So what are they for?

When asked, I usu­al­ly give the answer that I am try­ing to cre­ate a cer­tain feel­ing of sanc­tu­ary that helps read­ers slow down to absorb writ­ing that is often longer than what is rec­om­mend­ed as “best prac­tice” for blog­ging. I imply I want to estab­lish a sense of place to med­i­tate on the top­ic I am post­ing about.

But there is actu­al­ly anoth­er rea­son — which is pain.

Specif­i­cal­ly, it is so painful­ly dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate every­thing in words. I would argue it’s hard to com­mu­ni­cate much at all, real­ly, of the most impor­tant stuff, the stuff of the heart’s most pri­vate expe­ri­ence, the stuff of who we tru­ly are and our unrea­son. This is why some­times I resort to poet­ry; not that I’m any good at it. It’s just that words are always — and espe­cial­ly around the heady top­ic of lead­er­ship — emi­nent­ly arguable and too often an intel­lec­tu­al game. An image is less than that — and also more. That wild flow­er­ing rhodo­den­dron down in the near­by swamp has some­thing to say that is not some heuris­tic con­jec­ture. It is instead a tran­si­to­ry nuance, one that cap­tures us with beau­ty. It is the sum of us, a vibrant fact that holds mem­o­ry and will and loss and asks us to be ever sen­si­tive to what came before us and what will come after. In that flower you may see the inno­cence of the world as it began, more bit­ter­sweet by the day as the earth heats up and those in pow­er active­ly work to cre­ate fur­ther illu­sion and igno­rance, absurd­ly pulling up stakes on our com­mit­ments to the earth while embrac­ing autoc­ra­cy over any mean­ing­ful def­i­n­i­tion of human community. 


We for­get that nature mir­rors us back to our­selves. There are many times when what I want to do is sim­ply hold up an image of a for­est or a water­fall. Just hold it up and say, “Look! Here is the med­i­cine for the world, use­ful for the repair of rela­tion­ships, for the inner recog­ni­tion of our­selves that we all need. Here are our pos­si­bil­i­ties, our fresh start.” My grand­fa­ther, who was an artist, a water col­orist, used to say that if you want to know what col­ors go togeth­er you sim­ply need to look to nature. I would go far­ther. If you want to know what feel­ings go togeth­er, what reflec­tions, what inner free­doms you need, what wor­thi­ness, what fair­ness, look deep into the arrange­ment of stones in a mead­ow, or sit qui­et­ly next to a glac­i­er wait­ing to hear the ice crack, or drink from a stream that runs over gran­ite and lends the water its own sub­tle, min­er­al taste. 

Once you have expe­ri­enced and felt those nat­ur­al things, the chaos of our oh so poor­ly con­struct­ed soci­etal and work­place real­i­ties stands out strong­ly. As I write I find myself in pain for the lack of insight we all seem to share. How dumb we are, real­ly. I am in pain for my chil­dren and all the oth­er young peo­ple of the world from whom we in this gen­er­a­tion are steal­ing life. 

I want to hold that pic­ture of the riv­er up, that clear riv­er that you can still drink from, and say, “Look!” and “Taste!” I’m not just point­ing to some broad, social expe­ri­ence of dis­con­nec­tion. It is per­son­al. It’s here and now in the ways we treat each oth­er every day. I see it in my clients and friends, in the expe­ri­ences of anx­i­ety and stress, in the lack of trust, in the anger and sad­ness, the push of work cul­tures that are lit­tle more than cru­el to human beings, and no more pro­duc­tive for all the neg­a­tive assump­tions about one anoth­er that fly out of our mouths. 

Nature isn’t, after all, just a col­lec­tion of plants and ani­mals. It is mag­ic, yet now because we are less afraid of it, we seem to dis­count the inner ener­gy that once nour­ished us. Do you think the blos­som in this image is so pow­er­less? Less pow­er­ful than say, love? Do you think because you only have five sens­es that you can expe­ri­ence all of what nature is that sur­rounds you and is inside you? That you are?

Do you get it? If so, then you under­stand why I post these pic­tures. They say what I’ve nev­er found words for that might yet help us save ourselves.


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  • Byron Murray wrote:


    Thanks for this post. Just to let you know because of your encour­age­ment I now use per­son­al pic­tures and pho­tos in my work. It real­ly makes bet­ter con­nec­tions with clients and opens up spaces for dia­logue that I had not encoun­tered before.

  • Byron~

    I am so glad to hear that! The inter­play of word and image cre­ates a slight­ly dif­fer­ent kind of acces­si­ble space.

    All the best

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