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