December 6th, 2017 … The Excellence of Being

Of course this is a loaded topic but nonetheless, I want to get into it some. There are times that when I am working, something comes over me and I am totally aware of my being.  Some may call the the ZEN. Perhaps it is. I read a series of books that has effectly altered my thinking and feelings about being. This was in the early 1970’s. The author was Carlos Castaneda.  Many say he made everything up but who cares. The world is made up and all we do is choose the parts we want to believe and love.  Anyway, it’s basically about Carlos and his relationship with a Native American mentor named Don Juan.

I think Don Juan had a more focused outlook on life than even the Zen Masters. Different for sure but extremely focused.


Some things Don Juan taught Carlos and me by reading, was that…Death is always on your Left Shoulder. He also taught that if you are doing something, it must be worth your death. If you are in the middle of anything and death comes to you, you must not have wasted life but embraced it and your death. Death must be worth you life and you are able to feel as a warrrior not only thru life but thru death.


What does this have to do with photography? Well, I believe that photography is a cause for going on. So, that being the case, what attitude should I have when working? What frame of heart and mind shall process what my eyes present to them? What is the switch that I can hit that makes things lighter and less important? I have never been able to answer these questions and more. I found that it is better to live the answers than to try to verbally define them.

The independant state  of being is attached to the breathing of photography.

I had a friend for a long time. His name is jack. Jack was a successful commercial photographer. He made a lot of money and was in demand in DC, Phila and NYC. We met at Oscar’s Pub years ago and chatted and each expressed our views on photos and stuff. Jack said I was too serious and asked how much money I made with my camera. I felt kinda second class and told him I had to leave.

It moved me about the thought of equating satisfaction and success with money. I really felt  kinda out of place. Life went on and cameras and photos came and went. One day I was at Logan Square and sitting on a bench. All the sudden, Jack came to me and sat next to me.  I said, Jack, it’s been a long time man. He said, yup,12 years and 2 wives.

I asked Jack what he was making photos of and he quickly stated that he gave photography up cause the money well dried out.  I asked him if he did personal wotrk and he said, never. Then Jack asked me if I still was making photos. I looked at him and said, Jack….if you need to ask that question, you don’t know me at all.

I shook Jack’s hand and got up and walked away. I never saw him again and yet I never wanted to either. The excellence of being is not absorbed from others but born inside of each of us. We all have the ability to produce a life with photos that teases our death. We can’t escape it but we can live the moment of excellence of being so that when the time comes, we depart with a peace that is undescribable to those that do not heed the warnings or the flavor of life.

I don’t expect many to agree with me or even like this post. That’s not the issue. The thing is, now you have an understanding of where I’m at.

So, tell us where your at?

15 thoughts on “December 6th, 2017 … The Excellence of Being”

  1. Well said. I like the story from the life of the old Methodist, who was working in his garden one day when someone came up to him and offered this challenge,”What would you be doing right now if you knew that Jesus was coming back today?” The old Methodist replied, “I would be doing exactly what I am doing now.”

  2. Hi Don,
    Just maybe the influence Carlos Castaned’s writings has allowed you to come to better know yourself, say, in relation to others, and also, provide you with the means to express one aspect of that understanding of yourself through the vector called photography.

      1. In the mid 70’s I read Castaned’s “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge”, and Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, and then started reading Herrigel’s “Zen in the Art of Archery”. I used to regularly visit two of my great aunt’s – both their 80’s’ and avid book readers. The usual line of enquiry about what I was doing lead me to mentioning I was reading these books. There was an immediate request to hand them over so that they could also read them – I complied. They read these books three times, and each time there was something new they discovered. My aunt’s found them impressive, fascinating, head-spinning, revealing, insightful and utterly enjoyable reading – resulting in many underlined bits in each book. My aunt’s kept the books, by the way …

        1. Sean, that’s about when I started reading his writings. I have collected all and read all of his books, some even more than twice. Perhaps Carlos is my first real mentor for the MOMENT. I’m not saying he was the first introduction to the moment but I am saying, his words and the way he presented them was the first to make me aware and adaopt the philosphy of the moment.
          Of course there are many others that I have learned from but he was first to launch me to the unknown.

  3. Loved your post. To take it one step further, if something is worth doing, it must be worth your death; but how about after death? Most everything will eventually die and “dry up”, as it did with Jack. So even that is finite. Personally, I believe our ability to perceive and create beauty comes from a source beyond our finite and limited physical person. How can we as broken and hostile beings conceive of things so naturally opposite to our human nature, unless it comes from without? It is this other worldly inspiration that, to me, it the real reason for doing.

    1. Russell,
      I tend to agree with you about the source of energy and beauty coming from the outside. I think as humans we are not capable of generating that beauty. Maybe we can appreciate it, capture it, enjoy it but not create it.

    1. Lynn, thanks but… after all these years with my Shrink, I have learned to be able to get inside someones head, sometimes. Not saying you but if the words fit….. be blessed

  4. I get that sense of being too Don. The realisation……suddenly….. that I am not just a pair of eyes but a whole sentient being. I move through the world affecting those around me in some way or another, and they; in turn, move around me. I absorb what I want and reject the rest. I am aware of time….acutely aware. You know yourself that the older you get the more friends/family pass on. The gap they leave in your life must surely mean that you absorbed something? I have looked at the effect I may have had on others in the past, the negatives….and I try to atone for them in my own quiet way. Not directly with them necessarily, but in the way I live my life. I love my family and friends, I love my art, I hate to waste a second. I have a mantra “Live! Die when you can fit it into your schedule”. When i am taken I want it camera in hand having just taken the best ever photograph in the world. Don, keep on keeping on….you always have my admiration. Regards, Pete

    1. Pete, always a pleasure to read your thoughts.
      Maybe you just described the “Life Experience” with more clarity than I could. I thank you my friend, take care out there but take it with your camera.

  5. Thanks for baring and sharing your soul Don. I suppose it has something to do with your recent “I want my life back” post on FB. Whatever is going on … a wish for many continued years of healthy shooting. Take care out there and have a great weekend.

  6. Quite a nice Christmas piece, the Parable of the Photographer. As John Donne put it around 1630: “Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me./ From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,/ Much pleasure” 🙂

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