To Be Present in our Existence

I’m a visual artist living in a world of brightly-lit screens. Sometimes it’s so easy to pull one up in front of my face, too, and capture each elusive moment as it passes by. At concerts and museums and along walks in the woods, the images before my face are so full and rich that I want to snatch them up and save them forever. And yet, the moment I lift up that screen and put it before me, it comes in between me and the world I want to hold onto in time. Photographs are wonderful, beautiful things. There’s even one at the top of this page. But it is easy to forget how quickly we sever being wholly-present and replace it with semi-presence to a virtual, flat reality.

That’s why I almost never take photographs at concerts anymore, and only take photos at galleries if I need to reference them for a research paper. There is something about every experience that requires our entire presence. Every moment is overflowing with sight, sound, smell, touch, and emotion that doesn’t exist on a flat, illuminated square. We are a generation that feels the need to hang on to every second and share it with the world in order to validate our existences. We do not think about words much. Our internet identity is stretched flat on pixels of color. We SnapChat and Instagram and Facebook our memories to prove their worth, feeding on the endless stream of others’ realities that scroll through our newsfeed.

I don’t hate technology — far from it. I’m a visual artist, and I revel in the brilliance of well-taken photographs and poignant colors that bleed out from a page. Photography is a beautiful means of creating unique and meaningful works of art. It has just struck me, though, how we sometimes miss the immediate experience for a flat representation of reality. I’m a sentimental person who treasures the many photos I have of friends and places I have been, yet I have discovered the value of focusing on the experience beyond what the camera lens can see.

Last week I was sitting outside, wrapped in sunlight and a warm spring breeze. I had my eyes closed, meditating on that ancient word maranatha. Even as I focused on that word with each exhaled breath, I was more fully conscious of the world around me than I ever am when I have my eyes open. I was so deeply immersed in the immediacy of every moment that it seeped into my soul.

I don’t have a photograph to describe that experience — the way my warbled thoughts cleared and the world seemed to stretch out infinitely around me. It was entirely sensory without my sight. And when I did open up my eyes, my consciousness focused in on every detail, from the sun glimmering on each blade of grass to the rough surface of the pavement. There is no picture I could have put on Instagram that would have captured that feeling, that moment. It was only something that could be lived.

I would encourage you to do that throughout the remainder of this week — live. Every picture has its own meaning, but it is an abstraction of a fuller, truer meaning that exists only in the spaces we occupy. At the concert, close your eyes and immerse yourself in the rhythmic ocean of sound. At the gallery, become aware of the textures and colors within each finite space. In each moment, remember to slow down and breathe in the sweet spring air. This is the one life we live. Every second is an experience that gives way to another second, more precious than the last.

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