by Regina Mountjoy for The Cultivating Project –
What does it mean to “look for the flower smiling back at you?”
Several years ago with friends in a London pub, I was asked how I choose which flowers to photograph. My impulsive answer was, “I look for the ones smiling back at me.” For me, this expression goes beyond my flower portraiture art; it also speaks to walking through life with eyes wide open; of living in presence, mindfulness, and intentionality.
I can do the same exact two actions but what sets those actions apart is the intention of the act, the heart of it. Why does that matter more? When I was young, I didn’t understand an idea I heard in church and seen in the Bible: if you do something without love it doesn’t count. (1 Corinthians 13:2) I felt frustrated because I didn’t know how to control how I felt and equated that with not having love. But I knew I could choose to do what I believed was right, even if I would have preferred to be outside on my bike or catching lizards. I felt like that should certainly count for something at least! I definitely don’t feel like I’ve figured it all out all these years later, but it still seems to me that making the choice to do what is loving, in spite of how I may feel, is a form of living with intention.
Years back, I got tired of the rush. I was sick of being busy. I felt like “butter scraped over too much bread.” I was fraying at the seams. I felt dry, brittle, and cracking. I started therapy (again) because I didn’t feel safe or loved. In my head I knew I was. But I wasn’t experiencing it; I wasn’t absorbing it. There were a hundred reasons for this but for the point of this little article, I will focus on one main reason: I was not living with what many refer to as ‘presence’. I was always focused on what else I should be doing or what had played out in the past. I felt scattered, overwhelmed, and insufficient.
It took a lot of work for me to recognize a very simple truth. I did not need to change the whole setting of my life, rather I had the opportunity to start shifting my perspective, to stop letting the same old recordings play and play unchecked; to stop focusing always on the future and the past, but to just focus on this exact present moment.
We can all envision a scenario of a person being in a chaotic situation but being intently focused on someone they love. Despite the world seemingly crumbling around them they are serene and unaffected. They have focused their full attention on what they love. (I’m imagining the end of the Matrix here!)
We may be surrounded by millions of sounds, sights, smells, and choose to pinpoint our focus on something near us and let the rest of the sensory fade into white noise. We have the power to transform our entire experience from overwhelm to serenity simply by shifting our focus and zeroing in on something we love or appreciate. And that is precisely what I do with flowers.
I walk into a garden and immediately, I can feel the wave of overwhelm of people, millions of flowers, the emotions, physical sensations, thoughts I brought with me, the quality of light. Then I look for something small to focus on; something that feels like they have noticed me walk in and wants also to be noticed. Just as if I can feel someone looking at me (and how is that?!) and then I scan a crowded room I lock onto the person looking at me – this is what I do in a garden. Not everyone or everything wants to be noticed at any given moment by any given creature. But there are always some who respond to me in a very open, trusting, engaging way.
My photography is the practice of slowing down, noticing, and saying “I see you.” It is a practice that spills over into the every day so I do not rush in the grocery store and can say to the girl at the register, “I see you.” That may sound like, “I love your hair!” Or, “how long is your shift today?” Or, “I am sorry that last person was so crabby. I’m sure they’re dealing with something difficult and had nothing to do with you. You are lovely.”
Photography is a powerful way of maximizing my intention to focus on something present and let the rest fade away. For a very long time, before I had time to collect a pile of other grounding resources, my camera saved me from sensory and emotional overload. I put the camera to my face and am transported into my own little world. It is not uncommon that when I look through the camera at a particular flower, the breath catches in my chest and tears spring into my eyes because I am so caught off guard by the tender vulnerable beauty of something so tiny; something I could have missed.
I can walk across a room thinking about what I am going to do once I get there. Or I can walk across the room and feel my heel touch, my foot roll on the floor, my toes bend at the end, and then my next heel touch connecting me firmly to the earth. Same action, different experience. The first exists in the head, in disconnection, in future; the second in the heart, in connection, in presence.
A few ways I strive to practice this outside of the garden:
- Silencing my phone and putting it in my purse while I am having tea with someone or dinner with my husband.
- Eating meals in silence on my couch or at the table and not reading or looking at my phone or computer or even thinking about what to do later, but focusing on the texture and taste of every bite and feeling gratitude for it.
- Saying something kind or simply just smiling at every person and creature who crosses my path.
- Putting my hand on the wall of our home when I come back and telling it I love it.
There is so much beauty, kindness, and sweetness around us every day, but in a rush to get to the next thing or allowing just thinking about something other than what we are doing, they go unnoticed. That is a great loss. However, all it requires to see the beauty around us is a shift in where and how we look. A single shift of attention back to this very exact moment can change your life. It has mine.
Refocus your gaze and your heart will follow. tweet
Regina Mountjoy is the finest photographer of flowers I have ever known. In her portraits of people, she captures her subjects presence and gives them permission to be beautiful – a rare feat in the world of photographic imaging. I have often said this – Regina Mountjoy is the photographer I most aspire to be like.
This April 1st you have an opportunity to see her work up close at her exhibit titled “Embrace” – 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM MDT at VOCO Studios – 3700 Franklin Street, Denver, CO 80205.
You can register and R.S.V.P at https://www.facebook.com/events/736942659789202/
Twelve brand new large Flower Portraiture canvas gallery wraps will be on display. You can bring one home from the show or purchase one of the images in a different size to have delivered to you after the show. You will also have the opportunity to purchase a Flower Portrait as a gift for a refugee family relocating to our beautiful state this year. Regina is hosting this show as a benefit for The International Rescue Committee, an organization responding to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Come learn more about the IRC and how you can support them. To learn more about the IRC in the meantime, please visit their website: https://www.rescue.org/
Many blessings to you, friends!