The Art of Devotion

Myanmar Devotion-1 Devotion inspires one of the purest sets of emotions, capturing love, loyalty and deep feelings of excitement that I do not think can ever be understood beyond our own personal experiences. In the world around us, so much devotion towards deities, lovers, children and nature, all linked to our desire to better understand. Myanmar Devotion-2 Devotion in its pure form is absolutely awe inspiring to witness. I may not share or understand the experience of the devotee, but often cannot help but feel some attachment with their act of devotion. Myanmar Devotion-3 To many, devotion is a scary word.  Devotion requires commitment, and the fear of commitment alone can send people running for the door. Contrarily, the only emotion equal to the feeling of devotion is the feeling of freedom.    Freedom to live, to pursue and to reach the potential hidden within, for this is what life’s about. This is the strange paradox between devotion and freedom. Myanmar Devotion-4 The integrity of people devoted to philanthropy has been inspirational since the dawn of time.  The world admires such people for the dignity and strength of their devotion. However, in today’s world with an overwhelming number of options with little time to spare, I wonder if such pure devotion is possible without restricting freedom? Myanmar Devotion-5 On the surface, devotion appears restrictive due to intense focus and drive, especially in what is now a sound-bite/tech based society where nanoseconds steal away cognate thought.  Is it possible to have true devotion and not have every fiber of your being focused on this nirvana?

“If this conviction had not been a strongly emotional one…they would hardly have been capable of that untiring
devotion which alone enables man to attain his greatest achievements.” ~ Albert Einstein

Myanmar Devotion-6 Perhaps the greatest window into the art of devotion comes from religions around the world, stunning in their emotional beauty.  We see people opening their hearts and soul, trusting in devotion. The beautiful fury of devotion. With the lesson that such beauty is tempered when priestly powers from above, and I mean those men who sit in rooms and pontificate, creating rules based on outdated policies with one goal: to control. Myanmar Devotion-7 It does not take an academic to recognize centuries of petty political ideologies sprung from ivory towers, exposing the self-righteous nature of man.  To control and manipulate devotion for purposes other than its pure source and nature is to extinguish the flame that made it so.

“Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart –
a leaf, a flower, fruit or water – I accept with joy.” ~ Bhagavad Gita

Myanmar Devotion-8 There is a simple, beautiful thread that is the backbone of devotion and it is the mysterious concept of love.  Once rules, regulations and intolerance are allowed into this mystic sanctuary, devotion becomes less than what its true destiny requires. It becomes a misguided passion that takes us away from the immense potential. Myanmar Devotion-9 Ceasing to ask questions and instead listen to rules created by others taints the purity of devotion. It is pure devotion that makes it easier to find this oft spoken iron rod to lead us forward in life.  Faith does not mean to stop seeking answers or submit to blind faith, but rather to take responsibility. Myanmar Devotion-10 Questioning faith along the way is an integral part of human nature.  It helps redefine who we are and what we can become.  It allows for our devotion to evolve over time, granting flexibility and freedom in life to make the right decisions. Pure devotion is a journey to open up new ideas and see through destructive intolerances.  Like all good things, the greatest potential can only be reach when given the freedom to pursue. Myanmar Devotion-11 Watching someone from the opposite side of the world practice the religion of their culture, I see how beautiful Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism are because they all share the same threads of belief.  It creates a sense of devotion within. All things are born from devotion: the rhythm of science, spirit of musicians, harmonies of mathematics and the devotion of a mother to her child.  The foundation of devotion is the seed for growth. Myanmar Devotion-12 Belief in a power we do not understand, yet surrender ourselves completely takes courage.  Behind this courage is love, the common thread that unites everything and everyone in the world.  You cannot love without the pureness of devotion leading the way. Take away all of the politics, the insensitive rhetoric of intolerance and there lies the beauty of real devotion. Myanmar Devotion-14

“When the sun of fierce devotion shines on the snow mountain…
the stream of his blessing will pour down.” ~ Drikung Kyobpa

In a world where we are always chasing something, lost in the false devotions shoveled to us daily by “society”, it is easy to miss what is at the heart of devotion and love.  Forgiveness. Myanmar Devotion-13 Forgiveness is a sacrifice, to grasp the simple significance of quality: quality of this short time on Earth and the quality of tomorrow.  Forgiveness can bring the freedom to move on with a clear heart, and through it strengthen devotion. It seems strange to think of forgiving others as a sacrifice, but I’ve seen pride and perceived slights crush love and devotion, every passing second creating a scar that could have been prevented with an act of forgiveness. Myanmar Devotion-17 The coming Easter holiday is perhaps the epitome of sacrifice.  Within this holiday are the select attributes that make devotion such a powerful state to experience. Forgiveness and sacrifice.  Two concepts I never before considered to be at the core of true devotion towards the things that I love. To be devoted to life, heart open and tolerant of all that is different guarantees a journey through life like no other; it will take the spirit places never before imagined. Myanmar Devotion-15

“The need for devotion to something outside ourselves is even more profound than the need for companionship.  If we are not to go to pieces or wither away, we must have some purpose in life; for no man can live for himself alone.” ~ Ross Parmenter

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A Holy Time in San Miguel de Allende

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There are angels who walk on Earth, and they can be found in the sleepy town of San Miguel de Allende of the central Mexican state of Guanajuato…which I suppose is not so sleepy any more, as it has become an art & culture center for much of Central Mexico.  The people of San Miguel de Allende have become well-known for their great artistic skill as well as their incredible hospitality.  From my experience of Holy Week, the city and festival is a perfect testament to the brilliance of the people, creating not just a fascinating city, but a home.  Perhaps not a physical home for those just visiting, but definitely a home for the heart.

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In early spring, to celebrate and honor the Holy Week of Easter, the town comes alive with pageants and processions that express the passion of the local people and their religion.  There is not a better time to understand the local culture and gain new experiences and memories of new friends sharing a day.  Throughout the week, I had often been told “this is a city where at dawn the city is full of strangers yet at sunset full of friends.”

While the city and area has much to offer, being there during the Holy Week festivities created an atmosphere perfect for photography and contemplation.  Of the many different processions of Holy Week, the San Juan Dios Procession was my favorite as I was there with a group of photographers and it was a great opportunity to lose myself in shooting…to focus on the scene, people and the lighting so I could extract the emotions of the day.  It was made easier by the continual warm reception we received by the local population and the participants of the day’s procession.

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When it comes to shooting a moment like the SJD Procession, there is always a fear that the presence of a camera could create some tension and take away from the day, the reason being is pretty simple: photographers, at times, can generally be viewed as a disruptive bunch when they do not take into account their surroundings and only shoot for themselves.  Fortunately, such fears vanished quickly as I was stunned at the opportunities to shoot people in a relaxed, natural state…there are not too many places in the world where that is possible.  It seemed all photographers were keenly aware that this event was for the community, and took a back seat to the events.

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One of the main reasons of the relaxed nature of SJD Procession was the number of children with their parents and friends, all smiling and accepting the day for what is was: a celebration.  Even as I started the day with the intention of focusing fully on my photography, I could not help but become removed from my role as a photographer and instead dive into my role as a participant.  The reception, as is often the case with warm cultures, astounded me as all of my subjects had a smile to share and a helpfulness that creates a mood where we are all one big family.  

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As I sat down to watch the procession with my camera in hand, protecting my prime shooting position I had claimed, a group of young children from across the street with whom I had joked around with earlier in the morning, motioned me over to come sit with them.  I do admit that my immediate concern of photography and leaving this prime location almost caused me to shake them off, but it was only for an instant and I quickly jumped over to the other side of the street instead and sat on the curb with my new friends.

A big thanks to Araceli Moreno Bustamente and Josefina A. Hernandez, whose children and friends sat me down and immersed me into the festivities, culture and their celebration…even if just for a brief period of time.  It was such a great time laughing with them, trying to translate words/expressions with my poor Spanish (which was the endless cause of laughter with the kids), and the beauty was simply watching this large family interact so effortlessly and take in all the day offered.

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The SJD Procession was definitely the highlight of the trip, perhaps not so much for the photography as it was for just ‘being there’.  Culturally, I felt very much a part of the procession, which I did not think was possible.  If there was another moment where similar feelings were created, it had to be the evening of Good Friday when the ceremony of Via Dolorosa and the Procession of the Holy Burial took place.  While this procession was much more solemn, it also contained more intense emotions.  The timing of this procession was perfect, just getting underway as dusk began to darken the town, setting the scene perfectly.  Starting at dusk, as photographers, we have the great challenge of shooting with limited light even though by now I had learned that photography definitely takes a back seat to all the emotions and pageantry that the participants bring and share.  This procession did not disappoint as the participants engulfed us all to become part of the somber celebration.

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Collis,R Day403

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To have such waves of emotions around you with a camera in your hand, is the golden time to create ambiance within your photographs, such that you can be transported back into the scene again and again.  I suppose that is the beauty of photography, it allows you to contemplate life while previewing the current scene and selecting the piece of life you wish to “immortalize” in your shot.  As you later go back and review the shot, be it days or years later, you again contemplate your mood and the scene… an experience we have all had with photography.  The ambiance within the photo you created also gives the opportunity for others to view the scene, contemplate and perhaps create their own story and mood.  Ideally the photo sparks a thought that blooms within the mind of others and the creativity of the shot continues.  For photographers do not shoot photos just to shoot, they shoot photos to be experienced…     

For this incredible ride that Holy Week and San Miguel de Allende provided, I have to give a big thanks to go to my sister who made it possible.  The early morning coffees, discussions of photography and most important enjoying the food and margaritas after a day of a long shooting made it a great week.  A cerveza or two during our breaks in shooting with the locals didn’t hurt much either!  At the end of October every year, there is also the annual “Day of the Dead” festival in San Miguel de Allende, and I hope to travel back to this wonderful land a create another week or so of magic.   

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An important note to add: the experiences of Holy Week were made possible by an incredible number of people, and specifically through Raul Touzon, an absolute master of light and thus a master of photography. His work can be found on http://touzonphoto.com/ .  My photography improved greatly through watching him work and perhaps more by viewing his work.  Even today, when I receive his newsletter and see his latest work, I notice how he “bends light” to suit his needs…and I learn a little more.  Inspirational.

The internet has been a blessing for all photographers, as there is such a great mountain of superb photographic work out there, it can do nothing but inspire me to push the envelope even more and improve.

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