Monday, November 8, 2010

Come, Be inspired!

An open field across the road of a family friend's home in East London, SA
A few weeks ago, my mum forwarded an e-mail to me. It was an invitation to attend a workshop hosted by South African Fine Art Photographer, Marlene Neumann.  It would be on Saturday, November 6 2010 at 9am. I didn't answer my mum whether or not I wanted to go, but the thought was at the back of my mind. For nearly 30 years, Marlene's message has been, "I photograph what I feel, not what I see."

On Thursday, I felt a bit zoned out and slightly disconnected. I was trying to write, but my words were coming at a very slow pace. I needed a nudge in the right (write?!) direction. Something told me to go back to the e-mail and re-read it.

The workshop promised:
An experience in Awareness
How to express your Creative side
Connect your HEAD & YOUR HEART
How to see Light...
End the year with an inspirational SURGE!

They were only accepting 50 bookings, and when I booked - they opened it up to 60. There were only two available seats left. It was meant for me!

I woke up on Saturday morning still feeling a bit disorientated, and I couldn't wait to get to the workshop for this "inspirational surge"!

Arriving at Marlene's gallery, one walks through a driveway and enters a magical place - her garden. There are trees, flowers and crystals everywhere. I marveled at the serenity and I knew I was going to leave feeling uplifted.

Each person had to draw a card which had a special message written on it. Mine read:

"There is always a piece of fortune in misfortune." 
-Japanese Proverb
Stairs leading to? At Egyptian Embassy in Seoul, South Korea
All I really want to do is share what I learned and that's why I've written this blog. There were some moments where my eyes almost welled up with tears as Marlene spoke. Why? Because she spoke the truth about loving life...and how to do it. It's a fact that truth hurts, doesn't it? Emotions are powerful and when any emotion is evoked, we need to listen to it. It's our mind, heart and spirit talking to us. How many of us are guilty for ignoring this voice?

Since this post is longer than usual, I've broken it up with photographs I have taken over the past few years in various locations - South Korea, London, Singapore, China and Egypt. To me, they're beautiful and make me feel good. I hope you'll feel the same way.


Taken at a Botanical Garden in Singapore

We're all the same. We may be sitting in our our chair wearing our own clothes, but we're all the same. Traditionally, men are conditioned to be tough and women...? Sensitive! But we all share emotions, and as Marlene says, "We all have the same kak (crap)."  How often do we go through a rough patch thinking that our worlds have come crashing down on us and that no one will ever understand what we're going through? Well, we'll be surprised at how very much alike we all are - if we give ourselves (and others) the opportunity to connect with each other.

Inspiration is more important than knowledge.

"If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito."
-Anita Roddick

Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
-William Blake

Imagine that. To hold eternity in an hour. It took a moment to realize what this really meant. To appreciate every single moment. This sounds very poetic and I'm sure you'd love to savour every minute of life, right? But do we do it? No. Do you ever look up at the sky to see the beautiful formation of white clouds against the sea-blue sky? I can say that I do. By taking photos of the sky or beautiful things I see, I'm able to capture these moments and keep them...for eternity!

Marlene loves working in nature and says that she has realized that she is tiny in comparison. When I lived in South Korea, I had a new found respect for nature and found myself craving fresh mountain air. When I'd walk through a forest or mountain, I'd be in awe...absolute awe of the natural beauty that surrounded me.

Naejang Mountain in South Korea
Why do we only talk about our spirits at funerals? We should talk about it now. Celebrate it now. Uplift it now.

To live your spirit is simple. All you must do is DETACH from your ego and follow your HEART.

To be in spirit....
...keeps coming back to your own self.
"The answer is simple." to be in divine guidance. realize that we are from the same source - we truly are ONE! move out of our comfort zones.
(What moves us out of our comfort zones?....LIFE!)

We all get knocked once in a while. We're not perfect and we need to stop putting up a front that we are. The secret is to pick yourself up before you really hit rock bottom. Know what lifts you and do the very things that will make you soar!

In East London, SA

Without breathing, we're dead. It's guaranteed. Do we realize that breath is a common bond shared between people?

At the workshop, we put our right hand on our heart and breathed. Strange how we pay no attention to something we do EVERY SECOND of our lives. We had to turn to the person sitting next to us and breathe with them. Sounds easy? No way! Syncing your breath with anyone (let alone a stranger) is hard. I felt uncomfortable and couldn't make eye contact with the man sitting next me. Why? We're (I'm) afraid of connection with another person. For many, the mere fact of turning towards a stranger and breathing with them is stepping out of their comfort zone and let's face it - that's some scary ish!

A church in Coptic Cairo - Cairo, Egypt

How do we inspire ourselves?
Inspiration is a feeling like you're connected. We are really so busy and caught up in our schedules on our Blackberry (iPhone?!) that we really don't spend time looking...

We look, but do we see? feel it in your gut.

A traditional tea house in Beijing, China

Marlene says: Everything is always beautiful. Imagine walking around with this mindset? Everything is always beautiful. Will you kill a fly in the kitchen? Will you stare a second longer at a fallen leaf?

You see, all this is in our minds, but our thoughts tell us differently.

What is EGO?
It is nothing more than an idea we carry around everywhere we go, and our little ego is always defensive, insecure and reactive.

It is when you notice the voice in your head. Not the voice of a parent, partner or colleague. It is the voice that lives in your head.

Halla Botanical Garden - Jeju Island, South Korea

What is FEAR?
Fear. Anger. Judgement. Mistrust. Our thoughts. Being sharp-tongued.
All this frightens us, just like breathing the same air scares us. It's strange, isn't it? In a room or office filled with people, we share air with so many others. We're probably synced with some of them, but actually being aware of that frightens us to our wits.

"Everything is as it is. There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
- William Shakespeare

An ego-created mental emotional disease that has reached epidemic proportions.

It is not intelligent. It is always of the ego. The ego may be clever, but it is NOT intelligent.

The Great Wall of China - Beijing, China

Now ask yourself: "Am I a thinking or feeling person?"
When we feel, we reach out.
When we think, we shut down.

For regular readers of my blog, you'll know that I have tried to keep up with my series of Thankful Thursdays, where I list everything that I'm grateful for for the past week. This enables me to reflect on the week and the gestures, regardless of how small they are and to just appreciate the people in my life. By doing this, it's allowed me to realize how truly blessed I am.

Naejang Mountain in South Korea

Did you know?
The fastest way to get out of depression is gratitude!

I love words and the way they intertwine with each other, so this jumped right out at me:

"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."
-John Ruskin

...and remember:

"Not to be happy is not to be grateful.
-Elizabeth Carter

"There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude - a quiet joy." 
-Ralph H. Blum

Nile River in Egypt

As The Secret (Rhonda Byrne) teaches us: What we put out to the universe will ultimately come back to us. In the same sense, what you consciously feed yourself, you will feel.

Remember, in all our years of schooling, we only know what we've been taught. Marlene says that her photography represents her emotions when she clicks a picture. We can only see something if it's in our souls. Isn't that lovely?

Halla Botanial Garden - Jeju Island, South Korea

Speaking about photography, Marlene says that we need to be inspired by the small things in life. Which are what? I thought about it... beauty surrounds us. Where ever you're sitting right now, look around you. Look up, down, left and right. If you open your mind, heart and spirit, you will be able to list at least five things that are beautiful. It could be a flower on your desk, a photograph...even a squashed up piece of paper in the bin.

In a coffee shop in Istanbul, Turkey

The Ripple Effect

You're in traffic and someone takes a turn right in front of you without indicating. You scream, right? You swear... you turn to the other driver and call him names. Is he listening? No! Can he even hear you? No! He's going on his merry way, but for at least 15 seconds, you bitch in your car about him. You arrive at your destination and share your woes with at least three people. Two others who are overhearing the conversation add their 2cents to the story. What's happened? It's a ripple effect.... It's so powerful, and we abuse it. All the time.

Why not use the ripple effect in a positive light? Tell someone a shade they're wearing brings out the colour of their lips. They will feel good and happy. What do we do when we feel happy? We want to spread the joy, not so? I do. It feels selfish to hold on to joy without distributing it to others around you. By brining joy to others, it takes a U-turn and comes right back to you. It's so lovely. Let's try and use the ripple effect - but only to harvest happiness.

Puddle on the pavement - Bucheon, South Korea

"Focus on the magic, not the tragic." 
Isn't that stunning?

What brings you joy? Try one of these: Pick up a leaf, watch the rain fall, smell the strong aroma of coffee, pat a dog, put on a fresh pair of socks, watch a dog breathe, pick up a crisp R100 note. Connect your mind and spirit to your body and see how wonderful you will feel.

Passage in my apartment building - South Korea

"When we go closer or deeper, we never know what we may find." I know for me, this can either be exciting or frightening. The unknown scares us, because it's territory we're not familiar with.

We all make assumptions about each other, don't we? This, we can't deny. We see someone with torn jeans and scruffy hair walking with his/her head hung low dragging their feet looking like a bum, for lack of a better word. If you were at a gathering, would you make an effort to go and speak to a person like that? Few would. We must not judge things or people by what we think we see. There is always a reason for something being the way it is. As Marlene said, "It is really just our egos and the mind that plays tricks on us."

At Marlene's gallery in East London, SA

When we're not learning/growing, we become uninspired.

Marlene shared this with us what photography has taught her:
"To listen, to look, to watch light, to see shapes, to hear, that everything is love, awareness."

Don't go to India to find a guru. Live with your partner or watch children.
We need to realize that everything has its place in the world.
That you really can take a holiday in a square meter.
That everything you need to know is shown to you in nature.

Hamdeok Beach - Jeju Island, South Korea

"The subjects I photograph are the very feelings that are inside of me." (Neumann)

Speaking of aloes (plants) which she has photographed, Marlene said that they are significant to her as they give her strength and teach her endurance.  She advised to place the right photographs in ones home as "they support you". Over the years, she has collected keys from around the world and after taking a photograph of them, she realized why she did that. It was symbolic of unlocking her soul. I loved this!

From a plane flying back to South Korea from Turkey

"Who decides when flowers are dead?" she asked. I thought about it. Even a wilted flower is beautiful. It just takes a different form and changes colours and texture,'s still beautiful.

This life is not forever. Love even the person you don't like.
Celebrate your life! You're not here for long.

"How does one become a butterfly?" she asked pensively. "You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar." -Trina Paulus

Remember that light comes from within. It feels soft and gentle.

Positive pictures come out from negatives developed in the darkness. So if you find yourself lonely in the dark, understand that life is working on a beautiful picture for you.

Marlene also touched on don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements, which I've blogged about before.

The Four Agreements are:
1.  Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don't take things personally.
3. Don't make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

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