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Begin Again

Traveling has a way of shining a spotlight on those pesky and persistent habits of mine. My husband and I spent a week in Tokyo and Kyoto before meeting our tour group in Kyoto. On that first day, we traveled with the group to Nijo Castle, had lunch in Gion and then made our way to the Fushimi Inari Temple. I was eagerly looking forward to visiting the Fushimi Inari Temple and capturing the winding string of fiery, orange torii gates. I had seen photos of them and I wanted to capture my own. I could feel my rapacious tendencies reach a feverish pitch when yet another person stepped into my shot. Even when I managed to capture a shot of the torii gates without the presence of people, I wanted another one. I was insatiable and becoming incredibly stressed out in an effort to get that perfect shot.

By now the tour group had gotten a sense of my madness and they gasped when I accidentally dropped my camera. I froze. Our guide kindly bent down, picked up my camera and handed it to me. I took off my camera's cap and shards of glass tumbled out. I began to tremble as I slashed myself with insults like "You idiot" and "Why the heck couldn't you have been more careful?!?" Dan broke the tension by saying, "Well you wanted to get a souvenir. I just didn't think we'd be purchasing a new lens." That remark resuscitated me, and we began to problem solve. After dusting off all the flecks of broken glass, we realized that it was the filter that shattered, not the lens. Thankfully, we were still in Kyoto and there was an enormous electronics store at the train station. I purchased a new filter and, as we say in the meditation world, began again.

This incident helped me reset. I was incredibly caught up in the stress of chasing down the perfect, award-winning photo that I was unable to take in the full breadth of my experience and surroundings. I was viewing everything through the tiny viewfinder, which is exactly what happens when we are stressed. We contract, we tighten and our attention zooms in so that we are entirely focused on the challenge at hand. When I dropped my camera it was the equivalent of a dharma teacher hitting the singing bowl. I woke up from the trance of perfectionism and wanting. I had hoped I had left my perfectionism back home, but, not surprisingly, she found a way to accompany me.

It would be wonderful if I could end this entry by saying that for the remainder of the trip I stopped taking photos and walked with ease and receptivity of a monk. I didn't. I took around 2,500 photos in two weeks. I did, however, really make an effort to find a balance between viewing my surroundings through the frame of the viewfinder and then putting the camera down so I could take in the unobstructed view of my experience. I find it quite ironic that the entry I wrote before my trip to Japan was titled "The Practice of Zooming Out." Isn't it true that we often find ourselves learning the same lessons but through different experiences. The practice is always one of beginning again. Stumble, reflect, learn, and...begin again.

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