The most magical moments are impossible to capture anyway. So close the camera/phone & open yourSelf to receive what is.
Try recording what you’re witnessing within your cell tissue instead of on your cell phone.
A few weeks ago I was in a new place, a lovely place, but I didn’t know it well enough to know the right place to pray at 9am on an open beach. My prayers do not involve me kneeling with my head bowed & my hands together. I resisted this even when I went to church. The pastor of our presbyterian church got used to me lifting my head, eyes wide open, and listening when everyone around me was bowed & mumbling.
My prayers now are songs that involve percussion instruments that I carry with me. My prayer songs involve me turning from the rising sun towards the next direction it takes–North in the Southern Hemisphere & South in the Northern Hemisphere–& on from there, making a circuit. In one song I even pray up to Father Sky & down to Mother Earth & within to mySelf. This is when it really starts to look conspicuously pagan. So here I am on an open stretch of beach, suburbs on the other side of the dunes, scoping out enough open stretch to possibly sing all 4 directions of a song before someone gets too close to hear or see too much.
Halfway through, I turn to the West & there is a woman right behind me who has waded through water & crept up quietly in order to hold her camera phone up & capture me. I stop singing & drumming & say, without pause, “You can’t record this!” She starts babbling about how beautiful it was & how she got her sneakers all wet & how she likes drumming herself, all while slowly backing away from me & smiling that “don’t harm me” smile I’ve (heartbreakingly) seen on beaten dogs. Instantly I feel conflicted. I fully understand her desire to approach & even to participate.
When I first went to New Mexico by train (maybe I was 20?) , from New York, I made my way to the Taos Pueblo by invitation of an elder I’d met on the bus ride that came after the 3-day train ride. I didn’t know you couldn’t take photos because I’d entered the reservation with her & she hadn’t told me, until I was yelled at by someone else. Then I knew.
I think a lot of us, in a lot of ways, simply don’t know. And until we venture, we may never know. And then, if we’re told in a way that isn’t inclusive, we may never venture out again. So I felt conflicted. I didn’t want to exclude, however these were songs I had not yet been given permission to share. Should I stop my prayers & invite her to join a different song I could share? This is what I would have liked to have done. That way I could have met her desire & curiosity without betraying my responsibilities to the songs themselves.
At the same time, I would like for people to put their phone/camera away & do the work of befriending a situation before they “capture”, “shoot”, or “take” it. I struggled with this terminology even when I was a more fully fledged photographer with cameras & a darkroom. It’s so hunter-like, so capitalist. No wonder there are stories of natives, resisting being photographed, insisting that the device will steal their soul. Hasn’t it done that with yours? Sometimes? Even just a little?
Sure, having a skilled photographer record a significant event so that it can be shared & even seen more clearly from the outside is invaluable. It’s also so helpful for including those who couldn’t be there & for me this means I can actually have an earthwidetribe, a family spread over the globe! Yet, and still yet.
If we are too distracted by the outward markers of our journey, we may lose
the invitation to be immersed in the sacred,
to be held by the moments that make up our living.
I absolutely love that the sacred songs & traditions I am honored to receive these days can not be recorded (or are not meant to be). This is rare anymore. I find I am somewhat old-fashioned about asking before taking & posting photos. Certainly it’s this influence of sacred ceremony. It’s also the influence of having a lot of dear friends who have young children & a policy of not posting their family life online indiscriminately. I do my best to ask before taking a photo & then certainly before posting it. When someone is so cute, like my 6 year old godson recently in the 3 piece suit he decided he wanted to wear to school on a Friday, it’s so incredibly tempting to “snatch” (there’s another “taking” term!) an image without asking — to capture it without him knowing. And most likely it will be less staged & more authentic if I do this, yet I have not honored him.
In fact I have betrayed him & his trust. This pisses me off, I must say, that people assume they have a right to “take” my image. I’m not famous & I’m not vain, but when I find myself in someone’s picture-taking, I turn my head. If I haven’t agreed to be recorded, I don’t want to be!
My phrase on Facebook says “more interested in inquiring than acquiring”. This applies here. I know how I feel when I have taken something. It will have been easier than developing a relationship enough to ask permission first because to do that I will have to make myself vulnerable by voicing what I want & then I also risk not being granted it. Whereas if only I’d “taken” it when I had the chance…
And perhaps if I were forced to boil the troubles of the world down to one quality, right now, this would be the one:
humanity’s propensity to take more than it gives.
Again, I have learned this by trying both. In 1999 I was interviewing my great Uncle Peyton about his older sister, my grandmother Phyllis, as we bumped along a back-country road in Virginia in a pick-up truck, when he realized I had my tape recorder (remember those?!!) on. I had not been brave enough to ask him first. Now Peyton was a huge man, physically & energetically. He was a high-flying military man & he brooked no puniness from others. He told me in no uncertain terms that I must ask before I record someone. That seared it into me! So maybe our lessons do need to be unequivocal.
What I will say is that I will continue to do my best to dance this marriage of cultures within me as gracefully as possible. I see within me the ancestry of those that take & have taken–of those whose vision has been short-sighted. As well as the ancestry within me of those whose ceremonies include a give-away & whose chiefs were those who made sure everyone had enough, even if it meant giving away his/her own provisions. A people who are known for making decisions with the next 7 generations in mind. Do you even know how long that is & could you conceive of making your key decisions based on that sort of longer-term vision?
If my own internal conversation has sparked something in you, I’d love to hear from you!