Photographing Gratitude


I made this image during a meditation retreat at Deer Park (a Buddhist monastery started by Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh). It was the last retreat he gave on the west coast before he was incapacitated by a stroke in 2014. After reading his books for years, it was incredible to listen to his talks and walk up the mountain with him (...and a million other retreat participants) each morning.

I'm thinking now of the way we'd walk, silently, SLOWLY, taking care with each step. When we got to the top of the mountain, we'd sit and Thay's attendants would pour him a cup of tea. He'd sit facing us, sipping the tea, with an expression of complete peace and joy on his face - and we all just breathed together, looked around at the hillside, and blinked in the lovely light. We just soaked it all in - having tea with Thay. Nothing to do, nowhere to go - just sitting, breathing, enjoying. I didn't have the nerve to make any photographs. But, I carry the experience in my heart - and I think that's more important sometimes.

This sign greets you as you enter the monastery. It’s a reminder that, as long as you can breathe, you're alive and you have so much to be grateful for. If you're sick, injured, or emotionally pushed to the breaking point - - you're still breathing. You can still experience beauty and access peace if you look deeply, if you remember to be kind to yourself. I don't know how many times this idea has saved me - it's a lot.

My upcoming photography e-course is very close to my heart. I created it during a challenging year that included divorce and a really sick, hospitalized father. It was a doozy. I wanted my photographs to bring more peace and beauty into my life - so I started photographing all the things I was grateful for. It was so simple - but so incredibly healing.

Meditations on Gratitude is a 6-week e-course about cultivating happiness and hope through photography - photographing through a lens of gratitude. If you're struggling right now (with the news cycle, with personal challenges) and you're aching to be calmer, more present, more in-tune with your creative work, please join me.

Class starts on April 9th.