Month: December 2013

To Soften the Gaze

I’m not really sure where this phrase came to me from: ‘the compassionate gaze‘, but it’s been playing around in my head / heart for a little while now.

(If any of you know its origin, please do let me know!)

And although I’m not really into resolutions for the New Year, or all the brouhaha that now surrounds the choice of one glittering word for the year, this phrase, and what it conjures up for me, is something that I do want to carry with me into 2014.

I’ll try and explain what it means for me.

The compassionate gaze is something I’ve learned from taking photographs.

It works like this, simply:

If you soften your gaze, your photographs will change.

Perhaps this is because (in ways we can’t rationalise) something of your feeling – appreciation, affection, respect, love – is translated in the image.

I have often felt though that there is something else going on, that (in ways I definitely can’t rationalise!) the subject of your photograph somehow responds to your noticing, to your attention, to your gaze.


It’s one of the reasons that the experience of photography is, for me, more about connection than ‘taking’, about that sense of rapport you can get by paying loving attention with the lens.

I’m sure this kind of looking with kindness can be applied in other ways.

I think we can probably learn to try and look at people like this.

It’s a bit like smiling at a stranger as you walk down the street, and noticing the ripple of energy that can follow their noticing.

Sometimes smiling is beyond us but perhaps even with the most difficult people you can learn to soften the way you look to get beyond the surface, beyond the labels, beyond the normal way of seeing to the point of connection that lies somewhere… beyond.


The more I think about it, the more I can see ways I would like to practice this way of looking.

Perhaps the most critical scrutiny is that which we apply to our selves: our stories, our work, our creative expression, our decisions, our sense of what things all add up to.

If you put any of that under a magnifying glass, or the harshness of a bright neon light, it can look less than pretty.

But perhaps we would see something else: softer, more textured, richer, more clearly part of the stuff of the whole, if we stepped back and softened our gaze.

Perhaps you could.

Perhaps I could.

I think this might be a way of looking that takes a lifetime to achieve.

But perhaps the new year is a good a place as any to begin.

Patterns of Darkness and Light

We’re almost at the winter solstice.


With a lot of blustery, mild, cloudy and rainy weather recently the short days have seemed pretty dark.

Although I’m glad for practical, driving, and getting to work reasons that we’re not enjoying classical (stereotypical) Christmas card weather, it does mean you’re more aware of the dark.

And, when you get a chink of it – more aware of the light.

Which is, of course, the beauty and the conundrum of the solstice 😉

It’s a day, a turning point, a festival for some, that can carry lots of different meaning.

(If you dig and delve on the web you’ll find lots of different ways of marking it and talking about it, some wilder than others.)

I remembered when I was walking earlier that the day had once been a turning point for me.

Ten years ago on the evening of the solstice, I started to journal.

I titled the journal, without really knowing why, a journal of darkness and light.

I started it with a commitment to writing it all, to noticing it all, to being willing to journal the darkness as well as the light.

It seems a little strange looking back on that commitment now, where it came from, and all the places it took me.

But I think I’ve stayed true to that commitment, even if the journal now comes out as a blog 😉

Since then I’ve started taking photographs too, day after day after day, and one of the greatest gifts this practice has given me is learning to notice the light.

At this time of year the sun has dipped behind the hill behind my house.

I need to walk along the road to see it, and even then only for a brief few hours during the day. Watching out for these brief moments of light, you start to notice where the sun falls and rises, inch by inch along the horizon.

Telling the time by watching the landscape, just as those who went before us did.

Watching the darkness, and the light.

sun dipping behind the hill

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