Finding the Tao in Nature
Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism defines the Tao as indefinable:
Look, it cannot be seen – it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard – it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held – it is intangible.
These three are indefinable, they are one.
From above it is not bright;
From below it is not dark:
Unbroken thread beyond description.
It returns to nothingness.
Form of the formless,
Image of the imageless,
It is called indefinable and beyond imagination.
Stand before it – there is no beginning.
Follow it and there is no end.
Stay with the Tao, Move with the present.
Knowing the ancient beginning is the essence of Tao.
Going into the Phil’s day off assignment, I struggled to understand how I could explore Taoism in practice. I found it challenging to decide what I could do to convey its message and address my own perspective on this metaphysical approach to reality. My original plan was to interview strangers on their thoughts about the possibility of an existence such as the Tao, and how they would respond to the idea that this mystical force is present in everything we perceive as reality. I decided against this idea because I didn’t see how my personal perspective on the topic could be conveyed. I thought about engaging in Taoist meditation for an hour, but I knew this couldn’t be achieved with my brother’s incessant drumming next door. With Taoist principles in mind, I was inspired to make a small film on attempting to capture the Tao in nature to convey my perspective on Lao Tzu’s ideas about reality and this ever present force.
Before filming, I did some more research on the principles of Taoism which were dominantly expressed in finding beauty in the ordinary, appreciating reality for what it is, and moving beyond our limiting expectations of the way we feel things should be different. I also read an excerpt from the book “The Tao of Photography” by Philippe L. Gross which was very helpful to understand what it means to be a liberated observer, who captures the essence of what is being filmed without interfering or altering its presence. This book also emphasized the importance of detachment from pre-defined images, “The liberated photographer, like the Taoist sage, can respond creatively and spontaneously to life’s changing circumstances.” I understood the significance of this idea when I was filming the sunset, it was moving so quickly in the dying light and I recognized my frustration in failing to keep my camera steady to capture its final seconds before it was eaten by the clouds, but I was forced to surrender to this tragedy. I felt the same way when I filmed the insects in my backyard, I successfully followed this bee for a while before it flew to a nearby flower and my battery died. It was so frustrating to witness this moment all alone, it would have been a beautiful shot and after I mourned it over I remembered Philippe L. Gross – non-attachment and surrendering to the natural flow of events as they unravel is key in observing and capturing the Tao. It seemed as though some of the best shots all occurred while I was unable to film them, and I realized I was being greedy. There were moments of cinematic miracles that escaped the imprisonment of my little red button. All these lost opportunities irritated and defeated the purpose of what I was trying to achieve in practice. In trying to capture the Tao in nature, it was challenging for me to accept what I had missed and forgive my avarice, but I became more aware of the impermanence of nature and the ever changing circumstances and I’m grateful for the moments that didn’t escape me. It was an educational experience and I thought it was interesting to explore the principles of Taoism in this way, and my curiosity about this metaphysical approach to reality continues to grow.
Through the challenges of lost opportunities, dying light, frustration and impatience, I think my experience was meaningful because it made me aware of my response to elements that I could not control. In Taoism, Lao Tzu promotes the idea of surrendering to the way of life in the natural way it is revealed and the importance of finding oneness with nature. Similarly, in the excerpt from his book, Phillipe L. Gross expresses the importance of breaking free from the separation between oneself and what is being observed, he believes this makes a noticeable difference in the way we capture reality on film as it allows the observer to be liberated from the expectations of what they believe something should look like, as opposed to accepting its present form. The artefact from my experience is the collection of captured moments in nature through film, which are integrated with the principles of Taoism and a few of Lao-Tzu’s ideas that inspired my filming process. In creating this artefact, applying Taoism in practice made me aware of the emphasis I placed on capturing these moments on film in contrast to my attitude towards the moments I wasn’t able to physically capture, which were equally special when I witnessed them in person, metaphorically symbolizing secrets that were exclusively revealed to me, their essence present while I still was watching.