Proof of Life on Earth


It's reported that some indigenous cultures believe that photographs steal a bit of our soul, that Aboriginals and other island cultures believe that each image takes something of our essence from us. And in a way they're absolutely right. Each instance in which we try to 'capture a moment' we lose understanding that its slipping past us, we'll never get it back, that we've failed to attend to it with the integrity of full sensory awareness.

Such an observation, of course, runs counter to our beliefs, for it seems that we have become as interested in the representation of life as the actual experience of it. From arriving at scenic vistas to the most mundane meal, from nights on the town to resting in our most private moments, the obligation is to whip out a smart phone, take a snapshot and publish the images soon after as a kind of documentation that it really happened, and we really exist, that our lives are so very full. And perhaps there's even an underlying anxiety that none of life counts unless there a two dimensional representation of it stored on the cloud for all our friends to click "like."

Is it grouchy to observe that this seemingly harmless ritual is subtly degrading our attention to lived experience? Do we understand that experiences cannot be captured, for beyond the hastily taken photo, a vast array of experience is forever lost: the backgrounds sounds, sensations of contact with the ground, moods and feelings, aromas, the core impressions creating the richness of being in the moment.

Are we really present for life after we've grabbed the shot, or knowing that we 'have a good shot' give us permission to zone out or move on? Some may argue that our photos are taken swiftly, and that much of time we're not taking them, but I wonder if the easiness of creating and sharing images creates an underlying perceptual laziness, a sense that we don't have to attend to moments with the same effort and care.

I like a good photo as much as the next person (I suppose, as I have no idea what the next person feels), and though I've seen enough for one lifetime already, I don't begrudge the endless parade of images on social media. I'm simply noting what we can lose each time we say cheese. So once we've captured the image, let's return to what's truly meaningful, making the deep contact with others and feeling the real, concrete feelings of aliveness, with an understanding that our pristine moments are slipping past. Let's give in completely to the charge, the euphoria, the very zing of being here.