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A Strenuous, Deliberate “Photo” of You (the “missing” Monday post) July 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Men, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 12th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

– quoted from a journal entry dated August 5, 1851, as printed in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal, Walden Edition by Henry David Thoreau, compiled and edited by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn and Bradford Torrey

At the beginning of the Common Ground Meditation Center practices, before I start the recording, we do a little round robin of introductions that includes people’s names, pronouns, any requests they might have, and a prompt question (that people may or may not choose to answer). Even when the prompt question is, “How are you feeling today?” it is somehow (secretly) connected to the theme of the practice.

Sometimes, as I did this week, I ask a question that I couldn’t have asked 200 years ago; a question the answer to which would have been very different if asked 100 years ago or even 20 or 30 years ago. This week’s question: Are you a mental picture taker or an actual picture taker? The answer to that question has changed as photographic technology has, umm… developed.

Ten years ago, there was no Instagram. Twenty years ago there was no Facebook or YouTube. One hundred years ago, no one was going into the woods as Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817) did and posting selfies or videos of how they lived deliberately and sucked out all the marrow of life. Two hundred years ago, one of the leading film innovators, George Eastman wasn’t even born yet. (He was born July 12, 1854.)

Monday’s class was all about Thoreau and Eastman, but it was also about taking mental snapshots – of ourselves, our bodies, our circumstances, and even people and things around us. Our memories are far from perfect and, even when our senses are taking everything in, we are not always consciously aware of what we are observing/sensing. Photographs and videos can do a better job of preserving a moment, but they aren’t perfect either. Even with the right lighting, the right angle, and panoramic camera feature, these recordings are only capture a reflection of a moment – which is not the same as the moment.

Sure, a picture can show us something we had forgotten or something we didn’t observe/sense in the moment. However, there can also be optical illusions created by the lighting, the angle, and the camera’s mechanisms. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we are only given a moment in that moment.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

– George Eastman

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a mental picture kind of person. Yes, pictures of me, places that I’ve been, and the people with whom I spend my time exist. However, I’m more likely to soak up a moment, in the moment, than I am to take an actual picture of the moment. I’m more likely to remind myself to “remember this” even as I recognize that I’m already in the process of “forgetting this.” And, even when I take a picture, I rarely go back and look at it.

My tendency to eschew photos has not always been my personal trend. One of my maternal great-uncles was an avid photographer and when one of my brothers and I lived near him he was constantly taking us around the Washington, D. C. area and photographing us at area landmarks. These photos are amazing and look like the kinds of pictures you would find in an advertisement. In fact, for many years, those photos and the experience of those “photo shoots” had me considered modeling. I actually did some modeling in my preteens and early teens – you know, back when I was a kid and my height was not considered an obstacle. But, overall, I wasn’t (and still am not) a fan of candid shots or random selfies.

Don’t get me wrong – I love photographs… of other people (and landscapes). But, like a lot of people, I’m not overly fond of pictures of myself. They almost always seem to catch me with my eyes closed, a funny expression on my face, and/or they just don’t look like I think I look. As I highlighted in last year’s post, there’s a little history behind the science of film that relates to this. There’s also a little science, similar to the reason why very few people like to hear recordings of themselves, behind why people may not like the way they look in photos.

“We are repeatedly exposed to ideas in the media that support social norms and stereotypes. This can facilitate our own adoption of these ideas, which can sometimes be harmful. A 2008 study found that exposure to faces of an Asian ethnicity led participants to develop positive attitudes towards other Asian faces shown to them. This indicates that the amount and nature of exposure different ethnicities receive influences their popular perception in society. It is commonly understood that minority populations are shown less in western media, and are often shown in ways that support racial prejudice.”

– quoted from The Decision Lab’s “Why do we prefer things that we are familiar with? The Mere Exposure Effect, explained.”  

According to the “mere-exposure effect” (also known as the familiarity principle), people develop a preference for things with which they are most familiar. Psychologists have conducted studies about this phenomenon using words, Hanzi (Chinese characters), paintings, geometric figures, and even sounds (played for chicks before and after they hatched). Similar research has also been conducted with actual people and photographs of people. Time and time again, the research shows a preference for things with which we are familiar and a tendency to avoid things that are unfamiliar. The familiar brings “warmth,” a feeling of affection – even when we don’t recognize it as such. The unfamiliar brings confusion, sometimes fear and a strong desire to disassociate and/or avoid.

If you are thinking, “Wait, I look in the mirror and see myself every day. Wouldn’t the ‘mere-exposure effect’ support me liking pictures of myself?” As it turns out, the answer is no; because what you see in the mirror is not what you see in the photo. What we see in a picture is the version of us with which our friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances are familiar. But, it’s the reverse of what we see in the mirror. Remember, we are mostly asymmetrical and our reflection is not our true image.

So, looking at pictures of ourselves is akin to what happens when someone listening to a recording of us hears us, but we hear something completely different. With sound, we often talk about “air conduction” and how our own voice reaches our inner ear in a different manner than external voices – and, therefore, the vibration that reaches the brain is different. However, studies have shown that physiology is only part of the reason we don’t like our own voices when we hear a recording. The other part is psychological: familiarity. In fact, studies have shown that if we hear a recording of our voice mixed in with unknown voices, we are likely to express a preference for our own voice (even if we don’t automatically recognize it as ours).

“If you drive, you probably see yourself as a competent, considerate, skillful driver, especially compared with the morons and [others] you face on the road on a daily basis. If you are like the typical subject, you believe you are slightly more attractive than the average person, a bit smarter, a smidgen better at solving puzzles and figuring out riddles, a better listener, a cut above when it comes to leadership skills, in possession of paramount moral fiber, more interesting than the people passing you on the street, and on and on it goes.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

Our voice and image are all tied to our sense of self and, on a certain level, our self esteem. According to a 2017 Psychology Today article by Madeleine A. Fugère Ph.D., one of the reasons we may not like our own pictures is because of self-enhancement bias, which is a psychological cocktail that results in people having a mental picture of themselves that is not 100% accurate. Self-enhancement bias is primarily a combination of “illusory superiority bias” (whereby we judge others harsher than we judge ourselves and view ourselves as special); the illusion of control (believing that we are more responsible for our successes than our failures); and “optimism bias” (the belief in the back of our minds that things will work out for the best).

Obviously, some people are more optimistic than others and – due to social and psychological conditioning – some people have more of each of these attributes than others. However, the bottom line is that, in the base case, a healthy human being believes they are slightly more attractive than others may find them. When we look in a mirror, we can move around and adjust things to engage our “confirmation bias.” But, there’s no changing a recording. Additionally, if we are already prone to disliking a picture – before it’s even taken – our “hindsight bias” kicks in along with our “confirmation bias.”

Of course, as Dr. Fugère points out, we can use these same psychological tendencies to become more familiar with images of ourselves. And, similar studies show that this also works with recordings. First, we can take and look at our pictures more often. Some people even suggest looking at older pictures of ourselves (which may actually fit our mental picture). Also, some research has shown that while other people may like regular pictures of us, we may prefer selfies. (Even though I didn’t come across evidence of this, it may be because the camera is flipped in reverse when we take our own picture.) Finally, the best pictures are, of course, the pictures we associate with a positive memory and emotional experience – and studies show that happy people are attractive people.

All of which contributes to why influencers may be inflating their self esteem – sometimes in a way that is healthy (but, sometimes in a way that becomes really unrealistic and, therefore, detrimental to themselves and their followers).

All of which also means that my tendency to avoid pictures, may not be serving me in every moment.

“A report in 2010 published in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests that you even see yourself as more human than other people. The findings predict that no matter what country you come from, no matter your culture, if aliens chose you to represent the entire species as Earth’s ambassador, you would feel as though you could fulfill that role better than most. When asked, most people believed they exhibited the traits that make humans unique in the animal kingdom more than the average person. In 2010, UCLA researchers conducted a survey of more than 25,000 people ages 18 – 75 and found that the majority rated their own attractiveness as about a seven out of ten. This suggests that the average person thinks that he is better looking than the average person. About a third of the people under 30 rated themselves as somewhere around a nine. That sort of confidence is fun to think about considering that it is impossible for everyone to be better-looking than half the population.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

[You can find last year’s blog post on Thoreau and Eastman’s birthday in the bolded links above.]

MKR - All Rights Reserved

Back in the modeling days!

### “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth….” GE ###

A Strenuous, Deliberate Life Photo July 12, 2020

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“When from a long distance past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny, and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

 

– quoted from “Overture” in Swann’s Way, Volume 1 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

 

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.”

 

– quoted from The Captive, Volume 5 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

It’s human to look back over your days. Sometimes we do it intentionally, deliberately – like the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who would end each day by reviewing what he had done between rising and retiring. It’s a good reflection meditation, which can help us be more productive and (sometimes) can help us to sleep better by literally putting to bed unresolved issues that might have otherwise kept us awake. Sometimes, however, memories just kind of pop up.

We can be eating a madeleine or a biscuit, sitting by a moonlit lake, reading a book, listening to music, sitting down to take off or put on our shoes, or practicing on our mat and suddenly – out of nowhere it seems – we are bombarded with a very visceral memory. It seems as if it comes from nowhere, but it actually comes from inside of us. It is visceral because we not only feel it all the way to our bones it comes out of our bones, out of our tissues, out of our minds and bodies.

So, memories (and reflection) are things that happen to humans and things we humans do. The question is, how do you make remembering useful? How do you show up, in the present, when your mind transports you into the past? How do you remember with the intention of Thoreau and the eye of Eastman?

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

Born today in 1817, in Concord Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau was a teacher and a writer, who is remembered as a writer and naturalist. Thoreau self-published his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers on May 30, 1849. It was the story of a trip he took with his brother John over 10 years before. I have heard that the brothers were close despite having different temperaments. Henry David was introverted and all about the books; John was out-going, extroverted, and fun-loving. John supported Henry David’s every endeavor – helping him pay for tuition at Harvard and even started a new school when Henry David was fired for objecting to corporal punishment. When John died, unexpectedly, in his brother’s arms, Henry David floundered. He lived with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s family for a period of time, as a teacher to the Emerson children, and (along with Edward Hoar) would accidentally burn several hundred acres of Walden Woods. Not long after the fire, Emerson allowed Thoreau to retreat to a cabin located on 14 acres of land 1.5 miles from Emerson House. Henry David Thoreau would live in the cabin, on the banks of Walden Pond, for two years, two months, and two days. He would spend that time writing the memorial to his brother and the work most people associate with the name Thoreau: a collection of essays entitled Walden, or Life in the Woods.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

 

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

 

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

 

– George Eastman

George Eastman, born today in 1854, in Waterville, New York, was an entrepreneur, inventor, and philanthropist who founded the Eastman Kodak Company. He and two older sisters (Ellen Maria and Katie) were initially raised on a 10-acre farm his parents purchased shortly before George was born, but their father – a successful entrepreneur himself – died of a brain disorder when Eastman was almost 8 years old. By then living in Rochester, NY, the Eastman family’s life on the farm was but a memory. George, who had been self-taught until his father’s death, was sent to private school and his mother took in boarders in order to survive. By the time he was 15, the youngest of his sisters (Katie) had died of polio and (soon after) George left school and started a photography business.  By the time he was 30 years old, George Eastman had patented the first practical “roll of film” and before the age of 35 he had developed the Kodak Black camera, designed to use roll film. George Eastman’s company would become the first, and the leading company, to supply film stock and he incorporated what would become a billion dollar company (with a made up name).

Henry David Thoreau was a transcendentalist and an abolitionist who read the Bhagavad Gītā and believed in civil disobedience. He spent a (very) short period of time in jail for “tax evasion” – which was not the first time he had refused to pay something he thought he should not have to pay – and possibly helped others escape tax liens. He was criticized for a number of things throughout his lifetime, including the decision to live alone with those regulated to the fringes of society (which some viewed as “unmanly”). His maternal grandfather, Asa Dunbar, led a student revolt at Harvard in 1766 (the first recorded in the United States) and Thoreau’s philosophy and viewpoints regarding “unjust laws” (like the Fugitive Slave Law, which he frequently attacked in lectures), would influence Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. His legacy to the modern world includes over 20 volumes worth of articles, essays, journals, and poetry.

“Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid; and the like. Others have been curious to learn what portion of my income I devoted to charitable purposes; and some, who have large families, how many poor children I maintained…. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”

 

– quoted from “Economy” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

George Eastman also lived a solitary life (in that he never married or had children). He was considered a progressive in the social and political sense. He fought the labor union movement by offering worker benefit programs, which included employee profit-sharing for all employees. He also promoted Florence McAnaney to the top position in the personnel department – establishing her as one of the first women to hold an executive position in a major U. S. company. He also founded “an independent non-partisan agency for keeping citizens informed” in Rochester, which continues to this day.

“If a man has wealth, he has to make a choice, because there is the money heaping up. He can keep it together in a bunch, and then leave it for others to administer after he is dead. Or he can get it into action and have fun, while he is still alive. I prefer getting it into action and adapting it to human needs, and making the plan work.”

 

– George Eastman

As a philanthropist, Eastman donated (often anonymously, as Mr. Smith”) millions of dollars to a variety of organizations including the University of Rochester (which was also the beneficiary of his estate), the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He established the Eastman School of Music and schools of dentistry and medicine at the University of Rochester, as well as the Eastman Dental Hospital in London, England. Low-income residents of London and other European cities also benefited from Eastman’s generosity as he provided funds for multiple clinics across the pond. Eastman also donated millions to Tuskegee University and Hampton University – historically black universities.

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth….”

 

– George Eastman

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 12th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

An “Interesting” Development

 

 

### YS: 1.36 VIŚOKĀ VĀ JYOTIŞMATĪ ###