Apache Reeds and Love Made Visible

reeds in the bosque del apache

What is is to photograph with love? The answer can be found in this, a favorite photograph taken earlier this year in the Bosque del Apache. Seeing it now brings me a sense of  simple beauty and joy in being completely alone in a place has consistently brought me the deep satisfaction found in doing purposeful creative work. My heart is warmed just in the remembrance of the late winter afternoon when I parked my car and roamed around the tall weeds and grasses. Just me doing the simple work of pointing the way toward beauty.

Below I share the full stanzas of the poem, On Work, by the great Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran. Taking the time to read it slowly a several times through this morning was a reminder of what it means to be a professional at what we do… whether or not it brings us money.

The years I spent as a professional shooter (before pivoting into interactive design) left me feeling more like hack than an artist. At the end of my days, whether they were spent in the studio or shooting documentary, I felt so sick of my camera I didn’t even want to look at it, let alone pick it up on weekends. The passion I initially had for my craft slowly evaporated in the absence of a clearly defined purpose. There was no love to make visible while working closely with the military. In retrospect, my time spent working on a government contract set the stage for my intention to show up now with a sense of purpose, knowing it won’t be perfect.

Kahlil Gibran asks, “What is it to work with love?” and delivers a challenging answer:

With love energizing our efforts, we reap a harvest of joy on behalf of our beloved. And who is the beloved if not the audience we wish to serve with the harvest? Without a community of hungry people, the farmer’s hard work goes to waste. What are your people hungry for? When a ballerina strikes a posture for the dance, there must be a community there to receive the gift of the performance

Who or what are you dancing with, and on whose behalf?

The measure of the value of The Work stands in direct relationship to the quality of attention and motivation put forth in the making and sharing of it. Sure, there are artists who attain great heights who are complete assholes, and my intention isn’t to be one of them. The most remarkable and memorable artists I’ve known infuse their work with thoughtful devotion, not only to the craft, but to cultivating an awareness of what people need on a human level.

With so much noise and competition in the world, the best way to stand out isn’t found in just being good at what we do (that’s the easy part if carving the marble), but in doing the much harder work of paying attention to what will bring joy to others and providing a felt sense of grace, skillful provocation, or understanding to the people who are growing to trust you. We have to get our hands dirty and dig into the soil of our own self-absorption to plant new seeds in a more generous garden.

In this dark time where massive shifts in our collective awareness are inviting, if not demanding the dismantling of delusional systems that stand to destroy the earth and all of us with it, it is critical that we address our ignorance of who we truly are and what we are honestly up to. If there was ever a time to reform and renew our sense of purpose, it is now. We can aspire to be more like nature, always creating, shedding, blooming, washing away, renewing and regenerating

However you define your Love Made Visible, whether an adventure toward an inner or outer horizon, my wish for you is to do it wholeheartedly as a devoted farmer would, with a sharp plough and the ample fertilizer of suffering that is and always has been cascading all around us.

May we all have the courage to engage with our shadows.

Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work.
And he answered, saying:
You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when the dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.

You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,

And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.

And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”
But I say, not in sleep but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

– Kahlil Gibran, On Work


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