The Gift of Bearing Witness

“Stories have the power to help us understand ourselves and others. Stories help us find our way.” 

– The Academy for the Love of Learning


Like most things I pay close attention to, I‘m drawn up-close and into this photograph. I want to see deeply and in some small way, there’s a part of me wishing to be understood and seen clearly.

How can a photograph understand the woman who is looking?

I don‘t know the answer to this question, but have noticed a quality of being witnessed by some of my images. That might sound a bit crazy, which is okay. It’s like a song being sung to me. When truly heard, there is an exchange and harmony in mutual recognition between the Seen and the Seer, much like the flow and confluence of rivers.

Episode 1 :: The Gift of Bearing Witness

by Susan J. Preston | Courageous Beauty Podcast

Riding along the wave of taking this picture there was, and always is, a moment of recognition. Something is recognized as interruption-worthy. Instead of being on my way somewhere, a willingness emerges to be paused– to be with what is calling me. And it is within this noticing that appreciation or longing emerges, which may or may not blossom into a desire to focus and capture a picture. My hope is that at least some of my images serve as visual voices, which inspire my readers to hear their own stories.

I was moving alone through an ancient corridor in Chaco Canyon and something called to me. Was it the light?  Or the traveling shadow brushing past the open window? Maybe I heard an ancient whisper carried on the wind that was spoken by the spirit a long-ago Pueblo Indian?

The culture and the century we live in colors the stories we tell ourselves about these experiences. And if we are conscious of and curious about our narratives, we can skillfully craft them to inspire action, to heal our suffering, and grow in wisdom.

I wonder what might be calling you in this photograph? Will the spiral of stories inspired by these ancient walls wind their way around yet another corner? With each noticing of what is unfolding the present moment, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in the world can be transformed.

To bear witness is to be brushed by wonder. The shadows crawl, unaware of where they are going. The cricket calling in my garden does not know it is I who will be touched through noticing. The tanager sings and cannot know the true power of her own voice. The flame of Spring is unconscious of the sap rising in the trees. And the apricots growing heavier with nectar are destined to fall without the longing of some sentient being.

It is in being seen and heard that I can recognize a glimmer of Self. Trapped inside this bottle it’s so difficult to step outside and make sense of myself! Being witnessed is both a reflection and midwifery. We are stories being born, with threads weaving into the unfolding of every single moment!

Which is why paying attention ((close attention)) is of such great importance. Because wisdom doesn’t search for answers, it seeks to call us toward the asking of better questions. And I think our best stories spark a quality of curiosity and mystery, which inspires wonder and a thirst for learning.

How can a photograph understand the woman who is looking?  

I don’t need an answer to this mystery. All I need to know is that I am the woman who listens for the songs that are singing.

What is the quality of our listening? How can we learn to hear each other and ourselves more deeply?

Visit The Midnight Flute for daily flute recordings by Mark McBride

Music Credits: The Short Second of Eternity by Mark McBride,

Photo Credits: Witnessing Walls of Pueblo Bonito  by Susan J. Preston, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico © 2019, all rights reserved
Technical: Fuji XT-2 | 16mm (XF 16-55mm  f4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR) | 1/280 sec | f 18  | ISO 2000

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