Reflection on Still Water

More days than not, I end up capturing upwards of 200 images that inspire, delight, or speak to me in some way. Every now and then, however, I find myself transfixed by an image. It’s rarely the most aesthetically pleasing shot. Usually, there’s just something about it that has some pull on me and sparks an inner recognition of some sort. So I sit with the image and contemplate what it has to say and what feelings or thoughts it evokes, and then consider how the insights that arise might be relevant to my life.

Yesterday, on the spur of the moment, I spent the afternoon at the New England Peace Pagoda in Western Massachusetts. I hadn’t heard of it prior to yesterday morning but felt immediately compelled to visit. Apparently, it is one of only four peace pagodas in the United States.

One detail I was thrilled to find on the grounds was a pond with both white and pink water lilies. I have been longing to see pink water lilies! I took many pictures of the pond, with countless prayer flags flapping overhead.

Here is the image I have been sitting with today:

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The way the water lily is illuminated with sunlight seems so ethereal, and the colorful reflection of the prayer flags adds to the overall impact.

The flower is enchanting.

But it’s not real. It is an illusion. A reflection.

I rotated the image so it’s upside down.

I think of how skewed the reflections are when the water is rippled or turbulent. If we can allow our mind to settle until it becomes like still water, we can perceive with greater clarity.

But another way to read the water lily image is to consider how we project stuff (thoughts, beliefs, desires, fears, etc.) onto reality and then mistake the projections for reality. We add our own inner content and conditioning to the bare “is-ness” of the moment and fall under the spell of our own projections.

In other words, the thoughts we think, the sights we see, the conclusions we draw, and the beliefs and opinions we hold are products of our perception of reality, not reality itself.

Oh, how we complicate reality! The image reminds me to return to bare presence and keep the mental commentary in check. Become aware of it. Allow it to settle and become still, quiet. Don’t believe all the thoughts you think!

When I showed my teenage son this image and asked him if he thought it looked real, he said yes – at first. But he had seen the original (non-rotated) image last night and explained that there are certain clues you can key in on and realize it doesn’t quite make sense when it’s turned upside-down. For instance, the flower appears to be floating.

And that adds another layer of meaning – a reminder to pay close attention to details that suggest that what you are perceiving to be real isn’t so. Avoid the temptation to pull the wool over your eyes and believe in the illusion simply because it’s so alluring, and you want to believe it’s real.

Anyhow, those are some thoughts that came to mind when I sat with and “read” the water lily photo. It’s an interesting exercise to try with a photo or painting that reaches out and invites you to lean in and go deeper.

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