A Balance

Airplane landing over water, moon

Being an artist is a balancing act. There are many dimensions that must balance against each other. Get too far off in the weeds in any dimension and you risk losing the path you are seeking. This time I will discuss the balance between egotism and self doubt.

Egotism

Egotism is the sense of being self-important. It is arrogance. It is being focused on yourself and thinking, for instance, that your opinion is more important than others.

Who would want to be such a person? Well, an artist does.

He doesn’t seek to be arrogant, but it is a necessary component of the creative struggle. An artist has to feel he has something to say. That he has a point of view that is unique and worthwhile. And you feel compelled to share your vision with other people.

You have to believe you have the right, even duty, to grab people and say “look at this!” Because you are bringing something fresh and new into the world that people should see. If you are not bringing something new, then why are you wasting your time? But you are, so you should shout about it.

Your art is the best art you know how to make. You believe it is worthwhile. Therefore you should be a little pushy and arrogant. Egotistical, within bounds..

Self doubt

On the other hand, most artists are plagued with self doubt. There is always the voice whispering (shouting?) in our ear. Telling us we are not good enough. We aren’t doing anything new or creative. No one would want to see our work. What the critics say is right – we’re not really an artist.

Because of that self doubt we shrink back. We don’t shoot those extreme or controversial images. We don’t push our work to galleries or contests. Aren’t we quick to believe the worst about ourselves and equally quick to believe that everyone else knows more than us?

That little voice thinks it is doing us a favor by trying to keep us from making a fool of ourselves. To keep us from being hurt. But the reality is we can’t be an artist unless we are willing to be a fool. We will be hurt and rejected and told by the “experts” that we are not good enough.

It is up to our egotism to balance that and help us push on despite criticism and disappointment.

The intersection

Where egotism and self doubt balance is where I believe most artists live. You need both.

Egotism gives us the confidence to believe in ourselves. Self doubt makes us evaluate ourselves more objectively and see if we need to improve. We need both.

If they are not in a healthy tension we can go off track. Unchecked egotism can be self destructive. We can delude ourselves into believing everything we conceive is wonderful and a benefit to the world. Unchecked self doubt will cripple us and shut us down from ever risking anything.

On the other hand, a healthy amount of egotism keeps us moving forward, creating new work, experimenting, believing that we are doing something useful. Balancing that with a certain amount of self doubt will temper us. It will make us question and evaluate things but not be enough to paralyze us.

Like many things in life, being mature and creative means being able to manage the tension of competing and contradictory ideas. We have to use our core values and faith and life experience to understand the inherent contradictions and still deal with them. Without going crazy.

It’s about balance.

Living With ADD

Lone, dissenting, different sheep

I have semi-jokingly said I am probably ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder. I grew up before it was popular (or profitable) to label it. I may be, and if so, I am proud of it. It actually has benefits. (Yes, I know – potentially debilitating… It’s generally called ADHD now. I have at least one family member diagnosed with it and I probably have some form of it. But I’m looking at the positives.) By the way, I resent being labeled as having a “disorder” just because I’m different.

My “problem”

I suspect I am ADD because I get bored easily. I am impatient. It is hard for me to suffer fools. My mind wanders a lot and I am easily distracted at times. I don’t like to follow instructions. When watching training videos I greatly prefer recorded ones, so I can listen to them at a higher speed and skip through rambling or useless parts. And I try to avoid boring tasks.

This makes a seriously mind-numbing task like preparing taxes agony. It is well worth it to me to pay someone to go through the tedium. Yet my annoyance is selective, depending on my interests. I used to be a software developer. I could sit and focus single-mindedly on designing or writing code for hours, not even realizing the time. Likewise, now I can get lost spending hours at the computer processing images. What would be tedium for some is not necessarily so for me if I am interested in it.

On the positive side, this “malady” gives me a huge curiosity about a wide variety of things. I love to pursue new subjects and learn new things. It makes me very attentive to things happening around me. So I am predisposed to notice things most people pass by. That is a secret to my style.

Modern ADD

Those are some of my “problems” that make me what I am, but there is a trend going on in the modern world that concerns me a lot. Much of the world seems to be captive to a new type of attention deficit disorder – our communication devices.

I may be easily distracted by things around me, but much of the world now seems in a box, oblivious to the world except what they can see through their phone or computer screen. This scares me.

It is the norm now to see everyone walking, but glued to their phone. To see many people who can’t even drive without dangerously checking email or texting. To see that most people sit at a computer or TV most of the time instead of getting out into the world.

Stuck to the screen. That becomes many people’s world.

FOMO

The new anxiety seems to be fear of missing out. Fear that if we are offline for a few minutes we will miss something important. That we might be irrelevant if we do not immediately comment on the latest trend or viral video.

It is common for people now to check their email or messages or Facebook dozens of times a day. I have read that the average (young) person looks at their phone over 250 times a day. Fear. An impossible treadmill.

What is the actual benefit of that to you?

Virtual living

The virtual world has become a surrogate life for many people. But it is a poor substitute. Real life is happening in the real world. The things we do do not require a Like or an upvote to be significant. The world does not need a smiling selfie of you to make an event important.

I read that most people spend most of their time everyday consuming media. These are packaged experiences being fed to us to entertain us. Sounds like the Matrix or other dystopian science fiction. Wouldn’t it be healthier to be out exploring on our own? Wouldn’t it be healthier to create our own adventures?

Living in the collective means we lose the ability to think and feel and plan for ourselves.

Missing out on life

I readily admit to being neither a fan or a user of Facebook or most other social media. While I see some benefits of connection with long lost friends or relatives, the downside is the addictive power it has in many people’s lives and the amount of information they accumulate about us.

First, make a life worth living. Then spend a little time telling other people about it. If we don’t have the discipline to unplug and be independent we should treat this as any other type of dangerous addiction, like alcoholism. ‘Hello, my name is [____] and I am a Facebook addict.”

Embracing my ADD

I readily admit I am probably ADD. I accept it and live with it. Even more, I embrace it for the positive aspects it brings me.

I have a bottomless curiosity. I will take “side trips” anytime to explore things I do not know. Because I have always done this and learned new things, I have a large base of knowledge. That makes it easier to build on and connect the dots as Steve Jobs said.

I hate passing by a road if I don’t know where it goes. I really like to find out what is around the corner or over that next hill. When you look for them, interesting things are everywhere. Learning to see takes practice. Perhaps my ADD, if I have it, makes that easier for me. No matter the reason, I love that and am thankful for it.

I fear that younger people coming up will not have that curiosity and drive. I fear they may lose the ability to even look around and see the world for what it is or to live as an independent being. That will be a great loss for all of us. The benefits from the always connected, media driven world are not worth losing touch with the real world around us.

I encourage each of us to have the courage to think for ourselves. Learn to be alone in our own head occasionally. Inside is our spirituality. Inside is where creativity comes from. Step out of the hamster cage and see the Matrix.

Don’t waste your opportunities

For all his faults, Steve Jobs was wise in some ways. I will close with a famous quote from him:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs

Go To A Forest

Winding path through forest

I realized recently that, by intuition, I have long practiced what is now called “forest bathing”. I hate the name but I believe strongly in the benefits. Go to a forest frequently. It is one of the best places I know to hangout. Decades of research has shown this practice to have significant benefits of health and well being.

Shinrin-yoku

In Japan it is called “shinrin-yoku”. “Shinrin” means forest and “yoku” means bathing. It is defined as a short, leisurely visit to a forest. Researchers say it is a type of natural aroma therapy. The idea developed in Japan and has been practiced there since the 1980’s, Perhaps it is a little easier and more accessible there since forests occupy 67% of the country. But the benefits seem to transfer anywhere.

Somewhat more descriptively shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. I like this better. Maybe I’m too literal, but “bathing” is really only used in a metaphorical sense. I relate better to the idea of taking in the forest through our senses.

One of the main researchers in Japan, Dr. Qing Li, says “This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.”

Health benefits

According to the Wall Street Journal the US Environmental Protection Agency reports that the average American spends 93% of his time indoors. Nielsen Research says that in 2019 the average adult spent 11 1/2 hours a day consuming media. And half of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed by the Pew Research Center said they were online “almost constantly”.

This unbalanced lifestyle can lead to serious consequences, from overweight and poor posture to depression and anxiety. During the Covid lock downs it has probably gotten even more extreme.

The good news is that 2 hours or less of wandering is a forest a couple of times a week is shown to increase the number of “natural killer” cells in a person. These are a powerful defense against cancer and other toxins. It is thought that the natural oils released by the trees creates a natural aromatherapy that triggers this.

Emotional benefits

There are some very positive physical reactions to being in the forest, but there are also many important emotional and psychological benefits. One scientific study reported “The forest bathing significantly increased the score for vigor and decreased the scores for depression, anxiety, fatigue, and confusion.”

I am not trying to present scientific research here. Go investigate that yourself. I just want to encourage you to give it a try and see if there is benefit to you. It is to me.

I will quote Dr. Qing Li again, because I would not state it like this: “The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness.”

That’s kind of over-the-top new age for me, but it is proven by decades of research and practice and by my own independent experience. This has been my practice for a long time and I always look forward to it and get benefit from it.

No running

Do you have to do anything special? Not really. As a matter of fact less is better. The purpose is not exercise. No running, that increases stress instead of reducing it. A leisurely stroll will do. No goals or plans are required. Just being out in nature does it. Let your body tell you. Follow your nose. One very important requirement, though – UNPLUG. No phones, no music, no email, no interruptions.

This will be hard for you Type A’s. It’s not a competition. Don’t chart your progress or try to better your performance each time. No destination is required. Just wander and enjoy nature. You don’t even have to be fit.

About 2 hours of forest wandering will give you time to unwind, relax, de-stress.

City bathing

I coined that term as far as I know. I mention this because the research shows that being in a forest (the denser the better) and on natural surfaces has by far the most benefit.

But over 60% of us live in cities. There are no forests close by, only the occasional park. Is this the same? No. Being out in real nature is best and gives the best and fastest results.

So should you not go out wandering until you get a chance to journey to the forest? I say no. go out anyway. Don’t give up good just because you can’t have best.

My own anecdotal results are that there are benefits to wandering in a city if you do it right. Again, your mindset makes much of the difference. Unplug. Go out looking around, seeing everything in a new light, like for the first time. Make it a time for refreshing, not just exercise. Destination is not important. What you see is not important as long as you let yourself really look around and see. Be delighted by little discoveries.

Even in the city it is possible to go out wandering and come back more refreshed and de-stressed.

Let yourself go

Try to get to a forest regularly. That’s the best. When you can’t, wander urban “forests”. Let all your senses come into play. Explore. Take a break from your electronic masters.

And even when you’re not out wandering, turn off the TV, unplug from media. Start to use your mind on your own. Read. Practice music or art. Learn something new. Talk to family and friends. Move your body.

I believe there are excellent health benefits from forest bathing. I highly encourage you to research it and give it a try. Or several tries. But many of us could improve our lives just by cutting down on media consumption, using our bodies and senses more, and becoming more independent and self-directed.

This is highly unusual in this blog series. Up to now I have not used the words “photography” or “camera” or “art” (well once) in this article. Art is about much more than technique or media. Our mental and physical well-being determines a lot of what we accomplish. We live in an unhealthy world. Please take care of yourself. Forest bathing is one good way to start.

Post Script

As I write this it’s a beautiful day in Colorado. We had about 5 inches of fluffy last night. It’s lovely – much better than driving in it late last night. The temperature is a balmy 25 F, which sure beats the sub zero spell of a few days ago.

I just got back from a walk in a local natural area near my studio. Not what the forest bathers would like since it is only sparse trees here, mostly deciduous. But at least I have lakes and a river. It was great to be out in it. One point where I depart from the forest bathers is that I always bring my camera. Not to make it a serious photo outing, but I believe it encourages me to look closer and see more.

My point is, just do it. I try to nearly every day. Yes, I was out walking when it was -10 F. I don’t necessarily recommend that, but if you dress properly it’s not bad. For me, the benefits are great. Even if you are stuck in a city most of the time do something. Go find a tree and introduce yourself to it. Thank it. But unplug and get out.