Being There

What does it mean to “be there”? How do we be in the moment so well that we are receptive to the inspiration all around us? In today’s world, how can we push out the distractions and noise to find creative space?

This is just a quick fly-by of a deep subject. That’s because: I’m not smart or wise enough to do it justice, I’m not a philosopher – I can’t drop enough cow pies in the text to speak that language, and you don’t want to go there. Going too deep in the concepts will suck the life out of a potentially rewarding idea. But let’s try.

The philosopher Heidegger articulated this idea of being there (German word “dasein”). I”m not going to step into it, but it involved coming to grips with what it means for a person to “be”. The realization that we are self-aware, we are an individual, that we have a limited life span, that we must make our own choices, discover our own truth. The opposite state is to give up this responsibility. To escape into the world and lose our identity into the general “them”. Sounds like the Matrix, right?


I want to push on this idea of losing our identity in the noise of the world. Look at your own life. Think back to just a few years ago. Are more sources of distraction claiming a larger portion of your time now? Not just your job, but social media, entertainment, communication. Look around at any public place, from an airport to a restaurant, and you will see most people with their face buried in a screen. Their attention is given to something artificial. They are being controlled by something outside of themselves.

Are you defined by your number of Friends or followers? What happens if you miss the latest episode of The Bachelor? Do all messages or emails need to be responded to within 1 minute? Do you message someone sitting next to you because it is more comfortable than actually talking to them?

Not one of these things is inherently evil. The problem is the cumulative effects of them dominating your life. One writer likened it to being in a bubble. You tend to become self-focused and unconcerned with the people and the world outside of your bubble.

And those bubbles sometimes look like a comfortable place since most of us live in cities and something like 93% of a typical American’s day is spent indoors or in vehicles. Who wouldn’t want to retreat into a place where we seem to have some control?

Down time

But there is a dangerous by product of all of this noise and activity. The human mind needs a certain amount of down time to rest, to make connections, to figure things out. In addition to sleep (which many of us don’t get enough of) we need to take time to just be in our head. Shut off the noise and stimulus. Stop the flow of new information. Be in the moment for a while.

We need time like that to “catch up”, to think and analyze, to sift through the clutter.

This is not wasted time. Even if you sit and stare at a wall for 15 minutes, that is healthy. Shut off the outside world, including music. As a matter of fact noise canceling headphones can be a good idea.

At first it will be uncomfortable. You will feel like you are missing out on something. That’s OK, it will wait. You will feel restless because you are not used to going even a few minutes without external stimulation. You will get over it and start to eagerly look forward to the brief captured solitude. Best of all, though, you will start to take back control of your thoughts.


What was all of that? This is supposed to be about the creative life. How did I veer off into philosophy and self-help kinds of things?

I believe we creatives are especially vulnerable to the effects of too much noise in our heads.

I can only speak for myself, but I can’t create anything useful when there is too much noise and distraction in my head. To do my work I have to unplug and find quiet to hear the small voice within me that will help me find the resources I need. For some parts of my art it can be an isolated indoor environment, e.g. at my computer. But for most of my image making, it will have to be outside.

I know from experience that I have to be quiet in my head, which means no internet or email or videos or even music. This is an internal peace. I can find images with a train roaring by next to me. That is just the outside environment. But I have to clear my head and open my eyes to be receptive. I know from experience that if there is noise in my head I will just not see the same images I would if my head were calm. I will miss many things that I would pick up on without the noise.

If you are a wedding or commercial artist your needs and/or approach will be different. But if you are doing non-commissioned fine art I suspect you may share a lot of similarities with me.

Feed your head

For all of us, please, practice taking some time for your head. Unplug for serious time. Get your mind off the drugs of our fast paced, high tech culture. Give yourself some time to think and regroup. Unplug from the Matrix. Take time to reflect on who you are and what it means to be a person. Feed your head, which sometimes involves giving it a rest. Maybe Jefferson Airplane was right about something all those years ago.

I will follow up more in a future article. I might even get into forest bathing. 🙂


Unplug. Drop out. It sounds like strange advice in our frantic, 24×7 world. But I advocate learning to detach, to slow down and take time to reflect, think, and enjoy.

Our technology operates round the clock. We are strongly encouraged to be online all the time. One of the most common fears today is FOMO (fear of missing out). If we’re not checking Facebook or newsfeeds or our email frequently we might be left behind. We might miss a viral trend. We fear if we do not respond to a message immediately our “friends” will leave us out and just talk among themselves.

Humans don’t operate on a round the clock cycle. Our technology that brings us so much information and entertainment also robs us of some things that are very important to our mental health: thought, reflection, relaxation. The human mind has to have time to think and assimilate. To have some down time to reorganize and regroup. Some time off the continuous treadmill. Downtime is also necessary to us physically, but I’m not talking about that side of things in this blog.

Since this is nominally about photography, I will use that as an example. One significant aspect of creativity is to be receptive to what is happening around us. To learn to clear our minds and actually see. We are less than receptive when we are on social media or thinking about our schedule or an email we need to send or the project we are behind on. Contrary to what some so called productivity experts tell us, our minds don’t multi-task. It is very inefficient to switch focus between different projects. Much better is to be fully engaged in one task at a time.

Because our society is pulling us in so many directions all the time, focusing on a single thing is something we have to relearn. And we can. Try this: Take a camera and one lens, turn off your phone, clear your head, and go out in your neighborhood or town and just take pictures of things you see. Actually see them for the first time. Don’t think of what you need to do afterwards. Don’t wonder about what people are saying on Facebook right now. Those things don’t exist. It will be weird at first. But try it. Practice until you can really unplug for a while and be 100% “there” for your images.

An “advanced” exercise to try is disconnecting while you’re in the car. I like to drive (actually drive, not sit in traffic). When I’m driving I always turn off the radio and I do not text or check the phone (I certainly hope you don’t ever text while driving- it is very dangerous). At first you will go crazy with boredom, because we are used to non-stop entertainment and distraction. But you learn to be alone in your mind. You re-learn how to think, to review things, to make connections between ideas. I have come to believe that drive time is much too valuable to waste with external distractions.

Unplug. Take time alone to think, to consider ideas, to make connections between ideas, to just let your mind wander. These are what humans have always done and it is an important skill we need to fight to relearn in our high tech age. Try it. You will feel strange at first, even guilty, but I believe it will have good long term benefit for you.