Once you know and understand the difference, it will change your photographic life!
This is going to be the first in a series where I cut my heart wide open for you. I want to invite you on this raw journey of not just what makes me click (photography) but what also makes me tick (life). My sincere hope is that you’ll find this content helpful in your own journey – shooting and living. And maybe learn a thing or two about the emotions behind picture taking and picture making. Forgive me in advance if some of the language is too unrefined, crude, unprocessed. I’m writing intentionally in this voice.
If I feel it then I plan to share it with you!
Over the past 14 months, due to relationship circumstances in life, I’ve been living alone.
My dear wife, best friend and undisputed soul-mate, Shannon, and I, after 22 years of a remarkable marriage, are in the process of “consciously uncoupling”– a term originated by marriage and family therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas and a blueprint for living “happily even after”.
This term and approach to breakups wasn’t really popularized until the split of Hollywood couple, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, back in 2014.
I’m sure that, more than a few reading this post, will consider this separation-language a bit too new-agey, syrupy, even melodramatic.
But what I can tell you, based on our own experience, is that this process was the most special, sacred and momentous thing we have ever done together as a couple.
And it has helped us end our marriage relationship in an honorable, respectful, gracious, humble, cooperative way.
And, even more importantly, it has made of each more loving, understanding, compassionate and forgiving human beings.
My first marriage ended in an affair. I’m still haunted by the cowardly and selfish way it ended.
I vowed to myself, even under the trying circumstances, to never repeat this same tragedy. It’s far better to directly address the challenges that fertilized an affair context that run from and altogether avoid them.
There is life beyond marriage breakups. And good life too –for both parties!
Shannon and I, after months of talking, crying, therapy… remain great friends and very engaged co-parents. Thanks in large part to the consciously uncoupling process.
In short, we both date others, take vacations together, talk regularly, go out to dinner, even hang out, on occasions, with our other love interests.
Welcome to the modern family. And welcome to conscious uncoupling.
I have volumes to say about this approach and methodology to conscious uncoupling. But not here and not now. That is not the point or subject of this post.
I’m simply using this life circumstance to paint an honest and raw context for my own, current aloneness. And why this is important for each of us to explore aloneness in our own lives-personally and professionally
Alone But Not Lonely
While I find myself living alone, my life is anything but lonely. Perhaps, for the very first time in my adult journey, I have time for myself to do the very things I was born to do and that make me unconditionally happy and at peace.
I read, journal, meditate, pray, cook, entertain, socialize, date, make love, drink, dance, go to the movies, ride my bike, get high when the urge strikes, go photo walking and wandering, road trip, travel, find time to connect with others, listen better than I ever have before, spend time with my daughters, make new friends, work on new business plans, sleep better, live mindfully and presently –all joyous by-products of being anchored in your aloneness.
You see, being “alone” is different than being “lonely”. They are two very different things. Most seem to confuse these adjectives.
A person is alone when they are by themselves. A person is lonely when they emotionally feel abandoned or sad due to isolation and circumstances in life.
It’s possible to be alone and lonely at the same time.
But that is not what I’m writing about here. I’m talking about healthy aloneness – the unconditional and unadulterated contentment and surrender of being by yourself and completely owing your own thoughts, feelings and emotions. And making time for yourself – at all costs!
Guess what? Not making and taking adequate alone-time sets you up for loneliness. And a whole bunch of other shit too.
Vigorous aloneness is the fuel to a happier, more productive and rewarding lifestyle.
Life is Busy and Noisy
Life is surely busy and noisy. We spend an inordinate amount or time doing things with and for others that doesn’t actually advance our core well-being.
You can’t get to a satisfied and gratified state without going right through aloneness – not around it.
Relationally speaking, I’m not at all suggesting you can’t get to this blissful state of contented aloneness while being in a committed, monogamous, full-time relationship.
Of course you can. And you should. As a matter of fact, it’s the only way to sustain a healthy union. For all relationships, even the great ones, are the result of two independent people coming together to form a third, intra-dependent space. This requires an uncompromising obligation to aloneness from each of you!
Every single one of us, on our journey through life, needs to embrace this quiet aloneness. For it’s in this hushed aloneness that our heart remains still. And we are finally able to connect to the very core of what makes us… us. Remove this element of aloneness and you remove all the possibilities for discovering your true potential. And rather than finding out who you really are, you take on the agendas and programs of others, never really owning what you want in life. You begin to confuse the embrace of someone else's agenda with your own.
It is my firm opinion that each of us would have fewer bouts of pointless if we spend more therapeutic time alone.
Photography is Solitary
As a commercial photographer, I spend a good deal of time on my own – traveling, chasing sunrises and sunsets, capturing life’s moments and memories in fractions of a second.
Maybe this is where I learned the firsthand joy of being alone? Maybe I was born this way? Maybe both? Perhaps, unlike many, I actively and aggressively made time for this aloneness?
Regardless, I love being alone. It’s in my DNA. And, to some extent, it is exactly what fuels and inspires the other parts of my life.
I would honestly say that I’m rarely, if ever, lonely. That’s because the proportion of time I spend alone is equal, or even less, that the time I spend with others.
If you think about it, photography, by its very nature, is less collaborative and more solitary and independent.
Again, even in my photography pursuits, I’m alone but not lonely. As a photographer, we should all covet aloneness. Embrace her secrets. Surrender to her will. Be mindful of her mysteries and remedial enchantments in your pilgrimage.
When you fill your waking hours with too much “togetherness” (not alone), you could be frustratingly looking for something or someone to fill that void in you.
Spoiler alert – neither of these things will sprout you like a good dose of aloneness.
How much time each week do you spend alone? Are you comfortable with being alone? Or is that experience awkward and nerve-wracking?
Maybe it’s time to make a change? And give to yourself what you so freely and generously give to others – your precious time!
So many of us are scared to be alone. Scare to truly own our own shit.
I am an extravert by nature. I was born that way. But extraversion isn’t just about being loud, boisterous, thunderous. And introversion isn’t just about being shy, timid, reserved. Both have more to do with how we charge our batteries. Extraverts charge their batteries by being around and with others. Introverts charge their batteries by being alone (there’s that word again). Socially and in relationships, I’m a classic extravert. But photographically, I’m a classic introvert. What about you?
So, as one photographer to another, don’t fear or avoid aloneness. Court her. Become her best friend. Share yourself with her. Make yourself available to her direction and devotion. Stay close to her. Listen to her heartbeat. For it’s in that aloneness that you may very well find the secret to true and genuine fulfillment, delight, joviality and pleasure.
Start slow. Grab your camera and go out photo walking and wandering. Don’t have an agenda. Just move your feet. If anything, the agenda is to spend time alone and get comfortable with your own pondering, musing, reverie.
Here’s the kicker, and this may surprise you, once you begin to connect, quietly to your emotional core, I think you’ll find your photography taking on new dimensions, breadth, depth. That’s because art always grows out of the art. Aloneness isn’t a state or status to be feared but an opportunity to be embraced. Her rewards are many!
Thank You Shannon
Had my wife and I not began the process of conscious uncoupling, as we did, I’m not honestly sure that I would have so quickly discovered the unalloyed, untainted, unsullied joy of aloneness; nor have experienced its complete and remedial magic on the tentacles of my life, love and laughter. So thank you for that gift Shannon. Even in our aloneness, we are never really alone. The universe is always with us. So dare to be alone. It’s time. And it’s the only way to grow and find your true self.
“Look at the Sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work”
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam