Sunday, May 3, 2015

I Had a Spiritual Experience Today

Perhaps I should call it a transcendent experience.  

Most of my readers know a few things about me personally--such as I consider myself an agnostic-atheist since leaving Mormonism.  And that I engage in an artistic pursuit using full-spectrum photography.  I post examples on almost every blog I write here.  About 15 years ago I began taking apart digital cameras and modifying them to sense light that is not visible to our eyes.  The camera receives colors in the ultraviolet and the near infrared that exist in abundance all around us unseen.  Then the camera electronically translates the unseen light into a new message of visual interpretation that I have called my Surreal Color World.  

(click on the images to see any of them larger)
(All photos are copyrighted 2015 by David Twede.  Permission must be granted for any use)

In the past few weeks, after a relationship breakup, I have been focusing my attention on a new subject of Cypress Knees surrounding where I live in Florida, with a new optical filter I recently developed to make more vivid the surreal colorism of my world view that I created well over a decade ago.  Following are a few examples of the scenery, seen in a new light, I encountered in my meanderings along the Shingle Creek banks in Central Florida. 




While I was out today (Sunday, May 3, 2015) and listening to piano music on my headphones, the songs moved from serene piano baroque pieces to contemporary pieces.  Songs like Canon in D, well known to me, played in the back as I snapped shot after shot of lovely scenics.



A popish version of the instrumental song “Hallelujah” played by Brian Crain ("Piano and Light" album)--it's one my ex GF loved--and my thoughts reminisced that about a decade ago the song would have meant more to me.  As the song transitioned to another, I came across a cypress knee that took the form of a hand.  



The song became the theme piece from the movie American Beauty, which when I saw not long after I had left religion and become agnostic-atheist, had a profound impact upon me.  There I listened and took in the surreal beauty around me.  The symbolism of the very present subject took on a direct connection to emotions that were bubbling up inside me.  An unseen hand of a sort touched a chord deep inside me.    




I felt overpowered by the beauty of nature that we can’t even perceive with our natural eyes.  There is so much hidden under our limited experiential abilities, our narrow ego tunnel of squat human sensory bandwidth.  Seeing the colors, shadows, illuminations, dimensions in the viewfinder of my altered camera opened me to the idea that the world is so beautiful and we barely realize it. I started to analyze it, but felt the emotive sensation evaporating as I did, so I stopped and let it flow.  It filled me up, passing through me, and I bodily-felt vision and visually-saw beyond where my eyes could see.  No, I didn’t see anything actually real, but I felt it out there.  I felt that I was with it on all sides of myself.  I wished I could absorb it all, and grow with it.  I yearned to slow down all the feelings that rushed by me.  I heard words in my mind call out, “There has to be more. This can't be all there is to it.”  




Meaning took hold without being defined.  I knew there was a meaning to all of this and while I couldn’t verbalize any of that meaning, it felt logical and real for a transient breath of thought. Maybe, I questioned for the first time in almost a decade, just maybe there is purpose and something beyond, or perhaps higher, than us.  Instinct from many years ago almost took me over—to fall to my knees and call upon something—as I was overcome by this lost or perhaps tossed-away feeling, now returned as an older friend with new wisdoms and insights learned during our separation.



Years ago I would have interpreted this strictly in the religious context in which I was raised.  When I had developed surreal color  photography over a decade ago, I had felt these connections and near mystical insights—seeing the dreamlike world I captured in my camera—back then in Michigan and Colorado.  I knew now, however that it was something else.  Perhaps not mystical or even metaphysical--after all I was feeling it inside my physical body and brain.  These experiences aren't exclusive to the followers of one religion or another.  Unbelievers have them often too, but don't usually declare it from the doorstep or rooftop.  

At that moment I felt this grandeur and expansive connection to the world, gathering even a hope of something larger out there, I also felt saddened by so many losses:  My former life in a black and white delusion that gave comfort without actual fact and truth; the loss of relationship with my children’s mother; the time lost with them as they grew.  I felt the loss of other relationships since then, and the burden of knowing that my youthful dreams hadn’t quite fulfilled the way I wanted. Then I realized what an amazing journey it was.  I couldn’t have planned any of it, but it has brought me to so many places in life that I wouldn’t trade away. 



I recalled something I had written almost a year ago in a blog.  
“You know that moment when you learn something profound for the first time?  Reading a well written blog or novel that fires off all kinds of new thoughts? ... The Newness of the Everlasting Curiosity is exciting...  Tired of your boring friends at church?  Find new ones.  Seeing the limitation of your inherited, family philosophy?  Search for a new one.
“Leaving the LDS [church] is like becoming a child who is merging into adulthood again.  All the fascination of a whole world opens to your exploration, of choosing new directions, of seeking new friends, learning new insights—it’s the candy store that continues to give when you remove the abundant limits placed on you by [religion].”
 



The words at the end of the movie American Beauty also resonated into my mind.  
“I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday.”

That was how I felt at the moment I watched myself connect with the world through light that is unseen.  It was as if I could see everything literally and metaphorically in a new light through the vision glowing on the LCD of my full-spectrum converted camera.  In a short moment, ages passed and I felt as if I had gain the experience of years, all in a few dozen heart beats. 



As the feeling ebbed, I figured I had primed my emotions with the music and scenery; this concoction of emotions, beauty, peaceful surroundings and seeing in a new light opened me up to experience myself in a way that doesn't happen often enough.  We crave this because it feels so alive.  We feel big and tightly loved.  We feel small and ineffably important.  Contradictory elation and sadness all in the same bottle-opening moment, which overcome and fill us with so much wonder.  The New and Everlasting Curiosity is a kind of spiritual experience even if there is no such thing as a spirit, in the dualism sense.  It is transcendent. 

(All photos are copyrighted 2015 by David Twede.  Permission must be granted for any use)


Cypress knees grow around the tree, from the roots.  While their function is not fully understood, some scientists have thought they may help in oxygenation in the low dissolved oxygen mud swamp through the knee's bald head. I have also read the knees assist in anchoring the tree in the soft, muddy soil.  Each knee is very unique, and they take on iconic forms which I am investigating through my art style.  Like them, we find our anchors in the mud of the world through our own unique experiences. We rise above the mire and breathe new life into ourselves through very personal transcendent events.  

While I do not know what the future will bring--death dark as empty space, or an afterlife of surreal unseen light--I am glad to be alive and having the experiences I have.  May you have new and everlasting curiosity.