“You can get arrested for that, can’t you? Peeping Tom!”
The exact words said to me by a passing dad on his way to take his daughter to school.
Words that, I’ll be honest, left me feeling rankled and annoyed.
And I may well have muttered, “Strange Man” under my breath when I was well past him….
Thing is, whilst taking pictures of a maple tree is, I’m pretty sure, definitely NOT a crime, and whilst I can grant that he was probably trying to be funny, we’ve all heard that there’s truth in jest. And there was no denying I’d had an emotional reaction to his statement.
In the past, I’d probably have felt annoyed, but thought no more about it.
Well, perhaps I’d have complained about him to someone else, and either got a sympathetic response that helped me bolster up my righteously indignant position, or received a response that pissed me off further as they failed to side with me!
Either way, that annoyance would be passed on in my interaction with others, rippling out discontent with life.
Investigate - feelings
Now, I do things a little differently. Now I recognise that I’m having an emotional reaction, and I investigate.
What exactly am I feeling?
‘Put out’ – not *really* a feeling.
‘Annoyed’ – implication being that it’s his fault.
‘Judged’ – definitely an outsourcing of responsibility to him!
Because this is the thing. It takes time and persistence to get to the name of the actual feeling. And that can be uncomfortable, especially as you realise just how much judgement and blame of the other person you’ve got – see my muttered statement if further proof were needed!
My feelings were embarrassment, repulsion, shame, guilt, irritation, unease and hurt (and I have to admit, I had to consult the feelings list to get all these named!).
And it’s great to be able to name how I was feeling, but it’s of limited importance if I don’t then take the next step. The next step is to investigate WHY I feel those feelings.
Investigate - needs
And this brings me into the realm of needs.
Feelings are always communicating to us about our needs, and the more ‘negative’ or ‘uncomfortable’ feelings tell us about needs we currently have that are going unmet.
This is why it’s so important to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and really get to know them by name, because it’s only then that you can ask what’s beneath them.
Feelings naturally move on and disappear once their communication has been understood. Because once you know what your needs are, THEN you can go about fulfilling those needs – and life becomes better 😊
So, I was feeling embarrassment, repulsion, shame, guilt, irritation, unease and hurt because my needs for safety, security, communion (with nature), harmony, respect, celebration of life and autonomy for all were being threatened and/or not met.
Investigate - truth
And I realised my emotional reaction was around the statement’s implication that I was doing harm to another by failing to get consent for my actions.
And the realisation dawned that I believed this to be true – but not of humans, of the plants.
I realised; I don’t ask permission of these plants before I photograph them.
And then I thought to all the times I’d noticed something gorgeous and gone to take a picture, only for the wind to pick up out of nowhere.
The number of times my kids have complained about me standing stock still in one place, waiting for the wind to die down so I can take the picture.
And that’s when it hit me!
If I go to take a picture of a bee, or butterfly, and it doesn’t want it’s picture taken, it can fly away. So, I assume permission is given when it stays still and poses for the picture.
But what of trees and plants? They can’t just get up and move.
So perhaps, just maybe, the wind happens when they DON’T give permission. Which got me wondering.
“Take only pictures, leave only footprints”
I remember a while back (late 90s/early 00s) reading that when going to the Amazon, you should take only pictures, leave only footprints.
And how that slogan and mantra became problematic, as visitors took pictures of indigenous peoples, without first garnering their permission, and then sold them.
So, this strapline, with the intention to help people to leave minimal impact on the environment of the Amazon, became just another way indigenous cultures and peoples were being exploited by the ‘west’.
And that’s without getting into any hurt done to individual beliefs or values around having one’s picture taken.
How to ask for permission?
So how, I wondered, as I wandered back home, can I possibly get permission from the trees?
I don’t sell my pictures; I’m not making money from them. But I do use them, share them on social media.
So, there’s undoubtably an energy exchange needed.
As humans, we often take without thinking. Whether that be from other people’s or other life forms, or the Earth herself.
Only last night I had a conversation with my hubby about human responsibility not being connected with our intention, but with our very being.
We are responsible for the consequences of our actions, even when we never intentionally set out to either do that action or cause that thing to happen.
I believe responsibility and accountability are how we show respect, and live a harmonious life with ALL beings on this planet.
Investigate further – the situation
And then I thought about how the wind does generally die down, how I do, eventually, tend to get the picture.
And how sometimes the wind isn’t there at all.
Sometimes I can take the picture straight away.
When are those times?
And I thought to the times I’ve spent hours at the allotment and then taken pictures before leaving – no wind.
Or the times I’ve volunteered at the Community Garden, hands deep in the soil, adding my time and energy to the greater good, and then taken pictures before leaving – no wind.
Perhaps then, attention and energy are needed in exchange.
Perhaps a brief moment of noticing, an exclamation of joy, is not enough.
Perhaps a deeper honouring of life, by a longer sustained attention, is required.
After all, our energy flows where our attention goes.
I don’t know if I’ve got to the bottom of this for sure, but I DO know that from now on, I’ll be having the intention of attention, and permission seeking, BEFORE taking pictures of anyone.
And of course, by ‘anyone’, I don’t just mean humans.
Having acknowledged and named my feelings, and understood their meaning, the feelings I originally felt, my immediate emotional reaction, they’ve moved on.
In their place remain gratitude for the words of that man that triggered for me the opportunity to go deeper and learn a little more about myself and this place I call home.
What a gift!