I heard a story once, about the great sitar player, Ravi Shankar, when he was on the plane in the US. He had a large instrument case balanced on his knees in the airplane. The stewardess came over to him, and told him that his luggage should have been sent to the luggage compartment. But since it was too late for that now, and since the case he was holding was obviously too big to stay on his knees all through the flight, she would find a place for it in the crew’s compartment.
Ravi looked up at the stewardess, and smiled a bashful sort of smile, and speaking in his very soft and modest voice, he said, ‘you know, when my father was born, my grandfather celebrated his birth by planting a tree in the front yard of the family home. As my father grew up, that tree grew with him, and became a large, strong tree. Children sat under its shade in our garden. And when I was born, my father cut down that tree. He asked a master craftsman to make a sitar of the wood. When I was four years old I began studying the sitar, and learned to play on my father’s instrument. And when I had learned how to play, my father gave me the sitar that had been made from the tree in front of our home. Since that time, I’ve never been separated from my beautiful musical instrument. I would like to hold it now, while I travel.
And while I’m thinking of India and Indians, let me tell you another story. Rueven returned from a trip to India after a long trip. We organized a party to welcome him, and it was a great, cheerful occasion. Many friends came. There was music, and wine and food. A barbeque was set up in the lawn, and many different and fine servings were prepared. We sat in a circle listening to his tales of how he arrived in that distant and foreign land, and how he went about finding companions and a proper place to study the secrets of Zen Buddhism. He described his progress as a long path of small steps, learning the customs and the wisdom of those student who had begun learning long before him. It wasn’t a search for enlightenment, he told us, but a sincere effort to learn what was holy to another people. We didn’t ask him if he had found enlightenment, because he was smiling all the time.
But we did ask him why he didn’t partake of the steaks from the barbeque… and why he ate his rice so slowly. After all, our efforts had been in his honor. And here we were, all consuming this wonderful feast that had been prepared, and he was eating the least of all. Our happiness would be complete, we said, if we were to see him enjoying the food as we had. So he told us that he had found a teacher, and how he sat by his teacher day after day, from morning to night. What his teacher did, he did. And most of the time, he studied. He learned the language, studied the holy texts, and followed his teacher’s example in all things. When his teacher ate, he would take a handful of rice and chew it a long time. A long, long time. And when he had eaten it, he would rest a few moments, before taking more. He ate very little, but his eating radiated complete peace. Gideon said to him, in supposition, ‘he was an old man’. Rueven said, ‘yes, an old man’. Gideon said, ‘he probably had lost all of his teeth’. Rueven said, ‘yes’.
I know that many of my readers, when on a trip, take a great number of photographs with their telephone, or with a digital camera that can shoot photos at the speed with which a machine gun shoots bullets. They shoot shots through the window of a fast moving train, through the window of a plane… or out the car as they’re turning the corner of a city street. And I know there are travelers who set out in a packaged deal. They travel together in a group of some they know well and some they’ve never met, till this trip. And there’s a guide who arranges the trip plan, and finds the right restaurants along the way, and gets group rates on the boat, and knows just which museums and nature sights will be most inspiring for all the travelers.
This may be a good system. I don’t know. I tried it once, and found it didn’t work for me. I have just about everything I need in my close environment. But now and then, I like to take a trip, so as to see new things, to clear my eyes, to shake the routine off my shoulders. When we walk in the same circles, day after day, we start taking things for granted. The righteous among us preface every drink of water and every slice of bread by saying ‘thank you god for all you do for us. thank you for bringing us bread from the ground’. And hope to avoid taking things for granted. But still, all of us… the righteous and the criminals and those of us in between, we all tend to take things for granted after a while. Anything and everything. And so, when we go out to see the world, we don’t know what will come around the next corner. We can get lost. Our car can break down. Life becomes an adventure once again.
It didn’t make a big difference for me, moving from analog to digital. I don’t choose to use tools because they’re available. I’ve always chosen my tools with discrimination, looking not for what I want, but what I need. When on vacation, there are new sights every minute. And my old working horse (the camera) that accompanies me to work every day, could easily catch spring fever and go running through the fields, smelling every flower. He might run away with me. I could become his hostage instead of his master. So we reestablish our roles, and set out together on the path as friends. Though the world be full of wonder, I don’t try to swallow the world. I pick a certain something out of the infinity, and meditate on it. And when I’ve seen it as best I can, and am aware of its existence as I am of my own, I try to record the moment, and its as if I said a prayer at that moment. ‘Thank you, dear god that your have given me the opportunity to experience this’. And then I try to imagine exactly what I’d like to see on the page.
For me, though I appreciate the monitor on the camera, the process of a shot is not finished until I’ve edited it and am satisfied. That picture that I saw at that moment. It takes a while. Sometimes I have to meditate on the image that went through the camera before I’m ready to interpret it. Editing an image might take just as long as the meditation I experienced before pushing the button on the camera. It means that there might be a lot fewer pictures than I could have gotten if I’d worked efficiently with my time, but each of them has been brought to this world with love.
It is almost the end of the year. The Jewish new year begins this coming Wednesday evening. We will wear white. We call these days holy. But that is another story. The pictures in this post are of a little town called Kadita in the northern Galilee, and the farm country around it.