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Mar 22
Arts and Poetry
Sometimes a golden fish swims by

Fish pond, Barnet, VT, 2009

Celebrating Shambhala and the Arts

What to Know and How to Know It
photos and article by Mary Lang

“Sit and do nothing. Every once in a while a golden fish swims by and lays her golden eggs. You’ll know.”
~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

In the fall of 1973, I started taking classes at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and also started coming around the New York Dharmadhatu. It’s probably not a coincidence that these two paths that have determined so much of my life began at the same time. Back then I was frantically determined to understand what life was all about, even though, looking back, I feel like I knew nothing about anything. Over the ensuing 40 years, I have become so grateful that the combination of the disciplines of meditation and photography has given me a deeper understanding of my own mind, and of magic, and has helped me to know what to pay attention to and what to trust.

My art is about how I perceive the world, and how I perceive the world is as a practitioner. And as an artist who makes things – photographs – I am also trying to communicate the truth of my perception so others might see it too. I guess that makes me a Shambhala/Dharma artist, although I do not practice Miksang or other Shambhala art forms, per se. I photographed our community – “the scene”- for more than a decade, I photographed my children and my neighborhood and called it ordinary magic, and I have photographed empty, lonely landscapes all along. Meditation and photography were always there, one informing the other, but only about ten years ago did I find the courage to explicitly state that my photographs were about what I was learning from my practice.

At about that time I started photographing water, spending hours and days wading in water, standing next to water, watching water. I was drawn to water as subject matter because of what the photographs showed me: reflections that dissolve, the ungraspable edge of a wave, an uncertainty between what’s on the surface and what lies beneath it – intangible, impermanent, and luminous – just like phenomena itself. In a world characterized by rigidity and fixed ideas, I thought that contemplative photographs about the groundless nature of water might inspire a similar fluidity of mind in the viewer. They seemed like a way to communicate the dharma through art.

Click on any photo to view as a slide show.

Now I find myself turning my lens not just on water, but on small moments of stillness or coincidence in ordinary life as well. This is a collection of random images, whose only coherence is that I recognized some aspect of ordinariness transformed and tried to put a frame around it – a golden egg of perception. This path of photographing in places grand and small, paying attention to the details of the phenomenal world, continues to remind me that the world is not about me. My responsibility as both a meditator and an artist is to go deeper into those experiences, let intuition guide me and open to the magic of the moment – basically to trust the situation and get out of the way. It is a journey both humbling and inspiring, and in the end, more about practice than art.

To view more photos, please visit my website: www.marylang.com

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10 responses to “ Sometimes a golden fish swims by ”
  1. Thank you, Mary.

  2. Susan Ross
    Apr 5, 2012

    Came home from feast on Rinpoche’s parinirvana day, and found your work – ah! emptiness and luminosity – Thank you!
    Their beauty evoked many water/weather/sky memories too – including Paradise Pond!

  3. Jolly good show!

  4. Ellen Berger
    Mar 29, 2012

    Thank you, Mary. Your pictures communicate ordinary magic, your commentary is great!

  5. Jeanne Cain
    Mar 27, 2012

    Thank you, Mary. So much beauty and depth = very satisfying to the senses.

  6. Jan Watson
    Mar 25, 2012

    Ah! You are making the golden fish not only swim by but spawn!
    Thank you for the in-sights.

  7. I found the quote in an article on the Shambhala Times by Cynthia Kneen. I wrote to her asking where it came from but never heard back, so I actually don’t know where the quote originated. Any answers from the universe would be much appreciated.

  8. Petra Mudie
    Mar 24, 2012

    Thanks for the beauty, Mary.
    Can you tell us where and when those wonderful words of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche happened?

  9. Thank you dear ML for sharing your process and the gorgeous sights. Pure pleasure.


  10. Dawa Lhatso
    Mar 22, 2012

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you for posting these photos and for the simplicity and beauty of your words. And thank you for that quote by the Vidyadhara–I had never heard it.

    Warm wishes to you,

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