The purpose of forgetting

I'm about to leave the Dutch beach town of Zandvoort after a five night stay. It's currently 2 degrees and I didn't come here for the beach. The main attraction was a four day contemplative photography retreat.

The focus was Miksang, a practice of taking photos that is not about documenting or telling stories. Instead its goal is 'pure' seeing.


I have learned a lot about sense-perception in general, including deeper appreciation of everyday delights such as good coffee and wine.

Applying the Miksang principle, I don't pre-judge the wine by studying its label or provenance. I taste it.


I don't attempt to apply sophisticated terminology such as acidity or aroma. I just appreciate it in the moment. The wine has a story, but knowing that does not really help my enjoyment of it.

In the same way, Miksang photos don't tell us much about their subjects or context. They're not meant to. They are close-ups of everyday objects. They often appear artful, but beauty is not the intention.


I heard about Miksang last year during a conversation with a friend who lives in Kyoto, Japan. That led me to read about it and discover that a retreat was taking place at a convenient time and place.

I have always prided myself in my ability to analyse. But the teacher Helen would caution me against thinking and identifying and naming.


She was teaching me to be more alive to visual perception, and encouraging me to communicate it through photos rather than words or concepts.

When posting our photos on her website, she insisted that we not give them a title. I had always thought that artists who called their works 'untitled' were being lazy. But now I understand they are simply helping us to perceive their art without pre-judgment.


The loss of mental agility associated with getting older is usually a source of regret. I remember my mother developing dementia and referring to 'that thing' when she couldn't name an object. I regretted her loss. But now I can see a silver lining in moving beyond the need to name things, talk about concepts and tell stories.