Black and White: A New Way of Seeing

“To see in color is a delight for the eye but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul.” ~Andri Cauldwell

“Life isn’t black and white. It’s a million gray areas, don’t you find?” ~Ridley Scott

It all started with a Facebook post last week. A dear friend “nominated” me to participate in the 7 day challenge of posting a black and white photo every day, with “no people, no explanations”. I accepted the challenge with great enthusiasm. It’s been many years since my early venturings into black and white photography, back in the day when I used an actual SLR camera with interchangeable lenses rather then a cell phone. I was inspired by the artistry of the great photographers then–Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange in particular. I used to love spending hours in the darkroom, watching with delight as each image slowly emerged on paper in the developer tray. It felt like magic every time.

These days you can take a photo with a smart phone in color and convert it to black and white. It’s not quite the magical experience of my younger years, but it has rekindled an appreciation for the simplicity of black and white photography. What I am appreciating is how it is inviting me to see and think in a new way, to relate to the world differently. Photographing in black and white challenges us to be more thoughtful about what we want to express.

Without the distraction of color, we are drawn into a black and white image in a more contemplative way,to look deeper than surface appearances. There is an invitation to linger over the image, to notice the interplay of light and shadow, the inter-relatedness between foreground and background, the shape and contour of elements in the image. In looking closely, some essential quality of the subject may be revealed that evokes an emotional response or perhaps even reveals something to us about our own inner truth.

There may be more than one interpretation of an image, more than one meaning or type of emotional response. It’s fun to explore with others what their experience is, which may differ from our own.

I’m finding in this 7-day photography challenge that I’m asking myself, what is it I really want to say? What is meaningful to me that I would like to share with others? And something else: it has led me to a contemplation of the term “black and white thinking”. Black and white thinking is just the opposite: it’s about separation and judgement; it’s an “us vs them” mentality, where there are good guys and bad guys, entrenched ideas about right and wrong–which is so prevalent in our world today. We’re not looking at the gray areas. We’re not noticing the interplay of light and shadow or looking for inter-relatedness. We’re speaking with certainty about our own beliefs rather than exploring our experience with others in curiosity, valuing each other’s different views and perspectives, knowing that each one is valid.

What if we were to be more thoughtful in our inter-relating, attempting to see beyond surface appearances? What if we took the time to focus on the essential qualities of the person before us–gaze into their eyes and glimpse the light that shines from within? What if we could allow ourselves to be in curiosity about another being and look for ways we can relate to one another, maybe even learn from one another, even if we have wildly different views and beliefs? What deeper truths might emerge like magic?

What would our world be like then?

Joanne Lefferts photo: White Rose

This entry was posted on November 30, 2017. 2 Comments

Sounds of Silence: A New Way of Listening

“Listen to silence. It has so much to say.” ~Rumi

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

I watched a wonderful movie recently called In Pursuit of Silence. The film has been called “a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound and the impact of noise on our lives”. It opens with 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, with the image of a lone tree in a cornfield and the barely perceptible sound of a gentle breeze moving through the cornstalks. That’s in honor of John Cage and his conceptual orchestral piece from the 1950’s, in which conductor and musicians are to maintain 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence.

Cage was exploring the idea that all sounds are music, and he believed that we need to learn new ways of listening. In speaking about the premiere of the piece, Cage said, “There’s no such thing as silence. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.” [one can only imagine!]

So, the film got me thinking. It seems to me that what is needed in the world today is for more people to practice listening in the kind of silence that allows for meaningful connections to be made (connection to self, to others, and to Divine Wisdom) so that understanding may arise. There’s a great scene in the film that shows footage of some recent news talk shows where several political commentators are talking boisterously over one another so vehemently that you can’t possibly understand what anyone is saying. We need to learn new ways of listening, and of being with silence.

So, what can we hear in the silence? I feel connected to the mysteries of the cosmos when I am immersed in the silence of nature, for starters. Like gazing at the vast night sky on a starry night by a mountain lake. Or experiencing the stillness in the midst a gentle snow fall. Standing in a sea of tiny white flakes as they fall softly on the trees or on the ground, one is wrapped in a blanket of silence that feels like eternity.

What else can we hear in the spaciousness of silence? When we retreat from the outer noise and enter into a sacred silence, we invite an inner listening to the still small voice and we may hear our heart speak its truth, its joy, its sorrow, its needs and desires, and the deep wisdom within. We connect with some authentic truth at the core of ourselves, and from this place we connect more authentically with others. Or, in silently gazing into another’s eyes, we may hear beyond what words could ever express and connect heart to heart.

If we are silent and we listen very closely, we may hear the poetry in our soul. I love fridge word magnets. They coax my inner poet to come out of hiding and play. I’m always surprised and delighted by what will emerge onto my fridge. My favorite random word creation is:

“Celebrate poetry, said the ocean. Listen to the vast night sky!”

Yes, indeed, the ocean has much to say, if we listen carefully. May we all learn new ways of listening and appreciate the gifts of the sounds of silence.

Photo by Joanne Lefferts: Rowing the Lower Ausable Lake

This entry was posted on October 29, 2017. 1 Comment

Interfaith Spiritual Direction ~ An Invitation

“Spirituality is the art of homecoming” ~John O’Donohue

Some of you may know that I have embarked on a program of study in Interfaith Spiritual Direction at the Chaplaincy institute in Berkeley. To fulfill the practicum requirement as a student intern, I will be offering free Spiritual Direction sessions to someone willing to meet with me once a month for 12 months, beginning in November. If you know someone who might be interested in embarking on this adventure with me, please forward this invitation.

We live in challenging times, in a world filled with noise and distraction, where it’s easy to lose touch with what is most essential. The greatest gift we can give to ourselves, and to the world, is to become centered in our own spirituality. Spiritual Direction offers the space for exploration and discovery of our own spiritual dimensions, and helps us to deepen our connection with the divine.

As we share the events of our lives with a Spiritual Director–our joys, our challenges, our deeper longings–being witnessed in the space of deep listening, we connect more deeply with our own sacred wisdom. We pay attention to the still small voice within and become aware of the ways in which divine presence is active in our lives, guiding us toward healing and wholeness, calling forth our highest creative expression.

My own spiritual journey has been rich and varied. It has led me to the study of dreams, becoming a certified dream work facilitator; study of the Enneagram; training as a Prayer Practitioner in a Center for Spiritual Living; and deeply transformative work with the 12 Steps. I have a passion for this work and feel it is a sacred honor to be a companion to others on their spiritual journey.

If you are interested in journeying together in free Spiritual Direction sessions, or know someone who might be, please contact me:

Joanne Lefferts • Phone: (415) 686-1439 • Email:

I look forward to the journey!

This entry was posted on October 15, 2017. 6 Comments

The Great Discovery: Who Do We Think We Are?

“We are penetrated, suffused, caressed, cell by cell and synapse by synapse, with the same love that set the galaxies to spinning.” ~Danna Faulds, from Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga

“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.” ~Eckhart Tolle

I’ve always felt drawn to the poetry and teachings of the mystics and so I am appreciating the opportunity to explore more deeply in a class on World Mysticism. Last week we were introduced to the teachings of the Hindu mystic Ramana Maharshi, an enlightened being who taught the importance of self-inquiry as the way to discover true nature. To know oneself, he taught, ask yourself the question “Who am I” continuously. In this ‘peeling of the onion skin’, one finds a deeper truth, that we are not our body, we are not our thoughts and feelings, or our ideas of who we are. We are so much more.

This is a powerful inquiry, these three little words: Who am I? I share with you what came to me in contemplating this question:

Who Am I?

Mother, daughter, grandmother, sister, friend.

Lover of walks in the woods, tender of gardens and the soul.

Dreamer of dreams, seeker of Truth and Light.

Lover of art and music and song.

Writer, poet, appreciator of beauty without and within.

Child of my ancestors–product of my family, my country, my gender, my race.

Nature and nurture have had their sway. Ideas of self tumble like ever-changing

patterns in a kaleidoscope of color. Emotions ebb and flow like the tides.

Who is the voice in my head, who is the commander of this ship?

Am I one I, or many? Who am I at the core?

Look deeper, the Wise One said. Breathe. Close your eyes. Awaken your inner sight.

Let the breath take you there.

Who AM I?

Ah! There is more! I am a spark of the Divine!

I am an emanation of the Divine Creative Source, a part of all that is!

I live in eternity. My being is nourished by the Love out of which all creation flows.

I am in the sunlight shining on the leaves of the trees, I am the sky, I am the ocean wave,

I am the song of the sparrow, I am the eagle soaring free, I am one with all of humanity.

I am part of the holographic whole, a glistening jewel in Indra’s net.

The Love that gives birth to the Universe continuously gives life breath to me.

Who am I?

I am an inseparable part of the field of LOVE that unites us all;

I am here to learn to give and receive boundless Love and radiant Joy!

May the unfolding begin…

~In abundant gratitude for the journey

Photo: Rose unfolding, by Joanne Lefferts

This entry was posted on July 16, 2017. 4 Comments