RYAN BUSH PHOTOGRAPHY
Fugues: The Cycle of Existence (2018 - ongoing)
The name of this series comes from the musical form of the fugue, in which the same theme is repeated multiple times to build up complex patterns. This kind of repetition is deeply relevant in the world today, because the same themes keep coming up over and over, such as polarization, separation and connection, the Tree of Life, and the levels of the Self. After all, things have been deeply polarized in the world for a long time, such as between progressives and conservatives, rich and poor, masculine and feminine, between various races and religions, and so forth. As difficult as the challenges are that we currently face, working through difficulties may yet help us remember each others’ common humanity, and really value each other again so we can enter a new era of greater harmony.
About the series
The name of this series comes from the musical form of the fugue, in which the same theme is repeated multiple times to build up complex patterns. This kind of repetition is deeply relevant in the world today, because the same themes keep coming up over and over, such as polarization, separation and connection, the Tree of Life, and the levels of the Self. After all, things have been deeply polarized in the world for a long time, including between progressives and conservatives, rich and poor, men and women, between various races and religions, and so forth. As difficult as the challenges are that we currently face, I hope that we’re finally starting to remember each others’ common humanity, and to really value each other again.
Like my previous series From Wandering to Illumination, The Space Beyond Words, and Presence, the Fugue series can be used as a sort of ‘pointing-out instructions’ — pointing out what our fundamental nature is, and that of the world. While teachers from various wisdom traditions might use the clear sky as an example of the pure underlying nature of being, or use a simple flower, or a complex mandala, in this series I use a single sago palm tree from my yard.
While all the fronds come from the same palm tree, each frond is unique, and is an essential part of the whole. Similarly, no matter how different each of us may seem, fundamentally we’re all part of the same vast Oneness, whether we think of it as the human family, the Tree of Life, the Great Chain of Being, the Divine, God, Allah, YHWH, the Source, the Dao, the Brahman, the Holographic Universe, the Bulk, or simply everything-that-is. Fundamentally, we’re always connected, even if we can’t leave our homes. We are never alone.
I made most of the photographs in this series while dealing with cancer in the last several months, on top of the severe back pain I’ve been go through for more than 5 1/2 years, and making this series helped get me through many difficult days and nights. If Frida Kahlo could make powerful paintings while confined to bed, I figured I could make art with whatever I could find around the house, and the result is this series. Even if we are confined to our houses, there are still entire universes to explore.
In photographing the series, it was important for me to include fronds that were broken, bent, or withered, as well as fronds that were perfect and conventionally beautiful. Some of my favorite sago palm fronds to photograph are older ones that have curled up, turning the blades into lyric curls, swoops, and arabesques. In the same way, I’m grateful to all the challenges I’ve gone through because they’ve forced me to appreciate all aspects of life: the light and the dark, the beautiful and the ugly, the healthy and the broken, the agonizing and the sublime, absolutely everything. As Frederick Douglass put it, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Now more than ever, we all have our own challenges, and radical acceptance is a skill that we’re all being forced to learn. Acceptance doesn’t mean we necessarily have to like something, someone, or our circumstances, or be glad things are the way they are. But, if we can’t change something or someone, being upset about it doesn’t help and makes it much more difficult to deal effectively with the situation. As Rumi put it, “The wound is where the light comes in” — we learn most effectively when we have no other choice, when our existing way of dealing with things is no longer sufficient, and that is exactly the state that we are in now. It’s time for us to finally grow up, and move to the next stage in our evolution, both individually and collectively.
Beauty is everywhere, in all things, and all people, at all times. That doesn’t mean that we are all perfect, or even good (as some people choose to do awful things, very unfortunately), or that life is always enjoyable or even necessarily tolerable. On the contrary, we are faced with immense challenges, but that’s exactly why we’re here — to learn and grow — and the more we can approach things from a conscious perspective, the more beauty shines through all of existence, thorns and all.
About the photographs
The photographs in this series are designed to work not just as individual photographs, but also in pairs, in groups of three or four, and in larger grids, as well as in a complete cycle of the whole series that evokes musical cycles that go through all the major and minor keys, like J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, or Dmitri Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues.
All photographs are archival pigment prints on the highly-textured Hahnemuehle William Turner paper, and are available at 20"x20", 40"x40", and 60"x60".
Pointing out the nature of things
In sharing these so-called ’pointing-out instructions’, by no means am I trying to claim I have all the answers, but there are certain lessons I have had to learn from dealing with 5 1/2 years of severe back pain, and cancer more recently, as well as from my practices of meditation, Reiki, and comparing my experiences with the world’s wisdom traditions. The only way we can make progress is by sharing our experiences with each other, and learning from each other.
In ordinary times, when things are going more or less okay, it is easy to be so caught up in our daily lives that we don’t notice anything beyond the obvious. On the other hand, in times of extraordinary stress and difficulties, it is easy to be caught up in a black hole of fear, sadness, anger, or other so-called ‘negative’ emotions, and not see anything other than darkness.
Regardless, whether we are aware of it or not, at all times there is a vast spectrum of being, ranging from the lowest depths of the lower self (aka the subconscious, shadow, id, pain body, etc.), up to our ordinary self (aka the ego, waking conscious, our supposedly rational mind, etc.), and yet higher to the higher self (aka the super conscious, Buddha Self, Christ Consciousness, wisdom mind, or our soul).
These various parts of ourselves are arranged along a continuous spectrum of frequency, even though we usually don’t notice any of them. Our ordinary self (aka the ego) is so nearly constantly present that it is extremely easy to overlook, just as a fish isn’t aware of the water it’s in. It isn’t until we end up stuck at the lower level of being for some length of time (such as if we are in chronic pain, anxiety, depression, or some other kind of dysfunction) that we may realize there are other ways of being, and start to appreciate the value of the ego.
Meanwhile, most people are completely unaware of the higher self, except for brief glimpses we might catch, such as of radiantly beautiful figures in dreams, and surprising flashes of insight and wisdom from the quiet voice of intuition and inspiration. For many people, it isn’t until we have some kind of awakening experience, near death experience, out of body experience, or some other kind of realization that we may start to take seriously the notion that there really is such a thing as the soul. Similarly, it isn’t until we are caught in the grips of some kind of chronic pain, depression, anxiety, complexes, or dysfunction that we may start to take seriously the notion that there is such a thing as the lower self (subconscious, shadow, id, pain body, etc.).
Even if we haven’t had these kinds of experiences ourselves, how many sober, sane, and reputable people need to describe their experiences of the lower and higher selves before we start to take them seriously? After all, we don’t have to directly see black holes or supernovas ourselves In order to believe they are real — why should it be any different when it comes to our own nature?
If it ever seems that we are stuck in one way of being, or that it isn’t possible to shift out of a difficult state of mind, there always are ways to tune ourselves. In every moment, we always have a choice about what to pay attention to, how we hold ourselves, what attitude we have, and what we do. For example, there is a time for paying attention to the news and thinking about the state of the world, but if we are constantly worrying and freaking ourselves out, it is always possible to pay attention to other things. We can be instruments of fear, anger, and sadness, or we can be instruments of love, compassion, acceptance, and even joy — it’s our choice.
Even if we are mostly staying at home, there are still a lot of ways to tune ourselves, such as spending time with loved ones or pets, listening to uplifting music, exercising, going for a walk or appreciating whatever nature we have access to, meditating, or giving ourselves Reiki. This is about much more than just relaxing or taking a break — it’s about bringing ourselves into as much balance and harmony as possible across all levels of our being. No matter how many challenges we have or how much darkness we might be faced with, we can always open our hearts, minds, and souls, and let the light flood in. Rather than getting upset and depressed about our situation and that of the world, let’s rise to the challenge!
This isn’t naive wishfulness or new age mumbo-jumbo. It’s easier said than done, but there really are practical ways we can transform our ourselves and our experience if we learn the right skills and use them with dedication, sincerity, confidence, and love. Sooner or later, we will find an inextinguishable source of wisdom and support, and we and the world will both be transformed. For more details and ideas about tuning ourselves, see my forthcoming book “From Wandering to Illumination”.
It’s time for us all to remember the Oneness that we are all a part of, and to remember what harmony really is.