Of The Be Persuasion
There are those who go to wild places intending to do things in them; there are those who go to wild places just to be in them. I am of the “be” persuasion. – Guy Tal
When it comes to nature enthusiasts, there are two primary types: those who go out to *do*, and those who go out to *be*.
The former are the likes of mountain climbers, hikers, trail runners, and, unfortunately, most nature photographers. These individuals use nature to perform an activity they enjoy. If nature no longer existed one day, they would likely find a new way to perform their act. And while to a *be* individual, this may seem sad and unfulfilling, there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Though the *do* person may be able to find new places to pursue their activity outside of nature – a climbing wall gym, for the mountain climbers – those of the *be* variety may never find solace if nature were to up and go one day.
Those of the *be* persuasion enjoy wild places for what they are. They do not use nature for any reason other than to be within it, to enjoy its solitude and beauty. Going out into nature and simply existing – allowing whatever is to happen, happen – is enough for them. They go out with no expectations, no preconceptions.
To put it succinctly as possible, as Guy Tal had in his book *Another Day Not Wasted*, “A ‘do’ person may return from a trip disappointed if their intended activity failed to satisfy. A ‘be’ person, on the other hand, having no expectations or preconceptions, needs only to experience qualities usually abundant in wild places to make any trip worthwhile.”
For the longest time, I was of the *do* persuasion. With a camera in tow, most hikes out into nature were planned around photographing something. Mostly waterfalls, as they were easy to compose and much more abundant in Pennsylvania than traditional mountain ranges like the Grand Tetons. Each of my hikes began with figuring out which trail to go to with the “best” waterfall for that time of year. My search history consisted mostly of the prompt “best waterfalls in eastern Pennsylvania.” Upon arriving at the trail, the hike to the waterfall would be rather quick. Plenty of intimate scenes may have whispered out to me, but, unlike now, they were ignored, the shouts of the waterfalls drowning them out.
Once the waterfall was quickly composed and photographed, perhaps a snack would be eaten while simply *being,* enjoying nature for all its glory. As soon as the snack was gone, however, it was another rapid hike back to the car to get home and process the keeper shot(s) I managed to get. In a matter of half a day, I had gone out into nature, made a few photographs, and gotten home to process them to post to social media that night, possibly. Though you may see no issue with this, to me, it felt as though something was lacking in my approach, both to photography and to my being in nature.
It wasn’t until January 2021 I decided to try a new way of going out into nature with my camera. Feeling my photography was missing something, I began to think long and hard about what it could possibly be. Though my photographs were aesthetically pleasing, I eventually deduced there was little, if any at all, depth to them. And this ended up translating to my life as well. There was little choice for me other than to begin this search for meaning. So, rather than going out into nature with the singular goal of making a photograph, it was determined best to go with no goal at all. To listen to the rustle of the leaves, the crunch of the frozen ground beneath your feet. To get lost in your observations of the beauty which surrounds you, regardless of how mundane it may appear, without the powerful presence of a preconceived goal. The easiest place to experiment with this new mindset – to see if it would work for me – was a local park with little to offer in the way of photography (or so I had thought).
Though I had brought my camera with me, I did not once take it out of its bag. Thinking back, I don’t recall having much thought about making any photographs at all. My mind was too preoccupied with observing the beauty around me, the sounds encasing me. For the first time, I found myself enjoying simply being out in nature with no expectations to be had.
There is a popular Zen teaching which flows quite well with this idea of *be* versus *do*:
When you start on a long journey, trees are trees, water is water, and mountains are mountains. After you have gone some distance, trees are no longer trees; water is no longer water mountains are no longer mountains. But after you have traveled a great distance, trees are once again trees; water is once again water, and mountains are once again mountains.
Though there may be millions of individual interpretations of this passage, it stands to reason that such a “long journey” may be attributed to the journey of finding meaning in one’s life, through art specifically. It is similar to the idea of “seeing the forest for the trees,” as the journey helps you become more mindful of what is around you. As you venture along this path of becoming of the *be* persuasion, you find that what you thought you had known to be true, to be the best path, is not. Instead, you begin to see a dilution of your previous ideals – much like seeing the trees as no longer trees – and your mind opens to the possibility of new thinking. And as you have “traveled a great distance,” as your mindset shifts and turns anew, you once again see the trees for what they are. The greatest alteration, however, is not your seeing of trees as trees but, rather, how you now recognize them and what you begin to see deeper within them.
Becoming an individual of the *be* persuasion – when all your life you were of the *do* – takes work. It is not as though you take a single trek out into nature without expectations and, having come back with nothing but the joy of having been out (rather than the usual disappointment), you are now “cured” from your prior ways. No, it does not work like that. If it did, Acadia National Park in 2021, for me, would have been a much different trip. Rather than the forty-three exposed sheets of 4×5 film I had come home with, I would have instead only had the five or so sheets I ended up keeping, as they were the ones that called out to me, which actually held within them some sort of depth. So yes, it takes work to become an individual satisfied with simply *being* in nature. It requires you to rethink your constant why. But, it is hoped one day, you will no longer have to work so hard at it. One day, it will be natural.
As Ruth Allen comments in her book *Grounded*, we as a species become more connected to ourselves on a much deeper level when we become connected to nature. And in this, connecting to nature does not mean going into nature for the purpose of an activity. Though you are more connected while doing such a thing as rock climbing than you would be sitting on the couch watching one of David Attenborough’s nature documentaries, the connection is upon a separate level – one of a lesser degree than if you were to walk barefoot in the woods with the sole focus of feeling the soil beneath your feet, the breeze in your hair, the rough trunks of the oak trees beneath your fingers.
Don’t get me wrong; I love going out into nature to *do*. To go out and play disc golf – a newfound hobby – or to bear witness to certain natural phenomena. But by adopting this new mindset, it is no longer of any concern whether things go as planned. So long as I am out in nature, enjoying every bit of it to the best of my ability, that is all that matters. That, to me, is what it means to be of the *be* persuasion.
Please visit my website for more at codyschultz.com
My engagement with photography started as a need to express myself, as a way to help heal my wounded mental health. Over the years, it has become a way in which to find meaning in my life and the world around me. Photography provides me with an open invitation to explore and engage with nature in ways I had not previously thought possible. While I initially went out into the woods to make photographs, I now go out into the wild to enjoy the peace and quiet, the stillness; the photographs resulting from these treks are simply byproducts, rather than goals.