By John Warden
This article was first published in the Fall 2017 Edition of The Magazine of BC Nature.
Before I begin my morning walk along the Sidney seawall, I take a moment for a long, slow look. Pondering the artistic and aesthetic aspects of flow, I look to the clouds to see what the wind is doing and then look to the waves, to see what the water is doing. What photographs do the wind and the waves bring me this morning? Should I walk or should I take pictures?
After I put my cameras away, I walk. Usually, it’s still early by the time I get to the Sidney Fishing Pier. It’s quiet out on the pier and, once I’ve taken the time to appreciate the view, there are few distractions. That’s when I can settle into my physical practice of flow.
I step slowly through a series of martial arts movements. I focus on letting the energy of one technique flow smoothly into the next and the entire form becomes a smooth, uninterrupted synergy of the individual parts. At the same time, nature flows around me. The waves below the pier move with the tide, while above me, clouds, drifting with the wind, stretch out across Haro Strait. As the flowing energy of my practice melds with that of nature, I am caught up in the moment.
In Japanese aesthetics, flow is known as fūryū. Kenjutsu master and author Dave Lowry, explains that fūryū relates to an appreciation of the beauty of wind and water. Artist, and author H.E. Davey takes the aesthetics of fūryū to a place of poetic imagery:
Like the wind, fūryū can be sensed, but not seen. It is a quality both tangible and intangible in its suggested elegance. Fūryū points to an ephemeral beauty, which can only be experienced in the now, for in the next instance, it will dissolve like the morning mist.
Poetic imagery is one of the treasures that we seek on our quest as nature photographers, but how do we capture ephemeral beauty? Physically, flow, like the martial arts of Tai Chi and Aikido, is about soft, smooth, continuous movement. Artistically then, we need to convey that same sense of soft movement through the compositional elements of colour, light and line.
Chesterman Beach near Tofino is great place to study visual flow and, from the vantage point of the Wickaninish Inn you can sit and watch, mesmerized, as line after line of waves wash onto the shore. Out in the water, surfers ride the energy of the waves. You can get a feel for the fluid push and pull of of waves by walking along the shoreline where the water flows around (and yes, sometimes over the top of) your rubber boots.
One April morning while walking the beach at Chesterman’s, I felt the touch of flow’s ephemeral beauty. A long white line of surf carried my attention to the softest of subtle cirrus clouds drifting elegantly across the horizon. In the moment, I composed a single photograph. In another moment, in the always moving, always changing way of flow, the scene was transformed. Rivulets etched their way across the sandy beach in the foreground. White breakers still tumbled onto the shoreline but above the waves, the subtle clouds of a moment before, had been drawn, stretched and pulled dramatically, across the sky. I composed another photograph. Two very different poetic images of flow, one a whisper of the intangible, the other, tracings of the tactile.
Psychological and neurobiological research tells us that the creative and performance benefits of flow are grounded in science. It’s in the aesthetics of poetry though that I find its most evocative, written expression. Published in the 9th century, the Tosa Nikki Diary records the poem of an un-named Japanese school girl.
The wind and the waves,
Might they be friends?
Every morning, my friends and I begin our day together, holding hands with flow.
Davey, H. (2012). The Japanese Way of the Artist. Stonebridge Press.
Lowry, D. (1995). The Sword and the Brush. Shambhala.
Tsurayuki, K. n. (0935). Tosa Nikki.