Being Present – Opening Your Senses to Nature – Picture to Ponder – v7-issue15

by Sheila Finkelstein on April 11, 2011

Long-time Picture to Ponder subscriber, Alison James, responded to last week’s issue with such a “right-on” observation, sharing her own experience, that I asked if I might feature her expressions in this issue.

path - photo by Alison James Photo by Alison James, Guest Writer/Photographer

She wrote: “I ride my bike every morning thru the same piece of Forest preserve/prairie. I try to make it a peaceful time, focusing on what my senses bring me – smell, sight, sound, feel – and not get wrapped up in thinking about work / home / future / past etc.

That sounds so simple, yet it is such a hard discipline to follow!

Still, I am gentle with myself and just bring back my thoughts to the here and now like stray sheep. When I do, I notice shadows striping the path – fungus on a tree – hear a bird trill in a certain way – the ever-changing colors and shapes of clouds – each tree a unique silhouette – the quality of the light and the air – sparkles or ripples on the river – a hawk on the wing – the shape of a fallen tree-trunk – beckoning green grass thru the trees – deer in the distance – etc.”

leaves photo by Alison James

“Every day has new things to offer as well as dear familiar ones. When I forget and get caught up inside my headI miss all these things!”

leaf in water - photo by Alison James

“I am there but not there. The bike ride is far less refreshing because mentally, I didn’t leave home….” (my bolding)

You can find out more about Alison and her art on her site, You’ll note there that she’s written several books. They are available in paperback or at an almost giveaway price for PDF downloads from Lulu. See Alison’s Books for story descriptions.

Thank you, Alison, for your contribution to us today.

Today’s Photos
These photographs, sent to me on my request, are also those of Alison James. She responded that she usually does not have her camera with her when she rides her bike (in Illinois) and she did have it one autumn day. Thus the photos above.

Self-Reflecting Queries
Simply following along with Alison’s expression, I invite you to spend some time the next few hours, few days, pausing occasionally to look around you.

Observe, “Am I, have I been caught inside my own head?” If so, what have you been/are you missing?

Alison points out that she rides her bike with all of her senses open – sight, sound, touch, smell. What are your varied senses telling you about where you are now?

She see new things every day, when she is open to it. What new will you see today?

As always, have fun, and please share in the comments below what comes up for you.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Rose Gardener April 12, 2011 at 10:11 am

Thank you, Alison, for the inspiring description of the ride, for the reminder to look and then cherish what we see, and for the beautiful pictures.

I connected with all three on a very personal level today. The shadows of the trees made me wonder what impact is my life having on the rest of the world? What ‘shadows’ do I cast by being here and am I seen by others as welcome shade or darkness within the light?

The second reminded me that life is a short season within the bigger picture. If a friend stood at my grave, would they see the beauty of a coloured leaf now floating free, or bare branches I have abandoned?

If I let go of yesterday and trust the rippling river to carry me safely to where I am meant to be, how clear the water then becomes, how easy it is to rest and just enjoy being a part of life.


Sheila Finkelstein April 12, 2011 at 10:16 am

How poignant and beautiful, Rose. Thank you so much for sharing yourself and your thoughts here. I appreciate your so vividly contributing to and extending the conversation.


alison james April 14, 2011 at 10:34 am

Dear Rose, I am so moved by what you ‘saw with your heart’ in my photos. How beautifully put! It is always humbling and such a gift when someone can express things we intuit but don’t have the right words for — as you did here. The invitations you see are very powerful. Thanks so much for your response!
With thanks and love, Alison


carmen white April 13, 2011 at 10:04 am

I am grateful for Sheila’s Picture to Ponder and Alison’si inspiring response.

Today I did a “different but more mundane task”….a car boot sale with my son and his children. We took so many things which were once loved and once so precious (some of my art anyway) and the children’s very expensive toys. All needed to move on because our houses need the room and my son is selling his home following a divorce. Sad but so common these days.
I was not surprised in these difficult times that almost nothing was considered of value by the people passing.

I noticed though if I shared some of my life with someone, had a laugh about the effort I had put in for my art and for example asking only 50p for a picture I had spent hours labouring over I was unexpectedly given more. £2 instead of the askin price of 50p.

The same happened with a book which I had enjoyed and I only asked 50p…I got £1. Another time a child was crying loudly and causing its mother a lot of stress. I gave her a doll I had bought for one of my grandchildren to the mother and she was so grateful.

Overall that experience today has taught me just how much we stress to work for what? Its all just stuff. What something means to one person means nothing to another. I am now resolved to pare down my life to the bone and be content with much less. I made a financial loss by the time I had paid for the car to enter the boot sale but I made a profit in feeling free and enjoying community with others. It was an illuminating morning and I am glad to be alive to enjoy it.


Sheila Finkelstein April 13, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Carmen, Once again, thank you for jumping in here and sharing so authentically a bit of your life and challenges with us.

How brilliant and empowering was your ultimate assessment of your day, ” I made a profit in feeling free and enjoying community with others. It was an illuminating morning and I am glad to be alive to enjoy it.” Wonderful!

I have a lot of friends now who are also paring down their lives and the excess “stuff” in it. I’ve yet to arrive there AND you’ve beautifully expressed some valuable nuggets, I’ll use when ready. Thanks again.


alison james April 14, 2011 at 10:38 am

Dear Carmen,
Amen to that! Thanks so much for sharing. It’s so interesting how we can choose our meanings that we place on everything, and find lightness even in circumstances that on the face of it seemed ‘difficult’ — I applaud you for finding so much more in your ‘sale’ than just giving up things! I hope that insight carries through for you as you enjoy a simpler life! Thanks and love, Alison


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

© 2017 Sheila Finkelstein - All Rights Reserved - Photography and Writing are by Sheila Finkelstein unless otherwise noted. For information contact Sheila[at]