“What you see is what you get.”
In the case of a photo exhibit I am curating, more telling adages might be:
- “What you see is but a hint of what you get”
- “You can see it, but no one else can.”
- “What is there to see in only me?”
- “I don’t even see it.”
A mermaid, musician, hunter, artist, skate boarder, weight lifter and world traveler are but a sampling of the images submitted in response to my request for photos. The call for individuals to select a photo of themselves, alone, from anytime in their lives, will be a part of an exhibit called, “Inner Light Exposure”. The images are meant to capture aspects of one’s inner beauty, finest essence and valued traits. Consistent with the mission of my Significance Matters site, the purpose of the exhibit is to inspire both those submitting a photo and those viewing the exhibit to more fully live in a way that honors their significance.
The settings in the photos are as varied as the characters in them. Ireland, Iceland, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Colombia, the United States and Switzerland are all featured. Scenery includes mountains, oceans, lakes, ancient ruins, duck blinds and farmlands.
The subjects, settings and even the descriptions do not begin to tell the whole story of each person’s inner beauty nor the collective story of the challenges inherent in giving voice to – and claiming the light in – their souls.
I came to realize, it was the process of working with many of the individuals to describe the photo they had chosen which created more depth, nuance, and focus to their stories.
Driven by my purpose to help people think about and appreciate what is precious about themselves and to give those viewing the exhibit an opportunity to bear witness to another’s significance – and in doing so gain a deeper appreciation of their own worth – I put a great deal of thought into determining and describing the purpose and process for my exhibit. Satisfied with my work I was confident that those submitting a photo would simply send me a photo, a description and a signed release form. It turned out that my confidence about the ease of the process was greatly misplaced. It was a small minority of entrants who followed the process I had outlined. In some cases people simply failed to read the entry requirements and sent group photos or photos of themselves interacting with others. In the majority of instances, I received vivid, intriguing, thought-provoking photos, with either no description, a description which shared the factual details around the photo, or photos with barely a hint of the inner beauty the person possessed.
You Can See It but No One Else Can
While I was surprised and a little daunted at the lack of substance in some of the descriptions, I was even more surprised and at what I learned from – and about – those who chose not to submit a photo.
One such example occurred when I was in the early stages of fleshing out my plan for the exhibit. I asked a few people in my inner circle of friends for feedback on my idea. One friend, a person who I might add has an abundance of inner beauty, stunned me by saying, “It is highly unlikely that I will participate in your exhibit. I hate feeling vulnerable and your exhibit feels vulnerable to me. It feels like I would be exposing myself to people I don’t know and be subject to their interpretation of me.” While I do understand this friend very well, it just did not occur to me that a photo and a description of what you value about yourself was an act of extreme vulnerability.
What is There to See in Only Me?
I communicated with people who were willing to submit a photo but found that a lone picture simply did not fit for them.
In one instance a colorful, spicy, and spirited person confessed to me:
“I looked through my photos and there were almost no pictures of me alone. I am an extrovert, a very social being and my joy and radiance comes through in my interaction with other people. After repeated efforts at finding a photo of me, just me, which captures my inner beauty, I simply cannot find one.”
Another example came from a person who is deeply thoughtful, intentional, and philosophical. He said “It is a biological fact that no living being exists as a solo entity. We only exist as an intertwined organism with the people and every living being we live in concert with. It is the focus on the individual that is the source of deep psychological and economic problems in our present society.” While this person sent me several really beautiful photos of family members connecting with one another, it just did not work for him to submit a photo of himself alone.
I Don’t Even See It
There were a few people who seemed to believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, yet they submitted photos with very few, providing scant insight into their inner qualities. There were others who wrote descriptive paragraphs extolling the virtues of a photo’s setting but missed the boat in describing their own.
The best examples of the “less is more” theme were one word descriptions such as “water”, “land”, or “healing”.
Descriptions of physical surroundings were more common but failed to draw a connection between the setting and their soul. In one such description I was captivated by the persons vivid description of an ancient ruin and the story of those who came before. The writing was powerful and from the description I could smell the sulphuric water and imagine a bustling center with craftsmen trading their wares. But other than appreciating some fine writing and a person with obvious imagination and curiosity, I was left wondering why this person who painted a picture of a beautiful and captivating site failed to describe their own.
I was determined to unlock the mystery of inner light in the photos by thorough examination.
What You See is But a Hint of What You Get
I studied facial expressions; a man in concentration. Poses and postures; a girl shrugging with a lazy smile. Settings; a man with a high elevation view. What was worn and not worn; a naked women gliding free in the waves. Tools; a man with a drill on a roof top. I spent countless hours studying, searching, looking for the tell. Imagine a tell in poker where the unconscious behavior, gesture or demeanor gives other astute players a clue about what is in a given player’s hand.
Given that this category (What You See Is What You Get) was a pervasive one, I was looking for tells or hints and clues from an array of photos whose descriptions of inner beauty were limited at best. My time did yield some assumptions and insights, especially in cases where I knew the person submitting the photo. But given photos came from strangers, acquaintances, family and friends, the accuracy of my deductions was questionable and most importantly missed the point of the exhibit, to recognize, claim and celebrate ones’ inner beauty.
So, back to the drawing board. Determined to incite and mutually gain more insight into each person’s inner traits, I customized my approach for each person in this category. Whether it was email exchanges or phone and in-person conversations, all included some or all of the following: reflection questions/statements such as:
- Consider moments when you felt fully alive.
- What feedback have you received about your character or personal traits that fit with your aspirations and values? (I sometimes gave the assignments for the person to go ask others in their life what they valued about them)
- What are moments when you claimed your own power?
- What aspects of yourself do you value, relish or simply enjoy?
Through the many conversations and email exchanges, I gained a deeper appreciation of how hard it is to give voice to one’s inner qualities. Additionally, I was reminded that the shield of vulnerability is a varied one. I felt privileged that people removed the shield from in front of their hearts for a time, some sharing details with me that are to be kept private while others had realizations they chose to share in their descriptions.
The Inner Light Exposure Exhibit’s quest to expose and celebrate inner light in ourselves and others, was for me, abundantly realized.
The courage and soul searching people took to explore, reflect, and share insights resulted in descriptions that are a marvel.
The time I spent with each person, both those who chose to submit a photo as well as those who did not, was sacred. I was pursuing what I thought was a noble purpose, to help people appreciate the beauty in their souls and through the gift of sharing their photos and descriptions, foster that same appreciation of self in those viewing the exhibit. As so often happens, it was I who experienced a feast of riches. My hope is that you will too.
In the future I will be sharing announcements about “Inner Light Exposure” exhibits at a variety of locations in several Cities and eventually a virtual exhibit on my site.
A Call To Action
What You See is But a Hint of What You Get
- After reading my blog, consider why so many people found it difficult to describe their inner beauty.
- If I asked you to describe aspects of your inner beauty, what you value about yourself, your finest essence, how hard would it be for you? Why?
- Take a moment of quiet and jot down five things you value about your inner qualities.
- Determine an action you will take in the next month which allows you to savor a particular quality you appreciate about yourself.
You Can See it But No One Else Can
- Vulnerability comes from the Latin word vulnus or wound. It is the state of being open to injury or appearing as if you are.
- What situations or interactions have made you feel vulnerable in the past?
- As you reflect on those situations or interactions, what insights do you have about being wounded or being hurt?
- What do you do to protect yourself from “woundedness”? How have those protections served you? Continue to serve you? What is the cost to you, to others, to your relationships?
- Consider trying out some new behaviors, both those where you set boundaries to better protect yourself as well as situations or interactions where you might lower your shield and experience the benefits of being more vulnerable.
What is There to See In Only Me?
- When you are with others, what qualities in you shine?
- What innate traits foster the qualities that shine when you are with others?
- Spend time in gratitude for the inner qualities you possess that positively impact other individuals, communities and even the world.
I Don’t Even See It
- Consider the reasons you may not see and or claim your inner beauty (e.g. modesty, lack of time or interest in inner reflection, focus on the beauty in others vs yourself, negative messages from yourself or others, etc.)
- Think about the beauty you see in others and try giving yourself the same grace, generous lens, and appreciative view.
- Select six to ten people in your life who know you fairly well. Choose people from different aspects or your life such as family, friends, work colleagues. Let these people know you were given an assignment to ask each of them to send you an email or note listing five qualities they see in you. When you get the emails/notes back, look for themes across all of the responses. Look for traits that come across differently between groups. Then take a moment and claim from the traits others see in you, those which most fit with your own aspirations and values.