Finding Bearing

Life goes in circles; it pulsates like waves—up and down, again and again. Nobody is constantly happy and most people aren’t constantly miserable, either. As sure as daylight is replaced by night every day, so does our emotional state rotate back and forth—it swings from one extreme to another. Relentlessly. It’s part of being human being, and it’s part of our human psyche. To be able to feel moments of happiness, we need to take the occasional trip down into the darker states of our minds, and vice versa.

Our creativity is no different and only part of this emotional roller coaster we are all riding. Sometimes we feel completely in flow; there is no end to what we can accomplish, ideas and revelations seems to bombard us effortless from a place outside ourselves. Sometimes, however, we feel completely in a rut, the flow has gone, our head feels like dead meat; no matter how hard we try, nothing comes out of our efforts. Again, we need one to get to the other; nobody can constantly be a cornucopia of creativity.

I know this, and still when I am down, feeling like I am groping blindfolded and see no way out, I can’t wrap my head around this acknowledgement. I can tell myself consciously that soon I will be on my way up again, but it’s like my body and my unconscious mind won’t believe it. There is no conciliation in the fact that it’s always been like this that I have been down— and up— many times before. Yet, I can’t give in. I just have to wait for the turnaround, because I do know it will come, even if it doesn’t feel like it will.

Right now I feel in a rut. Feel like nothing I do is worth much or anything. I have lost faith—temporarily I know, but nevertheless. The last, maybe six month has been quite a struggle, many of the project I have pushed forward have crashed. Hope and aspirations have fallen along with each project crash landing. I tell myself this will soon turn around, but then instead another project goes down the drain. It affects my creativity, it changes my perception, it disturbs my flow. Lately I haven’t done any photography I can truly be proud of. Yes, I am professional; I can flow on my many years of experience, but it’s not flowing, the photos aren’t standing out—at least not in my eyes.

When I get in this state of mind, I usually push even harder, trying to force myself out of the misery, forcing some flow to happen, pushing new projects into being. Sometimes it does work, gets me back on track, but often it does the opposite. The more I push forward, the more I fall back. The more I analyse what is going wrong and how can I get out of the rut, the more I lose traction, the more hopelessness is taking a grip on me. The more I search for the light in the end of the tunnel, the more I go astray in the dark.

This is when I know I have to let go. I have to stop pushing. Just be with whatever is. Instead of pressing for a change, I need to discover once again the small wonders that surround me all the time—and right now; the budding flowers sprouting out of the soil, the gentle rain falling on my face, the love from those who are close to me, the sound of friends laughing, the sent of curry from a nearby vendor, yes, life in all its shadings and mysteries taking place all around me. Stop and just be. And I have to be willing to accept the feeling of misery that I carry right now, that it’s a natural part of being human being, not something I should try to push away. Accept it and embrace it. Just like I need to accept that my creative well right now needs to be replenished, that the flow is not available for me right. If I start to embrace all this, things will soon start to change again—whether I want it or not. Only then I will find my bearing again.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon EOS 5D MII and a 16-35 mm lens set at 24mm. Exposure: 1/40 of a second and f/22. It was processed in Lightroom and the app Camera Zoom FX with the filter Faded Night.

86 thoughts on “Finding Bearing

  1. Your are brave and courageous to share your innermost struggles and thoughts. Winter in your part of the world must make it even harder to stay on course. I often think that the beauty of life is its unpredictability and moments of angst that teach us to appreciate those moments when the trajectory is flowing. Thinking of you, and hoping the rejuvenation of the landscape helps to bring renewal to you.

    1. I actually enjoy the winter very much. But you are right in that the beauty of life is its unpredictability. It can bring you greater joy than you would ever expect, but also the opposite. Thank you for the lovely words, Sally.

  2. Coincidentally, and appropriately, I came upon this paragraph from a NY Times article about the navigation secrets of the Marshall Islanders. It doesn’t take much to see the relevance to the issue you’ve raised:

    “Disorientation is always stressful, and before modern civilization, it was often a death sentence. But recent studies have shown that people who use GPS, when given a pen and paper, draw less-precise maps of the areas they travel through, and remember fewer details about the landmarks they pass. Paradoxically, this seems to be because they make fewer mistakes getting to where they’re going.

    Being lost… has one obvious benefit: the chance to learn about the wider world and reframe your perspective. From that standpoint, the greatest threat posed by GPS might be that we never do not know exactly where we are.”

    1. This is a fantastic quote. I do think we do need to get lost from time to time. Being one who travels a lot, I have really appreciated the ability to lose track of everything and get lost. The paragraph from New York Times does very much have relevance to what I write. Thank you very much, Linda.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Otto. I think we can all relate to your feelings here and I believe you are right to embrace it rather than fight it. I think that after times like this we “come back” even better than before. Maybe it’s just all part of the process…the ebb and flow.

    1. I hope and think that in most case we do come back stronger. «What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger» as the saying goes. It surely part of the ever-going ebb and flow. Thank you, Susan.

  4. Otto thanks for sharing your thoughts on the rising and falling of creativity. It’s true that when the rut comes it feels as if it will never budge. I too am in a creative low right now and struggling to wait for it to pass.
    For some reason I’m deeply influenced by the seasons, by the end of winter I always feel as bleak as the grey landscape. I know I’ll have a rush of deep creative feeing when I expierence nature coming back to life in just a few weeks. Till then I have to just wait patiently, like a seed waiting for the light to break the darkness.
    I hope you find your way back to your flow soon and in the meantime maybe think of your creativity as just sleeping. Everyone and everything thing needs to rest.

  5. There you go again, Otto…spot on! We do tend to forget that everything on the planet needs replenishing, and seem to be less critical of nature during seasonal changes that bring about renewed patterns and… growth. We, the human ones, should be the exception to this oft occurring cycle…event? Otto, you have reminded me that when one thinks they are the only person sitting in the dark of that creative well that adds definition to our lives…one should turn either right or left and see the others sitting along side.
    Spending a few days in Seattle with London friends in early September, maybe a coffee/lunch?
    Best to you, Raye

    1. Yes, we are all part of natures cycle. I wrote this, partly so we can share and understand that this happens to everyone. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Coffee/lunch with is always uplifting. 🙂

  6. Oh Otto, you are talking to me today. We are in the dreary place again and it’s so hard to get excited about photography, when there is nothing to shoot. I’ve been sifting through my past photos, and playing with textures and layers. But I’m about out of those too. It is hard sometimes.

    1. It is hard sometimes. Bu just don’t give up. Suddenly something will change everything, a streak of sunshine or an unexpected smile will get you excited about photography again. 🙂

  7. Otto I feel like this post was written exactly about how I feel! I wonder if it is what happens to creative minds? For me when I get in a rut the best escape and refresher has always been travel. Getting out of my physical place and somewhere new always helps. When I can’t I just go with the flow and know it will get better. 😊

  8. I find this to be so true, Otto, as I am sure many others do also.
    When I “get like this,” I have learned not to fight it, and to simply just move away from it, because I Know that the more I struggle, the worse it will get. I also know, based on much experience with it, that it will pass. Sometimes quickly, sometimes not so quickly, but it does pass.

    It will for you too, and I am glad that you know that.

  9. When I read what you are feeling at the moment, I said to myself, I would try to let go and then you said it. As I have been down in the mouth myself for quite a while I can somehow understand you, Otto and maybe it helps you to think how boring it is to be always happy! Just do what you can at the moment! 💐🍀

    1. I think it would be boring to be happy all the time—or more precisely do what makes you happy all the time, because then the happy feeling will slowly disappear. Thank you for the compassion, Martina.

  10. Clearly this emotional downturn is part of the human condition. As artistic people, we are especially reliant on our artistic expression to complement our sense of fulfillment. How tenuous this can be when our form of expression isn’t forthcoming. Unfortunately, there is no cure or panacea for this ailment. We must trust in the magic of our gifts and if possible, a big if, push ourselves to create something for ourselves: not for the likes it might produce or the money it might earn. Maybe in your case it could be doing a series that focuses on the dark side that surrounds you…and wait for the light. It will come.

    1. Yes, it is part of the human condition, unavoidable and probably not something one wants to avoid neither. This is often necessary time to gather new momentum and replenish oneself—however hard it feels at the moment. It’s a good idea to use the present emotional state as a backdrop for creative work. Thank you, Nina.

  11. I’ve been there. When it happens it’s about self-doubt.

    I doubt that I can create art that is original and relevant. I overcompensate by thinking that I should do what is popular but then conclude that such art would quickly cease to be relevant because it isn’t original. So, back to my original thing I go.

    I do this until I scold myself for being self-indulgent, wait a while to cool my head, and then just produce whatever turns my crank.

    1. It’s partly self-doubt, no doubt about that. I believe it’s never a good idea to starting doing what one think is popular. Instead go with whatever turns the crank—as you say. Thank you, Allen.

  12. Sorry to hear you are going through a ‘rut’ and not feeling inspired and creative.
    We are all human and we all have those downers (whether we admit it or not). The important thing is to accept that this is normal and will ultimately happen again and again.
    When it happens to me, I try to let go and switch over to some other activities for a while. I take it as a teaching and message to slow down and spend some time doing other things. I’m lucky enough to be able to do whatever I feel like (being single and retired).

    Since photojournalism is your work and income, accept this as a message to take a break (even for a short while).
    If you can, go for more walks in nature (perhaps without a camera) and just enjoy your family time.

    I find the harder you try to escape reality, (aka the ‘rut’), the more elusive that creative spark becomes.
    Believe in yourself and know that one day the creative light will switch on and you’ll wonder why you felt lost in the dark in the first place.

    1. You are quite right. Sometimes the best thing is just leave whatever is creating a feeling of rut, behind you. It’s not always as easy when it’s your livelihood. But you are also right in that creativity will once again return. I guess I have never been patient, though… Thank you Vicki.

  13. I only photograph for my own pleasure, and sometimes I feel that there’s nothing left I want to photograph. Nothing gives me the joy to get out of the house and look about. But when I completely change my day, or my pattern, I am off and running again. Perhaps that’s why travel produces the most images on my external drive. I am a bit off-balance, in a good kind of way.

    1. Being off-balance can be wonderfully creative, no. I don’t think any of us escape the feeling that there is nothing left that I want to photograph. And then suddenly it all changes again.

  14. You are very honest to write about your rises and falls. That is in itself an acceptance of the fact of human’s mind. Not thing is constant or can completely depend on; notoriously but not so obvious is our own mind as a whole. Whether part of it is creativity or what have it. I think this is normal and I am to say that I was in the same rut.. and still looking to craw out of it …

  15. Otto, I really feel blessed, reading your lines of how you feel. I believe that you have given to all of us a wonderful gift, by sharing where you are right now. We all as artists can definitely relate to those creativity holes, yet it is very individual how we get out of this. Moments like this make me often think of that parable, which goes like this. ” A frog you landed in a glass of milk, looking for a solution to get up to the rim of the glass of milk, he starts to kick his four legs until the milk becomes butter and eventually he sits on top of the butter”. By sharing your misery you have already become creative. Thank you.

    1. Those are lovely words, Cornelia—and I love that parable with the frog. I also glad you see my ranting about lack of creativity as something positive to share. Thank you.

  16. I feel your pain, brother… I have been in a rut for so long it can’t be. I’m thinking of shutting down my photoblog for a while to see if that helps… to just rest, to just be. my head does feel like dead meat, i have a severe case of brain fog that seems immovable. will the sun never shine again? i get scared of my ruts, because they can last for over a year! and it’s not like i have other hobbies. but it’s so bad, i’m just not interested in taking pictures right now.

    Sometimes YOU help me, Otto… your kind words lead me to shoot another day, but i can’t expect you to prop me up, now can i?

    1. I know, it’s sometimes hard to believe that the sun will find its way back again. But I believe it will, no matter how long it takes. We support each other, don’t we? Keep the spirit up, Elaine. I would be saddened if you shut down your blog—but sometime that would be the right thing to do for oneself.

      1. well, i think the reason shutting down my blog doesn’t work is because i’m only trying to trick myself, and have every intention of opening it up again. lol yes, i guess we shall have to support each other 🙂

  17. We’ve all been there, I’ve been there, and there is comfort in knowing that eventually we emerge from the depths of despair even though when we are down it is so hard to believe it is possible.
    This past winter is the first in 12 years that I have not been skiing and skiing has always lifted my spirits magically. But Spring is just around the corner and the light, the sun, and the emergence of new life should, I hope, heal and lift your spirits. I have always found great comfort in focusing right down into the beauty of the micro-landscape in Spring. It takes courage to speak like you have done, Otto, and I admire that. My very best wishes to you.

    1. Yes, there is absolutely comfort in knowing that we will emerge to the other side—and more so the more one have been there. 🙂 Like you I enjoy skiing very much. I have have been able to go skiing a couple of times, but not as much as I would usually do. Despite the fact that spring is just around the corner I still hope to get out skiing a couple of times more. 🙂

  18. Beautifully written, Otto. Yes, the ups and downs of life are always with us, and sometimes the downs seem to be winning. I’m sorry that you’re feeling so low at the moment, but one of my mom’s favourite sayings was, “This too shall pass.” Take courage from the knowledge that we all go through such times and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Your photo is marvellous and very soulful. Hugs to you.

  19. I can totally relate to all of this Otto! The darkness will make room for the light again, we know this from the past and yet sometimes we still have doubts. Focussing on all the small things has been and still is my best strategy to move on, go out, shoot, write and share. I even made the tagline of my new website “It’s always the little things” 🙂 And by the way, I finally took a new self-portrait, as promised.

    1. Focusing on the small things is always a good strategy to get going and out of the rut. Each little step is manageable and suddenly you have move quite a distance. Thank you, Viola.

  20. I think it’s completely normal to feel down when projects are not working out. I find it harder to be creative when I’m feeling low. What helps me is to do something completely unrelated to photography. Like others have said, travel is very good for burnout. It makes you put things in perspective and recharges the batteries. And it might make you want to shoot again.
    In my opinion, you are doing the right thing by not fighting these feelings.

  21. Beautifully put Otto. Sometimes letting go is the only way forward but it is so hard. Your last paragraph sums up the importance of finding beauty in small wonders. I am sure you will come back stronger after this difficult time. Resting and recharging the batteries sounds more important than pushing .

      1. You’re welcome. It is hard when you reach the wall creatively but I agree, letting go and stepping back seems to be what the universe is telling us to do at such times. All the best – Suzanne

  22. Oh yes, the ebbs and flows.You have expressed this well and I like the photo very much. Sometimes the more I push, the harder it gets. When I let go….wish you well.

  23. I hope you will soon find new courage, creativity and inspiration in your work – and that more projects will succeed!
    And now we move towards the spring and summer – enjoy it!

  24. Otto, you may be feeling down, but your beautiful, well-crafted work inspires me every time. Today I watched the sun rise as I drove to the airport. Tonight it will set. Life’s patterns continue on regardless of our feelings. I find that comforting. Take care.

  25. Otto, you have always been an inspiration to me and many others. Your ability to tell a story with your images outshines most photographers I have seen. The fact that you admit that you occasionally lose your “flow” impresses me a great deal. It’s hard to alway be “on” and perfect. Sometimes we just need to recharge. This is your time.

  26. Great photo and a very well-written post! It definitely didn’t go out of flow. 🙂

    Life just is, no matter what is going on in it. Life will just keep happening. It is here and only here.

    I have felt almost all the emotions you’ve described in your post, Otto. I have a habit of telling myself: life is a sinusoidal wave (being an engineer/scientist it’s hard not to relate 😉 ). But still, I often find myself not remembering the wavy nature of our lives when I need to remember it the most and hence failing to reassure myself that it’s just a phase. But then, sooner or later, I do realize and move forward. Also, we can’t escape anything and we must not. As you rightly said, acceptance and gratitude are very essential for a peaceful mind.

    Cheers to life, as it is! 🙂

  27. I can relate feelingly to the emotions and thoughts you discuss here. But there’s always tomorrow when things will be really good!

  28. I’m sorry to hear you’re having a low Otto. I’m like you, I will keep pushing, get very impatient with myself and even more frustrated when as you’ve experienced, this seems to make things worse. It is comforting to rationalise and tell yourself this is just a feeling, this isn’t real, it’s brain chemistry and that will change but it doesn’t make the feelings go away and it doesn’t make your creative endeavours any more fruitful. I hope you are soon feeling very much better Otto. My very best wishes to you!

    1. I appreciate you concern and empathy, Adrian. Thank you. And, yes, it’s really only in our heads, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. But slowly by slowly we get out of the rut—as I am doing now. Thank you for the encouragement.

  29. Sometimes cutting oneself off completely from photography helps, as you would know, Otto. At times like these, I stop carrying camera along with me. I avoid analyzing and judging the ‘photographic worth’ of moments or scenes around me, however hard it may be. For me, connecting with people works..I talk, discuss life and spend time with people who would otherwise have been my ‘subjects’ if I had a camera. This seems to help me reconnect with the fundamentals of my photography..and then, like you say, it all changes..I feel this urgent need to take my camera and go out on the streets..and it works..
    I like the photograph here, is an expression of your state of mind..very well done 🙂

    1. This is a great advice. Talk with the subject instead of photographing it or them. Thank you for sharing your way of dealing with moments of disconnection with the flow.

  30. I am convinced you will find your way out…maybe using some of the many pieces of good advice here from your blogging friends. You already have the answer inside yourself.
    I know something about being down. One of the main thoughts when I am there is usually: When are they (all my collegues and friends) going to find out that I am nothing…I’m no good at anything…I’m fake, I’m a disaster. Surely they all know or will soon realize this…Soon the bubble will blow…
    So far I have always regained my powers and been able to appreciate and believe in myself. I am convinced these down periods happens to us all – but not many men would admit it. Only creative and artistic men, like you, will. But not all of them…You are strong and enough self-confident to do so. I greatly admire that.
    My remedies have always been walks in Nature, patience and letting go. I also try to think about those who are very much less fortunate than me…the refugees, the disabled, the very poor and sick people. Who am I to feel unhappy and low – give me a very good reason for that!

    A hug is what I have to offer you – I think you are getting many after this post of yours.

    1. The last point you mention, that we are so lucky compare to many people in the world, is really worth sitting down and ponder over. It doesn’t necessarily help to compare feelings, but it does set things in perspective. I deeply appreciate your empathy and support, Ann-Christine. Thank you for the hug and for sharing your experience and thoughts on this matter.

      1. Many of us know the feeling and have found our own remedies. Perspective – yes, that was my point, but maybe not so well expressed – thank you for putting it right. I hope another hug is not too much! Here we go ♥

  31. A very moving insight into a time of struggle in your life. I sense though that even being able to put things into words and write this means you are feeing better…hope so.

  32. I so identify with this post! I’ve been talking about similar ideas with my son recently, who plays baseball. He is in what we call a “slump” where, for whatever reason, his natural abilities are suppressed. I’ve shared with him my similar struggles in painting. It’s so strange how slumps feel at the time like they will last forever. I really appreciate your honesty, and the hope it offers to persevere. I will pass along this beautiful advice to him: “This is when I know I have to let go. I have to stop pushing. Just be with whatever is. Instead of pressing for a change, I need to discover once again the small wonders that surround me all the time—”

    1. Yes, we who have experience what you son calls a «slump» must teach those who are at the beginning of their creative path, that it won’t last, no matter how painful it is in the moment. Thank you for sharing your experience and for the lovely words as well, Colleen.

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