First, the shamanic answer. When we open sacred space, we are feeding the spirit world. The altar is a banquet table laid with a feast for Spirit. Songs, flowers, offerings, smoke, dance, costumes, tears - these are food and gifts for the spirit world. To take pictures of any of it - while it's happening or after the action is complete - is a way of taking the gift back, of wanting to keep the food for ourselves. Imagine your hungry relative that you invited over for supper reaching for the food you just cooked and you pull it back at the last second saying, "No, this food is so tasty, I think I'll save this for my breakfast tomorrow." Imagine your lover unwrapping the present you gave them, and, as they gasp with delight, you snatch it away, saying, "You're right, this is so wonderful, I think I'll keep it."
It is implanted deep in our western consciousness that we should have whatever we want. Shamanism teaches us that some things belong to Spirit.Ceremony teaches us to give to spirit, to feed what feeds us, to place ourselves in proper perspective to nature.
The core of shamanic theology, as I understand it from 30 years of study, and as I practice it in my healing work, is humility and gratitude. When these two core energies are present, beauty naturally appears everywhere around us. These two energies are so often the antidote to our life of rushing around in an ugly world. Humility comes from the word humus, meaning "close to the earth." Only a fool sees this as powerless and meek. Gratitude comes from the word grace- being touched by the power of Spirit. These are two powerful energies.
Humility is the roots of the great tree at the center of creation reaching down deeply into the life-bestowing earth, drawing sustenance from the Sacred Mother. Gratitude is the branches of the tree reaching up to the light-filled celestial world, drawing wisdom from the Divine Father. Their marriage feeds all of creation, in the world, and inside us.
Without humility and gratitude operating under everything I do, I act from my ego, which is not evil, just smaller in its goals, vision and power. The ego likes to convince me I am immense and powerful. But the ego is actually fearful of true immensity, so it spends its effort distracting me from it by luring me with smaller-sized delights. This is why when we actually do come into contact with immensity, the ego tries to tell us we are crazy, ridiculous, or in danger.It's a central irony of shamanic work that our power as workers comes from connecting ourselves to something far beyond our desire to be powerful workers.
And now a "Self-Help" answer. When we take pictures of ceremony or sacred space (or any moment of beauty for that matter) we are saying that we don't trust that we'll ever experience this kind of moment again, so we'd better hold onto this, the last time we will ever be touched by beauty. Every time we reach for the camera in a moment of beauty, we are affirming our mistrust of life, mistrust of the abundance and generosity of Spirit.
Learning to live fully in the ephemeral moment, opening to it wholly, receiving it abundantly while at the same time fully giving it away - this is learning deep intimacy with life. (And it opens those two power centers- humility and gratitude.)
Nature offers us constant lessons in openness to ephemerality. The fleeting breeze, that birdsong, the moment of glistening dew, the sunset, our flower-drenched ceremony - every time we drum together and the Groove takes over and drums through us for 40 minutes - all of these offer us lessons in ephemerality. We open fully to it, we let it live fully in us, we fully let it go.
When we practice intimacy with ephemerality in any of these ways, we can apply the skills with each other when our warm breaths mingle together in the quiet room. Loving ephemerality is a skill that unflattens our lives compacted by technology, competition, hurry, envy and fear.
Take a moment today to love anything ephemeral. The blossom on the day-lily. The weed in the cracked sidewalk. The cool breeze. Your life. Take it in, love it, and let it go.
The poet says:
...To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.
(Mary Oliver, In Blackwater Woods)