Expression of true self

Written by Russ Benning

“What is your definition of adventure? Oxford defines it as, “An unusual and exciting or daring experience”.

This definition nicely envelopes my reasons for starting this column.

I’ve published photos to magazines before and I’ve contributed writing before, but never together as one, unified, work of expression with a byline that encompasses both passions.

This month’s column happens to be on the author of ‘Beyond the Portrait’, that’s right, the guy in the photographs who is usually only taking the photographs.

Hi, I’m Russ! I thought it would be a good time to introduce myself. I’m currently based in Hervey Bay on the magnificent Fraser Coast.

I’m a photographer, illustrator, writer, men’s leadership training facilitator, coach, and consultant.

I love sports, food, travel, art, people. Those are a few words that point to a few ideas, but the truth is, like you, I am so much more than just those labels.

Recently I discovered the refined version of my current life purpose and that is to experience a full human life; observe, appreciate, and capture the beauty of my planet, and to inspire others to follow their purpose and passions.

Checking back into the services I’m currently offering, I’m excited to report that we have a match!

I’m definitely not perfect but that’s the point! We’re all works-in-progress, there’s no final destination, just incremental steps towards our best version.

My life hasn’t always been aligned like this and I have quite an adventurous story that led to this version of myself.

It was 2017 when my reality crashed! It was a near perfect day, I was on Whitehaven Beach shooting a wedding elopement with a really lovely couple. This was a typical day at the time. I thought my intense headache was one of sunstroke. Maybe I hadn’t had enough water? Once I was finally home and allowed myself to stop, I knew something wasn’t right. My headache turned to a migraine, complete with flashing auras. Usually these last a few minutes and are a sign of incoming migraine.
Two days later my vision had still not returned. After a few weeks of doctors and specialists I got my results. It was a stroke.

Again, just easier to read and more concise. You don’t want the reader to get lost in an over explanation.

At the ripe old age of 35, the stroke caused partial loss of vision due to brain damage. This was devastating news for a visual artist. At the time I was in disbelief.

It wasn’t until much later that I could see the pain with gratitude and turn it into a positive. It led me to become the man I am today.

This experience led to massive changes.

It was around the time I joined a men’s group which offered unparalleled support and wisdom. I started to see how far out of alignment I actually was (irrespective of how perfect my life looked ‘on paper’), and it was time.

One of the first adventures I took on after politely ‘resigning’ from my old life, was my first 10-day Vipassana.

It’s an ancient meditation technique that has centres all over the world. When have you ever had 10 full days completely to yourself to do nothing but go in? Facing myself was monumental in moving towards the wisdom Socrates promises in his work on ‘Know thyself”.

I said earlier that my reality crashed. This was (again in hindsight) completely necessary. The reality I had constructed wasn’t serving me and it was time to create one that did.

Shortly after a brief stint in Melbourne, I found myself living in Bali. My journey was leading me to continuing my transformation.

It would be frivolous to attempt to list all the ways that year of my life impacted me.

It’s when I stepped into the leadership role in my men’s group, reconnected with self, aligned myself with so many like-minded people and I think most importantly, learned it was possible to heal my brain. Bali also reintroduced me to my love of photography, especially drone art.

For as long as I can remember, I have been asking the big questions and constantly contemplating life, the Universe and everything.

Now I had felt presence of direct experience. I had proof! The philosophies I’d been studying were becoming embodied.

I was able to see the true nature and subsequently, the power of a human being.

I was able to recognise that we have an ego, but we are the not the story it creates.

It’s similar to how we have a body, but we are not just that.

Once I could understand myself, I was infinitely better at understanding others.

I could see past their words and hear their truth. I was able to recognise their own hero’s journey and where they were on it. This made stepping into coaching an unexpected yet logical step. Delivering a wedding that the couple love is one of the most rewarding feelings I have been blessed to experience; shifting someone’s reality so they can switch from survival mode to thriving is on another level.

The decision to start a monthly column has opened up so much for me. It’s reintroduced me to writing, my first passion, and created a vehicle to incorporate my photography, interest in people and writing into a single form of creative expression.

Throw in a little discipline via deadlines with the monthly battle with perfectionism and you have the definition of adventure, which is an unusual and daring experience.

I’m grateful for so much in my life. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, especially to travel.
As I write this, I am reflecting on all my adventures around Australia and abroad.

From my first real solo travelling experience through the America I picked up the quote: “Bad decisions make good stories.” If this is true, then there is no such thing as the ‘wrong’ decision because even if it wasn’t the ideal situation you at least get a sweet little souvenir in story form.
From all of my trials and tribulations I am certain about one thing: No single, isolated adventure I have had, holds a candle to the ultimate adventure of life itself!

Being a human on earth is certainly unusual, exciting, and daring.

Some eastern philosophies tell us that we are in fact spiritual beings choosing to have a human experience.

Accepting all the rules (gravity, food and water, ego etc) diving in ready for the ride. Alan Watts describes us as “The aperture through which the universe observes itself”. I like this. Sometimes I like to allow my mind to go off and explore the concept that only the present moment is real and that in any moment I am one part of all of time and space. In that moment, I am whole!

The truth is, we’re always that; whole. It’s only our individual stories that draw a line. In the same way your blood cells aren’t not you, too. I digress.

At the beginning of this piece, we identified the official definition of adventure, but I believe there can be as many definitions as there are people on Earth at any given time and space.

We all have the opportunity to choose adventure in our lives and what exactly looks like is up to what we decide it to be.

I can tell you that writing my own story has been the most challenging adventure in a very long time! If you made it this far, I want to thank you for stepping a little inside my world.

Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for allowing me to use my gifts to fulfil my purpose. Thank you for joining me on this illustrious adventure called life!