This is the sixth in a series of posts exploring the 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness practice. The 7 attitudes are detailed in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and are Non Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Acceptance, Non Striving, and Letting Go. Each article will be a personal reflection about that attitude, both from the perspective of mindfulness generally and mindful photography particularly. Each will be tagged ‘7 attitudes’ so that you can find them all using the tag search in the blog’s right hand column.

 

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Non striving is non doing. Meditation can be described as a non doing activity – if that is not a contradiction. We sit and we be. We are present and we are ourselves. What we experience we pay attention to. We may choose to return to the breath when we notice thoughts flit across our minds. We are non goal orientated.

Now this is all fine and dandy in theory. However, we live in a ‘doing’ culture. We have grown and developed in a society that values action, activity and suceeding. We need to feel that we are doing stuff and that we are ok. So when we begin to meditate we do see it as an activity, something to do. We must do our meditation. We must do certain things to ensure that we are doing the meditation correctly. We choose a certain place, time of day, length of sitting, structure to follow and so on. Then we try to get this all ‘right’.

Often then, especially as we begin meditating, we may feel discouraged. Our mind is incessantly busy. We don’t experience any quiet. Or we may choose to notice experiences that reinforce our belief that we are doing this meditation thing right. We may experience feelings, colours, great peace and any of these confirm our confident belief that we have got this meditation thing cracked. We are either doing it right or wrong! Either way we are doing it.

So how do we move from doing meditation and mindfulness to being and non striving? There is a blurred division between doing and being. In meditation we set out to meditate, we are doing the activity. But it is in our approach to being present with our experience, of non striving, of being non goal orientated that we move to being in the moment. We achieve this by paying attention, that is all. We pay attention to our present experience, we come into the present moment and we stay with our anchor – the breath or seeing (mindful photography) – we become what we already are, a human being.

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 As applied to Photography

Non striving as a concept applied to photography is a fine aspiration. As photographers we are very attuned to the processes we must follow to create a great photo. Our attention to technical and compositional choices is fundamental to the creation of a good photograph. But a great photograph requires something of us, something of our soul, something of who we are. To create memorable photographs we must marry the technical and compositional with our intuitive heart. How do we do this? By being in the moment.

That fine dividing line between doing and being is present at the moment of visual creation. The decisive moment that we choose to press the shutter is a moment that we are not holding tightly to our doing. We know, on a practised and confident level, that we have made the right technical choices. Our practice and training has equipped us with the skills to flow into creative compositional choices of the visual elements before us. All of this is not at the front of our mind as we simply rest in the moment of creating a photograph. We allow the photo to come into being. This being in the moment encourages an instinctive connection with our feelings, our very essence becomes part of our created photo. To photograph is to be, wholly and magificently, in the moment.

A final thought

All this being and doing reminds me of the old joke. On discussing the meaning of life Socarates was heard to say, “To be is to do.”

Plato disagreed and commented, “To do is to be”.

Frank overheard, “You’re both wrong boys.” he said. “The truth is……….do, be do bee do, do be do bee do..”

 

This is the fifth in a series of posts exploring the 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness practice. The 7 attitudes are detailed in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and are Non Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Acceptance, Non Striving, and Letting Go. Each article will be a personal reflection about that attitude, both from the perspective of mindfulness generally and mindful photography particularly. Each will be tagged ‘7 attitudes’ so that you can find them all using the tag search in the blog’s right hand column.

 

Mindfulness encourages us to see things as they actually are in the present moment. As the present moment plays out, we practice noticing our feelings, our physical sensations and the thoughts that flit across our mind.  It may well be that we don’t actually like what we are experiencing. We may try to avoid, distract or just deny the experience.

Acceptance is the quality that allows us to be with all the difficulty, without turning away. Acceptance encourages us to turn towards the difficult experience. To sit with the feelings, sensations and thoughts, allowing them to ebb and flow and slowly, bit by bit allowing them a little space in our lives.

Mindfulness offers a practice to support living through this experience. In the secular mindfulness practice this can be described as a meditation that invokes wishing yourself and others well. This was developed from the Buddhist practice of Maitri – loving kindness or compassion to oneself and others. These practices encourage us to be compassionate to our present experience,. To accept ourselves: in all the glory and the grime.

Tara Brach (meditation teacher and psychologist) describes this as “Radical Acceptance, which means clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion.”

Carl Rogers (psychologist) wrote: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

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As applied to photography

We can practice acceptance through photography in two key ways. The primary opportunity is the use of photography practice as a method of understanding and processing our current experience. In The Mindful Photographer I offer mindful photography practices and assignments that encourage a tuning in to your present moment experience, particularly how you are feeling and representing these experiences through photos.

This can be achieved with an understanding how of elements of photography composition can represent emotion. This includes knowledge of representational ideas for colour, shape, tone and so on, as well as the use of visual metaphors and symbols to communicate ideas and feelings.

On a more instinctive level we can also practice responding photographically to our environment when we are experiencing a strong emotion; creating photographs that spring from an intuitive response. These may well include a knowledge of the visual language of a photograph, as described above, but our response is less planned and controlled and may run contrary to popular ideas. Resting instead on how the visual experience resonated with how we felt.

The second opportunity is to understand and accept the kind of photographer (and person) we are. This is partly about what it is that we like to create photographs of, and partly about what those photographs can say about ourselves, as well as about the subject. How the outer world can reflect our inner world. This idea, of using photography as a vehicle for personal inquiry, I will begin exploring in a Mindful Photography course called ‘Being’ that will be available in 2016. Sign up for the Newsletter (top right column) if you want to keep in touch with developments.

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The Photos

The photos that accompany this article were created as a response to feelings I experienced when finding out about events that occurred in my life during 1972. It was difficult to connect with how I felt with these events, some 40+ years later. However, I was able to walk, think about the events and connect with how they made me feel now, and respond by taking photos of my environment. The editing process also formed part of this experience on this occasion.

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This year The Guardian has carried two articles relating to an impeding 7 year study by Oxford University and University College London on the effects of mindfulness on 7,000 11 to 16 year olds. The two articles demonstrate two of the prevailing attitudes in our media to Mindfulness: factual reportage or ill informed sensationalism dressed up as entertainment.

I have provided the links above for your enlightenment. Both are entertaining reads, which after all is the function of a journalist, and they are (understandably) a product of their time and culture. There is another type of modern media mindfulness article which exists, the ‘mindfulness will cure all known ills’ type.

I have written before about this media interest in all things mindful  (McMindfulness revisited) so I am not going to go over old ground. I just want to say one thing.

I see mindfulness as a doorway. Once you pass through, begin a regular meditation practice and slowly start to bring more present awareness to each moment of your life, something changes. The changes are small and incremental. They involve you developing new habits. In the language of neuroscientists, you are creating new neural pathways. These new paths of thinking are like treading an off road track alongside your normal motorway route. They maybe slower going and somewhat unfamiliar. However, with patience and commitment, new ways of thinking and being are created.

The 7 year study will be studying this very thing. During early teenage years the part of the brain (the frontal lobe) that mindfulness can influence is subject to major development. Won’t it be interesting to see how many of the 7,000 teenagers both last the course and have significant benefits over time?

This is the fourth in a series of posts exploring the 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness practice. The 7 attitudes are detailed in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and are Non Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Non Striving, Acceptance and Letting Go. Each article will be a personal reflection about that attitude, both from the perspective of mindfulness generally and mindful photography particularly. Each will be tagged ‘7 attitudes’ so that you can find them all using the tag search in the blog’s right hand column.

Mindfulness perspective

Mindfulness practice encourages you to trust your feelings. Your practice is personal to you. By trusting your own authority and guidance, confidence in your experience gathers. As you tune in to the experience in your body and mind, you develop an understanding of what is happening. Your ability to trust in your experience grows.

This may exhibit in a greater understanding of how to support your body. If you practice yoga or any sport, trust in your intuitive body response, watch it and follow its guidance, you will support your body’s development.

I am able to speak from experience, as someone who heard the messages from his own body, but paid them no heed. As a committed long distance runner I had plenty of physical indications that my body was stretched. If I had trusted that body wisdom, the physical challenges I now experience would not have developed.

Trust your experience. Trust your body. Trust your mind.

 

Trust as applied to Mindful Photography

There is a delicate balance to be struck as a photographer: between learning, practicing and trusting. As we travel the 10,000 hour journey towards mastery (Malcom Gladwell, Outliers), we are encouraged to learn study and practice our craft. We listen to wise experts, read fabulous books, follow great courses and practice our newly learnt skills.

Throughout this journey there is an implied thought, that what you are learning is how you should take photographs. And to a large extent this is true. We all need to master the technical and compositional skills. But if we are ever to produce personal, unique and authoritative work we must listen to our own heart and mind. We must follow our own intuitive guide.

‘Listening to your heart’ means tuning in to your feelings about what you are photographing. It means slowing down, speeding up and letting go. Paying heed to the technical necessities, holding the compositional choices lightly and then letting them all go in the moment you create a photograph. Something has to flow through you. This ‘something’ is guided by trust. Trust allows this paradox space. Mistakes sometimes create un-imagined possibilities. Great photographs spring from a framework of skill infused with inspiration, guided by instinct and held in trust.

Trust in your abilities. Trust in your feelings. Loosen the shackles of control

My ongoing exploration of creating abstract photos of people promenading around Swansea Bay has recently been illuminated by our summer sunshine. After the last set, taken at a difficult time on a dank day, I thought I would share the latest, more upbeat, examples.

These were taken at a cafe that sits on the promenade near my entrance onto Swansea Bay. The cafe seats are perhaps a little closer to the subjects promenading than in other examples and I had to dial down the aperture a little as it was so bright. Which one is your favourite?

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Many of our reactions to life, our choices and our behaviours are generated by fear. The fear could be fear of not being good enough, fear of failure, fear of a thing, fear of an event, fear of a decision and many more. Fear is the gift of our ego. Fear is the furnace that burns deep in our breast fueling thoughts that we are separate and precious and deserve more.

Fear creates stress and as I have discussed in my previous post stress generates a physical response in our body: the fight or flight response. This response sets us up to function at our highest physical level (to run away) but if the stress is an ongoing one a whole other debilitating set of body and mind responses may be set in motion.

So how can we support ourselves in a stressful situation? Can mindfulness help? And if so, how?

Fear Arising

This week had at its mid point an event that felt like the end of a chapter. My chronic larynx condition has deteriorated over the last few months and has been particularly challenging recently. This has resulted in more steroids than my body has liked and many visits to health professionals. Not having enough breath has been debiliating and the improvements bought by steroids have been short term and have not improved the underlying situation.

During this period I have been coming to terms with the idea that my quality of life can only be improved by some surgical intervention. I have for nearly ten years resisted the medical fraternity’s desire to perform a tracheostomy on me. The operation, whilst a life saver when your airway is blocked, has always seemed a barbaric solution to my problem.

However, the recent worsening of my breathing has led me to believe that it could bring an improvement to the quality of my life. Not getting enough air slows everything down, lowers my energy, makes me old before my time. My consultant at Swansea’s Singleton Hospital has often suggested the operation, but recently he asked if I would like a second opinion from Mr Sandhu. This surgeon heads up the top larynx reconstruction team in Europe and is based in Charing Cross Hospital, London.

The appointment to see Mr Sandhu was on Wednesday this week. As soon as it came through it felt like it would be the confirmation of my fears. That I would need a tracheostomy and I would have to learn to deal with the implications. Of course I hoped that there might be other possibilities that weren’t so draconian, but mostly what I felt was nervous and fearful.

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Mindfulness in action

I was fortunate that the lovely Rebecca went to London with me. Her love, support and determination to get the highest quality medical help have been an essential element of coping with the situation. We traveled up by coach on the Tuesday, the short notice of the appointment meaning that the train costs would be prohibitive (£200! The coach was a ridiculous £37 for two) and stayed in Hammersmith near the hospital.

Next morning, after a lovely outdoor breakfast, we walked down to the hospital. In the waiting room I didn’t notice how I was, but on reflection I know I was nervous and uncertain.

It is in the middle of this situation that mindfulness can help. There are two key steps

Step 1 – Pay attention

Notice what is happening in your body and mind. What can you feel in your body? Increased heart rate? Stomach turning? Faster breathing? Getting hotter? Acknowledge this experience. Feel it.

What thoughts are passing through your mind? Are you playing out scenarios? Are imaginary conversations or happenings flying through your mind. Notice them. Don’t follow the thought, just notice that it is there.

Step 2 Breathe into the body’s sensations

Breathe in and out. Breathe in and out where you can feel things happening in the body. Breathe into the body’s sensations. Experience the thoughts and body reactions. Slowly, as you live through this, you settle back into the present. Slowly, you begin to accept the present moment and its jagged edges begin to soften.

And me? Did mindfulness help me? I was called into see Mr Sandhu, Beci came in too. We sat and went through the background. How the condition started and how it progressed. Then he examined me with an endoscopy (camera up nose and into throat) and general physical examination.

At some point during this experience, after the endoscopy I think, I briefly came into the space totally. I noticed my feet on the floor, felt the floor through my shoes. I felt my bum on my seat. I noticed one breath in and out.

Then he asked a question, “Are you prepared to have an operation?”

“Yes” I answered in trepidation.

“We can fix this” he said.

This bald, confident statement was a shocking relief. Here was a man with certainty. He explained that it might be possible to do some laser work and/or an operation to widen the trachea. This later option would result in a ‘whisper’ of a voice, but a far more open airway and no tracheostomy. My consultant in Swansea had ruled this out as an option.

What a relief! This is hugely positive news. There still is a way to go, including some investigation under anaesthetic, to fully determine the options. I will still need to push to ensure that Mr Sandhu’s team are the ones who help me and I need to maintain a low stress life until the definitive operation, but the future looks a lot more positive.

And mindfulness? Mindfulness is a tremendous help, but it is a practice and one that needs practice!

Fear is very much on my mind. This is a significant week for me and I am aware that there is a considerable swirling of fear swooping in and out of my mind. As part of living through this period with acceptance, compassion and wise reactions I am attempting to lean into the fear rather than run away from or resist its insistent voice.

This intention has been supported by a kind friend who has shared some very helpful talks by Tara Brach on the subject. I am listening, reflecting and re-listening to these talks and as I am finding them very helpful I thought that I would share them here and then later in the week consider how they have helped me.

Tara Brach Talk on Fear 1

Tara Brach Talk on Fear 2

A mindful photography practice

This morning I practiced responding to the feeling of fear in an instinctive practice. My inclination was that I needed to get close to my subjects but be wide open. I chose to attach my widest angle lens (20mm) and headed to the beach. I responded instinctively to my environment, both on route and on location. Once there I took off my sandals, felt the sand between my toes and went with the flow. When Monty stopped to investigate his environment, I did the same. These are the four photos that resonated with me when I down loaded and edited them. A black and white conversion felt essential.

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I first thought of this idea as a literal photography activity, actually choosing to create photographs from a different perspective. In the example above, as if I was Monty, a chunky Bijon Frise viewing the world about 12-18″ from the floor. In itself I could see the potential for photographs that felt different. I later realised that the activity and photos themselves could also work as a metaphor; that they could represent an intention to see the world in a new way.

A photo activity

This is the photography activity you can try. Your mission is to create photographs from the perspective of your pet – a cat or dog would be ideal. I imagined that in order to create a Monty like view I would need to take photographs from his height and in the places he frequented.

I also considered what camera lens combination I was going to use. Dogs have a wider peripheral vision than us and although I have no idea what kind of focal length their eyesight is (ours is around 50mm) I decided to settle on a wide angle view.

I chose to use my Canon G7X on its widest view (equivalent to about 24mm) so that I could make use of the hinged screen. This enabled me to hold the camera low, pointing in a ‘Monty manner’, and angle the view screen so I could see what I was potentially receiving.

You could chose to use any camera/lens combination, but I feel that it is wise to then stick to that combination to create a series of photos from the same perspective. This will create a ‘feel’ or ‘style’ which you could identify as the ‘pet perspective’! As in the photo above, you can imagine how it must be to be confronted by a much larger dog. That the giant hound actually ran away from Monty is also hinted at in the lack of eye contact.

I invite you to try out this activity. Be lighthearted. Create a ‘pet perspective’ and play with it. Imagine you are the pet. Create lots of photos. Share your favourites with me (return of email) and I will share mine.

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Changing your perspective – photographically

Viewing the world from a different perspective enables us to see our ‘normal’ world differently. In photography we often call this ‘point of view’ (POV). It is one of the guidelines for effective composition. By changing our POV we change the shapes, colours, patterns and perspective that our camera sees.

I was reminded of this a couple of nights ago when watching the excellent documentary ‘Finding Vivian Maier‘. Vivian Maier was an eccentric American with some compulsive habits. One of these was taking photos and when she died, at a fortunate auction, an enormous quantity of developed and undeveloped photographs was discovered amongst her other large collections of boxes, newspaper cuttings, accessories and all sorts.

I am going to focus on the impression her photos make on me because of her POV, but I do recommend that you catch the movie or have a look at the website created by the man (John Maloof) who first discovered her photographs. The website is full of great photos and fascinating stories.

Vivian Maier was a prolific photographer. Much of her best work in the 50s and 60s was taken using a Rollieflex twin lens camera. She used this camera out and about on the street. The camera has a waist level finder which, as the name suggests, means that you look down into the camera held at your waist to compose the photograph.

Many of Vivian’s photographs provide the subject with a sense of power. She often was quite close to the subject and was shooting up into their face. This provides a towering perspective, something that then creates a style that is noticeable in her work.

Changing your perspective – in life

We are the product of our experiences. Those experiences have shaped who we are. They also determine how we experience the world moment to moment. Habit and familiarity guide us to a certain view of the world and each moment in it.

I know that the world is how it is. Until some fundamental change alters my world seeing events, moments and experiences from a different perspective is challenging. Why might we want to see a different perspective? Maybe because we want change, in ourselves, in our circumstances. Maybe we want to shed a little light on a darker corner of our world.

I have found this difficult. It is challenging enough to see a new perspective when a key aspect of your life changes, never mind choosing to see an experience, before it changes, in a new light. The cultivation of certain attitudes can help. There are 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness that support our ability to be totally in the moment and to experience the reality of a situation or experience. This reality is often a new perspective!

The 7 attitudes are non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go. That is some list. As part of my own mindfulness practice and life enquiry I have started to write about these attitudes, their relevance to my life and to photography. You can find them via the tag cloud ‘7 attitudes’ in the right hand column of this blog. I hope that you find them of interest and I would welcome your thoughts.

I was feeling a little dazed this morning. An early rise and ragged breathing left me with a sense of disconnectedness. As I had to take Taylor to work in Mumbles I thought I would change my routine, drop him off and then do a mindful photography practice to ground me.

The ‘Film Style’ practice is a space, time and feature limited photo activity. Its aim is to create 24 photos (a là film) on your digital camera using as many manual features as you feel comfortable using. The key ingredient is that you turn off your review screen so that you cannot see the photos as you take them. This replicates the idea that film photography generates, that by not seeing what you are creating you only have your viewfinder/screen to guide you, and you know you will not be able to see the result. This encourages a slower, more considered pace of photography, allowing you to tune in to your current experience and particularly the visual experience.

If you have a DSLR or CSC with viewfinder you can also tape up or turn off the screen, so you only compose the photo through the viewfinder. Where the lens or camera allows, you can also choose to turn off the auto focus and only manually focus the lens. This further supports an attentiveness to the practice.

The Practice

Choose a small area, no bigger than 100 x 100 metres. When you arrive sit in the space and pay attention to your sensory information. What can you feel, smell, touch, hear and see? When you feel you have completely arrived start to move around your environment following the 4 stage seeing practice.

Create 24 photos. No more, no less. Keeping count in your head is a practice in itself! When you have 24 photos (or think you have) leave your space and return home. Do not look at your photos until you get home.

Editing

When I download and review the photos I initially select in. Rather than excluding the ones I don’t like, I select the ones I do like, often on an instinctive reaction. Out of 24 I would hope to have at least 5 I would like to share. Editing wise I do very little. Some minor cropping and a little light adjustment to replicate how I felt when I originally saw the scene.

Here are my favourite photos from this morning’s practice. Which one is your favourite?

This is the first in a series of posts exploring the 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness practice. The 7 attitudes are detailed in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and are Non Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Non Striving, Acceptance and Letting Go. Each post will be a personal reflection about that attitude, both from the perspective of mindfulness generally and mindful photography particularly. Each will be tagged ‘7 attitudes’ so that you can find them all using the tag search in the blog’s right hand column.

A little voice

Each of us seems to have a little voice in our head that runs a commentary on our life. Quite often this little voice assumes a critical perspective, sending thoughts that judge the current experience across our consciousness. These thoughts may often be judgments about ourselves (“I can’t do this”, I’ll never be able to sit still”, “I find this boring”) or about others (He’s selfish, “She always interrupts”).

When we are sat practicing meditation the frequency and loudness of the voice can become more apparent. Some describe this as a judging quality of mind. Not so much a quality though, more a habit. Built up over many years of trying to shape the world to our will, we all expect each day to develop in a certain way. We have our routines and commitments that we expect to unfold in the usual manner. When they don’t, because life isn’t like that, we are unsettled and pass judgement. The most common one being, “I don’t like this.”

As we meditate we have the opportunity to notice this habit, note it as ‘judging’ or ‘thinking’ and return to the breath. This instruction sounds simple, and it is in theory, but its consistent application is a challenge because these judging thoughts can be quite sticky. We can quickly get wrapped up in a judgement, that then leads to a thought stream about how we would like the situation to be different. Noticing this and returning to the breath is our practice.

The encouragement is to be an impartial witness to our thoughts. Watching what our mind does, with apparently little or no direction! We are only required to notice the thought and not act upon it it. Instead we return to the breath.

As applied to photography

In mindful photography our ‘Seeing’ is our anchor rather than the breath. As we practice, walking with our camera and following the 4 stage seeing practice, each time we notice a thought or judgement, we return to the seeing in much the same way as we return to the breath when following a sitting practice. This embraces exactly the same challenge as traditional meditation or any other mindfulness practice. We notice the judging thought, and return to our practice.

Of course in photography there are some quite common judgments that you might experience as you are learning. These could include: “I can never remember what ………does”, “I don’t know what I am doing”, ” My photos are not good enough”, “I’m no good at this”.

All of these critical thoughts are common when we are learning and practicing a new skill. We do like to beat ourselves up along the path to competence and later, expert. Of course the most common judgement in photography is that the photograph is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Now this is a fundamental barrier that it is helpful to recognise in ourselves and in photography. Whilst there are guidelines for effective photographic composition and it is true that we benefit from learning them, they are only guidelines.

If we are ever to create photographs that share something of how we find the world, we have to be able to let these guidelines rest lightly on our consciousness, to almost let them go their own way (more on this when we get to the 7th attitude ‘Letting go’). In the meantime here is a quote I love that goes some way to holding judgement lightly in photography.

“I don’t know what good composition is…. Sometimes for me composition has to do with a certain brightness or a certain coming to restness and other times it has to do with funny mistakes. There’s a kind of rightness and wrongness and sometimes I like rightness and sometimes I like wrongness.” – Diane Arbus

For a fabulous resource sharing some of Diane Arbus’s most intriguing work visit Artsy’s Arbus page

Much of my photography arises from a response to my environment. Pre planned and tightly described photo creation is something I have to work at. The reason I enjoyed the Photomarathon more this year was that I did not plan each shot beyond a vague idea. Often I didn’t even have a vague idea and just wandered until something stimulated one. So, how does creating a photo work for me?

Intuitive Response

I am out walking with my camera. If am practicing mindfully I am following my own 4 stage seeing practice. The nub of this practice is that the seeing is my Anchor. As I walk and observe the world my thoughts still intrude. Each time this happens I return to my visual experience. This is stage 1.

Stage 2 is Seeing and builds upon stage 1 so that when something catches my eye I stop. Stage 3 is Resting with that visual experience. Noticing what it was that stopped me. Stage 4 is Receiving and is creating the equivalent of what I can see with my camera.

The Receiving Stage is what defines us as creative photographers. It encompasses all our technical and compositional knowledge and learning. But it is more than just that. It is the reason that we were compelled to create a photograph that is our intuitive response and our window into our soul

Emotional link

Through paying careful attention to my seeing practice I am able to investigate what it was that stopped me and why. This consideration opens up the possibility that I may be able to intuit what it is about the visual stimulation that resonated. This intuition can be investigated by paying attention to my feelings: those in my body and those in my mind.

We may be able to instinctively name what it was that stopped us: a colour, a shape, a pattern etc. Then from that if we pay attention we may be able to follow the instinct toward the feeling. Sometimes this is clouded and hidden and it is enough to simply create a photograph we like. Other times we may be able, if we stay with the moment, to feel what thoughts and feelings run beneath.

Mindful Photography is more that just creating photographs. It is an opportunity to be truly present with ourselves

Creative Adjustments

And then we look at the photo we have created. This will probably involve some judgement. The creative judgement that is supportive in this process is this question. ‘Does the photo capture the equivalent of what we saw?’

If it does not, there may be changes we can make to exposure, white balance, lens choice, point of view and composition that could bring it closer to our vision. This is to be encouraged. The more we can capture of our vision in camera the more our photographic skills will develop and the more we will attune our eye and camera.

Beyond that there are adjustments that can be made in photo software (Photoshop, Lightroom etc) that can move the photo closer to our original vision. Those adjustments are often to do with light and the dynamic range; the differences between how and a camera and how an eye sees.

The Photo

This photo is an example of the process. I looked up and saw the sky. I felt the cold northerly wind on my face, countering the weak warmth of the sun. I realised that the cloudy wisps were caused by the wind and felt that they were beautiful and otherworldly. On there own they could represent a feeling of uniqueness or rareness. But they looked like a great background, rather than just a subject. (Alfred Steiglitz would probably not agree)

I wanted a subject that resonated with the other-worldliness I felt. 20 yards away I spotted these sculptures. I do not know what they represent or why they are there, but they create visions of alien craft in my mind (too much sci-fi). I wandered over found my preferred point of view and received the photo.

I made 2 creative adjustments. Firstly the sun was in front of me and so the side of the sculpture facing me was in shadow. I lightened this a little to represent the dynamic range my eyes could see (they are more sensitive than a camera’s sensor). Then I desaturated to turn the photo b&w. The blue was too dominant and earthly. The b&w accentuates that patterns and shapes, its other-worldliness.

I don’t have any photos of Wasp Fest for you. Shame. Unfortunately, I had to cancel as my breathing became challenging – I have now embarked on a course of steroids for relief and things are beginning to ease.

Instead of driving to Somerset for a groovy festival, I drove to Mumbles to sulk and take gloomy photos. The continual fine rain suited my mood and I instinctively reverted to an ongoing project – The Promenaders. This is inspired by the photographer Isobella Berr and involves the use of my 50mm lens, a f1.4 aperture and manual de-focus.

I love the curved people like shapes created and this was the first time I had experimented on a dull, wet day. What do you think?

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Eric Kim is a passionate street photographer and prolific blogger based in Berkeley, California. I found his blog when looking for photographers who combined photography with a philosophic approach to life. It was probably through some random google search combining photography and zen, and Eric tumbled out.

Eric’s blog is a well of wisdom for the street photographer and is underpinned by his belief in open source photography, which basically means that he believes in sharing, for free, all of his knowledge and resources. His mission is ‘to spread and promote the love of street photography’. And boy does he do that!

In addition to his regular posts he offers a number of free e books, covering topics including: an introduction to street photography, street portraits, overcoming fear of street photography, a social media overview and my particular favourite, Zen in the Art of Street Photography. Eric describes this as “a compilation of all of my favorite articles on Zen, Taoism, Buddhism, gratitude, and other random philosophical musings.” It is an intriguing and thought provoking read.

However, the best starting point is this page which shares: the e book links, a free online introductory course, videos, popular and must read articles, posts on master street photographers, composition, philosophy, equipment, marketing, business, travelling, recommended books, other blogs, collectives, movies, laws, Flickr groups and the Streettogs Academy. That is some list huh?

The last item, Streettogs, is a Facebook group for doing, sharing and commenting on street photography assignments. It also has separate pages for discussion, critique and equipment.

I have always been drawn to the challenges and life of street photography. It is not something I have done enough of and would certainly be something I could develop as a mindful project. Thanks to Eric and his marvelous blog, I will have any question that I might have answered.

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I am often asked what mindfulness is. Yesterday the guy cutting my hair asked. I explained, as he buzzed and snipped, that he should imagine that he was only doing one thing at a time. Only cutting my hair. Not thinking about later, or last night. Not listening to the heavy beat from his music choice. I think the irony passed him by.

But it is difficult. We have ingrained patterns. Modern culture has encouraged and taught us to do many things at once. Multi tasking is a skill. And of course there are times when it is very useful. But we have all experienced that moment when we try to recall how we ended up doing what we did (driving from a to b) and it’s a bit of a blur. Being instead of doing is difficult.

Even explaining the difference is a little tricky. Being is just being in the present moment, but that almost inevitably means that you are doing something. Even if that something is mindfully doing the dishes. The trick is that you are only doing that one thing, giving it your whole attention.

In the zone

In sport, just giving that one thing your complete attention, body and mind in sync, is described as being in the zone. I would suggest that it is mindfulness. Every sense, sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell, is attuned to that moment. This sensory information is not held tightly. It flows through you, part of you and part of your place in the world. It is noticed and supports your awareness of the moment.

This does not just apply to sport. Mindfulness can be applied to any activity. Yesterday, I practiced putting out the washing on the line, mindfully. I felt the chilly air on our still shadowed deck. The damp sheets were cold to the touch. The colours of the sheets and blue sky beyond caught my eye. I could smell cut grass and then my thoughts would intrude. “Take a photo of it”, they would say. And I would bend down, noting the thought and slowly pickup the next item to be hung out. Each time using some sensory information to return to the moment.

The photo

When I finished I extended my practice to taking a photo mindfully; well I can’t be teaching mindful photography without continuing to practice! I put my own 4 stage seeing practice into action, alongside a basic camera scan technique and attuned myself to the visual moment. There were technical choices to be made and this all becomes more seamless and part of the moment the more I follow the mindful photography practices.

These lilies were collected by Beci from her parent’s garden (at least they get to appreciate them now from the comfort of their Spanish computer). I thought I would try and create some photos that celebrated the lilies flamboyance and delicacy.

For those who are interested in these things: I used a 50mm lens with a reversing ring, which turns it into macro lens with a very shallow depth of field. Great for adding some mystery to the beauty.

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This week I have mostly been reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It is a swashbuckling blast through the relatively brief history of Homo sapiens, the branch of the Homo (Human) genus that we belong to. It sets out to explain how we have managed to be so dominant on Planet Earth, in a relatively short period of time.

Its main theme is that Homo sapiens dominates the world because it is the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. The book argues that we can do this because we have a unique ability to believe in things that exist only in our own imagination, such as gods, nations, money and human rights. The book explains how all large scale human cooperation systems – including religions, political structures, trade networks and legal institutions – are ultimately based on fiction. Feisty stuff and guaranteed to get you thinking about how you came to be who you are. Or maybe not?

Men being men

Just before I left the house this morning, to retreat and reflect, one of our Sitting Group members turned up, thinking that we were meeting today. Phil has been considering setting up a “Men’s Group” in Swansea and had heard that I was interested in being involved.

Now, before you leap off thinking that it’s all about male bonding rituals and deep and meaningful chats about football, here is a little summary (from this website)

Men’s Group explores what it means to be a man and supports men to:
* Clarify their direction and purpose
* Strengthen their integrity
* Become more trustworthy
* Be clear and grounded
* Be strong and consistent
* Know what it means to be at their edge and be held accountable
* Find peace, inwardly and outwardly

Sapiens and Sex

In his book Mr Harari clearly defines that there is one biological group Homo Sapiens and two sexes. He distinguishes sex from gender because gender has cultural interpretations. This came to mind when I was discussing the purpose of a men’s group with Phil.

Perhaps one of the main reasons for men to gather, share stories, listen and exchange ideas, is to understand how our gender has been shaped by current culture and to determine how we come to be who we are. This works for me and fits in perfectly with my own ongoing self enquiry.

Photography as a tool

I have started to use photography as a tool for self enquiry. I have begun to explore this area in The Being Course that is part of the online course, The Mindful Photographer. Over 2016 I am exploring using mindful photography as a tool for self enquiry. This initially will be in the form of a series of personal projects which I later hope to shape into a personally supported online course.

Of course, in order to do this, I shall have to continue my own primary research: continuing to explore mindfulness, practicing mindful photography, joining a men’s group, creating photos that represent how I feel and sharing it all via my blog. I guess that I am using you, my newsletter and blog as part of my continuing voyage; to boldly go where many of us fear to tread, but some of us get thrown into when it all goes pear shaped!

Today I have escaped to my in law’s cottage in Mumbles for a ‘retreat’. Normally, when I go on retreat I am avoiding all technological contact, sitting quietly a lot, walking and photographing. I usually stay at a retreat centre in the Brecon Beacons, but they were full.

My intention this time is similar but different. I am first spending today reflecting on the week, as a way of understanding where I am today. Initially I have started this by writing my weekly Newsletter (there’s a sign up box on the right) and in that I have reflected on homo sapiens, men’s groups and photography. A seemingly diverse group of topics but all part of my week and today.

Now having released that part of my week I am ready to land here. This is my final post I will be writing for 2 days (Sunday’s is already scheduled). It is time to turn off, tune in and see what arises. You should try it.

It is all quiet in the house. Beci has taken the hound, Monty, out for his morning walk. Taylor (no.1 son) is off to college and India (no.1 daughter) is asleep in bed, practicing being a teenager who has finished college for the year already. (Ah, the benefits of choosing to study all art based AS levels)

So I thought that I would take advantage of the space and fired up brain (I am a morning person) to write a little blog post.

Sitting group

Every two weeks on a Friday morning Beci hosts a ‘Sitting group’ in our house. This is a group of like minded people who come together to meditate and share wise words! The idea of this group comes from the Buddhist tradition of a ‘Sangha’, a supportive group or community who share the teachings of Buddha. Usually, these are led by one person – the teacher.

Our group is a little looser and very inclusive. We do share teachings, thoughts, poems and quotes that are inspired by Buddhism. However, we also share non secular and other traditions’ ideas and writings.

The group’s underpinning concept is that everybody who comes takes a turn at being the ‘guru’! Often this means that the individual shares something that is relevant for them at that time. The shared thoughts are like the icing on the cake and provide the possibility of an anchor for our busy minds when we are meditating.

The voluntary ‘leader/guru’ doesn’t have to share much. However, they do have to keep time and ring the bell. Once at the beginning and once at the end of each 30 minutes.

Thoughts 4 Today

It is now a few hours later. Sonja led the group and shared a simple and grounding meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh (The Blooming of a Lotus). His 5 stage meditation is followed over 5 breaths in and out. The first word is held on the in breath, the second on the out breath. All five stages are followed and then repeated. The book does give more detail and explanation.

Breath In      Breath Out

Flower          Feeling Fresh

Mountain      Strong

Still Water    Reflecting

Space           Free

Reflections

Having a sitting group is a supportive practice. It feels supportive at the time and its regularity has its own rhythm which melds comfortably with your own practice. I have not always been able to attend regularly but having changed my own working commitments I am now intending it to be a key part of my practice.

I recommend it to you and if you live in Swansea or close and would like to join us contact me.

The Activity

This photography activity is inspired by my friend Mel’s ‘Walk/Listen/Respond Project’. I have taken Mel’s base rules and adapted then for my needs!

My rules are: [1] Plan an album length walk. [2] Choose an album to match your mood/weather/walk/whatever. [3] Walk. [4] Respond to the music intuitively. Let it play through you. Create photos that reflect how the music makes you feel. [5] Edit photos whilst listening to same album. [6] Share your favourites.

The Album

I chose to listen to War, Peace and Diplomacy by Tom Hickox and you can listen here.  I love his soothing, deep voice and thought it would be uplifting. I was forgetting the title of the album! Whilst the songs are tales of war, peace and diplomacy and the overall tone is somewhat melancholic, there are also themes of love and hope. Phew.

I didn’t set out to create a photo for each song. More to allow the music to flow through me; the words seeping into my subconscious and the melodies into my bones. from there I simply responded to the visual stimulation.

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We are beset from all sides. All media streams, from the traditional newspapers to the ground breaking social media streams, are awash with General Election stuff. Opinions, rants and justifications abound. Some of it is entertaining. Some of it is balanced. Much of it is sensationalised or heavily influenced by those who control the message.

Immigration and economic planning are the subjects most sabres are rattled at. Leaders debate. Media types postulate. The general public? Ah, the general public. What of the general public?

I was just walking through our city centre square. Past the feeble fountains my eye was caught by the TV screen. I say ‘caught’ I should probably say assailed. It is a giant screen that gazes ominously over the square dwellers and the volume is always turned up to 11. Anyway, politics was on the agenda, in particular the SNP’s stance on immigration – in favour of limits that do not discourage fine and talented people from moving to Scotland!

I walked on through the square and noticed that apart from me the general public were going about their business, paying not one bit of attention to the interesting debate. OK, I admit Scottish immigration policy is not going to be big on a Welsh City resident’s agenda. Think of their lack of attention as more as a visual metaphor for ‘not caring about voting’. That’s what I saw and felt.

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Last election in 2010 35% of the electorate did not vote. Will more vote this time? Will somebody please stop our death by a thousand cuts.

Sorry. I promised myself when I started writing this that I would not dump my political views. They appear to have slipped out. It is difficult not to allow the anger out (and not healthy of course), particularly since I finished reading The Establishment by Owen Jones I have become more focussed in my anger about our country’s political health.

Ironically, at the same time as reading The Establishment I  have also been reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat Zinn. I say ironically because the title is apposite. It does feel a little like we are catastrophe living. The book itself is about living in the present moment – mindfulness – and how that can help you live with the stress in your life. That encouragement is essential. Mindfulness is all about what you are experiencing now. Well, what I am experiencing now is anger and frustration.

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I am angry that the global financial crisis has led to the least well off suffering. Whilst the corporations, fat cats, media moguls, politicians and the seriously well off continue to thrive.

There I have said it. I feel a lot better now. There is one more thing though. You must vote. I know that there is a limited choice available, but you must vote for the least terrible of that disappointing choice. You cannot let this scale of public/state cuts continue. Your vote matters.