Cal Smyth Photoshoot

Cal Smyth is an author of three books who lives in Swansea. He specialises in thrillers and one of his stories is set in Swansea, which as we all know is a den of iniquity! I know Cal from playing 5-a-side football at the local college on a Friday afternoon and he knows my interest in photography from a particular photo I created of him after football a couple of years ago. I’ll include it here after the more recent photos.

Cal wanted a new set of profile photos for personal and promotional use, so we agreed a location and date and set to it. The selection I have included here are my personal choices; apologies to Cal if they’re not his!

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10 reasons to embrace Mindful Photography

My top 10 reasons to embrace mindful photography are outlined below. These may stimulate more questions for you than they answer. Some of those will be answered at photography workshops later this year and next. Others will be explored in my forthcoming book. In the meantime I am happy to answer any questions you may have, just use the contact page.

1) Learn how to see like a camera – A camera does not know the name of anything in its viewfinder. It sees light. You can learn to see the light, but you most forget the name of things!

2) Use what you see as your anchor – In meditation the breath is often used as an anchor; the thing we return to when we notice sensations, thoughts or feelings playing out across our mind. In Mindful Photography we return to the seeing.

3) Develop your photography skills and knowledge whilst remaining connected to the visual feast before you -Find out how here

4) Express how you are feeling with a photograph – Photography can be used to explore and represent emotional experiences that are current or past. It can be literal, metaphorical or symbolic. Or it can just be a photo of something that resonates for you. Workshop coming in September.

5) Use photography as a vehicle for self enquiry – The more we practice mindfulness the more we discover about ourselves. Photography can be used to explore our world and can act as the intermediary between our inner world and the outer one.

6) Cultivate your ability to let go of unwanted thoughts and feelings through mindful photography practices – Autumn workshop coming!

7) Develop patience in your world through understanding and accepting your development as photographer – The journey to mastery in any skill may take 10,000 hours (Malcom Gladwell in Outliers), but there are mindful photography practices we can follow that support this development. These allow the quality of patience to rise unbidden as we pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise as we learn our craft.

8) Develop your ability to see the world as if for the first time – A beginner’s mind is a mindful attitude. It is one that we can apply to the practice of creating photographs. If we choose to return regularly to the same location, to spend time slowly exploring the visual feast available we may begin to see beauty which once eluded us. We can practice “giving the mundane its beautiful due” John Updike. This ability cultivated through photography can support us to look at our daily experience with fresh eyes.

9) Develop trust in your own feelings – If you are to create photographs that are personal, unique and authoritative then you must listen to your heart, as well as your head: to learn to trust and follow your own intuitive guide. If you cultivate this skill it will begin to seep through to the rest of your world

10) Bring mindfulness into another aspect of your life – Mindfulness does not have to be limited to the meditation cushion, that is merely the training zone! As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Mindfulness applied to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation.” By applying and developing mindfulness to photography we expand our potential to be fully present in our life.

 

 

 

Creative Agent

Last week I spent 4 days locked in a space with 30 creative types learning about creative learning. How did I end up in there? What happened to me? Read on…

The Arts Council for Wales have a fantastic scheme called the Lead Creative Schools Scheme which ‘aims to promote new ways of working, with innovative and bespoke programmes of learning designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning.’ Fab huh? I should mention at this point that a similar programme ran in England for 10 years, had a hugely positive impact upon attendance and attainment, and then the Tories got rid of it. Gove!

But we are in Wales and have a devolved government, even if as I write they are still trying to sort out who’s gonna lead – Labour have a clear mandate, but not an outright majority. Anyway, away from the politics the current scheme is just ending year 1 of a 5 year funded plan.

Simply put, the idea is that (primary and secondary) schools who are interested employ creative practitioners of any discipline to help the school deliver innovative, creative learning in areas such as literacy, numeracy and disengaged learners. The creative agent is the role that brings it all together, working with the teachers, practitioners and learners to meet all their needs and deliver a fantastic project, which has the potential to change learning culture in the school. Easy?

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Being a Creative Agent

The four days were all about understanding the scope, philosophy and intentions of the role. It was four full days of presentations, discussions, games and of course innovative creative learning. Everybody in the room had a creative practice and vast knowledge, experience and ideas.

We got to learn about the details of the scheme and the role, but we did it many ways. PowerPoint was used, but we also worked in groups to discuss and hone ideas, share thoughts and reflect upon our learning.

Then there were the games. Some of these were warm ups or physical. Others were used to generate ideas. The highlight of these was probably the last one which was called Sticky Thanks (or something similar) and involved all of us in the space with a pad of sticky notes and a pen writing positive messages and sticking them on each other’s back. The photo below is the lovely feedback I received.

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What next?

Very soon the Arts Council team get together to match each of the Creative Agents to a school. We then get the offer and if happy start work. Over the next school year we get between 10 – 15 days (dependent upon school level) to work with all partners to deliver an exciting project.

I am looking forward to the adventure, and hoping for one primary and one secondary school, not too far away. Stay tuned, I will be blogging our progress.

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Disconnected

I would like to say that as a mindfulness practitioner I am completely aware of each moment, in tune and aware. Of course it is a practice and this morning has provided rich territory.

Before 7am, leaving the bathroom, my phone slipped from my grasp. Despite its protective covering it managed to land on the edge of the bath and the screen shattered. The immediate outcome of this is that it no longer works; the touch screen has lost its touch!

First thoughts were: Bugger. What now? Possible solutions? How do I work my day without this connection? It is like losing a couple of fingers, important ones, off your dominant hand. My normal morning routine from this point would have been a little yoga and meditation. But I use the Insight timer/bell on my phone for that. Easy – just go free form.

So after a little movement I sat and noticed that my mind was busy with possible solutions. These were very noisy and pushy! How attached I am, needing a solution to the situation ASAP. Ironically, I had only just written in a previous post about how I often intended to take a break from my phone, but never quite got round to it. And now here it was, presented to me. The thoughts continued until I realised that only one thing needed to be done and then dependent upon that result other actions would follow.

This realisation allowed a little peace, but there was still background murmuring and muttering. When I thought my time was up and entered the kitchen and noticed that I had sat for exactly my usual time. After a hearty breakfast and no browsing the internet I called the phone insurance team and started the lengthy claim process.

I know from here on in that I will be without a phone for up to a week. I have no replacement. It will change my behaviours and communication, but I remember when this happened last time after a day or so I didn’t notice its loss. Alternative things happened and the world did not end. So, on with the day, minus instant communication. Phew, it’s a kind of relief.

Blue sky thinking required

Blue sky thinking required

Swansea in the sunshine

Change

How do you feel about change?

Change is inevitable and yet I often hear people say, “I don’t like change.” What is it about change we don’t like? And what opportunities does it present?

Our lives flow against a backdrop of continual change. There is nothing that remains constant or static. A few of these changes are instant; with others the speed of change is so slow that we can convince ourselves that all is as it has always been.

Some of us embrace and seek out change. Drawn by the delusional comfort of change’s new clothes; we may harbour the belief that changing something externally will change us internally. At other times we seek stability and familiarity, avoiding precipitous decisions. Our instinct knows that change will come and that the waves will sweep us where they may, but whilst possible we seek safe ground.

Perhaps we climb so high, to avoid the rising tide of change, that we are left clinging to an uncomfortable pinnacle. We know that we cannot hold on forever, but letting go is beyond our habit. Inevitably, we fall or are swept away by the change that now has risen beyond avoidance.

We are aware that there are distinct stages of life, yet often we find the adjustment necessary to live harmoniously through each stage beyond our choice. Instead of embracing or adjusting to the challenges within each stage we canter through the early stages, with one eye the next. Then, beset by early indications of our mortality, we cling to the middle stages, unwilling to let life slip, refusing to accept the inevitable. Finally, an ignominious descent through the final stages leaves us unprepared for the terminal change.

What force impels us? What is it that blinds us to reality? Even though our instinct may tease at this wall of familiarity. The answer is both simple and complex. It is our mind’s habitual thinking. That is the simple bit: knowing what it is. Responding differently to change, rather than reacting in our characteristic manner is the complex bit. That is where the opportunity and the practice is.

Now

The last 12 months of my life, seen from the outside, could appear to be a catalogue of major changes. Acute health attacks, operations, diagnosis of diabetes, marriage dissolving, house up for sale, work changes and still it thunders on. I prefer not label this last year as one of great change, because I do believe that change is a constant, it’s just that the speed of change appears to have increased; a lot.

The difference this time round is that I am making every effort to pay attention; to what is happening, to how I am feeling and how I could respond: rather than remaining entrenched in old patterns of behaviour, repeating the same mistakes and reacting habitually.

This approach is an ongoing practice. You might call it mindfulness, perhaps it is clearer to call it paying attention. It is a lifetime commitment and one which, whilst I have been a meditator for five or more years, I have only recently begun to completely understand, commit and engage with.

Late last Spring I started to blog about how I was feeling, how I was trying to understand what was happening in my world and how I was using photography to support me. During this shift I redesigned my online business, Photential, let lots of other commitments go, because I was not well enough to fulfil them, and began to connect more closely with my friends and my family abroad.

The more I shared my vulnerabilities and uncertainties, the more friends and family shared theirs. Friendships deepened, new opportunities presented themselves and the more I began to remember to pay attention to what I was sensing, thinking, feeling and experiencing.

Since I split with my wife at the beginning of the year change has continued. The house is up for sale, the kids are still adjusting to changing circumstances and I know that I will be living somewhere else soon. One of the recent decisions I have taken alongside of this feels like a metaphor for my outlook.

Photential, my online photography business, was not working. I was not selling any courses and the website was riven with technical problems. I decided to let it all go in that format and embrace this attentive, authentic approach, consolidating all my photographic activity and mindful approach to life in one online place, this new website. This may not appear to be that much of a shift. But for me it feels like a fundamental one, an online echo. I have stopped hiding behind an online persona and I am practicing what I preach!

I am not quite sure how this will develop. I am currently writing a book about paying attention: its working title is, ‘Not another Mindfulness Book’ and it details the behaviours, attitudes and life events that led to my chronic health challenges. These tales are balanced with explanations of how I am finding my way back to myself and learning to pay attention through photography.

Whilst I can be sure of some changes in the near future, there are certain to be unanticipated others. Of course I have no idea how much of it will develop but I know that this mindful approach to life, paying attention to the sensations experienced, the thoughts and feelings that arise and embracing the happenings, is the way forward.

What do you think?