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Becoming a mindfulness practitioner

When I started writing this blog I saw myself as a photographer first and a mindfulness enquirer a distant second. However, I believe that things may have changed!

I have practiced meditation since 2006 when my health first broke on the shores of my striving life. Initially meditation was part of an investigation into ways that I could ‘get better’ and return to my ‘normal life’. My practice at this time was sporadic and it wasn’t until 2013 that I established a daily practice. Once committed other things started to change.

In that winter I had the idea of combining photography with mindfulness. I came up with the term Mindful Photography and I thought I had invented something original. But there were one or two other interpretations out there. They were not quite what I had in mind, so I set about developing my ideas and created my first email course in Mindful Photography.

Despite technological and marketing naivety I managed to have a small modicum of success, selling the course in many countries scattered about the globe. Then my website and health fell over and I had to let it all go.

Three years on from that adventure I am about to enter the next chapter. I now feel a great awakening. I know that I have an innovative idea, but now I see and feel the connections between mindfulness, creativity and living. And I see how I can share and encourage others to use their photography as a bridge between those three pillars.

I have set aside the summer months to develop the content for my Mindful Photography Course. This will be based, in terms of structure around the Mindfulness Sutra, first shared 2500 years ago. That all sounds very grand, but it is very rooted in your life.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness shared in the sutra are an invitation to be aware of four aspects: our sensations, our thoughts, our emotions and our living. My course will follow this structure, applying and developing each stage with photography.

There will be videos, voice over sideshows, lots of mindful photography practices, ebooks to compliment each stage, a private Facebook group to share and discuss your photos and the opportunity for 1:1 tutorial via Skype.

As I stand on the edge of this development I am filled with excitement and wonder. I believe that my deepening mindfulness practice enables me to share ways of allowing you to apply mindfulness to the art and science of photography. More than that I will also share how photography can be used to develop and deepen your own mindfulness practice, integrating creativity, presence and love into your daily life.

Now I know that I am a mindfulness practioner and tutor first, and that photography is the practice that allows mindfulness to infiltrate every niche of my life. I look forward to sharing news of course development over the next couple of months before launching in September 2017.

You can stay in touch and get some interesting mindful photography reading by registering and downloading the eBook below.

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Stopping

How often do you truly stop? Slow down from your busy pace? And what happens when you do?

This week I have stopped. Yes, I do count writing this post part of the stopping! It’s the reflecting and paying attention bit.

Over the last month I have been struggling with my breathing. In fact, if I am completely honest it’s been tricky (on and off) for most of this year. I have been aware of this and have done all I could to support my health, but within the normal pace of life.

My normal pace varies between high activity and output, to torpor. With not much in between. The torpor is my recovery when my body is telling me that I have overdone it. This is a pattern I am familiar with and it is my daily practice to notice how I am and make wise choices. Of course I don’t always get that right!

However, I have been aware for a while that I needed to stop, completely. Fortunately the ending of my part time job included some owed holiday. A week in the sun was calling.

In the period of time between deciding to take a week’s holiday and actually booking it, two things happened.

Firstly, I decided to give my throat an opportunity to open up, to remember how it could be, and took a week’s course of steroids. I do not make this choice lightly. There are many side effects from the drugs, as I have discovered. However, sometimes our body just needs help and a reminder of how it can be. Also I knew that I would then have a week in the sun to re-balance and rest as I withdrew from the medication.

The second happening was an unplanned joy. I fell in love. In a perfect moment everything changed. I have discovered that the poets and troubadours are right; that indefinable magic exists and gravitational love can explode into your life. Your life then takes a whole new trajectory.

Now I sit in the brilliant Turkish sun and scribble this post in my notebook. I am filled with warmth, deep in my soul. My breathing has re-balanced, I am deeply rested and the sun heals my need to rush off to do the next thing.

I feel great love for my lover, for myself and for everyone in my life. Sometimes it is only when you stop that you reconnect with the fathomless well of love that is often obscured by the day’s busy-ness. For it is this daily activity, driven by the need to to achieve, to do, to complete, that agitates the muddy water in our glass of life. Then your ability to see your truth is clouded. Only when you stop, does the sediment (life’s noise) settle. Then the water in your glass becomes crystal clear and you see you are surrounded by love.

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Beginnings 2

Further to my post yesterday about Beginnings in my working life, I thought I would follow up by sharing my feelings about new beginnings in my personal life.

When I started writing about how my life was and the particular challenges I was facing some two years ago now, it was part of the process of working towards accepting my vulnerabilities that surrounded these challenges. I recognised that a mindful life, paying attention to my feelings, could support this process and by sharing these experiences here I may also inspire and support others to be similarly fearless.

For it is fearlessness that we need if we are to hold how we feel about difficulty. To not run away. To not distract ourselves, or to avoid the feelings and consequences. But what about the fearlessness needed when exciting and positive developments explode into your life? Do you still need to be fearless? And if so how does this relate to a mindful life?

Indefinable Magic

Two months ago I started dating again. To be honest it has been a little wearing this time around. I have been on several initial meet ups, once or twice these then led to a proper date. But whilst many of these were interesting and occasionally fun there was something missing.

We all look for a strong physical attraction. We then hope that we have an immediate ability to be able to communicate naturally. But even if those two elements are present we also look for that other major factor, or at least I do! The indefinable magic. This may be called ‘love at first sight’ in books and the media, but I believe that it is something more. Hopefully you will know what it is when it happens. For me it is a deep knowing. An instinctive surety. A fundamental connection of body, mind and soul with another person. A certainty that this is the one.

This happened to me on Sunday. I knew immediately. I nearly held her hand as we first walked together. The rest of that first meeting confirmed those first two hopes; the physical attraction and great communication were both present. And I knew at a deep level that the indefinable magic was present. We are now building upon this knowing, for it is mutual, and I am grateful that we have this foundation from which to develop our relationship.

So why does this fantastic experience require fearlessness? Because fear is always present. Even in the midst of huge excitement there will probably be a small little voice that starts with, ‘What if…’ Practicing mindfulness means that you are developing the capacity to recognise your feelings and rest with them. To not react. To notice where they play out in the body. To give yourself time to process the fear and to respond with compassion for yourself.

Maybe such an experience could also generate so much excitement that you loose your centeredness, that connection with your true, deep self. This can be as distracting and confusing as fear. But your potential to notice your feelings, to respond skillfully rather than to react habitually, remains the practice. Just as it is with fear. Fearlessness is facing your emotions gently. Noticing how they make you feel. How they make you think. The noticing is enough, and noticing the physical sensations in the body helps you to get out of your head.

So I practice noticing the butterflies. That slight shakiness deep inside. That little jump in the stomach. And I breathe. And then I write to you about it so that you can share, remember and practice.

The Female Form

 

Beginnings

As one door closes another opens. You are familiar with this phrase. Of course often it’s a sop to comfort you when the change was unexpected. Sometimes though it is you who exits and closes the door. That is how it is with me right now.

Yesterday I left my part time employment with the Dylan Thomas Centre. I am now full time freelance. This is an exit I have thought about for some time and has an intention at its heart. I have chosen to do this to focus on the development of my online course in Mindful Photography.

Those of you who read this blog (even occasionally) will know that I have intended to do this for some time. However, there never seemed to be enough time and still keep life in balance. So something had to change. I have managed to gather enough resource and other income streams together to give myself a few months of dedicated time to this development. The summer months will be time where I develop the course content from the Mindful Photography book I already have written. Then it will just be a question of attending to the marketing and technological challenges before launching sometime in September 2017.

Yesterday I walked out of the Dylan Thomas Centre for the last time as an employee. It felt good. The right time. I am ready for this. Bring it on!

Lifestyle

Much is changing in the world. The influence of technology has fueled the quantity of change and its speed. How do you keep pace with these changes, maintain your equilibrium and thrive? I believe that you need to consider your lifestyle. How it impacts upon your well-being, in terms of health, wealth and your reasons for being! Find out more below.

How it was

I am going to approach this by reflecting upon my own lifestyle changes over the last 20 years. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief! The man that inhabited this body 20 years ago was a close relative of mine, but he had a different lifestyle. In 1997 I was a busy father with one small kid and a pregnant wife. I had a fast rising career as a senior manager in college education and a burgeoning interest in long distance running. Life was quite compartmentalised, focused upon family and career success, with a side serving of regular exercise and mainly healthy food; although I did have a clear disregard for the quantity of alcohol consumed! Everything was very focused and my first computer had just arrived on my work desktop.

My education career ended in the following decade. The health crisis that precipitated this was brought on by my lifestyle and a failure to pay attention to the impact that it was having upon a body that was changing. I have written much about this here, so I’ll skip over the details of the impact, save to say that everything has changed: marriage, career, hobbies and way of being.

The irony is that my not paying attention has led to a current lifestyle that is all about paying attention. I have to pay attention to those signals our body gives us. Those signals that say slow down, rest, manage your commitments sensibly. If I don’t do this there are health repercussions. So over the last 3 years I have moved into doing a part time job, some project work for the Arts Council Wales, developing my mindful approach to photography; all whilst practicing paying attention to how I am. I say practice because I still get it wrong. I fall over. I get up. I fall over. I get up.  However it is now time for the next lifestyle change.

How it is going to be

In a few days time I finish my part time job. This is to free up space and time to develop a Mindful Photography Online Course: a course full of videos, slideshows, practices, a private course forum and lots of other goodies. I had hoped to be able to develop this whilst completing the final year of my part time job, but I just never manged enough dedicated time, whilst keeping everything else in balance.

Lifestyle wise this is going to mean initially three months of course development and marketing before launching in September 2017. I have the financial bases covered for a few months, then all I’ll need to do is sell the course. Easy huh? Of course it’s going to mean more self discipline, some regular scheduling and blog development, whilst still paying attention to those supportive practices that are a key part of maintaining my well-being: yoga, meditation, mindful photography, walking the dog, a (reasonably) healthy diet, social interaction (to replace that from the work environment) and fun!

I am very excited about my new lifestyle and my Online Course. I know that I have developed an original way of using mindfulness to enhance your photographic skills, support the development of a mindful approach to your life and to consider a little self exploration. I think that it’s innovative, supportive and fascinating. If you agree then why not subscribe in the box on the right of the blog page and you will receive my regular newsletter with news about photography and the development of the online course.

The Photos

All of the photos were taken this week when practicing mindful photography and represent new beginnings. Spring is a special time of new growth, abundance and vibrancy. I hope that some of the season’s qualities rub off in your world.

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10 Tips to Survive a Photo Marathon

Having completed a few Photo Marathons now, I thought I would share a few tips to surviving (and thriving) at a Photo Marathon. I’ll be explaining what a Photo Marathon is, why you should try one and illustrating this post with the photos from my most recent event – the Bath Photo Marathon 2017.

What is a Photo Marathon?

A Photo Marathon is a test of creativity, endurance, photography skills and sense of humour. It is usually a competitive event, often with prizes, and takes place over a set period of time. A common format is 12 Topics, 12 Photos, 12 Hours. In that format you have to create 12 photos to illustrate the 12 topics, one photo per topic and they must be in topic order. You start with a clean memory card and complete with only the required 12 photos, unedited.

Why you should do one

A Photo Marathon is a test of your photography skills, knowledge and observation. It will test your stamina and resilience, but ultimately it is a test of your powers of creativity. It is worth noting that the 5 Creative Habits of Mind are described as: Inquisitive, Imaginative, Collaborative, Persistent and Disciplined. A Photo Marathon tests all of those habits of mind!

Taking part will fire your creativity, get you exploring a new city, introduce you to people with the same interest and challenge your photography skills. What’s not to like?

Ten Tips to Survive (and thrive) a Photo Marathon

  1. Read the rules and guidelines. Make sure you understand the timescale, photography requirements, locations, pick ups, final deadline etc
  2. Start with an empty memory card and a charged battery. Carry spares of both. Spare battery and charger will keep you in the game. Spare memory card means you can create other photos as you go (if you have the energy)
  3. Wear the appropriate clothing. Comfortable shoes, trousers that will get dirty and pack clothes for possible weather changes
  4. Enter the event with a friend. One of you has the camera, both of you fire off ideas at each other. Two heads are definitely better than one. You also get to spend time with that person and get to know how they think. Probably a good thing huh?
  5. Pace yourself. Make sure you build in breaks and refreshment; it is an endurance event. Often you are more creative during the first half, but more decisive in the second half. Excitement at the beginning creates more ideas and photos. Tiredness makes you more decisive.
  6. Aim to do a negative split. Be decisive in the first half and then you’ll be more creative in the second half. (That’s a running joke!)
  7. Decide on each final photo as you go. Do not leave that until the end, you’ll be tired. Do each topic in turn. Complete and choose the final photo and then move on. This provides creative clarity.
  8. Discuss and view topic photos together, but decide in your pair who makes final decision on choice of photo (usually the photographer)
  9. Use insider knowledge. It is helpful if one of you knows the city. If not then talk to locals. Ask for advice. However don’t let your knowledge or information about the city limit you seeing what is right in front of you.
  10. In a standard Photo Marathon with the same number topics as photos and hours choose a simple overarching theme to link the photos. Some use a prop to do this (like a mini lego figure who appears in every photo). Others use in camera processing (usually allowed) e.g Black and White. Or choose a theme, like a colour or technique – red or low/high point of view. Surely someone will soon submit a set using a drone camera, if they haven’t already!

Bath Photo Marathon 2017

I did this year’s Bath Photo Marathon with my old friend Simon. It was a great excuse for us to meet up – as Bath was kind of equidistant – and we got to catch up and have a few beers after.

Our photos are below. They are in the order given, the titles are underneath and have an over arching theme – Scarlet. Well, it was red really, but a little orange crept in! We had to create 20 photos in 10 hours. These were provided in two sets of ten, with a location to pick up the second half.

Our favourite photo after all this was the ‘Fashion’ photo. This best illustrates our collaborative process and sense of the absurd!

Your Entry Number

Contrast

Red

Looking through

Fashion

Fragment

Corner

Refreshing

Control

Crossing the line

Next Generation

Street Life

Movement

Self Portrait

Abstract

Missing

Found

Show off

Sign

The End!