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15 tips for your next retreat

I try to schedule 3 retreats a year. These are a time when my intention is to slow down and be present. I sometimes have a goal, often something creative, but the intention is the foundation.

There are all types of retreat possible, but at the heart of any ‘spiritual’ retreat is “a period or place of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation” (Oxford Dictionary). It is possible to do guided retreats with others or choose solitude. Many retreat centres welcome all faiths and beliefs, whether you consider yourself a participant in that belief system or just want to be somewhere peaceful and safe.

I choose to follow a solitude retreat at Llannwerchwen Retreat Centre. This centre is situated in the hills north of Brecon, Wales and is run by a Catholic order. Whilst they do offer support and guidance they also welcome everybody to use the space and accommodation for solitude retreats. I only ever see the people running the centre at the beginning and end of the retreat.

I have visited many times over the last ten years. I have witnessed the bare bones of winter and sneezed through the vibrancy of spring. I have been sunburnt in high summer and most recently experienced the onset of autumn. Each visit brings a different experience. Some of those experiences are coloured by the accommodation allocated, its view and feel. Others are influenced by what is on my mind when I arrive, but always they are shaped by the choices I make whilst I am there.

So I thought I would share a few ideas that I believe help support the possibility of a beneficial (solitude) retreat. This knowledge has been gained the hard way! For every tip below I have done the opposite. I don’t claim that the list is perfect, every experience will still be different, but these tips support the potential for an enriching experience.

15 Tips for a beneficial (solitude) retreat

  1. Set an intention. This is best kept simple. For example, to slow down or to be completely quiet. It is not a goal – something you have to achieve – this is to be a way of being whilst you are on retreat.
  2. Turn your smartphone to airplane mode. Set the ‘vacation responses’ on your email and text and still be able to access those talks by wise guides that you have pre-saved. It will remain a temptation to switch back on, but all aspects of a retreat require discipline, this is just one other. The hardcore alternative is to leave your phone in the car or at home!
  3. Be self sufficient. Bring with you all the food, drink, toiletries, reading material, arts equipment and other props that you require. But be lean with your choices, always ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?’
  4. Don’t drive anywhere. Leave your car in the car park
  5. Exercise. Walk in nature, slowly paying attention to the sensations you experience. Do gentle yoga.
  6. Meditate. Commit to a regular meditation practice (maybe morning and night) and integrate other mindful practices: walking, washing up, art, photography. Centre upon the development of concentration.
  7. Get creative. Take the materials for a creative outlet. The quieter and more rested you get the more likely your creativity will be sparked. Try painting, drawing, colouring, sketching, writing or photography. The quieter and less stimulated you want to be the less of these things you will take.
  8. Eat well. Cook wholesome fresh food with quality ingredients. Use the preparation, cooking and eating as a mindful practice.
  9. Contemplate. Sit in nature or in your accommodation in complete silence doing nothing, maybe enjoying a hot mug of your favourite beverage.
  10. Limit sound. Choose whether your retreat will be in complete silence or if you will be supported by dharma talks or similar. Try not talk to yourself (out loud or in your head). This is particularly difficult initially.
  11. Take with you…. A flask, water bottle, pens, paper, colours, camera, inspirational reading, appropriate seasonal footwear. The quieter and less stimulated you want to be the less of these things you will take.
  12. Pay attention to how you are each day. Be aware of your sensations, your thoughts and your feelings. These will guide wise choices.
  13. Read (if you have to) that which will support your intention. Not material that will agitate.
  14. Be gentle with yourself. Be compassionate for your experience. Everything is possible. It is all passing through.
  15. Ease in and out of the retreat. Think about how the phases before and after can support your experience.

Here are a few of my favourite photos from my recent retreat

 

Ailsa’s story – How Mindful Photography helped me

Hello there

I hope that you’re enjoying the day and have taken the opportunity to enroll on my FREE Mindful Photography Course.

This post is all about what it is like to do a Mindful Photography Course with me.

Ailsa Brims, whose story follows lower down, enrolled on my Mindful Photography email course a couple of years ago. Her story is a great illustration not just of how much you’ll learn with me but also how it will change your photography and you!

Do have a read – and by the way the photos are Ailsa’s too.

Ailsa Brims

In January 2015 I suddenly found myself redundant from a career I loved and I was rather lost and depressed. I used some of my redundancy payment to buy a small Canon camera and signed up for Lee’s course. I’m so glad I did!

I really enjoyed the step by step, week by week approach. The Mindful Photography Practices were challenging but I threw myself into the tasks and was amazed at the pictures I was able to create. Until then, I had seldom taken a picture that I was really happy with, I’d see something, snap away and then be disappointed. Lee taught me to stop and slow down and to really focus on what it was about the scene that had appealed to me. I started creating abstract shots that were far more ‘me’ than the landscapes I had always attempted before.

The feedback from Lee and the other class members was invaluable in giving me support and encouragement to carry on.

After the course I continued to take mindful pictures and develop my style but I also wanted to learn more about mindfulness. I read widely and started to do mindful meditations and found benefits in many areas of my life.   Mindfulness in general has had a huge impact on my life, I am less stressed, more grounded and more in touch with the real me, I am much more confident.

An example came a few months after completing the course.  I had just completed the excellent mindfulness course by Mark Williams and I was photographing at Brighton Station. After a few minutes a security guard came up to me and asked me to stop (he actually had no right to do that, I was not doing anything wrong) but I happily stopped and got on my train.  Sat on the train I reflected about what had just happened.   The old me would have been aghast that I had been singled out to be ‘told off’ in that way, I would have sat on the train embarrassed and angry, I would have fumed all the way home. The new me was mildly amused – a much more relaxing way to live!

Soon afterwards I had the opportunity to study for an MA Fine Art which was a complete change from me (I’m a scientist!) but my work for the year ended up being around what mindfulness feels like and included a lot more mindful pictures.

I am now working as an artist and about have a solo exhibition of mindful photography and I am always grateful to Lee for setting me off on this path.

I highly recommend his course to anyone!

Visit www.peppermintsea.com for more information about Ailsa and her work

Mindful Photography Online Course – LIVE

Yes it is LIVE now

There is 33% off AND a Bonus Bundle if you enroll before 3rd October 2017

What is on the course?

This is the world’s first online course in Mindful Photography. It will help you to develop mindfulness through photography and you will create fabulous photos!

This course will develop your ability to see a photograph. It will demonstrate how seeing can be used as an anchor and turn photography into a mindful practice.

It will share mindful photography practices that support your development as a photographer, whilst also becoming more mindful.

What are we going to cover?

There is nothing else in the whole wide world quite like this!

Inspired by The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (from 2500 years ago) and the modern application of mindfulness to support us in stressful times (the MBSR – mindfulness based stress reduction). Part 1 of this fresh and innovative course will cover three key topics:

Clear Seeing – This topic is all about turning photography into a mindful practice. I will share a Four Stage Seeing Practice that will develop your ability to use what you see as an anchor, to bring you totally back to the moment. This will develop your ability to see everything that is front of you. Yes, everything. Just like a camera does. Oh, did I mention that you will also learn how to see like a camera! And you will discover the barriers that can get in the way of clear seeing.

Photo Thinking – This topic will support your development as a photographer. Offering practices that support your journey to photographic brilliance, allowing you to hold all the technical and compositional knowledge and skills gently, whilst being rooted in the moment and seeing the photographic opportunities.

Mindful Attitudes – This topic is an introduction to ten attitudes that support the development of a mindful life. Each mindful attitude is described with a personal interpretation and then is applied to photography. A Mindful Photography Practice is provided for each attitude to support your personal and photographic development.

That’s a lot to take in, but you can take a look at the FREE Introduction to Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge to find out more

What does each topic include?

There are 2 Modules in each Topic – that’s 6 modules in all.

Each module includes videos, slideshows and Mindful Photography Practices.

There are 20 Mindful Photography Practices all together. These photography activities will help you to learn and develop mindfulness and photography skills, and compliment the videos and slideshows. Every Mindful Photography Practice can be done many times. They truly are mindful practices that will help you develop as a photographer and in life!

Each Mindful Photography Practice will result in you creating some fabulous photos which you will then share with the Course Community in our private Facebook group. I will comment on your photos and look forward to discussing your experiences with you in the group. This is a fabulous support for everyone who enrolls on the course, providing guidance,discussion and contact with like minded people all over the world!

There are 3 eBooks too! One for each topic- with the whole text, illustrative photos and the mindful photography practices.

Bonus Bundle

If you enroll for the full course, before the 3rd October 2017, you will get:

33% off! Yes enroll before the 3rd October and get 33% off the selling price. Just use the coupon code THIRDOFF at checkout.

a FREE 1 to 1 Skype chat with me, for a whole hour! Oh yes, you can ask me everything you want to know about mindful photography, about mindfulness, about photography, or even just about living this life!

Becoming Present with your Camera – A ‘How to’ guide, including a bonus Mindful Photography Practice – You are the Camera not available anywhere else.

>Mindfulness and Creativity – My own no nonsense guide to the relationship between Mindfulness and Creativity + some great tips to support your own Meditation Practice

 

I hope you like the sound of that! Don’t forget you can find out more by enrolling on the FREE Introduction to Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge

Hope to see you soon!

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Why I created a Mindful Photography Course

Did you miss me?

Sorry I’ve been a little quiet for a couple of weeks. I’ve been a busy boy! Yes, my online courses go LIVE on pre-sale Tuesday 26th September. Whey Hey!

There will be a FREE Introduction to Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge to kick it all off.

AND there will be a 33% discount and a Bonus Bundle for the first 20 subscribers on the full course – Mindful Photography 1 ‘How becoming mindful can help you to create fabulous photos’ – in that first week of sales.

There will be lots of info about that in the next few days. Keep an eye on my blog and the online course page for when you can find out more and enroll.

In the meantime I thought I would share a little bit about how I came to create this course and particularly why Mindful Photography.

Why Mindful Photography?

Since 2000 I have been discovering what is true; what is real for me. It has been a significant period of my life, which has been dominated by a health challenge that started in 2006, remains chronic now and has re-shaped the course of my life.

Back in 2000 I was married with two young children and working successfully at a Further Education College in Swansea, South Wales, UK. I was established in middle management and was a little obsessed with long distance running.

Somewhere along the way that voice that you all have, that tells you that you are not quite good enough as you are, got a lot louder. I blame Margaret Thatcher. She is an easy scapegoat. I am sure that I still had that nagging voice back pre Thatcher, but it all got a lot louder as the idea that you are all individuals and can achieve anything you want with hard work took strong hold.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I do believe in the idea of working hard and achieving your dreams. But there is, as in all aspects of your life, a balance to be struck. Somewhere in the early nineties in the UK this balance seemed to begin disappearing underneath the desire to prove that we were all working as hard, and achieving as much as we could. Performance culture was upon us.

In the world of Further Education this manifested as students being seen as ‘units of resource’ rather than young people who were learning how to make their way in the world. Measurement of performance came down to statistical analysis of retention (keeping the imps on course and in college) and attainment (ensuring that they passed the damn qualification they enrolled upon). These performance drivers along with stronger financial controls, devolved budgets, delegated management responsibilities and technological developments changed my working culture.

I embraced it all. I became the poacher turned gamekeeper. No longer the lecturer who was talented, but only just did enough to ensure all his boxes were ticked and then turned it on for the inspectors. I became a focused, organised and driven manager. And I had aspirations. So immersed was I in this striving culture that I was convinced that my future was in the highest echelons of college management.

Alongside this and running in obsessive parallel was my desire to run a marathon in under 4 hours. This all started with a manly challenge from my friend Simon. Back in the mid nineties I jogged just to remain fit enough to play football. I was in my thirties and loved 5 a side football. I occasionally jogged with Simon and we generally covered 3 miles or so at a steady pace. One day, halfway through our route we started talking about the upcoming Swansea 10K and Simon suggested that we enter, “Of course you couldn’t expect to beat me. I am eight years younger than you.” he said.

He was right – in the first year. After that I determined to prove him wrong and I did, getting faster each year and then graduating to longer distances. We did half marathons together, but Simon (wisely) balked at the idea of a marathon. Whereas I developed three month long training schedules, ran on through the weather and pain and ignored the fact that after 20 miles my body cried ‘enough’.

Consequences, there are always consequences to your choices. I started to get warnings. In 2004 I got lost in time when running through the Andalusian hills; completely focused upon the desire to find a circular route through the hills I lost track of time and scared my family into thinking that I had fallen into a dirty ditch.

When running on Swansea Bay beach one fine winter morning in the same year I kept banging my chest to clear my breath. I thought nothing of the constriction.

In the spring of 2005 I had an anaphylactic shock on the eve of the Edinburgh Marathon; literally on the night before. It took a few hours to settle back down to normal and my sleep was disrupted. I got up in the morning and ran the race.

Later that year I had my first ever injury playing 5 a side football. I tore my calf.

In the early autumn of 2005 when out training with a work colleague she told me that my breath sounded louder than normal.

Later during the autumn of 2005 I had five cold viruses with barely a week or two of stable health between each. I carried on running and working through them all. My tongue looked like a map of the Lake District, with dark patches representing the lakes.

Each time it registered briefly, then left me. The possibility that my body was struggling to cope did not pass through my conscious mind. I was not paying attention.

It all came tumbling down in January 2006. During a lunchtime training run from the College, running back up the hill, my throat suddenly closed up. I could not get the next breath in without stopping. I paused, realised that continuing to run up the hill was out, and walked slowly. I have never run since. My breath is permanently compromised. I have scar tissue on my trachea that has reduced my capacity to breathe. My vocal chords are swollen and my voice is one that is ideal for late night radio. Whilst this is now OK and I lead a full and engaged life, the intervening ten years have seen a lot of difficulty and every aspect of my life has seen major change.

My online courses in Mindful Photography are inspired by how mindfulness and photography supported me through those years of challenging health. How they provided me with a creative outlet and a means by which to explore my life choices, my habits and behaviours and to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being.

I find it ironic that it was not paying attention that has led me to the practice of paying attention!

Why an online course?

Back in 2014 I thought of creating a course in Mindful Photography. I did not believe that what was available in the field of contemplative photography really supported both the development of brilliance as a photographer and the self knowledge that mindfulness opens the door to.

So I created an email course that was loosely based upon the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (the sutra first shared 2500 years ago by the Buddha) and inspired by more recent understanding by the medical community, and specifically the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) created by Jon Kabat Zinn.

The email course went pretty well and left me keen to expand it into an online course. My first attempt at this was a DIY effort using WordPress templates and it all fell apart after a few months (the website, not the content!)

Since then super smart content management software and companies have come into the market and it is with one of those (Teachable – very easy to use) I have developed my new course. It follows the structure and content of the email course, but includes new areas of mindful photography development, over six hours of videos, 14 more photography activities and a private Facebook group to support the students, share photos and discussion.

If I have intrigued you, keep an eye on the blog or sign up for the free eBook below and then you’ll get regular information from me.

I hope to see you online very soon!

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Beginner’s Mind Practice

The phrase ‘beginner’s mind’ is used in meditation and mindfulness as an encouragement to greet the present moment as if it was the first time we had experienced it. Of course it is, but we don’t often live as if it is.

When we are sat, meditating, the object of this intention is often the breath. To sit and experience the breath as if for the first time is to alert our senses to where and how we feel the breath in our body.

Its cool entry at our nose. The gentle rise and fall of our stomach. The subtle expansion of our chest. The sharpening of our senses brings us into the experience and roots us in the present moment. To expand this practice into other areas of our day and life supports our intention to be mindful.

Developing Beginner’s Mind

A useful trick is taking a sensory experience and developing it in situations and environments that are familiar. This is a re-tuning of our senses. A conscious decision to notice. We may choose one particular sense to work with or simply remain open to what our senses reveal.

The very essence of this practice brings us into the moment, encouraging our presence with our current experience.

In photography this can be explored as part of a mindful photography practice. There are two potential approaches. Either we visit a place/location that is completely new to us or we cultivate our ‘Beginner’s Eye’ by visiting familiar territory. Both approaches provide the opportunity to cultivate a grounding in the present moment. To see what we see as if for the first time. Perhaps the latter practice, on familiar territory, provides deeper opportunities to cultivate a gratitude for the familiar; to ‘give the mundane its beautiful due’ (John Updike). Something that we can then take into other aspects of our life.

Beach walk

Last week, over two days, I set out on my morning walk with my favourite hound, Monty with an intention. I decided to walk along a familiar location and practice seeing it as if for the first time, which of course in an important way it was.

I set out for Swansea Beach. This is a 5 mile crescent sweep of sandy bay that is 5 minutes from my front door. Such proximity has led to many visits over the years and it is a key part of my favourite circular walk from the house. It is an ideal location to follow this practice.

When you regularly visit the same location you become accustomed to what you expect to see. This can lead to a low attention, to not seeing what is there and a looseness with the present moment. I decided to follow the Mindful Photography Practice I share below. To slow down, to connect with the visual and be present in my day. My favourite photos from the two practices accompany this post.

A Mindful Photography Practice – Beginner’s Eye

  • Choose a familiar location
  • Spend up to 60 minutes slowly walking through this area, tuned into your visual experience
  • During the walk stop and sit. Breathe slowly. Pay attention to what you can see. Create some photos.
  • Continue walking
  • Tune into the colours, the shapes, patterns, lines and textures rather than the named objects
  • Create photos that represent your experience
  • Share your favourite photos

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How it is

How is it for you? As a mindfulness practitioner being aware of how I am is a regular practice. Do the questions why and how interest you? Let’s investigate them.

Why be aware?

Mindfulness encourages you to pay attention to each moment as if it is all there is. Which it is of course. But your attachment to past events and future possibilities generates many thoughts and feelings, taking you away from truly experiencing the moment.

Mindfulness encourages you to be aware of your sensations, your thoughts, your feelings and how you are living. And it is meditation that trains your mind to achieve this level of awareness. But why bother?

I believe you should bother because this way of being encourages the greatest learning you can achieve, a clear and deep understanding of who you are and how you are living.

From this intention to work towards an understanding of self, develops the possibility of true self acceptance and the possibility of living the best life you can.

This is a journey, rather than a destination. It is a commitment to honesty, integrity and authenticity. The journey will be challenging, life is challenging. But if you can see life as a series of challenges rather than blessings or curses then you are truly a spiritual warrior.

How to be aware?

Mindfulness and meditation are practices that support this way of being. But if you start with a commitment to the idea that all of life is a practice then your path becomes visible.

Everything that arises in your life is an opportunity to notice how you are. To notice the thoughts and the feelings. You don’t need to do anything with what you notice, just noticing begins a process.

Noticing your thoughts and feelings is the first step towards accepting what they are and developing the possibility of responding skillfully to the situation, rather than reacting in you normal habitual manner.

Having a regular meditation practice supports your ability to be present in your life. It is mind training. Paying attention to any activity – walking, washing up, taking photos, arranging flowers – turns it into a kind of meditation that we call a mindful activity. All of this is training for your monkey mind and supports your intention to be fully present in your life.

How it is for me

I have been very busy over the last two weeks completing my online course in Mindful Photography. In that busy-ness I lost my attention to how I was. The consequences of striving and not paying attention to the impact of that effort manifests in my body.

My breathing gets more difficult. This of course should bring me into the moment. I have plenty experience of this pattern. It is a habitual behaviour. But even with years of experience it still takes a while to realise what is happening.

Now I have connected with how it is. I have taken a break, pending finalising details over the next two weeks, and paid attention to how I am. The consequence of this paying attention is improved breathing. I know, it’s not rocket science. If I rest, if I pay attention I recover. But I get caught up in how I want things to be. I am caught up in the future and not being present with how it is now. Once I return to this moment life has a chance to re balance.

Your Practice

If you don’t have a regular meditation practice I encourage you to start one. It will make a difference, an almost imperceptible difference, over many years.

Just start with 5 minutes, every morning first thing before you do anything else. If this is not an option spend 5 minutes somewhere in your day sitting, with eyes closed and follow your breath.

As you gain in confidence and regularity increase the time. I sit every morning and do a little yoga for at least 20 minutes. I have done this for many years. Only when it became a daily practice did I begin to notice it influencing the rest of my life. But it remains an ongoing practice. I still fall over. All I have to do is get back up again!