A Tour of my Online Course

LIVE! with a 20% discount until 18th October 2017

Mindful Photography 1 – How becoming mindful can help you to create fabulous photos is LIVE! Maybe you have not yet enrolled on the FREE Introduction to Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge and wonder what it is all about.

How about a little tour of the content of the full course so you can get a little feel of what to expect?

 

Course Content

Mindful Photography 1 – How becoming mindful can help you to create fabulous photos 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.

The course draws inspiration from two key sources. 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).

This is Part 1 of a fresh and innovative way of developing your skills as a photographer and will cover three key topics:

Clear Seeing

This topic is all about turning photography into a mindful practice. I 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 mindful photography practices that support your journey to photographic brilliance. These practices support you to hold all the technical and compositional knowledge and skills gently, whilst being rooted in the moment and seeing the photographic opportunities.

Each practice provides a way of developing your photography skills whilst your ability to see the potential of a scene for a personal and resonant photo is enhanced.

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.

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.

What are you waiting for?

If you are an avid photographer and have a curiosity about mindfulness then this is the course for you.

If you would like to develop your ability to create personal, resonant, fabulous photos then this is the course for you.

You can try the Introduction the Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge for FREE. This 4 day video course will provide greater detail on each of the three course topics, a mindful photography practice designed to slow down your photography process and an invitation to join our private Facebook Group.

Just click on the button!

 

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 2

This week was all about developing a Mindful Photography Practice where Seeing was our anchor. Clear Seeing was the key topic and we looked at what that is and how it is that we see. We then compared how we see to how a camera sees and began the process of noticing those differences.

The foundation of Mindful Photography is the Four Stage Seeing Practice. This is the practice I share on all of my courses and workshops and stands at the heart of developing our ability to be present with our desire to create photos.

Like meditation the Four Stage Seeing Practice is easy to understand, but difficult to remain present with. But if we are to create fabulous photographs then we must learn to see – everything that is in front of us. And seeing everything that is there is not as easy as it sounds. Our minds consistently trick us, presenting those things that we are interested in, rather than the totality of all that is in front of us.

Of course they do this to help to support our progress through the day and to keep us safe. But it also limits our visual experience and if we are to create fabulous, resonant photos then we need to develop our Clear Seeing.

Ordinary Beauty

We followed two Mindful Photography Practices to develop our Clear Seeing. The first one was based on a quote by John Updike – ‘giving the mundane its beautiful due’ and challenged everyone to create beautiful photos from an ordinary object. Here are our favourites

Seeing in Colour

Our second Mindful Photography Practice centred upon the creation of photos where colour was the key feature. It was fascinating to reflect that whilst we followed these two practices students following the full Online Course in Mindful Photography were doing the same activities in different parts of the world. Here are our favourites.

 

Ruth’s Story – How Mindful Photography helped me

Today’s blog post is a personal story from a friend of mine who is also a Mindful Photographer. Ruth’s story is a personal account of how mindful photography has helped with her wellbeing and mental health. It is an honest account of living with difficulty and how mindfulness combined with a creative outlet can support you to live with the experience.

Mindful Photography: a tool for improved mental health

In September 2014 photography started to take on a whole new meaning to me. For some time I had struggled with episodes of anxiety and depression and I was going through a particularly challenging time. I decided to attend a retreat “The Photography of Being” in Scotland for a week.

I allowed myself to feel the debts of my thoughts and spent a couple of days immersing myself in the darkness of the dense mossy wood where I was staying. As the week went by I started to feel lighter and found myself coming out into the open, where I observed the movement of the running stream and the beauty of the nearby Loch.

The warm autumn colours were already in their full glory and I lay on the ground and bathed in their warmth. My series of photographs from the week show my process of being in the dark and coming out into the light. The experience was incredibly therapeutic.

Breakdown

A year later, I experienced what at the time I called a full on breakdown. I was overwhelmed and burnt out and my body forced me to stop. Fear got the better of me and I was not able to work for a few months. As part of my recovery I went for walks in the beautiful woods and commons where I live in Stroud in the Cotswolds. I took my camera or my mobile phone with me and found myself asking nature to support me.

I allowed myself to be guided instinctively towards particular places, objects, colours, textures, shapes, patterns, and areas of light, dark, or shadow that caught my eye. I looked at the detail as well as the bigger picture. I started to ‘be’ fully present in the moment, to breathe and to experience what I was looking at, not only through my eyes, but through all my senses. Sometimes I would take photos; sometimes I would simply look. I found that nature would ‘speak’ to me through my eyes or the lens and help me look at my life with a fresh perspective.

Mindful Photography

As part of my recovery I also renewed my interest in mindfulness; I had participated in an 8-week mindfulness course some years previously, which was helpful but in some ways added to the stress I was feeling at the time – it was another thing I had to do! This time though, I instinctively thought: mindfulness + photography = mindful photography.

Over the past year or so I have been sharing mindful photography through the photography walks, workshops, commissions, projects and talks that I offer through my photography business Look Again, which I launched in 2012.

And it was with great delight that I found that other people were also practising mindful photography. I was particularly drawn to the work of Lee Aspland, who I have since met and has now kindly asked me to write this blog!

Breakthrough

What I realise now is that my breakdown was in fact a breakthrough. Mindful photography has become a practice that I use to help myself deal with my own mental health challenges and that I love to share with individuals, communities, organisations and businesses through my work with Look Again. It’s wonderful to slow down, look, look again and see with new eyes.

Please contact me or visit Look Again to find out more.

Mindful Photography Practice on the Gower Peninsula

As you may have seen in my last post 5 Mindful Photography Tips to help you create fabulous photos I recently followed a mindful photography practice on the beautiful Gower Peninsula.

I am fortunate to live a short 15 minute drive from the south coast of this ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. The beach at Pwlldu was viewable on my circular walk, one of my favourites on this section of the glorious Welsh Coastline, and features in this small selection of favourite photos from the practice.

 

5 Mindful Photography Tips to help you create fabulous photos

I have just got back from a mindful photography practice on the beautiful Welsh coastline and I was struck by the thought that it had provided me with an experience that I would not have had unless I had followed the practice.

Immediately I thought, how can I share this in a way that helps you! 

So here it is, a concise version of what happened and how mindful photography practice can support your creation of fabulous photos and reverberate mindful awareness through your life.

The Experience

I parked the car in a safe quiet car park, set my camera up in  Camera Scan Practice set up I use (Aperture Priority, f8 ISO 200 – it was a sunny day) and set my meditation timer to 1 hour.

I already had my 35mm prime lens attached to my Fuji XT-2 (roughly equivalent to the human eye’s focal length) and had a simple circular route planned to walk at a gentle pace. My intention was to use my 4 Stage Seeing Practice, and to return to what I could see every time my busy mind took me off to future plans or reviewing past events.

I walked at a steady pace, enjoying the warm sunshine on my face, the edge of autumn on the air and the signs of nature turning down towards winter. Each time something caught my eye I stopped, observed completely what it was that had taken my eye and then made choices about how to create the photo, before pressing the shutter and moving on.

Sometimes this process took a few minutes, sometimes only seconds. The length of time is immaterial, it is the attentive presence that is at the heart of a resonant photo that inhabits how that moment was for you.

Over the next hour I walked though my route and created around 15 photos. I did not review any of the photos as I created them, just pressed the shutter and moved on.

After completion I still had a little way to walk, and all uphill. As I reached the top of the lane, a flock crows flew over and I was aware of first my desire to create a photo of them flying over, and then my judging mind as I responded too slowly to capture the experience.

I stopped at the top and breathed. Partly to recover my breath and partly to attend to those feelings. I smiled to myself, compassionate with my judging mind and pulled my camera in front of me. As I did this a few crows flew back over, I lifted my camera and instinctively created the photo at the top of this email.

Of course as I was using a 35mm this photo has been cropped quite a bit, but I was struck by how my presence and timing had been able to create an image where this was possible and the crow was sharp against a blue, blue sky.

This experience is the inspiration for these 5 tips below that highlight the benefits of a mindful photography practice. I hope that you find them useful.

5 Tips for Fabulous Photos

  1. Plan a regular photography practice. Set aside at least one hour, once a week when all you are going to do is practice photography.
  2. Regularly use the same lens and camera set up. Familiarity with how the camera sees in relation to how you see will develop. Your ability to see like a camera will develop.
  3. Use a meditation timer to formalise your practice. I use the free Insight Timer app. This works even when there is no signal. This is ideal for then you can also turn your phone to airplane mode, to avoid distractions, and then the timer will log your practice when you next connect.
  4. Do not have a goal to create photos! Your intention is to walk with your camera and observe what presents itself to you. When something visually attracts you stop, breathe, really pay attention to what it is that has caught your eye. Notice the strong desire to ‘take’ a photo. Breathe. Consider how you will frame the photo. Consider if you have to move your feet or camera.
  5. Press the shutter and walk on. Release your desire to look at what you have created and return to your walk and the seeing.

After your practice don’t look at the photos straight away. Take your time, notice how you are. Return to somewhere quiet, get a cup of your favourite hot beverage and sit peacefully and review your photos.

As you look through each image be aware of your mind. Be gentle with the judging thoughts, the mind that says this photo is good and that photo is bad. Notice the judgement and smile. It’s OK, you noticed. Breathe and look through the photos. Notice how you are after the practice. Has it made a difference?

You can see my favourite photos from the practice here

 

Enroll on the FREE Course in Mindful Photography

All of the Mindful Photography Practices and ideas are introduced on my FREE course. It’s a 4 day video challenge that includes one practice and a link to a private Facebook group where you can share your favourite photos and comments, and see other people’s.

Just click on the link on this post and enjoy creating fabulous photos!

Happy Creating

 

 

 

 

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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

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!

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Generosity

Generosity is regarded as a mindful attitude. Jon Kabat-Zinn added it to his initial list of seven attitudes that are found in his book Full Catastrophe Living, along with gratitude. How is it now seen as a mindful attitude and how can you develop the attitude through your photography?

What is Generosity?

Generosity is defined as the quality of being kind and generous, and it is a key element of many religions. In Christianity it is known as charity and we are told that ‘it is better to give than to receive.’

In Buddhism it is known as dana: it is the practice of cultivating generosity and is seen as a perfection.

In secular circles it may be described as philanthropy – ‘the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes’ – in the hope of building a better world.

Recently the scientific community have become interested in the act of generosity. The University of Notre Dame has conducted the “Science of Generosity Initiative” to explore the relationship between generosity, happiness and well-being.

The Paradox

I do love a paradox, and human life is full of them. Could it be that generosity provides another? Could it be that when you don’t hold on tightly to what you perceive to be yours that it makes you richer than hanging on to it?

How would it be if you cultivated an attitude of abundance that there would always be enough for you if you gave some away? Does that thought fill you with fear? Fear of not having enough. I know that it does me. And yet I always seem to have enough. Somehow something turns up to plug the gaps. This requires an attitude of abundance instead of scarcity. A belief that there will always be enough.

Such an attitude requires fearlessness. It requires you to rise past the fear that you will not have enough. For this fear generates  greed, selfishness and stinginess and if you are to be generous an attitude of abundance is the foundation stone.

True Generosity

True generosity requires a non attachment to the outcome. There is an intention to give freely without attachment to how your gift is received. This then cultivates a freedom from ego and connects us to humanity. You become less centered on me-me-me and more open to the fact that you are part of the whole. Part of humanity. Part of Earth. Part of the cosmos. After all everything is made of the same stuff, stardust.

Applied to Photography

There are two ways in which you can cultivate generosity through photography.

  1. Give your photos away for free. Now I know that this is contentious and that it runs contrary to contemporary thinking about copyright, but most of us create good photos rather than great photos. I understand that those who regularly create great photos, and earn their living that way may not want to give their work away (perhaps they would consider option 2 below). But the rest of us mere mortals create millions of photographs a day. (In 2015 it was estimated that 80 million photos were uploaded to Instagram every day! InfoTrends’ most recent worldwide image capture forecast estimates consumers will take 1.2 trillion photos in 2017.) Why not set yours free?
  2. Donate your skills, knowledge, time or money earned from photography. Why not shoot a friend’s celebration or event for free, donating your time skills and photos? Why not print and frame one of your photos and give it to a friend or relative who expressed how much they like it? If you are a professional why not offer a small part of your time and space to instruct others in an aspect of your photography? If you earn your income from photography why not donate a small, but regular amount of your income to a related charity?

Now I freely admit that I do not do any of these things regularly. I do occasionally offer my services for free or very low rates when I know the recipients cannot afford much. I do struggle with that abundance vs scarcity thought. However, I have a commitment to continue cultivating this attitude and will be looking to how I can offer some of my future online photography courses for free, as well as continuing the practice throughout the rest of my life.

Have I inspired you to cultivate your attitude of generosity?