I have recently shared this with my newsletter subscribers, but I thought that at this time it may be beneficial for you all.

This photo activity is a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and is inspired by three lines from Anthem, by Leonard Cohen:

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in

  1. Allocate one hour for a photo walk from your house.
  2. You will only create 10 photo in this hour, so take it slow.
  3. No reviewing. No deleting.
  4. Before you start sit quietly at home for 5 to 10 minutes thinking about how the Covid-19 pandemic is making you feel and Leonard’s lines of hope. Jot down your thoughts and feelings on a sheet of paper.
  5. Fold up the paper and place it in a pocket.
  6. Choose a camera and lens set up you are most familiar with – your ‘walkabout’ choice.
  7. Set the camera up in a mode that you can use instinctively.
  8. Walk and follow the Four Stage Seeing Practice: Anchor; Seeing; Resting and Creating. (see below).
  9. Keep a mental note of the number of photos you have created.
  10. If you forget the count, review the photos in your mind, visualising where you stopped to create each photo.
  11. Take your time. Instinctive and contemplative photography is your goal.
  12. Stop occasionally and review your sheet of paper.
  13. When you complete the activity and return home reward yourself with your favourite hot beverage and a treat. Do not review your photos yet. Notice the nagging voice! Allow the experience to settle whilst you drink.
  14. Later review your photos and notice your judging mind.
  15. Consider the photos you are drawn to and notice if you do not like some of your photos.
  16. Share your favourite photo in the Photography for Well-Being Facebook group or with me via return of this email.

Here is my favourite photo, a multi exposure in camera to reflect the light and dark.

 

Follow this Four Stage Seeing Practice to develop your ability to see everything that is there, enabling seeing to become a mindful experience when you are creating photographs.

  1. Anchor – When you arrive at your location take a moment. Sit somewhere and observe. Notice the breeze on your cheek and the smells that surround. Then tune into your visual experience. Notice the colours, lines, shapes, textures and depth. Notice where the sun is and the direction of light. Notice bright areas and shadows. If it is cloudy notice how this affects the scene. Spend at least 5 minutes paying attention to what you can see. Whenever you notice your mind thinking, about the photos you are creating, about what you are having for tea, about how daft you feel, return to what you can see. This is your anchor. Throughout your practice return to what you can see.
  1. Seeing – Walk at a gentle pace observing, but not looking for a photo opportunity. The photograph will find you. This is a challenge. There is a difference between attentive observation and looking for a photograph. The difference is the practice. All you have to do is to amble and observe; wait for something to catch your eye. This is to be a natural occurrence. Trust that something visually stimulating will arrive. This is all. You are attuned to your visual experience. Something will suggest itself as a photographic opportunity. When it does, stop.
  1. Resting – Look at what stopped you. Really look. Stay with the visual experience and breathe. Try to remain free from thoughts, ideas, action, consideration or internal chatter. Particularly notice any photographic thinking that creeps in. Just come back to the visual experience.
  1. Creating – Before you bring your camera up to your eye consider how you will use the camera’s frame to create an equivalent photo of what stopped you. Do you need to move in or out? What is in the frame? What is not in the frame? Do not over think the photo to create a ‘better’ image. Press the shutter and receive the photo. Then walk on.

Take your time with this practice. Slow, contemplative photography is your aim. Always come back to what you can see. This is my refrain, “What can I see?” Every time I notice photo thinking or my busy mind, I come back to what I can see.

 

Something creative for you to do today…..

 

Photo Activity: Changing your Point of View

  1. Your aim is to create 10 photos in 30 minutes in your house. No more. No less.
  2. Use your Smartphone in Airplane Mode, to limit interruptions!
  3. Take your time, spend time in each room.
  4. You will only press the shutter 10 times.
  5. No reviewing of your photos.
  6. No deleting.
  7. When you find an interesting scene consider different Points of View.
  8. Move left, right, up, down, in and out.
  9. Do not use the zoom function.
  10. Look at each potential photo like a camera would: it does not know the name of anything.
  11. Think about the light, colours, lines, shapes, forms, textures, patterns and space.
  12. When you have finished choose one photo to share in the Photography for Well-Being Facebook Group
  13. Comment why you like it and then comment on other people’s photos.

The photo at the top of this post is not my favourite photo, but it was created during the activity. I have included it as the header image because it shares the time and place where I created my photos. I’ve posted my favourite in the group with a comment. Look forward to seeing yours and reading your comments.

“ In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel it’s impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but what it is to be human…we really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humour can give us the strength to settle down…so whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay!”

Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Fear and Love

I was drawn to this quote in the midst of all this Coronavirus generated fear. Not that I imagine there is nothing to fear, just that amongst the swirling possibilities we can lose sight of what is actually happening, and how we are. Staying present with how things are is the practice. Nothing is certain and sometimes the path to wisdom is through difficult lands. During these periods of fear arising I remember that I am alive. I tune in to my body, my breath, the rise and fall and I remember those I love.

That’s all very well, but how about you? How do you respond to difficulty and fear arising? Pema reminds us in the quote above that gentleness and a sense of humour support you when fear and restlessness arise. Your initial desire to run away – that may manifest by leaving your seat, distracting yourself or imagining that things are different – arises and you first have but one thing to do. Stay! Stay with the difficulty. Notice it playing out in your mind and tune in to how you are in your body. It always helps to return to the breath. If your difficulty is physical, it will help to breath into the discomfort. Breathe in compassion for yourself and breathe out the discomfort or pain. Stay!

If it is fear arising – maybe that the difficulty is too much, that you do not know what to do next and you fear how you will be in the future – continue with the breathing, but breathe out love for another and breathe in compassion for your discomfort. Cultivate this feeling of love by bringing one person you love deeply to your mind. Imagine they are with you, holding you and breathe out your love for them.

Love is the most powerful antidote to fear. There is actually a chemical reaction in your mind that achieves this: love produces oxytocin, the body’s antidote to the cortisol generated by fear. Love will squeeze the fear from your mind and body. You can read an accessible article about this here.

Resources that can help

Firstly, I will share a Mindful Photography Practice I have shared before but you may have missed. This practice is designed to support you through a time when you are experiencing thoughts and feelings that you do not like. You may be angry, upset, annoyed, frustrated, fearful or confused. Whatever it is that you are finding uncomfortable this practice is for those times.

Feel the Photo

  1. Set up your camera in a shooting mode that you can use instinctively. Auto is fine, or if you prefer a little more control use aperture priority (choose f8 and ISO auto).
  2. Turn off your view screen so that you cannot see or review what you are creating. If you are not sure how to do this tape a piece of card or paper over the view screen, taking care not to cover any essential buttons. You can create photos by looking through the viewfinder or just shooting blind, from the hip!
  3. The purpose of this is to tune you in to what you are feeling and release the control you may experience about creating photos.
  4. When you are experiencing strong emotion, set your camera up as explained above, and go walking with your camera.
  5. Choose any location you feel drawn to.
  6. As you walk do not look for a photo opportunity, just walk, paying attention to what you can see.
  7. Notice the thoughts and feelings that relate to your difficulty.
  8. At some point something will catch your eye. Stop and consider what it is.
  9. Move closer. Frame tightly. Create the photo and move on.
  10. Do not look at any photos.
  11. Do not delete any photos.
  12. Repeat this, paying attention to your feelings and the visual feast before you.
  13. Act instinctively and release your attachment to what your photos look like.
  14. Finish when you feel ready.
  15. Return home and DO NOT LOOK at your photos! Leave it a day.
  16. Next day review your photos and notice the feelings you experience.

It you find this practice helpful please share with your friends.

Talks on Fear by Tara Brach

Tara Brach the American psychologist, author and meditation teacher shares many talks on fear. I am listening, reflecting and re-listening to these talks and as I am finding them very helpful. I thought that you might too.

Tara Brach Talk on Fear 1

Tara Brach Talk on Fear 2

The Photo

This photo was created to reflect experiencing fear. It is all achieved in camera and uses a defocused prime lens and the multi exposure setting. I am particularly interested in how multiple exposure in camera can be used to create abstract documentary photos that share emotion.

My photography business centres upon self enquiry and personal understanding through photography. It has Mindful Photography at its heart. I regularly reflect on why I have applied mindfulness to photography. Jon Kabat Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living), who has probably been one of the main catalysts for the growth in popularity of Mindfulness in the West, explains some of my thinking.

“….bringing Mindfulness to any activity transforms it into a kind of meditation. Mindfulness dramatically amplifies the probability that any activity in which your engaged will result in an expansion of your perspective and your understanding of who you are.”

Expanding your perspective

I like this a lot. “An expansion of your perspective” is a fabulous way of saying that you are totally immersed in the moment. Aware of what you are experiencing. Aware of the emotions playing through your mind and feeling them in your body. Aware of the ground beneath you and the sky above.

As a photographer that would translate first and foremost to being completely tuned into the visual experience in front of you. The light, the colours, shapes, forms, patterns, textures and more provide your anchor. Like the breath can in meditation. The relationship between this visual experience and creating an equivalent of it with your camera (taking a photograph) would provide the opportunity to practice mindfulness with your technical and compositional choices. This is a huge subject; one I address through my eBooks.

Understanding who you are

The final part of the sentence, “…..and your understanding of who you are.” opens the possibility of using photography as a vehicle for self enquiry. This is something that interests me greatly and is an integral element of your well-being. I am currently creating a new book that shares over 25 photography activities specifically designed to enhance your well-being through photography. I am writing and practicing these activities right now and hope to have my first draft complete by July 2020. Some of these activities specifically support self enquiry through photography: Henri Cartier Bresson provides us a glimpse of how this enquiry is possible in his famous book ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

“I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.”

It is these two areas: expanding our perspective and understanding who we are that are threads running through my mindful photography resources. If you would like to learn more………

You can subscribe to my mailing list and receive a FREE ebook by using the form below this post.

 

My top 10 reasons to try mindful photography are outlined below. These may stimulate more questions for you than they answer. You can find all the answers to your questions in my eBooks

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

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

3) Develop your photography skills and knowledge whilst remaining connected to the visual feast before you – My eBooks show you how a mindful approach to photographic skills development can support your intention to be a more creative photographer.

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

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

6) Cultivate your ability to let go of unwanted thoughts and feelings through mindful photography practices – Photography can support you to hold difficult thoughts and feelings gently until they dissolve. Practicing mindful photography whilst you feel great emotion can support you to process the difficulty.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

On a murky, wild day the nagging thought that I needed to leave the house was insistent. That I could combine it with photo creation was obviously a foolish idea. Who goes outside with their camera on a bad weather day? And yet…… photo creation, plus violently fresh park air, plus gentle exercise seemed like it would be a boost to my somewhat low mood. In fact, during this photo activity I realised that is was at the heart of why I do this and how this combination of creativity, physical movement and the outdoors is the foundation of photography for well-being. Not a bad return: from gloomy stasis to an epiphanous moment.

The actual photo activity experience was quite simple. I combined it with a purpose – which in hindsight was helpful, if not essential. I didn’t need to visit the hospital for blood tests that day, I could have done it any day of the week. However, the walk to the phlebotomy clinic is through my local park – Singleton – a green oasis, even in the howling drizzle, and that meant I could experience nature at almost full force.

Before leaving I prepared myself; appropriate clothing to protect myself and my camera. I have been known to use a plastic bag and elastic band to protect my camera from heavy rain, but this wind driven drizzle led to a decision for a large, warm raincoat that I could fit my camera inside when it was not being used. I set the camera up in my usual 50mm lens, aperture priority, f7.1 and higher than usual ISO of 1600 – it was very gloomy. Before I set off I was assessing the weather through the front window and realised my first photo was right in front of me. The myriad rain droplets racing to the bottom, a salutary reminder that it was wild out there, and off I set.

The walk to the hospital is through a couple of areas of the park – the main drag to Uni, frequented by umbrella wielding, inadequately clad students – and the ‘Ornamental Gardens’, an attractive, defined area with a larger variety of trees, shrubs and plants. However, on the walk I was drawn to the impact of the wind and rain, its raging though the trees, bushes and paths, and its creation of new rivulets tumbling into growing streams.

Whilst I was giving blood the nurse, spying my camera asked, “What are you taking photos of in this weather?”

“Oh, the rain, puddles, rain in puddles, wild trees, people dodging through the rain. The usual.”

However, creating photos in bad weather is challenging. Not only are you trying to protect your camera, it is a reminder that every photo must be technically correct, and in the gloomy light, and even darker wooded areas this is tricky. Each potential photo had to be checked for shutter speed, rather than take for granted that the camera would sort it out. This led to slower photography, (something I advocate), thoughtful composition and wise technical choices, all laced with the desire not to get too wet.

That I noticed all this is the point. Paying attention to the creative process doesn’t just result in your desired outcome, it charges the practice with positive energy. The act of engaged creativity is enlivening, an essence of life. Taking elements and shaping them into something else is beneficial fuel for the soul. In the face of such positivity and surviving the sodden, windswept traverse, I returned home, refreshed, alive and engaged.

 

Just in case you missed it, I have now collated all my ‘Tales from a Hospital Bed’ into one eBook. You can now down load it for free here. You don’t even need to sign up for any newsletters (I know how annoying that can be. Although mine is fab, of course!)

I have a couple of reasons for doing this. The main one is to provide a personal story of how photography and writing can support your recovery from difficulty – in this case major surgery. I hope that other people will be inspired to support themselves in similar circumstances. Creating photos that reflect how I was feeling each day and writing about the experiences felt and lived enabled me to process the difficulty, to accept each day’s challenges and lean into the future.

My other reasons are to do with developing my own practice. By collating and sharing all the photos and stories in one place I can both see how the ongoing practice works and let it all go. These two are at the heart of personal acceptance of difficulty: seeing and understanding what has happened is the ground you need to stand on to move towards acceptance. Then you can let it all go.

This phrase, ‘let it all go’ is deceptive. It seems easy to understand and yet it can be so difficult to execute. You probably understand what it means, but doing it may be beyond where you find yourself. Perhaps it is easier to think of the concept as a softening. I am not sure that you can in one particular moment just ‘let go’ of something. You can have the intention, but sometimes the thoughts and fears that accompany the difficulty are particularly sticky. Softening with the experience, breathing into the challenging thoughts and remembering you are loved (in that very moment) are the first steps in changing your thoughts and ‘letting go’.

Creating photos to support your well-being is what this is all about, and I am making positive strides forwards towards the development of my book, ‘Photography for Well-Being’. I have started writing and doing my new photography activities, and I am keeping an ongoing workbook, which will form part of the book. In fact my next post will share some recent experiences in this wild weather we have been having. Look out for ‘Weather or Not’ early next week.

 

I have begun to get back into a routine. Re-establishing my normal mindful practices has taken a while, and I am not sure that they are settled yet. Prior to hospital I had a morning 20 minute practice of yoga and meditation. This evaporated in hospital and I took up the daily practice that led to my ‘Tales from a hospital bed’. Now I am back home I am back doing my daily mindful practice each morning, but other practices are still settling.

It’s the photography that is changing. I still have an intention to complete a mindful photography walk once a week. If I am honest I would say that this has slipped this year. Earlier this week I reviewed my photos for the year, there were less than a dozen from mindful photography practices. Most related to work or leisure. I am now trying to get back into this weekly practice and the photos that accompany this post are from last week’s practice in the Rhondda.

The main change is that I have started developing and trying out my photography activities for the book, ‘Photography for Well-Being’. This week I started with ‘Seeing the Music’. This is a mindful photography practice really, where you chose some music to listen to whilst you walk through a particular location, creating photos. There is a little more to it than that, but that is the heart of it. What I am uncertain about is not the practice. I am quite certain that each one of the 22 activities is a mindful practice and that each will support my well-being and yours. I am uncertain about how much to share here. It is a balancing act. I like sharing, but I also need to develop the content for the book. Do I complete all the activities and not share anything? Do I share a few? Do I share them all? What do you think?

 

 

 

I have landed. Four weeks ago today I had my throat reconstruction surgery in London. I feel that I have now come back down to earth, landed solidly back in my world. As I type this I am sat in my lounge, thoughts have turned towards photography and writing. I am ready to get back into my work, still taking it slowly, but ready to get creative.

In this space I have been reflecting on my photographic year to date, looking at the photos I have created this year and wondering about the future. I notice a difference in my photos from previous years. There are less mindful photography practice photos and more work related and leisure photos. It would seem that I have been busier both with work and fun, and have had less time for practice. Hmm.

My immediate plans are to complete my ‘Who Am I Now?’ Photography Project and start work on my new book, ‘Photography for Well-Being. More of the same it would appear. However, the work for the book will initially be mindful photography practices, as I intend to create, write and complete each photography activity for the book over the next few months. Each practice will become a written activity for the book, be beneficial for my recovery and create something meaningful for others.

It’s a plan. But you know what happens to plans – Life. In the meantime I have a list of 23 photography activity titles. Each one has a little bit of life in my mind, but nothing is written down. For each title I need to create the focus for the activity, decide upon the photographic skill being honed, do the activity take notes and obviously create photos.

I have bought a high quality notebook, to use as an ongoing workbook for all thoughts about well-being and how photography can help. Each activity will be developed in this notebook with initial ideas, notes about what happens, the actual practice followed and at least one Fuji Instax (like a Polaroid) to illustrate. I am following this format because I believe that the book needs to be a kind of workbook for you. How I get from my workbook to yours is the challenge.

The 23 activities fall into four categories. These are Green Space, Blue Space, Love and Urban. Reasonably self explanatory? I have looked thought the activities and I reckon that half of them can be completed during the Winter and early Spring, so that is where I’m going to start. Look out for ongoing reports, although anything could change, it is a creative process!

The Photos

The photos accompanying this post are from last Winter, in early January. I went down to Langland to experiment with my ‘big stopper’ lens filter and use Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) to create some slightly abstract photos of the beach. These are my three favourites.

 

 

I submitted my two Brexit photos for Swansea’s Open Exhibition recently. Unusually, they required printed and framed art, ready to hang on the wall, rather than a digital entry. This actually fitted in quite well for me. For although I was in hospital on the submission weekend, I got the two photos ready before hospital and my lovely neighbour, Maria, delivered them to the Glynn Vivian Gallery.

The second photo (above and below) – Where’s the Brexit Boris? – was created during the proroguing of parliament debacle. Can you see Boris on the far wall, overseeing the parliamentary chaos? The first photo (below) – Where’s the Brexit? – was created one sunny winter’s day this year, when I was feeling the anger of frustration of the political in fighting, strife and discord. I think that the pair make an appropriate pre-election diptych and fortunately the selection panel felt the same, as they were both selected for the exhibition.

The Opening event is 2:00 – 4:00pm Saturday 7th December at the Glynn Vivian Gallery, and runs through until 23rd February 2020. It is always an eclectic mix of art; something for everyone.

Where’s the Brexit?

Where’s the Brexit Boris?

The practice of living mindfully is obviously challenging when life is difficult. During these phases when life is not as we would like it be, we can become overwhelmed and imagine that life will always be this way. We may not be able to see a way through the current difficulty. Our fears may swamp all possibility of redemption.

Somehow though, often just after it was darkest, something changes. These deep and unexpected changes may be sparked by an acceptance of how it is, or something external to our control may happen which allows some daylight to filter into our endless night. Then, as the situation softens, we breathe, allow life to move on and our fear slowly dissolves.

However, the ability to remain grounded can also be a challenge when life is fabulous. In those moments, when everything appears to be lit with golden light and we are invincible, we can be deluded into imagining that life will always be this way. We are flooded with happy hormones and life is spectacular.

Not only is this also an impermanent season, it is also one that we might chase, when life is simply bumbling along. We are so attached to the positive vibes and those warming hormones, we may seek to repeat the conditions. Of course life is not like that. As John Lennon reminded us, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”

The trick is to develop equanimity with “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. To develop a deep knowing that every condition of life is passing through. Appreciate the golden moments. Breathe gently through the darkest times. Know that they are all ephemeral and everything passes.

Red Van Man

As you know I have just lived through a challenging 3 weeks. Sometimes it was very uncomfortable and I was swamped with fear. Fortunately, I had outlets to help process my fears and feelings; using this blog and my photography allowed me to breathe through each day and soften with the fear coursing through my being.

Now, though I feel pretty damn good. Not only does the operation seem to have gone very well, I am in a quiet and relaxing space to recover. And then to top all that I have taken delivery of my new campervan.

I bought the van in October and got it delivered to New Wave Custom Conversions in Pontyclun. It wasn’t due there until November, but it Mike (the owner) kindly agreed to take it early to fit in with my hospital visit. What a delight it was to hear back from them that it would be ready for collection on the same day as I was released from hospital. Two reconstructions completed on one day!

We picked the van up on Monday and it is a delight. Mike and team have done a fabulous job. I recommend them wholeheartedly. But now, of course, I have to stay grounded. To pay attention to the joy coursing through my veins and breathe. It is something new to attend to. I smile and get behind the seat, and then pay attention to the way before me. I know that there may be bumps in the road, unexpected turns and other foolish drivers who may distract me. I just need to feel my hands on the wheel, see the road rising before me, smile and keep seeing all that is there.

 

As you know I have just started thinking about my next photo book: Photography for Well-Being. I have some ideas for its structure, format and purpose, and I also have created the outlines of 20+ photography activities designed to enhance your well-being and also hone your photography skills.

This is all great, however maybe I have got a little ahead of myself? This morning I have taken a step back and done a little research online about what well-being is. I do now have a very clear idea and some key elements that contribute to our well-being. I could share them right now, but instead I would really like you to contribute first.

If I provide the definition of well-being I would be fascinated to hear back from you about anything you feel contributes to your well-being. Anything and everything. You can send back your thoughts in the comments below, link to the FB post or use the contact page. Whatever suits you.

Definitions of Well-Being

“A good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterised by health, happiness and prosperity.” Dictionary.com

“Well-Being is the experience of health, happiness, and prosperity. I includes having good mental health, high life satisfaction and a sense of meaning or purpose. More generally, well-being is just feeling well” From Psychology Today

So what are the things that make you feel well? I would love to know. Your answers will help to shape the photography activities I create and will therefore be helping others. Every contributor will get a mention in my book! I look forward to hearing your ideas and thoughts. Thank you.

PS I will be sharing mine tomorrow. By the way, the photos are from my first walk out in the fresh air, away from hospital influences!

 

I have a practice that has lapsed during the hospital days. Every night I share 5 things I am grateful for with my sister, Kim in Canada. I haven’t done this regularly over the last 3 weeks, but starting here I am beginning all my supportive practices again.

In addition to my Gratitude practice I have a morning mindful practice that involves 10 minutes of yoga and 10 minutes of meditation. I returned to this grounding practice this morning. The stand out feature of the experience was that I can get so much breath in. Each breath feels something like a normal breath. I say, ‘feels like’ because it is 14 years since I had normal breath. My memory is vague! But I am breathing quietly and well. What a relief.

Yesterday was my birthday. I had a lovely day thanks to Dinah’s organisation skills and the generosity of friends. Instead of sharing a blow by blow account I thought that I would share my Birthday Grats (as Kim and I call them) with you.

  • The second consecutive night of 10 hours sleep
  • Perfectly poached eggs on Marmite toast
  • A gentle walk, breathing deeply
  • Massive slice of Ginger and Salted Caramel cake
  • Thoughtful presents from friends
  • Love and care of friends
  • Unexpected visit of old Swansea mates
  • A donation from Simon’s young son from his pocket money
  • Lots of lovely FB birthday messages
  • Playing with my new photography toy – Fuji Instax camera
  • Lovely Skype chat with Kim
  • The love, support and care from Dinah

And so on to my 60th year. In 2020 I will be 60. There is much I hope to do and much that will happen. The first part of that is at 4.00pm today, when we pick up my new camper van. Exciting. More on that tomorrow.

 

 

After landing in ‘God’s own country’ (thanks for the line Si), reacquainting myself with fine wine and food, reconnecting and sleeping for 10 hours, I feel that this is the day to reflect back upon what a long, challenging hospital stay is like. Particularly to share some survival ideas and thoughts on the recovery process: the physical and the psychological. Before it all becomes even more blurred than it is already.

My hospital visit had two distinct stages, ones that I imagine are common to all major surgery events. First up is the surgery and its physical impact. No matter what the surgery, being anaesthetised for any length of time is debilitating. It throws your whole system out. Particularly, it leads to food and gas retention. I felt bloated, I looked 6 months pregnant. I was stuffed up for several days and probably did not regain normal bowel function (without intervention) for a week. By which stage I was put under for another op and it all started again – though not for so long.

More than this, the physical shock of the surgery to the body, is exhausting. Rest is essential, obviously. I was not very tuned in to anything for 3 days. This I know because that was when I started the ‘Tales for a hospital bed’, when I first went walkabout with my camera and started the process of daily reflection. Looking back now, without reading my blog posts, I remember very little of the first week. I know I was well cared for physically, my medications helped, the regular monitoring made sure I was stable and I was always asked, ” Are you in any pain?”

The second week was different. By this stage I was physically stable, off the feed tube, eating hospital food and able to walk around Ward 10 and just outside on a regular basis. My pain levels were receding and the main focus was in occupying the time. The support team often used the word ‘boring’ to describe this time. Certainly, that is a potential hazard. Having positive outlets is essential. I can recommend having a daily focus that provides you the opportunity to share how you are feeling and what your day is like.

My regular blog posts and photos both illustrated my thoughts and feelings about each of the two stages of a long hospital visit. By openly discussing and sharing these ideas it allowed me to get out what was in my head and through that process what I was living though. The insight I had during this period, that this was way of being was simply an extension of how I had been working, and that I could continue the process as a mindful blogging/photography practice from then on, seems obvious now. When the penny dropped it was a revelation.

The truth is that caring for our own wellbeing in hospital benefits from an outlet. That could be simply a regular visit from a loved one who can hold your thoughts and feelings with love and compassion. I know that I had this too, but that having the personal written and visual outlet as well, hugely supported my wellbeing.

As I have mentioned, it is this that I am going to continue. Not only with daily blogs (or as close to that as I can manage) but also creating a ‘Photography for Wellbeing’ Workbook for others that will support my own immediate recovery and help others. We all need to talk and sometimes the words cannot be found. Sometimes a photo can say everything we need to say, more profoundly.

I know that some of the thoughts and feelings I have shared in this blog series have been a surprise to some of the medical professionals that have supported me. There are always going to be moments, hours and sometimes days when it all appears too much. The nurses and doctors necessarily focus on the physical difference they can make, and that is essential. However, patient wellbeing includes the psychological as well as the physical. Imagine a situation where there was also that type of support available for patients. How much quicker would recovery and adjustment to the change of life be then?

I feel that it is in this area that my future work will develop. I already have plans for this blog and a book. I have my on going photography project ‘Who Am I Now?’ that complete with an exhibition in 2020. All of that will take 6 months, then I will see where I am and what opportunities have arisen from that work. Most of all though, I like the synthesis between my life and work. They are almost one and the same and that seems like a perfect recipe for patient wellbeing.

Reflecting on a long hospital stay

 

 

I am ready. The new chapter starts here. Release from 18 days in hospital with a reconstructed throat. I am ready. For life. For new adventures. And there sure is gonna be a lot of all that.

First though, departure. Final meds given out, doctors’ sign off, words of wisdom and final NHS breakfast for a while. Last night was an excellent night’s sleep, despite being moved onto an open ward. I plugged my ears, pulled down my mask and slept deeply. Then it was just the collection of meds etc to take home and a trip back to Wales with Dinah.

Released! I’m writing this blog on the hoof. Dinah made it over to hospital just after 10am. I had the novelty of dressing in a shirt, instead of t-shirt and pyjamas. How very grown up.

Needless to say the weather is predictable. The further we go west the wetter it gets. Wales will be torrential!

The title of today’s blog is a natural consequence of where I find myself. Whilst every day is the first day of the rest of your life, today feels significant for many reasons.

First up the new throat, voice and breathing capacity will shape how I live, how I communicate, how I work and socialise. I had already started to adjust to this before the op. But now the reality will land in the next month or so. I have tentative plans for the next year, that are linked to photography and writing. More on all of that in the coming few weeks.

In addition to physical, psychological and emotional adjustments to a new lifestyle, I have other life stuff going on. My house is just about to have some major reconstruction, after the identification of subsidence. The process of rebuild and redecoration is still to be fully agreed by the insurance underwriters, but eventually they’ll bite the bullet. Upheaval in the home over Christmas? Probably!

However, on a positive note I have a birthday coming up on Sunday. Not only do I have the present of a new throat, but also a new campervan! I bought a VW Kombi van in October and it has been in with New Wave (great conversion service) whilst I have been in hospital.

Ironically the van is ready for collection today, it’s reconstruction is complete too! We’ll be picking it up on Monday. Very exciting.

And then there’s the birthday. I am 59 on Sunday, which means that 2020 is my 60th year, with the big birthday to come. Such milestones tend to encourage refection of the past and a focus upon future and this one is no different. I do not have many certain plans at present. More an overarching approach. Everything I do this year will develop from where I am now and support my wellbeing. Central to this are Dinah and my plans to sell both houses and buy something together.

As you can see, a significant year, and today certainly is the first day of the rest of my life.

The training wheels are off. An almost completely normal nights sleep, only a dressing change over my neck hole required at 4.40am. Otherwise a full night’s sleep. What a novelty. In fact when I was woken up for my breakfast order I thought it was 6.45am, it was only 15 mins later when the Doctors appeared that I realised it was 8am.

I haven’t talked much about the donor sections of my body that have contributed to my throat reconstruction. A small section of skin (half of its full thickness) was removed from my thigh. This was used to cover a small section of rib cartilage that was inserted to widen my airway. Pretty amazing huh?

The donor sites are healing well. As you can see above, most of the thigh donor site has healed over and I have a trendy patch. This will take about 18 months to fade and may remain slightly darker in colour than my normal pale skin tone. The scar on my chest has healed and looks neat. Press ups are still a little out of bounds, but otherwise it feels good.

Rib Cartilage Donor Site

Whilst I am on the subject of scars I would be remiss not to give you a sight of the main work. Look away now if you are squeamish. This was the look of the trachi hole and the main operation scar this morning. It is healing OK. Obviously there is still a hole for a while, and during the closing phase it will need a dressing on it. I have to press on this when I wish to talk, sneeze or cough. You can guess what happens when I forget.

Trachi hole and operation scar just above

My overall feeling, now I am out of the medication and post op fog, is one of gratitude. I am grateful for the skilled surgeons who developed and delivered this operation. I am grateful for the skilled and caring support I have received from Doctors, Nurses, Student Nurses and HCAs on Ward 10 South and beyond. They have also been supported by great catering and cleaning staff. Many of these staff go the extra mile to check on me and provide whatever it is I need. They know who they are. Thank you.

I am also grateful for the support I have received from you. My very wide circle of friends who read this blog. Thank you for your fabulous comments and kind words. They all mean so much to me. Then of course huge thanks to my nearest and dearest. For the food snacks, the messages, the Skype ‘chats’, the live chats, and the company. All of these have kept me going through the darker days and nights.

Most of all thanks to my lover, my girlfriend and partner (that’s just one person!) Thanks for your smile, your attentiveness, thoughtfulness, foodie treats, scrabble and love. You have made this challenging period pass quickly and gently. I couldn’t have done it without you.

And so onto the second day of my probationary period. A little trip out! Today is the first day I have put shoes on and walked outside for 17 days. It’s cold out huh? Because I have been confined for over two weeks, everything outside took on a novel gleam. It all looked fascinating, the people, the traffic, the buildings and the general busy-ness.

I’m back out later for a late lunch with the lovely Dinah at our favourite local caff. They do provide the best Eggs Benedict, and I haven’t had an egg for a long time! Yum. In the meantime here are a few of my favourite street photos from this morning. Freedom tomorrow!

 

The Probation Edition. When I awoke this morning at 6 I just laid there for a while coming to. After a while I noticed a warm glow coming from beneath the blind. I slid out of bed, raised the blind and revealed the day. It felt like a positive omen for the day to come and so it has been proved.

Spectacular Start

Great news, the trachi is out, swallow test is all OK (although beer may be a couple of days yet) cannula is out and I will be out Friday morning. Hoo-bloody-ray. So in preparation for release I’m calling this my probationary period. A couple of days where I initially escape the confines of Ward 10 and explore more of the hospital, building stamina back up and reminding myself there’s a big old world out there.

I am relieved and a little elated, not only to have the trachi out and be healing well, but also to feel some normal energy returning. My excitement and high adrenaline actually meant that it wasn’t until after 12 that I fell asleep last night. But boy did I sleep. The great nurse on duty kindly agreed to minimise the medical checks and I slept deeply for 6 hours, horizontally. The first time for 2 weeks.

The way out

This morning I have had the trachi removed, seen all the Doctors, had a temporary dressing put in place and tested out my new voice. Breathing is much improved. It feels easier than it has for years. The voice is croaky and whispery at present, but this will improve over the next 3 weeks as the swelling goes down and my new throat get used to it all.

During the swallow test we were discussing how swallowing water requires greater concentration than anything else with more viscosity. I was advised that I needed to take this attentive approach to every swallow. Mindful eating is required. Oh, the irony. This is because the gap between my vocal chords is now wider, meaning that it is easier for food to slip into my windpipe. Paying attention to every swallow, means that food is carried over this risk. That implies that eating, drinking and talking need to be separate activities. A second or two is enough. Each swallow needs to be consciously attended to.

I should also mention the trachi and talking. Now the tube is out there is a hole. I have been told that this heals quite quickly internally, but the hole in the skin takes up to 2 weeks to close up. In the meantime I have a dressing on with a button I can press on to close the hole when I need to talk. It’s all a little strange at present, but will soon be but a distant memory!

Morning release

Eventually, after all the tests, removal of medical interventions and more tests I was allowed out. I initially headed for the staircase to walk down a few flights of the staircase I shot earlier in my stay. My idea was to create a shot looking up. The only way is up. Here it is.

Upwards

I got as far as this and then remembered that in this modern world means of payment is required for purchases. I’ve been in a protected bubble. So back to the lift, the ward and collection of cards. I returned again, this time to the ground floor and went on a wander to see what I could see. Here are a few of my favourites. Tea and cookie followed. What will follow tomorrow?

Lovebirds

Reflecting on Charing Cross Hospital

Winter is here

Art Break

Great Exhibition

Happy Probationer

 

 

 

Morning all. Last day of being a patient patient before the second stage tomorrow. Meanwhile, some better sleep last night, although the bar has been set pretty low recently. I feel more balanced today, keen for the next stage to come and go and then to be outta here on Friday.

Tomorrow is the removal of the trachi and stent. That means that my airway will be clear and I will have first indications of my breathing capacity and voice. However, it is early days. There may still be some residual swelling from the first operation, and of course the reconstructed area is all very new.

This time the operation is through my mouth. The last one was an incision in the neck. It is also a shorter operation, hopefully less than an hour, which is always better from a recovery point of view. After they take the stent out, they will assess the airway, possibly do some laser work and balloon dilation, and then replace the trachi with another smaller one. This one will have a cap on it. If my airway is OK, the cap will stay on. If I struggle, it is there to keep me breathing.

My tenth post in this series is garnished with photos from Floor 10, where I am based. I have been creating and collecting these over my stay here, just because they were there. Now, they turn out to be useful.

Yesterday, Dinah and I were spotted not on Floor 10. This is a problem. I am not supposed to leave Floor 10 in case something unexpected should occur and I have a breathing difficulty. I understand, but I am accompanied and I am in a hospital and I have got a little stir crazy. Anyway, my punishment is to be confined to the ward until the op Tuesday. I wasn’t best pleased. No rambling around creating photos today. Fortunately though, this is my tenth post and I have photos ready.

Considering that the development of the ‘Tales’ post series was an accident, in that I had not thought about doing anything like this, it has grown to be a key part of my mornings and a beneficial contributor to my wellbeing. The activity has been a central plank of each morning; going out and about creating photos and then writing about how the day is passing, how I feel and illustrating all of this with creative photos.

It has only just struck me that this is how the blog needs to continue – in a daily manner. Incorporating mindfulness into my world means that life is the practice. Keeping a daily record, with accompanying photos, gives me the space to reflect on how this is, to be grounded and to process whatever is going on. Paying attention to my day and illustrating it with creative photos. There we are, its settled. How long do you think I will keep it up?

 

 

There has been much occurring in my hospital bed. And even though it has involved drugs, vomiting, and shooting it has been a little less edgy than Trainspotting.

A couple of days ago I was attached to the feed line and still had two canulas in for intravenous drugs. These all have gone. But there is a tale, of course there is a tale and if the first paragraph hasn’t put you off – read on.

Yesterday morning I was taken off the feed, but they left the line in – just in case. My first food was hospital food, so don’t expect me to wax lyrical about fabulous taste sensations. Turkey Cottage Pie can only do so much. What I didn’t expect was that eating would be so difficult. A week off solids and chewing has left me unaccustomed to the experience.

The biggest problem was that in eating with a Trachi and Stent in I seem to take in a lot of air when I swallow. This then led to feelings of nausea and fullness. I found out that if I got up and moved about I belched, lots, and that helped immensely. Still the whole eating experience was a disappointment. Perhaps the patient new to eating again should have a special meal of their choosing – like the condemned man, but in reverse!

I went to bed with a full stomach and the nurses keeping a close eye on my insulin, as I was moving from one system back to my usual regime. At 2.30am I was tested for my blood sugar and recorded a 4.9. Anything under 4 is too low and dangerous, so it was recommended that I ate or drank something just to give it a little boost.

After an Orange juice (as high in sugar as a Coke) I was still low. The lemon cake brought in by friends earlier came into its own. After consuming a reasonably sized piece (well reasonable for 3am and no alcohol in sight) I felt full and a little nauseous. Then a piece seemed to irritate. Become stuck. I wretched and then urgently signalled I was going to be sick. The patient and caring nurse immediately passed the ‘sick bowl’. And I puked, hard. Cake and juice returned. Plus a bonus. I managed to puke up my feed tube from my stomach!

Now my feed tube was due to be removed tomorrow. It appearing earlier and in this manner was extremely unpleasant. Trying to stop puking when you have a plastic tube in your throat and mouth is not fun. With calming encouragement I slowly settled. The nurse then removed the tube through my nose, which may sound unpleasant but was nothing compared to its earlier appearance. And then I was free.

This morning I feel a lot better. I have had a normal hospital breakfast; porridge and bread slices laden with marmite. I am still craving savoury food. They have also removed all other canulas, so all drugs are now taken orally and that is going well. I do feel a lot better. Less belching and more settled. All I need now is a bowel movement! No more now. I know.

And so I enter the second week. I am told that this week will be boring. No real change. Just rest, allowing the body to settle and heal. I am well equipped for that with loads of books, downloaded Netflix stuff, enumerable podcasts and of course the blog to write and illustrate with my photos.

It is true that creating interesting photos in this environment is a challenge. The header image, repeated below, was created after my cousin Gordon reminded me about multiple exposure, something I have explored before. I thought I would challenge myself to create an image or two that tried to reflect my experience and feelings. Today’s image is meant to evoke feeling a little better, but that there is still danger in the process of healing, that I have fear of things not working out. Focussed, present and aware there is fear lurking about.

Healing Man

 

Pleasant weather over central and east London

 

Free from wires!

 

I have throat reconstruction surgery planned for November. I have recently had the date officially confirmed and have begun to consider how this major change sits in my life path. My current feeling is that I am at the edge of a significant new period of my life and the surgery is a flag that is alerting me to this fact.

The throat reconstruction will affect my airway, voice and swallow function. Hopefully, the final one of those effects will be a temporary difficulty, but the other two will shape the rest of my life. I hope that improved breathing ability will increase my capacity for physical exercise. At the moment I can do gentle exercise, including walking gently undulating paths and walking football. I am hoping that I will be able to manage hills more easily in the future and possibly vigorous cycling!

The way the surgery affects my voice will be fundamental to future communication. I imagine that this will affect how I work and socialise. My voice is already quiet, the possible reduction in that volume will influence how and where I can communicate. I am sure that my social life will adjust, but the impact it has upon my working life will be interesting. I have already pulled back from offering and workshops or courses in the near future, until it becomes clear if I can still teach live. I do love doing that, so this will be a loss that is felt.

This impending change has been one of the reasons I have finally got around to publishing my eBooks. Knowing that public speaking may not be possible in the future has motivated me to share the work I love to teach in written form. Understanding how to prepare the books for publication, including the world of eBooks and Amazon, has been a steep but enjoyable learning curve, and maybe something that I do more of in the future.

In fact publishing the eBooks has been the thing that has alerted me to how I am on the edge of great change. Releasing the eBooks is a clearing of the decks. I know that when you let go of something other things turn up to fill the space. What emerges into this new chapter of my life will be intriguing. I believe there may be more books and certainly more photos. Perhaps more art photography? From here on life will be different. Next year I am hoping to move house and location, buy a new house with my partner and I turn 60. That is a lot of change but the world is rich with possibility and I am ready (I think) for the new opportunities and of course, I will be using my Mindful Photography practices to support my adjustment to the changes.