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 my 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 feeling. Today’s image is meant to evoke feeling better but that there is still danger in the process of healing. Hope you like it.

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.

Over the last few years I have slowly come to the realisation that it is life that is the practice. Every aspect, every element, every event, every difficulty provides opportunity to be with how it is and respond skillfully. That is for me, the heart of mindfulness. It is not just a practice, but a way of life. The practice is life. Life is the practice.

It is helpful to reflect on a current definition of mindfulness.

“Mindfulness isn’t just about knowing that you’re hearing something, seeing something, or even observing that you’re having a particular feeling. It’s about doing so in a certain way – with balance and equanimity, and without judgement. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.” Sharon Saltzburg

Sharon Saltzburg perfectly distils it down in that final sentence. ‘Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.’ The ability to do this, to be this way, is born from daily meditation practice and a commitment to pay attention to each moment of the day. It is the paying attention that is difficult to maintain. Meditation is the training ground. We sit and we pay attention to our mind leaping about. We use an anchor (breath, sound, sight) to come back to ourselves in the moment.

Modern scientific understanding of the brain’s functioning helps us to understand how meditation creates neural pathways which we can then use throughout our day to support our intention to pay attention. If you’re interested in this concept take a look at this simple explanation of neural plasticity

My own experience of meditation and mindfulness echoes this. I have had a daily practice for several years. Only in the last couple of years have I started to notice it infiltrating the rest of my life, as I have slowly developed the ability to pay attention more often in the rest of my life. Of course, I regularly fail. I fall back into old behaviours, habits and ways of thinking. I know why; those neural pathways have been around longer. I often liken them to motorways. I’m used to using them and they get me places quickly. Or so I imagine.

The intention to practice paying attention throughout my life has a simple goal. Sharon Salzburg called it creating space for insight. Another Mindfulness guru, Jon Kabat-Zinn, talks about us developing the ability to respond skillfully, rather than reacting habitually. I intend to continue to develop my ability to be with each moment, fully accepting how it is and responding skillfully. That is the life practice!

So if that is the intention how can a Mindful Photography Practice help?

Mindful Photography Practice

I meditate daily, walk mindfully occasionally and intend to follow a mindful photography practice once a week. Any activity can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness, to practice and develop the habit of paying attention. As Mr Kabat-Zinn says, “Applying mindfulness to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation.”

I generally keep my practice simple and I’ll explain what I do and how below.

Camera and lens choice

Firstly, I always use the same camera and lens set up. I favour a prime lens that echoes how we normally see. A 50mm focal length or equivalent is the way to go. My current camera, the Fuji XT2, has a crop factor of 1.5. so a 35mm lens is equivalent to 52.5mm on a full frame sensor. (Confused? get a simple explanation here….and then check out your camera a lens combination here. Warning: you’ll need to know your sensor size.)

If you use a zoom lens that’s fine. You can carry on using it as is, or you could tape it up at the 50mm equivalent and just use one focal length. Why do this you ask? If you use just one lens regularly and it is similar to how you see, it will support your ability to create photographs that are similar to what you see. Wide angle and telephoto lenses distort the photo. For me the essence of the mindful photography practice is to represent what I see and how I see it.

Camera set up

My regular set up is Aperture Priority with a mid range aperture as my walk about position and ISO appropriate for the light. The basic intention is to choose a simple set up from which I can create photo that represents what I see, that is exposed correctly and with a good depth of field. If I want to make creative choices about depth of field, focus, white balance etc I can do so mindfully from this position. After creating the photo I then return to the original camera set up.

Four Stage Seeing Practice

My own Four Stage Seeing Practice is the anchor for a mindful photography practice. This involves coming back to what I see every time I notice my mind has gone elsewhere, much in the same way as you return to the breath when meditating. The four stages are Anchor, Seeing, Resting and Creating. I explain them fully in my book – Mindful Photography: How to use photography to develop mindfulness

Time

I generally practice for an hour, choosing to walk around a location and just notice what I see. The heart of the practice is to not look for a photo opportunity. That may sound contrary. After all I do expect to create some photos. My suggestion to you is, don’t look for a photo, just observe what you see. The photo will come to you.

If you practice this regularly one day this simple instruction will become part of how you photograph and you will have established a mindful photography practice as part of your intention to live a mindful life. Until then keep practicing!

 

“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” Dorothy Parker

You are creative. It is in your DNA. It is in your soul. Every day you create. You may have a bright idea. You may invent a witty one liner. You may put together a fabulous meal from the meagre ingredients in your kitchen. You may just create a photograph. Every day you create conversations, you ad lib and innovate. What is certain is that your capacity to make something from the moments or elements of something else is your birthright.

The difficulty with this is that you might not agree. You may equate creativity with art and you would not be wrong. Art is a creative practice, it is creativity as self expression, as invention, as entertainment, as solace, as celebration and as escapism. But because you equate creativity with art, and you were told in school that you were rubbish at drawing (or painting, or pottery, or sculpture….) you now believe that you are not creative, and that you are not an artist. Wrong, you are bursting with creativity, but it may be trapped behind a door. A door of disbelief, of doubt. Never fear I have the key and I am going to share it with you.

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Pablo Picasso

The Key

The key to unlocking your creativity is mindfulness. The quieter you become, the closer you move to your essence. The more centered and grounded you become the more present you become in your life. The more present you are the more access you have to your untapped well of creativity. It really is very simple! Simple to explain, if not quite so simple to achieve. Let’s start with mindfulness.

What really is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to this moment without judgement. That is all fine and dandy but what is really going on?

Mindfulness is a 2500 year old suggestion. A suggestion that if you pay attention to your life, your sensations, your thoughts and your feelings you will have taken the first step towards relieving your suffering. Stay with me here! You suffer. I suffer. We all suffer because we believe that life should be a certain way and quite often it is not. Our most common critical judgement of our life is, ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘I hate this’. Then we suffer.

Mindfulness provides a huge challenge. I asks you to be with how things are, not how you would like them to be. That doesn’t mean that you don’t make changes or decisions that would improve your circumstances, but that where you don’t have those options you work towards accepting how things really are. I asks you to be aware of the glory, the grime, the liking, the disliking and to notice your thoughts. Particularly those judgemental ones that often involve the words good and bad.

Mindfulness asks you to notice how you react to how the world is. To notice the behaviours, the habits, to notice your way of being. All without judgement. I know, simple to explain, but anything but simple to live.

Your mind is often all over the place. Thoughts run amok (it’s probably happening now as you read this) Feelings fire off across your consciousness with no direction from you. All mindfulness suggests is that you become aware. That you pay attention to what your mind is doing. For in the paying attention there is the possibility of noticing how you are, of being totally present with your experience and therefore of responding skillfully (and of accessing your creativity) rather than reacting habitually. So how do you do this?

How do you pay attention?

Training. Your mind, being used to your busy life, is very active. It is unfettered, running amok amongst your memories, your hopes and fears. It is a feral beast and it needs training. Meditation is the training. Other mindful practices are the training. Any activity conducted mindfully (yoga, tai chi, photography, walking, eating chocolate cake – yes even that could be a mindful practice, see its not all dull!) requires concentration.

Concentration is the backbone of meditation and other mindful activities. When meditating you may start by focusing on your breath, feeling its movement in your body at your nose or in your belly. Each breath in receives a count. 1 in, then 1 out. 2 in, then 2 out. Up to 10. Then you start again

As you practice you may notice your mind, all on its own shoot about, generating thoughts as if from nowhere. You notice and you return to the breath, to the count. This takes ongoing concentration. It’s very easy to get lost in a thought and to loose the count. All that is required is to start again…….and again…..and again…..

The Practice

Meditation is a practice. Mindfulness is a practice. A regular commitment to meditation and other mindful practices bears fruit in other areas of your life. Almost unnoticed your ability to be present and aware deepens in your everyday moments. This is because your practice has burned new neural pathways in your mind. By meditating you are re-wiring your mind and it is going to change your world – slowly, eventually!

What happens is that imperceptibly over many years your ability to concentrate, and then to be present deepens. At some point you do not need to count. At some point you become the breath. At some point you totally inhabit the moment. You are part of the moment, part of the universe, part of everything. Of course you always were, you just forget, wrapped up in your own world.

In the moment that you become part of the whole you know that your creativity is limitless. You know that you can create, that you are creation. All you have to do is to be quiet, to be aware, to be. Mindfulness is the key to creativity.

“The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.” Leonardo da Vinci

 

This photo was created during a mindful photography practice at a multi-story car park. No Photoshop has been used. It is a creative practice that uses slow shutter speed, intentional camera movement and observation.

Mindful Attitudes were detailed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living 1991, which was developed from his stress reduction program- Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Seven attitudes were initially explained, and then two more added in later editions. The nine attitudes are: Patience, Non Striving, Beginners Mind, Acceptance, Non Judging, Trust, Letting Go, Gratitude and Generosity.

I have created an eBook which shares methods of developing these attitudes through photography. Each attitude is explained, related to photography and then a Mindful Photography practice is shared that is intended to help you to develop that attitude.

This is the third eBook in my Mindful Photography series and is both part and stands alone from the rest of the series. It stands alone in that you can use it without owning the other two books: How to use photography to develop mindfulness and How to use photography to explore your life. However, it also complements and completes them.

You can download Mindful Photography 3: How to use photography to develop mindful attitudes for FREE.

Happy creating

Book Cover 3

I have been writing a book on Mindful Photography for 5 years. I have had a version of it for that long and it has been through many, many edits. Finally, this month the first one of two (yes two!) eBooks will be published.

Why has it taken me this long? Probably the heart of it has been all about confidence about the topic and my writing. I just happened to choose a topic that, when I started, did not even much exist. Even now there are very few books on this subject, I know I Google it regularly! I was also exploring how far I could take the idea of developing mindfulness through photography, going beyond the idea of contemplative photography and looking at how photography could support our ability to live mindfully in all circumstances.

It was only in the last two years that some of this fell into place. I had already written plenty about applying mindfulness to the process of creating great photos: looking at clear seeing, developing technical and compositional skills and using abstract photography to communicate feelings and ideas – going beyond the existing books and ideas that are out there. It was only when I delivered Mindful Photography courses to Brain Injury survivors that I developed how it could support people living with difficulty.

I had already touched on this in early drafts of the book. But after working with people whose lives have been significantly changed, I realised that how I use photography to communicate my life adjustments to great change and loss could be useful for anyone in that position. And so I created an application of photography that allowed people to begin processing significant life change or loss through their photography.

Book 1 – Mindful Photography: How to use photography to develop mindfulness

The first of my two eBooks will be available very soon. Hopefully, this month. I am just tidying up the final conversion to eBook formats and then I will begin my wrestle with Amazon and other eBook purveyors. The book will share all that I know about applying mindfulness to the process of creating fabulous photographs.

This book takes you through the development of photographic skills that will enable you to understand how to create a great photo that says something about you, about your life, about how you feel and what is important to you. I call these the Foundation Skills and they include: An Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation, an Introduction to Mindful Photography, Clear Seeing, Seeing Skills, Composition, Elements of Visual Design, Visual Metaphors and Symbols and Abstract Photography. Each of these is developed as a skill through experiential learning: this means that in addition to reading about it you will also practice the skill, through what I call a Mindful Photography Practice – a practical task or assignment.

To summarise, every Foundation Skill area includes a definition, examples, explanations, a personal interpretation and a Mindful Photography Practice that encourages understanding and skills development. Each practice is like an assignment, but they benefit from being done repeatedly, in fact I recommend that you do exactly that. Each time you follow one of the Mindful Photography Practices you hone the photographic skill that it is focused on and you develop mindfulness. It is a win win! Just to get you in the swing I will be sharing an example of a Mindful Photography Practice from the book tomorrow, so do drop back to collect it.

The second book in the series will be available in early Autumn 2019. Mindful Photography 2: How to use photography to explore your life – is where you can explore who you are and how you are living through photography. This calls upon the use and application of your developing Foundation Skills and supports this with an investigation into what happens when we desire to live authentically and experience ongoing difficulty, great loss or major life change; developing the understanding and skills to become more resilient, positive and accepting of how you are right now. More about that in future posts.

Right now you can download my free eBook that will give you a flavour of my writing and a couple of Mindful Photography Practices. More soon.

Over the last two years I have been working freelance and my working world has become entirely a project driven world. Creative learning projects with the Arts Council Wales, Mindful Photography Courses with the Brain Injury Service and my own photography projects. Each one has followed a similar pattern and I love it.

The advantage of project work as I see it, is that you have an idea which you develop (sometimes collaborating with others). This becomes a plan and includes a broad timescale, resource needs, tasks and activities to be done by myself and others, and a final outcome.

Of course I most love the bits I am good at! The ideas come easily. If I had a pound for every project idea I have had, I could stop work now. Many never see the light of day, but they are often signposts towards other work that arrives when the world is ready.

Some projects arrive unexpectedly, but most arrive from an idea or seed sown a little while before. For example, my 2019 Photography Project: ‘Who Am I Now?’, arose as an idea from my Mindful Photography Courses. In those courses I explore notions of self with people who have experienced a significant health event. I teach them how to create photos that illustrate how they feel and they then create photos that illuminate their world.

The project was a natural development, an opportunity to work more closely with individuals who have experienced a significant health event, to create two photos – one that represents who they were before the event and one that represents who they are now. I had to develop the project as a plan in order to apply for Arts Council funding. The funding and support of the ABMU Arts in Health Team and the Elysium Gallery, Swansea will enable the final diptych photos to be exhibited at Morriston Hospital, Swansea.

I am currently at the first stage: I am contacting and meeting up with volunteer subjects. We are then sharing a hot beverage or two whilst I hear their story and then we consider how we can illustrate their experiences as two photos. The photo shoots start next month. However, I thought that I had better do they same thing myself. After all I have had a similar experience and the best learning is by doing.

The Before Photo

The first photo is the one before my health event. This occured in January 2006 and many of the key parts of my world. Creating a photo that represents who I was 13 years ago is a challenge, but this is how I did it.

I had the idea for this photo a month or so ago, when I was stuck in traffic drving to my girlfriend’s house. As I sat there in the queue, I noticed a large wood of youngish oak trees off to my right. They were the type of oaks with twisted trunks and branches. An ideal venue I thought.

The photo with this post is my pre 2006 self. Rather than explain my thinking I thought I would leave you to draw your own conclusions. However, to help bring some clarity I will say that my position in the photo is of course deliberate and the place, its feel, the light, my placement and look all contribute to the story I am telling.

I would love to know what you think and would welcome your thoughts and comments here. Thanks!

PS the #WAIN is for the project ‘Who Am I Now?’

Just got back from a hairy trip to Swansea West Pier. Taylor wanted to go look to see if it was surfable, so threw on some clothes and headed down.

I persuaded Tay to bring all of his gear, rather than check it out and come back. It was the right decision. The waves were pumping and a few adventurous surfers were already in.

I walked out along the Pier wall, which was a little scary, to get these shots. It was a little tricky for the surfers to pass me on the narrow wall top! Still it was worth it I was right next to the action and only got a little wet! The last couple of photos are of Taylor.

This week I went with Zoe and Emma from the Brain Injury Service, Morriston Hospital to meet Dan at the newly developing Elysium Gallery, Swansea. Dan and Jonathan have this fantastic idea to include a ‘Community Gallery’ within their new art gallery in the High Street. You can see Dan talking to Zoe and Emma in the new space above.

The building is still in its developmental stage, but they plan to open with a big show or two in the Spring. That’s what we were there to discuss. We are going to put on a photography show to open in May 2019 that will explore concepts of self before and after brain injury.

There is lots of work to be done in the next two months: curating 100s of photos, deciding on how we will exhibit the work, printing, hanging and much more. Exciting times and I will support the BIS team to put on the show. I’ll let you know when its due to open and hope to see you there!

Were all busy, all of the time. That’s modern life for you. Work, fun, kids, family, friends, things going wrong…..the list rumbles on. How do you cope when it all gets even busier? When your busy life becomes overwhelming busy-ness?

Over the last month I have had my busiest period since I went freelance. Being super busy is more than just not coping with the life/work load for me. It also comes with a threat to my wellbeing. If I over do it, my breathing can suffer and then everything I’m doing comes under threat. Maintaining an even keel in the midst of the chaos is an essential skill for me.

So I thought that I’d share 5 tips that I use to help cope with my busy-ness. Maybe one or two of them might help you. Here they are.

1 – Organise yourself

OK it’s not the most exciting of starts I know! But I do find that if I’ve got some ways of knowing what I’m doing by when; what I’ve got to do by when; and what’s most important, it helps me to not feel overwhelmed by the overload. What you use and how will be up to your preferences and your techie skills! My go tos are – an online to do list and online calendar.

Both techie solutions I use are apps on my phone that are linked to online systems. I have a To Do list from Any.do and the Google online calendar. This Martini method means I can check ’em out anytime, any place, anywhere. Of course it’s not enough just to have the system, it has to be live and you’ve got to keep it up to date.

I regularly check in to my To Do list, not just to see what needs to be done, but often to re-prioritise. Things change. Keeping on top of what is most important is your judgement call. Doing it means the list stays fresh, it then responds to new challenges and how you are on any one day.

Of course, there’s not only the online to do list! There’s often a paper based list. They tend to be the short term daily things – stuff to buy, chores to do etc. Sometimes they get transferred to the online list. How exciting?

The same applies to my calendar. Keeping an overview of what’s coming up and when helps me to decide how to priorise the To Do list and add to it, of course! Scheduling what happens applies to the next essential habit: building in downtime.

2 – Build in downtime

Take it easy

In amongst all the busy-ness and separate to all the supportive different activities that follow, I like to build in some time where nothing is being done. No expectations. No plans. Just R&R – rest and recuperation.

The tricky truth is that you may need to schedule that in too! For example this weekend we’ve decided that as an antidote to a crazy busy January and before frantic February really kicks in on Monday, we’re gonna have a downtime weekend.

No plans probably means takeaway food, a couple of drinks in the house a bit of TV, lots of sleep and rest. Maybe an amble to a cafe, a little fresh air, but none of it is driven by the need that it has to be done. Just that it’s essential for our wellbeing. Nice.

3 – Mindfulness and Gratitudes

A Mindful Moment

As a mindfulness practitioner I could hardly let a list of tips about coping with busy-ness go by without extolling the virtues of a regular practice, could I? I’ll keep it brief!

Mindfulness is a practice that encourages an understanding and acceptance of how things really are and how you feel about it all. If you are to keep a handle on all the busy-ness and make wise choices to support yourself then this is a helpful practice. Not that it’s easy! You may not like what you notice. But then at least you can make a wiser choice, rather than just reacting habitually.

Mindfulness is underpinned by a regular meditation practice; regular practice trains your busy mind to focus, concentrate and quieten. This is an essential skill in amongst all the busy-ness. It’s very noisy in your mind. It is in mine too!

Initially when you meditate you will notice this noise and you may judge yourself as unable to meditate. Your expectation is that meditation is quiet. Oh no! The truth is that you notice how noisy your mind is. welcome to meditation. You are meditating. With time and practice a quieting is possible. Honest.

Then the more you practice, the more that other parts of your day and other activities will become mindful practices themselves. Just doing that one thing, whether that is the washing the dishes, walking the dog or updating your calendar.

One mindful practice that sits comfortably with this is an appreciation of your life. I do this by regularly sharing 5 things that I am grateful for with my sister at the end of every day. You can read more about this here, but I promise that this simple appreciation of the sunshine in your life is hugely supportive and can also help support your relationship with the person you share with.

4 – Escapist fun

What can do, where can you go where you can do something that completely inhabits everything you are? The kind of activity that means that the rest of the world drops away?

You could describe it as extreme mindfulness. My son (in the photo above) has had surfing as his go to, when the world gets too much, for the last 15 years. It’s not only a regular pleasure, its also the place and thing that allows him to become grounded, to be one with his world.

What works for you, works for you. You know what it is. You just have to fit in time to do it regularly. If it helps you to escape and become totally immersed in something outside of all the other busy-ness then you must schedule it in regularly. Get it on your calendar!

5 – Time in Nature

The Sea

Finally, the one that we all know works, we just have to find the time to do it. Spending time in nature grounds you in the world. Breathing the air, feeling the sun (hopefully) on your face, appreciating the beauty of a beach, the sea, trees, rolling hills, rivers, lakes, mountains and the open plains, they all bring you out of yourself.

Of course you can help this process by not taking your phone! Does that sound crazy? Time away from your devices is something that you know works. I know it works, but like you I struggle to let go. When I do, I probably take my camera instead and follow a mindful photography practice whilst I am walking. But if you can just let go of it all for a little bit then you will be more immersed in nature, and that will be to you greater benefit.

There you have it. Let’s all go for a walk in nature.

I have just submitted this photo for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. The theme this year is our contemporary world and what can be more contemporary than the Brexit chaos we find ourselves in? Though what things will be like come the summer is anyone’s guess.

In creating the photo I went out for a walk with my camera, with the intention of finding a scene that could represent how I feel about Brexit. There was an old closed down pub on my route that I wandered over to have a closer look at. It’s called The Cricketers and stands facing the St Helen’s Cricket and Rugby Ground in Swansea. The pub is famous for being in shot when Garry Sobers hit 6 sixes in an over on the ground, at least one of the huge strikes sailed down the road next to the pub.

Nowadays, it is a symptom of our changing drinking habits and the impact of austerity. It’s been closed for a few months, but I was unprepared for the chaos inside that greeted me when I looked through the only ground level window not boarded up. The floors were all gone, the low winter light that poured through the upper windows lit a scene of havoc.

The main wall facing me was daubed with some art graffiti that looked like two warring penises created in blood. It reminded me of the in-fighting, personal battles and arguments of the Brexit debate. Then I noticed that if a leant back a little I could capture some of the reflected clouds in the window, hinting at the possibility of the currently hidden hope of a resolution.

The final version has had a change of artist’s name. The graffiti tag being replaced by the name Eris – the Greek goddess of strife and dischord – a fine maker of the mess we find ourselves in. I would be interested to hear what you think. Please post your comments in response to this post and have a Happy Brexit!

The final week of our Foundations Skills in Mindful Photography Course finally arrived. This week we recapped on all we had covered: What Mindfulness is; What Mindful Photography is, Clear Seeing, The Four Stage Seeing Practice, Compositional Skills and Abstract Photography.

When I say recap, I actually mean an incentive flavoured Q&A. Where the incentive was chocolate for every right answer. What’s not to like? Then, after softening everybody up, I provided them with their final Mindful Photography Practice. A deceptively difficult one.

Over the next 50 minutes they had to create just one photo that illustrated how they felt today. This practice is called Letting the Photo come to you, and invites the photographers not to look for a photo, but wait for something to suggest itself. In this task they had the opportunity to bring all the foundation skills learnt to the challenge, particularly remaining present with the the task and how it made them feel. Other limitations during the practice included no looking at the final photo and no deleting.

All of this was designed to slow down the experience and attune them to their practice. Mindful Photography in action. Here are their photos.

 

 

This week we continued our exploration of Abstract Photography by looking at two great photographers who share a connection: Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White. Both men were inspirational leaders, turning photography into an art form.

Stieglitz was probably responsible for the birth of abstract photography through his creation of cloud photographs he called, ‘Equivalents’. For over 10 years from 1922 Stieglitz photographed clouds with the intention that they conveyed emotion. This was very much in vogue at the time in art – the idea that colour, shape and line could convey an emotional context.

Minor White, who for a while worked with Stieglitz, was very taken with the idea of Equivalents. He used it as a basis to develop his personal explorations of how scenes in nature could resonate with the photographer and enable them to create photos of how they felt at the time. He believed that these photos had no requirement to conform to known ideas of visual design, such as red for danger.

After a discussion about these ideas the students were invited to go out into nature and create their own equivalents. Here they are.

What has abstract photography got to do with Mindful Photography you may ask? Abstract photography has the potential to be a visual method of representing the invisible: things like a thought or feeling, a concept or idea like time or attraction. Representing something visually gives you the opportunity to share something or your life without using words, and that maybe something you would benefit from.

Mindful Photography encourages you to be aware of your thoughts and feelings when you are out and about creating photos. The seeing becomes your mindful anchor and in the practice of seeing the world, but not looking for a photo, something that chimes with how you feel may stop you and suggest a photographic opportunity.

Abstract photography encourages you to use the seven elements of visual design, alongside removal of visual cues to what the subject in the photograph is, to allow the viewer to consider how the image makes them feel. This may match the photographer’s intention or it may be a more personal response. All the photographer needs to create is a photo that means something to them.

For our practice this week the students chose one of the elements of visual design as their focus and determined to create some abstract photos. Their favourites are below. How do they make you feel?

Last Friday I was invited by Professor Andrew Kemp to talk about Mindful Photography to his Positive Psychology students. I will be explaining what positive psychology in a moment and exploring the links between it and what I do. There are plenty. I should also say that it wasn’t really a ‘talk’, more an experiential workshop. After an outline of what Mindful Photography is and sharing my 4 Stage Seeing Practice, I got the students and Andrew to complete a mindful photography activity and then share and discuss some of their favourite photos.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. University of Pennsylvania

The link above is a great starting point and there are many more resources there that will provide you with all you could ever want to know about this fascinating branch of psychology. I’m gonna relate the three pillars of positive psychology below and it is from the same source. Dr Martin E.P.Seligman is kinda regarded (informally) as one of the fathers of this and he works at the University. His book Flourish is well worth a read. (I am not an affiliate)

The Three Pillars

The Three Pillars: Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits involves the study of strengths, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance.

University of Pennsylvania

What has Mindful Photography to do with Positive Psychology?

All mindful activities intend to bring you into the moment. Mindful Photography is no different. You use what you see as the anchor to return to, every time you notice photo thinking, looking for a photo or any other thoughts or feelings arising.

All mindful practice leads to a greater ability to notice your thoughts and feelings. Such practice is not always easy, but the intention is that by being more aware you then have the opportunity to make a more skillful response, rather than your habitual reaction. Continued practice leads to greater self awareness, and an opportunity to practice being with the difficult moments, thoughts and feelings, rather than reacting in a normal human way – denying, deluding or distracting yourself!

This is true practice. Challenging practice. It is a practice because you don’t always get it right. Your habitual patterns and reactions are well ingrained, but practice leads to new neural pathways being created and the possibility of responding skillfully and positively to life’s challenges.

It seems to me that all mindful practice provides the foundation for understanding the self, one of the three pillars of Positive Psychology. This is the area that I have developed my work with Mindful Photography, particularly to support living with difficulty after major change of significant loss. It is at this time that everything you believe you know about yourself is uprooted, the tethers to your kind of ‘normal’ dissolve, and whilst you still remain attached to the version of who you were before the change, living with who you are now brings huge difficulty.

I believe that there is an opportunity to use Mindful Photography Practices to explore and understand who you are after this major change and significant loss. Sometimes talking about your thoughts and feelings is difficult, impossible or just not something you are used to. Learning how to represent emotions and ideas in a photograph provides a visual way of representing how you are. It also allows you to get personal and share as much or as little as you are comfortable with. The photos can exist shared or kept private, with or without explanation. They can be a window to your soul and the practice allows you time to process what you are living with.

My Work

I believe that this is my work for the next few years. I am finally finishing my book on the subject, and it will be available in 2019 initially as an eBook. I will continue to offer courses and workshops and will also offer free talks on the topic to interested groups. I also have an application in with the Arts Council to fund a project called ‘Who Am I Now?’ that will create up to 15 diptych self portrait photographs with people who are living with significant loss. One photo will represent who they were before the change and one who they are now.

I plan to develop my website and newsletter to support this clear direction and would welcome and thoughts, ideas and interest from you.

The Workshop

Back to the workshop with the psychology students. We were blessed with a glorious day and they were all invited to create 5 photos in 30 minutes, without looking at their creations and not deleting any photos. Upon their return they got into small groups and chose one photo per group to share and talk about to the rest of the group.

All of this was done with smartphones and a cool app called Slack. This allowed the students to upload their photos, share a written comment and it appear instantly on the feed. Kind of a closed Facebook group but without the need for a FB account. Unfortunately, I forgot to get written permissions so I cannot share any of their photos – you’ll have to manage with mine in this post!

One of the other ideas we were exploring that links Positive Psychology with Mindful Photography is that of Psychological Flow – the moment of being completely attuned, holistically, with the one thing that you are doing. It’s the kind of experience where time dissolves and you achieve maximum performance without realising how you did it. Practicing the skill is the bedrock of this experience, then somewhere approaching 10,000 hours of practice (Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers) you slip into the flow. In photography the camera becomes an extension of your body, all of the technical and compositional decisions just happen and a great photo is born.

At the end of the workshop Andrew asked the students if any of them had the flow experience. A few put their hands up. I’m grateful they were so polite!

Many thanks for the invitation for Professor Andrew Kemp and for the students for getting fully involved

 

Week 4 brings us to Photography Composition, with a mindful twist. Now photography composition is an area of knowledge that generates books and courses on its own, and I cover it in two 2.5 hour lessons. Obviously, I have a particularly mindful approach, one that centres upon following a compositional guideline as a mindful practice. But I am getting ahead of myself. First a definition and then the guidelines.

Composing a photo means arranging elements within it in a way that suits the core idea or goal of your work best

As the topic of photography composition is so large I separate it out over two weeks and make use of a summative structure to help new students remember all the possible guidelines. This week I introduced the four overarching themes, each one having a few individual elements of composition that kind fit the theme. The four themes and elements are:

▪ Balance (Rule of Thirds, Weight, Frames, Diagonals, Symmetry)
▪ Subject and Background (Depth, Foreground, Isolate Subject)
▪ Point of View (Juxtaposition, Leading Lines)
▪ Simplicity (Minimal, Fill Frame)

The elements of each theme are each of themselves photographic composition guidelines, I just group them in this way to help understanding and learning. This is also backed up with visual examples and discussion. But the heart of my course is experiential mindful learning and that means a Mindful Photography Practice.

The students were invited to spend an hour following one of the themes and elements to create some engaging photos. They were encouraged to follow the 4 Stage Seeing Practice and to review each photo as they went, and then make adjustments.

The next session will cover part 2 of composition – the 7 Elements of Design. Later in the course we look at why, when and how we break the guidelines. Ooo, breaking the rules. Exciting.

Want to learn more? Come on one of my courses! Here are the students favourite photos.

 

The beginning of the Foundation Skills Course in Mindful Photography is all about encouraging your ability to see a photo. An easy ambition you may think. Seeing a photo implies an ability to see a photographic opportunity. Perhaps the major challenge lies in that thought that may just have popped in to your head, “How do I create a good photo?”

The little voice we all have, can be curious about your ability to create a good photo. It may be particularly judgemental, saying things like, “Your photos are often no good.” “You can’t take good photos.” Or simply, “That’s rubbish”. This judging mind can be a real pain. And it gets in the way of what you are really capable of. My intention on the course is to connect you with what you can see and then to teach you the most interesting ways of representing that in a photograph. But what you have to do first is really strange, almost counter intuitive. I ask you to not look for a photo, whilst you are out creating photos.

I know, crazy right? How you can you not look for a photo and then create a photo. Ah well, that is what I teach on the course. It is a challenge, but it is also easy. What I encourage you to do is to remain present with what you can see. To walk in your location, not looking for a photo, but alert to what you can see. Then something will catch your eye. Only then do you stop and consider what it is. Really look at what is there. Look at where it is, how far away, what it is about it that stopped you.

Maybe you need to move closer. Maybe you need to change your point of view, move up, down, left right, in or out? Only after this consideration do you press the shutter, not look at the photo and move on. Walking, not looking for a photo.

I know. I said don’t look at what you have just created. This is helpful. It holds back your judging mind. If you don’t look at your photo, you will just move on, not looking for a photo. This way of being with your camera will improve your connection to what you can see. Then of course your photos will become more interesting.

This week’s mindful photos

This week’s task for our intrepid students was to create 20 photos in a small space in 45 minutes, not looking for a photo, not looking at what was created and just being with the seeing. Each photographer then shared at least 2 photos with the group and talked about why they shared them. Here they are.

Using Seeing as your anchor for Mindful Photography

The Foundation Skills Course centres upon using Seeing as your anchor for Mindful Photography. If you are to create fabulous photos that say something of your world and are not just like anyone else’s, then you need to really pay attention to what you can see.

You may think that this is easy. It is easy to understand. However, to really see what is there and to overcome the barriers to clear seeing you first need to pay attention, to be really present with your intention to create photos. This week’s lesson and next week’s are the foundation of developing that skill.

This week I introduced the 4 Stage Seeing Practice. This is a simple structured approach to support your intention to pay attention to the visual feast in front of you. It turns the act of creating photos into a kind of meditation and is at the heart of Mindful Photography. Remember:

Looking is a gift. Seeing is a power Jeff Berner

The students were presented with a photography activity, or as I call them a Mindful Photography Practice. The practice was timebound, the number of photos they could create was limited to 20 and they were not allowed to review the photos as they created them. This was achieved by turning off the review facility and trusting them not to take a sneaky peak!

All of these limitations support the intention to remain present with the visual, to not be distracted by your judging mind as it reviews each photo as they are created and decides whether its good or bad. This is a theme I return later in this course – and on Course 2 – as it has familiar echoes through the rest of your life.

When the students returned to the class they reviewed their photos and decided upon the two they wanted to share and discuss. This section allows for understanding to deepen and learning to be mutually supportive and is often the most eagerly anticipated part. Here are their favourites.

This week was the first of my rebranded Mindful Photography Course. I’ve changed the name of the first 8 week course to ‘Foundation Skills’. The content is still the same and covers an introduction to Mindfulness, Mindful Photography and three key topics. The first is Clear Seeing – how you can improve your seeing and use seeing as your mindful anchor when creating photos. The second looks at Compositional Guidelines and the third is Mindful Attitudes – how mindful attitudes can be developed through photography. The course also includes Mindful Photography Practices to support the development of your skills and understanding.

The name change is designed to clearly reflect what the course covers. It provides you with the skills which you can then develop and use on the second course: Exploring Life. Together the two courses support people who have experienced significant loss or great change in their life to explore the question, “Who Am I Now?”

Week 1 is an introduction to Mindful Photography. I cover what mindfulness and meditation are and link this to an outline of what Mindful Photography is, particularly describing how photography can be used as a mindful practice. I also run over the other topics that we are going to cover on the course: Clear Seeing, Composition skills and Mindful Attitudes.

Slow Down

The first challenge I set our new group was to slow down their photography practice. The speed at which we can create and delete photographs digitally has led to a disconnect with the present moment. This contributes to our inability to see what is really there. Digital cameras can take hundreds of photos in minutes and we can easily discard the ones we don’t like. This leads to a belief that because we can take many photos one will be good and we then don’t pay attention, as well as we can, to what can be seen. Seeing is at the heart of photography and is our anchor in Mindful Photography.

All photography activities on the course are called practices. Each one can be completed more than once, each one is an invitation to practice being present with your camera. My initial practices on the course encourage you to slow down and really connect with what you can see. This intention is supported by turning a digital camera into something like a film camera.

You too can do this. All you need to do is to turn off your viewscreen – for viewing and review. If you can’t, or don’t know how to, you can just tape a small piece of card over the screen. Then you limit the number of photos you are allowed to take. For example you only allow yourself 10 photos, with deleting not allowed.

Not being able to see what you have created (and if you have no viewfinder you have to imagine what the camera is receiving) slows you right down. Each photo becomes more precious, and just counting to 10 becomes a challenge! If you would like to know more take a look at the post ’10 Tips to slow down your photography’

At the end of the practice – which we did for 45 mins, each photographer chose one favourite photo to share and discuss with the rest of the group. Here they are.

 

 

Mindfulness + Photography = Mindful Photography

In 2017 I published a post called ‘Developing Mindfulness through Photography’ that explained how mindfulness could be developed and applied to photography. I detailed my understanding of mindful photography’s roots, offered 10 reasons to embrace it and shared a useful Mindful Photography Practice. If you haven’t seen it just follow the link above.

The post has been very popular, indicating that there is a great interest in the idea. And as my understanding of mindfulness and its relationship with photography has deepened I felt that it was time for a follow up article.

Mindful Photography supports an exploration of your life

Mindful Photography brings mindfulness into the art and science of photography. It applies mindfulness to photography, considering how by attending mindfully to the process and art of creating a photograph you can elevate your photography skills. Mindful Photography also develops mindfulness through photography: by practicing your photography in specific ways you can become more mindful throughout your life. However, for me the most exciting (and scary) contribution Mindful Photography provides is its ability to support you to live with and accept significant loss and major change, or to just live with the great difficulty you are currently experiencing. It is an uncomfortable truth that we will all experience these things at several points of our lives.

I am currently writing my Mindful Photography book with the direct intention of it being a workbook for living with difficulty or travelling through life after major change or significant loss. It will be an experiential guide to life that will enhance wellbeing and support you to live the best version of your life right here and now. It will do this by sharing many photography and mindfulness ideas, concepts and theories that relate directly to using your camera to explore how your life is right now. Each will be supported with activities that I call Mindful Photography Practices. These are designed to apply the ideas discussed and develop a mindful approach to your life and photography.

Mindful Photography is for all photographers. Whether you think of yourself as a beginner, a snapper, an enthusiast or a professional. If you like to create photographs that say something of your world and how you feel it flowing through your body and life, then Mindful Photography will enable you to do just that.

Mindful Photography is for mindful people: beginners, enthusiasts and professionals alike. If you have an interest or curiosity about how mindfulness can support your wellbeing and enable you to live an authentic life, holding all the glory and grime with calmness, then Mindful Photography can support you to do that too.

Blending mindfulness with photography provides a way of living an attentive life with a way of exploring that life visually. This approach to photography and life is Mindful Photography, and my particular approach is designed for curious people who would like to live a happy life, but right now feel a little bit (or a lot) lost. I believe that Mindful Photography can provide a roadmap for working through life’s difficulties. However, this is challenging work because exploring what you find difficult requires courage, vulnerability and tenacity, and usually when we are in the midst of difficulty we might feel that being courageous is beyond imagining. That is OK. I understand, I have been in this place. I have been lost and unaware that I was lost. I have been uncertain of how to move anywhere, I just knew how rubbish it was in that moment. I am here to share with you one truth: nothing stays the same. How you feel can and will change.

How can Mindful Photography help?

I believe that Mindful Photography can be used to develop photographic and life skills that will enable you to understand how to create a great photo that says something about you, about your life, about how you feel and what is important to you. I call these the Foundation Skills and they include: An Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation, an Introduction to Mindful Photography, Clear Seeing, Seeing Skills, Composition, Elements of Visual Design, Visual Metaphors and Symbols and Abstract Photography.

Each of these can be developed as a skill through experiential learning: this means that in addition to reading about it you need to practice the skill, through what I call a Mindful Photography Practice – a practical task or assignment. The way I teach this stuff is that every Foundation Skill area includes a definition, examples, explanations, a personal interpretation and a Mindful Photography Practice that encourages understanding and skills development.

Then you can begin to explore your how your life is now – after the major change or significant loss or right in the midst of the stuff you are finding really difficult. This is an investigation into who you are now and how you are living and feeling. This calls upon the use and application of the Foundation Skills and looks at developing the understanding and skills to become more resilient, positive and accepting of the new you.

However, this is very challenging work. Exploring how you really are in the midst of chaotic troubled thinking, or after major change or significant loss generates feelings of vulnerability and this maybe something you initially feel is impossible. I believe that through the gentle development of mindful attitudes, continued experiential learning and the application of your developing Foundation Skills you can move forward. For it is a truth that vulnerability is often the doorway to your true self.

Mindfulness has changed my life. Developing mindfulness through photography has been and continues to be one way in which I have explored how I live now and how I can continue to live with curiosity, authenticity, honesty and truth. I believe that it can do the same for you, but as the Buddha is reported to have said, “Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances. Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion. Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real.”

This post was adapted from the introduction to my new ebooks. If you would like to receive information about their availability in 2019 please click here and download my FREE ebook