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Mindful Photography Courses

I have recently updated my Mindful Photography Course page to make it a little clearer.

There are two course offers, how exciting! Each is 8 weeks in length and can be delivered to people aged 7 to 70 and for any group. Pupils, students, participants, staff and service users will all benefit.

‘Applying Mindfulness to Photography’ covers an introduction to Mindfulness and Mindful Photography and three key topics.

Clear Seeing – how you can improve your seeing and use seeing as your mindful anchor.

Photo Thinking – how you can hold all those photographic thoughts and remain present with the visual

Mindful Attitudes – how 9 core attitudes can be developed through photography

The course includes Mindful Photography Practices to support the development of your skills and understanding

The second course is ‘Developing Mindfulness through Photography’ This is also 8 weeks and builds upon the skills and practices in the first course and introduces two key topics.

Present Feeling – how you can develop your ability to connect to your emotions and communicate this through your photography

Mindful Living – how you can explore your notion of self through photography, touching upon your living through loss and change and the fear generated through these experiences. You will learn Mindful Photography Practices that support your journey through this challenging terrain.

Take a look and if you would like to know more Contact me

 

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Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge – Self

Every week throughout the summer I will be posting a photography challenge that is designed to bring you into the present moment. They can be completed with any camera, even your phone. Your favourite photos are posted to our Facebook group, which is a public group so that you can invite your friends to join in.

This week’s mindful photography challenge is ‘Self’. I would like you to create just one NEW photograph that responds to the theme. But I only want you to press the shutter once. Consider your idea for a photo. Visualise it. Frame it. Think about your technical choices for exposure. Consider what is in and out of the frame. Consider your composition. Then release all expectation and press the shutter.

Notice your thoughts when reviewing your photo. Is there any judgement creeping in? Are you tempted to create another one? How would it feel if you just posted the one you have created?

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created just now! I went to collect my camera from the lounge and caught sight of myself in the mirror. Generally when I create a selfie I do not have the camera clearly in sight. I thought I would create a photo that celebrated my relationship with the camera. Not only is my new camera front and foremost, but one of my favourite photos is in the background.

See what you can say about your ‘self’ in one photo

 

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What can your dog teach you about mindfulness?

Monty is a middle aged Bijon Frise. White haired, curious and very friendly. What can a four legged creature teach a two legged one about mindfulness, consciousness and the self?

Monty is a creature of the moment. His day is shaped by routine and it is coloured by sensations and experiences. He is a conscious creature, aware of his surroundings and stimulated by what he perceives. He sense of smell is of course, acute. At any meal time, whilst food – especially meat – is being prepared or eaten, the patter of his little feet approaching the kitchen can be heard.

His sense of hearing is (allegedly) 10 times more sensitive than ours. I can be on one floor of the house and make a cat noise and Monty, on the top floor, will come thundering down the stairs in the hope of seeing, or perhaps catching a cat.

Monty experiences emotion. He experiences fear: loud traffic noises, flying objects, fireworks and certain dogs in the park all stimulate a strong desire to run back home to safety. Something he has done several times, fortunately dodging traffic as he careers across busy roads.

He seeks out contact. He likes to be be stroked, held and played with. Apparently, when we stroke a dog serotonin is produced not only in our body, but also their’s. Are they experiencing a feeling of well being?

Like Monty we are also experiencing our life through the sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise in our consciousness. Monty though, lives solely in the present moment. This is his greatest teaching.

This doggy moment

Monty has a vocabulary of 30 – 40 words. Each of these words will stimulate a response. Cat, food, sit, No, go, Bijon, sausage, wait etc are all associated with an action. And whilst we do talk to him as though he understands, language is of course a concept too far! So when I talk to him about a cat he saw earlier in the day, Monty will perk up and look for the cat in the room now. Not only is language a concept too far, so is the past or future.

Both the past and future are concepts we have created to explain and cope with the passage of time. We are smart enough to imagine that the past actually exists. But, of course, it does not. It is a construct we have created and that we hold in our consciousness. The past is not a reality. You cannot touch it or experience it in any way, apart from in our imagination. If you attend an experience that recreates the past – a play, film, themed event – you are experiencing the present moment, albeit a present moment that is shaped to look and feel like the past.

Similarly, the future never exists. For when we reach a particular point in time it is the present!

Monty knows this. He only knows that there is this moment right now. Monty lives in the present moment. The mindful hound!

The doggy self

Monty has one other lesson for us. Another trick up his furry sleeve which helps him to be present in this moment. Monty has no concept of self.

If I hold Monty up to a mirror he may look at himself briefly, but pretty quickly his gaze slips away to what is behind or next to him. There is no curiosity. No checking out how he looks. There doesn’t even appear to be a recognition that he is looking at a dog, or that the dog is him.

So the idea that there is such a thing as the ‘self’ does not trouble Monty. He experiences his day a series of sensations, feelings and thoughts arising and passing. Each one is a singular moment and each one is experienced in that moment.

We though get sidetracked. Our mind has created a construct it calls ‘self’. This construct is constantly being refined, developed, coloured and shaped by our sensations, feeling and thoughts. Above all it is the thought that we are an independent self, different from the next person that separates us from this present moment awareness.

My concept of self is strong and is reinforced every moment of every day. Sitting in meditation or following any mindful practice has the potential to remind us that it is only our consciousness receiving. There is no self experiencing. The self is an illusion. An imaginary beast. A construct created and recreated by our conscious mind.

Monty is always with the experience of the moment. They are fine teachers, our canine friends. Guru Monty has much to teach me!

Focus

Friends tell me I have great focus. If there’s a task that I want to do then I will be attentive to the process and the outcome. Job done! You notice I said, “that I want to do”. If I don’t want to do it then I may procrastinate or be focused on methods of avoidance. Focus is a very useful attribute; though I have, through personal experience, learnt how it can slip in to striving beyond my natural abilities. 

As a mindfulness practitioner I am working on this awareness. The trick seems to be to pay attention to my body and mind. My body may provide physical symptoms of how my focus is slipping into unhelpful striving. These are usually easy to spot, but perhaps also easy to ignore. My mind however requires constant training.

Your mind, like mine, is constantly busy. Even when you are focused on a specific task, and imagine that you are pretty attuned to what you are doing, your mind will still play about. Slipping off into an imaginary conversation, wondering about how your work will be recognised, or simply replaying an incident from earlier in the day.

Meditation is the training that enables you to pay attention to your mind. Meditation burns the neural pathways that support our intention to be aware of our thoughts and feelings. This then percolates through our life, enabling a mindful approach. Focus requires mindfulness like trees require sunshine.

Focus in Photography

In the world of photography focus is usually a matter of how sharp your object or image is. However, I am attracted to using a de-focused lens. This enables a playfulness and a sense of possibility. It throws the need for identification of object out of the window and allows colour, shape, pattern and line to assume prominence. These then can suggest a feeling, or they can just be how you were in the moment and let the viewer interpret the vision you have created.

What is then created, can through your choice of visual elements, create a metaphor for a thing or feeling. Alternatively, the blurring of a familiar object may provide a sense of softness or delicacy that would not have been present if the object had been sharp.

If you are intrigued about this and would like to experiment then you need to do two things. Find out how to turn your auto-focus off (this is not always possible with all digital cameras or phones) and secondly get out there and experiment. Inspiration is also at hand. One of my favourite modern photographers who works like this is Isabella Berr. Take a look and take a chance!

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Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge

Every week throughout the summer I will be posting a photography challenge that is designed to bring you into the present moment. They can be completed with any camera, even your phone. Your favourite photos are posted to our Facebook group, which is a public group so that you can invite your friends to join in.

This week’s mindful photography challenge is ‘Through’. Take a walk somewhere you love and create just one photograph that responds to the theme.

The challenge is to only create one photo. To walk until something shouts out at you to be photographed.

Walk slowly and observe. Observe your surroundings, the colours, the light, patterns and shapes. Pay attention to your mind. When it shoots off thinking about creating the photo, reflecting on a past event or worrying about the future, come back to what is in front of you.

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created this morning. The sunlight shining through the leaves, highlighting the structure and shape of the leaves is what drew me in. I only had my phone with me, but that’s all you need!

 

Tender

Tender is our afternoon love

Opening past one hundred years

My hand senses your ready glove

Holds, dissolves impossible fears

Knowing colours what once was doubt

Beyond the crest dazzling splendor

One within matches one without

Yearning passion always tender

 

 

 

 

Staying fearless in difficult times

“ 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 humor 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 final hours of the UK General Election. Anticipating an increased Conservative majority I imagined a challenging future of increased cuts to public services and more divisive peddling of fear. Then I remembered to stay present. 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.

Now, after the General Election result I note that not only is nothing certain, but that anything is possible. Authenticity, post Brexit anger and a mobilised younger generation have enabled a new possibility to emerge. The UK is still on a path through difficult lands but there is a new truth.

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 – witness the One Love Manchester concert last week. Love will squeeze the fear from your mind and body. As the Beatles said, “All you need is love.”

‘All you need is love’ on Spotify

Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy

Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

Love, love, love
Love, love, love……

A Mindful Photography Practice for living through difficulty

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3 steps to letting go of the outcome

It’s got to be great!

There you are, setting out on a little activity. It could be a photography job. It might be a DIY task or a children’s birthday party. Whatever it is you will have at the front of your mind an idea of what the outcome will be: a storytelling photo, an effective shelf, a fantastic party. You have an attachment to the outcome.

“Nothing wrong with that” you say. “How else can I ensure success unless I work towards a great outcome?”

Perhaps what you are really saying is, “How else will I know that I am ok unless this activity turns out well?”

We look to our successes as evidence that we are great: fantastic photographers, nifty DIY experts or loving parents. Perhaps the focus of our attention should be elsewhere.

What if we were tuned in to the journey rather than the destination?

Step 1: Begin with kindness

We do give ourselves a hard time. Everything we do carries with it an assessment of how well we think we have done. We may also think about how much better we could do.

What if instead of focussing on this judgement, of a yet to happen outcome, we centred on the process we found ourselves in? What if we started with kindness towards ourselves?

Let’s cradle how we feel about each of the steps that make up the complete task. Looking at each step, let’s tune in to how each part might be. How difficult or easy. How much would be fun. How much might be tricky.

Let’s have some empathy for how these steps might make us feel. Let’s start with kindness for the journey.

Step 2: Loosening our attachment to the outcome

Once we develop some compassion for our feelings as we engage in the activity, we can begin to loosen our attachment to the outcome. By tuning into the whole process we encourage an awareness of how we will be along the way.

By practicing being totally present with every element of the activity we give credence to our feelings. We allow ourselves to be who we are. We begin to recognise that we are perfect in our imperfectness.

An ability to see that our attachment to the outcome is narrow can develop. Our understanding expands to know that every step along the way is an opportunity to flourish. In this fertile ground our capacity for non-judgement slowly rises.

Our ability to let go of our attachment to the outcome becomes possible.

Step 3: Sharing the merit

Instead of sharing the outcome, however we may judge that, we can now consider sharing the merits of the journey. Our capacity to see all of the experience as holistic life experience underpins our knowledge that we are OK. All this stuff is just life happening. Everything, the glory and the grime, has the capacity to expand our understanding of what it means to be human.

We may also want to share the outcome, but this now may just be another part of the process of self understanding. We may now be able to explain that although the outcome was not what we had hoped for that we wouldn’t have changed the experience ‘for the world.’

Loosening our hold on the outcome allows us to become more present with each element of the activity.

This is mindfulness in action.

“In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go”
– Jack Kornfield

 

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Mindful Photography Walkshop – Wordy Challenge

At the end of May I held my last Spring Mindful Photography Walkshop. We were once again lucky with the weather – three walkshops in wet Wales in a row with no rain! We had an interesting challenge set, but before that I shared tips on how to stay present and create fabulous photos.

The Challenge

The Wordy Challenge was a mini photomarathon. Five topics. Five Photos. 2.5 hours. In this challenge everyone has to create only five photos, in topic order and be back at the finishing point before the ending time. I split the topics into two sections, so that we did two in the first hour and then stopped for a cup of tea (refreshment is essential!). After a cuppa and a conversation about how it was going, we embarked on the last three topics, completing an hour and a half later.

Such a photography challenge is very focussing. It provides the opportunity to become very present in your environment, and aware of the thoughts and feelings that the task is allowing to arise. These in particular are interesting and will include concerns about your photos not being good enough, whether your ideas are creative enough and how well you can manage the time. Hopefully, you can also practice being attuned to how you are: your energy, the need to stop and reflect, and remaining present in one task before the next. All great practice for life!

Before we started I provided a short overview about some of the photography techniques that could be applied to create interesting and arresting photos. These included the Seven Elements of Visual Design (Shape, Form, Texture, Pattern, Colour, Line and Shape) and the four areas of photographic composition (Simplicity, Subject & Background, Balance -including the Rule of Thirds, and Point Of View).

Finally before releasing the photographers into the wilds of Brynmill I shared five tips to complete the challenge with great photos and feeling great. Here they are.

Five Tips

  1. Make sure you understand the timescale, photography requirements, locations, pick ups, final deadline
  2. Excitement at the beginning creates more ideas and photos. Tiredness makes you more decisive. Be decisive in the first half and then you’ll be more creative in the second half.
  3. Decide on each final photo as you go. Do not leave that until the end, you’ll be tired. Do each topic in turn. Complete and choose your favourite photo and then move on. This provides creative clarity.
  4. Use insider knowledge. Talk to locals. Ask for advice. However don’t let your knowledge or information about the city limit you seeing what is right in front of you.
  5. Choose a simple overarching theme to link the photos. Some use a prop to do this (like a mini lego figure who appears in every photo). Others use in camera processing e.g Black and White. Or choose a theme, like a colour or a technique – red or low/high point of view.

The Photos

The Five Topics in order were – Your Entry Number, Busy, Look, A Change is gonna come, and Beauty in the Mundane.

Here are our photos, you can choose the winner! If this idea inspires a curiosity about photomarathons take a look at my post 10 Tips to Survive a Photomarathon

Your Entry Number

Busy

Look

A Change is gonna come

Beauty in the mundane

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A Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day

I live in Wales. It rains a lot. Yesterday was a fine example. I woke to rain, walked the dog in a deluge and the rain continued until the next morning. Am I deterred from creating mindful photographs? Oh no. I am challenged to create some art that reflects the day and how I am with this glorious damp weather. So I will share with you my Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day. Maybe you’ll be inspired to create some of your own.

The Mindful Photography Practice

  1. Prepare yourself for wetness. It is imperative that you remain dry and comfortable. Put on your most effective wet weather clothes and shoes.
  2. Prepare your camera for wetness
    • If you are a DSLR or CSC owner you may be able purchase a waterproof cover designed for your camera. Alternatively a good plastic bag and a rubber band works well. You will need to cut one corner of the bottom of the bag, about the diameter of the lens and secure it over the lens with the rubber band. The open end of the bag then faces you, allowing access to the controls.
    • If you are using a compact camera, your phone or a bridge camera, a large umbrella will help keep you and the camera dry. Your skills at shooting one handed and/or balancing the umbrella on your shoulder whilst you create your photos will undoubtedly develop!
  3. This is an opportunity to create photos without looking at the viewfinder or screen. To support this you can also turn off the review screen (or cover with a small piece of card taped in place). This practice of visualising what the camera can see will slow you down, teach you how your lens sees differently to your eyes, allow you to notice your attachment to the outcome and cultivate greater attention to what you are seeing. Mindful Photography is initially a practice that is about process rather than outcome. With continued practice your attention to the moment will result in more interesting photos.
  4. Choose a camera set up that you are comfortable with and can use instinctively. This could be Auto or one of the semi automatic modes if you like a bit of creative control. Remember the light will probably not be too great, so auto ISO or an 800 ISO setting may be needed.
  5. Set aside 30 minutes for the practice and set out for an interesting location. Walk slowly, observe your surroundings, do not look for a photo opportunity. Pay attention to your sensations: the sound of the rain, the trees moving, the smell of the wet land/streets, the reflections in puddles, the rain hitting the ground/objects.
  6. As you walk, observing your world, wait for a photo opportunity to present itself. When it does STOP. Breathe. Study what it was that stopped you. Absorb the scene. Notice what the subject of the scene is and what the background could be. Consider where you would place the frame, this will affect the background. Perhaps you need to move in, move up or down, or zoom in or out. Consider what the camera will see when you press the shutter.
  7. Create the photo.
  8. Repeat the practice until you have 10 photos.
  9. Edit, noticing your judging thoughts, and share your favourite photos and this practice.

The photos illustrating this post are from my own Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day yesterday

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Becoming a mindfulness practitioner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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