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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Photos

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

 

 

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

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

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

Where’s the Brexit?

Where’s the Brexit Boris?

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

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

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

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

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

Red Van Man

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Definitions of Well-Being

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on a long hospital stay

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rib Cartilage Donor Site

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

Trachi hole and operation scar just above

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Spectacular Start

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

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

The way out

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

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

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

Morning release

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

Upwards

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

Lovebirds

Reflecting on Charing Cross Hospital

Winter is here

Art Break

Great Exhibition

Happy Probationer

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing Man

 

Pleasant weather over central and east London

 

Free from wires!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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?’