Mindful Photography Online Courses – coming soon

I have recently been awarded a grant from the Arts Council of Wales’s National Lottery Fund that will change the way I work, and what I offer, as well as providing some stability at this challenging time. Many thanks to them and the National Lottery. This will also change what I can offer to you. Here is what I have planned.

New Online Courses in Mindful Photography

I will be creating and sharing online courses in Mindful Photography with an engaged, supportive community of like minded people – just like you! These courses will include live workshops, webinars, videos, and downloadable PDFs, audio and eBooks. The courses will support you to become more mindful and create personal resonant photos; whilst also sharing with you how Mindful Photography can help you to understand, process and accept your emotions that arise from ongoing difficulty, major change and significant loss. They will cover the three core elements of Mindful Photography that are outlined below and will include a free Introductory course, staged Mindful Photography courses and a Multiple Exposure/Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) specialist course.

The three core elements of Mindful Photography

  1. Seeing Practice – I share the Four Stage Seeing Practice in all my work. It contains two key aspects; the practice itself and the regular application of that practice.
  2. Foundation Skills Development – The foundation skills fall into two areas: mindfulness and photography. Each involves learning the skills through regular attentive practice. Just like mindfulness, all of the photography skills can be learnt with regular practice, in this case with mindful photography practices (activities).
  3. Exploring Your Life – Exploring your life experiences, events and emotional reactions is possible through the application of your mindfulness and photography Foundation Skills. These experiences, events and emotions can be illustrated by personal photographs, the creation of which supports you to process the emotional upheaval brought on by loss, change and difficulty.

Online Exhibition

The second part of my grant application is to create a series of photos, using multiple exposure and ICM, that represent our emotional experiences of lockdown and the pandemic. These photos will be inspired by mine and your emotional experience of this period and will initially be shared in an open and accessible for all Online Exhibition. I am interested to know some of the emotions you have experienced and how you think they could be illustrated in a photograph. If you would like to take part and influence my photographs please answer this question (you can use the contact form to send it)

What feelings spring to mind when you think of the lockdown, the effects of the pandemic on your life and your immediate future?

All answers will be treated confidentially and used to inspire photos that illustrate your emotional experience.

This work was made possible through funding from the Arts Council of Wales’s National Lottery Fund.

10 ways Mindful Photography can help you

Imagine that you press your camera shutter and create a photo that is imaginative, personal and that you feel great for doing it. Imagine doing this regularly. Here are 10 ways that Mindful Photography can help you to achieve this. 

  1. Learn how to use what you see as your anchor – In meditation the breath is often used as an anchor; the thing you return to when you notice sensations, thoughts or feelings playing out across your mind. A mindful approach to photography means that when you notice your busy mind you return to what you can see. Every time you notice that you’ve a busy head – planning the next shot, looking for a photo opportunity or just thinking about what you’ll be doing later – you return to what is in front of you. With this as your regular practice you will begin to see more, more of what is there and you will see more how your camera sees.
  2. Learn how to see like a camera – A camera does not know the name of anything in its viewfinder. You do. You are quite attached to the name of things. As Claude Monet said, “In order to see, we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.” Your camera sees light. You may describe the way light plays out in your frame as including shapes, forms, colours, lines, patterns, textures and space. You can learn to see the light, but you have to practice forgetting the name of things.
  3. Don’t look for a photo, let the photo find you – This is quite a slippery idea. Almost Zen like. There you are out with your camera, with the intention of creating photos, how can you not look for a photo? It’s a state of mind. You don’t look for a photo, you see what is in front of you. You pay attention to the visual feast; the light, the shapes, forms, colours…. You know what I’m going to say. Yes, seeing like a camera, is seeing what is there. That’s all. Trust me, the photo will find you.
  4. Develop your photography skills and knowledge whilst remaining connected to the visual feast before you – My mindful approach to photography starts with the seeing practice, but extends to a mindful approach to learning photography skills and techniques. My eBook Mindful Photography: How to use photography to develop mindfulness explains how.
  5. Learn how to express how you are feeling with a photograph – Photography can be used to explore and represent emotional experiences that are current or past. It can be literal, metaphorical or symbolic. Or it can just be a photo of something that resonates for you.
  6. Learn how to use photography to help you understand and accept your difficulties – The more that you practice mindfulness the more you discover about yourself. This can be challenging. The more you notice what you are thinking and feeling, the more you need a way to help process those difficult thoughts and feelings. Mindful Photography can be used to explore your world, your thoughts and feelings. It can act as the intermediary between your inner world and the outer one. Allowing you the space to process what you are experiencing. My eBook Mindful Photography 2: How to use photography to explore your world explains how.
  7. Develop patience in your world through understanding and accepting your development as photographer – The journey to mastery in any skill may take 10,000 hours (Malcom Gladwell in Outliers), but there are mindful photography practices you can follow that support this development. These allow the quality of patience to rise unbidden as you pay attention to the challenging thoughts and feelings that arise as you learn your craft. I’m sure you’ve experienced the thought, my photos are not good enough. A mindful approach to your photography can support you to recognise this thought and treat it like a relative you’re not too fond of. You acknowledge it, but don’t spend any time with it, returning to what you can see in front of you.
  8. Develop your ability to see the world as if for the first time – Beginner’s mind is a mindful attitude. It’s one that you can apply to the practice of creating photographs. If you choose to return regularly to the same location, to spend time slowly exploring the visual feast available, you may begin to see beauty which once eluded you. As John Updike said, you can practice, “Giving the mundane its beautiful due” . This ability, cultivated through photography, can support you to look at your daily experience with fresh eyes.
  9. Develop trust in your own feelings – If you are to create photographs that are personal, unique and authentic then you must listen to your heart, as well as your head: learn to trust and follow your own intuitive guide. If you cultivate this skill it will begin to seep through to the rest of your world.
  10. Bring mindfulness into another aspect of your life – Mindfulness does not have to be limited to the meditation cushion, that is merely the training zone. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Mindfulness applied to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation.” By applying and developing mindfulness to photography we expand our potential to be fully present in our life. A mindful approach to photography can help you learn and develop your photographic skills, but it can also support your well-being. My eBook Photography for Well-Being 1 shares 15 photo activities designed to develop your photography skills and support your well-being. 

PS If this has intrigued you then you can find out more below and join me in a Mindful Photography Online Workshop 18:30 – 20:00 (GMT+1) Wednesday 29th July 

Mindful Photography Online Workshop

I have been developing and sharing my vision of Mindful Photography for the last 7 years; with online courses, live workshops and 6 eBooks. This workshop distills the key aspects of a Mindful Photography practice, providing clear explanations, examples and 10 guidelines for you to follow, to help you to become a Mindful Photographer. I will also be sharing how these practices can be used at challenging times to support your well-being.

Mindful Photography for these times will be online via Zoom and Eventbrite 18:30 – 20:00 (GMT+1) Wednesday 29th July 2020. Tickets are limited and cost £6.50

Register

Dear Mr Johnson

Dear Mr Johnson

You would probably prefer Dear Boris, but we hardly know each other and I am not sure that over familiarity is appropriate right now. This open letter will not be as political as it might be. I do have daily reminders of how poorly we are doing as a country and it would be easy to slip in comparison, analysis and complaint, but I would like to focus on sharing how I have a managed to stay alive, so far, despite your best efforts.

I am shielding and I have been since 15th March. Around that date my girlfriend, who lives in a separate house, manifested all the symptoms of Covid-19. Despite working for the NHS, although not on the front line, it was impossible for her to get tested. We cancelled our holiday, as we were due to depart 16th March and discussed what I should do. Self isolation seemed the wisest option, so we made that decision immediately.

I have a number of health conditions that cumulatively made it quite clear that I was at high risk should a contract the virus, although that was yet to be confirmed officially. In the meantime I decided that I would stay at home most of the time, not visit my girlfriend and do any exercise in the quiet areas that I can walk to from my house. It seemed sensible that as long as I stayed some distance from everyone and did not touch anything, that I could exercise safely. I say this as the advice that came with the first government letter, 24th March, instructed me to stay in the house and not see anyone for 12 weeks. Whilst I understand the physical reasons for this, at no stage did the mental well-being of those self-isolating (as it was still called then) get consideration.

I noticed in that first week or two that my mood was quite up and down. I am a relatively stable guy, but the change and its impact upon my life was a significant shift. Some days were not OK. Fortunately, I have a great relationship with my girlfriend. She had by now recovered and we decided as she was also able to work effectively from home, that it would help our well-being if we lived most of the time together.

At the same time I started to work through my feelings and experiences by creating videos and a free eBook all called Stuck in the House. Both activities gave me a purpose, structure to my days and a feeling that I was helping myself as well as others. Reflecting back now I wonder why this simple advice was not included in your government’s first letter to those of us who were most at risk. Sure you suggested rigid and appropriate social isolation that would work, but by not also recommending strategies (such as developing structure and purpose in our new normal) to cope with the isolation, you left hundreds of thousands of people to cope alone.

I feel that this experience is symptomatic of your government’s approach to this whole crisis. My mindfulness practice encourages me to develop the quality of reflection and consideration for how things actually are. The idea is that in this space we may then respond with skill and wisdom, rather than react in our habitual ways. Looking back now at the last three months I see that your government has been consistently reactive, and unfortunately those ingrained habits of yours have not been conducive to a considerate, caring, compassionate and wise approach to our experience. Other countries have managed this, have suffered far less and are recovering so much better.

The next year or so are going to be a significant test of your government’s ability. Do you have the skills, wisdom and empathy that will be required? I suspect not, but I do hope that you surprise me.

Your sincerely

Lee Aspland

 

 

New eBook out today

My new eBook Photography for Well-Being 1 is available today from all major online bookstores. Yep, that includes Amazon (all countries) as well as Apple, Kobo, Nook, 24 Symbols and Angus & Robertson. Just click on the link above or the photo below and you’ll be taken to my book page with all the relevant links.

Just in case you are not sure what the book is all about, here is a quick summary.

Every one of the 15 photography activities in Photography for Well-Being 1 has been used to support my health and well-being and will support yours. These really work; I used the activities to support my recovery to full health after major surgery. I have continued to use them with huge benefit whilst ‘shielding’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photography for Well-Being is all about doing creative, mindful photography activities and then sharing your favourite photos. Each activity has a common structure and they all include these six features:

  1. Creativity – Improving your seeing skills, learning and developing your photography skills and creating photos that you love.
  2. Being in the great outdoors (there are one or two indoor exceptions).
  3. Gentle physical exercise.
  4. Love – of a place, person, thing or experience.
  5. Mindfulness – through a Mindful Photography Practice.
  6. Social interaction by sharing your favourite photo.

It is this combination that works to create a sense of well-being. Creativity is mood-changing magic. Out of one set of ingredients, activity, situation or experiences, something else is created. In this case, photographs that would not exist if you were not out there, following my instructions, noticing what you see and creating photos that relate to the time, place, your feelings and your individual abilities. Creating photos whilst you walk in nature, feeling the sun (or rain) on your face, looking in awe at natural or human-made magnificence, has the capacity to lift your mood, illuminate what you are feeling, and allow difficult thoughts to settle and soften.

Each activity is also designed to develop a specific photographic skill. It does not matter if you are using a smartphone or a digital camera, you can do all of these activities with the camera you have with you. Some of the skills development is specific to digital cameras, but all of the activities can still be done with a smartphone and where relevant I have provided guidance specifically for smartphone users.

In each activity, there is a section called Photography Skills Development. Each activity looks at one specific skill, in a rotation of three topics: Mindful Photography (Seeing Skills), Composition and Technical skills. However you describe yourself as a photographer, each activity has the potential to improve your photographic skills. Learning new skills or enhancing existing ones, whilst enriching your creative powers, will boost your sense of achievement. You will feel purposeful and develop a greater belief in your photographic ability.

Creating personal, unique photos, out in the fresh air, learning and developing your photography skills, and then sharing the photos with other people can really help to support your well-being. Why not give it a go? Alongside the book there is a supportive Facebook group which you can join and post your photos from the activities, see other people’s photos and share positive comments. The header photo on this post was created following one of the book’s activities, ‘Sun Salutation’ on a glorious sunny day in mid February this year.

I look forward to seeing your photos!

 

Photography for Well-Being

Photography for Well-Being 1 is available for pre-order now. My new book shows you how through experiencing nature, inspiring creativity and sharing photos you can use photography to improve your artistic skills and well-being – especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

This week is Creativity and Well-Being Week in the UK. Never has the role of creativity in supporting your well-being been so relevant. These are extraordinary times. We are living through unprecedented experiences. Our little routines, our day-to-day lives, and our hopes and dreams have all been thrown in the air. How it will all land is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, we live a reduced life; staying home, maintaining social distance and trying not to shout at our kids or partner. This all puts a strain on our well-being. What is to be done?

Fortunately, there is lots of help available. Many experts have offered their keep fit routines, healthy eating ideas, games, quizzes and so on. But there is another creative experience you could try – Photography for Well-Being.

I am a photographer, so are you. If you have a camera – and we all have a smartphone now – you can use it to support your well-being and improve your photography skills along the way. How do I know?  In November of last year, I had major throat reconstruction surgery. Whilst I was there recovering, I used photography and writing to support the processing and acceptance of what I was experiencing, feeling, and thinking. Every day I went walkabout – not far, I was barely allowed out of the ward – and I created photos of what I saw and felt. The challenge of creating new photos each day in the same environment and writing about how they reflected my experience kept me occupied every morning. I noticed that the activity helped to make me feel more positive about the situation. They also provided the opportunity to work through what was happening and lean into the difficult feelings.

Whilst I was there, my thoughts turned to the next stage of recovery and how I could support my health and well-being, post-op and beyond. One morning I came up with the titles and outlines for more than 20 photographic activities that would support my well-being. I decided that over the next few months that I would complete each of the activities and record my experiences in a notebook; each activity illustrated with several photos. Somehow, I thought, this would become a book for others to use to support their well-being through photography. And now the book Photography for Well-Being 1 is available. Every one of the 15 photography activities in the book has been used to support my health and well-being and will support yours. These really work; I used the activities to support my recovery to full health.

Photography for Well-Being is all about doing creative, mindful photography activities and then sharing your favourite photos. Each activity has a common structure and they all include these six features:

  1. Creativity – Improving your seeing skills, learning and developing your photography skills and creating photos that you love.
  2. Being in the great outdoors (there are one or two indoor exceptions).
  3. Gentle physical exercise.
  4. Love – of a place, person, thing or experience.
  5. Mindfulness – through a Mindful Photography Practice.
  6. Social interaction by sharing your favourite photo.

It is this combination that works to create a sense of well-being. Creativity is mood-changing magic. Out of one set of ingredients, activity, situation or experiences, something else is created. In this case, photographs that would not exist if you were not out there, following my instructions, noticing what you see and creating photos that relate to the time, place, your feelings and your individual abilities. Creating photos whilst you walk in nature, feeling the sun (or rain) on your face, looking in awe at natural or human-made magnificence, has the capacity to lift your mood, illuminate what you are feeling, and allow difficult thoughts to settle and soften.

Each activity is also designed to develop a specific photographic skill. It does not matter if you are using a smartphone or a digital camera, you can do all of these activities with the camera you have with you. Some of the skills development is specific to digital cameras, but all of the activities can still be done with a smartphone and where relevant I have provided guidance specifically for smartphone users.

In each activity, there is a section called Photography Skills Development. Each activity looks at one specific skill, in a rotation of three topics: Mindful Photography (Seeing Skills), Composition and Technical skills. However you describe yourself as a photographer, each activity has the potential to improve your photographic skills. Learning new skills or enhancing existing ones, whilst enriching your creative powers, will boost your sense of achievement. You will feel purposeful and develop a greater belief in your photographic ability.

Creating personal, unique photos, out in the fresh air, learning or developing your photography skills and then sharing the photos with other people can really help to support your well-being. Why not give it a go? There is even a downloadable free eBook to give you a taster of the experience. It is called Stuck in the House and was designed especially for these times! It has four photography activities, just like the ones in Photography for Well-Being 1. It will get you into the swing of things, get you out creating great photos and give you the experience of using photography to support your well-being.

Monty was a doggy guru

Monty died at the weekend. He was a lively and occasionally very naughty Bijon Frise. White haired, curious and very friendly. He will be much missed. What you may not know is that he was also a guru, who taught me about mindfulness, consciousness and the self. Can you believe it?

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

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

Monty experienced emotion. He experienced fear: loud traffic noises, flying objects, fireworks and certain dogs in the park all stimulated a strong desire to run back home to safety. Something he did several times, fortunately dodging traffic as he careered across busy roads. He had more than nine lives!

He looked for contact. He liked 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, lived solely in the present moment. That was his greatest teaching.

This doggy moment

Monty had a vocabulary of 30 – 40 words. Each of these words stimulated a response. Cat, food, sit, No, go, Bijon, sausage, wait etc. were all associated with an action. And whilst we spoke to him as though he understood, language was of course a concept too far. So when I spoke to him about a cat he saw earlier in the day, Monty would perk up and look for the cat in the room at that moment. Not only was language a concept too far, so was 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 knew this. He knew that there is only this moment right now. Monty lived in the present moment. The mindful hound!

The doggy self

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

If I held Monty up to a mirror he may have looked at himself briefly, but quickly his gaze would slip away to what was behind or next to him. There was no curiosity. No checking out how he looked. There didn’t appear to be a recognition that he was looking at a dog, or that the dog was him.

So the idea that there is such a thing as the ‘self’ did not trouble Monty. He experienced his day as a series of sensations, feelings and thoughts arising and passing. Each one was a singular moment and each one was 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 was always with the experience of the moment. They are fine teachers, our canine friends. Guru Monty had much to teach me!

Stuck in the House 10 – Two Cameras

Over the last few days I have been using my new digital camera as a film camera. How have I done that and why on earth might you want to do the same?

More information here: Photo Activity – 24 Photos and My 24 Photos Activity

My 24 Photos Activity

Last week I posted an activity called 24 Photos that turned your digital camera into a film camera, almost. Over the weekend I completed the activity myself around Singleton Park and the deserted Swansea University Campus. My five favourite photos are below and I have to say, “It works!” Well, I would say that wouldn’t I? But it does. I pretty much followed my own advice, using a familiar prime lens in manual focus and having the camera set up in manual mode. My screen was also off, although I did forget to have anything to help with the count and lost track after 20. I ended up with 27 photos (a normal amount for a 24 exposure film!) and I will confess that the final photo here was taken in auto focus. Those bees do move about!

The aim of the activity is to slow you down, so as to improve your seeing and make the photo activity a mindful experience. It worked for me. Why don’t your try it and then post your favourite photos in our growing Photography for Well-Being Facebook group? I look forward to seeing them.

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

Back in the day, when we only had film cameras, creating a photograph was a different experience to the digital world we now live in. The most obvious difference was that you could not see the photo you had just created until the film was developed. In addition, many of the cameras and lenses were fully manual, so creating the photo was a slower process. Also you only had 24 or 36 exposures. There was no deleting; no checking which photos you liked and which you didn’t, until the film came back. This Photo Activity replicates that experience, it turns your digital camera into a film camera. Why do that you ask? These five reasons:

  1. This will slow you down.
  2. Slower photography means that you will see more.
  3. Seeing more means that your photos will be more creative.
  4. Having a limited number of photos will encourage you to pay more attention to the creation of each photo.
  5. Paying attention means that your photos will be more interesting.

It was using my Fujica ST705 which inspired this activity. I found that there was a film left in it – the camera had been packed away for a while – so I went around the house playing with possibilities. The camera is fully manual; shutter speed, aperture and ISO all have to be set. There is a basic light meter visible through the viewfinder which helps to get a balanced exposure. The lens is manual focus too. I noticed how it slowed my photo creation down and decided to revisit the idea of slowing down your digital photography practice. It will make a difference. You will pay more attention to the making of each photo, and that can only result in more interesting and creative photos.

I should mention that some of you may have cameras where some of these instructions are not possible. Do as many as you can. If you cannot do any of them even the simple act of only creating 24 photos with no deleting or reviewing will slow you down.

 

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

  1. Set aside an hour or two for this activity.
  2. Choose a location – inside or outside. Inside is more challenging!
  3. Set your camera up in Manual mode.
  4. Turn off the viewscreen, this includes for review also.
  5. If you have a lens that can be turned to manual focus use that.
  6. Set the ISO for the light. The standard guidelines are – Bright sunny day 100; bright intermittent sun 200; cloudy day 400; heavy cloud/rain 800+; inside depends upon the light in each room 400 – 800+
  7. Set your aperture to f8 – this is a mid range aperture.
  8. Set your shutter speed to 1/125 – this will guarantee no camera shake. It is a mid range start point.
  9. You are going to create 24 photos. No reviewing. No deleting.
  10. As you cannot see the screen you will need a method of keeping count. 24 nuts, seeds, stones or sweets will work. Cast one off for each photo.
  11. Each photo is precious. You only have 24.
  12. Each time you find a scene bring your camera up and review the light information.
  13. To change the exposure  – more or less light – you have control of the aperture and shutter speed.
  14. A smaller aperture number (e.g. f2.8) is a larger hole = more light and shallow Depth of Field (less of the depth of the photo in focus)
  15. A bigger aperture number (e.g. f16) is a smaller hole = less light and greater Depth of Field (more of the depth of the photo in focus)
  16. The shutter speed numbers refer to fractions of a second. The larger the number (e.g. 1000), faster shutter speed = less light. Smaller numbers (e.g. 1), slower shutter speed + more light.
  17. A slow shutter speed means if you move the camera whilst the shutter is open the scene will be blurred.
  18. Take your time with every photo. You aim is to create a balanced exposure. This is recorded as 0 on the exposure scale in your viewfinder; most look like this: 3 2 1 0 -1 -2 -3.
  19. Make creative choices about the framing and your Point of View.
  20. Decide upon an aperture and shutter speed for each photo.
  21. Release attachment to the idea that every photo will be perfect.
  22. Mistakes do not matter. This is an experiencing in slowing down and being creative.
  23. When you finish. Take a break, have a cuppa before you review your photo. Be kind to yourself. Slowing down is more important than the photos.
  24. If you have one photo you like share that with me.

Here is my favourite photo from the last time I did this activity. I’ll be doing it again very soon.

 

Are you living in fear?

This whole Covid-19 experience is unprecedented in your lifetime and it is normal to experience fear. I know I do. If I catch the virus it is likely I would die. Fear is normal. Fear is an evolutionary habit, it is nature’s protector. The oldest parts of your mind provide the fight/flight response that is designed to enable you to function at your physical and mental peak, in order to save your threatened life. So, when you are in the midst of major change – like right now, this evolutionary habit is in full play. Do you want to run away and hide? Or do you want to rage and fight against the injustice of your difficulty? That is fear at work right now.

Fear becomes suffering when it oversteps. When there is a repeated perceived threat and it is not processed. When you are in the midst of living through your difficulty, still processing and not understanding. Fear then locks in, the fight/flight response kicks off and the sympathetic nervous system locks in. Your body’s response is made up of the physical response (flight/fight response, leading to a developing bodily tension, tightening in the body, causing blockages) and your thoughts (worry, planning, controlling, obsessing, imagining) which combined dictate your behaviour.

Your behaviour in this response may be not to look for what is wrong, but to distract yourself, to try to diminish the feeling of fear. You may look to distract yourself by eating, drinking, doing things, acting out with others or withdrawing. This state is almost a trance. The limbic system, from the flight/fight response, has hijacked your access to another part of your mind, the frontal lobe. This is the part of your brain that provides your capacity to be present in the moment, to notice what is happening and be mindful. The fear squeezes out your capacity to be present and loving as part of something bigger. Instead you are locked into the smaller part of yourself, your ego self. Everything is centered on that limited self perception. Everything is about how it is for you right now. Everything is about how you are suffering. You lose your connection to the moment and you are hooked into a reaction. This fear drives your addictions and your habitual behaviours. It brings you into conflict with yourself and others. You become more controlling and more manipulative, as you try to bend the world to your will. Deep into this process you may become less intelligent, act stupidly, your creativity becomes limited, you lose spontaneity and your heart closes. Hard to hear? Do you recognise any part of it?

Your intention has to be to evolve from this re-activity. To know that it is happening. To move beyond this fear response and to move towards befriending the fear. How can you do this? Is it possible for you to learn how to notice and then befriend the fear? How can you begin to just be with the fear and not react as you normally do? There are two key stages: Physical Awareness and Mindful Action (with thanks to Tara Brach).

Resistance to change

1) Physical Awareness

If you are to move onto stage 2 and take some Mindful Action to support your ability to soften the fear you have to be completely in the moment. Unfortunately, being completely in the moment when confronted by rising emotion, fuelled by fear, is not always possible. It is very difficult because all of your resources have gone into that old part of your brain. Fortunately, there are cues you can follow to raise your awareness that you have moved into this fearsome state. And if you know what is happening, you are moving towards being present with your experience.

Firstly, you can note those physical symptoms: these tend to be in throat, chest or belly. You can investigate them gently, with curiosity not judgement. Notice the churning in your stomach, the shallow breath, the quivering in your chest. Just be with the physical experience.

Secondly, pay attention to your mind. What thoughts are present? Where do they take you? Notice them and where they try to take you. Hold back from following the thought rabbit down the hole. Stand on the edge and breathe, come back to your physical symptoms, they are the foundation of your present experience and the gateway to a more mindful response.

There you are in the midst of your fear response. If you have noticed it and are trying to stay with the physical then there is another physical action you can follow that can support the movement of your resources back into your frontal lobe, where you can take Mindful Action. Now, stay with me here. This may sound a little crazy, but I promise it does work. This trick was shared by an author who successfully writes books that explain how you can harness your mind and emotions to improve your health. You are going to move in a certain way that tricks your mind into thinking that all is well. If your mind begins to think that all is well then some of your resource will move back into your frontal lobe and away from that fear response. You do not have to believe it will work; you only need to move. The movement itself will cause your mind to believe that all is well. What is this movement, you ask? Dance. You are going to need to dance. To dance like you are celebrating the birth of your first child, the success you have always dreamed of, the dance of a person who has just had the first kiss off the person they love. Can you dance like that? Of course, you can. It doesn’t need to be great dancing, but it needs involve moving your hips, your feet, your arms, hands and head. Your whole body has to dance in celebration, even if right now you feel terrible. Get on your feet, sway those hips, put your arms up in the air and move like you’ve won the lottery.

I know this all sounds a little crazy. But trust me. Physical movement like this reminds the body and mind of happiness. Other chemicals get produced that offset the fear based ones. Other neural pathways begin to fire up. Slowly as you move, you move back to yourself. Back to that part of your mind that holds all your wisdom and kindness for yourself, back to a place where you can take Mindful Action.

Dance, dance, dance!

2) Mindful Action

The Mindful Action you will take is to begin to redirect your attention in a way that builds upon some of your strengths in what you love. Remember that you are connected by love to a bigger world than the small one you find yourself trapped in now. Remember your strengths. Remember who you love and who loves you. Remember what you love. Find access to a positive mental state. How do you do this? You need to train your attention to go where you want it to. You do not have to use the familiar neural pathways. You need to forge new pathways, new ways of thinking. The great truth is that you can do this, we all can. Forging new neural pathways is something you can do the whole of your life. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

You know that these habitual thoughts are the motorways of your mind. Re-training the mind to think differently means forging new off road tracks. This is not the easiest route though. It takes practice and commitment. However, it is possible to, “train your attention to have a different experience. ‘Neurons that fire together wire together.’ If you consistently learn to pay attention a certain way, a way that reminds you that love is here, even when you feel scared…..then every time fear is triggered you get a little more access to remembering that, you get a little more space to be with the fear. Where the attention goes, energy flows.” Tara Brach.

In the midst of noticing that you are in fear, ground yourself. Feel the gravity: your feet on the floor, your bottom on the seat. Slow your breath, breathe deeper. Put a hand on your belly or heart. Breathe. Remind yourself of your qualities, of your strengths. Remind yourself that you are loved, that you love. Remind yourself that you are part of the whole. Reach out to wholeness. No matter what you call it. Can you accept that the fear is here and soften with it? Just allow it to be here. Breathe. Every time the fearsome thoughts arise come back to the physical and then think of something or somebody that you love. Remind yourself of the truth that you are loved. Slowly the fear will dissolve.

“Your path is to meet your edge and soften” Chögyam Trungpa

This blog post is an excerpt from Mindful Photography 2: How to use photography to explore your life

Fear dissolving

 

 

Stuck in the House 9 – Something for the weekend

How about a photo walk together this weekend? I will be going out for a big walk this weekend and creating a photo to illustrate the word ‘enjoy’. Why don’t you join in? It’s on Instagram and uses the #leesphotowalk. Easy. Enjoy!

Stuck in the House – Outside!

My free eBook Stuck in the House has a Photo Activity in it called Point of View. It is very simple, can be done with any smartphone or camera and asks you to try and create interesting photos in and around your house.

The challenge is to explore different Points of View, to move up and down, in and out, right and left. These movements change everything in your frame and are at the heart of interesting and engaging photos.

I have completed it once and added photos to the Photography for Well-Being Facebook group, but I thought that it was time for another go. Only this time I would focus on the spaces just outside my house, but still on the property. Here are my favourites. Why don’t you have a go?

 

Stuck in the House 8 – Hang on in there

This week I offer three simple things to help cope with the relentlessness of lockdown. I know we are only 4 weeks in, but some days it just feel like forever. How are you coping with the difficult days? Here are 3 thing that may help. Also I share news about a Photo Walk that you can join in with this coming weekend #leesphotowalk

PS Don’t miss out on your FREE copy of Stuck in the House – an Introduction to Photography for Well-Being

Stuck in the House 7 – Amazon banned my book!

Yes, it is true. Amazon banned my new eBook Stuck in the House. Can you believe it? Their short sighted reaction to the title and some key words have spurred me into action. Take a look at the video………..and then download the book…..for FREE. Take that Amazon.

 

A Long Walk

On a day when my equilibrium was a little shaky I decided that a long walk with my camera might help me to feel grounded. This whole lockdown thing is disconcerting at times, generally I am OK – purposeful; busy with my eBook writing and marketing, but sometimes I experience uncertainty and I can feel the low thrum of fear. Do you hear it? The media does not always help. I like to be informed, but there is often too much conjecture laced with anxiety, so I limit my access to the news. Nevertheless, the angst can still unsettle, like underground water on a building’s foundations. An antidote is needed and mine is often some form of mindful activity.

I decided to go for a long walk. I am fortunate that I can walk from my house, through the local park and quiet residential areas, to Clyne Woods. This area is large and garlanded with many paths, most of which are quiet. I decided that I would head up to the higher bridle path through the woods, and make my way to the permissive path that follows a stream all the way to the sea at Blackpill. In fact the stream is the water that gives Blackpill its name, not that it is black any more, but I imagine that it was back in the early industrial days.

That settled I made some decisions about my Mindful Photography practice. I felt that I needed to slow down my photography. I have many techniques that I use for this. Here are ten of them.

10 Tips to slow down and connect with your photography

  1. Turn off your review screen or tape a small piece of card over it – Just like a film camera you can’t see what you have just created. This assumes you have a viewfinder to compose the photo. If  you don’t you could still follow this tip and shoot blind, imagining what your camera is receiving.
  2. Limit the number of photos you create – go filmic with a 12, 24 or 36 limitation
  3. Use a small packet of sweets or nuts to count/remember the number of shots you have used – Count them out before you start. As you can’t see the screen (Tip 1) use 12, 24 or 36 sweets/nuts in a little bag. After every shot eat one sweet or nut. It’s a win win!
  4. Limit your location area – Combined with 1, 2 and 3 this encourages you to really notice what is around you. Limit the area to a 100 meter square area, or less if you are feeling bold.
  5. Turn your lens into manual focus – Turn off the auto focus. It is a great art re-learning how and where to focus, and it also slows you down!
  6. Shoot from the hip – Now this one could actually speed you up. But if you hold your camera at your hip, and compose by imagining what your camera can see, you will slow down. Especially if you combine it with 1 and 2.
  7. Return to the visual – Whenever you notice your mind thinking about your next meal, tonight’s activities or some aspect of photographic skill, STOP and return to what you can see in front of you.
  8. Do not download or look at your photos for at least 2 days – Back in the film days we had to wait. Unless you were developing your own film, but even then it took time. I used to send my film off for developing and then wait a few days before looking through the returned photos, hoping at least one was a keeper. So, wait for a few days – at least 2 – before downloading. When you do look through them, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Notice the judgement and the commentary.
  9. Set your own mini photo marathon – Randomly choose 4 words, set aside 4 hours and create 4 photos in order, to represent the words. Photos must be in the word order and you must finish with only 4 photos. You could limit and slow yourself even more by ONLY shooting 4 photos. No deleting.
  10. No deleting allowed – Closely linked to number 2, do not allow yourself to delete any photos. Knowing that you cannot delete will encourage choice: whether to photograph or not, and this will slow you down.

I decided to include 5 and 7; most importantly to reduce my camera’s automatic modes. I attached my 12mm Samyang lens which is manual focus. This immediately slows down your practice. Each time you stop to create a photo you have to consider what the subject is and how far away it is. Then a decision about aperture also influences the Depth of Field, this combined with a focus distance creates the first photo settings. I create the photo and then review it through the viewfinder, zooming in to the subject to check if it is sharp. Technical adjustments are made if necessary and another photo created. None of them are deleted, each one is a signpost to the next. This routine slows you down and teaches you to judge how far objects are from you, whilst you also learn about the abilities of your lens.

As you can see from the photo above, the Samyang is very wide angle. This also slows me down. The view through the lens is so significantly different from the ‘normal’ lens that I use, part of my practice becomes experiencing a changed view of the world. I have to stop and consider what may be in the frame, set the focus and aperture, create the photo and then review it. This addition to my normal practice helps to immerse me in the visual. I become more attentive to what I can see and my mind begins to settle.

As I left the house around 11 I also took some food and water with me. I imagined that the path by the stream would be quiet and that I would be able to find a restful spot where I could sit, consume my lunch and listen to the birds. The woods at this point are so far from roads that the only things that I could hear were the birds and stream. Occasionally, a distant voice from the bike path that runs parallel to the stream, would drift across. Unusually I did meet the odd walker on the path, but we gave each other a wide berth, and went on our way.

The path eventually joins a more popular section of the woods, with the option to rejoin the busier bike path. I avoided that and kept to a small road that runs parallel, eventually coming out into Blackpill, crossing the main road and making for the beach. The tide was out and whilst there were a few people about, there was plenty of room to maintain physical distance. I wandered on along Swansea Bay beach and returned home, some 4 hours after I had started; tired but content.

Here are a few of my favourite photos from the walk.

 

 

 

Where the light gets in – Photo Activity

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Stuck in the House 2

Something creative for you to do today…..

 

Photo Activity: Changing your Point of View

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

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

Staying fearless

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

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

Fear and Love

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

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

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

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

Resources that can help

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

Feel the Photo

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

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

Talks on Fear by Tara Brach

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

Tara Brach Talk on Fear 1

Tara Brach Talk on Fear 2

The Photo

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