Disconnected

I would like to say that as a mindfulness practitioner I am completely aware of each moment, in tune and aware. Of course it is a practice and this morning has provided rich territory.

Before 7am, leaving the bathroom, my phone slipped from my grasp. Despite its protective covering it managed to land on the edge of the bath and the screen shattered. The immediate outcome of this is that it no longer works; the touch screen has lost its touch!

First thoughts were: Bugger. What now? Possible solutions? How do I work my day without this connection? It is like losing a couple of fingers, important ones, off your dominant hand. My normal morning routine from this point would have been a little yoga and meditation. But I use the Insight timer/bell on my phone for that. Easy – just go free form.

So after a little movement I sat and noticed that my mind was busy with possible solutions. These were very noisy and pushy! How attached I am, needing a solution to the situation ASAP. Ironically, I had only just written in a previous post about how I often intended to take a break from my phone, but never quite got round to it. And now here it was, presented to me. The thoughts continued until I realised that only one thing needed to be done and then dependent upon that result other actions would follow.

This realisation allowed a little peace, but there was still background murmuring and muttering. When I thought my time was up and entered the kitchen and noticed that I had sat for exactly my usual time. After a hearty breakfast and no browsing the internet I called the phone insurance team and started the lengthy claim process.

I know from here on in that I will be without a phone for up to a week. I have no replacement. It will change my behaviours and communication, but I remember when this happened last time after a day or so I didn’t notice its loss. Alternative things happened and the world did not end. So, on with the day, minus instant communication. Phew, it’s a kind of relief.

Blue sky thinking required

Blue sky thinking required

Change

How do you feel about change?

Change is inevitable and yet I often hear people say, “I don’t like change.” What is it about change we don’t like? And what opportunities does it present?

Our lives flow against a backdrop of continual change. There is nothing that remains constant or static. A few of these changes are instant; with others the speed of change is so slow that we can convince ourselves that all is as it has always been.

Some of us embrace and seek out change. Drawn by the delusional comfort of change’s new clothes; we may harbour the belief that changing something externally will change us internally. At other times we seek stability and familiarity, avoiding precipitous decisions. Our instinct knows that change will come and that the waves will sweep us where they may, but whilst possible we seek safe ground.

Perhaps we climb so high, to avoid the rising tide of change, that we are left clinging to an uncomfortable pinnacle. We know that we cannot hold on forever, but letting go is beyond our habit. Inevitably, we fall or are swept away by the change that now has risen beyond avoidance.

We are aware that there are distinct stages of life, yet often we find the adjustment necessary to live harmoniously through each stage beyond our choice. Instead of embracing or adjusting to the challenges within each stage we canter through the early stages, with one eye the next. Then, beset by early indications of our mortality, we cling to the middle stages, unwilling to let life slip, refusing to accept the inevitable. Finally, an ignominious descent through the final stages leaves us unprepared for the terminal change.

What force impels us? What is it that blinds us to reality? Even though our instinct may tease at this wall of familiarity. The answer is both simple and complex. It is our mind’s habitual thinking. That is the simple bit: knowing what it is. Responding differently to change, rather than reacting in our characteristic manner is the complex bit. That is where the opportunity and the practice is.

Now

The last 12 months of my life, seen from the outside, could appear to be a catalogue of major changes. Acute health attacks, operations, diagnosis of diabetes, marriage dissolving, house up for sale, work changes and still it thunders on. I prefer not label this last year as one of great change, because I do believe that change is a constant, it’s just that the speed of change appears to have increased; a lot.

The difference this time round is that I am making every effort to pay attention; to what is happening, to how I am feeling and how I could respond: rather than remaining entrenched in old patterns of behaviour, repeating the same mistakes and reacting habitually.

This approach is an ongoing practice. You might call it mindfulness, perhaps it is clearer to call it paying attention. It is a lifetime commitment and one which, whilst I have been a meditator for five or more years, I have only recently begun to completely understand, commit and engage with.

Late last Spring I started to blog about how I was feeling, how I was trying to understand what was happening in my world and how I was using photography to support me. During this shift I redesigned my online business, Photential, let lots of other commitments go, because I was not well enough to fulfil them, and began to connect more closely with my friends and my family abroad.

The more I shared my vulnerabilities and uncertainties, the more friends and family shared theirs. Friendships deepened, new opportunities presented themselves and the more I began to remember to pay attention to what I was sensing, thinking, feeling and experiencing.

Since I split with my wife at the beginning of the year change has continued. The house is up for sale, the kids are still adjusting to changing circumstances and I know that I will be living somewhere else soon. One of the recent decisions I have taken alongside of this feels like a metaphor for my outlook.

Photential, my online photography business, was not working. I was not selling any courses and the website was riven with technical problems. I decided to let it all go in that format and embrace this attentive, authentic approach, consolidating all my photographic activity and mindful approach to life in one online place, this new website. This may not appear to be that much of a shift. But for me it feels like a fundamental one, an online echo. I have stopped hiding behind an online persona and I am practicing what I preach!

I am not quite sure how this will develop. I am currently writing a book about paying attention: its working title is, ‘Not another Mindfulness Book’ and it details the behaviours, attitudes and life events that led to my chronic health challenges. These tales are balanced with explanations of how I am finding my way back to myself and learning to pay attention through photography.

Whilst I can be sure of some changes in the near future, there are certain to be unanticipated others. Of course I have no idea how much of it will develop but I know that this mindful approach to life, paying attention to the sensations experienced, the thoughts and feelings that arise and embracing the happenings, is the way forward.

What do you think?

Photography Workshop – 28th May

My next Mindful Photography Workshop is at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea on Saturday 28th May 2016.

This is a fun three hour event that will expand the way you see. You will develop a mindful practice that will help you be totally present when taking photographs and encourage you to align what you see with your mind and heart.

Mindful photography is simply described as meditation with your camera. The workshop will share techniques and practices that will act as a foundation for developing your ability to be present with all that you see and to create original and personal photographs.

The course is suitable for people of all photographic abilities with an interest in mindfulness and a curiosity about how this can be developed through photography. All you need is a digital camera (any type), an empty memory card and a fully charged battery.

Click here to book!

Normal service?

Back in the day certain services would break down. TV channels would occasionally fail and the standard screen message would be ‘Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible’. I feel a little like the BBC in the seventies, during a break in service, and kind of like them I do hope that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, but unlike them I feel a little uncertain about what normal is any more.

I have just returned from three weeks visiting my sister Kim, her family and my Mum in Canada. I am over the jet lag, but as I am back into my part time job this afternoon I am still a little grumpy. The trip was fabulous. It was lovely to see everyone; to spend time hanging out with Mum, Kim, Mike (husband) and their kids Morgan and Laura, and to enjoy the spectacular scenery and weather that the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia has to offer. (the photo above is Kim and family over looking the Okanagan Lake) There will be photos of the area and my activities, including some mindful photography practices to follow, but now it is all about what is going on for me right now. Surprised? I am trying to be in the moment!

The trip to Canada has been a little like a half time break in a longer game. There was breathing space and time to reflect upon what was going on in the first half, but now I have to get back out there and play the game. “And what is the state of play?” you ask.

Right at the end of 2015, just after Christmas, Beci and I split up. After 21 years of marriage this was not a swiftly taken decision, perhaps we should have separated some time ago, but eventually we both came to the conclusion that the marriage was no longer providing what either of us needed. My chronic health condition of the last ten years is still re-shaping my world and whilst all is now stable the ripples flow through every aspect of life, shaking up and reassembling relationships, responsibilities and possibilities.

There is still much change to be sorted. Beci has moved out and has recently settled in a new place. The house is up for sale and I have not decided my next move. I guess that the sale might take a while, we have only had two viewings in six weeks, but it all could change quite quickly. Then I would probably rent for a while, whilst the dust settles and all the finances are agreed.

All of this impeding change is unsettling. Fortunately, much else in my world is stable. The kids seem to be adjusting well and whilst my work commitments are many, they are interesting and supportive. Yet still there is nagging uncertainty, and a feeling like visiting a new country that is unfamiliar. I then remind my self to breathe, to feel the world beneath my feet (or arse!) and return to the present.

All of this will resolve. Opportunities will present themselves. Ideas will spring fully formed to my mind. Patience and trust, my watch words, reassert themselves. Normal service will be resumed, though the normality may have changed!

What is your truth?

Is this a question you ask yourself? If we say that your truth is shorthand for living with authenticity: living in a way so that you are comfortable with your choices and actions, and that you also reflect upon and learn from those behaviours that you are not comfortable with. Are you living your truth?

Such a life choice requires great courage and vulnerability. It requires you to be honest with yourself, to accept that there may be things that you are avoiding, things that you are attached to being a certain way and things that you may be just plain confused about. If we are to consider our thoughts, habits and behaviours about these things, as part of our attempt to live our truth, then we require courage and vulnerability.

Courage and vulnerability seem to go hand in hand. For if we are to be courageous and address something that we find difficult this creates a vulnerable place for us. In facing our difficulties we are admitting that we have not got it all right, and our ego is not going to accept that easily.

Rather than distract ourselves with activity, or go inwards and attempt think our way through the challenge, or just pretend that nothing has changed and carry on. Sometimes we need to just stop. To give ourselves space for all the stuff swirling about to settle. I do not mean disengage from life. Perhaps it is more of a filtering. To continue those activities that support our ability to be with the change: the friends that understand us; the quietness that allows thoughts and feelings to emerge unbidden; the joy of a new experience. These things root us in ourselves. Allow us to be everything that we can be.

I feel the need to stop. To rest a little from the busy-ness. There is a lot changing in my life and I need a little time to allow it all to settle. I will continue the personal and supportive creative projects I am currently engaged with, but I am going to rest awhile from some other commitments.

My Photential newsletter is one of those commitments I am going to stop for a while. Much of my work around mindful photography has been developmental and shared through this new website. I am still keeping this going, but I am going to give myself a little more space for reflective practices. I am currently writing a book about Mindful Photography and my life experience of the last ten years; this is part of adjusting to that period and the place I find my self now. I am also following a seasonal year long photography project called 7 Days To Save Your Life, which is a visual exploration of this period of change and adjustment.

So there will be no newsletter for a while – I am thinking a couple of months at least. However, there will be the occasional blog post here. I am going away next month for 3 weeks, to visit family in Canada, so this feels the perfect time to be making these decisions.

Bangor Workshop

A little bit of light relief

I have been very slack of late. Perhaps the unrelenting rain and general drabness has smothered my creativity. Oh no, that can’t be right as I have been posting daily Instagram photos from my phone. No, I have to face it I have just been otherwise occupied.

However, the wall to wall sunshine today got me out and about early this morning, with both my camera and dog. Ah, what a little bright light does for photographic opportunity. I was drawn to the colours, the shadows and the frost on my mindful photography practice.

Here are my favourite few photos

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Wet in Wales

Wales is well known for its rugby, singing, daffodils and sheep. Perhaps as today is the first weekend of the Six Nations 2016 I should be blogging about the chances of Wales winning the tournament (which are pretty good), but I have been overwhelmed this morning by the reason for all those sheep. After all you can’t have sheep without grass, and you can’t have grass without rain. And boy has it been raining this morning.

This morning, despite the deluge, I felt the need to be out walking. I pulled on all my waterproofs and equipped myself with a camera small enough to fit in my water tight pocket. After all, there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. My intention from there was just to pay attention to what was happening and create a few mindful photographs that captured the experience.

It was a fine intention and one that could be just about achieved by carefully sheltering the camera under my body or shop awning, but the rain still gets in. So these three photos tell some of the tale. The header photo is of the path through Brynmill Park, cleverly disguising itself as a river.

By the time I reached the Uplands, a ten minute walk, the torrent had found its way through the gaps in my waterproof apparel. This photo captures my mood, and the suggestion I should just take my medicine almost brought a smile to my face (not)

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Obviously, after completing my shopping chores, somewhere to dry out was required. I sheltered in a local cafe, once most appropriately named Steam, but now re-branded Squirrel. Perhaps it was apposite; I must have been nuts to venture out!

I sat there facing the scene you see below, watching the locals scurrying about, hooded and hunkered. I reflected that the rugby later in the day was likely to be attritional, but at least the sheep would be happy – it’s still warm enough for the grass to be growing!

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The captain of my soul

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul”

These are the last two lines from the poem ‘Invictus’ by the English poet William Ernest Henley. He was inspired to create the poem by his own life events.

In 1875 one of Henley’s legs required amputation due to complications arising from tuberculosis. Immediately after the amputation he was told that his other leg would require a similar procedure. He chose instead to enlist the services of the eminent surgeon Joseph Lister, who was able to save Henley’s remaining leg after multiple surgical interventions on the foot.

The phrase ‘Captain of my Soul’ and Henley’s inspiration for writing the poem have been on my mind since Thursday. That night, myself and a friend (Rob) visited the Peg Talks at a local cafe and the inspirational speakers there spurred a conversation about life events and choices. I think it was Rob who suggested the phrase’ ‘Captain of my soul’ to describe what I was trying to explain.

Two of the speakers at the Peg Talks had focused upon the life choices they had made that had then led to life opportunities and the realisation of their dreams. I was trying to explain to Rob how I felt that I was finally making choices that resonated with my true path in life. My particular choice that mirrored Henley’s experience is one I have made recently about my health.

A recent diagnosis of my breathing condition has presented two choices. One; follow the prescribed medical solution, a cocktail of serious drugs with side effects, likely further medical interventions and a possible successful reduction of inflammation. The drug regime would be for a year, would suppress my immune system which could also have other potential health repercussions.

Two; put choice one on hold and dedicate a year to making healthier choices, exploring alternate health solutions that are relevant for my now diagnosed condition and make other life choices that feel honest, authentic, and attentive.

Option two it is then.

Using one focal length

Mindful photography is about being present with what you see. It is also about adapting to the situation. I often use a simple set up for my practice; usually a single focal length lens (a 40mm) on my DSLR. This is my go to, walkabout lens.

I choose to use this lens because the focal length is very similar to how we see (which is around 43mm, albeit with a greater width and a mind that looks to zoom in). Using one lens regularly, particularly one that is similar to how we see improves our seeing and how best to create photos that reflect what we see. Using this one lens I become attuned to the camera’s way of seeing. I begin to think in terms of how the camera will record the scene.

Over time this photographic thinking, which includes colour rendition, the framing, composition and the dynamic range of the light, becomes learnt and familiar. With continued practice, reviewing the outcomes and adjusting my technical choices, I begin to know what to expect from my camera. Through this doorway lies the possibility of reacting more instinctively to the scene, allowing my subconscious to make more of the technical and compositional choices. In this moment I let go of trying (to take a great photo) and allow the creation to occur. Through this process the possibility that there may be something of me, and the way I feel about the world, in the photo becomes more likely.

When I first tried shooting a whole year using just one lens I did it for reasons of artistic impression. Using just one focal length creates a unifying similarity to your photos. This can be beneficial if the photos you are creating are part of an ongoing project. It is ideal for those 365 projects that comprise of one photo a day. Then along the way you will also reap the benefits of instinctive creation and greater connection between what you are seeing and how you feel about the the world you are experiencing.

The photos that accompany this post illustrate my musings. A visited Caswell Bay, the Redcliff end, with Taylor to take him surfing. However, I decided to take my camera with the 40mm lens on, rather than the big zoom, and not shoot surfing photos. Instead I would see what was there and respond to my experience. I chose a black and white edit because of the high contrast of the scene.

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Beginning the Day

Recently I have considered the impetus created by our imaginative idea that we have now started a New Year. I say imaginative, because it is our ability to imagine that something exists – to give it structure, definition, and rules for its existence – that has produced the idea that we are in a New Year. Every other animal on the planet just carries on like it is any other moment.

I still feel very close to this concept. Maybe it is because I have been considering the Twelve Photos theme (Beginning) and following a mindful morning photography experience to start the day. So I thought I would share the activity to provide you with an opportunity to begin the day in a similar manner.

A Mindful Photography Practice

First up: you have to have a camera close to hand when you awake in the morning. Ideally you then lie there, camera in hand, slowly coming to, eyes open, paying attention to what you notice. Each time something attracts your eye you take a photo. Repeat for 5 photos. No more, no less, no deleting.

I have to admit that I wasn’t completely prepared, camera was downstairs, head was thick, stomach was calling. I first grabbed my little compact camera, made a cuppa and some toast and retired back to bed. After the refreshment had done its work I commenced the activity, as described above.

The photo above is the last one I created, contemplating the beauty of the morning. The full set is below. I enjoyed the experience, followed it with a 20 minute meditation and felt grounded and ready for the day. I commend it to you! Perhaps you could share one of your photos in our Facebook group?

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Feel the Fear

Over the last six months I have written several posts that have explored the theme of fear. Each time my motivation for looking at this area was spurred by personal experience, in particular living through a very difficult health period. It is difficult enough to experience the challenging events in our life, but then to also consider that our behaviours that surround the event may be underpinned by fear is maybe a challenge too far. But it is in this arena that there is space for the greatest personal understanding and growth.

One of the thoughts I was often drawn to was that the fear we experience is a fantastic opportunity. Does this sound ridiculous? After all we do not want to feel fearful, do we? But how would it we be if we explored what was underneath the fear? What would it reveal? How would that enrich our life experience?

Yesterday, I had a consultation with a friend who is a homeopath. Rita is an old friend of many years, who I find it very easy to talk to. In the course of a few consultations, over the last few months, we have been exploring my current health challenges and the path that has led me to this point.

Our discussion yesterday started with the major changes that have manifested in my life in the last month: a diagnosis for my breathing condition and the decision for Beci and I to separate. Both of these changes have provided the ground for some big decisions and it is clear that I am at a particular crossroads in my life. After some discussion around how I felt about these changes, including the fears I had regarding the potential decisions that are impending, we returned to discussing my life choices that had led to the beginnings of my health condition, some 10 years ago.

I talked about the drive and desire to succeed that underpinned my attitude and commitment to my work and my running. At the time I was working at Swansea College as a senior manager and had secured a new management position in a re-organised college led by the new Principal. I was very keen to be successful and to be seen to be ambitious. At the same time I had committed to a thorough, and slightly obsessive, training schedule to run in marathons and other long distance races.

This driven and success orientated attitude to life was ‘normal’ consequence of the evolving culture of the time. You could say that I was simply immersed in the Zeitgeist. Alternatively, you might ask, (as Rita did) what was really fueling this behaviour? The answer came instinctively: fear. My desire to be brilliant at my new job, to be seen to be a committed and influential manager was fired by a fear of not being good enough, of having to prove that I was a talented and successful senior college manager.

Similarly, my commitment to a campaign of long distance races with incremental time and distance improvements was underpinned by exactly the same fears. I needed to be seen (by myself and others) as being good, and getting better at long distance running. There was also more to it; an element of challenging the effects of ageing was certainly present.

Mid-life often means we no longer play team sport and we may become seduced by the idea that keeping fit can be achieved through a programme of distance running. And this is of course true. But, there is also more going on. By striving to keep fit we are also trying to keep ageing at bay: or perhaps we could say that we are fearful of getting old and ultimately, dying.

Fear as the practice

The realisation that fear drove my behaviour over 10 years ago is not that much of a surprise, but it is only now that I see that it is an ongoing feature of life. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing in the background, like the hum of a radio, is fear. Understanding what each fear is, that is directing our behaviour, is the opportunity, the practice.

How can we learn to attend to and befriend the fear? How can we inhabit the motivation to hang out with fear?

There are two key inter connected practices: Present moment awareness and Training the mind

1) Present moment awareness

Present moment awareness is being completely here now. However, being completely in the moment when confronted by rising emotion, fueled by fear, is not always possible. Fortunately, there are cues we can follow to raise our awareness that we have moved into fear. Firstly we can note our physical symptoms: these tend to be in throat, chest or belly. We can investigate gently, with curiosity not judgment. Secondly, we can listen to the mind. What thoughts are present? Where do they take us?

Now we need to train the mind to be able to come totally into the present moment and to connect.

2) Training the mind

Our intention is to “redirect our attention in ways that build some of our strengths in what we love, so that we can be with our fear“. We remember that we are connected by love to a whole world. We remember our strengths. We find access to a positive mental state. How do we do this? We need to change our habits, to train our attention to go where we want it to. We don’t have to use the familiar neural pathways. We need to forge new pathways, new ways of thinking.

I often liken our habitual thoughts to being the motorways of our mind. Re-training the mind to think differently means forging new off road tracks. As Tara Brach says,

“We can train our 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.”

So, in the midst of noticing the fear ground yourself. Feel the gravity: your feet on the floor, your bum on the seat. Slow your breath, breathe deeper. Put a hand on your belly or heart. Breathe. Remind yourself that you are part of the whole. Reach out to wholeness. No matter what you call it (Jesus, Buddha, higher self, Gaia, God, soul, universal energy – everything in the universe is made of the same stuff). Can you accept that the fear is here and soften?

“Our path is to meet our edge and soften” Chögyam Trungpa

 

Honesty

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”  Pema Chodron

Looking at ourselves ‘honestly and gently’ is perhaps the most courageous act of our life. Gentle honesty requires a non judgmental attentive mind set where we remain present with our thoughts and feelings as they ebb and flow. We meditate to train the mind in this mindful practice and then life happens.

As we start a new year there is an opportunity and inclination to consider how we are living and how we feel about that living. These are the fundamental questions that Pema refers to. Fundamental, as they go to the root of our day to day living and experiences.

If you have read this blog over the last six months or so you will know that 2015 was a particularly challenging year. I often referred to these challenges without going into personal detail where I felt they might compromise other people’s feelings. This is an intention I intend to continue and in the spirit of gentle honesty I feel I should share a recent decision Beci and I have made.

We have decided to divorce. After 21 years of marriage this is a major decision and hopefully one that will allow both of us to continue our own gentle honesty and personal growth. I know that we both hope to get through the next few months with grace and dignity and emerge with a respectful relationship that still supports our kids and those we love. Mediation and living a mindful life, aware of those thoughts and feelings that swirl and eddy, is at the centre of that intention and I consider myself fortunate that I have embraced this path less traveled. I will continue to consider how photography can also support this way of living and look forward to the experiences along the path.

 

Inner world – outer photos

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

Cartier-Bresson ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

Theory

What we choose to photograph. How we chose to photograph. These are the choices that reflect our inner world. This happens even if we don’t plan every creative decision. Every photo we create is an element of us; a small part, an instance. Maybe a disposable moment. Maybe a decisive moment. But each is a moment that reflects our conscious and sub conscious thoughts.

Sometimes we set out with an intention. We chose a location, time, place, a circumstance, to tell a story. How we tell that story reflects part of who we are. No two photographers at the same place and time will take exactly the same photographs. There will always elements of our experience, our self in the photo.

Sometimes we set out with an intention to create one type of photo, but because of our inner world experiences another type of photo emerges. When this happens we may be disappointed by our deflected intention. Later we may recognise that what we created was a contemplation of our experience in the moment. A personal story of how the world was for us in that moment.

Practice

Yesterday, I walked back along Swansea Bay promenade from Mumbles, with my hound Monty. It is a flat 3 mile walk along a bike path and beach and I decided to practice Mindful Photography. I didn’t have any clear intention, but I imagined that I would just be present with the visual stimulation and create photographs of what caught my eye.

I had my compact camera with me that also has full manual features. I mention this because the photos I created made full use of the manual settings. I found that nothing caught my eye. I was immersed in my thoughts. What emerged was a response to those thoughts, a desire to create something that reflected how I felt.

Of course what I was experiencing emotionally may not be what you experience when you look at these photos. That is both the beauty and challenge of photography. But I offer them anyway, without title or explanation. Simply a reflection of my inner world at a particular moment.

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UK Government gets mindful

What do you imagine would happen if the UK Government got interested in the application of Mindfulness? You no longer have to wonder. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness has just published its findings and presented them at the Palace of Westminster.

This is an historic moment. Not yet widely reported, I picked up on it after a friend sent me this link to a report in the Huffington Post. After reading the article I thought I had better do a little background research, not that I doubt the press, but the Huffington Post can be a little left field!

Mindful Nation UK is a report 2 years in the making that has just been published by the Mindfulness All Part Parliamentary Group (MAPPG). It has been supported by the Mindfulness Initiative, who appear to have involved many of the great and the good in the UK and beyond, in their organisation and the process. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Ruby Wax are their patrons.

The executive summary of the report (first few pages) is worth a read and in a wide ranging set of recommendations they have considered the application of Mindfulness in the National Health Service, education, the workplace and the Prison Service.

This is a fascinating and heartening development. We wait to see how the realities of implementing the recommendations in a current culture of reducing public spending pan out. As an eternal optimist I can imagine that the advocates of the report will highlight not only the potential for positive outcomes, but how those outcomes may save the government money.

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Learning Mindfulness

It struck me that there may be some of you out there who may be curious about mindfulness and interested in learning more. So I thought I would share a few links to useful resources.

BeMindful.com offers an online course in developing mindfulness. This looks interesting and helpful. It costs £60 or $95 and can be done at any time, anywhere. I believe that you can start it for free, to see if it is for you, before committing to payment.

Other online courses are available. Perhaps one of the best known for meditation is Headspace, which also is available as an app and encourages you to meditate regularly at a time to suit you.

If you prefer face to face learning and are based in the UK then BeMindful.co.uk provide a search facility to find a Mindfulness teacher near you.

There are a wide range of links and resources available at the online magazine Mindful.org. The link here will take you to a collection for those just starting out

Alternatively if you are interested in the roots of Mindfulness then an understanding and enquiry into the Buddhist Dharma might be of interest. There are many online resources available. A simple internet search will reveal resources shared by individual teachers, teaching centres and many more. One of the largest resources is at Dhama Seed. A wide variety of teachers and talks are available for free, donations are encouraged.

Alternatively, you may prefer to visit a centre near you. There are many across the UK, USA and Canada. Again an internet search will reveal those in your country.

 

Every cloud has a silver lining

Often I create photographs to illustrate my posts. The idea for this post though was inspired by the panoramic photo below. It is a composite photo of Caswell Bay Beach which, if you click on the photo below, you can experience at full size.

The title of this post and its theme leapt into my conscious mind whilst I was editing the photo: a literal example of the proverb that is the title of this post. The meaning of the proverb, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ is an encouragement to remember that every seemingly bad situation has a good aspect to it.

I thought that it would be interesting to reflect on this proverb from the perspective of mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy and to relate this to my own experience.

Judging Mind

The proverb is an encouragement to look on the positive side of every situation. This could be seen to be helpful, but it implies that the truth is that there are ‘bad’ and ‘good’ situations, events and happenings in our lives. From a Buddhist perspective this would be an example of the judging mind in action.

The judging mind is a quality of mind that has certainty and rigidity at its core. It is a quality that imagines that we know how things are and that we are attached to our likes and dislikes. As a consequence when something happens that we do not like we judge the situation as ‘bad’.

In traditional Buddhist terms the judging mind is a manifestation of one of the three intoxicants; aversion, attachment or ignorance. This means that beneath our judgement of the situation as ‘bad’ we are either keen to not experience the situation, or we are attached to the idea of it being different, or we do not understand what is happening.

The judging mind is something we can notice arising when we meditate or take photographs. In meditation we sit, follow the breath and our mind continues to experience thoughts, sensations and feelings. We may simply judge this experience as a ‘bad’ meditation and that when our mind is quieter as a ‘good’ meditation. Alternatively, we may get caught up in one particular thought and notice that it is a replay of a recent experience and that we are judging how we acted or spoke.

In photography the most common manifestation of our judging mind is when we review our photos. Whilst a constructively critical approach is essential to skills development, a strong judgement that photos are ‘good or bad’ may discourage experimentation, limit creativity and hold back the learning process.

A judging mind is a small mind, closely attached to our smallest self. It reinforces the idea of separation, that we are different. Meditation and mindfulness are the opposite of this. They encourage the development of non judging attention; that we notice what we are experiencing, the thoughts, sensations and feelings but that we do so in a forgiving manner. We hold our experience with compassion. We experience our world with loving kindness and equanimity.

Real world

Of course this is great in theory. It is an ongoing practice. My current experience is that a long term chronic health condition, plus recent acute attacks, has provided rich ground for practice. Sure I get caught up in my personal experience. It sends ripples through every aspect of my life. I do get attached to beliefs that my interpretation of situations is correct and this then leads to judgement, difficulty and disharmony with those who do not share my perspective.

Mindfulness provides me with the opportunity to sit quietly and notice the thoughts and feelings that arise attached to these experiences. It provides the space for compassion to flourish. Within this practice is the possibility of not judging, of noticing, not reacting, but holding the experience with loving kindness. It is challenging and I remind myself that compassion starts for my own reactions, my own judging mind.

I know that these reactions are patterns of thought that have been repeated and reinforced over many years. Mindfulness provides me with the opportunity to notice and to remember that there is another way. It is a practice, a practice for a lifetime.

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Rhythms of Life

Life is full of rhythms. From the seasonal to the physical. External to internal. We live through many processes. Some of these rhythms are slow changing yet immutable, like the seasons. Others are triggered by events or actions and play out in a cycle.

Often we are so immersed in our happenings that we are not conscious of the role a rhythm is playing in our life. Mindfulness provides us with the opportunity to observe life. To slow, to breathe and maybe even to stop. Then in our moment of stillness we may feel, see, notice what is playing out.

When we meditate we observe what is arising in our consciousness. We may use the breath to attempt to slow and anchor the mind, and occasionally we may experience a moment or longer when we are simply noticing what arises. The thoughts (always the thoughts), the sensations and we can just be with this practice.

This is helpful practice that can influence how we go about our day. At least I hope it is! I meditate with the aspiration that the practice seeps into my everyday living; that I become more aware of what is happening, how I am being. Perhaps then, I will feel the rhythms that are carrying me along.

This is a thought that I have entertained this week as I have noticed the seasonal change towards autumn. This awareness has also caused me to reflect upon the physical, emotional and habitual rhythms that are part of my current experience. Not that I have reached any epoch making conclusions. It feels enough to be slightly more aware of some of what is playing out. And just like meditating, this present moment awareness is transitory.

However, the glimpse provides a play of light over elements that are sometimes in the shadows. This clarity of vision maybe momentary, but at least I know it is there and available.

Paignton – a mindful photography practice

I lived in Paignton between the ages 11 and 16. It was the early 70s. In fact I have just created a 70s playlist to accompany me as I write this piece. I am currently with The Eagles ‘Take it easy’; Neil Young, The Steve Miller Band, Bob Dylan, Supertramp, Thin Lizzy and the Vapours are all on their way!

So when I visited earlier this week there was a nostalgic video of teenage high (and low) lights playing in my head. In fact, many of the memories of actual events were also jumbled up with memories of more recent dreams of the streets, parks and areas of Paignton I frequented. This fragmented video track was stimulated by my route through the town and down to the seafront. Of course it all appeared a lot smaller than it used to be and a lot less busy.

I parked at the back of the town centre park, close to where I recall the library used to be. As a kid I visited this many times and still check out books in my dreams. But the library was long gone, in place was a new development of retirement flats. I wandered on through the park, remembering the shortcut to the seafront I used to whizz through on my bike. This was all much as it used to be, but with an absence of ducks.

My summer memories of Paignton seafront are of a beach and lawned area rammed with grockles (tourists). Often there was hardly a patch of grass or sand to be had by lunch time. This time I wandered through and found it busy, but with plenty of space. Once down on the front I found the photography flowed. I felt comfortable, at home amongst familiar scenes, and I believe that the photos below carry some of that warmth, as well as a curiosity to capture the British tourist at play.

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Gratitude Practice

It is easy when beset by difficulty to lose sight of the positive aspects of our lives. A darker mindset may squeeze out the light from these often simple but uplifting corners of our day. I have for several months been reflecting on my day and identifying the things that I am grateful for. In past times our forebears called this counting your blessings, the phraseology may differ, but the intention remains.

At the end of each day, before you drift off into your night time routine spend a few moments reflecting on those aspects of your day that you are grateful for. These may be of any size, from a special event to a smile from a stranger. They might be quite simple, such as the way light fell upon a stream, or quite momentous, as one of your children exceeds their own expectations. Each night, reflect upon your day noting those moments that your are grateful for.

Lately, I have been following this practice in a more structured and sharing manner. Every night I reflect and identify 5 things from the day that I am grateful for. I then email those things to my sister in Canada. Kim, then at the end of her day (breakfast time for me!) sends me her 5 gratitudes. Not only are we getting positive vibes from our days but we are maintaining contact and involvement in each other’s lives, something that neither of us usually score top marks for!

Those of you who are interested in neuroplasticity, the science that investigates how our activities and behaviours can shape the formation and development of our mind, might be interested in this practice from its potential to change a negative perspective to a more positive one, in a gentle and progressive manner. I can’t speak for the certainty of this, but on a personal level, I do find it a supportive and affirmative way to end each day. Why not give it a go with someone who you love, but perhaps don’t see as much as you would like?

The Science

Here’s an interesting link to the science of gratitude from the University of California, Berkeley

Acceptance

This is the fifth in a series of posts exploring the 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness practice. The 7 attitudes are detailed in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and are Non Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Acceptance, Non Striving, and Letting Go. Each article will be a personal reflection about that attitude, both from the perspective of mindfulness generally and mindful photography particularly. Each will be tagged ‘7 attitudes’ so that you can find them all using the tag search in the blog’s right hand column.

 

Mindfulness encourages us to see things as they actually are in the present moment. As the present moment plays out, we practice noticing our feelings, our physical sensations and the thoughts that flit across our mind.  It may well be that we don’t actually like what we are experiencing. We may try to avoid, distract or just deny the experience.

Acceptance is the quality that allows us to be with all the difficulty, without turning away. Acceptance encourages us to turn towards the difficult experience. To sit with the feelings, sensations and thoughts, allowing them to ebb and flow and slowly, bit by bit allowing them a little space in our lives.

Mindfulness offers a practice to support living through this experience. In the secular mindfulness practice this can be described as a meditation that invokes wishing yourself and others well. This was developed from the Buddhist practice of Maitri – loving kindness or compassion to oneself and others. These practices encourage us to be compassionate to our present experience,. To accept ourselves: in all the glory and the grime.

Tara Brach (meditation teacher and psychologist) describes this as “Radical Acceptance, which means clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion.”

Carl Rogers (psychologist) wrote: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

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As applied to photography

We can practice acceptance through photography in two key ways. The primary opportunity is the use of photography practice as a method of understanding and processing our current experience. In The Mindful Photographer I offer mindful photography practices and assignments that encourage a tuning in to your present moment experience, particularly how you are feeling and representing these experiences through photos.

This can be achieved with an understanding how of elements of photography composition can represent emotion. This includes knowledge of representational ideas for colour, shape, tone and so on, as well as the use of visual metaphors and symbols to communicate ideas and feelings.

On a more instinctive level we can also practice responding photographically to our environment when we are experiencing a strong emotion; creating photographs that spring from an intuitive response. These may well include a knowledge of the visual language of a photograph, as described above, but our response is less planned and controlled and may run contrary to popular ideas. Resting instead on how the visual experience resonated with how we felt.

The second opportunity is to understand and accept the kind of photographer (and person) we are. This is partly about what it is that we like to create photographs of, and partly about what those photographs can say about ourselves, as well as about the subject. How the outer world can reflect our inner world. This idea, of using photography as a vehicle for personal inquiry, I will begin exploring in a Mindful Photography course called ‘Being’ that will be available in 2016. Sign up for the Newsletter (top right column) if you want to keep in touch with developments.

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The Photos

The photos that accompany this article were created as a response to feelings I experienced when finding out about events that occurred in my life during 1972. It was difficult to connect with how I felt with these events, some 40+ years later. However, I was able to walk, think about the events and connect with how they made me feel now, and respond by taking photos of my environment. The editing process also formed part of this experience on this occasion.

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