Today I have escaped to my in law’s cottage in Mumbles for a ‘retreat’. Normally, when I go on retreat I am avoiding all technological contact, sitting quietly a lot, walking and photographing. I usually stay at a retreat centre in the Brecon Beacons, but they were full.

My intention this time is similar but different. I am first spending today reflecting on the week, as a way of understanding where I am today. Initially I have started this by writing my weekly Newsletter (there’s a sign up box on the right) and in that I have reflected on homo sapiens, men’s groups and photography. A seemingly diverse group of topics but all part of my week and today.

Now having released that part of my week I am ready to land here. This is my final post I will be writing for 2 days (Sunday’s is already scheduled). It is time to turn off, tune in and see what arises. You should try it.

It is all quiet in the house. Beci has taken the hound, Monty, out for his morning walk. Taylor (no.1 son) is off to college and India (no.1 daughter) is asleep in bed, practicing being a teenager who has finished college for the year already. (Ah, the benefits of choosing to study all art based AS levels)

So I thought that I would take advantage of the space and fired up brain (I am a morning person) to write a little blog post.

Sitting group

Every two weeks on a Friday morning Beci hosts a ‘Sitting group’ in our house. This is a group of like minded people who come together to meditate and share wise words! The idea of this group comes from the Buddhist tradition of a ‘Sangha’, a supportive group or community who share the teachings of Buddha. Usually, these are led by one person – the teacher.

Our group is a little looser and very inclusive. We do share teachings, thoughts, poems and quotes that are inspired by Buddhism. However, we also share non secular and other traditions’ ideas and writings.

The group’s underpinning concept is that everybody who comes takes a turn at being the ‘guru’! Often this means that the individual shares something that is relevant for them at that time. The shared thoughts are like the icing on the cake and provide the possibility of an anchor for our busy minds when we are meditating.

The voluntary ‘leader/guru’ doesn’t have to share much. However, they do have to keep time and ring the bell. Once at the beginning and once at the end of each 30 minutes.

Thoughts 4 Today

It is now a few hours later. Sonja led the group and shared a simple and grounding meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh (The Blooming of a Lotus). His 5 stage meditation is followed over 5 breaths in and out. The first word is held on the in breath, the second on the out breath. All five stages are followed and then repeated. The book does give more detail and explanation.

Breath In      Breath Out

Flower          Feeling Fresh

Mountain      Strong

Still Water    Reflecting

Space           Free

Reflections

Having a sitting group is a supportive practice. It feels supportive at the time and its regularity has its own rhythm which melds comfortably with your own practice. I have not always been able to attend regularly but having changed my own working commitments I am now intending it to be a key part of my practice.

I recommend it to you and if you live in Swansea or close and would like to join us contact me.

We are beset from all sides. All media streams, from the traditional newspapers to the ground breaking social media streams, are awash with General Election stuff. Opinions, rants and justifications abound. Some of it is entertaining. Some of it is balanced. Much of it is sensationalised or heavily influenced by those who control the message.

Immigration and economic planning are the subjects most sabres are rattled at. Leaders debate. Media types postulate. The general public? Ah, the general public. What of the general public?

I was just walking through our city centre square. Past the feeble fountains my eye was caught by the TV screen. I say ‘caught’ I should probably say assailed. It is a giant screen that gazes ominously over the square dwellers and the volume is always turned up to 11. Anyway, politics was on the agenda, in particular the SNP’s stance on immigration – in favour of limits that do not discourage fine and talented people from moving to Scotland!

I walked on through the square and noticed that apart from me the general public were going about their business, paying not one bit of attention to the interesting debate. OK, I admit Scottish immigration policy is not going to be big on a Welsh City resident’s agenda. Think of their lack of attention as more as a visual metaphor for ‘not caring about voting’. That’s what I saw and felt.

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Last election in 2010 35% of the electorate did not vote. Will more vote this time? Will somebody please stop our death by a thousand cuts.

Sorry. I promised myself when I started writing this that I would not dump my political views. They appear to have slipped out. It is difficult not to allow the anger out (and not healthy of course), particularly since I finished reading The Establishment by Owen Jones I have become more focussed in my anger about our country’s political health.

Ironically, at the same time as reading The Establishment I  have also been reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat Zinn. I say ironically because the title is apposite. It does feel a little like we are catastrophe living. The book itself is about living in the present moment – mindfulness – and how that can help you live with the stress in your life. That encouragement is essential. Mindfulness is all about what you are experiencing now. Well, what I am experiencing now is anger and frustration.

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I am angry that the global financial crisis has led to the least well off suffering. Whilst the corporations, fat cats, media moguls, politicians and the seriously well off continue to thrive.

There I have said it. I feel a lot better now. There is one more thing though. You must vote. I know that there is a limited choice available, but you must vote for the least terrible of that disappointing choice. You cannot let this scale of public/state cuts continue. Your vote matters.

Change

This week I have chosen to reflect on change as I have been both buffeted by the winds of change and I am also making changes to key aspects of my life.

It is not coincidental that I used a weather metaphor to describe change. As I started to write this I was considering what simile I could use to compare to change. I decided upon the weather. It may be that you live in apart of the world where the weather is generally settled and predictable. Just for the sake of my simile imagine you live in the UK!

Why is change like the weather?

  • It is reasonably predictable and yet we sometimes unaware of how it actually is. (Just this week I have noticed people wearing shorts and t shirts, because it was warm last week. Whilst it has been sunny this week, it was often cooler than 10°c)
  • We often know what weather is coming, but we choose to ignore the warning signs and carry on regardless
  • Sometimes it transforms so gradually over a few days that it is only when we are at the end point that we realise it has altered
  • Sometimes it is entirely unexpected and may throw our plans and lives into disarray
  • Sometimes it is just like the previous day, sometimes it is quite different. Sometimes it is just like the previous day, but we feel different about it
  • Some weather we perceive to be ‘good’, other weather ‘bad’. ‘Bad’ weather may be essential. ‘Good’ weather may lead to drought. Our perception and understanding of what we are experiencing can itself change
  • Above all there is a lot of it. It is a constant. We know that it will always be there, but we let that fact slip through our knowing sometimes

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Change, mindfulness and photography

As you know I have embraced the idea that photography can be practised mindfully. And whilst I am currently sharing some of those practices via The Mindful Photographer I am also continuing to develop the concept.

This development has recently become more charged. What I mean is that the change in my life has made me realise (finally) that I need to embrace mindfulness in every aspect of my life. My relationships, my work and my play.

My recent health crisis was one of those life events that was predictable. I have a chronic health condition (swollen trachea and vocal chords) that affects my breathing and voice. What is most challenging is when I carry on regardless (of the weather!) and have an acute situation.

Upon reflection it was easy to see that by continuing to behave in a similar manner (i.e. as if I did not have a chronic condition) my body was not coping. The chronic and acute situations were affecting all aspects of my life: my relationships, my day to day living, my work…

Something had to change.

One key change is that I have released the Photential activities that were most stressful (workshops) and will be solely focussing on my online provision. My future blog posts will directly reflect my attempts to live a more mindful life, with particular reference to photography.

I will share ideas, wisdom, successes and failures. I will offer mindful photography practices for you to try and share your photos if you would like to share. Above all I will be open and authentic about what it takes to live a mindful life. Where possible I will reflect this in my photography.

Over the next few months I will be developing new learning materials that will continue the explorations of a Mindful Photographer. If you would like to get regular updates you can subscribe to the Photential Newsletter (bottom of this page). If you love the road I am following please share with your friends, and like my Twitter and Facebook pages (see the bottom of the page).

As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. You are the world. I am the world. Change starts here.

The diptych photos in this post are part of a set that explored using a visual metaphor for change. 

Mindful Photography is mindfulness applied to the process of creating a photograph

It starts with seeing and extends through the technical and compositional choices towards an encouragement to align one’s eye, one’s mind and one’s heart whilst one is completely present in the moment.

There is a lot to unpack in that definition, so let’s start at the beginning. Where does the term Mindful Photography come from? If you enter the term into a popular search engine and review the sites that are presented you quickly come to a conclusion; it is being used by many people to mean different things. However, the general consensus is that Mindful Photography is the application of mindfulness to the art of photography and strong identification is made for its links with Buddhism. So let’s start there.

Contemplative Photography

When one first explores the idea of applying mindfulness to using a camera, the practice of contemplative photography becomes relevant. The main evolution of the practice of contemplative photography seems to have been through Buddhism.

Buddhism has a rich tradition of expressing wisdom and realisation through the arts and it seems that the Lama Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche may have been the first to have used his camera as an exploration into clear seeing. This history is explained by Michael Wood (the co-author of The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes) on his website. He explains Buddhism’s connection with clear seeing thus,

“Buddhism is concerned with clear seeing because clear seeing is the ultimate antidote for confusion and ignorance. Attaining liberation from confusion and ignorance is Buddhism’s raison d’être. Clear seeing is a primary concern for the art of photography because clear seeing is the source of vivid, fresh images—photography’s raison d’être.”

Buddhism is not the only religious tradition to have seen the possibility of photography as contemplative, reflective tool. The book The Tao of Photography offers a Taoist approach, considering how photography and The Way can be mutually supportive.

I have also read Christian based explorations. In The Little book of Contemplative Photography Howard Zehr relates the Christian tradition of contemplation to clear seeing with a camera. Does that sound familiar?

Clear Seeing

One thing that all these explanations have in common is that it is the process of clear seeing that is central to being at one with the present moment; to connecting with what you are experiencing. So when I practice Mindful Photography my first intention is to use what I see as my anchor. I walk, with my camera, observing the world. I am not looking for a photograph I am observing the visual panorama before me. Every time I notice that my mind has wandered into planning, reflecting or judging I come back to the seeing.

Then there will come a moment of visual stimulation, something will ‘catch my eye’. I stop and rest in that moment. I try to stay with what it was that stopped me, connecting to the visual nature of the scene.

Finally, I receive the photograph. This is achieved by creating the equivalent of what I see with my camera. I consider where to place the rectangular frame. Maybe I move in or zoom in, or both. It is almost inevitable that during this final stage my clear seeing will be influenced by four barriers; photo thinking, excitement, conceptualisation and judgement. I notice these thoughts and return to the visual stimulation that first stopped me. Press the shutter and walk on.

How do we see clearly?

Those four barriers to clear seeing each have a lot to them. Let’s start with conceptualisation as that has the clearest link to the process of seeing. Our eyes see light. It is our mind that then makes sense of what we see. In micro seconds the mind assembles all that visual information and applies labels; colours, three dimensional depth, form, shape, pattern and texture are identified and the objects are named.

But our camera doesn’t see like that. It captures light, just a small rectangle (not the almost 180 degrees we see) in two dimensions. It does not know what it is seeing. So to ‘create the equivalent’ of what stopped us in that moment of visual stimulation we need to see like a camera. Claude Monet explained this clearly.

“In order to see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at”

In forgetting the name, or label, we start to see the light. Is that easy? Oh no, it takes practice, lots of practice. In fact as Malcolm Gladwell suggested in Outliers it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master of anything. This truth is fundamental to our development as Mindful Photographers particularly when we consider the photo thinking – the technical and compositional ideas that underpin successful photographs – that swirl about our mind when we are trying to see clearly.

I believe that Mindful Photography must also offer practices to follow that support our intention to remain with our clear seeing. As we develop as photographers, as we learn the technical and compositional context, there are techniques and practices we can follow that will help: wherever we are on that journey of 10,000 hours.

What are these techniques and how can you learn them? Read on…

The Mindful Photographer

All of these practices and techniques have one thing in common; they support the alignment of our eye, our mind and our heart. They bring us into the present moment. They open an understanding of the holistic photography experience and of life. What are they? You will have to enrol on The Mindful Photographer to find out!

The Mindful Photographer is an online course that explores what it means to be a mindful photographer. It is offered in a flexible manner over 4 Courses, each one allowing you to enrol and work at a time to suit you. Each Course comprises of 2 units and each one explores aspects of the practice, offering resources, techniques, photos and assignments to support your development.

The key element of the online courses are the assignments, at least one for each unit, which are submitted to an online group page. The assignments offer you the opportunity to apply mindful photography practices, encouraging the development of mindfulness and creating personal photos that resonate for you. I offer supportive comments on every assignment photo and you can also see and comment on other students’ photos.

Mindful Photography embraces the whole of the process of creating a photograph and offers direct practices to support our development as both photographers and people; providing mindful practices that reflect and support other mindful practices we follow in our life. It also improves our understanding of photography and expands how you see.

The Mindful Photographer will be live early in 2016 at www.photential.com

You will never see the world in quite the same way again.

I use photography as a practice for mindfulness. As mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, creating a photograph can provide many practices that enable us to connect with what we can see, what the camera can see and what we feel or a feeling that we wish to convey.

Recently, I have not been well and have been living through one of life’s difficult periods. I haven’t felt very creative until the last couple of days, when I have started to carry my little camera around with me again.

The two photos below I was drawn to create as they seemed to speak of how I felt. When we choose to create a photograph that illustrates an emotion the visual connection can be a very personal experience. That is all that is required. If the viewer also experiences particular feelings when the see the photo that is a bonus.

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