This week was all about developing a Mindful Photography Practice where Seeing was our anchor. Clear Seeing was the key topic and we looked at what that is and how it is that we see. We then compared how we see to how a camera sees and began the process of noticing those differences.

The foundation of Mindful Photography is the Four Stage Seeing Practice. This is the practice I share on all of my courses and workshops and stands at the heart of developing our ability to be present with our desire to create photos.

Like meditation the Four Stage Seeing Practice is easy to understand, but difficult to remain present with. But if we are to create fabulous photographs then we must learn to see – everything that is in front of us. And seeing everything that is there is not as easy as it sounds. Our minds consistently trick us, presenting those things that we are interested in, rather than the totality of all that is in front of us.

Of course they do this to help to support our progress through the day and to keep us safe. But it also limits our visual experience and if we are to create fabulous, resonant photos then we need to develop our Clear Seeing.

Ordinary Beauty

We followed two Mindful Photography Practices to develop our Clear Seeing. The first one was based on a quote by John Updike – ‘giving the mundane its beautiful due’ and challenged everyone to create beautiful photos from an ordinary object. Here are our favourites

Seeing in Colour

Our second Mindful Photography Practice centred upon the creation of photos where colour was the key feature. It was fascinating to reflect that whilst we followed these two practices students following the full Online Course in Mindful Photography were doing the same activities in different parts of the world. Here are our favourites.

 

Today’s blog post is a personal story from a friend of mine who is also a Mindful Photographer. Ruth’s story is a personal account of how mindful photography has helped with her wellbeing and mental health. It is an honest account of living with difficulty and how mindfulness combined with a creative outlet can support you to live with the experience.

Mindful Photography: a tool for improved mental health

In September 2014 photography started to take on a whole new meaning to me. For some time I had struggled with episodes of anxiety and depression and I was going through a particularly challenging time. I decided to attend a retreat “The Photography of Being” in Scotland for a week.

I allowed myself to feel the debts of my thoughts and spent a couple of days immersing myself in the darkness of the dense mossy wood where I was staying. As the week went by I started to feel lighter and found myself coming out into the open, where I observed the movement of the running stream and the beauty of the nearby Loch.

The warm autumn colours were already in their full glory and I lay on the ground and bathed in their warmth. My series of photographs from the week show my process of being in the dark and coming out into the light. The experience was incredibly therapeutic.

Breakdown

A year later, I experienced what at the time I called a full on breakdown. I was overwhelmed and burnt out and my body forced me to stop. Fear got the better of me and I was not able to work for a few months. As part of my recovery I went for walks in the beautiful woods and commons where I live in Stroud in the Cotswolds. I took my camera or my mobile phone with me and found myself asking nature to support me.

I allowed myself to be guided instinctively towards particular places, objects, colours, textures, shapes, patterns, and areas of light, dark, or shadow that caught my eye. I looked at the detail as well as the bigger picture. I started to ‘be’ fully present in the moment, to breathe and to experience what I was looking at, not only through my eyes, but through all my senses. Sometimes I would take photos; sometimes I would simply look. I found that nature would ‘speak’ to me through my eyes or the lens and help me look at my life with a fresh perspective.

Mindful Photography

As part of my recovery I also renewed my interest in mindfulness; I had participated in an 8-week mindfulness course some years previously, which was helpful but in some ways added to the stress I was feeling at the time – it was another thing I had to do! This time though, I instinctively thought: mindfulness + photography = mindful photography.

Over the past year or so I have been sharing mindful photography through the photography walks, workshops, commissions, projects and talks that I offer through my photography business Look Again, which I launched in 2012.

And it was with great delight that I found that other people were also practising mindful photography. I was particularly drawn to the work of Lee Aspland, who I have since met and has now kindly asked me to write this blog!

Breakthrough

What I realise now is that my breakdown was in fact a breakthrough. Mindful photography has become a practice that I use to help myself deal with my own mental health challenges and that I love to share with individuals, communities, organisations and businesses through my work with Look Again. It’s wonderful to slow down, look, look again and see with new eyes.

Please contact me or visit Look Again to find out more.

As you may have seen in my last post 5 Mindful Photography Tips to help you create fabulous photos I recently followed a mindful photography practice on the beautiful Gower Peninsula.

I am fortunate to live a short 15 minute drive from the south coast of this ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. The beach at Pwlldu was viewable on my circular walk, one of my favourites on this section of the glorious Welsh Coastline, and features in this small selection of favourite photos from the practice.

 

I have just got back from a mindful photography practice on the beautiful Welsh coastline and I was struck by the thought that it had provided me with an experience that I would not have had unless I had followed the practice.

Immediately I thought, how can I share this in a way that helps you! 

So here it is, a concise version of what happened and how mindful photography practice can support your creation of fabulous photos and reverberate mindful awareness through your life.

The Experience

I parked the car in a safe quiet car park, set my camera up in  Camera Scan Practice set up I use (Aperture Priority, f8 ISO 200 – it was a sunny day) and set my meditation timer to 1 hour.

I already had my 35mm prime lens attached to my Fuji XT-2 (roughly equivalent to the human eye’s focal length) and had a simple circular route planned to walk at a gentle pace. My intention was to use my 4 Stage Seeing Practice, and to return to what I could see every time my busy mind took me off to future plans or reviewing past events.

I walked at a steady pace, enjoying the warm sunshine on my face, the edge of autumn on the air and the signs of nature turning down towards winter. Each time something caught my eye I stopped, observed completely what it was that had taken my eye and then made choices about how to create the photo, before pressing the shutter and moving on.

Sometimes this process took a few minutes, sometimes only seconds. The length of time is immaterial, it is the attentive presence that is at the heart of a resonant photo that inhabits how that moment was for you.

Over the next hour I walked though my route and created around 15 photos. I did not review any of the photos as I created them, just pressed the shutter and moved on.

After completion I still had a little way to walk, and all uphill. As I reached the top of the lane, a flock crows flew over and I was aware of first my desire to create a photo of them flying over, and then my judging mind as I responded too slowly to capture the experience.

I stopped at the top and breathed. Partly to recover my breath and partly to attend to those feelings. I smiled to myself, compassionate with my judging mind and pulled my camera in front of me. As I did this a few crows flew back over, I lifted my camera and instinctively created the photo at the top of this email.

Of course as I was using a 35mm this photo has been cropped quite a bit, but I was struck by how my presence and timing had been able to create an image where this was possible and the crow was sharp against a blue, blue sky.

This experience is the inspiration for these 5 tips below that highlight the benefits of a mindful photography practice. I hope that you find them useful.

5 Tips for Fabulous Photos

  1. Plan a regular photography practice. Set aside at least one hour, once a week when all you are going to do is practice photography.
  2. Regularly use the same lens and camera set up. Familiarity with how the camera sees in relation to how you see will develop. Your ability to see like a camera will develop.
  3. Use a meditation timer to formalise your practice. I use the free Insight Timer app. This works even when there is no signal. This is ideal for then you can also turn your phone to airplane mode, to avoid distractions, and then the timer will log your practice when you next connect.
  4. Do not have a goal to create photos! Your intention is to walk with your camera and observe what presents itself to you. When something visually attracts you stop, breathe, really pay attention to what it is that has caught your eye. Notice the strong desire to ‘take’ a photo. Breathe. Consider how you will frame the photo. Consider if you have to move your feet or camera.
  5. Press the shutter and walk on. Release your desire to look at what you have created and return to your walk and the seeing.

After your practice don’t look at the photos straight away. Take your time, notice how you are. Return to somewhere quiet, get a cup of your favourite hot beverage and sit peacefully and review your photos.

As you look through each image be aware of your mind. Be gentle with the judging thoughts, the mind that says this photo is good and that photo is bad. Notice the judgement and smile. It’s OK, you noticed. Breathe and look through the photos. Notice how you are after the practice. Has it made a difference?

You can see my favourite photos from the practice here

 

 

I try to schedule 3 retreats a year. These are a time when my intention is to slow down and be present. I sometimes have a goal, often something creative, but the intention is the foundation.

There are all types of retreat possible, but at the heart of any ‘spiritual’ retreat is “a period or place of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation” (Oxford Dictionary). It is possible to do guided retreats with others or choose solitude. Many retreat centres welcome all faiths and beliefs, whether you consider yourself a participant in that belief system or just want to be somewhere peaceful and safe.

I choose to follow a solitude retreat at Llannwerchwen Retreat Centre. This centre is situated in the hills north of Brecon, Wales and is run by a Catholic order. Whilst they do offer support and guidance they also welcome everybody to use the space and accommodation for solitude retreats. I only ever see the people running the centre at the beginning and end of the retreat.

I have visited many times over the last ten years. I have witnessed the bare bones of winter and sneezed through the vibrancy of spring. I have been sunburnt in high summer and most recently experienced the onset of autumn. Each visit brings a different experience. Some of those experiences are coloured by the accommodation allocated, its view and feel. Others are influenced by what is on my mind when I arrive, but always they are shaped by the choices I make whilst I am there.

So I thought I would share a few ideas that I believe help support the possibility of a beneficial (solitude) retreat. This knowledge has been gained the hard way! For every tip below I have done the opposite. I don’t claim that the list is perfect, every experience will still be different, but these tips support the potential for an enriching experience.

15 Tips for a beneficial (solitude) retreat

  1. Set an intention. This is best kept simple. For example, to slow down or to be completely quiet. It is not a goal – something you have to achieve – this is to be a way of being whilst you are on retreat.
  2. Turn your smartphone to airplane mode. Set the ‘vacation responses’ on your email and text and still be able to access those talks by wise guides that you have pre-saved. It will remain a temptation to switch back on, but all aspects of a retreat require discipline, this is just one other. The hardcore alternative is to leave your phone in the car or at home!
  3. Be self sufficient. Bring with you all the food, drink, toiletries, reading material, arts equipment and other props that you require. But be lean with your choices, always ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?’
  4. Don’t drive anywhere. Leave your car in the car park
  5. Exercise. Walk in nature, slowly paying attention to the sensations you experience. Do gentle yoga.
  6. Meditate. Commit to a regular meditation practice (maybe morning and night) and integrate other mindful practices: walking, washing up, art, photography. Centre upon the development of concentration.
  7. Get creative. Take the materials for a creative outlet. The quieter and more rested you get the more likely your creativity will be sparked. Try painting, drawing, colouring, sketching, writing or photography. The quieter and less stimulated you want to be the less of these things you will take.
  8. Eat well. Cook wholesome fresh food with quality ingredients. Use the preparation, cooking and eating as a mindful practice.
  9. Contemplate. Sit in nature or in your accommodation in complete silence doing nothing, maybe enjoying a hot mug of your favourite beverage.
  10. Limit sound. Choose whether your retreat will be in complete silence or if you will be supported by dharma talks or similar. Try not talk to yourself (out loud or in your head). This is particularly difficult initially.
  11. Take with you…. A flask, water bottle, pens, paper, colours, camera, inspirational reading, appropriate seasonal footwear. The quieter and less stimulated you want to be the less of these things you will take.
  12. Pay attention to how you are each day. Be aware of your sensations, your thoughts and your feelings. These will guide wise choices.
  13. Read (if you have to) that which will support your intention. Not material that will agitate.
  14. Be gentle with yourself. Be compassionate for your experience. Everything is possible. It is all passing through.
  15. Ease in and out of the retreat. Think about how the phases before and after can support your experience.

Here are a few of my favourite photos from my recent retreat

 

Hello there

I hope that you’re enjoying the day and have taken the opportunity to enroll on my FREE Mindful Photography Course.

This post is all about what it is like to do a Mindful Photography Course with me.

Ailsa Brims, whose story follows lower down, enrolled on my Mindful Photography email course a couple of years ago. Her story is a great illustration not just of how much you’ll learn with me but also how it will change your photography and you!

Do have a read – and by the way the photos are Ailsa’s too.

Ailsa Brims

In January 2015 I suddenly found myself redundant from a career I loved and I was rather lost and depressed. I used some of my redundancy payment to buy a small Canon camera and signed up for Lee’s course. I’m so glad I did!

I really enjoyed the step by step, week by week approach. The Mindful Photography Practices were challenging but I threw myself into the tasks and was amazed at the pictures I was able to create. Until then, I had seldom taken a picture that I was really happy with, I’d see something, snap away and then be disappointed. Lee taught me to stop and slow down and to really focus on what it was about the scene that had appealed to me. I started creating abstract shots that were far more ‘me’ than the landscapes I had always attempted before.

The feedback from Lee and the other class members was invaluable in giving me support and encouragement to carry on.

After the course I continued to take mindful pictures and develop my style but I also wanted to learn more about mindfulness. I read widely and started to do mindful meditations and found benefits in many areas of my life.   Mindfulness in general has had a huge impact on my life, I am less stressed, more grounded and more in touch with the real me, I am much more confident.

An example came a few months after completing the course.  I had just completed the excellent mindfulness course by Mark Williams and I was photographing at Brighton Station. After a few minutes a security guard came up to me and asked me to stop (he actually had no right to do that, I was not doing anything wrong) but I happily stopped and got on my train.  Sat on the train I reflected about what had just happened.   The old me would have been aghast that I had been singled out to be ‘told off’ in that way, I would have sat on the train embarrassed and angry, I would have fumed all the way home. The new me was mildly amused – a much more relaxing way to live!

Soon afterwards I had the opportunity to study for an MA Fine Art which was a complete change from me (I’m a scientist!) but my work for the year ended up being around what mindfulness feels like and included a lot more mindful pictures.

I am now working as an artist and about have a solo exhibition of mindful photography and I am always grateful to Lee for setting me off on this path.

I highly recommend his course to anyone!

Visit www.peppermintsea.com for more information about Ailsa and her work

Did you miss me?

Sorry I’ve been a little quiet for a couple of weeks. I’ve been a busy boy! Yes, my online courses go LIVE on pre-sale Tuesday 26th September. Whey Hey!

There will be a FREE Introduction to Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge to kick it all off.

AND there will be a 33% discount and a Bonus Bundle for the first 20 subscribers on the full course – Mindful Photography 1 ‘How becoming mindful can help you to create fabulous photos’ – in that first week of sales.

There will be lots of info about that in the next few days. Keep an eye on my blog and the online course page for when you can find out more and enroll.

In the meantime I thought I would share a little bit about how I came to create this course and particularly why Mindful Photography.

Why Mindful Photography?

Since 2000 I have been discovering what is true; what is real for me. It has been a significant period of my life, which has been dominated by a health challenge that started in 2006, remains chronic now and has re-shaped the course of my life.

Back in 2000 I was married with two young children and working successfully at a Further Education College in Swansea, South Wales, UK. I was established in middle management and was a little obsessed with long distance running.

Somewhere along the way that voice that you all have, that tells you that you are not quite good enough as you are, got a lot louder. I blame Margaret Thatcher. She is an easy scapegoat. I am sure that I still had that nagging voice back pre Thatcher, but it all got a lot louder as the idea that you are all individuals and can achieve anything you want with hard work took strong hold.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I do believe in the idea of working hard and achieving your dreams. But there is, as in all aspects of your life, a balance to be struck. Somewhere in the early nineties in the UK this balance seemed to begin disappearing underneath the desire to prove that we were all working as hard, and achieving as much as we could. Performance culture was upon us.

In the world of Further Education this manifested as students being seen as ‘units of resource’ rather than young people who were learning how to make their way in the world. Measurement of performance came down to statistical analysis of retention (keeping the imps on course and in college) and attainment (ensuring that they passed the damn qualification they enrolled upon). These performance drivers along with stronger financial controls, devolved budgets, delegated management responsibilities and technological developments changed my working culture.

I embraced it all. I became the poacher turned gamekeeper. No longer the lecturer who was talented, but only just did enough to ensure all his boxes were ticked and then turned it on for the inspectors. I became a focused, organised and driven manager. And I had aspirations. So immersed was I in this striving culture that I was convinced that my future was in the highest echelons of college management.

Alongside this and running in obsessive parallel was my desire to run a marathon in under 4 hours. This all started with a manly challenge from my friend Simon. Back in the mid nineties I jogged just to remain fit enough to play football. I was in my thirties and loved 5 a side football. I occasionally jogged with Simon and we generally covered 3 miles or so at a steady pace. One day, halfway through our route we started talking about the upcoming Swansea 10K and Simon suggested that we enter, “Of course you couldn’t expect to beat me. I am eight years younger than you.” he said.

He was right – in the first year. After that I determined to prove him wrong and I did, getting faster each year and then graduating to longer distances. We did half marathons together, but Simon (wisely) balked at the idea of a marathon. Whereas I developed three month long training schedules, ran on through the weather and pain and ignored the fact that after 20 miles my body cried ‘enough’.

Consequences, there are always consequences to your choices. I started to get warnings. In 2004 I got lost in time when running through the Andalusian hills; completely focused upon the desire to find a circular route through the hills I lost track of time and scared my family into thinking that I had fallen into a dirty ditch.

When running on Swansea Bay beach one fine winter morning in the same year I kept banging my chest to clear my breath. I thought nothing of the constriction.

In the spring of 2005 I had an anaphylactic shock on the eve of the Edinburgh Marathon; literally on the night before. It took a few hours to settle back down to normal and my sleep was disrupted. I got up in the morning and ran the race.

Later that year I had my first ever injury playing 5 a side football. I tore my calf.

In the early autumn of 2005 when out training with a work colleague she told me that my breath sounded louder than normal.

Later during the autumn of 2005 I had five cold viruses with barely a week or two of stable health between each. I carried on running and working through them all. My tongue looked like a map of the Lake District, with dark patches representing the lakes.

Each time it registered briefly, then left me. The possibility that my body was struggling to cope did not pass through my conscious mind. I was not paying attention.

It all came tumbling down in January 2006. During a lunchtime training run from the College, running back up the hill, my throat suddenly closed up. I could not get the next breath in without stopping. I paused, realised that continuing to run up the hill was out, and walked slowly. I have never run since. My breath is permanently compromised. I have scar tissue on my trachea that has reduced my capacity to breathe. My vocal chords are swollen and my voice is one that is ideal for late night radio. Whilst this is now OK and I lead a full and engaged life, the intervening ten years have seen a lot of difficulty and every aspect of my life has seen major change.

My online courses in Mindful Photography are inspired by how mindfulness and photography supported me through those years of challenging health. How they provided me with a creative outlet and a means by which to explore my life choices, my habits and behaviours and to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being.

I find it ironic that it was not paying attention that has led me to the practice of paying attention!

Why an online course?

Back in 2014 I thought of creating a course in Mindful Photography. I did not believe that what was available in the field of contemplative photography really supported both the development of brilliance as a photographer and the self knowledge that mindfulness opens the door to.

So I created an email course that was loosely based upon the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (the sutra first shared 2500 years ago by the Buddha) and inspired by more recent understanding by the medical community, and specifically the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) created by Jon Kabat Zinn.

The email course went pretty well and left me keen to expand it into an online course. My first attempt at this was a DIY effort using WordPress templates and it all fell apart after a few months (the website, not the content!)

Since then super smart content management software and companies have come into the market and it is with one of those (Teachable – very easy to use) I have developed my new course. It follows the structure and content of the email course, but includes new areas of mindful photography development, over six hours of videos, 14 more photography activities and a private Facebook group to support the students, share photos and discussion.

If I have intrigued you, keep an eye on the blog or sign up for the free eBook below and then you’ll get regular information from me.

I hope to see you online very soon!

The phrase ‘beginner’s mind’ is used in meditation and mindfulness as an encouragement to greet the present moment as if it was the first time we had experienced it. Of course it is, but we don’t often live as if it is.

When we are sat, meditating, the object of this intention is often the breath. To sit and experience the breath as if for the first time is to alert our senses to where and how we feel the breath in our body.

Its cool entry at our nose. The gentle rise and fall of our stomach. The subtle expansion of our chest. The sharpening of our senses brings us into the experience and roots us in the present moment. To expand this practice into other areas of our day and life supports our intention to be mindful.

Developing Beginner’s Mind

A useful trick is taking a sensory experience and developing it in situations and environments that are familiar. This is a re-tuning of our senses. A conscious decision to notice. We may choose one particular sense to work with or simply remain open to what our senses reveal.

The very essence of this practice brings us into the moment, encouraging our presence with our current experience.

In photography this can be explored as part of a mindful photography practice. There are two potential approaches. Either we visit a place/location that is completely new to us or we cultivate our ‘Beginner’s Eye’ by visiting familiar territory. Both approaches provide the opportunity to cultivate a grounding in the present moment. To see what we see as if for the first time. Perhaps the latter practice, on familiar territory, provides deeper opportunities to cultivate a gratitude for the familiar; to ‘give the mundane its beautiful due’ (John Updike). Something that we can then take into other aspects of our life.

Beach walk

Last week, over two days, I set out on my morning walk with my favourite hound, Monty with an intention. I decided to walk along a familiar location and practice seeing it as if for the first time, which of course in an important way it was.

I set out for Swansea Beach. This is a 5 mile crescent sweep of sandy bay that is 5 minutes from my front door. Such proximity has led to many visits over the years and it is a key part of my favourite circular walk from the house. It is an ideal location to follow this practice.

When you regularly visit the same location you become accustomed to what you expect to see. This can lead to a low attention, to not seeing what is there and a looseness with the present moment. I decided to follow the Mindful Photography Practice I share below. To slow down, to connect with the visual and be present in my day. My favourite photos from the two practices accompany this post.

A Mindful Photography Practice – Beginner’s Eye

  • Choose a familiar location
  • Spend up to 60 minutes slowly walking through this area, tuned into your visual experience
  • During the walk stop and sit. Breathe slowly. Pay attention to what you can see. Create some photos.
  • Continue walking
  • Tune into the colours, the shapes, patterns, lines and textures rather than the named objects
  • Create photos that represent your experience
  • Share your favourite photos

How is it for you? As a mindfulness practitioner being aware of how I am is a regular practice. Do the questions why and how interest you? Let’s investigate them.

Why be aware?

Mindfulness encourages you to pay attention to each moment as if it is all there is. Which it is of course. But your attachment to past events and future possibilities generates many thoughts and feelings, taking you away from truly experiencing the moment.

Mindfulness encourages you to be aware of your sensations, your thoughts, your feelings and how you are living. And it is meditation that trains your mind to achieve this level of awareness. But why bother?

I believe you should bother because this way of being encourages the greatest learning you can achieve, a clear and deep understanding of who you are and how you are living.

From this intention to work towards an understanding of self, develops the possibility of true self acceptance and the possibility of living the best life you can.

This is a journey, rather than a destination. It is a commitment to honesty, integrity and authenticity. The journey will be challenging, life is challenging. But if you can see life as a series of challenges rather than blessings or curses then you are truly a spiritual warrior.

How to be aware?

Mindfulness and meditation are practices that support this way of being. But if you start with a commitment to the idea that all of life is a practice then your path becomes visible.

Everything that arises in your life is an opportunity to notice how you are. To notice the thoughts and the feelings. You don’t need to do anything with what you notice, just noticing begins a process.

Noticing your thoughts and feelings is the first step towards accepting what they are and developing the possibility of responding skillfully to the situation, rather than reacting in you normal habitual manner.

Having a regular meditation practice supports your ability to be present in your life. It is mind training. Paying attention to any activity – walking, washing up, taking photos, arranging flowers – turns it into a kind of meditation that we call a mindful activity. All of this is training for your monkey mind and supports your intention to be fully present in your life.

How it is for me

I have been very busy over the last two weeks completing my online course in Mindful Photography. In that busy-ness I lost my attention to how I was. The consequences of striving and not paying attention to the impact of that effort manifests in my body.

My breathing gets more difficult. This of course should bring me into the moment. I have plenty experience of this pattern. It is a habitual behaviour. But even with years of experience it still takes a while to realise what is happening.

Now I have connected with how it is. I have taken a break, pending finalising details over the next two weeks, and paid attention to how I am. The consequence of this paying attention is improved breathing. I know, it’s not rocket science. If I rest, if I pay attention I recover. But I get caught up in how I want things to be. I am caught up in the future and not being present with how it is now. Once I return to this moment life has a chance to re balance.

Your Practice

If you don’t have a regular meditation practice I encourage you to start one. It will make a difference, an almost imperceptible difference, over many years.

Just start with 5 minutes, every morning first thing before you do anything else. If this is not an option spend 5 minutes somewhere in your day sitting, with eyes closed and follow your breath.

As you gain in confidence and regularity increase the time. I sit every morning and do a little yoga for at least 20 minutes. I have done this for many years. Only when it became a daily practice did I begin to notice it influencing the rest of my life. But it remains an ongoing practice. I still fall over. All I have to do is get back up again!

Generosity is regarded as a mindful attitude. Jon Kabat-Zinn added it to his initial list of seven attitudes that are found in his book Full Catastrophe Living, along with gratitude. How is it now seen as a mindful attitude and how can you develop the attitude through your photography?

What is Generosity?

Generosity is defined as the quality of being kind and generous, and it is a key element of many religions. In Christianity it is known as charity and we are told that ‘it is better to give than to receive.’

In Buddhism it is known as dana: it is the practice of cultivating generosity and is seen as a perfection.

In secular circles it may be described as philanthropy – ‘the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes’ – in the hope of building a better world.

Recently the scientific community have become interested in the act of generosity. The University of Notre Dame has conducted the “Science of Generosity Initiative” to explore the relationship between generosity, happiness and well-being.

The Paradox

I do love a paradox, and human life is full of them. Could it be that generosity provides another? Could it be that when you don’t hold on tightly to what you perceive to be yours that it makes you richer than hanging on to it?

How would it be if you cultivated an attitude of abundance that there would always be enough for you if you gave some away? Does that thought fill you with fear? Fear of not having enough. I know that it does me. And yet I always seem to have enough. Somehow something turns up to plug the gaps. This requires an attitude of abundance instead of scarcity. A belief that there will always be enough.

Such an attitude requires fearlessness. It requires you to rise past the fear that you will not have enough. For this fear generates  greed, selfishness and stinginess and if you are to be generous an attitude of abundance is the foundation stone.

True Generosity

True generosity requires a non attachment to the outcome. There is an intention to give freely without attachment to how your gift is received. This then cultivates a freedom from ego and connects us to humanity. You become less centered on me-me-me and more open to the fact that you are part of the whole. Part of humanity. Part of Earth. Part of the cosmos. After all everything is made of the same stuff, stardust.

Applied to Photography

There are two ways in which you can cultivate generosity through photography.

  1. Give your photos away for free. Now I know that this is contentious and that it runs contrary to contemporary thinking about copyright, but most of us create good photos rather than great photos. I understand that those who regularly create great photos, and earn their living that way may not want to give their work away (perhaps they would consider option 2 below). But the rest of us mere mortals create millions of photographs a day. (In 2015 it was estimated that 80 million photos were uploaded to Instagram every day! InfoTrends’ most recent worldwide image capture forecast estimates consumers will take 1.2 trillion photos in 2017.) Why not set yours free?
  2. Donate your skills, knowledge, time or money earned from photography. Why not shoot a friend’s celebration or event for free, donating your time skills and photos? Why not print and frame one of your photos and give it to a friend or relative who expressed how much they like it? If you are a professional why not offer a small part of your time and space to instruct others in an aspect of your photography? If you earn your income from photography why not donate a small, but regular amount of your income to a related charity?

Now I freely admit that I do not do any of these things regularly. I do occasionally offer my services for free or very low rates when I know the recipients cannot afford much. I do struggle with that abundance vs scarcity thought. However, I have a commitment to continue cultivating this attitude and will be looking to how I can offer some of my future online photography courses for free, as well as continuing the practice throughout the rest of my life.

Have I inspired you to cultivate your attitude of generosity?

Renaissance Photography Prize is an international award that showcases outstanding photography from emerging and established photographers while raising funds to support young women with breast cancer.

Renaissance Photography Prize website

If you have never heard of this photography competition now is your chance to find out all about it. I have in the past years entered but have never been selected. I did not enter this year, but hope to again in the future. Not only is it a worthy cause some terrific photography is produced for it.

You can take a look at the 2017 Finalists and shortlist here

The photo accompanying this post is a non selected photo of mine that I rather like. It is titled ‘Waiting’ and is at least 7 years old!

Waiting

Waiting

 

I very rarely set out to create a selfie. But if I look through my mindful photography practice photos there are dozens of examples when I appear. Why? I get excited with a bit of sunshine (I do live in Wet Wales) and the opportunities it provides.

There I am out paying attention to what I can see. Coming back to the visual every time I notice my mind has gone off on one. And then the sun comes out I see a shadow of myself and go, “Ooh, Shiny!”. The urge to create a selfie is irresistible. Most often, judging by my collection it is a shadow that excites me, but sometimes it’s a reflection or even the possibility of a silhouette. All I need is the sun and there it is. Ooh, Shiny! Here are a few of my favourites.

 

From the Elders of the Hopi Nation

To my fellow swimmers:

Here is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift there are those who will be afraid, who will try to hold on to the shore. They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.

The River is a fine metaphor for this thing we call life. It has been used as such by many, to describe many of the stages and events through life. I’ve even used it to describe how meditation changes your life. The quote above I found in a fabulous book called Perseverance by Margaret Wheatley, which is a collection of ideas and thoughts that help you to remain present with how life is. The full poem is at the bottom of this post, but for now I’m gonna share a few thoughts upon this wet metaphor!

A Philosopher’s thoughts

Heraclitus (530 – 470 BC), the philosopher said that life is like a river. The peaks and troughs, pits and swirls, are all are part of the ride. Heraclitus, where he here to advise you might say, “Go with the flow. Enjoy the ride, as wild as it may be.”

Heraclitus observed that nature is in a state of constant flux. ‘Cold things grow hot, the hot cools, the wet dries, the parched moistens’. Everything is constantly shifting, changing, and becoming something other to what it was before.

Heraclitus concluded that nature is change. Like a river, nature flows ever onwards. Like a life, the river flows ever onward.

However, the metaphor is taken further. The trickle that is the source of every river is related to the beginning of life. From there the river picks up speed, soon becoming a torrent of energy and change. Maybe a slower phase, maybe a meandering phase, maybe even an almost still phase where the pace is so slow you can imagine that the change has stopped.

In the current of life

Of all of these metaphors it is the current of the river, and life, that interests me. For if we return to the quote at the beginning of my post, it is the idea that it is the current of life that will tear you away from clinging to the bank that most resonates.

The current of life is beyond our control. We believe that we have control of our lives; we exercise free will, make choices and follow our heart. And then life takes you away. The current becomes irresistible. Just when you thought you had it all taped down and huge swell of powerful current changes your course.

At that point you cling to the rocks, or to a floating branch. Maybe you attempt to swim to the riverbank, cling on for a while, before being torn away. But all you have to do is keep your head above water, swim a little to avoid the major obstacles if possible and feel where the current is taking you.

With your head above the waterline you can see the terrain. You can see where you are headed, feel the current taking you and notice how you are. You are alive, you are travelling forwards. You are breathing and change is taking you downstream.

Calmer water will be reached. You may even reach some shallows and be able to stop, take stock of how far you have travelled and notice how you are now. Eventually you will reach the sea, we all do. Whilst you are travelling that way, keep your head above the water, you eyes on the journey and breathe. You are alive.

From the Elders of the Hopi Nation

Oraibi, Arizona, June 8, 2000

To My Fellow Swimmers:

Here is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are
those who will be afraid, who will try to hold on to the shore. They are
being torn apart and will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the
shore, push off into the middle of the river and keep our heads above water.

And I say see who is there with you and celebrate. At this time in history,
we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment
that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves. Banish the word
struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
For we are the ones we have been waiting for.

 

 

 

 

Chimping

Chimping is the act of immediately looking at your camera screen after you have taken a shot. It’s called chimping because of the noise you make when you see a shot you like, “Ooo, ooo, ooo!” This behaviour is a natural consequence of our digital cameras and whilst there are one or two advantages to the habit, in the main I favour curating (pulling together a series of photos over a period of time) over chimping. Let me explain.

To chimp or not to chimp

There you are out with your camera creating photos. In the moment just after you take the photo you look at the screen. What thoughts do you have in that moment? Probably you make an instant judgement. Good or bad? Like or dislike? This judgement is inevitably linked to what you think you saw and your expectations.

What you think you saw is not as simple as you might imagine. Your eyes received sensory information; we call it light. This pattern of light was collected by receptors on your retina (like the sensor in a digital camera) and sent as an electrical signal to your brain. In fractions of a second this sensory information was interpreted by your mind, compared to memories of similar patterns of light and a label attached. This label is likely to be the name of the object or objects in your photo. If you’re thinking a bit more like a camera it might be the name of the shapes, patterns, line or texture that you see.

This habit of mind can get in the way of clear seeing as Claude Monet said,

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

Your mind also has this clever tactic of zooming in, or focusing on, what is of interest. How many times have you taken a photo of an object in a scene only to look at the photo and realise that the object is much smaller in the frame than you expected. This may be because your mind focused in on the object. It might also be because you eye operates at a different focal length to the lens on your camera. There’s a lot going on and a lot to learn.

So you look at the photo you’ve just taken, make a judgement, and keep or discard. This discriminatory approach, judging our work against arbitrary values, is a paradox. It is helpful, for without a critical faculty we will not learn and develop. But this judging mind is a tight mind. What of experimentation, happy accidents, creative exploration? Sometimes one ‘bad’ photo might suggest a new approach. Sometimes what you judge to be a ‘bad’ photo one day, becomes something you love a few days later. This brings us to curating.

Curating

Curating is the practice of bringing together a group of photographs from a wider selection. It is a positive selective practice. One that could be approached in a mindful manner; conscious of each photo, and the thoughts and feelings that they generate.

You are choosing the photos you want in this set. Generally, this practice is something that is most effective if it is actioned some time after the photos were created. Why? This provides space for some of the emotional attachment we feel about our photos to soften. We may still experience feelings when we look at our work, but the distance we have allowed creates a space to be more aware of these feelings without judgement.

Curating provides time for our ideas to gestate. Learning, understanding and growth are all given space to flourish. Feelings and thoughts settle, like dirt in water, leaving clarity and clear vision.

The two photos in this post have been chosen deliberately to illustrate my point. Neither have ever been seen before. They are both part of a curated process for The Renaissance Photography Prize that I have entered most years for the since 2010. The top photo was not submitted, I don’t recall why. It was created using a Holga toy camera in medium format, using a double exposure, because it was quite dull. I love the blue shades of coldness.

The photo below was submitted in 2010, but in a colour version. I now see that its theme of unclear seeing is more effectively rendered in black and white.

(The Renaissance Photography Prize is a fabulous competition and cause. Now is a good time to take a look online.)

So why not turn off your LCD screen, or cover it with a piece of card? Remove the temptation and see how it changes how you create your photos. You will slow down, become more attuned to what you see and more present with your experience.

Other Perspectives on Chimping

10 Reasons why you should never chimp – a Street Photographer’s approach from Eric Kim, but relevant to all photography.

Getting the Chimp off your back from the Digital Photography School

Today I decided to follow a Mindful Photography Practice in response to this week’s Word Press Photo Challenge Elemental. This weekly topic encouraged us to respond to the four key elements: Air, Water, Earth and Fire. I decided that this would be most appropriate for me at the beach, as I live only 15 minutes drive away from one of the top beaches in the UK – Three Cliffs, and I would be in my element. I love the beach!

Air

As I wandered camera in hand I stayed present with the visual panorama and noticed my mind nagging at the difficulty of photographing Air and Fire. My response was to let the thought pass and return to what I could see. Then I looked up. The first photo of this set seemed an appropriate response to Air. Not only was the invisible visible in its movement through the clouds, our own contribution to the element, in the form of pollution was clear.

mindful photography - air

Water and Earth

At the beach it seemed apposite to include the Water and Earth together in a photo. After all is it not this interaction, wave on sand, that we most love at the beach? My favourite photo on this theme included me, foot and shadow, paddling through the warmish shallows. Though there were a couple of others I was quite drawn to as well.

mindful photography - water and earthmindful photography - water and earth mindful photography - water and earth

Fire

Of Fire there was none. I entertained storming someone’s barbecue and getting down low and close to capture the burning coals, but that idea seemed too ridiculous. It was only when I finished and reviewed my photos that I realised that I had a symbolic representation for Fire in the blazing lichen. Which of course also responds to Earth too. You can almost see the fire bursting through the cracks in the earth, like at the edge of volcanic activity.

mindful photography - fire

Finally

At Three Cliffs it is almost always necessary to visit the passage between two areas of the beach. This sea worn arch presents a teardrop view of the beach and its base looks different each time you visit. The tide takes and deposits sand, changing the passage base throughout the seasons. It seemed an appropriate watery and earthy note on which to complete this set.

 

 

 

 

As a guy who tries to live a mindful life I recognise that practice is the foundation, backbone and rhythm of my intention. Practice is a word that is often used alongside meditation, in that what we experience is most accurately described as a meditation practice. This is helpful. A practice implies that it is something we are working on, that perfection is not an expectation and that any experience is possible during the practice.

Practice also suggests a commitment to regularity and a growing understanding that the journey is more important than the destination. It is the practice itself that is the thing. The trying to get somewhere – like be a brilliant meditator is a flawed goal. Mindfulness is all about intention, not goal. It’s not supposed to feel like a carousel, round and round, up and down but not going anywhere. More like you are the Starship Enterprise and your ongoing mission is to explore strange new lands (your emotional landscape) and to boldly go where you haven’t gone before! Check out this post to read more about Intention.

Mindful Practices

Over the last few years I have developed a daily mediation practice, a weekly mindful photography practice and a daily gratitude practice with my sister in Canada. Also over the course of the last two years I have come to see this process of blogging as a practice. Let me explain.

Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat Zinn as, “Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” This is indeed a lifetime practice and one that we can return to any moment when we notice that we have become adrift on life’s turbulent swirling current.

We can apply mindfulness to any and every activity and action of life. Applying mindfulness to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation. This idea has been explored by many. There are books available on mindful walking, parenting, drawing, ageing, bereavement, baking, work, urban living, art and many more. Mindfulness is a media sensation.

I became aware that I was bringing this present moment attention to my writing in the late spring 2015 when I started sharing my life experiences and challenges through this blog. The practice of openly writing about one’s life experiences is nothing new of course. Diaries, autobiographies and memoirs have been a regular element of the book publishing industry for hundreds of years. The difference is personal.

Blogging about difficulty

For the first time in my life I started writing about my vulnerabilities and feelings. This was an instinctive reaction to life throwing unexpected curve balls at me. Instead of avoiding those feelings, or internalising, I chose to share. The reaction surprised me. I had contact and support from people I knew and those I had never met. But most interesting were the repercussions throughout my life.

These ripples, caused by the stone of honesty dropping into my pool of life, continue to be felt. It seems that the more I write about it, the more I am attuned to what is happening. The writing helps to process the difficulty, the feelings and the changes. The more attuned I am, the more able I am to be with whatever comes my way.

This also becomes a kind of deepening awareness. As I write I become present with my feelings about the difficult circumstances. I write freely and fast. Often the essence of the feelings is raw and unprocessed. Much of it comes instinctively and usually it is only edited to correct typos, grammar and spelling. The raw essence remains.

Writing these blog posts will continue to be a practice; one of reflection and authenticity. It feels like an essential aspect of my mindful life, so expect more soon!

 

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

This week’s mindful photography challenge is ‘Simple’ and is an invitation to create one photograph that illustrates the theme. It could be a photo that uses simplicity as its compositional guide, or it could illustrate the standard definition ‘easy to understand’ either directly or using a metaphor/symbol. There that’s given you something to think about. Just keep it simple! My photo below takes the first approach and was created today in the park to illustrate this post. I only created two photos. One for this post and one for next week’s.

When you go out to practice imagine that you can only create one photo. Walk around your chosen location. Observe your surroundings. Wait until a photo opportunity grabs you. Look at what stopped you and why. Consider how you will frame it (what is in the frame and what is out?) Consider how your camera will see the scene. Then create one photo.

Share your favourite photo here.

Yesterday I spent an hour practicing being present in my local park, Singleton. I thought I would cultivate a beginner’s mind, perusing a familiar place, noticing what was there and attuning to the visual as if I were a camera; as if I did not know the name of things. Then you see what is there; the shapes, forms, colours, patterns, textures…. After that all there is to do is choose where to place the frame and decide upon the depth of field. Oh and maybe include a little bit of yourself, either literally or metaphorically!

If you are interested in how I actually set myself up for these practices, in ways that support the attention to the visual, whilst not being overwhelmed by the technical and compositional then these are the very things my online course (live in the Autumn 2017) will demonstrate.

Intention is the commitment to turn up for yourself. Your intention is what sets you on the mindful path to developing your self awareness to find more ease, freedom, and peace. Intention is the doorway to those other mindful attitudes: non judging, patience, beginner’s mind, acceptance, non striving, letting go, trust, gratitude and generosity.

Making mindfulness an intention is a beginning. Intentions are found in the present, so just by making one, you have already accomplished what you set out to do. An intention cannot fail, because it happens right now. With an intention, there is no required result—we are simply connecting to our chosen course. “I’m just going to practice, and see what happens.” Therefore we invite curiosity, a sense of experimentation: “Well, this is interesting, I wonder what’s going to happen now?” Intention has strength, as its rooted in reality, but also suppleness—holding to an intention doesn’t mean our actions can’t change, based on what we discover.

Ed Halliwell Mindful.org

Applied to photography

Once a week I try to set out with the intention of practicing mindful photography. I say ‘I try’ as sometimes events, weather or other plans get in the way. However, it is my intention to walk with my camera, to observe my surroundings and use what I can see as my anchor. That is, whenever I notice photo thinking, or future planning, or reviewing the past in my busy mind, I return to what I can see.

As I walk I continually return to visual, whilst at the same time just observing what I see. It is my intention to not look for a photo. I wait for a visual opportunity to find me.

There are two intentions here that are mirror images of meditation practice. Firstly the intention to practice. Just to turn up and be with the practice. Daily meditation trains the mind. Weekly mindful photography practice supports an intention to bring mindfulness to other activities in my life.

Secondly the intention to just be with what happens.  In meditation I sit and I am present with my breath. I practice noticing what my mind does. This is similar in intention and process to my mindful photography practice. I walk and I am with what happens. I notice my mind looking for photo opportunities and I come back to the whole vista. I notice my mind thinking about how to use a slow shutter speed to create an interesting photo and I come back to what I can see.

Then something catches my eye. I stop and I observe (whilst breathing) what it was. I consider what stopped me. I absorb the scene. Only then do I bring my camera to my eye and make a few choices before pressing the shutter. Then I return to my gentle observational walk.

The three photos accompanying this post are from a Mindful Photography Practice in Mumbles a couple of years ago. But I do like them!

I recently picked up a book at our local library called ‘Waking Up – Searching for spirituality without religion’ by Sam Harris. What follows is a sharing of the author’s summary of meditation and some personal reflections. It is not a review of the book, which is a philosophical, scientific and atheist investigation into the cultivation of a spiritual life without religion.

The author, Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and philosopher who has published several bestselling books. He keeps a blog that shares irregular podcasts and has written articles for The Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Newsweek.

I meditate to support my intention to live a mindful life. Practicing mindfulness in every aspect of life and truly being present with each moment is an undertaking not to be underestimated. That being truly present bit is the challenge: being attuned to what is arising on our consciousness. The greatest challenge we have to this intention is our thinking mind. Try a little test now. Close your eyes and try not to think of anything for 1 minute.

What happened? I would suggest that you started thinking (maybe about noticing your thinking!) almost immediately. If you focused on your breath and tried to follow it for a minute, did any thought arise? Did you notice?

As a regular meditator I am alert to the possibility of developing my practice. I believe that it is helpful to reflect upon how to meditate and I found the summary that Sam Harris shares on pages 39- 40 of Waking Up most useful.

How to Meditate

  1. Sit comfortably, with your spine erect, either in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion.
  2. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel the points of contact between your body and the chair or floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting – feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibration, etc
  3. Gradually become aware of the process of breathing. Pay attention to wherever you feel the breath most distinctly – either at your nostrils or in the rising and falling of your abdomen.
  4. Allow your attention to rest in the mere sensation of breathing. (You don’t have to control the breath. Just let it come and go naturally.)
  5. Every time your mind wanders in thought, gently return it to the breath.
  6. As you focus on the process of breathing, you will also perceive sounds, bodily sensations or emotions. Simply observe these phenomena as they appear in consciousness and then return to the breath.
  7. The moment you notice that you have been lost in thought, observe the present thought itself as an object of consciousness. Then return your attention to the breath – or to any sounds or sensations arising in the next moment.
  8. Continue in this way until you can merely witness all objects of consciousness – sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, even thoughts themselves – as they arise, change and pass away.

What I found particularly helpful was the last two points. I would suggest that points 1 – 6 form a solid foundation for a meditation practice. Point 7 then suggests that we start to view the thought itself as an object of consciousness, something that has just arisen in our awareness, much as any external object (sound, sight etc) might. This naturally leads then to the instruction (point 8) to witness all objects of consciousness as they arise, change and fall away.

It is perhaps in this instruction where the practice deep and ongoing practice lies. Where, as we practice, we cultivate a mind that is full of the present moment and aware of our thoughts, habits and behaviours. Here is the ground.

My meditation

The most helpful aspect of my mediation I can share is that a regular routine is most supportive. It is my intention to meditate for 20 minutes every morning. When I am living a standard day this will usually be the very first thing that I do after waking up. Even where the day is more flexible I find that a morning routine is most supportive for the remainder of the day.

I am now four years into this daily practice, after a few years of being more sporadic, and I notice when I miss the odd day. It feels an essential element of my way of being and is particularly supportive times of great change. I roll out of bed, do 10 minutes of yoga (for my lower back) and then sit for 10 – 20 minutes.

I have noticed recently that this practice is starting to seep into my everyday life. As Jon Kabat Zinn suggests, ” Mindfulness applied to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation”. The more I meditate the more I become present with the one thing I am doing. It remains an ongoing practice, for I still loose my attention regularly and my mind goes wandering, but a daily meditation practice slowly accrues benefit.

5 Tips to develop a meditation habit

  1. Do it in the morning. No matter if you’re a morning person or not. Morning is when you have most control of your time. If you have a busy family then get up before them (just a little). If you struggle to get up put your place to meditate close to where you roll out of bed. Set your alarm and instead of snoozing roll out of bed and sit.
  2. Pick and amount of time you can commit to. Initially this can be 2 mins. Just get up and do it. Then, as it becomes a habit extend the time.
  3. Use an app to track your progress. Insight Timer and Headspace both support your practice and keep a record of your practice. This is great for motivation, especially if you like to receive badges/stars for achievement. Believe me it helps!
  4. Accept that you won’t get it right. There is no getting it right. You sit and you notice. This is the practice. If you notice that your mind is all over the place don’t berate yourself, congratulations are due! You noticed. Just sit, practice and notice.
  5. If you miss a morning session try doing it anywhere. At your desk. On the commute (as long as you’re not driving!). In a queue. Just close your eyes for a couple of minutes and breathe. Pay attention to your breath. Notice your feet on the floor and your rear on its seat. You are present.