10 more things you don’t know about me (probably)

I was browsing through my old posts today and came across 25 things you don’t know about me (probably), which I wrote whilst on holiday in Canada 16 months ago. I thought it was time for an update!

  1. I have learnt how to be in (and out) of a new relationship with a woman. Has it been easy? Sometimes. Also fun, interesting and challenging.
  2. I am now working freelance – for the first time in 56 years. Scary and exciting.
  3. I have recently taken my own advice and simplified my camera equipment. I now use a Fuji X-T2 and currently have just two lenses. It feels a positive move.
  4. Continuing a daily gratitude practice with my sister in Canada has helped us to stay involved in each other’s lives.
  5. I have appeared as a film extra in the forthcoming movie Show Dogs (January 2018). I even got to play a photographer’s hands. It was tricky!
  6. Mindfulness is slowly becoming a key feature of all aspects of my life.
  7. The men’s group I started with local friends has proven to be hugely supportive for all members. Despite (or perhaps because of) some particularly challenging issues and differences it continues to be a crucible for personal development and self exploration.
  8. Since I allowed myself to be vulnerable, by writing about my health and other challenges here, my openness has spread into the rest of my life and through osmosis infected others! It is a powerful permission.
  9. I have no idea how the changes in my personal and work life will develop over the next few years, but I have a unshakable confidence that they will be rich in experience, abundant in opportunity and continued personal development.
  10. I love walking barefoot on the beach. Not just in the summer!

My Mindful Photography Practice

I am aware that I write more about mindfulness than photography. I reckon that is OK as my focus is teaching mindfulness through photography, but I thought that you might find it interesting to read about my regular (mindful) photography practice. What I do and how I do it.

A couple of days ago I followed a mindful photography practice to produce the one photo for this week’s Mindful Photography Challenge. What follows here is a walk through of my practice, the camera set up, the intention of the practice and my feelings and reactions to each photo. I have included all 10 photos here so that I can reflect upon the idea that it is the practice that is most essential rather than the outcomes (the photos).

A Mindful Photography Practice – A Part of the Whole

The title for this practice was just a moment’s inspiration, an idea that sprung to mind. Usually I do not use a theme for the practice, previously I have used “Blue”, but it is more usual for me to centre just upon the observation of what is in front of me.

I chose a simple camera set up that I can now use quite instinctively, not needing to move the camera from my eye as I adjust exposure settings. I use Aperture Priority, an ISO appropriate for the light (200 on this day) and start with the camera in a mid range aperture (f8). Bryan Petersen in his books on exposure calls this a ‘who cares’ aperture, one where the depth of field is not a big issue and the object that you focus on will be super sharp. From this point you can choose to change the aperture, without removing the camera from your eye, knowing which way to move the relevant ring/button – because you have practiced! I also chose to use my 35mm lens (a 50mm equivalent on my camera) to encourage a literal creation of photos that were a part of the whole.

I decided to create 10 photos in 30 minutes on a short walk to a local park. I also set myself the intention of not looking at the review screen after each photo and keeping count of the number of photos created in my head. The purpose of this is to centre my mind upon the visual, to use seeing as my anchor, the thing I return to whenever I notice my busy mind.

This is the first photo I created, only a minute from my front door. As I reached the corner of the first road I have to cross, I looked up. I was drawn by the blue, blue sky and saw the tenacious plant clinging to the building, framed against the sky. I chose to change the aperture to a wider one to focus the eye upon the subject and used the edges of the building to create lines that lead to the plant. All of this decision making happened in an instant. Only now reflecting on it am I aware of that process. The more you practice the more instinctive that process becomes. The photo opportunity also resonated as a symbolic representation of nature and man made parts of the whole.

A few yards further on the red of this dismembered tennis ball caught my eye. Red is the strongest colour to include in a photo and in retrospect my decision to keep the wide open aperture was not necessary. Perhaps the wiser option would have been the mid range aperture, the subject is bright enough and the background, which has its own interest a little lost.

At the entrance to the park I saw this opportunity. I do like to include myself in photos; part of the whole! But my eyes deceived me. They of course have a higher dynamic range than the camera, which struggled to make out the faded word at the bottom of the frame. I didn’t know until I reviewed the photo at the end of the practice that the exposure compensation button had also been left at +1.75, from recording videos the previous day! Wisdom learnt: check all settings before starting practice. As I was shooting in raw, as well as jpegs, I was able to rectify the impact.

The simplicity of this opportunity stopped me. I like a diagonal in composition and the way the leaf shadows broke up the line suggest that they were part of the puzzle (the whole) that could be remade.

More diagonals, and sun and shadow attracted my attention here. By choosing to use my 35mm lens including just part of different elements, through deliberate placing of the frame, suggests part of the whole. It also creates triangles of shape in structure and light, which are a feature of my work.

I had wandered for a while before I came across this bench. It was the word ‘loved’ that drew my attention. That the bench was dedicated to a lost loved one reminded me that we are all part of the whole, that every element of what we are becomes something else in time. I chose a wide open aperture so that I could draw the viewer’s attention to the word that first caught my eye. Choice of point of view created the diagonal lines that lend dynamism to the composition.

The water in the lake is quite low at present, due to low rainfall (in Wales, who’d have thought it!) These old foundations the ducks are sunning themselves on are usually underwater. Of course because of the high dynamic range, the shadow and bright sunshine, some rescuing of detail has had to take place. Whilst these photographic mistakes were made during the actual practice they do not detract from the value of the practice in centering me in the moment. Fortunately some of the errors can be recovered with a little editing!

I got up real close to this plant. Creating lots of lines and shapes, with a decision to use a wide aperture to draw the viewer’s eye to the leaf that caught my eye.

Leaving the park I turned back and noticed this interplay of gate and its shadow behind. The rusted, unused chain was part of the attraction. The instinctive ‘who cares’ aperture lent itself to the opportunity.

Walking back up the hill to my house I was pretty sure I had one shot left to create. I was initially drawn by the texture and patterns of the wall on the left of this frame, but as I moved closer I saw the potential of the dead leaf. A kind of counterpoint to the first photo created. Man made and nature, also illustrating that everything is impermanent. Ironically this photo opportunity is just 5 feet from the first photo.

Normally I would not share all my photos from one practice. I would probably choose just the one or two I thought strongest. But here I wanted to share the process, warts and all. For it is the practice that is important. Mistakes helps us learn, both photographically and in life. A photography practice is providing opportunity to practice seeing like a camera, this is at the heart of photographic creation. Whilst there are also opportunities to practice and learn about our technical and compositional choices, it is the seeing that is the foundation of mindful photography.

 

 

 

I am a bridge

I am a bridge from one part of my life to another. Sometimes I can see the structures (events, happenings) that connect one part to another. Often I can see the beginning, but the end and the security of land remains out of view  – like crossing the Firth of Forth in a sea mist – I keep going, certain that my feet are placed on a solid structure, one in front of the other. Eventually I will reach the other side and arrive where I arrive.

Sometimes when crossing other bridges I find myself stepping off into a new land and my recollection of the journey across the bridge is unclear. But here I am. Present in new circumstances.

I now know that I can remain aware and present on my journey across the bridge. It is but a trick, a paying attention; to each footstep, to the view ahead and the view I am passing. It only requires a simple paying attention, but I get distracted by thoughts of how it will be when I arrive. If I arrive.

I am crossing a bridge now. From full time employment to freelance self employment. I am not certain where I will arrive, but I am travelling. I occasionally think, “What is the worst that could happen?” It’s probably that I can’t secure enough income to live and then can’t get back into employment. I know the fear is out there,  but I really believe that the land I arrive in will not be like that.

I will arrive on the other side of the bridge and there will be opportunities that I cannot now conceive of. My intention is strong. My belief that my journey across the bridge will arrive in a place that supports, sustains and enriches my life is complete. I just need to keep placing one foot in front of the other and pay attention to where I am and where I am headed.

Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge – Part of the whole

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 ‘Part of the whole’ and it includes a 30 minute Mindful Photography Practice. This is in response to the idea that everything is part of the whole; you, me, a branch, a cloud, a wall. It is all made up of the same stuff and it is all connected. Your photographs may be tightly framed, implying that there is more outside of the frame.

Using your favourite camera/lens set out for a location close to home. As you walk do not look for a photographic opportunity, but wait for visual stimulation that suggests the theme, ‘Part of the Whole’. You are to spend just 30 minutes on this practice and create 10 photos. No more, no less. Try not to review the photos as you practice. Keep count in your head. Stay present with the visual experience.

Share your favourite photo here. This is mine. I like the combination of man made structure and nature’s conquest. I also like the strong graphical composition, use of colour, shape and simplicity. I look forward to seeing yours.

My four (not so) noble truths

Sometimes life circumstances and events are so challenging, so not what you want that the desire to just sail away to another place, another world, another version of your life is overwhelming. The literal reality is that this is probably not possible. Your commitments, loves and responsibilities may mean that running away to sea (or the equivalent) is just not possible. Then you face your greatest challenge. Staying with the pain, the resistance, the sheer bloody anger and frustration that cries out deep in your soul, “Why me?”

In the midst of all of the messiness, all of the roiling, raging emotion is it helpful to reflect upon the Buddha’s understanding that all of life is suffering? I don’t think so. All you can feel is that gnawing question, “Why?” Why does it have to be this way? Why does this happen to happen now? Why does this have to happen? Why bloody me?

And yet that 2500 year old wisdom contained in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path is as relevant today and to your present suffering as it was 2500 years ago. For we are human beings and we all live through exactly the same struggles and challenges. Sure they manifest in ways relevant to the era, but the human emotional experience and the way through it remains the same.

I am not a Buddhist, but I do believe that the Four Noble Truths describe how life is and the Eightfold Path offers a way to live that allows you to lean into and accept the suffering, leading to it dissolving. I know it is true because I live it. I live through suffering, just like you and I find the wisdom supportive and a practical framework for life.

What follows is a personal and current interpretation of the Four Noble Truths, you can find many more detailed and wiser explanations online, but as the Buddha may have said (there is some dispute) ‘Do not believe what I say, live the experience and learn for yourself’ (I am paraphrasing).

My Four (not so) noble Truths

1) My life is decorated with difficulty

I do not want to live with a chronic health condition. I have spent many years either ignoring it or trying to fix myself. I know that it may get worse as I age. I know that there are limited medical interventions that help. I now know (through bitter experience) that there are ways I can choose to live that support a stable health condition.

However I do not like it. I have to make choices that I do not like. I have to let opportunities go. I have to turn events down. I have to change my day to day activities. I have to make these choices or there are consequences and the consequences are even more suffering. It’s like choosing which type of pain to suffer with.

2) My suffering is caused by me not wanting life to be how it is

Accepting it is not easy. Accepting anything that I do not like sets me up against myself. My ego believes I am immortal, younger than I am, not ageing. My ego tells me I can play football, go out for a drink, spend time doing busy activities. I believe that I am the same man I always was. I am deluded.

I know that the choices I make that are not helpful now come from old patterns. Old ways of living and old patterns of thinking. My common ways of thinking, my habits, are well travelled motorways in my mind. These roads are wide, fast and easy to use. Habitual thinking is reactionary, almost thoughtless and yet I describe myself as a certain type of person, as though those thoughts and ways of being are all that I am. I imagine that I am a thinking rational person and my reaction, my resistance is normal. And so I suffer.

3) I see a way that I can help myself

I know that I can free myself from my suffering by liberating myself from my attachment to how life was or even how it is right now. I know this rationally. I know this is true. I also know that freeing myself from my attachment to how life was/is is the work of a lifetime. How do I know this? Because it is bloody difficult. Because I regularly fall over. I get caught up in my old ways of being, my old choices and then have an acute health situation.

Knowing something and living something are not the same. However, I now know that there is a path that I can follow that supports the possibility of freedom from my suffering. I am on the path, this blog is part of it, but compared to the motorway I have been travelling on it often feels like an unsurfaced track through undulating terrain. Sometimes it is more challenging and feels like an unforgiving jungle with no path and I have just a machete in my hand.

4) My path through the jungle

My path involves a great deal of paying attention. I know that this is deeply ironic, for it was not paying attention that lead me to the place I find myself. The paying attention includes tuning into to how I am each day. Making wise choices as to how to spend that day. Considering the things I have to do, those I can change or move and those that are optional.

I believe that my path involves following work that echoes my life choices. I have for some time felt that my employed work did not do this. Taking the chance to work freelance may seem a big risk, after all being self employed is more stressful than full time employment, is it not? I am not sure. I am acting on a deeper wisdom. A calling to give this way of working and living a try. A belief that it will sustain me emotionally and financially. A belief that I must engage in work that I live as well. Mindful Photography is part of my path, part of my life practice.

I make choices to engage in activities and with people that support me along the path. Maybe I also help them. After all we are all dealing with the same causes of suffering. I have a daily meditation practice and I use a variety of techniques and practices to come back in to the present most days. Oh yes, it is a practice and I do get lost in the jungle sometimes. I do lose my way and fall back on to the motorway. But I notice and make the decision to move back to the path less travelled.

So if you are suffering, if life is particularly challenging for you right now, know that there is possibility in a 2500 year old wisdom. You do not have to become a Buddhist, but maybe read a western interpretation of the Buddha’s experiences and thoughts and then try something out yourself. But do not expect to get it right. For it is in the getting it wrong and then trying again that the path through the jungle lies.

Be compassionate for your journey. You are a beautiful person.

 

 

3 tips to remember to be mindful

“…it is often more difficult to remember to be mindful than to be mindful itself.”
― Donald Rothberg, The Engaged Spiritual Life: A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World

I find this quote helpful and true. The call to be mindful is quite loud. The benefits are known and shared in mainstream media. But knowing and acting are not the same. So how can you remember to be mindful?

3 tips to remember to be mindful

  1. Have a daily meditation practice. Meditation is the practice that trains your busy mind. Meditation develops the neural pathways that you use when you are mindful. Meditation trains the mind to be aware of your thoughts and your feelings. When you sit and follow your breath interruptions are constant. Your mind shoots about through memories and plans, reviewing the past and projecting into the future. Each time you notice the thoughts you return to the breath. I have had conversations with people who believe that because their mind is so busy that they are ‘no good’ at meditating. I point out that they are brilliant, because they noticed. It is the meditation practice that prepares you to be mindful in other arenas of life.
  2. Pay attention to your sensations. The first foundation of mindfulness (from the original Mindfulness Sutra) is to be aware of your sensations. Your five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste are an opportunity to return to the moment. Each one can be used as an anchor to root you in the moment. In Mindful Photography you use what you can see as your anchor. In mindful walking you use the touch of your feet on the floor. Each sensation can be used in place of the breath. Each can bring you into the present.
  3. Use a mindful bell app. If you are a smartphone user there are several mindful bell apps. These can be set to ring a bell, either in a regular pattern or in a random manner. When the bell sounds you practice and become aware of your breathing or your sensations.

Be gentle with yourself. Be compassionate for the journey towards mindfulness. It is a practice, a lifetime commitment. In any practice you have permission to make mistakes, to learn and attend to the practice. You fall over. You get back up. The falling over and the getting up are both part of the practice.

Patience is your watchword. Patience for the experience. Patience for the judgements that pop into your mind. Patience is a core part of the practice.

What is McMindfulness?

I first heard the word ‘McMindfulness’ a few months back. It is being used to describe the increasingly popular application of the word mindful to other activities. For example: mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful anything. There is an element of sarcasm attached to the ‘Mc’, implying that everything is becoming mindful these days. Of course both this opinion and the McMindfulness term are bandied about in the media just to increase sales or website traffic.

What about Mindful Photography?

Whilst I develop my online course in mindful photography I reflect upon my research and sources. Initially, I hope that what I create will be an extension of my own meditation practice. I am aware of mindfulness from several Buddhist books aimed at the western reader and from them I understand that mindfulness, at its root, is about being present in the moment. One could be mindful about whatever one was doing: reading these words, washing the dishes or taking a photograph.

I am also aware of the secular re-interpretation of mindfulness as a practice for stress reduction (MBSR) and for depression (MBCT) and its adoption by organisations and businesses as a support for stressed workers.

I think it is fair to say that I my Online Course in Mindful Photography is a personal reflection of how mindfulness can be developed through photography. Initially I was influenced by the practice of Contemplative Photography, but I felt that it did not go far enough to support the photographer who wanted to improve their photographic skills as well as create mindfully.

I am also aware that mindfulness is most effective when supported by a whole life approach, such as the eightfold path. To say that mindfulness is a panacea for all the stress caused through work is rather too simplistic (politicians and media commentators). One does not have to become a Buddhist, but an exploration of what the eightfold path might look like reflected in one’s own life can only help to support a balanced and harmonious life.

Course Developments

This website centres upon the development of mindfulness through photography. This manifests through a mindful blog and my Online Course that will launch in September 2017. The course will include innovative resources and mindful photography practices that support a mindful approach to photography and life. It will both apply mindfulness to learning photography and help you to develop mindfulness through your photography! It will also support you to start an investigation into how photography can support personal enquiry into your life.

McMindfulness may be a media backlash to the exponential growth in interest and application of mindfulness. But let us not forget that this wisdom is 2500 years old and will still be around when we are long gone. Mindfulness is a support for your busy life. Its suggestion that you remain aware of your sensations, your thoughts, your feelings and the one thing that you are doing now is a reminder of how you can be completely present in your own life. And that can only support you to live an engaged, holistic and authentic life.

Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge – Transition

This week I thought I would combine our mindful photography challenge with the The Daily Post’s own photo challenge which is Deltadelta as in a place and time that represents a transition or sliver of greater change. A river delta, where the river meets the ocean is a place of tremendous transition, and photography of course captures only a moment of that continuous change.

It is true to say that every photo represents a sliver in time. A photograph shows something as it was in that moment. That moment is then gone and the subject of the photo is no longer the same. How can that be true? What if you photograph a mountain? Everything is changing. Everything is impermanent, even a mountain. Everest was once the base of a valley. It is just that some of the changes are so slow as to trick you that they will always be that way.

So this week I would like you to create a photo that represents transition. One that represent’s a photograph’s ability to capture a moment of that transition, a moment that is then stilled for eternity. My photo is of a fragment of Swansea Bay. The photo was taken in the low early evening golden light, itself a period of transition and captures a moment and section of the beach at low tide. By using a wide aperture I have also suggested the tide’s return and the truth that this view will soon be gone, never to return in the same way again.

For your practice consider choosing a location where you feel each time you visit there is the potential for a different experience. When you arrive at the location sit for a while and really arrive. Then start to walk, not looking for a photo, only observing the scene. When an opportunity presents itself stop. Consider what it was that stopped you. Really look at it. Notice how far away the subject is. Breathe and tune in to how the scene makes you feel. When that feeling echoes transition in your heart and mind, press the shutter.

What has abstract photography ever done for me?

There was a time when I just did not get abstract photography. What was its point? Pretty patterns, shifty shapes and creative colour all looked OK, but what did it mean? I was more of the literal photographic field, telling tales of human life. Real people, real lives.

I am not sure when it changed, so I assume it must have been gradual, but I have now swung the other way. I get it. Well, I get what it does for me. Does it work for you? Let me share what it does for me. You might change your mind.

Let’s start with a definition: abstract (adjective) “relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colours, and textures”.

OK, so it is photography that does not attempt to represent external reality. Instead through choice of shapes, colours, patterns and textures it “seeks to achieve its effect.” And in the case of abstract photography this creates the opportunity for an emotional response to a photograph.

Abstract Photography is a little like poetry. With poetry the words, rhythms and spaces create images in our mind that connect with our heart. With Abstract Photography it is the shapes, colours, patterns and textures we choose to frame that create the emotional connection. We are less concerned with what the object is (because it is not easily defined) and more receptive to how we feel about the photograph.

Fooling the Mind

 

Here’s a little test. When you first saw this photo what happened? In fractions of a second your mind took in the colour, shapes, shadow and lines and tried to find a match to a previously known object. You were searching for a label to name the object. We do like to make sense of this world and of course it is this ability that keeps us alive!

What if you can’t identify what it is? What happens then? Your mind has absorbed other facts. The colours, shapes, patterns, lines etc all suggest ideas and feelings. These ideas and feelings are generated from our personal experience and from our culture. For example: white symbolises purity, cleanliness; the downward curve could be the edge of a sad mouth. We are reading the photo and connecting with how we feel about it.

 

OK, who didn’t see waves here? There we go, our mind trying to conceptualise – to make sense of the visual cues. There is not water of any kind in this photo. It’s all tarmac, concrete and metal. Most importantly though, how does it make you feel?

So are you intrigued? Do you want to learn more? On my Online Mindful Photography Course (available in September 2017) I look in depth at creative abstract photographers and delve into the opportunities abstract photography presents to create photographs that make an emotional connection. You will learn different approaches to representing your emotions in a photograph and how to create photographs when you are experiencing strong emotions. This then provides support for processing some of life’s difficult experiences. Yes, a mindful approach to photography can help and support you!

All you have to do is keep an eye on the website, maybe subscribe to the blog (in the footer below) or download the FREE eBook, which will not only provide some thoughts on Mindful Photography, it will also get you subscribed to my Monthly Newsletter.

P.S. The photos were of a kettle and a car parked by the pavement

The Unruly Mind

With mindfulness, as we practice – be it meditation, mindful photography or simply being present with the one thing that we are doing – our present awareness develops. As our present awareness deepens, our understanding and appreciation of the moment has room to expand. In this moment thoughts may arise and we notice how busy our mind is. We practice by returning to our anchor. In meditation this is often the breath. In mindful photography it is the seeing.

It is helpful to remind ourselves why we do this. Let us take a moment to reflect upon the roots of mindfulness. This paragraph from Lama Surya Das (an American born Tibetan Buddhist Lama) from his book ‘Awakening the Buddha within reminds us what mindfulness is.

“In the original Mindfulness Sutra, the Buddha described what he called the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. These teachings remind us to be aware of our bodies; aware of our feelings and emotions; aware of our thoughts; and aware of events as they occur, moment by moment.”

The Unruly Mind

Mindful practices – breathing meditation, mindful movement (yoga, qigong, walking), body scan and mindful photography all allow us to be more present in our lives and to connect with our bodies, feelings, thoughts and events. The most challenging discovery is that it is our minds that are unruly. Running about indiscriminately through our past events, memories and future plans. Concocting imaginary conversations and worrying about things that may never happen.

I like this quote that lightens up the challenge ahead!

“Our minds can be wonderful, but at the same time they can be our very worst enemy. They give us so much trouble. Sometimes I wish the mind were a set of dentures which we could leave on our bedside table overnight.” Sogyal Rinpoche

May your practice calm the unruly child that is your mind.

The Photo

As a practicing mindful photographer I know that bringing this awareness to photography allows the possibility that personal intuitive art that resonates with our heart and mind can be created. The photo above was created whilst practicing mindful photography and reminds me of the unruly mind; the confusion of imagery, the depth of vision and the possibility of life.

Mindful Photography Courses

I have recently updated my Mindful Photography Course page to make it a little clearer.

There are two course offers, how exciting! Each is 8 weeks in length and can be delivered to people aged 7 to 70 and for any group. Pupils, students, participants, staff and service users will all benefit.

‘Applying Mindfulness to Photography’ covers an introduction to Mindfulness and Mindful Photography and three key topics.

Clear Seeing – how you can improve your seeing and use seeing as your mindful anchor.

Photo Thinking – how you can hold all those photographic thoughts and remain present with the visual

Mindful Attitudes – how 9 core attitudes can be developed through photography

The course includes Mindful Photography Practices to support the development of your skills and understanding

The second course is ‘Developing Mindfulness through Photography’ This is also 8 weeks and builds upon the skills and practices in the first course and introduces two key topics.

Present Feeling – how you can develop your ability to connect to your emotions and communicate this through your photography

Mindful Living – how you can explore your notion of self through photography, touching upon your living through loss and change and the fear generated through these experiences. You will learn Mindful Photography Practices that support your journey through this challenging terrain.

Take a look and if you would like to know more Contact me

 

Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge – Self

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 ‘Self’. I would like you to create just one NEW photograph that responds to the theme. But I only want you to press the shutter once. Consider your idea for a photo. Visualise it. Frame it. Think about your technical choices for exposure. Consider what is in and out of the frame. Consider your composition. Then release all expectation and press the shutter.

Notice your thoughts when reviewing your photo. Is there any judgement creeping in? Are you tempted to create another one? How would it feel if you just posted the one you have created?

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created just now! I went to collect my camera from the lounge and caught sight of myself in the mirror. Generally when I create a selfie I do not have the camera clearly in sight. I thought I would create a photo that celebrated my relationship with the camera. Not only is my new camera front and foremost, but one of my favourite photos is in the background.

See what you can say about your ‘self’ in one photo

 

Focus

Friends tell me I have great focus. If there’s a task that I want to do then I will be attentive to the process and the outcome. Job done! You notice I said, “that I want to do”. If I don’t want to do it then I may procrastinate or be focused on methods of avoidance. Focus is a very useful attribute; though I have, through personal experience, learnt how it can slip in to striving beyond my natural abilities. 

As a mindfulness practitioner I am working on this awareness. The trick seems to be to pay attention to my body and mind. My body may provide physical symptoms of how my focus is slipping into unhelpful striving. These are usually easy to spot, but perhaps also easy to ignore. My mind however requires constant training.

Your mind, like mine, is constantly busy. Even when you are focused on a specific task, and imagine that you are pretty attuned to what you are doing, your mind will still play about. Slipping off into an imaginary conversation, wondering about how your work will be recognised, or simply replaying an incident from earlier in the day.

Meditation is the training that enables you to pay attention to your mind. Meditation burns the neural pathways that support our intention to be aware of our thoughts and feelings. This then percolates through our life, enabling a mindful approach. Focus requires mindfulness like trees require sunshine.

Focus in Photography

In the world of photography focus is usually a matter of how sharp your object or image is. However, I am attracted to using a de-focused lens. This enables a playfulness and a sense of possibility. It throws the need for identification of object out of the window and allows colour, shape, pattern and line to assume prominence. These then can suggest a feeling, or they can just be how you were in the moment and let the viewer interpret the vision you have created.

What is then created, can through your choice of visual elements, create a metaphor for a thing or feeling. Alternatively, the blurring of a familiar object may provide a sense of softness or delicacy that would not have been present if the object had been sharp.

If you are intrigued about this and would like to experiment then you need to do two things. Find out how to turn your auto-focus off (this is not always possible with all digital cameras or phones) and secondly get out there and experiment. Inspiration is also at hand. One of my favourite modern photographers who works like this is Isabella Berr. Take a look and take a chance!

Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge

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 ‘Through’. Take a walk somewhere you love and create just one photograph that responds to the theme.

The challenge is to only create one photo. To walk until something shouts out at you to be photographed.

Walk slowly and observe. Observe your surroundings, the colours, the light, patterns and shapes. Pay attention to your mind. When it shoots off thinking about creating the photo, reflecting on a past event or worrying about the future, come back to what is in front of you.

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created this morning. The sunlight shining through the leaves, highlighting the structure and shape of the leaves is what drew me in. I only had my phone with me, but that’s all you need!

 

Staying fearless in difficult times

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

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

Fear and Love

I was drawn to this quote in the final hours of the UK General Election. Anticipating an increased Conservative majority I imagined a challenging future of increased cuts to public services and more divisive peddling of fear. Then I remembered to stay present. Nothing is certain and sometimes the path to wisdom is through difficult lands. During these periods of fear arising I remember that I am alive. I tune in to my body, my breath, the rise and fall and I remember those I love.

Now, after the General Election result I note that not only is nothing certain, but that anything is possible. Authenticity, post Brexit anger and a mobilised younger generation have enabled a new possibility to emerge. The UK is still on a path through difficult lands but there is a new truth.

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

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

Love is the most powerful antidote to fear – witness the One Love Manchester concert last week. Love will squeeze the fear from your mind and body. As the Beatles said, “All you need is love.”

‘All you need is love’ on Spotify

Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy

Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

Love, love, love
Love, love, love……

A Mindful Photography Practice for living through difficulty

3 steps to letting go of the outcome

It’s got to be great!

There you are, setting out on a little activity. It could be a photography job. It might be a DIY task or a children’s birthday party. Whatever it is you will have at the front of your mind an idea of what the outcome will be: a storytelling photo, an effective shelf, a fantastic party. You have an attachment to the outcome.

“Nothing wrong with that” you say. “How else can I ensure success unless I work towards a great outcome?”

Perhaps what you are really saying is, “How else will I know that I am ok unless this activity turns out well?”

We look to our successes as evidence that we are great: fantastic photographers, nifty DIY experts or loving parents. Perhaps the focus of our attention should be elsewhere.

What if we were tuned in to the journey rather than the destination?

Step 1: Begin with kindness

We do give ourselves a hard time. Everything we do carries with it an assessment of how well we think we have done. We may also think about how much better we could do.

What if instead of focussing on this judgement, of a yet to happen outcome, we centred on the process we found ourselves in? What if we started with kindness towards ourselves?

Let’s cradle how we feel about each of the steps that make up the complete task. Looking at each step, let’s tune in to how each part might be. How difficult or easy. How much would be fun. How much might be tricky.

Let’s have some empathy for how these steps might make us feel. Let’s start with kindness for the journey.

Step 2: Loosening our attachment to the outcome

Once we develop some compassion for our feelings as we engage in the activity, we can begin to loosen our attachment to the outcome. By tuning into the whole process we encourage an awareness of how we will be along the way.

By practicing being totally present with every element of the activity we give credence to our feelings. We allow ourselves to be who we are. We begin to recognise that we are perfect in our imperfectness.

An ability to see that our attachment to the outcome is narrow can develop. Our understanding expands to know that every step along the way is an opportunity to flourish. In this fertile ground our capacity for non-judgement slowly rises.

Our ability to let go of our attachment to the outcome becomes possible.

Step 3: Sharing the merit

Instead of sharing the outcome, however we may judge that, we can now consider sharing the merits of the journey. Our capacity to see all of the experience as holistic life experience underpins our knowledge that we are OK. All this stuff is just life happening. Everything, the glory and the grime, has the capacity to expand our understanding of what it means to be human.

We may also want to share the outcome, but this now may just be another part of the process of self understanding. We may now be able to explain that although the outcome was not what we had hoped for that we wouldn’t have changed the experience ‘for the world.’

Loosening our hold on the outcome allows us to become more present with each element of the activity.

This is mindfulness in action.

“In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go”
– Jack Kornfield

 

Mindful Photography Walkshop – Wordy Challenge

At the end of May I held my last Spring Mindful Photography Walkshop. We were once again lucky with the weather – three walkshops in wet Wales in a row with no rain! We had an interesting challenge set, but before that I shared tips on how to stay present and create fabulous photos.

The Challenge

The Wordy Challenge was a mini photomarathon. Five topics. Five Photos. 2.5 hours. In this challenge everyone has to create only five photos, in topic order and be back at the finishing point before the ending time. I split the topics into two sections, so that we did two in the first hour and then stopped for a cup of tea (refreshment is essential!). After a cuppa and a conversation about how it was going, we embarked on the last three topics, completing an hour and a half later.

Such a photography challenge is very focussing. It provides the opportunity to become very present in your environment, and aware of the thoughts and feelings that the task is allowing to arise. These in particular are interesting and will include concerns about your photos not being good enough, whether your ideas are creative enough and how well you can manage the time. Hopefully, you can also practice being attuned to how you are: your energy, the need to stop and reflect, and remaining present in one task before the next. All great practice for life!

Before we started I provided a short overview about some of the photography techniques that could be applied to create interesting and arresting photos. These included the Seven Elements of Visual Design (Shape, Form, Texture, Pattern, Colour, Line and Shape) and the four areas of photographic composition (Simplicity, Subject & Background, Balance -including the Rule of Thirds, and Point Of View).

Finally before releasing the photographers into the wilds of Brynmill I shared five tips to complete the challenge with great photos and feeling great. Here they are.

Five Tips

  1. Make sure you understand the timescale, photography requirements, locations, pick ups, final deadline
  2. Excitement at the beginning creates more ideas and photos. Tiredness makes you more decisive. Be decisive in the first half and then you’ll be more creative in the second half.
  3. Decide on each final photo as you go. Do not leave that until the end, you’ll be tired. Do each topic in turn. Complete and choose your favourite photo and then move on. This provides creative clarity.
  4. Use insider knowledge. Talk to locals. Ask for advice. However don’t let your knowledge or information about the city limit you seeing what is right in front of you.
  5. Choose a simple overarching theme to link the photos. Some use a prop to do this (like a mini lego figure who appears in every photo). Others use in camera processing e.g Black and White. Or choose a theme, like a colour or a technique – red or low/high point of view.

The Photos

The Five Topics in order were – Your Entry Number, Busy, Look, A Change is gonna come, and Beauty in the Mundane.

Here are our photos, you can choose the winner! If this idea inspires a curiosity about photomarathons take a look at my post 10 Tips to Survive a Photomarathon

Your Entry Number

Busy

Look

A Change is gonna come

Beauty in the mundane

A Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day

I live in Wales. It rains a lot. Yesterday was a fine example. I woke to rain, walked the dog in a deluge and the rain continued until the next morning. Am I deterred from creating mindful photographs? Oh no. I am challenged to create some art that reflects the day and how I am with this glorious damp weather. So I will share with you my Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day. Maybe you’ll be inspired to create some of your own.

The Mindful Photography Practice

  1. Prepare yourself for wetness. It is imperative that you remain dry and comfortable. Put on your most effective wet weather clothes and shoes.
  2. Prepare your camera for wetness
    • If you are a DSLR or CSC owner you may be able purchase a waterproof cover designed for your camera. Alternatively a good plastic bag and a rubber band works well. You will need to cut one corner of the bottom of the bag, about the diameter of the lens and secure it over the lens with the rubber band. The open end of the bag then faces you, allowing access to the controls.
    • If you are using a compact camera, your phone or a bridge camera, a large umbrella will help keep you and the camera dry. Your skills at shooting one handed and/or balancing the umbrella on your shoulder whilst you create your photos will undoubtedly develop!
  3. This is an opportunity to create photos without looking at the viewfinder or screen. To support this you can also turn off the review screen (or cover with a small piece of card taped in place). This practice of visualising what the camera can see will slow you down, teach you how your lens sees differently to your eyes, allow you to notice your attachment to the outcome and cultivate greater attention to what you are seeing. Mindful Photography is initially a practice that is about process rather than outcome. With continued practice your attention to the moment will result in more interesting photos.
  4. Choose a camera set up that you are comfortable with and can use instinctively. This could be Auto or one of the semi automatic modes if you like a bit of creative control. Remember the light will probably not be too great, so auto ISO or an 800 ISO setting may be needed.
  5. Set aside 30 minutes for the practice and set out for an interesting location. Walk slowly, observe your surroundings, do not look for a photo opportunity. Pay attention to your sensations: the sound of the rain, the trees moving, the smell of the wet land/streets, the reflections in puddles, the rain hitting the ground/objects.
  6. As you walk, observing your world, wait for a photo opportunity to present itself. When it does STOP. Breathe. Study what it was that stopped you. Absorb the scene. Notice what the subject of the scene is and what the background could be. Consider where you would place the frame, this will affect the background. Perhaps you need to move in, move up or down, or zoom in or out. Consider what the camera will see when you press the shutter.
  7. Create the photo.
  8. Repeat the practice until you have 10 photos.
  9. Edit, noticing your judging thoughts, and share your favourite photos and this practice.

The photos illustrating this post are from my own Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day yesterday

Becoming a mindfulness practitioner

When I started writing this blog I saw myself as a photographer first and a mindfulness enquirer a distant second. However, I believe that things may have changed!

I have practiced meditation since 2006 when my health first broke on the shores of my striving life. Initially meditation was part of an investigation into ways that I could ‘get better’ and return to my ‘normal life’. My practice at this time was sporadic and it wasn’t until 2013 that I established a daily practice. Once committed other things started to change.

In that winter I had the idea of combining photography with mindfulness. I came up with the term Mindful Photography and I thought I had invented something original. But there were one or two other interpretations out there. They were not quite what I had in mind, so I set about developing my ideas and created my first email course in Mindful Photography.

Despite technological and marketing naivety I managed to have a small modicum of success, selling the course in many countries scattered about the globe. Then my website and health fell over and I had to let it all go.

Three years on from that adventure I am about to enter the next chapter. I now feel a great awakening. I know that I have an innovative idea, but now I see and feel the connections between mindfulness, creativity and living. And I see how I can share and encourage others to use their photography as a bridge between those three pillars.

I have set aside the summer months to develop the content for my Mindful Photography Course. This will be based, in terms of structure around the Mindfulness Sutra, first shared 2500 years ago. That all sounds very grand, but it is very rooted in your life.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness shared in the sutra are an invitation to be aware of four aspects: our sensations, our thoughts, our emotions and our living. My course will follow this structure, applying and developing each stage with photography.

There will be videos, voice over sideshows, lots of mindful photography practices, ebooks to compliment each stage, a private Facebook group to share and discuss your photos and the opportunity for 1:1 tutorial via Skype.

As I stand on the edge of this development I am filled with excitement and wonder. I believe that my deepening mindfulness practice enables me to share ways of allowing you to apply mindfulness to the art and science of photography. More than that I will also share how photography can be used to develop and deepen your own mindfulness practice, integrating creativity, presence and love into your daily life.

Now I know that I am a mindfulness practioner and tutor first, and that photography is the practice that allows mindfulness to infiltrate every niche of my life. I look forward to sharing news of course development over the next couple of months before launching in September 2017.

You can stay in touch and get some interesting mindful photography reading by registering and downloading the eBook below.

Lifestyle

Much is changing in the world. The influence of technology has fueled the quantity of change and its speed. How do you keep pace with these changes, maintain your equilibrium and thrive? I believe that you need to consider your lifestyle. How it impacts upon your well-being, in terms of health, wealth and your reasons for being! Find out more below.

How it was

I am going to approach this by reflecting upon my own lifestyle changes over the last 20 years. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief! The man that inhabited this body 20 years ago was a close relative of mine, but he had a different lifestyle. In 1997 I was a busy father with one small kid and a pregnant wife. I had a fast rising career as a senior manager in college education and a burgeoning interest in long distance running. Life was quite compartmentalised, focused upon family and career success, with a side serving of regular exercise and mainly healthy food; although I did have a clear disregard for the quantity of alcohol consumed! Everything was very focused and my first computer had just arrived on my work desktop.

My education career ended in the following decade. The health crisis that precipitated this was brought on by my lifestyle and a failure to pay attention to the impact that it was having upon a body that was changing. I have written much about this here, so I’ll skip over the details of the impact, save to say that everything has changed: marriage, career, hobbies and way of being.

The irony is that my not paying attention has led to a current lifestyle that is all about paying attention. I have to pay attention to those signals our body gives us. Those signals that say slow down, rest, manage your commitments sensibly. If I don’t do this there are health repercussions. So over the last 3 years I have moved from doing a part time job, some project work for the Arts Council Wales, and developing my mindful approach to photography; all whilst practicing paying attention to how I am. I say practice because I still get it wrong. I fall over. I get up. I fall over. I get up.  However it is now time for the next lifestyle change.

How it is going to be

I have now left my part time job. This is to free up space and time to develop my Mindful Photography Online Course: a course full of videos, slideshows, practices, a private course forum and lots of other goodies. I had hoped to be able to develop this whilst completing the final year of my part time job, but I just never manged enough dedicated time, whilst keeping everything else in balance.

Lifestyle wise this is going to mean initially three months of course development and marketing before launching in September 2017. I have the financial bases covered for a few months, then all I’ll need to do is sell the course. Easy huh? Of course it’s going to mean more self discipline, some regular scheduling and blog development, whilst still paying attention to those supportive practices that are a key part of maintaining my well-being: yoga, meditation, mindful photography, walking the dog, a (reasonably) healthy diet, social interaction (to replace that from the work environment) and fun!

I am very excited about my new lifestyle and my Online Course. I know that I have developed an original way of using mindfulness to enhance your photographic skills, support the development of a mindful approach to your life and to consider a little self exploration. I think that it’s innovative, supportive and fascinating. If you agree then why not subscribe in the box on the right of the blog page and you will receive my regular newsletter with news about photography and the development of the online course.

The Photos

All of the photos were taken this week when practicing mindful photography and represent new beginnings. Spring is a special time of new growth, abundance and vibrancy. I hope that some of the season’s qualities rub off in your world.