I don’t want to die, just yet.

Yesterday global Covid 19 cases reached 230,000 in a day. Average daily death rates are over 5000. In the UK daily cases and deaths are lower than they have been, and have remained steady for 4 weeks, but they are still significant. After all, I only need to be close to one carrier, just once and I will die. I’m not being dramatic. Realistic. I’m on immune suppressants, have diabetes and a breathing condition. I would be a dead man. I don’t want to die, just yet.

The easing of lockdown in many countries, alongside the global growth of Covid cases makes me very uncomfortable. In fact the easing of UK lockdown measures seems to be something that many can’t process. My impression is that many people are acting as if it is all over. Shops and pubs are open let’s all party, seems to be a common theme.

The truth is more complex and that is confusing. Consequently, I still sit in carparks whilst my girlfriend shops. We don’t visit pubs, even to sit in their beer garden or socialise in anyone else’s house. There are just too many hands touching things that I may touch. Never mind the lack of social distancing. This is not over.

Today the news is all about face masks and I can’t help but think, what about their hands? Meanwhile the economy slowly opens and people try to imagine life is back to normal. I don’t. My world will probably not be as it was back in early March for a long while; if at all. So I have made plans!

Last month I applied for an arts grant from the Arts Council Wales to respond to our current circumstances and move all my current work online. I was successful! My plan falls into two phases. The first phase is all about creating a new set of photos that explore my feelings around lockdown and shielding. These will initially be shown in an online gallery, and one day in a live exhibition.

The second phase is to help you, by planning and creating a new online photography course. This will share everything I know about how to use mindful photography to support you when life is difficult, due to major change or significant loss. The course will be offered to NHS patients and will also be available for anyone living with tremendous personal challenges. I hope to have it live early in 2021.

Stay tuned this year for updates about the online exhibition and my new online Mindful Photography course.

Dear Mr Johnson

Dear Mr Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your sincerely

Lee Aspland

 

 

Monty was a doggy guru

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

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

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

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

He looked for contact. He liked to be be stroked, held and played with. Apparently, when we stroke a dog serotonin is produced not only in our body, but also their’s. Are they experiencing a feeling of well being? Like Monty we are also experiencing our life through the sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise in our consciousness. Monty though, lived solely in the present moment. That was his greatest teaching.

This doggy moment

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

Both the past and future are concepts we have created to explain and cope with the passage of time. We are smart enough to imagine that the past actually exists. But, of course, it does not. It is a construct we have created and that we hold in our consciousness. The past is not a reality. You cannot touch it or experience it in any way, apart from in our imagination. If you attend an experience that recreates the past – a play, film, themed event – you are experiencing the present moment, albeit a present moment that is shaped to look and feel like the past.

Similarly, the future never exists. For when we reach a particular point in time it is the present!

Monty knew this. He knew that there is only this moment right now. Monty lived in the present moment. The mindful hound!

The doggy self

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

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

So the idea that there is such a thing as the ‘self’ did not trouble Monty. He experienced his day as a series of sensations, feelings and thoughts arising and passing. Each one was a singular moment and each one was experienced in that moment.

We though get sidetracked. Our mind has created a construct it calls ‘self’. This construct is constantly being refined, developed, coloured and shaped by our sensations, feeling and thoughts. Above all it is the thought that we are an independent self, different from the next person that separates us from this present moment awareness.

My concept of self is strong and is reinforced every moment of every day. Sitting in meditation or following any mindful practice has the potential to remind us that it is only our consciousness receiving. There is no self experiencing. The self is an illusion. An imaginary beast. A construct created and recreated by our conscious mind.

Monty was always with the experience of the moment. They are fine teachers, our canine friends. Guru Monty had much to teach me!

Exploring Multiple Exposure

A few years ago I started experimenting with multi-exposure (more about this technique here) – the art of combining several images in one exposure in camera. A year or so in to my exploration I lost interest as my camera could only combine two images as a maximum, in any one exposure, and it simply layered one on top of the other. Recently, I upgraded my camera and the new Fuji X-T4 has the ability to combine up to nine images in one exposure, and has four alternate ways of combining these images. The exploration is back on!

The key question at this point is why would you want to do this? The answer for me is that it opens up the possibility of creating images that can document a place, experience or emotion in a personal, abstract and creative manner. I am also fascinated to compare and combine this with ICM – intentional camera movement. These techniques are not hugely popular, they create photos that can be ethereal, intriguing, emotive and abstract. It is these very qualities that draw me to them and suggest to me the possibility of a personal project. Something I am considering at present.

Meanwhile, practice and experimentation are required to investigate the limitations and possibilities of the techniques. I have learnt a few things so far which I will summarise, but first I wanted to thank my teachers; Doug Chinnery, Valda Bailey and of course Chris Friel. Doug and Valda have worked together to produce some great videos that explore and explain these techniques; they are detailed and generate plenty of possibility. Chris has been producing fabulous work for many years and is worthy of your investigation.

Experimentation

The photo above was created during the springtime explosion of blooms at Clyne Gardens in Swansea. My intention was to create some photos that were inspired by nature’s colours and beauty, and also echoed how such beauty can make you feel. The techniques I used were ME in dark blend mode, creative use of white balance, creative framing investigation, defocussing the lens and three or four layered exposures. Let’s look at some of those choices.

There are four blend modes available on my Fuji, something that is replicated on some Canon and Nikon cameras; they are Additive, Average, Bright and Dark.

Additive – This mode adds each frame on top of the next, in a kind of light accumulation process. It is possible that if you used this on a sunny day that by the time you had added nine images to one exposure you would just be left with a white rectangle. I have not yet explored its creative possibilities, as the other modes have been calling to me. But maybe its limitations would be something that could create unexpected possibilities.

Average – This mode layers each image on top of the next, averaging the opacity. This is the standard mode for digital exposure and it is the mode I used when I had the Fuji X-T2, as it was the only choice. Combined with ICM, defocussing or creative use of the white balance it has possibilities.

Bright – This mode preserves the brighter elements of each image. For example, if your first image was of a silhouette or shadow, the second if brighter could layer the brighter elements over the areas of darker exposure from the first image. This is similar to how a film camera used to capture a multiple exposure. Here is an example.

Dark – This mode does the opposite to Bright mode. It preserves the darker elements of each image. Where there is light, there can be dark! This is the mode I have used most so far in combination with creative use of white balance.

White Balance – All digital cameras give you a level of control over the white balance. The default position is to be in Auto. In this setting the camera tries to produce whites that replicate how you see white light. Of course, your eyes work differently to a camera. They work with our brain to self correct what we know to be white, to look white, even if it is really carrying another hue. For example: dusk light has a blue hue. You don’t notice this, but the camera does. The white balance can then correct this to match how you see. Taking control of the white balance allows you to tell the camera what hue the whites should have, affecting every colour in the frame. Camera manufacturers have different ways of allowing you to influence this. Some require you to know the Kelvin values of each colour. Others have a map of hues that you can pick from. My Fuji has the latter, which makes it dead easy. My experimentation so far has followed Chris Friel’s advice – to use extreme choices.

I have much work to do. I am learning how my white balance choices work with the ME blend modes and the colours of the objects in the frame. I have also learnt that playing with the lens focus can produce interesting softer shapes and patterns. These combinations of blend mode, white balance and lens focus have much possibility and will, I am certain, be used along with ICM to produce an interesting body of work very soon. I the meantime, here are a few of my favourites from the visit to Clyne Gardens.

 

 

10 tips for artistic creation?

I came across this information by that usual chance route; looking for one thing on the internet and finding another. The 10 tips for artistic creation that the painter, Richard Diebenkorm shared were reminders to himself about starting a painting. I have read through them a few times now and I think they apply to photography and pretty much any other creative endeavour. What do you think? Do you have any guidelines that support your artistic creation process?

“Notes to myself on beginning a painting” by Richard Diebenkorn

1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. DO search.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.

6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.

8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.

9. Tolerate chaos.

10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

Happy Creating!

PS The photo is part of a creative experimental practice I am exploring at present. More about that soon.

For Dying Out Loud 2

A year ago today my Mum died. I am re-sharing what I wrote about my experience because I thought that it might resonate for some of you at this extraordinary time. Death of a loved one always throws up complex emotions and the threat of that happening is also particularly challenging. I understand that this threat might well be part of your pandemic life now. Living through the peculiar circumstances that surrounded my Mum’s death taught me a lot. The main lesson was that talking about my feelings, experiences and challenges around the experience was a positive and supportive way of living as well as possible through it. Here is what I thought about this difficult time last year. 

For Dying Out Loud

We don’t much talk about death. We skirt the issue. Express our condolences. Use stock phrases. This unfamiliarity and avoidance becomes self perpetuating. It doesn’t serve us well and it doesn’t support those who are living through death. But I have had a more uplifting experience of approaching death and the final exit over the last few weeks and I would like to share it. To share the love. To invite a positive way through this most challenging of life experiences: death.

Just over eight weeks ago my mother, who lived in Kelowna in British Colombia, Canada, had a car accident. Whilst travelling through an intersection, on a green light, she was ‘T-boned’ – hit side on – by a driver who can only have been distracted and didn’t see the red light. His car was one of those large trucks they love in that fuel friendly continent, so it made a mess of Mum’s hatchback. More to the point it made a mess of Mum.

She sustained many injuries, some which were apparent at the time, some which were discovered over the first few days and some which had existed before, but were not common knowledge. Mum broke most of her ribs, shattered her pelvis, tore her liver and broke bones in both legs. Later we discovered that her diaphragm was irreparably damaged, meaning that she was unable to successfully expel all the carbon dioxide each time she breathed out. This led to two comas and the need to wear a mask at night to expel the Co2.

Early on in her time in the Intensive Care Unit it became apparent that Mum had cancer in one of her breasts, and this cancer had been there for 5 years. Fortunately, it was ‘non-aggressive’ and slow moving, but it had still made a mess of her breast. Mum had chosen to not believe that it was cancer and to carry on without taking medication. Ultimately, this made little difference. However, it did lead to a later discovery that she had another type of cancer in her other breast. This one wasn’t so kind. It was the aggressive type and in a normal scenario would have led to masectomy and chemotherapy etc. This though was not an option.

The damage to her diaphragm meant that an operation was not possible. Nor was any other treatment when coupled with a potentially long and unsuccessful rehabilitation likely to rescue the situation. The prognosis was bleak. Life may have been possible for up to year (it was suggested) but the quality of that life would have been debilitating and very challenging.

Family

Mum’s 86th Birthday

During all of this my sister Kim, has been at the centre of the care, communication and daily visits. Prior to the accident she and Mum had a good, but sometimes challenging relationship. Now, in an instant everything was turned upside down.

Kim visited daily, often for most of the day and into the evening. She moved into Mum’s flat in Kelowna and she was given fantastic support from Laura (her youngest daughter) who also moved into the flat. Between them they visited Mum every day, sat through the long days, entertaining each other and Mum, rushed in the middle of night when coma called and kept me in the loop every step of the way.

Of course, this is exhausting. Kim was in the middle of a storm of emotion, of fear, confusion and love. Often we spoke, via Skype or on the phone, and I offered what support I could from this distance. She was also supported by her husband Mike and older daughter Morgan, but it was Kim and Laura who daily faced up to potential death and the many feelings that accompany it.

Being an ocean away I felt distant, confused and tired. I was busy with work, but the unfamiliarity of the situation and feeling of helplessness was insidious and debilitating. I didn’t really realise most of the time how much it was exhausting me. The background hum of what ifs and what next are relentless. Fortunately, I had fantastic support from Dinah and other friends, so when Dinah spotted an opportunity in our diaries to visit, we booked straight away.

Before we went over I joked to Kim that we would be the half-time entertainment, that the first half was over now and after we left the second half would be quite different – ‘many a true word’…… The visit was a catalyst and support for us all. At the time Mum was deep in confusion. She did not know if she wanted to live or die. The full nature of her situation was known to us all, but knowing, fully understanding and accepting the implications of that are not the same thing.

She did not know what she wanted. To live and work through endless rehabilitation, whilst the spectre of aggressive cancer ate away. Or just to die. One afternoon she became convinced that she was going to die that night. We each spoke to her at length and said our goodbyes. That night we went back to the flat, drank lots of lovely wine and took a vote on the likelihood of her death that night. Gallows humour, I think they call it. Anyway, we all voted that she would survive and she did.

Death can also be tremendously healing. Kim and Mum spent so much time together, talking about nothing and everything. They healed all rifts and left nothing unsaid. Open, honest and authentic conversations are needed at this time. And with that comes love. Love fills in the spaces in our heart, spills over into the people we talk to and holds us up, to face what we did not know we could face. From and with love we develop resilience, heal wounds and become one family supporting each other.

The Second Half

Dinah and I left Canada on a Wednesday. We know now that on the Friday Mum had made contact with the people who could arrange her death. Canada has had Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) in place since 2015, over 7000 people following the procedure in the first three years. We didn’t know that Canada even had this option. Obviously, Mum did.

I think we knew that it was going to be happening on the Friday, we also knew from research that there was a ten day cooling off period. However, we expected the wheels of administration to move quite slowly. It was a shock to find out from Kim, over the weekend, that it was happening just over a week later. Mum must have signed all the papers and got the necessary permissions in place on the Friday after we left. Truly a catalyst of a visit.

On Tuesday 7th May at 7.30am local time, the procedure was booked to happen. Kim, Mike and Laura were present. The doctor may have been a little late, the space for Mum’s prayers may have slowed things down a little, but eventually she drifted off to sleep and then the heavy drugs did their work. She passed peacefully just before 8.00am and is now on her next journey. During the assigned time Dinah and I sat peacefully at the beauty that is Clyne Gardens. We chose a spot close to moving water and the sun came out to warm us.

Clyne Gardens

Kim and I and the extended family all support her decision. The quality of her life would not have been worth living. Why live on suffering and deterioration? Surely it is kinder to move on? We believe so. Mum looked so at peace and well in her final few days. This came from knowing her decision was right for her, that it was known and accepted by those closest to her and that she was loved. She lived a very full life, had two marvellous(!) children and four fantastic grandchildren. She lived a life of curiosity and enquiry, explored different ways of understanding this thing we call life and emigrated to Canada aged 70. A courageous and much loved woman. We will all miss her and carry her in our hearts.

“If we are able to give ourselves to the loss, to move toward it – rather than recoil in an effort to escape, deny distract, or obscure – our wounded hearts become full, and out of that fullness we will do things differently, and we will do different things. Our loss, our wound, is precious to us because it can wake us up to love, and to loving action.” Norman Fischer

Are you living in fear?

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

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

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

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

Resistance to change

1) Physical Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

Dance, dance, dance!

2) Mindful Action

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

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

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

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

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

Fear dissolving

 

 

Stuck in the House – Outside!

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

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

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

 

Swansea podcast

Come Together Cast is a new Swansea based community and culture podcast.  This great podcast is put together by Amina, Josh, Howard and Simon and aims to share a little of what is going on in Swansea during this challenging time.

The Podcast has been going for three episodes and has a Facebook page where you can go to get all the links to their previous podcasts. This week’s episode includes a chat with Owen Griffiths and Zoe Gealy from the National Waterfront Musuem about their GRAFT Garden Project, some guy called Lee Aspland about his Stuck in the House free eBook and some local children about what it is like to be little in lockdown.

You can now listen to this week’s episode on Spotify, and if you really want to suffer I am on 10.04 minutes in!

Stuck in the House 7 – Amazon banned my book!

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

 

A Long Walk

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

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

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

10 Tips to slow down and connect with your photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Stuck in the House 6 – Let’s get Creative!

How are you doing in these strange times? Have you established a new routine? What are you doing that is positive and creative to support yourself? Let’s talk about it……

Stuck in the House 3

A short reflection on what has worked for me during the first week of being ‘Stuck in the House’. Maybe some of my experiences will help you to cope with the coming week?

Stuck in the House 2

Something creative for you to do today…..

 

Photo Activity: Changing your Point of View

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

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

Stuck in the House 1

Let’s have a chat about what’s going on! How are you coping with self isolation or social distancing? Here are a couple of things I have been thinking about, one or two mistakes I have made and what is supporting my health and well-being.

If you are a photographer don’t forget to check out yesterday’s post. The header photo is from the photo activity ‘Stuck’

How is mindfulness is relevant to photography?

My photography business centres upon self enquiry and personal understanding through photography. It has Mindful Photography at its heart. I regularly reflect on why I have applied mindfulness to photography. Jon Kabat Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living), who has probably been one of the main catalysts for the growth in popularity of Mindfulness in the West, explains some of my thinking.

“….bringing Mindfulness to any activity transforms it into a kind of meditation. Mindfulness dramatically amplifies the probability that any activity in which your engaged will result in an expansion of your perspective and your understanding of who you are.”

Expanding your perspective

I like this a lot. “An expansion of your perspective” is a fabulous way of saying that you are totally immersed in the moment. Aware of what you are experiencing. Aware of the emotions playing through your mind and feeling them in your body. Aware of the ground beneath you and the sky above.

As a photographer that would translate first and foremost to being completely tuned into the visual experience in front of you. The light, the colours, shapes, forms, patterns, textures and more provide your anchor. Like the breath can in meditation. The relationship between this visual experience and creating an equivalent of it with your camera (taking a photograph) would provide the opportunity to practice mindfulness with your technical and compositional choices. This is a huge subject; one I address through my eBooks.

Understanding who you are

The final part of the sentence, “…..and your understanding of who you are.” opens the possibility of using photography as a vehicle for self enquiry. This is something that interests me greatly and is an integral element of your well-being. I am currently creating a new book that shares over 25 photography activities specifically designed to enhance your well-being through photography. I am writing and practicing these activities right now and hope to have my first draft complete by July 2020. Some of these activities specifically support self enquiry through photography: Henri Cartier Bresson provides us a glimpse of how this enquiry is possible in his famous book ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

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

It is these two areas: expanding our perspective and understanding who we are that are threads running through my mindful photography resources. If you would like to learn more………

You can subscribe to my mailing list and receive a FREE ebook by using the form below this post.

 

Tales from a Hospital Bed eBook

Just in case you missed it, I have now collated all my ‘Tales from a Hospital Bed’ into one eBook. You can now down load it for free here. You don’t even need to sign up for any newsletters (I know how annoying that can be. Although mine is fab, of course!)

I have a couple of reasons for doing this. The main one is to provide a personal story of how photography and writing can support your recovery from difficulty – in this case major surgery. I hope that other people will be inspired to support themselves in similar circumstances. Creating photos that reflect how I was feeling each day and writing about the experiences felt and lived enabled me to process the difficulty, to accept each day’s challenges and lean into the future.

My other reasons are to do with developing my own practice. By collating and sharing all the photos and stories in one place I can both see how the ongoing practice works and let it all go. These two are at the heart of personal acceptance of difficulty: seeing and understanding what has happened is the ground you need to stand on to move towards acceptance. Then you can let it all go.

This phrase, ‘let it all go’ is deceptive. It seems easy to understand and yet it can be so difficult to execute. You probably understand what it means, but doing it may be beyond where you find yourself. Perhaps it is easier to think of the concept as a softening. I am not sure that you can in one particular moment just ‘let go’ of something. You can have the intention, but sometimes the thoughts and fears that accompany the difficulty are particularly sticky. Softening with the experience, breathing into the challenging thoughts and remembering you are loved (in that very moment) are the first steps in changing your thoughts and ‘letting go’.

Creating photos to support your well-being is what this is all about, and I am making positive strides forwards towards the development of my book, ‘Photography for Well-Being’. I have started writing and doing my new photography activities, and I am keeping an ongoing workbook, which will form part of the book. In fact my next post will share some recent experiences in this wild weather we have been having. Look out for ‘Weather or Not’ early next week.

 

Down to earth

I have landed. Four weeks ago today I had my throat reconstruction surgery in London. I feel that I have now come back down to earth, landed solidly back in my world. As I type this I am sat in my lounge, thoughts have turned towards photography and writing. I am ready to get back into my work, still taking it slowly, but ready to get creative.

In this space I have been reflecting on my photographic year to date, looking at the photos I have created this year and wondering about the future. I notice a difference in my photos from previous years. There are less mindful photography practice photos and more work related and leisure photos. It would seem that I have been busier both with work and fun, and have had less time for practice. Hmm.

My immediate plans are to complete my ‘Who Am I Now?’ Photography Project and start work on my new book, ‘Photography for Well-Being. More of the same it would appear. However, the work for the book will initially be mindful photography practices, as I intend to create, write and complete each photography activity for the book over the next few months. Each practice will become a written activity for the book, be beneficial for my recovery and create something meaningful for others.

It’s a plan. But you know what happens to plans – Life. In the meantime I have a list of 23 photography activity titles. Each one has a little bit of life in my mind, but nothing is written down. For each title I need to create the focus for the activity, decide upon the photographic skill being honed, do the activity take notes and obviously create photos.

I have bought a high quality notebook, to use as an ongoing workbook for all thoughts about well-being and how photography can help. Each activity will be developed in this notebook with initial ideas, notes about what happens, the actual practice followed and at least one Fuji Instax (like a Polaroid) to illustrate. I am following this format because I believe that the book needs to be a kind of workbook for you. How I get from my workbook to yours is the challenge.

The 23 activities fall into four categories. These are Green Space, Blue Space, Love and Urban. Reasonably self explanatory? I have looked thought the activities and I reckon that half of them can be completed during the Winter and early Spring, so that is where I’m going to start. Look out for ongoing reports, although anything could change, it is a creative process!

The Photos

The photos accompanying this post are from last Winter, in early January. I went down to Langland to experiment with my ‘big stopper’ lens filter and use Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) to create some slightly abstract photos of the beach. These are my three favourites.