Photography and the Web of Connection

I spent the summer of 1976 living with my Dad in Windsor, Ontario (Canada), a place I’d never lived before. He’d moved there a few months earlier and was able to get me a job where he worked.

My second part-time job that summer was teaching figure skating at the local arena. A few weeks in, the skating club had a “test day” – where skaters perform before judges to see if they’ve achieved the required skills to move to the next level. The cold and cavernous arena was filled with the chatter of skaters, coaches, judges, and parents all gathered for the big day. There was a sense of camaraderie in the air. When someone passed a test, you could hear joyful sounds of celebration and when they didn’t, you heard groans.

While I had been warmly welcomed by the skating community, it was clear on this day that I was an outsider. I didn’t belong. At least, I felt like I didn’t. Most of the people there had long established relationships that would continue long after I left. Surrounded by hundreds of people, I felt very alone.

Sometimes, we feel the most disconnected and lonely in a crowd.

Maybe you’ve felt this way too. Since I was a young girl, I yearned to connect in a way my family members and closest friends could not always satisfy. It wasn’t the kind of connection met by conversation or through sharing experiences or memories. It was another kind, but what was it? It took me years to realize what I was missing and how to fill it.

In fact, it wasn’t until I began to photograph that I discovered the very connection I was missing. When that first image of winter trees in my backyard appeared in the solution so many years ago, I felt an aliveness I’d never experienced before. The photograph was a tangible representation of my connection to a place. Those intertwined branches represented the inherent way everything is already connected. My camera was showing me how to be fully in the moment and to connect through my photographs.

“All my creation is an effort to weave a web of connection with the world. I am always weaving it because it was once broken.” (Anais Nin, Winter, 1942)

Ever since then, I’ve practiced reweaving my web of connection through photography.
My camera teaches me how to slow down (pause), pay attention (focus) and then connect with what’s there (click the shutter). It teaches me about myself, what I’m drawn to and what I turn away from. It teaches me how to engage, and most importantly, how to trust what I must share.

Every photograph is about relationship – between photographer and subject or between subjects within the frame.

I believe that we live in an interconnected, interdependent world and that the quality of the world and of our lives depends on the quality of our connections and relationships. We are unique individuals, but we are not islands. We are connected. We belong. Photography then becomes not simply a way to express myself, but that connection. A photograph is a symbol of relationship. It’s a visual Namaste, where something deep inside of you connects with the essence of your subject.

To give you an example, while in Chicago, I walked along the river one cool and rainy morning. Colours often stand out on these types of days. This was certainly true on this day as I found myself drawn towards two small, fuchsia pink leaves glued to the back of a lime green bench. They were slightly overlapping and covered with big, fat raindrops. The scene felt so tender, like one was comforting the other. The contrast of the two bright colours accentuated the feeling. I moved in close to focus on the two leaves against the lime green bench.This simple and minimal image shows what I saw and hopefully, what I felt.

10 Ways to Connect through Photography

1. Pause and notice what’s resonating inside. What stopped you?
2. Focus by looking closer with a soft and loving gaze.
3. Notice any judgments that come up and let them go.
4. See everything as a worthy and potential subject.
5. Open to new possibilities by changing perspective.
6. Welcome the unexpected. Let the photographs come to you.
7. Use all your senses in the experience.
8. Notice what you’re feeling.
9. Trust yourself and what you value.
10.Share yourself generously.

We are all forces in this world with the potential to connect and contribute. Each one of us has something to offer. Get to know what you value and what matters most and you will begin to live out your purpose. Nothing needs to be added to make your life more interesting. Instead, eliminate what’s not important and follow your instincts. Your life will be richer and more rewarding, and you will have a greater impact on others. Everything you do and say and create matters.

Kim Manley Ort is a photographer and workshop facilitator. You can connect with her through her website, Facebook page, or on Instagram. The photographic exercises in her book, Adventures in Seeing: The Camera Teaches You to Pause, Focus, and Connect with Life, will help you to tap into a deeper awareness of yourself and the world around you. You’ll rediscover your own connection with a world fully alive, a world where you belong and have a place.

Boredom is an experience that is avoided. The distractions available are numerous: smartphone, TV, work, household chores and friends are but a few. But how would it be to experience boredom by choice?

I wrote this post whilst I was on what was planned to be a 3 day retreat in the farmland hills above the Welsh market town of Brecon. I have spent many retreat breaks over the last 8 years at the centre at Llannerchwen. It is very quiet, in beautiful rolling wooded hills and visited by pheasants, rabbits, hawks and much more. But it is my experience that every retreat is different; the external landscape changes with the season, and my internal landscape changes both with season and its own rhythms .

It was on my mind that there would be opportunity to experience boredom, even though I had brought books, podcasts and my camera. And so I chose to sit on the cabin’s most comfortable chair and gaze through the large patio doors at the dank welsh countryside, and I notice.

I notice the voice; my internal commentator suggesting I do this, or that. It is a quiet insistent voice, no doubt fueled by my normal behaviour, which in turn has been shaped by our doing culture. Stopping for a while, not reading, not even meditating is an enlightening experience. The voice is very strong. This post is a product of its insistent suggestions. But in between the activity, the doing tasks, there is space to notice.

I have sat for a while – not timed – and observed. I notice the movements outside my window; the thrushes fighting over territory, the occasional rabbit foraging through the bronze bracken, and the last leaves from the long passed Autumn clinging on to tributary branches.

In between the visual stimulation I notice my mind’s habits. Thoughts of action and activity wander in and beckon in an alluring manner, like an old friend suggesting a visit to a favourite haunt. I note the thought and go back to the visual. This is a cultivated habit from my mindful photography, but the thoughts are relentless. Like the waves they return again and again.

I know that the practice is in the noting and not reacting. In honouring the thought or associated feeling and returning to the moment. This is itself a mindful practice and is part of the reason I am here, cultivating the habit of paying attention. Why do I do this? I am choosing to re-wire my brain. This is how Dr Barbara Mariposa explains it in ‘The Mindfulness Playbook’

“The brain changes shape according to how you use it. We can intentionally change our brain and nervous system for the better. Regularly using mindful (activities) the prefrontal cortex increases in size and activity……..promoting greater self awareness, the essential building block for emotional intelligence. We are giving ourselves a mental and emotional upgrade.”

Stopping and noticing provides the opportunity to connect to a fundamental truth; “I am not my thoughts. I have thoughts.” Dr B Mariposa

So I will stop this activity now and return to my boredom, my observation of how I am. But I will leave you with a supportive mindful photography practice that I will complete my self later. (The photo with the post is the product of the practice)

Mindful Photography Practice – Boredom

  1. Imagine that you can only create one photograph
  2. Take yourself and your camera out to a quiet location where you will not be disturbed.
  3. Set your camera to a mode that you are comfortable with and requires little technical photographic thought from you.
  4. Turn off (or cover) the review screen.
  5. Sit at your location and pay attention to your mind
  6. Notice the thoughts. Recognise the feelings that arise. Do nothing, just sit. Sit for at least 20 minutes before you even pick up your camera, but notice your drive to complete the task, the consideration of your space and its photographic opportunities.
  7. Create one photograph. You can move to do this. Do not look at it. Just sit and notice your thoughts
  8. After a while go home. Sit quietly and look at your photo. What thoughts and feelings arise?
  9. Share it with me

I am currently recovering from a cold. Nothing unusual about that, but as a consequence my mind is foggy and writing a blog post is challenging. Patience is the word that lept to mind. Patience Lee, it will all return. Then I had a simple idea. Why not share the excerpt from the Mindful Photography Book I am writing about patience. It’s a win win. You get a great article and a mindful photography practice, I don’t have to think (too much!) Here it is.

A Mindful Attitude – Patience

I believe that patience is the underpinning attitude of mindfulness. It is a quality that is both known and elusive. It is the place that allows us to rest in the moment and await the world’s unfolding. The challenge is that your mind, your life and your whole culturally shaped way of being impels you to do stuff.

This western world carries an implication that we are “ok” if you are completing a task or achieving an outcome. You may define yourself as, “good, ok or not bad” if you feel that you are purposeful, if you are doing something. Having a purpose for the day is a positive and life affirming experience. However, if you are to truly experience your activities in a non judgemental way, patience is the quality that allows you to fully integrate the experience.

Patience in the moment allows you to be with whatever the experience is. It allows you to rest with your sensory experience. To notice the thoughts that swirl and pass through your mind. To recognise the feelings that arise. With patience you rest with the present experience and don’t rush off to experience “better” ones.

This can be particularly true of “unpleasant” experiences. In these circumstances your coping mechanisms may include delusion (pretending or convincing yourself that the experience is not unpleasant), avoidance or distraction (not thinking about the experience, doing something else) or destruction (when you take action to remove or obliterate the experience!)

Patience is the attitude that allows you to rest in each and any moment. It allows each moment to unfold in its own time. In that space you can then know yourself by becoming attuned to the body’s responses and sensory information, by noticing the thoughts and feelings that arise in your consciousness. Patience supports the practice of being, or living holistically.

My development of a chronic health condition has provided ample opportunity to practice patience: patience with the immediate struggle to breathe; patience with the slow healing process; patience with my feelings of frustration, fear and anger; and patience with others reaction to me, their judgements, their behaviours and their inability to appreciate what is going on for me. Sometimes I imagined that I could be with all of it, that I was patient. Perhaps this was not patience, but numbness. Sometimes it was pure stoicism, a learnt behaviour from all those miles and miles pounding the roads enduring the discomfort, the pain and the desire to sit down.

My experience tells me that true patience, rather than numbness or stoicism, comes hand in hand with understanding and acceptance of the situation. And that is the lifetime practice and at the heart of my book.

 As applied to photography

Patience supports your development as a mindful photographer. You need to be patient in the moment of creating a photograph. When you bring the camera up to your eye to compose and press the shutter there is a drive fuelling your action. This drive is the same one that impels you to keep doing stuff in your life. It is the drive to capture the moment in a “good” photograph. You believe that your purpose in that moment is to create a photograph. It is more than this.

All of the processes, thoughts and actions that are necessary to create a photograph – from learning all the technical and compositional theories, to truly seeing all that is front of us (the shapes, colours, patterns etc) – are just part of the process. You need to be patient over many days, weeks and years as you acquire and deepen this knowledge. You then need, in the moment of pressing the shutter, to let all of the associated photographic ideas and thoughts to wash over you, to release the drive and just be with the experience.

Only then, in a quiet and connected place, will you instinctively reflect your inner experience in your outward view (the photograph). Perhaps this is better explained by a master of the art.

“I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.” Cartier-Bresson ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

Patience forms the loving hands that embrace your desire to create personal resonant photographs of your world.

A Mindful Photography Practice 8 – Just Sit

The purpose of this practice is to develop patience. Choose a location and scenario to photograph where the creation of a personally resonant photograph will require patience. Here are a few examples

  • A sunrise – getting up super early, getting to the location in plenty of time, sitting and waiting. Create photographs throughout the sunrise.
  • A technical aspect of photography that you find challenging. This could include panning, intentional camera movement, night time light trails, freezing fast moving objects eg sport, nature.
  • A portrait photograph of someone you know but find challenging (patience with your feelings of discomfort)
  • A sunny day moving shadow. Choose a location where a shadow of an object is cast. Set up in a fixed spot, use a tripod if you have one. Sit next to the camera and create one photograph every 20 minutes. Only sit, wait and observe for each 20 minutes; no reading, no smartphone, do nothing. Just be present.

Balance is not only a key part of photographic composition it is a key element in life. How do you keep your life in balance whilst the world appears to be going a little crazy? How do you stop it all from becoming a little bit overwhelming? 2016 brought us Brexit and Trump. 2017 is sure to follow up on these massive changes. How do you keep your life in balance surrounded by media madness and major changes in your own life?

Change

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

We do seem to be living through a period of tremendous change. Many people feel personally affected by these worldwide changes. You may also have major change playing out through your life right now. Is a balanced approach the way forward? If so how can we develop one?

When change happens we often feel uncomfortable, uneasy or plain scared. This is particularly relevant if the change is unexpected, but can be just as difficult or challenging if it is planned – like a house move or ending a relationship.

When change manifests in your life you react. This reaction is driven by your patterns of thinking. It is influenced by the messages you have received throughout your life from others and the messages you tell yourself. This can often include negative statements like you’re not good enough, or simple derogatory name calling! Either way it is a product of habitual thinking. You are used to thinking a certain way.

The good news is that this can be changed. Every pattern of thinking, every habit can be changed. They are just neurons in your mind that have got used to following a certain path. All you have to do is re-wire them. I say ‘all you have to do’, of course it is not easy. Changing any habit is not easy, but it is possible and there is a way forward that encourages a skillful response rather than your habitual response.

“Neurons that fire together, wire together” Donald Hebb 1949, Canadian neuropsychologist

Responding Skillfully 

What you need is a little space. Space to connect with what is going on for you. Space to notice how you feel. This is at the heart of mindfulness. Creating space, just being present and paying attention to how you are. Mindfulness, and the training you can do to develop a mindful life (that’s meditation!), provide the space; the moment for you to breathe and connect to how you are.

In the moment that the change first manifests STOP. Sit and notice your bottom on its seat and your feet on the floor. Breathe and notice what you are thinking, what you are feeling. Don’t follow the thought, worrying at it – like a dog with a bone! Come back to your breath. Notice how this change is making you feel physically. Check out your belly, your chest and your throat; these are the key areas where change that is stressful will play out. It may be that you have butterflies in your belly, or that your heart is pounding in your chest. Sit with the feeling, breathing into where you feel it.

As you do this thoughts and feelings will still play out. Return to the physical. Don’t follow your thoughts. Pay attention to your physical feelings. As they begin to fade stay with them. When the physical feelings dissipate return to your breathing. Slowly and almost imperceptibly the thoughts and feelings will soften and eventual dissolve. I know, they will return. This is a habitual thinking/feeling pattern. You will need to follow this practice again, and again, and again.

But that is why it is called a practice. You keep at it. Not expecting instant results. Not expecting to even get it right. There is no right. There is only the practice.

Why not watch and listen to an expert talk about this? Tara Brach’s talk on ‘Learning to respond not react’ is a great start.

Balance in life

This is just a beginning; a practice that can support you at the edges of change. What about the rest of the time as you pass through each day? Is a balanced life the way forward?

This is a question that is very much on my mind. It seems to me that finding a way to navigate this sea of change, so that I can continue to grow and develop to become the best possible version of myself, is both an intention and a commitment to a balanced life. It is one that requires that I pay attention to the challenges, my reactions and my responses. Following the practice I discussed above is strategy that can support me, but it is in noticing what happens when the old patterns reassert themselves that the growth and development is to be found.

I have recently had a couple of health wobbles. In each case (and every one before) the pattern of behaviour is the same. I am well. I gain in confidence in my stamina, abilities and ideas. I take on more. I get busy. Somewhere around this point there may be signals from my body that I am overstretched. Sometimes I notice and either back off or, more likely, I plough on. Most often I don’t even notice how I am. I am completely immersed in my activities.

I am also immersed in my pattern of behaviour. I am striving to do each activity, each task, to the best of my ability and there are many to be done. I strive to be effective, efficient and provide a high quality outcome. This is a positive drive, I get lots achieved, but its boundaries are transparent. My body eventually says ‘enough’, my breathing stumbles and I have to slow down or stop. And of course in the slowing down or stopping I have to let things go.

The trick is to notice the signals. Or to notice the pattern of behaviour. To check in to how I am feeling physically and mentally. This way of being is supported by practicing mediation and mindfulness. But both these and the change practice I described above are just that, practices. I know I will fall down. And when I fall down there is only one thing to do. Oh ok two things!

One: Get back up
Two: Pay attention to what happened and why

It is in the response to my failures that the greatest lessons are to be found. Living a balanced life is finding a way through opposite extremes of behaviour. Of knowing who I am and how I am. It requires that I pay attention to myself. For it is in the paying attention that the path between the mountains is revealed.

Developing the ability to pay attention is what mindfulness is all about. My tools are meditation, yoga, mindful photography practices and mindful attention to the one thing that I am doing. How do you navigate through your stormy sea of change?

Now that we are four days in I feel I must ask you: how are the New Year Resolutions going? I hope that you are still filled with the enthusiasm (or guilt!) that gripped you a few days ago. If not perhaps this will inspire you. I am going to reflect upon my New Year practice, which is not dissimilar to the resolutions, but hopefully is a little more resolute!

It generally starts in mid December when the Unravel document is shared by Susannah Conway. This template first takes you through the year just ending, asking questions about the year’s events, your highs, your lows and everything in between. The second half of the document leads you through your hopes, dreams, expectations and intentions for the next year. In all it is about 30+ pages, all of which may be useful to you – and those that are not you can just skip.

I have now used this process for 4 years. Last year I finally found a way to make it stick beyond the first half of the year. The key is to keep the process alive. Do not just plan how you are going to live the year and then put it away. Commit to reviewing, reflecting and adjusting the plan once a month. This is enough and most importantly it allows you to adjust to the way life throws curve balls at you.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

I finish the plan about now – I am doing this next this morning – and then schedule my To Do list app to remind me at the end of every month to review and adjust for the next few months. Actually, last year I found that it was helpful to only plan the first 6 months in detail and then build up the second half of the year as it drew closer and came into focus.

Practice

I see the whole process throughout the year as another mindful practice: that of paying attention to my life. It supports my daily meditation practice and my weekly mindful photography practice. All of these support me to pay attention to how I am and support how I would like to live.

Just before Christmas the importance of these mindful practices were once again highlighted by a little health wobble. I had taken my eye off the ball. My daily practice had slipped to 4 or 5 days a week and it is at least a month since I last did a mindful photography practice.

Now I am back on track. I have committed to a longer daily meditation practice and completed a mindful photography practice at the weekend. Actually this latest practice, the photos from which decorate this post, was part of a photo tutorial for my partner’s son. Whilst he did the task I had set, I followed the same practice, creating 20 photos in my inimitable abstract style.

2017

And so we commence another year. Much has been made of the nature of the last year in the media, but each year can only be a series of events, happenings, occurrences, births, deaths, elections and so on. It is how we respond, rather than react to these opportunities that matters.

Mindfulness supports your intention to respond skillfully, rather than react from habit. In that intention you then are more connected to how you are physically, emotionally and holistically. This then supports your ability to respond with an engaged mind and heart, making choices that sustain and support yourself and those that you love.

I wish you a New Year that rises to meet your expectations, keeps you engaged with the joy of life and leads you to continue to grow holistically as a human being.

 

In these smartphone days the camera we always have with us is usually the most pocketable one. I do have a high end compact phone and a brick of a DSLR. Sometimes I do have one of them with me. But I always have my smartphone camera.

I get it. The best camera is the one we have with us and smartphones do have pretty reasonable cameras, limited but ok in reasonable light. I post a smartphone photo a day to my Instagram account. I like the creative limitations imposed by the phone, it’s wide angle and levels of technical control make me think about innovative composition.

All the photos below were created with my compact Xperia Z3 and edited using Snapseed. Fancy sharing your favourite recent smartphone photo?

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I have long been interested in the concept of a flâneur as it has a relationship to my mindful approach to photography. Whilst the dictionary definition of it as an “idler or a lounger” is of interest, Charles Baudelaire’s interpretation of a flâneur is more relevant. He described a flâneur as someone who is a detached observer of city streets, someone who is attuned to the seeing. For him it was not an act of loafing about, but one of sauntering along city streets whilst absorbing the visual feast. So when it came up as the WordPress Discover challenge this week I decided to dedicate some time to living the life of a photographic flâneur.

What follows below is a selection of photos that were created whilst sauntering through the streets and sights of Swansea. I wandered for about 4 hours, stopping for a cuppa and then meandering on. I followed my own 4 stage seeing practice that uses what I see as my anchor; the one thing that I return to when I notice my busy mind has itself wandered off.

Perhaps the concept of  being a flâneur is a useful analogy for your active mind. You follow the streets and practice attending to what you see, then a sight leads you down a thought stream and you are away on some exploration of the past or invention of the future. Somehow you notice, maybe it is another sight that brings you back to the present, and in that moment you are immersed in the seeing.

You raise your camera to your eye, photographic thoughts swirl: where should you frame the scene, what f stop should you use? You notice this, return to the sight that stopped you and somewhere between controlling all the photographic knowledge and being completely present you let the decisive moment to press the shutter emerge in its own time. A photograph is created. You saunter on.

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I was reminded today of the fragility of life. You would think that after a few life experiences that have demonstrated that it is a truth, I would have it at the forefront of my mind. But the idea that we are immortal is tenacious.

We carry on through our busy lives, racing from one important task to the next. These tasks define who we are. They shape our life and determine how our days are spent. And then, from left field, something occurs to remind us that it is but a gossamer thread connecting us to this entertaining video we call life.

Today I heard from a friend who has recently lost somebody very close to them. In fact over the last few months she has been training and then swimming the Channel to raise money, inspired by the circumstances her friend was struggling with. And then, just after the event, her friend died. As if this tremendous loss was not enough, life had another in store. Very soon after her friend died, the swimming coach who had been supporting their endeavour had a heart attack and died.

Even when we know something is likely to happen, the actuality and finality of death is still a huge adjustment. We have the practicalities, and friends and family, to support us through the early days of adjustment. But then, as life falls back into its rhythm, we may begin to lose our bearings.

The grief attached to any loss has to be lived through. The stages may be well documented: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but we still have to live through them. We have to live with the confusion and feelings of deep uncertainty. And of course we may be reminded of our own mortality.

Perhaps it is this reminder that can support us through towards the acceptance of the loss of our loved one. For this reminder of the gossamer thread can attune us to our loved ones, to how we are spending our time, towards what is truly important in our life.

We will always have the loving memories of our departed friend, but the most valuable lesson this difficult adjustment has, is to remind us to wholly engage in every moment. To tune in to what we are sensing, thinking and feeling. To be truly present in every glorious and grimy minute, for it will very soon be gone. Carpe diem.

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Fragile

The edge is a useful metaphor. Where and when do you feel your edge? Do you notice and carry on? Do you notice and ease back? Or do you not notice and plough on regardless?

Feeling your edge implies that you are tuned in, paying attention to your life. In the moment that you teeter on the edge of something you can notice a feeling of discomfort, just as if you are on the edge of a precipice and looking over. In that moment you can choose to feel your feet on the floor, to breathe in deeply down to your roots – the part of us that is connected to the rest of the world – and then make a decision. To step back or to jump.

There may not actually be a big leap between your edge and the future. It just feels that way at the time. The edge may be acute because of a potential change of environment, the road beneath your feet may not be that which you were used to, or it may be inhabited by strange new people!

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These are often big moments in your life. Moments when your choice may define how your future is shaped. As a long distance runner I learnt to push on beyond my edge; those feelings of huge physical discomfort are noticed but the drive is to carry on, to move forwards. To keep going.

This drive is essential to your life. Without drive you would achieve very little in your life. But when you reach an edge, you are there because of your life, your choices, who you are. Honoring yourself is paying attention to what is at that edge, why you are there and what lies beyond.

Paying complete attention to the edge, how you are and what might lie beyond is the first step in learning to fly. For if you are to leap off the edge you will learn to fly. You may not think that you can. But there is often only one way to find out. Leaping off, leads to flying. It is scary….and it is exciting.

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You can support the experience by paying attention to how you are. Notice the sensations playing through your body; they will be exhibiting in your belly, chest or throat. Breathe to that area and feel your feet on the floor or your bottom on its seat. Attune yourself to what you can see, right now in your immediate environment. Keep breathing deeply. Notice what you can hear, noises that are distant, the sound of your own breathing, maybe even your heart reminding you that you are alive. Notice the breeze on your cheek, the smell of the season on the air and those butterflies in your belly.

By tuning in to our senses and paying attention to our breathing we soften into the moment. Then we have space to notice the thoughts and feelings that are rampaging through our consciousness. Those familiar ones, the ones that are often fueled by your internal critical voice can be noted, just as you would a familiar acquaintance who you really do not like but have to work with. Note the thought, note the judgement, say hello and then breathe. Come back to your breath.

And there you are, stood at your edge breathing into the sensations, attuned to the thoughts and uncomfortable feelings. Slowly and often imperceptibly the sensations will dissolve, the fear will soften. You will look at the edge and know that you are alive and you can fly!

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Edge

There is a still point between the in breath and the out breath. And another between the out breath and the in breath. Each is milliseconds in length. Each is a time when the world is in balance. You may not be aware of their arrival and passing. But they are always there, always available.

The in breath requires us to do something; our body has learnt to drawn in breath, to extend effort and air is drawn into our lungs. The out breath is a release, we let go and air passes back out through our respiratory system. In between the effort and the release, the release and the effort are the still points.

I am writing a book on Mindful Photography at the moment that is about paying attention to the still point. Staying with that moment when all is in balance. It is about developing a way of extending its influence throughout every breath, in and out. It is about paying attention to the effort that has brought us to this point and paying attention to what we can release. It is about paying attention to our life, our choices and the ripples of consequence that resonate through our being and beyond.

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Mindfulness is paying attention

This paying attention has become known as mindfulness and it is all the rage. But whilst it may provide the media with regular column inches, for me it is more than just a fad, it has become a way through tremendous personal difficulties and a practice that is now central to my life.

Mindfulness is intended to be a way of living through every aspect of our life. The suggestion is that we pay attention to what we are sensing, thinking, feeling, and doing. Through that practice we learn to respond in ways that support us, rather than instinctively reacting in ways that cause us stress.  Most mindfulness books provide philosophy and guidance that allow us to apply the practice to our life. They are often written by Buddhist sages or learned psychologists. I have no such claims. However, I have learnt through personal experience how mindfulness can support a greater understanding of myself; my choices, my habits, my behaviours and the full engagement in every aspect of my being.

I have lived through the study, the reading, the courses, the sitting, the dreaming. I have thought that I was applying the philosophies, the practices. I have imagined that I was mindful, that just because I meditated that I was ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. It took ten years before I began to recognise that this mindfulness thing is an ongoing practice. I knew that’s what it was called; a practice. I understood the idea intellectually, but I was not living it. The possibility that you never really crack it, that there is nothing to achieve, that it is a lifetime’s practice was a slow coalescing realisation. One that occasionally seems obvious and at other times remains elusive.

Mindful Photography - Beach-1

A Personal Approach

My book takes a personal approach. It draws upon my midlife experiences of choices and consequences, of striving, of not paying attention and of the health challenges that developed. It focuses upon a particular application of mindfulness and shares methods, practices and activities that I have found of immense help.

I do not claim to be a mindful master, but I have found an application for mindfulness and a way of continuing to develop a mindful approach that I believe is quite unique and may be helpful for others. I call it Mindful Photography.

We are all photographers now. Most of us carry a smartphone with the capacity to create and share fabulous photographs of our world. Many of us also have a digital camera. The potential for creating a visual record is now part of our everyday life. My book is for everyone who wants to create personal and resonant photographs: photos that say something of who we are, what we think and what life is like for us. However, it is not just about how to create profound, expressive photos; it also is about living life, making mistakes, facing unexpected events, understanding ourselves and responding, rather than reacting to life’s difficulties.

In the book I will reflect upon the habits and behaviours I developed in my thirties and the midlife choices I made later that impelled me down the path towards a chronic health condition. Sometimes I may shed a little light on the culture at the time, but this is not shared as an excuse for my choices. It is more an attempt to unravel the impact our modern life and behaviour has upon our well being. I contrast these life experiences with the ideas and attitudes that underpin a mindful life.

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Why Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about paying attention. My life choices clearly demonstrate that I was not paying attention. However, over ten years the message begins to percolate my consciousness and I start to incorporate mindful activities into my life.

Have I got it all sorted? Do I live a mindful life every day, every minute? Don’t be daft. Mindfulness is an ongoing practice. However, mindfulness and mindful photography have changed how I live. Mindful Photography offers a path to becoming a conscious and fully awake photographer, and because we cannot separate the photographer from the person, it also investigates a way of being. Balancing photography practices that develop mindfulness with an exploration of how life’s choices are determined, I will share an intimate and truthful map of our midlife travels, arriving at a midlife manifesto that is my work in progress and could be yours.

Mindfulness has changed my life and developing this practice through photography has been and continues to be one way in which I have explored how I live now and how I can continue to live with authenticity, truth and love. Once you pick up a camera and start using it in the ways that I suggest your life may never quite be the same again.

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It doesn’t take much encouragement to get me to create a selfie. Not only is it a genre I regularly explore, I’ve also done a monthly photo project with FB friends (Beyond the Selfie) and I am just about to write the last chapter of my book about Mindful Photography; and that’s all about me!

So when I saw this weekly photo challenge title from The Daily Post I determined to create a selfie and write a post today. Even though my camera is tucked up at home.

And no, you should know that I am not self obsessed. Any more than the average egocentric human being. But I am fascinated by this thing we call the self.

The Self in the Selfie

There are many interpretations of what the self is, they vary from the classically psychological to the philosophically challenging. But one thing is certain. If you cut me open you will not find it. The core essence that you think that you are, your beautiful self, is not a pearl to be discovered residing in the oyster that is your mind. Perhaps this is what the Buddhists mean when they explain that there is no such thing as self; that it is not a physical thing, not something you can point at.

The explanation of the self that resonates for me is that it is a constantly evolving, multi-layered, and infinitely possible reflection of all that you do and all that you are.

So it seems entirely apposite that the mirror reflects an image of me, but I know that this is merely a physical and momentary sliver of the whole. All that I am and all that I can be resides in the possibility of the evolving self.

Exploring the Self

There is an inevitable consequence of living a mindful life. The more you practice, the more you pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, the better you get to know yourself. Sometimes stuff arises that you thought long forgotten. Sometimes you are unaware that you have drifted away down a side stream of thought, far way from the days happenings.

Other times you begin to notice some of your habitual thoughts. Maybe you notice that small nagging voice that criticizes what you are doing, or how you are doing it, or what you have not done! Or maybe you start to become more attuned to how you feel about the people in your life, your job, how you spend your spare time.

I find that it is an inevitable consequence of meditating and practising mindful photography that I become more self aware, more attuned to how I am in the moment right now. And in that moment I know myself a little better.

The Final Chapter

The final chapter of my book is all about the personal photo project I have been following throughout the last 12 months of my life. Every three months I have spent one week creating only one photo each day. Each photo is intended to represent me, how I am, what is happening and how I am being. It is not easy only creating one photo, and I will be sharing some thoughts on how to best do this, but it is challenging and fulfilling.

As the photos build up over the week, months and year a story begins to emerge; a visual storyboard of the year, one week at a time. So far I have completed the practice 4 times and therefore have 28 photos. It is these photos that I will be sharing in the final chapter and telling the story of the last turbulent and marvellous year.

Many of the photos make use of metaphors to represent a thought or feeling, some document what happened and several make use of reflections. The mirror of my soul!

Mirror

I like September. Do you? I like it because it is a start of new beginnings in the West; it feels a little like a second opportunity at the New Year. Another chance to review where we are at, how we are living, and consider how we might change things.

Of course the truth is that every day brings us that opportunity, but we get so wrapped up in the doing, the striving to keep everything on track that we loose track of the important stuff. Immersed in our tasks and activities we forget to be compassionate for ourselves. We only see what we are not achieving, not completing.

Instead let us take this month, with its new start, to stop a moment and breathe. Consider for a moment all that you have achieved over the last twelve months. Reflect upon the moments of joy and love that have lit up your world. Hold gently those times of difficulty and confusion and know that through it all you are loved and that the sun will still rise tomorrow.

Try a little photography workshop this September

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I have been occasionally following the post topic suggestion from Word Press. When today’s topic of ‘Plop’ plopped into my inbox it was directly after another email, one of rejection, from a public sector provider and the word seemed entirely apposite.

Rejection is a common part of any artistic endeavour. When I first started as a photographer trying to gain commissions I soon learnt that for every proposal I made to a prospective client there would often be a resounding silence. I would put a lot of work into the sales pitch, considering how they could benefit and genuinely sharing how I believed I could provide photographs they would cherish.

Most often there would be no reply to my proposal. Many people do not like to say no and often choose to not reply as the simplest form of rejection. The not knowing why you had been passed over was often the most frustrating part, though my normal suspicion was that it was financially based.

Eventually over several years you harden to this inherent part of the process of creating photographic work for others. You tell yourself that it is inevitable and that it is not personal, but if you are honest, nagging doubts still persist.

Rejecting my baby

Recently I have developed an 8 week mindful photography course that is very close to my heart. It is very much part of what is important to me in the congruence of living with authenticity and creative photography, and as such is like a new born baby. So this rejection, whilst not entirely unexpected, is felt more keenly.

Of course noticing this attachment to my desires for success and blogging about it is part of processing the feelings. Now all I need to do is follow my own advice and go out with my camera and create some photos to accompany this post. And that I shall do any moment and you will see them below.

Meanwhile I will tie this up neatly by returning to the ‘Plop’ of rejection. That sound of something small dropping into your pond of tranquility sends ripples through your day. Simply noticing the small waves pass by and attending to what you are experiencing is enough to allow them to fade and dissipate. For that it is the way with all feelings. If we pay attention to what is happening and choose not follow the doubt and fear up its blind alley we will be able to accommodate its presence, allow its appearance and know that it is just passing through.

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Plop

 

 

 

My thoughts of late have been much around how I can share more effectively what I have developed. It has taken me 55 years of living, a couple of years of development, an online course, live workshops and some significant life events to really bring my thinking on delivering mindfulness through photography – or Mindful Photography as I usually call it – into a coherent whole.

I now believe that I have reached a key point. I have several live workshop sessions I can now deliver anywhere, and I have three planned for September and October in Swansea, Porthcawl and Cardiff. I have an 8 week Mindful Photography Course planned and have started to approach private, public and third sector organisations with a view to delivering this course for their staff, volunteers or participants. This week and next I am re-visiting the work I have created to date on my Mindful Photography book and once I have completed a second draft I am hoping to re-develop an online course.

It remains a challenge to develop and deliver all of this whilst still working part time, but regular income is of course essential. Keeping all of this on track, whilst also working through personal challenges and falling in love provides rich territory for practice. I try to sit quietly once a day and also share my gratitudes for the day with my sister (in Canada). These are practices that keep me present with all that is passing through.

Lately, I have been reading a passage from a book just after I have sat. The book is called Perseverance by Margaret J Wheatley and she shares little vignettes and quotes a page at a time that build towards a way of living with challenge. This morning’s offering included this quote below which summarises clearly how I believe our life is, and it is also enlivening to see yourself as a warrior. In fact, I imagine that I am a spiritual warrior and that my offering of Mindful Photography is my way of sharing that potential with the rest of the world.

“The basic difference between and ordinary person and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, whilst an ordinary person takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”

Don Juan, Carlos Casteneda

 

 

If you are a Swansea resident and have yet to experience the Peg Talks then you have an inspirational experience awaiting you.

The Peg Talks are organised and run at the Square Peg, a social enterprise cool café based in Sketty, Swansea. Every 5 weeks or so 3 local people share a personal talk about something that is close to their heart. Each speaker has been nominated by a previous speaker, and so the love is shared!

Last night was the 5th round of the Peg Talks and I was one of the nominated speakers. I was on with Rocia Cifuentes, Anna Parton and Ian Phillips.

Rocia Cifuentes went first and spoke with great passion and emotion about her personal journey; her escape from Pinochet’s Chile in the 1970s to her welcome and growing up as a Swansea girl. This is how she describes herself: “Refugee. Immigrant. Daughter. Mother. Partner. Sister. Aunt. Friend. Cambridge Graduate. Swansea Graduate. Lefty. Socialist. Feminist. Globalist. Human Rightivist. Swansea person. Chilean. Welsh. Pop Lover. Hip Hop Lover. Runner. Swimmer. Charity Worker. Director.  Trustee. Helper. All of those things and Me”

I was next up. I had prepared 20 or so cue cards to act as memory joggers. I stood behind the mic, looked at all those faces and failed to take a photo. I tried, thought I had succeeded, but the moment overwhelmed me. I looked at the first cue card; it made no sense, so I put them down and just let it flow through me.

My theme was paying attention and particularly how, when we don’t, our fears take over. But that if we pay attention to what we are experiencing, however it is, then love has the capacity to offset the fear. Love for it all; the pounding in our breast, the butterflies in our belly, the cold quivering of our fingers. It was a joy to share my story and to receive such positive feedback from old friends and new. Thank you Sian and Ben for providing the opportunity.

After a little break Anna Parton was up next. Anna is a passionate dietitian; in fact she is passionate about many things. Her talk was inspiring, entertaining and full of laughter and love. Here’s how she describes herself: “Anna Parton , has been a practicing dietitian for over 30 years. She loves eating, occasionally enjoys feasting , eats cake sometimes but believes in good proper food , good eating and clear health messages that health professionals have an obligation to deliver in a way that everyone can understand .Seeing the rise of nutritional related conditions such as obesity, diabetes she passionately believes we need to change our approach to food and eating without making it forbidden fruit.”

Last up was Ian Phillips the founder of Re-Cycle. Re-Cycle was set up as a social enterprise 8 years ago to reduce the widespread waste of bikes, while ensuring a supply  of reliable and affordable bikes for sale. About one in five bikes are given with maintenance training to volunteers. Ian spoke with enthusiasm and belief about the huge numbers of volunteers that have been through his doors, the skills learnt and the bikes saved.

What a fantastic night. Inspirational local stories. Why don’t you try and make the next one? You’ll have to act fast though, this one sold out in hours and was packed last night. See you there?

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For a man who regularly posts on the topic of fear and its challenging impact in our lives, I could not let the decision to leave the EU pass without comment.

I have been dispirited by both sides of the Referendum Campaign. Neither has sought to offer positivity, hope and potential. Each has wallowed in the negative posturing of the other’s promises and statistics. Our politicians and our media have failed us. Not in the way that the media are reporting, those media magnates have always wanted an EU exit, but in not representing the opportunities inherent in working together to the common good.

I know, I am naive to believe that this would be possible. But I choose to believe in the fundamental goodness of the human race. Together we are stronger. Together we can see how we are similar; how we both care about the same things, how we are all fearful of the same stuff. Politicians, and the media beast that serves the establishment, use fear as a weapon to manipulate and cajole us. Is this not apparent to everyone? Or are we all so wrapped up in our own worlds that we only care for our own views and opinions.

I will sit again today and breathe in the fear that riddles these isles. I will breathe out love. I invite you to join me. I leave you with the poignant words of John Donne, they seem apposite today

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

 

I thought I would start this morning with a clear definition of today’s Daily prompt: transformation is – to change in form, appearance, or structure; metamorphose. Also to change in condition, nature, or character; convert. That’s clear; we are talking about major change. There is a nice link here to my previous post on Change, one that I will develop upon.

Have you experienced a personal transformation? If so, what was the catalyst? I think it’s probably a fair guess that if you answered ‘Yes’ that the catalyst was probably some major life event. Something that involved fundamental loss of some kind which stripped you of some of the anchors and shape in your life. From events such as this transformation is inevitable. If much of what we knew or defined us is gone or changed, then there can only be transformation. And whilst at the time this is scary and deeply unsettling, it also is exciting. Though that emotion may well only surface after much heartache and processing of the major life change.

I feel that I am right in the middle of major transformation. Some days I feel like I am creating a new version of myself. It is not always a fully conscious process. There is much that is instinctive and some that is planned. But I am saying yes to new opportunities, making key changes to how I am working and how I am spending my time. Every little decision to do something new or different adds colour to the transformation and begets new opportunities. These in turn lead to other events and choices. It feels exciting and scary. I don’t know where exactly it is heading but I do see quite a different life for myself in the not too distant future.

 

 

OK here goes. In an attempt to get writing regularly again and enliven my posts I am gonna try responding to the Daily Prompts given by WordPress. As they are US based the prompt arrives at my desk around 1pm and I’m best writing in the morning, before the day’s busy-ness truly kicks in. So I’m gonna be one day adrift, every day, just to be awkward!

Today’s (yesterday’s) word is embarrassing. Of course it is just a prompt. I don’t have to respond directly, or even indirectly. It is just a verbal kick up the …… to get me going. My immediate thought was to blog about nearly getting cut off by the tide this morning, as Monty and I walked out onto the sand bar. Actually, we did have to paddle out. As I stopped to take the photo above the sand bar disappeared. I paddled out; old short legs bounced and swam. Getting cut off would have been embarrassing. ‘Local man (for 28 years!) misjudges tide’.

Instead I thought I would reflect briefly upon what embarrassment is. Well, it does give me an opportunity to return to one of my favourite themes. My instinct is that embarrassment is a fear based reaction. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being seen not as we would like to think we are. Fear of not behaving as we think others would have us behave. Fear of being judged.

As those of you who have read my other posts about fear will know, I see fear as an opportunity and a practice. The opportunity is to notice that we have experienced or reacted in a fear based way. This is usually most noticeable in a physical response: often in our belly, chest or throat. That is our cue to stay with the physical. To come out of our flight/fight reaction that our old brain is stimulating and be with the physical sensations. Then just breathe into those sensations. Breathe. And breathe some more. Feel our feet on the floor and our bum on its seat. The practice is to remember that fear is a constant and to pay attention to its machinations.

Embarrassment also has the potential for us to experience vulnerability, which in turn can stimulate compassion for ourselves and others. Rich ground. Now, who’s gonna embarrass me? I need the practice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue sky thinking required

Blue sky thinking required

My general philosophy for this blog is to be open, honest and authentic. So here are a few facts about me you may not know, unless I am repeating myself (a little) or you are a very close relative/friend. Why not share some of yours?

  1. I love Marmite. Always have, always will. There, now you’re in one camp or the other.
  2. I always have ideas; ideas to enhance, change, invent, re-invent, improve or replace. It is an eternal spring.
  3. I have been known to write alternate lyrics to well known songs, but….
  4. I can’t sing. I wish I could. In fact if I could have any super talent it would be to be able to sing gloriously
  5. I once visited Sophia Loren’s Paris apartment to deliver her lunch on a silver salver. She was in the shower.
  6. I have traveled a little, I would like to travel a lot more. China, India and all the Americas are on the list.
  7. I seek out cafes that serve quality leaf tea. For a country that allegedly loves tea we sure are poor at providing a quality product and experience.
  8. I have owned at least one pair of Doc Martens for the last 20+ years. Not the same pair.
  9. I always have at least one notebook on the go, filled with ideas, thoughts, plans, poems, mind maps and other random jottings. This list was written in the current one.
  10. I won two national photography awards when I was still training
  11. I once served Neil Armstrong a Campari and soda. We were not on the moon.
  12. I have two children who are fast becoming fabulous adults
  13. It took two years to train my over sized Bijon, Monty. He still needs regular reminders.
  14. Monty and I share our 56th birthday this November. One of us is counting in equivalent dog years.
  15. I do like creating a website. This new one must be my seventh.
  16. I recently appeared on a Parisienne street, even though I was still in Swansea #filmextra
  17. It may be hard to believe for those of you who know how much I use my phone, but I regularly plan to take time off from it. Not with complete success.
  18. I am ready to re-enter the dating fray, though I am nervous. It’s been a while.
  19. I can juggle balls, oranges and other spherical objects. But not clubs or chainsaws.
  20. I haven’t had the hair on the top of my head cut this year. I have no idea where this is going.
  21. I love photography. Can you tell?
  22. After four visits to Canada I finally saw my first bear, on the last night of my recent trip. I did not have my camera to hand.
  23. I have had three careers: hospitality (every job from pot wash to hotel manager), education (from lecturer to senior manager) and now a portfolio career. Otherwise known as a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
  24. My Dad was 22 years older than my Mum
  25. I can ski and I love the sport. I can get down most hills, but when they are black runs I may leave style and grace at the top.