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.

 

 

Currently, I am not writing a book. I have written a book proposal on a Mindful Photography/Memoir theme, it even includes two complete chapters, a synopsis, author bio and an outline of all the chapters, but I am now marooned and have been for three months.

I have been through a month or so of thinking it was because I was reading a lot and that the two activities of reading and writing were mutually exclusive. So I haven’t read a book since Christmas. However, my previous morning ritual of three hours writing (on the days I am engaged in Photential activity) has not reasserted itself.

I have stopped producing a newsletter, so that I could focus on the book and have even taken a 6 week break from this blog to kick start my mojo, but all have been unsuccessful. This morning I felt good and ready to write, but then it is Taylor’s birthday so presents and attention were required. Then the morning fog burnt off and a dog walk was calling.

I planned a jaunt down the Gower, thinking I could take my phone, create a couple of photos and record some thoughts on my phone. Then the kids reported that the TV was misbehaving. An hour later, TV delivered to repair shop, Monty and I headed for Swansea Bay, the Mumbles end, and I planned a sit down and to record my thoughts on bench overlooking the scene above.

I opened up the phone, Monty faithfully sat at my side, I could not find the audio record app. It has vanished. Just as I gave up I noticed that the woman walking a couple of dogs past me was still in front of me and that something odd was going on. I slipped down onto the beach and chatted to Bobbi, owner of Lifeline Dogs (a dog walking well being expert) who’s own dog had decided to swim to Mumbles. As you can see from the photo above it was flat calm so Halli was not in any trouble, but she did seem to have lost her sense of direction.

One of the other dogs with Bobbi was a Border Collie who was valiantly trying to round up Halli without going out of her sea depth. Eventually our constant calling, whistling and barking (I claim the whistling) registered with Halli and she meandered back to the beach. Bobbi was relieved having avoided having to attempt a rescue, the water is still pretty chilly and we walked back chatting to where I had parked the car.

So now I have something to write about, and at least I am writing. It is flowing well and I am hopeful that it will be translated to book creation later, or maybe tomorrow morning. Unless aliens land and there are more pressing things to do.

 

DSC_0531

Two crows keeping an eye on proceedings

 

 

Back in the day certain services would break down. TV channels would occasionally fail and the standard screen message would be ‘Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible’. I feel a little like the BBC in the seventies, during a break in service, and kind of like them I do hope that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, but unlike them I feel a little uncertain about what normal is any more.

I have just returned from three weeks visiting my sister Kim, her family and my Mum in Canada. I am over the jet lag, but as I am back into my part time job this afternoon I am still a little grumpy. The trip was fabulous. It was lovely to see everyone; to spend time hanging out with Mum, Kim, Mike (husband) and their kids Morgan and Laura, and to enjoy the spectacular scenery and weather that the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia has to offer. (the photo above is Kim and family over looking the Okanagan Lake) There will be photos of the area and my activities, including some mindful photography practices to follow, but now it is all about what is going on for me right now. Surprised? I am trying to be in the moment!

The trip to Canada has been a little like a half time break in a longer game. There was breathing space and time to reflect upon what was going on in the first half, but now I have to get back out there and play the game. “And what is the state of play?” you ask.

Right at the end of 2015, just after Christmas, Beci and I split up. After 21 years of marriage this was not a swiftly taken decision, perhaps we should have separated some time ago, but eventually we both came to the conclusion that the marriage was no longer providing what either of us needed. My chronic health condition of the last ten years is still re-shaping my world and whilst all is now stable the ripples flow through every aspect of life, shaking up and reassembling relationships, responsibilities and possibilities.

There is still much change to be sorted. Beci has moved out and has recently settled in a new place. The house is up for sale and I have not decided my next move. I guess that the sale might take a while, we have only had two viewings in six weeks, but it all could change quite quickly. Then I would probably rent for a while, whilst the dust settles and all the finances are agreed.

All of this impeding change is unsettling. Fortunately, much else in my world is stable. The kids seem to be adjusting well and whilst my work commitments are many, they are interesting and supportive. Yet still there is nagging uncertainty, and a feeling like visiting a new country that is unfamiliar. I then remind my self to breathe, to feel the world beneath my feet (or arse!) and return to the present.

All of this will resolve. Opportunities will present themselves. Ideas will spring fully formed to my mind. Patience and trust, my watch words, reassert themselves. Normal service will be resumed, though the normality may have changed!

Is this a question you ask yourself? If we say that your truth is shorthand for living with authenticity: living in a way so that you are comfortable with your choices and actions, and that you also reflect upon and learn from those behaviours that you are not comfortable with. Are you living your truth?

Such a life choice requires great courage and vulnerability. It requires you to be honest with yourself, to accept that there may be things that you are avoiding, things that you are attached to being a certain way and things that you may be just plain confused about. If we are to consider our thoughts, habits and behaviours about these things, as part of our attempt to live our truth, then we require courage and vulnerability.

Courage and vulnerability seem to go hand in hand. For if we are to be courageous and address something that we find difficult this creates a vulnerable place for us. In facing our difficulties we are admitting that we have not got it all right, and our ego is not going to accept that easily.

Rather than distract ourselves with activity, or go inwards and attempt think our way through the challenge, or just pretend that nothing has changed and carry on. Sometimes we need to just stop. To give ourselves space for all the stuff swirling about to settle. I do not mean disengage from life. Perhaps it is more of a filtering. To continue those activities that support our ability to be with the change: the friends that understand us; the quietness that allows thoughts and feelings to emerge unbidden; the joy of a new experience. These things root us in ourselves. Allow us to be everything that we can be.

I feel the need to stop. To rest a little from the busy-ness. There is a lot changing in my life and I need a little time to allow it all to settle. I will continue the personal and supportive creative projects I am currently engaged with, but I am going to rest awhile from some other commitments.

My Photential newsletter is one of those commitments I am going to stop for a while. Much of my work around mindful photography has been developmental and shared through this new website. I am still keeping this going, but I am going to give myself a little more space for reflective practices. I am currently writing a book about Mindful Photography and my life experience of the last ten years; this is part of adjusting to that period and the place I find my self now. I am also following a seasonal year long photography project called 7 Days To Save Your Life, which is a visual exploration of this period of change and adjustment.

So there will be no newsletter for a while – I am thinking a couple of months at least. However, there will be the occasional blog post here. I am going away next month for 3 weeks, to visit family in Canada, so this feels the perfect time to be making these decisions.

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul”

These are the last two lines from the poem ‘Invictus’ by the English poet William Ernest Henley. He was inspired to create the poem by his own life events.

In 1875 one of Henley’s legs required amputation due to complications arising from tuberculosis. Immediately after the amputation he was told that his other leg would require a similar procedure. He chose instead to enlist the services of the eminent surgeon Joseph Lister, who was able to save Henley’s remaining leg after multiple surgical interventions on the foot.

The phrase ‘Captain of my Soul’ and Henley’s inspiration for writing the poem have been on my mind since Thursday. That night, myself and a friend (Rob) visited the Peg Talks at a local cafe and the inspirational speakers there spurred a conversation about life events and choices. I think it was Rob who suggested the phrase’ ‘Captain of my soul’ to describe what I was trying to explain.

Two of the speakers at the Peg Talks had focused upon the life choices they had made that had then led to life opportunities and the realisation of their dreams. I was trying to explain to Rob how I felt that I was finally making choices that resonated with my true path in life. My particular choice that mirrored Henley’s experience is one I have made recently about my health.

A recent diagnosis of my breathing condition has presented two choices. One; follow the prescribed medical solution, a cocktail of serious drugs with side effects, likely further medical interventions and a possible successful reduction of inflammation. The drug regime would be for a year, would suppress my immune system which could also have other potential health repercussions.

Two; put choice one on hold and dedicate a year to making healthier choices, exploring alternate health solutions that are relevant for my now diagnosed condition and make other life choices that feel honest, authentic, and attentive.

Option two it is then.

If life is all about experiences then it’s all the richer for attending the Peg Talks. These are a celebration of Swansea residents’ inspiring stories and occur every two months at the Square Peg Café.

Square Peg opened in the Sketty area of Swansea a few months ago and offers fab coffee, real tea and a glorious range of cakes in a cool and friendly environment. Even better they donate their profits to a couple of local charities.

Last night I rolled up to this hipster social enterprise ready to listen to three locals’ rousing personal talks and I was not disappointed. First up was Sue Kent, who was born with no arms and seven fingers, and was full of infectious energy and positivity. Sue told an entertaining tale that covered foot fetishes, determination, big dreams, the Paralympics and Massage by Feet. The latter is the name of Sue’s successful venture into the eponymous service and she offers her unique service in Swansea and London.

Following Sue, after a short break was, Sean Stillman, the founder and spiritual leader of Zac’s Place. If you have never heard of Zac’s then you are not a Swansea Resident, for Zac’s provides an essential service for the most vulnerable people in the city. Sean was, as always, humble regarding his contribution to the support Zac’s offers to Swansea’s rough sleepers, but I know that keeping this indispensable service running has been a work of love and commitment. Sean complimented his army of volunteers, but keeping the team together is impossible without some spiritual guidance and Sean provides plenty of that.

Sean shared two stories from the street that were both moving and illuminating. They were a reminder that each of us, no matter our circumstances has the capacity to feel and share love. We all felt the love!

Last up, was the no less inspirational and successful, local entrepreneur Nathan John. Nathan’s story of dreams and determination followed his journey from being told at school that he was thick, should leave school (pre GCSEs) and work in the local factory, to establishing his innovative business Rewise Learning. The trick Nathan pulled off was using his own unique study method to first succeed at his GCSEs and then turning his idea into a business.

Nathan was not thick. The school had failed to diagnose his dyslexia. Nathan set his GCSE revision to music, after all we all can remember lyrics to the songs we like, and then passed all his GCSEs. From then to now has seen many successes, including endorsement from the Prime Minister and Richard Branson.

Nathan echoed Sue’s message of hard work and dreams that underpinned his adventure. After all, ‘You’ve got to have a dream; if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?’ (as Captain Sensible reminded us)

Peg Talks-2 Peg Talks-3

 

 

Mindful photography is about being present with what you see. It is also about adapting to the situation. I often use a simple set up for my practice; usually a single focal length lens (a 40mm) on my DSLR. This is my go to, walkabout lens.

I choose to use this lens because the focal length is very similar to how we see (which is around 43mm, albeit with a greater width and a mind that looks to zoom in). Using one lens regularly, particularly one that is similar to how we see improves our seeing and how best to create photos that reflect what we see. Using this one lens I become attuned to the camera’s way of seeing. I begin to think in terms of how the camera will record the scene.

Over time this photographic thinking, which includes colour rendition, the framing, composition and the dynamic range of the light, becomes learnt and familiar. With continued practice, reviewing the outcomes and adjusting my technical choices, I begin to know what to expect from my camera. Through this doorway lies the possibility of reacting more instinctively to the scene, allowing my subconscious to make more of the technical and compositional choices. In this moment I let go of trying (to take a great photo) and allow the creation to occur. Through this process the possibility that there may be something of me, and the way I feel about the world, in the photo becomes more likely.

When I first tried shooting a whole year using just one lens I did it for reasons of artistic impression. Using just one focal length creates a unifying similarity to your photos. This can be beneficial if the photos you are creating are part of an ongoing project. It is ideal for those 365 projects that comprise of one photo a day. Then along the way you will also reap the benefits of instinctive creation and greater connection between what you are seeing and how you feel about the the world you are experiencing.

The photos that accompany this post illustrate my musings. A visited Caswell Bay, the Redcliff end, with Taylor to take him surfing. However, I decided to take my camera with the 40mm lens on, rather than the big zoom, and not shoot surfing photos. Instead I would see what was there and respond to my experience. I chose a black and white edit because of the high contrast of the scene.

IMG_3822 IMG_3832 IMG_3838

Lately, I have been very interested in the role that fear plays in our lives. My most recent post on the topic explored fear as an opportunity and how it can be a practice for our life. In a similar vein I have recently come across this TED talk below by author Karen Thompson-Walker ‘What fear can teach us’, that looks at the link between fear and the imagination.

The talk provides plenty of links between fear and the process of creation and as such underpins the experience I have followed in using my fears to inspire my photography.

It is an 11 minute talk and is sure to fire your imagination.

Over the last six months I have written several posts that have explored the theme of fear. Each time my motivation for looking at this area was spurred by personal experience, in particular living through a very difficult health period. It is difficult enough to experience the challenging events in our life, but then to also consider that our behaviours that surround the event may be underpinned by fear is maybe a challenge too far. But it is in this arena that there is space for the greatest personal understanding and growth.

One of the thoughts I was often drawn to was that the fear we experience is a fantastic opportunity. Does this sound ridiculous? After all we do not want to feel fearful, do we? But how would it we be if we explored what was underneath the fear? What would it reveal? How would that enrich our life experience?

Yesterday, I had a consultation with a friend who is a homeopath. Rita is an old friend of many years, who I find it very easy to talk to. In the course of a few consultations, over the last few months, we have been exploring my current health challenges and the path that has led me to this point.

Our discussion yesterday started with the major changes that have manifested in my life in the last month: a diagnosis for my breathing condition and the decision for Beci and I to separate. Both of these changes have provided the ground for some big decisions and it is clear that I am at a particular crossroads in my life. After some discussion around how I felt about these changes, including the fears I had regarding the potential decisions that are impending, we returned to discussing my life choices that had led to the beginnings of my health condition, some 10 years ago.

I talked about the drive and desire to succeed that underpinned my attitude and commitment to my work and my running. At the time I was working at Swansea College as a senior manager and had secured a new management position in a re-organised college led by the new Principal. I was very keen to be successful and to be seen to be ambitious. At the same time I had committed to a thorough, and slightly obsessive, training schedule to run in marathons and other long distance races.

This driven and success orientated attitude to life was ‘normal’ consequence of the evolving culture of the time. You could say that I was simply immersed in the Zeitgeist. Alternatively, you might ask, (as Rita did) what was really fueling this behaviour? The answer came instinctively: fear. My desire to be brilliant at my new job, to be seen to be a committed and influential manager was fired by a fear of not being good enough, of having to prove that I was a talented and successful senior college manager.

Similarly, my commitment to a campaign of long distance races with incremental time and distance improvements was underpinned by exactly the same fears. I needed to be seen (by myself and others) as being good, and getting better at long distance running. There was also more to it; an element of challenging the effects of ageing was certainly present.

Mid-life often means we no longer play team sport and we may become seduced by the idea that keeping fit can be achieved through a programme of distance running. And this is of course true. But, there is also more going on. By striving to keep fit we are also trying to keep ageing at bay: or perhaps we could say that we are fearful of getting old and ultimately, dying.

Fear as the practice

The realisation that fear drove my behaviour over 10 years ago is not that much of a surprise, but it is only now that I see that it is an ongoing feature of life. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing in the background, like the hum of a radio, is fear. Understanding what each fear is, that is directing our behaviour, is the opportunity, the practice.

How can we learn to attend to and befriend the fear? How can we inhabit the motivation to hang out with fear?

There are two key inter connected practices: Present moment awareness and Training the mind

1) Present moment awareness

Present moment awareness is being completely here now. However, being completely in the moment when confronted by rising emotion, fueled by fear, is not always possible. Fortunately, there are cues we can follow to raise our awareness that we have moved into fear. Firstly we can note our physical symptoms: these tend to be in throat, chest or belly. We can investigate gently, with curiosity not judgment. Secondly, we can listen to the mind. What thoughts are present? Where do they take us?

Now we need to train the mind to be able to come totally into the present moment and to connect.

2) Training the mind

Our intention is to “redirect our attention in ways that build some of our strengths in what we love, so that we can be with our fear“. We remember that we are connected by love to a whole world. We remember our strengths. We find access to a positive mental state. How do we do this? We need to change our habits, to train our attention to go where we want it to. We don’t have to use the familiar neural pathways. We need to forge new pathways, new ways of thinking.

I often liken our habitual thoughts to being the motorways of our mind. Re-training the mind to think differently means forging new off road tracks. As Tara Brach says,

“We can train our 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.”

So, in the midst of noticing the fear ground yourself. Feel the gravity: your feet on the floor, your bum on the seat. Slow your breath, breathe deeper. Put a hand on your belly or heart. Breathe. Remind yourself that you are part of the whole. Reach out to wholeness. No matter what you call it (Jesus, Buddha, higher self, Gaia, God, soul, universal energy – everything in the universe is made of the same stuff). Can you accept that the fear is here and soften?

“Our path is to meet our edge and soften” Chögyam Trungpa

 

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”  Pema Chodron

Looking at ourselves ‘honestly and gently’ is perhaps the most courageous act of our life. Gentle honesty requires a non judgmental attentive mind set where we remain present with our thoughts and feelings as they ebb and flow. We meditate to train the mind in this mindful practice and then life happens.

As we start a new year there is an opportunity and inclination to consider how we are living and how we feel about that living. These are the fundamental questions that Pema refers to. Fundamental, as they go to the root of our day to day living and experiences.

If you have read this blog over the last six months or so you will know that 2015 was a particularly challenging year. I often referred to these challenges without going into personal detail where I felt they might compromise other people’s feelings. This is an intention I intend to continue and in the spirit of gentle honesty I feel I should share a recent decision Beci and I have made.

We have decided to divorce. After 21 years of marriage this is a major decision and hopefully one that will allow both of us to continue our own gentle honesty and personal growth. I know that we both hope to get through the next few months with grace and dignity and emerge with a respectful relationship that still supports our kids and those we love. Mediation and living a mindful life, aware of those thoughts and feelings that swirl and eddy, is at the centre of that intention and I consider myself fortunate that I have embraced this path less traveled. I will continue to consider how photography can also support this way of living and look forward to the experiences along the path.

 

Both of these photos were taken last week. My feeling is that the photo is more powerful than the word, for the words that have been written about global warming are not changing anything.

In the UK over the last 4 months we have had weather that is close to extreme. In September and October we had very warm days, very little rain and plenty of glorious sunshine. Halloween was the warmest on record in the UK , with several towns in the south recording temperatures above 20°C.

But never mind the UK. September was the warmest global September on record and according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seven of the first nine months of the year have broken global records.

And there is no let up! On 2nd November Aberystwyth in Wales was the warmest place in the UK in November ever, at 22.4°C. And this month December is on course to break similar records.

So when Taylor and I went out to Oxwich Point yesterday it was hardly a surprise to see this woman striding across the rocks on her way for a dip in the sea. The air and sea temperature are currently similar. Yesterday it was 14°C, we even sat outside for a post surf cuppa.

The headline photo was taken two days ago in one of our local parks. All over the park there are spring like shoots poking through and in parts of the south of the UK blossom is out. Will we get some proper cold winter weather? It looks unlikely, based upon the year so far.

So, spread the word. Share your photos of Spring in Winter. Let’s get the UK talking global warming.

IMG_3736

Intuitive cameras?

Would you like a camera that senses what you are photographing? A camera that knew how you felt when pressing the shutter? A camera that used all of this information to adjust the colours, tones, exposure and contrast to take account of your intentions and record a photograph that best invoked your feelings?

Nikon imagine that you will. Earlier this year they published a report based upon current life and social trends that predicts our future photography habits and needs. 

 ‘As far as people continue to be emotional our aim or our goal is to help people to capture their emotional moments and support them from an image capturing perspective. There is no limit to capturing intuitive images.’ Tad Nakayama, Corporate Vice President of Nikon

 

Future Of Imaging image - FINAL_web

 

Take a look at this imaginary camera screen display from Nikon. Notice how the camera ‘detects’ what the scene is of, including location and weather, the subjects in the scene, who the photographer is and how they are feeling (heart rate). Whilst I can imagine that some of this could be pre-programmed choices, much as we can currently choose the type of scene we are shooting and choose the relevant mode on our settings, other information (heart rate) indicates some form of personal monitoring.

I understand that Nikon are targeting the mass market with these predictions, not the enthusiasts and professionals, but I do find it all a little sad and that they are missing a fundamental truth.

Conveying emotion in a photo

The fundamental truth I feel Nikon are missing is that what we choose to photograph and how we choose to create that photograph is a melding of the intuitive and the learnt. These choices reflect our inner world (see post Inner world – outer photos). Those magic moments when what we have learnt and understand about our camera, its capabilities and limitations, are held so gently that we instinctively make choices in the moment that connect to a deeper place in our soul. This is the art of photography. The true magic.

This experience was beautifully described by Eugen Herigel in his book ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’, where we can imagine replacing the bow with a camera and the art of archery with the art of photography.

 “Art becomes ‘artless’, shooting becomes not shooting……the teacher becomes pupil again, the Master a beginner, the end a beginning and the beginning perfection”

The header photo of this post was chosen as it represents how I was feeling when I created the photo. The beauty of this, is that whilst I had an intention in that process, you might see or feel something else. Our experiences and feelings associated with colour, shape, light etc may be similar, but they are also personal. So what I feel my photo conveys might be different to how it makes you feel. This feels like a gift to me. Each photograph offers the gift of opportunity. Opportunity to experience  your feelings and that, my friend, is enough for me.

I believe that this concept is at the heart of mindful photography – photography that connects us to our feelings – and it is a key part of my online course, The Mindful Photographer. The third course in the series is titled Feeling and explores this terrain in detail. It considers how mindfulness can support us to connect with our feelings and then explores how photography can be used to represent our thoughts feelings and emotions.

If this sounds interesting you can find out more by enrolling on the FREE introduction course. You never know you may well be an intuitive expert by the time Nikon finally develop their magic camera!

 

 

 

There are many activities that are associated with this time of year, from Christmas shopping, through prepping the main meal, to the office party. One that you might find interesting is a review document of this year that supports you to look in detail at the challenges, successes and much more of the departing year; before beginning a plan for how you would like the next year to go.

The document I have used to do this is shared (for free) by the e-course expert Susannah Conway. It is called Unravelling and it is a downloadable PDF that you can then print and take to your favourite coffee shop and work your way through, whilst keeping yourself fueled.

I usually complete it over a couple of sessions, doing the review of the old year one day, before beginning the hopeful intention/planning stage for 2016. It is certainly a more thoughtful process than the end of year resolutions that last until 4th January! But it is a thorough and mindful process. Be prepared for some soul searching.

 

 

The more I know, the less I understand

The more I understand, the less I know

This phrase came to me last night when I was meditating at the end of men’s group. Undoubtedly its appearance in my consciousness was influenced by our conversation. Now, I can’t tell you what that was – what happens in men’s group, stays in men’s group! – but I thought I would reflect a little on this two line thought.

In the last five months I have been writing blog posts that explore a little of my experience of living through a health crisis. I took the decision to write honestly and share personal photos, partly because it just felt the right thing to do and partly because I had to change something. I’m not sure I knew that then, or even that I know it now, but it feels like it might be a truth

And that’s the thing. When you start being more honest with yourself and sharing, it changes the world around you, which then changes you. Once the door is open, and you’ve taken a step outside, there is no closing it.

The most interesting thing that has changed are my relationships and friendships with men in my life. Not only has a men’s group started in this period, but my friendships with men have changed. Once I started talking about how I felt and sharing some of my vulnerability it gave my friends permission to do the same. Then once they were through the door and in the same space as me our relationship started to change.

I am not sure I want to completely understand what and why it has happened. It is enough to know that it has happened. The benefit is shared. And that benefit is a snowball rolling downhill.

This week

This week I have spent three days on my own, with the occasional company of men. I have been writing and editing content for The Mindful Photographer – hopefully ready for a January re-launch. I have also been filming short videos as part of the courses’ content. This is an unexpected benefit of my recent minor operations on my throat: my voice is reasonably strong and breathing stable.

I am aware that I am doing this, not just because I can, but also because I may not be able to in the future. The proposed future major operation to open my trachea further will improve my breathing and therefore reduce risk. However, it will lead to reduction in vocal capacity. Filming videos now captures a version of me that may not exist in the future.

Then any video or photograph we create does that. Each moment exists but fleetingly. We rarely reflect upon that truth. It’s a little scary, a reminder of our mortality. Perhaps that’s why I am exploring my experiences openly and honestly. I am more connected to my mortality. More aware that the game has changed. As Carl Jung said, “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning”. Recognising that and making changes is the challenge and the opportunity.

That much I know. Or maybe not!

If I am honest the thought that a different or ‘better’ item of photography gear will improve my photography is never far from my mind. Do you have the same experience? Or are you happy with your camera and lenses? I have over the last couple of months been thinking about changing some or all of my camera gear and I have also reflected on how this change can be a positive experience that will help improve my photography.

The key question we must answer when making changes to our camera and equipment is, ‘Why are we making the change?’ If the answer is because that new item is brighter, shinier, better, quicker, sharper or cooler then that change may not be necessary. In fact we may have a full on version of GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

However if the answer is that we have closely looked at the photography we do and that there are some items we do not use, and others that would support our ability to create photographs that we desire to create, then the change may be a wise one.

Motivation

The question that we are really considering is, ‘What is our motivation?’ My motivation to change equipment was born of a desire to make my equipment lighter, less obstrusive and I did like the look of the Fuji X-T1 and its range of high quality lenses! It is a fabulously cool, retro and quality bit of kit, but would it support my development as a photographer?

I started listing my existing equipment – a Canon 5D mkii, various Canon primes lenses (most the professional L lenses) and one or two old manual lenses (like the Takumar Pentax 135mm above). I then trawled through ebay looking for the prices that this equipment might garner and arrived at a total potential value. This then I used to calculate which lenses I could afford to accompany my new shiny XT-1 and created a desirous list.

Fortunately, I then caught myself wrapped up in this gear acquisition mode and spent a little time thinking about why and what would really make the difference to my photography? This thought was fueled by misplacing one of the Canon prime lenses. I could not find my 35mm f1.4 anywhere and is its value was around £650+ this was a significant dent in my budget.

At the same time I received an email from Eric Kim, Street photographer guru, which shared a fabulous ebook. This resource triggered a realisation that as street photography was one of my motivations for photography creation I should first consider the equipment I had and what I could use now. This thought then broadened into a deeper consideration of the type of photos I choose to create now and how I see that developing.

Conclusions

I came to the following conclusions:

  • I use a light, high quality lens with a focal length similar to our eyes’ focal length a lot (Canon 50mm f1.4)
  • This lens, whilst ideal as a walkabout lens for my general mindful photography practice, was a little large and obtrusive for street photography.
  • My 35mm f1.4 (if I could find it) would also be a suitable focal length for street photography, but it is even larger and heavier than the 50mm.
  • I would benefit from a small, pancake type lens of a similar focal length for street photography. This would be less obtrusive and lighter to carry around.
  • In trying to find my 35mm I reviewed my stored photos in Lightroom and did a search to reveal when I last used the lens. I hadn’t used it for over a year and then only sparingly.
  • My other interest is to develop my landscape photography. I have a 20mm wide angle lens that I use for this but if I sold the 35mm was there something that could cover a range of wide angle focal lengths that I might use more and would be great quality?

Fortunately, buried under a load of boxes and equipment I found the 35mm. I researched pancake lenses and found that Canon made a highly regarded 40mm and that it was only around £120. If I sold the 35mm and the 20mm I would have enough to buy the 40mm and the new 16-35mm f4 lens for my landscape photography interests. Keeping with the Canon 5D mkii (for now!) would also provide higher resolution photographs than the Fuji X-T1.

Finally, I had reached a conclusion that supported my creative photography intentions and at zero net cost. The process had been a helpful one, that’s why I’m sharing it now! Sure it’s OK to desire new equipment, after all that’s what the advertising is encouraging us to feel. But noticing that in us and then reviewing what we like to take photos of and considering what would support our future development as photographers, that is a mindful practice.

Often I create photographs to illustrate my posts. The idea for this post though was inspired by the panoramic photo below. It is a composite photo of Caswell Bay Beach which, if you click on the photo below, you can experience at full size.

The title of this post and its theme leapt into my conscious mind whilst I was editing the photo: a literal example of the proverb that is the title of this post. The meaning of the proverb, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ is an encouragement to remember that every seemingly bad situation has a good aspect to it.

I thought that it would be interesting to reflect on this proverb from the perspective of mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy and to relate this to my own experience.

Judging Mind

The proverb is an encouragement to look on the positive side of every situation. This could be seen to be helpful, but it implies that the truth is that there are ‘bad’ and ‘good’ situations, events and happenings in our lives. From a Buddhist perspective this would be an example of the judging mind in action.

The judging mind is a quality of mind that has certainty and rigidity at its core. It is a quality that imagines that we know how things are and that we are attached to our likes and dislikes. As a consequence when something happens that we do not like we judge the situation as ‘bad’.

In traditional Buddhist terms the judging mind is a manifestation of one of the three intoxicants; aversion, attachment or ignorance. This means that beneath our judgement of the situation as ‘bad’ we are either keen to not experience the situation, or we are attached to the idea of it being different, or we do not understand what is happening.

The judging mind is something we can notice arising when we meditate or take photographs. In meditation we sit, follow the breath and our mind continues to experience thoughts, sensations and feelings. We may simply judge this experience as a ‘bad’ meditation and that when our mind is quieter as a ‘good’ meditation. Alternatively, we may get caught up in one particular thought and notice that it is a replay of a recent experience and that we are judging how we acted or spoke.

In photography the most common manifestation of our judging mind is when we review our photos. Whilst a constructively critical approach is essential to skills development, a strong judgement that photos are ‘good or bad’ may discourage experimentation, limit creativity and hold back the learning process.

A judging mind is a small mind, closely attached to our smallest self. It reinforces the idea of separation, that we are different. Meditation and mindfulness are the opposite of this. They encourage the development of non judging attention; that we notice what we are experiencing, the thoughts, sensations and feelings but that we do so in a forgiving manner. We hold our experience with compassion. We experience our world with loving kindness and equanimity.

Real world

Of course this is great in theory. It is an ongoing practice. My current experience is that a long term chronic health condition, plus recent acute attacks, has provided rich ground for practice. Sure I get caught up in my personal experience. It sends ripples through every aspect of my life. I do get attached to beliefs that my interpretation of situations is correct and this then leads to judgement, difficulty and disharmony with those who do not share my perspective.

Mindfulness provides me with the opportunity to sit quietly and notice the thoughts and feelings that arise attached to these experiences. It provides the space for compassion to flourish. Within this practice is the possibility of not judging, of noticing, not reacting, but holding the experience with loving kindness. It is challenging and I remind myself that compassion starts for my own reactions, my own judging mind.

I know that these reactions are patterns of thought that have been repeated and reinforced over many years. Mindfulness provides me with the opportunity to notice and to remember that there is another way. It is a practice, a practice for a lifetime.

Caswell_Panorama1-w