Guest Post by Alan Wood

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The following post has been generously shared by Alan Wood and details his own exploration of mindfulness and photography

A Personal Journey to Mindful Photography by Alan Wood

I have been a photographer since, as a child of 7 or 8, my grandfather gave me his box Brownie camera. Over time other cameras followed but I eventually found that work and then family commitments were such that there was very little time, or perhaps energy, for actual photography. But I did read books and magazines about photography, its equipment and techniques. I would daydream of being like my photographic heroes, going where they went and capturing the sort of images they did. However, when I did get out with my camera the reality seldom lived up to the dream and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I was frequently disappointed with the results. I became increasingly frustrated until, after many years, there came a moment of crisis.

I was on holiday in Devon, out for an early morning walk with my camera before the rest of the family woke up. I stood on a footbridge across a stream in a beautiful wooded valley trying to find a composition for a photograph. But my mind was in turmoil, thinking, thinking, thinking about the camera, its settings, the lens to use and the right technique, and beyond that to where I was going to go next, what I was going to have for breakfast when I got back and on and on. I felt as if I were not really there, completely separated from my surroundings. Even the camera in my hand seemed to have become a physical and mental barrier to my being able to see the reality of what was in front of me. The frustration became unbearable. I stopped and there and then vowed that I would not take another photograph until I learnt to see and to be truly present with what I was seeing. I kept that vow. I put my camera away and also stopped reading the photographic books and magazines through which I seemed to have been living vicariously.

There was of course more going on in my life. The relentless pressure of my work, amongst other things, brought me close to breaking point. Then, one day during a lunchtime browse through a bookshop, I came across a book, called “Teach Yourself to Meditate” by Eric Harrison. On the back cover I read “Many people are turning to meditation as an effective way to relax and bring inner peace.” I thought that I could certainly do with some of that and bought the book. I soon established a practice of daily meditation. I would get up early and in the quiet of the morning sit for 20 minutes, following the breath as my focus. I quickly found it invaluable as a means of calming the mind and becoming grounded and ready for the day ahead (although I have since discovered that meditation goes much further than that).

After a couple of years I decided I would like to go on a meditation retreat. That brought me to Gaia House, a retreat centre in the Devon countryside for my first silent retreat. I was nervous to start with, fearful in case my self taught meditation practice was wide of the mark. Fortunately it wasn’t and I benefited from the deepening of my practice. There then followed further retreats including a one month silent retreat attended during a sabbatical from work, a prelude to a run down and eventual early retirement.

Influenced by my meditation practice, I was finding that I could now go for a walk and, being mindful, see and experience more directly what was around me, aware too of my emotional response, to be present in my surroundings.

I wondered then if I was ready to pick up my camera again. I did and tentatively started to re-engage with my photography. The camera no longer appeared to be a barrier to seeing and I found that I was able, not only to use the camera to reflect something of my response to what I was seeing, but also to be more focussed on that seeing and to be more deeply engaged with it. I am grateful for that and am enjoying my photography more than I have ever done. I don’t see the final image so much as a goal in itself (although I do get a sense of satisfaction if I produce an image with which I am happy and if that image is appreciated by others) but rather as part of a process from the mindful seeing, responding and then using the camera and even the post processing on the computer to reflect that response.

I am now at a point where, as well as it being a reflection of my response to what I see, I would like to use my photography to explore how my inner world affects that seeing. And who knows where that will take me.

Below are three simple images from one of my retreats which I feel reflect something of my emotional response to the seeing.

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