This is the seventh in a series of posts exploring the 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness practice. The 7 attitudes are detailed in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and are Non Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Acceptance, Non Striving, and Letting Go. Each article will be a personal reflection about that attitude, both from the perspective of mindfulness generally and mindful photography particularly. Each will be tagged ‘7 attitudes’ so that you can find them all using the tag search in the blog’s right hand column.
The photos that illustrate this article are all aspects of my photography work that I have had to let go.
Mindfulness courses and articles frequently encourage us to ‘let go’ of a habit, thought or feeling. Often the concept of letting go may be presented as something that is clearly understood and instinctive. If I am honest I have always struggled to both to understand and action the concept. I understand it in terms of stopping doing something, but to let go of a thought or feeling always felt like trying move water with just my hands: I understood what needed to be done, but couldn’t find a way to achieve it. I was becalmed by its apparent bewitching simplicity and distanced by the confidence of advocates who proclaimed, “Just let go!”
After having lived through some challenging times, whilst still continuing to practice and study mindfulness, I feel a little closer to the reality of ‘letting go’. Perhaps my reflections upon this may help you. I hope so.
I believe that letting go is an observation, a paying attention to ourselves and in particular our mind. It is recognising a pattern of behaviour, thinking or feeling, noting it and feeling where it resonates in your body. Breathing into this place and staying with the feeling, really connecting with the physical sensations bring us out of our mind and hopefully it may slowly begin to dissipate. This is not easy. It may take just one paragraph to explain, but it may take one or two lifetimes to achieve! It is, of course a practice.
Let’s take an example to illustrate what I mean. After an argument with a loved one we often feel great anger and imagine conversations we could have with our partner that would explain how we feel and ‘win’ the issue at the heart of the dispute. So, how do we ‘let go’ of the anger, of the need to win that imaginary argument that we keep playing in our mind?
Step 1: Recognise
Notice the thought/feeling/behaviour like you would an old friend or acquaintance. Smile with recognition, you know who this is. They are no threat, but they do like you to be a certain way that you would like to change.
Step 2: Breathe
Feel where you can experience how this is making you feel in your body. Check out the chest, stomach and throat. Maybe you have a particular area of your body that resonates. Notice the body sensations. Stay close to the physical. The palpitations, the fluttering, the ache. Whatever it is stay with it.
Step 3: Patience
Give yourself time. Be patient with your body and mind. This will change. Keep breathing, keep with the physical. Slowly, in time you will notice that the thought/feeling has faded.
Letting go is not easy. On one level each letting go is like a little death. Perhaps we cling to our behaviour/thought/feeling because we believe that its presence means that we are who we are. By ‘letting go’ of it we would be letting go of a part of us. We resist the release in much the same way as we resist change, each step bringing us closer to death. Perhaps ‘letting go’ is also like pruning, each time we work at changing ourselves, at releasing an unwanted thought or feeling, we prepare the way for future growth and for bounteous fruit!
As applied to photography
There are two ways I see ‘letting go’ applied to photography. These are 1. in terms of the thoughts and feelings we have about our own work and 2. In the moment of creating a photograph.
1. You, the photographer.
Just as we have thoughts and feeling about any one of our life interests or endeavours, we have thoughts and feelings about our role as a photographer. These may extend from not even thinking of ourselves as ‘a photographer’ to being critical about every photo that we create. Our ways of being extend into our role as photographers. They have to. For if we are to take great photographs then we must allow ourselves to become personally involved. Our photographs must share something of our emotional connection to what we are seeing and photographing. Otherwise they are just like anybody else’s photos.
As photographers we experience uncertainty and doubt about our work and ability, but we also experience certainty and clarity. Much of the time we may waver between the two. We are learning and developing our craft. Such thoughts are part of the journey. It may help us along the way to both soften and let go of these thoughts and feelings if we are able to apply to same 3 step practice as I have explained earlier. Recognising our own critical voice, noticing where we feel this in the body and resting with those feelings as they slowly dissipate will help us to become more accepting and adventurous photographers.
2. The decisive moment
The final and most decisive element of ‘letting go’ as a photographer is in the moment you release the shutter. In that moment I aspire to be at one with what I see, for my camera to be an extension of my body and for the moment of release to be an intuitive coming together of technical knowledge, compositional skills and emotional connection, where nothing is thought and everything is felt. Easy huh? Now I need to go practice!