Today’s blog post is a personal story from a friend of mine who is also a Mindful Photographer. Ruth’s story is a personal account of how mindful photography has helped with her wellbeing and mental health. It is an honest account of living with difficulty and how mindfulness combined with a creative outlet can support you to live with the experience.
Mindful Photography: a tool for improved mental health
In September 2014 photography started to take on a whole new meaning to me. For some time I had struggled with episodes of anxiety and depression and I was going through a particularly challenging time. I decided to attend a retreat “The Photography of Being” in Scotland for a week.
I allowed myself to feel the debts of my thoughts and spent a couple of days immersing myself in the darkness of the dense mossy wood where I was staying. As the week went by I started to feel lighter and found myself coming out into the open, where I observed the movement of the running stream and the beauty of the nearby Loch.
The warm autumn colours were already in their full glory and I lay on the ground and bathed in their warmth. My series of photographs from the week show my process of being in the dark and coming out into the light. The experience was incredibly therapeutic.
A year later, I experienced what at the time I called a full on breakdown. I was overwhelmed and burnt out and my body forced me to stop. Fear got the better of me and I was not able to work for a few months. As part of my recovery I went for walks in the beautiful woods and commons where I live in Stroud in the Cotswolds. I took my camera or my mobile phone with me and found myself asking nature to support me.
I allowed myself to be guided instinctively towards particular places, objects, colours, textures, shapes, patterns, and areas of light, dark, or shadow that caught my eye. I looked at the detail as well as the bigger picture. I started to ‘be’ fully present in the moment, to breathe and to experience what I was looking at, not only through my eyes, but through all my senses. Sometimes I would take photos; sometimes I would simply look. I found that nature would ‘speak’ to me through my eyes or the lens and help me look at my life with a fresh perspective.
As part of my recovery I also renewed my interest in mindfulness; I had participated in an 8-week mindfulness course some years previously, which was helpful but in some ways added to the stress I was feeling at the time – it was another thing I had to do! This time though, I instinctively thought: mindfulness + photography = mindful photography.
Over the past year or so I have been sharing mindful photography through the photography walks, workshops, commissions, projects and talks that I offer through my photography business Look Again, which I launched in 2012.
And it was with great delight that I found that other people were also practising mindful photography. I was particularly drawn to the work of Lee Aspland, who I have since met and has now kindly asked me to write this blog!
What I realise now is that my breakdown was in fact a breakthrough. Mindful photography has become a practice that I use to help myself deal with my own mental health challenges and that I love to share with individuals, communities, organisations and businesses through my work with Look Again. It’s wonderful to slow down, look, look again and see with new eyes.
Please contact me or visit Look Again to find out more.