Posts

Blogging as a mindful practice

As a guy who tries to live a mindful life I recognise that practice is the foundation, backbone and rhythm of my intention. Practice is a word that is often used alongside meditation, in that what we experience is most accurately described as a meditation practice. This is helpful. A practice implies that it is something we are working on, that perfection is not an expectation and that any experience is possible during the practice.

Practice also suggests a commitment to regularity and a growing understanding that the journey is more important than the destination. It is the practice itself that is the thing. The trying to get somewhere – like be a brilliant meditator is a flawed goal. Mindfulness is all about intention, not goal. It’s not supposed to feel like a carousel, round and round, up and down but not going anywhere. More like you are the Starship Enterprise and your ongoing mission is to explore strange new lands (your emotional landscape) and to boldly go where you haven’t gone before! Check out this post to read more about Intention.

Mindful Practices

Over the last few years I have developed a daily mediation practice, a weekly mindful photography practice and a daily gratitude practice with my sister in Canada. Also over the course of the last two years I have come to see this process of blogging as a practice. Let me explain.

Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat Zinn as, “Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” This is indeed a lifetime practice and one that we can return to any moment when we notice that we have become adrift on life’s turbulent swirling current.

We can apply mindfulness to any and every activity and action of life. Applying mindfulness to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation. This idea has been explored by many. There are books available on mindful walking, parenting, drawing, ageing, bereavement, baking, work, urban living, art and many more. Mindfulness is a media sensation.

I became aware that I was bringing this present moment attention to my writing in the late spring 2015 when I started sharing my life experiences and challenges through this blog. The practice of openly writing about one’s life experiences is nothing new of course. Diaries, autobiographies and memoirs have been a regular element of the book publishing industry for hundreds of years. The difference is personal.

Blogging about difficulty

For the first time in my life I started writing about my vulnerabilities and feelings. This was an instinctive reaction to life throwing unexpected curve balls at me. Instead of avoiding those feelings, or internalising, I chose to share. The reaction surprised me. I had contact and support from people I knew and those I had never met. But most interesting were the repercussions throughout my life.

These ripples, caused by the stone of honesty dropping into my pool of life, continue to be felt. It seems that the more I write about it, the more I am attuned to what is happening. The writing helps to process the difficulty, the feelings and the changes. The more attuned I am, the more able I am to be with whatever comes my way.

This also becomes a kind of deepening awareness. As I write I become present with my feelings about the difficult circumstances. I write freely and fast. Often the essence of the feelings is raw and unprocessed. Much of it comes instinctively and usually it is only edited to correct typos, grammar and spelling. The raw essence remains.

Writing these blog posts will continue to be a practice; one of reflection and authenticity. It feels like an essential aspect of my mindful life, so expect more soon!

 

Is vulnerability a strength?

Vulnerability

In our fast moving, success orientated world it may seem that vulnerability is a weakness. Having worked in the vibrant hospitality industry and the results orientated education industry I am familiar with that perception.

My travels through the hierarchical world of management, from trainee to senior manager, certainly reinforced that view. Managers who reacted in ‘inappropriately emotional’ ways or had a ‘health crisis’ were often encouraged to follow different paths. Our learnt behaviour, through observation, was to be logical, determined and resilient.

Health crisis

My own health crisis occurred in the middle of my aspirational College career. I believed that I was on track to even higher levels of responsibility and was (almost) completely signed up to the accepted model of management style.

When I first became ill, I carried on. I worked for another 3 months, through a major inspection before succumbing to increasingly more challenging health. Whilst I was well supported by the College for over a year, once it became clear that I was unlikely to be able to return to my job I was encouraged to take a redundancy package.

Allowing vulnerability

Some eight years beyond that final departure, I began to see another side to vulnerability. I had finally begun to understand and accept my own choices that had led to acute health changes in my chronic condition. I  made the conscious decision to be open about my situation; to write about it here and to share my own vulnerability.

This allowing and admittance of a natural feeling has had two positive effects. Firstly, it has given me freedom to change my path. I have let things go. I have chosen to develop more supportive practices. Whilst this is still early days, by celebrating my authentic position I feel more myself, more rooted in core beliefs I am comfortable with. I can see that this change will provide the best opportunity to be healthy (as distinct from cured).

The second positive effect is that by sharing my own vulnerability I have given others permission to be vulnerable. I have received messages from others who have offered supportive words and related their own challenges. My friendships with other men have changed, deepened because a platform for discussion about difficulty has slowly developed. This has in turn further encouraged me that I am on the right path.

I am now two years on from that point and much has changed in my life and is continuing to change. The simple act of beginning to be open about my feelings has allowed more to surface. This opening in turn has changed my choices and decisions. My life has taken a new direction, and is still developing. It is like a stone thrown into the pond of life, the ripples spread out and out and continue to come. Eventually all will be calm, but perhaps the pond will never be quite the same again.

Vulnerability means facing up to my fears. Working towards understanding them. Working towards understanding why I make certain choices, why I behave in a certain way in particular circumstances. It is a doorway to greater self knowledge, and helps the development of fearlessness. You could say it is a superpower!

Vulnerability is an opportunity. By connecting to our own vulnerability, feeling it in our body and knowing it in our mind, we are one short step away from changing it from a perceived weakness to a strength.

Photographing Vulnerability

Photographing feelings and other invisible matters requires a few tricks. First up, you gotta have your imagination fired up. For me, that generally means before lunch and maybe just after a large steaming mug of tea! Then you need to consider your preferred working style. If you’re a planner, who needs to consider all props and conditions, then get out a notepad and start brainstorming. If you’re more intuitive and responsive, then take a look around. What is before you and how can you use it?

I think it was Walker Evans who believed that the photographer’s greatest tools were metaphor, paradox and oxymoron. Me, I do favour a visual metaphor and in terms of my style I lean more towards the intuitive, with a touch of planning.

I created the photo below at a community photography workshop a couple of years ago. Having spotted our box of lego mini figures my first thought was to represent myself (the photographer) as one of the figures by using the lego camera prop. After I had decided against any of the hair additions (there not being a thinning grey haired one available) I had the inspired idea to use the T Rex as a metaphorical ‘threat/fear’, creating a vulnerable position for the lego photographer. Then it was just a question of an interesting location, use of the available light and choosing the appropriate exposure. Voilà!