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Mindful Photography Course – Week 8

This was the final week of our 8 week development of mindfulness through photography, and along the way create some fabulous photos. This week we covered two more mindful attitudes: Acceptance and Non-Striving, shot a little video of the some of the students sharing their experiences on the course and had some lovely cake (provided by the students)!

Just so you don’t miss it, I’m going to start with the video which shares some honest and enlightening tales of what was experienced on my Mindful Photography Course. Here it is

 

Acceptance

Mindfulness encourages us to see things as they actually are in the present moment. As the present moment plays out, we practice noticing our feelings, our physical sensations and the thoughts that flit across our mind.  It may well be that we don’t actually like what we are experiencing. We may try to avoid, distract or just deny the experience.

Acceptance is the quality that allows us to be with all the difficulty, without turning away. Acceptance encourages us to turn towards the difficult experience. To sit with the feelings, sensations and thoughts, allowing them to ebb and flow and slowly, bit by bit allowing them a little space in our lives.

When we experience major change or loss in our lives we often find that accepting how things are now beyond difficult. The loss we are trying to understand may have left us quite different physically, mentally and emotionally, in comparison to how we were before it happened. We may be attached to an idea of who we are that reflects how we were, rather than how we are now.

Processing this major change may take us a long time and there is much difficulty to work through. The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle that was developed to illustrate our adjustment to the death of a loved one is also applicable to any other major change or loss in our life. We have to live through the Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression before reaching Acceptance. And whilst these are often described in linear fashion they are not always lived so clearly. We may move between the various stages, hopefully slowly moving towards acceptance.

Carl Rogers (psychologist) wrote: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

As applied to photography

Photography can help us live through these stages, creating photos that illustrate how we feel, when we are feeling it. Last week I set the students homework to go out with their cameras when they were experiencing great emotion and create some photos. Not to look for particular scenes, but to simply walk and create what called out to be photographed.

Each student then shared their favourite photo and we reflected upon how it made us feel. Here they are.

Non Striving

Non striving is non doing and was the second Mindful Attitude we looked at. Meditation can be described as a non doing activity – if that is not a contradiction. We sit and we be. We are present and we are ourselves. What we experience we pay attention to. We may choose to return to the breath when we notice thoughts flit across our minds. We are non goal orientated.

Now this is all fine and dandy in theory. However, we live in a ‘doing’ culture. We have grown and developed in a society that values action, activity and succeeding. We need to feel that we are doing stuff and that we are ok. So when we begin to meditate we do see it as an activity, something to do. We must do our meditation. We must do certain things to ensure that we are doing the meditation correctly. We choose a certain place, time of day, length of sitting, structure to follow and so on. Then we try to get this all ‘right’.

Often then, especially as we begin meditating, we may feel discouraged. Our mind is incessantly busy. We don’t experience any quiet. Or we may choose to notice experiences that reinforce our belief that we are doing this meditation thing right. We may experience feelings, colours, great peace and any of these confirm our confident belief that we have got this meditation thing cracked. We are either doing it right or wrong! Either way we are doing it.

So how do we move from doing meditation and mindfulness to being and non striving? There is a blurred division between doing and being. In meditation we set out to meditate, we are doing the activity. But it is in our approach to being present with our experience, of non striving, of being non goal orientated that we move to being in the moment. We achieve this by paying attention, that is all. We pay attention to our present experience, we come into the present moment and we stay with our anchor – the breath or seeing (mindful photography) – we become what we already are, a human being.

As applied to Photography

Non striving as a concept applied to photography is a fine aspiration. As photographers we are very attuned to the processes we must follow to create a great photo. Our attention to technical and compositional choices is fundamental to the creation of a good photograph. But a great photograph requires something of us, something of our soul, something of who we are. To create memorable photographs we must marry the technical and compositional with our intuitive heart. How do we do this? By being in the moment.

That fine dividing line between doing and being is present at the moment of visual creation. The decisive moment that we choose to press the shutter is a moment that we are not holding tightly to our doing. We know, on a practiced and confident level, that we have made the right technical choices. Our practice and training has equipped us with the skills to flow into creative compositional choices of the visual elements before us. All of this is not at the front of our mind as we simply rest in the moment of creating a photograph. We allow the photo to come into being. This being in the moment encourages an instinctive connection with our feelings, our very essence becomes part of our created photo. To photograph is to be, wholly and magnificently, in the moment.

The students were given the challenge and practice of creating just one photo. BUT (and yes it is a big but) they had to walk and not look for that photo. To create a photo without looking for a photo is not only very zen, it’s a fabulous practice and one that can be spread out over a day.

The striving part of our mind wants to make sure that the one photo is a ‘good’ photo. We may have preconceived ideas about where to walk and what we will see. The practice is to notice these thoughts and to return to what can be seen. To simply walk and trust that an opportunity will manifest. Here are their photos.

 

Fragile

I was reminded today of the fragility of life. You would think that after a few life experiences that have demonstrated that it is a truth, I would have it at the forefront of my mind. But the idea that we are immortal is tenacious.

We carry on through our busy lives, racing from one important task to the next. These tasks define who we are. They shape our life and determine how our days are spent. And then, from left field, something occurs to remind us that it is but a gossamer thread connecting us to this entertaining video we call life.

Today I heard from a friend who has recently lost somebody very close to them. In fact over the last few months she has been training and then swimming the Channel to raise money, inspired by the circumstances her friend was struggling with. And then, just after the event, her friend died. As if this tremendous loss was not enough, life had another in store. Very soon after her friend died, the swimming coach who had been supporting their endeavour had a heart attack and died.

Even when we know something is likely to happen, the actuality and finality of death is still a huge adjustment. We have the practicalities, and friends and family, to support us through the early days of adjustment. But then, as life falls back into its rhythm, we may begin to lose our bearings.

The grief attached to any loss has to be lived through. The stages may be well documented: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but we still have to live through them. We have to live with the confusion and feelings of deep uncertainty. And of course we may be reminded of our own mortality.

Perhaps it is this reminder that can support us through towards the acceptance of the loss of our loved one. For this reminder of the gossamer thread can attune us to our loved ones, to how we are spending our time, towards what is truly important in our life.

We will always have the loving memories of our departed friend, but the most valuable lesson this difficult adjustment has, is to remind us to wholly engage in every moment. To tune in to what we are sensing, thinking and feeling. To be truly present in every glorious and grimy minute, for it will very soon be gone. Carpe diem.

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Fragile