I am a great believer in the practice of mindfulness. It is something I want to increasingly incorporate into various aspects of my life as I find it to be genuinely beneficial. Mindfulness is often described as ‘being present’. Being present in the moment means that we are more focused and aware. Being present to another person is often the best gift we can give. Once we become aware of what mindfulness is, it can be a simple technique that only takes a second but which can bring a host of benefits to our life. Many people attest to these benefits and more and more people are turning to mindfulness as an antidote to anxiety and stress, as well as for general well-being.
Recently, as I sat in an optician’s waiting area, I happened to see an article in a magazine entitled ‘Music as a gateway to mindfulness.’ In the article the writer discussed how, to cope with severe anxiety, she turned to her lifelong interest in music and, by renewing an earlier passion for playing the harp and beginning to play regularly, she found herself in a calmer, less anxious space. There are many ‘gateways’ to living a less stressed, more mindful life. All we have to do is find the one that suits us.
A few weeks ago I spent some time in my local park, wandering through the walled garden, taking photographs of plants and parts of plants, observing a little bird hopping around which I tried to capture on camera, noticing how the first signs of spring were already in the air. As I did this I had no thoughts of anything that had gone on in the past nor had I any worries or anxieties about the future. I was fully immersed in what I was doing. In fact, I realised later, photography doesn’t really allow us to be anywhere other than fully present or we might as well not be there at all! While I don’t claim to take what others might call ‘good’ photographs I do want to take the best images that I can take and one of the secrets to doing this is to be fully present in the moment. In photography, being in the moment means having a connection with our subject or our surroundings. We can’t be creative if our minds are consumed with thoughts of something that happened yesterday or last week, or if we are concerned with what will happen in the future. The practice of being in the moment, being fully present, being mindful, helps keep us in ‘the zone’; helps us get into ‘flow’, two states of being which are well documented as being beneficial to our mental health. Other creative pursuits – singing, dancing, painting, playing an instrument – can achieve the same results. Writing, for me, also provides that opportunity to be fully present to what I am doing, but it is photography that really encourages me to engage with the moment through noticing, observing and then capturing an image. Photography actually encourages mindfulness by heightening my awareness of seeing. And combining a daily walk with mindful photography is truly a gift to my health and well-being. As I walk, taking in my surroundings, I begin to become more observant, noticing things that I hadn’t noticed before. I become more aware of people immediately around me, activities that are going on, how light is playing on objects in my field of vision, the ever-changing sky. I notice the first spring buds appearing or the way trees are silhouetted against the sky. I visualise what I want to capture with my camera, how I will compose/frame a picture, how I will use light to enhance an image. I am using my eye before I use my camera. When I decide on what images I want to shoot on this particular day I begin to experiment with angles and perspectives, getting down low or shooting high to get a better point of view. This to me constitutes more mindful photography and it helps me to feel connected to my subjects and to feel invested in the images I shoot.
I recall reading an article from a travel photographer who talked of the photographer as being a ‘silent witness’. I love this description. It suggests bringing a consciousness to our practice of seeing, but also suggests watching and waiting, not frantically trying to grab the next shot. By being a silent witness we actually see more and hopefully take better, not more, pictures. We might miss the one we thought we wanted, and get a better one instead!
For me, photography has become a constant exploration of life. It has helped me to discover new places, to see new things in familiar places and to look at life from different perspectives. All it takes is to be open to seeing what is there in this moment and embracing what we find, but in so doing we also develop our eye and that, in photography, is never a bad thing.
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction).