Photographing what we notice around us can be a very accessible and enjoyable mindful practice which can take us out of our heads, and right into now. There need be no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ photograph with this practice, there is simply what you find curious in each moment, so it’s perfect for children and adults who have a harsh inner critic or struggle with academic study where so much is either ‘wrong’ or ‘right’… there is no pressure with approaching photography in this way! It’s also brilliant for anyone that has resistance to more traditional mindful practices such as yoga and sitting meditation.
Having had an eye for the aesthetic for as long as I can remember, always finding enjoyment in expressing myself creatively through childhood and consequently training in art and photography in my pre-children era, I’ve always had my eye in as they say, but training in mindfulness and becoming more aware of myself and the world around me has helped me become more conscious of why I find photography such a fulfilling practice.
When I take these photographs I have no set agenda (‘I’m going to take an awesome photo of a flower today’ for instance), rather I become fully present wherever I am, engaging fully with my senses rather than with my distracting thoughts. So if I am walking in the woods I am feeling the air around me, watching the light playing through the leaves and branches and listening to the sounds of woodland creatures…my attention may be pulled to the interesting shapes made by curling vines…that’s when I take the photo…
Neuroscientist and meditator Dr Shanida Nataraja has said that westerners use the left halves of their brains too much; “Generally speaking, the left hemisphere is associated with analytical, rational and logical processing, whereas the right hemisphere is associated with abstract thought, non-verbal awareness, visual-spatial perception and the expression and modulation of emotions. In the western world, most individuals navigate through their everyday life in a fashion dominated by left-brained thinking.” So I recognise that by choosing, at intervals through the day, to be the way I describe above I am using my right hemisphere, allowing my brain to work in a more balanced way, which increases my sense of well-being.
Another positive effect of using photography as a mindfulness tool is the further sensation of well-being that springs from having gratitude and appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us in every moment; we can become utterly absorbed in that luscious sense of awe and wonder that make life worth living! It is my experience that the more I focus on what I’m grateful for, the more of it I notice, the happier and more content I become.
Creativity and self expression are also, I believe, essential to our well-being as art therapist Cathy Malchiodi discusses in this Psychologytoday article. There seems to be a lot of evidence out there to confirm what I have experienced to be true in my own life, that when I am creating from a place of mindful self expression I feel content, grounded and in balance. Think of the unbridled joy of a child left to their own devices with a paint pot; they are totally in the moment exploring the satisfying visceral experience of interacting with the paint, putting something of themselves, of their own making, out there into the world (even if they are not consciously doing so as an adult might be) – that is a precious thing, even if it won’t be appreciated by everybody!
And so to the fourth (if you’re keeping count 😉 ) benefit of mindful photography; the joy we feel when sharing our passion with others. I’ve had great feedback from sharing my mindful moment photography on Instagram and Facebook; people have commented that the images make then feel good, see the world from a different perspective and help them remember that the world can be beautiful. So I have created a workshop for children and adults that introduces photography as a mindful practice (any type of camera is fit for this, device and phone cameras included!) – if you’re interested, keep an out for dates on the ‘Where and When’ page, e-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org, sign up to my Mailchimp list for newsletters via the ‘Contact and connect’ page and/or like the facebook page linked at the bottom of this page for event posts.
If you’d like to introduce this creative practice to your children I’ve made a short video on Youtube
To see some of the images I make you can visit my page @element_artworks at Instagram
I have also created a Facebook page dedicated to mindful photography which features tips and inspiration for developing your own practice @EAmindfulcreativity
As Element Artworks I also have a selection of beautifully textured fine art prints available to purchase at the beautiful Reading based Creative Locale gallery.