Photography as a mindfulness practice

When we think of mindfulness many people make the association with sitting in meditation but the essence of being mindful is more about developing the capacity to bring our focused attention to whatever it is we are doing, whether that’s washing the dishes, brushing our teeth or eating diner. By coming to notice our mind chatter we can begin to drop in to a place that exists below the surface.

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Dr Dan Siegel eminent psychologist and author of Brainstorm The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain uses the metaphor of ‘the sea within’ to explain how mindfulness works. On the surface there may be a storm blowing, large waves abounding but if you delve down below surface level at the depths exists a calmness and stillness. Just as when we pay attention to the surface of our mind we can get swept away by our thoughts and feelings – by dropping anchor through a mindfulness practice we can gain access to the calm depths that simultaneosuly exist.

When I work with young people I often introduce different mindfulness based practices to support them to access this calm place, a place of stillness from which they can observe their thoughts and feelings without judgement.

The benefits of developing this kind of presence can be far reaching and can act as an antidote to the stressful lives many of us lead.

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Over the years I have found taking photographs to be a mindfulness practice that really works for me. Combining being out in nature, walking and creativity supports me to drop in to the place of stillness beyond the mind chatter helping me to regulate and to turn the volume down on the demands of external stimuli.

Taking time to look more closely at the world around me, at the detail and the interplay of light and shadow brings a different perspective in to focus. The resulting images are less the goal than the practice of slowing down, being present, and looking.

The term ‘down the rabbit hole’ goes some way to describing what this activity elicits for me. Time out in a busy schedule to practice being. A way of pressing pause on the adrenalised ‘doing’ of life.

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I would really encourage anyone interested in mindfulness or creative mindful practices to open the door to further exploration of what this practice can bring to your life. Below are some tips to help you get going:

Observe before you take the picture – ask yourself what descriptive words come to mind in relation to what you are seeing?

Close your eyes – use all your senses to take in your environment, what do you smell, taste, hear and feel, bring it all in.

Stop and breathe – put your hand on your belly for a moment andbring yourself in to the present moment by breathing slowly in and out through your nose, feeling your abdomen rise and fall under your hand.

Focus on colour, shapes, patterns – look beyond the obvious to the more subtle interplay of shapes, colours and patterns, there is so much more detail in everything

The journey is the destination- think about this as an exercise in slowing down and developing presence as opposed to all about the finished product.

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Creative practices are often overlooked as an antidote to stress but if we engage creatively without expectation of a particular outcome the process itself can help us feel to more relaxed, present and engaged with the world.

Nikki Simpson is a Counsellor and Visual Artist who works in private practice with teenagers and adults. Alongside her therapy work she enjoys spending time in nature, dancing and taking photographs.