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.

Photoshoot for Stroud Yoga Space

A fabulous afternoon spent with lovely group of yogini’s doing a promo shoot for Stroud Yoga Space, a wonderful local facility offering a wide range of classes. See www.stroudyogaspace.com for more info.

The cabin by the lake

A drift on the raft the gentle breeze imperceptibly maneuvering me its sole passenger around the lake. The lake that is ours albeit for this week our own private Idaho of a lake. Gliding past rushes, gorse and a multitude of waterside greenery. Observing close up the iridescent blue dragonflies as they mate, one atop the others head, a dance of a balancing act pairs pair up sharing the same leaf. Frogs languishing in boggy grassland leap to the waters safety whenever we pass, long legs stretching out, the splosh as they land and the carp, oh the carp! Gliding with stealth after our vessel each time we cast off from dry land, mouths agape like suction hoovers tousling over morsels thrown and then discarding them from their gullets. Trying everything in their pursuit for the edible, toes and heels are sucklingly savoured their bodies glistening in the ever present gaze of the high summer sun. Frogs croak amidst the constant chatter of birds high up in the surrounding green canopy. The duck house on the lake sits empty, its residents mascaraed when one winter the water froze over and nothing stood in the way between bird and fox. Languishing now naked atop this sturdy vessel, a low rumble of thunder in the skies and the searing heat of the July Dordogne sun on my back. I feel I have entered a realm of half remembered childhood, of lamb white days spent wide open in summers gaze. This lake, its inhabitants, the surrounding wildlife my sole accompliment to these lazy days. By night we retreat to the cabin, our cabin where meals are made, candles lit and stories told on the deck. This life strongly reminiscent in me of an existence simple and nurturing calling its call, intelligible to my soul, “come home”, “come home”.

The garden at Redan

A portal, a delectable garden of delights abundant, rich with possibility. Areas tended, a lawn, manicured avenues and then a threshold past which nature reclaims herself. The garden at Redan a beautiful offering to Gaia, a fusion of fecundity and tamed splendour. Walking alone with camera, dropping, dropping senses ignited soft grass underfoot. Early evening inching her way in yet sun still enveloping me in her warmth.

Watching as white butterflies and bees take their fill of lavender nectar, the purple crop a haze of continuous activity. Watching at the stream as iridescent blue damsel flies flutter around me in curiosity, landing here, there on my arm my leg. Quick to the left a red squirrel darts down from an adjacent tree drinks hastily at the waters edge its white underbelly aglow in the evening light. I marvel, opening still further in to this my body nature connection. Stepping in to the stream I set off on a meandering escapade to photograph the elusive fish. Yesterday I saw her emerge up in an illuminated pool of light. Still half in shadow I raised my camera and gone. A thought half remembered , the edge of a memory I sought to encapsulate, that slipping away, that here and then gone…

Afternoon at the plunge pool

Belly on warm rock, form fitting the contours. Camera propped precariously close to the lapping waters edge, a risk worth taking for this close up encounter with the plunge pool offerings. Marveling as leaf surfaces adhere themselves to stone and lichen alike. Seeing natures colours alight in early afternoon sun, the heavy drone of crashing water enveloping me, merging my very being with her gushing onslaught. Alive here! Toes tingling in cold freshness, animating me fully in to this moment like a dancer perfecting a move I too practice encapsulating this moments magic, synchronizing eye and mind in the flash of perception. This I meeting a greater sense of non-self, blurring and merging in a great amorphous gulp.

Inspiring day at Hawkwood Collge

Great day spent teaching Contemplative Photography at Hawkwood – lovely group and so much enthusiasm for the practice, really inspiring! We were exploring the themes of colour and texture, attached a few of my images.

Due to interest I’m looking to run a follow up day workshop in the autumn, we’ll be looking at light, simplicity and space. Please contact me if you’d like more information about this or other courses I run.

 

 

 

Weekend Contemplative Photography Course at Hawkwood

Join me for a weekend of Contemplative Photography at beautiful Hawkwood College in Stroud – July 13th and 14th*.

Over the course of the weekend I will be introducing you to a range of techniques to support you in slowing down so you can connect with and capture the world around you in new and creative ways. Using the stunning landscape of Hawkwood as our support and inspiration we will spend time focusing on our breath and our bodies and how we relate to the environment we inhabit. The more we rest in the present the more we will see!

Suitable for all levels of photographers from beginners to advanced. Please see the flyer for booking info.

* Note there is a one day option to attend for the day on Saturday 13th

‘RAW’ is now showing!

‘RAW’ Photography and Sculpture show at Ruskin Mill Gallery is now officially open! Looks fab if I do say so myself, do come down and take a look we are open every day 10-4pm for the next month. Look forward to seeing some of you on the 12th May at the ‘meet the artists’ event : )