MINDFULNESS AND PHOTOGRAPHY
by Burkhard Bensmann (February 1, 2022)
We need hobbies, such as photography: Certainly if we are one of those who is very committed to your job and go the proverbial “extra mile” when in doubt, it might be that you sometimes feel exhausted, no longer sleep well and are somehow dissatisfied? Has an initial enthusiasm for your work now become “passion” in the literal sense? Then you should get yourself a suitable hobby!
How about photography to creatively engage with the world? Let us think about it… For my own relaxation, I also read non-specialist publications and find numerous magazines in my Readly app that I dive deep into. Among my favourites are
architecture magazines and, as you loyal listeners and readers know, magazines about classic cars.
Recently I came across the cover of the February issue of the English journal, Amateur Photographer. The title of its lead story took me completely by surprise; The Healing Camera.
Of course I immediately read the magazine from back to front. In particular, the editorial is of central importance in the context of self-leadership. And that’s why I’m quoting from it below. Already now I am anticipating some of my findings:
Photography can be a hobby that allows us to find peace, promotes our mindfulness and develops those sides of us that can come up short in our everyday working lives.
The Art Of Awareness
Let us roam through the editorial in Amateur Photographer, written by Tracy Calder. The title alone makes it clear what it is about: The Art Of Awareness. The author starts with the term mindfulness and suggests understanding it as follows: “Mindfulness is a way of being rather than a goal or something to be earned or obtained. In fact, if you strip it right back, all it really means is paying attention tothe here and now without getting side-tracked by thoughts, feelings or emotions”.
She continues: “It’s about acknowledging what is going on around you and inside you without passing judgement or becoming caught up in stories.”
Many artists, such as landscape photographers, claim to be already mindful, says Tracy Calder. But they too are subject to the danger that the “monkey mind” gets the upper hand. You may already know the term “monkey mind”: our attention is
like a monkey that climbs from branch to branch, sometimes here, sometimes there, depending on where the next stimulus is lurking. The author says: “This monkey mind likes nothing more than generating noise: thoughts, feelings and emotions that have little use or genuine value. This incessant noise is with us from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep.”
There is not enough time here to consider all the aspects of this article that are worth reading. But I will give you the closing words and then turn to the specific tips in the editorial. Tracy Calder concludes with the sentences, “In time you’ll find
that paying attention to the present moment, without getting side-tracked by thoughts, feelings and emotions, will result in a calm mind and more headspace. And when gaps in the clouds appear, you might find that ideas, perceptions and insights break through like beams of sunlight.”
Here are some of the tips from the article, which are like little meditations. I am sure they will also apply to you whether you are a photographer or have another hobby.
For photographers, the article gives the tip: “… take a picture that shows the interdependence of living things”, which can be a photo of a tree. In my model of the Seven Fields, it is the second one, “Body, Mind and Soul”, which also addresses this kind of pragmatic spirituality: many of us go into nature and feel a sense of connection.
The article gives an example: “It’s noticing a crack in a vase and ignoring traditional views of what is beautiful.” Also a fine meditation, especially for those for whom their own tendency towards perfectionism leads to self-sabotage.
Move past boredom
For the photographer, this means: „Adopt a beginners mind and imagine that you are encountering your chosen object (or experience) for the first time.“ Regardless of whether you take photographs or not: you can certainly practise this attitude.
Although the article deals with the topic of “mindful photography”, this invitation, i.e. to welcome transience, certainly also applies beyond that. The photographer is advised to “Find something that is undergoing obvious change and use your skills to celebrate its metamorphosis.”
“Paying attention to light can be the basis of a wonderful meditation,” the article says. You have probably all looked through the viewfinder of a camera or at the screen of a smartphone, trying to create a delightful combination where light and shadow made a delightful combination. Moreover: we know how important thedaily dose of daylight is for our mental immune system. Why not combine this with a mindful daily walk of discovery?
These are the suggestions I selected from the article for small meditations.
Perhaps one or the other of you will now feel like taking out your slightly dusty camera again. Feel free to try out the tips in practice.
My own experience with photography – an encouragement
When I updated my personal vision a few years ago, I chose a picture that my wife had taken of me. It shows me, with camera on a tripod, on the southwest coast of
Lanzarote. This picture sums up many aspects for me:
– immersing myself in a creative act – taking strong and inspiring photos and videos with the camera
– feeling good in a special place – here: Rocks, waves, sun, the smell of the sea, etc.
getting involved in the situation – here:
I can’t plan everything, but being open to the opportunities – trusting that the right results will happen – here: being grateful for the spectacle of wind and waves.
Photography has played a key role for me since my youth. It has always been the realm of my own creative expression, where potential viewers of the finished images were not what mattered to me. Rather, it was being absorbed in a state of intention that led to new and different results. Nevertheless, when I celebrated a milestone birthday in 2019 with friends, clients and family in my own vintage car workshop, I showed selected photographic and film work and installations from forty years and was delighted with the response.
I don’t want to conceal the fact that I was also able to contribute to exhibitions, including „150 Years of Photography“ at the Sprengel Museum Hannover or at the Goethe Institute in Paris.
But, as I said, for me this aesthetic exploration is initially without the intention of showing the results to anyone. And so I try to remain open and not censor myself at all. So it’s all the easier for me to keep discovering the world with a camera.
So much for this brief insight into my photographic practice, which is, of course, intended to encourage you to go your own way. Whether it is the meditative or aesthetic engagement with the world via photography or whether another hobby suits you better: find out.
Back to the beginning of the article. We run the risk of ecoming so absorbed in our professional lives that we might burn out. As a remedy nearly all of us need a hobby. And I am fully convinced that photography is a great way to develop mindfulness and at the same time discover fascinating aspects of this beautiful world.
I illustrate this short article with two photographic works of mine that I have specifically chosen: Above is a work from 1983 that I took at the time in Plymouth, England, with a historic 6 x 9 cm bellows camera and 2008 digitally processed. A recent panorama I took on Lanzarote, my alternative home, was shown earlier beside a thought on the subject of light.
The text was originally published in my German podcast, called „Selbstführung [Self-Leadership]
und Leadership Development, Episode 167