“Consider the Lilies of The Field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon, in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” – Matthew 6:28
Everyone has their own special way of practicing photography. If what you’re doing makes you feel happy, by all means continue with it. But today I’m going to share with you what my basic process is when I go out to photograph nature, whether that be the grand landscape, or the close-up of a delicate wildflower.
One of the things I learned when taking my Practitioner training, is that a regular mindfulness meditation practice can do wonders for you in various contexts. It’s hard to focus your mind and your attention at first, especially since we’re so used to “multi-tasking” these days.
So, before I get into this subject too deeply, allow me to tell you what I think about “multi-tasking.” Ahem. Multi-tasking is something computers do, not something humans do, unless you consider fixing a casserole, and then putting it in the oven to bake, an element of multi-tasking. While your casserole is baking, you can do something else presumably. You don’t necessarily just sit there and watch it bake through the glass on the oven door. You could use this time to do something else useful or to get closer to meeting a goal, but more than likely, you’re watching TV or playing around on social media. I mean, let’s be honest here. Occasionally I do put something in to bake and do something else useful while I’m waiting, but just as often, I don’t. Nobody wants to be “on” all the time!
I haven’t run payroll myself for many years, but I understand that you can enter data into a computer, push the “run” button, and the system will calculate everyone’s paycheck. Or you can send it out to another company who runs those checks for you. In the meantime, you can do something else. But if you’re entering the data into the system and you’re interrupted by someone who calls or comes into your office, you stand a good chance of losing track of where you were before the person showed up. It’ll likely take you a few minutes to readjust. Yes, you can stop what you’re doing and deal with the visitor, and then return to the task at hand, but this is not multi-tasking in the literal sense of the word.
A computer is designed to multi-task and do two or more things at once. You can have a program running in the background, and keep working on something else, but if you literally had to do two things at once, you wouldn’t be human, you’d be a machine. This is a problem that we have even trying to watch TV and be on social media at the same time. Your attention can be drawn to something online, and you may miss out on 15 minutes of dialogue on your favorite TV show. Thankfully, your TV can record the show and repeat what you missed but paying attention to two conversations simultaneously and giving them your full attention is not possible. Even trying to do this can cause a person to feel like they’ve suddenly come down with a case of ADD or that their IQ has dropped by 20 points. You don’t need to feel bad about it. Multitasking is an over-rated urban myth.
And so, this brings us back to mindfulness meditation and the idea of giving yourself and your activities single-minded, one-pointed attention. This is a concept taught by successful long-term meditators and spiritual gurus alike and the practice of it heightens your attention level so that you are fully in the present moment.
By far the best way to start is by focusing your attention on your breath. Why is that? Well, the breath of life is something that we all share, and so by paying attention to it, it helps us to recognize the fact that at the deepest levels, we are all one. All living things breathe. Not all living things have lungs, but all living things process oxygen in some way so as to be able to live on this planet. So, after centering yourself, with your eyes closed or open, whichever is most comfortable, begin to focus on the feeling of your breath as it flows into your nose, cool and fresh. Notice where you are feeling the cool air. For everyone it may be different. You may feel it at the tip of your nose, or further back in the nasal passages. It doesn’t matter, it’s whatever works for you. Notice the feeling and sensation of your breath. Breathe naturally and relax into it. As you relax, your breath will begin to slow down. Notice the feeling of the warm breath that is exhaled. Notice where you feel it. For many people, it’s the same place where you felt the cool inhalation of air you breathed in. If it is somewhere else, just notice that. Sit in silence and focus your attention on your breathing cycle for a minute or two. If your mind begins to wander, don’t get frustrated or mad, this happens to everyone. Just notice that you are thinking, worrying about the past, or planning the future. Without judgment, bring your mind back to the present moment and focus on the breath.
Try to go on with this as long as you can. In the beginning, five minutes may be enough. As you are able to maintain your focus on the breath for longer periods of time, you may consider noticing other bodily functions happening. You can possibly hear or feel your own heartbeat. Then, you can begin tightening and relaxing the different muscles in your body. Beginning with your feet and toes, curl them up and tighten them and then allow them to relax. Do the same with the muscles in your legs and work your way up your body, tightening and then relaxing your muscles. This gives your mind something to focus on without losing its grasp on the present moment. Try to find a private place to do this, where you won’t be interrupted or questioned. In the beginning, this entire process may take only about 10 minutes. Don’t try to extend the time unnaturally, but as you become more proficient, you will feel comfortable staying in this space for a longer period.
By practicing this repeatedly over some period of time, you should begin to notice that it becomes easier to reach that state of relaxation and full-focused attention more quickly. I have found this to be true for myself, and it spills over into my photography practice. In fact, photography has become a way for me to extend my meditation practice into my daily life, even when I don’t have my camera with me. I can use this mindfulness technique to not only focus my attention on my breath and on relaxation, but also on things like making a mental inventory of how I’m feeling emotionally, or what things I’m surrounded by. By taking just a few minutes to do this, it makes all the difference in the world in my photography. Now I’m not just wandering around aimlessly, I’m in touch with my intuition and following my inner guidance as to where I should go or what I should be doing in the field. Whenever I arrive at a location, I spend the first few minutes centering myself and running through this process. No matter how stressed out I am when I arrive at a photography location, within minutes all that has been laid aside and I am back in the present moment with my camera. Nothing else matters.
In fact, I’ve gotten so good at this that at times, if others are present, I neither see nor hear them, while at the same time, I’m aware of their presence. I had that happen when I got into the flow of photographing a beautiful classic car at a festival a couple weeks ago. The woman who owned the car asked me a question. I heard her, but I wasn’t able to answer until I had finished my process around making a visual inventory of the car. It was almost like being in a twilight state. Other people, who obviously don’t know what I’m doing, may find this behavior odd, but it works for me. This is one of the reasons why I don’t make very good photographs when doing photography with a group of people. I’m always jealous of those people who get together with friends to do photography, and although I’ve done it many times, I find that the quality of my photography suffers. It’s like, if I’m doing photography for social reasons, and I don’t have the time to jump to my center point first, then I need to just recognize that this is a social activity, and not a real photo shoot for me. That’s OK, each situation has its place.
Last night I drove out into the desert for about 10 miles. So, not that far from home, and I had my photo roadie with me (read: husband). Once we got out on the dirt roads, I slowed way down. I focused my attention on my surroundings. I noticed where the grass was green and where it wasn’t, what flowers were blooming and where, the status of the clouds overhead. I noticed where the sun was shining and where things were in shadow. I continued this process for about 30 minutes, driving at a photographer’s pace. (slowly). Trucks came up behind us and passed at 40 mph, throwing dust up as they went. I allowed them to go by. At one point, I found a field of wild sego lilies. So beautiful! They were blooming about 30 feet from the road. I parked the car and got out and walked to where I could see them, carefully choosing my steps so as not to accidently crush one. The sun was slowly fading in and out, behind clouds one minute, and shining out on the hillside covered with lilies the next minute. I soon found myself on my knees, camera in hand, and then sitting, surrounded by those lilies of the field, completely overcome by the beauty. I just sat there, feeling the warmth of the sun on my arms when it came out, and feeling the cool breeze when it went behind a cloud. I probably sat out there for 10 or 15 minutes doing nothing but breathing in and out and allowing the energy and the beauty of nature to heal me of the stress of the hustle and bustle of my day up until that point. I didn’t really need my camera to appreciate this, but I did use it to record the glow of the late afternoon sunlight coming through the petals of the lilies of the field.
One reply to “THE LILIES OF THE FIELD”
Debbie, I miss the high plateau which is as close to the desert as I have lived. A magical place when one slows down and looks and listens. Lovely post!
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