Sowing Seeds

I found this dandelion clock when I took my camera on a mindful stroll around the streets where I live. It reminded me part of the process of practicing mindfulness. When I teach mindfulness courses people often struggle (as I did when I was learning) with the time it can take to feel the benefit of mindfulness practice. I often explain that we’re sowing seeds each time we meditate and although we may not feel an instant benefit – in time the seeds will grow if we nurture them.

As a person-centred therapist I’ve studied the work of Carl Rogers, who spoke about personal growth given the right conditions. Carl believed that people could heal themselves if the therapist offered the “core conditions” of empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard. He said that like plants that need water, soil and sunlight to grow – people will also grow if they have the right conditions. I like the idea that like plants, we can keep growing – reaching towards the light even if the journey there is sometimes painful and difficult.

This got me to wondering how we can nurture the seeds we sow when we practice mindfulness. I think having a spirit of kindness and compassion really helps. There may be times we can’t see any benefit from mindfulness, times we can’t be bothered and times we may feel like just giving it up. If we can be kind and patient with ourselves when we meet frustrations then maybe we can let the seeds float freely in their parachutes. Not knowing where they will land but trusting they will grow and that some will have already taken root.

little voice

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I took part in a mindful photography course last weekend, and this tulip had quite an effect on me!

The tutor, Jill Woodman ( http://katherinewoodman.co.uk/blog/tag/mindfulness/ ) asked the group which qualities we associated with mindfulness. Some favourites were: compassion, connectedness, balance and feeling grounded. She then asked us to take a photo which would represent or depict the quality we chose. I struggled to choose because there are so many things I get from mindfulness, but after some reflection I started thinking about the way that the stillness of mindfulness practice can often allow me to hear my inner voice – which can get lost in the clutter of day-to-day life.

So, umbrellas, (monsoon conditions ensued) phones and cameras at the ready – we went out to explore some nearby gardens with our chosen quality in mind. I came across a patch of glossy, rain-spattered, dark purple tulips that really caught my eye – and this one in particular. The little white stamen right in the middle of the flower seemed to sum up for me what my inner voice feels like – sometimes hidden, sometimes tiny and overlooked, but always central.

I felt really moved when I found this tulip and the tiny flower it held inside, because it reminded me to look a little deeper for my inner voice and to find some stillness where I can let it blossom.

symmetry

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I noticed this image on a recent walk by a mountain lake in Wales. I was drawn to the reflection of the reeds and the twisted shapes, textures and colours emerging from the water.

Only one problem – the broken reed to the right of the picture.

When I looked at the image on my computer I noticed how frustrated I felt about how it ruined the symmetry of the image. I tried cropping it, photoshopping it, all sorts of things to get rid of the annoying reed.

Feeling curious about my reaction, I looked up ‘symmetry’ on Wikipedia and it offers one possible meaning: ‘a vague sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance.’
I delved further into Google hoping to find a definition, and found that words associated with symmetry include: ‘regularity, evenness, uniformity, equilibrium, consistency, congruity, conformity, agreement, correspondence, orderliness, equality.’

Mindfulness encourages us to welcome and embrace the not so harmonious aspects of our lives as well as the harmonious ones, so that we can move towards psychological balance or equanimity (calmness). I guess this is different to the apparent perfection of symmetry – but it is about balance.

The idea is that the more experiences, body sensations, feelings and thoughts we can allow in, then the more diluted and less intense everything is. If I pour red food colouring into a bowl of water, it will become red. If I pour the same amount into a lake, it will make barely any difference. In other words – we can cope with so much more when we allow everything in, even the difficult stuff. Then, like the lake, we may feel some disturbance at the surface but deep below the surface we can find an accepting stillness.

So I’m learning to love this picture just as it is, enjoying the feel of it, the atmosphere, and most of all – the broken reed.

You can’t stop the waves

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Photography has been something I’ve had fun with ever since I was old enough to hold a camera. My Dad’s a photographer so strips of negatives hanging on the washing-line to dry was pretty normal in our house.

I’ve also discovered how enjoyable mindfulness is for me and I now like to have fun with mindful photography. For me this is about stopping and looking around – perhaps tuning into my breathing or to the sounds I can hear – this helps me to become more aware of my immediate surroundings… and often a photograph will follow.

I took this picture on a recent holiday, the weather was warm and the sea was pretty wild. I noticed this figure walking tentatively towards the waves, as if mesmerised. The whole scene looked almost monochrome or silver in colour.

One of the themes of mindfulness is about learning to ride the waves of our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, rather than getting caught up and tumbled around in them. This is summed up beautifully by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who teaches mindfulness meditation which he believes helps people to cope better with stress, anxiety and pain – he says:
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”