Northern Lights

I was lucky enough to visit Iceland this autumn, and even luckier to experience something I’d always wanted to – the northern lights. This is a collage of four images that sum up the experience for me.

The aurora had already started appearing over the city as we travelled down to catch the boat – groups of people were gathering and pointing at the sky, others were running through the streets with cameras and tripods.  The excitement was really building and finally we were on a small boat, literally feeling buoyant as it zipped us across Reykjavik harbour – out into the night to find the lights.

Then they appeared – a pale green arc formed over the boat in the shape of a rainbow, the engines stopped and we floated around silently watching as the arc of light expanded right overhead.  It’s hard to describe – but the top edge of the band of light started to move, swirling like sand does when a strong wind propels it across a beach. I noticed a feeling of childlike amazement as well as a connectedness with the people on the boat as we stared skyward.

The link to mindfulness for me, was something about the process we went through to see the aurora – planning, preparation, travelling, searching – all ‘doing’ or ‘striving’ activities, and the contrasting sense of just ‘being with’ an incredible experience.  I was keen to photograph the lights.. and I was just as keen to really experience them – to look through the lens and receive the images, rather than setting out to ‘capture’ or ‘take’ or strive for anything.

I feel grateful that rather than ending up with hundreds of pictures and little memory of what it actually felt like to see the northern lights – I can really remember the experience, the emotions, thoughts and physical sensations I had as I savoured just being there.

 

 

Snow

I took myself for a walk this weekend, up into the Derbyshire hills. As I was climbing a fellside, some low cloud started to roll across the tops, like smoke. It started to snow, so I paused in a copse of young birch trees. Standing right below the snow cloud, I became aware of wanting to make the most of the next few moments – before the snow melted.

I enjoyed the feel of the snow as it landed on my skin, the look of it as it lay on the branches and tufts of grass, and the sound of it – I even heard it making a whispering noise as it fell onto dry bracken. I picked some up and watched it melt, change shape, and turn into water… and I noticed my disappointment as it did this.

I think part of the reason that snow holds a magical quality for me, is its transient nature – its impermanence. In mindfulness, the idea of impermanence is about accepting that nothing, including us, is fixed and that change is a part of life. A bit like the way each moment is transitory and like snow, melts and gives way to the next one.

I guess living more mindfully is about noticing moments before they melt into the river of our everyday lives.

just bee thankful

There’s a nugget of wisdom about bees which Albert Einstein may (no-one seems sure) have said:

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”

I spotted this honeybee on a mindful photography course recently and I noticed how grateful I felt as I watched it gathering pollen. The bee was so busy that it was hard to photograph clearly, and although the body looked blurry, it felt amazing to be able to see the bee’s eyes so distinctly as it focussed intently on the flower. It was a treat to be able to stop and pay attention to what’s around me, and to see something that’s really ‘everyday’ – but really special.

Absolute beginners

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We all have to start somewhere – and going back to the beginning can be liberating.

One of the first things I learned when I started studying mindfulness was a concept called ‘beginner’s mind’.  This describes a way of experiencing the world with an almost child-like quality, living in the moment and being completely absorbed in whatever each minute brings.

Using our beginner’s mind involves suspending our usual way of labelling and identifying objects and experiences based on what we ‘know’ and instead approaching life from a place of naivety and openness – like a child exploring the world and being fascinated with each experience as it unfolds.

I took this photo through the eyes of my beginner’s mind.  I was attracted to the shapes that the salt-blistered paint creates and the colours of the layers, peeling back to reveal the weathered wood below.  I was drawn as well to the colour and texture of the rust on the padlock and the way it contrasts with the smooth purple paint behind.  The sunlight seems to add an almost 3D-like quality to the picture – smoothing and throwing the paint into relief in turn.

I’m finding that having a gently curious and unknowing mind opens the possibility of finding beauty in places where I wouldn’t normally expect it.