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.

 

 

Treasure

 

On a recent trip to Skye I was spoilt for choice – there seemed to be so much to photograph. Mountains with snow on the tops, sweeping down to the sea.. waterfalls collecting in deep, clear pools.. the next island hazily peeping through the sea mist – but one of my favourite images was this one, which I found by looking down.

The volcanic rock there lives happily alongside the pale sand and they swirl together to make a distinctive silvery-grey beach.  I love the patterns in the sand and the shadows on the seaweed, side-lit by the setting sun.

Mindful photography is about appreciating what’s around us and often that’s something right under our noses – like the light glinting off broken glass in an alleyway – or a glossy, thickly-painted red post-box. It reminds me to stop, look, notice – and treasure the moment.

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.

stop, look & listen

I live in an urban environment and you might think there’s not much to photograph in a built-up area, but sometimes as a way of having a break from work I take my camera out on a mindful stroll. So, I was walking around the block one lunchtime, when I decided to stop and really look at some apparently nondescript greenery I’d just passed.

As I became more still and took a few moments to get in touch with my senses, I began to tune into the detail around me. I was taken with the water droplets on the leaves, particularly this one which looked like a snow-globe, especially close up – a rain-globe! How lovely to find something so tiny and perfect in its own way just sitting there, waiting to be seen.

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.

shadows and light

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Feeling a bit bored and having decided that there was nothing worth photographing, I was about to put my camera away – but before I gave up, I decided to do some mindful breathing.

When I opened my eyes I let my attention be drawn to where the light was coming into the room. Looking up, I noticed this window with the criss-cross of thick lead and the different textures of glass and leaves of trees, a little distorted behind them.

I hadn’t noticed the image before I took a few moments to be still and turn my attention towards my breathing. The focus on my breath seemed to make it easier for me to really see my surroundings.

Maybe looking inside helps us to look outside too.

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.