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  • Writer's pictureDee Crute

Mindfulness and Photography

By Nicola Pass ARPS

It's taken me a fair few years to talk about my story of discovering mindfulness, and in all honesty, it was never my intention to write about it.


King George Pool ©Nicola Pass

But after four years of researching, studying, and practising, I find myself here, writing about it. I am by no means an expert or guru in writing, for that matter. I'm just an average person talking about my own human experience with mindfulness and how it has helped me, hoping that maybe it will also help you. 

This is my story.


The Beach ©Nicola Pass

I discovered mindful photography back when the Covid pandemic first hit. It feels like such a long ago now when I think back to that first walk with my camera. It was when we were allowed to go out for just one walk a day. I remember feeling so trapped at the time because I couldn't do all the things I loved or visit family and friends, and the nearest beach was at least an hour away. How I missed listening to the crashing waves and walking on the soft sand. I missed walking through lush green forests and catching glimpses of wildlife; I'm sure you, too, remember it well.

 

When I think back to the start of the pandemic, wearing masks, wiping down shopping, washing hands, and gelling hands, the slightest cough or sneeze was an instant terror that consumed me. Adding to that were the anxious thoughts about my own wellbeing and how my business would be affected by the pandemic; I was also consumed with worry about my daughter and her education. No wonder I, along with thousands of other people, felt scared and trapped.

 

At that time, most of my walks consisted of a couple of miles around the block near my home. The first lockdown was in spring/summer, so walks through the town past houses and parks didn't seem so bad. Yet, there was still a part of me that yearned for more. One day, I can't remember which, as they all seemed to roll into one, I suddenly remembered a place called King George Pool. A little lake hidden away in Altrincham surrounded by trees, flowers and wildlife near my home.

 

Within five minutes, our shoes were on, and we were ready for what felt like (at the time) the biggest adventure of our lives. 


Ducks ©Nicola Pass

When I arrived with my daughter for our afternoon stroll, I had no expectations of how I would feel. We were both excited to be outside on a warm sunny day as if we were visiting somewhere new, even though we had been there countless times before.

As soon as we took those first few steps along the little footpath surrounding the lake, I suddenly felt like I could breathe again. I felt so happy to be surrounded by nature, encapsulated by the trees, almost like we both entered a secret, magical land. In that moment, Covid felt like a distant memory.

 

As we continued to walk around the pretty lake, all of my senses were suddenly on high alert, taking in everything around me. The sights, the sounds, the smells. How it felt in that moment to be near water again. It sounds silly when I write about it, maybe even slightly dramatic, but when I think back to those days of feeling so trapped indoors, terrified of the unknown and worrying about how much worse the pandemic would get, the sense of feeling free walking around this little lake was euphoric. A reminder that the world was still turning and the realisation that maybe I had taken our green spaces for granted a little, as I was so used to them being a part of everyday life.

 

I've been on hundreds of walks, but none of them felt like what I was experiencing on this day. Watching the swans, ducks and birds casually floating on the water's surface. Bluebells hidden in a little patch away from the path with soft light illuminating their beautiful colours. The spring flowers proudly blooming on the trees. The size of the leaves by the water's edge. Squirrels rummaging, the local cat coming to say hello. The ducks watching nervously as you walk past them. The sounds, the smells. The gentle breeze swirling around me. 

Green became my new favourite colour that day. 

 

It's probably good to mention here that I'm a portrait photographer by trade. Landscape/nature photography was never something that I was interested in during my career, not even for personal work.

 

But on that day, something inside me told me I needed to return to capture all the magic I was experiencing around me.

 

A day or so later, I went back to the lake with my camera and unknowingly used all my senses again to see, feel, and hear what was around me. I'd brought my awareness into the present moment without even realising I was practising mindfulness. 

When it comes to everyday life, we tend to worry about several things at once, which can interfere with our ability to focus on the present moment. We function on autopilot and can become consumed by our thoughts, especially in stressful times. That morning, when I spent time walking around the lake taking photographs, I was distracted from all my anxious thoughts simply because I was present—my mind and body working together in harmony.


Heather ©Nicola Pass

Later that day, when I returned home and looked at the photographs, I felt like I had taken a little bit of happiness back with me. Each photograph brought back that feeling of calm and a sense of freedom.

 

It wasn't until a few weeks after my walk around the lake it dawned on me that I had been practicing a form of mindfulness. I'd never heard of mindful photography before, so I decided to research more into the subject. To my surprise, I found out it was actually a thing. Lots of other photographers talk about it; there are even mindful photography groups out there that people can take part in.

After the pandemic ended, I wasn't thinking of taking mindful photography any further; it was all about getting back to work and school and making up for lost time. I still practised when I could as I was aware of how beneficial it was to my mental and physical health.


Then, the second lockdown hit. This time was winter. This lockdown was hard. I mean, really hard. The short days and long nights. It was cold, with no leaves on the trees or summer flowers swaying in the soft breeze. More overwhelming worry about my daughter missing out on so much of her education. This one was going to be tough.

 

At that point, I realised I had to do something productive with my time, so I decided to research mindfulness and meditation more. When I look back now, I'm so glad I did. It's led me to so many new things, even starting new hobbies that I never thought I would see myself doing. All stemming from one day of walking around a little lake in Altrincham.


Swan ©Nicola Pass

I've always been aware of meditation practices, yoga, pilates, etc. I had only ever tried a pilates class once in my 20s with my mum, but I spent most of it trying not to laugh at the poses Mum was trying to get herself into. I also attended a meditation class in my 20s and, in all honesty, remember finding it really hard. I'd get about 10 different itches on my body. I wasn't comfortable with how I sat; I couldn't relax, and my mind felt like it was going at 100mph. I felt like it really wasn't for me. I suppose I wasn't fully educated on the practice, so I couldn't appreciate the benefits or understand them thoroughly enough to take them forward and use them regularly.

 

I'm now in my 40s and still find it difficult to practice many of the traditional methods of meditation; it's hard to control my thoughts and physical feelings. I went to a sound bath session recently. You lie down in a room under a warm blanket whilst listening to a lovely guided meditation and singing sound bowls. It took every part of my willpower to concentrate on her voice, but I would become easily distracted, especially when I heard other people snoring. Why am I not so relaxed that I fall asleep?! My back hurts. Did someone just fart??

 

I find practices that involve me physically doing something much easier.

 

No matter what works for you, mindfulness and meditation have so many benefits.

Mindfulness teaches us to slow down. It's a gentle way to focus our attention to the present, to observe, explore and experience the moment we find ourselves in. Did you know that practicing mindfulness helps to boost our immune system as well as our mental wellbeing? As well as the physical aspect of walking which has many health benefits.

Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention without judging the experience and staying aware of the current moment. It also means compassion and kindness toward yourself. It's paying attention with purpose.

 

We moved from Altrincham to a rural part of Cheshire in 2021, and this is when I fell in love. I fell in love with the landscape, the fields, and the farms. A trip to Scotland in 2021 sealed the deal. I had never felt so aware, so present, when admiring the stunning landscapes Scotland has to offer. Mindfulness was in full flow.


Yoga classes, gardening, journalling and walking up hills that I never thought I'd see the top of are just some of the new things I have discovered and still love doing since being introduced to mindful photography. I also spend less time on social media and more time reading books.

 

Most importantly I have become much more aware of my thoughts and feelings, I consciously take time out to rest. I try not to allow myself to become overwhelmed when life gets tough. I listen to my body a lot more and not just what's in my head.

 

Has this experience turned me into a magical being who can cope with everything life throws at me? No, not at all.

 

Do I have a lot more to learn? Yes.

 

Does it help me in everyday life, and will I carry on learning? Absolutely.



 

Learn more about Nicola in the Indie Business if the Month here!


Follow @mylittlephoto_diary on Instagram and Substack for more about mindfulness and photography and Nicola's professional account:

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