Tuesday, April 17

shoot early, shoot often: iPhoneography as a mindfulness practice

Each evening, after tucking into bed, I grab my iPhone,  review the pictures I took that day, and choose one for posting to my Project 365. And here's something that I notice, over and over again: for each day, there are either a ton of pictures, or hardly a handful. Feast or famine.

If I look closer at the days in which lots of pictures were taken, I notice that the shooting began early in the day. Maybe there is a shot of my mug of coffee, or of the way the light streamed through the bedroom windows. But it tends to go like this: a small moment of pausing and noticing early on will usually lead to many more such moments during the day.

Conversely, if I look in between the few shots taken on an image-poor day, what I'll see is a busy blur, a day in which there is little room for breath, for grounding. A day unobserved, as it were.

There will be days of smooth flow and fulfillment, and days of utter hair-pulling frustration on either end of the spectrum. There isn't a direct correlation between happy days and lots of images taken, and vice versa. Some very challenging days end up being well documented. Those are days when I have paused to appreciate the beauty lurking in the chaos and confusion of life with a toddler.

And that is the main point: the pausing. In my kitchen, I have a blackboard on which I have written remember to pause. I face it when I stand to prepare food, which is several times a day. I wrote it there as a shorthand, a mantra, to remind myself of these powerful words by Pema Chodron:

Before trying to get back on solid ground by following the habitual chain reaction, you can pause and breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out. Never underestimate the power of this simple pause.
This simple pause, that moment to breathe and notice and ground myself in what is happening in front of me: that is what I get when I take a moment to fish out my camera, fire up my favorite app (here is another mindfulness practice: being patient while waiting for Hipstamatic or Cameramatic to load!), and snap. What I buy with that gesture is a chance to reframe my point of view, to see the beauty in the difficulty, and to appreciate the gift of the present moment.

The above picture is a great example. These days, my toddler is a wily and picky eater. He scorns the food I offer, subsists on bananas, cheese, grapes and crackers or, as my friend put it, "on love and air." This new struggle is unexpectedly vexing to me. I'll be honest: it's driving me round the bend. The picture you see is the aftermath of a tenuous and losing battle to get food into my kid, the array of bright plastic dishes he spurned. But by taking the time to photograph the scene, to see the bright colors and shapes, I changed the story of that moment. It is now a thing of beauty; the image, a reminder of what was real about my life that day. The picture becomes a document of my being mindful in a moment in time. Mindfulness means a moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness of what is happening in front of you. Without my camera, without the trained habit of looking for light and shapes and colors that photography taught me, I doubt that moment would have seen such transformation.

And so, add another mantra to my list: shoot early, and shoot often. To document the days and moments of my life, yes. To share with family and friends and Instagram, yes. But shooting mostly as a way of training my eye to see, and of teaching myself to pause long enough to breathe, to choose to be present, to attend to what is before me. Never underestimate the power of simply pausing to press the shutter. Click.


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