This weekend I attended a workshop called Mindful Photography. I really had no idea what to expect. This is the first workshop I’ve ever been to and was pleasantly surprised to find I wasn’t going in feeling nauseous about being around a bunch of strangers. I missed my turn onto the highway on the drive in, because I was rocking out to the radio, and arrived last, but not late.  There were the two workshop leaders, Kaye-Lee and Robin, two women, a man and a teenage girl. I also noticed a plate of muffins and cookies, which made me happy, and a dish of olives, to which I was indifferent. I sat down between the two women.  I think the main reason I didn’t feel nervous was because I made the assumption, correct or not, that anyone signing up for this workshop wasn’t going to be the type to be judgmental about the other attendees. I mean, obviously we’re there to learn and share, so I used my technique of  just ‘telling myself‘ that this is an accepting environment and went happily from there.

The idea of the workshop was to make us aware of our inner chatter, to then notice that chatter and, after discussing mindfulness, to practice letting go of our distracting self-talk. We used photography, not as a way to express ourselves, but to access what happens inside us. Kaye-Lee described the camera as a porthole to our inner selves.

The room held a table covered in random items. Our first exercise was to choose two items to photograph: one that we liked, and one that we didn’t like. Afterward, we shared our experiences. The items we chose stirred up emotions – connections to childhood, strong feelings about injustices, frustrations about technical aspects of photography, creative thoughts and the desire to take a good photo. Essentially, it created inner chatter. I’ll tell you about mine and show you my photos.

A little aside…..I tend to be drawn to visually simple things. I always preferred the colouring books with the thick black outlines to the ones with more detail. This usually translates into anything I create. As much as I may like the idea of a collage, I’m afraid the end result might make me lose my mind. Also, my goal in taking a photo is often to create or capture something that holds significance to me.

Here are the items on the table we had to choose from.

Item table.....

More items...

The item I liked was a marble carving of a woman. I put her in a few different places, different types of light and took some shots. Here’s my first shot using natural light.

One of my first shots of my 'like' object. Just so you can see her straight on.

Then, I took her into Kaye-Lee’s office, which has a lovely cozy atmosphere, to see what I could come up with. I had the idea of perching her on the edge of the bookcase and taking the shot from below. I wanted to show the idea of ‘putting her on a pedestal’. When I looked through the camera, I saw something that was not merely significant to me, but was a reflection of something that had been part of my life for a very long time.  She was up high, put there, sitting there, resigned, faceless and unknown,  keeping close to herself, on the edge, while being watched, monitored,  judged, analyzed, defined from an even higher place by, quite ironically, a two-dimensional face.

This photo amazes me. It is, in 3.3 MB, a summary of how I felt for most of my adolescence and adult life.

Although this stirred up some significant stuff for me, I was quite excited and happy to have discovered this shot. This stuff isn’t anything I didn’t already know was there. I’ve identified it and me and my stuff visit each other from time to time.  I just love this photo. Which, I think, is a good thing. It’s good that I don’t hate it.

Then I took this one….just to see what it’s like.

So....this is what it's like being way up here. It's kind of hard to really see her from up here, isn't it? ISN'T IT?!?! Yeah.

I know. “Wow, she’s angry.” Sure. But that’s ok. I’m also happy. And excited about life. So it’s all good.

I chose a Bratz doll as the item I disliked. I was a Star Wars action figure kind of kid and have always frowned upon the image that Barbie and Bratz type toys project onto girls. So I chose this fancy, highly made up toy that I thought I completely didn’t identify with. I picked her up and smoothed her hair and was surprised to find myself feeling sorry for her in place of the disdain I expected.  Instead of finding a way to make her photo represent why I disliked her and her kind, I instead wanted to be nice to her. Plus I liked the way her hair was tied back. Mine just doesn’t do that quite the same way. She’s no Han Solo, but I guess she’s ok.

Here she is, the poor thing, posing in front of a window looking out on Kingston traffic on a rainy day.

THEN I noticed the beach glass and had to play with it.

Beach glass - I used to call them pebbles when I was little. I absolutely love this stuff. It's probably one of my favourite things.

After everyone was finished, we talked about how we felt and what we thought about during the process. We noticed and acknowledged the self-talk and chatter that was going on in our minds throughout. My chatter involved the quality of the photo I was taking, whether or not I knew what I was doing, was anyone else looking at what I was doing, and my reactions to the objects I chose. It was fascinating to listen to others people’s experiences. Partly, I was loving the fact that everyone was willing to talk and share their thoughts, a very personal thing. There was such a difference in the way we experienced the same exercise. It was a bit of an eye opener. Robin, one of the leaders, described a situation where a puppy runs into the room. One person may react joyfully, another may be annoyed at the owner allowing the dog to run loose, another may be reminded of a childhood puppy and feel sad. Same puppy, completely different reactions to it.

I will try to identify when situations in life are potential ‘puppies’ running into the room and be aware of the fact that we all experience things differently.

Next, Kaye-Lee led us through a breathing centered meditation that involved us inhaling deeply, exhaling deeply and not breathing for a short period of time. No one was crazy about the breath holding part, but when we were finished, she asked us what happened to our chatter during the exercise. We were a little surprised to note that it was gone. This is part of the value not only in meditation, but in just stopping and taking a deep breath once in a while. When we focus on our breath, the chatter stops and there can be stillness.

Then we were allowed to get at those cookies. While I was eating the delicious Carrot Curry Coconut Soup, I considered taking a photo of it for you, but then I would have had to stop eating it. It looked something like this…

After our lovely lunch, we did another photography exercise. We just had to choose an object and photograph it while being mindful of our inner chatter. If we noticed it starting, we were to let it go. This time I went for the beach glass and some little tags I noticed. Here are my pics….

Sigh. Beach glass.

After this exercise, we compared notes again and most of us (excluding me) found that they had much less chatter. I was, however, able to allow my chatter to pass easily, so that was a good thing. Another meditation exercise helped us to work on training our minds to allow our chatter to flow through and out and to find stillness in its place.

This being a new experience for me, I have to say that I’m proud of myself for trying something new, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in the presence of people that are willing to share themselves with others – not just at this workshop, but in my life. If you’re reading this, then I’m also thankful for you and that you’re sharing this with me too.

During the workshop, there was a lot of discussion and Kaye-Lee and Robin shared a lot of great stuff that I want to share as well….but this post is long enough, so I’ll write another and just kind of throw down the tidbits that spoke to me and that I think will speak to you.