Zen Camera 2

Tai Chi practice
Tai Chi practice, a moving meditation to still the mind

An Open Mind

There’s a definite link here from the Daily Practice of shooting anything that catches your eye. Something catches your eye? Take a shot. Don’t stop to think, just snap it. This is moving towards the Zen state of the uncluttered mind. It is called Mushin in Zen meditation. But you don’t need to be someone who meditates regularly in order to get the most out of this book and these ideas. There are other ways get into a state of mind that will enhance your photography.

Escape the tyranny of the ‘urgent’
We have all experienced the sense of overload that modern living brings. So many things vying for our attention – sounds, images, mental To-Do lists, emails, TV and radio. Add to that the constant pull of social media and keeping up with the news, our friends, the latest video to go viral. The stream of interference is like constant chatter in our ears and eyes – and into our brains. Turn off your mobile phone, turn off the Wi-Fi and there is an uneasy sense that you are isolated, cut-off from the world. According to researchers we are spending more and more time living through a computer screen (whatever the screen size) and that means less and less time to encounter the real world around us.

The Quiet Mind
If we want to photograph the real world around us, we need to spend more time in it – and nowadays that means taking conscious steps to interrupt our normal crowded ‘noisy’ lives – to turn it off so we can see clearly and with fresh eyes. We need to be alone, not just physically alone, but away from the intrusion of the everyday world. We need a quiet mind that can allow us to live in the moment, and see, hear, smell, touch and enjoy what is all around us. It is the kind of stillness and peace that allows us to see clearly and simply through the lens, and without the lens.

And that might mean that we spend a whole lot of time just ‘being’ in the place we want to photograph. Just sitting and looking, relaxing and breathing, can be as valuable as the time spent shooting. So many photographs say little except ‘I was here’. But there is so much more to say. We can begin to discover our own ‘voice’, our own ‘eye’ – by developing an ‘open mind’ and the subtle exchange an open mind allows, between the photographer and the photographed. That is what makes wonderful photographs!

Artists know that what they paint reveals as much about themselves as about the subject. Photography is no different – it is about you as much as about what you are shooting! [This theme of looking inwards and looking outwards is followed in the section called Mirrors and Windows (link) ]

But first let’s follow up on the quest for the quiet, open mind. There’s a lot of talk of ‘mindfulness’ online, with guided meditations to follow. It is the latest descriptive way pointing to the ancient quest for Mushin, ‘no mind’, as Zen Buddhism describes the perfect stilling of the busy minds we all have. There are many ways to help you move towards the ‘quiet mind’ – my own favourite is Tai Chi, which is a moving meditation focusing both body and mind on the slow, ritual movements of the ‘Form’. The little figurine at the top of this page is performing Tai Chi. Other senses are used in other meditative rituals: incense, bells and chanting a mantra. Many systems use beads both to count and to focus the attention.

A Japanese prayer bell
A Japanese prayer bell. So many meditations use sound, and especially the sounds of bells.

To incorporate a regular system into your daily life is immeasurably positive in all manner of ways … but if that is not possible there are other ways that the quiet mind can be encouraged by the photographer ….

reflections and the breeze
Just looking and listening as the breeze ruffles the water and laps against the rocks

Sound is an important element.
Sitting or walking by water is powerful. The gentle sound of waves lapping against the seashore or lake-shore, breaking against the rocks – a rhythmic sound that is close to a mantra. And a beautiful place to capture with your camera too.
Or the wind rustling through the leaves of tall trees, a gentle, rhythmic sound again.

setting sun at Banff
Watching the sun setting at Banff Bay, and hearing only the natural sounds of sea, wind and sea birds.

Sight is another sense that can stimulate the calm we seek.
Watching a sunset. It takes time and stillness to just sit and watch the progress of the light as the sun moves towards the horizon. Just sitting and absorbing the slow changes … not photographing, but just becoming part of the experience. Clouds can offer the same slow and gentle, absorbing experience as they move across the sky. Lying on the grass, and watching the stately movement of clouds can still the mind and clear it of the ‘noise’ of everyday life.

The sun on my Zen garden
Still and white-topped, covered in snow, it ‘speaks’ visually

And this leads into the next section. Most of the ‘noise’ that is in our heads is words, we think in words, so much of the ‘chatter’ is us talking to ourselves, and what we want to achieve is to see. To paraphrase the song – “I can see clearly now the rain has gone” – for the photographer it might read – “I can see clearly now the words have gone”.
So, on to “Show – Don’t Tell”
Back to the Zen Camera cover page

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© 2019 Elisa Liddell