by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
One of the most surprising compliments I’ve ever received is when a reader of my Help and Healing for Parents of Estranged Adults website thanked me for the nature photos and said she identified with them. Her words made me take a closer look. All but a very few of the photographs here and at that site were taken by me—most using a smartphone. And rather than take specific photos for each article, I usually match up existing pictures from among the random shots already taken on my morning walks.
I’ve been practicing for years what is known as “mindful photography.” Put simply, it’s the act of attuning awareness in a practice that captures the present.
My photos and my most recent book illustrate that I’m drawn to nature, particularly as it changes. Images that capture the spent blooms that have fallen in a colorful blanket at the base of a tree, the possibility held in fresh spring bud, or the opportunity to start again that’s evident in greenery that has gone to seed. These things generate a sense of meaning for me. A connectedness to life and the earth around me, and to the regenerative rhythms of nature that feed my soul.
Taking photographs trains the eye to be mindful and figuratively seizes the moment. Mindfulness in general helps us derive nonjudgmental understanding and meaning in our lives. But mindful photography provides a unique perspective that can be enjoyed in the present, and as I’ve discovered, provides insight even later.
Summer is often full of action, adventure, and even chaos. The longer days lend themselves to extra events. There may be pressure to complete some good-weather project because we only have so many days. I see that urgency reflected in the hundreds of bees that gather at my pond on summer days. They walk the lily pads and drink from their tiny pools of water. They’re working while they can. Taking advantage of the season just as people do. While we may love the bright sunlight and extra activities, they can also make us weary.
One afternoon, I was drawn to a lone bee, sipping in a quieter spot. I observed the insect, listened to its mellow hum as it moved about in a bird bath, and enjoyed its presence. Then a few days later, as a summer of projects and activity wore on, my photographs of that bee brought a deeper, more personal meaning that provided me with helpful insight. That’s one of the things that makes mindful photography so special.
In my book, Done With The Crying, I recommend awareness of emotional triggers. For parents estranged from adult children, these might be times of the year that remind them of loss. Maybe that’s the back-to-school season, as I wrote about several years ago in this article. Or it could be birthdays, holidays, or other significant dates. Awareness allows for planning, and the self-care that’s vital for our peace. Triggers, though, can be tricky things. And some you may not even recognize or expect.
For all its business and fun, this summer has also been chaotic. As August wore on, and things settled down, I felt physically and mentally spent. Some of you noticed that I hadn’t updated my sites or sent a newsletter and you asked if I was okay (thank you).
I was okay. I am okay. But it wasn’t until looking through some of my photographs that I understood. In revisiting that one lone bee, I felt a connection. I identified with its need to sip by itself. To escape to a quieter place, and rest. Even the most productive of people need time off. Each of us needs time and space to regroup, reconnect with oneself, nature, a higher power . . . to fill the well and find new energy.
For all my self-awareness, I’d forgotten to be kind to me. To provide myself with care. Self-care can elude us because we’re not used to giving to ourselves, because we feel guilty for putting our own needs first, fear we’ll disappoint those who count on us, or for whatever reason.
In retreating from the chaos and providing myself with a little rest, I realized something else: That summer holds some emotional triggers that I’d forgotten. Past events that maybe I didn’t deal with thoroughly when they occurred. It’s nothing necessarily earth-shattering or related to estrangement, but the effects of hurts can be cumulative. That’s why this realization is so important. The realization helps me to take care of myself. It will help me next year, too. I’ll be ready to physically and spiritually nurture and tend to the hiccups of those old wounds rather than bury them in the busyness of summer. Parents of estranged adult children or anyone (we have all suffered hardships and possibly have emotional triggers) can benefit from a change of pace.
Among my catalog of casual snapshots kept in a digital folder, I can almost always find something that fits. I’m drawn to capture what speaks to me in the moment even if only at face value. My innermost being seems to know intuitively what’s there, even when I’m not aware of what I seek. That’s why that lone little bee drew me in, and it wasn’t until looking at those photos of it later that I understood the wisdom that moment held.
Consider mindful photography. Don’t get hung up on the definition, judge yourself for the quality of your photos, or what you choose to take. Just spend a few minutes with your smartphone or other camera, find what speaks to you in the moment, and enjoy. As you do, attune yourself to the present, observe what you’re drawn to, and make a mental note of what you think and feel.
Later, think back to those moments. Let your photographs remind you. If you find any insights, I’d love to hear.