Mindful Environments

I’ve been practicing mindfulness and vipassana meditation for the past four years, and I’ve become increasingly fascinated in the intersections of present-moment awareness and photo documentation.

Being present vs. documenting. Are they really in conflict with each other?

I’ve met many people on the two opposing sides of this dichotomy. I have those hiking friends who are natural beauty enthusiasts, and they tell me that they’ve never been and probably never will be a photographer. They don’t enjoy taking their camera out because they think it “cheapens” the already beautiful moment. Then, there’s my “digital native” friends who, without much contemplation, take photos of most things they encounter, quickly moving from subject to subject and on to the next beautiful thing they deem worthy of documentation.

Over the past few years, my meditation practice has helped me become more intellectually engaged with my photography. I knew I wanted to practice a “middle path” between present-moment awareness and my love for documentation. Was it possible to get to the point of being present when I was documenting? Would this translate through my photography?

At first, I would catch myself (not always, of course) just a split second before I habitually pulled out my camera to document something. And then I would fill this gap with a few moments of peaceful observance and gratitude for my surroundings. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of the environment. I took a deep breathe and smelled the air. I admired the color palette in front of me. I took time to soak it all in, knowing that I’d never see this place or environment in this exact same way ever again.

And just like how meditation has helped me simply observe fleeting emotions rather than reacting to them immediately, I’ve gotten better at allowing myself to be deep in the present moment with my surroundings. And then, when it feels right, I slowly take my camera out to document the environment as a “thank you.”

This is a collection of my most recent “mindful environments.” What may look like landscape photos on the outside are really my mindful self-portraits on the inside.

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