This is not some fluffy post about inner peace. It’s not a guide. It’s an attempt to establish links between both activities and derive useful suggestions for our hobby.
Let’s begin by saying I’m not trying to convince anyone to start meditating. Meditators know for a fact what effect the practice has on their lives. Others can try for themselves, it’s free and open to all 🙂
But I would like to establish a somewhat scientific link between that feeling of flow I often mention, and which systematically provokes a knee-jerk reaction in a large part of the photo community, and meditation. If only to explain that both are repeatable, scientific processes, with predictable results, not the near-mystical voodoo that some online shops and self-proclaimed gurus would like to peddle 😉
I’ll keep it short.
Our mind is not unlike an operating system. Dozens of tasks are happening simultaneously. Bodily sensations, spontaneous thoughts, outside events and noises all create streams of information processed by the brain.
Unlike an OS in which the user dictates what process (a specific app, eg) should take center stage, the decision to focus our attention on one or another of those streams escapes our conscious will. Eons of survival skills, education, and the events of the moment dictate what our brain focuses on at any time of the day. Imagine how long you would survive if you had to control all those processes yourself and had to consciously tell your lungs to fill up and empty every moment of your life, yikes.
Meditation trains the mind to give you, its rightful owner and user, a lot more control on what it is it’s devoting most energy to, at any give time 😉
Flow is a state of mind during which you are able to focus almost exclusively on one thing. The link with meditation should be quite clear, from this. But flow can develop naturally without sitting on a cushion, lighting incense and listening to 528Hz angelic music from Youtube 😉
More interesting than this fake cliché is the fact that meditation teaches you to focus intensely on one thing, while retaining perfect awareness of the rest of the world. You do not focus on a medication subject (very often, your breath) by shutting down all other stimuli, itches, fear anger, noises, but in the context of those things; that is being well aware of them (a.k.a. mindfulness) and keeping your conscious awareness on the breath.
Likewise, in flow, your focus is on your knitting, painting, essay, photography, equations … but your mind remains completely open to ideas and thoughts. Read accounts of major scientific discoveries and you’ll be surprised at how many ideas “pop-up” in to the mind of the Einsteins of the world. Would any of these have popped like a weasel if said minds had erected high walls all around their main area of focus?
In photography, you’re either a professional, living from “getting shots” and relying on gear to help as much as possible with that, or an amateur relying on flow to make images that match your feelings of the moment and enjoy the joy of success more than the image itself. The alternative is to rely on gear to create that intense feeling of achievement, with predictably dire results.
An alternative that represents what, 98% of the market? 😉
Here’s the link with meditation. In a state of flow with a camera in your hand, ideas for images are constantly popping into your mind. You train to recognise the good ones (that’s experience and feedback training your intuition over time), and you train to transform the idea into an actual image (that’s what’s referred to as learning photography). You need to be able to maintain flow while remaining open to the through processes allowing you to recognize good shots and how to make them.
Now, invariably, when I mention flow, it’s in the same sentence as a recommendation for a camera such as the Pixii, the Hasselblad X1D or the Mamiya 7 😉
But that’s just me! You often hear that gear doesn’t matter, right?
For masters of the craft, gear doesn’t matter. Because they have trained to recognize good opportunities, they have trained to transform inner vision into real-life image, and because they have trained to focus beyond the grasp of good or bad gear. For mere mortals, the task is a lot harder and my recommendation stands.
However, there is good news.
In meditation, there is no hard technique to learn or master, no karmic predisposition to inherit, no darshan to receive. You focus, you lose focus, you bring back focus gently, and gradually, you spontaneously become much better at it. Automatically. The process is the sucess. That’s why I feel that Nike’s slogan “Just do it” is the most powerful, inspiring, and essential in the history of branding.
Likewise, if custom buttons, peeling faux-leather (my veins still pop at that one), unfathomable UI, noise, bugs, …, get you out of flow, just get back into it gently and you’ll eventually get better at working with any gear 🙂 So, if you enjoy using a camera that would make my brain curdle (and don’t worhsip the camera but focus on image making) the basic principles of meditation should ensure you can still “get into the groove” 🙂
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