For the longest time, I have held this idea that mindfulness practice was all about how much time I spent in seated meditation. Of course, I also cultivated mindfulness practice using walking meditation and mindful eating. But for me, it was always about sitting — about getting into the correct posture and continually returning to the breath. Holding this idea worked for many years (until it didn’t). In time, I finally realized that all of life is practice, not just sitting and breathing on the cushion.
Now let me ask you, besides seated meditation, what other activities do you routinely engage with mindfully? What other aspects of life contribute to your spiritual growth and wellbeing?
Recently I discovered that my passion for photography is just another aspect of mindfulness practice. For me, it’s all about reconnecting with the pure sensory experience of seeing — seeing things directly as they are instead of how this mind thinks they are. As the Buddha teaches in the Bāhiya Sutta:
“You should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. … When there is for you only the seen in reference to the seen … then there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.”
Practicing photography with this view in mind means simply seeing the light, shadows, shapes, patterns, and colors that contribute to lived experience (instead of naming, labeling, liking, disliking, and telling stories about what these eyes perceive). It’s about getting out of my own way and letting go of the “I” and all that is connected to the “I”. When I can be with the simple bare awareness of seeing — to see only the seen — then I can fully connect with the visual richness of this world.
For me, photography is much more than simply pressing the shutter button and capturing an image. It’s more about cultivating present moment awareness and learning how to see reality as it truly is in that moment. If you think about it, seeing is the absolute fundamental basis of photography. Seeing is also a fundamental way we engage with our lives. So the next time you find yourself taking a picture, take a moment and connect with the pure sense of seeing. See if you too can use photography as a means of cultivating mindfulness.
By Rev. Kyle Sorys, MDiv.