I was listening to a guided meditation by Sharon Salzberg a couple of days ago and I was struck by the simplicity of her instructions.
“See if you can focus on just one breath” she said.
Just One Breath
So I stopped trying to stop my monkey mind from doing what it does best, and just noticed the quality of my in-breath, how my nostrils opened slightly as the in-breath began, the air felt cool in my nostrils, and I felt the air drop into my lungs and my abdomen expand.
Then I noticed as my breath turned, and an out-breath began, how effortless it all was, how my abdomen contracted slightly, the feeling of the warm breath leaving my nostrils and the empty pause before my breath turned and became an in-breath again.
All of this happened with no effort on my part.
I don’t know about you, but my mind speeds ahead of me into the future or behind me into the past, playing out scenes, worries, imaginings, and stories, all the time.
“Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience. Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.”
― Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation
And much of life passes me by because I am so caught up in monkey mind that I do not notice what is.
My cat, Gracie, is a little mindfulness teacher. She notices the tiniest change in her environment and goes to explore it immediately. While I, in the words of Sherlock Holmes, “see but do not observe,” far too often.
As a photographer, if I am caught up in monkey mind and thoughts about what I should be doing or seeing, I often miss the moment and the essence of what it is I am photographing.
This happens to me a lot when I am making portraits of people.
“We often get caught up in our own reactions and forget the vulnerability of the person in front of us.”
― Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness: Change Your Life with Love & Compassion
I get caught up in wanting to please them, wanting them to think that I’m a “good” photographer, whatever that is. Once I contract into pleasing or worrying about being good enough, I lose so much of the potential of the session.
Reflecting later on many of my portrait sessions, I often think to myself, “I’m not a people photographer. It does not bring me joy.”
And then I realize that of course it doesn’t bring me joy when I’m caught up in ego-fraught worry and stories and totally missing the moment.
Today I have 4 portrait sessions scheduled. I am entering those sessions with the desire to be present in each moment, breath by breath.
Breath by Breath I Live
How about you? Can you focus on just one breath? Can you live breath by breath? Can you let the breath lead the way?
May you walk in beauty.
Note: the portraits in today’s post were made in a series of portrait sessions last weekend when monkey mind made me wonder if I was cut out for portrait photography – still wondering but letting go of that story and following my breath into today’s photo sessions.