Photo Meditations

I’ve always enjoyed photography. I go through cycles of viewing life through the camera lens until my attention is shifted to other things, which causes me to push aside this practice. Eventually I am captivated by a view or a flower or an interesting photo on social media. Then I find myself reaching for my camera and resuming this spiritual practice.

I’m currently enjoying an eCourse by Susannah Conway called Photo Meditations 2015. This week I’m paying attention to lines and shapes and forms. Normal objects are transformed around me as I watch for these forms to appear in my camera lens. I completed Susannah’s April Love 2015 photo prompts earlier in the year and enjoyed the challenge of looking for those interesting views each day. It was fun to see how others interpret the prompts and inspire me with their discoveries. I like having a daily photo challenge to watch for as I go through the day.

I enjoyed Vivienne McMaster’s Be Your Own Beloved eCourse last year. I always learn new tips for taking photos in these courses. In addition to feeling more comfortable taking selfies, I was inspired by Vivienne to take Photo Walks on a regular basis, snapping photos of the things that captured my attention on that particular walk. I usually remember to do this when I go get my mail at the end of the driveway, so I often see the same limited number of objects to photograph around our property. That’s OK, because each season brings new perspectives.

Photography is a meditation practice. I find myself pausing to look closer at objects. As I take pictures, I see the details I normally rush past in the daily tasks. When I return from my walk, I review the pictures and share favorites with friends on Facebook, Instagram or Flickr. I sometimes use a beautiful shot as my screensaver on the desktop computer for further enjoyment.

My typical photo of choice tends to be nature shots. This eCourse is helping me see objects with a new perspective as I tilt the camera or zoom in for a close-up shot. Surprisingly, lines and shapes are all around me, forming interesting patterns. I like this shot of my piano. When I tilted the camera, I was amazed at all the lines I discovered. A good life lesson: Changing our perspective can bring new insights.piano linesThere are some great books on Photo Meditations. Howard Zehr’s Little Book of Contemplative Photography: Seeing With Wonder, Respect and Humility was my first introduction to photography as a spiritual practice many years ago. Eyes of the Heart:Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice by Christine Valters Paintner is a favorite resource of mine. It is full of practical tips and reflective questions. My newest find is Shooting with Soul: 44 Photography Exercises Exploring Live, Beauty and Self-Expression by Alessandra Cave. You can use it for inspiration with all the different prompts and ideas.

Do you spend time taking pictures as a spiritual practice on a regular basis? If you have not tried photography as a meditation practice, I would encourage you to give it a try. Notice the things that capture your attention and snap photos of them. Take a Photo Walk and look at the world through your camera lens. Look for interesting shapes and lines around your home.

Enjoy discovering the world through your camera lens this week!

Lentil stew

Here is one of my favorite recipes, adapted from my Grandmothers’ Inglenook Cookbook.

1 package brown lentils, washed and soaked in cold water for 1 hour
1 quart diced tomatoes
4 medium onions, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
4 medium carrots, diced
1 TBS minced garlic
1 cup chopped celery leaves and stems
1 lb browned ground beef (can substitute TVP for vegan option)
1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
salt, pepper or other spices to taste (ie. Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning)

Cook veggies until tender. Add drained lentils, ground beef and seasonings. Add enough water to cover ingredients in pan or crock pot. Simmer 1 hour to blend spices or on low crock pot for 8 hours.

Begin it now

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy,
the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative,
there is one elementary truth
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents
and meetings
and material assistance
which no man could have dreamed would come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Begin it now.
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Creating space to breathe

I have a confession. I still don’t have all the clean clothes and swimming suits put away from my vacation a few weeks ago. My husband’s birthday presents from his co-workers are sitting in a pile, waiting to find new homes. Today I tackled a month’s worth of mail, hoping there were no late bills. I held my breath until the last envelope was opened. Whew, I just made it under the wire.

Sometimes the clutter of life starts to pile up, limiting the space I normally have available to live life fully. It makes it hard to have breathing room for new things. When I finally get in the mood to “straighten up” the house, as Grandma used to say, I can find things quicker. I feel happier and energized with a clean, spacious living space. I breathe easier.

My physical body is like my house. I let it get cluttered with muscle tension and cramped for space to breathe. Some days I find myself hunched over my Zero Balancing table or my computer desk. You know the posture … shoulders slightly elevated, rolled forward and curled inward. This position makes deep breathing very difficult. Sometimes this posture becomes my “normal” posture for a few days, and eventually pain and discomfort appear in my neck, shoulder blades and chest. When I do pause to stretch or correct my posture, I find it difficult to stand up straight or take a deep breath. Eventually, I decide it’s time to “straighten up” my posture. I find my body feels happier and I can breathe deeply. My body becomes more spacious.

So how do I create this breathing space in my home and my body?

One idea that seems to work for me for decluttering my living space is to spend a few minutes each evening, picking up things from the day and putting them back where they belong. When I take time for this small task, I spend less time looking for lost papers the next day. I feel happier when I can see the bottom of my dining room table. I enjoy the spaciousness of my space. I feel like I can breathe.

One way to create breathing space in my body is to stretch the tight muscles in my chest area (the pectoral muscles) and learn to breathe deeply in this corrected postural pattern. I have to create that breathing space by stretching out the tight muscles and releasing the restrictions that clutter my body. Here is a video that describes using a towel roll behind your spine, to open up the chest cavity while doing some simple breathing. When I do this simple Chest Stretch with towel roll, (click here) I create space to breathe deeply in my chest cavity. I feel happier and more relaxed. My body feels more spacious.

Whenever I “straighten up” and create open space in my living area or my body, I find I can breathe easier and move with greater ease. I feel good. A few moments each day can make a big difference in my breathing space.

What do you do to create breathing space in both your life and your body?

Three beautiful things

I have a friend who often posts her list of “three beautiful things” on social media as a gratitude practice. She inspires me to practice gratitude, even if I don’t always post those things for the world to see.

Gratitude boosts your immune system and elevates your mood by dumping ‘good feeling’ chemicals in your body. It gives your body a chance to rest and digest, instead of being on alert in our typical fight or flight mode.

It is not HAPPY people who are THANKFUL.  It is THANKFUL people who are HAPPY. (author unknown)

Here are my favorite ways to practice gratitude:

  • Write three things I’m thankful for in my journal each day. i like to do this at the end of the day.
  • Use a blank calendar as my Gratitude list. Write things each day I am grateful for.
  • Post three things on social media that make me happy. I can do this daily, weekly or for a month at a time.journal

When I spend time focusing on the beautiful things in life, I find I have a positive outlook on other aspects of my day. It also bubbles over to others. If you are not already using gratitude as a daily practice, I encourage you to try it for the rest of this month.

My three beautiful things I celebrate today are:

  • A birthday: my dear husband.
  • An anniversary: 29 wonderful years! (June 21)
  • A funeral: remembering a creative aunt.

What is on your list of three beautiful things in your life?

Missing in Action

It started with a computer crash last month. With limited internet connection via my cell phone, it was easy to leave most of the email and Facebook messages unread. My expectations for restoration did not sync with the computer guy’s time constraints, so I shifted my focus to the upcoming vacation.

The rush of packing and attending to the pre-vacation details kept me occupied for the few days before Departure Day. I took care of the necessary bills and phone calls, leaving a long list to follow up with on return.

The vacation itself was wonderful. Quality family time. An abundance of fresh tropical fruits and foods that delighted our taste buds. Floating in the pool, sipping lemonade all day long. Walking along the beach after dinner. Sleeping in or rising early to catch the sunrise at the beach. Six glorious days of rest and relaxation.

Sporadic WiFi forced us to focus on the important communication about travel plans and updates from home. And of course I had time to upload a few wedding photos with the bride and groom at the pool and on the beach, because that was why we were here. It was our turn to let the Facebook community know we were having a fun vacation in a tropical place.

I wasn’t sure if it was the heat, the food, the bus ride or the long day trip that began the slow decline. It started with a vague headache. Then a lack of appetite. The ginger ale on the plane ride home did not settle the stomach. By the time I arrived home, I barely had enough energy to unpack the car and crawl into bed.

I’ll spare you the details of the next week, other than to say I spent most of the time horizontal. Each day I had about two or three hours when I managed to run a few errands or see a few clients. Each time, I felt slightly hopeful, before sinking back into the void. Amazing what those pesky little parasites can do to a person. It makes me think twice about another trip to Mexico anytime soon.

Early this week the computer guy managed to get a working computer in place and recover my files. I have not had the energy to look at them other than to confirm they were there waiting for me. It’s been a month already, so what’s a few more weeks?

I’m gradually regaining strength. I’ve caught up with two (out of 14+) days worth of emails and eCourses. I’m giving myself permission to do this at my own pace. This post has been percolating in my head for the last few days, waiting for another burst of energy for it to move beyond thoughts to actual words on a page.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What lessons did I learn this month?

• Don’t eat the lettuce or brush your teeth with tap water in Mexico. It’s not worth it.
• I want to be less connected to technology than before this month-long hiatus.
• Take one day at a time. Better yet, take one hour at a time. One step at a time.
• Focus on the important things in life. The rest really doesn’t matter in the long run.

Time to slowly resume life.