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Slow Down: A lesson in appreciating life more, and better dealing with stress

October 14, 2015

To be a landscape photographer, I must hone my ability to focus and temporarily exclude stresses and worries of my everyday life, including any current distractions around me. I must concentrate on what is happening within the frame of my composition, primarily at the present moment, while secondarily remembering what has just occurred, which helps me anticipate what might happen in the near future. I must first identify the elements I want to include, then arrange each element to clearly tell my story, making sure there are no technical or compositional mistakes that would distract the viewer from seeing the composition as I intended. If there are changing elements within the scene, such as the waves in these photographs, I must recognize the temporal patterns as well.

Being mindful helps me to focus mentally as well as physically.

What is more, if I am to create images that go beyond mere recordings — images capable of eliciting emotional responses from my viewers — I must be cognizant of my own feelings and responses to what I’m photographing. To do this requires a dramatic slowing down. When I make photography trips, it takes a day or two to sufficiently put on the brakes.

Then something magical happens. I start seeing relationships. Patterns appear. Rhythms, lines, colors, textures, all the elements making up my compositions gradually emerge from what had previously appeared as chaos. Within this quiet setting, I’m also more aware of my place within the environment. Often, when I set up to make an image, another composition reveals itself from the same location, simply because I’ve paused long enough to see what is around me.

Clearly, photography is not the only way to reach this state of concentration. Think of slowly savoring every bite of a gourmet meal. Making music, gardening, and many other activities allow us to isolate ourselves for a period of time, and enter into a different state of mind.

This mindset may not be without its own stresses. When I’m waiting for wind to stop blowing, or hoping the sky will clear before the sun sets, when I’m selecting a lens for a once in a lifetime photograph, I am certainly feeling stress — but it is a good stress. In this situation, I’m in control of what can be controlled, and can overcome challenges within my abilities. I feel an adrenaline rush, and all my senses wake up as I embrace the moment with a heightened emotional response, followed by an awareness of my surroundings. I’m like a shortstop who must execute a double play to win a game, as he is waiting for the pitch to be thrown. This is what I’ve trained for, and I’m ready!

When things that are beyond control don’t go as I’d hoped, I can easily accept that nature’s random patterns did not play out in my favor, and I may simply have to settle for having a wonderful outing.

Allowing yourself time to slip away into a state of “quiet mind” each day certainly has its benefits. But are there also lessons from this that we can apply when someone triggers unhealthy stress, by doing something unfair, harmful, or irrational?

More and more, we are recognizing that we can sometimes deal with this kind of stress by noticing how we are reacting to the stress and choosing our response. Our response may be as simple as changing how we perceive it. Can we rename it, re-categorize it, view it in a way that transforms it from something incapacitating, into something familiar — something we know we have the skills to handle?

Renaming a bad stress as a recognizable good stress allows us to regain our equilibrium, then confidently and rationally work through the problem. Either we can come up with a way to solve it, or if it is unsolvable with our skill set, we can seek help from others. If we recognize neither option is possible, then removing ourselves from the situation is far better than getting beaten up fighting an unwinnable battle! The more we practice this, the more agile we become at identifying and dealing with stress in a positive way.

Every time we overcome something that would have previously left us feeling worn down and depressed, we achieve a self-confidence-boosting victory, strengthening our ability to better deal with the
next challenge. 

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The Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing blog covers a range of integrative health and wellbeing topics. For more information about our blog, contact us at csh@umn.edu