“Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.” ~Wayne Dyer
I am one of the millions of people in the world obsessed with photography. My camera is almost always with me, and when it isn’t, my trusty iPhone works pretty well.
But photography for me is much more than a fun hobby, and it is much more than taking pretty pictures that I can sell.
Photography helps me notice and appreciate my life.
I practice what is called a meditative or contemplative form of photography. It’s about being present and open to life as it is, without judgment. It’s about being open to what the world offers up to me rather than looking for a particular shot.
How can we be open to life without judgment? Isn’t judgment part of life?
Well, if we are photographing life as it is, there is no room for judgment. If we are photographing reality, it stands on its own.
We don’t have to label it interesting or boring, beautiful or ugly. What we perceive as beautiful or ugly is highly subjective and often prevents us from seeing the complexity, the wholeness of what is actually there.
Let’s face it. We don’t like to be judged. And we are complex people—interesting to some but not everyone, sometimes kind, generous, and compassionate, and sometimes not.
Rainy days are one example I like to use when it comes to judgment. How many times have you heard someone say what a terrible day it was because of the rain? I’ll bet we’ve all done it.
Rainy days can be inconvenient, interrupting our plans and causing our mood to match the gloominess of the day. Yet, rainy days are also necessary and nourishing, cleansing and cooling.
As someone who practices contemplative photography, I have learned to appreciate (almost) every day, rainy or not. I have photographed drops on leaves and reflections in puddles that are a wonder.
Rainy days actually make colors more vibrant. Too much light, especially harsh light tends to wash out color. Today, it is raining, and as I sit inside writing, I see fruit trees at the peak of fall color. It is magnificent to behold, a textural tapestry of green, yellow, orange, and red.
To notice these things makes me scrap any thoughts of the rain ruining my day.
What if when we wake up to a rainy day we were open to the possibilities of what we might see? It just might make our whole day different.
By letting go of judgment, I have been able to observe the artistic expression in graffiti, the abstract beauty in sidewalk cracks, and the incredible colors of rust.
I have learned to enjoy washing the dishes and making trips to the laundromat.
While standing in lines or being in crowds, I notice the unique expressions and stances of others, rather than the inconvenience.
I have learned to appreciate the value of death and decay.
The varied colors and shapes and textures of the food I eat every day makes me sit in awe.
Do you see what I’m getting at? All of these things have helped me to learn how to suspend judgment.
Now, I can look at the cranky sales clerk differently, wondering what is going on in her life and how maybe a kind word might jolt her out of it at least for a moment.
I look at the people I love and often take for granted. I notice the little gestures and expressions they make, and I forget about how they irritated me only a few minutes before. And, I appreciate that they love me, flaws and all, and forgive my mistakes.
Contemplative photography has had a profound impact on my life.
I still judge. I still have bad days. But learning to see with wonder and not judgment makes my days a lot more balanced.
If we look beyond our labels and judgments, there is a whole new world awaiting us. We expand our appreciation exponentially. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder and goes well beyond surface appearance.
Do you have to be a photographer to practice this way? No, but photographing what you notice is a way of acknowledging the moment, and it serves as a reminder of what you appreciated. A mental picture or writing in a journal works just as well.
How do you get started? Here are three ideas. Do one or all.
1. Take mindful photo breaks.
Set an alarm on your phone to go off at certain times during the day or take a few minutes during meal time to be present and notice what is around you in that moment—your food, who you’re with, the way the light is shining, etc. Acknowledge what you see with a photograph.
2. Take judgment breaks.
Notice when you are making a judgment and try to look at the situation differently. For example, how you judge the day when you wake up, when you experience a person who brings down your mood, when you’re stuck in a line, etc.
3. Take photo walks.
With no specific intention of what to shoot, see what comes up. Notice light, colors, textures, and shapes instead of things. How does that change your perspective?