Personal

Is being mindful of the present moment overrated?

As I drove to work the other day, I dreamed of my future.

I should have been paying closer attention to the road. When I got to work I realized I couldn’t remember anything about the drive. Oops!

60 mph

Canon FT QL, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FL, Fujicolor 200, 2013

I have always been a guy who ruminates about the past and frets over the future. It sometimes takes over my mind, robbing me of joy and peace. So I’ve learned some techniques around focusing on my breathing and letting thoughts and feelings pass through my mind without dwelling on them. It’s basic mindfulness. Maybe you do this, too; it’s become pretty popular in the last 20 years or so.

My favorite time to practice mindfulness is when I have a camera in my hands. I do break the rule about not judging thoughts and feelings, as I need that judgment to compose a pleasing photo. But everything else about photography is quiet and meditative for me.

This practice really helps me keep calm and not make mountains out of molehills. The benefits of mindfulness are clear for all. It can reduce anxiety and depression. It can help manage anger. It can even help people recover from addiction.

But a backlash appears to have started against mindfulness. Some now claim practicing mindfulness reduces our ability to properly judge reality, can create false memories and blunt our ability to latch onto positive thoughts, and for people with trauma histories it can even bring back painful memories and spur panic attacks.

I don’t think I’ve experienced any of this harm. I’ve certainly not panicked while practicing!

But aren’t there some useful things to do with this present moment that might not involve being present in this moment? Such as dreaming about the future? Planning for good things to come? Looking forward to what might be? I’ve surely been doing a lot of that as I anticipate my future with my new wife. We are, after all, getting married tomorrow!

Dreaming is a fine thing to do in this present moment. Just not while you’re driving.

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Personal

Finally appreciating autumn

Work has been consuming me lately and it’s left me with less time to write. It’s time for my annual meditation on autumn, but this year I’m getting this 2010 post out of the archives and running it again.

The coming of autumn has always made me grumpy. It means winter is around the corner, and I hate winter. But my ill temper was no match for last year’s drop-dead gorgeous autumn. It made me realize that all my life, as soon as the temperatures cooled and the leaves turned, winter began in my mind. Living in the future, I missed the joys of the present.

I trace my anti-winter bias to my kidhood. Autumn meant returning to school, relegating summer’s fun to memory. It’s funny how our youthful attitudes can linger long past their usefulness, but I still feel free in the summer and burdened in the winter. I’d rather wear shorts and T-shirts than layer sweaters and heavy coats. I’d rather mow the lawn than shovel the driveway (especially after shoveling my way out of the Blizzard of ’78). I’d rather open the windows than turn on the heat (and pay the bill).

But I’m finally able to enjoy autumn’s beauty, and it’s great.

Autumn at Turkey Run

My newfound appreciation of autumn can’t supplant my love of spring and summer. I will probably always feel a little sad the first day I have to wear a jacket and the first evening I drive home from work in the dark. But maybe I’ll accept these changes more easily now.

I am still going to hate winter, though!

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One of the most satisfying photos I’ve
taken is of an autumn sunrise. See it here.

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Stigma, style, and stamens

I buy cut flowers at the grocery store from time to time. I’m sure that the person who rings me up thinks I’m buying them for a girlfriend or a wife, but I’m currently unattached. I buy them for myself.

The Japanese have raised flower arranging to an art form. I think of it every time I place the flowers one by one into a vase. I aspire to beauty, but I have no idea what I’m doing. I just go about it quietly and mindfully. That’s the whole point, really – I buy flowers for myself when I need a little inner peace. Sometimes I stay in that place by photographing them, moving in close, looking for a beautiful composition. Such was the case this day. I leave it to you to decide whether I succeeded.

Photography

Captured: Stigma, style, and stamens

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Personal

Finally appreciating autumn

All my life, the coming of autumn has made me grumpy. It meant winter was around the corner, and I hate winter. But my ill temper was no match for last year’s drop-dead gorgeous autumn. It made me realize that all my life, as soon as the temperatures cooled and the leaves turned, winter began in my mind. Living in the future, I missed the joys of the present.

I trace my anti-winter bias to my kidhood. Autumn meant returning to school, relegating summer’s fun to memory. It’s funny how our youthful attitudes can linger long past their usefulness, but I still feel free in the summer and burdened in the winter. I’d rather wear shorts and T-shirts than layer sweaters and heavy coats. I’d rather mow the lawn than shovel the driveway (especially after shoveling my way out of the Blizzard of ’78). I’d rather open the windows than turn on the heat (and pay the bill).

But I’m finally able to enjoy autumn’s beauty, and it’s great.

Turkey Run

My newfound appreciation of autumn can’t supplant my love of spring and summer. I will probably always feel a little sad the first day I have to wear a jacket and the first evening I drive home from work in the dark. But maybe I’ll accept these changes more easily now.

I am still going to hate winter, though!

I learned the hard way that Indiana winters exact revenge when you duck them for warmer climates. Read the story.

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Photography

Captured: Early spring crocus

Early spring crocus

I was still living in the church’s parsonage in March, 2007, when I took this photo. I had just bought my Kodak EasyShare Z730 and was happily photographing all over the church grounds as I got to know my new camera. I’d been a member there for three years but had never noticed the bulb flowers blooming everywhere in the spring. When I went back inside, uploaded this photo into my computer, and looked at it at full size, I was astonished not only by the level of detail my camera was able to capture, but by how much detail this little flower offered. I had never really looked at a crocus before. How delicate was its bright orange stamen! How rich its purple petals!

I wondered what else I had not seen.

My camera has helped me see many other things I would otherwise have missed, such as historic homes on the Michigan Road past which I had driven every day for 10 years.

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Photography

Captured: Rose-Hulman spring morning

RH Spring Morning

As a boy, summer was my favorite season, but as I grew up spring began to overtake it. I remember well the day that spring clinched the top spot. It was the day before I took this photograph, one May morning in 1987.

These were my college days, and this was the view from my residence hall’s back door. I walked this way to breakfast every morning, my mind always preoccupied. But on this morning the scene shouted to me so I had to notice, and I stood there a few steps from the door startled and amazed by how beautiful the campus was. I realized I hadn’t even noticed spring as it arrived. I didn’t want to look away from the still pond, so lovely with all the reflected trees. For the first time I smelled the clean, sweet air, noticing how cool it felt on my arms in contrast to how the sun warmed my skin. I heard birds chirping in the distance and I wondered how many days it had escaped my notice. I felt elated and slightly dizzy, as you feel when you smell something strong but pleasant like fresh lavender, and I enjoyed the feeling for several minutes before I pushed on to breakfast.

The scene repeated itself the next morning. I went back to my room for my camera. I lingered longer that day.

You’d think that I’d always notice spring because I dislike winter so much. But even winter sometimes has its beautiful moments.

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