I don’t often get up before six, even on a work day. So it has to be something special that gets me up at 5.45 to catch a train on a days leave. Last Thursday there was something special to do. My leave was booked three months in advance so I could spend a day on retreat in Oxford, with American mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg.
Sharon was one of the original 70’s dharma hippies. She travelled to India in 1970 to absorb the country’s buddhist spirituality. Forty three years later and, now a much-loved and respected author and Western Buddhist/mindfulness teacher, here she was talking “Fierce Compassion” in the echoey main hall of Oxford Town Hall.
I rarely come to Oxford, but fourteen years ago I bought Sharon’s book “Loving Kindness – the revolutionary art of happiness” from Blackwell’s the famous Oxford bookstore. Now I was listening to her in person, just a few streets from there.
In-between the silent meditations, Sharon explained how the heart-felt qualities of Loving Kindness and Compassion can be used as sources of strength in what most of us call “the real world”.
I work and spend a lot of my life in “the real world” so I often have to suspend my disbelief initially when I attend events like this. But as my mind quietens and naturally settles, it all begins to make sense again and I realise that the “real world” is often not so real at all.
In “the real world”, I work in the media and take photographs in those in-between moments we call spare time. My street photography blog is called Lunch Break Pictures (www.lunchbreakpictures.com) because I often find the only time I have for photography is during my lunch breaks. Having “an hour to capture the world” as the blog’s byline says, can be a blessing and a curse. I don’t come home with hundreds of images to sift through, but sometimes the images I do take are captured hurriedly, accompanied by a feeling of low-grade panic from the self-inflicted fear that I will go back empty-handed.
My day spent meditating and listening to Sharon Salzberg last week caused me to reflect on how unmindful I am a lot of the time and how, despite having fifteen years of Buddhist meditation practice under my belt, I still often compartmentalise my life to the detriment of awareness. So in a quest to de-compartmentalise (and at the risk of becoming even busier!) I have decided to start this blog dedicated to bringing the different aspects of my life together in mindfulness and compassion.
First off, I reflected on the photographs I have taken and which of them, if any, I could say were taken when I was feeling truly mindful. Perhaps not surprisingly the first images that popped into consciousness were landscapes taken amidst beautiful scenery – places obviously more conducive to meditation than busy urban streets….. Now there’s a challenge for me.
Here is one of those mindfully taken landscapes. I hope you like it and that we can walk together on this mindful journey of discovery.
Photographs and text © Miles Pilling