Meditation

| August 19, 2013

Here’s a bit of advice you may not see in too many other places: meditation will make you a better photographer. In fact, it may very well make you a better, happier person. I have given this advice in private to several people but generally refrained from making it public, knowing that it may color some people’s perception. I’m hardly a “new age” type of person, and do not attach any religious significance to my meditation. I practice it because it works.

One reason it works, and the reason I decided to finally write about it publicly is a post I saw this morning on NPR about some of the perils of multitasking. This should not be news to some, but multitasking can be the bane of creativity. Moreover, the vast majority of us are not good at it, even, and especially those who think they are. Consider that attention is a scarce resource, and that your brain assigns it sparingly to what it considers the highest priority. The more you multitask, the thinner you spread your attention and the less likely you are to excel at anything requiring careful consideration … like creative work.

It is unfortunate that, as a culture, we are pushed into more and more multitasking. It may be as obvious has having several projects demanding attention at work, or as subtle as the myriad of distractions we are surrounded by: flashing lights and beeping gadgets, colorful signs, bombastic music, streams of trivia rolling by on social media feeds, etc. Our brain wants to pay attention to all of them because it is programmed to do so. A flash of red, spark of light, unnatural sound or even the presence of fellow humans were all extremely important to early humans living in the wild. Miss one and you may fall victim to danger, miss a meal or an important social interaction, etc. Today, we may not need to worry about many existential risks; but advertisers, gadget makers, social media sites etc. still utilize our built-in instincts to grab slices of our valuable attention span, and not always for worthwhile purposes.

You may wonder what meditation has to do with multitasking. In my case the answer is: meditation, for me, was the cure for multitasking – one of the hardest things for me to un-learn after leaving the corporate world. For years I allowed my brain to pursue multiple threads at the same time. I convinced myself that it was needed for my success. In truth, focusing on single threads usually yields better results. I remember being able to do so as a child; being able to stare at a tortoise chewing on a leaf or a butterfly hatching or the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon, and be completely consumed by the experience. Not only was I able to notice more, but the experience itself was more moving and significant. As an adult I struggled to reach such depths, and didn’t always know why. Most anyone maintaining a normal urban western life today knows the feeling of your brain humming like a buzzing hive, always worrying about some things while doing others. It leads to anxiety and ongoing mental fatigue that keeps your attention investment in any one thing to a minimum, and renders you unable to dive deeply into a singular experience without distraction. Meditation can change that.

Even just a few minutes of meditation when arriving at a location I want to work makes a profound difference in my ability to notice things, to focus my mind on experiencing all that the place has to offer – from the grand and obvious, to the subtle and minute – without distraction. Working from a quiet mind, setting aside other threads of thought makes a big difference. I recommend giving it an honest try.

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is an author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau—a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (8)

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  1. Oh so true.
    Oh how I need some desperate reprogramming !
    Once my youngest is 18, I have a new direction in mind…
    Thanks for the insight Guy, I contemplate this a few times an hour, several times day, weekly 😉
    -and it does cause anxiety

  2. My explanation is a little more esoteric than yours, but the same concept. I am part of my world. Meditation, giving thanks when I arrive at a scene will allow me to connect to the area and let my intuition guide me. It almost becomes effortless to visualize different compositions and go to new areas in my “target area”….and find views that don’t make sens to me till I get there. It’s almost like I have a spirit on my shoulder guiding me around…pointing out stuff to notice. More like a kid in a candy store than a person looking for compositions.

    Peace!

    Roman

  3. Jared Warren says:

    Outstanding, Guy! I agree 100%. Mindfulness and photography are so complementary. For me, landscape photography in particular has played a big role in helping me slow down and savor the present moment. There are “miracles” all around us that warrant noticing and savoring, and every moment has within it the seeds of wonder. Meditation has been a great antidote to the pressure of feeling like I need to multitask. Great post!

    Jared

  4. Thanks for your post, it sort of confirms my own experiences. I already noted that when I’m not in the “zone” my photos are mere snapshots and end up being junked, while taking a bit of time to connect to the surroundings makes an enormous difference to my work.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly. And you keep posting on what is on my mind! I just finished a related blog post, though it wasn’t specifically about meditation as we understand it. I believe there are many ways to get a similar benefit. I also believe as westerners we normally do better using other ways of clearing the mind or focusing on a specific task. Meditation for me has always sort of defeated the purpose. I’ve never been able to really get into it, and it’s probably because of my background as a typical westerner. But that doesn’t mean I am a compulsive multitasking type A, far from it. For me it is the simple act of putting aside all devices (including your camera) and just loafing that I find most enjoyable and useful to my creativity. A swim in a lake and lying on a log making shapes of the clouds in the sky, a slow absorbing birding walk, these are my ways of “meditating”. Great post.

  6. Cathy says:

    I can only agree with what you are saying. I am trying to learn meditation at the moment and I tried it on location before shooting and the experience was way better than without meditation.
    I konw multitasking is bad because I am always experiencing that I focus less on what I am doing when doing so many things at the same time.
    So thanks for making your experience public, I am sure everyone will understand the benefits of meditation :).

  7. Greg Russell says:

    As someone who has arrived at a location only to rush to get my equipment out and start shooting only to find out later that I’ve seen nothing at all, I can certainly relate to and appreciate your thoughts here. Besides, there’s never any harm in taking steps to make yourself more self aware and focused on the world around you. I fear that being present in the moment is becoming more and more of a lost characteristic.

  8. Pranay says:

    Guy, this is absolutely true. Even I experienced this early in my professional career but somehow as life added more responsibilities, the practice of meditation deemed on the way of life. Hope your writeup gives me a motivation to start it again to make life more creative.

    regards,
    pranay soni