I was at a dinner party in Brooklyn a few years making my best effort to describe the appeal and creative benefits of long walking. As is often the case after a glass or two of wine, I started to get more philosophical and animated.
When I paused for a moment, the partner of a good friend turned to me and said: "It sounds like meditation is a big part of it."
I've always tried to be mindful about how I talk about meditation because I have never trained with an expert, nor done much research. Of course, neither is necessary to develop a personal meditation practice, but if you are going to provide information to other people, you should probably know what you're talking about.
From an artistic perspective, I feel I have a grasp on the relationship between deep focus and creative production, but when you get into the realm of the spiritual, it's a different story. Caution is the best approach.
I am not religious. I am agnostic. But I do believe we are all deeply spiritual in some sense, and need a relationship to spirituality to live a fulfilling life. How you define that is going to be up to you. It's perhaps one of the central dynamics in life.
I also firmly believe we are completely and utterly clueless about many aspects of life in the universe, and it's a profound mistake to believe we are anywhere near understanding how it all works. We are very intelligent, and some of the shit we're doing with technology right now is almost beyond comprehension but even with all of that, we're still not much closer to understanding it all.
Even if scientists do develop a unified theory of everything, I still think there will be so many unknowns because the universe (or multi-verse) is just so unfathomly enormous that we'll never harness enough energy to solve the necessary equations to understand it all. Unless this is all simulation, in which case I guess absurdity wins.
So ignorance abounds, and we just have to deal with it in our lives, and work toward a better understanding of ourselves, and our place in the universe.
For me, walking is what creates the central harmony between my creative life and spiritual life. Walking is what allows me to focus and move forward. It has always had a meditative element to it.
The rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other for minutes and hours, creates a certain type of meditative mindset. But more importantly, the time you give yourself on a walk, allows you to focus your mind. Time and movement allow me to focus, think and create. My hunch is that I am probably partly a bodily-kinesthetic learner.
Photography has always been meditative for me as well. When you come upon a landscape or scene that you feel compelled to photography, you are meditating on it. You are giving it your total focus, and to some ways, reverence. You wouldn't make a photograph of a scene or subject if you didn't respect it to some degree (ok, I can this a debatable.)
This last week I went on two long walks after a few weeks off. With meditation on my mind, I decided I would try to find a quiet spot to sit and meditate during the middle of the walk. Just to see what happens, and scratch that itch. I was curious how focusing on nature would impact my focus during the meditation.
I know enough about meditation to know you want to allow your thoughts to float away. No attachment. It's an interesting experience in that you are hyper focused but also unconcerned with what's happening around you. The sounds of nature became more intense, and just watching the most basic things like a branch blowing in the wind or butterflies landing and taking off took on a different type of intensity.
The wind was particularly fascinating. It felt as if I could just let a thought go and the wind would take it away. The wind created the same type of rhythm as putting one foot in front of the other.
(I know this can easily veer to a shallow type of new age spiritualism, and that's something I want to avoid. These are somewhat elementary observations, and it's easy to roll the eyes anytime someone says "connect with nature and just be!" But also, this is totally important and there are more sinister things in the world to roll your eyes at!)
I don't know how long I sat there meditating each day, probably around 20-30 minutes. Then at a random moment, I snapped out of it, and went back on my way walking. I definitely think finding a place in nature, surrounded by trees is the way optimize the experience. I don't think I could do it in my apartment staring at the wall.
On my walks back home, I could feel the lingering effects of the calmness. If nothing more, it's a great form of stress relief. But for me, connecting the sitting meditation with the walking meditation adds a new element. How I'll eventually incorporate adding photographs will be an interesting decision. I am already feeling an emerging less is more approach.
I have been evolving my notetaking process over the last few months. I like creating the phrase clouds and letting the ideas and information all bleed together. I tape these to the back of the maps.
This was one of those fun threads on Twitter. I have been enjoying my break from making photographs, and it's well needed. It's been a productive year so far because of the unsteady employment and moving to Saint Cloud. Who knows when I'll have this amount of time again, probably never, so I am trying to take advantage of it.
The point of taking a break from creating photographs for me is that it allows me to focus more intently on the walks, and the geography I am encountering. After you've trained yourself to look photographically for years, you can't really turn it off. But I think creating the space in your mind to imagine and think is important to the process.
I am already developing new ideas for what and how I want to make photographs in the future. I don't think you ever lose it, and sometimes the mental space can do wonders.
I have completely eliminated the guilt of not making photographs. There will be more in the future but I doubt I will ever go back to the same style or method of making photographs. It's time to evolve.
Walking and Productivity: Part 15
The nexus between walking and productivity is a regular pillar for me. I am always thinking about it in one way or another, so my pattern recognition has been sharpened over the years. This week, I spotted three interelated articles that touch on the topic.
I think by now, most of us understand the multi-tasking dilemma fairly well. I would be totally lying if I were to say it's not a problem for me. However, daily walks are one way that helps me stay focused. I am also a believer in breaking down tasks by day rather than jumping around, which can be hard as a freelancer. I've been stuck in an abnormal work pattern the last few months, so my process isn't exactly stable at the moment.
Craig Mod who you should know by now is featured in an excellent article in Every where he outlines his philosophy about walking, producitivity and art. It's a fascinating read, he's one of the big brains out there for sure.
For me, a walk is a tool or platform upon which I can build, sort of like an operating system. When I become fully immersed in ‘walk mode’ the operating system begins to hum along, becoming almost autonomous, and I find the experience of this incredibly empowering. It just feels like the world and my place within it vibrates at a higher, more finely tuned level.
I realize this sounds somewhat insane, and I suppose that’s true—but a long walk contains within it the act of losing your mind: the long hours, the endless kilometers. On a properly executed long walk, it feels like the world pops from HD to 4K in terms of detail and texture, if that makes any sense.
It's interesting that for Craig the long, multi-day walk is the foundation. For me, it's the habit of the long day walk. I think we both activate a similar sensory experience, just over different periods of time.
However, since I have never done a long multi-day walk, I have no way of knowing the difference! That's something I need to rectify in the next few years.
Some days it feels impossible to do any creative work. And even on the good days, we have that part of our brain that's still telling us 'no, go do something else, this isn't worth it.' That is our internal resistance and it plays a critical role.
Internal resistance is not a free-standing inherently malevolent tendency of the universe. It’s not the freaking Dark Side! It’s a part of us, and it is grows from the exact same soil as every talent and skill and goal we have: our brains, our personal history, our families and our culture.
Because that soil is unique to each of us, every person’s internal resistance has its own particular causes and flavours and effects. But what every experience of internal resistance shares is a prediction and fear of pain.
Internal resistance is an attempt to avoid the pain we associate with successfully doing the thing.
I bet this will ring true for nearly everyone. Often times I find that after I complete the task I was dreading, I'll find I learned something new and valuable! There's no way to get to the other side without taking the leap.
The entire article is very good, but I want to end with the following.
You are not being self-destructive. You just have two deeply rooted and fundamentally contradictory ideas about what is best for you: doing the thing, and not doing the thing.
There’s another reason why I think we should treat internal resistance as a form of wisdom rather than a malevolent opponent. It holds a lot of knowledge about what we secretly believe we might be able to do. As in: your brain wouldn’t be so afraid of the costs of you doing the thing if it thought you were going to do something forgettable and inconsequential.
For me, when I feel the resistance the strongest, I know I need to walk. After a good long walk, then I feel like I have accomplished something, and everything else becomes much easier.
- This is a really great interview with a lot of insightful nuggest, especially for those looking to get into the editorial photography industry: How to Make it as a Photo Editor: A Conversation with The New York Times’ Alana Celii
- And another great interview with a great photographer in a walking newsletter too, worth subscribing: A Walk in Over-The-Rhine with Maddie McGarvey
- So many art world issues tied together in this depressing article: They Pooled Their Art to Create a Nest Egg. They Say It Was a Mistake
- This is on the bucket list: You can walk across San Francisco: Here's how
Photography & Editorial Consulting
Each of the conversations I've had with photographers has been unique and presented a different series of challenges. I started working with a photographer to develop a plan for a newsletter, and I think that's going to be fun.
Here are a few areas I can help with:
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I’m a photographer and consultant from Saint Cloud, Minnesota. This is my newsletter on art, walking, and mindfulness. Each issue, I share new work from my projects and try to make connections between ideas, articles and people that fascinate me. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Instagram & Twitter