Mindfulness through the lens of my smartphone camera
Written by Marietjie Willemse
Mindfulness is to focus on the moment
Mindfulness is the act of being intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling at every moment – without interpretation or judgement. Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.
When you spot something eye-catching and decide to take a quick photo with your phone, your attention is drawn to the moment-to-moment visual experience. That digital rectangle acts as a frame, focusing your eyes and your mind on the screen.
This may help you be more attuned to what you see at the moment. And as you continue about your business, an attitude of mindfulness might carry over to other experiences, regardless of whether you photograph them. Memory and mindfulness aren’t identical and, in fact, they have a complicated relationship. But just having a camera available can change our mental approach to an experience.
Point, shoot, observe
There are many possible reasons for taking a photo. If you intend to cultivate mindfulness, the tips below may help. Some are based on an emerging body of research looking at the psychological impact of digital photography. Others are rooted in general principles of mindfulness.
- Make it snappy! Quick, casual snapshots may be best for this purpose. If you get too wrapped up in posing for or staging a photo, it may take you out of the moment.
- Think twice about selfies and group shots. Mindfulness involves awareness of not only sensory input from the external world, but also internal feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. In theory, a snapshot that draws your attention to the serenity you’re feeling or the happiness you’re sharing with friends could help you be mindful.
In reality, taking a selfie often means checking your hair and showing your good side. And taking a group shot often involves trying to get everyone to stand in the right place and smile unblinkingly. Before you know it, your focus is elsewhere, and the moment you were trying to capture has passed.
Selfies and group shots are fun. They may also serve useful functions later on, such as triggering positive memories or communicating your identity to others. But unlessthey’re quick, candid shots, they may not be the best way to stay in the moment.
- Be wary of intentions to post on social media. There is nothing wrong with taking pictures for the explicit purpose of posting on Instagram or Facebook. That may not encourage mindfulness, however. Instead of simply noticing and accepting what you are experiencing, you are probably thinking about how it will look to others. Regardless of your original intention, what if you end up with a photo you want to share? Ask yourself whether it can wait. Unless there is a good reason to post immediately, don not let social media divert your attention from the experience at hand.
- Stop, look, listen. Mindfulness is a simple concept, but it can be challenging to implement. If something as handy as a smartphone camera makes it easier for you to get into this frame of mind, why not use it?
Personally speaking, the biggest challenge for me is knowing when to stop photographing the moment and just live it. One thing that helps is telling myself that I am going to put my phone away and start “taking pictures” with my mind’s eye.
Before long, I have dropped the mind-as-camera pretence. I am fully absorbed in the moment and noticing details that I might have missed if I had never taken my phone out—and then put it away again.
Let’s live mindful!
Barasch, A., Diehl, K., Silverman, J., & Zauberman, G. (2017). Photographic memory: The effects of volitional photo taking on memory for visual and auditory aspects of an experience. Psychological Science, 28, 1056-1066.
Wasmer Andrews, L. (2017). Using your smartphone camera as a mindfulness tool. Snapping a photo may help you be more mindful of the moment. Psychology Today.