Photo Snapshots as Therapy: A Mindfulness Hack?

Photo Snapshots as Therapy: A Mindfulness Hack?

During the pandemic lockdown, many of us dealt with heightened anxiety and depression, given the uncertainty surrounding our lives as we knew them and the state of the world. Some covid-safe coping mechanisms became popular, such as outdoor activities and walks and home-based hobbies such as gardening and baking.

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As we transitioned back to conventional work schedules and lifestyles, we have tried to maintain some of these practices and look back at the peace they gave us while we now have little time left.

So how can we balance the urgency of capitalist society calling us back to business while trying not to forget the better lessons of pandemic life, ie the need for self-care and self-reliance? A couple of recent trends involve effective blends of mindfulness-related techniques, but in time-efficient bursts, often made possible by technology or modern commerce.

Mindfulness is an increasingly popular term for a therapeutic technique that emphasizes attention to the present without criticism or intensive thought, or judgment. It has its origins in Zen Buddhist philosophy and practice, where monks are trained to meditate, usually in peaceful, natural settings. They focus exclusively on benign, essential things like breathing, heartbeats, or other simple sensations or sounds.

Most of us don’t have the time or desire to live the ascetic, isolated lifestyle of a Buddhist monk, but we can still incorporate aspects of the mindset in any spare moment. Numerous phone apps now provide short meditation and mindfulness training with a user-friendly and time-limited interface. But we can also do even simpler things that do not require guidance or external guidance.

One thing I started doing during my pandemic walks was using my iPhone to take snapshots of anything that caught my eye. Usually nature scenes, buds blooming, sunlight hitting a retention pond, geese flapping their wings, unusual cloud formations, you name it. Nothing world-shattering or original, but it was okay. Taking each photo helped me to feel that in that moment I was solely focused on the beauty of something ordinary and everyday, something I passed by daily without noticing.

When I posted these photos on social media, I was surprised at how often they got likes. I realized that other people were also sharing in that moment of beauty in the ordinary, creating peace in their busy Facebook or Twitter timelines. It increased my appreciation for the neighborhood I lived in (and was even trapped in) as I found new angles and objects to capture, even if the routes I took were the same day in and day out. There was also no emphasis on fancy techniques or equipment, or expertise. I just wanted to take beautiful pictures and share them, and that was enough for everyone.

When tragic news hit my household at the end of 2021, I didn’t stop the tours or the photographs. If anything, I desperately carried on with them as if they were the only guys of comfort and endurance I had left. Their simplicity helped me ride through stormy waves of grief as I snapped and posted each calm scene, searching for a brief respite amid falling shards of grief. I have continued to practice to maintain hope and beauty in the darkness.

Other similar practices don’t even have to involve the outdoors or major interruptions in routine. In South Korea, a trend called “hitting mung” has emerged, where cafes are set up with live video images or music while sipping a coffee or tea as a form of mini-meditation during the conventional coffee break. This layout is designed to encourage a “mung” state of mind, which roughly translates to a harmonious emptiness of mind. The Danes are also known to encourage a similar cafĂ© culture linked to the concept of cosiness, which roughly translates to hygge. The practice of a simple coffee with a delicious pastry is considered a therapeutic way to cope with dark winters.

While a concern remains, our societal inability to emphasize work-life balance and avoid burnout in our cost-driven schedules, it doesn’t hurt to implement these stopgap methods for instant peace and self-care when we can and empower ourselves to emphasize and take responsibility for our well-being whenever possible. It’s nice to know that a short and easy option for some relief is available, as long as we “zen” into it.

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