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Please enter at least one email addressYou are trying to send out more invites than you have remaining. I often find myself acting out a similar pattern: As soon as I see an especially poignant scene, I reach for my iPhone to capture it. Photos can be a wonderful way of sharing meaningful experiences with others, but I worry that my attempts to document the moment make being present in it a challenge.
I thought immediately of my friend and teacher Jonathan Foust, a world-renowned meditation instructor and the former president of North America’s largest yoga center, Kripalu. For Jonathan, the most obvious way that photography encourages mindfulness is by heightening our awareness of seeing. National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenberg has been an inspiration for Jonathan ever since Brandenberg experimented with the idea of taking only one photo a day for 90 days. And though Jonathan’s hope was to bring more consciousness to how he sees things, he found that the practice also offered powerful insight into the habits of his mind. Meeting each of these states of mind with interest and acceptance allowed Jonathan to assess his experience with lightness and humor.
When you’re taking only a few photographs a day it can be easy to start pursuing perfection, but Jonathan learned at an early age that taking pictures is a sort of perpetual training in the art of accepting imperfection. Jonathan’s formative insight about the necessity of imperfection came when he was a teenager. Practical Tip: When looking through photos after a trip or event, see how much it’s possible to bring your attention to discerning and appreciating the photos that worked, rather than lamenting the ones that didn’t.
Back when photography was Jonathan’s way of earning a living, in the days of expensive film, Jonathan learned that one way to maximize his success rate was by being clear about the intention of each shot. I’ve found that the greatest inhibitor to experiencing ecstatic appreciation in photography, or any creative work, is trying to capture a lasting record of a fleeting moment. He described to me the exquisite joy of a kayak trip with his wife, meditation teacher Tara Brach.
Talking to Jonathan it’s obvious that photography as a spiritual practice is an exploration conducted over a lifetime.


And while he’s been grateful to have his camera with him in order to capture moments of grace in the endless stream of experience, he admits there are occasions when the best thing to do is put the camera down. Through it all, the simple phrase that energizes Jonathan in his visual exploration has remained the same: “Keep going.” Even if he’s on a hike he’s made many times before, Jonathan asks himself, “Can I experience it [a]fresh? These are questions that we can happily spend a lifetime asking as we appreciate the grace of the moments when we have a camera to help us share the answers we find along the way. Jared Gottlieb is a storyteller and meditation teacher who happens to work in the Standards & Practices department at National Geographic. Do you have tips for how to be mindful and present when you’re exploring the world? Share them with the Intelligent Travel community by leaving a comment below. Enjoy the moment instead of trying to capture it in a photo says my big brother all the time!! Photos of my travels have become increasingly important as I have (ahem) reached a certain age. I know the pitfalls all to well of trying to capture a lasting record of a fleeting moment.
A few decades ago, before his career as a meditation and yoga teacher, Jonathan worked as a freelance photographer for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. When a world-class photographer who is used to snapping thousands of shots a day limits himself in that way, you can imagine how mindfulness comes into play.
They were paddling down the Potomac in Virginia’s Riverbend Park at sunset when they encountered ten white egrets standing on the branch of a dead tree. I have seen something like this photo above(Fog rises around the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. One photo a day was my rule, with another allowed if something truly momentus came along (it never did). I get out every morning with the intention to see lines, shapes, colors, texture and the play of light in nature. I just went on a trip over Memorial Day weekend where I told myself that I was going to back off from the old habit of shooting thousands upon thousands of images.


See how much it’s possible to hold the whole of your experience with non-judgment and care. Her words could have been taken as a deflating criticism, but teenage Jonathan told his mother, “You have to take a lot of shots to get a few that work.” That insight still holds true for him today.
With only moments of sunlight left and no time to check his camera’s settings, Jonathan snapped as many photos as he could with his big DSLR. If he had snapped them a few moments earlier, the outcome would have been entirely different. My favorite photos were those of common folks – the fish seller at Safeway, the Salvation Army bell ringer, etc.
This Autumn, I keep my eyes open for images of imperfection, color shifts, and impermanence in nature. Disposable film cameras make us think about our position in the scene, and in the world, because we can’t just zoom. I didn’t limit myself to three a day, but I did force myself to pretend that I was relying on an old-fashioned roll of film with some 20-25 shots. There were so many factors out of Jonathan’s control, yet he ended up as happy as possible with the photographs he managed to capture. So far I’ve taken lots of pictures because light changes every second and creates new images. I was amazed by how I immediately began viewing potential subjects and scenery in a different light, and it made slogging through the photos when I got home so much more manageable.



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