How are your vacation plans looking this year?
A little…overcomplicated? Or just a bit unlikely given your workload? Fret ye not.
Whilst it can be inspiring to visit other cultures, meet diverse groups of people and experience the ways that others lead their lives, if it seems like a big ask this year, you can still enjoy a fulfilling break without burning up the jet fuel.
The end of the year is near and that leaves me with no time and little money for a vacation, but I definitely need one. That’s when I realized that no matter where I live, or how jaded I might have become with my surroundings, I’m sitting on an under-expressed truth: my hometown is amazing.
Thousands of unique people pass by each other every day, somehow navigating and facilitating a community that works, plays, argues and loves together. Everyone has a different solution to fix the problems in their immediate vicinity: every household, vehicle, lamppost or tree has been formed by a thousand stories.
What I’m suggesting here is to combine mindfulness meditation, a Victorian technology, and the connecting power of social media to take a vacation in my own hometown.
It’s entirely possible. The mindful technique is known as Miksang. The technology, albeit modernized, is photography. And the social network is Instagram (bear with me, social media phobes!).
In our busy lives, we have a tendency to rush past and overlook the most incredible details around us. Ironically, if you were to take your camera on holiday with you to a far-off destination, you would likely return with hundreds of hurried snaps of your family members eating or bathing or posing against the landscape. These are fine in their place and can capture valuable memories for years to come. Yet if many of us return from vacation feeling more tired and overwhelmed then when we first set off, isn’t it because travelling has an unfortunate way of favoring novelty over engagement, spectacle over contemplation?
Miksang is the Tibetan word for “clear eye,” and it is this attitude of openness and non-judgment that can allow a mindful photographer to discover, express and share astonishing images in the world around them. Rather than capturing an unrepeatable moment or a polished composition, it is about becoming aware of the shape, texture and color of the world around us.
Miksang photography cannot be reduced to set of stylistic rules, although you may sense an intangible thread running between the truly successful Miksang pictures that you take or observe. Rather, Miksang is about the suppression of thought in favor of pure perception. The mind, unencumbered by political or strictly aesthetic ideas, is freed to sense the presence of the scene as it presents itself as an image.
It is an approach to photography that favors—necessitates—mindful contemplation of the world around us in order to frame and capture an image that will communicate something essential to the beholder. Using a social media platform to pursue Miksang may seem counter-intuitive, but the pace of Instagram makes the platform more like a journal than a noisy newsfeed.
It is a great way to communicate and discover with others in your area. For example, I use hashtags and location tagging as a way to navigate my hometown, slowing my progress so I can identify the sites that others have snapped, and take my own contemplative photo of it. The discipline of the format, and the powerful but intuitive editing tools, make Instagram an ideal way to learn more about photography and about your subject matter without having to pay for an expensive course or sit staring at YouTube tutorials all day.
If Facebook is full of social photography of parties and days out, and Flickr is an archive of professional landscapes and portraits, then Instagram is the closest we have to a Miksang network. If you sift through the nonsense, you will find that a large proportion of the photos found there can be considered of the Miksang school—even if the taker didn’t realize it!
Of course, Instagram is just one modern way to pursue your Miksang calling. It’s useful because, used well, it can become a different kind of map to your locality and thus give you a prod out of your familiar way of seeing. It’s also an excellent way to engage your kids—we know how resistant they can be to leaving their phones at home, or indeed taking part in anything that will mean being away from “the grid” for too long! Still, you may feel you want to switch your connections off, or find your own way, and that’s fine too.
Seeing your hometown afresh can be more rewarding than travelling, and it’s certainly more convenient. Whether you engage with modern tools to do so, or you prefer to free yourself of some the mundane accoutrements of daily life in order to return to that which is essential, there are many different approaches aside from photography to get you started.
If you want to take this traveling-at-home experience to a whole new level, have a read at this infographic, which gathers some of the simplest ideas into one place, so you can take your time and apply your imagination to those you find most appealing. Next time you get some time off work, consider forgoing a vacation to foreign climes—and instead try to see your surroundings anew.