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Writing Mindfully: be the lens

One of the things I am forever startled by when I take the time to look at a photograph I’ve taken, is how much detail I missed when I first saw that scene live. The raindrop clinging to a leaf. The shape of the clouds in the darking sky. The expression of the young girl, third from the right, in the group picture. A little boy in the corner of the photo, lifting an acorn from the ground. Time and again, I realise how superficial my perception is.

A camera lens, even a relatively unsophisticated one, seems to pick up so much more than I notice. Yet, ironically, as a photography teacher told once me (see my learn something new post), the human eye is a million times more sophisticated than anything Nikon or Canon could design. It adjusts to the light. Its depth of field is perfect. Its ability to focus and refocus, to a adapt to different conditions, to make colour work, to take in every tiny detail – is mind-blowing. Our eyes are extraordinary.

I’d take it further than the physiology of our eyes because every time we look at a scene, a great deal more goes on.

We don’t only see a situation, physically, we also perceptive it our our hearts and minds. We bring ourselves into the moment: our characters, our experiences, our knowledge, our particular way of living in the world, and our love, of course, which transforms the whole. It’s this perception which allows us to unravel great truths.

And what are stories, in the end, but great truths found in such small moments?

As a writer, I spend a great deal of my time watching. It’s a writer’s job to notice. I tend to see in film stills: a grandfather gripping his newborn grandson’s tiny fingers. The expression of an old woman standing in the rain at a bus stop. A child left out of a game in a play ground. A couple sitting in the sunshine on a bench outside the library. And I try to focus, I really do. And I do notice quite a bit, enough, often, to use these scenes as inspiration for my writing, because I understand that every moment tells a story. Yet I am aware that I miss a great deal.

I imagine that, were I to master true mindfulness, I would see the world as clearly and beautifully and accurately as the most sophisticated camera lens – better, in fact. And that my stories would be the richer for it.

Often, however, I flit past, distracted, my gaze cast down at my phone, my mind shooting off to the future or the past. And this moment, this beautiful now, right in front of me, slips away.

Ironically, I suspect that our modern obsession with taking photos of ourselves and our environment (I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to this), sometimes prevents us from paying attention to the here and now. We spot a little something we like and then switch off and let the camera do the work. We’ll have the photo, we think, no need to concentrate now. And yet, how much more powerful would it be to create such a strong mental image that we no longer need the photo because we remember it.


Today, I’m going to start training myself to use my lens: my eyes and my senses, my mind and my heart. I’m going to pause and focus and open myself to what what is in front of me. I’m going to try hard to take in every detail. And I’m going to be mindful of how each of these beautiful moments is a gift and holds story. I’d hope you’ll join me.