Photography, Mental Health, and Spirituality

Before I created my own blog, this was a guest post on my friend’s WordPress blog: livingwiththenoondaydemon.wordpress.com. Her blog deals with similar questions of mental health and spirituality.

Image“Anxiety” © Sarah E Fleming Photography 2013

I’ve struggled for years with anxiety and panic. Without even noticing the build-up, I can get to places where I literally forget to breathe for seconds at a time. I lose myself, and my thoughts don’t have time to complete themselves. The world is a hostile place at these times.

For me, mental health and spirituality are absolutely intertwined. For the first few months of my panic attacks, the only thing that could make the world an okay place again was Xanax. However, I was lucky enough to be taken in by a college chaplain who introduced me to Zen meditation. Meditation changed the possibilities that life held for me. Over time, I’ve learned to be patient with myself, with others, and with the world; to rest in the ambiguity of the moment and see it for what it is; to learn that it’s not bad after all. I’ve found stability and faith that I hadn’t believed possible.

I have long been attracted to photography because it does what meditation does: it breaks down the overwhelming chaos into little moments of clarity. After a difficult few months in which meditation seemed more difficult than usual, I got myself a DSLR camera and threw myself into photography. I’m inspired by the work of Matthieu Ricard, a well-known Tibetan monk who uses photography as a supplement to his meditation practice. In a well-known quote, Henri-Cartier Bresson describes this connection: “Matthieu’s camera and his spiritual life are one, and from this spring these images, fleeting and eternal.”

I’d like to share the results of my experiment with photography as a spiritual practice. You can view the photos I post on this blog, or visit my website at www.saraheflemingphoto.com. I have a long way to go, but I’m now considering pursuing photography as a career after finishing college (in addition to ministry/spiritual leadership!). I’ve experimented with several genres of photography. I especially like capturing authentic emotion through portraits and little poignant snapshots of time through street photography. I also have a collection of travel photographs from my trip to Dharamsala, India this past summer.

Image“Tsundu” © Sarah E Fleming Photography 2013