2020. It's been quite a year for a lot of us.
In the last few years I've navigated a mental health break down, a messy divorce from a toxic and abusive marriage, starting a totally new life in a new area, and a whole heap of family 'stuff'.
At the start of 2020 I was optimistic about this being the year when things shifted away from being a struggle. We all know where this is going… this year I've navigated my business collapsing (it's not a great time to make the majority of your income from wedding photography!) due to Covid, living alone for the first time in my life while under lockdown in a small flat, bereavement, and financial struggles. That might sound like a lot, or not very much, depending on your own experiences. Struggle is relative and, for me, the last few years have been hard and exhausting.
A few years ago my mental health would not have been robust or resilient enough to cope with all of the things that have adversely affected me in the last few years. As things stand, I am leaning into 2020 and weathering the storm.
Actively working on my own resilience has played a huge part in staying balanced. I've used all of the usual tools: therapy, a period on medication, self enquiry, exercise, eating nutritionally dense foods, getting enough rest, working on my personal and professional boundaries and drinking enough water, to name a few.
Meditation has also played a huge part and I now teach mindfulness, as well as leading mindfulness photography walks and mindfulness nature walks.
Mindfulness is having a moment in the spot light so a lot of people are aware of its benefits, but if not there's a whole load of evidence that people who meditate experience less stress, increased focus and concentration, less emotional reactivity and a whole host of other benefits.
Mindfulness is a wonderful tool when used as a formal practice, but few things bring me as much joy as mindfully walking and engaging with the world around me.
I like to mindfully hike. When I find myself on top of a windy hill in Shropshire or in the depths of the Wyre Forest, I stop and mindfully tune into my surroundings, noticing the feel of the wind on my skin, or dramatic grey clouds rolling across the horizon, the earthy smell of woodland, or finding an unexpected flash of early Autumn colour.
You don't need to be out in the sticks to employ mindfulness as a tool, though. I also like to mindfully walk around the suburbs of South-Birmingham observing the perfectly manicured front gardens of Bournville, encounters with cats, and listening to birdsong as I walk along the river Rea.
We often engage with the world by moving through it in haste, instead of stopping to fully witness what's happening around us. To find joy in the beauty of small things you need to slow down.
Take yourself on a Mindful Walk and explore your local area or the countryside. You can even try mindfully exploring your own home.
Start by stopping.
You can sit or stand.
Close your eyes if you wish.
Bring your awareness to your body. Notice where you have contact with the ground and the feeling of its solidity beneath you. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in your body. Are there any areas of softness or warmth?
Bring your attention to any sensations that you feel. Maybe you can feel cool air or a warm breeze on your skin?
Now start to listen. What sounds can you hear in your immediate vicinity? Just observe them and try not to attach to them or label them. What can you hear in the distance?
If your eyes are closed, gently open them. Look around you. What can you see? Really start to notice. What colours can you see? How about textures? What can you see if you look up? And down?
Continue on your walk while maintaining this heightened awareness of the world around you. How does it feel to be mindful and engaged?
For me, practicing mindfulness in this way enables me to find joy, even on hard days. It allows me to focus on beauty and the world around me, while taking some respite from thinking about the things that are a struggle.
There are a million and one reasons to be cheerful; a new leaf unfurling on your favourite house plant, the comforting sound of water pouring from the kettle into your cup, or time spent with your favourite people.
This might seem like an overly simplistic view of the world, and I am no fan of positivity for positivity's sake and especially the Good Vibes Only brand of toxic positivity that conveniently ignores systems of structural oppression and people's real life, lived experiences within those structures.
We need to feel the gamut of our feelings and emotions to be emotionally healthy, however I do believe you can find little moments joy, if you look for them. Joy is everywhere. That's my reason to be cheerful.
Laura Babb is a photographer, mindfulness teacher and she's also currently training as a counsellor and psychotherapist. All photos in this post were taken on her ancient phone camera, during walks. Find Laura at @bisforbabb (weddings), @theclearspaceuk (mindfulness) and @babbwashere (walks and things).
Thanks Laura. If you, the reader, have an idea for a guest post, get in touch!