Photo by Savannah Condon

What Buddhism Has Taught Me About Photography by Savannah Condon

A lovely guest blog post by Savannah Condon, about learning lessons from Buddhism and Photography:

Photos by SAV:

Read my initial interview with Sav here.

Enter Savannah Condon:

Savannah: In the beginning of 2019, I went through a gut wrenching, soul crushing breakup that forced me to take a deeper look at myself and my life. Determined to cure my heartache, I would frantically read as many self help blogs and forums as I could find. Eventually during my self improvement quest, I stumbled upon a podcast called, Secular Buddhism. I immediately felt connected to the concepts and was thirsty for more, so I moved to Thailand to learn more about Buddhism and how to defend myself properly in the art of Muay Thai. I learned a lot in those six months from Thai people, attending Dharma talks and chatting with monks. Essentially, the main concept in Buddhism is that in life there’s suffering, and that suffering is caused by craving or wanting. Buddhism offers a solution: The Eight Fold Path. Its important to note that Buddhism does not claim to have the one and only “truth”-it accepts and welcomes other religions and teachings. Here are some ways I’ve applied Buddhist concepts to my life/creative practice and how you can too.

1. Meditation

In photography and life in general, it’s easy to get caught up in our future/end goals: we all want to be Magnum/National Geographic photographers and make a name for ourselves right? But this thinking alone defeats the whole purpose of being creative. Slow down in your process and create for yourself. Create because you enjoy it. Because it brings you joy. Create to be in the present moment. Create to connect with the world around you. Don’t create to compete or for the fame and accolades. What’s the point in that? If the only reason you photograph is because you crave fame and recognition, you probably aren’t very happy. Or maybe you aren’t photographing as much as you’d like because you are constantly dissatisfied with your gear.

Buddhism offers meditation as a remedy to this craving un satisfaction. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not just sitting down uncomfortably on the floor trying to think of nothing. There are many forms of meditation that don’t involve stillness that include walking, making art, surfing, etc.

The point of meditation is to free your mind from ruminating about the past and obsessing about the future- to be in the present moment.

I definitely struggle with this as a digital nomad and photographer as I’m constantly thinking of my next destination, my next photograph, my next thrill. I’ve been taking this quarantine time as a great opportunity to focus on my meditation practice. I love doing guided sitting meditations with a free app called Insight Timer or sometimes I go for a walking meditation with my camera.

2. Thought Experiment: Illusion of the Ego and Impermanence

Photo by Savannah Condon
Photo by Savannah Condon

One of my favorite concepts in Buddhism is the illusion of the ego. Ego is the part of your identity that you consider yourself. A question to ask yourself: What makes up YOU? Are you YOU without your legs? Are you YOU without your arms? Without your memories? Without the ability to move or speak? We are essentially the sum of our parts. There are many things that make up you- there isn’t ONE thing that defines you. I like to keep this in mind when I start to strongly identify with one way of thinking, one hobby or one skill I have.

Photo by Savannah Condon
Photo by Savannah Condon

Quick story time: All throughout my childhood, I defined myself as an athlete. I played soccer, basketball and ran track- it was the only reason why I wanted to go to college. One summer when I was 16, playing soccer with my friends, in one swift move, I fucked everything up in my right knee. In a split second, I tore my ACL, both meniscuses and MCL. Three knee surgeries later, I was unable to resume playing the sports I loved and to this day I still have chronic knee pain and osteoarthritis at age 25.

During those recovery years, my identity was shaken to the core. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Who was I without sports? My dad could see how depressed I was and said to me something so simple and obvious. He said, “Savannah, you are so much more than an athlete. I wish you could see it.” And he was right. Injuring my knee was the best thing that could have ever happened to me because it forced me to explore other parts of myself and develop other interests like photography, travel, philosophy. It was a great lesson in impermanence and realizing the fragility of my own body.

How can you apply this to your own life?

  1. What would you do if you were unable to photograph again?
  2. What if you were to lose your eyesight?
  3. Have you lost your identity?
  4. Are you still YOU?

Explore this thought experiment!

How can you practice letting go of things you hold on too tightly?

3. Five Remembrances.

I will end with my favorite teaching from Buddhism which is The Five Remembrances. Its simple, poignant and something I try to remind myself of often by putting it as my phone screen saver. Contemplating these remembrances puts my life into perspective, reminds me of my priorities, and helps me to become a better person, partner, friend, sister, daughter and artist.

  1. I am subject to aging. There is no way to avoid aging.
  2. I am subject to ill health. There is no way to avoid illness.
  3. I am subject to death. There is no way to avoid death.
  4. Everything and everyone that I love will change. And I will be separated from them.
  5. My only true possessions are my actions. I cannot escape their consequences.

LEARN MORE

Here are some resources I use to learn more about Buddhism:

  1. Informative Podcast
  2. A really great translation and no nonsense book on what the Buddha actually taught
  3. Reddit groups: https://www.reddit.com/r/Meditation/, https://www.reddit.com/r/Buddhism/, https://www.reddit.com/r/Mindfulness/
  4. Apps: https://insighttimer.com/meditation-app and https://www.wecroak.com/ (an app that reminds you that you will die five times a day at any moment, just like death!)

Learn more about Sav

Read my initial interview with Sav here.

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