Learning Lightness Through Photography
& Gratitude – By Josette Leblanc
Photography and gratitude are two practices I have come to see as inevitably intertwined and necessary in my life. They compliment each other in the sense that they are both based on beauty and celebrating life. They have given me the ability to look at the world through the eyes of wonder.
This is something I used to do easily until one day realize I had lost it. How do you lose this ability? For me it started seeping away when I began taking life much too seriously. I only became aware of this after months of being in what I called “a funk”. This isn’t the funky kind of funk. This is the kind of funk that brings you and the people around you down. Funk also found me in the classroom. Life got a bit too discouraging, and so did my outlook on education.
Trying to get myself out of this funk, I spent some of my free time listening to Tara Brach’s podcasts. Her teachings on mindfulness are insightful, humorous and practical. In her podcast “1000 serious moves” it seemed like she was speaking directly to me. She explored ways to help people see life with greater lightness. One of the ways was to find a gratitude partner. The concept is simple: email a friend every night with 5 things you are grateful for. Intellectually understanding how gratitude could brighten up my life, I emailed my dear friend Anne Hendler (check out her insightful reflections on learning and teaching at Living Learning) to see if she wanted to embark on this journey with me. We’ve now been gratitude buddies since September 2012, emailing each other with five moments of gratitude almost everyday. Here was in one of my latest gratitude lists:
- I feel grateful that my body sends me clear signs of when I’m going too far and that I am now able to recognize that.
- I feel grateful for that little photography boost this morning.
- I feel grateful that some of the teachers wrote narratives that can serve as examples to those who didn’t really get the theme.
- I feel grateful for the laughter in today’s French lesson (a shock language lesson to help the teacher-trainees see the language learning process through the eyes of a beginner).
- I feel grateful that my French lesson did what it was supposed to do: plant seeds.
My intellectual understanding of this practice has now turned into a deeper understanding. Gratitude has led me to seeing things with greater lightness. Objects and moments I once passed without notice now become objects of curiosity. Through the lens of gratitude everything shines brighter. However, this isn’t only a metaphorical lens.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” – Melody Beattie
I also see this gratitude through my camera’s lens. Most of my photography is based on seeing the beauty in ordinary, simple moments: fallen autumn leaves or cherry blossom petals; abandoned shoes; stray cats; sunbeams on brick walls. I may be walking to the subway, and a strange shape or bright color catches my eye. Or I may be walking through campus and the yellow gingko trees beg for me to capture them. When I take a closer look at what at first glance may seem unexceptional, I find quite the opposite. Through my view screen, I see magic.
Gratitude has a similar magical quality. When each day you have to find five things that you are grateful for, you start being surprised at all the magic that is already in your life. The more gratitude I explore, the more it comes out in my photography. The more beauty I see through my viewfinder, the more gratitude I have.
It’s hard to pinpoint how all this has directly affected my teaching, but one thing I sense is that a teacher filled with lightness must be easier to connect with than a teacher filled with darkness. I feel grateful to see glimpses of this lightness. To see see some of this gratitude for yourself, check out my personal blog, Private Mixture, or find me on Instagram. – Josette Leblanc
Josette LeBlanc is an English language teacher and teacher trainer who currently teaches in Daegu, South Korea. She’s curious about reflective practice, compassionate communication, and teacher development done both online and offline. She believes learning, whether it happens in or out of the classroom, is a process of discovery and transformation. Read more work from Josette on her always wonderful blog Throwing Back Tokens
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