mindful photography

Mindful photography: Find your ‘self’ in photos

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

One of the most surprising compliments I’ve ever received is when a reader of my Help and Healing for Parents of Estranged Adults website thanked me for the nature photos and said she identified with them. Her words made me take a closer look. All but a very few of the photographs here and at that site were taken by me—most using a smartphone. And rather than take specific photos for each article, I usually match up existing pictures from among the random shots already taken on my morning walks.

Mindful Photography

I’ve been practicing for years what is known as “mindful photography.” Put simply, it’s the act of attuning awareness in a practice that captures the present.

My photos and my most recent book illustrate that I’m drawn to nature, particularly as it changes. Images that capture the spent blooms that have fallen in a colorful blanket at the base of a tree, the possibility held in fresh spring bud, or the opportunity to start again that’s evident in greenery that has gone to seed. These things generate a sense of meaning for me. A connectedness to life and the earth around me, and to the regenerative rhythms of nature that feed my soul.

Taking photographs trains the eye to be mindful and figuratively seizes the moment. Mindfulness in general helps us derive nonjudgmental understanding and meaning in our lives. But mindful photography provides a unique perspective that can be enjoyed in the present, and as I’ve discovered, provides insight even later.


Summer is often full of action, adventure, and even chaos. The longer days lend themselves to extra events. There may be pressure to complete some good-weather project because we only have so many days. I see that urgency reflected in the hundreds of bees that gather at my pond on summer days. They walk the lily pads and drink from their tiny pools of water. They’re working while they can.

Taking advantage of the season just as people do. While we may love the bright sunlight and extra activities, they can also make us weary.

One afternoon, I was drawn to a lone bee, sipping in a quieter spot. I observed the insect, listened to its mellow hum as it moved about in a bird bath, and enjoyed its presence. Then a few days later, as a summer of projects and activity wore on, my photographs of that bee brought a deeper, more personal meaning that provided me with helpful insight. That’s one of the things that makes mindful photography so special.


In my book, Done With The Crying,  I recommend awareness of emotional triggers. For parents estranged from adult children, these might be times of the year that remind them of loss. Maybe that’s the back-to-school season, as I wrote about several years ago in this article. Or it could be birthdays, holidays, or other significant dates. Awareness allows for planning, and the self-care  that’s vital for our peace. Triggers, though, can be tricky things. And some you may not even recognize or expect.

For all its business and fun, this summer has also been chaotic. As August wore on, and things settled down, I felt physically and mentally spent. Some of you noticed that I hadn’t updated my sites or sent a newsletter and you asked if I was okay (thank you).

I was okay. I am okay. But it wasn’t until looking through some of my photographs that I understood. In revisiting that one lone bee, I felt a connection. I identified with its need to sip by itself. To escape to a quieter place, and rest. Even the most productive of people need time off. Each of us needs time and space to regroup, reconnect with oneself, nature, a higher power . . . to fill the well and find new energy.

For all my self-awareness, I’d forgotten to be kind to me. To provide myself with care. Self-care can elude us because we’re not used to giving to ourselves, because we feel guilty for putting our own needs first, fear we’ll disappoint those who count on us, or for whatever reason.

In retreating from the chaos and providing myself with a little rest, I realized something else:

That summer holds some emotional triggers that I’d forgotten. Past events that maybe I didn’t deal with thoroughly when they occurred. It’s nothing necessarily earth-shattering or related to estrangement, but the effects of hurts can be cumulative. That’s why this realization is so important. The realization helps me to take care of myself. It will help me next year, too. I’ll be ready to physically and spiritually nurture and tend to the hiccups of those old wounds rather than bury them in the busyness of summer. Parents of estranged adult children or anyone (we have all suffered hardships and possibly have emotional triggers) can benefit from a change of pace.

Finding yourself

Among my catalog of casual snapshots kept in a digital folder, I can almost always find something that fits. I’m drawn to capture what speaks to me in the moment even if only at face value.  My innermost being seems to know intuitively what’s there, even when I’m not aware of what I seek. That’s why that lone little bee drew me in, and it wasn’t until looking at those photos of it later that I understood the wisdom that moment held.

Get started

Consider mindful photography. Don’t get hung up on the definition, judge yourself for the quality of your photos, or what you choose to take. Just spend a few minutes with your smartphone or other camera, find what speaks to you in the moment, and enjoy. As you do, attune yourself to the present, observe what you’re drawn to, and make a mental note of what you think and feel.

Later, think back to those moments. Let your photographs remind you. If you find any insights, I’d love to hear.

Sheri McGregorSheri McGregor holds a Master’s Degree in Human Behavior and she is a prolific writer and nature lover. Her latest work about the natural world is the literary anthology Nature’s Healing Spirit: Real Life Stories to Nurture the Soul. She continues to help parents who adult children are estranged with her book, Done With The Crying and at her website for rejected parents.


30 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I love the idea of mindfulness in photography! I love photography &!have actually just started a website// blog about 2 things you & I have in common, an estranged adult child (our only) and my photos.
    I recently found your site & am reading Done with the Crying right now! If fact, your usage of a pseudo name allowed me to move forward in sharing.
    Thank you for your extensive work!

    1. Hi Carmen,
      I hope Done With The Crying will be helpful to you, as well as sharing your thoughts.

      Sheri McGregor

      1. Thank you Sheri for one more tool to help us through this tremendous loss of our child. I never thought this could happen to me but here I am just like all of us. Your book Sheri has helped a lot and the personal chats as well to see we are not alone.
        I will always have a broken heart but I am working through it with all the techniques and tools I can find. I would say I am doing Ok on this Christmas Eve as I refuse to allow this heartbreak to break me. I will pray for all of us and thank you for this group. This is my first post in the group.

    1. Thank you. Life continues to happen, but my heart will alway be broken. Some of us suffer from health problems and wish we could talk to or estrange child if nothing more than support. It’s heartwrenching for sure, but life goes on despite of what has happened to us. I pray to my higher power a lot. I have released my daughter into God’s hands as I can do no more. God can see what I cannot see and do what I cannot do. Bless and keep my daughter in your hands dear Lord.

      1. Dear Lee,
        I too am going through what you are. I have released my daughter, to God.
        I just don’t know what to do with my broken heart.

      2. Thanks Sheri,this means a lot. I love Photography. Also Lee H. I relate to your comment. We have 4 children this is happening to us about,and we give them to the Lord too! Blessings

        1. You are not alone, Marcia. We also have four. We thought we were the only ones. Thanks so much for your gift.

  2. I already practice “mundful photography”.. thanks to cell phone camera that us always at hand. Helps to keep perspective when you are aware that beauty surrounds us and life is quite lovely dispite some sorrows.

  3. I still miss her terribly. She wants me to be a part of her life, but won’t be a part of mine. That doesn’t work for me. Our family is very small in the first place. It’s been years and years since I’ve seen her or my grandchildren. I wish it would get easier. I try to care for myself, but what is happening to me on the inside?

    1. Hi Pamela,

      I know it’s difficult, and it must be really painful not to see your grandchildren. You asked what it’s doing to you on the inside…Well, it’s no secret that stress of any kind, and the emotional stress of a break, can wreak havoc. I hope you are supporting your health physically. Please do well for yourself emotionally, too. Here’s a link to the ‘what parents can do” category at the Help and Healing for Parents of Estranged Adult Children website. I hope you will look through and read some of the titles there and find some comfort and help.

      Sheri McGregor

      1. First time writing here. My First Christmas without my 2 sons and their families. I heard I am a new grandma for a total of 4 grandchildren I am not to speak to. I am reading your book and am doing better. Still waiting for the call. Feel my broken heart will never heal. Putting on a smile for my husband, daughter and her son.

  4. Thankyou for this encouragement. I feel so stuck. But putting some energy into some photography would be very therapeutic. I am going to try this. There is beauty out there if I can let it in.

    1. Hi Mary Beth,
      It’s worth putting in an effort to take notice of the good and beautiful! Enjoy. And yes, let that beauty in!

      Sheri McGregor

    1. Good, Sheri! (I hardly ever see someone with her name spelled same as mine!)

      I hope you find some insight that will be helpful to you, as well as just have a little fun.

      Sheri McGregor

      1. Hi Sheri,
        Our fraternal twin grandsons will be two in April. We haven’t met them and found out they were born by a friend who saw it on Facebook. They are our first and only grandchildren, not to hold them as newborns broke our hearts, never to be repaired. We just found out inadvertently that our son lost his job…It is Christmas Eve. So many mixed emotions but thanks to your book I am done crying. I cried everyday for the first year. There are times when I feel sad and other times I am beyond anger. Our son is also estranged from his sister, her husband, his brother. On some level I want him back but on our terms now….

  5. Thank you so much as for me, there are so many triggers. My Daughter loves Sunflowers, I saw one today and didn’t cry, largely because of your book, yet my stomach still did flip flops and I felt ill. You never get over losing a child, having one abandon you, but you continue to help me.
    Thank you so very much!

  6. I love this idea of mindfulness photography. I have a passion for tree trunks. I don’t know why but I find them so intricate and beautiful. I’m getting my camera now and will start using it. I love putting the pictures in an album, with date and what I was thinking at the moment. It’s been 4 1/2 years now since my daughter has spoken to me. Longer than some of you and shorter time than most of you. It never gets easy but I’m coming to grips with it all – very slowly. I love all your comments so much and I pray for you each day. Thank you to all for sharing your thoughts, heartache and good days when you have them. God bless!

    1. Dear Holly,

      I also like tree trunks. They’re quite beautiful, and I love the variety of textures. I will have to share some more of my trunk photos.

      I’m sorry about your daughter…. Please take good care, and be well!

      Sheri McGregor

  7. Thanks I love nature and taking photos of the simplest things in life that come to have great meaning. I have read Done with crying and go back to it often. Now I will definitely be going to get Nature’s Healing spirit. Holiday, birthdays Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are definitely very hard. This will be another one of the Christmas without my only Son. But I pray that he and Carly’s family have a wonderful Christmas also I pray that God puts us on his mind to the point that he has to think of his parents that were his best friends and loved more than our lives itself. Thanks for sharing your words but this year my husband and myself decided to love those that love us.. And find Joy as much as possible without Josh and Carly. . Breakdowns will come but I keep praying. . MERRY CHRISTMAS

  8. When I first found this on Facebook I was shocked to see so many people like me out there, so glad you do this. This thing that happens to parents makes them feel as though they have lepercy. I have had this done to me for eight straight years now and absolutely no contact. You had written something actually in the beginning. of my finding you about what these children do to their parents and in that writing you said it was a form of manslaughter or murder..you directed it to the children. I was on Facebook where I found it but I am no longer on Facebook because of the extreme hurt from my daughter on Facebook. Can you send me that..it was so very good. I found it a couple times, sent it to myself but must have accidently deleted it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for starting this whole post!

  9. These Christmas seasons are so difficult. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m wondering if I’ll even get a phone call from my daughter or my grandchildren. My daughter will only email me, no phone calls during the year. And now those emails too are dwindling. Now, I have a health concern that I want to share with her because she is my medical P.O.A. I don’t know what to do. Any ideas? God bless all of us going through this awful heartache. Losing our adult children and even our grandchildren can be gut-wrenching.

  10. Thank you, mindful photography is a wonderful way to focus on something else. After all there is so much beauty if we look and it’s a way to get out of my thoughts that seem to be on a constant replay.

  11. Merry Christmas and Happy new year to all. The photographs are a wonderful idea. As for myself I stop looking at the past photos of a life I no longer have several years back. I found that when I did this it seem to only make me suffer even more especially on holidays. So instead I made myself a promise to me. Stop being sad all holidays because whether I like it or not my life has changed. So I began living with the loneliness and letting it teach me how to not be alone even though I was alone. So I began to find what it was that I always liked when my kids and o were together on the holidays and I pushed myself right through the loneliness and now look forward to the holidays instead of sad. Like certain foods the gifts I get are wrapped to me from me things I waited for all year and didn’t buy . the decorating of the tree and house my favorite Christmas movies etc. However my kids are still the first on my list and I send them a gift with best wishes for holiday because that is what makes my heart happy. Sometimes I get a response but most the time I don’t. Shoot I don’t even get a text or a phone call on the holidays. But I make myself understand that what have done is send to the ones I love and at this time they are just not ready yet so I stop waiting for a response from them to make me have a happy holiday. I don’t look back often for a little f e that is no longer there a mom with kids who thought she was the best. But I do look forward to a life I can enjoy and still have the hope that one day I could open my door and there they would be like they always where. But that’s just hope its not my reality. My reality is get SANTA still thinks I’m great and the lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for me at this time. I’m celebrating his birth and the wonderful thing called life at its best for this reason. Best if holidays. Juanita

  12. Does anyone experience children that lash out and
    Accuse you of being a bad mother? I have that awful
    Pain from my 31 YO daughter. She breaks my heart and kills me with cruel words. I’d almost rather not hear from her.

  13. I,too, like tree trunks and have for 40 years.

    Back then, an art instructor thought that pictures of tree trunks was a sign of depression. I knew better. I am going to try mindful photography.


  14. I am newly estranged from my son. I kept trying and trying out of guilt , I guess. But the last time he said leave me alone , I did. Painful as it is I stepped outside of myself as a stranger looking in and that perspective told me that I was a good person that didn’t warrant the emotional abuse given to me by my son. This summer while upstate New York in the country I tuned into the beauty around me. I stopped and drank in the peace of my surroundings. I also took many photos. Looking at the photos brings me peace.

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