Book Review: Capturing mindfulness: A guide to becoming present through photography

The desire to be more present in our lives and feel more sure of oneself is something everyone wants to achieve these days, but how do you go about achieving complete mindfulness?


If you buy into the fads of popular society these days, it would seem that the solution comes at the tip of a colouring in pencil, as many adults unleash the child within them to return to those well-worn colouring in books. “Just five minutes a day is all it takes,” declare many an advertisement in various book retailers around the country.


And it would seem that the technique is working, with illustrators such as Johanna Basford (Magical Jungle, Lost Ocean, Enchanted Forest) and Millie Marcotta (Curious Creatures, Animal Kingdom, Tropical Wonderland) continually topping the best-seller list with their “mindful” creations. Even some of our favourite fiction series are getting in on the act, with numerous Harry Potter-inspired colouring books for adults on the market, along with George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones and Sarah J. Mass’ Throne of Glass series.


While the concept itself may seem new, the idea of taking one’s creative passions and adapting them to mindfulness and meditative practice is not. Matthew Johnstone has been using his artistic talents to discuss mental illness since the publication of his first book, I Have a Black Dog in 2005, which was followed up by other books such as The Alphabet of the Human Heart and Quiet the Mind. Published a few years ago, Capturing Mindfulness: A Guide to Becoming Present Through Photography takes that concept one step further, as Johnstone works to combine both his passion for photography and positive thinking into one, neat little package. While, there is a certain “coffee table” feel to this book (in that in can be read in one sitting), Johnstone goes beyond that, accompanying the positive affirmations that feature throughout with instructions for how readers too can become what he describes as “photo-present”.


To be honest, I was a little dubious when I read that. While the author describes himself as more of a hobbyist photographer, he does have that background in creative arts, as evidenced by his previous published works. How will asking readers to take on a potentially new hobby and strive for the perfect photo allow them to achieve the calm that the mindfulness concept seems to embody? Surely that’s just going to enhance feelings of negativity, stress and anxiety, all things that go against becoming mindful, isn’t it?


Apparently, I was wrong. “Being photo-present is something that you set out to do with absolute intention,” he says. “It’s a time to consciously slow down both mentally and physically and look at your world with a keen curiosity.” “Develop a child’s eye,” declares one page,” (this advice being something that Johnstone takes literally, as he engages school students in the practice regularly) and abandon the rules of taking a good photograph, “It’s not about the outcome; it’s more about the process and practice. Pretend you don’t care, and you won’t,” are just some of the suggestions he makes.


“It’s important to remember that being photo-present is about creating some time for yourself while heightening your awareness… With or without a camera, it’s a wonderful thing to be aware of where you are, what you’re doing and how you’re feeling.” At its heart, that is what the concept of mindfulness is about, and one of the reasons why this book (and the techniques discussed within its pages) works so well. It’s about discovering the little things in life, the things no one else sees, and taking time to appreciate them, and your place within the world in the same way that family and friends have a way of keeping one grounded when life gets chaotic.


While it is ultimately one of the objects of the book, for those who honestly have no desire to pick up a camera, you don’t even have to take the “photo-present” side of Capturing Mindfulness seriously, if that is your choice. I found the idea behind the technique enough, and that just flipping through the book before bed centred me enough to wash away the anxieties and worries of the day. Each page is a work of art designed to capture the mind and allow the reader (for a short period of time, at least) to let go of the weight stopping us from going about our daily lives. With artistic mindfulness becoming ever more popular, Johnstone offers another technique in this book that will not only appeal to those with creative leanings, but also to those just wanting to be reminded to not take life’s little treasures for granted. Take a few minutes to read it and you won’t be disappointed.


Capturing Mindfulness: A Guide to Becoming Present Through Photography is published via Pan MacMillan Australia and is available via their website, the author’s website or in local bookstores. For more information about Matthew Johnstone, follow him on Facebook.


Written By: Jackie Smith is a freelance journalist/editor and proofreader from Brisbane, QLD, Australia. Currently studying a Cert IV in Marketing and Communications, her work has been published with various media outlets (print and online). To keep updated with all of Jackie’s current articles, visit her blog, Facebook page or Twitter.

Helping Your Friend Who is Depressed

– Sarah Fader

I have lived with clinical depression for most of my life. I can remember as early as eight feeling a sick sad feeling. It usually started in my stomach and continued to permeate my entire body all the way into my brain. Having clinical depression is a mental illness; It is a disease. It’s in the DSM-V. It’s a medical condition. It’s also something that I would not wish on anyone, even my worst nemesis. You see, clinical depression is a horrible disgusting monster that has tried to murder me. It has terrified me to the point where I was scared to get out of bed. I didn’t want to shower, get dressed, eat, or live. At times, the monster told me to sleep all day. Other occasions it tortured me by not allowing me to sleep at all.


I’m proud to report that I am still here. I didn’t let this even monster take my life away from me. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t continue to challenge me and make me feel extraordinarily small. Clinical depression has a way of minimizing you. It points this lazar gun at your heart and attempts to shrink you to the smallest size possible. It is reminiscent of the part in Alice in Wonderland where she takes a pill and shrinks so small that she is able to crawl into places that a mouse could fit in.


Alice is taken on a wild ride, much like the terrifying rollercoaster that clinical depression takes its victims on.


I used to see myself as a victim of depression. Now I see myself as a warrior.  I have a shield and a sword and I’m ready to take that bitch down.


I go to war for my life each and every single day. I see a therapist weekly. I take antidepressants. I meditate and engage in breathing exercises. I religiously see my therapist and my psychiatrist. I am fierce about my regimen of self-care and I have to be. I don’t have the luxury of not going to the mental gym.


There are many people in this world who do not comprehend how awful depression is. They truly believe that they you can cheer up. They are sure that by reminding you of the great things in your life that you will somehow miraculously be cured. It all be a distant memory and you’ll be happy again because that’s how life works right?




These are the same individuals who will discourage you from complaining. Complaining is not what you’re doing – you are fighting a disease. They don’t know that though. They will insist that other human beings have it worse than you do. There are people in other countries who are starving.


What makes you so sad? You have it easy.


Here’s the truth.


When someone has ALS, do you ask them to stop complaining about their terminal disease? No. You don’t do that.


When you tell a person who has depression to be silent you are contributing to their illness. So stop doing that. Let your depressed friend speak.


She needs to open up

She wants to tell you her story

She is hurting

She needs you.


Depression is a disease and one of the cures is talk therapy. When you allow your friend to sound off to you, then you are helping her get well. You don’t need to fix it. You are not required to do anything but listen. And that is something you can do. So do it. Be there, and don’t try to do anything. Depression isn’t something that has a toolbox or instruction manual it comes with. In fact, quite the opposite. Depression wants to annihilate anyone who wants to stop it or get it gone.


It’s a sneaky bastard and doesn’t have any consideration for the people it afflicts.


When your friend tells you she is hurting, she wants some help fighting this monster. You can pick up that sword and pitch in. Listen to her, help her strategize, or just be there. Whatever she needs, she will tell you.


Understand that your friend who lives with depression is suffering. She may not know how to stop the pain. But she does love you. She wants you in her life, but she is sick right now. The wound is open and she is showing it to you. Be considerate and kind. She lacks hope at the moment, but that doesn’t mean she is hopeless.


What can you do?






Your friend is a human being and she needs you. So be there.


Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She is an author and blogger, having been featured on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good day New York.


Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.

Compare and despair


Depression is a sneaky monster. It wants to make us feel lower than low. In reality, we have a choice as to whether or not we listen to it. It’s difficult when you feel low to look around at other people and observe how “easy” their lives appear to be. In reality everyone has their own unique challenges and struggles to conquer. The idea that one person’s life is easier than another is an optical illusion.


Pain cannot be compared; it simply exists. That’s why it is fruitless to compare yourself to other people. Human beings are naturally competitive, however it’s important to recognize that some forms of competition are unhealthy. When you find yourself comparing your suffering to another person’s, it’s time to curb that impulse.


A quick way to remember this is “compare and despair.” No good can come from comparing your sadness to another person’s. You have your own unique journey and no one can truly understand what it’s like to be in your shoes. You are the only one who knows what it’s like to feel your feelings. Sure, we can empathise with others and try to see matters from their eyes, but we can never know what their inherent reality is like.


On the surface, someone’s life could look idyllic and without struggle or sadness. In reality, this is not the case. This individual may be suffering a great deal and they have not shared their pain with the world. Some people are better at hiding their pain than others. We cannot judge what is on the exterior, because we do not know what other people are thinking.


You are entitled to your experience and you own that. It’s not just about pain or suffering either, it’s about our triumphs as people too. Depression sneaks out into your consciousness when you compare your success to another person’s. You are special in your way. There are unique traits that make you, you. It’s important to celebrate your successes as well as the triumphs of others.


We’re in this world with one simple purpose: to find what makes us happy and fulfilled. Though the purpose may be straightforward, the end game is extremely challenging. Finding happiness is a lifelong journey. Ultimately the answer is within ourselves.


Whatever you do, remember that your success or happiness is not contingent upon another person. Happiness exists within yourself; you don’t need to look to another person to fulfill that need. Look inside and ask yourself: what makes me happy? What is it that brings joy into my life? Once you’ve answered that question, then you can seek out those things that bring light into your life.


Sarah Fader

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She is an author and blogger, having been featured on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good day New York.


Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.

Clear Out The Clutter!

Recently I’ve been thinking quite a lot about organisation and clutter in my home. Specifically the impact it has upon my happiness and stress level. As humans we have a tendency to self-organise. However I must admit, I have a tendency to procrastinate as well as a propensity to be sentimental about objects. As a result, my home has lots of things scattered/piled about. Nothing outrageous enough to make a television show about but I definitely have way too much stuff. That coupled with a handsome husband and darling daughter (who is all of one year old) my house has reached the point where I am motivated enough to do something about it.


Since the ‘problem’ is not a new one, I have done a stack of reading on how to keep a tidy home, home organisation, speed cleaning and such. It is very easy to lose hours in Pinterest! I’ve cherry picked a few ideas (it’s how I roll you may prefer to stick to hard and fast rules. Here’s the ones that I find work for me.


Bite Sized

If I have learnt anything in the last five years of studying it’s that large tasks – such as a thesis or house organisation need to be broken up into manageable sized chunks. This makes the task more clear and seem achievable while capitalising on the the motivation achieved by completing smaller tasks along the way[3]! It reduces my stress as my never-ending “To Do List” gets smaller. This week I tackled the hutch (display cabinet with  in my living room). The hutch tends to be a transitional home, home to things that need to go in the shed, paperwork, christmas and birthday cards etc. This week I relocated the items appropriately. So presently – hopefully indefinitely  – it will only be home to the few decor items and box of tissues allocated to it.


200 Things

While I am not a “New Years Resolution” kind of person generally, this year after reading a blog titled “200 Things to Throw Away” (find it here) I decided one way to tackle house organisation was to throw away (or donate) 200 items this year. Not necessarily the listed ones, just 200 things. I am down 20 items so far and I can already see a difference! Usually my bedside table is covered in stuff but it has been delightfully devoid lately. As an unexpected bonus, I am far more mindful of items I bring into the house – hello savings!


It’s The Little Things

The couch on the other hand usually has a pile of washing on it… to combat this and other items hanging around like a bad smell I have taken up not leaving a room empty handed. It’s common to flutter around the house as I go about my day, getting breakfast, getting a drink, going to the bathroom, getting dressed – you get the idea. I visit nearly every room in my home MANY times a day. With this in mind, every time I go into a room I either tidy something or take something that doesn’t belong into the appropriate room. Some times it’s easy – when an item is clearly out of place, other times I challenge myself to do something I have been meaning to do but haven’t gotten around to yet. Often it doesn’t take long such as putting away the pens Little Miss One has enjoyed pulling out of the desk drawer. Regardless I feel better for having done it.


It’s Only Two Minutes

The couch-robe has also inspired an uptake of the concept “if it takes two minutes do it now”. I admit I am fairly proficient at procrastination. Things that need mending lay abandoned for lets say a good chunk of time and washing piles up. But repeating the phrase “it only takes two minutes” has helped motivate me to do lots of little things around my home! Folding clean clothes (which seems neverending!), making my bed or emptying the dishwasher. The small things helps make me feel accomplished and motivated for bigger / more tasks. The simple task of making the bed, means every time I go into my bedroom I smile and know at least I have done that today. This is particularly important when your housemate toddles around after you undoing what you’ve tidied!


Everything in its Place

In order to avoid the pile of up things on the hutch – particularly paperwork, I’m dealing with items as they come in. Each item that enters my home will have a place or be dealt with immediately. I find this rather easy with mail, if it’s a bill it goes on my desk and if it’s junk straight to the recycling. However it’s a little more challenging with other larger or less clear items. They usually have to boot something else out of it’s place to find a permanent home.


Two months into the new year and I feel less stressed as the culmination of the little habits is starting to make a big impact upon the clutter!




Weinstein, N. (2014). Human motivation and interpersonal relationships: Theory, research and applications. Springer: United Kingdom. doi: 10.1007/978-94017-8542-6

Haraty, M., McGrener, J., & Tang, C. (2015). How personal task management differs across individuals, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 88,13-37. doi:10.1016/j.ijcs.2015.11.006

Tanaka-Ellis, N. (2010). Factors limiting learners’ success in achieving task outcomes in CALL. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 4(3), 213-233. doi: 10.1080/17501229.2010.513445

Rachel Fredericks

Rachel Fredericks is a practising Catholic, a wife and mother of one (two if you count the 2yo puppy). She’s currently studying her Masters of Organisational Psychology as well as bringing up her darling daughter who just turned one! She enjoys good conversation, quality time with family and friends, going to the beach or a run and reading good books.

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