Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Prayer practise

The other day I rediscovered a prayer practice I used to use and found took me on some real adventures with God. I learnt it (or something like it) on a retreat about 10 years back, and have had some amazing encounters through it. If you want to try it, it goes something like this:

  • Ground yourself; be mindful. Do this in whatever way you find helpful. For me, I like to try to consciously become aware of my senses, rather than paying attention to my thoughts. You might find focusing on your breathing, or a candle, or relaxing your body, or repeating a simple word or prayer helps. Then;
  • Let God look at you. Just become aware of God’s gaze on you, and God’s presence.
  • Imagine God asking you ‘What do you want me to do for you?’, as Jesus often asks the people who come to Him in the Gospels.
  • Respond however feels right, and just let your imagination go wherever it wants to with it.

I’ve often been surprised what my response turns out to be, there in the moment with Jesus asking me what I want of Him. It’s often not what I thought.

When I did this the other day, my response was ‘I want to see You work through me. I want to be an empty space through which You can reach into the world.’

At that point, the image of ‘handmaids’ popped into my head; and I sensed the response immediately: ‘You are so, so much more than that to me. This is a partnership. I could break through and intervene through you if I wanted to, but that’s not how it works. You’re not a slave to be exploited. You want a push-button quick solution. I want the better way, not the easy way. It means putting in the hard work of relationship. You need to press into me, know me, follow me.’

Wow! I hope I’m brave enough.

I wrote about this in my diary, and mistakenly wrote it down as a ‘prayer practise’; but actually I do need to practise this prayer, to have more God encounters to challenge me, to help me know God more closely, and so that there can be more God and less self manifesting in my life.

Being thankful

We hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time this year! This has not been an easy year at all, personally or politically, but aside from liking the tradition and fancying the cooking challenge, I wanted to do this as I felt that actually I still have a huge amount to be thankful for from the past year, and that in a time when circumstances make it harder to see the good things and feel thankful, setting aside a little time to focus on what I am truly thankful for is a good discipline. The more I’ve thought about it, the more good I’ve spotted amongst the mess, and it has left me feeling genuinely grateful for those good things and a lot more positive about the year. So; my list:

  • Time at home. My new year’s resolution this year was straightforward after last year’s wonderful chaos; to do nothing! Well, maybe not ‘nothing’, but no crazy plans, no charging around the country(/world) week after week, and to focus on spending time right here at home, with our local friends and church family, and making progress on our DIY projects. And we’ve done that! It’s been really nice being a little more settled.
  • Living in Devon. Related to the last point – we live in a nice place! It’s been good to spend more time just enjoying where we live. Our main holiday this year was to Lundy Island, an island off the north coast in a protected area, which is therefore jumping with sealife. We saw so many seabirds, seals, jellyfish, rockpoolies and dolphins, and it was beautiful – all almost on our doorstep! And the walks and beach trips we’ve done closer to home have been wonderful too. We made an effort this summer to go down to the coast on nice evenings for barbecues or chips on the beach as the sun goes down. I can’t help but be thankful that my life looks like this after years living and working in and near London, it’s a real blessing.
  • The support for our whitewashing nonviolent direct action last year. I’ve been blown away by the amount of support I and my fellow activists have received since our action last November. A huge crowd of supporters turned out to our trial, some coming a really long way to be there. There were far too many people to fit in the viewing gallery and many stood outside in driving rain for us all day, praying, holding banners and looking after us. I’m so humbled! And on top of that, when we received a (much smaller than expected) fine, friends, family and supporters crowdfunded enough to pay it off in full! We checked the amount that came in a week after the verdict, and it seemed a random amount; but then we totalled up our collective fine and realised it was the same amount to the nearest pound! Shortly after this we closed the crowdfunder early as we had exceeded our target, despite not expecting to meet it, and found the amount raised exactly covered our expenses for the action too! I am profoundly grateful to God for so fully honouring our imperfect willingness to do this, and to our supporters, both for the obvious practical help this was, but also for the solidarity of knowing we had so many people standing beside us and willing to also pay the price of speaking out on climate change.
  • Good news on climate change. Aside from the ratification of the Paris climate agreement, it seems politically that this has been a bad year for climate, as in practice the political world has barely moved into action at all, and in many cases we’re still seeing the politics moving backwards. However; more and more this year I’ve seen signs of change, almost in spite of the politics of it all. The economics are starting to shift. As renewables grow, in spite of policies that hamper them, and the combined pressure from increasingly cheap renewable energy, financial disinvestment, uncertainty over the future under international climate agreements and the cost of carbon hits the fossil fuel industries, a real practical shift away from fossil fuels has begun. We have a long way to go, and fast, but this is genuinely encouraging. We need to keep up the momentum on fossil fuel disinvestment, which is really a win-win situation, whilst at the same time urging our governments to think progressively and practically get behind this shift, which would really speed the process up.
  • Vegan abundance! Going vegan ten years ago was relatively straightforward, with plenty of choices available in ordinary shops, and at least something you could eat in most restaurants when out. But there has been such a fast shift over the last year or so! Several vegan/explicitly vegan-friendly businesses have popped up all over town, raised consciousness means I’m finding it more common for non-veggie friends to know how to make really nice things for us, little innovations the world seems to have just discovered (coconut cream makes wonderful whipped cream, chickpea water works like egg whites…) mean vegan baking has suddenly become even easier and cafes are cottoning on, and even some vegan cheese seems to be finally starting to resemble the real thing! I’m suddenly beginning to realise how much self-control I’ve lost over the years, now that what was a ‘special diet’ is becoming so mainstream; I’ve been used to luxuries being just that, and therefore jumping at the chance to indulge when the chance arose from time to time, but suddenly it seems there are easy luxuries everywhere and I have to be restrained for the sake of wallet and waistline! But at the same time, what a nice problem to have – such great news for me, and for animals and the environment 🙂
  • The mental health services. Wow am I thankful for the help that I’ve found available to me this year as I’ve found myself battling depression! I’ve heard the horror stories and know not everyone gets the help they need when they need it, even when they do seek it, but my experience has been good so I know that’s only one side of the picture. I’d love to see the day when mental health is taken as seriously as physical health, because it is, and everyone can find help. But I’m very thankful that I have a good GP, have been able to take part in a well-taught CBT course for free, and have had help from my church towards paying to see a counsellor. Each of these things have been a God-send in an unpleasant situation, and I am so thankful.
  • Supportive family and friends. And again on a related note, I am deeply thankful for the community of people I have in my life who have treated my illness as an illness, been understanding as they can be, and been there to encourage me and share advice. I feel honoured to be able to reciprocate that to others too, and am grateful to have that chance through this circumstance. It’s brought me closer to myself, to others, and to God.
  • The RSPB. Last year I was volunteering for several different charities, often on my own and with irregular hours. This year I decided to change and focus on my work with the RSPB nature conservation charity, filling my newly-free days in the week by taking on some scientific support work in their local office, which means I’m now working with others and with pretty regular office hours, and getting to use my science brain a bit. Simplifying my work this year has itself done me a lot of good; but so has the RSPB directly. Conservation is not always the most encouraging world to work in, with so many species and habitats under threat. But working with the RSPB, I see an amazing array of good news stories as hard work saving nature really does pay off. Both internally and externslly there’s a real emphasis on hope and encouragement around this. The project I’ve worked most with this year has just celebrated a milestone as a little bird we almost lost from the country has been brought back from the brink and is increasing (you can read more about that here, it’s a nice reminder that good news is out there!). But even in addition to this, the organisation takes staff wellbeing seriously (as a volunteeer I am still considered part of the staff team) and has done a lot of work to raise the profile of wellbeing and mental health and promote activities and support that can help. I’m not sure I could be working in a better environment right now!
  • Being able to ‘do autumn properly’. It’s no secret that I love autumn! I felt like I missed out on it a bit last year in my busyness, so this year I made an effort to give time to enjoying it as much as possible. So we went on holiday in the Lake District, swam and bodyboarded in the sea, went for walks in the local arboretum and elsewhere, picked up colourful leaves, made some of them into pretty decorations or collages, went birdwatching plenty to catch the migration in progress, baked for halloween and used it to pray over the world’s darkness, went to the legendary Nottingham Goose Fair (enormous cheesy funfair, and something I haven’t done since leaving home), went to an apple day and made apple fritters to celebrate, had a Thanksgiving party and a Harvest ploughman’s meal, went to a fireworks display, and planted trees in the garden. I don’t think I’ve missed anything this year, and although it’s been unusually warm and dry and the trees gave us a bit of a stop-start display this year it’s been wonderful – and I have far too many photos! 😀
  • Switchfoot. I confess, when I drafted this list, this was the first thing I wrote! A lot of bad things have happened in the world this year. But 2016 was also the year Switchfoot brought us their 10th album, Where The Light Shines Through. And in a dark year, it really has been where the light has shone through for me, not just a highlight of the year for a fan, but also an incredibly timely album full of messages of hope and strength and light, so much needed just now. This band has done more than anyone else this year to encourage me to look for the points of light breaking through the darkness, keep my eyes on the Source of my hope, and work to become where the light shines through myself.

Dirt and eagles

Maybe, sometimes, face down in the dirt is the best perspective I can get

I find myself, again, hemmed in by even the tiny foothills of the great and daunting mountains, which rise higher the longer I look at them

But yet, with You, who hold the very universe in the palm of Your hand

Silence.

Sometimes there are tears or complaints.

But the truth is, I’m all out of words and attempts to find an answer.

Instead, I bring You silence, and emptiness.

In silent humility, face to the earth, You resolve form in the darkness

Love and Life itself

Closer than my breath, and big enough to hold every thing that exists

And when I open my eyes, I find us soaring, so far above the tiny landscape below…

 

A birthday labyrinth

I found and walked this labyrinth on my last morning in Germany back in June before coming home, my birthday.

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This past year in particular has been such an amazing year of exploration for me into the person I am, and could be. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about myself, been changed, challenged and stretched in all kinds of ways. Keeping this blog has been part of the process, learning to open up and try to become the same person in all circumstances. Work (and working for what matters, rather than for money) has been incredibly challenging and humbling as I find myself struggling with all sorts of questions around success, failure, pride, identity, vocation, ambition, apathy and money. I’ve been pushing myself creatively, letting God work through some of my failings and become a slightly calmer, hopefully nicer, person (but gaining some new character flaws in the process!), and making peace with myself, coming to accept all parts of my life, beliefs, eccentricities, and all my influences are a part of me, and that somewhere underneath I make sense.

It seemed really appropriate to have ended this year with a pilgrimage, and the pilgrimage with a labyrinth, the tiny journey of the labyrinth bringing into focus my thoughts on the physical and spiritual journey I’d been on over the last couple of weeks, and the wider journey of the year.

A labyrinth is not the same as what we usually think of as a maze. There is a single path, usually with one way in and one way out. A labyrinth does not have any dead ends, and you can’t get lost in it. It’s a tool for meditation, for stilling and/or focussing the mind and listening to God. The physical act of walking allows you to put aside distractions, as you concentrate on the labyrinth just enough to stay on the path but not so much that it occupies your mind. Sometimes I find it helpful to do something active but ‘mindless’ like this to stop my mind wandering when praying.

There is a long tradition of labyrinths being used in Christian worship, particularly in Celtic and medieval Christianity, and they were sometimes included in churches and cathedrals to be walked as part of a pilgrimage or prior to confirmation as a symbol of new life. Walking a labyrinth for a Christian can be a way of meditating on redemption, letting something go, the journey of life or faith, a particular story (from the Bible/ of a saint for example), an aspect of our own life or character, or can be simply a space to meet with God in the everyday, to take time out of the busyness and spend some quality time doing nothing in particular, to experience a ‘thin place’ where heaven feels very close to earth, or just as a focus for prayer.

I had a few quiet minutes to give to the labyrinth so I decided to prayer walk it properly. I stilled my mind a little at the start and opened myself up to have God speak to me as I walked and guide my thoughts. I decided to just listen to the thoughts that came as I walked. I’ve walked this design before, and there’s something about the way the path winds around it that really gets to me every time, but this time it really resonated with a lot that I’ve been wrestling with recently. I noticed how I kept on doubling back on myself, going round in circles, finding myself back where I started. It felt a bit like I was trying multiple dead ends to find the centre, only to find myself going back the way I’d come. But it’s a labyrinth, not a maze. All the time I kept walking, regardless of where the path took me, I was approaching the centre, and it was at the point the path seemed furthest away that it finally brought me in.

Is life like this? Are all my dead ends getting me somewhere? Is it when I’m furthest away that I can find the centre? I stopped in the middle for a moment to listen, and felt a sense of God’s affirmation, and with it an encouragement to keep on going. I sensed a little of who God made me to be. I want to put into practise what I’ve been learning of love and grace. Feeling energised, I made the return path at a run:

God, help me put all I have into giving You back what You’ve put in me!

Thoughts from inside a tree

Earlier this week I was back visiting the town I used to live in, and having a day to spare decided to go for a walk around some of the places I used to visit regularly. One of these was the meadows and woodland on my old university campus. My wandering brought me to a clearing in the woods where some climbable oak trees grow, one of which is an old friend of mine, a tree I sometimes used to climb once in a while, and which became a place of prayer for me. Being suitably dressed I hoisted myself up into it once again, to spend some time catching up with it before continuing my ramble.

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And time slowed down.

Trees know a rhythm that we don’t. It’s very complex, embracing both the chaotic, fast lives of the insects busy in their leaves to the much slower underlying rhythm of centuries. Sitting in its branches and feeling it move at its own pace shifted my perspective again, giving me a glimpse into tree time. Tree time feels the breeze, growth, sap, days, seasons, years, centuries. This tree knows me from my occasional visits here, and I can feel it calmly observing me as a transient but welcome visitor into its long lifetime.

I can’t help but be mindful in a tree – apart from the need for awareness to keep myself safe whilst some distance off the ground, a tree can teach me to slow down and see the world at its own pace, and notice what it notices. I spend so much of my life alternating between being busy and wasting time on the internet, and whole days can disappear almost unnoticed. It’s no wonder I dry up and burn out so often. It’s only when I slow down that I see the fast things I’d otherwise miss; here in the tree, the insects buzzing past, a tussle between rival butterflies, a thrush singing, a rare glimpse of a bullfinch… an unexpected pheasant launching out of another tree (when does that happen?!!).

I wonder if I learnt to slow down and live as mindfully as the tree, seeing the chaos around me and calmly and patiently reaching out into it to make it a little better, would I find a rhythm of life strong and deep enough to sustain me for the long haul? And to be at peace enough to be able to let go easily of this life when it’s time?