You know when you come up with a bright idea, like doing a blog, and then you realise you have to actually write something for that blog, but have no idea what it is that you want to say? Well, I am there right about now. So, I thought maybe a good starting place would be for me to tell you a little about how I engage with the world day to day, and how I keep myself relatively balanced.
There are many ways in which we can try and figure out what is going on in our lives; good, bad and indifferent. But we have to find the best ways for us as individuals to do that.
For a kick off, I don’t get on with journaling or keeping a diary – the irony of saying that whilst writing this, does not pass me by. For a lot of people, the action of writing (and I mean writing with a pen and not typing on a keyboard) is part of the process of reflection and engagement, the movement of the pen and the time to think adds to the process I am told. And then there is me. Possibly one of very few people who just doesn’t get on with this way of reflection or engagement. The discipline that is needed for this feels far too needy! I love to write, but on my own terms. I am sure that this daily ritual works well for the Queen, but not for me.
Unfortunately, a lot of church ‘stuff’ is about ritual and routine, so it is always a surprise to me and possibly others, that I find myself training for Ordination. There is much I love about ritual and routine, but there is also much I don’t like. Potential offense may occur here – I don’t like Morning Prayer. There I said it. It’s far too wordy for that time of day, and I much prefer to give thanks and start my day with less words and more silence. I’m about to go off on a tangent, so I shall say no more about my relationship with the offices of the Church for now, but will no doubt return to them at some point.
So, I guess the question is, as a person of faith, but more importantly someone who is just trying to be the best person I can be, what is it that I do to engage with the world and my own experiences, without writing tomes of poetic or blessed thoughts?
Well, there are lots of things I like to do – write, paint, sew, cook, walking in wide open spaces, photography – and I do all of these things as an when the mood takes me, and to varying degrees of success. But I don’t believe that doing these things in order to perfect them, isn’t the point. I have found things that I enjoy, things that I can immerse myself in, things that help me to relax, to reflect and to be still. I realise that I am not shedding any great light on the ways in which we can engage in the world, or how you should do it. However, all of these things involve silence, and that for me is a good habit to have, as I have found it to be what helps good mental wellbeing.
There will be people who find times of silence difficult or even pointless, and will dismiss it for varying reasons. From conversations that I have had over the years, there is a feeling, for a small number, that unless you are writing great tomes of insightful thought, then how are you really engaging with life, people and the world around you. I don’t agree with that; in fact, I am allergic to black and white responses to anything. Life is a kaleidoscope of colour and experiences. To say that silence – however you may find it – is a waste of time is to deny yourself a true encounter with yourself, your God, the universe or whatever it is you are trying to discern – it may be that you just want to connect with your deeper being. Whatever it is, it is yours and you really don’t need anyone elses approval.
I have come to a point in my life where I realise that I am not here to please everyone, that would be impossible. I try to be the best person I can be; I am by no means perfect – I hold grudges, I shout and swear, and I have days where the effort to ‘be nice’ is quite frankly beyond me. The key for me, is to recognise the warning signs. I know as soon as I wake up whether it is going to be ‘one of those days’, this could be because I’m stressed, overtired, running on empty or it could be for absolutely no reason at all.
The thing that I have learnt to do is to accept all of these things about myself. I haven’t always been happy or accepted them; they are traditionally thought of as ‘bad’ or ‘not very Christian’. It has taken a long time to get to a point of acceptance. A large part of that was letting go of the expectations of outside influences and demands. Those which informed my view of myself and subsequently how I allowed people to treated me and me them in return.
Doing something for our own wellbeing, is not only good for us but for the people around us. It helps with both our mental and physical health. I always feel that having that time gives me the opportunity to be still, and in a way that helps me to hear and see more clearly where God might be working in my life, and how I might respond to that. Equally, it can just be a time of rest, nothing more nothing less. That’s not to say that you will feel the same things that I feel in these moments of stillness, or what I have come to know as sacred idleness – our individuality is one of the many beautiful things about our humanity.
So, let’s talk about sacred idleness. This has been one of the singularly most important things that I have learnt during my training. To know when to do nothing, and to not feel guilty about it. When I say nothing, nothing can be anything that you want it to be. It could be doing absolutely nothing, it could be reading a book that you want to read rather than something required, it could be watching a film/tv series. The ‘nothing’ is yours to decide. The key here, is to not feel guilty about taking this time for yourself. It can be tricky to get used to, especially if you are a person who needs to be ‘doing’ all the time, but I thoroughly recommend giving it a go.
One thing that I do – amongst the many that I turn to – is the Ignatian Examen (you can find out more about it HERE). This is a technique that helps me to prayerful reflect on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for me. The Examen has few rules attached to it, and so it is flexible in its use, but of the few rules that St Ignatius set was the requirement to practice the Examen twice daily—at noon and at the end of the day. Given that i am not one for rules, as such, I tend to use this as an addition rather than a firm fixture in my day. Nonetheless, it is a helpful resource to have in your armour and it can be used in a secular way as well.
I don’t mean to sound all ‘holier than thou’ or to be one of the pompous prigs, who tells you that “all you need to do is X and everything will become clear”. No. that is far from what I am saying. Our individual needs are vast, and how we process things happening in our lives is complex. I guess, what I am trying to say is we all need time out, space for ourselves away from other people, from work, from the kids, from life in general and not feel guilty about that. Easier said than done sometimes, I know.
My point here is, find something that is authentic to you, not what is dictated as the ‘right way’ (including my ramblings). If you are someone who loves to write pages and pages, then absolutely do it. There is no one way for all, just as there is no one size fits all. My rebellious side raises her head when I am restricted in this way, and she is a nightmare to control when she is awakened.
Be you. Find what is good for you. Look after your mental wellbeing and most of all, be kind to yourself.
Love, Me x