It’s been a while since I wrote a Mental Health Monday post! I’ve had a lot on recently – school holidays, design team work, bespoke card-making, spring fayre preparations, overwhelming tiredness – so something had to give, and that something was my blog. Things are a little quieter and more routine now, so I should have the time to write more frequently. That’s the plan anyway …
Today I want to talk about the nitty-gritty of my morning mindfulness, meditation, prayer and reflection habit. It goes something like this:
- 08:00 wave the kids off to school.
- 08:05 meditate using the Headspace app.
- 08:15 pray using the Pray as You Go app.
- 08:30 reflect using the Simple Abundance book and my journal
- 08:45 stretches
- 08:50 shower …
The first thing I want to say is that I don’t really draw a line between mindfulness, mediation, prayer or reflection. It’s all one and the same to me – perhaps different facets of the same jewel. I often start my morning habits with a simple breath prayer such as, ‘Here I am, Lord (in breath) I am here (out breath)’ or ‘You are in me (in breath) I am in you (out breath).’ These prayers not only acknowledge God and invite him into this special time, but they also anchor me in the present moment – my mind is fully engaged in the here and now. It’s not rushing away into my day or ruminating over yesterday. Which brings me to the main aspect, benefit and challenge of mindfulness – being fully present.
When people talk to me about my mindfulness practice, they often ask: do you have to empty your mind? My answer is no; the clue’s in the name … it’s mindFULLness. Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, letting our thoughts go and simply being. I know … easier said than done, right? Our brains are programmed to think; they’re programmed to figure out how to overcome challenges and threats – perceived and real. It’s our survival instinct. And our thinking brains do not shut off just because we live in a relatively safe environment. In fact, our brains will take any challenge and try to figure out how to deal with it, no matter how minor. Maybe your co-worker has commandeered your desk while you’ve been on annual leave. Maybe one of the kids in your child’s class has headlice. Maybe your local supermarket has run out of bread. Our brains see all these things as threats and try to think of solutions in the same way they would if you’d just spotted a sabre-toothed tiger lurking in the bushes. OK, your reaction might not be as extreme, but if you’re suffering from anxiety or stress it might well be. Your brain might not be able to tell the difference between a sabre-toothed tiger and a co-worker, and you’ll experience your Flight or Fight response as if they presented the same level of danger. At the height of my anxiety, my brain was like a game of Whack-A-Mole. Threatening thoughts would pop up in my head, and I’d try to bash them back down, but as soon as I got rid of one, another would pop up … over and over and over again. I just couldn’t stop them, and they grew and grew and grew until they were all-consuming. But it wasn’t just in my mind. Thanks to adrenaline and cortisol, it was in my body too. Imagine the stress and the strain and the wear and tear of living in code-red-high-alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week for months on end. Anyhoo …
Now, however, when threatening thoughts pop into my head, my response is much calmer. I acknowledge them for what they are – just thoughts – and let them go, like leaves floating away on a stream, or clouds floating across the sky. As my husband says: you can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from nesting in your hair. (He’s very wise!) As well as letting thoughts go, I also turn my attention toward whatever it is I am doing: cooking, painting, walking, breathing. I feel, taste, smell, hear, see. I fill my senses, and therefore my mind, with the present moment. And all this I do without judgment. I don’t label the thoughts as good or bad, and I don’t criticise myself for having them. My mind wanders. That’s what minds do – forever on the lookout for danger and opportunity. It has taken months of practice to be able to be mindful in this way. Thanks to the Headspace app, just ten minutes of practice a day for over a year now has started to hone my mind. Like any exercise, the more you do it, the better you get.
I almost always do my Headspace meditation before using the Pray as You Go app because it prepares me, settles and opens me for a focused time with God, just listening to his music, his story, dwelling in his love. As my mind inevitably wanders during this time, I remember to gently, and without judgment, return to prayer, to allow my mind to be filled by what I hear – not thinking, wrestling, studying, rationalising, struggling or striving, just being still and knowing and not rushing away in thought or in action.
I’m reminded of a verse from the Bible: Acts 17:28.
For in him we live and move and have our being.
After the day’s PaYG prayer, when I’m ready, I move on to the daily reading from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Joy and Comfort. This is a kind of doorway into the rest of my day, a time to read, reflect, re-engage my thinking brain. I’m very much enjoying the challenge of this book. Some days, I find myself nodding in agreement. Some days, I find myself holding the polar opposite view. Some days, I find myself amazed at how the author seems to be writing my life! Everyday, I find something to chew on, to mull over, to note down in my morning journal and take with me into the day.
Reading this back, it sounds a bit as if I think I’ve found the secret to never being depressed or anxious again. I haven’t, and I know I haven’t. I’m still a Work In Progress as much as the next person. I think what I’ve found, though, is both a tool, and more than a tool. My time in the morning, is my Soul Space. As an artist primes her canvas for the paint to come, I prime my soul for the day to come. This ordinary, sacred time is to my life, what primer is to paint – the same but different. My Soul Space trains me and hones me and reminds me that everything in my life and every moment of my life is spiritual and sacred. My Soul Space is a reminder that God is always with us, and it is God with me. My Soul Space is a time of alignment and refinement as well as stillness and silence. It is both preparation for and part of my walk with God.
To finish, I’d like to leave you with this thought from Brother Lawrence (1614 – 1691):
I have abandoned all particular forms of devotion, all prayer techniques. My only prayer practice is attention. I carry on a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy.
There is nothing new under the sun …
Thanks for reading! Back soon. xxx
You can read more of my Mental Health Monday posts here.