Bible Journaling Out Loud: We Live and Move and Have Our Being

Hello, and welcome to my channel! In this video I talk about my recovery from mental illness and the part my faith is playing in it. I invite you to watch as I create an entry inspired by Acts 17:28. If Bible Journaling is not your thing, feel free to skip this video and come back for usual my Plan With Me, Journal With Me and Crafting Out Loud videos. Thanks for watching! xxx

Bible Journaling Out Loud: An Introduction

Hello, and welcome to my channel! In this video I talk about my recovery from mental illness and the part my faith is playing in it. I also tell you why I’ve started Bible Journaling and invite you to watch as I create my first entry. If Bible Journaling is not your thing, feel free to skip this video and come back for usual my Plan With Me, Journal With Me and Crafting Out Loud videos. Thanks for watching! xxx

Mental Health Monday – Soul Space

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.

Planning Out Loud: Half-Term Holiday Habits

My current wellness tracker is looking a bit patchy. For the first half of the month, I wasn’t doing very well with not eating any junk, but I’m okay with that – what’s done is done. I wasn’t eating loads of junk anyway, just the occasional packet of crisps or ice cream. I do need to rein myself in though, so I’ve given up junk (crisps, cake, chocolate, ice cream, popcorn, biscuits etc) for Lent. I use Lent as a time to prepare for Easter, so giving up junk is not just about healthy eating, it’s about reorienting myself toward God and taking care of the body that he gave me. For this very same reason, I’m going to do better with exercise too, but it’s tricky at the moment as my back is very painful when I stand or walk for more than a few minutes. I know that the first step to increasing my exercise level must be to go back and see the doctor – it’s one of my goals this month.

The other area where my tracker is looking a bit patchy is in the Headspace and Pray as You Go app rows. There have been a few days already this month when I’ve just forgotten to do them, and I’ve only remembered when I’ve got into bed. Usually, Monday to Friday during term-time – I never forget to meditate and pray using these apps. It’s part of my routine. I get the kids up, fed, washed, brushed, dressed and on their way to school and then I spend half an hour or so in prayer and meditation. It’s the weekends and school holidays that are when I forget. I’m out of routine, and the house is full of people, so it’s hard to find a quite spot where I’ll be undisturbed. I know it’s not a big deal if I miss one every now and then – after all, I am far more mindful than I used to be, and I speak to God far more often during the day – but it’s easy to fall out of the habit of spending focused time just listening for that still, small voice of calm. I really don’t want that to happen.

So, what to do about it? Well, this morning, I was woken up by my alarm at 7.30am, and after a few minutes of waking up properly, I decided to have my Headspace and Pray as You Go time before getting out of bed. It wasn’t just a box-checking exercise; it was so that I started my day right, and didn’t just launch myself into it without a second thought. This was a much better way to begin the day – I’ll do it again tomorrow, but what about future weekends and holidays?

Towards the end of each month, I sit down with my planner and look forward at the coming month to see if there are any events or issues that may cause me stress or anxiety. I then write them in my Hazard Plan and jot down ideas for how I can manage my stress levels. I’ve realised that I could add things that may simply derail my routines too. As well as having a Term-Time Routine, I need to formulate a Weekend Routine. I could also do with having a School Holiday Routine, so that when I write my monthly Hazard Plans and see that I have a school holiday coming up, I can refer to my School Holiday Routine collection, so that I don’t forget to do what I need to do to maintain my wellness. Now, I just need to figure out what routines will work best and when …

How about you? How do you handle change of routines when it comes to wellness habits?

Thanks for reading! See you soon. x

Journaling Out Loud: A Sacred Space

For as long as I can remember, I have loved stationery. As a young girl, I collected notepads, bookmarks, pencils, pens, sharpeners and erasers. I used to keep a old biscuit tin full of them under my bed. I can still remember the smell that puffed out of it every time I opened the lid – a sweetly warm combination of fruit-scented erasers and leather bookmarks. Even today, I am at my happiest when perusing the shelves in stationery stores.

Given all that, I’m sure you’ll understand when I say that today has made me very happy because today was the day that I started my new artful journaling notebook. Now, I’ve tried lots of papers and notebooks over the last few months, but I’ve finally settled – unsurprisingly – on 68gsm tomoe river paper. It’s thin, delicate and robust. It can take watercolour, inks, sprays, dyes, acrylics and all sorts of pens. You can smear stuff on it and rub stuff off it, yet it’s still beautiful to write on with a fountain pen. My only problem with tomoe river paper is that it is expensive and not readily available in the UK – you pretty much have to order it from Amazon and wait for it to arrive from Japan, or rummage around Etsy to find a supplier. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been really pleased with all the paper and notebooks I’ve acquired this way, but, because I write so much, I go through it all like the clappers, and it makes journaling a pricey pastime. This new notebook wasn’t cheap either – it cost £30, including shipping, from Taiwan, but it is going to be worth every penny, as it has 384 A5 pages in it, which makes it excellent value for money at 7.4p per page. (To put that into context, my current bullet journal is a Leuchtturm 1917 which cost me £20 and has 240 – that’s 8.3p per page.)

But I wasn’t just thinking about cost when I chose this notebook. When I write in smaller journals, such as travelers notebook inserts, I find myself getting bored about half-way through and rushing to fill the rest so that I can start a new insert – there’s nothing quite like that new notebook feeling! I won’t be doing that with this one though. There’s no way I’ll be able to rush through 384 pages! I’m also hoping this notebook’s larger size will not only help me slow down, but also help me decorate my pages more mindfully too. I want to savour every spread, to enjoy the process of painting and smooshing and spraying,  and to think carefully about what tipins and ephemera to include – the notebook could easily become unwieldy otherwise.

I gave up journaling when I was severely depressed because it became detrimental to my state of mind – I was just ruminating on paper – but artful journaling has got me going again. The act of decorating my pages has given me so much joy and allowed me to unleash my creative, playful side which, in turn, has made journaling a positive experience once more. I’m ready for even more now though. I’m ready to care for this journal in a way I haven’t cared for my previous journals. I’m ready to slow down and for it to become a beautiful, sacred space for both thinking and praying on paper.

Mindfulness – Memory Pockets

The older I get, the faster the days seem to pass. Once upon a time, the six-week school holidays seemed to stretch on forever, but now they seem to be over in the blink of an eye. My eldest will be 16 years old in a couple of weeks. He sits his GCSE exams this summer and will be off to sixth-form college in September. Before I know it, he will have left home altogether, and, in between visits, I’ll just have to make do with the memories we made together – plus the occasional whatsapp message, hopefully!

The most vivid memories I have from my life are those formed when I was intensely focused on the moment: the births of my children; the moment Mr Bowers finally popped the question; checking the results board at Uni to see what classification I’d been awarded. There are others memories too, littler but just as important: walking along various beaches, hunting for sea glass with my family; the hundreds of times I’ve washed my daughter’s hair in the bath; all the times we’ve sat at the dinner table, laughing at one of my husband’s jokes – I forget the jokes, but I remember the laughter. But there’s so much I’ve forgotten because I wasn’t fully present at the time. There are times when the kids will say: Mum, do you remember when [insert memory here], but I don’t remember it, probably because I wasn’t paying attention. I tell myself that they remember these things because they’re young and they’ve got fewer things to remember than I have!

Anyhoo … all this has been on my mind lately, so when I saw these little envelopes on sale in Home Bargains this week, I knew exactly what to do with them. I’m turning them into Memory Pockets to stick in my journal. I’ll add them to the pages with washi tape and when I have something I want to remember, I’ll put a keepsake in them to act as an aide memoir: a ticket stub, a car park ticket, a hand-written note … anything that will make me pause and remember and reinforce those memories in my mind. I’ll also use them as prayer prompts, to remind me to thank God for the making of those memories. Just knowing I have these pockets ready to go will remind me to pay closer attention to the everyday.

How about you? How do you make lasting memories?

Thanks for reading! See you soon. xxx

Mental Health Monday: The Stress Bucket

This is a page from the bullet journal I used for the first half of 2017. When I made this page, I’d not long come out of hospital and had just started writing up the notes I’d made during the workshops I’d attended there. (See The Nine Pillars of a Balanced Life for more information.)

I can’t remember the title of this particular workshop, but I’ve not forgotten the things I learned in it. The stress bucket, in particular, has stuck with me; in fact, just the other week, I sat down with my twelve year old and drew her a stress bucket to help her manage her school-related stress levels. It seemed to help.

The theory is simple. The water flowing into the bucket from tap at the top represents the demands placed on you and the things that cause you stress. The tap at the bottom of the bucket represents your coping techniques, the things you might do to mitigate the effects of demands and stressors, as well as the things you do to relax and refresh yourself. The bucket itself represents your inner strength and resilience, your inherent ability to thrive and survive whatever life throws at you – your beliefs, your values, your gifts and talents, your goals, your hopes and dreams, your identity.

Imagine that the tap at the top is fully open and water is pouring into the bucket. What is going to stop the bucket from overflowing, or worse, from breaking? Well if it’s well-made of strong stuff, the bucket will be able to hold a lot of water without breaking, and if the tap at the bottom is fully open, it won’t overflow either. It’s the same with us. If we are strong in ourselves and if we have good coping abilities, we should be able to deal with the stresses that come our way. But we’re not always strong in ourselves. All sorts of things can weaken us: physical illness, mental illness, abuse, neglect, addictions. And our coping abilities aren’t always up to snuff. Through no fault of our own, we might not have time to relax; we might not have the money for avocados and a gym membership; we might not even know what is good for us and what isn’t.

Before I became ill, toward the end of 2016, I’d been dealing with some major stressors for a long time, but I’d not been taking care of myself properly, and I was busy doing things I didn’t really feel called to do, so when yet another stressor came along it tipped the balance, and I ended up with anxiety, depression and a five-week stay in hospital. But since then, over the course of my recovery, I’ve adopted a number of coping techniques and resilience-building habits that are helping me manage stress. These techniques and habits include planning using the bullet journal system, habit and mood tracking, getting out of bed between 7am and 7.30am everyday, being in bed by 11pm every night, drinking at least five drinks a day, meditating everyday using the Headspace app, praying everyday using the Pray as You Go app, creating something arty and crafty everyday, writing in and decorating my artful journal, doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation before bed, using lavender oil as a soothing scent, leaving the house once a day if possible, walking in the fresh air, cutting down on junk food, regularly reviewing my life and setting small goals. I’ve also let go of the idea that I have to say ‘yes’ to everything, and I am learning to pace myself and rest when I need to, as well as only investing my time and energy into the things I really believe in. This last one, in particular, has given me a renewed sense of purpose and direction, which in turn is giving me something to focus on during times when I do feel low or anxious.

None of this has happened overnight – it’s taken a year to get here, and what I’ve learned over the last twelve months is that I need to take things slow, to change each area of my life one at a time, gently, mindfully, non-judgmentally and with self-compassion. Discovering the idea of a Stress Bucket and The Nine Pillars of a Balanced Life was the start of this journey, a journey I’ll be on until the day I die! In the past, I’ve tried to get into good habits, but have often got bored with them and let them fall by the wayside. I can’t afford to do that this time. I’ve seen the positive changes that these habits have had on my life, and I know that I need to keep doing them and not stop even when things are going well. If these habits stay in place, they’ll be there when I need them most. I won’t have to try to remember what to do – it’ll come as naturally as breathing.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for persevering with this rather long post. I hope I haven’t rambled too much and that this has been helpful. Feel free to say ‘hi’ in the comments. Have you come across the stress bucket idea before? What helps you cope with the demands and stresses of life?

See you soon! xxx