A bit of a Round-up

Well, my resolution to give a round-up once a month didn’t last long did it! I’ve done one and missed two… In view of my failings (bear in mind, I’ve already said failing is OK) I won’t beat myself up but will round-up early for December and give a bit of a flavour of my recent discoveries.

 

Woodys Roundup

It’s been a month of searching – looking for like-minded people and for a course that will equip me to teach mindfulness much sooner than 2017.  Within church settings, like-minded people are hard to come by, but then as we are pioneering that should come as no surprise, but happier news on the Mindfulness front.  I’ve managed to jump a very long queue for a teaching place at Bangor university.  Bangor is the leading centre for Mindfulness so I will be well placed to be equipped to officially take courses by the end of January (provided it doesn’t snow in South Wales!).  It’s not just about speed of training either as the Government has now decided that Mindfulness needs to be regulated and is setting minimum standards for how it’s taught.  As Bangor is a lead university and has been a major player in advising the government, I should be in a good position not to have to do lengthy re-training in 12 months time.

The second stage in the plan is to lead from Mindfulness and into spirituality groups.  We’re a long way off forming groups but we do need to work out what that might mean and start to think how we might begin.  I recently met with Roger Walton who put me in touch with some people who are thinking of setting up a hub and offering spirituality days so plans are afoot to see if there might be some common themes…all is looking good.

I’ve noticed that Christian meditation and mindful meditation are very similar and came across this from Richard Rohr.  It’s a prayer/meditation to relieve stress/anxiety:

Practice

Heartful Decision-Making

When you are feeling anxious or stressed, try these simple steps, adapted from HeartMath’s “Freeze-Frame” technique, to help you connect with your heart’s intuitive wisdom. Set aside five to ten minutes when you can be alone in a quiet place. Choose a posture that is comfortable, perhaps sitting or lying down, and close your eyes.
Recall the stressful situation and “freeze-frame” the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise. Observe where and how the stress appears in your mind and body.
Shift your focus from your anxiety to your physical heart area. Imagine your heart pumping each breath through your body. Relax into your breathing and feel your heart warm. Hold your attention here for about ten seconds.
Now remember a happy time or picture someone you love. Feel the sensation that comes from such joy and love. Send that feeling to your whole being.
Ask your heart, “What would be an effective response to this stressful situation that would help reduce future stress?”
Listen to what your heart says. Visualize yourself taking this action and feeling peaceful. Say to yourself, “I am letting go of tension. Peace is within me.”
When you are ready, open your eyes. You might want to journal about this experience so you can return to these insights later and act upon them.

Anyway, if you’re still with me, well done!

So, finally…

I am working hard on writing a Mindfulness course for the Recovery College at Mirfield.  Originally, there were a few people booked on the course but after I did a presentation on an introduction to Mindfulness the course quickly became oversubscribed and they’ve closed any more applications so we’e now got a waiting list – a vote of confidence – Hoorah!!

Lepton have kindly offered to let me take a Mindfulness course in one of their rooms and we hope to begin in February, so if you would like to join the 8 week course, let me know.  If you are recovering from or been diagnosed with a life-changing illness, are stressed, anxious, recovering from/suffer from depression or just can’t sleep or wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep or anything else that stops you enjoying life to the full, then this might be just the thing for you.  Please get in touch and I can tell you more.

Hope that’s OK.  I’ve been really busy and I am excited at the future.  Thank you for those of you who are praying for me and the work.  It’s a solitary role but I always feel supported and cupped in the palms of God’s hands.

 

 

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Failure’s OK

What is it about failure that’s so destructive?  Why are we so afraid to fail?

Deep within our minds there sits a nagging old man/woman who constantly criticises us.  Our inner critic is excellent at reminding us of all the times we have failed – and they do it with pin-point accuracy and with all the definition of a 100 mega pixel camera – in HD and 3D.  That old man/woman tells us we’re not good enough and is always ready to remind us of of a time when we tried something new and we failed (more than 80% of our thoughts are negative by the way).

All-in-all we don’t want to fail and we know the best way to not fail is to not try anything new or risky – simples!

If you’ve not seen any of Brene Brown’s TED talks, then shame on you (that’s a pun not a criticism.  You’ll have to watch her now!).

Brene Brown
TED2012: Full Spectrum. February 27 – March 2, 2012. Long Beach, CA. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

She will tell you that the very best of those in innovation have failed repeatedly – and that’s why they become ‘successful’.  To bring new and exciting things you have to fail and in order to fail you have to be vulnerable. We are not good at vulnerability.

It seems that our self-esteem is often hooked in to what other people think of us: ‘If they think I’m OK, then I am.  If not, then I’m not and there must be something wrong with me’ (you’ll have to come to one of my Mindfulness courses to find out why we think like this).  But our deep-seated need is to connect to others; to be accepted and liked and most of us spend most of our time making sure we get accepted by others – no wonder it’s an exhausting world. And that’s why we think we must not/cannot fail because to not be accepted is a shameful experience which alienates us from the people we so desperately want to be with.

Happily, the Gospels tell a different story and my paraphrase is this: God loves you so be nice to each other.  Or a bit more poetically, there is nothing greater than to sit in the palm of God’s hand and try to tell God why we shouldn’t be there only for God to hush our anxiety, smile and tell us it’s OK ‘cos seeing us there causes the angels to sing and the trinity to dance.  I am grateful to my Methodist circuit for inviting me to fail…

 

A day at Mirfield College and some spirtuality

I spent the day at Mirfield College this week.  I went with the idea of taking some time to talk to the Monks and to see how their Rule of Life worked out and what sort of community they had developed.  Well, it didn’t turn out like that.  I got there for morning prayers at 6.45am.  I have to say that the whole idea of getting together to sing Psalms and hear the Bible read was lovely (even though Psalm 94 really didn’t fit into my theology).  But then I was shown to my room.  It seems that what I thought I had said and what they obviously heard got a bit confused as they thought I was there for a day’s retreat.  I hadn’t realised just how much silence there was at the college!!!

I finally got to talk to someone at 4pm (that, by the way, is a lot of praying before I did any talking) and part of what the monks told me was that they saw their prayers as a major instrument for God’s transformation and by transformation, I mean they consider that saying prayers four times per day transforms them.  mirfield collegeThis brought me up short because in all of my church life I have always considered that my prayers transformed others/other situations.  It was never taught that prayers might change me.  So I am thinking about this, especially in my work being with people whose mental health is not what they want it to be.  ‘How might this piece of information help me to bridge a gap between those inside and those outside of church/Christianity?’  I think a lot has to change within those of us who believe we are spiritual already and I will post some thoughts about this later.

By the way, this is how a typical monastic day works out at Mirfield:

  • 6.45am Matins (morning prayers)
  • 7.30-8.30am breaksfast
  • 10.45am cup of tea
  • Noon: Midday office (afternoon prayers)
  • 12.15 Communion
  • 1pm Lunch
  • 4pm Afternoon cup of tea
  • 6pm Evensong (Evening prayers)
  • 6.45pm supper
  • 9.15pm Compline (Final prayers of the day).

By the end of the day I came away feeling calm, rested and very peaceful.  The monks were very gracious and friendly.  Thanks to Father Dennis and Father Crispin.  If you want a day away in peace and quiet, I can recommend it!

A (non-Christian) retreat part 2

Mid-way through October I went to Parcevall hall for the NHS retreat and I said in a previous blog I would say a bit more.  Before I do, I’d just like to ask the question, ‘what is spirituality to you?’

I ask because it’s not such an easy question to answer.  Here are a few attempts by some authors:

  1. ‘As a teenager I wanted badly to find a meaning, a purpose, a pattern, a God.  To think as I started doing then, that there might be none of these things, was hard for me to take.  Over the years I have learnt to live with ambiguities, uncertainty, a possibility of never knowing.  But it seems that ‘something’ of my leanings towards spirituality never left me’  (Davison J (2009) the Dark Threads.  This ends as a very sad story by the way.
  2. ‘Long term and outward looking; interested in others and collaborative; delighted by mystery and grateful; community – and people-focussed; constructive and inclusive; transforming and confident; exploring but disciplined; attentive and wise’ This tries to describe a spiritual outlook.  Lee B (2011) A Spiritual Understanding of Life
  3. ‘The lived encounter with Jesus Christ in the Spirit’ Cunningham and Egan (1996) Christian Spirituality

A recent survey of people at Spirit in Mind meetings across W Yorkshire described it as as ‘otherness; space for deeper thought; silence; makes you stronger in the mind; a refuge/safe haven; inclusion’.

As you will have guessed there are as many definitions as there are people (well, nearly).

But the thing about the NHS retreat that turned it on its head was a 40 minute ‘off the cuff’ talk by someone who had done the Camino Frances or the Camino de Santiago.  If you’ve not come across it before it’s a pilgrim walk across the North of Spain lasting up to 5 weeks.  Her story was riveting, exciting and caused us all to stop and reflect upon a real living spiritual encounter over a long time.  She began by saying that out of the blue whilst in New Zealand she shared a taxi with a complete stranger who asked her directly had she ever done the Camino de Santiago.  Then, the same day, another stranger asked her the same question. It was at that point she knew she had to make the pilgrimage.  From there she described one spiritual encounter after another – before she embarked on the walk – and then whilst on the walk.  She would not describe herself as a Christian.  Yet the phrase that stayed with us was when she said whilst on the journey, ‘you meet the people you are supposed to meet’.  The whole talk unintentionally asked people to consider a real-life, right here, right now spirituality with a ‘presence’ who is interested in us as individuals.  There are lots of people searching for a reality in the spiritual realms.  The other day and out of the blue someone asked me whether I had ever been on the Camino de Santiago …

Some theology…

The overall theology of the project is simple – and I have no intention or desire to make it anything else. As the work gets going more theological reflection will become obvious but for now I’d like to share something that we so often miss but those outside the church do not.

Just recently I have been studying Esther and now I am looking at parables in general.  Some scholars think Esther was an historical event.  Others think it was a parable and others a metaphor.  Looking at the Gospels it is easy to see just how powerful the parables are especially when they challenge our heart-felt opinions and long-held theology. I have met a few people lately who talk about the Good Samaritan as an actual event with a real life priest and Samaritan.  For them it has become a real event.  It wasn’t a real event even though it was a true one.

I recently met a psychotherapist whose main work involves dance and a therapist who uses drama.  Both use metaphor in order to unlock the hidden events that have chained their clients in dark places.  Metaphor works because it allows us to look at a situation as an observer and see our plight objectively, taking ourselves out of the ghastly picture that is otherwise too vile to look at.  Instead, standing at a safe distance allows people to see the truth.  The psychotherapist allows her clients to use dance as a metaphor for their lives; the drama therapist allows himself to be used as an actor in a play so the client can work out their own pain – only it’s not their play because it’s just a metaphor.

Our bible is full of parable and metaphor.  These Biblical stories are used by the authors to play out our own lives right before our very eyes and allow us to touch our inner selves in a safe way, gently giving us permission to see ourself without a melt down in our own time.  They challenge and exaggerate until we are ready to look at ourselves safely.

I have used metaphor, story and parable in services but it’s only recently that I’ve discovered just how powerful they are.  A story which is about someone else – but actually it’s about us. Those who work with people whose wellbeing is not so good already know this and use it to unlock those of us trapped in the Gadarenes.

Our mood

I just thought it might be useful to think about our mood for a moment.  Most of us have moods which come and go depending on what’s happening day to day.  People with depression or anxiety have moods which also might come and go but those moods tend to stay around a lot longer.

If a gazelle is attacked by a lion but escapes, it will literally shake off the trauma and resume life as normal.  If a human is attacked they will be forever going over the experience in order to not let it happen again.  We will rehearse where we were when the lion came; what we were doing; who we were with etc.  All of these thoughts are to make sure we don’t get caught again.  The problem is we have no mechanism to shake off the trauma.  Instead we replay the attack over and over again.  The aim is to make sure we don’t get caught out again.  It should be a positive thing.  Instead of being positive it becomes negative because we get attacked everytime we think about it.

Another problem is that our bodies and minds can’t differentiate between a disagreement/argument with someone and an encounter with a lion that wants to end our lives and eat us.  Our mood spirals down and down and down etc etc.

photo (12)

One way of boosting our moods is to do things that are positive and uplifting for us.  The NHS and Macmillan Cancer Support have produced a book list of mood-lifting reads so if you like reading and want a lift then one of these might be just the thing needed.  Here are some of them:

  • A cat called Norton by Peter Gethers
  • The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
  • The Island by Victoria Hislop
  • The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett
  • The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey by Rachel Joyce
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  • The Other Side of the Dale by Gervaise Phinn
  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

If you do read any of them perhaps you can let me know what you think.

A (non Christian) retreat

This picture is of Parcevall Hall near Skipton, owned and looked after by The Anglican Church.  I was a guest of the NHS who invited me along to one of their staff retreats.  The South West Yorkshire Partnership Foundation Trust (SWYPFT for short – or still quite long really) photo (11)provide their staff with the opportunity of taking retreats throughout the year and I was invited to participate.

My aim was to see how a secular organisation undertakes such an event.  Well, I wasn’t expecting it but most of the sessions were focussed on Mindfulness and in particular Mindful Compassion.  Mindful compassion is about meditating with ourself or someone else in mind and with compassion.  When I did this before with another group some of them cried when they thought about themselves with kindness and non judgemental compassion.  Although that didn’t happen at Parcevall Hall they were thought-provoking moments.

However, what did surprise me was (and this might sound familiar to you) before our meals we were read a piece of poetry or Sufi wisdom.  Before each session we lit a candle, read a piece of poetry and rang a bell.  Each night we had a retiring meditation in the chapel with silence and candles. Sound familiar? The structure of the retreat would have been familiar to our Christian liturgy.  Mindful compassion was a prayer without mentioning God; the poem before a meal was like saying Grace etc.

The whole retreat was sensitively and well conducted, accessible to people of faith or no faith.  There were 10 participants in all and of the group of 5 that I was in, we all had had a Christian/Church background.  Maybe this says a lot about the type of people who go on retreats; maybe it says they were all caring people.  It most certainly told me that they were all dedicated to the health and well-being of those they come into contact with.  I couldn’t say whether most of them were practising Christians because I don’t think they were.  But I do believe that God is in the world and working in these good people to touch and heal suffering people.

But that wasn’t the best bit of the retreat and I will say more about that next time…