Daily Reflection – Relax

In the last few days I’ve written much more than I expected to when I set myself this task of daily reflection. I’ve seen new likes and followers to my blog, and received much positive feedback.

This morning I find myself struggling to settle my mind on any particular thought or theme. I find myself worried that this is the day when I let everyone down. Nothing to say. I’m wasting your time and mine.

And yet…

Isn’t this just another truth about life? That there will be seasons of struggle – usually far more serious than the struggle to find words for a blog post. That there will be days that seem to meander without direction or purpose. That expectations can’t always be realised.

It’s ok.

I have no reason to beat myself up. I can relax and accept that this is all part of the process, part of being human. I can’t just perform on demand, even.if the demand comes from myself. In fact, if I did so, it would be just that – a performance. Much better that I keep it real.

This is the time to remember: be kind to yourself.

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Daily Reflection – Stillness

Prague is a beautiful city, and, like all beautiful cities when the tourist season starts and the sun shines, it becomes overrun with camera-wielding sightseers like me.

So it was a delight on so many levels to escape the heat and the crowd for a few minutes to sit in the quiet splendour of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. To sit, to meditate, to pray.

The contrast between the hustle and bustle outside, and the stillness inside, was extreme, and refreshing. It reminded me of the busyness of my mind, where too many thoughts get in the way of appreciating the beauty of the world, like too many tourists (including me) make it difficult to appreciate the full beauty of a picturesque city.

We come to expect the tourist throng, it’s part of the experience. And we come to expect a crowded mind, full of reminiscences and regrets and plans and concerns. But sometimes we need to escape from the crowd and find a quiet place. Sometimes we need to embrace stillness and find the beautiful truth hidden there.

He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’

Psalm 46:10 NIVUK

Daily Reflection – Observation

You’ve just woken up. Your eyes are shut. You don’t know what time it is or how light it is. You haven’t really entered the day yet. You decide to open one eye to see what the world looks like today. Which eye do you open.

I open my left eye.

I think I always open my left eye unless I consciously choose the right. I think I’ve been vaguely aware of it for years but this morning I noticed, I observed, and I experimented. When I realised my left eye was open I closed it and opened my right eye. It was difficult, felt unnatural. I’ve since repeated the experiment several times in different orders, at different levels of wakefulness. It’s always easier to open my left eye.

This has made me aware that there must be many similar quirks of my body that I’ve just grown up with and not questioned. There must be others that have developed slowly over the years until they’ve become a part of who I am.

And my mind is the same. Because I’ve grown up with it I never questioned, or even perhaps noticed, the quirky way it works in certain circumstances.

This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong. I have no concerns about the functioning of my right eyelid. But if you don’t observe, don’t question, how would you ever become aware of a problem before it’s grown into something serious?

And if you aren’t completely in tune with the workings of your body and your mind, aren’t you somehow separated from them? Are you whole if you don’t wholly understand yourself? Can you truly relate to others when you aren’t totally self-aware?

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Psalm 139:14 NIVUK

Daily Reflection – Distress

I’m travelling to Prague for a holiday, and I had an overnight stopover in Zurich. I “slept” in the terminal (lay down and waited for morning) and then just after 5am, as the airport was waking up I got up to find the railway station. My plan was to take the train to the city and explore for a few hours before returning for my connecting flight.

I knew the first train was just after 5:30am. I used an interactive map in the terminal to find my route, and walked down. I followed the signs for the exit, only to find my way blocked just before baggage reclaim. There were 4 doors but none would open.

I walked back and forth a few times, and eventually found a lady opening up a kiosk. I asked her how to get out, and she directed me the way I’d been going. I told her the doors wouldn’t open but she said “Impossible, I’m here all the time”. So I thanked her and reluctantly headed back to the “exit”. Sure enough, it was still locked.

I waited a few minutes and an airport porter came by. I asked him for help and he told me to follow him. We started going back the way I’d come, and then he pointed round a corner and told me to go up the escalator. He left. The escalator took me back to my starting point.

After wandering around a bit longer I saw a lady setting up the connections desk, so I asked her for help, and explained where I’d been. She directed me back towards the locked doors. I said I’d been there. She said no, I needed to follow the signs for the baggage reclaim and exit. I said I’d done that. Then she said “No, I know what you’ve done. You’ve gone that way but you need to go there.” For “that way” she pointed to where I’d slept, and for “there” she pointed to the escalator leading to the locked doors. “Follow the signs and they’ll take you out.”

I thought I was going mad by now. I started down the escalator for the umpteenth time, but this time I recorded my journey, showing the signs I was following and the red lights on the doors.

When I returned I showed the lady my video and she said “You must be too early, they’ll open at 7.”

So I went back down and waited. At 6:55am the doors clicked, the light turned green, and I escaped.

What can I say about this story? Thank you for sticking with it?!

Halfway through the adventure I was starting to get upset. By the time I started recording the route my distress was beginning to get quite severe. I’d done everything right. I might be in a foreign country but I’d understood my original instructions, and followed them correctly. I’d then asked several people politely and clearly for help and they had given the same instructions (except for the porter who must have thought I just wanted to get out of the area I’d found him in). And everyone had told me I could get out, and yet I was coming to a locked door again and again. I was doubting my sanity, seriously, I was beginning to think there was a different reality in my head than the one I was physically moving through.

I can only guess that my helpers weren’t totally aware of the time when I approached them. Maybe they assumed that I’d just landed and therefore the baggage reclaim would be open and operating.

But I have many thoughts running through my head now. It would take me hours to fully process them and write the analysis down. I’ll try to bullet-point as many as I can.

  • I thought I was losing my grip on reality, but in fact it was just misunderstandings and poor signage.
  • I thought I was right, then other people convinced me I was wrong, but in fact I was right all along.
  • The timing of the first train and the unlocking of the exit doors has got me thinking about God’s timing not being like ours.
  • Even though I was getting very upset as time went on, I stayed calm and polite in my interactions and I had the awareness to create video evidence of my predicament. These were victories.

Ultimately, this isn’t an experience I want to repeat any time soon, but I got through it, and I’ve learned a few things. The main thing I’ve learned is that if you stay the night at Zurich airport, you mustn’t count on catching the first train out in the morning.

And try not to lose your sense of humour 🙂

Daily Reflection – Distractions

I’ve been very fond of my brain over the years. I’ve always enjoyed the things it can do. Its ability to think outside the box and look at things from a different angle. Its talent for logic and mental arithmetic and seeing mathematical patterns. Its creativity.

My brain can’t do everything that some people’s can. Well, not without training. But I’m happy with the things it can do. It’s brought me a long way.

There are two issues I have with my brain, though. One is my memory. I do hold on to a lot of trivial facts, especially when it comes to 20th century music. But my memory of life events, conversations and other important moments is very poor. I recall my feelings, but not the details of the circumstances that brought them about.

The other issue is distractions, and this is the one that frustrates me the most. While there are times that I can become engrossed in a conversation, performance or activity, I find that far too much of the time my brain is overactive, running through past or future scenarios, not allowing me to live in the moment and enjoy now.

I’ve been practising daily meditation sessions for nearly six months, but if anything, distractions are becoming more frequent.

But what feels even worse is distracted prayer. I’m talking to the Creator of the universe about what’s most important to me, and trying to discern what’s most important to Him, and I suddenly find myself wondering if I need to go shopping today. That’s a mild example. I realise what’s happening, and bring myself back to prayer, apologise, and continue until the next diversion of my train of thought.

God knows me and understands and forgives me, but I find it so hard to forgive myself. I wouldn’t mind if I was distracted by an external factor like a car horn. But when it’s internal it just feels so disrespectful. I’m annoyed, and almost ashamed of myself.

Once or twice I’ve experienced what I thought was a distraction, but then realised was a response to my prayer. I’ve been asking what should I do, and then imagined myself doing what God would want. Sadly most of the time my brain is taking me on a fruitless and/or fanciful road of retrospection or speculation.

I’m not sure how to solve this, or if it will solve itself in time. For now, the best I can do is be kind to myself and remain friends with my brain. We do have some good times together!

Daily Reflection – Progress

It’s essential to understand who you are, your situation, and what it is that brought you here. It’s another thing entirely to move on to a better situation. That takes a different kind of strength and courage.

It’s a famous Christian quote: “God loves us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way.”

If I love myself, as I should, then I can’t leave myself this way.

Since I started these daily reflections, I’ve written each one from my bed. Today I decided it wasn’t enough to be awake, I needed to be up. So I got out of bed, got dressed, made some breakfast, sat in my living room and started to type this.

Getting up is either a small step or a giant leap, depending on your perspective. But small or large, it’s a step forward. Every step counts. I’m realistic enough to know that sometimes I’ll take a step backwards. I’ve plenty of experience of that. But I can’t let that stop me from moving forward in whatever way I can, whenever I can.

Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.

Prov. 4:25‭-‬26 NIVUK

Daily Reflection – Stigma

Maybe I shouldn’t include taking a look at the latest news as part of my morning routine. Most of it isn’t designed to promote mental well-being.

This morning the final headline I read was “Isle of Wight festival bans Jess Glynne for life after last-minute cancellation” and I nearly passed it by, for as much as I love music, I’m really not up to date with the current scene, or particularly interested in who is playing where this summer.

But something made me click through, and the article made me so angry.

I have no doubt that if Jess had suffered a physical, visible, injury that had made it impossible to perform to her expected standard, John Giddings would have been frustrated but understanding. It’s simply unacceptable that he should have responded as he did.

The article mentions the timing of his statement, which is presumably meant to exonerate him. It was after she spoke of her exhaustion but before she mentioned her anxiety.

This is no excuse! First, why is he jumping to conclusions and making public pronouncements before making further enquiries about her health? Exhaustion could be a symptom of too much partying, or of any number of physical or mental health issues. Second, if Jess didn’t mention her anxiety in the first place, why is that?

Despite much campaigning there is still a deep stigma about mental health problems. They are seen as weakness, as laziness, or even sometimes as a joke. Physical injuries are not regarded the same way, and in my experience physical injuries heal much, much quicker than mental ones.

When I was first signed off work with depression I asked the doctor what I should do with my time. He told me to “Go out and enjoy yourself.” But that was so difficult to do. Apart from not actually being in the mood to “enjoy myself” I was worried that if I was seen out and about by colleagues I might be regarded as a shirker. I wouldn’t have had that concern if I was rolling around in a wheelchair or had my arm in a sling.

Anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses have this way of compounding themselves, feeding off the negative energy they produce. And they also feed off the negativity of society, causing the sufferer to try and hide their symptoms, delaying treatment and slowing recovery.

This has to change. We all (including me) need to stop making assumptions, and start treating people with more consideration and compassion.

Mental health matters.