The one about…spiritual wellbeing!

🎵I believe in you
You know the door to my very soul
You’re the light in my deepest darkest hour
You’re my savior when I fall!🎵

I sang the BeeGees out loud on my way to school, much to my daughters annoyance and embarrassment. I could argue it was the Michael Buble version but I’m not sure that would have made it any more credible!

I looked at my eight year old as I sang, her eyes shining, laughing at me but also wiling me to be quiet, it was one of those moments, almost impossible to describe but as her eyes sparkled it was as though she became that ‘door to my soul’, there are moments where all my children are that door, moments where they release something deep in me that makes complete sense yet is also completely incomprehensible.

There are other occasions too where I find that my soul is stirred, awake, alive; that the door is open and something in me can be set free. Those moments when the words of a book seem to race with excitement and anticipation as though they’re written just to me, or the lyrics of a song connect so deeply, making sense of something I otherwise couldn’t have put into words. My soul comes alive in the simplest of experiences too, finding a conker still wrapped in its casing or an acorn with its little ‘hat’ on, a moment by the sea, the sheer volume, vastness that speaks without words; a walk in the woods as the rays of sun filter through, the colours of the sunset, catching the look in a friends eye and knowing you’re known, all these for me are soul moments. They are moments where I know there’s something more, that there’s a connection to the universe, a higher power, another, a love that holds all of what I think is true, they leave me with that deep sense of wellbeing that makes me sigh with contentment.

This feeling is even more heightened, even more real, when I share those moments with others, when I have conversations that are about more than just the weather, or what the teacher said about that child, or what I did at the weekend. Those conversations have their place but the conversations about what it means to be human, about what we’re fearful of or excited about, conversations where those participating dare to be a little more vulnerable and honest, that’s where the energy is for me.

The reality is that those conversations, those moments, are fleeting. It seems they’re there, they happen and then they’re gone. I guess something in me changes slightly each time but then life takes over again and to be honest its easier sometimes to cope with life by simply keeping busy, going for a run, scrolling facebook, shopping for trainers, looking forward to a glass of wine on a Friday night or a weekend away. None of these ways of coping are bad in and of themselves but cumulatively they can serve as a continuous distraction which stops me from discovering soul moments.

What if we could find a way to embrace soul moments more often? What if we could discover how to nourish our souls, to feed them, to wake them up? What if we were to pay attention to our spiritual wellbeing? Physical and mental health are on the agenda, and rightly so, but what if spiritual health, spiritual wellbeing needs to be on the agenda too? What if spiritual wellbeing takes us further than our own individual health and wellbeing and leads us towards connection, belonging and community?

There’s an old hymn with the line, “it is well, it is well with my soul” but what does soul wellness look like? I’m not sure I subscribe to the lyrics of the hymn but I get the concept of peace, a peace that exists despite the circumstances of life not instead of them, that kind of peace intrigues me. The truth is that life throws crazy swerve balls at us all of the time and those moments where we catch glimpses of goodness, what I call soul moments, are great but often far too short. Even when we get a longer time to ‘simply be’ we still eventually have to pick up the monotony of the rat race again. Maybe those moments, however long they last, do enable us to face the next moment and gain a new perspective for a while but what if spiritual wellbeing takes that thought even further and becomes about discovering a peace that exists in the midst of the crazy, not just when we step aside from it?

What if peace, that fresh perspective, that centred contentment that comes from having our own soul moments is heightened in experiencing connection to others, to belonging to and contributing to community? What if peace, that concept of a contented soul, comes from knowing we’re held by something outside of us too? What if it offers us the sense that there is something more and that our story, with all its ups and downs, finds more meaning when it connects to others and the bigger, ongoing narrative of humanity? What if that means those moments where we’re not OK are then actually OK because it does all belong? What if starting to explore thoughts of spirit and soul is the start to experiencing spiritual wellbeing and spiritual wellbeing is about our soul becoming more alive than ever as we embrace all that life is? What if it’s then that the light shines, even in the deepest darkest hour!

The one about…dreams coming true!(part 1!)

There’s an interesting distinction between fantasy and dreams. It’s not something I’d really given much thought to until recently. I guess I’d kind of resigned myself to the belief that the way of life I longed for belonged more in the world of fantasy than as a dream that could possibly come true.

So here’s the thing; (I can’t quite claim this thought as my own, it was raised as part of a life coaching course I’ve been studying.) The basic concept is that dreams and fantasy are both an adventure into our imagination, both existing outside of our everyday experience. Fantasy however, isn’t rooted in any kind of reality but dreams are subtly linked to reality. Dreams are an exploration of possibilities, creating an understanding of what is and what could be.

Children are incredibly gifted in fantasy, spending hours in a world far from their own, enjoying the unrealistic possibilities of what will never be but seemingly quite content with that truth. As adults our fantasies change, some healthy, some not so much but all a form of escapism from the day to day ordinariness we so often live with, yet still not rooted in reality, still an unrealistic place for our thoughts to dwell for too long.

Dreams however, those imaginary events that we would love to come true, and oneday possibly might, still often seem slightly out of reach from our everyday. How do we bridge that gap between what we dream of being, doing or becoming and the truth we live with today? How do we root our dreams in possibility and not let them drift into the realms of fantasy?

I think that’s where the Jesus story offers some wisdom. The description of the ‘new heaven and new earth’ seem more at home in the world of fantasy. The concept of a time and place where the first are last and the last are first, where there are no more tears or pain or even death, a world where values are rooted in who you are not how much you earn, how clever you are, the size of house you live in or the car you drive…where love really does win every time and peace is how it is. Where generosity, kindness, joy and patience are in abundance and wine is never lacking(!!!?) A world of fantasy or a place dreams…

Just as we often struggle to see how our dreams become reality it’s hard to see how the Jesus vision of how life could be becomes reality too. Yet what if, to see this vision become real, in the same way as we want to see our dreams become reality, we simply have to begin?

What if the Jesus story isn’t fantasy, what if it is a possibility? What if we were to start to act as though its true, to offer more kindness and generosity, to take a breath in those moments where patience wouldn’t be our natural response, to choose to love and forgive rather than hate and seek revenge. Peace on earth isn’t out of reach but it does seem to require more of us than we often want to give. Which makes me wonder if Whitney and Kygo* were right to invite us to consider whether there is a force or energy outside of us that inspires us and calls us on, a higher love or power, or whatever name we give it.

So whether we look at our own paths and long for our own dreams to be realised or whether we look at the world around us and long for a better reality, the challenge might well be the same. Maybe we need to work out the next step then dare to take it? Maybe we need to take time in our everyday to connect with that higher love? Maybe it is possible to discover that dreams really do come true.

** Whitney Houston and Kygo, Higher Love

🎵Think about it
There must be a higher love
Down in the heart
Or hidden in the stars above
Without it
Life is a wasted time
Look inside your heart
And I’ll look inside mine.🎵

 

The one about…the nothing?

If you’ve ever watched The NeverEnding Story then you’ll be familiar with ‘the nothing’, the darkness engulfing Fantasia and destroying everything in its path.

If you’ve lived a few years on planet earth you may well also be familiar with ‘the nothing’, the darkness that’s all too consuming; extinguishing hope and leaving humanity disillusioned, lethargic or lost.

The nothing takes many forms, slowly eradicating our lust for life. I know because I’ve battled with ‘the nothing’. There are days where I feel like I’m winning, regaining control and rediscovering hope but then there are other days where it seems as though ‘the nothing’ is gaining ground, rapidly. Hours flicking through social media or evenings watching mind-numbing reality TV, often at the same time, any opportunity to engage in someone else’s life so that I can avoid the reality of my own.

‘The nothing’ might not be social media or TV for you; movies, alcohol, holidays, anything that serves to numb the pain or allow us escape from our own uneasy reality, just for a while, because facing up to that reality is sometimes too painful or frightening or simply exhausting.

None of our escape routes are wrong or bad in and of themselves, life is far less black and white than we think. The escape routes we choose often start off harmless, with the best intentions, some even healthy, because we do need to stop every now and then, we do need to disengage and recharge. Yet when the temporary fixes we’ve turned to for respite take over and begin to consume us sometimes we find that the very things we’d used to distract us from life have become life itself.

What if there is an antidote to ‘the nothing’, a way of being that stops ‘the nothing’ in its tracks and allows us to have moments of rest, distraction and relaxation without being drawn into nothingness?

In Fantasia, hope is found in the faith of a human child, a boy that can bring salvation and restore Fantasia fully to life again. What if that’s where we find salvation too? What if we find life again in faith, belief and wonder? In having faith in something beyond ourselves yet equally found within us, by believing in a force or energy or higher power; a love, that can shine light and hope on seemingly dark and hopeless circumstances? By rediscovering the mystery in the mundanity of our lives, the awe in the ordinary and the wonder of this very moment? What if choosing to stop in this moment, right now and breathe, to inhale and exhale and simply be grateful for breath is the start to a life of gratitude, of not taking anything for granted but recognising that its all a gift and that it all belongs? That it all belongs no matter how painful, frightening or exhausting?

What if that means that we then don’t have to escape or distract or run from those difficult things, we can just allow them, simply allow reality to be; learn from it, learn to embrace all of our emotions and move through those experiences to a better place? What if all of that was possible, all from this moment, right now? Maybe there is a light in the darkness and something more than nothing.

The one about…let’s pretend?

🎵So can we pretend that I’m 22 today?

Dancin’ on the tables with you, oh yeah!

Can we pretend that we all end up okay?

I just wanna forget with you, oh yeah!

Can we pretend that we both like the president?

Can we pretend that I really like your shoes? Hell yeah!

Can we pretend? ‘Cause honestly, reality, it bores me,

Let’s pretend, oh, let’s make believe

Can we, can we pretend?🎵*

I remember being twenty two, vaguely! I also remember the time when the only photographic evidence of our lives appeared in truptint envelopes, taken on a film with a twenty four print exposure where it was pretty much guaranteed that seventeen of them were blurry representations of randomness, six others had managed to miss half of someone’s head and the only one that had come out was of you with an embarrassing hair style that you wish you hadn’t tried out that week.

I also remember days as a child playing in the back garden on orange space hoppers with my best friend who happened to live next door, wearing jelly shoes and NHS brown rimmed glasses. I remember my two year old brother jumping into the paddling pool fully dressed. I remember the feelings of freedom, mixed with fear and excitement, as I was first allowed “out” on my own, days spent in town perusing the music section of Woolworths to buy the latest single. Those were good days. I remember December 31st 1999, drunk in Greenwich as we watched the fireworks on the Heath and stumbled home in the early hours of 2000 wondering if the Millenium Bug had actually wiped out all of life! I remember meeting Sid and those early days where it was just us, nothing and no-one else seemed to matter, just us, together. I remember being pregnant with our first, finishing work, biking to the swimming pool and then coming home for a sleep…sometimes I’d like to return to those days, just for a while.

I think it’s called nostalgia, a yearning for the past, whimsical warm memories of the “good old days”.  Nostalgia provides a welcome escape from the realities of right now. The joys of reminiscing can distract us from thinking about the serious things we need to face up to today. So I can relate to the temptation to “pretend” to make believe that I’m twenty two again. Yet the truth is that nostalgia comes fully equipped with a filter for anything negative because in reality those days weren’t the mysterious magical memories that I picture when I reminisce, those moments I look back on so fondly were actually intertwined with all the usual cares and concerns that characterise everyday life.

Yet the desire to pretend can be strong, to pretend it all ends up ok, to pretend we like person running our country or our partners shoes (actually Sid does ok in footwear options!!) to pretend because reality bores us! Maybe reality does bore us? Maybe the mundane monotony of the everyday is all too dull?  What if it’s not boring though, what if the truth is that reality is actually sad, painful or frightening rather than boring? What if that’s the reason we get the urge to pretend we’re a version of our former selves, or have a desire to live a life of make-belief where we relive our past when life was good, simple and fun?

So here’s the question! What if one day we’ll look back on this day and have a yearning to be back here? What if the everyday moments we’re living right now are actually the magical memory making moments that nostalgia sweeps up into its data and stores for us in a cloud somewhere so that we can look back with a smile in a few years time? As humans we’re very good at looking back and very skilled at anticipating the future but we’re not so good at enjoying the now, of finding the joy in the journey and the magic in the mystery of the moment.

What if being fully alive means we become more capable of all these things? What if we become more able to enjoy time reminiscing and of dreaming about the future but also capable of living in the moment? What if we can learn to be fully present with ourselves, our families and our friends because right now is actually where life is and right now is where we experience love? So, whilst right now might not be easy, whilst right now might be asking some big questions or demanding a little too much, right now belongs, because right now was once just a dream and one day will be just a memory. Right now we get to experience life in all its fullness and to be anywhere else is just an illusion of life and love.

*Pink, Can we pretend.

 

 

The one about…Kadosh

Kadosh. Hebrew words are intriguing…they carry such mystery and playfulness because the Jewish tradition is so open to questions and exploration, far more interested in the discussion around meaning than in trying to give answers. Which makes the concept of Kadosh really interesting. Kadosh; holy, set apart, sacred. Kadosh; to draw a circle around that moment, that person, that feeling, that thought and allow…it…just…to…be.

Because there are moments in life that don’t make sense, occasions that just don’t fit with how we understand life, moments that just don’t flow in the usual pattern of our existence and instances that don’t sit comfortably with what we know to be true. There are friendships, relationships and people that confuse us, that cause us to question ourselves and the decisions we have made. There are moments that call into question the very foundations of our existence.
The problem comes when all of the self analysis, the constant replaying of the event, trying to understand it or make sense of the moment, leaves us more confused, insecure and vulnerable than we’ve ever felt and no matter how hard we try, that moment, that occasion, that experience, that person just does not make sense.

It’s at that point that Kadosh does make sense. There are some things you do just have to draw a circle around and say, ‘I don’t understand so I’m simply going to allow…it…just…to…be’! Because those moments are holy or sacred and do just need to be set apart.
I’ve found those moments true on many occasions. The death of my dad, miscarriage, the insecurities of my eight year old, the uncertainty about work…I’ve just had to draw a circle around these things and allow them just to be.
Death, loss, dementia, unemployment; some things aren’t how we imagined, some things just “are” and maybe allowing them to be, to say ‘that’s a holy moment’, to respect those events, no matter how painful or confusing, somehow allows them to belong in a way that didn’t seem possible.

Kadosh…some things are holy because some things just “are”.

The one about…autumnal truth!

There are reminders all around us of a truth we’ve forgotten, the truth that the very essence of who we are is good. Autumn brings these reminders to us in such generous proportions as the air freshens, the birds begin to migrate and the leaves change colour; we’re reminded that each new season has its own beauty and wonder. There’s an awe and reverence to be found in observing the rhythm of the universe. The conkers are falling, breaking their rough, outer shell to reveal the shiny, smooth treasure inside. It’s a reminder of the beauty that creation holds, a reminder that there’s goodness within all that’s created, no matter how spiky the outer appearance.

So often we don’t see the goodness in ourselves or others and sadly the idea that we’re not good enough is often reinforced by the world as the whispers of “not enough” echo around; not successful/thin/wealthy/fit/popular/clever/________ enough! Often the teaching of the church tells us this too, tells us that we failed before we even began. It’s the doctrine of original sin, begun by the early church and adopted by our society, the idea of original sin haunts us and inhibits our ability to be fully alive. Even if we don’t subscribe to a religion, or that strand of one, it’s a belief that has found its way into our heads and hearts.

This belief, whatever angle it is approached from, is damaging.
It has damaged our relationship with the divine. God is seen by many as a wrathful figure who needs appeasing and the death of Jesus becomes about changing the mind of God about humanity rather than the ultimate act of love that changed the mind of humanity about God!*

It’s not only our understanding of the divine that has been skewed; the idea that we are sinful from birth, or that we are not good enough, has implications for our relationship with others from a personal to an international level. If we submit to the doctrine of original sin or the lies of ‘not enough’ then we don’t trust the fundamental goodness of the other instead we fear, judge and often hate simply because we can’t see deep enough to see the truth.

The teaching of original sin and the lies of not enough have also damaged our relationship with ourselves, we begin to really believe we’re not good and to compensate we fill our lives with things that makes us feel better about ourselves, anything that holds meaning, even if the meaning isn’t rooted in truth. We try to prove to ourselves, others, even a higher being, that who we are, what we have and what we’ve achieved is acceptable.

Yet, what if there’s a way to undo some of these lies? What if the role of religion, at it’s very essence, is to remind us of the truth that we are good? What if religion or church or any contemplative practices are fundamentally about creating ways for us to step aside from the lies we’ve come to believe and actually connect with who we really are?

What if then, our understanding of Jesus, of church or of our religion, has the ability to reconnect us with the truth about ourselves? What if the Jesus story offers us the truth about all we have ever been, all we are and all we can be. Truth that says “we are enough”. A truth that has been forgotten but a truth that at it’s very heart, is a call back to our true self? What if the Jesus story speaks of a different way because the way we so often choose isn’t good for us, isn’t the way of the soul but instead to live the way of the soul is to live knowing who we are, that our story has worth and that from that place of peace we can bring life and love to this world.

*my favourite Richard Rohr quote!!

The one about…that thought!

I’m going to die. I’m going to die and I’ve no idea when or how.”

The thought hit me like a bolt of lightening as it coursed through my body. I tried to calm myself taking deep soothing breaths as I stared blankly into the moonlit darkness of the camper I was sleeping in, or at least trying to sleep in.

Unlike some worries and fears this one wasn’t irrational or rooted in some crazy delusion this was true and unavoidable and it wasn’t just me, it would happen to the children, Sid, everyone.

Existential fears I think they’re called. The fears we wrestle with in the darkness that are way too big for our finite minds to comprehend.

It’s not the first time I’d played out this disturbing reality, although every time the thought hits me it does seem strangely like it’s news to my tiny mind. These fears always seem to taunt me most when life is relatively OK. Take this moment for example, camping in the walled garden of an old Manor, surrounded by family and friends. Lazy days spent in the pool, strolling through the meadow and exploring the woods. Hours swinging on tree swings or finding sticks to sharpen ready to toast marshmallows on the bonfire. Conversations over cups of tea, sharing life with people who were honest enough to admit they hadn’t got it all sorted and happy to laugh or cry about that reality. I honestly didn’t want to be anywhere else. I guess that’s the sign of a good holiday. The days had been hot which meant clear cooler nights which is why I lay there awake, slightly too cold to sleep, wrestling with the terror of my own mortality.

The truth is that I don’t really know what to do with those thoughts. My childhood faith had offered a strategy for being saved, but saved from what? Clearly not death, or at least not the physical death that would separate me from those I loved. So what do I do with those very real and inescapable fears?

I can’t believe I’m the only one to have ever realised the terrifying truth of my own mortal existence. We all know we’re going to die and we’re all good at avoiding thinking about it, until we really have to, which must be a good thing because I’m not sure life on planet earth would be much fun if we all lived with death at the forefront of our minds all of the time.

There are of course a number of responses to the reality of death. We can choose to distract ourselves from ever thinking about it with careful avoidance techniques, indulging in food, drink, sex, drugs or any other harmless or harmful addictions, anything to numb the pain of the reality we all face. We can choose denial, pushing death aside and focusing on our increasingly fast paced lives, filling every second with activity and leaving us no alone time to think.

Or we can choose to contend a little more bravely with the thoughts of death and separation? We can spend time addressing the issues within ourselves, reconnecting with our own soul and rediscovering an inner peace that comes from finding that being left alone with our own thoughts is actually quite a healthy place to be.

We might also find that there are some realities we do just have to accept we can’t answer, like the when and how of death, and at the same time admit that the terror which surrounds the actual truth of death is very real.

For me it was about admitting that the faith that told me I didn’t need to fear death didn’t quite add up in the way all of those around me seemed so convinced it did. I do have moments where death terrifies me, where the apparent fact that “death is defeated” seems to mean nothing when faced with my own death or the death of those I love. Yet I can’t write off my faith because there is something about wrestling with these thoughts that enables me to hold them. There’s is something about the surrender found in the Jesus story that inspires me, something about his submission to the rhythm of life, death and resurrection that does leave me knowing deep within that this whole concept is held by a force, an energy, a power, an ultimate reality, called love or God, or whatever name makes most sense, and that this source of being holds all of time and all of our stories. Somewhere in that I find a peace.

I find peace in believing that our stories matter but aren’t what holds it all together, that they are important but they’re not the whole story. Maybe if I’m able to keep in check the truth that my story is a humble part of the bigger story then my coming and going from this world is very gently held within that. Whilst death is sad and painful and a myriad of other emotions for those that are left to wait their turn, death becomes part of the story rather than the end.

So I’m left with the challenge of surrender, the challenge to relinquish control, to lay down my fears and instead choose to live the best life possible, to contribute to the story in a way that is good because I’m going to die and when I do I want to know I’ve lived life fully alive.