The Sacred Everyday

Some time ago, I discovered the Harry Potter And The Sacred Text podcast. This was a wonderful discovery. HP and the Sacred Text takes one of my (and the world’s) most beloved series of books, and engaged with them in a thoughtful and inquisitive way, exploring the lessons and ideas the story has to offer us and providing tools for treating any text – and I would argue any part of life – as sacred.

Here’s how the founders and hosts, Vanessa and Casper, explain what they are trying to do with the podcast:

This podcast creates time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.

On this podcast, we ask: What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? 

Each week, we explore a central theme through which to explore the characters and context, always grounding ourselves in the text. We’ll engage in traditional forms of sacred reading to unearth the hidden gifts within even the most mundane sentences.

Vanessa and Casper are so thoughtful and engaging in their exploration of Harry Potter and I have taken great joy and great comfort in approaching these much loved books in a new way.

I am also intrigued by the idea of viewing those things that might be considered ‘everyday’ as sacred, especially in light of my recent musings on my experience of religion and the church. When I was actively involved in the Christian church, one of the things I loved most about it was the chance to take a more considered approach to reading a text. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore deeper meanings and ideas and desperately wanted the change to question those ideas. The sacred practices shared on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text allow me to do just that.

On a recent episode, Vanessa beautifully broke down the elements they believe are necessary for applying this kind of sacred practice to wider contexts – not just the reading of any text but to things like writing or running – and I loved the simple clarity of it so much that I wanted to share it with you today.

  1. Faith – you must have faith that the more you do or engage with something the more gifts you will receive from it. If I persistently dedicate time to reading, writing, running, cooking or any other thing, then those things will reward me more and more.
  2. Rigour – the time you give to these things will be more rewarding still if you approach them with rigour. By ritualising the processes you use, the time you spend will be more focused and valuable. If I want to approach the reading of a text in a rigorous way, I can take notes and I can research or discuss the ideas that arise. If I want to approach my writing in a rigorous and sacred way, I can switch off my phone and focus my attention, I can carry out a mindfulness meditation before I begin.
  3. Community – find others to share the process with. By engaging in these practices alongside like-minded individuals – or even very un-like-minded individuals – you open up more opportunities for questioning, exploring and sharing ideas. If I share ideas about a text with people in my community, their ideas further enrich my own and open my mind to new perspectives. If I share my writing with other writers and readers, I will better understand the impact of my words and will be able to share the struggles and triumphs of the process.
  • I love the possibility that anything in life can be treated as sacred if we only give it the right attention and approach it with intention to do so. This is something I hope to explore and experiment with, especially with regards to writing.
  • I’d love to hear if you decide to give it a go (or decide to listen to the podcast!) too.
  • In This Moment

    Outside my window… the sky stretches wide and blue overhead, streaked with wisps of white. The air is warm and still. The street is quiet. A summer weekday morning lull has settled over the neighbourhood. There is a white butterfly flutter past, stark against the red brick of the house across the road.

    I am thinking… that I should probably get on with the work I have to do but I’m enjoying taking a moment to relax so I’m going to ignore that nagging should, just for a little while.

    I am thankful… for the school holidays and the opportunities they give me. For the incredible friends and family I have around me. For the opportunities that are presenting themselves and the support from those around me to take them.

    In the kitchen… there is currently complete chaos as the whole room is about to be ripped out and rebuilt! That’s the work I should be doing…finishing packing it up…just a little bit more lazy time first.

    I am wearing… black treggings and a rust t-shirt – comfy clothes for a mooching round the house kind of day.

    I am creating… a novel, a blog series, a collection of poetry and short stories, bookstagram content – so much of my creating these days is in writing form. It feels new and exciting and I love it.

    I am going… to get around to packing up the kitchen…really soon…honest…

    I am wondering… if I can squeeze a nap in somewhere today.

    I am reading… Notes On A Nervous Planet, The Summer That Melted Everything, A Wrinkle In Time, Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince…this list goes on and on.

    I am praying for… for calm.

    I am hoping… for a smooth kitchen installation over the next couple of weeks.

    I am looking forward to… a trip to Gladstone’s library with my mum in a few weeks time.

    I am learning… that sometimes we have to accept uncomfortable truths and unpleasant feelings in order to deal with them and move on.

    Around the house… it’s all very chaotic! The kitchen is in disarray, the dining room is piled high with boxes containing the new kitchen, the lounge currently has old furniture we’re getting rid of waiting to be collected later today, the main bathroom is tile-less and covered in plaster dust ready for its own makeover…I’m trying to focus on how fabulous it will all be when the work is done.

    I am pondering… the direction I want to take.

    A favourite quote for today… (I’m cheating and using a whole poem…)

    One of my favourite things… is curling up under a blanket with a good book or a good film and forgetting the world for a bit.

    A few plans for the rest of the week:

    Finish packing up the kitchen.

    Take some photos for bookstagram.

    Watch some TV.

    Read some books.

    Nap.

    A peek into my day…

    A Hundred Tiny Pleasures

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    There is so much joy to be found in little things. This is a fact that seems to be popping up in front of me on a regular basis at the moment: in the final chapter of Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive he lists just that – reasons to stay alive – and for the most part they are tiny every day pleasures; in a bookshop in Bristol I came across a little box filled with little cards each of which had on one side a simple but appealing photograph and on the other a small pleasure; in one of my favourite writing companion books, The Five Minute Writer, the activity I came across this week was to list as many tiny pleasures as I could think of. It’s a message that comes up in podcasts and blog posts, novels and research papers, TED talks and tweets: it is the little things that make a happy life. So I decided, rather than completing that writing activity in my notebook, to list my tiny pleasures here. Sometimes we need reminding of where those tiny pleasures can be found so I hope this list helps you find some of your own. I plan to come back and add to this post whenever I think of more. Tell me your tiny pleasures in the comments.

    Freshly washed bedding.

    Walking in the sunshine with a slight breeze playing across your skin.

    The joy of a puppy running through long grass.

    A long hot shower.

    The smell of a bookshop.

    A new notebook.

    A book that makes you laugh out loud.

    A book that makes you cry.

    Summer evenings in the garden.

    The feeling of accomplishment that comes with creating something – anything – new. (It wouldn’t have existed without you.)

    Fresh flowers.

    Music that gives you goosebumps.

    That certain slant of morning light.

    The peaceful silence of a sacred space.

    A child’s laughter.

    Sweet, fresh watermelon.

    The smell of freshly baked bread.

    A handwritten letter.

    Poetry that speaks to your soul.

    A whispered “I love you”.

    An unexpected compliment.

    Knowing you made a difference.

    Rediscovering a childhood favourite.

    The steam rising from a cup of hot coffee.

    The sweetness of chocolate as it melts on your tongue.

    Standing on top of a hill or mountain, looking down on the world.

    The sound of a stream bubbling in the country side.

    Walking through a forest when no-one else is around.

    The moment of silent solitude after you shut off the car engine but before you get out.

    Fingertips grazing bare skin.

    The crackling of a real fire.

    The smell of woodsmoke.

    Mum’s perfume.

    Laughing until you cry and your belly aches.

    Reading something that seems written just for you.

    Unexpected quiet moments.

    Walking barefoot on warm sand.

    Sunset skies.

    Moonshine on water.

    The reflection of mountains in a perfectly still lake.

    Reuniting with friends.

    Having your hair brushed or played with.

    Unusual cloud formations.

    Watching fish swim.

    The elegance of ballet dancers moving in perfect unison.

    Reading something so immersive you forget you’re reading.

    Finding someone you can be silent with.

    Felling the intricate power of your own body.

    Homemade soup.

    Finding the perfect gift for someone.

    A good night’s sleep.

    Getting to finish work early.

    The cool quiet of caves.

    Lists.

    The first time you hear birdsong in spring.

    Blossom trees in full bloom.

    The texture of tree bark.

    Being able to see the stars.

    Countries where the air smells of spices.

    Watching a sleeping dog dream.

    Finding the perfect pen.

    A cold drink on a hot day.

    Finding the perfect position in the bath.

    The smell of Christmas.

    Singing at the top of your voice.

    Meeting someone who you feel instantly comfortable with.

    Philosophical conversations at 3am.

    Losing track of time.

    Sitting round a bonfire with friends.

    Chunky knit blankets.

    Comfy boots.

    Oversized sweaters.

    The colour of the turning leaves in autumn.

    The taste of parkin.

    Scarves.

    Finding a bargain.

    Old leather.

    Libraries.

    The sharp and sweet taste of fruit dipped in chocolate.

    Sitting down after a long day.

    Curling up with a book whilst it rains outside.

    The magic of thunderstorms.

    The smell of petrichor.

    Discovering a new recipe.

    Whimsical art.

    Finding someone who loves the same books/music/films as you and gushing together for hours.

    Putting the finishing touches on a newly decorated room.

    The ache in your legs after a long walk.

    The smell of the circus.

    Driving alone at night.

    Snowfall.

    Rainbows in waterfalls.

    Finding the perfect Pooh-stick.

    Successfully skimming a stone.

    Days with no plans.

    The first page of a new notebook.

    Finding trousers that fit perfectly.

    Exciting socks.

    Old typewriters.

    Really great hugs.

    Stone cottages with roses growing round the door.

    Realising you are not alone.

    Finding Happiness

    Today is International Happiness Day. I have been thinking a lot about happiness recently; I think I am generally a happy sort of person. I have a wonderful life and there are many things in my everyday that make me very happy indeed. I also sometimes feel profoundly unhappy, for no discernible reason, and subsequently make myself feel even more unhappy by berating myself for feeling unhappy in the first place. I am surrounded by happy people, but I am struck by the fluctuations in their happiness too: one of my very dearest friends has recently suffered a blow which is causing her deep unhappiness, whilst another has just experienced what will probably be one of the happiest moments of her life. Happiness is a strange and intangible thing which can both live inside the darkest of times and can dominate whilst unhappiness resides within it.

    I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the many small things that can be little happinesses in themselves and that can contribute to a bigger happiness. I believe these little everyday happinesses are fundamental to our ability to cope when we are faced with unhappy events and moments. I believe that everyday happinesses are different for everyone but that they DO exist for everyone. I encourage you to create a ‘happy list’ of your own, to help you find comfort when it seems there is none. For now, I’ll leave you with a snippet of mine:

    – Watching a puppy chase it’s tail or run to its hearts content.

    – Laughing until you cry and your sides hurt – especially if the thing that made you laugh wasn’t actually that funny…

    – Reading something that speaks directly to your soul.

    – Receiving one of those really great hugs that feels like it’s squeezed all of your brokenness back together and finding that afterwards you feel just a bit stronger than before.

    – Seeing spring flowers begin to emerge.

    – Hearing a certain song that you just can’t stop yourself from singing and dancing along to.

    – Dancing.

    – Singing songs from musicals at the top of your voice.

    – The smell of that particular moisturiser that reminds you of mum and makes you feel like a child again.

    – The taste of risotto that reminds you of dad and makes you feel like a child again.

    – Toast with lots of lurpak, cut up into small squares, because that’s how gran used to make it.

    – Knowing there are people who love you no matter what.

    What are some of your everyday happinesses?

    The Joy of A Moment

    Yesterday, I walked in the spring sunshine with snow swirling round me on a wintry wind. I watched my spaniel companion try to catch snowflakes in her mouth and leap amongst the tussocks with sheer joy and abandon. I had taken my kindle with me because I was so engrossed in my current read (A Thousand Perfect Notes by C G Drews), and so I walked through two worlds, alternately losing myself in the music woven into the words of the story and revelling in the beauty of the snowy, sunny, spring world around me. I had the works of some of my favourite composers playing in my ears, the twining melodies and harmonies lifting me from the inside and somehow heightening the many and varied beauties around me. All these little, everyday things, in which I found such delight, came together, as I reached a small rise at the edge of the field, and I felt a profound moment of joy and peace.

    In the chaos of everyday life, and particularly through the struggles of coping with mental illness, it is so easy to forget what an exquisitely beautiful place the world is, and just how miraculous it is that we exist at all. As the height of that poignant moment passed, and settled into a quiet contentment, I found myself wishing I had a way to catch that peace and carry it with me, a way to hold it inside me somehow and bring it out when I needed it.

    I have a lot of joy in my life. I am exceptionally lucky in my friends and family, my love and livelihood. And yet I sometimes lose myself. I become mired in worry and fear and an unfounded conviction that life is just too difficult and I can’t do it, despite evidence to the contrary. I have come to realise that this is one of the reasons I write – one of the reasons I want to write more: so I can capture those moments of joy and peace, and so hold on to them. So I can capture those moments of panic and fear, and so let them go. Writing has the magical property of allowing me to do both.

    I have recently been practising (albeit sporadically) mindful writing, a concept I discovered through the book ‘The Joy of Mindful Writing’ by Joy Kenward. I have found it invaluable in helping me focus on those small moments and recalling past joys. I have found that the exercises help me feel centred – in a way that other mindful practices have not – and have the dual benefit of getting me to write and getting me to engage in some meditative practice. If you’re looking for a way to combine creativity, particularly writing, with mindfulness, I would highly recommend giving this book a read.

    I really just wanted to write this today as a reminder, both to myself and to anyone who happens to be reading, that there is joy to be found in the everyday, even when life is hard or the world seems dark or you just feel lost. When you notice it, do what you can to catch it and carry it with you.

    Wishing you all a peaceful week.

    It’s #TimeToTalk Coping

    Image found here.

    This is a post I shared three years ago that I thought was worth re-sharing, with a few tweaks.

    I’ve mentioned some little things that can be helpful in coping with bad days. There’s one thing in particular that I have found helps me cope with anxiety and ward off depression. The arts. Any and all.

    I love to dance, and beating the hell out of a dance floor can be a real release for pent up negative energy. I always leave dance classes feeling better than when I arrived.

    I love to sing. Belting out tunes from my favourite musical or album of the moment is a very cathartic experience. Especially when driving. I’m not sure why. Somehow being in my car I find I can make a lot more of a racket than I would anywhere else.

    I love to listen to soothing music. Enya is and always has been my go-to relaxation artist. Not only is her music beautiful, ethereal and calming, but it also has a strong personal connection to my mum. Hearing that music takes me back to being a child when she would help sooth away my nightmares. It helps.

    I also love to write and draw and doodle. I journal. I write poetry and stories. I draw patterns and dream-scapes. Focusing on the pen and the page helps me to let everything flow out of me. I recently developed some rules about my journal. I don’t put negative things in there. I still put them down on paper but I get rid of it. I don’t keep it. I don’t want to hold onto that negativity. I used to find that my journals ended up being very negative and I hated that because I never recorded all the tiny good things in my day to day life. This way my mind is redirected towards the positive in my journal and I know I am collecting happiness rather than negativity. I still allow myself to put the negative down on paper but I then have to let it go. Tear it up, screw it up, bin it, burn it. But let it go. This is a very personal choice but I find it works well for me.

    How do you cope with negativity in your life?

    ***

    If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    Please do not struggle alone.

    x

    It’s #TimeToTalk About The Little Things

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    In the same way that periods of mental ill health can be triggered by little things (or nothing at all), it can also be the little things that help get us through and feel a little better. They might be little things we can do ourselves or little things other can do for us. Here are a few of my favourites:

    • Go for a walk
    • Have a long bath or shower
    • Read a book
    • Listen to music (Have a couple of go to playlists – I have a ‘Good Vibes’ one, a ‘Calming Soundtracks’ one, and a couple of go to albums that always make me feel good.)
    • Watch a favourite film or TV series
    • Give yourself a hand massage (or get someone to give you one)
    • Curl up with a blanket and a warm drink (with this one, it might be and idea to avoid caffeine as it can often be a trigger. Try a fruit or herbal tea, hot chocolate, hot vimto/squash, or even a hot water with lemon)
    • Try some breathing exercises or meditations
    • Doodle (You don’t have to be an artist to do this, just make random shapes and lines. It can be surprisingly therapeutic!)
    • Write something (Again, you didn’t need to be a great writer to do this – write random words down, flick through a random book and discover some new words to write down and define, make lists of rhyming words, just write AAAARGHHH or a list of as many expletives as you can think of!)
    • Take a nap
    • Make or bake or cook something – try a simple bread recipe or make a mug cake

    If you have any suggestions for little things that make a difference, please share them in the comments.

    ***

    If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind - http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds - http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) - https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK - https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness - http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - https://www.afsp.org

    Please do not struggle alone.

    A List of Lovely Little Things


    It’s been some time since I did an appreciation post for the little things in life but now seems like the perfect time. I’m currently holed up in a beautiful little cottage, just outside Oxford, for a weekend with some of my favourite women in the whole wide world. It’s a quite Saturday morning and all but the baby amongst us (and her mum, I suspect!) are sleeping soundly. I am awake and full of contentment, mulling over all the wonderful little things that make life so lovely. Here are a few that come to mind:

    • Conversations with like-minded people.
    • Laughing until you cry and your sides hurt.
    • A real log fire.
    • The quiet stillness of the countryside in the morning.
    • Baby smiles.
    • Baby laughter.
    • Baby cuddles…(there’s a lot of baby worship going on here!)
    • Good books.
    • Good food, especially nibbly finger food.
    • Climbing into a bed made with freshly laundered sheets.
    • Waking up after a good night’s sleep (especially when you don’t have to rush to get up).
    • Knowing it’s the weekend.
    • A message from someone you love.
    • Knowing you’ve done a good job.
    • Learning something new.
    • Helping someone out.
    • Knowing there is so much to look forward to.
    • The smell of fresh flowers.
    • Watching flowers open from bud to bloom.
    • Surprises from friends (or strangers).
    • Realising that you take more joy in life that you ever have before, and feel positive that joy will only increase.

    And that’s just a few of the little things making my life lovely right now. 

    What little things have you noticed recently that have made you smile and appreciate life just that little bit more?

    Guilty Pleasures

    photoToday’s prompt is “what’s your guilty pleasure?”

    I have quite a few to be honest…Does anybody really only have one guilty pleasure?? Here are some of mine:

    • Eating more chocolate than I should. Seriously if I didn’t go dancing every week, and have a job that keeps me running round like a lunatic I would be in a seriously unhealthy state!!
    • Reading well past my bedtime. I have just a much trouble putting down a book and going to sleep now as I did when I was little…
    • Watching the same films/TV programme’s over and over. My hubby likes to watch new films. I do too. It’s just that once I’ve watched it, if I enjoyed it, I want to watch it again. And again. And then a few more times for good measure.
    • Having a lie in. Or a nap. Just sleeping really. I like sleeping, and I sometimes wish there were more hours in the day so I could sleep longer without losing any time. I also love the feeling of waking up after a really good restful sleep. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen quite as often as I’d like.

    If you ask me a Sunday is the perfect day to indulge in a little guilty pleasure, so I’m off to enjoy one or two of mine. What’s your guilty pleasure?