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…

    This Is My Church

    I have had a strange and convoluted relationship with religion. It was not a particularly prominent part of my upbringing; we went to church at Christmas for the carols and that was about it. It was only when I was in my final year of secondary school that I began to give religion and the idea of God any real consideration. I made a friend to whom faith, religion, and a relationship with the divine was very important. She invited me into that world. A place I had never explored or even considered before. I quickly felt it to be my home.

    I went from being someone who had always felt a little on the outside, never quite fitting anywhere, to someone who felt warmly accepted, even loved, and who was surrounded by friends. It was a dizzying experience. Being with those people felt so different from what I had grown used to. Don’t get me wrong, I had had friends but I never quite felt like I had found my people, never quite felt like I fit comfortably within my friendships groups. And here, suddenly, I felt a sense of belonging that I don’t think I had even realised I was missing. Not only did I meet a whole host of people who were friendly, welcoming, and interested in me, but they gave me space to ask big questions: questions I didn’t even realise I wanted to ask! A whole new realm of possibility, not just for my own immediate life but for what I knew of the world, opened up before me.

    It was exhilarating and I immersed myself in it entirely.

    I joined worship groups, I went to church every Sunday – sometimes twice – I spent all my free time with this new group of people, I started reading the bible hungrily, I went to Christian camps and festivals and I volunteered with my local church. I attended regular bible study with the youth group and within a few short months I was preparing for confirmation. When I look back at it now it all seems to have happened so quickly but at the time I was so swept up in the feeling of acceptance, that everything I was doing felt right.

    Shortly after this whirlwind introduction to the world of the Christian church I entered a difficult period of my life. I was grateful for the faith I had found because it gave me hope and something to turn to. After an finishing college, a year later than planned, I began my first full time job working for the CofE administrative offices in Manchester. My relationship and involvement with the church had changed, mostly because all my friends had moved away to university and I found that I felt vulnerable attending church without them, but it was still an important part of my life.

    I spent the next six years working for the church in different capacities: receptionist, property and finance administrator, and finally Lead Youth Worker for an ecumenical project. Over that time, my perception of and relationship with the church changed a lot, as did my faith. I sadly found that the more involved I became the less welcome and accepted I felt. I found myself increasingly uncomfortable in church services, whatever the denomination, and I had more and more questions and doubts but they were met with far less acceptance than they had been when I was newly discovering the religion.

    I would like to clarify, at this point, that some of the best people I have ever known are committed Christians and/or people I met through the church and I am forever grateful for their presence in my life. I met my husband through a church youth group and if it had not been for my foray into faith through this particular path, my life would look very different indeed, and I think I would have been considerably worse off than I am now, in all sorts of ways.

    But it reached a point where I felt increasingly uncomfortable in churches and in many Christian circles. I encountered so much hypocrisy, which still saddens and frustrates me greatly because, again, I know the church as a body (or rather as several bodies) to be full of wonderful, good-hearted individuals. And yet that hypocrisy was there and it did not sit well with me at all. I was made, on too many occasions, to feel that my faith was inadequate. That my time for asking questions had passed and I should now accept and believe what the church told me, however ill it sat with my soul.

    And I couldn’t continue to do it any more.

    So I left.

    I left my church related jobs and voluntary positions, I stopped attending services, I had already stopped reading the bible except when necessity dictated and I rarely prayed anymore. I felt a mixture of grief and anger. I felt betrayed, tricked by what seemed like a false sense of security and acceptance laid out before me when I had been vulnerable with a need I didn’t recognise.

    I still felt that I had faith. I had had experiences over those years in the church that had convinced me of the existence of something far greater than myself. That unknown and unknowable force that I had felt touch my life did not fit with the God I had been told about but it felt like what I somehow inherently felt God to be, so that is what I call it. I felt like what I had thought was my faith had been stripped bare, taken back to this tiny nugget of something, fragile but full of life and possibility. And I decided to sit with it. To prod it and poke it with questions, to allow myself all the doubts I had been told to deny, and to wait. To give this little thing the time and space to grow.

    And grow it did. Into something beautiful and powerful and flexible. Something that grows and changes as I do but that holds me as an anchor. And the church in which this faith has grown? It is the world. My faith has grown in the brilliant summer sun over golden grasses swaying in the wind; in watching the Milky Way wheel over head in countryside far from city lights; in an unexpected downpour that soaks to the skin; in the crescendo of music in a darkened theatre that raises the hair on my arms; in the soft skin and milk smell of the newborn children of friends and family; in the incredible, resilient young people I have had the privilege to work with; in the sunsets and sunrises, in the laughter and the tears, in the hopes and dreams and fears of a life lived fully and to the best of my ability. It has grown in allowing myself the space to know my own mind and recognise when my heart tells me what is right and what is wrong.

    It isn’t perfect. But it’s true. This is my church. And truly anyone is welcome here.

    Being Emotionally Honest

    This week was Mental Health Awareness Week and all week I’ve been wanting and meaning to write something to share with you, my lovely readers. But I’ve had a funny mental health week and have just not quite been in the right frame of mind. I’ve felt edgy, restless and anxious, as if something is bubbling just under my surface. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

    When anxiety starts to prickle like this, I try to acknowledge the feeling. In the past, I used to work hard to ignore it, or would make myself feel guilty about it, which only made things worse. It has taken a surprising amount of effort to reach a point where I can allow myself to just feel what I feel, without judgement. Like much else in life, there always seem to be ‘should’s and ‘must’s crowding in, making me feel bad about my feelings, wants and needs. But by acknowledging the truth of what I’m feeling, without trying to tell myself I should feel something different, I’m far more able to deal with those emotions. This is true of more than just anxiety.

    Emotions are human. And as humans we experience a full spectrum. It’s no good trying to repress what might be seen as ‘negative’ emotions. If you feel angry, be angry; if you feel resentful, be resentful; if you feel sad, be sad. These aren’t necessarily pleasant things to feel but feel them we do. If, when one of these emotions crops up, we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be angry, or we should be grateful, or we have no right to be sad, we are denying some of the truth of ourselves. And the real truth is that you can’t force an emotion away. You can pretend. You can try to bury it in falsehood. But that emotion will still be there and, if you let it, it will fester.

    Like a festering wound, a festering emotion can make you very ill indeed. You have to let the ‘bad’ stuff out if you ever want to heal. One of the things that I used to worry about a lot was how my emotions might make other people feel. When something or someone made me angry, I didn’t want to be angry with them in case it upset them, especially if that person was someone I loved, who loved me, and who I knew probably didn’t mean to make me angry. When something or someone made me resentful, I didn’t want to behave resentfully towards them, and when something or someone (or often nothing) made me sad, I didn’t want to show that sadness because I thought my privileged life meant I had no right to be sad. But by being so focused on what other people might feel in response I put myself in some really dark and painful places. And the thing is, allowing yourself to feel what you feel isn’t about rubbing it in someone’s face. You don’t have to take the festering wound and smear it on the person who accidentally gave you a paper cut, or whose success distracted you from what you were doing so you accidentally gave yourself one.

    It takes a conscious effort but I will now (most of the time) deal with those emotions in one of two ways: I will acknowledge it out loud or in writing, just to myself; or if it’s really eating at me, I will speak to a friend or family member who is outside the situation and, as honestly as I can, explain what I’m feeling. These acknowledgements are usually prefaced with lots of ‘I know I’m really lucky to have X, Y and Z, BUT…’ or ‘I feel like I’m being a bitch/ungrateful/overreacting, BUT…’. With the effort of being honest about my feelings, to someone else in particular, comes the need to qualify that I know I speak from a place of privilege. The process at the moment is still partly one if seeking approval for what I’m feeling, which I hope to move beyond eventually. But this has been a huge step forward for me because I used to keep everything I considered vaguely negative bottled up inside. I would not allow myself to be imperfect in my emotions. I would not allow myself to be human.

    What I have found is that once I have acknowledged whatever it is out loud, I either feel better immediately and am able to move on, or it gets me to a place where I can then address the person/situation with a greater degree of honesty and clarity. My feelings will usually have subsided to a point where I can express them in what feels like a reasonable and healthy way. It’s a work in progress and sometimes it still takes me a while to realise I’m letting something fester, but I can feel the difference this has made to my emotional life.

    I’m also getting much better at self-care and making time every most days to check in with myself and have a moment of honesty. Some of my favourite ways to do this are by reading, listening to a podcast, taking photographs, writing and journaling. Here’s what that looks like currently:

    Reading:

    The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy

    Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

    Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

    Circe by Madeline Millar

    (I know, I know, four books at once seems a lot. I always tend to have a lot of books on the go because I’m such a mood reader!)

    Listening To:

    The Happy Place

    The Guilty Feminist

    Harry Potter and The Sacred Text

    The Quibbler

    Made of Human

    Photographing:

    Books

    Nature

    My dog!

    Writing:

    Poetry

    Blog posts

    A young adult fantasy novel…

    Journaling:

    Quotes

    Doodles

    Tracking sleep, mood, steps

    Daily gratitude

    This Mental Health Awareness Week, and beyond, I encourage you to be emotionally honest with yourself, make the time for self care, and help continue the conversation about mental health, whether online, with friends and family, or even with strangers.

    What do you think is important for maintaining mental health?

    There is Help and Hope

    I have started writing this post several times and don’t quite know how to say what I want to say. I have heard and seen too many stories of people struggling with their mental health and not being able to find a way out; too many stories of people for whom the only escape they could see was through taking their own life. My heart breaks and bleeds for these people and their families and friends. I want to help. I’m not sure how. So for now I just want to say if you are suffering you need not suffer alone. If you are hurting there are people who want to try and help you heal. If you are struggling to see any light in the dark, please, please, call out and let someone – anyone, friend or family or stranger or professional – try to help light your way. Even if you feel totally alone, know that there are people who care.

    Please don’t suffer in silence. Let in help. Let in hope.

    If you’re unsure how or who to ask for help the resources and websites below might be a good place to start. Take care of yourselves and each other, lovely people. 💛

    The Blurt Foundation – https://www.blurtitout.org

    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

    Reach Out

    It’s so close you can taste it. You can see the possibility solidifying into a reality, just a little way ahead, but it’s fragile: fuzzy and fluctuating like a mirage in the desert heat. But it’s there. You could make it real. You have to reach out and grasp hold of that dream. You have to pull it from that sacred space of imagination and daydreaming into the clear light of day. It may not materialise with one tug. It may take dozens. Hundreds. It may take all your strength and discipline not to let go. Not to give up and let it drift back into that distant and untouchable plain. It may not look exactly how you imagined if you manage to wrench it forth into the world. But you may also find that you can shape it and grow into it. If you want to make it real you’ll have to hold to it with everything you can. Breathe life into it.

    Whatever you do, don’t be afraid if it. It’s your dream. Reach out and make it real.

    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 Switching Off

    Sometimes, all is noise:

    Busy

    Bustling

    Chaos.

    The mad rush from here to

    There.

    The happy buzz,

    The anxious struggle,

    The beeping, bleeping, never ending

    Asks and answers,

    Frets and favours,

    Coffee percolating,

    Email answering,

    Frantic searching,

    Forgot what I was doing,

    Hamster-wheeling,

    Plate spinning

    Noise.

    And sometimes

    There is

    Silence.

    • JH

    It seems a little ironic to talk about switching off when I’m typing a blog post on my phone (thanks to a broken laptop) which will be read online and shared through social media, but being switched on and plugged in all the time is not good for us. It can in fact be really damaging to our mental health. We are caught in a constant onslaught of exposure to anything and everything. Bad news, images of perfection, and unrealistic expectations are everywhere. It’s enough to make anyone feel inadequate and exhausted.

    Being plugged in all the time also prevents us from really engaging with the people around us. Looking around a crowded train carriage on the way into town or even around a restaurant on a Friday night, you see people everywhere staring at screens. Don’t get me wrong, I love my screens and technology as much as the next person, and I’m guilty of checking my phone more than I need to, but sometimes it really is nice to step out of the digital world we’re so caught up in and take a moment to enjoy the reality around us.

    So set yourself a challenge to unplug for a while, even just an hour, and start a conversation with someone. A real conversation. It’s time to talk.

    ***

    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.

    Come Home To Rest

    The Earth smoulders

    With the turning of the season

    And the clouds drift down

    To kiss the burning land.

    A veil of tears

    Lands softly on flaming leaves

    But even heaven’s weeping

    Cannot dull the

    Rioting palette

    Of autumn’s inferno.

    And when the most parts,

    Making way for the pale light

    Of winter’s promise,

    And the chill of year’s end

    Arrives on the breath of the hills,

    The leaves curl and crisp underfoot,

    Rustling their accompaniment to fading birdsong.

    Polished conkers gleam amongst summer’s debris.

    Woodsmoke hangs in the air,

    The crackle of logs echoing in the quiet.

    The world exhales

    A long sigh of letting go.

    As though, after a long day,

    She has come home to rest.