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.
  • 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?

    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 Continuing The Conversation

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    This is the final post in my 24-posts-in-24-hours series for #TimeToTalk day. Thank you so much to all of you who have popped by to read, like, share and comment; it means a lot to see so many people engaging with this important issue.

    #TimeToTalk day is a great opportunity to open up conversations, to draw attention to mental health, and to break down some of the stigma that makes it so difficult to talk honestly. Chances are we will all be affected by mental health issues at some point in our lives, whether they be our own mental health struggles or those of the people close to us, so these are important conversations and ones that could make all the difference to so many people.

    It is vital that we make space for open dialogue, not just on #TimeToTalk day but every day. Remember: it’s the little things that can make all the difference; it’s always the right time to start a conversation; no-one is defined by their mental health, but it can have a huge impact on how they live and feel day-to-day; there is always light to be found, even if we can’t find it right now; no-one needs a reason to feel what they feel; we are all beautiful chaos; it’s ok not to be ok; if we speak openly and listen authentically, we can change the world.

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    I urge you to continue this conversation beyond today, beyond reading and liking and sharing. I ask you to reach out to the people around you, whether to seek help or offer it. These conversations change lives. And we could all do with knowing we are not alone.

    I’d like to leave you with another TED talk, which I found moving and comforting, as it seems, to me, to be a perfect example of the love that lies at the heart of humanity.

    What a beautiful thought: “when they could have asked for anything, they all asked for health, happiness, and love”. Let’s do our utmost to give these things to each other. Let’s remember that it’s always #TimeToTalk.

    ***

    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.

    It’s #TimeToTalk Breathing

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    I’d like to take a moment to share with you a short and simple breathing exercise which I have found incredibly helpful. We hear often about the importance of breathing and noticing our breath in strategies for dealing with anxiety or panic attacks, but it’s not always clear what exactly that means and we (read I) often make the mistake of thinking that because we breathe all the time this is something we can just ‘do’ without much thought or practise. In reality, for breathing to be helpful in situations of stress or anxiety, it’s more likely to be effective if you’ve practised. A lot. In times of calm. By practising at times when you don’t feel stressed or anxious, you train your body to know the breathing patterns and (I suspect) create an unconscious association with these breathing patterns and a sense of calm.

     

    So here it is:

    Breathe in slowly for the 5 counts

    Hold the breath for two counts

    Release the breath slowly for 5 counts

    Hold for 2 counts

    Repeat

     

    Super simple and can be practised anywhere. Try to fill and empty your lungs on each inhalation and exhalation and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. And practise. Often.

    ***

    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.

    It’s #TimeToTalk, Now

    It’s easy to be too busy

    Or say

    It’s not the right time

    To worry that you’ll make it worse

    So you accept their fumbled

    “Fine.”

    It’s hard to find the moment

    For hearing truth

    And depth

    But really we’re just finding excuses

    To keep ourselves

    Deaf

    To all the pain that gathers

    When people can’t speak

    Truth

    And have to keep it bottled up

    For fear of hurting

    You

    But what happens when you leave it?

    When you let the silence

    Grow?

    What if their pain is your pain too

    But not asking means

    You’ll never

    Know?

    So let’s all breathe together

    Hold hands and take

    A dive

    Into conversation

    With neighbours

    Strangers

    Friends

    And lovers

    Because

    Now

    Is The Time.

    • JH

    ***

    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.

    It’s #TimeToTalk Recommended Reads – Calm

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    It’s time for another recommendation.

    I vividly remember stumbling across this book when I was down in London with family. We were browsing around Anthropologie and, as is usual for me, I gravitated towards a small display of books. This one caught my eye immediately. The vivid blue stood out and the simplicity of the cover appealed to me. But it was the title that drew me to pick it up and flick through. Calm. That was what I needed.

    As soon as I opened it and began to leaf through the pages, I knew I wanted a copy of my own to enjoy slowly in the peace of my own home. Even standing in a busy shop in the middle of London, I found it to be soothing. Stunning illustrations come to life on the pages of this lovely little volume, and it’s definitely one to be savoured slowly.  Alongside the beautiful images are a selection of reflections, exercises, and question prompts to help you find your own little bit of calm in amongst the chaos of life. It’s a wonderful book to get lost in.

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    You can also find more from the creater of clam, Michael Acton Smith, over at the Calm website or by downloading the Calm app. Both great if you want some guided meditations, sleep stories, and mindfulness content, combined with lovely visuals and sounds. You can access a lot of the resources for free or you can choose to take out a paid subscription, depending on your need/interest/financial situation.

    ***

    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.

    It’s #TimeToTalk Recommended Resources – Flow

    As part of this series I wanted to share some recommendations for books, apps, and other resources that I have found helpful or interesting, and this is my first.

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    If you’ve read my blog or followed my Instagram account for any length of time, you’ll know of my love for Flow Magazine. In recent years, Flow has also published a selection of companion books/magazines focused on development by mindfulness and relationships.

    Like the magazine, they are beautifully produced, with well thought out content, wonderful illustrations, and a great balance of things to read and things to do.

    I find these editions provide a lovely space for quiet time and reflection. The insightful articles and thought provoking questions and activities are the perfect accompaniment to some me time. If you’re looking for a tool to help you explore mindfulness, I highly recommend these.

    ***

    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.

    It’s #TimeToTalk Meditation

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    When I was little and couldn’t sleep because of bad dreams, or the fear of bad dreams, my parents would sit by my bed, brushing the hair gently from my face, and in slow soft voices talk me through a meditation that would help me relax and dream good dreams. I still use it to this day. And it helps, almost always without fail.

    There were two variations and I’m going to share on with you now. It is intended to be carried out slowly, whilst you are lying down, somewhere quiet and either dimly lit or dark. If you can get someone to read the meditation to you, or record yourself saying it and then playing back, this is best as then you can close your eyes and focus on carrying out each stage and feeling the sensations. I hope it helps you, or a loved one, sleep.

    Imagine you are lying on the soft sand of a sun warmed beach.

    You can feel the sand shifting gently beneath you, shaping itself to perfectly support you.

    You feel it’s warmth radiating against your skin, drawing the tension from your limbs.

    Your toes are just touching the edge of a rock pool, and the heated water laps ever so gently at your feet.

    You scrunch up your toes, contracting all the little muscles as tightly as you can, and then release them, allowing all the tension to flow out and relaxing entirely.

    You squeeze the muscles in your legs, tensing them as though supporting a great weight, then allow the muscles to relax and feel them become heavy, sinking a little further into the sand.

    Next, you clench all the muscles that make up your core, drawing in your bottom and stomach, as if compressed between two panels of glass, before releasing and feeling the pressure lift away from you.

    Your attention shifts to your upper body and arms, which you draw in tightly, pulling all the muscles and sinews close together, clenching your fists, raising your shoulders, pinching your shoulder blades together and contracting your arms. Slowly, you allow the tension to drain away, releasing from your shoulders, down through your arms, and eventually to the tips of your fingers. Your upper body now rests with sleepy, relaxed heaviness into the sand.

    Finally, you scrunch up your face, pursing your lips, wrinkling your nose, pulling your eyebrows into a frown, before releasing every muscle in your face, allowing your jaw to fully relax and your brow to smooth, all the cares of the day smoothed away with it.

    You rest in the moment and pay attention to the pleasing sensation of lying in the warmth and softness of the day, and the relaxation of surrendering all the tension that had built up in you.

    You notice the heat of the sand below and the sun above you. A gentle breeze caresses your skin. Any thoughts passing through your mind do just that: they pass on. You acknowledge their existence but don’t dwell on them. They float through and by you and you slowly drift into sleep.

     

    ***

    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.

    Today We Wandered


    Today we wandered through the nearby fields. The sun was blazing in the sky and there was barely a sound in the air. Lush and green, the grass spread away before us, broken by vibrant yellow buttercups and the occasional splash of violet. I didn’t know the name of those purple flashes, I will have to look it up.

    The air was warm and still, a comforting presence. We watched a heron soaring over the trees, surprisingly graceful in the sky. A trio of mallards flew in perfect syncronisation over the field where we threw a tennis ball for our borrowed dog. He managed to find the only muddy puddle in sight and didn’t hesitate a moment before revelling in his discovery. Clever boy!

    We passed from one field to the next through a hedgerow tunnel, the sunlight dappling down through the arched branches to lay it’s pattern of light and warmth on the bare earth beneath. The quiet murmuring of a brook wound its way through the peace and quiet, luring otherwise well behaved dogs into mischief. 

    Leaving the green behind us, we wandered back towards home, admiring the houses we passed, with their colourful stained glass windows and stately wooden doors. The sunshine followed us home and though once we reached it our feet were still, our minds continued to wander…