The funny thing about life is that even though we all know and have heard and see it vibrantly displayed in the lives of young children, that there is a joy and freedom from living in the moment that we can’t find if we are constantly overthinking things, we still know that life has a forward momentum and we need to go with it.
We can be still…but for a moment. I love to sit at a high point of the park overlooking the city, and just be still, to pause, reflect and just ‘be’. And yet, I know I will have to get up again, my feet will keep walking and I will have to move from the stillness and from one moment to the next. The gentle or fast paced momentum of life is still a momentum that no one can escape.
You know the saying, ‘Time and tide wait for no man’. Perhaps you are also familiar with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60:
Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
“Each changing place with that which goes before”.
I remember studying this Sonnet in University, I think initially in my first year as an English Literature student. I was particularly taken by the beauty of the first two lines and the way in which the iambic pentameter perfectly echoed nature’s rhythms hidden in the waves that made towards the pebbl’d shore. I wrote a poem of my own after that, also in iambic pentameter, about time and about waiting.
Reflecting on this now, I feel not the anxiety of experiencing the passing of time that comes from life bearing witness to decay, but instead a blossoming that comes from one wave flowing into another and life’s experiences and gifts and lessons building upon another.
I think of how my early days spent captivated in the moment, and in the beauty of books, led to my interest in writing, which helped me as I moved through school and through some of my darkest of days as I found solace in the written word, and then into my passion for English Literature as a high school ‘senior’ in 6th year, which changed place with subsequent moments of learning in University as I studied English Literature and Politics with Philosophy for my first degree before going on to study my Masters and continue to write.
Shakespeare knew when his ‘swan song’ would be as he wrote his play ‘The Tempest’ as he bid farewell and adieu through the life of Prospero, and perhaps most of us know when we need to prepare for our farewells and our curtain call in this life.
Yet between our entrance on the world’s stage and our final bow, we have a collection of moments one building upon another upon another, just as the waves of the sea.
And perhaps we know also when one season of our life is giving way to the next, not in terms of a farewell so much as that of the greetings of a Spring season, of new beginnings and adventures and opportunities.
Sometimes these demarcations in life can come in obvious fashion by way of the more apparent ‘milestones’ and change points of life such as graduation, a first job, a new home, marriage, starting a family, moving through one’s career and so forth.
However, we are all moment by moment entering new beginnings in life as the momentum of life carries us like the waves of the sea. Sometimes new beginnings are demarcated by the dates on our calendars, we know that as we focus on enjoying the winter season of the year, as much as we live in the moment, the moment will give way to a new year, and so we seek to prepare ourselves for that in whatever way we can and as we know how.
However, some new beginnings we come to internally. There are no significant change points in our lives, no particular milestones or dates to point to, but we know that we have decided to make an internal shift and to view what’s next as something new. We create the entrance into a new season of our lives within ourselves.
I think that is where I am now. There are no specific milestones to point to, however, the change is a decision within myself. Having worked and fought long and hard to survive and struggle through a process of recovery from various health and other challenges, I am choosing to accept that I have done a great deal of work in this area, and to believe that I am strong enough to step into new opportunities with fewer limitations.
The change in my blog itself is an indication of this – from writing more from an exploratory perspective, to try to find healing and help and strength for myself, I notice a shift in being able to use the lessons I have learned to help and encourage other people. I can see my, albeit ongoing, lessons as being rooted in the past and not something that is the focus so much as the basis of what I am stepping into and doing now.
We create new seasons for ourselves, or most of us do, every time a new year and a new January rolls around. However, we don’t need to wait for an external signpost in order to make those inner shifts and changes and to embrace the new. We can start right now, within ourselves. What do you think?
Every now and then we need some ‘down time’ – time out just to ‘be’ and not to do very much, time to enjoy the simple things of life.
Maybe you just need to spend some time ‘pottering about’ at home, with no tasks, commitments or anything in particular to do. Perhaps you have an entire day to yourself and you want to take it a bit easier for a while, and stay indoors and be cosy, maybe you could take a nap, read a book, go for a long hot bath, put together a nice winter outfit, go for a walk in nature, catch up with a friend over coffee, or just wander about with no plans in particular.
Sometimes we need to enjoy doing nothing because the rest of the time we are so busy doing everything else. I love lazy Saturday mornings like that, when I have a bit of ‘me time’ and when I don’t have any appointments, I can just take time and enjoy the simple things, linger over a hot cup of tea, watch birds flying outside my window, do a bit of tidying up at my leisure, listen to some music, read a bit, put on cosy socks and curl up on the couch and watch some TV, phone my family for a chat and a catch up.
Sometimes the simple things are the best things in life. Maybe you have someone special to spend your time doing these things with, or maybe like me, you’re on your own, either way there are so many day to day things and charms that we can find in ‘doing nothing’.
I think the Italians have a phrase for the blessedness of doing nothing: ‘La dolce far niente’.
I wonder if you’re a bit like me. If in childhood you caught the ‘reading bug’ and became an avid reader, transported from one world to another, and set on a course of imagination and possibility?
“When I was just a little girl…”
As much as I was an adventurer, a little girl who loved to play in nature, under this vast sky, some of my fondest memories also include being absorbed in books. I still remember vividly the big old library with wooden winding staircases that my mum and I used to go to when I was little, in the days when our library cards were actually made of cardboard 🙂 I loved the smell of books, the touch, the feel and the worlds within a world that I could embark upon to spark my own imagination. I loved books, everything about them. Some were beautifully illustrated, others were text only, but I had an affinity with them, as perhaps many of you did too.
My passion continued.
As I grew, my passion for reading, for literature, and for writing (I started writing stories and poems as a little girl) continued, unabated. I was commended and won prizes in school for my writing, and loved studying English, so much so that I went on to study English Literature as part of a joint-honours for my first degree (afterwards going on to complete a Masters in Human Rights, Women’s Studies, and International Development).
I loved reading, and I was introduced to a new way of looking at the world of literature through more focused analysis, intertextuality, literary theory, and so forth.
It was an amazing new challenge, however, part of me missed just being able to step into another world, through the gateway of reading, and to imagine without analysis.
Success and ‘Failure’.
I worked hard, studied and read a lot, put my heart and soul into my studies, and gained two First Class Degrees. I had achieved a dream in excelling in English Literature as a big part of my studies, and my identity, as it was part of the fabric of my being.
However, the victory would shortly give way to ‘failure’ in a sense.
My adverse childhood experiences from being traumatised from bullying and hate crime over an intense couple of years most particularly in the first two years of high school, coupled with having severe anxiety, and experiencing the stresses of young adulthood and looking for my first jobs, moving out, and other challenges, bullies in adulthood, close to 3 years of not sleeping, night terrors, and so forth all combined to trigger an ‘explosion’ in complex PTSD, and a few years ago everything collapsed.
My brain felt like it was exploding. Everything was terrifying. The smallest of things was overwhelming, and I didn’t know how I would take the next step or make it through life. I was devastated. My waking and ‘resting’ life was a nightmare, I was both awake during the daytime in a living nightmare even as I went about my day to day or tried to, and was unable to escape in the repose of sleep either.
And to make matters worse, reading had become terrifying for me. My head was exploding, everything was frightening and confusing and overwhelming, thoughts ‘screamed’ at me, sentences were a blur, I couldn’t focus, and when I did my mind couldn’t make sense of things, I was intensely fearful and didn’t understand what was happening to me. I knew I should be able to read, I had majored in English Literature as part of my undergraduate degree after all. And yet, I was broken, and could not read even one line in a book without fear and terror.
I could spend an age staring at one page, tears filling my eyes, the room swimming around me, utterly broken and devastated. What had happened? Why were books no longer a safe and comforting place for me? Why was my brain malfunctioning such that even reading one line in a book was a tremendous and terrifying ordeal?
Was it over?
Scrambling back up that mountain.
There’s a line in a song that encourages me: “Life ain’t over, life ain’t done yet, so get back up in your place, child’.
That’s what we’ve got to do.
The song goes on to say: “When you feel like it’s the end, no mother and no friend could love you more”.
The song is about the faithful love of Jesus, and He carried me through it all and continues to. Suffice to say I got help, and after years of persistence, I started reading again….including for pleasure.
A new way of exploring books.
Although I write a lot as part of my professional work, and have managed to push through and excel (high functioning! 😉 ) in my productivity at work, and although I have started reading again for pleasure, it is not quite as easy for me to just sit down and read a book as it once would have been. I used to be a ‘voracious’ reader, and I would lose count of how many books I had read in a month, in a year. Now, however, I can count the books I have read in a year on one hand. Maybe I’ll get back to where I was, or move forwards to something new.
Recently, however, I have been enjoying new vistas of opportunity for my mind and imagination: audio books. I have embarked upon a free online borrowing system with my public library that allows users the chance to borrow audio books online, download them and listen at leisure – for free.
Once again I am able to get cosy on a cold winter’s evening, and absorb myself in a good book. Only this time, someone is reading to me. I can go about my tasks while listening, or I can close my eyes and imagine the scenes unfolding before me as someone helps to lead me on that journey with their voice. What a pleasure to find a new avenue into the world of books. Of course, it is nothing new, audio books have been around for goodness knows how long now, and with technology, they literally are at people’s fingertips.
The hope of new adventures.
Sometimes we all need a helping hand to get us through. Even Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress found comfort from like minded friends on his arduous journey. Like faithful friends, the narrators of audio books are helping me through, from the slough of despond to being able to see in the far distance a promised land, a ‘Celestial City’.
Audio books are a new gateway for me, into new stories, adventures and realms of inspiration. I can listen to the Word of God, Scripture, biographies, factual accounts as well as fictional stories being read to me.
There is comfort in this. When I was a little girl, I also enjoyed listening to stories on tape and read along with the accompanying illustrated picture books. Perhaps this is like the adult version of that. Another form, another gateway into the realms of stories, of human life, of imagination.
A word of encouragement.
So what can you glean from my gratitude for and enjoyment of audio books? Perhaps that no matter what your challenge is, there is a way forward, it might not be the route you thought, it may seem like you are using a ‘crutch’ at first as you hobble on your journey, injured as you are, but nonetheless, as you persevere you may just find that what you thought was a crutch assisting you in your weakness actually turns out to be a blessing and a gift of comfort, strength and new possibilities as you continue on.
If you’ve been following along with me as I reflect upon my personal retreat as it happens, then you will most likely have noticed a change to the ‘series’ title from ‘Notes from a Writer on Retreat’ to ‘Retreat Reflections’.
I suppose that part of the beauty of time set aside to be creative like this is that it often organically moves beyond definition. I have had personal retreats before, and as in my blog post from a few days ago about preparing your own personal retreat, these at times have varied in their central focus or purpose. Previously, I had a ‘staycation’ which was really about rest, relaxation, exploring my surroundings, taking care of myself, general creativity, and most importantly to me, my relationship with God.
I also once had 9 days in total, including weekends, set aside specifically for writing my novel and I was able to make progress and inhabit that creative time and space for writing. I have taken time to be still in nature, and connect with God and to seek healing and meaning to certain life experiences, as well as for the purpose of rest and relaxation. Last year, I encouraged a friend to join me on retreat as we are both very creative people, both fairly quiet and reflective in nature, and also both sisters in Christ, so we had a lot of fun exploring a variety of arts, crafts, inspiring readings, picnics in the park, a musical event all of which was underpinned by the focus of exploring and strengthening our identity in Christ and as Christian women.
For this retreat, I really wanted to set aside time specifically to write, to work on my novel, to work on a photography project I have started, and to have the chance to reflect, work through some things, rest, relax, be strengthened and more connected with what is important to me in life, so that when the time comes to ‘re-join the world’ in a couple of days, I will feel refreshed, satisfied creatively and with a better perspective going forwards.
I am so pleased and thankful that I set a goal to write at least 3,500 words in the first day, and I feel that this discipline really enabled me to re-engage with my novel, press through to discover certain thought processes and meanings to me, and to gain some forward momentum. As I said previously, I exceeded this target and wrote 3,720 words today. And despite a bit of struggle mid-way through, I am so glad I did.
There was a real sense of satisfaction and rest afterwards, and I was able to put the novel writing away for the evening, and enjoy a pleasant stroll by the riverside near my home. I felt reconnected by being in the gentle sun, and feeling a fresh breeze around me, and gaining a sense of God’s unfolding purpose in my life, which also came through the writing process in discovering new ways of looking at things. I enjoyed watching the sun glisten on the water, feeling the breeze upon my skin, and taking some photos, as well as admiring a swan that was nesting, in a bundle of twigs, awaiting the time for her ‘babies’ to come. A lovely older lady came to chat with me having noticed that I was admiring the swan, as she had come to feed it, and a male swan nearby, with some bread. We chatted, enjoyed the life before us, and then moved on and went our separate ways, and the gentle ebb and flow of life continued on.
I have a sense of rest this evening, having worked hard earlier and accomplished what I set out to do for that day. I am growing in the sense of awareness of myself in this time, and the importance of letting me settle in and simply ‘be’ and inhabit the creative space as well as take time to process certain thoughts and emotions and to grow stronger and to heal. There is a line from Max Ehrman’s prose poem, ‘Desiderata’ that advises us to ‘enjoy our achievements as well as our plans’. This also reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, where we are told that ‘to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven’. Writing helps us to realise this, but so too does rest.
As satisfied as I am to have given myself writing goals today, I think I am in the process of deciding not to apply the same approach tomorrow, for there is a time and a season to each day, and while today’s purpose was to work, to re-engage, to accomplish, to create, I think moving forwards, the ‘purpose’ is to slow down, to savour, to inhabit the creative moments organically as they happen and as I engage with my solitude, in the Presence of my Creator, to find them, and to really truly enjoy the process. I can tend to lose focus, so I will need some sort of accountability with myself, but I think that probably won’t be in terms of word count or time spent writing as much as to just sit and write, and to connect deeply with the process and the unfolding lessons I too am learning through the developing narrative, which are life lessons that have been forming within me for some time, that I am slowly beginning to reflect upon.
When I think of going back to work, I am aware that there are different seasons, even between and within our days and short spans of time. Knowing that this time and space is sacred and limited before returning to my usual work schedule, which has many benefits to it in and of itself, just not so much creatively, gives me a desire to really inhabit this creative space, even if that means thinking and resting rather than producing something, for creativity is of the heart and soul and mind, and often our stories are being written within us as we journey through our lives, before we even write a word.
So tonight and tomorrow I will slow down, enjoy the solitude, and allow myself to connect, with God and with myself, within this quiet space and time, which in itself is a rare and precious gift and blessing, and will let tomorrow unfold organically and uniquely just as it should. I do want to accomplish certain things, so I will keep in mind a looser ‘goal’ simply to do and to engage with writing and with my photography project, but without any pressure, or particular expectations, and allow myself to live authentically and grow through it.
One last thing I have reflected upon that I’d like to mention before I conclude this post is the beauty of time and space that we so often seem to have ‘snatched’ from us in the busy-ness of every day life, of other people’s expectations and demands, and of even simply being around people so much, whether that be from work, friends, family, or strangers. I have tried to work into my daily life ‘mini retreats’ whether that be a walk in the park at lunchtime, slowly enjoying a hot cup of tea, or reading one of your blog posts during my lunchbreak at work. Unfortunately, however, I am only afforded ‘snippets’ of time to do such things in the ordinary busy day to day of my life, ‘as it happens to be’. Tonight, however, I am going to take my time, to savour one or more of your blog posts, to listen and hear from the person writing, who I have never met, but for some reason who I have come in contact with through this medium, and have been granted the privilege of a glimpse and an insight into your unique world, mind and life. I apologise that I rarely have the time and space to truly savour and engage my mind and heart with from other people’s blog posts – probably like a lot of us, I am able to ponder things for a few moments before having to ‘snap back’ into the real world, most likely the office work I have to do, or the tasks I have to do at home after a day at work. Perhaps today, it will be one of your blog posts I will read…and if so, I’d like to thank you for it. I will take the time to honour and engage with the insights you have allowed to traverse through space and time and come into my world. Goodnight for now, I hope that you find stillness to enjoy the space and moments you are living in right now.
Well, my friends, I have successfully traversed from Sunday night into the early hours of Monday morning. It is currently 12.07am, and as such my ‘official’ set aside retreat time has started.
I was able to settle in on Sunday night and do a bit of re-reading of the last section of my novel. This was followed by distraction and procrastination by way of looking up vlogs on YouTube from other people who have been on writing retreats. I haven’t actually ‘gone’ anywhere, I’m being cosy and reclusive in my own home, but I have taken time out specifically to write.
Procrastination was followed by cups of tea, a snack, cooking and eating pasta (with fried mushrooms, sweetcorn and red pesto) for dinner, and more re-reading. I finally got caught up with reading the last section of my book, and was able to settle down to write.
I managed to write 528 words, and reach a significant point of development with one of my characters, introduce a new character and establish an unexpected and new part of the plot.
It was a little emotional to read over some of what I had written, but these new developments see some positive changes, so I am excited to see where it all leads tomorrow (or, I should say ‘today’ as it is now technically the very early hours of Monday morning).
I am pretty tired now, so this may be a bit incoherent, and apologies if so! 🙂
I think I shall settle in, have a hot chocolate and wind down, and maybe watch something or do something creative before I go to sleep.
Lesson from this note are if you are going to have a creative retreat, make sure you have snacks, caffeine, inspiration and focus – and most of all enjoy doing and creating what you love.
This post is particularly aimed at the singles and those without children among us, as in general society tends to silently marginalise us and there are not enough articles aimed at this group, in comparison to material on married and family life, but really the principals can apply to people of any stage with a bit of adjustment.
As humans, we have a tendency to think of the ‘someday’ in the future when things will all fall into place and we can be content and happy and fulfilled. This mindset may be tacitly agreed upon by society and promoted through advertising. However, is this really a healthy way to live? To think, I’ll be happy ‘when’ ….I meet the love of my life, I’m married, have children, have enough money in the bank to go on that holiday, have free time to do what I love, when I retire…..The list goes on and on.
And yet, we mentally store up time that we don’t even know we have, and deposit our hopes and dreams in an unknown future.
So many people live their lives ‘on hold’ waiting for retirement, waiting to settle down, to find that ‘someone’, to travel, to have that longed for child, to start that business, to fulfil that extraordinary goal. And some people do manage to live lives that just seem on the surface to blossom. But what about those among us waiting for that ‘someday’.
I’d like to encourage you to think of today as that someday. Why not? What about now?
If you love your job, and it is a passion you are pursuing, that is wonderful. Hopefully you are able to find balance to also factor in other things you enjoy and are meaningful to you.
But if you are like many people I have observed, you might at first have started out with starry eyed dreams, but have become jaded, and seem to live for that ‘someday’, or even live each week for the weekend, hurrying along the life that you should be living and enjoying.
Maybe your job isn’t perfect, but is your attitude? Maybe you can’t change your boss, your co-workers or conditions but can you change your outlook to choose to enjoy what is good about your job, look for the growth lessons in what you struggle with, and speak up and make a difference for yourself and others where there may be scope to make a change? Can you *choose* the perhaps radical mindset of not conforming to the culture of grumbling, to instead actually choose to enjoy the job you have, or take steps to pursue other opportunities?
Perhaps your commitments vary. Maybe you have people to look after, elderly relatives, or a variety of responsibilities or maybe you feel relatively ‘care free’ or at a loose end, and managing your day to day and the stresses of your everyday life feel more than you can manage right now.
When it comes to work – life balance, are you committed to playing your part to make it happen? This doesn’t necessarily mean working fewer hours, having work from home days, or taking more time off. It does mean being responsible and accountable for the time you do have, so that you can make the most of your days, right here and right now. Whether you work for someone else, in an office, from your own home, or travel as part of your job, you will have ‘down time’ when you’re at home and need to draw some demarcations and boundaries to have ‘set aside’ time for other things, over and above taking care of yourself physically and mentally.
When you wait for the weekend, once it arrives do you actually savour and use that time well? Or do you just plod on wearily into a new week? Do you spend even 5 minutes each day doing something you enjoy, however simple, whether that be some reading, art, a crossword, enjoying nature, investing in your friendships and relationships with family and taking time to consider how you can live more deeply and fully?
We can’t save up all our dreams for an unknown time in the future. People often say, when I retire, when I have the time to do such and such, then I will……read more books, travel more, spend time with family, be relaxed, write a book, play an instrument, read the newspaper in the sunshine, listen to the birds, give something back….
One day a while back, I had a little ‘brainstorm’ and wrote down a list of the things I’d possibly say to the question ‘What would you like to do when you retire?’ Maybe you have a mental list of what you think you’d like to do. But you will most likely be more energetic now than later, even if you are counting on having more time for such pursuits in this unknown future. I hear these kind of things a lot from older colleagues…they seem to store up their dreams in the future, when they could be doing something about them right now.
That doesn’t mean taking a year or a few years off to travel the world….it could be factoring in your passions into your every day life. After work, maybe you can’t travel far, but you could go for a walk, watch a travel documentary, or plan a weekend trip somewhere.
That book you think you want to write….why not start scribbling down a few ideas today? Or why not establish a more regular blogging routine where you can and will write, and enjoy being a writer now?
All those books you plan on reading. Do you have five minutes in the day to start? The endless time and relaxation you foresee….why not take half an hour to yourself and enjoy the simple rest?
The time you want to pursue your creative side….you can do something creative everyday…even for a little bit of a time….you just need to be aware of the things you enjoy and factor them in. What are they for you? Dancing, photography, sport, reading, leisure, going for long walks, pottering about in the garden, meeting new people, joining a club, speaking to family on the phone, drawing, painting, exploring museums, learning a language, helping others, volunteering, doing something meaningful in your community, writing about your life experiences, trying a new cuisine, mentoring a younger person, taking time to stop and ‘smell the roses’? It doesn’t need to be grand or worthy of announcement in the eyes of the world, it just needs to be meaningful to you and sometimes the most simple things are those that touch us the most.
So when you think about a healthier work life balance, as well as thinking about the bigger more structural changes you might want to make, such as patterns of working, hours, location, the actual job you do, etc, think also of the gradual, daily and consistent things you can bring into your life to do the things you love. You might say ‘but when will I find the time?’ The answer is precisely in the question…you need to *find* it….and in order to find, you must *seek*, look for opportunities, pray for them, carve out time, be aware of the time you have right now, and the power you have to choose to be responsible for it and to take a step back to consider what actually is meaningful and worthwhile to be spending your time on. You don’t have time to read books? What about while waiting for your train or on your lunchbreak? Everyone is so busy, it’s hard to invest in relationships…so are you willing to leave them to chance, or ask someone if you can set aside time just to catch up with them whether face to face or over the phone? You might have time later on, but will you still have that person in your life?
You might be waiting and hoping for certain special things to happen in your life, but you don’t know what will transpire, and you don’t know whether they might themselves bring additional challenges with them. I know of friends who were discontented in their single years only to find that things actually became more difficult when they got married. I know of people who really wanted children and were bitter or sad when their friends had babies, but in the end years later they did too. And some friends who had the happy relationships early on, and are still together and happy and had great experiences having kids and growing their family, later down the track are facing challenges of coping with the stresses of a child with disorders and health problems. Others who wanted to travel, got their chance, and then kept desiring the next thing. Be content now. Choose to be. It’s perfectly natural to hope and dream, and there are certain things that are beyond our control and part of a much bigger, more incredible picture that we will never fully understand. But there are things that are within our sphere of influence, choice, control and decision right now. So yes, hope, dream, plan….but also invest….your time, talents and heart in the things you love and that add something to this world that will bring you joy and maybe even help someone else too. x