Sometimes you have to ‘close a few tabs’ in your life in order to truly focus and enjoy the one thing right in front of you now.
I awoke naturally at around 5.30am, which is definitely not my usual time of day as I’m a night owl and not a morning person. I spent some time in a sort of ‘sleepy prayer’ state, committing my day to God, and listening to some gentle worship music. At 6.30am I started my early morning writing, and wrote for just under half an hour, and enjoyed a hot cup of tea and some breakfast snacks. I wrote again from around 7.30am to 8.30am, and after that I went back to sleep for a while.
It’s now 10am, and I am writing my update here to avoid procrastination. I am curled up on my sofa, with a cosy blanket, and my laptop propped up on my armrest as I type. Day two has a gentler feel to it than yesterday. Yesterday I wrote quite a lot and I feel that I wrote well. Today, however, I decided not to set myself with a word count to ‘accomplish’ which has given me the freedom to linger and engage and connect more deeply with what I am sharing of myself, creatively, through the written word.
The mind and heart have caverns that take a life time to explore, and healing comes not instantly for the most part, but over time, and with love. And we express much of ourselves through the characters we create, whether intentionally or not. For me, it is intentional, and therefore there is the opportunity for deep and genuine connection through writing this novel as well as it being an opportunity for me to learn more about myself.
I have spent an hour and a half this morning continuing on my journey through writing my novel, and have written 808 words. This may not seem much for the time spent, but there has been a richness in the connection, and quality of experience of slowing down, taking time to consider words, to experience the resonances with my heart, and understand a little better the tapestry of my mind.
The world we live in is so rushed, and hurried. People ‘think faster’, but not necessarily deeper. Words are fired out over ‘Twitter’ ‘Instant messaging’ and text. We are being moulded to expect instant responses and constant information. And with all the interconnection, there lacks the depth of connection with our selves.
So if you have the chance to write, to create, be intentional about it, and yes set yourself goals. However, enjoy the process. The world doesn’t give us time to savour the moments as deeply as our souls need to – we need to seek and find and carve out that time that God so freely gives.
Slow down. Especially on retreat. The world of course will rush you once again, so take this time. Pause. Reflect. Connect. With your creativity, with yourself, with your Creator, and delve a bit deeper.
When you travel to a new place, you may spend a day or two trying to accomplish as much as you can on your sight seeing ‘bucket list’. You want to make the most of your time and cover the most ground you can, especially if it’s unlikely that you will be travelling there again. Once you have seen all the sights, however, on day two or three or four, you will have gained a sense of what is most important and interesting to you, and also what is not as important. And so….you slow down, you linger, you stay a while. You don’t rush from one museum to the next, you don’t have to….you can pause and look….really look….at that one particular painting that catches your eye, stimulates your mind and captures your heart. Previously, you caught a glimpse of a variety of places you could perhaps eat at, but today….today you have chosen one place, and you slow, you enjoy the colour of food on your plate, the taste, the aroma, the textures and flavour. You listen, to the conversations around you in languages you don’t understand, and hear not just unfamiliar sounds but nuances that you hadn’t noticed before and similarities of words and phrases. You feel more connected, with yourself, with the company you are in, and the day you are inhabiting. Having taken a multitude of photos the previous day, you decide to put your camera away for a while, and soak in the experience of being present, being here, now. You know that tomorrow or quite soon you will have to attend to the business of tidying and packing up and leaving for home. So you pause, you linger, you soak it up. And maybe you don’t ‘tick as many boxes’, but that’s alright. You don’t cover as much ground, but the ground you do cover leaves an impression upon your soul, becomes part of you, and enriches your life….in this slow, authentic, savoured and connected moment of your life.
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.
Image from WordPress free photo library.
What do those three words make you think of? ‘Quality of life’. (I mean in a general, everyday sense. I understand that there are many people who are or have friends or family members who are living through terminal illness, severe health challenges, bereavements and other major life challenges, which require sensitivity and compassion and an entirety of focus, therefore this post is aimed more generally, while my heart goes out to those who are struggling with the daily realities of such life circumstances).
I guess the phrase means different things to different people, but individually I think you ‘just know’ whether you are experiencing it or whether something is amiss. As explored in previous posts, we often don’t stop and realise what we really need to change until after we ‘burn out’ or struggle to survive our hectic and stressful days.
As someone who has had a long battle with complex post traumatic stress (notice, I leave out the word ‘disorder’, for we are overcomers and survivors of the brain’s natural coping reactions to severely stressful life experiences that were put upon us), severe clinical depression, resulting in for a few years chronic pain, and also generalised anxiety disorder, therefore quality of life is something I have had to think about a lot.
I am pleased so say that by the grace of God, and with a lot of hard work taking those small and seemingly insurmountable steps every day for years and years, I feel like I am stronger and in a better place.
So, ‘quality of life’ in an everyday sense….what does it mean? You know better what it is when you don’t have it. And what do you think about? Is it having time to yourself to rest and reflect? Experiencing exhilarating challenges and exploring new places? Having a peaceful family life, or finding contentment in your situation whether you have people around you or are ‘alone’? Is it being able to “enjoy your achievements as well as your plans”? To notice the simple things each and everyday?
It is a challenge that each of us have to take up to consider this question for ourselves, and then to give ourselves the permission to set about doing something about it for our own sakes and for those around us. I have taken the day off work today. I was getting to the stage of feeling like I wasn’t ‘coping’ so well, and that’s not the way I want to live. And I think with all I have been through, and all that you have been through in your life, it is a question that we need to *regularly* ask ourselves: am I living, experiencing a real quality of life, even in the simple things everyday, and if not, what am I going to do to make the changes I need to make?
For me some of these changes have taken years to accomplish having had the mountains of post traumatic stress, anxiety and depression to overcome. However simple they may seem, these changes are small victories in my life. And as each gain is made, the quality of life adds up over the years, as does our personal resilience to adversity, just as conversely each detriment adds up, each bad habit, each negative element that we allow to continue in our lives unchallenged.
Some of these changes for me include working on a better sleep routine, and eating more healthily, and looking after my body and mind. Having a time of morning devotions and prayer and seeking God, giving thanks and praying for myself and others, committing my day to Him and being gentle with myself when I don’t manage this and end up rushing. Taking time to slow down and notice the beauty in the everyday, ‘mundane’ things of life and appreciating what I have got. Taking time to create a peaceful living and working environment even if there are challenges in doing this, small changes can make a difference. Taking breaks, being mindful of my breathing, setting goals and plans, and taking the time to do more of what I enjoy, whether it is reading a book while waiting for the train, colouring during my lunch breaks at work, listening to music, giving myself more time so that I am not constantly rushing from place to place, and taking a day off when I need to if I can.
I am a great believer that the little things in life really do add up over time. What you are investing in today will impact your future and those of the people in your life in some way or another. Seeds of legacy. So take time to make time for yourself, small or big changes that will help you everyday to live more in alignment with what really matters, taking consideration of the foundation that you are building your life upon, so that you are living and not merely existing. Small steps, after all, lead to changed lives as the years roll by. God bless. x