Tag Archives: writing

Making the most of time after work…

This is more of a ‘life as it happens to be’ learning as I go type of post, rather than an article of helpful advice (although I’ll try to include helpful tips where I can), quite simply because this is an area of on-going learning and development for me.

The different spheres in which we move, and live:

Some of you out there may have particularly unique or fascinating jobs that don’t quite fit a predictable ‘pattern’ of set hours or locations. Maybe your work involves traveling across the world, through different time zones and maybe some of you could get called to work at any time of the day or the night. However, I imagine that most of us who are working adults tend to have a set number of hours for which we are paid to work each week, and in set locations. Even if you work from home and / or run your own business/s, you tend to wake up on a Monday morning (if Monday is a working day for you) knowing where you are meant to be and what you are supposed to do              (although, first thing on a Monday morning thoughts about the latter might be a little foggy! : – ) ).

It’s important to have that delineation between work and leisure time, and this may be a particular challenge for people who work for themselves and / or work from home for the most part because the physical and psychological space between home and work will tend to be less defined.

Why is it important to have this distinction? Obviously our lives involve elements of ‘cross-over’ in many respects, however, we need a basic degree of separation in order to protect our own mental and emotional well-being, in order to know when to stop, when to rest, and when to work.

‘After work’ time:

Once we have ‘downed tools’ for the day, we move from one sphere of living into another. For me this involves completing work tasks, ‘powering down’, physically leaving one building to make a short commute to get home. That is quite a clear demarcation for me, as it will be for many of you, with the travel time in between allowing us to mentally process the sphere from one part of our day and life into the next.

Making the most of my time is an on-going lesson for me, and perhaps for many of you. I have quite clear ideas of what my life priorities are, and how I would like to spend my time. I set goals not only at the start of the year, but also try to do this for each new month throughout the year, and on the whole I manage to spend valuable time on each of the areas of life that are most important to me, and that are within my grasp to be able to do so.

However, isn’t it often the case that we can feel ‘rushed’ in our lives and unable to fully give as much time and attention to what we want to do? Do you ‘wait for the weekend’, for your next holiday, or even for retirement? I personally don’t think that’s a way that I want to be living my life, when each day is packed full of opportunity. It’s just that sometimes we aren’t able to make the most of each of our days. Why?

What considerations to we need to take into account that might be hindrances to fully living the life we want to lead?

At work, I’m getting more opportunities to use my project management skills, and to work with others as part of a team to be involved in the implementation and progress of new initiatives. I do like a good plan, and when it comes to successful planning and project implementation at work this can be particularly satisfying. Often projects can fall by the wayside because of poor planning and a lack of comprehensive discussion and brainstorming between the right people. At the moment it seems that I am involved with a good team on a particular project, who have introduced a new project planning tool which is particularly good for assessing progress and making people aware of tasks and relevant deadlines.

When it comes to work, and my work has been quite varied over the years, I am always either ahead of time or on schedule with work tasks and projects.

However, when it comes to all the things I want to do, enjoy and achieve before or after work, I tend to be far more lenient on myself. Does this also ring true for you?

For starters, we are but human, and our bodies and minds need rest and refreshing. We also need to eat and sleep, and preparing a meal takes time, and the window of time between getting home, doing what is needed to sustain us, and then going to bed is relatively small.

Learning through different approaches:

I used to have an idea in mind of the different things I would want to do after work. I realised that I couldn’t possibly do them all, so at one point I would try to set aside specific days for different things such as exercise, playing my violin, going to my prayer and study group, writing, art and creative pursuits, photography, reading, devotional time and so on.

I then tried the approach of ‘going with the flow’, since I already have a very clear idea of the different things I want to spend my time on, and ideas of new things I want to learn and do and people to spend time with.

Yet, the reality of things meant that ‘going with the flow’ of how I felt often resulted in me whiling away an evening eating dinner and watching TV or getting distracted by the online world of YouTube, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with spending time doing this to wind down, it’s just that I would feel a little disappointed when I knew that I wanted to be more productive and spend at least a little time doing other things.

I also tried the idea of doing things for a small amount of time and then doing something else. This tends to work quite well for me especially at the weekends, but not always so much on a week night.

Sometimes I think that I’ll do certain things in a week without having any set time or day, and at times this works out for me.

I’ve been working on writing a novel for 12 years, and I’ve been making good progress, however, even with writing being so important to me and a real passion of mine, I sometimes get a bit ‘lazy’ about it, feeling that I need to have longer stretches of ‘set aside’ time to really get going. If you are interested in this aspect of my life, take a look through my posts from last year and the year before when I had my own personal writing retreats, taking time off to just work on my novel and my writing, which was hugely satisfying but also took me out of the ‘real world’ for a time.

One year I marked in my diary set aside writing time every evening – even if it was just a few minutes a day. Suffice to say, this didn’t work for me, and perhaps I didn’t like the self imposed constraints. It is nice to do things spontaneously, but at the same time, we don’t approach work goals that way, so similarly personal goals and dreams need to be worked towards, and time and effort needs to be put in. I don’t want to reach the end of a day, a month or a year, or my lifetime and feel that I ‘frittered’ away my time being distracted by what’s on the TV or the internet, when I have so many dreams to fulfil.

Yet in order to do all these wonderful things, to live the lives we want to, we also need to factor in those practicalities I mentioned earlier of eating well, getting the right amount of sleep, exercising to stay healthy and having time to wind down, relax and do nothing, or just enjoy a good TV programme!

Being present:

Lately I’ve been aware of the beauty in life of being present in the moment, and enjoying the process of my life, of ‘being’. Enjoying the colours, and aromas of cooking, enjoying staring into space and daydreaming, of not getting stressed if everything I want to do isn’t done, and trying to do some of the important things to me each week.

It can be hard for all of us to keep on top of things at times. We need to do all the practical things from day to day, to maintain our homes, and possibly for many to look after other people as well. I’m all too aware of not letting myself get ‘burnt out’ precisely because I have been in the past, which might be partly why I realise the importance of also spending time doing things that are important to me and life enriching rather than only doing things for other people, while also knowing that helping others thrive is an important part of life too.

A learning curve….and I’m still learning….

As I said at the start, I’m still learning. Being mindful of what is important to me, however, and giving myself the opportunity to take time for these things (even if it is just five minutes at a time) has helped me to make far better use of my time than if I hadn’t spent time reflecting and thinking about things.

I find blogging very satisfying, and life enhancing, and I am glad that I have managed to sustain a regular writing ‘habit’ if you could call it that (although I personally don’t see it at all as a habit, so much so as simply pursuing something that I enjoy doing and hopefully encourages other people). If I didn’t put in the time to do this, maybe I’d just have whiled away my time mindlessly on things that don’t really come up in my priorities in life, such as watching TV, although that’s ok as long as it isn’t the only thing we do with our non-working time.

I’ve found that it has also benefited other people who have told me that my words have brought encouragement to me, which means so much to me. Do you realise that your own gifts and talents have an impact not only in your own life but the lives of others too. You are making a difference in the world.

When we know what is important to us that is perhaps the first step towards making the most of our time. We will find a way and we will keep learning along the way.

Over to you:

Can you relate to any of the thoughts I’ve expressed in terms of your own life and learning? Do you have any ‘pearls of wisdom’ to share with me, and other readers? What are you blessed to be able to spend your time doing, and how would you like to make better use of your time? Do you have any ideas of how you can do things better?

Thank you so much for taking your time to read this and hopefully it has also been time well spent for you. Be blessed. x

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Use Your Voice…

Today I’m particularly thankful for Word Press as a blogging platform, where we can use our writing voice to connect with numerous people from across the world to share, inspire, encourage and motivate.

Why today in particular? Because following the onset of a sore throat, I have in fact ‘lost’ my voice. I’m hopeful I’ll get it back again, but it has prompted me to think of the ways in which we take for granted the things we can usually do. I have so many thoughts running through my head that I’d love to communicate with others in my life, or even to greet the people I meet in passing, and I didn’t even realise that I was ‘voiceless’ until I tried to express these thoughts verbally – and nothing came out.

Ah, the blessing of non-verbal communication! Smiles, hugs, gestures, facial expressions…and of course for all of us here on the ‘blogosphere’ – the written word!

I’ve always felt more able to express myself more persuasively through the written – rather than the spoken – word. I wonder if you can relate? Perhaps you’ve had experience of shyness, social anxiety, ‘brain fog’ when in company and conversation, or have had to overcome a stutter. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to find our voices elsewhere if we are limited in some other aspect of our lives in being able to communicate.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for people for whom all or most forms of communication are impaired or limited. Therefore, today I reflect upon my blessings of being able to communicate and share this gift of being able to connect with others and they with me.

I think of how powerful the written word is. But also of the potency of words spoken. How many of us have suffered from the wounds of words inflicted upon us in childhood? Even as adults they affect us, sometimes terribly. Scripture tells us that ‘life and death are in the power of the tongue’ and that although humanity has learned to steer ships and other vessels, to bridle horses, we cannot tame our own tongue! It steers the course of our life, and can have the power to set a forest on fire.

There are many ways in which we can use our voice. Perhaps blogging is your platform to share your ‘voice’ with the world – your thoughts, your ideas, your desire to advocate for change. Perhaps we can use our ‘voice’ to ‘speak up for’ the voiceless in society – for children, animals, for those who are oppressed and have no way to share their own thoughts and feelings about what is happening to them. We can use our voice, our words, written, spoken, and in other forms of expression to heal, to encourage, to help, to build up, to inspire, to comfort, to love, to share….

It’s good to be silent from time to time, and to take a moment to reflect upon how we are using the gifts we have to communicate with others. How will you use your ‘voice’ today?

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The Final Edit … who will have the last say in your life?

When I was a little girl, and then as I grew into a teenager, I dreamed of what I would like to be when I grew up. My dreams in terms of my occupation were along the lines of wanting to be an artist, a cartoonist / animator, a writer and illustrator, a journalist, reporter, and an advocate for children’s rights, human rights, animal rights and social justice. For a long time in secondary school I saw myself as becoming a journalist, because of my love of writing, of discovering and sharing such discoveries with the world. My passion for writing never diminished, and I spent my teenage years writing short stories, and doing stints of work experience with a local newspaper, as well as volunteering for NGOs such as the British Red Cross, working on an international message and tracing scheme, race equality charities, Amnesty International and doing projects on the death penalty, Greenpeace and so forth. My mum always saw me as a future news reader, which I can’t quite understand why given that I was an incredibly shy teenager, and not really able to speak up for myself. But I could write! And I could analyse facts, and discover new angles and ways of seeing things. Creativity and analysis are two sides of the same picture that makes me who I am, but whereas I could live with a less analytical aspect to my life, I would probably shrivel up and wither away without being able to express myself creatively. At school we had ‘mock interviews’ with a guidance counsellor  / teacher. During my interview, the teacher / ‘interviewer’ asked me what I wanted to be and do in the future. Without hesitation I told her I wanted to be a writer and a journalist. She shot me down, which to be honest, is pretty awful given that she didn’t really know me. She said I could definitely be a writer, but there was no way I would be a journalist because my personality wasn’t bold or confident enough, or something to that effect. At the time it was a real desire for me to go into the field of journalism, and without a second thought the teacher brazenly dismissed my dreams for my future. I forgive her, I understand some people trying to provide youngsters with a good old fashioned dose of realism, but some people I think are in the teaching profession without really having the skills to help nurture young minds and lives. Suffice to say, I didn’t become a journalist. I guess I didn’t really want to in the end, but that was my choice. I went on to study English Literature and Politics in University, aged 17, and then proceeded to study Gender Studies, Human Rights and International Development. I’ve since dipped into online courses in psychology, children’s studies, and continue to pursue my passion for writing. I write fiction, I write blogs, I’ve written about human trafficking as part of my studies, and as part of my job, I’ve written about issues to do with violence against women, equality, racism, disability hate crime, and a variety of more ‘businessy’, corporate, legal and policy type matters, all the while, learning new things as I go. I have also had times in my job where I have had to write more ‘tedious’ and templated things, such as complaint responses and things that I have just had to do, because I was tasked to do it. I suppose in any and every career we face tasks that we like and dislike, things that make us feel more like our true selves, and other things that make us just want to pack up and go home for the day, or better still, leave the country altogether and go on holiday until we can come back to something better!

Yes, I’ve been there, I’m sure we all have. But today, as I sit and write, I think that the little girl I once was would be pleased with where I am today and what I am doing. I think this day may very well be part of her dream. To sit somewhere quiet, with the sun shining in through the windows, and a view of trees, and to be editing a company newsletter, and preparing the articles for the final version. I am working with my friend and colleague who is a designer, and I am doing the ‘wordy’ part of the editing, while he deals with the pictures and images. It is a new task for me at work, because previously we worked more in the confines of our own teams, which meant I was dealing with, at least for the past while, more corporate work, which is fine, but not exactly creatively stimulating. I have a new collaborative project coming up too, which I have been preparing for, I won’t write too much about it at this point, but think audio, internal communications, entertainment….and yes, perhaps something with a journalistic streak to it! This past week at work I have been collating information, writing reports, analysing, and also editing a newsletter, planning a creative project, which will involve interviewing, possibly audio presenting and taking forward with colleagues new internal communications strategies.  So, despite it all, despite my several health challenges and struggles over the years, despite this not being quite journalism (which was after all the dream of a teenage me, and not the adult me), I find myself in a happy day, doing things that I love, despite life’s ups and downs, and despite messages to the contrary.

On days like these, especially after times of trials, we really ought to reflect on and appreciate them.

And for all of you out there whose teachers, parents, peers, colleagues, bosses, relatives, or so called ‘friends’ told you that you could ‘never be’ what you dreamed of being, or that you didn’t have what it takes, or weren’t good enough or not being realistic, or whatever negative thing they said about you….by all means hear them out, take on any helpful advice, but take it with a pinch of salt, continue to be who you are born to be, and remember that they don’t have the final edit of your life. 🙂 Be blessed. x

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Lunch bites – bite sized inspiration on your lunch break…

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If you work, whether full time, part time or freelance, life can get busy. Whether you travel the world with you work, or are in an office or a depot or work from home, you might find yourself from time to time dreaming of the things you’d like to do when you retire. If you work from home, you probably have more flexibility, but still I’m sure you also have times when you daydream of doing something when you have more ‘free time’.

My challenge to you today, for this ‘lunch bite’ is to do something during your lunchtime that you dream about doing when you retire. Obviously, you’ll need to work within the parameters of your situation here, and keep it fairly reasonable. If you dream of skydiving in your retirement, or traveling around the world, or lying on a beach, well, you’re going to probably have to just leave that for another day. But if you see yourself also doing more simple yet enjoyable things such as reading more, exercising, taking a walk, writing poetry, going to coffee shops, writing a book, making model planes, drawing, learning a language, or whatever it may be, then use your lunchtimes as an opportunity to invest in yourself and your enjoyment of life now, rather than waiting until you retire.

‘But I don’t have the time!’ I hear you say. Are you sure about that? What if you were to keep a book you’ve wanted to read for a long time, on your desk at work. Pick it up during your lunch breaks and soon you will find the rewards of giving yourself that little bit more time to enjoy reading if that’s something you like to do but feel too rushed for. Or why not keep a sketch pad to practice a bit of drawing when you have ten minutes spare, build it up over time. Or you could have a notepad with you where you can scribble down thoughts, ideas, stories, characters, insights from your day to day life, for that novel you want to write…..”someday”.

Or if you dream of relaxing days sipping coffee and reading the newspaper, I’m sure this is something you can factor in at least once a month into your working life – can you take a longer lunch break once in a while? Go out for a walk, listen to podcasts, listen to immersive language teaching and learn what you’ve always wanted to.

Or if you’re sporty, why not go for a run during your lunch break? It’s become quite a trend among my colleagues, and many people bring in their kit to work to go jogging or running during their break. Others might take a stroll down to the park. If you don’t have those options, but still want to keep fit, why not climb up and down the stairs or do some simple stretches.

There are so many things you can do now, that you dream of doing later, “when you have the time”. But the thing is, the time is now. You don’t know whether you’ll be able to do the things you enjoy later, so why not invest in yourself even for ten minutes every lunchtime, and add that little bit extra to your life today. If you keep waiting for ‘tomorrow’ or the ‘golden years’ of your retirement, you may just miss your chance. So carpe diem, friends….seize the day! 🙂

Fun and Easy Creative Writing Exercise

How would you like to try a simple and relatively easy creative writing exercise to get your writing flowing? I thought of this the other day, and had fun with it over the course of a Monday to Friday one week. It is really simple, the aim is to write a ‘Short shortstory’, yet it can really be any piece of prose. Don’t worry about the standard and quality of your writing if you think that doing so will inhibit you. You can come back to that later for editing or revision, or you can simply do the exercise in and for itself to fire up your imagination stations! 🙂

To write the ‘Short short-story’, which I have entitled “Windows”, I simply wrote a paragraph each day, Monday to Friday, and here’s what transpired. Maybe you will contemplate certain situations in your own life, or imagine something, and choose a topic or theme of your own so that you can try out this creative writing exercise. In the meantime, take a look if you like through some….

“WINDOWS” (c).

 

Monday:

Penelope gazed out of the window at the greying clouds. ‘What had happened to the blue skies and sunshine from earlier in the day?’ she wondered. Rain pitter-pattered on the glass and Penelope in unison drummed her fingers on her desk. It was another day in the office for Penelope, however, it had been far from another “ordinary” day. No, in fact, for Penelope it had been a very, very extraordinary day indeed!

Tuesday:

Tuesday morning blue skies and a drizzle of sunshine. Marcus and Lucy turned the sign that hung on the glass panelled door of their shop to let the world outside know that they were ‘OPEN’. Finally their hopes and dreams were falling into place. Closed was the door to their corporate lives in a world that they had now left behind. It was a brave move and one they had never anticipated taking when they first started out in their careers as young, ambitious, driven professionals. However, now childless and in their early forties, and with money in the bank, it was time for a new chapter. And as the door to the old closed, a window to new opportunities opened. First came the grand disembarkation from their fast-paced corporate lives, followed by a few months of travel, then focussed time setting up their long dreamed of business. Now the way was open, and Marcus and Lucy were more than ready for their new life and new adventures to begin.

Wednesday:

Peter tapped his biro against the clipboard, and gazed absentmindedly at his notes. He brushed back his unruly dark, yet speckled and greying hair from his face. The breeze from the slightly open window of his office rustled the bottom edges of his papers. He pressed his thumbs down upon the bottom edge of the uppermost page to keep the pages from lifting in the breeze. Despite the inconvenience, the breeze was welcome as Peter sat with the sun beating in upon him. The breeze served also as a reminder to him of how fortunate he was. He had opened the window a little earlier for the sake of the young lady who had sat in the room with him. His client. Her traumatic symptoms were resurfacing during their session, and the breeze from the open window served as a gentle reminder that she was here, drawing her back into the present. Peter jotted down some final observations before drawing a line under his work for the day. It was time to finalise his work, to pack up, close the window and finish for the day. As usual, he slowly, yet deliberately, left his wonderings and concerns about his clients firmly in the office before heading home to his young family, and his own happy life.

Thursday:

Trish sipped on her hot ginger tea, feeling calmed by the aroma and the warm and soothing sensation on her throat. She noticed a gentle hint of cinnamon too, softening the spice of the sweet ginger. Lisa returned to the table with her frothy topped coffee and sat opposite her friend. Together they leafed through the photograph album from Lisa’s recent wedding. A stylish lady following her tiny dog on its lead caught Trish’s eye. She was glad that Lisa had chosen a window-side table in the coffee shop. Trish felt less anxious sitting there, able periodically to glance away and watch the world go by, rather than sitting in the centre of the coffee shop, only to feel watched by the other customers there. It also served as a temporary mental and emotional “getaway” for her, as Lisa, caught up in her own enthusiasm and excitement of where her life was right now, absentmindedly, yet carelessly, disregarded her friends feelings as she celebrated her own.

Friday:

On Friday, Emily wore her favourite scarf to work. A gentle yellow, silky affair, with a light and tasteful scattering of gold sequins that sparkled and glistened when they caught and reflected the sunlight. For Emily, without any particular known reason, as far as she was aware at least, yellow was a colour she associated with Mondays. She wasn’t entirely sure why, as she didn’t feel particularly bright on a Monday, and never actually intentionally wore yellow on a Monday either. However, this Friday she felt drawn to wear this yellow scarf, and so she did. She hadn’t worn it for a long time, and it drew many compliments towards her that day. She enjoyed the simplicity of the happiness that it brought her as it sparkled in the sun streaming through the office window, catching the sequins and brightening her heart.


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Retreat Reflections – Day 2 (Part 4) ~ Lunch, Rest & Flexible Planning.

2.25pm

Lunchtime is a helpful divider within the day. Being creative and freely exploring our creativity is often, as contradictory as it may seem, benefited by having boundaries. Even if you don’t have an ‘itinerary’ as such for your personal retreat to begin with, you can develop flexible plans as you move through your days. 

As to lunch, food and sustenance in general during a personal retreat it helps to do a bit of preparation beforehand, or to cook something you can eat over two or three meals, have something you can easily make, or buy some sandwiches from a shop and to keep your fridge stocked with what you will need. It’s helpful to minimise the time spent having to run errands because we necessarily will be compelled to engage and interact with the world in a way that may interrupt what we hope to experience on our retreat. 

Not only that, but if you’re like me, when you get absorbed in a creative project you can ‘forget’ to eat, or if there’s nothing readily available you might just ‘power through’ and your creative work might actually suffer because you are low on energy, tired, ‘hangry’ or lack concentration. So keep things ready so that you can grab a bite and continue with your project uninterrupted. 

It is nice though, not to rush through lunch, but to use it as a time to rest, relax, maybe look at other sources for inspiration (I was listening to some music, and looking up retreat videos on YouTube – I didn’t quite find what I was looking for in terms of the retreat videos, but it was good just to move into a state of mind where I didn’t have to concentrate so much). 

Now that I’ve eaten, relaxed a bit, I find myself beginning to ponder my next steps. Yesterday I met my ‘writing goal’ of 3,500 words, and slightly exceeded it. This morning I was intentional to not set any writing goals, and focus more on slowing down and engaging more fully with myself and the process. I had some prayer time, and some quiet reflection.

Having had personal retreats before, I am aware that the final day, which in this case is tomorrow, requires a slight shift in gears. If you are on retreat somewhere away from home, then you will have to pack, tidy up and make your journey back home on the last day. If, like me, you are having your retreat in your own home by yourself, then you may find that you have a bit (or a lot!) of tidying up to do, and preparing for the day ahead if you happen to be going back to work, or ‘re-joining the world’ in some other way. 

I recommend valuing your purpose for your retreat and allowing yourself not to focus on tidying up unless you naturally keep everything neat and clean as you go along. It’s important to have a clean, neat retreat space, but if you’re like me you do have that, but you also have dishes piled up in the sink. Your focus is your time alone to reflect and work on your creative projects or self development, etc, and you will have to attend to the housework afterwards anyway, but don’t let it distract you or interrupt your creative flow, as quiet times can be hard to come by in our busy lives.

As to flexible planning, I’m aware that tomorrow I don’t want to use the whole day for tidying, so I want to set aside some time later today to do a bit of that. I also don’t want to do anything too ‘heavy’ in terms of writing, as what I am working on involves being engaged emotionally and mentally on a deep level. I like to keep the final stages of a personal retreat for something lighter, more care free, with times for prayer, thanksgiving, gratitude, reflecting on what I have learned and planning ways in which I can take forward some of these lessons into my day to day life where possible. As such, I have made a preliminary decision not to work on writing my novel tomorrow after morning time, so that I can ‘decompress’ and gently change gears.

Therefore, to avoid unfocused and unstructured time today, my plans are changing somewhat organically as day two progresses. I may not get time like this for a while, so I am reinstating my ‘goal setting’ with my novel writing this afternoon. This is what I love about a personal retreat in contrast with group activities which have their own unique positive aspects – when your time is your own you can work with the ebb and flow of your own creative processes, ongoing learning, and practical concerns, rather than having to adhere to a set timetable. 

So to make the most of the remaining time, and to have a lighter more carefree day tomorrow, I am going to work creatively within some parameters this afternoon, being flexible once again with those plans.

It’s 2.50pm now, and the sun is shining, but I have chosen to stay inside and focus, and set aside novel writing time from 3pm to 6.30pm. In that time I can take my time, linger over words and ideas, look up sources for inspiration, take short breaks, but that time is a gift that doesn’t come often. Knowing that, I will savour it, and whether I write much or little that is fine either way. 

At 7pm the coach will turn into a pumpkin! 🙂 Just kidding, by 7pm I will down tools with writing my novel for the rest of the retreat time, other than if I have anything I feel I want to do tomorrow morning, but that leaves me free the rest of the time to work on some less mentally and emotionally challenging projects and prepare for concluding the retreat time on a reflective and carefree note. 

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Retreat Reflections ~ Day 2 (Part 3) – The One thing I need…

Following on from the 5-senses exercise I suggested around an hour ago, I did put on some relaxing instrumental worship music, which helped me focus my thoughts to the very Giver of Life, and I cosied myself up in a soft throw blanket and sat on a soft rug on the floor. 

I had intended to do the five senses exercise, which I often do when I’m out and about to manage anxiety symptoms when they arise. 

This particular date, June 11th, is a very significant day for me spiritually so it was important for me to spend time with God. I sat, cosy in the stillness for a while, gently aware of His Presence, and allowed my breathing to slow as I listened to the peaceful instrumental worship music. I gently and naturally observed things around me, the cherry blossom wall decal, the light coming through the window, and noticing the softness of the blanket and the hardness of the floor. I wasn’t paying particular attention to notice things but just letting myself be, and I ended up closing my eyes, and listening, and worshipping in my heart, and then curling up and laying down on the fluffy rug with my blanket around me, as I drew near to The LORD and thanked Him for this significant date in my life and what He has done for me. 

You may see me through the journey of my blog as someone who is productive, and positive about life. But the Truth is, I am Held. The Truth is, as you may know if you have read previous posts, I was severely traumatised as a child bullied in school, and this didn’t leave me in adulthood no matter how hard I tried to get past it and I have gone through severe depression, anxiety, self-hate, low self-esteem, fear…a lot of fear, and panic attacks. When lying there, I realised a little of how far God has brought me. I also felt within me the helplessness of just being me, being a person, and the ‘yukiness’ of sin in my heart. I was aware of God’s constant, pure, beautiful, love, mindful of His Sacrifice for me, so that He can free me from my sin, from myself, my hurt and the absolute dead end and mess my life would be, internally and externally, without Him. And in that quiet, in my helplessness, I knew I am now safe, always Held, Secure in Christ’s unfailing, sacrificial, clean and perfect love. Some of us wonder how our Creator could have such love for helpless, weak and foolish sinners like ourselves – and yet in those precious moments, even in our need…we realise although we don’t understand just why He Loves us, He does….and the connection between Creator and His creation, His children somehow makes sense. And that is The One thing I need, Jesus Christ, out of which everything else flows to transform my otherwise broken, helpless, confused and distressed life. 

Maybe you don’t believe in Him, maybe you think that you don’t need Him, maybe you defy all thoughts of your own helplessness or sinfulness. You can plan, prepare, strategize, try and try again, and keep on pushing through your life, and succeed outwardly on many levels. 

But in those quiet moments, when you are all alone, is all your trying enough? Or are you actually stuffing a lot of things down deep within your heart – anger, hurt, fear, bitterness, trauma, pride, boastfulness, arrogance, apathy, darkness and pain? Are you seeking inspiration from other equally broken human beings, and we all are broken in some way, even in this world that desperately tries to present itself in a perfectly filtered light.

I know I am helpless without God, and I know I am safe to be helpless with Him, because He Is Strong enough so that I don’t have to be….His Strength transforms my weakness, and gives me new life, purpose and hope. When Jesus Christ draws near, and you draw near to Him, His Love, His Forgiveness changes you. A light is shone upon the things in you that you cannot face by yourself, but the Light is of Love and grace and forgiveness, and deep renewal. I found myself praying for the people who hurt me, which believe me has taken years, but it came easily and peacefully because of Who God Is, I thanked Him for the pain, because it led me to Him, to an appreciation of His Sacrifice for me, the incomparable pain He went through to save my lost and sinful soul, and declare me His, to declare me righteous in Christ, through faith and not through anything of myself, because in myself there is nothing good. But in Christ I am a new creation, blameless because of Who He Is and what He has done. 

But just as with writing, it is a process to be renewed inwardly. It is a process far deeper, and far more freeing than any amount of ‘self help’ and believe me before I knew The Lord, I tried it. Self help is a bandage, but it is not the cure. Someday that bandage will fall off, and either we will find another temporary fix for the things in ourselves that none of us can repair, heal from or overcome, and we will look to someone or something else for aid. 

How thankful I am that despite how helpless I am, and no matter the struggles I have been through, I am safe in Christ, indwelt by the Spirit and Loved and securely Held by the Great Physician, The Only One Who can Truly help and heal us Deep within, not just patch us up, but set us free, and bring purpose out of pain. Yes, it may take time, it may take difficult things coming to the surface, it may seem to get worse before it gets better, but everything He does, He does well….He can free us from the mess we make of ourselves, our relationships and the world. 

There is nothing like knowing that the reality that no matter what the narratives are of our lives, if we honestly and humbly ask Jesus Christ for help, He will never turn us away. He IS Love. He Is The Way, The Truth and The Life. I didn’t have that before but in the moments of retreat and stillness, I am reminded of the wonder that He Holds me, He holds my life, and transforms a broken life into something victorious, because He Is Perfect Love. 

To come back to writing, and writing honestly and authentically, I am reminded of the healing and renewal process within me. I am reminded to be gentle with myself, and just as I develop the characters in my novel, who each have some reflection of myself as their journeys help me to understand mine better, so too must I take time to allow my lessons to work deep within me, so that what I write is more than words on a page. 

Our creative journeys may be different, but taking time teaches us so much more about our craft or practice, it teaches us about our self.

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Retreat Reflections ~ Day 2 (Part 2) ~ An exercise in connection…

Even when slowing down within the creative process, it can be that we find that we feel rushed within certain areas of ourselves inwardly. Part of the process of creativity is deep connection, and therefore we need to be aware that there can sometimes be a disconnect even when we slow down to write. 

I have been experiencing the calm of engaging creatively with my writing. And yet, I sense an inward restlessness, and so I am going to pause and take a break away from writing my book to exercise my sense of connection. 

It is quite simple, and is helpful for managing anxiety as well. Slow down, turn off distractions, and concentrate on your five senses, one at a time. 

Observe, notice, experience, feel, the following, if you are able:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can hear
  • 3 things you can touch
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

Don’t rush through it. Don’t think of what you want to or ‘should be’ creating. If you like, play some gentle instrumental music quietly in the background to help you compose your breathing and concentration. Focus on your experience and enjoying being present in it. We can’t create the similitude of an experience well, if we haven’t first learned to live it….in and for itself.

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