These are some of the geese at Penhurst Retreat Centre in West Sussex, a beautiful and rural part of England. Sometimes when we are on retreat we realise we just need to tuck our head under our wing for a while. And that’s ok.
As we do so we can also find as an act of grace and loving kindness, that the larger wing of God tucks us over with His fearless and loving presence, like a mother hen with a chick.
Suddenly we find we can sleep and rest peacefully. And we wake remarkably refreshed by that encounter with the ‘full reality’ of God.
I have just led a retreat at Worth Abbey based on my new book ‘Putting On the Wakeful One: attuning to the Spirit of Jesus through Watchfulness.’ We have a capacity to slow down, to move from doing to being, but most of the time that capacity is as overgrown as this park bench. We don’t cultivate this natural capacity to come to our senses, to re-inhabit our bodies. But when we do we find a place of energy and peace and renewed purpose.
I shared with the group a picture by Kurt Jackson of a stream, where he says of it ‘I can just hear the robin above the roar of the stream.’
I shared that I felt that it could be a picture of life: that something very noisy and difficult can dominate, drowning out all other voices – but that when we slow down we can suddenly hear again the song of the robin in our own life – another more hopeful narrative in play.
I recently bought a Fitbit watch in part to see if my heartbeat slows down when I pray. As I looked at it I realised that just as we can slow down our heart beat, so we can slow down the beats of our mind. We cannot empty our mind, but we can stop it racing with thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. As these ‘beats’ slow down we can move from rational critical thinking to awareness, we can hear the song of the robin, and many other songs as well, including the song God is singing over us.
The Worth Abbey church is a beautiful open space, that expands your mind as you sit within its big silence. We too have a space like this in our cognitive architecture, that lets in the Light – it is called awareness and attention.
My new book ‘Putting On The Wakeful One – Attuning to the Spirit of Jesus through Watchfulness’ is out on the 24th April and available for pre-order from Amazon.
This is a link to my talk at HTB Focus, Introducing Mindfulness for Christians
Peter Tyler quotes a phrase from Teresa of Avila describing distracting thoughts as ‘restless bees’ that ‘gad about’ ( Peter Tyler, Teresa of Avila: Doctor of the Soul (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 86).
Thoughts are like restless bees, and like bees they can be calmed. With bees it is the fearless presence of the beekeeper, and the use of calming smoke.
With thoughts it is the fearless calming presence of awareness which holds all thoughts and feelings. Thoughts like bees can sting and swarm, especially when our fear mind is activated. We find the place of calming awareness which is not held by fear through mindful awareness or meditative practices.
Instead of becoming a victim of our thought bees, we become a witness to them. Experiencing them intimately but not becoming them, not becoming the swarm, not stirring them up to sting. In that place of awareness they cease being restless, instead they find their purpose – in making the honey of creativity, compassion, love, right action and seeing clearly.