The tree of our life can be healthy, except we are carrying burdens, and within those burdens is psychological and spiritual waste.
I came across this tree on my Camino walk, which symbolised those unnecessary burdens. One of the reasons for doing this pilgrimage is to lay down the burdens, to let go of the psychological and spiritual waste within those burdens.
I was inspired to do a longer walk through the daily practice of short mindful walks. On this longer walk I have chosen a hat, socks and shirts that can ‘wick’ moisture – move moisture away from the skin. I have found short mindful walks act like emotional ‘wicking,’ and very important in the day-to-day regulation of emotion. My belief is that the Camino walks can allow the baggage of the last seven years to trail behind me.
As I become emptied of psychological and spiritual waste, I can be filled with hope, love and faith. The evaporation of waste enables the condensation of love.
I’ve just done the first day of my six day walk along the Camino from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. At 22 kms it is the longest walk I have done since a teenager. In preparing for the walk people advised me to push enough in the training to find the hot spots, the parts of the foot that blister first.
I was then given two tips, one to use special plasters that act like second skin, and the second is to use Vaseline on your feet to stop rubbing. Both worked I’m pleased to say. Although I have found one extra hot spot.
In the stress of life we can have hot spots, certain events that makes us anxious, or sad, or angry. Mindfulness doesn’t take away stress but it acts like a second skin plaster, or like Vaseline to reduce the friction that causes us to react rather than respond to difficulties.
What are your hot spots? And how do you handle them?
I am going to do an eight day section of the Camino pilgrimage walk in Spain in May. We will be walking from 13 to 24 kilometres a day and it will be warm. I’m looking for socks, shirts and a hat that have moisture wicking abilities: equipment that moves the moisture away from your skin through the sock, for example, helping to regulate the natural processes the human body goes through in exercise and reduce the friction.
As human beings we have natural self-regulating psychological processes such as emotional regulation, and these processes wick our emotions. They notice our emotions, experience them without clinging to them and avoiding them and allowing them to move on – because our thoughts and feelings are passing mental events. This is an insight of mindfulness and these are naturally mindful processes- mindfulness practice can enhance this natural emotional wicking.
The first step is the metacognitive proposition that my thoughts and feelings are passing mental events. This proposition can then become a metacognitive insight, move from head to heart and felt experience through mindful practice. We become aware of this capacity for emotional wicking as it happens.
All our feelings are important including those generated by our amygdala, our fight and flight response. The trouble is that we live in such a fearful and anxious culture that our stress response is is on a hair-trigger, our capacity for emotional wicking gets overwhelmed.
As I learnt how to practice and restore an enhanced emotional wicking through mindfulness practice, I realised that I wasn’t an anxious person stuck in the sweat of anxiety, I was having anxious thoughts and that I could handle them mindfully and wisely through natural but enhanced emotional wicking.
Please see below for an attentive review of my latest book on watchfulness by Father Richard Peers Director of Education for Liverpool Diocese…
It was six o’clock in the morning. I could hear the wind whistling outside and rattling against the windows. I got out of bed and pulled back the curtains. There was the moon, but it was the moonlight dancing on the waves of Lee Bay that drew me like a magnet.
It shook me. I was filled with wonder. I was enchanted. I opened the window and felt the cold wind on my face. I heard the wild owl call. It was a gift. Something inside me stretched and woke up. I felt drunk with the glory of it. The part of me not domesticated by double glazing, street lights and central heating thrilled with the wonder of the transcendent trail of light. I walked on the water with my eyes.
I was on a retreat at Lee Abbey in Devon leading on the Mindful Christian retreat. The Lee Abbey estate is set within Exmoor National Park, designated a Dark Sky Reserve. The only light I could see was the light of the moon, and that light was dancing in the dark.
I was delighted the next day to see what looked like Lee Abbey’s star-gazing bench…
Mindfulness is a natural capacity we have, a capacity to be fully aware, to completely dwell within our senses, our experiential self. It is there, very often, that we find rapture as we consider the night sky above. It can also help us access the transcendent and spiritual. Lee Abbey is a ‘thin place’ to the transcendent.
I have just uploaded a new video on Mindful Relationships: our relationship with our own self; our relationship with others, creation and God. You can find it on You Tube and here is the link:
I am in the orchard in the gardens of Glastonbury Abbey, which as a guest at Abbey House Retreat Centre, you are allowed to enter. It is 11.40 a.m. And the scent of the apples is so heavy, it hangs in the air like a mantle. It is overwhelming and intoxicating.
I feel overwhelmed with wonder and tears, a garden has become Eden, nature has become creation. As I look around I wonder what century I am in, it could be 700 A.D. So timeless and English does the orchard feel.
I am reminded of other times when it feels like I have been clinging to a cliff edge, the edge of a ruin, but stubbornly hanging on, like a little plant blown to the edge of life by the wind.
Even there it is possible to blossom in the face of difficulty. The tricky thing is not to cling to the radiant moments or push away the more difficult ones. The key is to experience them as they are.
Afterwards I am often aware that God was there in the difficulties, as He is so abundantly there in the moments of epiphany and wonder.
Going on retreat enables us to see more clearly, and respond with gratitude to life and to the Giver of Life.
There are grooves in the driveway at Penhurst Retreat Centre where the gate drags, like a scar.
We are here on retreat to help open the doors, the gateways into awareness, relational, embodied, spiritual. What we often become aware of is that the capacity for attentiveness is there, but that there is resistance, the door, the gateway drags as we begin to open it.
That can stop us opening the gate into our awareness and attention fully. But it is quite normal. We might be trying to avoid difficult thoughts and feelings – we might be trying to escape or bypass reality. But in mindfulness and Christian contemplation we are turning to face reality – and bring that reality into God’s light so that it can be reexamined and reperceived.
And so gently we work on the opening of the gate, the doorway. The contemplative and mindful practices begin to oil the hinges, and straighten the gate posts – and the groove left behind, the scar reminds us of our human vulnerability and that becomes a mark of grace rather than shame. The knowledge that self-awareness, that attentiveness to others costs something – it does not come automatically or easily.
I have been staying at Clowance Estate in Cornwall, where there has been a mansion house since 1380. Some of the original features are still there like a silt trap.
This silt trap is a small pond into which a stream runs via a control gate and a control exit. The control gate is used to determine how strong a flow of water from the stream comes into the pond. Most of the particles coming into the pond, soil, sand and silt, settle in the silt trap.
That means much cleaner water flows out of the pond – in this case to stew ponds where fish for the kitchen table were reared. In the photo below you can see the stream, the control gate and the silt trap pond.
Seeing this in operation gave me an analogy for the way our minds can work. Attention is like a control gate which works with the stream of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations that are constantly flowing. Through mindful awareness practices we can find and enhance the pool of open awareness into which this stream can flow, where we can learn to let the thought particles settle, just as in a silt trap.
I think the thing that struck me, is that these capacities we have are natural, but can be enhanced with practice. The silt trap enables cleaner water to flow to the stew ponds where fish can be reared. But in the same way in our minds we can filter out the reactive thoughts and in the cleaner stream within our mind cultivate wise responses and creative thought-fish.
Here you can see the cleaner water flowing from the silt trap into the stew ponds. In the case of our minds we also can find we access stew ponds, a wiser and more creative ‘stew’ of mindful responses, rather than fearful, automatic reactions.
The other thing I like with this analogy is that it recognises that the stream is always flowing, and also at times the flow of the stream will be higher in winter and spring, with more particles that need filtering, because of increased rain fall.
When we are stressed there is a higher level of rainfall in our minds and bodies, with an increase in the number and speed of reactive thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Instead of being a victim of these we can learn to witness them, and allow them to settle in the pond of open awareness that works like a silt trap in our minds. This allows us to access the more creative ‘stew’ ponds that also exist in our awareness and minds.