Once upon a time this was my boat of anxiety with the light of mindfulness (and of God) shining on it. In fact the boat was me.
The boat was swamped with anxiety, beached with worry. The hull of my boat, which is as strong and as fragile as wood was collapsing, barely holding its shape.
I had no rudder, no sail, even if the wind was blowing and the currents flowing.
Anxious thoughts, like crows pecked at the rotting frame, as shame like worms ate away at the wood. Anxious feelings soaked into the hull, and weighed it down, stealing its strength.
Those of you who have experienced anxiety will recognise this, it doesn’t always help to have the condition explained in cold, logical, propositional language.
But in the corner of the boat I built a mindful nest, my breath, a prayer word, the practice of awareness. And then the swallows came, swooping in, and stayed making new thoughts that could fly free.
And then there came a desire for spring-cleaning, for restoration, for changing the structure and activity of the boat for better, as it was created to be. And one day the boat was drained, restored, painted, floating, able to catch the wind and the currents.
I did not just want to move from anxiety to inner freedom, although that is a good intention, a necessary intention. I wanted to become mindful of God, waiting for the wind and the currents of God’s Holy Spirit, that I do not control, but as a graced response I can be receptive and open too.
I know mindfulness doesn’t work for everyone. I’m grateful it worked for me. It might be for you – a boat yard of restoration.
I am writing this on the Camino Ingles, in Pontedeume, by the estuary of the river Eume. There are little rivulets, and wide open spaces, we can inhabit both. But first I had to step from the edge of hope, just one step into hope.
Yesterday was a resolute day, an intentio day, a day of intention. A day for turning ‘the face of my soul’ to God (a contemplative said this). A day of the Jesus Prayer and prayer rope, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner. A day of music which sounded as intense in the silence and solitude as any teenage sending (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Bring Him Home, Agnus Dei, Finlandia, Fix You, Into The West, New Rose, Scarborough Fair, Someone Like You, Somethin’ Stupid, The New World). In particular Now The Green Blade Riseth spoke to me.
Packing my case in the morning slightly tweaked my back. I have a joint that jams on the left and sends the muscles into spasm. My body started sending me helpful messages like bus, taxi, chiropractor rather than walk 20 kms. But something takes over when you start walking in this pilgrimage way. I think your soul moves from background to foreground, it becomes the figure leading the way.
I didn’t want to stop in case my joint jammed and then I would be stuck so I just kept walking until I got to Santiago. There were families, friends, young, old, many nationalities…one man walking with a frame.
As I walked I prayed that I would be emptied of my small self, that a larger self would begin to emerge, green blades rising.
May I be emptied of my small self…
May I be filled with a larger self…
One of the key aspects of mindfulness is to have the intention to do it. This walk today helped me to strength the ability to have intention.
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Yesterday was a day of ecstasy. I wasn’t expecting ecstasy, agony certainly…I was trying to work out why.
It could have been grace
maybe it was flow
maybe it was good stress
It came on while I was walking and stayed all day.
maybe it was the walking
perhaps we are made for walking
perhaps it was the soft Galician countryside, and the small farms I was walking through
I know we have been given mindful states of mind, and one of those is an ecstatic state of mind. I have also experienced it skiing, the song of ecstasy.
I think it is a gift, part of what means to be fully human, from the Giver of gifts. It is a created gift to experience in creation.
There were thundery showers yesterday on the Camino. On today’s stage it started to rain the second I stepped through the door of the Pension O Retiro where I am staying tonight.
I have dramatised today’s photo, just as we so often catastrophize our own internal weather. I have seen people with all sorts of wet weather gear, some fit for purpose and some clearly not.
I have mindfully discerned that I am missing a cover for my small rucksack (or a poncho that covers it), gaiters, and a water proof pouch for my passport. My coat is waterproof but not breathable, another thing I need to change.
My boots having been reglued before I came away have split again. There’s a parable in here somewhere.
What I’ve realised is that we make do with the internal wet weather gear we have inherited through family scripts, or that have become our own automatic ways of coping or not. This gear may not be always fit for purpose.
What I’ve learnt from mindfulness is that its theory and practice can upgrade our internal wet weather gear until it is fit for purpose. It won’t stop thundery showers or rain, but enables us to thrive as we walk through them.
When the mist of anxiety falls on you it limits your mind. You perceive the feeling is the only reality.
As I walk the Camino and reach higher ground I realise the mist is not generalised as I thought but localised in a valley. I become aware of higher ground free of mist.
Mindfulness takes me by the hand when the mist of anxiety falls and leads me to higher ground. I reperceive the anxiety as a valley in my mind not the whole of my reality. I come out into the light.
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?