As we’ve created a sense of genuine community and enjoyed community life together here at El Palmeral retreat house in Spain, one of the things we’ve noticed is the different types of light as day and night unfold, and how the swimming pool keeps changing colour.
To me those changing colours and patterns of light are like the different mental states we experience. Even within mindfulness or contemplation, there are different states of mind, with a range of levels of stillness, calmness, flow and creativity – coloured by different emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations.
Mindfulness helps us recognise our different states of mind and find wiser states of mind, where we can witness our thoughts rather than be a victim of them; where we can hold our afflictive experiences rather than be held by them.
I particularly liked this early evening scene of the pool. The sheer physicality of this place also shifts my mood, and I find I am able to let go many of the things that seem so important at home, that here seem much less important.
In a mindful state of mind we see a reflection of reality as it is, much like this pool is reflecting the reality around it.
Here I am at El Palmeral Retreat House in Spain, which is a very friendly house. Before I came out I dreamt that there were orange trees here, and when I came out and found there were I was delighted.
Wandering around the little orange grove I was struck by the picture of oranges on the floor, decaying and drying out, and the vibrant ones still on the tree.
I know there are times when I felt like the orange on the ground, isolated and lonely and in need of friends and community. I also know what it is like to feel like the orange on the tree, connected vitally to sources of life. Those sources of life include friends, family, community and God.
We don’t always feel able to re-connect because of our state of mind. Then we often need someone to reach out to us, who has mindfully noticed what we are feeling. But also mindfulness practice can help us find another state of mind where we can see more clearly ourselves.
One of the ways we can find more mindful states of mind, contemplative and open states of mind is to come on retreat. The hope is that we have opened the door enough on retreat to keep it open when we return home.
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.
Please click on the above link to get to the details for my retreat there 14-18 November 2016
Please click on link to see details of this retreat!