I’ve been experiencing something of a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ lately, a deep, dark journey into the Underworld. Being creative has been a distant dream. The only space or energy available has just been for survival. That said, I’ve realised that there are three core practices that have helped, and continue to help me keep (relatively) sane.
Core practices are those habits you keep going, no matter what. Activities that keep your engine running even when there is no energy, space or time for anything else. You keep up these habits through the times of joy and abundance, and those of despair, desolation and drought. They help sustain you, and keep you in a state of awakened readiness for when the next shower of inspiration comes. They are part of the minimum requirements that you need to function as a happy, healthy human being. They are different for everybody, so yours might vary from mine, but they will give you the same comforting, nurturing continuity in your life.
I started thinking about this idea the other day, when I heard Jamie Ridler talking about them in her recent podcast. The core practices she sites are Movement, Meditation and Morning Pages. Morning Pages are a practice popularised by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, and I’ve written a little about them here. Cameron herself would probably site Morning Pages, Walking and the Artist Date as her core practices.
If I had to name mine, the three things that have kept me going in recent days against the tide of despair, I would say they are yoga, meditation and journalling.
Yoga helps me to keep grounded inside my body. Even when I am very ill and have little energy, a single pose can help. Yoga eases the chronic pain I live with, and gives me a sense of achievement. I like doing it outside in the garden in the summer, but usually my yoga mat gets spread out on my study floor. I light a candle, ask for a blessing on my practice, and do a few asanas. I also enjoy doing a few poses before bed at night, as this helps calm me from the day’s stresses, but also helps counteract the tension my body builds up during the night. If you fancy having a go, you might find this website helpful.
Meditation is something I am trying to do. I’ve been trying to do it for years. It occurs to me now that maybe thats the whole point. Even when you get good at it, you are still battling the butterfly nature of your mind as it dances about between the shopping list and the peerless beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth, or something similar! Lately, I’ve had quite a bit of success with the Insight Timer app on my smartphone, and I also like Susan Piver’s free meditation instruction sessions – ten minutes out of your day for such huge benefits has to be worth a try. When I get it right, when I manage to concentrate on my breath even for just a tiny bit, I experience a sense of peace, achievement and oneness. I’ve tried Vipassana body awareness meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn too, and they are really good.
Journalling. Do I really need to add much about this? I’ve been writing continually on this blog about journalling practise since I started a year ago, explaining the benefits and the pleasures of keeping a diary. I’ve been doing it for 40 years this year (erch! Is it really that long?), and I can tell you that it has saved my life more than once. Check out my other Journal Friday posts to find out more.
Get out your journal and take a little time to ground yourself. Take a few breaths and be present within your body. Then think about your life. What are some of the things you do regularly that sustain you emotionally, physically, spiritually. Spend some time writing about them, about why they help you, why you do them, how they nourish you.
If you have trouble zeroing in on one, two or three things you do in this way, try thinking about your minimum requirements for a happy life. What do you go nuts without? When your life gets a bit haywire and you find you feel out of control, what are the things that have slipped? It might be anything from drinking enough water and eating fruit daily to spending time with friends and family, walking the dog or reading a good book. Make a list of the things that you know you need in your life to sustain your wellbeing.
As always, don’t get too draconian about either of these exercises. Remember these are not the things you think you OUGHT to be doing, or what your friends are doing, although they may be things you might like to try, but haven’t yet. Take time to explore. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. And if you can’t identify anything yet, allow the answers to evolve over time. Gently ask them to come to you. Ask yourself what you need in your life right now, and enjoy your discoveries.