This is definitely my favourite holiday in the religious calendar. For a load of reasons. Last week was of course Holy Week. The quieter time of Lent culminates in a week of traditional services all with different moods and significance. Moving through the week is like a gentle and very supported guide to emotions. It is a week of guided introspection, that follows six weeks of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
I enjoy the sense of tradition, it makes me feel very grounded and somehow safe. Many of the services are attended by much the same people, so I have a real feeling of belonging to a wider community and being part of something bigger than me.
The music is unusual, not what we hear in the rest of the year, and yet familiar in it being the music of Holy Week. The services themselves are unusual, but the same every year. It’s a delightful mix of familiarity and difference all in one week.
It is wonderful to be encouraged to be quiet, to turn inwards for a few days. There is a lot of silence in the church services, Good Friday is a day of abstinence and fasting. I abstained from my phone and laptop for the day. It definitely changed the mood of the day, making it much more deliberate and thoughtful.
After a long winter, it felt good to have a week of reflection and quiet to bring it to a proper end. The weather was very compliant, starting the week with cold and wind and warming up as the week wore on. Lent and winter ended very well indeed.
On Friday I donated blood. Nearly a pint of my O+ is now lurking in the UK blood stocks should anyone need it.
It is taking me a while to process the enormity of achieving something I have always wanted to do; I was jolly nervous and it has taken a while to process. I had no immediate feeling of exhilarated “I’ve done it”. Rather I wanted to sleep, which is a fairly normal Abigail-reaction to trauma.
A few days later and it feels a huge achievement. For many years I was phobic of needles. I had problems walking into a friend’s bathroom where I knew her diabetic mother kept her hypodermics. I have needed up unconscious in hospital because I refused an injection to help me breathe. I made a decision not to travel anywhere where vaccinations were needed.
It was that final decision that broke the behaviour. My decision was not affecting me, but also my husband who wanted to travel. Heck, I wanted to travel. This was about 25 years ago and I realised that life was limited through my fear. Strangely the effect of the hospital episode on my parents had never occurred to me until Friday, post-blood donation. My Mum is owed a large apology! Once I had decided it could not go on, I sought counselling and hypnotherapy and have never avoided an injection since. Every annual flu vaccination has me marvelling at how not scared I am. Blood tests were not so easy though, hence the decades it has taken me to get to donating.
I cannot say I enjoyed donating blood. The length of time involved (about 10 minutes) with a needle in my arm made it much harder to control the demons. I did though. I felt anxious as one does doing something unknown. It felt a bit uncomfortable – my veins are narrow, the needle is not, I was very tense anyway. Afterwards I felt such a resounding sense of relief that I honestly couldn’t say if it was a reaction to the loss of blood or the fact I had done something I was nervous about and come through it.
But I did it. I will do it again. And I am really really proud of myself. Feel like I can achieve anything.
And if you are scared of needles and have read all the way through this – well done – no way I could have done that 25 years ago!
I wrote in January about the need to add some creativity into my week. Scheduling a fortnightly craft evening with friends has been one way to make that happen. We don’t meet as regularly as we would all like – some weeks it just cannot happen.
Last night it did, on a perfect day. The day had involved a lot of travel, not enough sleep, a long meeting sitting down, a lot of brain work and a fair amount of walking.
Sitting, sewing, enjoying a cup of tea and chatting to friends was just what the day needed to balance it out. I was intrigued by how the conversation flows when we are focussing on a physical activity as well. It was very comforting, flowing gently from one subject to the next, interspersed by examining and praising each others’ attempts. At times we sat in gentle silence, when concentration was needed.
A companionable, creative and non-tech based gathering of good friends. Perfect.
It’s one of those weeks where the diary is full and there are lots of people to meet with and conversations to be had and thinking to be done. The meetings are later in the evening than I love, the work days involve travelling a fair amount.
So today I am checking in on the foundations. I am considering blackout blinds, because the earlier sunrise is waking me slightly earlier than I want. But in the meantime, my new found habit of not drinking caffeine after noon and my Lenten avoidance of alcohol are ensuring I am sleeping well for the hours I am in bed. I am also trying to wind down at the end of the day doing some light journalling and reading before bed to switch off, even when the meetings finish late.
Exercise has been a bit harder to fit in, but I have done some yoga and a run so far this week. Even the days without yoga and running have had good walks in the sunshine. And the sunshine has really really helped.
Food has been great thanks to planning the week’s menu and deciding who is cooking each evening (I have got off very lightly on that this week). That said, I need to stop writing and go and make some lunch to take with me today!
I have had time every day to catch up with family and have grabbed coffee with friends. All the Scout meetings have been interesting and full of lovely, supportive people. And we are not quite half way through the week.
The second half of the week – that is after 6pm on Thursday – has no work (I have Friday off) , no volunteer meetings and lots of fun planned. I will definitely have plenty of time to be quiet, reflective and prayerful and to play the piano and spend some time being creative. The balance of life is not within every hour or every day, but over the weeks and months.
Inspired by trying to reduce using screen-based gadgets late in the evening, I have dramatically reduced my time on Facebook and Instagram. I had already abandoned Twitter in face of American, and potentially world politics, being conducted in posts of limited characters. Brexit polarisation seemed clearer on Twitter than in real life. I care about politics, I care deeply about Brexit, but I was struggling with the anger and fear being generated by the twitterati, so I removed it from my day.
Facebook and Instagram are different. On Instagram I follow people with impressive photography skills and a love of life’s adventure who post photos and captions that make me very happy. They wear gorgeous clothes and have beautiful gardens and homes. Oddly it never makes me jealous or induces FOMO, I relish the joy with which other people photograph their life and work and holidays and proudly share them.
Facebook is similar in its more positive (than Twitter) outlook. There is just too much of it. I love the community feel of the groups I am a part of. But there is way more pressure within the design of the platform to read comments and therefore spend more time. Somehow Facebook feels more insidious – just this weekend several people I have met up with have quoted Facebook comments back to me – I find that moving of a Facebook comment into the realms of real conversation a bit odd.
All in all I don’t think social media is a force for evil. The truth of the matter is that I have finite time in my day. I have blogs, books and magazines to read, all of which I am intentionally choosing to spend time with. The danger with Facebook (and Instagram to an extent) is that I get sucked into reading something someone else wants me to read, not necessarily deepening my relationship with anyone, but taking time. There is a balance between making the connections and staying in touch and not losing hours of a week to it. A balance I still have to find.
And ironically I have interrupted the flow of writing this by browsing Facebook and Instagram whilst writing. Frustrated with myself now.
I am somewhat obsessed with Dr Rangan Chatterjee‘s books at the moment. They are ostensibly self-help books about finding good health in a world which seems bent on stressing us out. He refers to lots of medical research on the effects of stress on our bodies and of course our minds.
One of the things his books do is give permission to relax, to switch off the phones and laptops and just stop. I have been trying to turn off the electronic gizmos at 9pm and let my mind have a break from social media and email. It is hard though, as so much of what I do in my spare time I do on electronic devices.
So time management is even more crucial than ever. Not a bad thing. I am convinced that my brain does not know the difference between writing this blog or an email to a fellow Scout leader or to a work colleague. Surely the process of communicating via writing on an electronic device is the same regardless of whether I am being paid to write, or whether I am writing about stressful or fun subjects?
Last night I was expecting an evening of creativity with friends, which was cancelled at the last minute. The temptation to get on and catch up with some administrative tasks for Scouts was just too strong.
I am definitely paying for it this morning. My brain feels unrested. I slept well, but my mum always used to say that resting your body and brain is as good as sleeping. I am beginning to appreciate that wisdom as my brain definitely feels it missed out on a couple of hours of rest last night.
Last week was full on, and writing this took a back seat. As did running and yoga. So this morning is a reassessment of what is important in the week ahead. But I am trying to be gentle with myself rather than looking at the yoga and run records for the month so far and beating myself up. Or looking back and realising it is five days since I wrote my ‘daily’ blog.
I have got into the bad habit of noticing what I have NOT done, but last week was hugely productive. I made contact with various people in Scouts and ended up having some very productive conversations. It is good to be back in touch with some really inspiring and dedicated people.
The Birmingham Children’s Book Group were at Bournville BookFest on Saturday and I spent the day in a rather chilly marquee, chatting to interesting, lovely people about children’s books and reading in families and schools. And publicising our monthly Book Swap (second Saturday of every month at Bournville Community Hub, 9.30 to 10.30).
Sunday morning was spent at church, collecting donations to CAFOD’s Fast Day and showing the film of Mahinur’s story . I met new volunteers to our Children’s Liturgy team and started their training. I caught up with some other friends at coffee after mass. A very sociable morning which felt useful.
Sunday afternoon included cooking lunch for the extended family, who we have not seen for an age. Time was spent reading and watching TV as a family. We had an evening dog walk to the pub to catch up with good friends.
Writing it all down helps me realise that it’s not that I have done nothing, I just chose to prioritise volunteering over exercise and blogging for a couple of days. And by blogging the list I get to start this week with a tick in the blog box on this week’s to do list. Two birds with one blog. Have a good week.