Being still? What’s that? Surely I don’t have time for that – my life is a whirl of activity, a life marked by achievements: things ticked off a list – books read, papers done, talks given, certificates gained. My head is constantly busy, thinking back over what I’ve done, and with new ideas and possibilities floating around – whenever and whatever I’m doing. Looking back at photos from my ‘round the world’ travels in 2007, there’s me with this tourist landmark, and another, and another… and lots of adrenalin highs – from jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet, hiking Machu Picchu, to diving 40 feet underwater. In amongst months of travelling, however, five minutes stand out. Five minutes on Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, when the boat drew to a halt on a mirror lake, all noise stopped, and we stood in profound silence. As senses usually dulled by constant noise and activity kicked back into action, the shoulders went down, breathing slowed, thoughts relaxed, and the subtle sounds of nature became evident. So this is what slowing down and ‘just being’ feels like?
This is a theme that I’ve returned to several times since, in different ways, as clearly I can’t pop back to Doubtful Sound every time I want or need a reminder. A couple of weeks afterwards, listening to what body and mind needed, I gave a ‘tourist must-see’ a miss, as it dawned that I was so tired I was beyond appreciating it. I slept, dreamt, read and meandered, re-energising for the remaining months of my trip, and throughout the rest of the trip I sought moments of contemplation amongst the adrenalin highs. Later, in a spiritual guidance session with Brain Draper, the W.H.Davies poem: “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”, really echoed. In thinking further, I did a search on Bible Gateway for the word “rest”, and in the New Living Translation in the Bible it returned 508 entries, including being at the root of words ‘restoration’ and ‘restriction’. One that resounded for me was: “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” (Psalm 127:2). In seeking to put this into place, I fought the natural urge to do a “huge” life overhaul at once, and instead found that a series of small steps, including undertaking counselling, coaching, running a number of Lent courses, listening to the notion of ‘living in the now’ at Greenbelt, speaking on rest at Spring Harvest last year, and on digital health at the Premier Digital Conference – are all contributing to the work in progress that is Bex.
Alongside my faith, one of the biggest influences on life-change over the last few years has been a movement called Beyond Chocolate, a mindfulness-based approach designed to change the messed up relationship with food that so many of us have in contemporary culture. It encourages ‘being present’ – sitting and listening to your body – does it want food, or something else? It emboldens trying something just once, and if successful, trying it again, rather than an all-or-nothing approach – something that I’ve been able to apply to all areas of life. Life is still busy, but there is time to stop, think, with the difficult parts balanced with a deeper appreciation of life in all its fullness.
Dr Bex Lewis is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University, with a particular interest in Christianity and the digital.