I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kate Kennington Steer's reflection on "Project Wholeness."
I am currently in the midst of trying to find ways to refine my activities. I know I need to make an act of creativity the energy focus of my every day because I am positive that my healing will be found this way. This healing may or may not include physical wellness, but what I am convinced of is that healing is ‘about’ wholeness. My Inner Witness watches my heart expand every time I glimpse the possibility in the juxtaposition of colours I have laid down on a canvas, or in the sense of ‘rightness’ in the composition of a photograph, in the shape of a line etched in a print, in the crystal aptness of an image in a line of poetry, in the combination of stitches in a knitting pattern. It may be that only I can see these things in my work at present, and the offered vision of ‘God in the everyday’ isn’t yet expressed in such a way that others can share in it, but I remind myself time and again that isn’t the point of this adventure. Even the fleeting promise of a moment of right seeing and receiving lifts me away from my absorption with my own problems into an arena where the Spirit is allowed free reign to work.
So when a psychologist recently asked me ‘if you know what you need to do to find healing and wholeness why aren’t you going all out to pursue this?’, I was surprised to find myself stumped and distressed.
At the time it didn't help that I thought she was asking me to make a bit of a black or white choice: will you use precious energy loading up the dishwasher rather than playing with inks and charcoal or making images with your camera? I had been talking about being part of a community, a family, where you put other people first. She was talking about me asking for their help to readjust my priorities. I was arguing real life didn’t allow me to stop doing chores; she was saying my friends and family would put up with a great deal of washing up if it meant I might be well!
In her tantalising picture, opening up at least one opportunity for my creativity is the single most important thing I have to do this day. Even if today is a bad bed day and I only have energy for five minutes worth of daydreaming rather than lifting an actual pen, camera or brush, that freewheeling is an essential contribution to ‘Project Wholeness’. Who knows, perhaps in those few precious minutes I might see how to unlock the potential for a future career?
I know that in the light of this conversation with the psychologist I need to start a new set of dialogues with those who care for me on a daily basis, because ‘Project Wholeness’ is going to need some massive underpinning. I’m going to need help discerning and naming the areas of my life where I will need support. Working towards my healing is going to require understanding, not just about not clearing up the table after a meal on one day, but about a million other tasks on countless days to come. Cheerleaders of my project are going to have to understand I need time on my own, that if I shut the door I’m not shutting them out but enclosing my sparse concentration into a sacred space for creativity for as long or short a moment as it will manage.
‘Project Wellness’ also requires a change of language. I find talk of goal setting and prioritising is at odds with my understanding of the contemplative life, not least because it taps directly into my tenacious ambitious, competitive and perfectionist tendencies. Instead I remind myself to use the monk’s terms of intention and attention. I recognise that I am in a classic threshold place.
Yet despite all my mulling over this, at a meeting with a neuropsychiatrist last week I was surprised that I still felt ambushed when he echoed the same idea as the psychologist: ‘You know it all already. You know what you have to do. You just have to believe you will get better.’ In that moment I felt that he was abandoning me into the isolating abyss of trying to get better with no professional help. But I realised his emphasis on cognitive behavioural therapy as the vehicle of my recovery spectacularly managed to miss the point.
For I am not alone, whatever tale my lying ego may wish to spin about the opposite; wellness is not just about my willpower. For I am part of this Abbey, and my fellow monks witness to me time and again that it is the Spirit’s prompting which makes me believe creativity will be the source of all my healing. The neuropsychiatrist spoke truer than he knew: the Wonderful Counsellor has already given me the wisdom I need to live this day. The only priority I need to embrace is the intention to open my eyes and seek God’s face; and to practice expressing the abundance of the love that I find there in the most meaning-full ways I know how. As Mary Oliver put it so exquisitely:
'Instructions for living a life.
Kate Kennington Steer is a writer and photographer with a deep abiding passion for contemplative photography and spirituality. She writes about these things on her shot at ten paces blog. She also posts series of ‘daily acts of seeing’ on Facebook. Join in with gentle ambling conversations about contemplative photography at https://www.facebook.com/1actofdailyseeing/?fref=ts