ZEN

I have been practicing what I like to jokingly call Zen. It’s a private joke in my own head of course, but it’s just a cute way to remember what really is mindfulness.

I’ve been noticing more about mindfulness lately. My psych has given me a few tools. One is the good old mood chart, where twice (or once) a day, you record your mood on a chart. That way you get to see over a period of time how your mood varies, and you can also see patterns. Twice a day is good because that could help uncover diurnal depression, but it also shows when you’re likely to feel ok and you might be able to schedule things into those parts of the day.

Another mindfulness related tool is to journal using the following prompts:

Thinking (what’s on my mind)
Feeling (describe my emotions)
Body (aches, tension, stiffness)
Senses (see below)
Hopes (what I am hoping for today)
Fears (what I’m worried about)
Dreams (what am I looking forward to)
Intentions (what am I going to do today)

Obviously you can write as little or as much as you like on each of these subheadings. Again, if you journal, you get to see hopefully some improvement, but also patterns. I journal online because I don’t like writing by hand.

Senses are important. This is probably one of the best grounding techniques. Basically you find a spot and make yourself comfortable and then one by one observe each of the senses.

What can I hear? Right now, the wind, and the washing machine and the dribbling of the fish tank.
What can I feel? Cold hands on the keyboard, one knee in the back of the other (I’m crossing my legs).
What can I see? Bushes, trees – a Mac screen!
Taste? The aftertaste of Pepsi Max and last night’s sleep (haven’t had brekky yet).
Smell? Not much right now – but I tried!

You get the idea. It’s a great technique. All part of my zen.

Finally, (this is the most important one for me right now) slowing down and taking my emotional pulse rounds out my zen. If I catch myself hurrying, hustling, getting caught up the hurly burly, I consciously slow everything down. It’s not much different to watching the gauges on the dash and slowing down if exceeding the speed limit. I really don’t want that adrenaline pumping unless I need to fight or flee something. I ask myself “how am I feeling?” and then ask myself why I might be feeling that. I really try and be attentive to my emotional state and acknowledge it.

So there you have it. My zen is geared to carrying ourselves through each day with poise, and grace, inner peace and a kind of transcendence. I like to think of it as being a modern-day contemplative.

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My new job

I mentioned that I had a new job, and promised to tell you all about it.

I’m working two days a week on short term contract with a NGO delivering a high school program produced by a crowd called beyondblue. They are the national leaders on the forefront of research, education and treatment programs for depression sufferers and do amazing things to help people.

I’ll be spending most of my time with year 8 students working them through a curriculum designed to give them resilience when it comes to mental health. Statistics are showing that around 4% of teens have diagnosable and treatable depression at any given point in time, and one in five will have an episode by the time they’re eighteen.

So far I’ve been meeting with High School Principals. Some are interested in running it, some maybe not (they have to bump something off their existing curriculum to make room for us).

While I’m not really enjoying canvassing schools, I’m hoping that I enjoy working with the kids, although I’m a bit worried that it might turn out to be more of a crowd control exercise. Time will tell. I am passionate about helping people get help so I’m really hoping the work energizes me and isn’t draining. I have been a bit anxious, that I won’t get the results that my employer is looking for. I haven’t really had much responsibility for the last fourteen months and am a bit wary of it. I’m trying to monitor my anxiety levels and be mindful. I call it my zen.

I’m still working on the tomatoes one day a week though – it keeps me anchored and I love the physicality and the stress-free environment.

What’s a Pastor to do?

I’ve explored through this blog the role of the Pastor from time to time because I know that what I experienced is not what it is. But then know what something isn’t doesn’t always lead to an understanding of what it is!

Magrey deVega author of the article “The Pastor as Docent” on the Out of Ur blog, describes the search to define the role of the pastor;

A friend told me that Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant should be required reading for every pastor who has served for at least five years. That was how long it had been since my ordination. I picked up a copy.

Peterson claims that there are two common types of unhealthy clergy. The first is the messiah. Messiahs seek out wounded, broken people, to make them healthy again. It is a noble task, except for its motivation: messiahs need to feel needed. They consider healed people to be numbers, accumulated to suggest pastoral effectiveness.

Then there are managers, who seek not the unhealthy but the healthy: talented, faithful, and prepared people. Managers plug them in, finding the right places for them to serve in an ever-expanding congregational machine. The bigger the church gets, the better managers feel effective and useful. Once again, people become numbers.

The author goes on to explain that the answer was found at the Louvre in the tour guide (docent) giving a beautiful picture of how tour guides illuminated the artists work, but never overshadowed them, or stole their limelight. Sometimes they would assist in the unfolding, other times were silent, so patrons could explore and learn and experience the beauty of the art and engage with the artist on their own terms. It was a wonderful picture of what a pastor could be. Worth a read.

I can definitely relate to Peterson’s example of the Manager. I’ve experienced that, and I was a really good one, until I burned out. Now, my idea of a pastor also follows the symbolic, but it may be slightly more agricultural. Mine is the traffic policeman. You know, the guy in the white gloves at a busy intersection who makes sure everything works, and flows and is safe and conducive to travel. The pastor doesn’t make the traffic happen. He just negotiates the flow. He doesn’t provide momentum, just directs it. He doesn’t dictate the direction any of the travelers should go, but just helps them on their way. But both pictures – the docent, and the cop, work fine for me.

Recovering

I’ve turned the corner.

I thought not to write on it for a few weeks to see if recovery would regress but it hasn’t.

One day (literally) I woke up and my feelings of grief were gone. They just went. I remember talking to a pastor’s wife down south who had suffered with depression for years. She said that one day it just lifted – just like that. I always had her story in the back of my mind and wondered if one day, that would happen to me. I wasn’t banking on it though… after all, her “one day” came after years of suffering terribly.

I put it down to a meeting I had with my psych. As we discussed what had happened to me church-wise and my dreams and vision for what church could be like, she suggested that my dream would have never come about had I stayed. We live in a region of 30,000 in a semi rural conservative anglo culture where people still grow their own potatoes in their yards and make tomato relish. It would never have been fair on the church if I had continued to pursue my creative, innovative, Gen X, postmodern community ideals of the New Testament church in the 21st century. Something had to give. She believes I still may see my dream, but it just won’t be here and now. After thinking about that for a couple of days, I realised she was right. And when that realization happened, grief departed.

It sounds like magic. It definitely feels like magic. Whatever it is, I’m so grateful. Cognitive Behavioral Therapists, would put it down to the effectiveness of CBT. I’m not a huge fan, but it is an effective treatment for depression.

Anyway, for last three weeks or so, I haven’t had any feelings of grief, sadness or hurt. I feel quite calm really. I still have major misgivings at the way I was excluded from the church I sowed my life into for fifteen years and gave so much blood, sweat and tears, but that’s a separate issue – certainly not a clinical one.

And I’ve started a new job, which I’ll tell you about soon. The only thing I’m wary of, is the possibility of life returning to the way it was pre-depression. That might sound strange, but I never wanted to get back to the way things were. I always wanted to be transformed by my experience, not just to get over it. More on that another day.

Simple is Good

I think for some reason (maybe being the outdoorsy type) tribal life has always held an allure for me. I loved the documentary “Tribal Wedding” where filmmakers Larry Gray and Mary O’Malley a western couple from Sydney, traveled to Tanna in Vanuatu and married in “kastom” style – the native way.  There were so many great quotes and ideas raised during the documentary. There is a simplicity to which these villagers live that don’t involved the stress and busyness and utilitarian lives we live in the west. I call it the simple life.

To me the simple life revolves around simple tasks. For villagers it’s things like procuring firewood, building or maintaining shelters, fetching water, tending their gardens, hunting for food, raising children and maintaining relationships. The men have secret men’s business where they deal with issues in the village, but it’s evident that reinforcing relationships between the elders is significant to village harmony. So too, the women gather around the fire and preparation of food, which goes way beyond simply feeding the family. It’s building community.

One of the things my wife has found working with ‘at risk’ youth who are in trouble with the law, bombing out of school and getting into general mischief is that it takes a village to raise a child…. but that way of life is long gone from our “cultured” societies.

I think as a result of my burnout and slow recovery, I’ve come to long for the simple life. I’m actually trying to build a modern-tribal lifestyle. I am my own guinea pig.

I’m not about to take my clothes off and go live in the backyard, but I think there are certainly elements we can learn from tribal people. I try and take time over food preparation. Instead of seeing it as a necessary evil, I see it as part of the daily ritual that helps anchor us to the simple life. It takes time to prepare good food. I involve the kids with our cooking so it also helps us work together and they enjoy the food a lot more if they’ve been involved in making it.

Our home has electric heating and a wood fire. I have decided to buy a chainsaw and cut up logs, haul them home, split them, stack the wood and burn it. It’s a lot of hard work, but again, there is a certain earthiness and reality involved when you don’t just flick a switch, but actually take the time to light a fire and burn it to heat the home – not to mention the atmosphere and toasted marshmallows.

I’d like to be slower with the children too. I’d like to take time to talk to them without feeling hurried. I’d like to waste time with them – play with them – enter their world. I took my son interstate on the weekend for a funeral. We had lots of time to talk. Last thursday I bailed him out of school and took him fishing. On the way to the lake (where he hauled in a 4lb brown trout in fine fighting condition) I asked him what he’d like to do when he grew up. He said he’d like to perhaps be an artist, or a musician, or a ninja. Ahhh to be seven again.

I try and drive slower. I accelerate to the speed limit more slowly. I try and achieve less each day than I would otherwise. If I get one or two things done, I’m happy. I’m not the kind of person to just waste time. I’ve found if I build in lots of buffer and space into my time, that I tend to fill it with more meaningful things – like talking to people I love, or reflection. Or maybe reading a book. Or as it turns out, it may be conserving energy so  i can read to my kids when I put them to bed.

In the documentary, Mary (safely back in Sydney) wrestles with the great gulf between the modern and tribal life. She says ”I do believe we need to slow down and wind back our lives and consider some of the things that traditional cultures do… But how far back can we go? And how to go back? I’m still not sure. I think there’s a whole lot of us who are trying to figure that out.”

Yep. Simple is good. Do you have similar yearnings? Do you have any ideas for modern tribal warriors that I can experiment with?

Workplace depression

I subscribe to the online Gallup Management Journal which this month has James K. Harter, Ph.D., Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management and wellbeing discussing depression in the workplace.

“There’s a significant relationship between work, stress, and health,” Harter says. “In other words, if people are in an ongoing work situation that is negative or stressful, they have a higher potential for negative health consequences.”

The quality of the workplace can be linked to serious physical and mental illnesses such as clinical depression and chronic anxiety that can have a significant negative impact on workers’ job performance and on their personal lives.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety, typically a normal reaction to stress, becomes debilitating when it becomes “an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations.” In a given year, approximately 40 million U.S. adults (18 and older) — about 18% of the U.S. population — are affected by an anxiety disorder.

Depression, according to NIMH, interferes with daily life and normal functioning. While the symptoms of depression vary depending on the individual and his or her illness, they include “persistent sad, anxious or ’empty’ feelings; feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism; . . . loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable; . . . fatigue and decreased energy; [and] difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.” About 14.8 million American adults, or about 7% of the U.S. population aged 18 and older, are affected by depression in a given year.

My experience was that I couldn’t switch off. There were definitely negative elements, but these were periodical rather than persistent, although when they happened I would lie awake at night and then dream about the problems trying to grapple with the solutions. I remember waking up totally drenched in sweat. I’d have to flip the covers back, go for a walk to the kitchen and get a drink and wait for the bed to dry.

Everyday, I would feel the dread; the irrational chicken-little syndrome of feeling like the sky was going to fall.

I think complexity and the global thinking necessary for a leader at the top of the food chain was sometimes overwhelming. But overall, I think the worst thing was being spread way too thinly. Everyone wanted a piece of me and there simply wasn’t enough of me to go around.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, best to put a sock in your ego and see a health professional and get some unbiased help. Let’s face it. If you got hit by a bus tomorrow, the reality is the people at your workplace would be sad, but basically someone else would be found to take on your responsibilities and life would go on as before.

Click here for the full article

Meetings UGH.

I can’t tell you how much I came to hate and dread meetings. I must have developed some sort of allergy to them I think. Nothing could have prepared me for the number of meetings a lead pastor has to have – except maybe a job in a government bureaucracy (I never know how to spell that word).

Flip through the New Testament, go to a bible college, do an internship… nothing will prepare you for the volume and variety of the meetings you will participate in and chair as a lead pastor.

Event planning, program development, staff meetings, budget meetings, mentoring meetings, meetings with congregation members, friends, leadership meetings, board meetings, elders breakfasts, sunday meetings, prayer meetings, meetings with my wife (yep I made her come into the office and have a meeting with me whenever she wanted to talk about how her role was going), women who have given birth to extremely hairy babies outreach ministry meetings (ok I made up the last one – but only because we hadn’t thought of it at the time)…. the list goes on, and on, and on like a bad version of the Never Ending Story.

My most loathed meeting was the Annual General Meeting. I cannot begin to explain how boring and mind-numbing the AGM is. We fixed that one by changing our constitution so that the members of the incorporation are restricted to board members. hey presto, a board meeting doubles as an AGM.

It’s not that I was particularly bad at running meetings. I hated preparing agendas and I realize that probably would have made them less effective, but I did manage them well. I harnessed group dynamics, made sure everyone was heard where possible, tried for consensus at all times, made sure they stayed positive, took breaks when things stalled etc.

I was aware that many people who attended meetings expected them to be “christian” meetings, so there must be some kind of devotion, or scripture shared at the start. And it was necessary to “open” in prayer, and “close” in prayer, and wrap a lot of statements with caveats such as “if that’s what God is leading us to do”. Eventually it all became little more than formality and religiosity to me. I just figured, why can’t people do their own devotions and be prayerful at all times, and have the mind of Christ, instead of making it ceremonial. Sometimes we just do stuff because that’s they way it’s done.

Can we coin a new TLA (three letter acronym)? I’m thinking MAD. Meeting Aversion Disorder. Writing this post is making me nervous now.