The first 30 days …


It has been a little over a month since I first touched down in New Zealand.  Tomorrow I’m off with my sister to spend nearly two weeks exploring some of the beauty of the South Island.  I’m very conscious that I’d like to have published something before our great adventure – so here’s a little update for those who are interested in reading.

The month has been a mix of days out every now and then to enjoy some of the fabulous sights and activities in the local area, and a lot of quiet time spent within walking distance of my new home in Hamilton.  Since writing my last post I’ve visited a tea estate and learned more about tea than I’d every known before, seen the stunning Waireinga/Bridal Veil Falls after heavy rainfall, and spent a short time visiting the wonderful surfing and beach town of Raglan.  I’ve also spent a couple of half days exploring Waikato Museum and Hamilton Gardens. It has all been very beautiful, but I have found that I have needed the many days that I have spent pottering around at home to  regain my energy.

On the days that I’ve spent at home I’ve sometimes felt frustrated with the slowness of recovery, and how I still need to pace myself to avoid crashing after activity.  But then I remind myself once more of one of the poems that has had the biggest impact on my life and the gentle advice it offers.  Written by the wonderful John O’Donahue as part of his book of Blessings the poem is called “A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted“.  In this poem he describes with powerful accuracy how it feels to be utterly exhausted and burnt out.  Each time I come back to read it I find new wisdom, or another way that it rings true to me.

When I first arrived in New Zealand I’d already had 3 months at home without being in paid employment (I won’t say without working because running a home and looking after a family and animals does entail work!). On first arrival I believed that I was already some way along the road to recovery from CFS – and perhaps I was – but with hindsight I am able to see how very much I was constantly living on high alert and nervous energy, and how depleting that was for me. In my second blog post here I wrote about how surprising it was to me that even everyday activities like using new currency, or driving a car felt like huge obstacles and I found it hard to recognise myself in this strangely timid and unadventurous person. Knowing this poem so well I should not have been surprised:

“The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will”

And he was right. Things that had once seemed simple required much more effort from me and often a determined act of will. Having read this poem so many times over the past few years I knew in my heart that what I really needed was deep, deep rest. But here I was on the other side of the world with a whole country to explore and a blog that I’d promised myself I’d write. So although the plan was all about resting and relaxing, on an internal level I was still telling myself I had to get out there to see New Zealand, I needed to find words to write – I had to make the most of this opportunity. And that pressure to ‘do’ was in danger of becoming another stick that I could beat myself with….

Thankfully I have those who love me who gave me wise counsel. “Take your time. Be kind to yourself. There’s no pressure to do, be, or write anything. Be patient.” As John O’Donahue says:

“There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days”

And most poignantly of all:

“You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.”

So these past 30 days have been in part an exercise in finding myself underneath the heavy weight of fatigue – of becoming quiet and allowing my soul to come and take me back. There are a number of practical steps that I have taken which I shall outline below, but the common thread that runs through them all is that of self-compassion. I have been trying to extend to myself the same kind of love and care that I’d offer to a student, a family member, or a very much loved friend. Simple in theory – but old habits and behaviours are hard to change and I believe it will be a lifelong practice for me.

1. Meditation
I have continued with a daily meditation practice but I am now much kinder to myself about what that might mean. Some days it’s a seated, silent meditation.  Other days a guided meditation practice. Sometimes I chant, and other times I do a slow mindful walking meditation. If I feel tired and want to meditate lying down – I let myself. And if I’m so tired that I fall asleep, instead of seeing that as a failure – I take it as an unexpected gift of deep rest.

2. Taking Selfies!
Over recent years I have found that I absolutely hate (and I do mean hate …) seeing photos of myself. I sometimes recoil in horror when I catch sight of myself in the mirror or a shop window – and believe me I know that’s not a healthy way to be. The usual way that I would have dealt with this would be to tell myself that I need to lose weight and to notice how tired and old I look.  Or I would simply avoid looking at myself.  Since arriving here I decided that I would take a ‘selfie’ every day of my break over here and learn to get used to how I look – and possibly even how to love the way I am. So – every day now – without giving it much thought I’ve taken a picture of myself. And bit by bit I can see how I’m looking a little less tired. A little less stressed  and sometimes I can even find something good to notice about myself – or I can actually smile and laugh at myself. This small practice is actually a huge one for me – learning to look at myself through the lens of love rather than criticism.

3. Photography and slow walking in nature
I have been taking daily gentle, slow walks in the beautiful spaces around me. The aim of the walk is not to get exercise or build stamina, but simply to let myself notice what I would usually rush past. A trip to the local shops becomes a voyage of discovery. I am able to smell a heady and intoxicating scent as I walk and then follow its source to jasmine and honeysuckle growing wild over a garden fence. I notice the new leaves unfurling daily and the roses moving from bud to full bloom. And where appropriate I play with my trusty camera phone and take photographs which I’m able to enjoy when I get back and share with others. And when it rains I can stop, take shelter and simply watch the beauty as it falls, and remind myself of John O’Donahue’s words of wisdom:

“Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through”

4. Writing, Journalling, & Inner Exploration
The final practice which I have found to be immensely helpful has been writing. On arrival in New Zealand and finding myself alone in the house and a little uncertain about just how to address my inner exploration I decided to join a 30 day online writing group run by the inimitable Lisa Lister.  Every day for 30 days we were sent emails exploring the cyclical nature of womanhood and giving us writing prompts that really encouraged us to drop the masks we put on for everyone else and get to know ourselves at the deepest level. Some of these prompts were uncomfortable to explore. Some brought insight and new truths. All of them made me think. Bit by bit Lisa encouraged us to dive deeply and to begin to write from a place of real truth and honesty – as she puts it to write “the story that resides in your heart + guts”. I truly feel as if some wonderful synchronicity was at work. The course timing was perfect for me – just when I really needed some guidance and the support of other women I joined this course which provided both the prompts, but also a private forum of other women also writing in response to the emails.  This gave me some structure for my own inner exploration and a support network to interact with. As other women shared their writing I found that we were all able to act as mirrors for one another – we could see ourselves in another’s writing. And by supporting each other it felt as if we were at the same time learning how to support and uplift ourselves.

So here I am just over a month into my stay.  I’ve seen a little of this beautiful country (as I hope the photographs will testify). I’ve begun the process of learning how to be kind to myself and how to rest deeply. Tomorrow my sister and I set off to explore The South Island, and, I suspect, a little bit about what it means to be sisters in our 50s – the last time we spent this long together was probably back in our teens!  I hope that I will still take the messages of self compassion, gentleness, rest and ease with me so that I can really enjoy the travels as part of my own personal journey. I’m hoping that the final lines of the poem are prophetic:

“Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.”



For those of you who’d like to read the whole poem (and I certainly would encourage it) I have copied it below:

A Blessing For One Who Is Exhausted

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;

And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart

And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

–John O’Donohue, from “Blessings” (now in book called Benedictus)

If you’re interested in reading more about and from John O’Donahue see here


One thought on “The first 30 days …

  1. Jane

    WOW! That is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your incredible journey. I look forward to reading your reflections after your South Island sister time. xxx


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