Over the past few months, I have delved into the upsides and downsides of Bipolar Disorder through my blog ilovebipolar.com. And Ignatian wisdom has been a key element in my journey towards loving mental illness and loving life. Here are a few gems that may work for you too.
Gerald O’Mahony SJ illustrates balancing moods by using the image of a boat having to continually adjust while crossing a tidal estuary. The tide could be incoming or outgoing, so to compensate correctly, one must be aware of the tidal flow, i.e., how the person is being pulled (Redemption Road, Brendan McManus SJ). For example, if you feel shock from receiving news over the telephone, it is important to honour your feeling by expressing it in some way. Ignoring it may create needless conflict between you and the other person. You may go off on a tangent; the other may remain silent; and you may cave in. Responding assertively to the tidal flow of the other person, even if it means pulling against, is the best way to maintain a balanced mood. Be calm, content and confident.
The Latin term Agere Contra, meaning to act against or to go against self, is great advice when you find yourself going a bit high or a bit low. Imbalanced moods can be quite seductive in that they want to pull us away from reality and to keep us there. Consider this time an opportunity for your psycho-spiritual development. When you notice the symptoms of low mood – be with someone who wants to be with you, go for a walk, write in your journal, and stay hopeful for a return to balanced mood. When you pick up on indicators of over-excitement – slow down, turn off the internet, focus on your breath, and return to that still point where you are connected with your world once again.
Accept the reality of the situation
Walter J. Ciszek S.J. was a Jesuit priest who lived through 23 years of Russian prisons and labour camps. A profound part of his book He Leadeth Me involved his learning to accept ‘the reality of the situation’. For him, this meant facing every moment as a prisoner with openness and opportunity. For us, this can mean fully accepting our weaknesses and circumstances. You can get caught up with anger and frustration trying to fight off worries that you can do nothing about. Real change comes about the more you say “Yes” to vulnerabilities and “Yes” to your reality. You may still think about running away from situations but you become mindful of the wise thing to do.
The devil comes cloaked as an angel of light
We all get temptations but it helps enormously to get some awareness over them. We can be tricked by the devil’s tactics. For instance, while you are working on a computer document, you are stirred to do some research on the internet. You are filled with apparent light, as this seems like a good thing to do. Then you are coaxed into doing more research, and then more, and more. Before long, your mind becomes totally scrambled and you end up turning to a repetitive willful behaviour with regards food, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, exercise, worry and so on. In the midst of your actions, it is wise to stop and examine where these thoughts are coming from. And if they are leading to a dead end, then you need to return to what you were doing before the temptations. Discernment-wise, it is nipping it in the bud early, replacing desolation with consolation, e.g. shifting your consciousness to a red rose rather than to a false light.
This daily reflection is wonderful for keeping in touch with the greater perspective. If we slip or fall during the day, we can easily let this takeover all of what is beaming with light. Praying the Examen may show us that our intentions, actions, and operations are mostly filled with goodness, and this insight may encourage us to continue our journey. And as we become free from disordered attachments (anything that turns us away from God), our inner and outer lives become one. We can be grateful to Saint Ignatius for creating a contemplative tradition with such a strong capacity for individual guidance.
Expanding our hearts
American Jesuit Greg Boyle SJ, founder of the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry programme in the world, spoke to the University of Notre Dame’s 2017 graduating class: “You go from here to dismantle the barriers that exclude, and there’s only one way to do that, and that is to go where the joy is, which is at the margins. For if you stand at the margins, that’s the only way they’ll get erased”. I suspect that the Jesuit is offering us great wisdom for a life of love. Joy is to be found at the margins: with the homeless, refugees, our marginalised friends. Moreover, May 22nd’s Manchester bombing reminded us all too clearly that we are brothers and sisters to each other. I pray that we may fully experience this interconnectedness in our ordinary lives.
Information on Ignatian Spirituality can be found on IgnatianSpirituality.com.