Gavin T. Murphy keeps a blog on ilovebipolar.com and he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.
Lei Xue, a certified acupuncturist and herbalist, led a Chinese tea ceremony at Chester Beatty Library in Dublin on 1 October, and I was one of the lucky ones to go along to it. She told us that when she invites her friends over for a tea ceremony, a space is created so it becomes like a meditation. The colourful clay pot and cups make for a lovely display along with flowers, and sugary foods accompany a sweet oolong tea.
Lei also said that in order to discover the right tea, we first need to be aware of some things about ourselves such as the temperature of our hands and feet which can differ from person to person. When we are more aware of ourselves, we can figure out if it’s a green tea, pu’er tea or black tea that suits us. It is fascinating to ponder that you can seek harmony and balance through your tea. Indeed, it is also fascinating to ponder that you can seek harmony and balance through your thoughts.
When a negative comes into my head…
Even though I am living well with bipolar, I am still finding it challenging to be completely balanced in my thinking. Last week, I thought of nothing else as a negative thought entered my head. I visited a coffee shop and went outside to enjoy the sun which was quite exceptional for late September. I found a place filled with light, and thanked my lucky stars as I sat down and began blogging. After fifteen minutes, the sun was beaming down on my face and thoughts of sun burn and sun cancer came into my head. I eventually moved to another place outside in the shade, and a few minutes later I felt a cool breeze and thought about getting a cold or flu. What was going on here? What made me so unbalanced in my thinking?
Positivity and gratitude
Then I went to see my friend for a good chat, and it became clear I could still think of nothing else other than my negative thoughts. With help from my friend, I learned that I didn’t have to hold onto these thoughts… I could do something different. So I turned to positivity by recalling a matter at hand: how my former novice master at a 30-day retreat in Liverpool helped me come to a radical insight that continues to sustain me. He helped me to move away from my old way of analysing, rationalising, and doubting people’s experiences to a new way of listening, noticing, and pondering. As I relished this realistic positive thought, I was then filled with gratitude for my former novice master: “Thank you! I am eternally grateful to you for helping me come to such a glorious personal insight”.
Spirituality scholar Michael O’Sullivan SJ speaks of four steps of consciousness which we can go through to be more balanced in our thinking: experiencing, understanding, evaluating, and deciding. So let’s go back to my coffee shop experience in light of these steps. 1) Experiencing: I saw two floors and the sales desk downstairs; I also saw an outdoor area. 2) Understanding: what conditions were best for blogging?; the sun, the quiet?… 3) Evaluating: outside there was a cool shaded area and a very bright sunny area; inside there was a spot next to the window which was relatively quiet and bright. 4) Deciding: I would have gone inside to the spot next to the window as it best suited my needs. At this point I would have been more balanced in my thinking.
Psychology Today defines racing thoughts as “fast, repetitive thought patterns about a particular topic.” Often this can happen when we are overly focused on the past or the future, and it’s safe to say that it takes us away from balanced thinking. For me, the late evenings can leave me vulnerable to a racing mind when even the TV can overstimulate me. The general public can also get into trouble, for example, after an exciting party or after hearing good news. A bit of training is recommended here where we can come up with positive alternatives to the often-negative racing thoughts, use a mantra (e.g. “I am OK”), focus on the present, write things down, or simply breathe. A game of cards with my family led to my best sleep in ages!
I was challenged again when a normal everyday experience attempted to plunge me into darkness. This time I achieved balance through sitting down for a nice chat with my girlfriend by the Chester Beatty Library. I opened up about negative thoughts that took me away from the present. I didn’t criticise my thoughts and my good company didn’t criticise them either. Then I was able to go to the tea ceremony, savour the different flavours, and meditate with Lei Xue.