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Morning prayer for Mental Health Week

Ms Anne-Marie Dolan, Pastoral Co-Ordinator of Clongowes Wood College SJ, delivered morning prayer in the school’s Concourse on Wednesday morning, 9 October 2019, during Mental Health Week. She reflected on the role that Ignatian spirituality can play in positive mental health and encouraged the boys to give themselves the greatest gift of all: time.

This week across the country Mental Health Week is being celebrated from the 7th to 11th October. World Mental Health Day takes place this Thursday the 10th of October with a theme of ‘Suicide Prevention’, as set by the World Federation for Mental Health. Mental health is an essential part of your overall well-being.

There are five recognised and simple ways to wellbeing that you can do in your everyday life to feel good and function well:

    1. Connect with others
    2. Be active
    3. Take notice
    4. Keep learning
    5. Give to others

If you think about it, these five ways fit perfectly with what Ignatian spirituality and our school ethos are all about. Our Jesuit and Ignatian ethos should permeate everything we do here as a school. Why? Because as the above ways indicate – we will be happier and more contented people for doing so.

What is mental health?

It is fair to say that mental health is a term that we hear thrown about a lot these days. No less around our journey in achieving the Amber Flag over the past three years. What exactly defines mental health? Mental health is an essential part of your overall wellbeing. It encompasses being comfortable, healthy, and happy. It is more than the absence of mental ill-health as it is something that everybody experiences over their lifetime. The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a “state of well-being, where every individual realises his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can make a contribution to his or her community”. It is quite normal and natural to feel down at times. Problems you may encounter might range from general everyday worries or low periods in your life to more serious long-term conditions or situations.

One in four of us will experience mental health difficulty during our lifetime. Everyone is different and how we respond to mental health difficulties can vary from person to person. Wellbeing may be compromised when negative and painful emotions are extreme or long-lasting, and interfere with the person’s ability to function in daily life. For some, it may be difficult to talk about mental health, but it can help to talk about how you are feeling! You can talk to friends, family, a counsellor, members of staff, your GP and of course, don’t forget that you can have your own quiet and personal conversation with God. The most important lesson that you should realise hopefully, sooner rather than later, is to SIMPLY talk to somebody. Most of us are aware of the well known saying: ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. The focus of my morning prayer is to look at how spirituality and faith can make a significant contribution to the promotion of positive mental health.

The greatest gift of all

Gavin T. Murphy, who works for the Irish Jesuit Education desk, has recently written about his journey with mental health; his book is called ‘Bursting Out in Praise’. In his publication, he draws on the wisdom of our founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He outlines how public understanding of mental health has increased to a point where it is now JUST as valued as our bodily health. However, he poses a very good question in asking “does that mean that our ancestors had no understanding of mental health?” An important development in Gavin’s mental health journey was his first contact with a Jesuit Spiritual Guide, better known as a Spiritual Director. After meeting this person on mutual ground, a relationship of trust began to grow. Through Spiritual Direction, Gavin explains how “he became aware of the inner movements of consolation (being drawn towards God) and desolation (being pulled away from God)”. In other words, he began to talk about his life experiences, his ups and downs, and as he did, he began to realise that God was in the midst of it all and had a plan. Gavin explains such spiritual guidance was key to the recovery process.

St. Ignatius’ own experience of God was experienced because he too made TIME to stop and reflect (not by choice initially), but as a result he found God at work in all of creation as recorded in his Spiritual Exercises. His imagination enabled him to deepen his belief that God could be found in all things, everywhere in everyone, at all times; even in the mess! However, it would be fair to say that St. Ignatius lived in a time with more space and freedom to reflect. He had more opportunities to notice the world around him without the competing challenges of social media that can often decrease our face to face interactions with friends, family and strangers. So where am I going with this, you might ask? Simply to say that my prayer for each of you this morning is to pause for some moment of your day for at least five minutes and do absolutely nothing. However, what you might not realise is that you are doing something, giving yourself the greatest gift of all: TIME. St. Ignatius and St. Francis of Assisi and other such saints gave themselves this time of silence, and as a result they were able to listen to the core truth of their lives and what ultimately made them happy. For us today, in our hectic busy schedules, we may need training for this to happen, however, let this training begin from this morning.

Promise yourself, for the week that is in it, to give yourself the gift of five minutes each day to sit in silence, doing nothing. You may surprise yourself as you may find great peace and clarity after doing this, and as a result, notice that your memory, concentration and overall wellbeing positively increase over time by practising this. Thought for the day: “Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation“.

Prayer for Generosity

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous.
To serve as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labour and not to seek reward,
Save that of knowing that I do your holy will.