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2020 through 13 blogposts

BRENDAN McMANUS SJ :: This has been a year of lockdowns and restrictions, isolation and insulation. 2020 has been tough on people, families, organisations, and the world at large. Trying to trace the journey through the year and looking back over what happened and what I’ve written, I’ve drawn up a rough map in 13 articles.

  1. A spirituality for strange times – Ten Ignatian tips for coping with coronavirus » This is a particularly tough time in human history where coronavirus has many people worried, unsure as to how to act and often undermined by fear. We have seen examples of people behaving irresponsibly in panic buying or hoarding, ignoring social distancing or hand sanitising guidelines. However, we have also seen examples of great heroism (especially in front line staff), good will, human solidarity and courage. There is always a way through, people in darkness always find their way to the light. St. Ignatius Loyola was a survivor, he developed an approach to ‘living through difficulty’ based on his experience and using certain rules of thumb, which are formulated into 10 practical tips.
  2. Filter your thoughts against reality » Much of contemporary malaise, depression and self destruction is linked to overthinking, ruminating on negative thoughts, and being trapped in the head. The intellect and thinking, while obviously important, have to be integrated with the affective, the emotional world of feelings, in order to be truly useful and a source of wisdom. It’s a delicate balance, obviously, with an overemphasis on emotion being equally unhelpful. Here are some ints for living a balanced life, learning to distinguish between the different voices in our head.
  3. A time of lockdown is often experienced as an involuntary ‘retreat’ » Insights from spiritual retreats can be helpful. If we embrace our down time we can come to love ourselves, heal memories and wounds, accept all our broken parts, and be at peace with the past. Often a meditation on acceptance and healing is needed to explicitly acknowledge our relationship to the divine and our desperate need for love.
  4. Ten Ignatian tips for surviving autumn lockdown » These were notes on a Zoom workshop I gave on ‘Praying your way to peace and positivity’ in the latest autumn lockdown phase.
  5. Building solid foundations » A key biblical image is that of building solid foundations, but they have to be dug in advance, this largely hidden, deep digging, has an enormous impact on the stability of the building. The importance of the foundations are only realised when the storm comes and tests the structure. These Covid days are an opportunity to deepen our foundations and prepare us for weathering storms to come. Here are ten Ignatian suggestions.
  6. Change down a gear » This wisdom that I learned from the Camino is that when the going gets tough you make the internal adjustment to ‘change down a gear’. Just like on a bike or a car, when you come to a hill you change down a gear in order to make it more manageable. Your work rate stays the same, you don’t go as fast, but you can keep going. It’s a way of making things more manageable and reducing stress, while keeping moving on the road.
  7. If I were Stevie Nicks’ spiritual guide » Stephen Davis’ biography of Stevie Nicks, Gold Dust Woman, is based on interviews, transcripts, and her own writings. It is a fascinating account of the wild rock and roll lifestyle (read ‘great talent, excess and self-destruction’). But what fascinated me as a Spiritual Guide and music fan was the portrayal of a certain spirituality or approach to the divine/transcendent that comes through.
  8. Playlist of ‘Songs to survive lockdown’ » Music has a unique ability to reach our hearts and souls, to touch the deepest part of us. It also has an extraordinary ability to knit us together, gather up the fraying ends of our mental health and stitch a timely repair. This is nowhere as important as in this time of lockdown, where the psyche is under so much pressure, and nerves are easily shredded. So, when things get tough, things seem hopeless with the situation beyond our control, and we need some inspiration, music is always there for us. The sweet voice of the divine calls us back to true being, reminds us of our higher destiny and relativises the stresses and strains.
  9. Divine inspiration from Fleetwood Mac » Memory is sharpened these isolation days. My initial one: it’s a hazy sunny morning and I’m driving south from Belfast to Fermanagh on the M1 motorway. There’s only one choice of music, Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits (not an exaggeration in this case). So, as the driving rhythm of ‘Go your own way’ or ‘Don’t stop’ blast out on the stereo, there is a moment of perfect blissful hopeful optimism, everything is going to be all right… so necessary in these dark Covid-19 days.
  10. Resurrection and the U-shaped curve » These Covid-19 lockdown days are a rollercoaster of emotions, from the blackness of despair to fleeting moments of light and hope. The toll on our mental health, relationships and general well-being is very high. After a ‘honeymoon’ start to lockdown, recently further restrictions and lockdowns have made it tough, even though objectively it seems like the worst is over, often it feels like an endless nightmare. At this stage, it is a question of enduring and getting through, arriving alive at the other side. Whenever that comes.
  11. Praying with grief in a Covid-19 world (with Jim Deeds) » The stinging wound of grief is always hard to bear, but in this new Covid-19 world things have become ever more complicated and, in relation to bereavement and loss, ever more painful. We look for inspiration to Mary and the few friends who had to look on Jesus’s death from a distance; not being able to be close to him or to hold his hand while he died.
  12. 40 Ignatian-themed movies to see before you die » One of the big contemporary debates is whether film (cinema/DVD etc.) is mere distraction or entertainment, or is it a deeper reflection of culture and the human search for meaning? There is no doubting its popularity, however, especially in Lockdown where ‘going to the cinema’ has been replaced by streaming websites and internet downloads. There is something particularly engaging about films though, whether it is drama, romance or horror, that moves us beyond ourselves (i.e. transcendence).
  13. Ignatian guide to tackling depression » Not many people realise that St Ignatius of Loyola went through great depression and came to the point of suicide (The Way journal »). He quickly realised that this was destructive and that he had to change his thoughts and behaviour. Like modern day Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), he had the wisdom to examine how reasonable his thoughts and prayer habits were. Think of how we have to keep in balance many things in our lives, for example, finding the optimal amounts of stress, exercise, food, social life etc. These are some Ignatian tips for keeping balance in our mental health.