Gavin T. Murphy, mental health blogger, presented a talk on Bursting out in Praise: Spirituality and Mental Health to approximately 40 people at the Dominican Retreat Centre in Cork on Monday, 22 October 2018. It was the first ever public engagement for the former Irish Jesuit novice who draws much strength and inspiration from Ignatian Spirituality.
Dominican priest Fr Stephen Cummins invited Gavin to speak as part of the ‘Conversations in Ennismore: Being Well’ Series. The audience consisted of those with an interest in mental health, who are either directly or indirectly affected by the topic.
Gavin presented a number of reflections based on his own experience of living with bipolar disorder, a mental illness known for its severe changes and challenges in mood such as depression, low mood, dysphoria (intense unease and agitation), hypomania (elation and overactivity) and mania. Relationship difficulties are particularly common and challenging, due to a lack of clarity in processing emotions.
The blogger who is also a writer with Irish Jesuit Communications spoke early in the evening about the importance of openness to treatment and recovery: “Things began to change and get better for me when I turned from a closed fist to an open hand. I know it’s not always possible to do so, but we can always respond to the invitation to open our hands again”.
He displayed images representing 10 different facets of his mental health experience. Regarding relationship difficulties, he said: “We all run into relationship hurdles at some point in our lives, perhaps on a continuous basis… A disagreement, an uncomfortable silence, or a raw tension can tip us over the edge towards insomnia, anxiety, and extreme moods… To smile in the acknowledgement that not everyone likes us may be an important first step towards wellness”.
The group paused several times to discuss what might enable them to ‘burst out in praise’ in the midst of pain or suffering. Questions and suggestions were given to stimulate conversation and it was thought that the group, consisting of various ages, engaged enthusiastically with each other.
In reference to the significance of self-care, Gavin told a story about sharing the task of helping a foreign woman find her hotel with other passengers on a Dublin bus. He stated: “Bipolar disorder partly surfaced for me as a result of giving too much and forgetting about myself. I broke-down and I was brought to my knees in desperation. This time on the bus, I got the perfect balance between respect for myself and others, and I experienced a natural high”.
A model of spirituality was presented in light of the topic. Gavin maintained that there is a dynamic attraction within toward dependence on God, service of God and balanced mood in order to transcend pain or suffering. “This transcendence is possible,” he said. “Praying, connecting with nature, praising, helping others, letting go and being hopeful are all factors, when viewed collectively, that help us to burst out in praise.”
The second half of the evening consisted of an open conversation around a large circle whereby many people shared their intimate views on being well and staying well. Fr Stephen Cummins and Gavin helped to facilitate, and it was thought there was a warm atmosphere in the room.
Tea and chat continued at the Dominican Retreat Centre after the event. Leaflets on the MA in Applied Spirituality at WIT, directed by Michael O’Sullivan SJ, were dispersed to the group on foot of Gavin graduating from the programme.
‘Conversations in Ennismore’ continue over the coming months, with an Open Forum next week followed by Series on Spirituality and Theology.