From a walk by the River Thames.
I have been thinking about this sentence in the Book of Romans, “The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”
That’s what I am consciously seeking to maintain in these unusual days… a mind of life and peace.
Many of the social supports of our lives have been stripped away. In my case, gradually then suddenly, culminating on March 23rd, my German classes, Book group, Writers in Oxford meetings, church small groups, supper clubs, yoga classes, personal training, Ramblers walks, parties, lunches with friends, travel, cultural activities, church itself, all stopped. Of course, we can still talk to our friends and family on the phone, or on video calls, and I do, but it’s not the same…
However, reviewing my list, I see many fun, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally nourishing activities, just too many of them. Lockdown made Roy and me realise that our lives had become too full, too rich, too busy, too fun, too fast-paced. And so I have decided not to clutter up this God-given season of quietness with the many Zoom activities I have been invited to—Bible studies, group catch-ups, writing retreats, yoga classes, prayer meetings… but to have just a few meaningful one-on-one conversations instead. I have decided to embrace this season of quietness, and time, time, all the time I have ever yearned for.
Of course, this free time is complicated. Following the news and this real-life tragedy unfolding around us is distracting, infuriating and distressing. We read of the suffering of the poor; fulminate at inept leaders, and manipulative ones who squeeze this for political advantage. We feel powerless to stop coronavirus, and powerless over the length of lockdowns. Some of us might wistfully think of the hopey days when Britain decided to go for herd immunity and life continued as normal… but then, who wanted to be in the herd infected by Covid-19, a particularly gruesome infection if you are not fit?
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Britain’s six-week severe lockdown is disorienting for human beings who are social animals, shaped, defined, refined by social interactions.
And in this time, it is important to guard our minds and spirits. To have minds of life and peace.
Many of us embarked on this enforced retreat with enthusiasm. Britain went on a shopping spree…buying fitness, gardening, and DIY stuff and lots of books. Writers hoped to write their best work, their personal King Lear. Everyone hoped to emerge from quarantine with decluttered homes, pretty gardens, fitter bodies, and finished work.
And, of course, with God’s help, we can achieve these goals, dreams and ambitions, partly or wholly. There is no reason we cannot sleep early and wake very early without the interruptions of social, cultural, intellectual, creative or gym activities on other people’s schedules. Or get stronger as we lift weights. Or declutter. Or write.
In this period of “world enough and time,” it’s the mental game that’s crucially important, as I tell my daughter Irene, who is preparing for her Oxford University finals, in Medicine, taken online.
These are three practices I am finding helpful.
1 Be Mindful of the Mind. Maintain a mind of life and peace. I am using the brilliant Headspace app, which has brief meditations, targeted interventions, when I am aware that I am stressed, distracted, or down-spirited. Meditation can change one’s mood and mental state as effectively as chocolate or sugary treats can while improving one’s health. Phew!
Since I formally learned meditation at first at a beginners and then at an advanced meditation course at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, a ten minute meditation almost always suffices to calm, still, and focus my mind.
2 Be Mindful of the Body. Keep your body well-stretched, well-exercised, full of energy. A happy body, a happy mind, and a happy creative spirit are inextricably connected; I wish I’d learned that decades earlier. Scripture interestingly calls our bodies, “The temple of the Holy Spirit.” We experience the shalom, the love and blessing and goodness of the Father not only in our minds, and spirits, but in our well worked-out vibrantly alive bodies.
I walk every day, often 4 to 4.5 miles, either with my husband Roy or alone, praying, and then listening to the Bible or an audiobook. And because I have so much extra time now, in lockdown, I am alternating periods of sitting (reading, writing, meditating, praying) with physical activity (decluttering, gardening, Yoga with Adriene on YouTube, and Alisa Keeton’s Revelation Wellness workouts, which aim at movement as worship and has dance, weights, HIIT, cardio and flexibility workouts).
And in a life-changing intervention…I started housewalking last autumn, introduced to it by American blogger, Jean Wise, who used it to lose 100 pounds. Though I walk outside whenever possible, in England, in grumpy seasons, it can rain for hours, it gets dark early. And when it does, I download an audiobook onto my phone, and just walk through my house, which is, fortunately, large and rambling, until I have my goal steps (10,000 to 13500)! If I get bored or tired, I say, “Keep walking. You are actually reading.” Which I am! (I’m currently listening to Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast), not his best work, but I am charmed and engrossed by it.)
3 Be Mindful of Your Emotions.
I am trying to train my thoughts and emotions not to give way to negativity or annoyance or restlessness or down-heartedness or impatience at this lockdown.
Beyond the jokers and movers and shakers and doomsters and gloomsters who make the decisions which govern our lives is God. God who has a purpose for this primitive, medieval quarantine, even if it was imposed by mass hysteria. God who can bring good from the mistakes of governments, as he can from our mistakes.
God who can create good from all things, including a virus–both for our own lives and for the world.
Our lives are not entirely our own, and we do not control the plot. God does. And lockdown and coronavirus is what God has permitted for this time of our lives. It takes faith to accept it from his hands, and thank him. Counting blessings on my fingers helps, even the blessing of the longest stretch of free, quiet, uncommitted time that I have had since I was a schoolgirl, and since Puritan ideas of using time well and making each hour golden entered my life.
Living with gratitude in each season for its goodness is perhaps the most important ingredient for a happy life…that, and living with love. I sometimes remind myself, “If you cannot live with appreciation and gratitude, why are you even living?”
And, if you have time to read my story of a really inspiring life, perhaps check out
and on Amazon.co.uk
Images of some walks in Oxford https://www.instagram.com/p/B_w1URkJ8Vy/
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Images from some recent walks in Oxford. I am coping with lockdown by really, really enjoying my daily 4 mile walk. By savouring the peace of wild things. By trusting that God will bring good out of this. With a bit of yoga, and weights. And by working a fair amount in my garden. And reading. How are you doing? #oxford #oxfordinlockdown #lockdown #walk #lockdownwalks #peace #beauty #happiness #joy #thepeaceofwildthings
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A few walks in Oxford in the time of quarantine. We can maintain a mind of life and peace during this period of lockdown by being mindful of our minds, and regulating them through meditation; being mindful of our bodies and keeping them happy by exercise and yoga; and being mindful of our emotions in this uncertain time, and trusting God who remains in charge. A new blog on maintaining a mind of life and peace during lockdown https://anitamathias.com/2020/05/04/a-mind-of-life-and-peace/