Have you ever been at a time in your life where you didn’t recognize yourself anymore? Like someone has played a cruel joke and switched the before and after pictures of your life. You just don’t feel like yourself anymore.
You struggle to find the person you once were.
Memories of how you were once active and full of energy are distant memories when your energy is now spent holding down the couch.
You used to love being social and getting out or having people over but now shutting the door and isolating yourself has become your routine.
At one time there was a clean desk, and an exhilarating full calendar but now you find yourself distracted and unfocused, unable to open the overwhelming inbox.
You Are Not Alone!
If you find yourself in one of those disturbing places of ‘I’m no longer who I used to be.” I have a friend I want to introduce you to.
He’s a writer from over 3000 years ago and he confesses he is going through that very thing. “I used to go with the crowds leading, shouting and thankful….and now my soul is painfully downcast.” It’s recorded in Psalm 42. From his ancient desk, he pens verses that mirror this disconcerting place we find ourselves in. He brilliantly uses poetic phrases that something deep within us can resonate with. He also walks us through a shift that he makes and I have a journal exercise to walk you through so you too can have something different to focus on.
Grab your journal and join me.
Read Psalm 42
First, Take in the Poetry and Beauty
I’m not a particularly poetic person. I try to read poetry but, often, I wish the writer would just say it straight so I can understand what they are trying to communicate. Psalm 42 does both. He states things clearly and also uses beautiful poetic phrases that, although sometimes I feel I can’t quite grasp what he’s trying to say, my soul immediately resonates with the words he uses. Here are a few of those:
Something inside me feels that void that so badly wants to be filled. I can’t quite put words to it.
Or how about this one…
“My tears have been my food day and night…” If I translate that I’d say, “My appetite is gone and I find myself crying endlessly.” I’ve been there. Sometimes you’re scared to let the tears start because you are afraid they may never stop. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Here is another:
“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have swept over me..” (vs. 7)
Again, the indescribable phrasing describes what happens in us when something deep within us calls out and resonates with something deep within nature.
That is the first thing I want you to take away from this Psalm today:
The Healing Power of Nature.
I can neither diagnose nor write a prescription for people. That is above my pay grade. But if I could, I would prescribe a heavy dose – a daily dose – of being in nature for everyone who is struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, and all the things that trouble the human soul at any level. Our writer friend penned this Psalm either while observing nature or he has been in nature enough that, in this low moment, he has a clear memory of it.
Nature Improves Trauma Symptoms, Depression and Negative Mood
Studies record that “People who look at pictures of rural scenes recover faster from stress and are more resilient than those who watch films of urban settings. Women dealing with the trauma of surgery for breast cancer are able to focus better when they spend time in nature. Depressed people who stroll in green places have significantly better moods than those who walk in city streets”James S. Gordon, MD, Transforming Trauma
Nature Helps Morbid Ruminations.
Did you even know there is a term for when your mind starts mulling over the mistakes you’ve made and tells you what a horrible person you are? Morbid Rumination.
Morbid rumination – the repetitive unproductive chewing over negative thoughts about our lives and ourselves. Gregory Bratman at Stanford University found that city dwellers who walk in nature decreased activity in the area of the brain associated with morbid ruminations.
In Japan a practice called Shinrin-yoke “forest bathing” (simply means go for a walk in the woods and breathing), decreased cortisol, lowered blood pressure and increased vagus nerve activity. (tfb.institute.com)
Do you want to heal? Do you want to get to where you recognize yourself again. Get outside like it’s your job. Every day.
Even for small moments. My favourite self-care assignment that I tell the busiest of people is to get a cup of something you like the smell and taste of; put it in a a cup where you can feel the heat and the cold, go to a window and let your eyes search for nature – look for birds – yes even pigeons, watch them and breath out slowly. You’ll remember to breath in – just focus on breathing out slower. Take in that nature as often and in any form you can.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein
Got it? If that’s the only takeaway from this reading, it is enough. Go do that.
A~B~C Journal Exercise
For the rest of you, pen in hand, eager to let some thoughts and ideas flow through you into your journal, there are more gems hidden here.
Accept ~ Believe ~ Commit
Write A B C on the Side of your journal page.
A stands for Accept. Our ancient friend here lists several things he needs to accept”
- My soul is needy (vs 1)
- I’ve been crying a lot; (vs. 3)
- I’m not what I used to be. (vs. 4)
- Troubles have been endless and unrelenting (vs. 10)
- I can’t control what people are saying about me (vs. 10)
What do you need to accept about your current situation? I love the phrase “Grief is telling yourself the truth.” Accepting something may also mean you have to leave room to grieve something.
Finish the sentence: “I accept…”
B Stands for Believe; In relation to your struggle, what is it you believe?
Our writer believes:
- God is alive (vs. 2)
- God will direct (vs. 8)
- He will send his loving kindness and his presence (vs. 8)
- He will be with me (vs. 8)
- I can be honest with God (vs. 9)
- God is listening (vs. 9)
- There is hope (vs. 11)
In light of what you need to accept, what do you also believe?
Finish the Sentence: :”I believe…”
C stands for Commit. In light of what you need to accept, and what you believe, what can you commit to? Just like when we break bones, our bodies know how to heal, I believe our broken hearts also naturally move toward healing when they are supported correctly. What can you commit to to help yourself deal with this today? Perhaps it’s going back the first sections and committing to getting outside, Spending time breathing slowly looking out a window. Writing out what’s really bothering you.
Our ancient friend commits to putting his hope in God, praising him and singing.
What can you commit to today?
Finish the sentence, “I commit to…”
“Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”Emily Dickinson, American poet (1830–1886)
Thank you for joining me today. I hope, day by day, you are moving toward calming your wounded nervous system and healing your soul.
Now go take on your day!
Acknowledge Your Parts
I love the way the writer separates himself from his hurting part and asks the question – Why are you downcast O my soul? It seems he sees a part of himself feeling low and another part is still able to hold out encouragement.
There is deep truth in that. Things are never all bad. Things are never all sunshine and rainbows. Each of us has a tendency to either focus too much on one side or the other. You may have a loud negative part but listen closely; I bet you also have a hopeful, encouraging part. Can you listen to the hurt part and, gently, allow your more encouraging part to speak life into it. Or perhaps you have an internal Polyanna that spins every situation into unicorn dust. It maybe time to cut the spinning and have a realistic view – to take the time to grieve.
Humans are so complex. We are made up of more than one part and are able to deal with conflicting thoughts and parts of us. If that sounds weird, think about how many times you find yourself negotiating between two conflicting parts. A part of you wants to eat out and another part of you doesn’t want to spend the money. And some of you are even more complicated with a part chiming in that you deserve the break, while a critical part lifts her haughty nose calculating the calories. Internal Family Systems, a cutting edge counselling modality, refers to that kind, caring inner voice, as your Self. Many Christians relate to it as the Holy Spirit or the in-dwelling Spirit of Christ; No matter what you call it, it doesn’t change it’s function, to move our internal system towards healing.
What state are your inner parts in today? Can you, like our ancient friend, acknowledge and care for your hurting parts?
“I go to nature to be soothed, healed and have my senses put in order.”John Burroughs
More Journal Exercises:
Author: Trish White is a counsellor in Kamloops, BC and online anywhere your internet takes you. You can find out more about her at https://trelliscounselling.ca or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This article is meant as a supplement to good mental health practices. Although the author is a counsellor, she is not operating in that role in this space. If you need help, please find a professional.