Defense Against the Dark Arts: fall has bright and lovely colors, but it can also get real dark

We shared this blog post last year after the time change... and we want to share it again, this year, before the time change. It gets really dark in Tennessee during the fall months. And we should pay attention to how this can mess with our minds, especially with all the anxiety on the airwaves for the elections.

When we "fall back" it can really feel like we've fallen: it gets dark in Nashville well before 5pm, and that can bruise our bodies, minds, and spirits. We’ve talked about Sabbath before, the act of intentional rest, and ways to sabbath and, similarly, there are ways to fight off the darkness of winter (like a Defense Against the Dart Arts class at Hogwarts ;). Here's a few tried and true favorite practices we've done at UKirk before.

Stretch for Jesus (maybe go for a walk first)... try the happy stretch, which is laying on your back and reaching as far as you can in every direction; Superman stretch, same thing as the happy stretch but roll over on your stomach; Super Hero Pose, standing like a Super Hero, feet shoulder length apart, hands on hips, head tilted upward, for two minutes has been proven to increase happy chemicals in your brain and productivity... child’s yoga pose, or any comfy for you yoga pose, and just breathe. Note how your body feels and where you may have tension to pick what pose or stretch to do next.

Rewrite a psalm or a song in your own words... darkness can make us feel drained and defeated, so, coming up with our own words for how we feel can be quite the battle. So, why not rely on the saints? Pick a psalm or a hymn or a short prayer to write in your own words. You can use a hymn we've sung at UKirk, or whatever prayer or psalm is on the UKirk app that day. You can also try “removing” words or blacking them out with a pen and see what comes out. Here are examples we've shown before.

Write a letter... you could also send an email, but there's something very vintage about writing a letter. It can help us feel connected in isolation. Write to a congressperson if you're feeling patriotic or to a friend if you're feeling nostalgic.

Accomplish something small… Have you showered today? Do it. Have you eaten lunch? Finished that shorter assignment? Exercised? Walk around your building... Voted yet? Accomplish something small, that you know you can do, like making your bed. Reward yourself for doing it with Netflix or telling yourself you’re awesome. Celebrate the little things you’re able to accomplish each day. Adulting is hard.

Try meditating or praying in color... we've done this at UKirk, if you need book suggestions they're below or you can come by the office and use ours. Remember that the point isn't to create something (sabbath is literally a break from creating), but for you to feel connected and get lost in something for a little while, which may mean throwing your coloring away immediately following, so that you don't try to be productive.

Try meditating or praying with Play-Doh... since Play-Doh can't be "saved" or made permanent, this is a really good exercise for those of us who can't help but "create" things and be productive. There's an explanation of Play-Doh in this weblog.

Do something meaningless... read a magazine, pick out a silly movie (a la Playing with Fire). Ask a friend what fiction they like reading (and no talking about politics or school, please, this is supposed to be restful) or magazines they subscribe to… and why? It’s okay if the answer is, because it’s mindless. Fun is important and doesn’t translate to our resumes.

Think about nothing OR meditate on Heaven... There are people who are good at thinking about nothing, and that should be celebrated. See how long you can think about nothing.

If you find you're not great at it, or would just like to try something different, try thinking about Heaven. Get creative... most of Christianity doesn't do a great job helping us think about Heaven, so here's a place you may need help or where you can help us all out. Spend some time wondering: Is there a nice beach there? Mountains? Trampolines? Taco trucks? ...What's Jesus doing? Is he playing basketball? And dunking? Nice. See how long you can meditate on this historical theological need before you start thinking about homework.

Make a plan... What do you want to do this winter? Where would you like to grow when everything else growing is hidden? Maybe it’s running. Maybe it’s NOT running and instead watching some old movies your Grandmother loves. Maybe it's learning to cook a cool dish or knitting a Hogwarts scarf, checking out the career center, painting, seeing a counselor, or connecting with friends... It's important to have bright dreams, even small ones, when other things go dark. You don't have to record your success on meditation (some would say that's the opposite of mental health and sabbath), but having a few goals reminds us that Christ came to bring us life abundant even in a Covid-winter. There’s still fun and joy to be had.

While you’re defending yourself/doing these exercises, pay attention to what you like, what can you do with friends, or what could you do during finals when you're super busy and in front of a computer for several hours. Pay attention to what you don’t like doing. It's okay to feel like you’re not good at resting, to hate praying in color or taking a walk in the cold.

If something isn't restful or helpful to you, skip it... But if you find that you're avoiding things that you usually like or doing anything like this that would help you rest or reconnect, then it's time to see a counselor. And we are happy to help with that. UKirk can be therapeutic, but what UKirk or the church can offer isn't therapy. We can help you find on or off campus counseling services. And the time to see someone on campus may be running out: if you live out of state many university counselors won’t be able to help you during break.

Some References and Ideas for Further Defense Studies:

Praying in Color, Kids Edition, MacBeth (and the $7 meditation coloring books at Target)

Dark Night of the Soul, May (looks at similarities between depression and spiritual darkness, while noting that one can experience both and that both will require different solutions and therapies)

Let Your Life Speak, Palmer (focusing on vocation and seasons of life; winter is the clearest!)

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