Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Poustinia - finding my still small centre

'A poustinia (Russian: пустынь) is a small sparsely furnished cabin or room where one goes to pray and fast alone in the presence of God. The word poustinia has its origin in the Russian word for desert (пустыня).'


I have not posted on here for some weeks, mainly because I am in the process of building in more formal work to my routines. It is challenging for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has, and is, taking me time to absorb and accept, that in order to maintain my current levels of emotional stability I need space and time to practice my emotion management skills. Secondly, my previous patterns of extreme working to the point of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion is not sustainable, or advisable if I am to maintain emotional stability. Thirdly, I am learning that I need to actively build a life which gives me emotional space, which in turn means that I need to accept that I cannot sustain full time or even half time hours, compared to my previous working patterns.

One of the roles I have taken on is as an Expert by Experience in three separate roles within the local NHS Trust. As these opportunities have developed I have become a service user consultant to my DBT team. I am revisiting DBT skills from further down the road of recovery and recognising that one aspect of my emotional management which has 'slipped' is my use of formal Mindfulness exercises. Don't get me wrong I keep myself focused and alert to the here and now by using the how and what of DBT mindful practise, but I have not managed to make sitting down and focusing on a mindful exercise part of my daily routine. Having been reminded of this I have tried to build it into the routines at the start of my day.

Thinking about this more formal mindful practise I am reminded of the idea of Poustinia which I was first introduced to when on retreat at the Northumbria Community approximately twenty years ago. At the time I was looking for a way to manage my stormy thought and emotional life. Poustinia as stated above finds its roots in the Russian word for 'desert'. As with the real desert environment, the practice of poustinia can either result in exposure and vulnerability, or if I am properly prepared and equipped, it can be a place to find clarity and space to focus away from the hurly burly of day to day life. Where it is practised as a spiritual discipline there are strict rules about preparing to go to Poustinia and when people are ready for those moments of isolation. Just as there are times when isolation is not helpful to me, there will be times when too much time contemplating risks tumbling into introspection and rumination which can keep damaging emotions ignited and stoked.


For me, Poustinia does not have to be a purpose built cabin in the wilderness, as in Russian Orthodox religion, but has become the idea that I have made a space in which to contemplate and nurture my relationship with God, in this context I also notice my emotional state and prepare myself for the best possible start to my day. At home it is a snuggle chair, prior to settling down I avoid switching on any of my electronics. This routine along with the routine practice of mindful exercises means that my day is not a crashing launch into activity and crowded thoughts, but is a calm assessment of how I am doing. Hopefully, it makes me less vulnerable to emotional instability. Where it coincides with mindful practice is the idea that I can recreate this place of poustinia, internally, at any point in my day. If the events of the day around me are at risk of creating instability in my thinking or emotions, I can use mindful breathing to focus whilst at the same time anchoring my experience in my wider belief in God and the purpose and meaning that brings to my life.