Friday, September 11, 2015


It's good to escape from it all at times
My family and I recently spent a week’s holiday camping in mid-Wales. It’s great to take time out
together, and in particular this holiday we avoided screen-time – not only to preserve phone batteries but also because we were so deep in the countryside that we didn’t even have phone signal.

This was a blessing in disguise as it took away the temptation to check my phone every five minutes for blog traffic, podcast downloads and emails.

Away from the whirling, churning daily distractions my mind was able to settle, slow down, and in the process I was able to find some additional clarity to thinking that had become muddy and opaque.
"Away from the whirling, churning daily distractions my mind was able to settle"
Now I’m not saying that smartphones, emails and the like are all bad – they’re not. But they do tend be party to an overall speeding up of our lives, and for all their positives they can make it harder to switch off. We can feel like we need to be constantly available to others - our friends, our employer. In reaction, it’s therefore healthy to occasionally re-orient and re-calibrate ourselves – to allow ourselves to switch off and slow down. To make ourselves available to our own feelings, dreams and thoughts. It’s often in these times that our priorities become clearer as the turbulence settles out.

I’m reminded of a science experiment about sedimentation that I must have done in primary school. We filled a bottle with water, sand, soil and pebbles of different sizes, then shook the bottle up. At the beginning the mixture was cloudy and turbulent, but over time the particles settled out, the bigger ones ending up nearer the bottom and the lighter ones near the top – the water cleared and the layers of different particles were easy to differentiate.
"There’s much to be said for being still and for allowing space in our lives for ideas, dreams, emotions and thinking to percolate."
Has your thinking become muddy?
Like the materials in the bottle, it’s often our lives that are the turbulent, turbid muddy waters – and we all need regular time for things to settle out.

Since we home educate our kids, a practice we enforce with them is the daily pattern of quiet time. Usually either just before or just after lunch they have an hour or so playing separately in their own rooms. No screen time, just imaginative play or reading.

We find that it really helps them to process not only the learning they’ve been doing that day, but also the emotions they’ve been feeling. It’s a time for those muddy waters to settle out. If they’ve been particularly energetic we often find them asleep!

There’s much to be said for being still and for allowing space in our lives for ideas, dreams, emotions and thinking to percolate. One of my little weekend treats is making myself a cafetiere of proper coffee on a Saturday morning (just decaf these days). It’s something I can’t rush – I need to leave it to brew for it to gain strength. 

Sloe gin and damson vodka take time to mature...
Similarly, just this week I’ve started making a batch of damson vodka. This is also a long process – having frozen and defrosted the damsons (to break the cell structure down a bit), I’ve mixed them with sugar and vodka in a sealed jar.

Every day or so for the next few months I need to shake the jar up to allow the damson flavours to seep out and for the liqueur to develop. Unlike the sediment jar, this mixture starts out clear but will eventually turn crimson the longer it’s left.

The rich and strong flavours of our lives often come out when left to settle, perhaps even when we have the right balance of mixing and settling.

Sedimentary rocks form as layers upon layer of sediment settle at the base of rivers, seas and lakes, gradually turning from soft particles into hard bedrock. AsI’ve said before, our days accrete into the bedrock of our lives like individual pieces of lego, or the particles in a sedimentation jar. Which leads me to ask myself, what layers am I putting down and is it what I want to form my bedrock?
"The rich and strong flavours of our lives often come out when left to settle"
It can be hard to slow down, settle and be still in our daily lives. Holidays are great, but most of our waking time is in the midst of the turbulent day to day. One resource that’s help's me to slow down is my friend Stefan Smart’s book “Deeper”, which is about forming habits of contemplative prayer. I’ve also recently enjoyed Nathan Foster’s book “The making of an ordinary saint”, in which he tells the story of the successes and frustrations he experienced on a journey into various spiritual disciplines in his day to day “normal” life. Much of this was about slowing himself down.

What's taking up space in your jar?
There's a parable about priorities in our lives in which a teacher fills a jar with golf balls or big rocks and asks his class if it's full. They reply yes. 

He then fills it with pebbles, which fill the gaps between the golf balls. He asks the question again, and the class agree it's full. 

He then repeats this with sand and then finally with water. Each time the class agrees the jar is full!

The metaphor is that if you fill your life with small stuff like material possessions etc then there isn't room for the big important stuff - health, family, relationships. 
It's about getting your priorities right, and I think it's a helpful metaphor. Sometimes to see what room is in our jar we need to let things settle out.
"Sometimes to see what room is in our jar we need to let things settle out."
So whether you’re feeling shaken up at the moment or not, I hope you can find some time this week to settle down and be still, and in the process to gain strength and enable the rich flavours of your dreams and talents to form.


Thanks for taking the time to read Settlement. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

No comments: