The Thought That Counts
Updated: Oct 27
It’s 7:30 AM and the morning is very clear and still - a contrast to some days earlier this week! I can hear small birds waking up with the slow rise of the sun, their chirps piercing the dark sky.
I step outside for a moment to breathe in the fresh and late October air. The moon is glowing a bright white against a lightening blue and fading yellow sky above. I love getting up early on mornings like these, just before the rest of the world wakes up.
2 ducks detect me and flutter past. There is a piercing chirp.
I recently got a phone app to detect bird song. While I know it is good for me to recognise the call of birds on my own, it is helpful to have this app when I cannot see the birds, but I can hear their calls. Right now I believe I am hearing the high-pitched chatter of a wren.
A plane flies overhead. I shiver and step back inside, though I am lured by the quiet morning and eager to get out for a walk.
On Saturday late afternoon, after a day of zoom meetings and visitors, my friend, Murray, and I went to the Puffin Croft Farm shop in John O’Groats to pick up a few things: eggs, a lemon, celery, tomatoes…. Afterwards we decided to continue on up the road, holding onto the initial idea of stepping out for a little walk at the Duncansby Stacks, despite the cold air and gusty wind. Regretfully I hadn’t been out much of the week, which was partly due to the fact that it had turned wild and blustery, something I did not want to face just yet. When we went up to the Stacks there were a few cars in the parking lot. Murray suggested going out for a brief blast of air.
On stepping out of the car, I was hit with a strong gust of wind which sent shivers all through me. I walked up to the sign pointing out the various islands in the distance in front of us, and then said ‘I’m going back in!’ I sat in the car and waited while Murray walked around for a bit. And I simply imagined myself walking to the stack-like cliff structures in the distance. I convinced myself that was better than nothing! And maybe it was....
There is a programme on BBC Radio 4 late Sunday morning called ‘Just One Thing’ with Michael Moseley. Moseley is a doctor who suggests various small steps in improving one's overall health.
In a recent episode he speaks about how our thoughts can influence our muscles and why it’s surprisingly similar to doing the actual thing. Apparently, the power of the mind can boost strength by up to 24%. Perhaps next time I will have to do a little more preparatory thinking before going outside on a windy, cold day.
It just verifies the saying: 'It’s the thought that counts’. This is all too true in many ways, but what is even more inspiring is the fact that the thinking encourages the actual doing. In other words, we must not despair! So often I’ve had great intentions - writing a letter to someone, going for a walk, exercising every morning, reading one chapter of a book each day. Moseley assures us that a cognitive visualisation can be emotionally and physically helpful. Maybe it is half the battle!
These days, the space in our minds too often quickly gets filled by other things: social media, television, worries….What if we took time with our thoughts - to envisage a better world? To imagine ourselves enjoying nature? To help us take that first step to something new? To meet someone in person? We can take time for this visualisation and train our minds, just like the athletes are trained to do before they step out onto the race track. In other words, think as you would act.
One person who practiced and encouraged visualisation was St. Ignatius of Loyola. He went through an inner transformation while recovering from surgery on his leg. In convalescence he read De Vita Christi of Ludolph of Saxony and began to follow in the ways of St. Francis of Assisi and other contemplative thinkers. This book by Ludolf also inspired Ignatian's method of meditation, since Ludolph proposes that the reader place himself mentally at the scene of the Gospel story, picturing the crib at the Nativity, etc. This type of meditation, known as 'Simple Contemplation', was the basis for the method that St. Ignatius would promote in his Spiritual Exercises.
Great poets also invite us to step into new and familiar places, to visualise a scenario, a setting, a feeling.
This poem by Ted Hughes is bursting with imagery. Perhaps you want to give time to envisage all that he writes.
by Ted Hughes
I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,
Not a leaf, not a bird—
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood
Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness
Till the mooring—blackening dregs of the brightening grey—
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:
Huge in the dense grey—ten together—
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,
with draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.
I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments
Of a grey silent world.
I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew’s tear turned its edge on the silence.
Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted
Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,
And the big planets hanging—
Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,
And came to the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,
Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them
The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,
Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys in the red levelling rays—
In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place
Between the streams and red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.
Now the sun is fully up and there is a crow on top of the chimney, announcing a good morning - or a warning? I’m not sure. The wind is picking up. I’m debating going out for a walk just now, while the sun is shining, but am divided by other things I have to get on with. It’s Monday.
Monday Monday - the start of a new week. I will think my way into the various tasks of the days ahead, and take some time to also embark on a few physical outdoor walks.