That wonderful feeling when your dream comes true

20/11/2017 at 8:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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The Poetic Bond announcement 2

At the beginning of this year I set myself a challenge: get some poetry accepted for publication. Today, that dream has come true. The Poetic Bond VII, an anthology edited by Trevor Maynard, features work by 50 poets from 11 countries. Together, they create a vivid snapshot of now. My three poems are set in England, New Zealand, and infinity. They feature love, loneliness and yes, there are dragons. Quite a lot of dragons. But they are the beautiful, good-to-have-around sort. They’re worth getting to know!

Do go take a peek at Amazon UK or Amazon.com

On love and loss and meditation

01/11/2017 at 4:42 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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We were discussing an upcoming school event.
“You can come if you want,” said my teenaged daughter.”I don’t mind.”

“Would you like us to come?” I asked, carefully feeling my way. Until recently she’d wanted us at every event.

“I don’t mind,” she answered. “It’s up to you.”

“So if we didn’t come you wouldn’t be bothered?”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll be with my friends anyway. If you come I might feel bad about not spending much time with you. But you can come if you want.”
I thought about some poignant words from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran:

‘Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.’

And I remembered that love always involves loss. Children grow up, lovers leave, friends grow apart, kinsfolk move beyond the veil… it’s part of the package.

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This month in our meditation sessions we’re going to focus on love. I invite you to bathe in its unconditional energies. Tune into its reality as a force that stretches across all human experience and endures despite appearances. The existence of love is a celebration, always. And it is possible to feel the happiness of love even when a loved one is not physically present.

I might not see my daughter quite so often nowadays.  Only occasionally do I catch glimpses of  the little girl she once was. But I appreciate the fact that she’s growing beautifully towards adulthood. We share great conversations in which she delights me with her insights. And, of course, we love each other just the same.

This is why you need to make balance your new best friend

26/09/2017 at 11:29 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Recently my work was soaring like an eagle or, to be more precise, like the buzzards that live around here. I seemed to succeed in everything I did. I felt strong, confident, invincible. I cut down on sleep to fit in more work…. and my throat began to hurt, and then I got a chill that kept me away from work for a couple of days.

“How annoying,” I thought. “Just when everything was going so well!”

And then I realised my cold had arrived precisely because my work had become super-charged. Humans need to pace ourselves, or we burn ourselves out. Obvious, isn’t it? And yet I had fallen into the trap of believing I was super-human, above such considerations.

The tell-tale signs were there. They alway are. The intoxicating feeling of invincibility. The exhilaration. The lack of regard for rest breaks. The sense that there was no time for nourishing meals.

Our bodies truly are our own best guides when it comes to living a happy, healthy, balanced life. As soon as your choices get out of balance your body will let you know. The first signs are subtle – sneeze and you’ll miss them. Then the signs grow bigger, until you can’t physically avoid them.

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Here is the most important question you can ask yourself:

“How am I feeling right now?”

Are your emotions in balance, or are you tending towards one extreme or another?

The immediate remedy to help you get back in balance is always the little, natural things.

Have enough sleep.

Eat apples from a tree.

Cook a tasty, sustaining meal.

Turn off your phone.

Collect firewood.

Draw a picture.

Talk to a loved one.

Simply be.

 

Why this is a great time to become more serene

23/08/2017 at 6:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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When I saw this photo I couldn’t resist asking to ‘borrow’ it. It’s an image of my niece, Sophie, canoeing along a tributary to Loch Morlich in Scotland’s Cairngorm National Park.

For me, this image sums up the best of serenity.

To make progress, there’s generally some effort involved. There are always bound to be a few rocks along the route. But the best approach is to cultivate a calm manner – to do your best to remain balanced whatever lies in your path.

It’s good to see distractions for what they are: side shows that are not and never will be your true path. That way we don’t become over-reactive, or allow ourselves to be carried along by events.

At the same time, it’s important to be prepared, yet not overly so. It’s wise to take a few useful items with you for your safety and wellbeing, and to help you move forwards. However, it’s also ok to trust that your needs will be met, and to travel light.

I’ve been meditating on serenity daily since the start of the summer. Through busy times it’s frankly been a life-saver. This regular practice actually appears to make life’s challenges… well, less challenging. Which is why this moment, right now, is a great time for you to focus on being serene. Try it and see what happens.

Recipe: plum cordial

16/08/2017 at 9:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Plums

The branch might seem like the fruit’s origin: In fact, the branch exists because of the fruit. ~ Rumi

This is the first year in a long time that I’m not making plum cordial myself. Instead, my 21-year-old son and his carers are taking over the role. (My son, Tim, has carers because he is differently abled. He has physical and learning disabilities, and oxygen therapy). I am writing down the recipe so that others can follow it. In fact, it’s very similar to Elderberry cordial. But there are some differences.

The method is easy

1. Gather ripe, healthy plums. It’s fun to pick them from the tree, then throw them into a bowl which someone else is holding (Tim’s method). Or better yet, throw them randomly around and thus give the bowl holder some exercise.

 

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2. Wash, chop roughly (don’t bother removing stones) and place in a large pan. Add just enough water to cover comfortably. Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer gently for 15 minutes. Stir from time to time.

3. When cool enough to handle, strain into a large bowl through a colander with a muslin cloth draped over it. Press the cloth with the back of a large spoon or your hands to get as much of the juice out as possible. (Alternatively, for a clearer cordial, leave the juice to strain naturally through the muslin cloth, overnight if necessary.)

4. Measure the amount of liquid you have and put it back in the rinsed-out pan. Add half a kilo (1 lb) granulated sugar for each  litre  (1.5 pints) of liquid.

5. Add a couple of cinnamon sticks and approx 4 cm (1.5 inches) of  root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped per litre (1.5 pints) of liquid. Heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved. Add a little more sugar to taste if required. Leave mixture to infuse for half an hour over a very low heat, or off the heat.

6. Sieve the liquid to remove the cinnamon and ginger. Pour the liquid into sterilized bottles (putting them through the dishwasher beforehand is fine).

7. Put caps on the bottles, making sure they are well sealed. Store in fridge where it should keep for several months. You can also store this cordial in plastic bottles in the freezer, being sure not to fill them completely to take into account the expansion of the water as it turns to ice. In the freezer it will keep easily until the festive season.

To drink, dilute to taste (roughly 1 measure of cordial to 5 or 6 measures of water. Tastes delicious with sparkling water, and a slice of lemon or orange.

The benefits are great

Plums are rich in anti-oxidants to help to keep cells healthy,  and a host of vitamins, in particular Vitamin C, which assist the healthy functioning of the body in myriad ways. There are also good amounts of bioflavonoids to help absorb and utilise all the lovely Vitamin C. One of the earliest of fruits to be cultivated by humans, there’s something innately nourishing about plums. Be sure to include the skins when preparing a recipe, as much of the goodness is contained there.

With thanks to Julie and Suzie for helping Tim to make plum cordial this year. 

 

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How I became more serene in just seven days

16/07/2017 at 10:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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The idea to meditate on the word ‘serene’ arrived on its own and stayed by my side until I noticed it. At the time I was packing for a week’s holiday in Greece, so I decided to take the word with me and meditate on it daily.

Day 1. I dent the car

My daughter and wake up in the hotel at Gatwick Airport. I fit in a hasty ten-minute meditation “I am… serene” before heading off to the South Terminal. There we queue to check in our one item of luggage that won’t fit into our cabin bags: daughter’s emerald green mermaid tail complete with mono-fin.

We board a plane for Preveza, Greece. The plan is to hire a car on arrival, drive to our villa in a remote part of Lefkada, then drive down to the nearest village in the evening to pick up my partner, daughter’s dad, who is arriving by taxi from a later plane.

However, I am not used to driving on these narrow winding island roads. I am not used to left-hand drive. There are more steep hills and dirt tracks than I was expecting. We make a few wrong turns. We get to the villa more or less in one piece. But later, during the trip to collect partner, I take a wrong turn into the village and dent the front right edge of the car against a brick wall. A calm local man materialises from the darkness and directs me along the impossibly narrow street. I locate partner. Serene? Massive fail.

Day 2. The villa is awesome

The villa has an infinity pool overlooking the Ionian Sea, and its own yoga and meditation room. Twenty minutes of a daily blend of qigong and yoga which I call my ‘Stretches’, followed by 20 minutes meditating on ‘Serene’. During the silent sitting time, I witness the feelings of embarrassment about the car give way to blissful memories from childhood.

Later in the morning I bathe naked in the pool and feel weightless, suspended between blue sea and blue sky. In the evening the poor battered car is swapped for a bump-free one, and we are told there should be no charges, as we were fully insured. Serene? Getting there.

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Day 3. Noting the thoughts that ruffle

Consider more naked bathing but decide to do stretches and meditation first. While breathing in ‘I am’ and breathing out ‘serene’, I hear the pool man arrive. Partner chats to pool man. Feel relieved that focusing on ‘Serene’ has saved me from embarrassing nude encounter with pool man. Later, swim naked in freshly cleaned pool, mind and body both happy and relaxed.

Then I receive a message: would I be willing to talk to a national newspaper about my experience as a mother whose child has been in critical care several times? Old memories rise up to ruffle my serene surface.

Day 4. Every distraction has an emotional charge

I receive a different message, this time from a woman who briefly attended a Meditation Group that I run. She is an expat, living on this island now. Distracting thoughts rise up: what would it be like to live here? I wonder if we might meet up…

Stretches. Meditation. With each breath, I mentally write “I am…serene” in white gold letters against an azure Ionian sky.  I notice the perturbations from the distracted thoughts. I could put my phone away for the week, but I need it, quite simply, in case my disabled son in England needs me. In any case, serenity is not about avoiding the real world. It’s about remaining calm amid the distractions.

Later. The expat hasn’t got time to see us; journalist doesn’t contact me. The ripples of distraction fade away. I am happy to live awhile in this hillside space where pool flows into sea and sky. This is all that has ever been and all that ever will be. All time is eternally present here, captured between the pink sunrise and the terracotta moonrise. Fragrance of sage, lavender and rosemary. Gentle musical chimes of goat bells in the hillside scrub. Green crickets like oversized gemstones adorn the walls of the villa. And I experience a tendency to think only good of people – a sign of decreased stress?


Day 5. Breakthrough

I wake with familiar niggles of remorse: so many things in the last week or more that I could have done better. I witness these emotional niggles as though they are brief, transient perturbations in the air, and watch them dissolve before they reach the ground.

Stretches. Meditation. I am floating in the now familiar azure blue space. I witness the energy of serenity as a wide, slowly sweeping wave of peace and surrender. I witness, as if in a movie, how I hold on to things and people in an attempt to control outcomes. I witness myself releasing this need. I see gateways opening into infinite possibilities. I taste freedom.

A local tells us the story of a family who stayed here for two weeks and scarcely went out because they feared the over-sized green and brown crickets.

These bugs… do they sometimes reflect our own inner thoughts that can bug us? They live in a boundary place of our perceptions. We can choose to see them as objects of fear and revulsion. Or we can choose to see them as miracles of nature’s engineering and honour these scraps of life.

Later, a cricket comes to study my notes for this post. Impossible to feel dislike or fear when it is simply being itself.


Day 6. Understanding

I wake with a shaft of anger leaving me. So quick, it’s gone before I fully register it. Who knows what it signified?

As I drift between sleep and wakefulness, the voice of an indigenous Australian woman I once met says, “It’s time to adopt your true home.” A strange oxymoron, I think, as a true home surely doesn’t need adopting. Perhaps that voice from the Dreaming simply refers to home as a state of mind?

It occurs to me that the rainbow of emotions is part of being human. A serene mind is comfortable with them all.
Stretches, meditation. Today the silent time is full of images of flow.
Serenity, I see, cannot exist in an unmoving state. It would become stagnant and lose its very nature.
When we are serene we allow our emotions to flow: to be acknowledged, and acted on appropriately when needed.

The desire to hold on to any emotion is an attempt to halt the flow of life. It is an impossible task that simply creates pain in the body and mind. If an emotion endures it is because it is born again in every moment of time. We live in the flow.

Day 7. Free from distractions (nearly)

I wake at dawn and walk through rocky, sparse gardens. Even this early, the bees are crowding around dainty pink flowers and dusty lavender spikes. The air  is humid as the sea gives up some of its reserves.

I place a clear quartz crystal in a bowl of spring water on the highest rock and watch it shine in the light of the rising sun, a lens capturing the magic of the new day.

Stretches. Meditation. I listen to my breathing and hear the words that I’m focusing on within the sound of each breath: “I am… serene.”

And for uncounted moments it becomes true. I am part of the air: weightless, drifting. Pure consciousness. Here and everywhere. Nothing has an emotional charge. It simply is.

Day 8. Homecoming

Pack. Tidy. Leave.

In the airport I fit in 15 minutes of meditation amid the noise of passengers waiting for their flights. On the flight home I ponder on this week of ‘Serene’. What effect has it had on me?

It has helped me become aware of the countless emotions that are present in any day.

I have learnt to be much less attached to these emotions, allowing them to flow, and go.

Curiously, during this week I have not had a single insect bite. Not one. This is highly unusual for me. There could be several reasons. However, it seems that while my mind has been less ‘bugged’ by thoughts, my body has been unbothered by them too.

And in the lightest of ways, ‘serene’ has become a new favourite word to meditate upon.

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Recipe: sugar-free elderflower and rose cordial

20/06/2017 at 1:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Every summer I used to make elderflower and rose cordial – or summer cordial, as it became known. It seemed like the perfect way to capture the magic of this fragrant season. I’d walk the fields with my young daughter, and we’d collect elderflowers and wild roses, wild strawberries and sometimes even little field pansies, or more often we’d pluck a few pansies and lavender sprigs from the plants that basked in sunshine by the kitchen door.

However, this year something has changed. I gave up sugar last Lent, and the habit has stuck. Now I’d rather my cordials were not super-sweet. True, sugar is an effective, traditional preservative for drinks and jams. Looking at it logically, however, sugar is not essential. Fridges and freezers do a pretty good job of preservation!

So this year I’ve adapted my old recipe. This version is sugar-free. Instead, it contains a relatively small amount of honey. Ideally, a good, local, liquid honey.

The difference in flavour? Truthfully, I much prefer this version. It seems to me that the honey, which itself it made from the nectar of countless flowers, brings out the fragrant, nectar-rich scent of the summer blooms.

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You can adapt the flowers according to what’s available. Right now, roses are everywhere, so they’re the main ingredient in the cordial illustrated here. The roses can be wild ones from the hedgerows, though it’s best to include plenty of fragrant garden ones too.  Later in the season, you could probably add meadowsweet. I haven’t tried that yet.

The key is that the flowers are not heated, so they keep their amazingly delicate flavour. I hope you agree the recipe captures the refreshing, uplifting essence of summer.

For this healthier recipe I added raspberries and wild strawberries from my garden. A small shop- or farm-bought punnet of either would do the job equally well.

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Ingredients:

1 litre water

3/8 cup/100g honey

1 bowl/60 g mixed elderflowers (thick stalks removed), fragrant rose petals (unsprayed & from a garden or hedgerow, not a shop); a few pansies are an optional extra

5 sprigs lavender

Optional: 3 generous sprigs lemon verbena leaves

1 scant cup/120 g strawberries or raspberries, or a mix of both

1 lemon

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Method:

Boil water and let it cool for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the flowers and fruit. Check flowers over and remove any discolourations or bugs. Wash fruit and drain. Slice lemon. Place all flowers and fruit in a large bowl. Add lemon verbena leaves if using.

Add the honey to the cooled water and stir to dissolve.

Pour the honey water over all other ingredients in bowl, cover with a clean muslin or cotton cloth and leave in a room where it won’t be disturbed for 14 to 24 hours, stirring once or twice during that time. (You can check the flavour is to your liking by dipping a clean spoon in and tasting the liquid neat. Broadly, you want to infuse it long enough to capture the delicate flower flavour, but not too long or the fruitiness will come to dominate.)

 

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Strain mixture through muslin or cotton cloth. Squeeze well to extract the juice. Pour the fragrant cordial into bottles. Refrigerate. Can be stored for up to a week in the fridge. You can also freeze in a plastic container (leave room for expansion) for six or seven months. Try adding a neat dash to your sparkling wine during the winter festive season!

To serve: dilute 1:5 with cold still or sparkling water. Garnish with mint sprigs if liked.

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What Westerners can learn from Eastern meditation

13/06/2017 at 10:00 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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When meditation goes well, it’s brilliant. Blissful. Calming. However, many people, especially beginners, struggle to reach that point. They talk about ‘failing’ and ‘not being able to meditate’, as though it’s an exam they’ve somehow flunked.

I’ve heard this despondent comment many times over the nine years that I’ve been running meditation groups in the UK. When newcomers turn up, they often say, “I can’t meditate, but I want to try and give it another go”. Or “I tried meditation once before, and I couldn’t do it.”

And, of course, I regularly meet people who wouldn’t go anywhere near a meditation group, believing that they are doomed to failure so it’s not even worth ‘trying’. But there’s something wistful in the way they tell me this. It’s as if they suspect they’re missing something, and they just don’t know what to do about it.

There is an interesting reason why Westerners may sometimes find it more difficult to meditate than their Eastern counterparts. It all comes down to the name itself: ‘meditation’. Or, to be exact, the origins of the name.

The Western approach

We can trace the verb ‘to meditate’ back to Latin. It meant: to ponder, reflect, consider, devise. In the old European languages it also meant: ‘to measure’, ‘to judge’, ‘to protect’, ‘to provide for’ and ‘to deliberate’. Go further back in time, to the original ‘seed’ language that early humanity shared, and it meant ‘to take appropriate measures’, ‘to give advice’ and ‘to heal’.  This was the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) seed word, ‘med’, which also evolved into ‘mediate’ and medicine among other words.

The historical Western approach to meditation is therefore driven by a well-intentioned desire for results: the solving of a problem, the righting of a wrong, the mending of an ill.

The Eastern approach

In the East, the Sanskrit for meditation is ‘dhyana’. Other Eastern languages have variants on this. The PIE seed word for dhyana is ‘dheie’ meaning ‘to see, to look’. The word ‘Zen’, signifying an aspect of Buddhism with a deeply contemplative approach to life, shares the same seed word.

So in the East, ‘dhyana’ is the practice of simply being, simply witnessing without judgement.

Western meditators broadly follow the Eastern tradition. We sit in silence, simply being… but we also have a cultural legacy which whispers to us that we need to get results from our quiet time.

A happy fusion

Of course, we can’t really divide the world into neat East-West packages. Wherever you live, whatever your origins, you’re pretty well guaranteed to experience the ‘monkey chatter’ of your mind during meditation. And this can do a great job of distracting you with wide-ranging thoughts.

But your approach to the monkey chatter can make the difference between frustration and happiness during your practice – and that’s where an awareness of meditation’s ancient definitions can be helpful.

If we accept that we have chosen to sit in silence, focusing on a particular word, or concept, or image, or sound, simply to witness without trying to change anything, then we are much more likely to enjoy our meditation sessions. Each time we notice that our thoughts have strayed, we calmly remind ourselves that we are here to meditate, and we return to our point of focus.

No judgement. Just practice.

To summarise, we meditate simply to meditate. There is no end result we are looking for.  So we cannot ‘fail’. We are simply being conscious witnesses of the moment.

And yet, when we make a regular practice of meditating in this way, with no expectation of reward, the insights and inspiration do come. Meditation focuses and refreshes the mind like nothing else.

So if you really struggle to meditate, take heart. You are not alone. Now that you know the ancient secret buried in the very name of meditation, you can choose to let go of the striving and, instead, embrace the serenity.

 

How to transform your relationships with one fascinating word

05/06/2017 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Blue mountainscape

Understanding  blends knowledge with kindness. When you apply understanding to a relationship, conflicts crumble. Dynamics alter. Ego gives way to empathy.

An understanding person comprehends something or someone with compassion. They hold a cup of knowledge that contains kindness and love as well as wisdom and perception.

Understanding can strengthen a floundering relationship. If a partnership is ending, it can enable that to happen with love rather than anger. Understanding can also be a wonderful doorway to laughter and humour which in themselves can heal relationships.

Understanding is our meditation word in the Studio this week.

How could applying this word alter a challenging situation for you?

 

An amethyst for meditation

05/05/2017 at 12:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Violet meditation

 

This beautiful, tiny amethyst came from a geological seam on Achill Island, Co Mayo. I’ve never been there but I once went foraging in a crystal shop a little further south along the Atlantic coastline, and came across this specimen glowing quietly on a shelf.

I photographed it today because it deserves its own portrait… and also to herald the fact that next week I’m running two meditation sessions on the subject of violet.

During meditation it’s fairly common to see colours spontaneously, with the inner eye – and the colour people see most often during my sessions is violet, or purple.

There’s something blissful about sitting still, in silence, and focusing on this vibrant colour. So I invite you to do just that.

Imagine that you are completely immersed in violet light. Picture every cell of your body bathing in violet’s uplifting rays. Keep doing that for a little while. And witness what happens within your body, mind and spirit.

Enjoy!

 

 

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