In homage to rain

13/07/2018 at 7:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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It hadn’t rained for weeks. The normally lush countryside had turned dry, apart from narrow ribbons along water courses. And now, at last, came the downpour. People became silly with happiness. It offered a powerful lesson in thankfulness, did we but remember it.

 

How to meditate with crystal geodes

04/07/2018 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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What are geodes?

Geodes are rock-encased cavities or bubbles within which crystals have formed. The crystals tend to point inwards, towards the centre. On the outside, geodes in their natural state are lumpy and bumpy. They may weigh less than you expect. On the inside, they are crystalline worlds that sparkle when the rock is cracked open and exposed to the light.

The contrast between a plain exterior and a detailed interior is one of the reasons why geodes work so well as tools of meditation. In meditation, our minds are revealed to have an internal richness, like a geode into which light shines.

The word ‘geode’ itself comes from the word for ‘earth’.

The geode sphere shown above is fantastic to meditate on, because it feeds both the senses and the imagination. This is a pale amethyst that has been removed from its bumpy exterior, and been shaped into a sphere. Platinum and silver vapour was then passed over it, creating permanent iridescent colours over every surface.

What’s the best kind of geode for meditation?

There are many varieties of geodes, and each one has a place in meditation. Put simply, the qualities you notice within the geode are qualities that you may also discover within yourself, bringing you a sense of peace, and insights. Here are a couple of geode examples.

Lightness and sparkle

Last week I picked up two humble snow quartz half-geodes for a fiver from Bath Market. Here is one of them.

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Small and light, it’s easy to keep this in your hand or your lap, or just near you while you work. Gaze into its depths, and you are subtly taken into another world of beauty and sparkle. Each time you look into a simple geode like this, your perspective shifts, and you feel a small dose of relaxation.  Note, this type of crystal is sometimes described as chalcedony, which just means it’s a microcrystalline variant of quartz. However, a clearer example of chalcedony can be seen below.

Deep and powerful

If you’ve ever walked into a crystal shop, you’ve almost certainly seen one or more amethyst caves, which are geodes by another name. These can range from diminutive to giant-sized. Search online for ‘amethyst cave’ and you’ll find plenty of examples. Many people find these deep purple caverns calming and restful.

At the furthest end of the scale of magnitude is the incredible Cave of Crystals in Mexico, a searingly hot cavern lined with the world’s largest known crystals. The cave is usually flooded and inaccessible. However, for a brief period some years ago, it was drained, and small numbers of people were able to walk around the giant selenite crystals.

Organic flow

Not all geodes contain crystal points. Here is an example of chalcedony where the mineral seems to have been caught mid-flow. At just under 4 cm, it’s slightly smaller than the sweet and sparkly snow quartz geode illustrated above, but it’s noticeably heavier to hold.

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This example has a translucent, milky appearance, though it can equally be coloured – agate is a bright, banded version of chalcedony. With its flowing qualities, this form of chalcedony can have a organic, even intimate aspect to it. When you tune into those qualities within yourself, it can help you to be in touch with who you really are.

What’s the best way to meditate with a geode?

• Sit comfortably somewhere quiet and peaceful with your chosen geode. You might wish to set a timer for, say, 20 minutes for this exercise.

• Study the geode using your senses: handle it, gaze at it, notice how the light shines and reflects within it. Feel the weight of it in your hands. Tap it and notice any hollowness or otherwise. Gaze into it as though it is a sparkling cave that you can enter.

• Close your eyes and continue to notice your geode’s qualities in your imagination. Breathe in and out, slowly and peacefully. Allow your continued imaginary study of your geode to synchronise with your breathing.

• Continue your unhurried, relaxed breathing, and your imaginary exploration of your geode. As you do so, you may find your attention wanders. Whenever you notice that it has, just gently bring your attention back to your geode. Feel it in your hands to reinforce  your connection with it.

• As you continue your meditation, you may find spontaneous images or words enter your mind. Some of these may appear to make no sense. Some may feel like solutions to problems, or shimmering insights. Do your best to witness these without attachment. Let them float through and out of your consciousness. Remind yourself gently that you are here to meditate, and that it all.

• After the meditation, think about what has taken place. You will likely notice that your mind feels calmer and fresher, like a clear pool in which the silt has settled or been washed away. Note any new insights you may acquired as a result of your meditation.

In summary, geodes make useful and beautiful meditation companions. You can use them frequently as part of a regular practice, or simply to create a calm, meditative atmosphere in a room. You can also use images of geodes to focus on, or you can imagine the perfect meditative crystal cave, full of relaxing qualities. Enjoy your geode meditations, and feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is virtually my favourite walk into the past

29/06/2018 at 7:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’m fortunate enough to live 10 miles from the largest stone circle in the world, also known as Avebury. This ancient structure of raised banks and deep ditches surrounding giant stones formed into three circles, two spaced neatly inside the largest one, is just mind-blowing.  Most people today assume that it was built for ceremonial purposes but, honestly, no one really knows what happened there.

To enter Avebury Stone Circle, to walk, touch and meditate among the stones, is a very special thing: calming or exhilarating depending on your mood. The circle seems to have the ability to amplify whatever feelings you bring to it. Many of the stones are bigger than people, all uniquely shaped, and each one evokes intriguing insights. I feel blissed out every time I go there.

 

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However, I have never fully been able to imagine the circle in its entirety, because there is a picturesque village sitting in the middle of it. There is a busy road bisecting it. And during the 4,500 years since it was first built, there have been many attempts to destroy it. Stones have systematically been removed and used for building work. Luckily though,  enough remains to keep the aura of mystery and magnificence intact.

Then, last week, I was lucky enough to try out a 3D, fully immersive virtual simulation of Avebury stone circle, thanks to a neighbour, Liz Falconer. Liz has a good number of academic qualifications which can be summed up by this rather cool description: she is a professor of virtual reality. Liz and her colleagues have created a computer simulation of Avebury as it would have been when it was first built. The stones are intact, the ditches are deeper and steeper, the grass grows long and the wind whispers through it. An occasional wolf howls in the distance. Drums beat and you get the feeling that something amazing is about to happen – or perhaps is already happening, just beyond vision.

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The picturesque village and the road that bisects the circle are not present – they lie in the far, misty future. So when you walk, or fly (this is after all virtual reality) into the stone circle, you can absolutely understand how huge this place really is.

You can see some videos of virtual Avebury on Liz’s blog.  But to experience the fully immersive version, just head over to the National Trust’s Barn Gallery at Avebury on certain days during July and August, and try it out for yourself. Please do check dates on the project page on Bournemouth University’s website first before you go, to make sure the simulation will be available on your chosen day. I really hope you get to see it. And if your virtual exploration gives you new insights into what Avebury is really about, please be sure to share them with the rest of us.

 

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Lonely no more, hello friends

17/06/2018 at 11:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This week, 18th to 22nd June, is Loneliness Awareness Week. Organised by Marmalade Trust, it aims to lift the lid on an uncomfortable subject. Show me someone who has never been lonely, and I will show you someone with a poor memory. Just look at this video of children talking about loneliness. Their words are touching, and universal.

There is no one way of feeling lonely. There is no one age that is exempt. Almost half of all UK adults admit to feeling lonely at least some of the time. You can be lonely because you live on your own and don’t see many people. You can be lonely because you feel excluded from a social group.

Renting a flat with strangers can be a lonely feeling. So can dropping your child off at school and going home to an empty house. And it’s easy to feel lonely in a busy workplace, when you’d rather be with people you love.

Brief periods of loneliness are ok. They teach us to appreciate friends. But a long period of isolation can seem like solitary confinement. It eats into self-confidence. It erodes that all-important feeling that we are loved, and lovable.

This week, while the national focus is on loneliness, there are some valuable things that you can do.

Be aware of loneliness

Notice the emotion within yourself. Notice it in others. Don’t dismiss it, or call it by another name. Loneliness, like all emotions, is an honest feeling and can serve a purpose in creating change for the better.

Address your own loneliness

A simple step is this: each morning, write down a short list of achievable things to do that day. Include at least one item that is important to you: an interest of yours that perhaps has fallen by the wayside; or a cause you feel passionately about. Prioritise that item. Do whatever you can to complete it during your day. The chances are that doing so will include interaction with like-minded people. Follow the fundamental rule of friendship: do no harm (that includes caring for yourself of course). Then take a step. Create movement.

Address the loneliness of others

Take a step to alleviate other people’s isolation. Make a point of talking to them in a friendly way, without any agenda. If appropriate, visit them, or invite them out to a coffee shop. Create a sociable activity that will include local isolated people. Then follow up after that event. From time to time, have a friendly conversation with them. Start noticing, and caring about their wellbeing. In short, be a friend.

Make new connections

Here are a some small steps that can help to banish loneliness: put your phone down to talk to someone on the bus, train, in the cafe or waiting room. Invite your colleagues to share the lunch break, share a smile with someone, ring an old friend or relative… what else might you add to that list?

Lift your mood with lavender

14/06/2018 at 7:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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In a week when a study showed that over a third of all medicines can cause depression, it’s worth remembering that simple remedies from nature can lift your mood. Lavender is one of the very best that you can rely on.

Run your fingers gently through a lavender plant that’s just come into bloom, and you will instantly relax with the characteristic, uplifting, restful scent. Inhaling lavender is proven to reduce levels of anxiety and stress.

A few drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue placed near you at night or near your desk will calm the mind and nerves. Diluted in a carrier oil and rubbed into the skin, molecules of soothing lavender have been found to enter the bloodstream and deliver pain-reducing, mildly sedative benefits. Lavender oil in an intensive care unit or hospital ward can reduce the levels of body-disrupting sedation required.

Lavender spray recipe

This is a simple and delightful way to feel the benefits of lavender.

Take a clean and empty 100 ml bottle with a fine spray attachment. Add 15 ml of vodka, 80 ml of spring or other water, and 40 drops of lavender essential oil. Put the lid on the bottle and shake. Spray on yourself, around rooms or around your bed at night for instant, soothing relaxation.

Do you have a favourite method of using lavender?

 

 

 

 

 

 

These five healing boosts can help, right now

21/05/2018 at 7:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Healing happens when you are relaxed and open to the beneficial, life-enhancing flow of energies all around and within you. While going to a healer is a very sensible step when you need extra help, every day there are healing boosts that can make a difference. Here are five of the best.

1 Put a few simple flowers on your window sill or table, like this single cornflower and strands of tamarisk. Seeing small moments of beauty can open heart, mind and spirit.

2. Love and accept yourself, just as you are. Practise this frequently until it feels easy (even if that takes a lifetime).

3. When you catch yourself with negative self-talk, think of three nice things to say about yourself. Your energy will begin to grow and flow.

4. Meditate. Even five minutes a day can make all the difference. Sit still in silence, deliberately, and open up to the timeless presence of this moment now.

5. Prepare a simple meal – as simple as you like – in a spirit of loving kindness to yourself, and gratitude to all who played a part in getting the ingredients to your table. Eat it slowly, as though eating for the first time. Notice the textures, the flavours, and the sensations within your body as the life-enhancing food enters you.

Do you have any healing boosts to share?

How to run a meditation group

11/05/2018 at 10:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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“How do I go about running a meditation group?” This is a question I’m asked from time to time, so I thought it would be helpful to share a few guidelines. These are based on meditation groups I’ve run for nine years in Wiltshire, UK.

Consider yourself a facilitator, not a teacher

The members of any group will bring their own skills and experience to a session. Often, one person’s dilemma will be answered by another person’s insights. Your role is not to provide the answers, but to create the space in which answers arise from within the group. Often that means choosing a theme for the session, and being ready to ask gentle questions to encourage all members to contribute. You also keep the group on topic with your relevant questions. If you have particular experience of meditation, or teaching, those things are obviously very useful. But the most important skills to have are probably the willingness to turn up, and to do the best you can, by being properly prepared.

Decide the perfect time and place

Decide on a fixed day and time every week, or fortnight, or so. Decide how long you’ll meet for. An hour is an ideal length of time. This might include half an an hour of silent meditation, followed by half an hour of discussion on the theme of the meditation. You also need to consider the venue. Many groups meet, at least at first, in the facilitator’s home. You then have to consider safety issues: who you are inviting into your home; and conversely, whether your home contains any hazards for unwary people. You may find it more practical to hire a local venue. Whatever you choose, look into what insurance may be required. And be consistent about finishing sessions on time.

Charge a fee

If a few friends are meeting in your living room it may seem hard to do this, but it really is a good idea to charge a small amount to cover expenses. You might spend money on refreshments, a small amount of marketing, and factor in ancillary costs, such as the provision of blankets to keep meditators cosy, or cleaning of the room. If you are hiring a hall, of course you need to charge enough to cover the cost of hire, refreshments, marketing and so on.

If you don’t charge a fee, your guests will begin to wonder if they owe you something. A fee evens things out. You are providing a service. The members are happy in the knowledge that they don’t owe you anything. You don’t develop the resentful feeling that you are doing something for nothing. A bowl on a table by the door with a fee marked beside it, and some change inside, is perfectly adequate. And if someone forgets to pay one week, don’t worry about it. It’s basically an honesty box, all part of the spirit of the gathering.

Set a timer

You will need to time your sessions. In silent meditation, it’s a good idea to use a timer to start a session, and to end it. A zen meditation timer, with chimes, is a nice way of doing this. I don’t especially recommend using a timer app on your phone. Although this is fine for solitary meditation, it lacks a certain ceremony, or ritual, that enhances group meditation.

Choose your method

You don’t have to follow a particular school of meditation. It’s essential, though, to come up with a format that feels right for you. The simplest format is this: Choose an uplifting word that lends itself to meditation. A word such as ‘Love’, ‘Peace’ or ‘Serene’ works well. Or you might chose an item from nature, such as ‘Leaf’, ‘Tree’, ‘Ocean’. The idea is that members of your group will sit still in silence, silently breathing in “I am” and breathing out the word. They might imagine the words are written in gold letters against a blue sky. Or they might picture, or sense, something that represents the word. The word itself – the theme – can be a new one for each session. You might, alternatively, keep the same word for a month, finding new insights every session. Encourage the members of the group to think of ‘I am’ as a collective force of the universe, rather than one person’s individual identity.

Offer a simple guided meditation

Optionally, you could guide them through the beginnings of the meditation: invite them to sit comfortably, close their eyes, become aware of their breath, their feet on the ground… invite them to visualise, or sense a peaceful scene that embodies the theme. Lead them to a period of silent meditation of 20 minutes. Set the timer at the beginning of the silence so that you can meditate fully yourself. When the timer goes at the end, you might offer a few words to lead them out of the meditation, or you might have pre-arranged that the meditation simply finishes at that point.

Singing bowl variation: instead of a timer, you could use a beautiful instrument such as a singing bowl to signal the beginning and end of the silent period. However, this does mean that you need to keep an eye on the time yourself, so this may potentially be less restful for you.

Research your theme

Before each session, it’s helpful if you as facilitator have researched your theme. You might have learnt the earliest meaning of the word. You might have found a poem that evokes the theme beautifully. These are good things to share with the group. You might turn up with a useful meditative technique or an idea for a short guided meditation that you can share with others. You might share some easy meditation principles. Or give them a simple strategy for when they are too busy to meditate. 

Be kind

Don’t put pressure on your guests, or expect them to do anything in particular. They are here to meditate, and that is all. You are the facilitator, the one who makes it happen. It is always wonderful to see which souls turn up on any particular week, and it’s good to see each meeting as perfect, just the way it is. Occasionally you might find that no one turns up. I suggest that you meditate anyway. Maybe that is exactly what you need, on that particular day. Be grateful for the space, and the opportunity. Your gratitude and serenity will build up in the room over time, creating a place that is ever more conducive to meditation.

Be practical

The simplest of themes, focused on in a supportive atmosphere, can lead to emotional healing. Especially in the discussion that follows a period of silent meditation, an individual may become tearful. It’s helpful to follow these three guidelines for any group. And make sure tissues are always quietly available. At the same time, realise that you are not a counsellor (unless you are one, of course!) You are not there to mend anyone. If you feel out of your depth, you can very gently offer a suitable next step to a member of the group: they might visit their GP and ask for a referral for counselling, or some other strategy. In practice, it would be extremely rare for this to be necessary. The group supports each individual with compassion, empathy and humour. The humour itself is a natural part of any gathering, always to be welcomed.

Make sure everyone is well grounded before they leave. If need be, have them stamp their feet, or drink a glass of water. Make use of that wonderful thing, humour. Talk about what they are doing later that day. Make time for a certain amount of small talk after the session has ended, while they are collecting bags and coats and shoes on their way out.

Keep a record

Keep a record of your themes, of the number of attendees, and of the small financial sums collected. Do not keep any notes about things that people said, as that could infringe data protection rules. You will need a record of your themes, in particular, to avoid too much repetition, and to gain an overview of how the group is developing.

Good luck

I hope these guidelines will be useful, but your group will be unique to you – and that’s the way it should be. Make decisions for your group based on love, rather than fear. Do things that make you feel joyful, and your group will surely thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make and meditate: mala beads

13/04/2018 at 12:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Meditating with beads is an ancient practice that spans many cultures. It’s particularly suited to current times because it releases us from technology. Apps and timers can be good meditation companions, but this is altogether a simpler method.

In this post, I’ll describe some of the basic types of meditation beads available, show you how to make the simple example above, and then show you a wonderful meditation practice.

The ready-made option

There are many ready made items out there, which come at a price. Mala beads usually feature 108 beads, made from wood, seeds, ceramics or stone, sometimes with spacers. ‘Mala’ is an old Sanscrit word for ‘garland’. This one, bought from a Tibetan shop many years ago, is made from bodhi seeds from the same type of tree that the Buddha is said to have sat under when he experienced enlightenment.

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Other meditation strings are much smaller. Twenty one beads is a common number, just the right size to wear around a wrist on an elasticated thread. This one, below, from thechakrastack, is made from fossilised wood. It features 20 beads, with additional metal beads as spacers.

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How to make your own

It can be a meditation in itself to string your own beads. It’s also very inexpensive. You can source wooden beads, often made from furniture off-cuts, at many bead shops online. Look for sustainable sources.

The 21-bead string shown at the top of this post could be worn as a loose bracelet, but is designed primarily to be held during meditation. To make it, you will need the following:

70 cm x 0.5 mm waxed cotton thread

18 x 10 mm wooden beads

3 x 7 or 8 mm peace jade beads (or another crystal such as quartz, rose quartz, agate or amethyst)

A small amount of pvc glue

Method:

Dip the ends of your cotton thread into the pvc glue. Squeeze the ends between your fingers and allow to dry. (This hardens the ends and makes it easier to thread the beads.)

Thread 1 peace jade bead, then 9 wooden beads.

Repeat.

Finally, thread 1 peace jade bead.

Tie your strings securely together, as close to the beads as you can. The ideal is to end up with a bead bracelet that has just a small amount of movement possible between the beads. Cut off excess thread leaving around 3 cm.

How to meditate with your beads

Simply hold one bead between two fingers, breathe in and out at a leisurely pace, focusing on your breath, then move on to the next bead and repeat.

During the breath, it works well to focus on a particular word of your choice. The idea is that the word, or words you choose become seed thoughts, spreading their energy into every corner of your life.

With many meditations, it is recommended that you sit in a particular place, at a particular time. Here, I’m sharing a different method, that can help you create a happy day, and a peaceful night.

Morning seed word meditation

When you wake, sit up in bed, and hold your meditation beads. Think of two words that you would like to have permeating through your day. You might choose ‘love’ and ‘peace’, for example; or ‘simplicity’ and ‘joy’; or ‘abundance’ and ‘sharing’. For this demonstration, we’ll choose ‘love’ and ‘peace’.

Now, starting at the string ends, move your fingers onto one of the peace jade beads. Breathe in ‘love’ by saying it silently to yourself on the in-breath. Breathe out ‘peace’ by saying it silently to yourself on the out-breath. Move your fingers to the next beads, and repeat. Keep repeating until you have completed the circle and reached the threads once more. Then put your beads to one side, and get on with your day. Be aware of the energies of love and peace recurring throughout your day.

Evening seed word meditation

At night time, sit up in bed, and hold your meditation beads. Reflect on your day with a sense of love, gratitude and peace. Choose two words that will help you let go of the day. You might choose ‘love’ and ‘thank you’; or ‘gift’ and ‘rest’; or ‘serenity’ and ‘peace’. Then meditate with your beads, as in the morning seed word meditation above. Put your beads down by your bed, and rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the perfect time for your self care

12/02/2018 at 6:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Valentine’s Day and the first day of Lent coincide this year. The resulting fusion of love and abstinence from a selected item of food or drink makes this the perfect time to focus on self care.

How might you care for yourself for the 40 or more days of Lent, which begins this Wednesday 14th February?

One year ago, inspired by my friend Sarah Sexton, I gave up refined sugar for Lent. After Lent I continued the practice. I’m happy to say I am now 10 kg lighter, and back within a healthy weight range. Along the way I lost my sugar cravings, and the associated swings between high energy and tiredness.

Lent is a perfect time for self-reflection. On a scale of 1 to 10, how well are you currently caring for your body? What single act of food-abstinence will your body most benefit from?

Whatever your spirituality or lack thereof, approaching Lent as an act of self care is an invitation to thrive.

This is why you should start your week with a meditation

08/01/2018 at 1:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Most Mondays since 2009, I have started the working week by sitting still in silence at 10 am for half an hour and inviting other people to join me in the silence. It’s something I totally recommend. This is why.

Meditating clears the mind. It enables fresh ideas to emerge spontaneously during the days that follow. It creates a discipline that feeds beneficially into the rest of your schedule. It encourages a relaxed, alert mental outlook. Over time, it can help you to be less reactive to the emotional highs and lows of work and home life. It builds up new neural pathways in the brain that help with ordering of information and staying on task. And it can enable you to become aware of negative habitual thoughts – such as a tendency to blame yourself, or other people, for things that go wrong – so you are no longer a victim of such thinking and can use your energy instead to come up with new solutions. It builds a resilient, resourceful mind. And it feels good.

Scientific American published some interesting research, which shows, among other things, that expert meditators have diminished activity in anxiety-related areas of the brain. It also showed that the pre-frontal cortex and the insula regions – involved with processing attention, sensory information and internal bodily sensations – are more developed in experienced meditators.

These are all great reasons to meditate every day, and I recommend that too. However, there’s something special about meditating in company, and Monday mornings are an optimum time to do that. As Caroline, one of my fellow meditators says, “If you meditate on Monday at 10 am, you don’t break up the day, and it sets you up for the entire working week.”

So I recommend you put Monday in your diary and treat it like an office meeting – with yourself, your friends and colleagues, and your inner guidance.
Here is an easy guide to meditating.

And here are details of the Monday meditation sessions that I run.

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