Random acts of wheelchair kindness

17/02/2017 at 11:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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This year, Friday 17th February is Random Acts of Kindness Day. But I would like to make the case that for some members of our society – such as my disabled son – kindness from strangers is an every day part of life. It always has been, in all of his 21 years.

In an age of austerity cuts and the resurgence of prejudices, I feel it’s important to say that many people of every political persuasion and indeed none are routinely compassionate and caring, every day of every year. In our family’s direct experience, kindness is the norm. Sure, we get tactless stares and thoughtless comments – but these are cancelled out by generous deeds and unexpected favours, from all directions.

My son Tim has always looked disabled. He has always needed a wheelchair. From the age of 16 he has needed oxygen therapy, which means a cylinder, tube and small mask wherever he goes. There is no question that Tim looks different from the norm – whatever that might be. If Tim’s disabilities were invisible, I understand from other special needs parents that his experience might have been less rosy. I can only write of our own experience. And that is, on balance, clearly positive.

When Tim was younger, strangers would routinely offer him cuddly toys which were sometimes bigger than him. Countless others – the most unlikely characters – would give him smiles. I remember wheeling Tim into a rather rough-looking pub in Cornwall. The proprietor was a middle-aged woman with a craggy face – austere and tough. She looked at Tim. Her face broke into a wide, kind smile. She became utterly transformed… actually beautiful. Thousands of others have smiled at Tim, but she stays in my mind because her kindness transformed her so completely.

At this point I have to confess that Tim has jumped many queues, and got into places without paying – because kind officials have ushered him through. From Blackpool Pleasure Beach to Disneyland, Tim has received VIP treatment. He even once got into the VIP enclosure at Brands Hatch to see a Formula One race without flashing a ticket. In some of these places the policy has been an official one. In others, it’s come down to the kindness of an individual at the gate.

When Tim was 14, he became very poorly while on holiday in Florida. We were offered family accommodation at the local Ronald Macdonald House near Wolfson Children’s  Hospital in Jackonsonville, where Tim battled for his life in Intensive Care. His sister remembers receiving at least one present every day, and I remember that kind strangers booked up six months ahead for the privilege of cooking fabulous meals for all who stayed there. I’m personally sure that the kindness we received contributed to Tim’s speedy recovery.

Tim’s own attitude has to be mentioned. He smiles easily: a wide, generous smile that tells strangers he enjoys life and he doesn’t judge others in any way. He is visibly comfortable with the fact that he receives help from people. Again and again I have witnessed that Tim’s fun-loving and relaxed outlook makes it easy for strangers to be kind around him.

Advocates of equal rights for disabled people – and I am one of these – might argue that disabled people don’t want special treatment. They just want equal treatment.

Of course that’s true. Maybe all these favours could seem patronising. But I don’t choose to look at it that way. The truth is, being a physically, learning and health-challenged young person is unfathomably difficult, for the individual and the whole family. Tim lives at the edge of what is medically possible. So I look on him, and others like him – as something of a hero. And it’s perfectly reasonable for society’s heroes to receive accolades. The key is to accept the well-meant gestures gracefully.

This kindness even extends to those who care for him. Not so long ago Tim and I were sitting in the square next to Bath Abbey when a woman came up to me, holding a bouquet of scented flowers.

“These are for you,” she said to me. “Because I think what you’re doing is amazing.”

Recently Tim celebrated his 21st birthday with a restaurant meal. His friend and carer Bonnie was busy helping Tim to eat his puréed version of Sunday Roast. Her gentle patience was witnessed by a stranger in the bar. The young man secretly delivered an envelope to our group, to be handed to Bonnie after he had left. Our group got the timing wrong, and Bonnie received the envelope while the man was still present. Inside was a £20 note. Visibly moved, Bonnie went to thank the man, and the two hugged.

That hug between two kind strangers is what Random Acts of Kindness are all about. Who benefitted most: Bonnie, the kind stranger, or even the rest of us, looking on? The truth is, kindness given generously and accepted with genuine appreciation connects and benefits us all.

This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post. 

The powerful need to think for ourselves

27/01/2017 at 1:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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There’s a footpath that passes close to where I live. It’s a direct route between local communities. It’s as old as you care to think. In places, it runs adjacent to a busy main road which no doubt is just as ancient in origin.

Go back far enough in time, and the footpath and the road were probably equal partners. Each would have been wide enough for humans and animals to travel along. However, over centuries, one became a busy thoroughfare, and the other remained a quirky, winding path. But they each get you to your destination.

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A society’s collective thinking is very like those routes. It makes sense for us to put things and people into categories – to put ideas into highways of collective thought, as it were.

It’s easier to say “I am Christian/Jewish/Muslim” for example, than it is to think exactly what your personal, unique experience of spirituality might be.

It’s easier to say, “Science is always right” for example, than it is to think about those countless times that scientific research is bent towards the commercial concerns that fund experiments.

And it’s easier to believe that we vote freely than it is to delve into the murky waters of psychometric social media advertising that can suppress or encourage votes for the benefit of a particular party or individual.

Well-trodden highways are practical in many ways. I’d rather use my car when I’m in a hurry than put on my boots and walk the fields. But it absolutely behoves us to think for ourselves – to be willing to walk the less travelled route, at least some of the time. That way, I believe, we are  more likely to be able to look into the hearts and motives of others, and understand for ourselves our own best direction.

An extended version of this post can be found at The Huffington Post.

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When you’re too busy to meditate, try this

20/12/2016 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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When life gets really busy… like right now… the easiest daily meditation doesn’t require a timer, or an app. It just requires you.

This is what you do. Sit comfortably. Rest your hands loosely on your lap.

Count the thumb and fingers of your left hand, one count per slow, relaxed breath. Lift each finger briefly in turn as you count.

Repeat with your right hand. So now you’ve counted five on each hand.

Then repeat the sequence twice more. So now in total you’ve counted five, six times over.

This is the ‘Three Tens’ meditation. When you’ve time for nothing else, do this. It will help!

 

Aquamarine bliss

14/11/2016 at 5:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The theme this week in my studio is ‘Aquamarine’.  I invite you to focus on the beautiful green-blue colour of the sea. You know, the way it looks when waves rise up and daylight filters through the water…

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Here is a self-healing exercise for you. Imagine you are made up entirely of this sea-glass colour. These pictures taken at Surfer’s Point in Western Australia may help you.

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Visualise that any areas of pain or illness in your body are being washed away by the cleansing aquamarine light. Picture your body becoming more and more like aquamarine sea glass, as if lit from within. You might imagine that areas of pain are dark and dense, or sticky and gluey. As the water keeps washing through, these become dislodged until the whole of you is simply aquamarine: healthy; radiating with good health; and speaking with your own authentic voice. Enjoy the feeling!

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Breathe your mantra

31/10/2016 at 9:45 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This is
a meditation
an exercise
Easy, but not quick

Breathe in “I am”
Breathe out “mantra”
Repeat

for twenty minutes
maybe thirty

Set a timer
so you don’t need
to worry about time

When you witness
your mind wandering
return to your
silent words

I am mantra
I am mantra
I am mantra

After a while
if you’re lucky
your mind will
offer up the mantra
that runs through
your core

Are you teacher
healer, artist
explorer, engineer?

Are you carer
cook, musician
maker, even mystic?

Listen to the mantra
at your core
Don’t try to change it
Accept it, embrace it

I am mantra
I am mantra
That is all

What an ice mountain can tell you

30/07/2016 at 8:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Some places feel special, in ways we don’t fully understand. One such I visited recently is Snaefellsjokull. This ice-capped volcanic mountain rises from a remote Western peninsula in Iceland. Its name translates as ‘Snow-fell glacier’.

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Perhaps it feels remarkable because of the near-Arctic juxtaposition of ancient fire and eternal ice, enhanced by the mystery of ocean clouds.

Or maybe it’s because the myriad volcanic peaks in this region take on their own fierce presence in a stark landscape created by the slow separation of two major continental plates.

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On the slopes of the glacier itself, the sense of presence grows stronger, along with a distinct chill. It’s easy to see why Jules Verne chose Snaefellsjokull as the entrance to the earth’s core in his novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

There’s a purity and absolute freshness to the air, as though all human preconceptions have been blown or blasted away.

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The ancient volcano brings gifts to the watchful. My daughter found a piece of obsidian – black fire glass. And I discovered the subtle, changing image of a fire sprite on a smooth piece of basalt.

Snaefellsjokull is said to be one of the sacred centres of the earth, a portal to other realms.

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Standing on the glacier, it’s possible to see things differently… to recognise the true landscape of our own lives.

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An ice mountain can tell you much about yourself.

Each of us carries within us the qualities of Snaefellsjokull: the ice and fire, the mystery and the deep, all held within a shimmering equilibrium that is subject to disruption when inner or outer forces overturn the state of balance.

Witnessing this in nature is to witness it in ourselves. We can open up to these qualities, and allow them to flow through the meridians, our own subtle energy channels.

There are four burning questions an ice mountain draws out of us:

What in you is ready to be expressed?
Look deeper now. What are you suppressing?
Do you always recognise your own inner promptings towards action?
And, above all, do you honour the passions and visions that ignite you?

Take time to answer these questions. They are a recipe for life-long wellbeing.

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Why I value my son’s multinational carers

30/06/2016 at 9:32 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This article has also been published in The Huffington Post.

My 20-year-old son has multiple health issues, and learning difficulties. He therefore needs 24/7 care. He lives, term-time, at an outstanding specialist college. He is looked after by a fantastic team of carers, or facilitators, who come from a whole range of different places, including England, South Africa… and, of course, Eastern Europe. Poland is high on that list.

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I would love to give the whole team bouquets of fragrant flowers. But I’m a little too British and reserved for that. The facilitators do so much for him. They cut his hair, trim his nails, help him to eat and drink, and routinely handle life-saving medical equipment under the supervision of his amazing nurses. They also support him to study, exercise and socialise – all the things that make life worthwhile. And they do it all in a way that respects him as an individual. He enjoys life, hugely. That’s only possible because of the team that supports him.

Over the weekend I spent an afternoon with my son. During that period, a carer arrived who was new to me.

“Where are you from?” I asked her.

“Poland,” she said. She didn’t say it with any sense of happiness. Though she smiled, she wasn’t exactly glowing. All was not well.

I paused, acutely aware of the ongoing post-Referendum backlash against Eastern European workers.

“I want you to know,” I said, “that we’ve both just signed the Petition.”

She looked surprised.

“You know, the Petition for a Second Referendum.”

“Yes, I know about the petition.”

I went on to explain how my son had communicated, very clearly, that he is keen to support his European friends and carers. He had taken great pleasure pressing one finger against the green box on the Petitions page. He had been keen to confirm his vote by email.

“Oh,” she replied. “I’m so glad you told me. That is really good to hear. It’s not pleasant at the moment, knowing that so many people in England don’t want us here. It’s not a nice feeling.”

She was visibly moved. When she left the room shortly afterwards, I have a feeling that there may have been tears.

The reality is that we get a huge amount of help – real, physical, caring help – from Europe. As the mother of a young person with complex needs, I know that it would be really hard to get enough of the support we need if we were to close our borders.

My son’s facilitators, with their diverse backgrounds, literally bring the world to him. During his intermittent hospital admissions, the carers stay by him. During long hours at my son’s bedside, my family has learned about different countries from a personal, human perspective. My son has absorbed all this information.

My family has learned on a deep level that humans are not so different from one another. We share remarkably similar values. We laugh at the same things. We cry with the same sadness. We all of us worry when we feel under attack. And we love in the same whole-hearted, hopeful way.

People are people, wherever you go. It’s only the background that changes. We are enriched beyond measure by the clever, compassionate, caring individuals who help our son. That includes all the ones from Britain, South Africa… and Eastern Europe.

The petition may, or may not result in a second Referendum – I hope it does. At the same time, although I voted Remain, I do respect and share the view that EU reform is needed.

However, I think the Petition’s purpose runs deeper than politics. Signing is an act that shows the many European residents in this country that we do welcome them, and are grateful for the work that they do.

I don’t give my son’s facilitators bouquets of fragrant flowers – perhaps I should. But I certainly hope these words will let them know how much we appreciate them.

 

Recipe: summer flower cordial

24/06/2016 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This delicious summer drink is prepared over two fragrant, flower-filled days. It makes approx 2.5 litres.

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Day One

Take 20 or so elderflower heads with thick stalks removed, add a handful of rose petals (I used a mix of wild roses with some fragrant garden ones), seven sprigs of lavender, two sliced lemons and two handfuls of wild or cultivated strawberries. Meanwhile, add 1.3 kg sugar to 1.8 kg just boiled water in a big bowl. Stir to dissolve, creating syrupy water.

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Add all ingredients to the bowl of syrupy water, cover with a cloth and leave for 24 hours.

Day Two

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Strain mixture through a clean muslin cloth or old clean pillow case. Squeeze well to extract the juice. Pour the fragrant cordial into bottles.

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Drink diluted with water. Delicious! Also goes well with sparkling water, tonic water or even ginger ale.

Feel free to vary the flowers and fruit according to what you can find. That’s all part of the fun.

How I learned to make crystal and flower essences

22/06/2016 at 7:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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The flowers are infused in sunlight

Magical and irrational as this may sound, I first learned how to make crystal and flower essences through a series of dreams. The first ones happened while I was qualifying as a healer, around 2003. In that hypnogogic state between sleeping and waking I was shown, step by step, how to go to particular plants in the garden and gather small amounts for the purpose of bottling their essential signature. I was shown how these essences could then, at a later date, remind us of essential qualities within ourselves.

The garden around the Studio is semi-wild, with native trees and plants co-existing with introduced specimens. There’s a fusion here of what will never be tamed, and what is cultivated. I believe that humans are very like that: each of us is a unique blend of wild and cultivated. Plant essences can help us to get this balance right within ourselves.

The crystal essence dreams came along a little later, after those early plant essence dreams. The most vivid perhaps was the time I was given, while dreaming, a vial of angel essence, with implicit instructions on how to make my own through a blend of crystals, rose oil and rose water.

The crystal dreams suggested to me that while the plant essences addressed the emotions that constantly occupy us, the crystals themselves addressed bedrock aspects of who we are. Furthermore, the weather and time of day or night also had an input.

From time to time I share the garden with other people who’d like to make their own essences. One such event is happening here on Sunday 17th July, during an event I’m co-hosting with Jennie Meek, who will be bringing her own expertise of Qi Gong and therapeutic tapping to share. You can find out more here.

How do crystal and flower essences work?

I do like logical explanations and I am respectful of the scientific principle of finding proof of efficacy. At the same time, I’m happy to find therapy in the process of making.

The essences are similar to homeopathy in that they carry little or no aspect of the original material. One explanation that is sometimes suggested is that water has memory – it records the essential signature of a material added to it. It may also be that the recording is better when the person creating it has uncluttered, open, focused intention.

If any scientists reading this find that explanation hard to swallow, I think it’s possible, very simply, that on a conscious or even sub-conscious level, qualities of the original plant or crystal remind us of qualities within ourselves, and help us to reinforce those helpful, positive aspects.

The bottom line is that when we make an essence with intention, and then take small amounts of it afterwards – either in drops to imbibe, or in fragranced droplets to spray around us – a subtle yet delightful emotional shift happens within us. Dr Edward Bach recognised this when he first made his flower remedies, back in the 1930s, and it’s possible to recognise the exact same thing today.

 

Why Frankenstein is really about love

14/06/2016 at 12:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This article has also been published in The Huffington Post. 

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In June 1816, 200 years ago this week, Mary Godwin was holidaying with friends in Switzerland. She was just 18 years old. Among the group was the poet Percy Shelley, her partner, who would later become her husband. Driven indoors by relentless rain, the group decided they would each write a horror story.

At first, Mary struggled to find a plot. Then, a few nights later, she had a waking dream: a scientist created a fearsome man from corpse remains.

Her nightmarish vision was fuelled by the scientific interests of the day, and also by a personal tragedy. The year before, Mary had given birth prematurely. The father, Percy Shelley, had been repelled and rejecting of both baby and mother. After their fragile infant daughter died, Mary was lost in grief and haunted by visions of the baby.

That grief put the most amazing energy into her novel, Frankenstein. The flawed protagonist, Dr Victor Frankenstein, is filled with love and hope initially. His dream is to create a beautiful new human being. But the moment the Creature opens his eyes, Victor Frankenstein is utterly repulsed and abandons his creation. He doesn’t even name him. In turn, the Creature himself expects to love his creator. When he is rejected, that powerful capacity for love becomes an equally powerful drive towards hatred and destruction.

Frankenstein was published two years after Mary Godwin’s waking dream, to mixed reviews. However, it could not be forgotten: within five years it had become a stage production, full of thrills and horror. Dr Frankenstein’s monster has stalked our imaginations ever since.

Last month, Liam Scarlett’s ballet at the Royal Opera House produced the latest batch of mixed reviews. My friends Caroline and Katharina went to the live streaming. They were profoundly moved and gripped by the performance. “But the audience around us appeared unmoved,” said Caroline later. “I even heard one person say that it wasn’t scary enough.”

So here’s the question: what is the real meaning of Frankenstein? Opinion is and always has been divided… where does the truth lie?

The answer, I believe, lies in three interrelated insights.

1) It’s a mirror to our inner monster

When pioneering psychologist Carl Jung introduced Europe to its own collective unconscious, a century after Frankenstein was written, the explanation seemed clear: the monstrous Creature is a representation of our own shadow selves. Those aspects of our behaviour that are not approved by our society lie buried, deep in the psyche: a dark, hidden force that lurks just below the levels of our consciousness. It influences our behaviour, acting as a saboteur that we cannot control. This is the monster that we each create for ourselves.

The more uncomfortable we are about our shadow self, the more we will disown it. We will project it onto another, or others, whom we will demonise. Those of us who are in in that category expect Victor Frankenstein’s Creature to be supremely frightening and repellent. However, if we are at ease with our shadow selves, we will not see it as monstrous. We will see it entirely differently. I believe this is a major reason for all the mixed reviews. Frankenstein pushes our buttons.

2) It’s a plea for heart and mind to be in balance

Mary Godwin married Percy Shelley, but he died in a sailing accident when she was 24. Mary was now a single mother, with a young son. She made her living as a writer of novels, travel books and short stories. Within her works there is a golden thread that celebrates heart, hearth and family. She was certain that the enquiring mind needed to be balanced by heart-wisdom. In the original text of Frankenstein, she wrote:

“If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.”

3) It’s a manifesto for love and forgiveness

Mary Shelley, as she became known, understood completely the value of a loving interpretation. And so, in 2016, does choreographer Liam Scarlett.

Dr Victor Frankenstein was misguided to create his monster from corpse parts. But having made the mistake, he could have treated the Creature with compassion and transformed him with love. At the same time, he could have forgiven himself.

This kinder interpretation matters in ways we can’t fully fathom. The truth is, there are dark, untended areas equally in our own psyches and in the wider world. We may be tempted to hide away from these places. But the better solution is to give them tender loving care: to feed them with love, tears and compassion.

In nightmares, when we become aware that we are running away from a monster, the most powerful action is to turn around, and face the monster with love. We can even, perhaps, hug the monster. In dreams, the monster then becomes transformed. Our changed behaviour changes it, for the better.

I think that’s why my friends Caroline and Katharina were moved by the Royal Opera House production of Frankenstein. They saw that it contains an immense, compassionate invitation to love.

So the real meaning of Frankenstein is not horror. The real meaning is love. And that is healing for us all.

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