This is why we need spiritually sensitive hospitals

04/11/2018 at 4:28 pm | Posted in Healing, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Here is a list of hospitals my son has visited. He stayed in all but three of these, which means that I have also stayed in all but three of these: Queen Mary’s Roehampton, Kingston, Royal Brompton, Great Ormond Street, Chippenham, Royal United, Wolfson Children’s, Great Western, Cheltenham General, Gloucestershire Royal, Churchill. Two of these hospitals involved prolonged stays in intensive care units. Together, they have spanned two continents. And in total they have added up to something over six months.

His dad and I, and all our family, have been extremely grateful for the care that he received. I wonder, though, looking back at over half a year of plastic mattresses and iv fluids, whether our son, the countless patients we met along the way, and their families, might have benefitted from a more overtly spiritual perspective.

According to research recently published in the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine (Ho et al, 2018): ‘There is a growing body of evidence that attending to the spiritual needs of patients and their families can improve outcomes including the quality of life, and several guidelines suggest spiritual care should be part of comprehensive health delivery. However, in practice, spiritual care is often overlooked in the management of critically ill patients.’

The Chambers English Dictionary defines the word ‘spiritual’ as:

‘Belonging, referring or relating to the spirit or soul rather than to the body or to physical things…’

And what does the dictionary mean by ‘spirit’?

‘The animating or vitalising essence or force that motivates, invigorates or energises someone or something…’

Look after the spirit

I humbly suggest that looking after the spirit that animates a person will help that person to recover. Going further, if that person is not going to recover, looking after their spirit will help them to die a good death – to be at peace at the end of life.

Spirituality, in my experience, is not a priority in hospitals. It has been largely absent from any of the wards and units my son has stayed in. There have, thankfully, been nurses and/or doctors in most (not all) of those places who have worked hard to promote emotional wellbeing. Going further, religion has been offered, but that’s not quite the same thing. As Chambers says, religion is: ‘A belief in, or the worship of, a god or gods’.

Behind the scenes, quietly, I have sensed that individual members of staff hold philosophies that prompt them unobtrusively to support a patient’s spirit – through a stillness and taking of time, through meditative techniques such as prayer or listening. But these are individual decisions, and rarely if ever shared with others.

At the other end of the scale, I have witnessed critically ill patients in a state of fearful delirium – a distressing way to transition from life.

That sense of unity

Spirituality could be described as a transcendent feeling that one is an indivisible part of the universe. It can be as simple as looking at a beautiful sunset and feeling a sense of purpose and connectedness. Or it might mean looking at another person and realising that they are simply another manifestation of the life force that animates you and everyone you love.

As a practising healer, registered with the NFSH Healing Trust, I have brought spirituality to my son in every ward that he has stayed in. But I have been unobtrusive. Occasionally I have alluded to healing methods, and my words have almost always been ignored, or invalidated with comments such as: “Well, it won’t do any harm”. When my son has fared better than medical staff expected, even surviving against the odds, there has never been any follow-up, no attempt to learn anything of the spiritual dimension that I perceive has been a factor in his recovery.

I have noticed on numerous ward rounds and outpatient appointments that medical staff rely on forms with boxes that they can tick. Fluids? Tick. Bowel movement? Tick. Antibiotics? Tick. So here is my simple request: please, dear medical staff, make sure ‘spiritual wellbeing’ is on your list of things to tick. Be sure to ask open, non-judgemental questions that will enable your patients and their families to open up about the things that will help their spiritual wellbeing.

Find out more

Spiritual Care in the Intensive Care Unit: a Narrative Review. Ho et al, Journal of Intensive Care Medicine, 2018, Vol 33(5), 279-287.

Some healers do currently work in hospitals. You can find healers through The Healing Trust, which is the largest membership association of accredited healers in the UK.

Connect with Suzanne Askham on Twitter.

Photo: rawpixel/Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Guidance is simpler than you think

30/10/2018 at 6:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Twenty years ago, I was struggling with the challenge of parenting a baby with complex health issues. I was also, by no coincidence at all, starting off on my long path to be a spiritual healer. In the night, I would dream vividly. The dreams were detailed, emphatic and helpful. I called them ‘Night tuition’. I saw them as a form of guidance. Where they came from, I had no idea. To me, it didn’t matter whether they originated from my own subconscious, or from some infinite dream library to which all beings have access.

What mattered most to me is that, over time, the dreams helped me to navigate the tricky path that I was treading, along with my partner and our tiny, so vulnerable child.

I’d like to share with you the simplest, barest dream that I experienced. It was simple, but it was powerful. It set the tone for all my future parenting. Actually, it set the tone for everything that has happened since, in every single aspect of my life.

In the dream there was just one, single thing to look at: a rectangle. The shape was shown against a plain background. The rectangle and the background were both devoid of colour. The whole scene was greyscale – just varying degrees of light and dark.

“Which is lighter: the rectangle, or the background?” asked a teacher, next to me but invisible.

I looked carefully. It felt for all the world like some kind of eye test.

Truthfully, the rectangle and the background seemed at first to be pretty similar shades of grey. However, as I looked, it seemed to me that the rectangle was shining more brightly. In fact, it was definitely lighter.

“The rectangle,” I replied.

“Good,” said my teacher. And waves of love washed over me.

In that instant, I understood that the rectangle represented a choice that each of us makes countless times. The rectangle represented the choice between love and fear. Love, in this dream example, was lit up, as though a light was shining through it. If I had seen the rectangle as darker than its background, it would have meant that I was viewing life through a fearful lens, programmed to expect the worst. However, by seeing the rectangle as lighter than its background, I was actually viewing life through the lens of love. It meant that on some fundamental level, I had learnt to trust that in the big scheme of things, all is well.

This was an important lesson for me. It helped me to understand that my love as a mother could be a powerful force in my son’s life. It enabled me to see that my partner’s love as a father could be as protective as mountains. And it taught me that fear would weaken that parental strength and power. So the dream reinforced my innate wish to choose love rather than fear.

How do you know that your guidance is real?

The subject of guidance comes up often in people who visit me. “How do you know that your guidance is real?” is probably the most common query. It’s a good question. We can all, perhaps, think of a susceptible friend who has followed inner promptings and made poor decisions in the process.  You may have come across people, as I have, who say concerning things, such as,”My guidance told me to give up my job/leave my partner and take up with this difficult person who is my soul mate, my twin flame. That’s what my guidance told me.”

To such people I say, as diplomatically as possible, “That is not your guidance.” I think back to my dream about a greyscale rectangle against a greyscale background and I tell them, “Your guidance never tells you what to do. Your guidance is always loving. If you don’t feel happy and loved, then that is not guidance – I don’t know what it is, but it’s certainly not guidance. The advice you think you have received is not in your best interests. Listen to your own common sense. Listen to the loving voice inside yourself, that wants the very best for you, and knows that you are a person of value and purpose.”

Every decision you make in this life is either based on love, or fear. There are no exceptions. Which do you choose right now?

 

 

 

Are we stepping into a new, intuitive era?

21/09/2018 at 11:47 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Respect your intuition. Practise your intuition. Use your intuition to find solutions to complex problems that the rational mind can’t fathom. That’s the message from Asta Raami, a PhD researcher in noetic or inner thinking at Aalto University, Finland. “A huge untapped potential of the human mind is reachable through an intentional use of intuiting,’ she writes in her doctoral dissertation, ‘Intuition Unleashed‘. “Intuition is a superior way of acquiring information in some situations and its capacity is enormous.” And yet because intuition or inner knowing is largely ignored and even denigrated in schools, most of us grow up hiding our rich inner worlds and their accompanying insights. This inhibits creative and scientific enquiry – and adds to personal stress levels. 

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The author has meticulously studied the working methods of numerous designers and inventors, including many Nobel Prize winners. Along the way she has discovered that deep thinkers are not always systematic and logical. Typically they will observe intently, and they will mull over their observations in an open-minded, even dreamy way. One Nobel Prize winner described a sense of seeing the unity of all things. She was able to perceive a universal pattern that somehow seemed to emerge and glow when seen with the open eyes of the inner mind. Another simply said, “Intuition is everything”. 

Of particular interest is a paper that Asta Raami has contributed to a newly published open access book, ‘Sustainability, Human Well-Being, and the Future of Education‘, edited by Justin W. Cook.  In this she identifies what are known as ‘wicked problems’ by researchers. These include the major puzzles of our time, such as climate change, in which the issues are immensely complex, urgent and poorly understood. The rational mind could go down many corridors of enquiry and get nowhere. The intuitive mind – and we are all intuitive – has the potential to understand the whole picture and perceive neat solutions emerging from the core of the puzzle. 

Challenging times have the potential to allow ‘fringe’, previously disdained, ways of thinking to emerge. Perhaps, in this era of extraordinary change, the hitherto undervalued human capacity to intuit will finally become mainstream. Perhaps we will all, finally, be able to ‘own’ our intuition. 

You can find Asta Raami at https://twitter.com/astaraami

Try this dreamy, let-it-all-go meditation

19/09/2018 at 6:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Unexpectedly an old email surfaced in my inbox today, concerning a healing workshop back in 2014. At the workshop I delivered ‘The Path and the Fire Bowl – a Meditation’, which was designed to help people to relax and let go of emotional ‘baggage’. The participants were a wonderfully receptive group. I recorded the meditation for future use… and promptly forgot about it. So here, now, for your relaxation, is ‘The Path and the Fire Bowl – a Meditation’.

It’s dreamy and soporific, so would probably work quite well in the afternoon or evening – and definitely not while driving!

How to improve your focus in meditation – and life

16/08/2018 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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What is your relationship with Focus? Have you been together a while? Or was Focus a first love, or are you and Focus perhaps not even talking?

If I were a life coach, I might suggest that you feed your focus and starve your distractions. Or I might say, “What you focus on is what you get more of.”

However, I am not a life coach. I am a healer who meditates and writes. In the spheres of wellbeing in which I move, focus is not an end goal. It’s an invitation to be fully present. All we can ever have is this present moment. If we witness this moment fully, it has the magical ability to open up like a fractal. Rather like the owl I met recently, we develop the ability to see, hear, sense and intuit in ever more detail.

The state of mindful focusing is a relaxed, alert way of being. We become aware and awake to what’s around us. Importantly, we don’t focus on what we want yet don’t have. We focus on what is. In so doing, we realise how very much is contained within the present moment. We can then make choices based on our expanded awareness, which can help us step into an optimum future.

What is your relationship with Focus? Are you perhaps close friends? Maybe, just maybe, Focus is your life-long guide and companion?

 

Try this simple star meditation for wellbeing

24/07/2018 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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This exercise is quick and easy to do. Once you’ve learnt it, you can complete it in just six breaths. Many people find it relaxing, and it can help you step into a mindset of good health and happiness. It’s a little about the hand movements, and a lot about the visualisation you do during the sequence. You can do this every day, or whenever you feel like it.

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1. Clasp your hands loosely together with the thumb pads touching. Focus on your breathing. Follow the breath as it moves in and out. As you breathe in, say the word ‘Divine’ to yourself – breathe in the word silently – and imagine a golden white ball of light, shimming and glowing right in the very centre of you. As you breathe out, say the word ‘light’ to yourself – breathe out silently – and imagine the light at the centre of you radiating outwards like a star. Imagine that the light clears away any detritus in your energy field that is no longer needed, so that you glow and shine ever more brightly.

 

 

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2. With the next in-breath, keep your thumbs together, and place the two index fingers together. Repeat as above, breathing in the word ‘divine’ and breathing out the word ‘light’. Imagine the light radiating, and clearing old energies.

 

 

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3. With the next in-breath, keep thumbs and index fingers together. Place the two middle fingers together. Repeat breathing and visualising as above. Imagine yourself like a star, with beautiful, life-giving rays of light streaming out in all directions.

 

 

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4. With the next in-breath, keep thumbs, index and middle together. Feel the sensation of the thumb pads and the finger pads connecting with their counterparts. Perhaps you can feel your pulse through the connection. Repeat breathing and visualising as above. With each in-breath the light in the centre of you glows more brightly. With each out-breath it radiates outwards.

 

 

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5. And with the next in-breath, keep all your digits together, including your little fingers. Take your time to be still and breathe meditatively. Imagine that the light in the centre of you is dazzlingly bright, and that the light is streaming outwards in every direction. Picture that any areas of physical or mental pain are harmlessly being cleared away by the powerful radiating light, leaving your body, mind and spirit full of radiant good health and happiness.

 

6. Finally, conclude the exercise by placing your hands briefly in the ‘namaste’ position. As you do so, focus on a sense of the divine in yourself, and in all living beings.

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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?

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