Three ways to be blissful at Beltane

25/04/2017 at 10:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Beltane is the blossom-scented traditional festival that falls on 1st May, also known as May Day. However, as a state of mind, it’s available to us throughout the year – whatever the season.  This is how.

First, let’s unpack the meaning of this beautiful word with its clear, musical tones. ‘Beltane’ comes from an ancient seed word meaning ‘shine’ , ‘flash’ and ‘fire’ – a reference to the fact that by late spring/early summer in the Northern Hemisphere the sun stays with us a little longer every day, warming living beings and the land.

The shine of Beltane is not the reflective gleam of a cool surface, such as the moon or water.  It originates from within and radiates outwards. The 1st of May marks the point at which the light has become significantly stronger. By this stage in the year the sun can invoke warmth-loving seeds to shoot upwards towards its radiance. Yet the late spring sun also has the potential to burn bare skin and parch seedlings. A Beltane sun has a power that can be used for good or ill, a power we need to respect and use wisely. We are energised by it – and it can remind us of our own inner power.

Here are three things you can do at Beltane to focus your inner power and use it for good. These can be used just as they are or adapted for any time of the year when you wish to stoke your own inner fire to increase your wellbeing and your energetic impact on the world.

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1. When you wake in the morning, count your blessings. This is especially easy to do when the mornings are light and sun-filled. The practice reminds you of all the great good that is in your life. As a consequence, gratitude radiates outwards from your centre, effortlessly burning away subtle detritus from your personal energy, such as resentment and old griefs.

2. Go orchard bathing. Walk among trees laden with flowers. Breathe in their subtle fragrance. See or sense their vibrant shimmer in the air. Enter the canopy of a blossoming tree and feel uplifted by the sense of life and potential that the tree embodies. Absorb that energy and let it apply to your own upcoming projects and dreams. At other times of year you can revisit the orchard trees to witness the natural cycles of life and regeneration, and gain a sense of how these manifest in you.

3. Become a student of light. Notice how light travels through a leaf or a forest and develop a sense of how light rays pass through the skin of a living being, and how shafts of sunlight penetrate a community. This matters not just because sunlight can be beautiful and healing, but also because it transforms. Even the darkest places receive light photons, bringing with them energy, information and, symbolically, hope. Be aware of those energies. Work with them. The more you get to know them, the more benefits you will discover.

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Seven steps to perfect kefir

02/04/2017 at 8:23 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This is a fantastic way to look after your gut, and overall health and wellbeing too. I first discovered kefir in 2003, when I took my young son with physical and learning disabilities to see a nutritionist. “Feed him fermented foods,” was her advice. She could easily guess that he was likely to have more than his fair share of antibiotics over the following years. She knew that fermented foods are rich in probiotics that keep the gut healthy.

I went home, did a little research and have been making kefir ever since. Now every member of the family drinks it regularly. The almost-fizzy, almost-lemony, definitely vibrant taste is curiously addictive. It’s not remotely like those yogurt-style drinks that have entered supermarket shelves in little armies. Kefir is well and truly alive. And when you drink it, you get to feel that way too.

In brief, kefir is made from a complex symbiotic culture of beneficial bacteria and yeast. This culture looks rather like a lumpy spoonful of rice pudding, but feels more gelatinous than that. Sounds lovely so far! Here’s a close-up:

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You pop the culture into a pot of milk, leave it in a reasonably warm place for 24 hours, then strain the resulting creamy liquid through a plastic sieve. The rice-pudding-like culture is left in the sieve, ready to be popped into a new pot of milk. The kefir itself is ready to drink. It’s so easy.

So to make this wonderful drink, you first need some of the culture. If you’re lucky you may get this from a kefir-making friend. Otherwise, it’s possible to buy on-line. Do not, please, make the mistake of getting sachets of ‘kefir starter’. You want the real-deal lumpy, bumpy culture. Once you’ve got that, you can keep making kefir from your original culture indefinitely. It grows, and it grows.

Kefir has become increasingly popular since I first started making it. More and more friends are giving my excess kefir culture a home. Every time, of course, instructions are required. So I thought it would be useful to share those instructions on-line. Once you’ve got your culture, just follow these easy steps.

1. The most important thing: be aware that your kefir culture is a living, amazing community of beneficial bacteria and yeasts which bring great benefits to the digestive system and beyond. So always treat it kindly and with respect.

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2. Now for the practical bit. Your kefir culture has likely arrived in a small pot of semi-skimmed milk ready to do its stuff. Or it may have arrived in a small bag with just a few spoonfuls of kefir liquid. It may be small enough to fit into a teaspoon, or large enough to fill a dessert spoon. (But please keep it away from direct contact with metal – it doesn’t like it.) Say hello to your culture, put it in a plastic or glass pot, and add approx 150 ml milk: semi-skimmed, whole or goat’s milk. (Note, illustrations here show a larger quantity than you’ll likely start off making.)

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3. Rest a lid lightly on top of the pot – kefir needs to breathe, while protecting it from its environment. Put the pot somewhere reasonably warm – the kitchen may well be warm enough, but depending on where you live, you might choose to place it by a radiator, warm pipes or other heat source. The ideal temperature range is probably around 21ºC or 70ºF.

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4. Wait. In approx 24 hours it will look like the picture below. Note the little lines of whey down the sides of the jar. Depending on temperature, size of culture and volume of milk, it may look less cultured than this, or more. If left longer it could separate completely between curds and whey. It would also have a correspondingly strong, almost cheesy taste.

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5. Pour the kefir mixture into a plastic sieve over a bowl or container. Gently push the kefir mix to and fro with a plastic spoon or spatula to encourage it through the sieve. Use a scooping action to avoid squashing the culture too much (though it’s quite elastic). Make sure you’ve got all the kefir and more importantly the culture out of your original pot. Avoid having metal come into contact with the culture itself. I’ve never tested this, but over time it could distress the culture and make it less viable. (However, later, if you make a kefir smoothie or add it to your cereal, it’ll be fine to use metal utensils.)

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6. Keep sieving gently. Soon you’ll see the cute or messy culture (depending on how you view it) sitting in the bottom of the sieve. Your culture may be in one or more pieces.

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7. Carefully scoop the culture up and place it in a clean container. You can optionally add a spoon of kefir from the last batch if you wish. Pour your chosen milk over the kefir culture. You can use semi-skimmed or whole cow’s milk, or goat’s milk depending on your taste. (If your kefir formed quickly and well last time around, you could gradually increase the volume of milk over successive cycles.) Place it somewhere reasonably warm, as before, and let a new cycle begin!

Meanwhile, enjoy your kefir straight from the fridge, or follow the recipe suggestions below.

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Foodie tip

Make your kefir over the normal cycle – about 24 hours. Then put it in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Then sieve as normal. Kefir made this way has a creamier consistency.

How much kefir should you drink?

A small glass of kefir once a day is ideal, but it’s fine to drink more (or less). If you’re new to kefir, start with small portions ( up to 100 ml a day) then build up.

Recipe suggestions

You can drink kefir unsweetened, as we do, or with a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup if you prefer. Many people like to add it to cereal in the morning, instead of milk or yogurt. I love it in a small bowl with fruit. It’s also good to drink just before bed. Don’t heat kefir up or cook with it though, as then it will no longer be alive – and it needs to be alive to do its magic in your digestive system!

What to do with your excess culture

Your culture will grow with each new cycle. When it’s doubled in size or more, you can divide it. You can store spare culture in a spoonful or two of kefir in the freezer as back-up in case your original culture fails or you lose it; you can whizz it up in smoothies; you can compost it. You can also store spare culture in the fridge in a small pot of milk – change the milk weekly.

A final note

Kefir is very easy and inexpensive to cultivate. Although it’s important to keep your kefir equipment clean, the culture itself quickly creates a mildly acidic environment that deters unfriendly bacteria.

Enjoy your kefir, and just ask if you’d like to know anything else. Or share your recipe ideas below!

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Six steps to perfect prediction

20/03/2017 at 9:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Prediction is a popular pursuit in many areas, including business, politics, weather, economics, and (of course) the field of intuition. This article is about channelling one’s own intuition to gain a sense of what is likely to happen in the future. Perhaps the following tips will be useful for economists and weather forecasters too. Here they are, in six not always straightforward steps.

  1. Let go of any personal agenda. If you can’t do that, your best predictions will be no better than guesses, and often far worse. If you secretly want a certain outcome, you will distort your interpretation of everything you see, or sense. If you are not aware of this personal bias, or even in denial about it, your attempts to predict will fail. It’s good to work at knowing yourself. What, for example, do you fear? Unless you deal with your fears, they will pop up and distort your intuitions about the future.
  2. Make a life-long practice of being an observer of people, of life, of events. The more you observe, the more consciously aware you become of patterns. Patterns are everywhere. We tend to believe that we have self-determination – that we can shape our own future. That is true. But beneath the conscious level we ourselves are a part of many overlapping and interweaving patterns. This means that our choices are not always entirely our own. They are an expression of our family, our community, our country, our culture. Even when we rebel against these influences, they still work on us in unconscious ways. When we see the many patterns of life clearly, we are more likely to notice breaks in the patterns, and the effects of those disturbances to the general order of things. Observing the pattern of cause and effect is in itself a life-long discipline.
  3. Understand the process of prediction. Think of yourself as a channel. To be more precise, your conscious mind is the conduit through which unconscious information flows. You might think of pioneering psychologist Carl Jung here: he suggested that beneath the realms of our individual unconscious are vast realms of collective unconscious knowledge that we all share. When predicting, it’s useful to think of yourself drawing on this vast well of unconscious knowledge.
  4. Be clear about what you are aiming to predict. Ask a question. Consider whatever comes up in relation to that question.
  5. Use tools in moderation. Understand that no tools are essential, but they can be helpful. Tools might include scrying instruments, such as a crystal ball or a blank mirror, that you gaze into with a lightly unfocused gaze – a tv screen for the mind. Tools might also include oracle cards, or simply watching the sky or land and noticing what you notice. What comes forward for your attention? What relevance does it have to your question?
  6. Relax. Let go. Answers may come quickly, slowly or not at all. Sleep on it. Keep a dream journal. Be open to answers in your dreams, which can cut right to heart of an issue and reveal the psychology of a person or a nation. When you wake in the morning, pause… and sense the beautiful fresh blankness of the new day, like an empty slate on which your intuition can write. Take the whole process lightly. Be grateful for insights.

Finally, remember that prediction is always based in the present moment. It is subject to change. If a person starts thinking differently, they behave differently and the future changes. So we can only really tell what is likely to happen if people continue as they are. Above all, be kind. We always have the power to shape the future for the better.

The real meaning of ‘aura’

13/03/2017 at 10:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Photo courtesy of Christopher Campbell/Unsplash

This week, in my meditation studio, we’re focusing on the word ‘aura’. But what does that actually mean?

The Cambridge Dictionary is a good starting point. Aura is defined there as ‘a feeling or character that a person or place seems to have’ and also as ’a type of light that some people say they can see around people and animals’.

To get a truly authentic sense of the word, however, we need to go back in time.

Aura was a Greek goddess, a personification of the breeze, breath and fresh, cool air.

Her name came from an ancient seed word meaning breeze, or fresh air. That same seed word also came to manifest over in Finland as ‘the Finnish Maiden’, a personification of Finland itself.

So ‘aura’ evokes a presence. It can encapsulate the spirit of an individual, or a community, or a place. It has a freshness about it, a sense of movement: new ideas and invigorating air arrive; old energies and air depart.

When healers and other energy therapists use the word ‘aura’, they’re generally referring to the energy field of a person, or other living being. Healers talk about sensing ‘stuck’ energy, a lack of flow in certain parts of a human energy field that can be associated with areas of pain or discomfort.  Linked with the physical discomfort may well be emotional issues that have not been fully processed – that have been ‘stuck’ in some way. The healing process enables flow to return to these areas. Physical symptoms can improve. Emotional wellbeing can return.

In this context it makes perfect sense that Aura, the classical personification of fresh air and breezes, is meant to be a gently dynamic force. When a person is fit and healthy there seems to be a glow and vibrancy about them – in some immensely subtle way, they shimmer. Likewise, when a person is very happy they glow. Think about a young couple who are about to marry, for example. Or think about a woman when she is expecting a baby.  In contrast, when someone has clinical depression, it can feel as thought they are ‘stuck’ in their sad emotions.

We notice auras without always realising it. Someone is ‘full of hot air’. Someone else has a quietly menacing air. Yet another person has a reassuring presence.

Being aware of auras in this way helps us choose wisely how we deal with situations. The truth is that noticing auras, far from simply being the preserve of psychics, is a good life skill for all of us.

For a healthy life, love is the answer

10/03/2017 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Think of the good relationships in your life. These could include a partner, children, parents, sibling, nephew or niece. A small group of supportive friends or colleagues. Maybe an animal companion or two. Whoever they are, think of them now….

Chances are you feel a glow deep inside you, a softening and relaxing of your whole body. It’s uplifting to think of those we love and care for. And now there is plenty of evidence that having these relationships helps us to stay healthy too.

A Harvard study  which began in 1938 and is still ongoing has been tracking over 700 men, some from inner-city Boston and the others from Harvard. They were teenagers when the study began. Seventy members of the original group are still alive. The men’s wives and children are now also being included. Along the way, the researchers have discovered that people with good relationships tend to be healthier too.

“Good, close relationships predicted not just that they would stay happier, but they would also stay healthier,” says Dr Robert Waldinger, the study’s current director.

Fame and fortune – the things people so often believe they want – simply don’t have the same effect. Having enough is all that’s required as far as happiness is concerned.

Realistic, not rose-tinted

Good relationships don’t always go smoothly. But that’s just part of being human. What matters is that you feel the other person fundamentally has your back.

When relationships do end, it’s good for our long-term health to build new bonds with like-minded others.

Joining new clubs may feel daunting, but it could be the healthiest gift you can give yourself.

It’s never about the number of friends you have. What matters is the quality of your relationships. Many will agree that loneliness in a crowd is far worse than pleasant periods of chosen solitude.

Loneliness is toxic. In the Harvard study, loneliness is associated with a shorter life span. Yet it’s sadly common. Relate’s new study of relationships in Britain, ‘The Way We Are Now’, has found that 13% of UK people have no close friends, and this number has risen in the past two years.

Relate has also found that just under half of all people feel lonely sometimes. A similar number of people living together feel lonely often or all of the time.

Five steps to happiness

Nurturing the good relationships we have, and building new ones when we feel the need, are linked strongly with happiness and health. This is an active process. We have to work at it a bit. Here are some suggestions.

• Write a thoughtful letter by hand to someone you care for, full of appreciation and kindness. Ring up an old friend you haven’t spoken to lately.

• Say “I love you” often to those you love.

Volunteer at a local charity that’s aligned with your interests and skills.

• Join a Meetup or local community group with similar interests to you. Regularly attend get-togethers.

• Finally, there is one practice that will make all of the above easier to accomplish. It’s simple really: love and cherish yourself. Remember that you are a unique member of this amazing human race. You are loveable. For many of us, this takes a little work. But it’s worth it. When you can cherish yourself, it’s infinitely easier to love others – and to allow others to love you in return.

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

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