What did you do today?

07/07/2013 at 10:36 pm | Posted in Happiness, Inspiration, Nature, Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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Yarrow“What did you do today?”

I breathed. I lived. I put my bare feet on the earth.

“Yes, but what did you do?”

I’ve just told you what I did.

“What else did you do?”

I had a laugh with ones I love. I ate almonds under a wild cherry tree. I breathed the sweet scent of a pure white rose.

“Sounds nice. Anything else?”

Yes, now that you come to mention it, I gathered yarrow under a cloudless sky. I touched a silver birch whose leaves were shimmering in the breeze. And I watched the red sun go down, while a handsome man held me close…

That’s what I did today. And what about you; what did you do? Don’t tell me the stuff you didn’t really care about. Tell me what mattered to you.

The healing power of swimming

16/03/2013 at 4:49 pm | Posted in Exercise, Happiness, Inspiration, Uncategorized, Wellbeing | 5 Comments
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WaterA few days ago I went back to my local pool after a long absence. As I glided through the water, reflections of blue sky danced over the surface. I could feel myself relaxing, letting the water support me. And I remembered the joy of swimming.

We know that water can be kind to the human body: whatever the level of fitness, water provides a small but significant resistance that increases the overall benefit.

Less talked about, it does something equally interesting to the psyche: it connects us an earlier, more aquatic stage of life: the womb… and even, more distantly, our evolutionary past.

When I am in water, I feel different. The hard angular surfaces of modern life give way to a fluid world in which I feel safe, held, and simply more inclined to go with the flow. There is something inherently fun about the experience, and I feel zingy and cleansed.

As I swam, I started an internal chant, and this is how it went:

“I am beautiful… I am one… I am beautiful”… I am one…”

Each phrase corresponded to a swimming stroke. When I reached the end of the pool and turned around, the chant had become: “I am beautiful… I am two… I am beautiful… I am two…”

With each new length, the number went up. I was counting lengths, and throwing in an affirmation too.

And then I realized I was actually imagining myself at the age of one, two, and so on. Not only that, I was feeling the dominant emotions of that age, in connection with beauty and self-worth. As I continued to swim up and down the pool, the happy self-belief of young childhood gave way to the huge, wobbly uncertainty of my teens, and a growing feeling of confidence in adulthood. As I remembered sad times, it felt as though the water was washing the pain away.

Effectively, I was healing each stage of my life’s journey with the help of water, and affirmations. My adult self was sending love and support back through the years to all my younger selves who were still there, it seemed to me, in the memories held within my body. The process felt deeply restorative and I recommend it to you.

Next time you’re in the pool, you might like to affirm “I am beautiful… I am one” and so on, all the way through your teens, twenties – all the way up to your present age. You can spread the exercise over more than one swim session, if you choose. But when you have swum a length for every year you’ve lived, you can start all over again with a new word. “I am strong”, and “I am well” both have great healing potential. What affirmation would you choose?

The real meaning of home

28/09/2012 at 3:02 pm | Posted in Happiness, Meditation, Nature, Wellbeing | 12 Comments
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In our distant nomadic past, home was where we settled for the night: it was shelter, a place we lay down – a place of rest. Recently, on the West Coast of Scotland, I came across a perfect example of home at its simplest. This stone outcrop at Sand provided shelter for our ancestors nearly 10,000 years ago. It was their bedroom, and also their kitchen: there is evidence that they collected limpets from the sea shore and boiled them up in water before eating them.

My daughter led me up and onto the roof of the shelter. “There’s a place I’ve got to show you,” she said. “You’re going to love it; it’s really special.” And she was right. On the heather-clad roof there were several broad stones: slabs of natural paving. One, in particular, was a perfect meditation seat. It was easy to sit there, gaze out to sea and  simply let your thoughts drift into that in-between place – the other realm.

When I did so, I found myself talking to the inhabitants of that time. We weren’t using words, exactly, but we were communicating. To my surprise, I found they were admiring my build: the fact that compared with them I looked immensely well fed. I was aware of their lightness and slimness and superb fitness, and found myself wishing that I exercised more.

Self-acceptance

They were surprised at my lack of self-acceptance on this matter. They reminded me of the goodness of Mother Earth, or the Mother as they called her. She provided what we needed, and it made no sense to disparage her gifts. Abundance was a blessing. Each of us was a creation of the Mother. Each of us was divine. How could we criticise ourselves in that context? Criticism was utterly meaningless.

I actually had the sense they were laughing at me, as if I were a child who didn’t quite understand. And yet there was also respect. It was as if they saw wisdom in me, as I saw wisdom in them. And the wisdom wasn’t individual wisdom; it was collective. We all shared knowledge… and this knowledge was infinite awareness.

And then I understood the true meaning of home. It is unconditional love, and it is acceptance. When you are at home – truly at home –  you are loved, you are accepted. During the many times we find ourselves on our own, we can still feel unconditional love and acceptance towards ourselves. And when we are with others – however distant in terms of culture, or the passage of time – we can feel that exact same connection. As I did on that rock.

Down below, a car horn was sounding. I was being summoned back to the 21st Century. I clambered down the heather slopes, sea breeze in my hair, aware that the bliss I was feeling is our natural birthright.

It’s your birthright; it truly is.

This moment now

30/07/2012 at 10:25 am | Posted in Happiness, Meditation, Nature, Uncategorized, Wellbeing | 1 Comment
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This moment now is all we ever have, but it’s enough, because it’s everything.

Have a magical day.

Easter and the Goddess of Dawn

09/04/2012 at 11:42 am | Posted in Happiness, Nature, Wellbeing | 2 Comments
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Easter comes from the Goddess of Dawn.

Look beneath any festival and you will find simple truths about people and our planet. Easter is a great example of this. The word ‘Easter’ is a variant of ‘east’, the direction in which the sun rises at dawn.

The word has ancient roots in the seed language known as Proto-Indo-European. The original word, ‘aus’, or ‘austre’ meant ‘to shine’, particularly at dawn. It was personified in early Europe as Austron or Eostre, the goddess of spring, fertility and the rising sun. Her festival was the Spring Equinox, that time between the shortest and longest days, which heralded the beginning of the all-important growing season. The changing seasonal cycle as we journey around the sun is more important to us than our mechanised lives reveal. But beneath the confusion of 21st century timetables, our bodies still respond to the longer days of sunlight in basic ways that haven’t changed since life emerged on the planet.

We absolutely take pleasure in the new life that is around at this time, and within us ideas that were incubating over winter begin to take on real life. What does this year mean to you? What are you beginning to achieve in terms of your own self-development? This is a good time to be aware that Eostre, the Goddess of Dawn, is an archetypal force in you that is driving you towards summer and the fruition of your hopes and dreams.

The good nurturing guide

09/03/2012 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Happiness, Healing, Parenting, Wellbeing | 9 Comments
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The author and youngest child, in baby-wearing days.

‘Nurturing’ is a very ancient word, and we all know what it means… don’t we? It’s about being loving, caring, helping young ones to grow and develop. But remove centuries of common usage, and we get a much simpler concept. This is it.

‘Nurture’, ‘nutrient’, ‘nourish’ and ‘nurse’ all come from the same ancient Proto-Indo-European root: ‘nu’, or ‘snu’. That root means, quite simply, ‘to flow, to let flow, to suckle’. The Sanskrit word is very similar: ‘snauti’ means ‘she drips, gives milk’. The ancient Greek is ‘nao’, meaning: ‘I flow’.

So to nurture means, literally, the act of giving milk to an infant. That is it – nothing else.

Why does this matter?

When you give milk to an infant, you give the milk, and that is it. True, you also look after the infant – the love and practical care you give them is extraordinarily important, and makes the difference between thriving and just surviving.  It is right that we include that sense of loving care within our modern definition of nurturing.

But the actual act of giving milk – the ‘nu’ or nourishment – is one of letting go. The milk is an unconditional gift. You don’t expect the infant to do anything in particular with it. You anticipate that they will grow. But the way they do this is not in your control. Their own particular combination of genes and psyche will blend with environment to create a unique human being.

Nowadays, arguably too often, the concept of nurturing includes a sense of sculpting and shaping the young individual so that they grow up to be a properly socialised human. Parents feel a sense of responsibility to get this right. Well-meaning manuals and playground conversations collude to create the pressured sense that parents have an awfully big role which we are highly likely, regularly, to get wrong. As the English poet Philip Larkin put it so memorably in This Be the Verse: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad/ They may not mean to, but they do/They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra just for you.”

These past weeks I’ve been working on the theme of nurturing with students and clients in my meditation studio. The pickle humans collectively get ourselves into over this word has become obvious to me. I have found two basic sub-themes.

One is a sense of not having being nurtured – emotionally and perhaps also nutritionally – as a child.

The other is a well-meaning and futile impulse to shape and sculpt young people who are way past the infant stage.

If we take ‘nurturing’ back to its original meaning, of giving milk – or sustenance, if you will – to an infant, then these two themes of profound human disappointment take on a different colour.

When we understand that the sustenance we received – flawed though it may have been – was an unconditional gift, then we realise that our own growth and flowering is ultimately up to ourselves and the laws of nature. We may choose to care for those aspects of ourselves that have been frozen in childhood patterns of trauma, want or need, and bring them to a more enlightened and happier adult reality.

When we understand that other adults do not need to be nurtured by us, it lifts the most enormous burden from our shoulders. Instead of trying to fix or rescue others, we give them the respect of one grown-up for another. And frequently we find that they do flower as a result of that respect.

Nurturing is a simple act that happens in the present moment, and then is gone. Once we have given it, we no longer own it.

Isn’t that a relatively carefree feeling?

Three Happy Moments Game

23/11/2011 at 8:17 pm | Posted in Happiness, Parenting, Uncategorized, Wellbeing | 1 Comment
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The unexpected fragrance of a flower as you pass by.

This is a great game to share with a child, partner or friend at the end of the day. And it’s guaranteed to make the toughest days seem better…

Simply take it in turns to share a first happy moment that happened during the day; then a second; then a third. Choose anything that comes to mind; they don’t have to follow chronological order. Here are some examples:

* seeing a tree with brightly coloured leaves, with the sun shining through them

* a letter containing good news

* thoughtful praise from a colleague

* sharing a laugh with a friend

* seeing your child’s face light up when you picked them up from school

* a blissful half-hour of meditation

* the unexpected fragrance of flowers as you walked by.

* a healthy work-out at the gym, or a yoga practice.

Over time, you get a very clear idea of the things that make you and your loved ones happy. And the more you focus on those, the more often those happy things happen. This is a win-win game.

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