This is the perfect time for your self care

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

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

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

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

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

This is why you should start your week with a meditation

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

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

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

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

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

In the heart of a lonely man

27/11/2017 at 10:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Spring tea

Fragrant and nourishing spring tea.

 

I remember travelling to a seaside town in the south west with my family. I remember that we went into a café for lunch. I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember the salty tang of the sea air, and the sun-burnt faces of fellow diners.

I remember breastfeeding my baby daughter in the café. I remember the bliss that arrived as the milk flowed.  And I remember that I smiled down at my daughter and looked up, still smiling, to gaze directly into the eyes of a man, sitting at a nearby table, who was staring at me. I remember how bereft he looked. His expression was one of absolute loss. It was a naked expression, as though he’d been caught out by his own silent sadness, almost as though he hadn’t even realised it was there.

That man’s expression has stayed with me these past 12 years. It seems to me that he was expressing, so beautifully, the longing of the lonely soul. We all have lonely elements within us – parts of us that went unnourished at a critical time. At its simplest, it seems to me that I could roll back time to see the man returned to his baby form, left to cry for lack of milk and nurturing.

So that’s why I wrote ‘Milk of Kindness’. And that’s why I’m so pleased it’s just been published in The Poetic Bond VII. I’m privileged to be one of 50 poets represented in the book, which was compiled by Trevor Maynard.

There’s no way that I can know what happened to the man in the café all that time ago. But wherever he is, I wish him peace and kindness.

That wonderful feeling when your dream comes true

20/11/2017 at 8:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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The Poetic Bond announcement 2

At the beginning of this year I set myself a challenge: get some poetry accepted for publication. Today, that wish has come true. The Poetic Bond VII, an anthology edited by Trevor Maynard, features work by 50 poets from 11 countries. Together, they create a vivid snapshot of now. My three poems are set in England, New Zealand and infinity. They feature love, loneliness and yes, there are dragons. Quite a lot of dragons – the sort that can change lives. They’re worth getting to know!

Do go take a peek at Amazon UK or Amazon.com

This is why you need to make balance your new best friend

26/09/2017 at 11:29 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Recently my work was soaring like an eagle or, to be more precise, like the buzzards that live around here. I seemed to succeed in everything I did. I felt strong, confident, invincible. I cut down on sleep to fit in more work…. and my throat began to hurt, and then I got a chill that kept me away from work for a couple of days.

“How annoying,” I thought. “Just when everything was going so well!”

And then I realised my cold had arrived precisely because my work had become super-charged. Humans need to pace ourselves, or we burn ourselves out. Obvious, isn’t it? And yet I had fallen into the trap of believing I was super-human, above such considerations.

The tell-tale signs were there. They alway are. The intoxicating feeling of invincibility. The exhilaration. The lack of regard for rest breaks. The sense that there was no time for nourishing meals.

Our bodies truly are our own best guides when it comes to living a happy, healthy, balanced life. As soon as your choices get out of balance your body will let you know. The first signs are subtle – sneeze and you’ll miss them. Then the signs grow bigger, until you can’t physically avoid them.

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Here is the most important question you can ask yourself:

“How am I feeling right now?”

Are your emotions in balance, or are you tending towards one extreme or another?

The immediate remedy to help you get back in balance is always the little, natural things.

Have enough sleep.

Eat apples from a tree.

Cook a tasty, sustaining meal.

Turn off your phone.

Collect firewood.

Draw a picture.

Talk to a loved one.

Simply be.

 

Why this is a great time to become more serene

23/08/2017 at 6:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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When I saw this photo I couldn’t resist asking to ‘borrow’ it. It’s an image of my niece, Sophie, canoeing along a tributary to Loch Morlich in Scotland’s Cairngorm National Park.

For me, this image sums up the best of serenity.

To make progress, there’s generally some effort involved. There are always bound to be a few rocks along the route. But the best approach is to cultivate a calm manner – to do your best to remain balanced whatever lies in your path.

It’s good to see distractions for what they are: side shows that are not and never will be your true path. That way we don’t become over-reactive, or allow ourselves to be carried along by events.

At the same time, it’s important to be prepared, yet not overly so. It’s wise to take a few useful items with you for your safety and wellbeing, and to help you move forwards. However, it’s also ok to trust that your needs will be met, and to travel light.

I’ve been meditating on serenity daily since the start of the summer. Through busy times it’s frankly been a life-saver. This regular practice actually appears to make life’s challenges… well, less challenging. Which is why this moment, right now, is a great time for you to focus on being serene. Try it and see what happens.

Recipe: plum cordial

16/08/2017 at 9:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Plums

The branch might seem like the fruit’s origin: In fact, the branch exists because of the fruit. ~ Rumi

This is the first year in a long time that I’m not making plum cordial myself. Instead, my 21-year-old son and his carers are taking over the role. (My son, Tim, has carers because he is differently abled. He has physical and learning disabilities, and oxygen therapy). I am writing down the recipe so that others can follow it. In fact, it’s very similar to Elderberry cordial. But there are some differences.

The method is easy

1. Gather ripe, healthy plums. It’s fun to pick them from the tree, then throw them into a bowl which someone else is holding (Tim’s method). Or better yet, throw them randomly around and thus give the bowl holder some exercise.

 

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2. Wash, chop roughly (don’t bother removing stones) and place in a large pan. Add just enough water to cover comfortably. Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer gently for 15 minutes. Stir from time to time.

3. When cool enough to handle, strain into a large bowl through a colander with a muslin cloth draped over it. Press the cloth with the back of a large spoon or your hands to get as much of the juice out as possible. (Alternatively, for a clearer cordial, leave the juice to strain naturally through the muslin cloth, overnight if necessary.)

4. Measure the amount of liquid you have and put it back in the rinsed-out pan. Add half a kilo (1 lb) granulated sugar for each  litre  (1.5 pints) of liquid.

5. Add a couple of cinnamon sticks and approx 4 cm (1.5 inches) of  root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped per litre (1.5 pints) of liquid. Heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved. Add a little more sugar to taste if required. Leave mixture to infuse for half an hour over a very low heat, or off the heat.

6. Sieve the liquid to remove the cinnamon and ginger. Pour the liquid into sterilized bottles (putting them through the dishwasher beforehand is fine).

7. Put caps on the bottles, making sure they are well sealed. Store in fridge where it should keep for several months. You can also store this cordial in plastic bottles in the freezer, being sure not to fill them completely to take into account the expansion of the water as it turns to ice. In the freezer it will keep easily until the festive season.

To drink, dilute to taste (roughly 1 measure of cordial to 5 or 6 measures of water. Tastes delicious with sparkling water, and a slice of lemon or orange.

The benefits are great

Plums are rich in anti-oxidants to help to keep cells healthy,  and a host of vitamins (in particular Vitamin C) which assist the healthy functioning of the body in myriad ways. There are also good amounts of bioflavonoids to help absorb and utilise all the lovely Vitamin C. One of the earliest of fruits to be cultivated by humans, there’s something innately nourishing about plums. Be sure to include the skins when preparing a recipe, as much of the goodness is contained there.

With thanks to Julie and Suzie for helping Tim to make plum cordial this year. 

 

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Recipe: sugar-free elderflower and rose cordial

20/06/2017 at 1:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Every summer I used to make elderflower and rose cordial – or summer cordial, as it became known. It seemed like the perfect way to capture the magic of this fragrant season. I’d walk the fields with my young daughter, and we’d collect elderflowers and wild roses, wild strawberries and sometimes even little field pansies, or more often we’d pluck a few pansies and lavender sprigs from the plants that basked in sunshine by the kitchen door.

However, this year something has changed. I gave up sugar last Lent, and the habit has stuck. Now I’d rather my cordials were not super-sweet. True, sugar is an effective, traditional preservative for drinks and jams. Looking at it logically, however, sugar is not essential. Fridges and freezers do a pretty good job of preservation!

So this year I’ve adapted my old recipe. This version is sugar-free. Instead, it contains a relatively small amount of honey. Ideally, a good, local, liquid honey.

The difference in flavour? Truthfully, I much prefer this version. It seems to me that the honey, which itself it made from the nectar of countless flowers, brings out the fragrant, nectar-rich scent of the summer blooms.

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You can adapt the flowers according to what’s available. Right now, roses are everywhere, so they’re the main ingredient in the cordial illustrated here. The roses can be wild ones from the hedgerows, though it’s best to include plenty of fragrant garden ones too.  Later in the season, you could probably add meadowsweet. I haven’t tried that yet.

The key is that the flowers are not heated, so they keep their amazingly delicate flavour. I hope you agree the recipe captures the refreshing, uplifting essence of summer.

For this healthier recipe I added raspberries and wild strawberries from my garden. A small shop- or farm-bought punnet of either would do the job equally well.

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Ingredients:

2.5 litres water

3/8 cup/100 g honey

1 bowl/60 g mixed elderflowers (thick stalks removed), fragrant rose petals (unsprayed & from a garden or hedgerow, not a shop); a few pansies are an optional extra

5 sprigs lavender

Optional: 3 generous sprigs lemon verbena leaves

1 scant cup/120 g strawberries or raspberries, or a mix of both

1 lemon

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Method:

Boil water and let it cool for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the flowers and fruit. Check flowers over and remove any discolourations or bugs. Wash fruit and drain. Slice lemon. Place all flowers and fruit in a large bowl. Add lemon verbena leaves if using.

Add the honey to the cooled water and stir to dissolve.

Pour the honey water over all other ingredients in bowl, cover with a clean muslin or cotton cloth and leave in a room where it won’t be disturbed for 14 to 24 hours, stirring once or twice during that time. (You can check the flavour is to your liking by dipping a clean spoon in and tasting the liquid neat. Broadly, you want to infuse it long enough to capture the delicate flower flavour, but not too long or the fruitiness will come to dominate.)

 

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Strain mixture through muslin or cotton cloth. Squeeze well to extract the juice. Pour the fragrant cordial into bottles. Refrigerate. Can be stored for up to a week in the fridge. You can also freeze in a plastic container (leave room for expansion) for six or seven months. Try adding a neat dash to your sparkling wine during the winter festive season!

To serve: dilute 1:5 with cold still or sparkling water. Garnish with mint sprigs if liked.

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What Westerners can learn from Eastern meditation

13/06/2017 at 10:00 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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When meditation goes well, it’s brilliant. Blissful. Calming. However many beginners struggle to reach that point. They talk about ‘failing’ and ‘not being able to meditate’, as though it’s an exam they’ve somehow flunked.

I’ve heard this despondent comment many times over the nine years that I’ve been running meditation groups in the UK. When newcomers turn up, they often say, “I can’t meditate, but I want to try and give it another go”. Or “I tried meditation once before, and I couldn’t do it.”

And, of course, I regularly meet people who wouldn’t go anywhere near a meditation group, believing that they are doomed to failure so it’s not even worth trying. But there’s something wistful in the way they tell me this. It’s as if they suspect they’re missing something, and they just don’t know what to do about it.

There is an interesting reason why Westerners may sometimes find it more difficult to meditate than their Eastern counterparts. It all comes down to the name itself: ‘meditation’. Or, to be exact, the origins of the name.

The Western approach

We can trace the verb ‘to meditate’ back to Latin. It meant: to ponder, reflect, consider, devise. In the old European languages it also meant: ‘to measure’, ‘to judge’, ‘to protect’, ‘to provide for’ and ‘to deliberate’. Go further back in time, to the original ‘seed’ language that early humanity shared, and it meant ‘to take appropriate measures’, ‘to give advice’ and ‘to heal’.  This was the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) seed word, ‘med’, which also evolved into ‘mediate’ and medicine among other words.

The historical Western approach to meditation is therefore driven by a well-intentioned desire for results: the solving of a problem, the righting of a wrong, the mending of an ill.

The Eastern approach

In the East, the Sanskrit for meditation is ‘dhyana’. Other Eastern languages have variants on this. The PIE seed word for dhyana is ‘dheie’ meaning ‘to see, to look’. The word ‘Zen’, signifying an aspect of Buddhism with a deeply contemplative approach to life, shares the same seed word.

So in the East, ‘dhyana’ is the practice of simply being, simply witnessing without judgement.

Western meditators broadly follow the Eastern tradition. We sit in silence, simply being… but we also have a cultural legacy which whispers to us that we need to get results from our quiet time.

A happy fusion

Of course, we can’t really divide the world into neat East-West packages. Wherever you live, whatever your origins, you’re pretty well guaranteed to experience the ‘monkey chatter’ of your mind during meditation. And this can do a great job of distracting you with wide-ranging thoughts.

But your approach to the monkey chatter can make the difference between frustration and happiness during your practice – and that’s where an awareness of meditation’s ancient definitions can be helpful.

If we accept that we have chosen to sit in silence, focusing on a particular word, or concept, or image, or sound, simply to witness without trying to change anything, then we are much more likely to enjoy our meditation sessions. Each time we notice that our thoughts have strayed, we calmly remind ourselves that we are here to meditate, and we return to our point of focus.

No judgement. Just practice.

To summarise, we meditate simply to meditate. There is no end result we are looking for.  So we cannot ‘fail’. We are simply being conscious witnesses of the moment.

And yet, when we make a regular practice of meditating in this way, with no expectation of reward, the insights and inspiration do come. Meditation focuses and refreshes the mind like nothing else.

So if you really struggle to meditate, take heart. You are not alone. Now that you know the ancient secret buried in the very name of meditation, you can choose to let go of the striving and, instead, embrace the serenity.

 

How to transform your relationships with one fascinating word

05/06/2017 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Blue mountainscape

Understanding  blends knowledge with kindness. When you apply understanding to a relationship, conflicts crumble. Dynamics alter. Ego gives way to empathy.

An understanding person comprehends something or someone with compassion. They hold a cup of knowledge that contains kindness and love as well as wisdom and perception.

Understanding can strengthen a floundering relationship. If a partnership is ending, it can enable that to happen with love rather than anger. Understanding can also be a wonderful doorway to laughter and humour which in themselves can heal relationships.

Understanding is our meditation word in the Studio this week.

How could applying this word alter a challenging situation for you?

 

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