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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What an ice mountain can tell you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An ice mountain can tell you much about yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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How I learned to make crystal and flower essences

22/06/2016 at 7:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Magical and irrational as this may sound, I first learned how to make crystal and flower essences through a series of dreams. The first ones happened while I was qualifying as a healer, around 2003. In that hypnogogic state between sleeping and waking I was shown, step by step, how to go to particular plants in the garden and gather small amounts for the purpose of bottling their essential signature. I was shown how these essences could then, at a later date, remind us of essential qualities within ourselves.

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

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

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

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

How do crystal and flower essences work?

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

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

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

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

 

To be a gardener of the mind

05/05/2016 at 10:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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L1090747The Studio garden is warming up.  Wild cherry blossoms are opening in the sunlight. Cowslips and primroses are mingling with bluebells and forget-me-nots. There’s plenty of gardening to do, even in this semi-wild space. The earth always brings new insights into nature and human nature.

Today, I’m removing weeds to create space for cultivated plants. Weeds are ok. Many are edible: dandelions, bramble, chickweed and nettle are harvested elsewhere in the garden for herbal teas, salads, pies and the cooking pot. Others are beautiful: bindweed throws white trumpet flowers over the hedgerow that separates garden from field.

But I’m not letting any wild plants take over the entire garden. I am choosing where they can thrive, and where they cannot.

This choosing of what may grow and what may not is very like the way we tend our minds.

Thoughts we think habitually are like plants with long, tenacious roots.

Thoughts that are more transient are like annual plants, with shallow roots.

The annual plants are easy to pull up, should we wish to. Chickweed pretty well lives on the surface, and can be scooped up for salads. Annual plants resemble topics that grab our attention for a season, and then vanish.

The most established perennial plants, however, are deeply entrenched. Bindweed and bramble have roots that travel horizontally long distances underground. Horsetail has roots that can grow a full two metres deep! These can be likened to long-held family beliefs that have been handed down through many generations.

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We can choose to be gardeners of the mind by doing these three things:

• Become aware of our thoughts and beliefs, through techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and gardening.

• Witness these thoughts with non-judgmental loving kindness.

• Cultivate the thoughts that make sense, that support and nourish us; let go of the thoughts that don’t.

And then we need to keep doing these things, season after season. That’s how we become gardeners of the mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breathing mindfully the ocean way

08/04/2016 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I stood on a bumpy shore in Galway, Ireland and breathed in salty cool Atlantic air. Suddenly, my lungs were filled with fresh ocean breezes. Each in-breath came with an excitement of Atlantic energy. Each out-breath took with it a thousand everyday stresses.

In a situation like that, you can’t help but be fully present. My mind wasn’t about to wander, because the experience was so vivid.

All my senses were engaged with savouring this moment. I could taste the salt in the air, feel the wind speed-weaving my hair into maritime knots, see the sunlight dancing through fast moving clouds, breathe in the tangy scent of seaweed, and hear the waves lapping against pebbles. Additionally, the wind was chilling!

The challenge is to breathe equally mindfully in familiar situations  – in our everyday life. In fact, this is one of the very best meditations to practise regularly. Simply sit in silence once a day – first thing in the morning is perfect – and focus on your breathing for 20 minutes or so. And notice what you notice.

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Here are three techniques that can be helpful.

1. Treat every mindful breathing session as though it’s the first time. You are a traveller, newly arrived at this shoreline of your breathing. Witness the air entering you as though it’s the most amazing newcomer in your life. Witness it leaving you like the life-long friend it is.

2. Focus on a particular point: such as the nostrils, the lungs or the abdomen. Notice the sensation of the air as it enters and leaves you. Witness how your muscles expand and contract rhythmically. Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests focusing on the belly, and likens it to the deeper, slower moving currents of the ocean: “When we focus on our breathing down in the belly,” he writes in Full Catastrophe Living, “we are tuning into a region of the body that is far from the head and thus far below the agitations of our thinking mind. It is intrinsically calmer.”

3. At intervals during your day, whenever you remember to, briefly observe your breathing. When you next feel stressed, make a point of noticing what is happening to your breath. Focus on the belly, as it rises with the in-breath and falls with the out-breath. Sometimes this movement is subtle. In the time you take to witness it, the stress or surface agitation has often lessened. It’s as if that pause creates a tiny gap in the stressfully woven fabric of your life, and loosens every thing up so new options can emerge.

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How to visualise during meditation

27/01/2016 at 6:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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Here is a photo taken on a recent sunny, frosty day…

 

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And here is another photo taken from the exact same spot…

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The only real difference between them is that in one, I decided to focus on the big picture. In the other, I zoomed into a tiny, beautiful detail.

Visualisation during meditation is exactly like that. We choose what to think about – focus on – in our mind’s eye. Then we close our eyes and reconstruct our chosen image in our mind.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes it can seem really hard. But if that’s the case, stick with it, as you are building up new ‘muscles’ in your mind. It gets easier with practice.

It helps a lot if you study a real image first…

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Notice all the tiny details that you can, then close your eyes and imagine them all over again. Pretty quickly, this process can feel calming and restful. This is the first gift of visualisation.

The second gift of visualisation is that you can use it to imagine things you’d like to have in your life. The rambling house in the country; the fulfilling work; the happy family….

Practise visualisation in meditation because it feels good, lowers your blood pressure, calms and revives you. Then, if you choose, practise visualisation with things you haven’t yet seen, but would like to. Imagine them as though they are as real and detailed as the images on this page. Allow meditative feelings of calm and happiness fill you as you do so.

In time, you will reduce the time you worry about what you don’t have, and increase the time you spend enjoying what you do have, which will encourage the good things to proliferate in your life, and increase your wellbeing, one meditative step at a time.

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What word does the Solstice bag hold for you?

22/12/2015 at 3:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Happy Solstice to you. May your new year around the sun be filled with love and happiness. If you’d like a word of guidance from the Solstice bag to carry with you into 2016, you’re very welcome. Just ask.

What sort of meditation do you do?

30/08/2015 at 10:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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People often ask what sort of meditation we practise at the Studio. They expect to hear that we follow a particular school, be it Mindfulness, Christian, Vipassana, Transcendental or possibly following the teachings of a Buddhist leader such as Thich Nhat Hanh.

The truth is, we don’t follow any of these schools, although we do take an interest in them and are inspired by their insights. But our method is much simpler.

I call our practice, ‘Intuitive Meditation’, because it came to me in a series of dreams and mystical experiences many years ago, around the time of the birth of my son, Tim. Readers of this blog will know that Tim was born with a complex set of health issues, and a happy, sociable and life-loving personality.

For a period of two years or more, before and after his birth, I experienced some intense visions. I saw that each of us is a unique manifestation of the ‘All That Is’: apparently separate, yet actually part of the whole.

One morning, as I woke up, I heard a simple yet beautiful song coming from an invisible realm. A mellow, male voice began each line with “I am…” Each verse had five lines, and the final line was always, “I am the Ocean”. The ‘O’ was long drawn out. The first four lines varied, but followed the same format:

“I am the land

I am the sea

I am the leaf

I am the tree

I am the ocean.’

The song faded away as I became fully awake. I was left with a sense of the beauty of nature, and the numinous insight that a unifying divine consciousness shines through all aspects of nature, including ourselves.

Immediately, I began to use the “I am” format in my own meditation practice. I would breathe in “I am” and breathe out a word from nature, or from our true nature. “I am leaf…”  or “I am peace…” or “I am water…”. I would use one word for each meditation session.

The method was instantly calming and blissful. More than that, intuitive insights arose: it felt as though I was receiving divine guidance to help me tread a sometimes difficult path.

Over many years, other people began to join me. Today, small groups of us gather in a hillside studio in North Wiltshire, where expansive views constantly remind us that natural beauty is in us and around us, and a divine light shines through it all.

Let go of the brambles, and be still

02/08/2015 at 5:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Here is a poem by Sun Bu-er, renowned female teacher of Chinese Taoism, born 1124. I discovered it in Women in Praise of the Sacred edited by Jane Hirshfield:

Cut brambles long enough,

Sprout after sprout,

And the lotus will bloom

Of its own accord:

Already waiting in the clearing,

The single image of light.

The day you see this,

That day you will become it.

It can be such hard work to clear the sharp, knotted brambles and tangles that we metaphorically get into, and yet I think this poem is saying that divine light is present in all things. When we discover that, we become that light – or realise that we are already that light – and the effort falls away. What knotty problem do you currently face? And what would happen if you saw the divine shining in every aspect of the problem? Sometimes, letting go of effort is the quickest way to a solution, and to peace.

One month to write a food diary

16/07/2015 at 8:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Today is a new moon, which is an age-old invitation to begin a new project. A great day, then, to start a food diary. For 28 days, through the waxing and the waning of this new moon, I invite you to write a simple daily journal in which you list all that you eat and drink. For good measure, add notes about your daily exercise.

We live in a complicated and cluttered society, where bewildering groups of people compete to gain our currency in exchange for a wide array of things to consume. What if life were simpler? How would that feel?

We can’t go back in time. But we can imagine how much more authentic a less processed society might be, like the one that lived in Skara Brae, in Orkney, five thousand years ago. These ancestors ate healthy foods with minimal processing, such as fish and other seafood, wild herbs and simple grains.

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The key is to become aware, to become conscious of what we are actually consuming. A food diary helps us to do that. So find a small notebook, with at least 28 double pages. In the front, I invite you to write a note to Mother Earth, who feeds us all. Something along these lines:

Dear Mother Earth

Thank you for these sacred gifts of food and drink, and opportunities to move and stretch. 

With love from your daughter/son

(Name)

At the top of the first double page, write ‘Day 1’, and make a note or symbol for today’s moon phase at the top – the New Moon.  Then use the left hand page to write down all that you eat today. Use the right-hand page to record all that you drink, and also all the exercise that you do.

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Continue your food diary by numbering each day and adding a little symbol for the phase of the moon. You can find a record of these at moonconnection.com. Or simply watch the sky!

During the month that follows, you will gain awareness and insights into what and how you consume. You will make wiser, more mindful choices, which can help your long-term health. You will also gain a closer connection with Mother Earth and a true appreciation for her gifts. Good luck!

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