Tags: Guidance, life skills, personal development
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.
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.
Tags: healing, intensive care, life skills, meditation, mindfulness, personal growth, special needs
This post has also been published on the Huffington Post.
Recently I had the rare and shocking privilege of living in an Intensive Care Unit, or ICU, for three months. I was not a patient, nor a member of staff. I was there because my teenaged son became critically ill. Tim’s learning difficulties meant that he needed his dad or me to be with him virtually all the time. I stayed every night for the first month, and then around five nights a week thereafter.
It had happened with frightening speed. We had been at home, about to eat supper, when Tim collapsed with breathing difficulties and an ambulance was called. Tim’s resourceful younger sister speed-packed overnight bags while the paramedics administered huge amounts of oxygen.
By the time we reached the hospital, Tim was drifting away. He was put on a ventilator, then transferred to the ICU. Tim’s dad and I sat in the waiting room. Fear. Waiting. Fear. And so, although I didn’t know it then, our three-month sojourn began.
In this life and death situation, my choice, as a mother, was binary. I could choose love or fear. Love meant seeing the good in every particle of this unwanted experience. Fear meant resisting it. Fear would drain me of energy. Love would enable me to channel all my energy into helping my son.
I resolved to choose love. That didn’t mean I wasn’t frightened. It’s just that at every point of awareness, I chose love. I decided to view the experience as a retreat, in which I would learn from the kindness of nurses and the alchemical wisdom of doctors.
During those three months, I learned that crisis means looking after yourself as well as doing your best to help others. Specifically, I learned the following five insights.
1. Appreciate and care for your body.
Of the three groups of people who passed through the ICU – patients, relatives and medical staff – the fittest group were the medical staff. They drank lots of water. In their spare time, they went to the gym, did yoga, meditated, cycled, danced, played tennis, rode horses, ran marathons…. They weren’t obsessive. Chocolate and crisps were regular treats, especially during long working shifts. However, there was a belief that exercise was important, and that it might help them to avoid ending up in a hospital bed on life support.
2. Pause, breathe. Sit still in silence every day.
Meditation can be done among beeping machines, and it calms turbulent emotions like nothing else. Even in extremis, the mind can become clear and calm, like a deep mountain pool.
The first night, sitting with my son, I found it helpful to breathe in a silent ‘I am here’, and breathe out a silent, ‘now’. It enabled me to ground myself in the shock of this new situation – to accept it. Consequently, I became a calmer presence for Tim.
Meditation enables us to pause before we blindly follow external voices of authority. I felt that, deep down, Tim resolutely believed that he could recover, even though the medical staff had little hope. So his dad and I chose to support him assertively in his belief.
3. Give healing when you are drawn to do so.
Call it what you will: healing, prayers, love. Just do it. You’ll be in good company. A recent Gallop survey showed that nearly 90% of Americans have prayed for healing for others. A quarter have practised laying on of hands. Every day in the ICU, I sensed the presence of major disturbances in Tim caused by pain, drugs and fear. When I consciously directed love to him, it seemed to me that the disturbances lessened. At the same time, I sensed that many other people were praying for him and sending healing.
I massaged my son’s limbs with lavender and sweet almond oil, and visualised golden white light entering my son’s inert body, energising and healing every cell.
4. Choose uplifting language.
On Day 3, a time of minimum hope, I drew a good health mandala picture for my son, with encouraging words among brightly coloured flower petals and leaves. I wrote a note below it: `Deep down, you are healthy and well, and have the energy, determination and love that you need to thrive. I love you very much, always’.
5. Adopt a mindset of wellness.
As Tim thankfully began to recover, he was keen to leave his room and explore the hospital by wheelchair. We visited the maternity ward’s pretty garden. We went painting in the children’s ward. We danced with dementia patients. We circled a small peaceful lake in the grounds. One day, ten family members went for a walk around the hospital, with Tim frail but determined at the front. We also discovered a rehab gym, and Tim developed a reputation among the doctors for visiting the gym every day.
All these deeds created an impression around Tim that he was on his way to being fit and well. The collective thinking around him changed, from scarcely any hope to cautious optimism. In turn, that spurred him on to become more adventurous. In short, he was acting like a young man who, despite his disabilities, was used to leading an active, even sporty life.
On Day 96, Tim was discharged from hospital. Our family was so thankful. I now understand that crisis is a natural part of life. Sooner or later, stuff happens. Our challenge is to choose those moments, as much as the long calm periods in between, to live life to the full – however long it lasts.
Tags: Guidance, life skills, meditation, mindfulness, nature, personal growth, s
The 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.
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.
Tags: International Women's Day, life skills, meditation, mindfulness, mp3, parenting, self-development, visualization, wellbeing
Ghossiya brought the cupcakes, and she came up with the idea too. How can mindfulness help mothers? How can it help young children? She was planning to put her findings into a dissertation for a degree course in early childhood studies which she is soon to complete at Oxford Brooks University.
A group of us – mothers, children, refuge key workers, Ghossiya and I – looked at three principles:
Be here now
Notice what you notice
Be kind to yourself.
We ate cupcakes mindfully, using our senses, and discovered that the experts at this were the young children present. They explored with fingers in icing, and fingers in mouths. What happens, thought one, when you drop an icing flower into a glass of water? (Answer: it sinks to the bottom of the glass, where it stains the water a delicate pink.)
Afterwards, we did a body scan relaxation exercise, focusing on our breath, then toes and feet and legs, and so on, upwards through our bodies. We visualised a golden white light, spreading outwards from our heart, filling our whole body with light, giving every cell the chance to pause, and rest, and renew.
When we opened our eyes again, after the exercise, everyone in the room seemed visibly more relaxed. Even the very young children had noticed the change in atmosphere, and were contented. One was stroking the soft shiny hair of a toddler friend sitting nearby: mindfulness in action.
During our session, we also talked about the fact that mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve health and slow down ageing. And we discussed how a body scan visualisation is ideal for young children, especially at bedtime, to help them to calm and slow down.
Free body scan audio
We discussed how the mums could talk their children through this. Or, if they preferred, they could play the audio that’s available to all who’d like it, through this blog (please just contact me, putting BODY SCAN in the comment box).
Ghossiya shared a cupcake recipe (see below). Cooking, it was agreed, it a great way of being in the zone, along with walking in the countryside, relaxing in a candle-lit bath, doing yoga … and any other enjoyable activity in which we are fully present, using our senses. And if we are ever in any doubt, all we ever have to do is enter the world of a young child. They know how to explore this moment now better than anyone else on the planet. They are not rushing on to the next activity. They are masters of the present moment. We can learn so much from them.
Mindful cupcake recipe
115 g caster sugar
115 g self-raising flour
115 g margarine (at room temperature)
2 eggs (at room temperature)
Any one of the following optional flavourings: 100 g sultanas or raisins; 100-150 g chocolate chips; 1 tsp vanilla extract; 1 tsp cinnamon.
- Set the oven to 150º C/Gas 2.
- Put caster sugar, flour, margarine and eggs in a bowl and mix thoroughly until smooth.
- If using optional flavouring, add to the bowl and mix in gently yet thoroughly.
- Place cupcake cases in a muffin tin and spoon in the cake mixture.
- Bake in preheated oven until risen and golden brown.
Decorate as liked with icing or simply lightly sprinkle with icing sugar though a sieve.
Tags: healing, life skills, mindfulness, personal growth, self-development, wellbeing
Here is a picture of three perfectly balanced stones.
It is also a symbol of how we humans can lead a balanced life.
Imagine, now, that you consist of three stones, one on top of the next.
Get your base right
The base stone, the biggest, is all important – nothing’s going to happen without it. This represents your physical needs: income, security, survival. We need to spend solid time every day ensuring that physically we are thriving. Are you exercising every day? Do you care for your body? Do you eat healthy foods, maybe even grow some of what you eat? Do you have a steady income, however humble? The message of the base stone is a simple one: take time to look after your physical body.
Keep heart at the centre of all that you do
The middle stone is the heart stone. This represents our feelings for others, and ourselves. Do you have plenty of healthy interactions with others: good friends, colleagues, family members? Do you nurture your relationships and spend solid time catching up with family and old friends, and meeting new friends by building your interests and activities?
At the very centre of the heart stone there is a special place devoted to your relationship with yourself. You are the friend who is always with you, every minute of your life. It may as well be a great friendship. Do you spend solid time checking in with yourself, seeing how you really feel, and caring about the answer? Do you give yourself praise when you’ve done well? Do you give yourself encouragement when you’re flagging? Do you, above all, love and accept yourself just as you are, while also being open about change? The message of the heart stone is this: take time to care about yourself and others. Value your feelings.
Do not be afraid to think
The top stone is the head or crown stone. This represents our mental and spiritual life. The crown stone, being that much higher than the other stones, can see the big picture. It prevents us being overtaken by our feelings. It introduces a note of caution when we fall in love with a person, or a project, that ultimately looks likely to harm us. The crown stone is the aspect of us that is wise, calm and measured. It is our intelligence.
The crown stone is the smallest stone. This reminds us that a little thinking goes a long way. Intelligence is a valuable gift. But without the heart and the base, it can easily get unbalanced. The connection between head and heart needs to be really stable. Otherwise, we can develop delusions and other mental illnesses. We might also invent things that do not serve the highest interests of humankind.
The crown stone, alone of the stones, has air above it. This reminds us that there are links between us and the invisible. Thus, it also represents our spiritual life.
The message of the crown stone is this: it is our birthright to be able to think for ourselves, to see things as they really are, and to be bold enough to speak the truth.
Keep these three aspects of yourself in balance, and you will lead a balanced life.
Tags: herbal tea, herbs, life skills, nature, nature recipes, naturecraft
Nature plays a huge, much loved part in the meditation activities here in the Studio. But did you know that all year round at the Studio, I harvest from nature to make culinary dishes, herbal teas, flower and fruit cordials, natural skincare products, and a host of other lovely products?
I’ve shared some of these recipes on my blog already. In fact, they’re usually my most popular posts 🙂
But from next week onwards, I’m offering regular hands-on naturecraft sessions here in North Wiltshire. We’ll be based at the Studio, but we’ll also go out into the neighbouring countryside, so bring your wellies!
You’ll be able to make your own natural skincare products, eat yummy wild foraged dishes and drinks, and even do some creative willow weaving.
Naturecraft sessions will often be arranged at fairly short notice to catch harvests at their very best.
I hope you’ll join me soon at a naturecraft session. After all, we all need to know the difference between inedible lily of the valley and yummy wild garlic!
And of course, I’ll be including more naturecraft blog posts over the coming seasons, to share with you wherever you live.
Tags: affirmation, Guidance, inspiration, Intuition, journalling, life skills, Mind body spirit, personal growth, positive thinking, self-development, special needs, success
Not so long ago, I was doing a lot of caring for others, and forgetting to care for myself. Therefore, I was running on empty: constantly tired; crabby. My caring for others had become a monster that went through the motions and denied my loved ones the true energy of compassion.
This went on for several days. Then, one morning, in that dreamy state between sleep and awakening, I saw a bookmark hovering in front of me. You know, the long, thin rectangular sort that you put in a proper card-and-paper book.
“Bookmark your intention for today,” said a wise teacher who was invisibly beside me. And at once I saw words appearing on the bookmark. I understood then that I was choosing a simple, uncomplicated intention for the day. My intention – far shorter than a typical ‘to-do’ list – was to help a particular relative in a specific way, and also to care for myself. That was all. Sure, there would be other activities in the day, but my intention was just those two things.
And with that knowledge, I stopped feeling tired and overwhelmed. The energy of life and compassion returned to me.
Additionally, I understood that each new morning benefits from a fresh bookmark, spelling out an intention for that particular day.
What is your intention for today? Keep it simple. There’s only room for a few well-chosen words on a bookmark.
Tags: craft, happiness, inspiration, life skills, meditation, mindfulness, personal growth, pre-history, wisdom
Yesterday I started knitting again for the first time in over 30 years. I had a pair of vintage green needles, and some hand-me-down Aran wool, and some good female company: mother, niece and daughter.
To my surprise, I quickly fell into a peaceful rhythm of softly clicking needles. There was a satisfaction in knowing that a very simple garment – a scarf, or snood – was being made. Something soothing was happening to the neural pathways of my brain as I repeated the same intricate knotting movement over and over. It reminded me of the repetitious nature of meditation, and how that creates a pool of calm in the mind. But there was something else too.
It was as if the endless knotting was tapping on the door of an ancient racial memory: of women making garments with the simplest of tools: needles of wood or bone. In clothing their families, they were also creating the fabric of society, through the mingled act of cloth-making and conversation.
I thought, then, of the times I have been caught up in the hamster wheel cycles of a ceaselessly questioning mind. And I understood that doing the simple things that pertain to survival can help any of us stay sane. I’m talking about activities like making bread by hand; or building and lighting a fire; or sowing and growing lettuces to eat… or, of course, creating a garment with two softly clicking needles.
What is your choice of simple today?
Tags: flowers, happiness, healing, inspiration, life skills, meditation, nature, parenting, positive thinking, special needs, visualization, wellbeing
There’s a simple meditative technique we can use in hard times. I call it the Rose Meditation. You can do this anywhere: cleaning the house, ploughing through work, undergoing medical treatment, in a high-voltage meeting….
All you do is this: focus, in your mind’s eye, on a rose. The example shown here was photographed after rain, in the sunshine of the Dordogne.
Picture the feather-light, velvety smoothness of the petals. Imagine yourself miniaturised, resting between the scented petals as though they are the softest bed in the world. Breathe in their heavenly fragrance.
Notice the variations in colour between the inner and outer petals. Absorb the beautiful colours with every cell of your body.
Touch the raindrops; taste their sweetness.
Explore the petals, going inward towards the nectar, and outwards again towards the sun and fresh air.
Do this visualisation any time you feel the need. The rose contains powerful therapy, and simply thinking about it in this way can be soothing, and healing.
Tags: Guidance, life skills, meditation, Mind body spirit, mindfulness, self-awareness
This week, in the studio, we’re meditating on the word ‘gateway’. And the thing we discovered on Monday is that there is no such thing as a half-open gate, not really. In the fields around the studio, a gate is either unlatched and open:
Or it’s latched and closed:
An unlatched gate in the country is designed to swing wide open. Cattle, sheep and people walk through. There are no half-measures. The gate is never just a little bit open. If it’s open, it’s open.
It all comes down to the latch.
When we are not living mindfully, we can kid ourselves that a gate along our own life path is open when it isn’t really. And because it isn’t really open, we never quite seem to get the job we want, or the partner, or the professional awards. We get frustrated, and can’t understand why we don’t progress.
Sitting quietly in meditation can help us to recognise that we haven’t actually lifted the latch and opened the gate to new opportunities along our path. We can also see the reason: we’re reluctant to leave the past; or we’re nervous about the future.
When we become aware of our conflicting emotions about progress, we can see more clearly how our own actions are keeping the latch closed. And then, we can mindfully choose to open the latch and walk through into the future.
Conversely, sometimes our boundaries are wide open. When that happens, we feel tugged by conflicting external demands; we don’t have enough rest time, or privacy. It can be useful then to sit quietly in meditation and tune into that gate latch once more. Why have we left the gate hanging wide open? What would happen if we closed the gate at least some of the time? That would mean saying ‘no’ to people. It would mean scheduling time in our diary for us. That would be a good feeling.