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 people, especially 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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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?

 

An amethyst for meditation

05/05/2017 at 12:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Violet meditation

 

This beautiful, tiny amethyst came from a geological seam on Achill Island, Co Mayo. I’ve never been there but I once went foraging in a crystal shop a little further south along the Atlantic coastline, and came across this specimen glowing quietly on a shelf.

I photographed it today because it deserves its own portrait… and also to herald the fact that next week I’m running two meditation sessions on the subject of violet.

During meditation it’s fairly common to see colours spontaneously, with the inner eye – and the colour people see most often during my sessions is violet, or purple.

There’s something blissful about sitting still, in silence, and focusing on this vibrant colour. So I invite you to do just that.

Imagine that you are completely immersed in violet light. Picture every cell of your body bathing in violet’s uplifting rays. Keep doing that for a little while. And witness what happens within your body, mind and spirit.

Enjoy!

 

 

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

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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The flowers are infused in sunlight

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.

 

This is what I learned, living in an Intensive Care Unit

23/05/2016 at 7:21 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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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.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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