How I became more serene in just seven days

16/07/2017 at 10:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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The idea to meditate on the word ‘serene’ arrived on its own and stayed by my side until I noticed it. At the time I was packing for a week’s holiday in Greece, so I decided to take the word with me and meditate on it daily.

Day 1. I dent the car

My daughter and wake up in the hotel at Gatwick Airport. I fit in a hasty ten-minute meditation “I am… serene” before heading off to the South Terminal. There we queue to check in our one item of luggage that won’t fit into our cabin bags: daughter’s emerald green mermaid tail complete with mono-fin.

We board a plane for Preveza, Greece. The plan is to hire a car on arrival, drive to our villa in a remote part of Lefkada, then drive down to the nearest village in the evening to pick up my partner, daughter’s dad, who is arriving by taxi from a later plane.

However, I am not used to driving on these narrow winding island roads. I am not used to left-hand drive. There are more steep hills and dirt tracks than I was expecting. We make a few wrong turns. We get to the villa more or less in one piece. But later, during the trip to collect partner, I take a wrong turn into the village and dent the front right edge of the car against a brick wall. A calm local man materialises from the darkness and directs me along the impossibly narrow street. I locate partner. Serene? Massive fail.

Day 2. The villa is awesome

The villa has an infinity pool overlooking the Ionian Sea, and its own yoga and meditation room. Twenty minutes of a daily blend of qigong and yoga which I call my ‘Stretches’, followed by 20 minutes meditating on ‘Serene’. During the silent sitting time, I witness the feelings of embarrassment about the car give way to blissful memories from childhood.

Later in the morning I bathe naked in the pool and feel weightless, suspended between blue sea and blue sky. In the evening the poor battered car is swapped for a bump-free one, and we are told there should be no charges, as we were fully insured. Serene? Getting there.

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Day 3. Noting the thoughts that ruffle

Consider more naked bathing but decide to do stretches and meditation first. While breathing in ‘I am’ and breathing out ‘serene’, I hear the pool man arrive. Partner chats to pool man. Feel relieved that focusing on ‘Serene’ has saved me from embarrassing nude encounter with pool man. Later, swim naked in freshly cleaned pool, mind and body both happy and relaxed.

Then I receive a message: would I be willing to talk to a national newspaper about my experience as a mother whose child has been in critical care several times? Old memories rise up to ruffle my serene surface.

Day 4. Every distraction has an emotional charge

I receive a different message, this time from a woman who briefly attended a Meditation Group that I run. She is an expat, living on this island now. Distracting thoughts rise up: what would it be like to live here? I wonder if we might meet up…

Stretches. Meditation. With each breath, I mentally write “I am…serene” in white gold letters against an azure Ionian sky.  I notice the perturbations from the distracted thoughts. I could put my phone away for the week, but I need it, quite simply, in case my disabled son in England needs me. In any case, serenity is not about avoiding the real world. It’s about remaining calm amid the distractions.

Later. The expat hasn’t got time to see us; journalist doesn’t contact me. The ripples of distraction fade away. I am happy to live awhile in this hillside space where pool flows into sea and sky. This is all that has ever been and all that ever will be. All time is eternally present here, captured between the pink sunrise and the terracotta moonrise. Fragrance of sage, lavender and rosemary. Gentle musical chimes of goat bells in the hillside scrub. Green crickets like oversized gemstones adorn the walls of the villa. And I experience a tendency to think only good of people – a sign of decreased stress?


Day 5. Breakthrough

I wake with familiar niggles of remorse: so many things in the last week or more that I could have done better. I witness these emotional niggles as though they are brief, transient perturbations in the air, and watch them dissolve before they reach the ground.

Stretches. Meditation. I am floating in the now familiar azure blue space. I witness the energy of serenity as a wide, slowly sweeping wave of peace and surrender. I witness, as if in a movie, how I hold on to things and people in an attempt to control outcomes. I witness myself releasing this need. I see gateways opening into infinite possibilities. I taste freedom.

A local tells us the story of a family who stayed here for two weeks and scarcely went out because they feared the over-sized green and brown crickets.

These bugs… do they sometimes reflect our own inner thoughts that can bug us? They live in a boundary place of our perceptions. We can choose to see them as objects of fear and revulsion. Or we can choose to see them as miracles of nature’s engineering and honour these scraps of life.

Later, a cricket comes to study my notes for this post. Impossible to feel dislike or fear when it is simply being itself.


Day 6. Understanding

I wake with a shaft of anger leaving me. So quick, it’s gone before I fully register it. Who knows what it signified?

As I drift between sleep and wakefulness, the voice of an indigenous Australian woman I once met says, “It’s time to adopt your true home.” A strange oxymoron, I think, as a true home surely doesn’t need adopting. Perhaps that voice from the Dreaming simply refers to home as a state of mind?

It occurs to me that the rainbow of emotions is part of being human. A serene mind is comfortable with them all.
Stretches, meditation. Today the silent time is full of images of flow.
Serenity, I see, cannot exist in an unmoving state. It would become stagnant and lose its very nature.
When we are serene we allow our emotions to flow: to be acknowledged, and acted on appropriately when needed.

The desire to hold on to any emotion is an attempt to halt the flow of life. It is an impossible task that simply creates pain in the body and mind. If an emotion endures it is because it is born again in every moment of time. We live in the flow.

Day 7. Free from distractions (nearly)

I wake at dawn and walk through rocky, sparse gardens. Even this early, the bees are crowding around dainty pink flowers and dusty lavender spikes. The air  is humid as the sea gives up some of its reserves.

I place a clear quartz crystal in a bowl of spring water on the highest rock and watch it shine in the light of the rising sun, a lens capturing the magic of the new day.

Stretches. Meditation. I listen to my breathing and hear the words that I’m focusing on within the sound of each breath: “I am… serene.”

And for uncounted moments it becomes true. I am part of the air: weightless, drifting. Pure consciousness. Here and everywhere. Nothing has an emotional charge. It simply is.

Day 8. Homecoming

Pack. Tidy. Leave.

In the airport I fit in 15 minutes of meditation amid the noise of passengers waiting for their flights. On the flight home I ponder on this week of ‘Serene’. What effect has it had on me?

It has helped me become aware of the countless emotions that are present in any day.

I have learnt to be much less attached to these emotions, allowing them to flow, and go.

Curiously, during this week I have not had a single insect bite. Not one. This is highly unusual for me. There could be several reasons. However, it seems that while my mind has been less ‘bugged’ by thoughts, my body has been unbothered by them too.

And in the lightest of ways, ‘serene’ has become a new favourite word to meditate upon.

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Sense the wisdom of the ancient stones

24/07/2015 at 11:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Standing stones are scattered over the mistiest reaches of the British Isles. Each one is different, and highly distinctive. I wonder how many you know, and whether you have a favourite?

These are the Standing Stones of Stenness, on the mainland of Orkney. They are part of what may be the oldest henge in Britain. I visited them last week with my partner, Steven, on a rare child-free holiday. We found these giants bathing in the evening sun, framed by a rainbow. They seemed magical, and mysterious: reassuring presences on the landscape.

The thing about standing stones is that they predate our written history. Perhaps we can say that they are a form of writing in themselves: rocky runes, inscribing messages on our horizons. And it’s a language we don’t understand today.

But it’s possible to pick up something. I walked up to the monolith on the left in the picture above and leant against it: warm sunlight at the front of me; cool rock at the back. Imagine yourself doing that now. The stone is more than three times your height. As you lean back, it supports you. Perhaps it even feels as though it is scanning and recording your energy – that’s how it seemed to me.

As you stand there, it feels easy to have a silent dialogue. What would you like to confide in this silent stone, and what subliminal messages might it give you?

At the simplest level, stones speak of continuity and the steady rhythm of change. The people who first raised these megaliths were fully aware of the annual dance of sunrise and sunset along the east and west horizons. They had a deep understanding of how sunshine brought life to crops and humanity. Bringing this awareness to our modern world of distractions is very good for us – It can keep us sane.

After a while, the sun neared the horizon. The Standing Stones of Stenness became dramatic silhouettes.

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The view reminded me of a powerful insight I received at Avebury Stone Circle: “It is not the stones themselves that matter. It’s the spaces in between.“ 

The spaces in between the Stones of Stenness reveal a most amazing landscape. You can catch glimpses in this picture. There are two lochs: one is saltwater, and the other is freshwater. They are separated by a narrow causeway, which takes you to a Stone Age collection of buildings which are thought to have been temples. Beyond them is another henge, the Ring of Brodgar, and beyond that… the sun.

The Standing Stones of Stenness from this perspective are a portal to the elements of life. They reveal to us that we and our world are composed of earth, fire, air and water. And sometimes, just sometimes, it feels good to remember that.

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 something along these lines:

Daily gifts of food and drink

and opportunities to move and stretch

With thanks to Mother Earth

 

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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How to keep a dream diary

01/06/2015 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Guidance of my dreams

Keeping a dream diary is one of the kindest, wisest gifts you can give yourself. Even if you don’t remember your dreams, keep a journal anyway. Record whatever you can recall on waking up. If you only catch a fleeting mood, record it. Hold this intention: ‘I am now ready for the guidance of my dreams’. And, in time, your diary will begin to fill.

I was inspired back in the 1990s by an early version of Denise Linn’s book, The Hidden Power of Dreams. I loved her suggestion that you write an uplifting title in the front of your journal. This might be something along the lines of ‘My dream diary: a beautiful book filled with beautiful gifts’. Many volumes later, I still write something similar.

On each left hand page…

Write the date, and a title for a dream you had the night before. The title can be anything that seems to sum up your dream. Then simply write down your dream. 

You may find you don’t remember any dreams. In that case, just write down any fleeting thoughts or feelings you had on waking up. Try to notice if you had any pictures or words in your mind on waking, and record those. Or you may find you had several unrelated dreams in the same night. Just write them down, as if they were chapters of the same dream.

On each right hand page…

Write down any thoughts or observations you have about the dream. Perhaps you were doing something the day before that triggered it? Over time you will begin to understand the meaning of different images in your dream. It can be helpful and enjoyable to draw or paint a picture of the dream on this page – you can gain new insights that way.

The key to your dreams

Be aware that everything and everyone in your dream is representing an aspect of yourself. Everything is symbolic. You don’t have to understand all the symbols, but it’s very rewarding when you start to interpret them. You can think of it as a puzzle to which only you hold the key. And over time, the more you study your dreams, the more you will understand.

 Never be scared of your dreams – they are there to help you to understand yourself and your life choices better.

Your own dream dictionary

The best dream dictionary you can ever have comes from first hand observation of your own dreams: go by how the dream symbols feel – their essence, their energy. Where in your own life do you have a similar feeling?

 Here are some examples to get you started…

Narrow streets, or doors that are difficult to go through may suggest that a current course of action, or a current attitude, is not ideal. Conversely, if a dream has a sense of space, with wide avenues and clear views, it may be showing you that your current course in life is the right one for you.

People you dream of may represent some aspect of yourself that you are working on. What qualities do you associate with that person? 

If someone dies in a dream, it often means a new chapter of your own self-development is beginning, and maybe it’s a new chapter for that person too (it doesn’t mean that anyone is actually going to die!)

If a house or car is in need of repair, it may mean your health or career is in need of some tender loving care. Newly discovered floors and rooms in a building can mean that you will be exploring new areas of your own interests and abilities – maybe a new career is opening up for you.

Scary people or monsters chasing you may mean that a repressed part of your psyche is ready to be reintegrated. When you’re awake, spend some time loving and blessing the scary beings, ask them what they want… in your imagination, hug them!

Water often represents emotions – is it flowing, turbulent, flooding, or calm?



Nature: A beautiful object from nature – such as a flower or a feather – may represent an aspect of your natural self that you are beginning to reconnect with, and can also represent guidance from other realms.

Night guidance

Note that over time your observed dreams are likely to become more vivid, more colourful, as though you are actually there. You may experience the bliss of flying, and receive clear spiritual lessons that remain in your mind when you wake up. You may wake up with recipes, formulas… all sorts of knowledge that can help you, and other people.

Record it all in your dream diary. And be ready to carry your new knowledge into your waking life. That’s when the fun really begins!

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Bookmark your intention

10/04/2015 at 8:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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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.

Why ‘eternal’ is the new ‘now’

23/03/2015 at 6:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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EclipseThis week we’re focusing on the word ‘eternal’. It’s the final theme in our series, Adapting Mindfully to Change. The idea is that underlying the myriad worldly changes that we grapple with, there is a pure unchanging energy that we might call universal consciousness. It’s the realm of unity, and of our spiritual identity.

In this morning’s session the group was fizzing. The talk was of ‘rebooting’ after the global shift in energy from the Vernal Equinox, not to mention the recent solar eclipse, and the supermoon…. But then we did manage to sit in silence. We breathed in “I am” and breathed out “eternal”.

And that’s the thing. Simply doing this, and keeping on even though our minds are racing, does bring peace. It enables us to step off the hamster wheel of distracting thoughts and dramas.

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle talks about having deep roots within – to connect consciously with our inner body, our essential energy. This is the essence of us that feels eternally young, however many calendar years we have. When we sit quietly with that energy, it is possible for the constraints of time to dissolve. We become fully present in the moment, aware that we are part of a blissfully soothing current of peace. If we look at our lives from the perspective of that peace, events appear like movies. We notice, almost lazily, that we don’t need to perpetuate the arguments and we can effortlessly forgive everyone, including ourselves, because actually there is nothing to forgive.

Tolle describes this as a divine reality. “What is God?” he writes. “The eternal One Life underneath all the forms of life. What is love? To feel the presence of that One Life deep within yourself and within all creatures. To be it. Therefore, all love is the love of God.”

We’re meditating on the word ‘journal’

05/03/2015 at 4:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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This week we’re meditating on the word ‘journal’. Many of us write journals. We love the act of buying a new notebook. There’s something gently intoxicating about the texture and scent of pristine pages. The writing itself is therapeutic. Often, it’s during the act of writing that we recognise how we actually feel. A journal, kept for decades, can even become a family heirloom.

And yet, even if we never put pen to paper, we are still recording life’s experiences, on the canvas of our own bodies. Habitual emotions are etched onto our faces through countless repetitions. Stored traumas alter the way we move our muscles and block the spontaneity of our movements. Happiness, in contrast, causes us to soften and glow. As Caroline Myss, author and speaker on human consciousness, has said, “Your biology becomes your biography.”

Meditating on the word ‘journal’ can be a challenge. We may not want to revisit the tricky times that are now indelibly recorded in book and body. Many of us would rather keep our life journals firmly closed. We may therefore feel resistance, even while we’re sitting still and trying to clear our minds.

However, there is a simple trick that can transform this meditation. I’d like you to picture, now, the brilliant white light that you can sometimes see emanating from a beautiful clear crystal, such as rock quartz. The light comes from a plane deep inside the crystal. Its beauty, shining from within, is a reminder of your own inner light. In your meditation, picture that light radiating from the pages of your journal, or from the canvas of your body.

It’s possible to see all of life’s events as though they were lit from within – with a soul light, if you like. From that perspective, it’s easier to recognise the gifts within a challenging experience, and also the new skills we’ve acquired from it, such as self-respect, wisdom and forgiveness.

We’re meditating on discovery

22/02/2015 at 4:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Sunrise

The word we’re meditating on this week is ‘Discovery’.

When we regularly sit down in quietness and allow the busy thoughts of our mind to subside, a clarity can emerge which spreads into every aspect of our life. We see things as though they are lit from the inside. We gain insights. This process of looking at the familiar and seeing it afresh is one of the best forms of discovery, and one of meditation’s great gifts.

The following is an example from this morning, when I simply looked out of a window, saw cars in the far distance, and understood on a deeper level that each vehicle contained a shining soul.

What discoveries will come your way today?

The Road to Calne

Shining beads glide

between fields of frost

under the rosy sky

of our potential.

~~~

Each bead, a soul

hiding from its light,

disturbed by the future,

wounded from the past.

~~~

If we dare see

how brightly we glow,

our heavy cloaks of fear

dissolve in the warmth.

The thing about gates

11/02/2015 at 9:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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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:

Open latch

Or it’s latched and closed:

Latch 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.

Intuitive mindfulness is a match made in heaven

03/01/2015 at 1:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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“Never do something because you feel other people expect you to do it, do it because you have that feeling of absolute certainty that what you are doing is right for you, because you have taken the time to be still, to listen and find out from within what you should do.”

The words are by Eileen Caddy, co-founder of the the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. The poster here is shared with thanks to that spiritual community.  Eileen Caddy’s book of inspirational writings, Opening Doors Within, was a major influence on me when I first thought about running meditation workshops in a Wiltshire studio.

The principle of noticing what you notice is central to mindfulness. When we are mindful, we focus on our breath, our pulse, the position of our body, the feel of the chair beneath us, the temperature of the air entering and leaving us, and so on. We notice what we are doing in the present moment, without rushing on to the future, or dwelling in the past.

When we mindfully wash dishes at a sink, for example, we take our time noticing the rainbow colours in the detergent bubbles, the feel of water against the surface of our hands, the sound and movement of dishes within a bowl of warm water.

As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches through his many writings on mindfulness, when we are fully present, we experience peace.

What is less widely talked about is that when we are mindfully present, we allow the quiet inner voice of our intuition to be heard. This is what Eileen Caddy understood fully, and Findhorn still encourages this in myriad ways today.

Noticing what you notice is an integral part of receiving intuitive guidance. Being mindful is essential if we want to understand what we truly feel, and the direction that we fundamentally wish to go.

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