Building up your kindness muscles

06/12/2021 at 11:26 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A wise person once said to me, “The most important thing you can learn to do is to forgive.” The act of forgiving has become a life-long lesson. It’s hard to forgive someone who has hurt me personally, or hurt others whom I care about, but there is something freeing about the act.
A useful tool if you wish to become more forgiving is to practise loving kindness meditation. Sometimes called Metta bhavana in the language of early Buddhist texts, or simply ‘Metta meditation’, the concept predates Buddhism, suggesting that kindness is part of our human character.
Try this common form of metta meditation. Close your eyes and think kindly thoughts towards yourself. You might say, silently: “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease with myself.”
Then, think of someone you love. Repeat those same kind thoughts: “May you be well. May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease with yourself.”
Then, think of someone you feel neutral towards. Cultivate the same feelings of non- judgemental kindness, and repeat the same words: “May you be well…”
And now, think of someone you find difficult, and repeat the process again, as best you can.
Finally, think of all four people together, in the same spirit of loving kindness, and repeat the words: “May we be well. May we be happy. May we be safe. May we be peaceful and at ease with ourselves.”

Wellbeing notes: do these three things every day

01/11/2021 at 11:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Continue Reading Wellbeing notes: do these three things every day…

Dancing goddess – a (free) audio meditation

15/08/2021 at 1:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Friend Sue picked the theme for this week’s meditation, but she couldn’t make the actual event, so I decided to record the meditation for her, and for others who might like to hear it. May it relax and empower you.

Photo: Julia Caesar/Unsplash

Message from the oracle deck

03/08/2021 at 5:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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There is a pack of oracle cards, called the Oracle of Illumination, that was given to me by Vivien, a dear friend whom I met during my training with The Healing Trust. The bag that the cards rest in nowadays was a gift from Judith, a beloved sister of mine. Both women are now in the light, and yet it feels to me as though their kind influence is evident each time I use the cards.

This morning I drew the card, ‘Energiser’. The book that came with the deck was discarded long ago as I am one of those lawless beings who likes to receive impressions directly from an oracle, without reference to the authors’ personal interpretations. Instead, I went for a walk through the local meadows and let the word become a refrain as I strolled. And these were some of the questions in my mind.

How does the word ‘energiser’ figure in your life today? What and who energise you? What and who leave you feeling low in energy?

I realised that walking in green spaces or doing some yoga or writing my current novel can be deeply energising, even if, before the start of those exercises, I was feeling tired. In contrast, sitting still for long periods doing nothing in particular can actually deplete my energy. And although there are necessary, dull tasks in everyone’s day, making sure to include energising activities, whatever that means to you, is essential self-care.

Celebrate what your body can do

27/12/2018 at 6:12 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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At this time of year it’s so easy to feel bad about eating too much and exercising too little. That’s why it was good to step through the sunlit winter mist and into my local gym, where the following unattributed message was displayed: “Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate.” So true! Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to exercise when you accept and appreciate yourself wholeheartedly, just as you are? “I can do this” is a mantra that gives us wings.

The next step from appreciation is thankfulness, and that’s the word that we will be meditating on in sessions through January. I’m thankful for a body that is, on balance, pretty healthy. I’m thankful for family and friends and warmth and nourishment. I’m grateful for being part of overlapping circles of community that cooperate and help one another. Being thankful gives sustenance to the very things we appreciate. What will you appreciate in 2019? What forces will you feed with your thankfulness?

 

Try this simple star meditation for wellbeing

24/07/2018 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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This exercise is quick and easy to do. Once you’ve learnt it, you can complete it in just six breaths. Many people find it relaxing, and it can help you step into a mindset of good health and happiness. It’s a little about the hand movements, and a lot about the visualisation you do during the sequence. You can do this every day, or whenever you feel like it.

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1. Clasp your hands loosely together with the thumb pads touching. Focus on your breathing. Follow the breath as it moves in and out. As you breathe in, say the word ‘Divine’ to yourself – breathe in the word silently – and imagine a golden white ball of light, shimming and glowing right in the very centre of you. As you breathe out, say the word ‘light’ to yourself – breathe out silently – and imagine the light at the centre of you radiating outwards like a star. Imagine that the light clears away any detritus in your energy field that is no longer needed, so that you glow and shine ever more brightly.

 

 

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2. With the next in-breath, keep your thumbs together, and place the two index fingers together. Repeat as above, breathing in the word ‘divine’ and breathing out the word ‘light’. Imagine the light radiating, and clearing old energies.

 

 

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3. With the next in-breath, keep thumbs and index fingers together. Place the two middle fingers together. Repeat breathing and visualising as above. Imagine yourself like a star, with beautiful, life-giving rays of light streaming out in all directions.

 

 

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4. With the next in-breath, keep thumbs, index and middle together. Feel the sensation of the thumb pads and the finger pads connecting with their counterparts. Perhaps you can feel your pulse through the connection. Repeat breathing and visualising as above. With each in-breath the light in the centre of you glows more brightly. With each out-breath it radiates outwards.

 

 

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5. And with the next in-breath, keep all your digits together, including your little fingers. Take your time to be still and breathe meditatively. Imagine that the light in the centre of you is dazzlingly bright, and that the light is streaming outwards in every direction. Picture that any areas of physical or mental pain are harmlessly being cleared away by the powerful radiating light, leaving your body, mind and spirit full of radiant good health and happiness.

 

6. Finally, conclude the exercise by placing your hands briefly in the ‘namaste’ position. As you do so, focus on a sense of the divine in yourself, and in all living beings.

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How to meditate with crystal geodes

04/07/2018 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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What are geodes?

Geodes are rock-encased cavities or bubbles within which crystals have formed. The crystals tend to point inwards, towards the centre. On the outside, geodes in their natural state are lumpy and bumpy. They may weigh less than you expect. On the inside, they are crystalline worlds that sparkle when the rock is cracked open and exposed to the light.

The contrast between a plain exterior and a detailed interior is one of the reasons why geodes work so well as tools of meditation. In meditation, our minds are revealed to have an internal richness, like a geode into which light shines.

The word ‘geode’ itself comes from the word for ‘earth’.

The geode sphere shown above is fantastic to meditate on, because it feeds both the senses and the imagination. This is a pale amethyst that has been removed from its bumpy exterior, and been shaped into a sphere. Platinum and silver vapour was then passed over it, creating permanent iridescent colours over every surface.

What’s the best kind of geode for meditation?

There are many varieties of geodes, and each one has a place in meditation. Put simply, the qualities you notice within the geode are qualities that you may also discover within yourself, bringing you a sense of peace, and insights. Here are a couple of geode examples.

Lightness and sparkle

Last week I picked up two humble snow quartz half-geodes for a fiver from Bath Market. Here is one of them.

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Small and light, it’s easy to keep this in your hand or your lap, or just near you while you work. Gaze into its depths, and you are subtly taken into another world of beauty and sparkle. Each time you look into a simple geode like this, your perspective shifts, and you feel a small dose of relaxation.  Note, this type of crystal is sometimes described as chalcedony, which just means it’s a microcrystalline variant of quartz. However, a clearer example of chalcedony can be seen below.

Deep and powerful

If you’ve ever walked into a crystal shop, you’ve almost certainly seen one or more amethyst caves, which are geodes by another name. These can range from diminutive to giant-sized. Search online for ‘amethyst cave’ and you’ll find plenty of examples. Many people find these deep purple caverns calming and restful.

At the furthest end of the scale of magnitude is the incredible Cave of Crystals in Mexico, a searingly hot cavern lined with the world’s largest known crystals. The cave is usually flooded and inaccessible. However, for a brief period some years ago, it was drained, and small numbers of people were able to walk around the giant selenite crystals.

Organic flow

Not all geodes contain crystal points. Here is an example of chalcedony where the mineral seems to have been caught mid-flow. At just under 4 cm, it’s slightly smaller than the sweet and sparkly snow quartz geode illustrated above, but it’s noticeably heavier to hold.

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This example has a translucent, milky appearance, though it can equally be coloured – agate is a bright, banded version of chalcedony. With its flowing qualities, this form of chalcedony can have a organic, even intimate aspect to it. When you tune into those qualities within yourself, it can help you to be in touch with who you really are.

What’s the best way to meditate with a geode?

• Sit comfortably somewhere quiet and peaceful with your chosen geode. You might wish to set a timer for, say, 20 minutes for this exercise.

• Study the geode using your senses: handle it, gaze at it, notice how the light shines and reflects within it. Feel the weight of it in your hands. Tap it and notice any hollowness or otherwise. Gaze into it as though it is a sparkling cave that you can enter.

• Close your eyes and continue to notice your geode’s qualities in your imagination. Breathe in and out, slowly and peacefully. Allow your continued imaginary study of your geode to synchronise with your breathing.

• Continue your unhurried, relaxed breathing, and your imaginary exploration of your geode. As you do so, you may find your attention wanders. Whenever you notice that it has, just gently bring your attention back to your geode. Feel it in your hands to reinforce  your connection with it.

• As you continue your meditation, you may find spontaneous images or words enter your mind. Some of these may appear to make no sense. Some may feel like solutions to problems, or shimmering insights. Do your best to witness these without attachment. Let them float through and out of your consciousness. Remind yourself gently that you are here to meditate, and that it all.

• After the meditation, think about what has taken place. You will likely notice that your mind feels calmer and fresher, like a clear pool in which the silt has settled or been washed away. Note any new insights you may acquired as a result of your meditation.

In summary, geodes make useful and beautiful meditation companions. You can use them frequently as part of a regular practice, or simply to create a calm, meditative atmosphere in a room. You can also use images of geodes to focus on, or you can imagine the perfect meditative crystal cave, full of relaxing qualities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lift your mood with lavender

14/06/2018 at 7:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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In a week when a study showed that over a third of all medicines can cause depression, it’s worth remembering that simple remedies from nature can lift your mood. Lavender is one of the very best that you can rely on.

Run your fingers gently through a lavender plant that’s just come into bloom, and you will instantly relax with the characteristic, uplifting, restful scent. Inhaling lavender is proven to reduce levels of anxiety and stress.

A few drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue placed near you at night or near your desk will calm the mind and nerves. Diluted in a carrier oil and rubbed into the skin, molecules of soothing lavender have been found to enter the bloodstream and deliver pain-reducing, mildly sedative benefits. Lavender oil in an intensive care unit or hospital ward can reduce the levels of body-disrupting sedation required.

Lavender spray recipe

This is a simple and delightful way to feel the benefits of lavender.

Take a clean and empty 100 ml bottle with a fine spray attachment. Add 15 ml of vodka, 80 ml of spring or other water, and 40 drops of lavender essential oil. Put the lid on the bottle and shake. Spray on yourself, around rooms or around your bed at night for instant, soothing relaxation.

Do you have a favourite method of using lavender?

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to run a meditation group

11/05/2018 at 10:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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“How do I go about running a meditation group?” This is a question I’m asked from time to time, so I thought it would be helpful to share a few guidelines. These are based on meditation groups I’ve run for nine years in Wiltshire, UK.

Consider yourself a facilitator, not a teacher

The members of any group will bring their own skills and experience to a session. Often, one person’s dilemma will be answered by another person’s insights. Your role is not to provide the answers, but to create the space in which answers arise from within the group. Often that means choosing a theme for the session, and being ready to ask gentle questions to encourage all members to contribute. You also keep the group on topic with your relevant questions. If you have particular experience of meditation, or teaching, those things are obviously very useful. But the most important skills to have are probably the willingness to turn up, and to do the best you can, by being properly prepared.

Decide the perfect time and place

Decide on a fixed day and time every week, fortnight or month. An hour is an ideal length of time for a session. This might include half an hour of silent meditation, followed by half an hour of discussion on the theme of the meditation. You also need to consider the venue. Many groups meet, at least at first, in the facilitator’s home. You then have to consider safety issues: who you are inviting into your home; and conversely, whether your home contains any hazards for unwary people. You may find it more practical to hire a local venue. Whatever you choose, look into what insurance may be required. And be consistent about finishing sessions on time.

Charge a fee

If a few friends are meeting in your living room it may seem hard to do this, but it really is a good idea to charge a small amount to cover expenses. You might spend money on refreshments, marketing, plus ancillary costs such as the provision of blankets to keep meditators cosy, or cleaning of the room. If you are hiring a hall, of course you need to charge enough to cover the cost of hire, refreshments, marketing and so on.

If you don’t charge a fee, your guests will begin to wonder if they owe you something. A fee evens things out. You are providing a service. The members are happy in the knowledge that they don’t owe you anything. You don’t develop the resentful feeling that you are doing something for nothing. A bowl on a table by the door with a fee marked beside it, and some change inside, is perfectly adequate. And if someone forgets to pay one week, don’t worry about it. It’s basically an honesty box, all part of the spirit of the gathering.

Set a timer

You will need to time your sessions. In silent meditation, it’s a good idea to use a timer to start a session, and to end it. A zen meditation timer, with chimes, is a nice way of doing this. I don’t especially recommend using a timer app on your phone. Although this is fine for solitary meditation, it lacks a certain ceremony, or ritual, that enhances group meditation.

Choose your method

You don’t have to follow a particular school of meditation. It’s essential, though, to come up with a format that feels right for you. The simplest format is this: Choose an uplifting word that lends itself to meditation. A word such as ‘Love’, ‘Peace’ or ‘Serene’ works well. Or you might chose an item from nature, such as ‘Leaf’, ‘Tree’, ‘Ocean’. The idea is that members of your group will sit still in silence, silently breathing in “I am” and breathing out the word. They might imagine the words are written in gold letters against a blue sky. Or they might picture, or sense, something that represents the word. The word itself – the theme – can be a new one for each session. You might, alternatively, keep the same word for a month, finding new insights every session. Encourage the members of the group to think of ‘I am’ as a collective force of the universe, rather than one person’s individual identity.

Offer a simple guided meditation

Optionally, you could guide them through the beginnings of the meditation: invite them to sit comfortably, close their eyes, become aware of their breath, their feet on the ground… invite them to visualise, or sense a peaceful scene that embodies the theme. Lead them to a period of silent meditation of 20 minutes. Set the timer at the beginning of the silence so that you can meditate fully yourself. When the timer goes at the end, you might offer a few words to lead them out of the meditation, or you might have pre-arranged that the meditation simply finishes at that point.

Singing bowl variation: instead of a timer, you could use a beautiful instrument such as a singing bowl to signal the beginning and end of the silent period. However, this does mean that you need to keep an eye on the time yourself, so this may potentially be less meditative for you.

Research your theme

Before each session, it’s helpful if you as facilitator have researched your theme. You might have learnt the earliest meaning of the word. You might have found a poem that evokes the theme beautifully. These are good things to share with the group. You might turn up with a useful meditative technique or an idea for a short guided meditation that you can share with others. You might share some easy meditation principles. Or give them a simple strategy for when they are too busy to meditate. 

Be kind

Don’t put pressure on your guests, or expect them to do anything in particular. They are here to meditate, and that is all. You are the facilitator, the one who makes it happen. It is always wonderful to see who turns up on any particular week, and it’s good to see each meeting as perfect, just the way it is.

Be practical

The simplest of themes, focused on in a supportive atmosphere, can lead to emotional healing. Especially in the discussion that follows a period of silent meditation, an individual may become tearful. It’s helpful to follow these three guidelines for any group. And make sure tissues are always quietly available. At the same time, realise that you are not a counsellor (unless you are one, of course!) You are not there to mend anyone. If you feel out of your depth, you can very gently offer a suitable next step to a member of the group: they might visit their GP to ask for a referral for counselling, or some other strategy. In practice, it would be extremely rare for this to be necessary. The group supports each individual with compassion, empathy and humour. The humour itself is a natural part of any gathering, always to be welcomed.

Make sure everyone is well grounded before they leave. If need be, have them stamp their feet, or drink a glass of water. Say something spontaneous that gets people laughing. Talk about what they are doing later that day. Make time for a certain amount of small talk after the session has ended, while they are collecting bags and coats and shoes on their way out.

Keep a record

Keep a record of your themes, of the number of attendees, and of the small financial sums collected. You will need a record of your themes, in particular, to avoid too much repetition, and to gain an overview of how the group is developing.

Good luck

I hope these guidelines will be useful, but your group will be unique to you – and that’s the best way to be. Make decisions for your group based on love, rather than fear. Do things that make you feel joyful, and your group will surely thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is the most important question you can ask yourself:

“How am I feeling right now?”

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

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

Have enough sleep.

Eat apples from a tree.

Cook a tasty, sustaining meal.

Turn off your phone.

Collect firewood.

Draw a picture.

Talk to a loved one.

Simply be.

 

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