Choosing bluebell pathways

26/04/2019 at 11:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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At the weekend I was lucky enough to be shown Duncliffe Wood, in Dorset. It had been raining heavily, which meant this ancient woodland was largely empty of visitors, like a forest from a bygone era. The rain was still falling lightly as we walked through clouds of purple blooms. The ground was bumpy with odorous leaf mould and sap-filled roots, and the subtle bluebell fragrance lay all about us, mist-like.

There were many small paths through the woodland. Every few paces, it seemed, there was a new choice of route. At first we chose carefully, and then it dawned on us that the route didn’t really matter. Every choice was the right choice. This was a walk that meant us to meander, to explore, to absorb the bright spring vitality of the place.

When the walk finished, I carried away my own share of that diffuse purple bluebell energy which lay like a shimmering ball in my cupped hands. The next day I felt a portion of the ball pour out into two meditation sessions that I hosted. Afterwards there was still plenty left to pour around my house and garden, and into the everyday jobs I had to do there. Then some flowed into my writing and yet more seeped on to my list of things to do, muddling the tidy lines, creating watercolour opportunities that changed shape as I looked at them.

It was just a little walk. But its fragrance will linger, I think, for a goodly time.

 

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Celebrate what your body can do

27/12/2018 at 6:12 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 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?

 

How to improve your focus in meditation – and life

16/08/2018 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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What is your relationship with Focus? Have you been together a while? Or was Focus a first love, or are you and Focus perhaps not even talking?

If I were a life coach, I might suggest that you feed your focus and starve your distractions. Or I might say, “What you focus on is what you get more of.”

However, I am not a life coach. I am a healer who meditates and writes. In the spheres of wellbeing in which I move, focus is not an end goal. It’s an invitation to be fully present. All we can ever have is this present moment. If we witness this moment fully, it has the magical ability to open up like a fractal. Rather like the owl I met recently, we develop the ability to see, hear, sense and intuit in ever more detail.

The state of mindful focusing is a relaxed, alert way of being. We become aware and awake to what’s around us. Importantly, we don’t focus on what we want yet don’t have. We focus on what is. In so doing, we realise how very much is contained within the present moment. We can then make choices based on our expanded awareness, which can help us step into an optimum future.

What is your relationship with Focus? Are you perhaps close friends? Maybe, just maybe, Focus is your life-long guide and companion?

 

In homage to rain

13/07/2018 at 7:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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It hadn’t rained for weeks. The normally lush countryside had turned dry, apart from narrow ribbons along water courses. And now, at last, came the downpour. People became silly with happiness. It offered a powerful lesson in thankfulness, did we but remember it.

 

This is the perfect time for your self care

12/02/2018 at 6:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Valentine’s Day and the first day of Lent coincide this year. The resulting fusion of love and abstinence from a selected item of food or drink makes this the perfect time to focus on self care.

How might you care for yourself for the 40 or more days of Lent, which begins this Wednesday 14th February?

One year ago, inspired by my friend Sarah Sexton, I gave up refined sugar for Lent. After Lent I continued the practice. I’m happy to say I am now 10 kg lighter, and back within a healthy weight range. Along the way I lost my sugar cravings, and the associated swings between high energy and tiredness.

Lent is a perfect time for self-reflection. On a scale of 1 to 10, how well are you currently caring for your body? What single act of food-abstinence will your body most benefit from?

Whatever your spirituality or lack thereof, approaching Lent as an act of self care is an invitation to thrive.

This is why you should start your week with a meditation

08/01/2018 at 1:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Most Mondays since 2009, I have started the working week by sitting still in silence at 10 am for half an hour and inviting other people to join me in the silence. It’s something I totally recommend. This is why.

Meditating clears the mind. It enables fresh ideas to emerge spontaneously during the days that follow. It creates a discipline that feeds beneficially into the rest of your schedule. It encourages a relaxed, alert mental outlook. Over time, it can help you to be less reactive to the emotional highs and lows of work and home life. It builds up new neural pathways in the brain that help with ordering of information and staying on task. And it can enable you to become aware of negative habitual thoughts – such as a tendency to blame yourself, or other people, for things that go wrong – so you are no longer a victim of such thinking and can use your energy instead to come up with new solutions. It builds a resilient, resourceful mind. And it feels good.

Scientific American published some interesting research, which shows, among other things, that expert meditators have diminished activity in anxiety-related areas of the brain. It also showed that the pre-frontal cortex and the insula regions – involved with processing attention, sensory information and internal bodily sensations – are more developed in experienced meditators.

These are all great reasons to meditate every day, and I recommend that too. However, there’s something special about meditating in company, and Monday mornings are an optimum time to do that. As Caroline, one of my fellow meditators says, “If you meditate on Monday at 10 am, you don’t break up the day, and it sets you up for the entire working week.”

So I recommend you put Monday in your diary and treat it like an office meeting – with yourself, your friends and colleagues, and your inner guidance.
Here is an easy guide to meditating.

And here are details of the Monday meditation sessions that I run.

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.

 

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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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.

 

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!

 

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