This is why I let the wild bees go

10/06/2019 at 8:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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The honey bees buzzed into the garden like a striped, determined blizzard, and settled in a wild cherry tree where they became a solid mass that moved constantly yet kept its shape. The way they seethed and settled seemed alarming to this bee-ignorant person. I called a local beekeeper, who said he would turn up the next morning and capture the swarm. In the meantime, cautiously, I studied them. And began to see patterns in their movement.

Firstly,  they were reassuringly peaceful, cocooning and protecting their all-important queen. Then there were individual bees, scouts, who constantly buzzed off to search for a new nesting site in the nearby woods, and returned to communicate their findings to the swarm.

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For hours, on and off, I watched them. They were mesmerising. Gradually I began to see the swarm’s point of view. I liked the way so many bees could act as one community. As chance would have it, my own home was about to become a community. Within the week, our disabled son, Tim, would return from college to live a semi-independent life with us. He would bring a team of carers with him. I was looking forward to Tim’s return very much. However, I felt trepidation about the team that would nearly always be with him.

While I watched and waited, the bees quietly buzzed their message, that it’s okay to be part of a community, in which everyone has their role to play. During those hours, my attitude shifted. I began to accept my family’s new phase. Our home shimmered and changed shape around me, becoming its new, more public self.

The next day, I phoned the beekeeper and asked him to come a couple of hours later than planned. I had to go out but also, secretly, I hoped our visiting bees might have the chance to live a wild, free life. And sure enough, in that time the bees lifted and vanished into the woodland. They were gone within seconds. I understood that they had found their own home. And I wasn’t sorry that I let them go.

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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Recipe: sugar-free elderflower and rose cordial

20/06/2017 at 1:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Every summer I used to make elderflower and rose cordial – or summer cordial, as it became known. It seemed like the perfect way to capture the magic of this fragrant season. I’d walk the fields with my young daughter, and we’d collect elderflowers and wild roses, wild strawberries and sometimes even little field pansies, or more often we’d pluck a few pansies and lavender sprigs from the plants that basked in sunshine by the kitchen door.

However, this year something has changed. I gave up sugar last Lent, and the habit has stuck. Now I’d rather my cordials were not super-sweet. True, sugar is an effective, traditional preservative for drinks and jams. Looking at it logically, however, sugar is not essential. Fridges and freezers do a pretty good job of preservation!

So this year I’ve adapted my old recipe. This version is sugar-free. Instead, it contains a relatively small amount of honey. Ideally, a good, local, liquid honey.

The difference in flavour? Truthfully, I much prefer this version. It seems to me that the honey, which itself it made from the nectar of countless flowers, brings out the fragrant, nectar-rich scent of the summer blooms.

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You can adapt the flowers according to what’s available. Right now, roses are everywhere, so they’re the main ingredient in the cordial illustrated here. The roses can be wild ones from the hedgerows, though it’s best to include plenty of fragrant garden ones too.  Later in the season, you could probably add meadowsweet. I haven’t tried that yet.

The key is that the flowers are not heated, so they keep their amazingly delicate flavour. I hope you agree the recipe captures the refreshing, uplifting essence of summer.

For this healthier recipe I added raspberries and wild strawberries from my garden. A small shop- or farm-bought punnet of either would do the job equally well.

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Ingredients:

2.5 litres water

3/8 cup/100 g honey

1 bowl/60 g mixed elderflowers (thick stalks removed), fragrant rose petals (unsprayed & from a garden or hedgerow, not a shop); a few pansies are an optional extra

5 sprigs lavender

Optional: 3 generous sprigs lemon verbena leaves

1 scant cup/120 g strawberries or raspberries, or a mix of both

1 lemon

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Method:

Boil water and let it cool for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the flowers and fruit. Check flowers over and remove any discolourations or bugs. Wash fruit and drain. Slice lemon. Place all flowers and fruit in a large bowl. Add lemon verbena leaves if using.

Add the honey to the cooled water and stir to dissolve.

Pour the honey water over all other ingredients in bowl, cover with a clean muslin or cotton cloth and leave in a room where it won’t be disturbed for 14 to 24 hours, stirring once or twice during that time. (You can check the flavour is to your liking by dipping a clean spoon in and tasting the liquid neat. Broadly, you want to infuse it long enough to capture the delicate flower flavour, but not too long or the fruitiness will come to dominate.)

 

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Strain mixture through muslin or cotton cloth. Squeeze well to extract the juice. Pour the fragrant cordial into bottles. Refrigerate. Can be stored for up to a week in the fridge. You can also freeze in a plastic container (leave room for expansion) for six or seven months. Try adding a neat dash to your sparkling wine during the winter festive season!

To serve: dilute 1:5 with cold still or sparkling water. Garnish with mint sprigs if liked.

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Three ways to be blissful at Beltane

25/04/2017 at 10:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Beltane is the blossom-scented traditional festival that falls on 1st May, also known as May Day. However, as a state of mind, it’s available to us throughout the year – whatever the season.  This is how.

First, let’s unpack the meaning of this beautiful word with its clear, musical tones. ‘Beltane’ comes from an ancient seed word meaning ‘shine’ , ‘flash’ and ‘fire’ – a reference to the fact that by late spring/early summer in the Northern Hemisphere the sun stays with us a little longer every day, warming living beings and the land.

The shine of Beltane is not the reflective gleam of a cool surface, such as the moon or water.  It originates from within and radiates outwards. The 1st of May marks the point at which the light has become significantly stronger. By this stage in the year the sun can invoke warmth-loving seeds to shoot upwards towards its radiance. Yet the late spring sun also has the potential to burn bare skin and parch seedlings. A Beltane sun has a power that can be used for good or ill, a power we need to respect and use wisely. We are energised by it – and it can remind us of our own inner power.

Here are three things you can do at Beltane to focus your inner power and use it for good. These can be used just as they are or adapted for any time of the year when you wish to stoke your own inner fire to increase your wellbeing and your energetic impact on the world.

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1. When you wake in the morning, count your blessings. This is especially easy to do when the mornings are light and sun-filled. The practice reminds you of all the great good that is in your life. As a consequence, gratitude radiates outwards from your centre, effortlessly burning away subtle detritus from your personal energy, such as resentment and old griefs.

2. Go orchard bathing. Walk among trees laden with flowers. Breathe in their subtle fragrance. See or sense their vibrant shimmer in the air. Enter the canopy of a blossoming tree and feel uplifted by the sense of life and potential that the tree embodies. Absorb that energy and let it apply to your own upcoming projects and dreams. At other times of year you can revisit the orchard trees to witness the natural cycles of life and regeneration, and gain a sense of how these manifest in you.

3. Become a student of light. Notice how light travels through a leaf or a forest and develop a sense of how light rays pass through the skin of a living being, and how shafts of sunlight penetrate a community. This matters not just because sunlight can be beautiful and healing, but also because it transforms. Even the darkest places receive light photons, bringing with them energy, information and, symbolically, hope. Be aware of those energies. Work with them. The more you get to know them, the more benefits you will discover.

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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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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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Recipe: summer flower cordial

24/06/2016 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This delicious summer drink is prepared over two fragrant, flower-filled days. It makes approx 2.5 litres.

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Day One

Take 20 or so elderflower heads with thick stalks removed, add a handful of rose petals (I used a mix of wild roses with some fragrant garden ones), seven sprigs of lavender, two sliced lemons and two handfuls of wild or cultivated strawberries. Meanwhile, add 1.3 kg sugar to 1.8 kg just boiled water in a big bowl. Stir to dissolve, creating syrupy water.

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Add all ingredients to the bowl of syrupy water, cover with a cloth and leave for 24 hours.

Day Two

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Strain mixture through a clean muslin cloth or old clean pillow case. Squeeze well to extract the juice. Pour the fragrant cordial into bottles.

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Drink diluted with water. Delicious! Also goes well with sparkling water, tonic water or even ginger ale.

Feel free to vary the flowers and fruit according to what you can find. That’s all part of the fun.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breathing mindfully the ocean way

08/04/2016 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I stood on a bumpy shore in Galway, Ireland and breathed in salty cool Atlantic air. Suddenly, my lungs were filled with fresh ocean breezes. Each in-breath came with an excitement of Atlantic energy. Each out-breath took with it a thousand everyday stresses.

In a situation like that, you can’t help but be fully present. My mind wasn’t about to wander, because the experience was so vivid.

All my senses were engaged with savouring this moment. I could taste the salt in the air, feel the wind speed-weaving my hair into maritime knots, see the sunlight dancing through fast moving clouds, breathe in the tangy scent of seaweed, and hear the waves lapping against pebbles. Additionally, the wind was chilling!

The challenge is to breathe equally mindfully in familiar situations  – in our everyday life. In fact, this is one of the very best meditations to practise regularly. Simply sit in silence once a day – first thing in the morning is perfect – and focus on your breathing for 20 minutes or so. And notice what you notice.

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Here are three techniques that can be helpful.

1. Treat every mindful breathing session as though it’s the first time. You are a traveller, newly arrived at this shoreline of your breathing. Witness the air entering you as though it’s the most amazing newcomer in your life. Witness it leaving you like the life-long friend it is.

2. Focus on a particular point: such as the nostrils, the lungs or the abdomen. Notice the sensation of the air as it enters and leaves you. Witness how your muscles expand and contract rhythmically. Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests focusing on the belly, and likens it to the deeper, slower moving currents of the ocean: “When we focus on our breathing down in the belly,” he writes in Full Catastrophe Living, “we are tuning into a region of the body that is far from the head and thus far below the agitations of our thinking mind. It is intrinsically calmer.”

3. At intervals during your day, whenever you remember to, briefly observe your breathing. When you next feel stressed, make a point of noticing what is happening to your breath. Focus on the belly, as it rises with the in-breath and falls with the out-breath. Sometimes this movement is subtle. In the time you take to witness it, the stress or surface agitation has often lessened. It’s as if that pause creates a tiny gap in the stressfully woven fabric of your life, and loosens every thing up so new options can emerge.

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