A walk to the compost

02/08/2013 at 10:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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It’s time to take the peelings out, to the compost bin at the end of the garden. My body is weary. It’s the end of such a busy day. In the kitchen, I pick up the dark green caddy. It’s full of richly odorous vegetation.

At this moment right now, I have two choices. I can do this task resentfully, feeling my tiredness every step of the way. Or I can choose to enjoy the experience, choose to be fully present and notice my short walk to the compost bin with all my senses.

Today, I choose to be present.

I step barefoot into the yard. Above me, I hear the tall poplars whispering in the breeze. I feel the warmth of stone beneath my feet, a spa-like sensation. Then, I step onto cool lush grass. The soles of my feet are thrilled. It feels like ancient reflexology for body and soul. My tiredness has vanished – so fast!

I walk by small trees laden with young apples, bursting with life and vitality.

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Beyond, on the hill, I see cows grazing in the sunlight. Image

I reach the compost bin. I tip the contents of the green kitchen caddy into it: onion and garlic peelings tumble with tomato stalks and marshmallow leaves into the pungent abyss below. The odour of vegetation returning to nature is unmistakable. In a year’s time, it will all be rich, brown earth.

And then I turn back, treading over that lush, cool green grass, my bare feet still revelling in the sensation. I look skywards, at towering clouds just masking the sun. My daughter, as a small child, used to say that unicorns played in the white cloud light of the evening sun. I can and do imagine them there, invisible in the brightness.

Can you see them?

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That, then was my walk to the compost. It could have been awful. It was idyllic. The choice was only ever mine to make.

What choices did you make today?

What did you do today?

07/07/2013 at 10:36 pm | Posted in Happiness, Inspiration, Nature, Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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Yarrow“What did you do today?”

I breathed. I lived. I put my bare feet on the earth.

“Yes, but what did you do?”

I’ve just told you what I did.

“What else did you do?”

I had a laugh with ones I love. I ate almonds under a wild cherry tree. I breathed the sweet scent of a pure white rose.

“Sounds nice. Anything else?”

Yes, now that you come to mention it, I gathered yarrow under a cloudless sky. I touched a silver birch whose leaves were shimmering in the breeze. And I watched the red sun go down, while a handsome man held me close…

That’s what I did today. And what about you; what did you do? Don’t tell me the stuff you didn’t really care about. Tell me what mattered to you.

The real meaning of home

28/09/2012 at 3:02 pm | Posted in Happiness, Meditation, Nature, Wellbeing | 12 Comments
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In our distant nomadic past, home was where we settled for the night: it was shelter, a place we lay down – a place of rest. Recently, on the West Coast of Scotland, I came across a perfect example of home at its simplest. This stone outcrop at Sand provided shelter for our ancestors nearly 10,000 years ago. It was their bedroom, and also their kitchen: there is evidence that they collected limpets from the sea shore and boiled them up in water before eating them.

My daughter led me up and onto the roof of the shelter. “There’s a place I’ve got to show you,” she said. “You’re going to love it; it’s really special.” And she was right. On the heather-clad roof there were several broad stones: slabs of natural paving. One, in particular, was a perfect meditation seat. It was easy to sit there, gaze out to sea and  simply let your thoughts drift into that in-between place – the other realm.

When I did so, I found myself talking to the inhabitants of that time. We weren’t using words, exactly, but we were communicating. To my surprise, I found they were admiring my build: the fact that compared with them I looked immensely well fed. I was aware of their lightness and slimness and superb fitness, and found myself wishing that I exercised more.

Self-acceptance

They were surprised at my lack of self-acceptance on this matter. They reminded me of the goodness of Mother Earth, or the Mother as they called her. She provided what we needed, and it made no sense to disparage her gifts. Abundance was a blessing. Each of us was a creation of the Mother. Each of us was divine. How could we criticise ourselves in that context? Criticism was utterly meaningless.

I actually had the sense they were laughing at me, as if I were a child who didn’t quite understand. And yet there was also respect. It was as if they saw wisdom in me, as I saw wisdom in them. And the wisdom wasn’t individual wisdom; it was collective. We all shared knowledge… and this knowledge was infinite awareness.

And then I understood the true meaning of home. It is unconditional love, and it is acceptance. When you are at home – truly at home –  you are loved, you are accepted. During the many times we find ourselves on our own, we can still feel unconditional love and acceptance towards ourselves. And when we are with others – however distant in terms of culture, or the passage of time – we can feel that exact same connection. As I did on that rock.

Down below, a car horn was sounding. I was being summoned back to the 21st Century. I clambered down the heather slopes, sea breeze in my hair, aware that the bliss I was feeling is our natural birthright.

It’s your birthright; it truly is.

This moment now

30/07/2012 at 10:25 am | Posted in Happiness, Meditation, Nature, Uncategorized, Wellbeing | 1 Comment
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This moment now is all we ever have, but it’s enough, because it’s everything.

Have a magical day.

Spirit of the Earth

15/06/2012 at 5:06 pm | Posted in Meditation, Nature, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Following on from my last post about the Stone Age and the base chakra, here is a favourite verse, from the Navajo Blessing Way, placed with a photo I took last week in the Dordogne, France, centre of the Stone Age. Enjoy.

Easter and the Goddess of Dawn

09/04/2012 at 11:42 am | Posted in Happiness, Nature, Wellbeing | 2 Comments
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Easter comes from the Goddess of Dawn.

Look beneath any festival and you will find simple truths about people and our planet. Easter is a great example of this. The word ‘Easter’ is a variant of ‘east’, the direction in which the sun rises at dawn.

The word has ancient roots in the seed language known as Proto-Indo-European. The original word, ‘aus’, or ‘austre’ meant ‘to shine’, particularly at dawn. It was personified in early Europe as Austron or Eostre, the goddess of spring, fertility and the rising sun. Her festival was the Spring Equinox, that time between the shortest and longest days, which heralded the beginning of the all-important growing season. The changing seasonal cycle as we journey around the sun is more important to us than our mechanised lives reveal. But beneath the confusion of 21st century timetables, our bodies still respond to the longer days of sunlight in basic ways that haven’t changed since life emerged on the planet.

We absolutely take pleasure in the new life that is around at this time, and within us ideas that were incubating over winter begin to take on real life. What does this year mean to you? What are you beginning to achieve in terms of your own self-development? This is a good time to be aware that Eostre, the Goddess of Dawn, is an archetypal force in you that is driving you towards summer and the fruition of your hopes and dreams.

The good nurturing guide

09/03/2012 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Happiness, Healing, Parenting, Wellbeing | 9 Comments
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The author and youngest child, in baby-wearing days.

‘Nurturing’ is a very ancient word, and we all know what it means… don’t we? It’s about being loving, caring, helping young ones to grow and develop. But remove centuries of common usage, and we get a much simpler concept. This is it.

‘Nurture’, ‘nutrient’, ‘nourish’ and ‘nurse’ all come from the same ancient Proto-Indo-European root: ‘nu’, or ‘snu’. That root means, quite simply, ‘to flow, to let flow, to suckle’. The Sanskrit word is very similar: ‘snauti’ means ‘she drips, gives milk’. The ancient Greek is ‘nao’, meaning: ‘I flow’.

So to nurture means, literally, the act of giving milk to an infant. That is it – nothing else.

Why does this matter?

When you give milk to an infant, you give the milk, and that is it. True, you also look after the infant – the love and practical care you give them is extraordinarily important, and makes the difference between thriving and just surviving.  It is right that we include that sense of loving care within our modern definition of nurturing.

But the actual act of giving milk – the ‘nu’ or nourishment – is one of letting go. The milk is an unconditional gift. You don’t expect the infant to do anything in particular with it. You anticipate that they will grow. But the way they do this is not in your control. Their own particular combination of genes and psyche will blend with environment to create a unique human being.

Nowadays, arguably too often, the concept of nurturing includes a sense of sculpting and shaping the young individual so that they grow up to be a properly socialised human. Parents feel a sense of responsibility to get this right. Well-meaning manuals and playground conversations collude to create the pressured sense that parents have an awfully big role which we are highly likely, regularly, to get wrong. As the English poet Philip Larkin put it so memorably in This Be the Verse: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad/ They may not mean to, but they do/They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra just for you.”

These past weeks I’ve been working on the theme of nurturing with students and clients in my meditation studio. The pickle humans collectively get ourselves into over this word has become obvious to me. I have found two basic sub-themes.

One is a sense of not having being nurtured – emotionally and perhaps also nutritionally – as a child.

The other is a well-meaning and futile impulse to shape and sculpt young people who are way past the infant stage.

If we take ‘nurturing’ back to its original meaning, of giving milk – or sustenance, if you will – to an infant, then these two themes of profound human disappointment take on a different colour.

When we understand that the sustenance we received – flawed though it may have been – was an unconditional gift, then we realise that our own growth and flowering is ultimately up to ourselves and the laws of nature. We may choose to care for those aspects of ourselves that have been frozen in childhood patterns of trauma, want or need, and bring them to a more enlightened and happier adult reality.

When we understand that other adults do not need to be nurtured by us, it lifts the most enormous burden from our shoulders. Instead of trying to fix or rescue others, we give them the respect of one grown-up for another. And frequently we find that they do flower as a result of that respect.

Nurturing is a simple act that happens in the present moment, and then is gone. Once we have given it, we no longer own it.

Isn’t that a relatively carefree feeling?

Looking at the world through angels’ eyes

10/09/2011 at 10:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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My daughter calls these angel clouds. They are a great reminder of a simple truth: when we rise above a problem we look at it with different eyes. Suddenly, we can see the big picture. We can actually see beauty where perhaps before we just saw stress and sadness.

Look at this picture, taken last week over Southern England. Everything is beautiful if you look at it from a higher perspective.

Recipes: elderflower cordial, elderflower tea

26/05/2011 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Elderflowers: fragrant and good for you

We are busy gathering elderflowers for cordial right now. The fragrant flowers are all around us in the hedgerows, and easy to collect. Each head is a frothy summer’s bowl of wellbeing.

Elderflowers have been used for centuries for their health benefits. Elderflower water is mildly astringent and has traditionally been valued for the complexion. Make your own fresh elderflower toner by steeping a head or two of the fresh flowers – remove the pungent stalks first – in half a cup of boiled water, then straining. Apply on cotton wool, or spritz on to your skin. You can use it over a couple of days if kept in the fridge.

Elderflower cordial is an uplifting summer tonic – delicious with still or sparkling water on a hot summer’s day. If you have a cold or flu or feel run down, a hot drink of it in the evening is comforting and healing. Elderflowers are diaphoretic – they help the body during a fever by inducing sweating.

The recipe: we take around 25 elderflower heads, with the stalks removed, and add them to a big bowl in which 1.3 kg of sugar have been dissolved in 1.8 litres of just boiled water. We add a couples of lemons, sliced, and a couple of oranges (or limes, for a more sharply refreshing summer drink). We mix the whole thing up, cover and leave for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, strain the liquid through a muslin cloth. It’s ok to give the cloth a good squeeze to get out more of the juices. Then decant into clean, sterile bottles (You can sterilise bottles by putting them through a dishwasher, or by gently simmering in a big pan of water.) The cordial will keep for at least a month in the fridge. I have kept it for up to six months, though it usually gets drunk long before that! You can also pour it into washed plastic bottles – leave space at the top as it will expand once frozen – and store it in the freezer.

We also gather the flowers to make herbal tea, which has all the health benefits of cordial, without the sugar. Discard the thick stalks, and leave the flower heads to dry. When dry, crumble the flower heads, discarding more stems as you spot them and place in an airtight container. This will keep for a year, until the next elderflower harvest. To make your tea, put one teaspoon of flowers in a cup of boiled water, brew for three to five minutes, then drink. You can add a slice of lemon or orange and maybe a spoonful of honey…. You can also make fresh elderflower tea by steeping some of the florets (without the thicker stalks) in hot water for around 5 minutes.

Yellow hearts for happiness

12/04/2011 at 10:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Cowslips are beautiful tiny medicine chests

If you are lucky enough to have cowslips growing in your garden or nearby, nurture them. These small, quirky relatives of primroses aren’t so common nowadays, and they carry with them the peace and slower pace of a more rural past – and a few related health benefits.

The garden around the Studio is old farmland, and so the cowslips never really left it. But it’s easy enough to sow seeds in any garden and wait for them to appear.

Just looking at them is instantly calming and relaxing. However, if you have an abundance of them, you can do much more than that…

Herbal medicine

Herbalists use cowslip flowers and roots as a nervine, to relax and calm; to help dispel chesty coughs and nervous headaches; and to promote restful sleep. Collect the flowers between March and May, and the roots before flowering time, or in the autumn. Add the flowers to herbal teas; or make a decoction of the dried root: 1 teaspoonful to a cup of water; bring to the boil and simmer gently for five minutes. Then drink three times a day.

Healthy salad

The tiny, sweet tasting flowers are a pretty addition to salads; you can eat the young leaves too, though we have yet to try them here. In the old days, many households made their own delicious cowslip wine from the flowers, which helped to clear winter coughs and was a popular night cap.

Flower therapy

But the best reason to grow them is probably just to look at them. Each flower is a tiny trumpet of five connected vibrant yellow hearts. Gaze into one, and take three deep breaths, and you will receive a small but potent dose of happiness, I guarantee.

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