In the heart of a lonely man

27/11/2017 at 10:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Poetic Bond 4

I remember travelling to a seaside town in the south west with my family. I remember that we went into a café for lunch. I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember the salty tang of the sea air, and the sun-burnt faces of fellow diners.

I remember breastfeeding my baby daughter in the café. I remember the bliss that arrived as the milk flowed.  And I remember that I smiled down at my daughter and looked up, still smiling, to gaze directly into the eyes of a man, sitting at a nearby table, who was staring at me. I remember how bereft he looked. His expression was one of absolute loss. It was a naked expression, as though he’d been caught out by his own silent sadness, almost as though he hadn’t even realised it was there.

That man’s expression has stayed with me these past 12 years. It seems to me that he was expressing, so beautifully, the longing of the lonely soul. We all have lonely elements within us, I imagine: parts of us that went unnourished at a critical time. At its simplest, it seems to me that I could roll back time to see the man returned to his baby form, left to cry for lack of milk and nurturing.

So that’s why I wrote ‘Milk of Kindness’. And that’s why I’m so pleased it’s just been published in The Poetic Bond VII. I’m privileged to be one of 50 poets represented in the book, which was compiled by Trevor Maynard.

There’s no way that I can know what happened to the man in the café all that time ago. But wherever he is, I wish him peace and kindness.

Mindfulness and cupcakes at the Women’s Refuge

08/03/2016 at 6:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Ghossiya brought the cupcakes, and she came up with the idea too.  How can mindfulness help mothers? How can it help young children? She was planning to put her findings into a  dissertation for a degree course in early childhood studies which she is soon to complete at Oxford Brooks University.

A group of us – mothers, children, refuge key workers, Ghossiya and I –  looked at three principles:

Be here now

Notice what you notice

Be kind to yourself.

We ate cupcakes mindfully, using our senses, and discovered that the experts at this were the young children present. They explored with fingers in icing, and fingers in mouths. What happens, thought one, when you drop an icing flower into a glass of water? (Answer: it sinks to the bottom of the glass, where it stains the water a delicate pink.)

Afterwards, we did a body scan relaxation exercise, focusing on our breath, then toes and feet and legs, and so on, upwards through our bodies. We visualised a golden white light, spreading outwards from our heart, filling our whole body with light, giving every cell the chance to pause, and rest, and renew.

When we opened our eyes again, after the exercise, everyone in the room seemed visibly more relaxed. Even the very young children had noticed the change in atmosphere, and were contented. One was stroking the soft shiny hair of a toddler friend sitting nearby:  mindfulness in action.

During our session, we also talked about the fact that mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve health and slow down ageing. And we discussed how a body scan visualisation is ideal for young children, especially at bedtime, to help them to calm and slow down.

Free body scan audio

We discussed how the mums could talk their children through this. Or, if they preferred, they could play the audio that’s available to all who’d like it, through this blog (please just contact me, putting BODY SCAN in the comment box).

Ghossiya shared a cupcake recipe (see below). Cooking, it was agreed, it a great way of being in the zone, along with walking in the countryside, relaxing in a candle-lit bath, doing yoga … and any other enjoyable activity in which we are fully present, using our senses. And if we are ever in any doubt, all we ever have to do is enter the world of a young child. They know how to explore this moment now better than anyone else on the planet. They are not rushing on to the next activity. They are masters of the present moment. We can learn so much from them.

Mindful cupcake recipe

115 g caster sugar

115 g self-raising flour

115 g margarine (at room temperature)

2 eggs (at room temperature)

Any one of the following optional flavourings: 100 g sultanas or raisins; 100-150 g chocolate chips; 1 tsp vanilla extract; 1 tsp cinnamon.

  1. Set the oven to 150º C/Gas 2.
  2. Put caster sugar, flour, margarine and eggs in a bowl and mix thoroughly until smooth.
  3. If using optional flavouring, add to the bowl and mix in gently yet thoroughly.
  4. Place cupcake cases in a muffin tin and spoon in the cake mixture.
  5. Bake in preheated oven until risen and golden brown.

Decorate as liked with icing or simply lightly sprinkle with icing sugar though a sieve.

 

 

 

A rose for hard times

31/03/2015 at 7:52 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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There’s a simple meditative technique we can use in hard times. I call it the Rose Meditation. You can do this anywhere: cleaning the house, ploughing through work, undergoing medical treatment, in a high-voltage meeting….

All you do is this: focus, in your mind’s eye, on a rose. The example shown here was photographed after rain, in the sunshine of the Dordogne.

Picture the feather-light, velvety smoothness of the petals. Imagine yourself miniaturised, resting between the scented petals as though they are the softest bed in the world. Breathe in their heavenly fragrance.

Notice the variations in colour between the inner and outer petals. Absorb the beautiful colours with every cell of your body.

Touch the raindrops; taste their sweetness.

Explore the petals, going inward towards the nectar, and outwards again towards the sun and fresh air.

Do this visualisation any time you feel the need. The rose contains powerful therapy, and simply thinking about it in this way can be soothing, and healing.

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.

A haiku travel journal

27/06/2014 at 5:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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On the plane between London and Hong Kong, I thought I’d write a travel journal with a difference. Each day, I would write a haiku poem. My understanding of haiku is that it distils nature and our own true nature in a few short lines. In the English version, that most often means 5 syllables, then 7, then another 5. I wanted to do this for fun, and also to see if it brought me new insights.

The writing began as soon as we reached the refuge of our comfortable hotel.

Lily

Guan yin tea and bath

Fragrant lilies scent the dark

Harbour lights beyond.

Haiku traditionally loves contrast. Intuitively, I love the space between contrasts. During our days in Hong Kong, I was beginning to notice a very human trait: in the act of concealing, we end up revealing.

Leaves

Incense and Man Mo

Tiny shrines by shops of jade

Bird song on the Peak.

We were travelling as a family, which included my 18-year-old son Tim, who has learning difficulties and uses a wheelchair. Quickly we discovered that the streets were empty of others like Tim. It dawned on us that were connecting with a culture which believed that young people with special needs should stay at home.

An owl stares at us

in the Museum of Art

Kowloon’s rich treasure.

Most people simply, politely, ignored Tim, as they might ignore anything embarrassing, though we noticed plenty of covert glances. However, one day a taxi driver became visibly upset when he spotted Tim, and hissed at us while he drove erratically to our destination. We brushed off his crazy behaviour. But we wondered about it. We were beginning to feel that Tim – and we – were intrepid simply by being there. Mad taxi rides aside, we felt rather pleased with ourselves.

Orchid

Wow! Dim sum Tim Tim

at the old Luk Yu Tea House

Fountains and Flowers.

Someone told us one evening that the Buddhist belief in reincarnation was often interpreted to mean that handicapped children and young people must have done something wrong in a previous lifetime. Therefore, their presence brought shame to their families.  They were hidden away. Sometimes neglected, sometimes worse. Unwittingly, we were challenging that tradition.

After the sampans

barefoot in a sandy bay

Gods gaze at the sea.

Maybe all that scrutiny had something to do with it, but Tim’s wheel chair slipped on the sandy steps by the watchful concrete sculpted gods on the sea shore and he bruised his foot. Moments before the accident, I had been searching for Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, among the seaside statues, but only found a rather overblown version of her, stripped of any spiritual truths.

However, I did experience peace each morning as I meditated in our high-up hotel room. I witnessed night turn to day.  And in that quietness the insights emerged.

Harbour

Morning mist makes clear:

we came to see, and be seen.

Each of us is loved.

That then was the truth we were exemplifying as a family. Sometimes it seems to me that the four of us (including Tim’s able younger sister) are four corners of a square. Each corner is equally important to create the whole. Each of us is equally valued within the family. This is normal for us, and perhaps also for our culture.

And then I wondered if perhaps families like us might tacitly encourage other families to take their disabled members out and about a bit more.

I noticed that I had begun my haiku travel journal with reference to Guan Yin – or, at any rate, the green tea named in her honour. And now I was ending my journal with the same sacred name.

Love and compassion

are divine gifts from Guan Yin

May all feel both here.

Lily

Retrieving the miracle child

29/08/2013 at 6:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments
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Miracle ms

It’s 10 pm in the evening. The children are asleep upstairs, Steven is out at a dinner in London. And I am about to open a time capsule.

I’m nervous. I decide to put off the moment by walking to the fridge and getting out a beer. I open the bottle, toss the metal cap in the recycling caddy. I pour the beer. Without even taking a sip, I put the glass of beer down where I promptly forget about it. I rinse the bottle out, and place that too in the recycling caddy.

My mind is turbulent. I haven’t looked at the manuscript of The Miracle Child in maybe 14 years. It belongs to a different era. Why mess with it now?

The reason isn’t hard to find. Three days ago I broke a long silence. I wrote a blog post about my 17-year-old disabled son, Timothy. I called it, ‘What I wish I’d said to Anita Moorjani’, and I posted it on Anita Moorjani’s Facebook page. The author of Dying to Be Me has a beautiful community there, where people bare their souls. It felt good to do it. I also posted a picture of Timothy with his dad, Steven. Choosing that photo made me cry. I knew a door that had been closed for quite some time was being allowed to open. I was allowing it to open.

When Timothy was little, when we were still living in Richmond, I wrote a book, called Coping When Your Child has Special Needs for Sheldon Press. And at the time of publication there were articles and photos of Timothy in one national paper, The Express, and a handful of magazines. But I left all that behind when we moved to Wiltshire. Without realizing, I became quiet on the subject of my beautiful, mysterious, disabled boy.

So why break the silence now?

“Wow, I was so moved by this blog post!!” wrote Anita Moorjani. “Thank you, Suzanne Askham. Next time, Suzanne, we’ll definitely talk more! Sending love and hugs to you and your beautiful son

After Anita wrote that, my blog was flooded with visitors. Their comments, shared stories and support were extremely moving to me. And I realized that it might be a good thing to be more open. It might be good for Timothy. It might be good for other children and young adults like Timothy. It might help other parents. And it sure as heck might be profoundly healing for me.

So that’s why in just a few minutes I’m planning to go to the spare bedroom at the far end of the house, lean down into a corner there, by the desk, and pick up a fat package in an old jiffy bag. It’s curious that over all these years, the manuscript has been kept in such an accessible place, yet never looked at.

What will the energy of the package feel like when I open it? I expect it to be drenched in sadness, and I’m dreading that.

“Why mess with it after so long?” I think again.

“Why not?” a small inner voice whispers back to me. It feels like the prompting of my soul.

The Miracle Child came about almost by itself. A dear friend, Tessa Phillips, knew a book editor at a London publishing house. She told the book editor about Timothy, and the editor suggested I wrote a book about him. She even gave me the title, The Miracle Child.

I liked the title a lot. I was worried, though, that Timothy and I might not live up to it. He was, after all, profoundly disabled. That wasn’t going to change any time soon. But there was plenty of hope and promise in his story.

So I quickly wrote the book, and in the process released a lot of anger. There was in me a fierce desire to help my son in whatever ways were possible.

But just as I was about to send the manuscript off, the book editor left, and the publishing house had no interest in The Miracle Child. I think I half-heartedly tried a couple of other publishers, who duly rejected it. A few friends read the manuscript and made supportive comments. And then, rather embarrassed about the whole thing, I put it to one side.

I figured that the universe had its reasons for arranging that I wrote The Miracle Child, and it had its reasons for the book not to be published after all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I can’t put off this moment any longer. I go up to the spare bedroom, lean down into the corner, pick up the jiffy bag, and take it back to the living room. I bring the forgotten glass of beer with me. I feel that I’m going to need it.

The house is very quiet. There are no interruptions. There is nothing to stop me facing my past.

I open the envelope. I draw out the manuscript. I see an old-fashioned floppy disk in there too. I’ll have to get it converted into a modern format.

To my surprise, the energy of the manuscript feels quite different to what I expected. The over-riding feeling is one of… eagerness. This story is ready to be heard. It’s even excited about it. Wahey! It’s dancing a jig.

Yes, there is sadness. There were certainly enough tears as I wrote it. But the sheer bouncy energy of my younger self is apparent. There was rocket fuel in my blood at that time.

The Miracle Child reflects my dawning awareness during the first years of Timothy’s life. There’s a lot it misses out. I’m amazed, as I read through the pages, that I don’t mention the vision of bliss that I experienced in the year before Timothy was born. That vision is something I told only a very few people, until I wrote about for the first time three days ago in my recent blog post.

The vision of bliss was so influential; why ever would I keep it quiet? It sustained me throughout the hardest times. I am deeply, fundamentally grateful that I experienced it. Despite that, the 35-year-old me believed it was ‘woo woo’. I couldn’t possibly mention it in print.

Today, I would write The Miracle Child differently, for sure. But that is not the point. I make a decision. I’m not going to edit this. I’m just going to publish it, as it is, in its own raw energy – like an extended blog post. I’ll most likely release it as a Kindle book.

I waver. Do I dare to do this?

And then I think about the messages I’ve received from women in my situation. I’ve also heard from  others who have struggled themselves with a range of major health issues. Sharing and caring are what make us human.

This is my request to the Universe: may all those who are able to benefit from this book, get the opportunity to read it.

I’ll send off that floppy disc to a data retrieval company.

It’s time to share.

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