This is what I learned, living in an Intensive Care Unit

23/05/2016 at 7:21 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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This post has also been published on the Huffington Post. 

Recently I had the rare and shocking privilege of living in an Intensive Care Unit, or ICU, for three months. I was not a patient, nor a member of staff. I was there because my teenaged son became critically ill. Tim’s learning difficulties meant that he needed his dad or me to be with him virtually all the time. I stayed every night for the first month, and then around five nights a week thereafter.

It had happened with frightening speed. We had been at home, about to eat supper, when Tim collapsed with breathing difficulties and an ambulance was called. Tim’s resourceful younger sister speed-packed overnight bags while the paramedics administered huge amounts of oxygen.

By the time we reached the hospital, Tim was drifting away. He was put on a ventilator, then transferred to the ICU. Tim’s dad and I sat in the waiting room. Fear. Waiting. Fear. And so, although I didn’t know it then, our three-month sojourn began.

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In this life and death situation, my choice, as a mother, was binary. I could choose love or fear. Love meant seeing the good in every particle of this unwanted experience. Fear meant resisting it. Fear would drain me of energy. Love would enable me to channel all my energy into helping my son.

I resolved to choose love. That didn’t mean I wasn’t frightened. It’s just that at every point of awareness, I chose love. I decided to view the experience as a retreat, in which I would learn from the kindness of nurses and the alchemical wisdom of doctors.

During those three months, I learned that crisis means looking after yourself as well as doing your best to help others. Specifically, I learned the following five insights.

1. Appreciate and care for your body.

Of the three groups of people who passed through the ICU – patients, relatives and medical staff – the fittest group were the medical staff. They drank lots of water. In their spare time, they went to the gym, did yoga, meditated, cycled, danced, played tennis, rode horses, ran marathons…. They weren’t obsessive. Chocolate and crisps were regular treats, especially during long working shifts. However, there was a belief that exercise was important, and that it might help them to avoid ending up in a hospital bed on life support.

2. Pause, breathe. Sit still in silence every day. 

Meditation can be done among beeping machines, and it calms turbulent emotions like nothing else. Even in extremis, the mind can become clear and calm, like a deep mountain pool.

The first night, sitting with my son, I found it helpful to breathe in a silent ‘I am here’, and breathe out a silent, ‘now’. It enabled me to ground myself in the shock of this new situation – to accept it. Consequently, I became a calmer presence for Tim.

Meditation enables us to pause before we blindly follow external voices of authority. I felt that, deep down, Tim resolutely believed that he could recover, even though the medical staff had little hope. So his dad and I chose to support him assertively in his belief.

3. Give healing when you are drawn to do so. 

Call it what you will: healing, prayers, love. Just do it. You’ll be in good company. A recent Gallop survey showed that nearly 90% of Americans have prayed for healing for others. A quarter have practised laying on of hands. Every day in the ICU, I sensed the presence of major disturbances in Tim caused by pain, drugs and fear. When I consciously directed love to him, it seemed to me that the disturbances lessened. At the same time, I sensed that many other people were praying for him and sending healing.

I massaged my son’s limbs with lavender and sweet almond oil, and visualised golden white light entering my son’s inert body, energising and healing every cell.

4. Choose uplifting language. 

On Day 3, a time of minimum hope, I drew a good health mandala picture for my son, with encouraging words among brightly coloured flower petals and leaves. I wrote a note below it: `Deep down, you are healthy and well, and have the energy, determination and love that you need to thrive. I love you very much, always’.

5. Adopt a mindset of wellness. 

As Tim thankfully began to recover, he was keen to leave his room and explore the hospital by wheelchair. We visited the maternity ward’s pretty garden. We went painting in the children’s ward. We danced with dementia patients. We circled a small peaceful lake in the grounds. One day, ten family members went for a walk around the hospital, with Tim frail but determined at the front. We also discovered a rehab gym, and Tim developed a reputation among the doctors for visiting the gym every day.

All these deeds created an impression around Tim that he was on his way to being fit and well. The collective thinking around him changed, from scarcely any hope to cautious optimism. In turn, that spurred him on to become more adventurous. In short, he was acting like a young man who, despite his disabilities, was used to leading an active, even sporty life.

On Day 96, Tim was discharged from hospital. Our family was so thankful. I now understand that crisis is a natural part of life. Sooner or later, stuff happens. Our challenge is to choose those moments, as much as the long calm periods in between, to live life to the full – however long it lasts.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to achieve balance in your life

03/02/2016 at 1:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Here is a picture of three perfectly balanced stones.

It is also a symbol of how we humans can lead a balanced life.

Imagine, now, that you consist of three stones, one on top of the next.

Get your base right

The base stone, the biggest, is all important – nothing’s going to happen without it. This represents your physical needs: income, security, survival. We need to spend solid time every day ensuring that physically we are thriving. Are you exercising every day? Do you care for your body? Do you eat healthy foods, maybe even grow some of what you eat? Do you have a steady income, however humble? The message of the base stone is a simple one: take time to look after your physical body.

Keep heart at the centre of all that you do

The middle stone is the heart stone. This represents our feelings for others, and ourselves. Do you have plenty of healthy interactions with others: good friends, colleagues, family members? Do you nurture your relationships and spend solid time catching up with family and old friends, and meeting new friends by building your interests and activities?

At the very centre of the heart stone there is a special place devoted to your relationship with yourself. You are the friend who is always with you, every minute of your life. It may as well be a great friendship. Do you spend solid time checking in with yourself, seeing how you really feel, and caring about the answer? Do you give yourself praise when you’ve done well? Do you give yourself encouragement when you’re flagging? Do you, above all, love and accept yourself just as you are, while also being open about change? The message of the heart stone is this: take time to care about yourself and others. Value your feelings.

Do not be afraid to think

The top stone is the head or crown stone. This represents our mental and spiritual life. The crown stone, being that much higher than the other stones, can see the big picture. It prevents us being overtaken by our feelings. It introduces a note of caution when we fall in love with a person, or a project, that ultimately looks likely to harm us. The crown stone is the aspect of us that is wise, calm and measured. It is our intelligence.

The crown stone is the smallest stone. This reminds us that a little thinking goes a long way. Intelligence is a valuable gift. But without the heart and the base, it can easily get unbalanced. The connection between head and heart needs to be really stable. Otherwise, we can develop delusions and other mental illnesses. We might also invent things that do not serve the highest interests of humankind.

The crown stone, alone of the stones, has air above it. This reminds us that there are links between us and the invisible. Thus, it also represents our spiritual life.

The message of the crown stone is this: it is our birthright to be able to think for ourselves, to see things as they really are, and to be bold enough to speak the truth.

Keep these three aspects of yourself in balance, and you will lead a balanced life.

 

How to keep a dream diary

01/06/2015 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Guidance of my dreams

Keeping a dream diary is one of the kindest, wisest gifts you can give yourself. Even if you don’t remember your dreams, keep a journal anyway. Record whatever you can recall on waking up. If you only catch a fleeting mood, record it. Hold this intention: ‘I am now ready for the guidance of my dreams’. And, in time, your diary will begin to fill.

I was inspired back in the 1990s by an early version of Denise Linn’s book, The Hidden Power of Dreams. I loved her suggestion that you write an uplifting title in the front of your journal. This might be something along the lines of ‘My dream diary: a beautiful book filled with beautiful gifts’. Many volumes later, I still write something similar.

On each left hand page…

Write the date, and a title for a dream you had the night before. The title can be anything that seems to sum up your dream. Then simply write down your dream. 

You may find you don’t remember any dreams. In that case, just write down any fleeting thoughts or feelings you had on waking up. Try to notice if you had any pictures or words in your mind on waking, and record those. Or you may find you had several unrelated dreams in the same night. Just write them down, as if they were chapters of the same dream.

On each right hand page…

Write down any thoughts or observations you have about the dream. Perhaps you were doing something the day before that triggered it? Over time you will begin to understand the meaning of different images in your dream. It can be helpful and enjoyable to draw or paint a picture of the dream on this page – you can gain new insights that way.

The key to your dreams

Be aware that everything and everyone in your dream is representing an aspect of yourself. Everything is symbolic. You don’t have to understand all the symbols, but it’s very rewarding when you start to interpret them. You can think of it as a puzzle to which only you hold the key. And over time, the more you study your dreams, the more you will understand.

 Never be scared of your dreams – they are there to help you to understand yourself and your life choices better.

Your own dream dictionary

The best dream dictionary you can ever have comes from first hand observation of your own dreams: go by how the dream symbols feel – their essence, their energy. Where in your own life do you have a similar feeling?

 Here are some examples to get you started…

Narrow streets, or doors that are difficult to go through may suggest that a current course of action, or a current attitude, is not ideal. Conversely, if a dream has a sense of space, with wide avenues and clear views, it may be showing you that your current course in life is the right one for you.

People you dream of may represent some aspect of yourself that you are working on. What qualities do you associate with that person? 

If someone dies in a dream, it often means a new chapter of your own self-development is beginning, and maybe it’s a new chapter for that person too (it doesn’t mean that anyone is actually going to die!)

If a house or car is in need of repair, it may mean your health or career is in need of some tender loving care. Newly discovered floors and rooms in a building can mean that you will be exploring new areas of your own interests and abilities – maybe a new career is opening up for you.

Scary people or monsters chasing you may mean that a repressed part of your psyche is ready to be reintegrated. When you’re awake, spend some time loving and blessing the scary beings, ask them what they want… in your imagination, hug them!

Water often represents emotions – is it flowing, turbulent, flooding, or calm?



Nature: A beautiful object from nature – such as a flower or a feather – may represent an aspect of your natural self that you are beginning to reconnect with, and can also represent guidance from other realms.

Night guidance

Note that over time your observed dreams are likely to become more vivid, more colourful, as though you are actually there. You may experience the bliss of flying, and receive clear spiritual lessons that remain in your mind when you wake up. You may wake up with recipes, formulas… all sorts of knowledge that can help you, and other people.

Record it all in your dream diary. And be ready to carry your new knowledge into your waking life. That’s when the fun really begins!

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Bookmark your intention

10/04/2015 at 8:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Not so long ago, I was doing a lot of caring for others, and forgetting to care for myself. Therefore, I was running on empty: constantly tired; crabby. My caring for others had become a monster that went through the motions and denied my loved ones the true energy of compassion.

This went on for several days. Then, one morning, in that dreamy state between sleep and awakening, I saw a bookmark hovering in front of me. You know, the long, thin rectangular sort that you put in a proper card-and-paper book.

“Bookmark your intention for today,” said a wise teacher who was invisibly beside me. And at once I saw words appearing on the bookmark. I understood then that I was choosing a simple, uncomplicated intention for the day. My intention – far shorter than a typical ‘to-do’ list – was to help a particular relative in a specific way, and also to care for myself. That was all. Sure, there would be other activities in the day, but my intention was just those two things.

And with that knowledge, I stopped feeling tired and overwhelmed. The energy of life and compassion returned to me.

Additionally, I understood that each new morning benefits from a fresh bookmark, spelling out an intention for that particular day.

What is your intention for today? Keep it simple. There’s only room for a few well-chosen words on a bookmark.

Spiritual: a quick definition

08/04/2015 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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People often talk about being spiritual. Others deny that the spiritual realm even exists. But what does being spiritual actually mean? Here is a definition that works for me:

Beyond the levels of thinking and feeling lies pure consciousness, which we experience as pure love. Reaching this is spiritual transformation.

Once you’ve been there – really been there – you’ll always have it. It never goes away, although sometimes we manage to forget it for a while. However, we always remember sooner or later. It has a way of reminding us.

We get there by being fully present in the moment, and thus forgetting our ego-centred worries and desires. Looking at a beautiful aspect of nature – such as a flower, or a small child – can bring us to the shores of the spiritual realm. So, too, can a regular practice of meditation. Sometimes, this happens spontaneously, especially in those moments between sleep and waking. And it can also happen in extremis, when our ego-driven policies are no longer working for us, and we find ourselves yielding to a different, infinitely vaster view of the universe.

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Next week a new, huge series of meditations begins in the Studio. Term by term, for seven terms, we’re going to focus on each of the main chakras – the energy centres that enable us to function in the physical realm, and also to develop our deeper understanding of life. This epic theme is designed to suit all levels of ability, and you can dip in and out as you wish. The intention is that we will focus ever more fully on the building blocks of our human psyche and our interface with the wider world.

This term, from now until July, we’ll be focusing on the base or root chakra, which is concerned with physical survival and manifestation. Join us whenever you can. And I hope you will experience the bliss of the spiritual, one word at a time.

The secret of simple

06/04/2015 at 6:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Yesterday I started knitting again for the first time in over 30 years. I had a pair of vintage green needles, and some hand-me-down Aran wool, and some good female company: mother, niece and daughter.

To my surprise, I quickly fell into a peaceful rhythm of softly clicking needles. There was a satisfaction in knowing that a very simple garment – a scarf, or snood – was being made. Something soothing was happening to the neural pathways of my brain as I repeated the same intricate knotting movement over and over.  It reminded me of the repetitious nature of meditation, and how that creates a pool of calm in the mind. But there was something else too.

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It was as if the endless knotting was tapping on the door of an ancient racial memory: of women making garments with the simplest of tools: needles of wood or bone. In clothing their families, they were also creating the fabric of society, through the mingled act of cloth-making and conversation.

I thought, then, of the times I have been caught up in the hamster wheel cycles of a ceaselessly questioning mind. And I understood that doing the simple things that pertain to survival can help any of us stay sane. I’m talking about activities like making bread by hand; or building and lighting a fire; or sowing and growing lettuces to eat… or, of course, creating a garment with two softly clicking needles.

What is your choice of simple today?

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Why ‘eternal’ is the new ‘now’

23/03/2015 at 6:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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EclipseThis week we’re focusing on the word ‘eternal’. It’s the final theme in our series, Adapting Mindfully to Change. The idea is that underlying the myriad worldly changes that we grapple with, there is a pure unchanging energy that we might call universal consciousness. It’s the realm of unity, and of our spiritual identity.

In this morning’s session the group was fizzing. The talk was of ‘rebooting’ after the global shift in energy from the Vernal Equinox, not to mention the recent solar eclipse, and the supermoon…. But then we did manage to sit in silence. We breathed in “I am” and breathed out “eternal”.

And that’s the thing. Simply doing this, and keeping on even though our minds are racing, does bring peace. It enables us to step off the hamster wheel of distracting thoughts and dramas.

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle talks about having deep roots within – to connect consciously with our inner body, our essential energy. This is the essence of us that feels eternally young, however many calendar years we have. When we sit quietly with that energy, it is possible for the constraints of time to dissolve. We become fully present in the moment, aware that we are part of a blissfully soothing current of peace. If we look at our lives from the perspective of that peace, events appear like movies. We notice, almost lazily, that we don’t need to perpetuate the arguments and we can effortlessly forgive everyone, including ourselves, because actually there is nothing to forgive.

Tolle describes this as a divine reality. “What is God?” he writes. “The eternal One Life underneath all the forms of life. What is love? To feel the presence of that One Life deep within yourself and within all creatures. To be it. Therefore, all love is the love of God.”

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.

Can calm thoughts really create a calmer life?

28/05/2014 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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In a couple of weeks’ time, I’m running a meditation workshop on The Healing Power of Calm. A few months back, I decided to be rather organised. I decided to meditate regularly on the word ‘calm’ for 30 days. There was a question I wanted to answer. Could meditating on the word ‘calm’ actually create a calmer life for oneself? Here are some extracts from my diary.

Day 1. There begins to be a sense, with every out breath, of every cell in the body releasing stuff it has been hanging on to: letting it go. No longer trying to control, hold on or sit on top of stuff. Just letting it go… Outside, wood doves coo and blackbirds sing, and the mild winter air feels fresh and sweet.

Day 2. I realise that the cells as I visualise them are faithfully taking on the colour of the air outside. Today it is that time just before dawn, so my cells are night-dark, with early glimmerings of light.

Day 4. It seems to me that each day is like a mandala: a circular or perhaps spherical pattern. The mandala begins at the very centre of me with a seed thought: ‘calm’. And as the day and the mandala expand, the seed’s qualities of calm permeate and manifest. This happens in ways that perfectly reflect my seed intention.

Day 5. Now I understand that what has stood between ‘calm’ and me is a need to control. I have been trying to control life itself by building a house of cards, to protect those I love, and myself, from the inchoate chaos that lies beyond all things. Yet there is only one thing that can save me: I need to surrender. I cannot hold back chaos. That is impossible.  Instead, I need to step into the abyss, with a sense of trust. As I realise this, my whole body relaxes. A tingling makes itself felt at the top of my head. I feel myself beginning to grow, like a flower. But not too far, not yet. And the moment of growing passes, and is gone. But I have glimpsed it.

Day 6.  After yesterday’s brief sensation of surrender, today’s meditation brings sadness – a sense of regret, of what might have been. It feels good to let the emotions flow. I realise that is all I need to do: let it flow, let it go. I understand that to experience calm, we do need to travel through our bottled-up emotions. There is no other way. Beneath, beyond and through the sadness lies that deep, infinite calm.

Day 13. Things have been busy lately. My son turned 18 (true cause to celebrate: it was never a given). A party. Many overnight guests. A welcome time of celebration and gratitude. I notice, unsurprisingly, that my meditation sessions have been patchy: ten minutes here, five minutes there. When I do succeed in calming my mind, I learn that it is necessary to value oneself in order to maintain one’s calm. If I am constantly available to all, I am present for none, least of all myself. I need to reconnect with the stillness within me in order to make sense of a busy world.

Day 24. I have been able to reach a point where my days do not feel pressured. Many of my commitments seem to have melted away. For example, out of the blue, the school run is now being handled largely by others. This liberates extra hours in my days. Life has become more spacious – a beautiful word. I feel as though I haven’t experienced this since becoming a mother, 18 years ago.

Day 30. I notice that I have become more ordered in my life. I am better at completing one project before starting the next. There continues to be more space in my days, and in the ‘to do’ list in my mind.

For the first time in many years I feel as though I am one with the rhythms of my life and of the wider world – not all the time, but more often.

Conclusion:

In one month, the outer world around me rearranged itself to reflect the calm that I was focusing on. Some of the changes were initiated by me. But many, such as the lighter school run commitment, were initiated by changes in the outer world. And that change made a big difference!

I notice from the diary entries that just as I was beginning to get real breakthroughs – expressed through the sadness flowing – I got busy. On some level it seems to me that I decided that I had dealt with enough bottled-up emotions for the time being. After that point, the practice felt like more a consolidation of new habits. It felt ok to do that. But I wonder what would have happened if I had, for example, gone on a longer retreat and effectively forced myself to go into the subject more fully. However, the beauty of this daily system was that I could make changes at a comfortable pace. Over all, I liked it a lot. I will do it again, perhaps soon.

 

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PS The pebbles photographed above were three that I picked up on Brey Beach on the Island of Alderney last summer, and placed on a window sill. I have discovered that calm lies in such simple, sunlit moments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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