How to visualise during meditation

27/01/2016 at 6:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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Here is a photo taken on a recent sunny, frosty day…

 

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And here is another photo taken from the exact same spot…

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The only real difference between them is that in one, I decided to focus on the big picture. In the other, I zoomed into a tiny, beautiful detail.

Visualisation during meditation is exactly like that. We choose what to think about – focus on – in our mind’s eye. Then we close our eyes and reconstruct our chosen image in our mind.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes it can seem really hard. But if that’s the case, stick with it, as you are building up new ‘muscles’ in your mind. It gets easier with practice.

It helps a lot if you study a real image first…

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Notice all the tiny details that you can, then close your eyes and imagine them all over again. Pretty quickly, this process can feel calming and restful. This is the first gift of visualisation.

The second gift of visualisation is that you can use it to imagine things you’d like to have in your life. The rambling house in the country; the fulfilling work; the happy family….

Practise visualisation in meditation because it feels good, lowers your blood pressure, calms and revives you. Then, if you choose, practise visualisation with things you haven’t yet seen, but would like to. Imagine them as though they are as real and detailed as the images on this page. Allow meditative feelings of calm and happiness fill you as you do so.

In time, you will reduce the time you worry about what you don’t have, and increase the time you spend enjoying what you do have, which will encourage the good things to proliferate in your life, and increase your wellbeing, one meditative step at a time.

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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.

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.

Lemon verbena tea – the recipe

27/08/2014 at 4:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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If I had to choose one herbal tea to drink for the rest of my life, I would probably choose lemon verbena, also known as Aloysia citrodora. When you brew it strong, it’s zingy, health-enhancing liquid sherbet in a cup: a light and warming drink that lifts the spirits unlike any other. When you brew it weaker, it is a delicate, uplifting citrus-scented beverage. But there is a catch: it has to be harvested and stored with love and respect. If you find a bargain packet of 20 lemon verbena tea bags, walk on by. The aromatic oils will not be present. Without them, you are left with dried and empty leaves.

I first discovered the magic of lemon verbena when travelling with my family through Northern France, eight years ago. We stayed in a guest house with big, bare rooms and botanical books on the shelves. We arrived late, and slept soundly between crisp white cotton sheets. At breakfast the next day, the herbal tea on offer was verveine, which I knew was the French name for this popular tisane. So I asked for verveine. It arrived as a small twig of dried leaves in a pot. The fragrance was heavenly. I was already falling under its spell.

When I drank the brew, I tasted a zingy, lemony lightness. The flavour was so vibrant. It seemed extraordinary that so much could be packed into a small, dried sprig.

The next time I asked for verveine, in an Alpine resort, it had been made with a tea bag, and was a dull disappointment. I discovered then that processing destroys this herb.

Back home, I tried ordering loose leaves from herbal suppliers, but they were never as lemony as that first, fragrant brew. So I experimented with harvesting my own.

My parents had actually been growing an Aloysia citrodora in their greenhouse for years. My mother put a few leaves at the bottom of cake tins for a subtle zingy additions to her bakes. But no one was making tea with it. So I started harvesting their surplus. I made the tea with fresh leaves, four or five chopped roughly per cup. I dried many of the leaves for winter use, as the plant dies down in colder weather. And so I continued for several years.

Nowadays I still harvest from my parents’ greenhouse plant. But recently I bought a plant of my own from Foxley Road Nurseries near Malmesbury in Wiltshire, UK. Co-owner Carol Hinwood is a huge fan of lemon verbena tea, and always keeps a good stock of plants there. All summer long my new Aloysia citrodora has been sitting in my front yard, soaking up the sunshine in a large earthenware pot. It grows quickly, and has even flowered profusely with tiny, fragrant blooms. I cut a stalk at a time, put it in water indoors, and use it successively for three or four cups of tea. It is just beautiful. Before the weather gets too wintry, I will bring it into a cool garden room, to protect it from frost.

Lemon verbena blooms

Health benefits

The essential oil in lemon verbena is uplifting, de-stressing and relaxing. The plant has anti-viral and anti-fungal properties – studies have shown it to be effective against Candida albicans, or thrush. Lemon verbena is also rich in youth-promoting anti-oxidants. The meditators who come to my studio love it. The combination of meditation and lemon verbena might even be the world’s best kept beauty secret.

Lemon verbena leaves

The recipe

First, locate your nearest lemon verbena plant. You may be lucky and know someone who is already growing it. If not, herb nurseries should have young plants available.  It can’t cope with frost, so plant it in a large pot in a sunny spot, and bring it into a cool indoor space in the winter. Or grow it in a greenhouse.

Harvest the leaves by pruning the plant when the stalks are around 25 cm or longer.  Cut the stalks fairly low down with scissors or secateurs.

For fresh tea:

Roughly chop four to six leaves and place in an infuser, in a cup, preferably covered. Leave to steep for five minutes. Then strain the leaves and drink the resulting, fragrant infusion.

For dried tea:

Dry the leaves by hanging the stems upside down in a large paper bag in a warm space for a few days or weeks until completely dry – the stalks should snap when you bend them. You may put them in a jar or bag as they are, or crumple them slightly, to fit more into your jar. I generally remove the leaves from the stalks (easy to do) and just store the leaves. Other people keep the stalks. Either way seems to keep the all-important essential oils intact. Put an air-tight lid on your jar, and store in a cool, dark cupboard. When you are ready to drink the tea, take a few dried leaves, or about one teaspoon of the crumpled herb, and steep in a cup, preferably covered, for five minutes. Strain and drink!

If you are seriously into herbs, as I am, it’s worth investing in a dehydrator. I use an Excalibur that I’ve had for many years. In this case, I take the fresh leaves off the stalks, discard the stalks, and place the leaves on trays in the dehydrator. I dry at a setting of around 45ºC or 115ºF for a couple of hours or so until the leaves are crispy dry. (It’s wise to keep an eye on them. At times I have over-dried and lost some of the essential oils.) Then I place them in a jar, as before.

I believe that to make your herbal tea from nature is to connect with your own true nature. And the nature of lemon verbena is one that’s truly worth connecting with: happy, vibrant, healthy and serene… and absolutely fragrant.

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PS For a refreshing summer health drink, simply pop one or two leaves of fresh lemon verbena into a glass of cool water. The herb infuses the water with a deliciously light citrus note.

How to meditate the amazingly easy way

21/08/2013 at 11:31 am | Posted in Meditation | 3 Comments
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Meditation is the easiest way I know to feel better fast. During challenging times, meditation can be really helpful. During good times, meditation can create a sense of bliss. It calms the mind. It stops the cycle of negative thinking. And it creates a space for hope and happiness to enter.

I aim to meditate for 20  minutes a day, early in the morning. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I miss a few days, or even weeks. But when I catch myself feeling low, I’m quick to start meditating again – because, quite simply, it works.

Here is the EASY method that works for me and many of the people who attend my meditation studio.

Establish a routine.
Accept that it won’t go perfectly.
Sit still in silence.
Yield to the process.

Let’s take each of those steps in more detail…

Establish a routine

You’re more likely to meditate if it’s booked into your diary. Find an ideal time of day for you. You might try 20 minutes at the start of every day, or in the evening; or both those times.

Aim to meditate at the same time every day. Choose a length of time that will work for you. Anything from 15 minutes to half an hour is good.  However, it’s better to do ten minutes, or even five, rather than none. Aim to meditate in the same place, and make it pleasant and uncluttered, the way you’d like your mind to be.  You might like a  shawl or blanket over you, so you feel warm and comfortable. It’s helpful to set a timer to let you know, gently, when the meditation has finished. You can use your phone, as long as you’ve switched off incoming calls. There are also some lovely meditation timers around, but keep it simple.

Accept that it won’t go perfectly

Sometimes we try to create the perfect, calm environment, and then feel fazed if a fly enters the room and buzzes around, or building work starts up outside. Accept that life isn’t perfect. If anything disturbs your concentration during your meditation, simply witness it. It may well be a reflection of your own mind, which may be buzzing like a fly, or in a state of change and renewal, like a building that is being restored.

Sit still in silence

It’s helpful to focus on a single thing in your imagination, and to keep focusing on that during your meditation. An object from nature, such as the flower pictured above, makes a fantastic subject for meditation, because it has shape, pattern, texture, colour, scent and depth that you can dwell on in your imagination.

Or you might simply witness your breath, noticing every detail of it.

Or you might count up to four, one number per breath, and start again, counting up to four each time.

Or you might repeat certain words, silently to yourself. Breathe in “I am”, and breathe out an uplifting word that you have chosen. It might be “peace” or “love” or “leaf” or “flow”. This is the method we use during twice-weekly meditation sessions that I run in my Wiltshire studio.

In the studio, we typically combine more than one of the above. For example, breathe in “I am”, breathe out “tree” and visualise that you are a flexible willow tree, bending gracefully in the breeze. Or a tall, strong oak tree with rough bark and spreading branches.

Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, simply remind yourself that you are here to meditate, and go back to the object that you are focusing on, or your breath, or counting.

Yield to the process

There’s a sort of ‘giving up’ that goes on when we meditate. We’re letting go of that list of things to do that seems to have permanent residence in our head. We’re giving up trying to control anything. We’re giving up, sitting down and being still. That is when the magic happens. You may experience colours that aren’t there, voices of people you can’t see, shafts of sunlight, and sudden insights. Simply witness these. Keep witnessing. Keep returning to counting breaths, or noticing your breath, or whatever you have decided to do to still your mind. And at some point, you may well experience bliss. Let yourself bathe in that bliss.

Afterwards, don’t try to recreate what happened. Don’t worry that you’ll never manage to achieve it again. Remind yourself that you meditate in order to meditate, that’s all. There is no goal. Bliss is… well, blissful, but it is not a goal. Follow the EASY steps, and simply witness all that happens.

I wish you a calm mind, peace and happiness.

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 healing power of swimming

16/03/2013 at 4:49 pm | Posted in Exercise, Happiness, Inspiration, Uncategorized, Wellbeing | 5 Comments
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WaterA few days ago I went back to my local pool after a long absence. As I glided through the water, reflections of blue sky danced over the surface. I could feel myself relaxing, letting the water support me. And I remembered the joy of swimming.

We know that water can be kind to the human body: whatever the level of fitness, water provides a small but significant resistance that increases the overall benefit.

Less talked about, it does something equally interesting to the psyche: it connects us an earlier, more aquatic stage of life: the womb… and even, more distantly, our evolutionary past.

When I am in water, I feel different. The hard angular surfaces of modern life give way to a fluid world in which I feel safe, held, and simply more inclined to go with the flow. There is something inherently fun about the experience, and I feel zingy and cleansed.

As I swam, I started an internal chant, and this is how it went:

“I am beautiful… I am one… I am beautiful”… I am one…”

Each phrase corresponded to a swimming stroke. When I reached the end of the pool and turned around, the chant had become: “I am beautiful… I am two… I am beautiful… I am two…”

With each new length, the number went up. I was counting lengths, and throwing in an affirmation too.

And then I realized I was actually imagining myself at the age of one, two, and so on. Not only that, I was feeling the dominant emotions of that age, in connection with beauty and self-worth. As I continued to swim up and down the pool, the happy self-belief of young childhood gave way to the huge, wobbly uncertainty of my teens, and a growing feeling of confidence in adulthood. As I remembered sad times, it felt as though the water was washing the pain away.

Effectively, I was healing each stage of my life’s journey with the help of water, and affirmations. My adult self was sending love and support back through the years to all my younger selves who were still there, it seemed to me, in the memories held within my body. The process felt deeply restorative and I recommend it to you.

Next time you’re in the pool, you might like to affirm “I am beautiful… I am one” and so on, all the way through your teens, twenties – all the way up to your present age. You can spread the exercise over more than one swim session, if you choose. But when you have swum a length for every year you’ve lived, you can start all over again with a new word. “I am strong”, and “I am well” both have great healing potential. What affirmation would you choose?

The healing power of envy

22/02/2013 at 11:17 am | Posted in Healing, Inspiration, Uncategorized | 12 Comments
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BAFTAsEarlier this month I was lucky enough to tread the red carpet at the BAFTAs – the British version of the Oscars. I was there simply because my partner was invited. However much I like to think of myself as immune to star-spotting, I am not. It was huge fun to share a rain-soaked red carpet with George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Dame Helen Mirren and Marion Cottillard, among many others. It was fun when guests grabbed a spare BAFTA trophy and we posed for the camera. And sharing the photographs afterwards was all part of the pleasure.

A week later, I was sitting in my Wiltshire studio, facilitating a meditation group. We were focusing on the theme of forgiveness. After half an hour of silence, we swapped notes. A writer friend in the group, Claire, said something endearing. “I found it very hard to focus on forgiveness at the beginning of the meditation, because I just kept thinking how envious I was of Suzanne for going to the BAFTAs,” she confessed.

Everyone in the group laughed – it was a sweetly funny moment. But afterwards, it got me thinking.

The truth is, Claire and I are alike. Whenever I hear of someone’s good fortune, there is often some envy mixed up with delight. I am happy for them, of course. But there can also be a sense of being left out, like not receiving an invitation to a friend’s party.

Envy is said to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins; it’s an emotion we’re traditionally not supposed to feel. But we do feel it, so there must be some purpose to it. What purpose does envy serve?

After the meditation session, I decided to watch out for my next experience of envy, to see what I might learn. I didn’t have long to wait: it arrived with the morning post. Among the envelopes there was a programme for the upcoming Mind Body Spirit Festival in London. My eyes went straight to the workshops, and straight to the names of the facilitators. And then, I felt stirrings of envy.

The envy could only mean one thing: I would like to run a workshop at a large event like the Mind Body Spirit festival. But mixed up with the envy were stomach-churning feelings of inadequacy and fear. There was a mouse-like element to the fear that seemed to be saying in a firm yet squeaky voice: “It’s safer to stay at home.”

The wisdom of envy

I focused in on the envy again. And deep within its energy I found these words: “Remember who you are.” And then I realised that the spiritual purpose of envy is to help us to stay on our own unique path. That path does, for sure, take us out of our comfort zone. It may be a hard path, and the only way we can do it is one step at a time. I realised that envy was telling me to quit dreaming and start doing what was required – one step at a time.

It occurred to me that many of the speakers at the Mind Body Spirit Festival workshops have written books on their subject – some of my envy lay in that direction. I am indeed in the process of writing one, on the brand of intuitive meditation that I share with others – but progress is slow. And then I realised that I need to schedule regular, daily time to my project. It’s the only way I will complete it.

In a few weeks’ time I’m doing a talk on intuitive meditation in a local town. Someone has mentioned another great local group I might get in touch with. Each small step leads to the next. With the divine help of envy, I’m starting to follow my bliss.

Now it’s your turn. What do you, perhaps, feel envy about, and what might envy’s message be for you?

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Thankful, optimism, support

01/02/2013 at 5:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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purseThis is a special bag: a beaded evening purse; handed down through the generations of my family. My mother gave it to me one day last December.

I typed out a list of positive, uplifting words, and printed several copies on card, then cut them up and popped them in the bag. During the Solstice, I invited many people, upwards of 80, to take a word out of the bag and keep it with them as guidance for the year ahead.

During the Solstice get-togethers I drew a total of  three words for myself: ‘Thankful’, ‘Optimism’ and ‘Support’. I looked at them, felt their specialness, then put them down and forgot about them.

January came, with snows, then wind and rain. There were winter bugs in my household, which meant I didn’t get to the gym, or go walking, or swimming. I reduced my daily yoga… gradually, imperceptibly, I was putting my wellbeing on hold. This is never a good idea, I know. But still, it happened.

And then, just yesterday, I found my three words once more: ‘Thankful’, ‘Support’ and ‘Optimism’. I hugged them like old friends. How could I have forgotten them?  The truth is, I need those words every day. Each word is a tiny, effective dose of wellbeing.

If you would like me to draw a word for you out of the bag, just ask, and I’ll be happy to send you your own little dose of wellbeing.

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