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.

 

 

 

How to achieve balance in your life

03/02/2016 at 1:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 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 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.

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.

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

Of storms and miracles

28/10/2013 at 9:11 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Sunset and fiesta

Wind and lightening came at 5 am. We were prepared. The apples ­– Fiesta and Sunset – had been gathered. Windows and gates were fastened shut.

The raw, elemental power of the wind hit our windows almost full on. The howling sound as it tore through the trees was unrelenting. We couldn’t see, but heard the sound of branches being torn out and raked along the ground by nature’s pruning shears.

In the darkness it’s so easy to become wide-eyed, to lie in bed with teeming thoughts. So I said these most reassuring words: “I am safe, and all is well”.

The “I” in that beautiful mantra stretches beyond the individual, to all who may be in need of reassurance at that time: “We are safe, and all is well”.

And suddenly, all was well. The high-velocity air became a friend once more: a welcome agent of change.

The storm has passed. It’s sweeping eastwards. Meanwhile, the rain is still with us. There is an Atlantic freshness in the air. I notice that my mind feels like a newly ploughed field: well-watered and fertile. All I have to do is plant my questions and the answers will grow.

This One is Special rises to the surface of my thoughts. This book that I am writing is all about my experience of having a child with undiagnosed special needs. He has been called a miracle child. After thStrange, that it’s come to mind in the context of the storm. I know that there will be a good reason for it. Somehow, in a way that I don’t yet see, the two will be connected.

“You want to know about the Miracle Child?” asks my inner voice of guidance. “The Miracle Child is not one person. It is each one of you. Every human being is a miracle child. When you share your story, you remind readers who they really are.”

I ask for clarification. My guidance directs me to a dream I had five years ago, entitled ‘The Angel Labels’. So I retrieve the relevant dream diary from a drawer. My eyes go straight to the following paragraph:

“I woke from that dream understanding the power of words and symbols. I saw that everyone is like a blown glass vessel – like a Christmas decoration – with a hazy, open bit at the top, connecting us with all that is, from whence we are blown.”

“From whence we are blown…” I love that expression. I was born into a Mediterranean storm. I am literally a child of the storm. However, according to my guidance, we are all blown in from the heavens, from the All That Is. So when the storm comes, don’t be afraid. Be glad, because it signifies birth: birth of the new you, the Miracle Child, who is blown in from the Universe, and eternally connected with it.

Today, this moment now, is fresh and sparkling and new. Your life right now is a new life, full of fertile possibilities. Whatever age you think you are, the reality is you are young, and vibrant, and the world is lying before you: fresh, and new and fun.

How to meditate the easy way

21/08/2013 at 11:31 am | Posted in Meditation | 3 Comments
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An object from nature, such as a seedhead, makes an ideal subject for meditation.

During challenging times, I have found meditation to 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:

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 seed head pictured here, makes a fantastic subject for meditation, because it has shape, 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.

Quick psychic sweep

26/04/2013 at 3:45 pm | Posted in Healing, Intuition, Meditation, Wellbeing | 4 Comments
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Dear Intuitive

You asked me for a quick protective exercise that I often use and recommend. I have pleasure in enclosing it here.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Imagine yourself standing inside a big golden egg of light – this is your own energy field, or aura. The golden egg is the border of your energy field. At the top of the egg is an opening. You can open and close this at your will, and it connects you to the All That Is.

Imagine that the surface of the golden egg is strong and protective. If any parts of it seems a bit thin or frayed or tattered, let more golden white light from the All That Is  heal those places and firm them up.

Now imagine again that you are standing in the centre of your energy egg. You are holding a big, effective broom. The brush is so wide is comfortably reaches into every part of your energy field in one big sweeping motion. Start at the top, and sweep down one side. The brush sweeps a good half of the egg as it does so. Continue the sweeping movement below your feet and up the other side of the egg. The brush sweeps over that entire half of the egg as it does so.

Finish with the brush at the top. With a quick, firm, flicking movement, send any debris – anything that doesn’t belong in your energy field – out into the All That Is, which is fully capable of handling it. Repeat the entire sweeping movement once or twice if you choose, just to make sure that your energy field is totally clean and clear.

Then, imagine beautiful pure white light coming in from the All That Is. See or sense it filling your energy field completely. Enjoy the sensation.

Finally, close the opening at the top of the egg just slightly, knowing that you can open and close it at will.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The whole exercise can be done in under a minute. It’s particularly helpful for those times when you feel that someone has hitched a ride, psychically speaking, in your energy field. It happens. Remember this: your space is your space. Boundaries matter. You get to choose who enters your space, and if they do so, it’s on your terms.

With love and happiness

Suzanne x

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