Recipe: plum cordial

16/08/2017 at 9:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Plums

The branch might seem like the fruit’s origin: In fact, the branch exists because of the fruit. ~ Rumi

This is the first year in a long time that I’m not making plum cordial myself. Instead, my 21-year-old son and his carers are taking over the role. (My son, Tim, has carers because he is differently abled. He has physical and learning disabilities, and oxygen therapy). I am writing down the recipe so that others can follow it. In fact, it’s very similar to Elderberry cordial. But there are some differences.

The method is easy

1. Gather ripe, healthy plums. It’s fun to pick them from the tree, then throw them into a bowl which someone else is holding (Tim’s method). Or better yet, throw them randomly around and thus give the bowl holder some exercise.

 

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2. Wash, chop roughly (don’t bother removing stones) and place in a large pan. Add just enough water to cover comfortably. Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer gently for 15 minutes. Stir from time to time.

3. When cool enough to handle, strain into a large bowl through a colander with a muslin cloth draped over it. Press the cloth with the back of a large spoon or your hands to get as much of the juice out as possible. (Alternatively, for a clearer cordial, leave the juice to strain naturally through the muslin cloth, overnight if necessary.)

4. Measure the amount of liquid you have and put it back in the rinsed-out pan. Add half a kilo (1 lb) granulated sugar for each  litre  (1.5 pints) of liquid.

5. Add a couple of cinnamon sticks and approx 4 cm (1.5 inches) of  root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped per litre (1.5 pints) of liquid. Heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved. Add a little more sugar to taste if required. Leave mixture to infuse for half an hour over a very low heat, or off the heat.

6. Sieve the liquid to remove the cinnamon and ginger. Pour the liquid into sterilized bottles (putting them through the dishwasher beforehand is fine).

7. Put caps on the bottles, making sure they are well sealed. Store in fridge where it should keep for several months. You can also store this cordial in plastic bottles in the freezer, being sure not to fill them completely to take into account the expansion of the water as it turns to ice. In the freezer it will keep easily until the festive season.

To drink, dilute to taste (roughly 1 measure of cordial to 5 or 6 measures of water. Tastes delicious with sparkling water, and a slice of lemon or orange.

The benefits are great

Plums are rich in anti-oxidants to help to keep cells healthy,  and a host of vitamins, in particular Vitamin C, which assist the healthy functioning of the body in myriad ways. There are also good amounts of bioflavonoids to help absorb and utilise all the lovely Vitamin C. One of the earliest of fruits to be cultivated by humans, there’s something innately nourishing about plums. Be sure to include the skins when preparing a recipe, as much of the goodness is contained there.

With thanks to Julie and Suzie for helping Tim to make plum cordial this year. 

 

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Seven steps to perfect kefir

02/04/2017 at 8:23 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This is a fantastic way to look after your gut, and overall health and wellbeing too. I first discovered kefir in 2003, when I took my young son with physical and learning disabilities to see a nutritionist. “Feed him fermented foods,” was her advice. She could easily guess that he was likely to have more than his fair share of antibiotics over the following years. She knew that fermented foods are rich in probiotics that keep the gut healthy.

I went home, did a little research and have been making kefir ever since. Now every member of the family drinks it regularly. The almost-fizzy, almost-lemony, definitely vibrant taste is curiously addictive. It’s not remotely like those yogurt-style drinks that have entered supermarket shelves in little armies. Kefir is well and truly alive. And when you drink it, you get to feel that way too.

In brief, kefir is made from a complex symbiotic culture of beneficial bacteria and yeast. This culture looks rather like a lumpy spoonful of rice pudding, but feels more gelatinous than that. Sounds lovely so far! Here’s a close-up:

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You pop the culture into a pot of milk, leave it in a reasonably warm place for 24 hours, then strain the resulting creamy liquid through a plastic sieve. The rice-pudding-like culture is left in the sieve, ready to be popped into a new pot of milk. The kefir itself is ready to drink. It’s so easy.

So to make this wonderful drink, you first need some of the culture. If you’re lucky you may get this from a kefir-making friend. Otherwise, it’s possible to buy on-line. Do not, please, make the mistake of getting sachets of ‘kefir starter’. You want the real-deal lumpy, bumpy culture. Once you’ve got that, you can keep making kefir from your original culture indefinitely. It grows, and it grows.

Kefir has become increasingly popular since I first started making it. More and more friends are giving my excess kefir culture a home. Every time, of course, instructions are required. So I thought it would be useful to share those instructions on-line. Once you’ve got your culture, just follow these easy steps.

1. The most important thing: be aware that your kefir culture is a living, amazing community of beneficial bacteria and yeasts which bring great benefits to the digestive system and beyond. So always treat it kindly and with respect.

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2. Now for the practical bit. Your kefir culture has likely arrived in a small pot of semi-skimmed milk ready to do its stuff. Or it may have arrived in a small bag with just a few spoonfuls of kefir liquid. It may be small enough to fit into a teaspoon, or large enough to fill a dessert spoon. (But please keep it away from direct contact with metal – it doesn’t like it.) Say hello to your culture, put it in a plastic or glass pot, and add approx 150 ml milk: semi-skimmed, whole or goat’s milk. (Note, illustrations here show a larger quantity than you’ll likely start off making.)

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3. Rest a lid lightly on top of the pot – kefir needs to breathe, while protecting it from its environment. Put the pot somewhere reasonably warm – the kitchen may well be warm enough, but depending on where you live, you might choose to place it by a radiator, warm pipes or other heat source. The ideal temperature range is probably around 21ºC or 70ºF.

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4. Wait. In approx 24 hours it will look like the picture below. Note the little lines of whey down the sides of the jar. Depending on temperature, size of culture and volume of milk, it may look less cultured than this, or more. If left longer it could separate completely between curds and whey. It would also have a correspondingly strong, almost cheesy taste.

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5. Pour the kefir mixture into a plastic sieve over a bowl or container. Gently push the kefir mix to and fro with a plastic spoon or spatula to encourage it through the sieve. Use a scooping action to avoid squashing the culture too much (though it’s quite elastic). Make sure you’ve got all the kefir and more importantly the culture out of your original pot. Avoid having metal come into contact with the culture itself. I’ve never tested this, but over time it could distress the culture and make it less viable. (However, later, if you make a kefir smoothie or add it to your cereal, it’ll be fine to use metal utensils.)

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6. Keep sieving gently. Soon you’ll see the cute or messy culture (depending on how you view it) sitting in the bottom of the sieve. Your culture may be in one or more pieces.

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7. Carefully scoop the culture up and place it in a clean container. You can optionally add a spoon of kefir from the last batch if you wish. Pour your chosen milk over the kefir culture. You can use semi-skimmed or whole cow’s milk, or goat’s milk depending on your taste. (If your kefir formed quickly and well last time around, you could gradually increase the volume of milk over successive cycles.) Place it somewhere reasonably warm, as before, and let a new cycle begin!

Meanwhile, enjoy your kefir straight from the fridge, or follow the recipe suggestions below.

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Foodie tip

Make your kefir over the normal cycle – about 24 hours. Then put it in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Then sieve as normal. Kefir made this way has a creamier consistency.

How much kefir should you drink?

A small glass of kefir once a day is ideal, but it’s fine to drink more (or less). If you’re new to kefir, start with small portions ( up to 100 ml a day) then build up.

Recipe suggestions

You can drink kefir unsweetened, as we do, or with a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup if you prefer. Many people like to add it to cereal in the morning, instead of milk or yogurt. I love it in a small bowl with fruit. It’s also good to drink just before bed. Don’t heat kefir up or cook with it though, as then it will no longer be alive – and it needs to be alive to do its magic in your digestive system!

What to do with your excess culture

Your culture will grow with each new cycle. When it’s doubled in size or more, you can divide it. You can store spare culture in a spoonful or two of kefir in the freezer as back-up in case your original culture fails or you lose it; you can whizz it up in smoothies; you can compost it. You can also store spare culture in the fridge in a small pot of milk – change the milk weekly.

A final note

Kefir is very easy and inexpensive to cultivate. Although it’s important to keep your kefir equipment clean, the culture itself quickly creates a mildly acidic environment that deters unfriendly bacteria.

Enjoy your kefir, and just ask if you’d like to know anything else. Or feel free to share your recipe ideas below.

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Random acts of wheelchair kindness

17/02/2017 at 11:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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This year, Friday 17th February is Random Acts of Kindness Day. But I would like to make the case that for some members of our society – such as my disabled son – kindness from strangers is an every day part of life. It always has been, in all of his 21 years.

In an age of austerity cuts and the resurgence of prejudices, I feel it’s important to say that many people of every political persuasion and indeed none are routinely compassionate and caring, every day of every year. In our family’s direct experience, kindness is the norm. Sure, we get tactless stares and thoughtless comments – but these are cancelled out by generous deeds and unexpected favours, from all directions.

My son Tim has always looked disabled. He has always needed a wheelchair. From the age of 16 he has needed oxygen therapy, which means a cylinder, tube and small mask wherever he goes. There is no question that Tim looks different from the norm – whatever that might be. If Tim’s disabilities were invisible, I understand from other special needs parents that his experience might have been less rosy. I can only write of our own experience. And that is, on balance, clearly positive.

When Tim was younger, strangers would routinely offer him cuddly toys which were sometimes bigger than him. Countless others – the most unlikely characters – would give him smiles. I remember wheeling Tim into a rather rough-looking pub in Cornwall. The proprietor was a middle-aged woman with a craggy face – austere and tough. She looked at Tim. Her face broke into a wide, kind smile. She became utterly transformed… actually beautiful. Thousands of others have smiled at Tim, but she stays in my mind because her kindness transformed her so completely.

At this point I have to confess that Tim has jumped many queues, and got into places without paying – because kind officials have ushered him through. From Blackpool Pleasure Beach to Disneyland, Tim has received VIP treatment. He even once got into the VIP enclosure at Brands Hatch to see a Formula One race without flashing a ticket. In some of these places the policy has been an official one. In others, it’s come down to the kindness of an individual at the gate.

When Tim was 14, he became very poorly while on holiday in Florida. We were offered family accommodation at the local Ronald Macdonald House near Wolfson Children’s  Hospital in Jackonsonville, where Tim battled for his life in Intensive Care. His sister remembers receiving at least one present every day, and I remember that kind strangers booked up six months ahead for the privilege of cooking fabulous meals for all who stayed there. I’m personally sure that the kindness we received contributed to Tim’s speedy recovery.

Tim’s own attitude has to be mentioned. He smiles easily: a wide, generous smile that tells strangers he enjoys life and he doesn’t judge others in any way. He is visibly comfortable with the fact that he receives help from people. Again and again I have witnessed that Tim’s fun-loving and relaxed outlook makes it easy for strangers to be kind around him.

Advocates of equal rights for disabled people – and I am one of these – might argue that disabled people don’t want special treatment. They just want equal treatment.

Of course that’s true. Maybe all these favours could seem patronising. But I don’t choose to look at it that way. The truth is, being a physically, learning and health-challenged young person is unfathomably difficult, for the individual and the whole family. Tim lives at the edge of what is medically possible. So I look on him, and others like him – as something of a hero. And it’s perfectly reasonable for society’s heroes to receive accolades. The key is to accept the well-meant gestures gracefully.

This kindness even extends to those who care for him. Not so long ago Tim and I were sitting in the square next to Bath Abbey when a woman came up to me, holding a bouquet of scented flowers.

“These are for you,” she said to me. “Because I think what you’re doing is amazing.”

Recently Tim celebrated his 21st birthday with a restaurant meal. His friend and carer Bonnie was busy helping Tim to eat his puréed version of Sunday Roast. Her gentle patience was witnessed by a stranger in the bar. The young man secretly delivered an envelope to our group, to be handed to Bonnie after he had left. Our group got the timing wrong, and Bonnie received the envelope while the man was still present. Inside was a £20 note. Visibly moved, Bonnie went to thank the man, and the two hugged.

That hug between two kind strangers is what Random Acts of Kindness are all about. Who benefitted most: Bonnie, the kind stranger, or even the rest of us, looking on? The truth is, kindness given generously and accepted with genuine appreciation connects and benefits us all.

This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post. 

Why I value my son’s multinational carers

30/06/2016 at 9:32 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This article has also been published in The Huffington Post.

My 20-year-old son has multiple health issues, and learning difficulties. He therefore needs 24/7 care. He lives, term-time, at an outstanding specialist college. He is looked after by a fantastic team of carers, or facilitators, who come from a whole range of different places, including England, South Africa… and, of course, Eastern Europe. Poland is high on that list.

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I would love to give the whole team bouquets of fragrant flowers. But I’m a little too British and reserved for that. The facilitators do so much for him. They cut his hair, trim his nails, help him to eat and drink, and routinely handle life-saving medical equipment under the supervision of his amazing nurses. They also support him to study, exercise and socialise – all the things that make life worthwhile. And they do it all in a way that respects him as an individual. He enjoys life, hugely. That’s only possible because of the team that supports him.

Over the weekend I spent an afternoon with my son. During that period, a carer arrived who was new to me.

“Where are you from?” I asked her.

“Poland,” she said. She didn’t say it with any sense of happiness. Though she smiled, she wasn’t exactly glowing. All was not well.

I paused, acutely aware of the ongoing post-Referendum backlash against Eastern European workers.

“I want you to know,” I said, “that we’ve both just signed the Petition.”

She looked surprised.

“You know, the Petition for a Second Referendum.”

“Yes, I know about the petition.”

I went on to explain how my son had communicated, very clearly, that he is keen to support his European friends and carers. He had taken great pleasure pressing one finger against the green box on the Petitions page. He had been keen to confirm his vote by email.

“Oh,” she replied. “I’m so glad you told me. That is really good to hear. It’s not pleasant at the moment, knowing that so many people in England don’t want us here. It’s not a nice feeling.”

She was visibly moved. When she left the room shortly afterwards, I have a feeling that there may have been tears.

The reality is that we get a huge amount of help – real, physical, caring help – from Europe. As the mother of a young person with complex needs, I know that it would be really hard to get enough of the support we need if we were to close our borders.

My son’s facilitators, with their diverse backgrounds, literally bring the world to him. During his intermittent hospital admissions, the carers stay by him. During long hours at my son’s bedside, my family has learned about different countries from a personal, human perspective. My son has absorbed all this information.

My family has learned on a deep level that humans are not so different from one another. We share remarkably similar values. We laugh at the same things. We cry with the same sadness. We all of us worry when we feel under attack. And we love in the same whole-hearted, hopeful way.

People are people, wherever you go. It’s only the background that changes. We are enriched beyond measure by the clever, compassionate, caring individuals who help our son. That includes all the ones from Britain, South Africa… and Eastern Europe.

The petition may, or may not result in a second Referendum – I hope it does. At the same time, although I voted Remain, I do respect and share the view that EU reform is needed.

However, I think the Petition’s purpose runs deeper than politics. Signing is an act that shows the many European residents in this country that we do welcome them, and are grateful for the work that they do.

I don’t give my son’s facilitators bouquets of fragrant flowers – perhaps I should. But I certainly hope these words will let them know how much we appreciate them.

 

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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

Goodbye, Dr Nocebo

02/04/2014 at 7:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments
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Blossom believed blog

Easter, three years ago. My teenaged son, Tim, is still convalescing after a critical illness in Florida. We are now back in England, and he has caught a new chest infection. He goes to hospital where he is put on intravenous antibiotics. I stay with him. It’s not really possible to leave Tim on his own, because he has complex learning difficulties and other people don’t understand him.

So we are sitting in the hospital, day after day, and nothing much seems to be happening. Tim’s not getting worse, but he’s not getting better either. Some days I don’t even spot a doctor. Tim is scarcely eating, so I ask to see a nutritionist, but am told that all the paediatric ones are away. After a couple of days, an adult one materializes and gives me some food supplements. I am grateful for those, but surprised that I had to work so hard to get them. Surely this is the sort of thing that Tim’s doctor should pick up on?

To be fair, there are some very good nurses around, and a lovely school teacher. But apart from them, the atmosphere seems lacklustre. I can’t help comparing it with the medical team that saved Tim’s life in Florida. They seemed full of energy and a belief in their skills and medicine. They didn’t think Tim would pull through, but they did everything in their power to help him, and were thrilled when he made it.

Here, in contrast, it feels as though Tim has been somehow written off.

One morning a doctor comes into Tim’s ward. It wouldn’t be fair to give his real name, so I shall call him Doctor Nocebo.

Absolutely, the name is symbolic.

Nocebo effect: when a person in a position of authority, such as a doctor, leads a patient to believe that they are going to get worse. This negatively harnesses the patient’s own unconscious power to alter health outcomes. If the patient believes the doctor, the nocebo prediction can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The opposite of the nocebo effect is the better-known placebo effect: the body’s innate ability to heal itself when it believes it can. Drug trials have to take the placebo effect into account because a high percentage of people get better when they believe in an imaginary medicine.

Dr Nocebo is accompanied by a handful of medical students.

While they look on, he gives Tim a cursory examination. He notices Tim’s physical disabilities: his very pronounced spinal curvature, his tendency to lie still while he’s ill.

Then he turns to me and tells me, in graphic detail, how Tim will get more and more chest infections and they will become more and more frequent. And he will die – the implication is sooner rather than later.

As he talks, I feel faint. There is something inhuman about the way Dr Nocebo is delivering this news. It almost feels as though he is showing off his power in front of his students.

That evening, I go to a small parents’ bedroom near the ward. I get into bed. I lie there, in the dark, and worry about Tim’s slow rate of recovery.

And then it happens. I hear a voice: loudly, insistently, inside my mind.

“Suzanne,” it says. That’s all. But accompanying my name comes all sorts of information. It’s a full conversation, delivered in one word.

I realize straight away that I have fallen prey to the nocebo effect on my son’s behalf. I have been picturing Tim getting more and more poorly. I have believed Doctor Nocebo’s words.

I now have an urgent job to do. I must visualize my son well. And I must keep doing it.

The actual visualization comes with great ease. It is as if someone is leading me through it.

First I picture, in great detail, that I am standing in beautiful countryside. There are fruit trees in blossom all around. In front of me is a healing temple. I walk up 10 steps, and enter the temple. I go to the reception desk, and sign in. I am given a special healing disc to wear around my neck, over my heart.

I walk across the light and airy atrium, to the healing centre of the temple. There, I take a seat. In front of me is a shimmering space. I picture Tim in the space, receiving all the healing he requires. Before my eyes, he becomes well and strong.

I leave the temple, still wearing the disc.

Blossom believed blog 3

The next day, Tim’s dad Steven is the lucky one who gets to see Dr Nocebo. The doctor of doom duly gives Steven the same talk he gave me: your son will soon die, etc.

Steven, being the practical one, asks: “Yes, but what about exercise? Won’t that help?”

Steven is fully aware that Tim normally does lots of physiotherapy and yoga. Dr Nocebo just sees a pale and poorly disabled child. He has no idea that when Tim is well he can be pretty active. He can, for example, stand up on one leg, with support, and do the Tree position in yoga.

Take that, Dr Nocebo!

“Oh yes,” said Dr Nocebo, surprised. “Yes, that could help.”

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In my imagination, I return to the temple once a day. Each time, I first go to the reception desk. The healing disc I wear over my heart is checked. Each time it is black and smoky with negative energy. It feels polluted. So I hand it in and receive a new one. And then I go to the healing area in the centre of the temple, and picture Tim strong and well.

In real life, Tim does get better, and we leave hospital. But even at home, whenever I feel the need, I continue to visit the healing temple, in my imagination, on his behalf.

I notice, on my visits, that the healing discs aren’t getting so polluted. Then, on one visit, I am given a special, permanent healing disc to wear. People gather round to congratulate me. I realize that I have graduated to a new level. This new disc is gold and iridescent. It will stay naturally clean of negative pollution. However, I will still get it checked at the reception desk from time to time.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Soon after Tim’s encounter with Dr Nocebo, I realize that there is just one more thing to do: we need to change hospitals. So I arrange for Tim’s care to be transferred to a newer and better hospital. We don’t get to see the new consultant for 18 months though. There is no need. Despite his disabilities, Tim enjoys a period of excellent health.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Unfortunately, Dr Nocebo has many cousins, all equally negative and miserable. So if you happen to encounter one of them, remember this: when Dr (or Mr or Ms) Nocebo talks negative, it’s up to you to visualize positive.

Blossom believed blog 2

 

 

 

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