Try this simple star meditation for wellbeing

24/07/2018 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This exercise is quick and easy to do. Once you’ve learnt it, you can complete it in just six breaths. Many people find it relaxing, and it can help you step into a mindset of good health and happiness. It’s a little about the hand movements, and a lot about the visualisation you do during the sequence. You can do this every day, or whenever you feel like it.

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1. Clasp your hands loosely together with the thumb pads touching. Focus on your breathing. Follow the breath as it moves in and out. As you breathe in, say the word ‘Divine’ to yourself – breathe in the word silently – and imagine a golden white ball of light, shimming and glowing right in the very centre of you. As you breathe out, say the word ‘light’ to yourself – breathe out silently – and imagine the light at the centre of you radiating outwards like a star. Imagine that the light clears away any detritus in your energy field that is no longer needed, so that you glow and shine ever more brightly.

 

 

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2. With the next in-breath, keep your thumbs together, and place the two index fingers together. Repeat as above, breathing in the word ‘divine’ and breathing out the word ‘light’. Imagine the light radiating, and clearing old energies.

 

 

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3. With the next in-breath, keep thumbs and index fingers together. Place the two middle fingers together. Repeat breathing and visualising as above. Imagine yourself like a star, with beautiful, life-giving rays of light streaming out in all directions.

 

 

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4. With the next in-breath, keep thumbs, index and middle together. Feel the sensation of the thumb pads and the finger pads connecting with their counterparts. Perhaps you can feel your pulse through the connection. Repeat breathing and visualising as above. With each in-breath the light in the centre of you glows more brightly. With each out-breath it radiates outwards.

 

 

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5. And with the next in-breath, keep all your digits together, including your little fingers. Take your time to be still and breathe meditatively. Imagine that the light in the centre of you is dazzlingly bright, and that the light is streaming outwards in every direction. Picture that any areas of physical or mental pain are harmlessly being cleared away by the powerful radiating light, leaving your body, mind and spirit full of radiant good health and happiness.

 

6. Finally, conclude the exercise by placing your hands briefly in the ‘namaste’ position. As you do so, focus on a sense of the divine in yourself, and in all living beings.

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How to run a meditation group

11/05/2018 at 10:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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“How do I go about running a meditation group?” This is a question I’m asked from time to time, so I thought it would be helpful to share a few guidelines. These are based on meditation groups I’ve run for nine years in Wiltshire, UK.

Consider yourself a facilitator, not a teacher

The members of any group will bring their own skills and experience to a session. Often, one person’s dilemma will be answered by another person’s insights. Your role is not to provide the answers, but to create the space in which answers arise from within the group. Often that means choosing a theme for the session, and being ready to ask gentle questions to encourage all members to contribute. You also keep the group on topic with your relevant questions. If you have particular experience of meditation, or teaching, those things are obviously very useful. But the most important skills to have are probably the willingness to turn up, and to do the best you can, by being properly prepared.

Decide the perfect time and place

Decide on a fixed day and time every week, or fortnight, or so. Decide how long you’ll meet for. An hour is an ideal length of time. This might include half an an hour of silent meditation, followed by half an hour of discussion on the theme of the meditation. You also need to consider the venue. Many groups meet, at least at first, in the facilitator’s home. You then have to consider safety issues: who you are inviting into your home; and conversely, whether your home contains any hazards for unwary people. You may find it more practical to hire a local venue. Whatever you choose, look into what insurance may be required. And be consistent about finishing sessions on time.

Charge a fee

If a few friends are meeting in your living room it may seem hard to do this, but it really is a good idea to charge a small amount to cover expenses. You might spend money on refreshments, a small amount of marketing, and factor in ancillary costs, such as the provision of blankets to keep meditators cosy, or cleaning of the room. If you are hiring a hall, of course you need to charge enough to cover the cost of hire, refreshments, marketing and so on.

If you don’t charge a fee, your guests will begin to wonder if they owe you something. A fee evens things out. You are providing a service. The members are happy in the knowledge that they don’t owe you anything. You don’t develop the resentful feeling that you are doing something for nothing. A bowl on a table by the door with a fee marked beside it, and some change inside, is perfectly adequate. And if someone forgets to pay one week, don’t worry about it. It’s basically an honesty box, all part of the spirit of the gathering.

Set a timer

You will need to time your sessions. In silent meditation, it’s a good idea to use a timer to start a session, and to end it. A zen meditation timer, with chimes, is a nice way of doing this. I don’t especially recommend using a timer app on your phone. Although this is fine for solitary meditation, it lacks a certain ceremony, or ritual, that enhances group meditation.

Choose your method

You don’t have to follow a particular school of meditation. It’s essential, though, to come up with a format that feels right for you. The simplest format is this: Choose an uplifting word that lends itself to meditation. A word such as ‘Love’, ‘Peace’ or ‘Serene’ works well. Or you might chose an item from nature, such as ‘Leaf’, ‘Tree’, ‘Ocean’. The idea is that members of your group will sit still in silence, silently breathing in “I am” and breathing out the word. They might imagine the words are written in gold letters against a blue sky. Or they might picture, or sense, something that represents the word. The word itself – the theme – can be a new one for each session. You might, alternatively, keep the same word for a month, finding new insights every session. Encourage the members of the group to think of ‘I am’ as a collective force of the universe, rather than one person’s individual identity.

Offer a simple guided meditation

Optionally, you could guide them through the beginnings of the meditation: invite them to sit comfortably, close their eyes, become aware of their breath, their feet on the ground… invite them to visualise, or sense a peaceful scene that embodies the theme. Lead them to a period of silent meditation of 20 minutes. Set the timer at the beginning of the silence so that you can meditate fully yourself. When the timer goes at the end, you might offer a few words to lead them out of the meditation, or you might have pre-arranged that the meditation simply finishes at that point.

Singing bowl variation: instead of a timer, you could use a beautiful instrument such as a singing bowl to signal the beginning and end of the silent period. However, this does mean that you need to keep an eye on the time yourself, so this may potentially be less restful for you.

Research your theme

Before each session, it’s helpful if you as facilitator have researched your theme. You might have learnt the earliest meaning of the word. You might have found a poem that evokes the theme beautifully. These are good things to share with the group. You might turn up with a useful meditative technique or an idea for a short guided meditation that you can share with others. You might share some easy meditation principles. Or give them a simple strategy for when they are too busy to meditate. 

Be kind

Don’t put pressure on your guests, or expect them to do anything in particular. They are here to meditate, and that is all. You are the facilitator, the one who makes it happen. It is always wonderful to see which souls turn up on any particular week, and it’s good to see each meeting as perfect, just the way it is. Occasionally you might find that no one turns up. I suggest that you meditate anyway. Maybe that is exactly what you need, on that particular day. Be grateful for the space, and the opportunity. Your gratitude and serenity will build up in the room over time, creating a place that is ever more conducive to meditation.

Be practical

The simplest of themes, focused on in a supportive atmosphere, can lead to emotional healing. Especially in the discussion that follows a period of silent meditation, an individual may become tearful. It’s helpful to follow these three guidelines for any group. And make sure tissues are always quietly available. At the same time, realise that you are not a counsellor (unless you are one, of course!) You are not there to mend anyone. If you feel out of your depth, you can very gently offer a suitable next step to a member of the group: they might visit their GP and ask for a referral for counselling, or some other strategy. In practice, it would be extremely rare for this to be necessary. The group supports each individual with compassion, empathy and humour. The humour itself is a natural part of any gathering, always to be welcomed.

Make sure everyone is well grounded before they leave. If need be, have them stamp their feet, or drink a glass of water. Make use of that wonderful thing, humour. Talk about what they are doing later that day. Make time for a certain amount of small talk after the session has ended, while they are collecting bags and coats and shoes on their way out.

Keep a record

Keep a record of your themes, of the number of attendees, and of the small financial sums collected. Do not keep any notes about things that people said, as that could infringe data protection rules. You will need a record of your themes, in particular, to avoid too much repetition, and to gain an overview of how the group is developing.

Good luck

I hope these guidelines will be useful, but your group will be unique to you – and that’s the way it should be. Make decisions for your group based on love, rather than fear. Do things that make you feel joyful, and your group will surely thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make and meditate: mala beads

13/04/2018 at 12:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Meditating with beads is an ancient practice that spans many cultures. It’s particularly suited to current times because it releases us from technology. Apps and timers can be good meditation companions, but this is altogether a simpler method.

In this post, I’ll describe some of the basic types of meditation beads available, show you how to make the simple example above, and then show you a wonderful meditation practice.

The ready-made option

There are many ready made items out there, which come at a price. Mala beads usually feature 108 beads, made from wood, seeds, ceramics or stone, sometimes with spacers. ‘Mala’ is an old Sanscrit word for ‘garland’. This one, bought from a Tibetan shop many years ago, is made from bodhi seeds from the same type of tree that the Buddha is said to have sat under when he experienced enlightenment.

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Other meditation strings are much smaller. Twenty one beads is a common number, just the right size to wear around a wrist on an elasticated thread. This one, below, from thechakrastack, is made from fossilised wood. It features 20 beads, with additional metal beads as spacers.

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How to make your own

It can be a meditation in itself to string your own beads. It’s also very inexpensive. You can source wooden beads, often made from furniture off-cuts, at many bead shops online. Look for sustainable sources.

The 21-bead string shown at the top of this post could be worn as a loose bracelet, but is designed primarily to be held during meditation. To make it, you will need the following:

70 cm x 0.5 mm waxed cotton thread

18 x 10 mm wooden beads

3 x 7 or 8 mm peace jade beads (or another crystal such as quartz, rose quartz, agate or amethyst)

A small amount of pvc glue

Method:

Dip the ends of your cotton thread into the pvc glue. Squeeze the ends between your fingers and allow to dry. (This hardens the ends and makes it easier to thread the beads.)

Thread 1 peace jade bead, then 9 wooden beads.

Repeat.

Finally, thread 1 peace jade bead.

Tie your strings securely together, as close to the beads as you can. The ideal is to end up with a bead bracelet that has just a small amount of movement possible between the beads. Cut off excess thread leaving around 3 cm.

How to meditate with your beads

Simply hold one bead between two fingers, breathe in and out at a leisurely pace, focusing on your breath, then move on to the next bead and repeat.

During the breath, it works well to focus on a particular word of your choice. The idea is that the word, or words you choose become seed thoughts, spreading their energy into every corner of your life.

With many meditations, it is recommended that you sit in a particular place, at a particular time. Here, I’m sharing a different method, that can help you create a happy day, and a peaceful night.

Morning seed word meditation

When you wake, sit up in bed, and hold your meditation beads. Think of two words that you would like to have permeating through your day. You might choose ‘love’ and ‘peace’, for example; or ‘simplicity’ and ‘joy’; or ‘abundance’ and ‘sharing’. For this demonstration, we’ll choose ‘love’ and ‘peace’.

Now, starting at the string ends, move your fingers onto one of the peace jade beads. Breathe in ‘love’ by saying it silently to yourself on the in-breath. Breathe out ‘peace’ by saying it silently to yourself on the out-breath. Move your fingers to the next beads, and repeat. Keep repeating until you have completed the circle and reached the threads once more. Then put your beads to one side, and get on with your day. Be aware of the energies of love and peace recurring throughout your day.

Evening seed word meditation

At night time, sit up in bed, and hold your meditation beads. Reflect on your day with a sense of love, gratitude and peace. Choose two words that will help you let go of the day. You might choose ‘love’ and ‘thank you’; or ‘gift’ and ‘rest’; or ‘serenity’ and ‘peace’. Then meditate with your beads, as in the morning seed word meditation above. Put your beads down by your bed, and rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the perfect time for your self care

12/02/2018 at 6:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Valentine’s Day and the first day of Lent coincide this year. The resulting fusion of love and abstinence from a selected item of food or drink makes this the perfect time to focus on self care.

How might you care for yourself for the 40 or more days of Lent, which begins this Wednesday 14th February?

One year ago, inspired by my friend Sarah Sexton, I gave up refined sugar for Lent. After Lent I continued the practice. I’m happy to say I am now 10 kg lighter, and back within a healthy weight range. Along the way I lost my sugar cravings, and the associated swings between high energy and tiredness.

Lent is a perfect time for self-reflection. On a scale of 1 to 10, how well are you currently caring for your body? What single act of food-abstinence will your body most benefit from?

Whatever your spirituality or lack thereof, approaching Lent as an act of self care is an invitation to thrive.

That wonderful feeling when your dream comes true

20/11/2017 at 8:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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At the beginning of this year I set myself a challenge: get some poetry accepted for publication. Today, that dream has come true. The Poetic Bond VII, an anthology edited by Trevor Maynard, features work by 50 poets from 11 countries. Together, they create a vivid snapshot of now. My three poems are set in England, New Zealand, and infinity. They feature love, loneliness and yes, there are dragons. Quite a lot of dragons. But they are the beautiful, good-to-have-around sort. They’re worth getting to know!

Do go take a peek at Amazon UK or Amazon.com

What Westerners can learn from Eastern meditation

13/06/2017 at 10:00 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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When meditation goes well, it’s brilliant. Blissful. Calming. However, many people, especially beginners, struggle to reach that point. They talk about ‘failing’ and ‘not being able to meditate’, as though it’s an exam they’ve somehow flunked.

I’ve heard this despondent comment many times over the nine years that I’ve been running meditation groups in the UK. When newcomers turn up, they often say, “I can’t meditate, but I want to try and give it another go”. Or “I tried meditation once before, and I couldn’t do it.”

And, of course, I regularly meet people who wouldn’t go anywhere near a meditation group, believing that they are doomed to failure so it’s not even worth ‘trying’. But there’s something wistful in the way they tell me this. It’s as if they suspect they’re missing something, and they just don’t know what to do about it.

There is an interesting reason why Westerners may sometimes find it more difficult to meditate than their Eastern counterparts. It all comes down to the name itself: ‘meditation’. Or, to be exact, the origins of the name.

The Western approach

We can trace the verb ‘to meditate’ back to Latin. It meant: to ponder, reflect, consider, devise. In the old European languages it also meant: ‘to measure’, ‘to judge’, ‘to protect’, ‘to provide for’ and ‘to deliberate’. Go further back in time, to the original ‘seed’ language that early humanity shared, and it meant ‘to take appropriate measures’, ‘to give advice’ and ‘to heal’.  This was the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) seed word, ‘med’, which also evolved into ‘mediate’ and medicine among other words.

The historical Western approach to meditation is therefore driven by a well-intentioned desire for results: the solving of a problem, the righting of a wrong, the mending of an ill.

The Eastern approach

In the East, the Sanskrit for meditation is ‘dhyana’. Other Eastern languages have variants on this. The PIE seed word for dhyana is ‘dheie’ meaning ‘to see, to look’. The word ‘Zen’, signifying an aspect of Buddhism with a deeply contemplative approach to life, shares the same seed word.

So in the East, ‘dhyana’ is the practice of simply being, simply witnessing without judgement.

Western meditators broadly follow the Eastern tradition. We sit in silence, simply being… but we also have a cultural legacy which whispers to us that we need to get results from our quiet time.

A happy fusion

Of course, we can’t really divide the world into neat East-West packages. Wherever you live, whatever your origins, you’re pretty well guaranteed to experience the ‘monkey chatter’ of your mind during meditation. And this can do a great job of distracting you with wide-ranging thoughts.

But your approach to the monkey chatter can make the difference between frustration and happiness during your practice – and that’s where an awareness of meditation’s ancient definitions can be helpful.

If we accept that we have chosen to sit in silence, focusing on a particular word, or concept, or image, or sound, simply to witness without trying to change anything, then we are much more likely to enjoy our meditation sessions. Each time we notice that our thoughts have strayed, we calmly remind ourselves that we are here to meditate, and we return to our point of focus.

No judgement. Just practice.

To summarise, we meditate simply to meditate. There is no end result we are looking for.  So we cannot ‘fail’. We are simply being conscious witnesses of the moment.

And yet, when we make a regular practice of meditating in this way, with no expectation of reward, the insights and inspiration do come. Meditation focuses and refreshes the mind like nothing else.

So if you really struggle to meditate, take heart. You are not alone. Now that you know the ancient secret buried in the very name of meditation, you can choose to let go of the striving and, instead, embrace the serenity.

 

Three ways to be blissful at Beltane

25/04/2017 at 10:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Beltane is the blossom-scented traditional festival that falls on 1st May, also known as May Day. However, as a state of mind, it’s available to us throughout the year – whatever the season.  This is how.

First, let’s unpack the meaning of this beautiful word with its clear, musical tones. ‘Beltane’ comes from an ancient seed word meaning ‘shine’ , ‘flash’ and ‘fire’ – a reference to the fact that by late spring/early summer in the Northern Hemisphere the sun stays with us a little longer every day, warming living beings and the land.

The shine of Beltane is not the reflective gleam of a cool surface, such as the moon or water.  It originates from within and radiates outwards. The 1st of May marks the point at which the light has become significantly stronger. By this stage in the year the sun can invoke warmth-loving seeds to shoot upwards towards its radiance. Yet the late spring sun also has the potential to burn bare skin and parch seedlings. A Beltane sun has a power that can be used for good or ill, a power we need to respect and use wisely. We are energised by it – and it can remind us of our own inner power.

Here are three things you can do at Beltane to focus your inner power and use it for good. These can be used just as they are or adapted for any time of the year when you wish to stoke your own inner fire to increase your wellbeing and your energetic impact on the world.

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1. When you wake in the morning, count your blessings. This is especially easy to do when the mornings are light and sun-filled. The practice reminds you of all the great good that is in your life. As a consequence, gratitude radiates outwards from your centre, effortlessly burning away subtle detritus from your personal energy, such as resentment and old griefs.

2. Go orchard bathing. Walk among trees laden with flowers. Breathe in their subtle fragrance. See or sense their vibrant shimmer in the air. Enter the canopy of a blossoming tree and feel uplifted by the sense of life and potential that the tree embodies. Absorb that energy and let it apply to your own upcoming projects and dreams. At other times of year you can revisit the orchard trees to witness the natural cycles of life and regeneration, and gain a sense of how these manifest in you.

3. Become a student of light. Notice how light travels through a leaf or a forest and develop a sense of how light rays pass through the skin of a living being, and how shafts of sunlight penetrate a community. This matters not just because sunlight can be beautiful and healing, but also because it transforms. Even the darkest places receive light photons, bringing with them energy, information and, symbolically, hope. Be aware of those energies. Work with them. The more you get to know them, the more benefits you will discover.

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What sort of meditation do you do?

30/08/2015 at 10:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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People often ask what sort of meditation we practise at the Studio. They expect to hear that we follow a particular school, be it Mindfulness, Christian, Vipassana, Transcendental or possibly following the teachings of a Buddhist leader such as Thich Nhat Hanh.

The truth is, we don’t follow any of these schools, although we do take an interest in them and are inspired by their insights. But our method is much simpler.

I call our practice, ‘Intuitive Meditation’, because it came to me in a series of dreams and mystical experiences many years ago, around the time of the birth of my son, Tim. Readers of this blog will know that Tim was born with a complex set of health issues, and a happy, sociable and life-loving personality.

For a period of two years or more, before and after his birth, I experienced some intense visions. I saw that each of us is a unique manifestation of the ‘All That Is’: apparently separate, yet actually part of the whole.

One morning, as I woke up, I heard a simple yet beautiful song coming from an invisible realm. A mellow, male voice began each line with “I am…” Each verse had five lines, and the final line was always, “I am the Ocean”. The ‘O’ was long drawn out. The first four lines varied, but followed the same format:

“I am the land

I am the sea

I am the leaf

I am the tree

I am the ocean.’

The song faded away as I became fully awake. I was left with a sense of the beauty of nature, and the numinous insight that a unifying divine consciousness shines through all aspects of nature, including ourselves.

Immediately, I began to use the “I am” format in my own meditation practice. I would breathe in “I am” and breathe out a word from nature, or from our true nature. “I am leaf…”  or “I am peace…” or “I am water…”. I would use one word for each meditation session.

The method was instantly calming and blissful. More than that, intuitive insights arose: it felt as though I was receiving divine guidance to help me tread a sometimes difficult path.

Over many years, other people began to join me. Today, small groups of us gather in a hillside studio in North Wiltshire, where expansive views constantly remind us that natural beauty is in us and around us, and a divine light shines through it all.

Let go of the brambles, and be still

02/08/2015 at 5:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Here is a poem by Sun Bu-er, renowned female teacher of Chinese Taoism, born 1124. I discovered it in Women in Praise of the Sacred edited by Jane Hirshfield:

Cut brambles long enough,

Sprout after sprout,

And the lotus will bloom

Of its own accord:

Already waiting in the clearing,

The single image of light.

The day you see this,

That day you will become it.

It can be such hard work to clear the sharp, knotted brambles and tangles that we metaphorically get into, and yet I think this poem is saying that divine light is present in all things. When we discover that, we become that light – or realise that we are already that light – and the effort falls away. What knotty problem do you currently face? And what would happen if you saw the divine shining in every aspect of the problem? Sometimes, letting go of effort is the quickest way to a solution, and to peace.

Sense the wisdom of the ancient stones

24/07/2015 at 11:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Standing stones are scattered over the mistiest reaches of the British Isles. Each one is different, and highly distinctive. I wonder how many you know, and whether you have a favourite?

These are the Standing Stones of Stenness, on the mainland of Orkney. They are part of what may be the oldest henge in Britain. I visited them last week with my partner, Steven, on a rare child-free holiday. We found these giants bathing in the evening sun, framed by a rainbow. They seemed magical, and mysterious: reassuring presences on the landscape.

The thing about standing stones is that they predate our written history. Perhaps we can say that they are a form of writing in themselves: rocky runes, inscribing messages on our horizons. And it’s a language we don’t understand today.

But it’s possible to pick up something. I walked up to the monolith on the left in the picture above and leant against it: warm sunlight at the front of me; cool rock at the back. Imagine yourself doing that now. The stone is more than three times your height. As you lean back, it supports you. Perhaps it even feels as though it is scanning and recording your energy – that’s how it seemed to me.

As you stand there, it feels easy to have a silent dialogue. What would you like to confide in this silent stone, and what subliminal messages might it give you?

At the simplest level, stones speak of continuity and the steady rhythm of change. The people who first raised these megaliths were fully aware of the annual dance of sunrise and sunset along the east and west horizons. They had a deep understanding of how sunshine brought life to crops and humanity. Bringing this awareness to our modern world of distractions is very good for us – It can keep us sane.

After a while, the sun neared the horizon. The Standing Stones of Stenness became dramatic silhouettes.

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The view reminded me of a powerful insight I received at Avebury Stone Circle: “It is not the stones themselves that matter. It’s the spaces in between.“ 

The spaces in between the Stones of Stenness reveal a most amazing landscape. You can catch glimpses in this picture. There are two lochs: one is saltwater, and the other is freshwater. They are separated by a narrow causeway, which takes you to a Stone Age collection of buildings which are thought to have been temples. Beyond them is another henge, the Ring of Brodgar, and beyond that… the sun.

The Standing Stones of Stenness from this perspective are a portal to the elements of life. They reveal to us that we and our world are composed of earth, fire, air and water. And sometimes, just sometimes, it feels good to remember that.

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