Why this is a great time to become more serene

23/08/2017 at 6:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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When I saw this photo I couldn’t resist asking to ‘borrow’ it. It’s an image of my niece, Sophie, canoeing along a tributary to Loch Morlich in Scotland’s Cairngorm National Park.

For me, this image sums up the best of serenity.

To make progress, there’s generally some effort involved. There are always bound to be a few rocks along the route. But the best approach is to cultivate a calm manner – to do your best to remain balanced whatever lies in your path.

It’s good to see distractions for what they are: side shows that are not and never will be your true path. That way we don’t become over-reactive, or allow ourselves to be carried along by events.

At the same time, it’s important to be prepared, yet not overly so. It’s wise to take a few useful items with you for your safety and wellbeing, and to help you move forwards. However, it’s also ok to trust that your needs will be met, and to travel light.

I’ve been meditating on serenity daily since the start of the summer. Through busy times it’s frankly been a life-saver. This regular practice actually appears to make life’s challenges… well, less challenging. Which is why this moment, right now, is a great time for you to focus on being serene. Try it and see what happens.

How I became more serene in just seven days

16/07/2017 at 10:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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The idea to meditate on the word ‘serene’ arrived on its own and stayed by my side until I noticed it. At the time I was packing for a week’s holiday in Greece, so I decided to take the word with me and meditate on it daily.

Day 1. I dent the car

My daughter and wake up in the hotel at Gatwick Airport. I fit in a hasty ten-minute meditation “I am… serene” before heading off to the South Terminal. There we queue to check in our one item of luggage that won’t fit into our cabin bags: daughter’s emerald green mermaid tail complete with mono-fin.

We board a plane for Preveza, Greece. The plan is to hire a car on arrival, drive to our villa in a remote part of Lefkada, then drive down to the nearest village in the evening to pick up my partner, daughter’s dad, who is arriving by taxi from a later plane.

However, I am not used to driving on these narrow winding island roads. I am not used to left-hand drive. There are more steep hills and dirt tracks than I was expecting. We make a few wrong turns. We get to the villa more or less in one piece. But later, during the trip to collect partner, I take a wrong turn into the village and dent the front right edge of the car against a brick wall. A calm local man materialises from the darkness and directs me along the impossibly narrow street. I locate partner. Serene? Massive fail.

Day 2. The villa is awesome

The villa has an infinity pool overlooking the Ionian Sea, and its own yoga and meditation room. Twenty minutes of a daily blend of qigong and yoga which I call my ‘Stretches’, followed by 20 minutes meditating on ‘Serene’. During the silent sitting time, I witness the feelings of embarrassment about the car give way to blissful memories from childhood.

Later in the morning I bathe naked in the pool and feel weightless, suspended between blue sea and blue sky. In the evening the poor battered car is swapped for a bump-free one, and we are told there should be no charges, as we were fully insured. Serene? Getting there.

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Day 3. Noting the thoughts that ruffle

Consider more naked bathing but decide to do stretches and meditation first. While breathing in ‘I am’ and breathing out ‘serene’, I hear the pool man arrive. Partner chats to pool man. Feel relieved that focusing on ‘Serene’ has saved me from embarrassing nude encounter with pool man. Later, swim naked in freshly cleaned pool, mind and body both happy and relaxed.

Then I receive a message: would I be willing to talk to a national newspaper about my experience as a mother whose child has been in critical care several times? Old memories rise up to ruffle my serene surface.

Day 4. Every distraction has an emotional charge

I receive a different message, this time from a woman who briefly attended a Meditation Group that I run. She is an expat, living on this island now. Distracting thoughts rise up: what would it be like to live here? I wonder if we might meet up…

Stretches. Meditation. With each breath, I mentally write “I am…serene” in white gold letters against an azure Ionian sky.  I notice the perturbations from the distracted thoughts. I could put my phone away for the week, but I need it, quite simply, in case my disabled son in England needs me. In any case, serenity is not about avoiding the real world. It’s about remaining calm amid the distractions.

Later. The expat hasn’t got time to see us; journalist doesn’t contact me. The ripples of distraction fade away. I am happy to live awhile in this hillside space where pool flows into sea and sky. This is all that has ever been and all that ever will be. All time is eternally present here, captured between the pink sunrise and the terracotta moonrise. Fragrance of sage, lavender and rosemary. Gentle musical chimes of goat bells in the hillside scrub. Green crickets like oversized gemstones adorn the walls of the villa. And I experience a tendency to think only good of people – a sign of decreased stress?


Day 5. Breakthrough

I wake with familiar niggles of remorse: so many things in the last week or more that I could have done better. I witness these emotional niggles as though they are brief, transient perturbations in the air, and watch them dissolve before they reach the ground.

Stretches. Meditation. I am floating in the now familiar azure blue space. I witness the energy of serenity as a wide, slowly sweeping wave of peace and surrender. I witness, as if in a movie, how I hold on to things and people in an attempt to control outcomes. I witness myself releasing this need. I see gateways opening into infinite possibilities. I taste freedom.

A local tells us the story of a family who stayed here for two weeks and scarcely went out because they feared the over-sized green and brown crickets.

These bugs… do they sometimes reflect our own inner thoughts that can bug us? They live in a boundary place of our perceptions. We can choose to see them as objects of fear and revulsion. Or we can choose to see them as miracles of nature’s engineering and honour these scraps of life.

Later, a cricket comes to study my notes for this post. Impossible to feel dislike or fear when it is simply being itself.


Day 6. Understanding

I wake with a shaft of anger leaving me. So quick, it’s gone before I fully register it. Who knows what it signified?

As I drift between sleep and wakefulness, the voice of an indigenous Australian woman I once met says, “It’s time to adopt your true home.” A strange oxymoron, I think, as a true home surely doesn’t need adopting. Perhaps that voice from the Dreaming simply refers to home as a state of mind?

It occurs to me that the rainbow of emotions is part of being human. A serene mind is comfortable with them all.
Stretches, meditation. Today the silent time is full of images of flow.
Serenity, I see, cannot exist in an unmoving state. It would become stagnant and lose its very nature.
When we are serene we allow our emotions to flow: to be acknowledged, and acted on appropriately when needed.

The desire to hold on to any emotion is an attempt to halt the flow of life. It is an impossible task that simply creates pain in the body and mind. If an emotion endures it is because it is born again in every moment of time. We live in the flow.

Day 7. Free from distractions (nearly)

I wake at dawn and walk through rocky, sparse gardens. Even this early, the bees are crowding around dainty pink flowers and dusty lavender spikes. The air  is humid as the sea gives up some of its reserves.

I place a clear quartz crystal in a bowl of spring water on the highest rock and watch it shine in the light of the rising sun, a lens capturing the magic of the new day.

Stretches. Meditation. I listen to my breathing and hear the words that I’m focusing on within the sound of each breath: “I am… serene.”

And for uncounted moments it becomes true. I am part of the air: weightless, drifting. Pure consciousness. Here and everywhere. Nothing has an emotional charge. It simply is.

Day 8. Homecoming

Pack. Tidy. Leave.

In the airport I fit in 15 minutes of meditation amid the noise of passengers waiting for their flights. On the flight home I ponder on this week of ‘Serene’. What effect has it had on me?

It has helped me become aware of the countless emotions that are present in any day.

I have learnt to be much less attached to these emotions, allowing them to flow, and go.

Curiously, during this week I have not had a single insect bite. Not one. This is highly unusual for me. There could be several reasons. However, it seems that while my mind has been less ‘bugged’ by thoughts, my body has been unbothered by them too.

And in the lightest of ways, ‘serene’ has become a new favourite word to meditate upon.

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When you’re too busy to meditate, try this

20/12/2016 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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When life gets really busy… like right now… the easiest daily meditation doesn’t require a timer, or an app. It just requires you.

This is what you do. Sit comfortably. Rest your hands loosely on your lap.

Count the thumb and fingers of your left hand, one count per slow, relaxed breath. Lift each finger briefly in turn as you count.

Repeat with your right hand. So now you’ve counted five on each hand.

Then repeat the sequence twice more. So now in total you’ve counted five, six times over.

This is the ‘Three Tens’ meditation. When you’ve time for nothing else, do this. It will help!

 

What an ice mountain can tell you

30/07/2016 at 8:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Some places feel special, in ways we don’t fully understand. One such I visited recently is Snaefellsjokull. This ice-capped volcanic mountain rises from a remote Western peninsula in Iceland. Its name translates as ‘Snow-fell glacier’.

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Perhaps it feels remarkable because of the near-Arctic juxtaposition of ancient fire and eternal ice, enhanced by the mystery of ocean clouds.

Or maybe it’s because the myriad volcanic peaks in this region take on their own fierce presence in a stark landscape created by the slow separation of two major continental plates.

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On the slopes of the glacier itself, the sense of presence grows stronger, along with a distinct chill. It’s easy to see why Jules Verne chose Snaefellsjokull as the entrance to the earth’s core in his novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

There’s a purity and absolute freshness to the air, as though all human preconceptions have been blown or blasted away.

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The ancient volcano brings gifts to the watchful. My daughter found a piece of obsidian – black fire glass. And I discovered the subtle, changing image of a fire sprite on a smooth piece of basalt.

Snaefellsjokull is said to be one of the sacred centres of the earth, a portal to other realms.

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Standing on the glacier, it’s possible to see things differently… to recognise the true landscape of our own lives.

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An ice mountain can tell you much about yourself.

Each of us carries within us the qualities of Snaefellsjokull: the ice and fire, the mystery and the deep, all held within a shimmering equilibrium that is subject to disruption when inner or outer forces overturn the state of balance.

Witnessing this in nature is to witness it in ourselves. We can open up to these qualities, and allow them to flow through the meridians, our own subtle energy channels.

There are four burning questions an ice mountain draws out of us:

What in you is ready to be expressed?
Look deeper now. What are you suppressing?
Do you always recognise your own inner promptings towards action?
And, above all, do you honour the passions and visions that ignite you?

Take time to answer these questions. They are a recipe for life-long wellbeing.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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

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