One to one consultations

05/08/2015 at 2:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A little reminder that even between term-times, individual consultations are available. These sessions offer a blend of listening, guided meditation and healing. They can be helpful if you have a physical condition that is proving hard to treat, or if you’re stuck in a state of sadness or other emotional pain. Sessions typically last 45 minutes. They can make an enormous difference to your wellbeing. More info here.

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.

One month to write a food diary

16/07/2015 at 8:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Today is a new moon, which is an age-old invitation to begin a new project. A great day, then, to start a food diary. For 28 days, through the waxing and the waning of this new moon, I invite you to write a simple daily journal in which you list all that you eat and drink. For good measure, add notes about your daily exercise.

We live in a complicated and cluttered society, where bewildering groups of people compete to gain our currency in exchange for a wide array of things to consume. What if life were simpler? How would that feel?

We can’t go back in time. But we can imagine how much more authentic a less processed society might be, like the one that lived in Skara Brae, in Orkney, five thousand years ago. These ancestors ate healthy foods with minimal processing, such as fish and other seafood, wild herbs and simple grains.

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The key is to become aware, to become conscious of what we are actually consuming. A food diary helps us to do that. So find a small notebook, with at least 28 double pages. In the front, I invite you to write something along these lines:

Daily gifts of food and drink

and opportunities to move and stretch

With thanks to Mother Earth

 

At the top of the first double page, write ‘Day 1’, and make a note or symbol for today’s moon phase at the top – the New Moon.  Then use the left hand page to write down all that you eat today. Use the right-hand page to record all that you drink, and also all the exercise that you do.

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Continue your food diary by numbering each day and adding a little symbol for the phase of the moon. You can find a record of these at moonconnection.com. Or simply watch the sky!

During the month that follows, you will gain awareness and insights into what and how you consume. You will make wiser, more mindful choices, which can help your long-term health. You will also gain a closer connection with Mother Earth and a true appreciation for her gifts. Good luck!

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Be of good heart with hawthorn blossom tea

14/05/2015 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In late spring there’s a plentiful blossom in the hedgerows that makes a wonderful, health-giving tea. Hawthorn blossom and leaves alike are good for all aspects of the heart. Rich in tannins and bioflavonoids, it’s a great alternative to green tea. But harvest it wrongly, and you may never want to touch it again.

Hawthorn fragrance is an intriguing mix of sweet and… well, not so sweet. When it’s ultra-fresh, the sweetness prevails. When it’s wilted, there’s a lingering whiff of something rank.

And yet when hawthorn has completely dried, it becomes again a delightful, drinkable tea – rather like a lightly fermented green China tea.

Simply collecting the blossoms on a dappled sunlit day is therapy in itself. I like to follow Lucinda Warner of Whispering Earth’s advice and pick miniature sprigs of young flowers surrounded by a few leaves.  You have to watch out for the thorns, but they’re easy to avoid.

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To drink hawthorn blossom fresh

A single fresh sprig, plucked straight from the tree, makes a lovely cup of tea for one. Place one fresh sprig in a cup of boiled water, and brew for a few minutes. It’s fun to drink while the sprig is still in the cup. If wished, add a squeeze of lemon and a small teaspoon of honey – delicious!

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To drink hawthorn blossom dried

Place your sprigs of hawthorn blossom complete with their leaves on a tray in a well-ventilated place to dry. Cover with paper if you need to protect your harvest. Sometimes I simply place them so they can lie in a single layer inside a large paper bag, then  leave them on a shelf in a warm and airy place. If you have a dehydrator, you can speed up the process dramatically and produce dried sprigs on a gentle setting in just a few hours.

To drink, place one to three dried sprigs in a tea filter, inside a cup of boiled water, and brew for a few minutes. Remove filter and enjoy.

Why it’s good for you

Hawthorn blossom, leaves and berries have all been long used as a tonic for the heart, helping with irregular heart beats, tiredness associated with poor heart function, and lowering of blood pressure. It’s also helpful for the whole circulatory system. And it’s been used as a tonic for the emotional heart, helping alleviate anxiety and bring calm. The feeling after drinking is as if your heart is basking in a warm, reassuring glow of wellbeing – that’s how it always feels to me.

Herbalist Nina Nissen suggests that it’s best drunk daily in small dosages over a period of 2-3 months, but it can safely be taken continuously if required.

If you are taking other medicines, check with your doctor before drinking hawthorn infusions.

Hawthorn, a member of the rose family, has been viewed as a sacred medicinal plant for millennia. It’s a plant of many dimensions, endlessly fascinating to those who take the time to hear its teachings. The blossom is a wise and beautiful addition to any tea collection – and it’s free.

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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.

Intuitive mindfulness is a match made in heaven

03/01/2015 at 1:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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“Never do something because you feel other people expect you to do it, do it because you have that feeling of absolute certainty that what you are doing is right for you, because you have taken the time to be still, to listen and find out from within what you should do.”

The words are by Eileen Caddy, co-founder of the the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. The poster here is shared with thanks to that spiritual community.  Eileen Caddy’s book of inspirational writings, Opening Doors Within, was a major influence on me when I first thought about running meditation workshops in a Wiltshire studio.

The principle of noticing what you notice is central to mindfulness. When we are mindful, we focus on our breath, our pulse, the position of our body, the feel of the chair beneath us, the temperature of the air entering and leaving us, and so on. We notice what we are doing in the present moment, without rushing on to the future, or dwelling in the past.

When we mindfully wash dishes at a sink, for example, we take our time noticing the rainbow colours in the detergent bubbles, the feel of water against the surface of our hands, the sound and movement of dishes within a bowl of warm water.

As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches through his many writings on mindfulness, when we are fully present, we experience peace.

What is less widely talked about is that when we are mindfully present, we allow the quiet inner voice of our intuition to be heard. This is what Eileen Caddy understood fully, and Findhorn still encourages this in myriad ways today.

Noticing what you notice is an integral part of receiving intuitive guidance. Being mindful is essential if we want to understand what we truly feel, and the direction that we fundamentally wish to go.

Lemon verbena tea – the recipe

27/08/2014 at 4:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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If I had to choose one herbal tea to drink for the rest of my life, I would probably choose lemon verbena, also known as Aloysia citrodora. When you brew it strong, it’s zingy, health-enhancing liquid sherbet in a cup: a light and warming drink that lifts the spirits unlike any other. When you brew it weaker, it is a delicate, uplifting citrus-scented beverage. But there is a catch: it has to be harvested and stored with love and respect. If you find a bargain packet of 20 lemon verbena tea bags, walk on by. The aromatic oils will not be present. Without them, you are left with dried and empty leaves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Health benefits

The essential oil in lemon verbena is uplifting, de-stressing and relaxing. The plant has anti-viral and anti-fungal properties – studies have shown it to be effective against Candida albicans, or thrush. Lemon verbena is also rich in youth-promoting anti-oxidants. The meditators who come to my studio love it, finding it both peaceful and refreshing.

Lemon verbena leaves

The recipe

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

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

For fresh tea:

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

For dried tea:

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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Can calm thoughts create a calmer life?

28/05/2014 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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In a couple of weeks’ time, I’m running a meditation workshop on The Healing Power of Calm. A few months back, I decided to be rather organised. I decided to meditate regularly on the word ‘calm’ for 30 days. There was a question I wanted to answer. Could meditating on the word ‘calm’ actually create a calmer life for oneself? Here are some extracts from my diary.

Day 1. There begins to be a sense, with every out breath, of every cell in the body releasing stuff it has been hanging on to: letting it go. No longer trying to control, hold on or sit on top of stuff. Just letting it go… Outside, wood doves coo and blackbirds sing, and the mild winter air feels fresh and sweet.

Day 2. I realise that the cells as I visualise them are faithfully taking on the colour of the air outside. Today it is that time just before dawn, so my cells are night-dark, with early glimmerings of light.

Day 4. It seems to me that each day is like a mandala: a circular or perhaps spherical pattern. The mandala begins at the very centre of me with a seed thought: ‘calm’. And as the day and the mandala expand, the seed’s qualities of calm permeate and manifest. This happens in ways that perfectly reflect my seed intention.

Day 5. Now I understand that what has stood between ‘calm’ and me is a need to control. I have been trying to control life itself by building a house of cards, to protect those I love, and myself, from the inchoate chaos that lies beyond all things. Yet there is only one thing that can save me: I need to surrender. I cannot hold back chaos. That is impossible.  Instead, I need to step into the abyss, with a sense of trust. As I realise this, my whole body relaxes. A tingling makes itself felt at the top of my head. I feel myself beginning to grow, like a flower. But not too far, not yet. And the moment of growing passes, and is gone. But I have glimpsed it.

Day 6.  After yesterday’s brief sensation of surrender, today’s meditation brings sadness – a sense of regret, of what might have been. It feels good to let the emotions flow. I realise that is all I need to do: let it flow, let it go. I understand that to experience calm, we do need to travel through our bottled-up emotions. There is no other way. Beneath, beyond and through the sadness lies that deep, infinite calm.

Day 13. Things have been busy lately. My son turned 18 (true cause to celebrate: it was never a given). A party. Many overnight guests. A welcome time of celebration and gratitude. I notice, unsurprisingly, that my meditation sessions have been patchy: ten minutes here, five minutes there. When I do succeed in calming my mind, I learn that it is necessary to value oneself in order to maintain one’s calm. If I am constantly available to all, I am present for none, least of all myself. I need to reconnect with the stillness within me in order to make sense of a busy world.

Day 24. I have been able to reach a point where my days do not feel pressured. Many of my commitments seem to have melted away. For example, out of the blue, the school run is now being handled largely by others. This liberates extra hours in my days. Life has become more spacious – a beautiful word. I feel as though I haven’t experienced this since becoming a mother, 18 years ago.

Day 30. I notice that I have become more ordered in my life. I am better at completing one project before starting the next. There continues to be more space in my days, and in the ‘to do’ list in my mind.

For the first time in many years I feel as though I am one with the rhythms of my life and of the wider world – not all the time, but more often.

Conclusion:

In one month, the outer world around me did seem to rearrange itself to reflect the calm that I was focusing on. Some of the changes were initiated by me. But many, such as the lighter school run commitment, were initiated by changes in the outer world. And that change made a big difference!

I notice from the diary entries that just as I was beginning to get real breakthroughs – expressed through the sadness flowing – I got busy. On some level it seems to me that I decided that I had dealt with enough bottled-up emotions for the time being. After that point, the practice felt like more a consolidation of new habits. It felt ok to do that. But I wonder what would have happened if I had, for example, gone on a longer retreat and effectively forced myself to go into the subject more fully. However, the beauty of this daily system was that I could make changes at a comfortable pace. Over all, I liked it a lot. I will do it again, perhaps soon.

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PS The pebbles photographed above were three that I picked up on Brey Beach on the Island of Alderney last summer, and placed on a window sill. I have discovered that calm lies in such simple, sunlit moments.

Base chakra meditation: red shimmer

02/05/2014 at 6:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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I am sitting in a small group meditating on the colour red. This is a challenging subject, because as Jennie will point out during the chat session afterwards, there is a duality around the colour red, as far as we humans are concerned.

On the one hand, red is about life and passion. It’s the colour of Valentine’s Day roses, a symbol of romantic love. On the other hand, red is about danger and anger. When we ‘see red’ in our minds, we are said to be furious. And when, in real life, we see red blood, it often means that someone has been injured or worse.

Red is also the colour associated with the base chakra, or root chakra. We can view this chakra as a concentration of spinning energy at the base of the spine, an energetic interface between the individual human and the wider world.

Primal survival

The base chakra is intimately concerned with survival, at the primal level. It’s about the building of the blood and bones of a being from the clay and water of Mother Earth. It’s about the creation and maintenance of the earthly vessel that contains our spirit.

And here’s the thing: the vessel, your human body, is fragile. Every day there are at least a thousand ways in which it could crash and die. And yet, most of the time, it doesn’t. It keeps going. Somehow, it contains the cellular wherewithal to grow and mend itself again and again. It is a spectacular example of self-regeneration.

Of course our bodies are vital to us. At this period in our evolution, we couldn’t function for long on this planet without them. And most of us grow very attached to the personality that goes with our own individual body, though sometimes it’s a love/hate relationship. We may or may not believe that our spirit endures. But we can be sure that the personality that occupies the body will never be quite the same without it.

Given the miracle of our bodies, it’s ironic that so many of us look at them with criticism. Why would we do that?

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However, at this moment, while I am meditating, only fragments of those thoughts come through. They will be developed in the conversation afterwards. Meanwhile, I am trying to focus on the deep, velvety red colour of a flower petal. I am becoming that colour. I am imagining all the cells of my body are that same velvety red. I am an embodiment of the colour red. It is a good feeling, and I am enjoying it.

Roller coaster journey

Still meditating, I become, briefly, a blood cell, travelling through the amazing branched corridors of my body’s circulatory system. I am surprised and delighted to see that the blood cells all around me as I travel the roller coaster corridors are shimmering. They are vibrant with life and vitality.

And then comes a new insight: the blood we invariably see is not living blood. It is always injured blood: stressed, altered and either dead or dying. We can never see blood in its living, vibrant state, because it is in a closed system, away from our view.

Yes, we might see it through the lens of an endoscope. But that’s not real. It’s a digitised representation. It does not, and cannot shimmer like the real thing.

As I am marvelling over this insight, I hear a voice. Its tone is reassuring and calming.

“You can never see all of the shimmer,” says the voice, confirming my thoughts. Then it adds something else, totally unexpected:

“You can never see all of the angels.”

And suddenly I am suffused with a feeling of happiness, laced with tears. I am touched, immeasurably, by the wonder and mystery of our physical existence. It is such a mystery, such a miracle, so magical. Our physical lives, yours and mine, are unbelievable treasures. How did we get to be so lucky to step into these vessels?

And then I am travelling through vast, endless, complex tunnels. They branch and rejoin and keep on going. This isn’t my blood system any more. It’s immeasurably bigger than that.

It feels like I’m in a cosmic circulatory system of which we are all part. Forget evasive politicians and corrupt bankers: their actions are smaller than dust particles. These are the real corridors of power. We are each of us part of the cosmic system. It’s breathtaking, elegant and immense.

You can read more about the themes we’re meditating on this term here.

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