Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Noche oscura - dark night

Artist- Hannah Willow

I haven't blogged here in a while. It's been on my mind. I'm travelling a deep cycle of personal healing that has taken me to the core of my personal identity, many attachments stripped away.

I experienced a wave of transformational energy in 2010, that was joyful, exhilarating.

Different this time: longer, darker, more sombre, more violent, as a winter storm thrashing branches and clouding the sky dark.

And also deeper, more profound changes and understandings are occurring. Yoga is strong and continues to be a refuge. I regret that I am unable to teach right now, but I wish that my ever increasing awareness and insight will be expressed through future work.

Right now, self-care is the imperative and that is self-care on all levels. I am fine-tuning my diet, my body is in very good shape. I am exercising, spending time with Nature.

I am attending to emotional wounds, I am deepening my spiritual practice into prayer, contemplation and am receptive to wisdom and revelation.

Its a solitary path and necessarily so. Heart-rendingly lonely at times. Mystic Christian Spanish saints, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross have lived something like this and written of their experience, thus guiding others.

Their term is noche oscura - dark night. I like the lyrical quality of the Spanish, more gentle somehow that the hard consonants of English.

Something of a misnomer, dark night implies a short, set period, while I am headed into my second winter of this phenomenum.

I'm not writing to blame, complain, seek pity even! More to keep the blog alive and to be candid about what is real for me right now.

The idea of night automatically contains within it the idea of the dawn, the return of the light and that is what I am holding to, especially now having travelled the darkest month of the calendar, just before winter solstice in the Celtic year and advent in the Christian tradition.

The light has now come and we are now illuminated, may we all be received and nourished by the growing light. 

I feel to be in darkness or obscurity for some time to come; but as Iunderstand and accept and trust that evermore deeply, there is a sense of comfort, of being held.

I now choose to trust and believe that deep renewal is taking place and I feel grateful that life is supporting me to make this journey at this time.


Saturday, 31 August 2013

'August, die she must' - the end of summer

Wild brambles, squash and sunflowers - for me the essence of late summer

On this last day of August, on what has been an extraordinary summer by British standards, I pause to reflect on the changing seasons.

This is quite possibly my favourite time of year. I fall so readily into autumn and appreciate the softening, receptive energy as the earth gets quieter and more still. I am feeling and anticipating that right now.

These late days of summer are so lovely.  I am quite giddy on the soft-toned mellow sunshine, that continues to bless us steadily, gently, constantly, streaming warm love and light through still blue skies.

Because of the continued dry weather, our sacred landscape of Avalon is evermore accessible, my favourite walking paths are uncorrupted by mud and rain, so much so that barefoot walking becomes possible, an imperative even: tender feet are safe on fat cushions of green grass and broad ribbed plantain leaves.

Flowers have bloomed, seeds have set, yet the hedgerows are still vibrant, green, punctuated with sudden bursts of bright berries.

Good foraging is possible: the brambles fruited early in the season and it's now time to look for the much smaller dark purple elderberry, often found higher up in the tree line; one has to be quick as they are much favoured by birds.

Cow parsley produces skeletal mandalas of burnt brown seeds and above them green acorns are swelling in size. Not yet ready to fall. But the cob nuts have and litter urban pavements around Glastonbury, crunching satisfyingly under foot, and are mostly taken by squirrels.

I have not yet seen conkers, horse chestnut fruit, in their spiky punk rocker casing coming down from the trees. Two large empresses on Bulwarks Lane, off Wick Hollow are consistently abundant and I am waiting for them. Their falling usually coincides with one of society's great autumnal markers: 'back to school'.

Yes, so summer is still here, yet on her way out, 'August, die she must'

This is a time of fading, of passing, of ever increasing stillness, of quiet returning to the land and our hearts too. We do well to remember that we too are natural beings, as much as any tree, flower or blade of grass. We are subject to the earth's rythm; our bodies know it and are synchronised to this rythm even though we might seek to override Nature by eating out of season food shipped from far away, by using electric light to lengthen the day.

Such a sweet peace is on its way, which would benefit us to attune to. Here's some help from ayurveda.

- Stay connected to the sun at the joints of the day: observe sunset and sunrise to support circadian rythms and promote restful sleep

- Eat seasonal food: cooked with gentle spices that that boost digestive fire as the weakening sun weakens our digestion accordingly.

- Introduce oils to bodycare: warmed sesame to feet and wrists will help pacify vata aggravation that is around the corner at autumn equinox.

- Slow down, or build pauses for rest and contemplation into your day, again harmonising with the slowing of growth in the natural world.

-As we prepare for harvest time, harvest the good that we have received this summer; reflect upon and store happy memories and give thanks!

-Prepare yourself psychologically for a change, the loss of summer for many feels like a death, but we can look ahead to rich texture of autumn with its possibilities for increased comfort, warm, and nurture.

Be well

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

PMS, starch attack and not needing to know 'Why'

Dear reader,

Do not be alarmed, I am not going to list my PMS symptoms as that would make for some pretty grim reading.

I would like to add that I do not regard my symptoms negatively, I welcome them and their messages, as an act of self-love and of honouring my body and its' fluctuating conditions in every moment.

Yesterday was intense though, as almost every recurring ailment, condition and manifestation of imbalance I have known showed up, in a kind of bizarre cabaret/showcase.

I have even written a list of the symptoms and checked them off, it's curious, amusing even, that they all popped up to say 'hello'.

Part of this was the extreme primal ravenous hunger that swooped in from, where?? And took over, leading to what felt like an eating frenzy, a Jekyll and Hyde moment of possession by a deranged eating entity?

Though in the calmness and clarity of the morning after, I see it amounts in effect, to having consumed just one extra, smallish meal, that could possibly qualify as a large snack.

However I was feeding from the 'junk end' of the vegetarian spectrum having somewhat guilty composed and scoffed down a meal of entirely processed foods (not great): from the freezer (not great; I prefer to eat fresh).

A moment of detachment arose when I looked down at my plate and saw that what felt to me to be a hideous 'food crime':  veggie burgers from a packet mix, tinned vegetable soup and wholemeal rolls, was probably to another quite healthy and that this was how I lived out my teens and early twenties as a fledgling vegetarian.

I reasoned myself into 'it wasn't too bad', at least it was low in fat, dairy free, sugar free. I passed into a deep sleep and slept more thoroughly than I have in ages, a gift, the silver lining. Complete with strange, vivid and even lucid dreams.

I don't know if I have any conclusions to draw about this episode.

Maybe questioning myself and needing to understand Why? is irrelevant. Did my body 'need' those extra calories? Who knows? Was it emotional eating? Who knows. Maybe its ok to occasionally turn into an unstoppable eating machine?

Maybe I can just let it be.

Something else too, something is different. I didn't turn on myself, blame or attack myself, create anxiety, create inner division. I didn't create a drama. I stayed present, I witnessed without judgement. I stayed whole. 

Simply a set of conditions arising and passing through. Leaving me clear to fully experience the present. And to live free.


Saturday, 3 August 2013

Breaking bread and meeting the Jesus Deck

Street entrance to the Chapel

Yesterday I attended a friendly celebration of Lammas, first harvest, held in the tiny, virtually hidden chapel of St Margaret and Mary Magdalene here in Glastonbury.

When I arrived, Diana, the minister was in a bit of a flap, as she described it, she was experiencing,  "Oven malarky".

She, her volunteers and visitors had been symbolically kneading and shaping bread dough by hand, but the oven, specially purchased for the event, had tragically failed to perform due to  electrical malfunction.


Resolute, undeterred, Diana was making arrangements by telephone to use the oven at St Benedict's close by, but was gracious enough to pause and welcome me with warmth, interest and personal attention.
View of chapel and garden
I had dual motives for visiting, I liked the idea of a small scale ceremony in such an intimate and private feeling space, that is very much my mood these days.

And I was intrigued by a note on the chapel's facebook page:

'At a loose end on friday afternoon? Come and join us. There may well be some Jesus Deck reading as well.'

Jesus deck readings!?  

I needed to know more, and rummaged around online for some background information on the deck, which is a reprint of an original edition from 1972.

Diana led me along the short length of the chapel lawn, bordered by stunningly well attended flowering plants; it felt to me to be one of the most beautiful and balanced gardens in Glastonbury. The rear bench grants a generous view of the chapel and a true sense of seclusion and safety, though we were only yards away from  a heavily trafficked main road.

Sample card
I could have simply sat and absorbed the bliss of my surroundings, but Diana had the Jesus Deck with her and talked me through it: essentially a summarised pictoral representation of the life of Jesus. A format of 52 cards, divided between the four apostles, plus two 'jokers'.

Diana explained that she didnt perceive the cards to have a divinatory function, but that she did give 'readings' whereby would invite a person to select a card and give a commentary on the episode of the Christ story in question, and that maybe this would be helpful in assisting that person with any current life situations.

She performed this service for me. It was helpful and the card I selected felt pertinent and meaningful. Diana found significance in the colours and imagery and this gave almost a Jungian flavour to her commentary. We discussed my spiritual journey, the cosmopolitan composition of the Glastonbury community and I received a personal prayer.

Symbol of the first harvest
The bread duly arrived. Presented in a variety of shapes that were personalised by the bakers , traditional plaits, twist and cottage loaves and even a a hedgehog!

We used our hands to 'break the bread' and then eat some. Which was warm, crusty outside, soft inside, a little salty, light and good. The feast was completed by a basket of plump, sweet summer berries and enhanced by the steady sunshine and blue sky above.

I took a peek into the main chapel, which I had visited once before, at night, for a session of  the Dances of Universal Peace.

I noticed two delightful icons of female saints that had surely issued from a small painting studio that presently occupies one of the former almshouses. And picked up a copy of the prayer booklet from the ceremony, which I had missed, having arrived late.

Icon of St Margaret

The next formal event at the chapel will be another from the Celtic calender, at Autumn equinox.

The Jesus Deck is available exclusively from The Diocese of Chelmsford Resource Centre: 

Tel: 01245 294405
Email:  resources@chelmsford.anglican.org

Stay up to date with Chapel news and events

May your harvest be bountiful!


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Where to start with Buddhism?

I have been very curious about buddhism for some time now, but have no idea where to really start to learn more about it.  Do you have any suggestions?  

Are there books you would recommend to learn more?  Lizzy

Hey Lizzy, the teachings of Buddha have been endlessly interpreted and while it is more possible than ever before to study pure texts with Tibetan teachers, I have received great benefit from a more recent lineage of teachers from the US who have absorbed the classics in depth and fully understand how to support westerners with our 'special kind' of daily struggles, in our real lives.

I offer here some highlights or gems from my personal dharma (knowledge and practice) library. I hope that you enjoy and use this material as a 'way in' to finding the teachers that are exactly right for you.

Firstly go to Tara Brach and find her audio material and videos which she shares freely, though accepts donations. She is active on YouTube and also has her own site. She has issued a couple of very powerful books, but the audio is an easy way in.

Tara addresses addiction and all kinds of psychological distress with warmth and compassion and teaches these skills, its the way out of suffering, well it has been for me.

John Welwood is also fantastic, you may have to dig a little deeper to find his material. Buy any of his books as he writes prolifically and you can pick them up used for a few dollars.

All John's book emphasize the same message, he speaks to our core wounding; 'the wound of the heart' and indicates a very graceful way of healing that and hence improving our relationships.

Sharon Saltzberg is another teacher who is mature, well established, respected and relevant. She writes and speaks with authority about loving kindness, a core Buddhist teaching.

Kristen Neff is newer to the field and is coming more from an academic perspective than as a teacher of dharma. Her work is an unpacking and examining of a key Buddhist trait - and essential component of self healing: self-compassion.

This overall approach is broadly about a merging of Buddhism and psychotherapy, (another tradition I have richly received from and am about to start training in).

And has really helped me to identify, dissolve and release some very real and pernicous situations I have carried around and repeatedly created for myself as heavy and painful burdens for too many years.

Buddhist dharma has gifted me a kind of practical support I could not find in yoga, which is oriented towards self-realisation. These teachings are helping me to understand and unlock my true nature, how to relate to myself and others with kindness and acceptance and how to cope with the changing conditions and challenges of every day life in a constructive and positive way.

I hope that this will be of benefit to you
Be happy, be well!


Links as mentioned:

A short video which gives a flavour of Tara's approach

All of Tara's talks for free, with a section for those new to meditation.

Excellent interview with John Welwood

'Awakening the Heart' is John's magnum opus, but any of his book are excellent

Recommended audio interview: Sharon Saltzberg discusses the meaning and value of kindness

Kristen Neff's helpful and easily readable guide to self-compassion