All posts by livinginthefuture

Singing Bowl

An Oestre Ritual

Leaving my house, I feel the breeze whip my hair across my face. In the treetops, a gusty wind plays, spinning leaves through the air like dangerous thoughts. What on earth did we invite, when we said we would do a ritual for grief?

I’ve been feeling out of sorts all day. Activated. Unable to focus. As though something is stirring in my deep self. When I finally get to speak to Cheryl, my co-host, she says she has been thinking of cancelling, so great is her own sense of disturbance. But as well as being a little scary, it is exciting. What’s the worst that could happen? That we might feel sad? Shed a few tears? And what is the best thing that could happen? Some form of liberation? We choose liberation over comfort.

Creating a Space

Over Cheryl’s garden, the sky hovers gray and foreboding. We consider gathering our circle inside and begin to move the chairs around, but I am drawn back to the trees. To the green grass and the billowing clouds. Nature is a part of this show and will not be excluded.

We set blankets on the cool ground and our centrepiece statue in place. Recently acquired, it is a sculpture of people standing together, holding each other in circle. Flat hands against each other bodies, they touch the heart chakra where it opens in the back of the body. It will be our emblem for this evening.

Statue circle of friends
Statue circle of friends

As women arrive, I find myself making my singing bowl sound a long, mournful note. Mentally, I am calling in the ancestors. Calling in the spirits of this place. Calling in all those who need to witness this happening. They float in silently, taking their seat in the circle.

Gathering with Intention

The details of this ritual ceremony are unimportant. We made them up, suiting them to our purpose. For we are orphans of spiritual practice. We have grown up in traditions depleted of meaning and have sought out significance in different places, different religions, in cultures other than our own. No matter. Our intention is to gather in service of our own inner path. To give voice to that which needs to speak. To listen faithfully to what is said. These intentions are what guides hand and heart.

At the end of the evening, we stand for a moment, mirroring the statue, holding each other in a sacred circle of trust and care, before heading inside to drink hot tea and eat cake. In this way, we follow the path of witches and shamans as they ground the energies of their practice and feed life, but really, don’t all good gatherings end with food and drink? The wisdoms we seek are grown within human bodies and cannot be known outside of our embodiment. About this simple fact, the Buddha was clear, but we are not only Buddhist, not only pagan. Following the Christian tradition of Maundy Thursday, we make an offering to charitable causes and I feel a profound awareness of the cycle of giving and receiving. Without opening to give, we remain closed to possibilities of receiving.

In bed that night, I feel my heart settle into a peacefulness that comes from knowing I have been met well. I have connected. With my own deep self, with my friends on this inner path and with Mother Nature herself. The wind has dropped. The trees are still. I sleep the sleep of the blessed.

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Kombucha Brew - Photo by Helen iles

How to Brew Kombucha

If you attend any outdoor, green-oriented event in Melbourne, Australia, such as the awesome Sustainable Living Festival, you are likely come across a kilted, happy-looking guy riding a bicycle-powered cool drinks dispenser. For a mere 5 dollars or so, he will pour you a refreshing, fragrant cup of sparkling, sweetly-sour, gut-friendly kombucha. His name is Deano, and he is founder of The Good Brew Company.

Deano will tell you, with a smile to match his sparkling drink, that kombucha will heal any ill, such faith does he have in his product. And it’s true that this fermented drink made from cold sweet tea has been ascribed properties to manage symptoms of illnesses from arthritis and asthma to heartburn, high blood-pressure and migraines. Fermenting guru Sandor Katz reckons we should be wary of anything that claims to be a miracle cure, but does attest that due to the microbiotic nature of the process , kombucha is likely to bring health to the body, particularly to digestive-related conditions.

Kombucha Jars. Photo - Klara Avsenik
Kombucha Jars. Photo – Klara Avsenik

I have Deano to thank for my household’s ongoing committment to the four large jars of kombucha that cycle through my pantry and the fridge that is generally packed with clip-top bottles of this magical elixir. It helps, too, that my husband is Eastern European, and grew up drinking a brew called Kvass, which has similar properties but is made from rye bread. (Maybe we’ll tell you how to make this another time!)

Kvass from a street wagon
Kvass from a street wagon

The recipe and process for making kombucha is quite simple, and if you think you can handle living with bottles of murky-looking liquid that look like they have an alien being living inside, the resulting pleasure is well worth it!

Recipe and Method for making Kombucha

Step 1 : Obtain a SCOBY – the rubbery, floating disc which Katz describes as a “community” of organisms. Mostly, these are passed amongst friends (thus contributing to another form of community) but can also be purchased online.

Step 2 : Brew a jarful of black tea and sweeten with sugar. We get great results with caffeine-free tea but once in a while, the SCOBY seems to benefit from a caffeine hit, so bear this in mind. Ratio of tea-sugar-water can vary according to taste, but we generally go for 2 spoonfuls tea – one litre of water – half-cup of sugar. Let the tea cool.

Step 3 : Add the tea to an appropriate vessel – we use a large jar – and place the SCOBY inside. It will float to the top and grow to fit the jar! Cover with a porous cloth and place somewhere warm.

Step 4 : Wait. Depending on the ambient temperature, the kombucha will take between 3 and 10 days to brew. Taste often and when it begins to turn vinegary,  decant into clean bottles with airtight lids. We tend to leave another day for a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which makes it fizzy. Don’t leave it too long as too much fizz can cause explosions! After a day or two more, place in the fridge. This will stop the brewing process.

Step 5 : Enjoy your kombucha at any time of day, bearing in mind that if you have used caffeinated tea, the caffeine is not affected by brewing.

Step 6 : Send us a message and let us know how you get on!

 

 

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Lemon Trees

Treevolution

There is a moment, fruity and hazy-afternooned, just before the sun loses its heat and falls out of the marmalade-smeared sky, when I am stopped. Arms scratched and itching from the day’s garden toil. Tweaks of sharp discomfort here and there, yet still a sigh of deep contentment escapes.

I sit on my haunches, rabbit-like and watchful. The cat picks his way over broken soil and in one leap, alights to the bannister in a clear request for food. I oblige, seizing a stolen moment to boil the kettle for tea. In a short while, tools will be downed and I will tear Husband away from his newly-planted trees and towards the cosy evening. Lemon, orange and mandarin. Tangy grapefruit and dark, sweet plums. Into this timeless pause, the citrus-blossom scented future falls.

Marmalade Sky
Marmalade Sky

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Almond Blossom

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. T.S. Eliot

Almond blossom in January marks the beginning of Spring in Catalunya and today it shows itself, just as we come to the end of The Omen Days. Looking ahead to December, we see the cycle of the year laid out, beginning and ending catching the tail of one another in a cosmic spiral.

And so it is with our little sangha as we end this time-out-of-time together, but not exactly as we planned. Our nine-year old teacher is in bed with flu, so we set up an online meeting, some gathered in one place, some in another. This ending, successfully and joyfully executed, proves to be a way forward. A way to keep supporting each other during the coming year and a way to bring in other sangha friends, both near and far. Perhaps one day you will join us…

In December, may we look back on the year gone by and appreciate the cycle of life, the spiral of spiritual process and the strength of community.

Calçots a la brasa
Calçots a la brasa

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Winter Trees

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

Today is a free day, meaning that our little group chose not to meet on the beach together, but to have an unscheduled day. It’s a well-known phenomenon that too much discipline makes us rebel, so it’s wise to build in some free time before the pressure builds. In Thich Nhat Hahn’s Plum Village, for instance, once a week they have a Lazy Day, where the community is encouraged to rest and focus on being, not doing. So how is it, after my ‘free’ day, that I feel less free?

The Buddha is clear that the only ‘freedom of mind’ is a worthwhile goal for our spiritual practice. Not ‘gain or honour or fame, nor the attainment of virtue, meditative concentration, knowledge or vision.’ (From the Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood – thanks to Ulla Koenig)

At the end of the day, other members of our group report that they have had an ‘off’ day, that they have missed the gathering of sangha, that the day has been ‘ordinary.’ On this, at least, we are in sync!

What does it take, then, to make our days extraordinary? What does an ‘on’ day feel like? And what is so special about the gathering of sangha? This is a question I will take into #nature… A question I will discuss with the group when we meet tomorrow… And a question in which I invite you to take part…

In November, I may feel a little lost. Can I remember, then, to reach inside and outside of myself for understanding, to turn to my sangha for answers, and to open to the wisdom of my tribe?

(See previous posts for more info about this practice of The Omen Days.)

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Play Time

On the Tenth Day of Christmas

“Make a list!” she says. It’s our nine-year-old teacher again, asking us to note what we love to do. Children seem connected to play in a way we adults forget. It’s the last day we will meet on the beach. Tomorrow is a rest day and on Sunday, we will complete The Omen Days together with a silent walk in the forest and a picnic. We discuss how to create a container for our practice. One which is connected to what we love to do. After all, if there is noy joy, what motivation will there be to meditate?

As work and life commitments gather pace, it’s easy for the ‘ordinary’ world to suck up all the attention. How can we make every day a ‘holy day’?

In October, I may need to reminded what it is I love to do, and how to integrate this into both my life and my meditation practice.

 

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Surfer in Sitges

On the Ninth Day of Christmas

Surfers ride on the energy of water, but it is air that powers the waves – a wind out at sea that creates swell. Today I have watery energy, relaxed but needing some breeze beneath my wings. So it’s great when one of our group holds a short movement practice before we sit to meditate and for a while, I can let go the reins and be led by the momentum of another.

Dragonfly by alex-konokh
Dragonfly by alex-konokh

Taking some time to sit alone, I watch light fall over the scrubland beyond our home. Breath slows, stillness pooling, when from nowhere, a dragonfly appears, finely laced wings shining golden in the setting sun. Her lower jaw moves rhythmically as she chews on a freshly-caught insect and then suddenly, she takes flight, plucks another soul out of the emptiness and lands back in front of me, munching.
In the shamen world, dragonfly’s quick and graceful movements indicate freedom and creativity, while their transparent wings are a sign of clarity and clear knowing. That this one sits still, feeding, reminds me to eat wisely and efficiently, taking care with my energy.

In September, while my vision may be clear, I might be glad of some extra motivation with creative projects.

(See previous post for information about The Omen Days practice of divining for the year ahead.)

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Clear Sea on Sitges Beach

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

As we head towards the finish line, there can be a loss of concentration and we can lose the flow. Climbers are more likely to fall on the descent. Drivers more likely to have an accident near their destination. Creative practitioners make more mistakes as they reach the final stretch of a project. And today, we find our minds wandering off into the coming year, more planning than meditating. Along with some anxiety, tension creeps into my body and I have to concentrate harder to bring myself back to the resting place of presence.

There’s a chilly wind, though the sun is shining as it has been throughout The Omen Days. On the beach, we huddle together, a bigger group of us this morning, offering each other shelter from the harsher elements. Come August, will we be glad of the protection of community?

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New Year Dip

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

New year. Warm fire. Cold air. Cold sea. Warm sun. Elements balanced as we summit the midpoint of The Omen Days. It suddenly seems appropriate that New Year is the climax of the Twelve days of Christmas. That we begin on twenty-sixth of December and end on sixth of January. Today, this Celtic practice feels ancient.

Sustained practice brings results as insight emerges. The biologist experiencing oneness as he contemplates how the atoms and molecules of people and places are universally shared. How plant growth depends on both darkness and light – on soil and on sunshine.

Beetroot Seedlings
Beetroot Seedlings

Seeds planted now will likely be harvested in July, but we shouldn’t worry if they need a little more time. In my garden, I have chili peppers planted last January that are still fruiting!

Retreats are a wonderful time out of time, but daily meditation adds magic to ordinary life. Diving into wintry water, members of our community emerge joyful into bright sun. We are thankful for deep connection. To ourselves, to nature and to each other.

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Panther/Cat

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

Here’s Shanti the cat, doing his impression of a panther stretched out on a jungle tree. Moments later, the cat is in my lap, purring, a picture of domestication. Cats never seem to lose that sense of wildness, whereas we, in the process of civilisation, have disconnected from our wild selves. Connecting to nature puts us back in touch with the animal in us, and perhaps, with the human. In the cycles of nature, we see the cycles in ourselves – the ebb and flow of inner moons and tides.

Does our wild nature show more in the shadow self? Primitive emotions like rage and fear would once have saved our lives, but in the absence of mortal danger, the emotions we feel often fail to find their place. One channel for the expression of darker emotions might be through creativity – writing, dancing or painting as a way to understanding.

In June, can I find space and time to give voice to the shadow self through creativity?

(Not sure what this is about? Click through to read more about The Omen Days series of posts – a Celtic tradition of using the  twelve days of Christmas to make predictions for the coming year.)

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