It is Christmas Day, 2020 and I find myself in a gap. Between a glass of cava and the dinner being ready; between a sunshiny walk and the fall of darkness, I find myself. Perhaps it is always in the gaps that we find ourselves?
Husband is outside, making the beginnings of a bird box. In his last creation, a pair of tawny owls enjoy Christmas on their balcony. They, and the robins and crested tits, have been constant companions during this blighted year. Year of the the pandemic.
Yesterday, our friend, whose land and vineyard has been in his family since the Middle Ages, told us they had had a poor harvest. What have you harvested this year? Do we even know yet, what this year of pandemic has been growing?
I have the sense that the wholeness is beyond our knowing. Political leaders may mess with the details, try to trick the system and tinker with the edges of what is real, gas-lighting us all in the process of stealing wealth and resources for themselves. But I also have the sense that they are under-estimating the power of nature. And also, under-estimating the power of the people. We, like a force of nature, are awakening. There is no knowing, no telling what will come next.
Unprecedented. That must be the word of the year. The word of 2020. Unprecedented. Unforeseen. Unimaginable. Yet, really, as history and her story tells, it is all precedented. It has all been seen before. We humans. We think we have it all under control. Our lives. Nature. The world. But no. We do not.
I, for one, am looking forward to 2021. I hear the Herald Angels singing. What is born may not be a Christ child, but something is being born. We know this, because whenever we go into the dark, as we have done in this year of 2020, going back into our homes and into our own deepest minds, something is gestating. Eventually, we will give birth to it. It cannot help but be born.
Hark, the Herald Angels are singing. Glory is afoot.
I’m looking out of Ankur’s window in Kashipur, India. The sun is going down, spreading rays of pink and golden light across green fields. I keep watching. Nothing happens…
Sitara’s window opens onto a patio in Chennai, India, where a hanging chair swings idly. In front of Kristens’ window in Shawnee, Kansas, USA, a black cat is washing itself, while Andrea’s window in Lucerne, Switzerland opens onto lake and mountain scenery. The website is window-swap.com and it comes with an invitation to upload video of the scene through my own window.
This quarantine project by Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam aims to give us a fresh view while we are unable to travel. With a second wave of Covid-19 beginning all around the world, perhaps this project has legs for a little while longer. Or perhaps, in this new normal, people will stop travelling so much and stay home more? What do you think? How do you feel about travelling these days? How do you feel about staying home?
Hiraeth Book – Our Longing for Belonging
In my book Hiraeth – Our Longing for Belonging, I talk about how we love to travel but how, over the years, we seem to have forgotten how to build community. We know how to travel, but do we know how to come home?
There is something poignant about these images from people’s homes. At a time when we are largely unable to visit each other, we are invited to enter, settle and stay a while, listening to the sounds of everyday lives. We are asked to linger without speaking or interacting. Without doing anything. We are simply hanging out together.
From Simone’s window in Villongo, Italy, we hear the call of a cuckoo. From Sebastian’s window in Shanghai, China, we watch a neighbour hanging their washing. From a window in New York we hear traffic. Rain washes down the window pane. These homes tell a surprising amount about their residents, but perhaps even more about me. My reactions, the length of time I spend in each window tells me whether I enjoy that view, that lifestyle. I find myself making judgements. “Great view!” “Boring!” “Amazing”. “Why would anyone choose to live there?” In some windows, I spend the full ten minutes of video. Some I scroll past right away.
Forty Days of Quarantine
Where we have been quarantined this year reveals so much about us. About our choices (or lack of them), our work (or lack of it), our family demands and responsibilities. The period of forty days of quarantine holds significance as a length of time that supports change to happen. Christ wandered for 40 days in the desert. Babies in some cultures are quarantined for 40 days after birth. 40 days speaks to a state of purification and transition. Historically, quarantines signify change and following mass quarantines, such as during a pandemic, there have been mass uprisings – revolutions reflecting a shift in consciousness.
Emerging from their first period of confinement and preparing for the next, many people affected by both private and public events are are putting in the work to make changes in their lives. This might be a change in views, for example with regard to racism; or a change in daily habits, such as diet or exercise. Many of us have been reflecting on our impact on the world and on our situation in life. This crisis has made us think more about where and how we live, our resilience or lack of it, our good fortune or lack of it. Consider how, in early April, there was a shortage of seeds dues to so many people wanting to grow food. Was this because many people had more time, or was it a direct result of seeing the fragility in our food systems?
One friend, who was locked down alone, is re-thinking how he wants to live. Would he prefer to have his loved ones around him?
Friends confined with children are wishing they had more space for them to play. More support with day-to-day childcare. More time for them to just be children.
Is this the right time to make a move towards into the kind of community you have craved for so long? Or is your desired change more related to an internal shift? Is there a creative project for which you’d like some support? A child of your imagination?
Is this the right time to make a move towards into the kind of community you have craved for so long? Or is your desired change more related to an internal shift? Is there a creative project for which you’d like some support?
Woolgathering as an imaginative practice
This practice of staring out of the window – anybody’s window – resonates with me as something of value. In one of the weekly meditation groups I facilitate, we honour the practice of woolgathering, defined by Patti Smith in her book of the same name as :
“one of those inexplicable things…Where one, lost in thought, may feel a tap upon the shoudler and find oneself far flung, in a swirl of dust, swung about and brought to a sudden halt.”
Patti describes how, in childhood, she would ‘wander’ through her window at night :
“And the wind caught the edges of the cloth that covered my window. There I kept vigil, alert to the small, easily becoming, through an open eye, monstrous and beautiful.” Is it possible, engaged as we have been in physical travel, that we have forgotten how to travel in our minds? Neglected the skill required to “rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind.” In short, have we lost the art of imagining?
During the Covid-19 quarantine, I’ve been running writing workshops based on the narrative form known as The Heroine’s Journey. On this path, we learn that meeting our unknowing takes courage. In the stillness of non-doing, we are tested by all the dragons and monsters we try hard to avoid. Instead of doing battle, how might we befriend them? How might we come face-to-face with these parts of ourselves and integrate them into our journey?
Ready to Change your View?
If you are ready to look through your own window, hear your own story and perhaps weave a new one, you may be interested in my new creative co-mentorship programme. The Heroines Alliance offers a co-creative space where you get to explore what’s next for you. Whether literally or metaphorically, if you feel ready to change the view from your window, maybe you’ll join us?
Next Heroines Alliance group begins September 2020. Click here for details and sign-up.
It surprises me to say that I can finally claim to have something in common with both UK Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles. We all have mild symptoms of the novel coronavirus. To be clear, because of some the many things we do NOT have in common, (like wealth and status) this fact may never be confirmed. While these giants have confirmed a positive testing, I (and Husband) may never be tested and therefore, may never know for sure.
Earlier this week, I dreamed that I was running for a bus and woke up short of breath. At first I wasn’t sure which came first – the breathlessness or the dream, but the breathlessness did not subside. A friend of mine tells me she also had a dream where she was running and woke up breathless. We started comparing notes. Since the news we get about symptoms of covid-19 is mostly from serious cases, I thought I’d share some of our experience so that you know what to expect in the early days and how to treat yourself. It’s important at this time that you isolate yourself and not risk infecting others.
The virus occupies the upper respiratory tract – nose, throat and upper chest. Early on we noticed these things – some so mild or brief that you might miss them, or mistake them for something else.
nose running very clear liquid – short-lived but very unusual
head and neck discomfort
sharp stabbing sensations (not quite pain but discomfort) in the ribcage and lungs
a sense that the lungs are cloudy
shortness of breath
I consider myself fortunate to have a background in yoga. I have been practising pranayama – specifically versions of kapalabhati (shining skull), nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing) and generally spending time with slow, gentle, deep breaths.* Every day we breathe over a steam bath containing thyme, eucalyptus and tea tree. I burn tea tree and eucalyptus in an essential oils burner to clean the air and boost the immune system. I burn dried sage, for the same purpose.
We take a daily multivitamin and have done since we were quarantined 14 days ago. We spend time outside when it’s not too cold. We rest and sleep. We drink lots of warm water with lemon, honey, thyme, linden. We eat healthy food and since the first symptoms appeared, have not drunk alcohol. This is all in an effort to support the immune system. We have not been anywhere since these symptoms began.
The effects of the virus seem to come and go. One day feeling better, the next worse. Tiredness, brain fog and breathlessness are common to all of us.
If you want support with any of these practices, do reach out to me or better still, to your local yoga teacher. Many teachers are now offering online classes and are also relying on this for income, so reciprocate if you can. I would also like to recommend my homeopath @rhiandaviespowellhomeopath, who is an amazing healer and is working (online) with me to treat symptoms on a daily basis.
During this time in isolation, I’ve delivered the writing and meditation course I usually teach as a Heroines Home Retreat. I’ve been creating daily audio meditations, which include writing prompts designed to help us tell our own unique stories of this extraordinary time. The meditations include breath practices to help increase capacity in the lungs and relaxation tools support the immune system. If you feel this might be a useful support for you, click through for more details and a sign up form. We’d love to have you along with us.
Note : If you have pre-existing respiratory conditions, do consult a professional before attempting these breath exercises.
ps. We can still smell this fragrant lemon blossom…
So this is what war looks like in the 21st century. As one wag put it (there are lots of wags in social media),
“Our grandparents were asked to go to battle. We are being asked to sit on the couch.”
So this is me, on my couch in my little eco-casita in Spain. To be honest, for me life has not changed much. Husband is working from home. I am offering an online meditation and writing retreat, which keeps me both busy and well-connected to my tribe. We have plenty to occupy us and a comfortable place to be in, surrounded by nature. Others, however, are not so lucky. Just today, two people have joined the retreat group from their places of isolation. One has been forced to go and stay with a friend because her living conditions with a new flat mate were not conducive to 24-7 confinement. Another is joining because she lives alone and is struggling with anxiety. From the UK, I speak to my son, who finds that there is no hand sanitiser to be found anywhere, not even in his workplace, who are nevertheless recommending that employees use it.
“Get some tea tree essential oil” I tell him. “It will not only kill germs, but will boost your immune system too. Scientist Husband refutes my hypothesis, so I am forced to go and get Mr. Google (or in this case, Ms. Ecosia) to put him right. I send it to my son as evidence. “Tea tree oil contains a number of compounds, including terpinen-4-ol, that have been shown to kill certain bacteria, viruses and fungi. Terpinen-4-ol also appears to increase the activity of your white blood cells, which help fight germs and other foreign invaders. These germ-fighting properties make tea tree oil a valued natural remedy for treating bacterial and fungal skin conditions, preventing infection and promoting healing.”
I do a virtual fist-bump with my son and tell him most people will be unaware of the uses of tea tree so it’s probably still available. Sure enough, he finds some in his local chemist.
Alternative Lifestyle Resilience
The tea tree incident is just one example of how, as an alternative-lifestyler with twenty years of yoghurt-weaving under my hemp-crocheted belt, I feel more prepared than most for this crisis. We’re not exactly preppers, but we have solar electricity, solar hot water, and most of the tools we need to fix basic stuff around the home. We grow food and preserve it. The other day, I found a stash of tomato sauce that we bottled last summer. It’s delicious and saves me from having to put more pressure on the shops at this moment. My son informs me that there is not a single bag of pasta to be found anywhere in his town.
We giggle at the idea of some people sitting on twenty kilos of pasta, with a spare bedroom stuffed with toilet roll, but the truths are harsh. Our system cannot cope easily with increased demand. It functions on a just-enough, just-in-time assumption and is thrown by shoppers wanting more of something at odd times. I’m sure, given the proximity to Easter, that if it were chocolate eggs we wanted to hoard, there would be plenty, but wet-wipes? Forget it.
Permaculture as Inter-dependence
My friends in the permaculture movement feel similarly prepared. My timeline is full of people offering free meditations, body healing and advice on how to boost the immune system, and I enjoy them alongside the dark funnies about sending stool samples to the government for “testing”. These people have taken the time and made the effort to make their lives more resilient to sudden change. For a start, they tend to consume less. They have organised themselves to rely a little less on mainstream services. Not towards independence, they understand that is a myth, but further towards inter-dependence. Towards community and in many ways, towards themselves. They have more ways of coping. More tools for anxiety, stress and other strong emotions which accompany times of transition and change.
Most of us understand that the system supposed to support us is mostly stacked against us. But still people feel disappointed that the people charged with protecting us serve the wealthy first. We will do well to remember, next time we get a chance to vote, what kind of policies served best at this time. My friends in Spain are not complaining about being isolated in their homes, though under conditions that rule only dog-walkers may go outside, they are scrabbling to borrow dogs from their neighbours! On the whole, we feel grateful to the care-workers and government officials who are making difficult decisions every day to protect us. Mostly, we want to comply. To protect each other as well as ourselves.
Connection in Community
This is one of the heartwarming things about all this. The reaching out, the wish to support, the compassion. This must be a taste of why some older people feel nostalgic for wartime. What they remember is not only the rations and the pain of untimely death, but the intense joy of human connection. The kindness of neighbours. The comfort of community. For a while, we are not pitted against each other in competition, though there will always be those who profit in times like this. For a while, we do not see so clearly the colour of skin, the cultural background, the religious or political affiliation. We do not hear accent nor even language. We see humans. Human to human. And human to animal, too. Human to environment. Human to spirit. We would do well to rememebr this.
As I sit here on my couch, door open to the wide outside, a bird chirrups enthusiastically into the afternoon air. There is traffic on the road below, but much less. Less aeroplanes fly overhead. Even since yesterday, the first day of our confinement, my being feels calmer. We have at least thirteen more days of this. I think I can get used to it.
ps. If you’d like to join our Heroines’ Home Retreat, we’re virtually open. Email me directly: helen [@] livinginthefuture.org
Yesterday, the handle fell off this coffeepot. It was a moment that stopped me and Husband in our tracks. I think we both actually let out a gasp. Because, friends, this is no ordinary coffeepot. This coffeepot is the first gift that was given to me by Husband. (Well, apart from linden flowers in science beakers and a rather lovely OM necklace at Glastonbury Festival but the point is…) This coffeepot has travelled with us from Wales to Australia (to Melbourne, coffee capital of the world, no less) and then on to make coffee at our little eco-home in Spain. We make coffee in it most days (decaf, in case you’re wondering).
Anyway. It broke. We gasped. Then we stepped back from our emotions for a moment and Husband said “I think can fix it” and I said “I’ll give it a good clean before you do that.” And so I did. And he did. And now we can make coffee again.
The moral of this story is 1. These coffeepots are so durable, they become part of the family. Forget your plastic coffeemakers and pods and stuff. These coffeepots are the business. 2. Things are worth cleaning and fixing, including bodies, minds, relationships and coffeepots.
For the past couple of years, our household have made a home retreat of the time between Christmas and Twelfth Night. You know, that strange time-out-of-time when there can be a sense of waiting for something to happen? For many of us, normal routines are disrupted, old hurts can surface and we can feel abit adrift. In the Christian world, with the excitement of 24th and 25th over, there is a lull until New Year’s Eve. For me, this time has always seemed a little mysterious.
Twelve Days of Christmas
When I came across an article by the British mystic teacher Caitlín Matthews, I was inspired to follow her example and adopt the ancient Celtic tradition of using the Twelve Days of Christmas to foretell the year ahead. We loved it so much, we did it again the next year too and now it’s a new tradition! We invited some friends to join us and each day I recorded a short meditation. This year, would you like to join us too?
A Daily Practice, delivered to your Inbox
The Omen Days practice brings tools from both meditation and shamanism to help us feel more in tune and connected with ourselves and the world around you. I’ve put together 12 meditations into this little home retreat that will deliver one meditation each day to your inbox. In addition, there’ll be two live events on 26th and 6th to begin and end the retreat.
We find it really helps us slow down, take a rest and reconnect. It also helps make this often challenging time of year quite meaningful in an ancient kind of way. It would be lovely to have you along.
Link to Enroll
This course is brought to you by Course Craft. Here’s the link to enroll. Go ahead and sign up and you’ll hear from me about live events and private sharing space soon. Welcome!
Last night I woke up anxious. A knot in my belly and a need to open the window to breathe fresh air reminded me that with a deadline looming, I was not yet prepared. It felt a bit like those jeopardy moments that show up in any tv docudrama. OH NO! The book might not make it to print in time for the first signing events! Trouble is, in the tv version, you KNOW it will all be ok, because, well, editing.
Wildfire in Australia
Grappling with this personal moment of tension, I’m acutely aware that in Australia, many of the people who appear in this book have been evacuated from their homes along Northern New South Wales. At least three of the established eco-communities I visited are at risk. The rainforest where 40 years ago, environmental defenders staged the first direct actions in Australia, is burning. My anxiety floats over to visit them, then back to think about people under floodwater in the UK, and then drifts via relief for my own currently safe position to rest back on the unfinished book cover.
Does this problem affect you too? How to hold everyday priorities when on a wider scale, the picture looks so bleak? How can we live good lives when there are so many factors to take into account? I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that decisions take longer these days.
Counter-intuitively, I find that slowing down helps. Just when I think I need to rush rush rush, obstacles start showing up, inviting me to slow down and take it easy. “Soandso is not in the office until Monday’ or in this case, “Your book cover is back in the design queue.” Since what I think is my intuition has been hijacked by Western capitalist culture and wants everything now, I’m having to practice another way of being in order to access the flip side of that demanding, over-stimulated part of my psyche. She is never satisfied anyway, so why not give her more relaxed sister a turn at the wheel?
Practicing another way of being
This practice takes me out into nature, into the company of friends, or bids me meet my internal self right where she is. Whether in anger, joy or despair, the invitation is to fully experience, which can mean some extreme highs, but also some difficult lows. These are extreme times. Perhaps this wider range of response is to be expected?
Sorry, I don’t have answers or quick-fixes, but if you want some company on your journey, you might like to have a read of this upcoming Hiraeth book. If it ever makes it to the printers.
Radical Rest. It’s a theme that keeps recurring. It came up during a recent retreat I held with my friend Susie on the Gower Peninsular in Wales. It was a Retreat for women, and I do feel that women, the principal carers of the world, are mostly starved of rest. But then, we all are, these days. As one woman said during the weekend, “Animals know how to rest, just look at a cat! Have we clever humans forgotten that we are animals?” If we have, then I propose that perhaps we are not so clever after all and the current state of the planet – of this home that we rely on – backs that up. If we are paying attention at all at this time, we will be asking ourselves, what can we do to redress the balance?
How can we make a difference?
It can seem that nothing will make a difference. No amount of recycling or energy-saving or eating vegan or stopping flying will help. Especially not resting. How, with the world in such a state, can it be time to rest? Surely, it is time to ACT?
I propose that resting is EXACTLY what we need. That resting in and down and staying deep in the wisdom of the inner world will bring forth, when the time comes, a kind of action that is considered. An action infused with love and self-care and compassion and patience – qualities that are sorely missing from our fast-moving, hyper-active, no-time-to-waste modern world.
It’s time. Time to call enough. To feel the pull of the earth that brings us home to rest. Home to nurture ourselves and our tribe. What is ahead of us is unknown, but we can be sure of one thing. That it will be better met after a Radical Rest.
Can gardening help fight depression? An article in today’s Guardian newspaper suggests that it can. On a visit to Sydenham Garden charity trust in London, journalist Sarah Johnson discovers that the acre site, with well-being centre, nature reserve and activity rooms has received 313 patient referrals from health professionals, with people spending between 6 and 12 months in ‘green’therapy’ there. I’m familiar with Sydenham, as they featured in a video I made with the Permaculture Association as part of their Thriving Communities project. Sydenham was one of several sites using permaculture to not only build gardens, but to build communitiy as well.
Gardening as Connection
Anyone who has a relationship with land will tell you that growing things is healing. For all the talk of ‘connectivity’ in our online world, humans are more disconnected than we have ever been from our place in the ecosystem. We are less likely than our ancestors to understand how our food grows, what is in season, and when. Gardening helps us reconnect with all this. Why should we care? Well, there’s no ‘should’, but once we feel the well-being that comes from having our hands in the soil, we are much more likely to WANT to care.
The modern world inundates us with lusting after big achievements. Getting out of our comfort zone and aiming high. But with all this reaching and extending, have we lost sight of the small things? Things that are available and achievable can be even more enjoyable!
Growing Microgreens is Easy
Got a kitchen window? Plant seeds and grow basil and coriander to season your meals. Got a balcony? Nurture greens – spinach and salads. Got a local allotment society? Get your name on the list or go along and offer your time to someone who needs a hand. There’s always someone who could do with a bit of help with digging or harvesting and as well as connecting with land, we make human connections too.
Husband and I have a few beds in a community garden, or huerto, as they call it here in Spain. He most enjoys the exercise of digging, as well as planting and harvesting, and I love this too, but I also get a kick out of preparing home-grown food to eat. This weekend, we plucked our first full-grown caulifower from the ground – smug and happy that we finally got one past the slugs and caterpillars. It’s true that gardening has its disappointments, but it touches something ancient in me to be able to combine that cauli with the fennel that grows wild here to create a delicious, nutritious soup. Posh restaurants in London and Paris are boasting about this kind of freshness, but they can’t match the flavour of completeness that comes with having nurtured that cauli through two seasons of growth.
So if you have a windowsill, balcony or garden, get in there and plant some food. And while you’re waiting for those greens to sprout, here’s my personal, unique recipe for cauliflower and fennel soup. Que aproveche!
Cauliflower and Fennel Soup
1 head of medium cauliflower, broken into florets
1 medium onion and garlic to taste, diced
1 sweet potato, diced
1 bulb of fennel, and/or a handful of fronds, diced
Olive or coconut oil il for frying
1.5 litres Vegetable stock
Splash of white wine (optional)
Fry off the onion, garlic and fennel until transparent, add wine
Add sweet potato and cauli
Bring to boil and simmer for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft
Blend in a liquidiser or mash to puree
Serve hot or cold with sour cream and bread or toast.
The word emergency has within it, emergence. What kind of world is emerging? With all the hubris in politics over the past years, it’s easy to believe that we’re approaching the end of the world. Corruption, greed, ignorance – all seem to be hitting a high point. Hatred is all around us, manifesting in extremism at both ends of the political spectrum. It’s truly frightening what wilful blindness can achieve.
In a way, we are reaching the end. The way we’re living now has to end. Governing without caring a jot about the people or land you are supposed to be stewarding has to end. What we are seeing is is the last desperate death throes of a way of being that knows it’s time is up. And yet, underneath all that, there’s a growing movement of people expressing another way of being. A movement of consciousness, intelligence and spiritual maturity that comes through in flashes of strong and compassionate leadership, considered and determined action and a wealth of healing modalities to support us as we move forward. We understand much better how our past impacts on our current actions, which shows us not only how to attend to our collective pain with care, but how we all deserve forgiveness.
No time for blame
For the damage we have done to ourselves, to each other and to the planet, at this time of emergenc(y), there is no time for blame. Can we agree that we all make mistakes, that the past is past, and that together, we can create a world that feels safe and fair for everyone? It’s a big ask. We will be required to dig into the deepest reaches of our being. To use our vast human resources and pool our energy for the good. To tend to ourselves, each other and to the world around us as if we, they and it matters. Because we do. They do. It does.
Emergency Bean Burgers?
Awake in the night, I ponder the blog post I just published on how to make spicy bean burgers and I wonder how this seemingly trivial activity could possibly make a difference. Why am I making – and what’s more, writing about making – veggie burgers, when the world around me is burning? In response, I can only say that we do what we can. In the article, I talk about how I grew some of my ingredients in my garden, which is one sure way to build resilience. In my modest home, I make nourishing food that increases my personal and family well-being. I avoid the plastic packaging which often accompanies store-bought food, keeping waste out of landfill and out of our oceans. I support a vegetarian diet, which has been shown to be one of the biggest things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. To survive this global crisis, we need to care for ourselves, for each other AND for the planet. We are inter-connected, and our future depends on us.
To complete the picture, and to allow my spicy bean burgers to really do the best work they can do, I take them to our community garden and share with some neighbours in a May Day celebration. What ways can you find to turn this emergency into an emergence?