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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
“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.
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.
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.)