Category Archives: Meditation, Yoga and Spirituality

Corona Kings and Heroines

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.

Breathless

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.

Symptoms

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
  • conjunctivitis
  • sore throat
  • 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.

Support

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.

Meditation and Writing Home Retreat

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…

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Lockdown or Retreat? Resilience in Action

Coronavirus as 21st Century Warfare

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

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The Omen Days – An Invitation to Join our Home Retreat

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!

https://coursecraft.net/courses/z9Zbv/splash

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Radical Rest

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?

Medicine Walk by Helen iles
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.

Sun Shine by Jay Brightwater
Enoughness

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.

Listen to today’s Radical Rest podcast on meditista.com  : meditista.com/radical-rest/

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Image by Helen iles

From Comfort Zones to Vegan Pesto

“Resting into the deep comfort zone, we might sense a gathering of energy, of power. So that when the bodymind moves again with intention, it moves from this place of power. This kind of action is grace-full – effective, not wasting energy, every movement just enough – empowered by the practice of rest, and infused with the sacred.”

Meditation as Deep Rest

This experience emerged in the meditation space last evening, where we were exploring what it is to rest deeply, moving against the cultural norm that is pushing us out, out, out beyond our fear. To be forever pressing ourselves in this way… Pressuring ourselves to go beyond our comfort zone, it is no wonder that we also become beyond tired… So far from the well of our source energy that we are somehow dragging our selves through the world.

A couple of years ago, I began a practice I called Mindful Mondays. On Mondays, I decided, I would stay home. Husband would take the car, which meant I could walk, but not drive, and because we live quite rurally, this meant that I was mostly solitary. What I found was that without timetable or appointments, my days floated freely through household chores and more – sometimes much more, sometimes less. Taking the pressure off, Mondays wore a ring around them, like that red cord in the art gallery that tells us some areas are off-limits. I grew to love Mondays.

Meditating Online Together

When I wanted to establish a weekly online meditation group, it made sense to choose Mondays, since I knew I was always at home. Always available. This practice had made me so. And so Mondays had a new commitment, but it felt good. It felt good, too, to use my Monday feeling of availability to offer to hold space for one-to-one guidance, and so gradually, I lost the freedom of non-doing, if in the loveliest of ways!

I learned so much from Mindful Mondays that I feel moved to shift that sense of unpressured beingness to Tuesdays…but what to call it?… and so Timeless Tuesdays is born.

On this Timeless Tuesday, so far I have shared morning tea with Husband, sat for a while with the cat on my lap, and begun to share this story for a blog post. A conversation in my head with a friend in Australia (thanks Rachel) has me yearning to make pesto from all the spring greenery in my garden – kale, broccoli leaves and spinach. Perhaps I’ll pause and do that, then I can tell you how it tastes…

In the meantime, I invite you to make some timeless time for your self. Time to sink deep into your comfort zone, to see what emerges. It might take longer than you think, at first, so be patient with yourself. If you have been experiencing a drought of such self-caring ways, the well might take some filling.

A Month of Mondays – An Invitation

If you feel like sharing this space, or that you need some support, I invite you to join our little group on Monday evenings (or whatever time and day that lands where you are in the world.) Details of how and when can be found below.

Online Meditation

Home-Made Pesto Recipe

End Note : I DID make the pesto. It IS delicious. Try it for yourself!

Recipe : Whizz together green leaves – spinach, chard, or whatever comes to hand, a good clump of oregano or basil, handful of almonds, garlic, chili peppers (go easy!), generous dollop of olive oil, sprig or two of mint and my secret ingedient, yeast flakes! (you can use parmesan cheese if you don’t mind eating dairy). Texture should be juicy, but not runny.

Serve with pasta, crackers, or spread over roasted veggies.

Pesto Ingredients
Pesto Ingredients

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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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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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