Category Archives: Nature

Helen and Shanti Cat

Hiraeth book – in print sometime soon…

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.

Hiraeth book - cover
Hiraeth book – cover Image by Natasha Brooks Artist

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.

Hiraeth book
Hiraeth book : https://hiraethbook.org/

 

 

 

 

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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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Cauliflower-green

What goes with Cauliflower? Well Being. And Fennel.

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
Growing Microgreens
Growing Microgreens

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.

Communal task in the huerto
Communal task in the huerto

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)

Method

Fry off the onion, garlic and fennel until transparent, add wine

Add sweet potato and cauli

Add stock

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.

Yum.

Cauliflower and fennel soup
Cauliflower and fennel soup

 

 

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Image by Jason Leung

Climate Emergency – or Cultural Emergence?

I wake in the night with a knot in my belly. A cold sweat trickles down my neck. My heart races. In my mind, I see headlines proclaiming that UK governments have declared a climate emergency. And though I’ve been living as though this is the case for many years; though I’ve been telling stories about how we can reduce our impact on the planet; though I’ve been following as closely as I can my own advice to live more lightly, still I am scared. What do we do now?

Cultural Emergence

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?

Queen Bean Burger
Queen Bean Burger

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?


Tune in to my Mayday meditation via the Meditista podcast – and get a new meditation every Wednesday. Or for a more intimate approach, join us in our Month of Mondays online meditation group. It’s a really lovely way to create our own, global cultural emergence.

Singing Bowl
Singing Bowl

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Queen Bean Burger

Bean Burger Queen

Tasty, home-cooked versions of a classic treat

When my son was young, holiday food was a bit hit and miss for us as vegetarians, but we did develop a bit of a ritual of going to motorway service stations for a Burger King Spicy Bean Burger. Things have changed a lot since then, but although there are many more options on sale both in restaurants and in supermarkets, I often still struggle with plastic packaging. Making your own veggie burgers requires a bit of planning, but if you have a freezer, you can make a batch that will last a while.

From the Garden!

This week, I’m using some onions and spinach that I’ve brought in from the garden, along with carrots, peppers, garlic and of course, beans! As well as red beans, I’ve added some broad beans, again from my garden. They’re my absolute favourites, and so delicious when fresh that I’m only using a few as a nod to seasonality. If you have loads to spare, feel free to use more.

Broad Bean Harvest
Broad Bean Harvest

To be clear about planning, this process started a couple of days ago, when I soaked some red beans overnight. The next day, I let them simmer along happily while I cooked dinner, then today I made time to process them and make patties. If you’d like to give it a go, here’s the recipe. I’m secretly hoping my son will try it out too, ‘cos he does love a spicy bean burger!

Dried Chilies
Dried Chilies

ps. During this last stage, I had listened to a beautiful talk by meditation teacher Jess Huon, but it might just as easily have been a radio play or podcast. You might even try one of my own Meditista podcasts! Happy burger-making 🙂

Queen Bean Burgers

1/2 kilo of dried red beans
To prepare, soak for at least 12 hours, bring to the boil and then simmer until soft

A cup of fresh or frozen broad beans, lightly boiled or steamed

Then

Lightly fry
2 medium onions, diced
Garlic, chopped
Red/ green/ yellow pepper, diced
A cup of finely-ground oats
Salt, black pepper and chili to taste

Add fried vegetables to broad beans and red beans in a food processor or big bowl and mash until mixture is soft and pliable. Add oats until mixture is dry enough to handle.

Use a little more of the oat flour to dust a chopping board. Take evenly-sized spoonfuls of mixture and roll in oat flour to make burger shapes.

To cook, shallow-fry in oil of your choosing.
To freeze, wrap in paper or foil and lay carefully flat in the freezer

Enjoy!

 

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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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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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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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