Category Archives: Sustainability & Environment

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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Kombucha Brew - Photo by Helen iles

How to Brew Kombucha

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

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

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

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

Kvass from a street wagon
Kvass from a street wagon

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

Recipe and Method for making Kombucha

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Lemon Trees

Treevolution

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

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

Marmalade Sky
Marmalade Sky

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Transition Time

I’m not sure if I’m a fan of Christmas but I do love fairy lights and I love bringing red plants like cyclamen and poinsettia into my home at this time of year. In folk lore, cyclamen is said to increase self esteem, love and protection. It has a brightness that speaks of happiness and hope. I love how Yuletide can conjure an air of enchantment, bringing magic to the mundane, but this mystical awakening is available every day, when I am able to slow down enough to let nature speak. This year, after a bumper harvest , I can also add threads of red hot chili peppers to the decorations!

Threading Chili Peppers
Seasonal Reading

I have the privilage to be spending winter solstice in the company of Satish Kumar, whose new book Elegant Simplicity I recommend to you. He is visiting Can Bordoi, an eco-educational project in rural Catalunya and as in ancient times, we will gather to celebrate the wisdom in the cycle of the seasons and the return of the light after midwinter. Some other enchanting books that would make wonderful seasonal reading include Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Time to Think by Nancy Kline, Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin and Kith by Jay Griffiths.

New Year Inquiry

As well as the warmth of cosy fireside and roasting chestnuts, I do feel internal pressure from a few too many social events. It’s lovely to connect with friends and family, but winter also signals a turning inward, a pause in time and space inviting reflection. There is some agitation, too, when I am asked to “set intentions” and while I’ve no doubt that making single-pointed wishes can be successful, I wonder, how can I leave space for the unexpected? The magical? The divine? When I loosen the grip on my wishes, I feel a welcome sense of leaning back, relaxation and even relief. Do I have to “get” everything I want during the coming year? What if I don’t know what I want?

Since arriving in Spain three years ago, I’ve felt a lot less clear about where life is taking me. This is very challenging! Turbulent political situations make future plans uncertain and our ecological landscape portends disaster. My spiritual practice has slowed to a kind of paso a paso approach, but what a delight it can be to live in the slow lane. The hard work of renovating our small casita home is almost complete and increasingly, I just want to remain really still and let life come to me.

In establishing a way of being that destroys neither us nor the earth we on which we depend, a transition has to be made. So many of us, like the earth, are running on empty. Over ten years of the Living in the Future project, we’ve told many stories involving outer transition – towards affordable, sustainable homes and vibrant communities. But outer transition is inevitably accompanied by inner transition and as well as enjoying stories about ecovillages and low impact living, I thrive on deep work around inner transformation.

New from Living in the Future in 2019

In an attempt to help facilitate this inner shift, in 2019 you can expect online group meditations from Living in the Future, offering support and community for the inner journey. We also have an upcoming book publication which straddles this inner/outer divide. If you have time over the holy days, take some personal space to discover our existing guided meditations on Insight Timer and for a unique Solstice celebration, I invite you to join our little group on the beach in Spain!

Wishing you all a Happy Yuletide and a Peaceful New Year.
with love,

Helen and the Living in the Future Team

PS. Use the YULE18 to claim 50% off Living in the Future online films.

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Positive Stories for a Change

What stories are you telling yourself today? What are you reading, hearing, thinking about, and passing on? If you started your day with newspapers – whether print or online, it’s likely you were bombarded with bad things that have happened. For me, wildfire, murder and political chaos dominate my headlines today and while it’s possible that my social media feed offers some light-hearted relief, I might need to scroll past the shouting in order to find it. In this kind of environment, it’s no wonder our mental health is suffering. Hope is an emotion that lifts heart and mind, but in a world smothering in greed, hatred and mounting CO2, hope is fast disappearing.

Thriving Communities

So when I got a call to help edit a film for the Permaculture Association about a programme of theirs called Thriving Communities, I leapt at the chance to be part of a different story. The film brings together clips from projects around the UK using permaculture principles to address community needs. Though permaculture is often thought be only relevant for rural dwellers, many Thriving Community projects are urban- based, showing that the values of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share are relevant, practical and can make a difference just about anywhere.

Contrary to popular understanding, permaculture is much more than gardening, though growing food is a good place to start. Planting and nurturing seeds brings us into relationship with the earth and if we do it in a group, with other people as well. What’s more, it’s hard to miss the parallels between our own well-being and that of the plant, so growing food is educational as well as nutritional. Somehow, in addition to looking after soil and seedlings, we end up looking after ourselves, too.

Positive Stories

Living in the Future has always been about telling positive stories, but we need them more than ever now, as the clock counting down towards runaway climate change and species extinction ticks relentlessly towards ground zero. In the face of this, taking personal action can seem like an overwhelming task. Sorting the recycling, whilst important, seems too  small a response.

Given the enormity of the task we face, you may be drawn to take part in some way in the growing protest movement that is Extinction Rebellion. Organised on a grass roots level by activists calling time on government apathy and inaction, XR invites contributions in all sorts of ways, from engagement in non-violent direct action and associated support roles, to writing, artwork, and more contemplative practices. The question for us personally might be – how can I express my own response to this devastating global situation, in a way that feels both possible and sustainable? For instance, as I write this, my email is pinging notices from companies advertising Black Friday deals – is there a way we can make seasonal giving more earth and people-friendly? Can we show our love without buying more unwanted and unnecessary stuff?

Sand Circle by Marc Treanor http://www.sandcircles.co.uk/

As our leaders charge headlong and blindfolded towards who knows what, my own experience of grief, anxiety and disempowerment has led me deeper into my own spiritual practice. Gardening is undoubtedly a part of this. Movements like the Permaculture Association and the Transition Network have long recognised that as well as positive actions, the alignment of our outer/inner worlds is an important and crucial part of the work and storytelling can really help with this.  By bringing our expectations more in line with reality and suggesting new ways of dealing with challenges, stories help align our inner and outer worlds, helping us move more easefully through times of change.

So let me ask again, what stories are you telling yourself today?

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