Tag Archives: meditation

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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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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Clear Sea on Sitges Beach

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

As we head towards the finish line, there can be a loss of concentration and we can lose the flow. Climbers are more likely to fall on the descent. Drivers more likely to have an accident near their destination. Creative practitioners make more mistakes as they reach the final stretch of a project. And today, we find our minds wandering off into the coming year, more planning than meditating. Along with some anxiety, tension creeps into my body and I have to concentrate harder to bring myself back to the resting place of presence.

There’s a chilly wind, though the sun is shining as it has been throughout The Omen Days. On the beach, we huddle together, a bigger group of us this morning, offering each other shelter from the harsher elements. Come August, will we be glad of the protection of community?

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New Year Dip

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

New year. Warm fire. Cold air. Cold sea. Warm sun. Elements balanced as we summit the midpoint of The Omen Days. It suddenly seems appropriate that New Year is the climax of the Twelve days of Christmas. That we begin on twenty-sixth of December and end on sixth of January. Today, this Celtic practice feels ancient.

Sustained practice brings results as insight emerges. The biologist experiencing oneness as he contemplates how the atoms and molecules of people and places are universally shared. How plant growth depends on both darkness and light – on soil and on sunshine.

Beetroot Seedlings
Beetroot Seedlings

Seeds planted now will likely be harvested in July, but we shouldn’t worry if they need a little more time. In my garden, I have chili peppers planted last January that are still fruiting!

Retreats are a wonderful time out of time, but daily meditation adds magic to ordinary life. Diving into wintry water, members of our community emerge joyful into bright sun. We are thankful for deep connection. To ourselves, to nature and to each other.

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Water Diviner

On the Fifth day of Christmas

“‘Ratty, please, I want to row, now!’ The Rat shook his head with a smile. ‘Not yet, my young friend,’ he said – ‘wait till you’ve had a few lessons. It’s not so easy as it looks.’ “

On the fifth day of Christmas, a nine-year old encourages our practice by reading from ‘The Wind in the Willows’, while a man in full wet suit and wearing headphones listens intently for sounds of treasure on the sea bed. Lessons come from anyone and anything, if I take time to hear them. There are so many ways to tune the attention.

Deepening into the retreat, dreams speak loudly and the world is alive with synchronicities, but also, the shadow self shows up in all her hurt and brokenness. Am I brave enough to draw close, so she can also be a teacher?

In May, I might need courage to stay open to learning from life in unexpected ways.

For more information about this thread, visit my post on The Omen Days.

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Why is the sky blue?

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

“When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.
Praise God for those two insomnias!
And the difference between them.”

Last night, awake with the stars and the moon, I was reminded of this Rumi poem about sleeplessness. Then this morning on the beach, a question arises in the group.
“Why is the sky blue?”
I’ve been told the answer many times, but fail to retain the information. The scientist amongst us tells me again, yet after descriptions of particles and light and wavelengths, still his words land on “just because.”

I like “just because”. I like the mystery of it. I don’t have to understand the is-ness of everything, but I do love to experience it. It pleases me, this falling off the edge of logic, into, I suppose, pysche. Falling off mind into soul.

The space that opens up in these inbetween days can be either scary or freeing, depending on view, current inclination and perhaps beliefs. In essence, Buddhists might call it emptiness, but it is anything but empty. The unknown is full of potential. Perhaps is it our lack of control that is troubling? Mystery demands that we surrender and, as Rumi points out, our ability to do this can be the difference between comfort and distress, between heaven and hell.

In April, in order to find comfort I may be asked to surrender deeper to the mystery.

#twelvedaysofchristmas
#meditation
#divination
#theomendays

 

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