Category Archives: Happiness

Pleasure and Joy

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I enjoyed some simple pleasures last week.  Getting outside and walking in bluebell-clad woodland, a fascinating talk by a medical herbalist at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary and a tasty lunch shared afterwards with a friend.

A creative writing exercise commonly asks for a piece that incorporates the description of how something affects all our senses. Thus my opening sentences could achieve this – the sight of the trees and flowers, the light fragrance of the bluebells, the sound of the breeze in the trees and the taste of the soup I enjoyed for lunch (celeriac, cumin and coconut – lovely!)

But what is missing is how to convey the sense of well-being that has its roots in our innermost soul, at the very heart of us.  This is the nebulous sense of joy that does not come from external stimuli, or our daily circumstances, but is an inbuilt emotion that we can draw upon if we are lucky enough to be able to recognise, identify and embrace it.  My joy on the visit to the sanctuary came not just via the enjoyment and relaxation of the surroundings, but also from seeing my friend Alison’s pleased reaction to  her first visit there.

The bluebells in the woodland are like a reflection of the blue sky above, so pleasing to the senses that they cannot help but bring a sense of joy.  Learning about them too, is a happy and interesting experience.  Knowledge in itself often brings joyful exclamation;   “I never knew that!” you say, as you learn something new … like the facts about the native English bluebell versus the Spanish garden escaper:

“True English bluebells have stems that droop, whilst the Spanish are straight.  In the English bluebell the petal tips are curly and just visible are the stamens with white, creamy pollen, rather than the Spanish blue or pale green innards”.

I wonder what it is about this magical seeming flower that sends us into joyful ecstasies?  They are certainly a challenge to the camera lens, their particular shade of blue/mauve being a difficult colour to capture.  If they are in sunlight, they bleach out and look a pale depiction of their colourful selves.

Too little light, and they are a dull facsimile of their perfect best.

But get it right, achieve that balance of the light-just-right and the colour true and there you have it.  A joyful experience indeed!

A return to joy from the depths of grieving is a hard won and long struggle that remains a work in progress.  I am lucky to possess a degree of innate resilience, but this on its own would not have been sufficient to bring joy back into my life.

The return of joy after loss takes makes me think of approaching a building project, brick by brick.   It starts small, with the foundation level being the first instance when you recognise an awareness of positive emotion affecting how you feel.

You feel happy.

You don’t feel guilty about feeling happy.

You hold on to the feeling, drinking in the emotion that surrounds you and fold it into your heart.

You have one of those light-bulb moments.  This can be built on!

Gradually the bricks mould into something more substantial. Events which please, be they small or significant, begin to form something solid on which to lean, a structure that becomes denser and supportive so that you not only feel joy, you have the confidence and assurance to begin to give out that joy to others.

The conviction that life is getting better and growing happier again, despite what you have lost, is a source of ever strengthening joy.  It is supported by the love of those around you.  As you give out the light of your joy, so it is reflected back to you.

Joy is often bittersweet because you need to have known pain to recognise the beauty that lies within the joy which comes later.  Each of us knows this in very disparate ways.  For myself, I think that joy comes most from the knowledge that I am loved.  I believe that in my insignificance as just another human being on the planet, somewhere in the massive universe, I actually matter.

And that faith brings its own form of un-diminishable joy; it is the joy that makes me want to keep on living, keep on learning and keep on exploring life’s great adventure.  It’s an extension, an elaboration and a significantly deep addition to the first-glance pleasure of seeing a carpet of bluebells softly flowing across the forest floor.

And experiencing such moments with friends is part of the glue that holds pleasure, joy – and indeed life – together.

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Hug a Tree in 2017

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I bet no-one ever took me for a tree-hugger, did they?

And yet … as I reflect on the nationally trying (Election/Brexit) and loss-filled (too many to mention) year of 2016 that we are shortly to be leaving behind, I realise there is a great and simple truth to trees.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whatever human frailties we have, through all our joys and sorrows, trees stand steadfast.  Whatever havoc we may create around ourselves, the roots of trees reach further down beneath the ground and their branches stretch their fingers higher towards the sky.

They bend with the wind, they do not break.

They can withstand either scorching or freezing extremes of temperature.

The cycle of leaf, blossom, fruit, continues unabated and the sap circulates in trees’ systems like our lifeblood circulates in us, bending to the rhythm of the seasons.

Trees are life givers that can feed the world.

Trees provide fuel and shelter when we need it. 

Trees can be anything from spindly to magnificent. 

Trees can be in a copse, a coppice, a thicket, a plantation, a glade, wood, a forest, an orchard, a jungle, a weald; they can stand proudly alone or be in massed company.

The cycle of the deciduous tree’s life repeated year on year has a structure that reflects the human condition from birth to passing.  In spring, the sap rises.  The tree begins to green up. The leaves and blooms unfurl, fresh and new.  The tree’s energy is growing and strong.  In summer, the tree stands tall and proud in its gown of green, embracing the warmth of the sunshine.  The autumn brings mellow colour and as the sap falls back to the heart of the tree, the leaves fall gently away, leaving the tree stark but strong against the ravages of winter.

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It may look as though the tree is dormant, yet deep within its kernel heart it absorbs the sugar of the seasons, creating a rich residue, ready to come to life again in the spring.

We repeat such patterns many times throughout the living of our days.

When a tree dies, its life is revealed in the whorls of its bark and the rings of its trunk.  Every circle tells a story, each notch on the bark is an event in the life of the tree.

Some trees are really special.  When you stand beneath the shelter of their branches you feel they can help you to safely let go of troubled, chaotic thoughts.  They nurture and support in silent empathy.  They are living, breathing beings.

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Two trees either side of a path can reach out like arms across a sacred space, drawing you to their embrace.  It feels as though they are acting as a channel that reaches high above the planet to draw down comfort, particularly at times of trouble, loss and grief.  Twice in my life I have experienced an amazing release of emotion, standing in this ancient energy and letting the trees take my sadness and absorb it into their primordial wisdom, leaving me comforted and calm. 

There is an undeniable truth to trees.  You know where you are with trees; they will never deceive.  Their wisdom is pure.

Listen to the trees.  They whisper in the summer breeze that rustles their leaves, and yet they whistle and howl through winter gales. Their moods are many and capricious, just like ours.

Do the trees mourn?  What can be sadder than a dripping, dark yew in the graveyard?  Yes, the trees can mourn.  But the beauty of trees in bloom in the early spring is a matter for deep joy.

Trees care not for politics or religion, though they are God-given.  The Tree of Life represents the first true human temptation; the mighty oak tree symbolises the stolid strength of faith.

Collectively, trees represent strength, resilience and solidarity.

A stand of trees high on a hill looks glorious.

A single small sapling reaches for the sky with optimism and conviction that it will one day be great and strong.

You may feel that you are separate from the trees, that they mean nothing to you. But we are all connected.                                                                                                                                             C S Lewis said, “Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well, and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would look like one single growing thing–rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.”

I send love and good wishes to everyone for a peaceful and healthy 2017. 

Stay connected with each other, value your friends and your family … and if you feel so moved, go out and hug a tree …

Do you MIND?

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“Mindfulness offers us opportunities to reconnect with ourselves and to restore balance in our busy lives”

You can tell that mindfulness is a buzz word when Google returns 40,300,000 hits on a search.

But what exactly is it, how do we get it, and why do we need it?

I remember when I first started work, many years ago, there was talk of how we could all look forward to arriving at a four day working week and enjoying more leisure time.  But when we look around now we find ourselves scurrying around in a heightened state of busyness, flitting from one thing to the next and definitely not operating in accord with the suggested attributes of living in a mindful state.  Mindfulness is described in many ways but I think it is neatly encapsulated by the definition of being in a ‘state of active, open attention on the present’.  This ascribes to mindfulness the ability to apply ourselves specifically not just to one thing at a time, but to examine various aspects and facets of here and now.

Behaving mindfully necessarily precludes too much reliance on the technological advances which we now feel we cannot live without – many of us have become enslaved by what I have heard described as all the I-s; that is the iPhone, iPod, iPad, iWatch, along with the biggest I of all, the Internet. Plus you can now monitor practically every bodily function through Apps and Fitbits and the like.

Is it any wonder that we feel under so much pressure that we are beginning to lose the ability to switch off and be fully in the ‘here and  now’?

Our reliance on inanimate, interactive products is not necessarily healthy.

I have a personal watershed on technology as I found that if I was constantly fiddling with my phone or working on the pc into the evening (often whilst the TV was on too), it disturbed my sleep.  I now put my phone out of sight by 8pm and never take it up into the bedroom.  We retain a landline for emergencies.  I still prefer to read a paper book before I go to sleep rather than my Kindle.

I feel too that technology makes us indecisive in the extreme.  How often have you seen some hapless person hesitantly shuffling along in the supermarket aisle phone clamped to his or her ear, and heard a one-sided conversation that goes something like this,

“Well I am looking dear, but they haven’t got lamb chops.  What shall I get instead.  Pork?  Chicken? Steak? Burger? Sausages? A veggie option?…Well … you tell me what to get and I will pick it up.  I really don’t mind.  You choose”

Before mobile phones, we would just have selected something else without the need to confer with anybody.

Other times, you may see someone tearing up and down the aisle whilst in conversation on his/her phone, flinging things in the trolley with little concentration.

Are we slowly losing the ability to stop trying to do so much at once and to focus single-mindedly on one task at a time?

Social arrangements used to be simple, too.  When I met with friends before the mobile phone era,  I would make a telephone call, say on a Sunday evening, to confirm an arrangement for the following Saturday.  We would have no contact in between and would turn up as arranged.  Today, people tend to make plans by text and I have become used to exchanges like:

Me: Looking fwd to see you Sat. Where shall we meet?

Friend:You choose, I don’t mind

Me: Shall we say the Oak?

Friend: Oh. Didn’t like that last time

Me: Well, where would you prefer then?

Friend: How about the Cricketers?

Me: Ok, sounds good to me

Friend:What time?

Me: 1230?

Friend: Better make it 1300 to be on safe side

Then on the day I get a flurry of messages  …

Sorry, running a bit late …

Followed by … just parking.  Are you in the pub?

Me:  No, I am in the car park.  See me?  (waving) …!

All this unfocused to-ing and fro-ing via text feels like such a waste of time, it engenders frustration and it is a long way away from mindfulness.

There are many ways to practise mindfulness and it is not difficult to get into the habit of using it as a tool to step away from the stressors in life.  The simplest way I have found is to allocate a small amount of time in each busy day to really place myself mentally in the here and now.  I set my alarm ten minutes earlier than I need to get up and use those few minutes to focus on the day ahead, to evaluate and steady my breathing and examine how I am feeling.  I think about anything that is specifically on my mind and often, useful solutions will present themselves throughout the day.

Techniques for mindfulness abound, ranging from simple breathing focus to yoga, tai-chi and complex courses and classes.  Mindfulness offers many processes through which you can still the mind chatter, kick out all the negativity and embrace the positives in your life.

It is interesting that there is a section on mindfulness on the NHS website which neatly sums up simple mindfulness meditation that ‘involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander’. Simple!

I am sure that if we all regularly practised such a modest exercise we would feel far less stressed and anxious about things over which we have no control.

If you were a person who eschews the mobile phone, electronics, the internet, television and perhaps even the radio you would be a very unusual individual, perhaps best described as being akin to  the ancient ascetics who lived in self imposed hardship and a constant state of self denial on the negative side, and heightened mindful awareness on the positive.

For the vast majority of us however, mindfulness represents an opportunity, just for a little while, to practise some self-enhancing, simple techniques to take us away from the hurly burly of modern life.  The four day week may never have materialised but if we can approach our busy times with mindfulness we should be better able to deal with whatever comes our way.

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Hey – go and clean that bathroom!

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Have you ever noticed the way that repetitive, non-cerebral activities such as household chores free up your creative brain?  This blog post literally has its genesis in a swish and rinse round the bath, continues with a buffing of the taps and ends with a swirl of bleach down the toilet.

Distraction techniques, or focusing on an undemanding practicality, seem to allow the inventive, imaginative part of the mind to run at full tilt.

A similar thing happens, albeit via a different route, through meditative practice when you are mentally and mindfully taking yourself to a different place, clearing the mind and allowing whatever wishes to present itself, to draw across your mind’s eye.

This reminds me of a guided meditation in which I took part recently, based on the Buddhist principles of loving kindness. The foundation of this is that we should learn to practise loving kindness towards ourselves as well as others.

A friendship demands little but gives much. 

It expects no more than acknowledgement of its existence. 

There is a true grace in friendship which we should encompass and convert to give loving kindness to ourselves. It is all too easy to forget that our friends like us, despite our perceived shortcomings.

You first have to learn to be your own best friend … something that is easier said than done.

During the meditation, we were asked to think of ten attributes about ourselves that we like.  Now, how is that for a tall order? – I arrived at three or four before giving up.

Afterwards I thought about why this was so difficult.  And I think it is because generally we are conditioned to be self-critical, judgemental and constantly aware of our failings/shortcomings. It becomes an alien notion to like ourselves.

So … I am getting better at saying to myself, “Stop! – step back from a commitment or two and give yourself time for you – for your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual nourishment”.

When I have managed to do this, I definitely feel better for it.  This is a good example of how loving kindness towards self is achievable.

If someone asks me, “do you believe you are loved and supported?” Then I do not find it difficult to answer “yes”.  And that means that I know in my heart that I am worthy of being loved, something else that is all too easy to forget.

My family and friends affirm to me that I am loved, through their constant support, their many kindnesses to me and their constancy.  Surely then, it should not be too difficult to remind myself of the positives in my life. The lesson lies in believing and having faith in the fact that I am loved equally by those whom I can see and those whom I cannot…

Those who are living with grief and loss can operate at essentially a polar opposite.  They constantly use distraction techniques and general busyness to avoid visiting their grief and perhaps to evade the sorrow that accompanies introspective grieving. I often think that bereaved parents work overly hard to fill in the gaps left by their loss and they are not practising sufficient loving kindness to themselves.  Over time, loving kindness really can help to process loss in a gentle way.

It is really important to find ways that work for you to achieve the balance that enables you to choose how to process your sadness.  This is a steep learning curve.

If, like me, you operate on a chore/reward system, you will be well placed to practise these techniques.  For me, reward equates to having time to write, meditate, or examine how my emotions are balancing out in the now..  First of all I must get the boring jobs out of the way and whilst I am occupied doing these, I am setting myself up to for my chosen reward.  It works! – for me anyway.

So next time you pull on your Marigolds to tackle the regular dull chores … choose your reward first.  You won’t even notice the tedium …

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Seeking out the good stuff

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When I am getting ready for work in the morning, I often turn on the TV in the kitchen. Although I am not really watching it, it provides a backdrop to my breakfast preparation, loading the dishwasher etc, and I get to see the news headlines so I feel a bit more informed and connected with the outside world at the start of the day.

This morning, I noticed for the first time, that as I switch on the television, a message flashes up on the screen. It says Life’s Good ­ which is not so much a message aimed directly at me as the brand motto of LG, the company which made the TV.

But I prefer to think … how lovely it is that my electronic device is sending me a daily reminder, of something which it is all too easy to forget.

In particular at this time of year, the days are still short, grey and rather wet, and it is difficult to shrug off the need to follow new resolutions and to muster enthusiasm for whatever may lie ahead. I was further reminded of this when I attended a Cygnus café meeting at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary earlier this week. The presenter was Jan Dayton, a well-known and respected healer and medium. Jan’s theme was light, colour and rainbows. Through interactive discussion and guided meditation she reminded us of ways to find lightness in our lives, recapture the colour in our existence and to seek out the positive. All these admirable attributes enable us to move forward in our lives in a calmer, better balanced way and I subscribe wholeheartedly to the ethos, whilst accepting that putting it into practice can certainly be a challenge.

We all lead such full lives. It is easy to become blind to the signposts that exist all around us. We need to take time to reconnect, reflect and bring ourselves back into the moment that is now – not yesterday, not tomorrow, but the here and now which is our current place and state of being.

After my visit to the Sanctuary, I tasked myself with listing three things that gave me lightness and enhanced my day and thought of these just before I went to sleep. As Jan said, if we fill our minds with positivity at the end of the day, surely our nights’ rest and dream state will be better than if we spend time fretting about all the things that go wrong throughout the days.

For the record, my three things were

  • seeing daffodils in flower at the sanctuary
  • the view from the sanctuary of the mist lifting over the Surrey hills
  • an unexpected visit from a friend in the afternoon

This is an easy enough practice to adopt on a daily basis, it feels achievable and worthwhile. Why not give it a try?

Another signpost for optimism greeted me when I opened my diary today, in the form of a quote by author Louise May Alcott:

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.

Rather than trying to keep resolutions, this year I am going to focus on aspirations. Resolutions feel as though they set you up for failure and the potential to be hard on yourself if you do not succeed, whereas aspirations are to be sought and achieved, fulfilled and completed, which to me represents a far more positive and attainable route.

Here’s to a motivational, aspirational and inspirational 2016!

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Worldwide Candle Lighting Sunday 13 December 7pm

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A poem for the TCF Candle-Lighting

The candle is lit; see the light

Soft at first, then glowing bright

Like a beacon in the night

Bringing you to our mind’s sight.

Clever match with tiny spark

Dispels the fears held in the dark

On memory’s journey we can embark

Recalling how you left your mark.

The flame burns strong and tall and true

Spirited; reminding us of you

How wonderfully through our lives you blew

Our pride and hope and love you drew.

And if in sadness, our tears should flow

There is comfort in the candle’s glow

Solace and healing may be slow

But gradual joy we come to know.

We breathe in light in this special space

And feel soothed as darkness is displaced

Your love held close, never to replace

It stays as dear as your smiling face.

The candle is lit; see the light shine

The flame is upright and clear and fine

A symbol of peace; across the world we align

United in loss, be it yours or mine.

Adc/December2015

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Colouring in with Intent

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Last Sunday, I co-presented a workshop for bereaved parents at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary in Shere; it was the second time that my friend Linda Sewell and I had put together such a day.      Of course, we could not have done it without the help of our creative co-presenter Lucy and the healers and helpers who supported us throughout the planning and eventually the day; and also, our attendees.

Some of our attendees had lost children very recently; others were mourning less recent loss as are Linda, Lucy and I. Over the course of the morning’s programme  we brought each of our children into the room with words, tears, anecdotes, photographs and even some laughter as we shared our stories.

We talked of individual tools for managing our grief, such as creativity, sport, spiritual learning, reading, writing …. Whatever works for each of us.

We shared our feelings around our children’s peers and siblings and the wider family, and how we can manage all the differing emotions and reactions that we encounter.

We discussed the need to find things that rest our mind from the pain that is always there.

We emphasised the importance of finding our way out of the grey fog of early, monochrome grief, back into the colourful world again, to ultimately sustain us and lift our spirits.

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We spoke of the use of social media to keep the memories of our children alive.

We managed to laugh at how our children would view their ‘ancient’ parents keeping abreast of Facebook and Twitter, but we agreed that these provide a platform for communication, in particular with our children’s friends, who most definitely do not forget them.

Those of us who lost a child to an accident spoke of our immense and traumatic shock at having a child ‘here one minute and gone the next’.

It was very interesting to hear the viewpoint of one of our attendees who recently lost her son to cancer, who said,

“The devastating shock of my loss is no different to yours. Even though it was clinically spelled out to me that he would die, I still expected, prayed for and anticipated the miracle that would keep my son alive. My shock was as great as it is for those parents faced with the sudden arrival of the policeman at the door – and what that signifies”.

I have long believed that every parent who suffers the loss of a child has a degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. After all, what can possibly be more traumatic than the loss of a child, however it happens?

But this attendee’s words certainly brought (to me at any rate) a new realisation of the impact of grief regardless of the circumstances.

We enjoyed a guided meditation that encompassed all the colours of the rainbow before we broke for lunch.

Our afternoon commenced with a brainstorming session to enable us to be mindfully creative in colouring in a mandala (a symmetrical design bounded by a circle). Our wonderful, creative artistic director Lucy led us through the presentation. Lucy based the mandala tutorial on information in a book that she has used herself and recommends: Return to Wholeness: Embracing Body, Mind, and Spirit in the Face of Cancer’ by David Simon MD.

The blank mandala template is divided into four areas, which for the workshop purposes represented:

  • The Core of our being,
  • grief emotions,
  • physical messages
  • survival tools

The results of our discussions quickly took up a whole page, with words ranging from spirit, faith and hope, to devastation, pain, confusion through depression and exhaustion to support, love, empowerment and guidance.

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We very much enjoyed sitting in harmony working on the colouring and painting of our mandalas. After the allotted time, they were pinned up on a screen for all to see.

Linda said, “I was working so close up to my mandala and then when Lucy took them and displayed them on the screen I realised how different it looked from a distance…. just a totally different perspective, and it made me think that we can never see the complete picture.

We see a small part of it and sometimes with the benefit of time and space we see how certain things have fitted into a bigger pattern …


And our grief journey is no different, we keep on taking small steps and sometimes when we turn and look back we realise we have come such a long way”.

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The striking thing about the mandalas was their individuality; each of us had the same template and the same information, but we all reflected a different interpretation, which mirrors the experience of many life events and in particular the individuality of each person’s grieving process.

After a relaxing walk in the grounds we assembled in the sanctuary chapel. We were led in an uplifting and beautiful meditation which allowed for peaceful reflection. We spoke our children’s names into the rooms once again and all received a few minutes of healing to leave us restored and calm at the end of a very special day.

We all hope that by providing workshops for the bereaved, we can show that it is possible to move forward in living with loss. We aim to demonstrate ways in which using a holistic approach of tool gathering, through amassing mental, physical and spiritual aids can be immensely helpful to everyone.

It is hoped that we will hold further workshops and we are considering expanding the programme to suit anyone who has experienced bereavement, not just those who have lost children.

If anyone is interested in taking this further forward, please contact me directly.

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http://www.harryedwardshealingsanctuary.org.uk

http://www.tcf.org.uk