Align With Your Rhythm

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  courage to change the things I can;  and wisdom to know the difference.   Reinhold Niebuhr

Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Last week, my son turned three months. And what an intense three months it’s been. Motherhood is proving to be a huge learning curve.

One of the many lessons I’m learning is to let go of expectations. I entered motherhood with this image of my baby sleeping peacefully in his Moses basket for several hours at a stretch during the middle of the day, giving me time to do yoga, make lunch, take a nap.

How wrong I was! Initially, when Alexander didn’t ‘comply’ with my vision, I’d feel really frustrated. When he woke up after a mere forty-five minutes in his basket, I’d be doing everything I could to coax him back to sleep, while thinking why is my baby like this. Some people’s sleep for three hours at a time.

Eventually I realised that every baby, just like every adult, has their own unique rhythms. And these of course need to be respected. As soon as I recognised this and let go of my rigid expectations, life became so much sweeter. For both of us. I began to accept what his pattern of the moment was and learnt to use any pockets of freedom to my best advantage, enjoying what I did have, rather than wishing for something that simply wasn’t going to happen.

I’m sure we’ve all had times where we’ve tried, so to speak, to force a square peg into a round hole. Of course there are situations where it makes sense to challenge the status quo and fight for change, but equally I think we can all too easily resist the life that is unfolding and as a result not enjoy what’s right in front of us. We might, for example, try to force ourselves deeper into a yoga pose that perhaps our body isn’t ready for and feel disappointed that we haven’t ‘got’ there and therefore miss out on the richness of the experience we’re actually having.

Nature is always such a great teacher. The seasons have their rhythms, each one perfectly segueing into the next. As the buds now appears on the trees, we trust they will blossom in their own time and wouldn’t dream of forcing them open.

Is there anywhere in your own life where you sense you're resisting the natural flow of things? And if so, what if you were to try and loosen your grip and just rest back into the rhythm of the moment?

 

In the Name of Love

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want. Everything else is secondary.   Steve Jobs

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs

Our beautiful son arrived on the Winter Solstice, sometimes also described as The Return of The Light. To me, this felt like such an apt description of 21 December, given the darkness I’d experienced during the previous week; a week in which I unexpectedly lost one of the people closest to me in the world. Never had I expected the portals of death and birth to meet one another so closely. Perhaps I will share more on this another day. For now it is too raw. So instead I’ll share a story about my son’s name.

It took me a long time to choose a name for him. As soon as I knew we were having a boy, one almost instantly popped into my head. I suggested it to my husband, and he liked it too. But then my doubts arose: was it over-used, interesting enough? And surely you shouldn’t just go for the first name you come up with?

So my search began. I came up with names that represented Celtic sun gods, fortified Anglo Saxon Hills, Polish patron saints and what have you. Each time I went back to my husband with my findings, he said, ‘I’m not so keen on that,’ or, ‘What’s wrong with our original name?’ There was nothing wrong with it. In fact, each time I heard it, it just felt right. But my head was busy searching for something more exciting, more ‘poetic’ in its meaning.

A couple of months ago, I was in Berlin for a few days. It was there I finally realised we’d had our name all along. I arrived in the city on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and got off the bus in Mitte, the old city centre. The first building that caught my eye was the 1960s TV Tower, its elegant concrete stalk and stainless steel dome soaring towards a perfect blue October sky. It is a building that always makes my heart do a little lurch.

I have a long-standing love affair with Berlin. I lived there for a year or so in the 90s, and it was where I first fell in love. ‘Meet me under the Alexanderplatz tower at 11 on Sunday,’ said the man who became my first love. ‘I’ll take you for breakfast and show you round East Berlin.’ That man is of course now long gone. But I will always associate that city, and in particular that building, with those first and potent flashes of love.

On my many subsequent visits back to Berlin, it often seemed as if the TV tower was following me around: I would constantly catch glimpses of it, often from unexpected places. I have photographed it endless times, from different angles an in different lights. It feels very close to my heart, almost like my talisman.

And when I saw it again on that Sunday afternoon, I just knew, from a place deep inside, we’d had our name. all along

It is so easy for us to get caught up in our heads, to get trapped by what we think we ought to do or to come up with solutions because they sound good, but don’t actually feel that great to the unique being that is us. And to forget that on a deeper and more visceral level we so often do already just know.

Can we learn to listen to, and to have the courage to trust in that wisdom and intuition that already resides within us? If I’m honest, none of those other names I came up with felt quite right, even though some of them might have sounded cooler or more exotic!

So, here he is. Alexander Isambard Hives, born on 21/12 at 14.59 at 4.13kg and 57cm. He is busy eating and sleeping, as we adjust to our new lives with him.

I will continue to write these letters, as I love doing them. They may be a little less frequent, though, depending on how my new world unfolds for me. I’ve finally joined Instagram, and will post more regular snippets there, so if you’d like to connect, please do so here!

In the meantime, I wish you and your loved ones all the very best for 2019.

 
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The Only Moment

Life is available only in the present moment.   Thich Nhat Hanh

Life is available only in the present moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Back in June, as my husband prepared to leave for the USA for two months to study, I fretted I’d miss him terribly and spend the summer in London by myself feeling lonely. But once I got used to his absence, I had a great time. I caught up with lots of friends, some of whom I’d not seen in years, went off to Germany for a couple of weeks of yoga training. And I relished having the flat to myself and also being able to eat exactly what I wanted. (Mark and I have rather different food tastes, what with him being a Northerner who thinks a meal isn’t complete without fish or meat and me being more inclined towards veggie food!)

The two months flew past. All too soon it was time for him to return. And I found myself fretting again. What would it be like no longer having all that space, that freedom, and having to cook meals we could both eat? Was our relationship really as strong as I thought it was, given I hadn’t missed him all that much? But the moment he walked back in, it felt perfect and completely right to have him there again.

I then realised that my not missing him wasn’t because there was anything wrong with our relationship. Rather, it was because during that period, I was able to lean into the present moment and absorb the goodness it offered. I also recognised how much time and energy many of us tend to waste anticipating what’s ahead. When the truth is we can neither know what the future holds, and I think we are actually far more adaptable to our circumstances than we believe ourselves to be.

Once again, as I prepare for a huge transition in my life, I confess to being a little scared. As well as of course excited. I have every faith this baby will bring much wonder and joy. But I’m also conscious of what I’ll have to let go of: luxuries such as a long daily yoga practice, uninterrupted sleep, the huge amount of freedom I’m used to. But my experience this summer keeps reminding me to do my best to embrace the present moment and these last precious (albeit not always comfortable!) days of pregnancy.

When we experience any significant kind of change, there are almost invariably both losses and gains. We always have a choice as to where we focus our attention. Do we align ourselves with what we enjoyed but no longer is, or with the sweetness of what is unfolding? Each cycle brings its own beauty (as well as its own challenges) and the important thing is to open our eyes to the beauty as much as we can (while of course learning from the challenges).

If we keep missing what is arising because we are so caught up with what once was, we risk missing our lives. For life is indeed only available in this moment.

The two practices I find most helpful in attuning to the goodness of the moment are meditation and gratitude. Meditation, of course, teaches us presence. There are so many ways to meditate that it’s not for me to go into them here, but my favourite book (with lots of practices in it) is Meditation for the Love of It, by my teacher, Sally Kempton. A gratitude practice teaches us to attune to the good, the beautiful. Every night before you go to bed, write down three things that happened for which you are grateful. They don’t have to be huge (though some days they might be). Perhaps it’s simply that tonight you have a warm bed to sleep in. It’s especially important to do this if you feel like you’ve had a really rubbish day!

On the subject of gratitude, thank you to all of you who read these letters, who come to my classes. It means a lot. I’ll write again soon, probably from the other side, but for now, I wish you a good rest of the autumn. Stay warm, stay present! And do stay in touch - it’s always lovely to hear back from you, especially now I won’t be seeing as much of you over the coming months!

 

Shedding

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.   Lao Tzu

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

Lao Tzu

Autumn is certainly here (despite the recent warm temperatures!), her presence visible in the leaves that have started to escape the trees and land on the city’s pavements and lawns, decorating them with their rich red, gold and green hues.

I too am shedding. With a baby due at Christmas, I need to transform the room that was for several years my study into a second bedroom, and to generally create some extra space in our flat.

For over a decade, I worked on my architecture projects in my little home office. It had become jammed full of files, product catalogues, samples of materials, and other bits and pieces that had randomly accumulated there. As I moved through the busyness of daily life, I never paused to consider how much of this stuff I still actually needed. Until the day came when I had to clear out the room so the builders could start work. That Sunday, it was so satisfying to hear the resounding thud of stacks of obsolete catalogues hitting the recycling bin. And once the room was empty, its energy felt amazing – so fresh, light and calm.

It’s so easy to inadvertently cling to stuff we no longer need and that doesn’t support us. Be it possessions, relationships or habits. Often, we aren’t even aware we’re doing this as we’re just so used to them being part of the fabric of our lives. And it’s only when we dare to let go, that we start to sense the freedom that lies behind the release.

It’s when we let go that we make space for the new to enter our lives. Interestingly, in the immediate aftermath of a previous bout of flat-clearing (just before my husband moved in with me), I was offered a number of new yoga classes and an architecture project. Coincidence, you might say. Who knows, but I’ve heard similar stories too many times to put it down to just that.

Shedding is, I’ve learnt, a multi-layered and perhaps infinite process. When you think you’ve let go of everything you feel able to, you discover there’s still more you can do. For example, when I cleared out space for my husband to move in, I thought I’d got rid of as many of my books and clothes as I possibly could have. Yet a few years on, plenty of these remain on my shelves and in my wardrobe untouched and, if I’m honest, unneeded. Something in me will resist a little at the thought of getting rid of them. What if one day…? Yet I know, deep-down, that the boldness of letting them go will be of greater value than the clinging.

When it comes to letting go of unhelpful thoughts and emotional patterns, daily journaling is one the best techniques I’ve found. There’s a routine called Morning Pages, devised by Julia Cameron, author of a great book called The Artist’s Way. I’ll be talking a bit more about this at my Triyoga workshop on Saturday, but basically each morning, as soon as you wake up, you write three pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand. It’s a space into which you can dump anything, and the act of writing provides, I find, a huge release, and also allows for a greater capacity to plug more deeply into our wise and knowing centre. It’s why for the past 18 months I’ve pretty much religiously stuck to it. And during some recent training with my meditation teacher, Sally Kempton, she told us about a back surgeon she knows who’d done an experiment whereby a group of his patients were asked to just journal about their challenging emotions instead of having surgery. Astoundingly, the group who journaled had the same levels of pain reduction as the group who had surgery!

How about you? What could you let go of right now? Can autumn inspire you to do so? Spring is often talked about the time for clearing, but autumn actually feels perfect to me as we are mirroring what’s already happening in nature, and in these shorter, cooler days it feels right to be spending more time indoors.

 

Lessons Learnt from a Pair of Earrings

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.   Alexander Graham Bell

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

Alexander Graham Bell

A few weeks ago I lost one half of a favourite pair of earrings. My husband and I were at his friend’s birthday celebrations in the New Forest and we spent the night at a hotel. The next morning I woke up to find only one of my earrings on the bedside table (despite being almost certain I’d arrived back from the party wearing both). Despite a thorough search of our room, the second one was nowhere to be found.

I felt sad. I loved those earrings. They were also a gift from a good friend who now lives on the other side of the world. A part of me was like, come get over it: after all, it’s only a pair of earrings; far worse things happen. But what all these years of yoga have taught me is that it’s much healthier to feel our feelings rather than stuff them down, so they can flow through us more quickly and be released. So I breathed into and made space for them.

Nothing in life lasts forever. We all know this, yet it’s one of the hardest things to accept. I certainly have to remind myself again and again. My yoga practice really helps, as I sense inhalation dissolving into exhalation, or one asana flowing into the next. And generally just being as present as I can to the world around me reminds me that life’s essence is this dance of one thing shifting into the next, just as we can see the bright green leaves which only recently graced the trees now scatter the pavements in their autumnal hues.

The more I plug into the innately transitory nature of life, the easier it makes it to accept its losses (while still letting myself feel whatever emotion arises from them). Of course the larger ones, such as a person, a job, a home are much tougher to deal with than a small one like an earring. But I believe we can practice by getting more adept at accepting the less dramatic ones, which in turn can help us when something bigger happens.

The second part of the equation of dealing with loss is asking myself (though not necessarily immediately, as sometimes we just need time to grieve) whether I can craft something good or beautiful from it. I’m not necessarily convinced that everything happens for a reason or for the best – that seems a little too simplistic. But I do believe things happen as they happen and we have a choice in how we respond. Do we use the situation as an opportunity for growth or for creating something new (we all probably know people who’ve lost their jobs and gone on to set up their own business and been far happier), or do we just dwell what we’ve lost, unable to move on?

With my earrings, one remained, so I decided to get a chain for it and transform it into a pendant. And then I remembered that for ages I’d been eyeing up another pair at the shop the original ones came from but had always felt it’d be a bit indulgent to get a second pair that were not a million miles away in appearance from the original ones. But now I had my excuse! I bought the new ones without even asking what stone they were made from – I just loved how they looked. When a friend saw me wearing them, she told me they were moonstone, apparently the stone associated with motherhood. Interesting. A tiny part of me still misses my old earrings, but mostly I’m delighting in the new ones and in my beautiful necklace.

 

Up Close and Personal

The darkest hour is just before the dawn.   Thomas Fuller

The darkest hour is just before the dawn.

Thomas Fuller

I’ve always been somewhat sceptical of the above statement when it’s used to describe the rhythms of our lives. When things seem at their most despairing, does it inevitably mean the tide is about to shift? That said, I did have an experience recently that was very much in alignment with these words, and which I want to share with you. (Actually, a part of me doesn’t want to share, as it feels too personal, too exposing! Which, I realise, is exactly why it’s important to.)
 
In the spring of 2017, I found myself uncharacteristically falling into a state of chronic anxiety, accompanied by a heaviness and loss of enthusiasm. There had been no dramatic turn of events to trigger this. Yes, I’d had major and quite life-changing surgery a few months previously, but it had gone very well, and physically I had fully recovered. Yes, my husband and I had been trying to conceive for four years, but this was nothing new.
 
This darkness just wouldn’t shift. I couldn’t understand it, having weathered more dramatic storms in the past without feeling quite this rubbish for quite this long. I was doing all the ‘right’ things to support me, including lots of yoga and meditation, good nutrition, plenty of fresh air, daily journaling about my feelings. Each morning I’d wake up with anxiety coursing through my body. And even though my outer circumstances were pretty much unchanged, I no longer appreciated the same life I’d once loved. I was so stuck and uninspired I questioned whether I should still be teaching yoga.
 
After a few months, I even decided to try, for the first time in my life, medication, in the hope it could shift what were surely just some messed up chemicals in my brain. I use the word ‘even’ not because I have anything at all against medication – it is a lifesaver for many – but because I’d never felt the need for it before. It did help shift the deep anxiety I was experiencing. However, my mood remained low. I despaired: would I be like this forever?
 
I took some time off at Christmas, in the hope that a break would reset me. Within a day of stopping work, I suddenly developed terrible insomnia - the kind that good sleep hygiene and herbal supplements don’t do a thing for. So, in desperation, back to the GP I went, this time for sleeping tablets (another first) to add to the cocktail. But they didn’t work, either. At this very low point, I couldn’t imagine ever becoming a mother – I didn’t even want to be pregnant, with these drugs and dark feelings flowing through me, and risk passing on any of this on to a child in utero. 
 
At the start of 2018, at the suggestion of my wonderful acupuncturist, I went cold turkey on all medication. He also recommended a therapist, who I started seeing weekly. Slowly but surely, things started to shift. And by some miracle, in April I found myself pregnant.
 
With the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that both the surgery I had at the end of 2016 and trying to conceive over such a protracted period had taken their toll, emotionally. And that my soul was also crying out for some kind of big change. It is also clearer than ever to me how innately cyclical our lives are, and that no one cycle will last forever (however much we might believe this to be the case when we are steeped in the more challenging ones).
 
Again, with hindsight, I can question whether my biggest ‘mistake’ during this whole experience was to attempt to push away the darkness, rather than to trust it as just a passing phase, which would in time inevitably morph into something else. As a culture, we are quick to want everything to be sorted, to banish the uncomfortable stuff, viewing it as inherently negative and a hindrance. Of course, it’s a fine line between knowing when it’s appropriate to sit with it, and when it’s best to take decisive action to try and root it out. And it’s not always easy to discern the best path.
 
Perhaps the place I found myself in was actually part of a growth spurt I needed to go through to prepare me for where I was headed?  Perhaps it was a necessary gestation period to bring me to the beautiful space am currently in? It certainly feels like that now, although of course at the time it didn’t, and the thought I might be stuck there forever was pretty frightening.
 
It seems radical to trust in a passage that is so uncomfortable. But if something like this happens again, I’m going to dare to try and do so.

 

Not so alone

No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent A part of the main.   John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent
A part of the main.

John Donne

The last few times I was on the Tube, I was kindly offered a seat. You see, I am pregnant. Even though I’ve been trying to hide it until now, as I wanted to get through the 20 week scan before I shared my news with everyone, I clearly wasn’t doing a very good job, despite the baggy tops!
 
I was touched by the kindness of those strangers who offered me their seats on stifling crowded trains during the peak of last week’s heatwave. But there was also a voice in my head going  ‘I don’t need a seat, I’m strong. Taking it would be a sign of weakness.’ How crazy is that? Maybe this need to be self-sufficient and to prove a point to oneself is something you can relate to, too? On reflection, I realised I do this a fair amount, and that it’s not necessarily a good thing. After all, what on earth is wrong with being kind to yourself? Even though, over the years, I’ve learnt to take really good care of myself on many levels – with, for example, the food I eat or a yoga practice that truly does nourish me – there are definitely areas where I can refine my self-care. Such as learning that it’s ok to accept help.
 
But really it’s not about being ‘strong’ or ‘weak’. I think these are pretty meaningless labels through which we judge our actions. It’s actually about tuning into what is truly needed in this moment. I’m always saying this in my yoga classes and while I’m pretty good at in my own practice, I’m not always so successful off the mat.
 
And rather than always feeling we always have to hold down our own forts, isn’t it also far more enriching to build connection with others? After all, as the yoga tradition teaches us, ultimately we are all connected. An image of this that I love, which comes from the early yogis, is that of Indra’s net, whereby the whole world is seen as a vast net, interwoven in time and space. At the intersection of each strand is a jewel. This jewel represents an individual human soul.
 
I certainly get huge pleasure from supporting others and knowing I’ve helped bring a little more ease to their lives. It’s important for me to remember this when others reach out to me, as I can all too easily default to thinking ‘I’m just fine without your support,’ or ‘I don’t want to burden you.’ I suspect  many of us feel the same, about both the satisfaction of giving and yet the reluctance to receive. But both are a beautiful gift. And these acts help enrich our lives, even in the tiny exchanges that still thankfully take place in this city countless times each day, such as holding a door open for a stranger, or helping someone carry a heavy suitcase or buggy down the Tube steps. In a world that feels increasingly fragmented and individualistic, especially as we spend less and less in face to face contact and more time behind screens, I think this is badly needed.
 
 

 

Your one wild & precious life

   
  
    
  
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   Awareness of impermanence is encouraged, so that when it is coupled with our appreciation of the enormous potential of our human existence, it will give us a sense of urgency that I must be in every precious moment.     Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama)

Awareness of impermanence is encouraged, so that when it is coupled with our appreciation of the enormous potential of our human existence, it will give us a sense of urgency that I must be in every precious moment.

Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama)

Recently, I’ve been feeling all too acutely the preciousness and brevity of life. A few weeks ago, a beautiful friend, whom I’d known for almost 20 years (though hadn’t seen in a while since he moved to Singapore), died very suddenly of a brain haemorrhage.  He was in his mid-forties and left behind a wonderful life with his wife and three young children. Closer to home, a good friend, around the same age, was diagnosed some months ago with a secondary cancer for which there is no long term cure.

As some of you know, I too have come up against my own mortality. If you didn’t know and are interested in reading my story, you can do so here. This experience, gut-wrenching as it was, instilled in me a deep-seated desire to make the most of my life. At the time, I really wasn’t sure how much longer that life would be. I’m still not. Not because I’m at all likely to now die from that particular condition. But because none of us can know.

Many of us assume we will get to live the biblical ‘three score years and ten’ (which has increased a little since those times!). Once upon a time, I certainly did. And even though we’re unlikely to get run over by that proverbial bus, the truth is we just can’t know what lies in store for us.  

I share all this with you not in any way to dampen your spirits, but as a reminder. A reminder to all of us, myself included - because I, too, can still all too easily forget -  to live this life we are graced enough to be gifted with (and yes, it can be a challenging and painful and crazy ‘gift’ that at times doesn’t feel like one!) as richly and fully as we possibly can.

There are many things which can hold us back from living expansively. Fear can be one; we might be afraid to take the risks that are an inherent part of doing so, requiring us to move out of the safety of our comfort zone and to explore new and unfamiliar territories. Or we might make excuses and procrastinate: I’ll do this when I am thinner/richer/less stressed and so on.  Or perhaps we don’t think we’re deserving of the things we really long for.

But there really is nothing like seizing the moment and doing our best to live our lives with as much passion and joy as we can, given our particular circumstances. For me, there are two pillars to doing so. The first is getting clear on what it is I truly want and doing what I can to try and sculpt those desires into reality. The second is being grateful for all I do already have in this moment; for the numerous tiny gifts that appear each day, as well as the bigger ones such as my health, my family and friends, having a roof over my head. When we remember that everything is ephemeral and nothing can be taken for granted, it is so much easier to see this world as a miracle.
 
The days, weeks, month and years speed past. I feel that even if I am blessed enough to live until my eighties or nineties, this life will pass me by way too fast. And I imagine I will depart it feeling I have not tasted all I wanted to taste. So all I can do is to try and make the most of whatever time I do have here.
 
Wishing you a happy summer solstice! Can this natural high point of the year inspire us to inject some of that radiance into our own lives.

 

The Courage to Feel

Nobody can feel too much, though many of us work very hard at feeling too little. Feeling is frightening. Well, I find it so.   Jeanette Winterson, from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Nobody can feel too much, though many of us work very hard at feeling too little.
Feeling is frightening.
Well, I find it so.

Jeanette Winterson, from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

It is a beautiful early May day. After days of rain and unseasonable chilliness, the sun andthe warmth have returned. I am walking through Regent’s Park. The canopies of its trees are in bloom and light pours through their leaves, giving them the appearance of stained glass. The air is rich with blossom, and the birds are singing their songs.
 
A surge of profound joy arises in me. After some not so easy months, during which I’d felt quite stuck, and where inspiration and faith had reached a low ebb, things have, over thespace of a fairly short time, shifted: my circumstances have changed for the better, spring has truly arrived. Life is once again in full, exuberant flow.
 
A thought pops into my head: don’t let yourself feel this happy. For when things change again, as they invariably will, it’ll only be harder to deal with the fallout if you dare to go this deeply into joy. 
 
Fortunately, I catch this thought before it has a chance to take hold.
 
It is tempting not to let ourselves feel the full spectrum of emotions that us humans are designed to experience. Easier to avoid the intensity of a particular delight because one day it will surely leave us. Easier not to delve into those darker currents such as sadness or fear, whose presence can be most uncomfortable. But if we insulate ourselves, we end up living our life in shades of grey rather than in full technicolour. We might get to miss out on some of the more painful stuff but we’ll also miss out on drinking in the full sweetness of those more abundant and flourishing times. And the truth is, it’s always going to be a very broad and constantly shifting tapestry of sensations that make up this rather wild experience of being human.
 
I also believe that if we push away those darker currents, they end up getting caught inside us. If instead we can feel into them and breathe into them  we give them theopportunity to be digested and ultimately released, and we enable healing and usually also growth to happen. Yet so many of us are conditioned to believe that it is safer not to allow ourselves to really feel.
 
Can we savour each moment of deliciousness that graces us. And when our circumstances do shift and the tough stuff comes our way, can we find the courage to meet the experience with as much presence as we can muster.  I’m not going to pretend that this is always the easiest path to follow and I certainly come up against my own resistance again and again. But I also know deep down that I don’t want to watch from thesidelines, and that I do want to participate as fully as I can in this crazy, exquisite and sometimes rather challenging dance of life.

 

Resistance & Expansion

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.   Anais Nin

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Anais Nin


I love this time of year, as spring makes her first appearances and the crocuses and daffodils, which not so long ago existed only as roots buried in the soil, burst forth, expressing their fullness and their beauty.
 
It can be all too easy, I find, to want to stay cocooned within the safe embrace of the earth, so to speak. I am someone who by nature gravitates more towards my comfort zone rather than being one of life’s daredevils or risk takers!
 
A few weeks ago I decided to try out something new: a 5 Rhythms dance class. There was not exactly a big risk involved with this. And yet, on the day of the class, I found myself coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why I shouldn’t go: it was a bitterly cold night; I was exhausted; I’d had an osteopathic treatment for a minor back injury the previous day so surely it wasn’t a good idea to jump around barefoot on a hard floor (even though my osteopath had said it would be fine).  
 
Despite my excuses, I made it there. And yes, I did feel a touch uncomfortable entering a room full of strangers, many of whom seemed to know one another. And I did feel somewhat awkward each time we were told to find a partner to dance with, particularly the time no-one picked me and I was the only one moving solo in a space filled with duos. But what far exceeded those moments of discomfort was the sheer joy of being invited to inhabit my body with such a total freedom of expression. I came away exhilarated.
 
This experience reminded me of how hard our minds will work to try and protect us. There’ve been many times in my life I've resisted delving into the unknown - teaching my first public yoga class, joining a writers’ group and signing up for Internet dating are just a few examples that come to mind. But almost without exception, I’ve been so grateful I did take the plunge and enabled the growth and expansion I would otherwise have missed out on.
 
I keep having to re-learn that when the voice of fear arises, while I can offer it compassion, it’s actually more often than not a sign that I need to do the exact opposite of what it tells me. For if we did always pay heed to it, we’d remain cosseted away somewhere secure, like the roots of those spring flowers, and never get to experience the full majesty and potential of what our lives can be. 

 

 

 

Sharing our stories

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.   Muriel Rukeyser

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

Muriel Rukeyser

I have an article published in the current issue of Red magazine. It’s a very personal story, and one that for years I shared with only my closest family and a few friends. I kept quiet about it for a number of reasons: initially, because it felt too raw to want to share with anyone other than my very nearest and dearest. And later, when the intensity of it had subsided, I felt like I didn't want to be defined by it and just wanted to get on with my life again. 
 
But as the years went by, I came across so many people who were going through, or had been through, the same thing. It no longer seemed right to keep my story so hidden. For when we reveal our stories, we help others know they are not so alone. And when you’re caught in the heat of a challenge, it’s incredibly powerful knowing someone else has walked through that same fire and come out the other end.
 
It can be tempting to want to present only the polished and veneered version of ourselves to the world. The one in which our oh so human ‘messiness’ stays buried beneath the surface because exposing it would make us feel awkward, embarrassed, even ashamed. But when we have the courage to bring to light our tender vulnerability, I think we allow both ourselves and others to heal. It helps dissolve the taboos that still exist around so many subjects - addiction, physical and mental illnesses, abuse, to name just a few. And we can all start to feel less isolated on this complex journey that is life. If we only offer out the glossy version of ourselves, we all end up hiding behind walls. People don't know who we truly are. And we can easily delude ourselves that everyone else we know is gliding effortlessly though life and we’re the only one struggling or who have a particular issue. That can be a lonely place.
 
That said, of course there’s a time and a place for opening up. Only we can discern when and to whom that is. Or if we even want to divulge particular aspects of our lives at all.

I chose to write about my experience because I enjoy the process of doing so, and in the hope that my words can help a few people out there. To tell the truth, a part of me does feel a bit uncomfortable about being so honest, but there’s a bigger part that trusts it’s empowering for both me and others. If you’d like to read my article, you can do so here!
 

 

 

Shake it up!

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   As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.   Henry van Dyke

As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.

Henry van Dyke

Most of us have quite a lot of routine in our lives. Some of it we might love: that first cup of tea in the morning, our weekly yoga class. Other aspects, we may not relish as much: the alarm clock going off way too early, a jammed commute to work.
 
Each moment we experience in life is of course completely unique. Even if we step into the same Tube carriage at the same time each morning, we’ll probably be standing (or sitting, if we’re lucky!) in a different place to the previous day, there will be a new configuration of people around us, and so on. That said, when repeated patterns form the mainstay of our lives, the flavour of our days, our weeks can, I find, end up feeling quite similar. And time seems to pass by even more quickly!
 
Structure is great for grounding us, for providing a rhythm to our lives. If we didn’t have any, we might feel lost and unanchored. But as with anything, it’s a balance. Too much structure leaves me feeling a bit weighed down and that there’s not enough space left to surprise me. I’m pretty good at creating structure, and much of what I’ve built, I love. Like my morning meditation practice, which I’ve done almost every day for the past fifteen years. But sometimes I need to shake things up a bit!
 
Holidays offer a release from the routine and commitments of day to day life, and give us the chance to dive into the freshness of the unfamiliar. While we can’t always just head off on holiday, what we can do is create mini-holidays for ourselves. Even if it’s just a couple of hours of slippage from our usual routines.
 
Last month, I decided that once a week I was going to do something different. Something that delighted me, but wasn’t yoga-related. My outings so far have included the Giacometti exhibition at Tate Modern, Matisse in his Studio at the Royal Academy, and my first trip to the Olympic Park to see its architecture and landscaping (and then sit in the sun and drink coffee at a fabulous café called Hand). Each time, I’ve felt re-inspired and re-energised. Surrounding myself with new, beautiful and interesting things has been so nourishing for my soul. And this injection of an-other element into my weeks has made them feel longer, too.
 
I think it’s vital we leave some space for exploration. Our soul craves the call of the unfamiliar as well as the comfort of the familiar.
 
Is there something that’s calling you right now? Can you carve out some time for discovery?

 

Small is beautiful

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   We can do small things with great love.   Mother Theresa

We can do small things with great love.

Mother Theresa

It can be all too easy to be seduced into believing a successful life is one full of big achievements: that the more you’ve produced, the more accolades you receive, the more visible you are in the world, the better.
 
We can lose sight of what is really our most precious role in life: to love. And love doesn’t necessarily need to be offered out in big and dramatic doses for it to have an impact.
 
I experienced the most moving reminder of this when I was at London Bridge recently, for the first time since the attacks. I was on my way to teach, but a concrete wall right by the bridge stopped me in my tracks. It was covered with hundreds of messages, written on post-it notes. Love and compassion, offered by people from all over the globe, poured out of them. My heart felt like it was about to burst, and tears came. Gathered together, each one of these individual drops of support formed a beautiful and powerful wave. A wave that of course can never rectify the tragedy that happened, but one that can tend to such vast destruction with vast kindness.
 
What I witnessed showed me the profound impact a small gesture can have, especially when we’re all doing our best to offer out drops of goodness to those around us, and touch one another's hearts. It might simply be smiling at a stranger walking down the street, or giving up our tube seat to someone who clearly needs it more than we do. Actions that seem small, and are easy to do, but can have a potent effect, especially when they’re being received from a multitude of sources. That’s how we build the wave, and ultimately the ocean. Imagine how different the world would feel if our deepest intention was simply to bathe one another in love.
 
Many of us grew up in environments where studying hard, doing well at school, creating successful careers were emphasised. Which is all good and well. Except these can all too easily become the benchmarks by which we measure the worthiness of our lives. And then we forget our most essential reason for being on this earth. As Jack Kornfield, the Buddhist teacher wrote, “In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?” Funnily enough, he makes no mention of how many thousand Instagram followers you accrued in your lifetime...

 

Savour the sweetness

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     Everything is temporary anyway When the streets are wet The colors slip into the sky   from  Circle , by Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians

Everything is temporary anyway
When the streets are wet
The colors slip into the sky


from Circle, by Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians

Have you ever experienced an aspect of your life come into harmony, only to find that equilibrium suddenly disrupted? This happened to me recently, albeit in a small-scale way (and one which of course seems like the tiniest ripple on the ocean in comparison to what others in London have experienced this week). In recent months, my work life had felt in perfect balance: just the right number of yoga classes and quantity of the architecture work I still do some of. And enough downtime. Then, last week, a couple of projects unexpectedly fell by the wayside. And it left me feeling unsettled, disappointed. Why, I found myself asking, when things were going so smoothly, did they have to change?
 
A few days later the Spring Equinox arrived. One of only two days in the entire year where the sun’s rays shine perpendicular to the earth’s surface, creating equal hours of light and darkness. It was such a good teaching. Day and night in equilibrium. But, only for a moment before earth continued her orbit around the sun and things shifted again.
 
It is so easy to forget that change is the essence of life. That, ultimately, everything is transitory. And the dance of life is the pulsation of things emerging and then dissolving. These cycles are present wherever we look: in each breath we take, in the spring buds now blossoming on the until recently bare trees. And yet we can still struggle to accept that impermanence ­­also weaves itself through the fabric of our lives.
 
It’s only human to want those times when life feels like it’s flowing effortlessly to last as long as possible, and to find it challenging when circumstances change in ways we didn’t choose or desire. But the great gift of impermanence is appreciation. Because we know something won’t last forever, this renders it precious. If life were always easeful, would we fully appreciate that ease? I suspect we might actually get bored.
 
Can we come to thoroughly savour the sweet, harmonious cycles without taking them for granted, or assuming that because they have graced us they are meant to stay. Can we love them all the more because they won’t last forever. And when the time comes to let them go, can we do so as graciously as possible, honouring whatever emotions arise in the letting go, and trusting that while we may not choose or like everything life brings us, that there is always the potential to grow from any experience. And that every goodbye also offers the possibility for new seeds to be sown.