I love the Planet and All the Animals so I should be Vegetarian, right? Why it just ain’t that simple: A radical take on the Meat eating vs. Vegetarianism debate

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I am liberal; I recycle and compost; I vote Green; I am pro-CND and anti-Trident, TTIP and fracking; I forage; I’m a feminist; I’m anti-consumerist; I don’t use synthetic cosmetics or toiletries; I eat a 100% wholefoods diet; I buy my clothes in charity shops; I do yoga; I meditate; I chant healing mantras, in Sanskrit; I pick wild flowers; I collect leaves, shells and stones; I don’t drink alcohol or smoke; I hug people; I hug trees; I eat organic as much as I can; I cry at injustice; I am more often than not too sensitive to read or watch the news; I am so empathic it hurts sometimes (ok, a lot); I love children and animals; I rarely curse; I drink herbal tea and filtered water (with crystals in it); I use incense; I have long hair; I practice Non-Violent Communication; If I were a man I would likely have a beard and wear sawdust covered checked shirts; I wish I had been at Woodstock; I wish I was Joni Mitchell (back in the day); I talk to the butterflies, the birds and the bees; I sing to fields of cows and sheep; I am obsessed with wellbeing, nutrition and healthy eating; I want world peace; I eat meat.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Nope, not the image of me as a man with a beard dressed as a lumberjack, wafting an incense stick, weeping over the 6 o’clock news into my Chamomile & Spearmint tea, chanting a Sanskrit mantra to calm myself down which translates as ‘I want world peace, I want world peace, I want world peeeeaaaaace’ as I’m just too damn sensitive ….

I EAT MEAT.

(…and maybe I curse slightly more than I’m letting on, but only ever for dramatic effect… And I can be a sucker for a stereotype, but again, solely for reasons of dramatic effect.)

But back to the point: Yes, I eat meat. I am perhaps one of the unlikeliest converted carnivores around. How can I possibly justify this to myself? Let alone to others? This is what I hope to go some way towards answering in this article as it’s something I have thought about a lot. A LOTThe short answer is: I can say with 100% honesty that I believe if I hadn’t started eating meat around a year and a half ago I would not be alive today: That is my truth. The long answer is…. well, it’s incredibly complex to say the least and so I am going to have to divide it into three sections: Mind, Body and Spirit.

Mind

Of course when I approach the topic of meat-eating vs. vegetarianism with my mind it’s a no-brainer: I do not want to eat meat. There is no way I can rationally justify it to myself or anyone else. The reasons for this are an amalgamation of the usual tenants of this argument: the moral and ethical dimensions of animal welfare and animal rights— and issues of intent, sentience and suffering when it comes to eating meat (I do not want to participate in the suffering of any living being, whether that be a cow killed for its meat, a goat pumped constantly for its milk, or a chicken kept in a cage used as an egg-making machine – for a while I even winced at the thought of picking wildflowers- aren’t they happier where they are?! But no, I decided, they want to be picked, they want to be appreciated for their beauty in that vase on your table- everything dies…) What else….? The environmental impact of the meat industry and agriculture— from factory down to farm level; the capitalist nature of the meat industry which seeks above all else to maximise profit; the gulf of separation between the consumer (at the dinner table) and the consumed (in the slaughterhouse) which distances us inexcusably from the killing of animals; the nutritional reasons for and against consuming animal protein and produce (the often reported dangers of red meat consumption especially); the implications of ‘species-ism’ and the inescapable violence required by continuing to live by the genetic inheritance we’ve received from our hunter-gatherer ancestors whereby we honour our animalistic predatory nature which lies at the heart of the soil-plant-animal-man food chain….

Wah! If I let my mind run away with itself I could go on and On and ON.

And that was always my biggest problem: I lived from my mind and I didn’t take into consideration the genuine needs of my body and soul.

If you have read my blog before, you will know that these days I tend to write predominately from my EQ and not my IQ— that is from my emotional intelligence and not my intellect; from my irrational body, heart and soul rather than my rational brain; from the right-hand side of my brain rather than the left; from my feminine deep inner knowing rather than my masculine fact-based font of received knowledge (although of course both of these are as essential as one another, and all the valid arguments outlined above come from the logic of the masculine, the integral counterpart to the feminine). But this article is no different. And it is this anti-intellectual approach that opens up the meat eating vs. vegetarianism debate to a new set of unusual factors I would never have even considered before, when I let my rational mind run my life.

So instead of delving into the well-trodden, completely valid and logical debates I mentioned above I’m going to get weird and wacky with it.  I intend to use my own personal experience with meat eating to guide us through how our choice to eat meat (or not) impacts us individually on the levels on mind, body and spirit— and how these tie in to the universal laws of Physics and the mystical laws of Spirituality. Which I think is quite some feat. So I might slip up a bit. I know that people have extremely strong views on this controversial topic and I want to state that I am not setting out to challenge any of these, whether for OR against eating meat, that is not my intention. I simply want to present what I’ve learned through my own experience as I think it’s totally FASCINATING, and for completely unexpected reasons. So there will be no quote-unquote ‘rational’ arguments here. If you want to fill yourself up on facts, figures and statistics then I suggest you take a look at Peter Singer’s inflammatory utilitarian ‘Animal Liberation’, John Berger’s writing on the ethical implications of eating animals in ‘Ways of Seeing’ or Michael Pollan’s ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’— I’ve just finished reading this and it takes both previous studies into account, and the wider book charts his personal journey as he follows the food chain right from industrially mass-produced corn, down through organic independent farming, right down to the hunting of a wild pig which he hunts, kills and eats as part of a meal made up entirely of hunted and foraged foods.

Ok my brain hurts. Enough intellect already!

But what is the ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma?’ It is basically the question: ‘what shall we have for dinner?’ knowing that we can choose from anything that is considered to be ‘food’ as our teeth are equally suited to eating both meat and plants.

Let me tell you– if my omnivorean dilemma were a genre it would be an EPIC.

I grew up eating from all the food groups, as most people do- and then when I began to form my own opinions and became aware of the ethical implications of eating animals as a teenager I began to dabble with vegetarianism, sometimes going the whole hog (or rather, it’s opposite) for a year or two at a time, sometimes being more lax about it. I went through down the usual ‘ignorant vegetarian’ path of eating WAY too much bread and cheese and pasta and barely a seed or legume passed my lips. By my mid twenties I would have said that I followed a predominately plant based diet: I was a master of variety when it came to grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, fruits and veggies, but I ate fish. And I ate a LOT of rice, in many different forms. In the couple of years before my diet changed radically I was one of those ‘I’ll eat meat in a restaurant but I won’t buy it and cook it myself’ kind of people. Fish was a constant though- with my qualification in nutrition I thought it was important to incorporate Omega 3 fatty acids into my diet. But even the fish I saw as a temporary measure, envisioning myself eventually cutting this (and the eggs and small amounts of sheep and goats based dairy that I ate) to transition to becoming a full on vegan, as with my Buddhist beliefs, I kept reminding myself: ‘fish have feelings too.’

These were the choices I made for myself. If there was one thing I had in spades it was WILLPOWER. I honestly thought I was being as healthy as possible. I thought I was a veritable BEACON of healthy living.

I made these choices 100% with my mind, my mind decided what my body was going to eat; my body, for its sins, had no say in the matter: I was still fully entrenched in the Cartesian rationalist mindset that we are our minds and not our bodies that I had been exposed to in high school: quite the comforting (and ultimately dangerous) belief for a young girl with such deep seated body issues and insecurities that they amounted to an eating disorder. I detested my own body so much that I clinged to Cartesianism like a life raft. ‘I’ was not this unwieldy, bulky, dirty animal body. ‘I’ was my MIND, thank you very much.

WILLPOWER. Luckily my body, despite all the limitations my mind placed on it, was on the whole very healthy for many years.

I didn’t however choose all the food intolerances I ended up being saddled with over the course of the last decade. I developed pretty severe intolerances to lactose, gluten, soya, deadly nightshade family; potatoes, aubergine, tomatoes, peppers, caffeine (I already knew this, it made me CRAZY, but I kept drinking tea and coffee to fuel my fast-paced lifestyle, every else does- why shouldn’t I?!), even oranges, ORANGES (yep, they just make me really anxious.) They all had to go.

Now- I say ‘developed’ food intolerances, but in fact, I think it is more of an uncovering— and these discoveries came about from years of a dialogue of trial and error between me and my own body, and from professional food allergy testing. As you grow more conscious you gradually begin to become more aware of how different foods affect you. It’s not that anything has changed, it’s more that you have a heightened sensitivity and once you are aware of something you know that you have to adapt to it, or continue to feel rotten. And it just continues to get subtler and subtler…

But, do you see the difference? My decision not to eat meat was a decision I made 100% with my mind and my body had no choice but to comply. The food intolerances were my BODY talking to me, and my mind had no choice but to listenThe food intolerances made me realise that I am not just my mind, and that I simply HAD to take into consideration the needs of my body.

So yes- my Omnivorean Dilemma was of gargantuan proportions, but at least it couldn’t get much worse….

Then I came down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed, let alone keep hold of a job or a social life, or any relationships. It was touch and go for a while, a long while.

But how could I possibly get so sick when I followed such a ‘healthy’ diet?

I thought I subsisted on the healthiest diet imaginable- no nasty red meat, nor poultry, no fatty cream or butter, and lots of clean grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables. My iron strong will was beginning to fail me (it was of course the very reason I was failing) and it was only when I was so ill that I could barely stand up in the morning and was more or less permanently in tears (when I had the energy to cry, that is) that I found myself in the presence of one of (if not the most) progressive and forward thinking doctors in the country (a leading consultant on chronic illness) who educated me that my body had become so chronically ill as I had been living on a diet of SUGAR: grains, root vegetables, legumes and fruits; especially all that RICE (which is broken down in the body as 97% of the sugar content of granulated sugar!) when in order to be healthy I desperately needed to switch to a diet high in PROTEIN and FAT.

And that meant MEAT. 

That meant eating animals, becoming a carnivore- and following a diet more in line with our hunter-gatherer forebears- the ‘Paleoloithic diet’, where you eat as if agriculture was never invented- renouncing all grains and sugar and subsisting on grass fed meats, wild fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, oils and vegetables, and a bit of fruit. This has close ties with the findings of Weston A. Price- who studied the meat and full-fat dairy rich diets of remarkably healthy indigenous tribes worldwide towards the middle of the twentieth century. My doctor strongly advocated switching to this type of diet to regain optimal health. Not just for me, but for most people.

At first my mind was having none of this. My iron will was unyielding.

But after a mind-blowing seminar I reluctantly swallowed the indigestible truth. I approached my doctor with a compromise and asked if I ate a steak a month and a piece of liver a month (the most nutritionally dense food on the planet) would that cut it? He looked me up and down and asked me with complete compassion: ‘and how long have you had issues with food?’ and in that moment I came crashing down from my pedestal as I realised that he had just read me like a book and and in one fell swoop had gone straight for the jugular (wow, that’s quite a lot of cliches in a one-r)- and in that one question he somehow spoke to the eating disorders of my teenage years, and much more than that, he exploded for me in 9 words how I had been ruling my body with the iron fist of my WILLPOWER dominated MIND when it came to what to eat for YEARS- as I had done with every other aspect of my life.

THIS was why I was sick.

What he was really asking me was: ‘And how long have you been depriving your body of what it needs to be healthy?

The truth of it hit me right in the stomach.

(Let’s hand it over to my intellect for a minute) So what was the indigestible truth that my mind found so hard to accept? It was that although our teeth allow us to be omnicompetent: so we can use them to tear animal flesh as well as to grind plants, and although we CAN move our jaws in the manner of a carnivore, a rodent OR a herbivore (take your pick), and as much as we NEED specific chemical compounds that can only be found in plants to survive it is scientific fact that the human body needs nutrients that can ONLY be found naturally in meat. By this logic we can rationalise in our minds that we should not NEED to eat meat, unlike a full-on carnvivore… BUT the reality is that over the course of human evolution our bodies have evolved VERY little in terms of their physical make up since the days of Paleolithic man, and the majority of us simply NEED animal protein to survive- perhaps not to ‘survive’, but certainly in order to THRIVE.

I realised that to deny my body its essential needs was to deny my incarnation as  a human being.

And the extremely high rates of illness: diabetes, heart-disease, obesity, and chronic illness that our societies face today, when approached from the Paleolithic, or Weston A.Price models (which are gaining more and more ground everyday) argue that the cause our our desperately ill bodies is NOT red meat, fat, or dairy- but in fact, grains and sugar– it was the onset of agriculture that started this decline. And so, The healthiest thing I could do for my body was to start eating like my paleolithic forebears.

Body

So I stopped listening to my mind and I started listening instead to the wisdom of my body. It was not an easy transition to make. As I say, I did not want to eat animals. And my willpower was reluctant to abdicate its moral and ethical high-ground throne.

And just like that. Food stopped being a life or death gauntlet for me and became my medicine. That day, my mind gave in and I started eating meat and cut grains and sugar out of my diet completely was the day I stopped getting sicker and sicker and started to to heal: slowly, slowly, slowly.

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And so I began to silence my mind and to follow the messages my body was sending me. It wanted PROTEIN, PROTEIN, PROTEIN and FAT, FAT, FAT. And lots and lots of healthy green vegetables, coconut and avocadoes, healthy oils, nuts and seeds. It still does. It is especially happy when I eat a fatty sirloin steak (or my current favourite- a confit duck leg), then the cells in my body applaud and yell THANK YOU! I literally can feel the fat travel up into my brain, lubricating it and taking away my migraines, and I feel, no, I KNOW, that I am HEALING. And I am not going to argue with my body- it needs what it needs. It was ignoring my genuine needs that got me into all this trouble in the first place.

As well as following a Paleo/Weston A. Price way of eating I also am a convert to Spiritual Ecologist Charles Eisenstein’s approach to diet, which he calls the ‘Yoga of Eating‘. He writes: ‘willpower implies pitting mind against body, in the Yoga of Eating we develop greater sensitivity to the body, greater sensitivity and trust. We stop seeing the body and its appetites as the enemy, but instead listen to the messages encoded in cravings, appetites and tastes… To abandon the habits of distrust, restriction, and denial; to emerge from the shadow of willpower and trust that the body is a friend that speaks truth; and to enact that truth even if it contradicts received beliefs about what is good and bad for you – this is no small step, but truly a leap of faith.’

The body knows best. Our job is to learn how to listen. So when I ask myself the question ‘what shall I have for dinner?’ I wait for my body tell me what it wants, as opposed to my mind forcing its agenda upon this poor, helpless creature.

In order to heal the body needs protein, animal protein, it needs the flesh of other beings to restore it to its optimum state of being. I surrender and submit: I need help to recover and I need the help of animals to do that, in the form of their flesh. I remember when I shared with my yoga teacher that I had started eating meat his response was: ‘Well done. I have been a vegetarian for over twenty years but in the year after my brother died I could have eaten steak for breakfast every single day’.

Do I love animals? Yes. Do I value my life more than I value the life of a cow or a sheep? Honestly, Yes. Why? Because I believe that I have a reason for being here and a difference to make in the world, and I don’t think it is too ‘species-ist’ to say that I feel that I can make more of a positive impact upon the world than a cow can (I know at the very least I have something to say- this article being a case in point), so I’m going to do what it takes to stay alive. And right now that means eating meat. So I buy the most ethically sourced meat, fish and eggs I can (which I only intend to improve upon), and I thank the fish on my plate, and I thank the fields of cows and sheep as I walk past them for allowing me to eat their brothers and sisters as without them I would not have recovered from this illness. For reals. I might even treat them to the occasional song…

Ok. So the body needs animal protein to heal. But surely you wouldn’t have DIED if you had kept on eating grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables? Surely that is complete madness?!

Ok- so grains, legumes, fruits and all root vegetables break down in the body as sugar (as I said: Rice: 97% sugar content of the white deadly stuff). Let me me tell you an anecdote about sugar that might seem insignificant at first, but if you’ll bear with me, I’ll go onto explain why this is relevant on a cosmic level in the final section on Spirit:

During my Chronic Fatigue I developed such severe hypo-glycaemia that I couldn’t tolerate ANY sugar whatsoever- and by that I don’t mean the white processed stuff, I’d cut that out years ago, I mean that I couldn’t eat ANY fruit, and it got so bad that I even had to cut out all root vegetables— so I was so sugar intolerant that eating a single carrot would leave me bed bound for days. No jokeSugar is dangerous. It is the most addictive and legal drug there on this planet and we are all addicted to it and it is the number one cause of, not only obesity and diabetes, but also heart-disease and a whole host of other chronic illnesses. (I am not going to go into that much here as I have written a very detailed article on this already, a companion to this piece, which includes lots on Paleo and Weston A. Price and I’d encourage you to read it if you are interested ‘Can a Steak Really be Healthier for You than a Carrot :  The Fat vs. Sugar Debate’). What I will say though is that I remember a few years ago, a few months after I’d cut all processed sugar I was at work and I was REALLY tired that day, probably hungover, and I thought- you know what- I’m going to drink a can of coke to wake me up. I FELT LIKE I WAS ON ECSTASY. I couldn’t do my job, I freaked out, my pupils were completely dilated and with the caffeine and sugar I was buzzing like a washing machine on its last spin cycle- an old one that threatens to furiously jutter across the floor as if it has been possessed by some kind of demented demon.  It took me hours to regain my composure. You know that feeling when you’ve drank TOO much coffee? Well, like that but with a mega sugar hit on top. This is not a refreshing, invigorating tonic, this is DRUGS.

So that was then, this is now.

Last week I got a bit cocky and I decided I was going to eat and apple, an APPLE. I knew it was a risk as it was more on the red side than the green side of the scale (higher sugar content) but I am well on my way to being fully healed and I was having a good day and felt I could handle it. I FELT LIKE I WAS ON PILLS FOR THREE HOURS. And not in a good ‘I love you man’ way, but in a ‘shivering in the corner buzzing like a fridge, scared out of my wits’ way. I could not relax, I could not concentrate, I couldn’t even see straight. I had to force an entire can of tuna down my throat and multiple slices of corned beef just to bring myself back onto this PLANET. Sounds absolutely mental right? Well it happened. (If I ever decide to go to go to a techno night again then at least I know that I don’t need drugs or booze, I just need an apple- better only take a half to be safe thoughAnd, this, as nuts as it seems, it is intrinsically connected to my spiritual reasons for eating meat, as I will go on to explain. Brace yourself- it’s about to get PRETTY out there…

Spirit

As much as there is a discrepancy between what the MIND wants and what the BODY wants when it comes to eating meat, we also need to take into account the role our Spirit plays in all of this. Anyone who has been developing a spiritual practice for a while will tell you: we are not our minds: in fact our minds are an adversary, and not an ally. Someone who is a bit further along the path to enlightenment will say: the body is an ally but we are not our bodies either: we are in fact Spirit. We ARE spirit, we HAVE a mind and we are IN a body. Essentially we are spiritual beings having a human experience.So…to bring this knowledge into the topic food- back to sugar: the reality is that when I eat sugar in any form (a badly timed carrot or apple will do it) I vibrate out of control. It is here where the laws of Physics and the mystical laws of the universe join us at the dinner table.

Quantum Physicists argue that the entire universe is one thing: a constantly moving, pulsing, vibrating mass of energy. This includes absolutely everything, yes, even you, and every thing (and every person) vibrates at a slightly different frequency and that is what determines our material state. The lower our vibration the denser we will be in terms of matter. Looking at the food chain: animal flesh vibrates at the lowest frequency, followed by dairy, followed by legumes, followed by root vegetables and grains, followed by plants, and finally fruits carry the highest energetic vibration (as they contain the highest natural sugar content and also they are the most ethical food to eat as they ‘fall’ from the tree and so do not need to be picked, harvested, plucked, chopped, dug up, or killed, in order to be ingested by us.)

Bringing the spiritual dimension in: the mystical laws of the universe state that the entire reason we are on this earth as human beings is to ‘raise our vibration’ the act of which expands our consciousness as we transition away from dense matter towards higher and higher levels of consciousness until we will vibe away as undifferentiated balls of blissed out energy, and return to our ‘original’ state: floating in a universe of pure love, of pure vibration. (I told you it was going to get weird and wacky.)

By this crazy irrational logic then if we wanted to raise our vibration by eating then we would ALL eat the highest vibrational foods possible, right? Shouldn’t we all become fruitarians? Well, maybe in a few thousand years, but right now the collective human body vibrates at far too low an energetic pulse to be able to handle all that sugarthat’s why we’re all so sick, remember?  But, it is no surprise that the traditional monastic diet is completely vegetarian/vegan, and there have always been legends that Tibetan zen masters and yogis subsist purely on air, purely on the positive vibes, man). At the meditation centre I go to to do Vipassana, the diet is strictly vegetarian and if it is your first time then the only food you are permitted to eat after midday is a piece of fruit (if you are a returning student then you eat nothing at all after midday)- and this ALL goes towards helping to raise your vibration- so you can reach higher states of bliss on the meditation cushion as when you raise your vibration you exponentially expand your consciousness towards enlightenment.

And it IS true, when you are dwelling in these environments of extremely high energy you can subsist on next to nothing. Last time I was there working in the kitchen I ate like a bird and was able to do more physical activity than I have since before my illness as I was riding so high on all the positive vibes, I can be a very clear channel for them. But the reality is that the majority of our world right now is very different, and when I left the centre I couldn’t get out of bed for a MONTH and could have eaten an entire cow every single day. I needed to eat the equivalent of a steak and 2 chicken breasts every day for the best part of a month, just to stay conscious, just to keep myself from shaking off this mortal coil.

But again, I ask- if this stuff about the vibrational frequency of food is true then why on earth would anyone eat meat? Surely we should ALL immediately switch to a vegan diet to raise our collective consciousness, and embrace all our animal bretheren in a friendly bear hug so that we can all dissolve into pulsating bubbles of LOVE together?! Well, yes, indeed.

But the truth is that our planet still is a long way off. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. And although many of us are raising our vibrations on a daily basis (meditation is the single most effective way to do this) until the overall vibration of the planet pulsates in harmony with the elevated consciousness of these people who are dedicated to becoming more conscious (the numbers are increasing all the time) then for now, some of these people ironically cannot forego eating meat precisely BECAUSE they are already vibrating at this elevated level of consciousness and until everyone else catches up they need to find ways to bring themselves back down to earth, to be pulled back down by gravitational force, so that they don’t vibe off the face of the planet, as they’ve got work to do. So the hilarious paradox in all this is that right now it is the people who are already operating at this higher vibration that might in fact NEED to eat meat ALL THE MORE as if we want to be able to be in the world (and to help others to raise their vibration) then we need to find ways to anchor, and ‘ground’ ourselves. Mental, huh?

So should you eat meat or not? I cannot even begin to answer that for you, but all I would say is the mantra is: listen to your own body and NOT your mind. And don’t forget your soul and spirit too.

But here are a few pointers: are you by nature an anxious, speedy, sensitive, nervous person who has a tendency to get whipped up into a frenzy and sometimes feels beside themselves or three-feet in front of themselves or three-feet behind themselves? Have you had any strange spiritual type experiences? Have you ever felt out of your body? (do you have an illness such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome- which is essentially an illness not of the physical body but of the energetic body?) Well then, that might just mean you are vibrating at a pretty damn high frequency and if you are struggling you might be better off following a diet with lower vibrational foods for now.

That is unless your body’s PERFECTLY happy following a vegetarian/vegan diet (in which case you’ve really got it bang on, and you must have UBER self-awareness. Right now it is nigh on impossible for me to rectify my high vibration to a plant based diet at all but I live in hope, and will make transitions if and when my body is ready. My body that is; NOT my mind. Right now I am beginning to try to incorporate full-fat dairy again which will hopefully allow me to ease off on the flesh a bit- wish me luck!)

Or on the other end of the scale do you often feel heavy, sluggish, depressed, listless, like you’re wading through treacle, like this physical existence is all there is? Would you be unlikely to recognise a mystical experience if it came and hit you over the head? Well then maybe you might want to think about eating a diet of higher vibrational foods- becoming a vegetarian or a vegan.

And if you are already vibrating at a higher frequency are you harnessing this to expand your consciousness (and thus that of others and the planet) by meditation or other avenues? And if you are of the latter lower vibration group- are you undertaking consciousness raising activities such as meditation to begin to raise your own vibration so you can become privy to the mystical wonders of the energetic and mystical worlds that lie just outside of our physical bodies? They’re waiting for you.

Ok… I’m aware it’s getting REALLY weird and wacky now, but hey, I said it would.

To finish up I’ll share something another yoga teacher friend of mine said to me a while back: and it was that when people do a lot of work to raise their vibrations there is a risk that they will just ‘zip’ out of their bodies.

My spiritual reason for eating meat is because I am sometimes at risk of that. You know that blissful white light that is commonly talked about by people that have had a near death experience? Well, in my meditation I hang out there every day. It’s just as blissful as they say, btw. And in order to not ‘zip’ out of my body I NEED to undertake many activities to ‘ground’ myself- like hugging trees, standing barefoot on the earth, staying away from the city (for now) and most importantly, eating meat. So I’m going to keep thanking those cows and sheep and hope that as I get my vibration under control I’ll be able to ease off on them a bit, poor dears, as much as they love to be serenaded with little songs, I know it’s nowhere enough to thank them for letting me eat their brothers and sisters. But will I give up the daily white light bliss sessions and lower my vibration? Not a chance, as I know that THIS is where the real spirituality is, and not in our eating habits.

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Last thing: did you know that the Dalai Lama, perhaps the most widely acknowledged enlightened man in the world has to eat meat for health reasons? It was this fact that got me thinking so long and hard on this topic. Think about what this man does- he spreads peace, love and higher consciousness TO THE ENTIRE WORLD. He literally cannot subsist on a diet of air (and the odd kumquat) in a monastery somewhere as it is his MISSION to bring these spiritual teachings out into the wider world. And in order to be IN THE WORLD, he needs to eat meat. He meditates every morning for at least 4 hours and his energy field is SO HUGE that even in an absolutely enormous auditorium his positive energy is so palpable that every single one of the thousands of people there can feel it moving through them.

Ultimately what I believe in my heart of hearts and in the very centre of my soul is that as we expand our consciousness, and the vibration of the planet rises, then eventually we will not NEED to eat meat at all as we will ALL be vibrating at a level of consciousness where it will no longer be necessary. Then the cows and pigs, sheep, ducks, and chickens can roam free, and join us in our universal consciousness evolution where we will shift our energy to no longer being 3D but being 4D, 5D, 6D… still existing as infinite consciousness but without the need for a 3D body – and as we all move closer to becoming those vibrating balls of energy and we will, we will…. OK, I think that’s enough crazy for one day. I’m off to eat some protein to calm down.

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We Need to Talk About Sex: From a Girl with a Past of Promiscuity & Trauma, a Present of Celibacy, and a Future of Fidelity (& Tantra?!)

Sex. Yep, you heard me, I’m going there. I’m going to talk about it. It has to be done. There are some things that I feel have to be cleared up. I’m doing it. (Deep breath)

Are you…?……….’Doing it’, that is?

Ok, so I better confess straight away that I am not ‘doing it’ and haven’t done anything remotely like ‘it’ for (gulp)… almost a year and a half now. (Yikes! Did I really just admit that publicly…? Yes, yes, I did.)

Now, before I go any further I want to state that I FULLY intend to have sex again, what follows is NOT going to be a nun-like rant extolling the virtues of abstinence, the cessation of desire and the disavowal of the body, far from it. But, I’m not going to lie, there have been points over this dry spell that I have lamented over whether I have somehow accidentally made my own ‘abstinence’ bed, and now I have no choice but to lie in it….ALONE. FOREVER. It has the most severe hospital corners, these sheets are just crying out to be mussed up. At times it has felt, and can feel like, that in my late twenties I have unwittingly ended up taking a vow of spinsterhood and entered a Convent , where I have been duped into donning a less than flattering floor-length habit and forced to relinquish my bodily desires to the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment…. Hail Mary.

Now, this sexually fallow period has been for the most part enforced by my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In many ways I’ve had no choice in the matter. When you suffer from this illness sex really couldn’t be farther from your mind. Feeling turned-on or desirable is completely out of the question and even if you were be up for it, there is no WAY you would have the energy to go through with it, not even if the sexiest man alive was to walk straight into your bedroom. Plus, right now I live with my Mum: far from ideal. But my ‘illness imposed’ sister-of-the-cloth existence has also been decidedly ‘self-imposed’. I definitely also took a vow of celibacy by choice.

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This enforced period ‘off the horse’ has really pushed me to walk all around it, examining this beast from every angle and to delve deeply into exactly what sex means for me and to work out what I want from it (trusting that the day will come when I will actually get to have it again!) I needed to work out exactly where I had been going wrong all these years. So why write about it? I have hummed and hawed about writing on this topic because it’s such a touchy and taboo one, and to do so honestly means to make myself pretty vulnerable and walk into the shadows for a bit, but I decided to forge ahead as I feel that I have honestly learned more about sex in this past year and a half of having none of ‘it’ whatsoever than I did in ten years of having it, and that I have come to some pretty mega insights that I think are really worth sharing. If my laying myself bare between the sheets in this way helps someone else to begin to work through some of their own unprocessed sexual issues, then it is totally worth it. Rest assured I am laying myself bare here, not anyone else that may have shared a bed with me at any point. But I will say that these days I have no shame. And I realise this is in fact a GOOD thing. The shame around sex is actually one of its biggest problems, if not the biggest problem! As is fear. There is no place for fear- not here, not anywhere; it is so damaging. So I hope that my fearlessness in sharing what follows will go some way to help to dispel unnecessary fear for others. The reality is that sex can be a minefield. And we’re all traversing it. So let’s talk about it.

Here’s what I learned… Warning- as with most things, shit’s gonna get DARK before the light breaks through… but if you manage to make it to the end, it’s pretty orgasmic.

Promiscuity

Before I get down to the nitty-gritty it might be a good idea to give you a brief rundown of my romantic history to date. It went something a bit like this:

A few innocent enough high school sweethearts –>First Love. Long-term relationship of a few years (sensitive, funny singer-songwriter) END –> followed by a couple of years of sleeping with more men than your average woman does in a lifetime –> CRASH –> Nervous Breakdown –> Recovery (yay!) –> Long-term relationship for a couple of years (kind-hearted, pure-souled humanitarian Adonis) END –> followed by a year and a half of sleeping with more men than… (Oh wait, do I see a pattern here?!) –> CRASH –> NERVOUS BREAKDOWN –> Recovery (yay!) –> YEAR OF CELIBACY –> New found self-respect (YAY!) –> carefully chosen sexual partners…. (Or so I thought…) –> a year + ‘on-again-off-again’ relationship (much older, tortured abstract painter a.k.a my own personal kryptonite in human form) where I ended up being treated like a football in a demoniacal game of keepy-uppy: kicked about, kneed, and head-butted, never allowed to touch the ground, only to be, in the end, trampled under-foot and BURST.

ball–> CRASH –> Loss of self-respect (boo!); (It is no surprise that in hindsight I can now see that this is when my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome began) –> A couple of short flings with incredible men (inspirational, international, socially engaged artist), (highly attuned, nature loving, documentary photographer/DJ) but as amazing as these men were these romantic endeavours were fruitless and were never going to get off the ground as I was a heartbroken, deeply insecure, sick mess; I was a shell of my former self. Cut to –> –> –> –> –>

COMPLETE

PHYSICAL/MENTAL/EMOTIONAL/SPIRITUAL/FINANCIAL/CAREER/LIFE

BREAKDOWN

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–> Tiniest twinge of attempt to get ‘back on the horse’ (handsome Machiavellian Product Designer a.k.a. great for someone, but not for a ‘half-crazy, anti-consumerist, forest-dwelling hippy-dippy’ like me, although at the time it would be more accurate to name myself something like ‘power hungry, soul-starved, contemporary art curatorial protegee’.)

–> (Who was I kidding, I was WAY TOO ILL FOR ANY OF THIS!)

–> CRASH (acceptance of my illness, yay!)

–> –> –> –> –> –> CELIBACY.

And that was about a year and a half ago, and here we are, up to date! Luckily there have been lots of periods of Recovery (yay!) –> Recovery (yay!) –> Recovery (yay!) since then (Oh, and also, after a LOT of soul-searching, I can now refer to ‘human kryptonite’ as the much more palatable ‘my biggest teacher’)

So…. Promiscuity. The OED says ‘Having or characterised by many transient sexual relationships’. When you look at the definition online the example they give of using it in a sentence is: ‘she’s a wild, promiscuous, good-time girl.’ So, yes, I was definitely what you would call a ‘wild, promiscuous, good-time girl.’ In fact, I remember the first time I ever heard that word being used to describe me. I was fifteen, I was at a high school party. I was drunk, of course, probably on lurid coloured alcopops or Malibu (classy). And I was kissing a boy who was not my boyfriend. (In my defence it was hard to resist: he was older, played guitar and sang, talked to me about Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley and Pink Floyd and confessed to having secretly admired me from afar for ages… he even learned ‘Foxy Lady’ for me). Anyway. My brother called my Mum to come and collect us as according to him I was ‘being promiscuous.’ I was of course, but in the end he did go on to be one of my early high school sweethearts.

After I ended my first long-term relationship (I felt I had to see the other side of the coin) that word followed me like a shadow throughout the ‘single’ days of my late teens and early twenties. If you have read my article ‘Confessions of a Hedonist: Dissecting a Decade of Drink, Drugs and Debauchery’ you will know that I liked a drink, and a smoke, and to pop pills, and snort things, and so on. And I was big into clubbing – techno and electro mostly. I was also majorly into boys. I somehow managed to convince myself, in the same way that my friends did at the time, that by being sexually voracious and believing that variety was the spice of life, we were emancipated females. We felt why shouldn’t we have casual sex much in the same way men did? Why is he a ‘ladies man’ and she is ‘the town bicycle’? I don’t necessarily mean one night stands, in fact I haven’t had that many of those – for me it was more short flings that were more or less sexual and rarely turned into anything more. There were always admirers to either lead on or fend off, succumb to or scorn; or failing that, others to pursue. I’m not saying I was predatory, I was not any different from anyone else as far as I can tell. I was, however, an entirely different person during the day to the one I was at night, loaded up on booze and class As. I’m not going to say there weren’t fun times, of course there were, I met and dated some truly wonderful men. I had two loving long term relationships, and there were also nice dates and playful innocence, and moments of real connection with others, but talking about the nice stuff just doesn’t quite fit in with the theme I’m going for here… When I look back I see that sadly for the most part, it was hollow. Is there anything more painful than waking up with someone the morning after the night before where you are facing away from one another at opposite ends of the bed? Many a time if I’m honest I think I just didn’t want to go home to an empty bed to have to ride out the comedown alone. And I really wasn’t the best at being promiscuous and inconspicuous. I had this thing where I could only sleep with people I knew (and being on the clubbing circuit meant that everyone more or less knew everyone) and so I managed to garner myself quite a reputation. My brother, again, hit the nail on the head when he said I was ‘looking for love in all the wrong places.’ And he was so right. I had such little self-respect that I could quite easily give my body away, but my heart (and soul) never got a look in. In fact, to be as ‘promiscuous’ as I was, my heart had to surround itself with impenetrable bullet-proof glass and my soul had to flee my body entirely, as it could not stay present when I was disrespecting both myself and the men I was with to such an extreme level. (Guys, I’m sorry- I really am). I was also a master of sabotaging relationships: my speciality was self-sabotage. Ironically- whenever I actually met a guy I really liked (and this has happened only a few times, both in the long-term and the short-term relationships) what tended to happen was that the sexual connection between us was somehow infuriatingly lacking! It’s like I could have mind-blowing sex with men who only wanted me for my body, but God forbid you wanted me for my mind, or more importantly, for my heart or soul (and of course by that I mean, to respect me) if that was the case then I would literally freeze and sex would be nigh on impossible! What was that about? Has this ever happened you? Unfathomable floundering sexual chemistry with someone you’re really into? If it has, I suggest to you, think twice, delve deeper. Now I realise that men who were in possession of their souls and whose intention it was to respect me (and perhaps given the chance to attempt to love me: body, heart, mind and soul) had no chance. Being with them would stir my heart to open, ever so slightly, and in response to this my soul (more often than not out of my body) would feel safe enough to chance coming back in. But when it came back in it would then have to feel all the pain it had been keeping itself away from when it was out of the body: it would, if it wanted to have an experience of true sexuality, have to face up to the wounds. The wounds were simply too much to face, and so truly loving sex was impossible. Sex with heart and soul would go on being impossible until real healing took place…. And so these relationships never reached the heights I know they were capable of. (It took me YEARS to realise this, when this was happening it was on a completely unconscious level.)

Lesson: You will not be able to let anyone else respect you unless you first of all respect yourself. And if you don’t, no one will.

Trauma

During my period of celibacy I have worked out that, for me personally, there was a very good reason for my inability to sleep with men who wanted to respect me. Don’t worry, I’ve thought long and hard about sharing this…. (Deep breath)… I was raped shortly before my sixteenth birthday. It was how I lost my virginity. The last thing I’ll say about the ‘story’ was that it was in many ways one of those classic tales of ‘young girl drunk at a party so convinces herself that there is no way she could have really known whether she consented or not.’ Why on earth am I sharing this ‘story’ publicly? Because I know just how common it really is; far too many young women have ‘stories’ exactly like this, and I know how many of us are too ashamed to speak up about it. It’s not even so much about speaking up; it’s about admitting it to ourselves in the first place. I didn’t. I kept a lid on it for ten years, TEN YEARS! And when I finally did admit it, it took me several months of intensive therapy before I could even bring myself to use the word ‘rape’ in relation to what happened. I’m a very sensitive person, I can only speak from my own experience and this really affected me deeply on an unconscious level and I NEEDED to process it in order to heal. In many cases, and in mine, it’s not about the perpetrator at all: there are no court cases, or policemen or anything. It’s about YOU. And how it has affected your relationship with yourself, and your relationship to yourself as a sexual being, as a being who is worthy of giving and receiving LOVE. The completely decimating levels of guilt, shame, and feelings of unlovableness, unworthiness and ‘dirtiness’ that events like this cause (the words ‘soiled goods’ spring to mind) can, if repressed, fester and rot in the body until they eventually manifest in some kind of emotional, or even physical illness. I know. I spent 10 years repressing my own story. And it made me sick. Really sick. And even though I didn’t realise it at the time, it affected every single romantic endeavour I ever attempted to embark upon- whether it was a one night thing or a three year committed relationship. More than once it led me to the worst possible men for me; and worse than that it stopped me from letting the good guys in. I thought I was ‘sexually liberated’ as I was able to sleep with lots of men. In fact I was anything but this. It was an illusion. Equating love and sex was impossible for me. I could love, but I couldn’t have sex, I could have sex, but I couldn’t love. Trauma causes this. So can having pretty severe ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ issues to work through- I had both. It is only since I became ill and really started to question this that I have managed to coax my soul back into my body, with the help of an excellent therapist, and also some crazy new age alternative therapy hokery-pokery along the way. It has not been easy. I’m sharing this as if there are any women (or men) reading this who have had similar experiences and have yet to fully admit it to themselves, then you might just want to think about taking the lid off that and face that shadow. Whether it be the parental issues (I could regress and use a whole host of colourful adjectives and expletives to describe mine, I’m sure they could do exactly the same for me! Bless them, but instead I’ll group them under the same heading as the ball-bursting ex: ‘my biggest teachers’). So whether it is childhood issues, or trauma, of maybe even like me, a double whammy (more common than any of us would like to admit) whatever you do, if you decide to open that can of worms, do it SAFELY. It doesn’t matter if it was last month, last year, or a decade ago. If you haven’t made your peace with it, the likelihood is that it WILL be having its way with you. It is so important that we fully acknowledge anything that has happened to us that has caused us pain and suffering so that we can NAME it, ACCEPT it, OWN it, FORGIVE ourselves and anyone else involved (ultimately for US, not for them, leave them to their own karma) and finally RELEASE it. This applies to everything that has hurt us, not just sexual trauma. By going through this process of self-actualisation, and really committing to honouring the hurt parts of ourselves throughout it, we take back our power, which had up until that point been taken from us. (We realise that we in fact allowed it to be taken from us. We will not let that happen again). Therapy helps, therapy really helps. 

Lesson: If we have suffered trauma then we need to reclaim our own bodies and reclaim our self-respect in order to reclaim our sexuality. This is hard, messy work, but it has to be done. Your body will thank you, your heart will thank you, your soul will thank you. Your next relationship will thank you (although I can’t speak from experience on that one just yet).

And most importantly: There is NOTHING to be ashamed of.

Celibacy

Shortly after I bowed out of my last (non-starter of a) relationship and started to open to night after night of cosy PJs in bed alone, with some or all of the following: book, low playing folk music, journal, hot water bottle, cuddly toy (shhh…) as opposed to anything more steamy, one evening I attended a talk at the local Buddhist Centre. A female order member spoke about her decision to become an ‘Anagarika’ : someone who has renounced most or all worldly possessions, does not own property and lives a life of celibacy. She claimed that she was the happiest she had ever been in her life. As she spoke of her past ‘love addiction’ and disastrous relationships and all the other addictions (booze, drugs, you know, the usual) that eventually had led her to undertaking this vow, I heard a little voice inside me say ‘noooooooooooo!‘ As I listened to her deliver, with warmth, her convincing and sensible reasons for forgoing any future sexual entanglements and the hopelessness, in her eyes, of romantic relationships, I found I was unable to stop myself from totally projecting my situation onto hers. Had I just committed sexual suicide and renounced myself to the life of an Anagarika?! Even the very thought of it made me SO SAD. I went home and cried. I thought: Am I wrong to think that I could fall in love and it could be positive, respectful, beautiful, equal, long-lasting, honest and true? Is that an illusion I should just give up on now? Something I’d JUST began to allow myself to believe in the first place, with my newly mended heart, after a decade of thinking true love was non-existent? But after dialoguing with  myself about it I realised that her truth was not my truth (in actual fact I had spent some of the talk glancing out of the corner of my eye at the cute Buddhist boy sitting across the room from me…) And although I knew I would have to be celibate for a while, my illness demanded it above all else, it was a temporary measure. Phew! Yes. Of course I do want to love everyone equally (as an Anagarika does, no favourites) but I still want to love someone in the special way, including the special naked way. ‘Normal’ Buddhists follow a set of precepts, one of which is ‘abstain from sexual misconduct.’ N.B. ‘Sexual misconduct’ means all the soul-destroying stuff I talk about above, not sex full-stop. I should say though, although I take a lot from Buddhism, I do not call myself a Buddhist. In fact, I take freely what suits me from several belief systems, but I am not devoted to anything and I am in no way a ‘believer’ (apart from, perhaps, in the sense that the Monkees were singing about!) No, I disagree with many things in established religion, often vehemently. I am a spiritualist, and at a push, maybe a bit of a mystic. I am in pursuit of one thing: Truth.

Lesson: A period of celibacy, rather than push you further down the ‘get thee to a nunnery!’ route, might ironically instead, cement the fact you want to open your heart to a full relationship-to love, be loved, be in love, with the right someone, oh, and have lots of sex (more on that in the final section).

Fidelity

I have cheated. I’ve been cheated on. They both hurt like hell. Since becoming celibate I can safely say that I will do my very best never to hurt someone like that again. I respect myself, and by natural extension, I fully respect others. Of course, I can’t control whether or not anyone will ever cheat on me, but as I said earlier- if you respect yourself, other people tend to respect you too; if you don’t, they won’t. I’m all for fidelity. With the right someone. With the right soul.

My period of abstinence has allowed me to see that in order to have a full relationship, where love and sex are both present, the soul needs to inhabit the body. And of course, if you have a broken heart, you need to give it all the time it needs to heal (that deflated football needs to be slowly re-inflated, breath by breath, and taped up with some jazzy brightly coloured tape before it can be played with again, PLAYED WITH in a good way, I mean, not kicked about all over the shop!)

My understanding now is that – You can connect with someone on a sexual level, yes, you do not need your heart to be involved for this to happen. You can connect to someone on heart-based level without needing to connect to them on a sexual level, yes. But ultimately if you want to connect to someone on BOTH the sexual level and the level of the heart: YOU HAVE TO HONOUR YOUR SOUL.

How do you go about doing this? You stop listening to the voice of the Ego. You listen deeper, you get really quiet and you listen, until it begins to speak to you. It will tell you what will really make you happy. You follow it as best you can; it knows where it is taking you. (You might want to read my article on Meditation) And if you need to do any soul work: processing childhood issues or any history of trauma, then that’s gotta be done too.

The idea of honouring our soul and being able to share it with that of another in relationship makes me think of those heart-breaking lines in Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.’ He sings ‘I once loved a woman, a child I am told/I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul/don’t think twice it’s alright.’ Some people we connect with romantically only want us for our bodies, that’s the easiest part of ourselves to give, and that’s how we get dead to ourselves. Some people want us for our bodies and our minds, slightly better, but we can get REALLY hurt this way. Some people want us for our hearts too, now we’re talking, this is a lot harder to give, your heart has to be healed, and open, but it is possible, and beautiful… and if we’re lucky enough some people will want all of the above, and to connect to our SOUL, and this is truly magical: body, mind, heart and soul. But this requires an incredibly high level of awareness and an evolved soul; you’ve got to have your SHIT SORTED!

Being celibate has allowed me to realise something important: These are the only people you want to be considering giving anything to; and this is the kind of person you want to BE, well I want to be anyway.

The question is: is there just one of these people for each of us? Surely there can only be a select few at most? In another song ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ Dylan sings ‘We had a falling out, like lovers often will/ to think of how she left that night it stills brings me a chill/and though our separation, it pierced me to the heart/ She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart.’ I’d hazard a guess that he’s talking about the same girl here: a true soul connection, sadly unrealised. Think twice Dylan, think twice! Or what about the line in Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lover You Should Have Come Over: ‘She’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever.’ Breaks my heart. Every time. Ultimately, being celibate has allowed me to re-open to the idea of soulmates. An idea I had written off a long time ago after being so disappointed in my futile search for love. I was a cynic for too many years, and during that time my fears were usually confirmed. These days I am a devout idealist, and you know what? The strangest thing- see the positive intentions/hopes and expectations I have? More often than not they tend to manifest exactly as I’d envisaged, or even better than I could have imagined! Wow- who knew?!

So, yes, I believe in soul mates.

Let me get a bit crazy hippy-dippy for a minute… The New-Age definition goes a little something like this: Essentially we are all one soul, but when we began to incarnate in human bodies a series of splits had to take place. First into ‘soul groups’ or ‘soul families’- these are the people you just ‘get’ and they ‘get’ you- your ‘soul sisters’ and your ‘brothers from another mother’. Rarely your actual family, hell no, at least not for the majority of us anyway, bless them, I do love them dearly. Then we have ‘soul mates’, these are the folks from your soul family that you are physically attracted to in a sexual way, no incesty vibes, and you can really really love these guys. You can have several of these, and they all help your soul to evolve and you theirs (break ups always tend to be amicable, in the end). I have been lucky enough to meet a few of these: some realised, some unrealised, some yet to be realised?! We go through these until we are ready for our ‘twin flame’ or ‘twin soul’ (which represents the final act of splitting- the masculine and the feminine – although this could of course be between two women or two men- spirit is fully accepting of LGBTQ) and this person is literally the other half of our soul- one in the universe for each of us, and you have to have a pretty damn evolved soul to even incarnate at the same time as your twin flame, it takes lifetimes and lifetimes to get here. Apparently it’s becoming more and more common. Have I met mine already? Time will tell. Have you met yours?

Lesson: Soul mates exist. Believe what you want of course but the idealist in me wins out over the cynic.

Tantra

As I have said, I am not religious. I am as against dogmatic religion as much as any devout atheist is. I am however a very spiritual person. Another very spiritual person was St. Teresa d’Avila, a Carmelite nun in the 16th Century. But she was far from your run-of-the-mill, sexless, habit sporting sister, oh no, Teresa was a proper mystic, and I like to think if she had a theme song it would be called ‘God is my boyfriend and he’s damn sexy.’ Teresa wrote incredibly controversial books on the ecstatic experiences she had in prayer (that is, only once she had gone through some pretty major tests and trials until she had done all her ‘soul work’- purging and purifying all the the crap we are saddled with: the kind of stuff I talked about earlier). These ecstatic experiences were pretty damn steamy to say the least. She would be in blissed-out full body orgasms for hours, sometimes even days on end. She was known to levitate too, naturally. Her practice of prayer, or meditation, allowed her to be ‘ravished’ by spirit. Now. Think about what an orgasm feels like. Imagine that but throughout your entire body, and imagine being able to achieve this simply by sitting down with your legs crossed and closing your eyes. During my period of celibacy I began to be able to experience this through my meditation practice and by practicing Kundalini yoga. Sure, it takes dedication and work, but you can do it, I did). From the moment I experienced this I KNEW: Sex is sacred, SEX IS SACRED! (funnily enough the words that poured uncontrollably from my mouth were, you guessed it: ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my GOD!’) If there is a ‘higher power’ (believe what you want) then far from calling for prudence, abstinence and sex purely for procreative reasons, the big I AM is a full-on sex addict! With the right someone. The heart and soul HAVE to be involved. Same goes for solo-sex. Totally sanctioned. If there are angels, they’re all at it. I don’t know about you, but this blew my mind. And it opens up a whole new world of sexual possibility in the future. With the right someone.

Tantric sex weaves the physical and the spiritual together, the Sanskrit word literally translates as ‘woven together’. Having had a glimpse of this for myself, in many ways I literally can’t wait until I have the right someone to weave this together with. Makes me excited to ‘get back on the (big orange) horse.’ Time will tell.

Lesson: SEX IS SACRED. 

And at the end of this period of solitary soul searching. What now?

Well as they say True Love waits.

And right now I am very happy to do just that.

Good things come to those who wait, right?

So… here I am, full of heart, and an empty bed, waiting patiently for the right someone. And I have to admit, I’m not quite ready yet myself, I’ve still got some healing to do. (But I’ll tell you this, after all this abstaining, things have finally started to heat up again and I do from time to time catch myself glancing at my proverbial watch…)

Grain Free Alternatives for Pasta and Pizza, Noodle and Curry Dishes : Courgette Pasta, Cucumber & Carrot Noodles, Broccoli Rice and Cauliflower Cous Cous & Pizza Base.

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I eat a ‘Paleo’ diet which is 100% grain free. The foundation of this type of nutritional lifestyle advocates a diet high in healthy FAT and protein (and LOADS of veggies of course!) and as low as possible in SUGAR. Were you aware that all grains (from pasta, noodles and rice to breads and even supposedly ‘healthy’ grains like quinoa and buckwheat) are broken down by the body as SUGAR, much in the same way as the deadly white stuff is? Did you know that a bowl of white rice has 97% of the sugar content of granulated sugar once metabolised in the body? No, neither did I! Complete shocker isn’t it?! I almost choked on my ricecake when I heard this… Needless to say I haven’t eaten a ricecake since, these days it’s avocadoes all the way. You can read all about the hidden sugars in grains and fruit here in my article ‘Can a Steak Really be Healthier for you than a Carrot? The Fat vs. Sugar Debate‘ where I explore the topic in great detail.

But then, I hear you ask- what on earth will I eat with my curries? and how am I supposed to eat Asian inspired dishes? and how on earth can you eat Italian without pasta or pizza?! Well, I’m going to tell you. It was a revelation for me and my culinary inventiveness has since mushroomed.

It means getting REALLY inventive with carb alternatives, and you can have a lot of FUN with this. It’s a great way to incorporate more veg into your diet, and also an excellent way of adding sizable raw elements to your dishes, which is great, the closer a food is to its natural state when consumed, the more packed full of nutrients it’s going to be. Below are some of my favourite ludicrously healthy yet ludicrously tasty recipes where I have cut the carbs and instead substitute some cleverly prepared vegetables: Broccoli Rice, Cauliflower Rice, Courgette and Squash Pasta, Cucumber Noodles, Courgette and Carrot Noodles, Cauliflower Cous Cous and Cauliflower Pizza Base. Pretty exciting, no? Arm yourself with a food processor and a Spiralizer (my new favourite thing in the world) and you are going to rock the shop. These are not totally essential- a grater and a wide-blade veg peeler/julienne peeler will also do the trick, just not as speedily and efficiently, and your spirals won’t be as spirally…

Indian

Lentil Dhal and Cauliflower Rice

Ingredients:

For the Rice: 1/2 small cauliflower per person

For the Dhal: Serves 2/3:

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 cup red lentils

1 onion

2 gloves garlic

thumb of fresh ginger

Spices: (1/4 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/4 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp curry powder, wee pinch paprika, wee pinch cinnamon).

2/3 cups water

Tin of coconut milk or bar of creamed coconut.

Lemon juice

Fresh coriander to garnish.

Method:

To make the Cauliflower Rice, chop the cauliflower into florets and put them through the food processor on the ‘grater’ setting- so you will need to feed them through from the top. (If you don’t have a food processor, hand grate it).

To make the Dhal: finely dice your onion and your garlic and ginger (or use a mincer for these if you wish)

Heat the coconut oil in a biggish heavy based pan- better than a wok for this. Once hot, chuck in a couple of mustard seeds (if it’s hot enough they should ‘pop’) when it is hot enough add the remaining mustard seeds, the fenugreek seeds and the cumin seeds.

Add the onions and sweat for a couple of minutes followed by the garlic and ginger and sweat for another minute or so. Then add a touch of water to create a smooth, slightly liquidy texture and add in the other spices- the curry powder, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, the bay leaf.

Rinse your lentils and then stir them in, and pour in two cups of water. Season generously with salt and pepper. Keep on a medium heat to cook the lentils, stir frequently, keep an eye on it and add more water whenever necessary (lentils really absorb water and have a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan if left unattended). Once the lentils are cooking well you can turn it down to a low simmer.

It’s really quick, should be done in 15 minutes or so, 20 max. Lastly, grate a generous chunk of your creamed coconut bar and stir in. 1/4 of a bar perhaps? Maybe more, it depends how creamy you want it. Or add your tin of coconut milk. Stir in half the can and taste and decide if you want it to be more creamy, and if so, add the rest. Fat is GOOD remember!

To heat the cauliflower rice to serve: heat a tsp of coconut oil in a pan, add the cauliflower, stir, pop a tiny bit of boiling water in there and stick a lid on to steam for literally a minute. Add salt and pepper, and that’s it done.

Serve your Cauliflower Rice and Dhal with a squeeze of lemon juice on top, or lemon wedge on the side, and fresh coriander sprinkled over the top.

Asian

Pork Meatballs with Courgette and Carrot Noodles

For the Noodles: 1 carrot and 1 courgette per person

1 tbsp Coconut oil

To stir fry the Noodles: thumb fresh ginger, 2 cloves garlic, 3 spring onion, 1 red chilli as a base and optional extra vegetables (any excuse!) use a combination of some of the following: tender stem broccoli, mangetout, sugar snap peas, baby sweetcorn, pak choi…

For the Meatballs: Serves 2/3

1 pack Pork Mince (around 400g)

3 Spring onions

1 egg

1 clove garlic

1/2 tsp ground ginger

Pinch of chilli flakes or chilli powder

Salt and Pepper

A little bit of flour to shape the meatballs

To Serve: Toasted sesame oil and you could add some sesame seeds (normal or black), fresh coriander, fresh lime or lemon juice, soya sauce (if you tolerate soya well) Tamari if gluten free. Or if you are soya intolerant you could get your hands on a bottle of ‘coconut aminos’ if you wanted to.

Method:

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

To make the meatballs, finely chop the spring onions and garlic and empty the pork mince into a big bowl. Mix altogether (use your hands) and add the egg (beaten) and the ground ginger/chilli and season generously with salt and pepper.

Shape into meatballs, each about the size of a ping pong ball. You will probably want to use a little bit of flour on your hands to help form these (use whatever you can tolerate but as a grain free advocate I would plump for using a small amount of coconut flour or gram (chickpea) flour over buckwheat, rice or wheat flours, but you can use anything).

Bake on a tray in the oven for 25 to 30 mins. They’ll be ready when they are going slightly golden. Some of the egg might seep out, doesn’t look that pretty but they won’t taste any less delicious.

While your meatballs are baking prepare your noodles: SPIRALIZE the carrots and courgettes if you have your trusty gadget to hand. Peel the carrots first.

If not, use your wide-blade peeler and peel along the lengths of the carrots and courgette to create thick noodles.

If these are going to be sitting around for a while whilst I am cooking I might put them in a bowl of cold water to keep them fresh.

Once your meatballs have been in for 15 mins or so get your wok ready.

Heat 1 tbsp coconut oil and add roughly bashed and 3 chopped spring onions, 1 chopped red chilli, 2 cloves of chopped garlic and a thumb of ginger and sautee.

You can then add your noodles IF you are not going for the ‘extra veg’ option.

If you ARE going ‘extra veg’ leave your noodles for now and add in your chosen veg- a few broccoli stems, a handful of sugar snap peas and sliced baby corn, pak choi… whatever your heart desires. Stir fry for a few mins on a high heat. I like to put in a small amount of boiling water and stick a lid on (or a chopping board over the top) and allow the veg to steam slightly. The less time spent cooking these the better, to keep the bright colour, and all the nutrients in.

Then add in your carrot/courgette noodles, heat them through, they need under a minute. Coat with toasted sesame oil, a generous squeeze of lime juice and soya/tamari/coconut aminos (all optional).

Serve the noodles with the meatballs on top and garnish with sesame seeds, and fresh corainder if you wish.

Pan Fried Tuna Steak with Cucumber Sesame Noodles and a Fried Egg

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Ingredients:

1 Tuna steak per person

1 Cucumber per person

1 Egg per person

A couple of chopped spring onions

Toasted Sesame oil

Sesame seeds (and if you want to be fancy, black sesame seeds)

Juice of 1 Lime.

Method:

Really simple. Spiralize your cucumber noodles and put in serving bowls (or finely chop into thin strips/julienne/peel). Fry your tuna steaks in coconut oil (3 mins on each side), fry your eggs (keep the yolk runny), assemble on top of the noodles, season with salt and pepper, scatter the chopped spring onions on top, drizzle with sesame oil and squeeze lime juice on top and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Yum.

Broccoli Egg-Fried Rice

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So quick, so tasty, so simple- and use whatever veg you happen to have lying around!

Ingredients:

Broccoli for the rice (1/2 head per person)

2 eggs per person

3 spring onions, 1 red chilli, 2 cloves garlic. 1 thumb fresh ginger as a base

And then whatever you want to mix in; maybe some veg like mangetout/sugar snap peas/peas/green beans/peppers/mushrooms, whatever! Maybe some prawns, some chicken, some tofu. Whatever floats your culinary boat.

Garnishes: Toasted sesame oil and soya sauce (or alternatives like Tamari/Coconut Aminos) if you wish, Lemon or lime juice, fresh coriander.

Method:

To make the Broccoli Rice chop your broccoli florets and put through the food processor on the grater setting. Either that or hand grate.

In a wok heat the coconut oil and chuck in your base of chilli, garlic, ginger and spring onions. Add your meat, fish, tofu (whatever you’ve chosen), add your veg, stir fry for the least amount of time possible to keep all the veg fresh. Once there, add the broccoli rice. put in a tiny amount of boiling water and put on a lid (or sit a wooden chopping board on top) to steam for a minute or two. Take the lid off, create a small ‘well’ in the mixture and crack your eggs into the pan. Scramble and then mix through the whole mixture until there is a scrambled egg texture throughout it.

Season generously with salt and pepper.

Drizzle with a generous glug of sesame oil and squeeze of lemon and lime.

Serve in bowls and garnish with whatever your fancy- soya sauce or alternatives, sesame seeds, coriander, maybe some chopped radishes, cashew nuts/peanuts…. be creative!

Italian

Courgette Pasta and Ragu Sauce

You CAN do Italian without pizza and pasta, here’s how.

Ingredients:

Pasta: 1 sizable courgette per person (or 2 small)

Bolognese sauce (will make a big pot):

1 large onion

Mince (beef mince if you are a carnivore, red lentils if you are veggie)

1 stick celery

1 carrot

3 cloves garlic

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 can chopped tomatoes

Herbs- oregano, basil.

Glug of red wine (optional)

Salt and Pepper

Method:

Finely dice your onion, celery and carrot, heat some olive oil in a pan and sautee until soft, add the mince to brown it. (If you’re veggie just add the lentils with this next stage) Then add in the tomatoes, tomato puree, garlic, a good glug of wine (optional) and keep it on a low heat, stirring regularly for the next 30 mins or so, reduce it down, add the herbs at somepoint, season generously with salt and pepper once during cooking and once at the end…. (as you can see I’m not the most precise recipe writer.. it’s more fun that way!)

Spiralize your courgette. You can keep it as a raw element and top with the hot ragu sauce, or you can put a little oil in a pan and lightly fry the courgette for a quick minute to warm it through before serving (the spirals will loose their shape though- I prefer raw).

If you don’t have a spiralizer then you can handmake the pasta using your wide-blade peeler…

Yum! Grate some parmesan on top if you wish.

Why not have the same but with spiralized Butternut Squash instead of courgette? (I think this would be particularly amazing with Wild Boar mince…) Or celeriac? Or go vegan and have the courgette pasta with pesto made from whizzing together a big bunch of parsley, toasted sunflower seeds, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and a dash of water in a blender), maybe add in some cooked green lentils, some olives… go carnivore and incorporate some cooked chicken. Experiment!

Cauliflower pizza base

Who says you can’t be grain free and eat pizza? Crazy people.

Ingredients:

For 1 pizza base:

140g cauliflower

1 egg white, beaten

50g ground almonds

40 flour (whatever… but buckwheat to be gluten free and gram or coconut to be proper Paleo)

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Salt and Pepper

Method:

Pre-heat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius.

If you have a food processor: Chop and weigh your cauliflower and put through the food processor on the grater setting. Change the blade to the mixer setting and blend together ALL the ingredients.

(If you are without food processor, grate the cauliflower then mix in with all the other ingredients in a big bowl)

Grease a baking tray with coconut oil and spread the mixture onto it in as ‘pizza-y’ a way as you can. I usually go for a wonky rectangle. If you manage to make something circular, wow, precision, kudos to you!

For the topping:

Top with whatever you want: a tomato sauce (made out of the ingredients from the recipe above Ragu but without the mince) and cheese (Mozzarella or Feta or Goat’s Cheese). Vegetables like peppers, mushrooms, artichokes, olives, red onion, or why not parma ham, figs, rocket (the rocket and figs post cooking, obvs)…. Again experiment!

Bake for 20 mins. N.B. Flip it after 15 mins using a fish slice so it gets browned on both sides.

And finally- who says you can’t be grain free, lactose free and allergic to deadly-nightshade family (tomatoes/aubergine/peppers/potatoes)- so therefore ALL the ingredients of a traditional pizza…. and not eat pizza? A bunch of silly billies. Meet my…

Middle Eastern

Turkish Inspired Pizza

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Ingredients:

Cauliflower pizza base

Coconut oil

Minced lamb

1 white onion

2 cloves garlic

1 red onion

handful of peas

1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp harissa paste, 1/2 tsp dried mint

To Garnish:

Cucumber, tahini, fresh mint.

Method:

Make the Cauliflower pizza base (above) without putting anything on it. Just cook it by itself, and while it is cooking we will prepare the topping separately.

Fry a pack of lamb mince fried in onions and garlic. Add in a 1/2 tsp of harissa paste, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp dried mint, salt and pepper, and mix in a handful of frozen peas. Once cooked dish out on top of the pizza base just after it comes out the oven, and add some cucumber slices on top, some fresh mint, some finely sliced red onion and a drizzle of tahini. Serve with a rocket salad. This is AMAZINGLY tasty.

Fragrant Lamb Meatballs with Cauliflower Cous Cous

Another great way to use these flavours is to make cauliflower rice and use the same ingredients (minus the peas) and make the lamb mince into meatballs. Cook the peas separately and serve the cauliflower rice in the bottom of the bowl, sprinkle with the peas, put the lamb meatballs on top, followed by the cucumber, fresh mint, fresh parsley too is good, finely sliced red onion and tahini. Maybe you want to skip the peas and chuck a handful of pomegranate seeds over the top instead? SO many possibilities!

So I hope these recipe suggestions give you a few ideas. Get your food processor going, get in-spiralized and be creative! I’m thinking I might try raw spiralized courgette and beetroot pasta, served with broken up roasted confit duck leg, and a sauce-of-sorts made up of sauteed onions, garlic, fresh oregano and green and black olives in olive oil and lemon juice…

Who needs pasta, rice or noodles? Ditch them and cooking just got much more exciting. Not to mention your future health thanks you in advance!

Lots of culinary love x

How to do the Perfect Sun Salutation! Photo Blog

The Sun Salutation is the heart of any yoga practice- in fact, this core set of movements is an entire yoga practice within itself as it contains all the major types of asana – forward bends, backward bends, folds, inversions, mudra (hand positions), breath work… It is simple, and it is the perfect sequence to start off your own at home yoga practice with. Classes are great of course but your yoga journey really begins when you make it part of your daily routine at home. All you need is yourself, a mat, a wee bit of time, and you can feel great!

Everyone has a different way of doing sun salutations, the method I show you in photographs here, in my opinion, is the BEST. I don’t really intend for you to read the blog WHILE doing the poses! That wouldn’t work, it would be pretty awkward too, as it’s all about FLOW. But hopefully you can read it off the mat, and then try out the poses a few times while reading the descriptions and looking at the images and once you are comfortable, just go for it, fly solo! Once you have learned the ideal sun salutation technique you’ll never go back, and then with each day, you’ll continue to perfect it on increasingly subtle levels, it is SO satisfying!

If you do a few repetitions of these every morning you’ll start off the day on the right foot and will establish a calm sense of balance to take into your day. For me, sun salutations are as essential as brushing my teeth every morning. In just a few minutes of doing this simple sequence you will have completed a small -but whole- yoga practice and with a daily routine you will quickly begin to reap the benefits, you’ll start to tone up, will breathe much deeper, and you’ll be much calmer. You can quote me on that!

At first, go slooooooow- really BREATHE and enjoy each movement– the most important part of this is to breathe in step with the movements, it’s ALL about the breath- breathe in and out through the nose, as deeply as you can (if you can feel the breath moving up the back of your neck and into your head, especially in ‘Downwards Facing Dog’ then you’re really on it!) Yep, I’m even gonna say it one more time as I really can’t emphasise this enough, the breath is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.

Start with 6, doing 3 sets on each side, and work your way up. 6 Sun salutations will take you less than 5 minutes! (I’m sure no matter how busy you are you can take 5 minutes out of your morning routine to centre yourself, right?)

As you become more familiar with the routine you might want to do the sequence at different speeds. Some days I feel that I want to be really slow, breathe really deeply, do it ALL with eyes closed, be very feminine, or ‘yin‘- other days I want to launch myself onto the mat and do them really fast- I might be a bit frustrated, or I might just be feeling really energetic- this is more masculine energy, or ‘yang‘. Go with your own energies, if it feels too slow, speed it up, if it feels rushed, slow it right down. It will fluctuate. 

Preferably face the sun! I know we’re not all as lucky as me to have our own personal outdoor yoga deck in the countryside… If you can, face a window, or at least orientate yourself in the right direction – the sun rises in the East. It honestly makes a difference, I feel out of sorts if I am saluting the sun facing the wrong way… Oh yeah, and wear something you can stretch in -bright green leotard (or ‘yogatard’ as I like to call it)- optional, FUN, but not compulsory ; )

Begin by standing up straight at the top of your mat, feet together, hands by your sides. Breathe in and out a few times, deepen your breath until you are breathing from the belly. Find your centre. Feel the firm, stable contact of your feet on the floor, relax into it.

Ok, here we go!

BREATHE IN: Bring your hands up into ‘Prayer Position‘, in front of your heart. Establish a sense of balance as the hands push against one another (this balances the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ energies).

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BREATHE OUT: Keeping the hands in prayer position lower them to in front of your navel. Use this as a propelling motion to then…

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BREATHE IN: REACH UP with the hands until you are stretching as far above your head as you can, hands still in prayer pose. Reach up, up, UP!

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Still on this in breath. Bend your knees slightly and as you reach up, tilt your pelvis forwards as far as you can and arch softly back so you are doing a very small bend in your lower back, bring the arms back with it, and even look up/behind you as long as you feel it is no strain. Really listen to your body here, only go as far as you are comfortable, this will develop naturally as you become more familiar with the practice and you will, over time, bend further.

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BREATHE OUT: stretch back up straight then bring the hands back towards the front and, knees still slightly bent, FOLD forward, from the hips, part the hands wide, let them glide down, palms facing down, to beside the feet, and place them on the floor, either side of the feet. Drop the head fully forward. Relax into this forward bend. Straighten your legs to intensify the stretch or keep your knees bent slightly if you have to to get your hands on the floor here. Again, this will come over time, your hamstrings WILL loosen with yoga!

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BREATHE IN: LOOK UP and out straight in front of you, straighten the legs here and with your hands come onto the very tips of the fingers on the mat, allow the ‘lifting’ of your head and your hands to adjust your torso into a ‘lifted’ position too, suck that belly in!

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BREATHE OUT. Fold forward again, head to straightened legs, plant the hands firmly on the floor either side of the feet and

BREATHE IN and STEP the RIGHT FOOT back.

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Staying on the same breath, look straight ahead and really BEND INTO your left knee to feel the stretch here in the hips, look up, hands come onto the fingertips, ooh I love this stretch- a real hip-opener!

BREATHE OUT really gain MOMENTUM in your movements here and put your hands flat on the mat, either side of the feet, put your weight INTO the hands to use that firm grounding to lift and BRING your LEFT FOOT back to meet the right, into a strong ‘Plank position‘.

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Hold steady this for a second before you DROP your KNEES to the floor, and with your arms, be strong and deliberate, as if you were doing a push-up and carefully lower your upper body towards the floor and propel FORWARDS and with strength and control, BREATHE IN and  push your chest UP and THROUGH to ‘Upwards Facing Dog‘.

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Relish in this pose. Look up to the sun, imagine yourself like a Sphinx or a Cobra with this lovely inverted back bend. The tops of your feet should be on the matsoles facing UP (look at the image above). Keep your knees and hips on the floor to begin with as you do this pose, although as you progress and develop strength in your upper body you will want to ‘push through’ from ‘plank’ into ‘upward’s facing dog’ all with your knees and hips lifted up off the mat to intensify the bend, Oh, it’s so goooood!

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BREATHE OUT. Curl your toes and TURN YOUR FEET under, so the soles begin to move towards the mat, use this motion and the strength in your arms and hands to PUSH your entire body up and back into ‘Downwards Facing Dog’, FEET TOGETHER (yep, in my way we do it feet together here).

Really GROUND and establish yourself in this pose, head down, bum up! Lower your heels towards the mat. Really PUSH against the mat with your hands to OPEN the shoulder blades and push the body up and back. LIFT the pelvis up to the sky. Relaaaxxxxxx into it. Walk your legs a few times on each side, straightening them, one at a time, each time trying to lower the heel as close to the ground as you can, the goal is to get the feet flat on the ground. Eventually, with practice, you will be able to plant both feet firmly on the ground and it will be the most satisfying stretch. BREATHE DEEPLY through the nose. 3 deep breaths in, 3 deep breaths out. Hey, why not 5 deep breaths, 7 even (I do 7- it’s my numerology!) Do as many as you can manage (this is where, if you can begin to FEEL the breath moving up the back of your neck and into your skull you are REALLY on the money!)

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When you’ve had enough downward-dogging…

BREATHE IN: Step the RIGHT FOOT forward into a lunge, finger tips on the mat either side of the foot, look up and ahead, really feel into that hip-opener. Toes of the left foot curled under, ready to step forward.

BREATHE OUT: Step the LEFT FOOT forward to meet the right, stand firmly on both feet, hands placed either side, touching the mat (fingertips is fine) straighten the legs and FOLD forward, head down, REALLY fold here, enjoy it!

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Still folded forward BEND THE KNEES, ROOT your feet firmly to the ground, really stabilise, and as you do, carefully lift the hands off the mat and bring them into prayer pose in front of your chest, still bent over.

BREATHE IN: PUSH your feet down into the mat to stabilise you and use this to enable you to SLOWLY COME UP,  REACH your hands up in prayer pose until you are stretching RIGHT UP above your head, stretch up, up, up, feel as if your body is lifting up out of the knees, out of the hips, out of the shoulders!

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As we did at the beginning, bend the knees, tilt the pelvis forwards and arch gently back. 

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To close slowly bring the hands forwards and come out of the bend, return your hands gently to prayer pose to in front of your heart. BREATHE OUT.

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Mmmmmmmm…. finally, before you move onto the other side, gently let your hands fall to your sides and take a couple of deep breaths to complete.

Then begin again! This time when you step back, step back with the LEFT foot, and when you come out of ‘Downward’s Facing Dog’ again step forward with your LEFT foot. And there we have a set!

GOOD MORNING! FEELS GOOD, RIGHT?! And although this is a lot of words all this will take you under a minute, but it’s all about doing it with the right intention, getting the breath right, really feeling into the postures…

As I say- start with 6 sun salutations, R, L, R, L, R, L.

And as you become more comfortable you can work your way up. Every day I do 10 of this sequence (which is called ‘Sun Salutation A‘ followed by 4 of more complex and ‘yang-y’ ‘Sun Salutation B‘- keep your eyes out, I’ll post the photos/instructions to B soon! (I might even wear a different coloured ‘yogatard’ oo-er) I incorporate my Sun Salutations into a self-designed practice which also contains the warm-up exercises of Kundalini Yoga, twists, inversions and breathing exercises (Pranayama) and I always precede all this with an hour of Vipassana meditation (for years I did my meditation AFTER my yoga- for the first 6 years, but since I discovered Vipassana I prioritise my meditation and do it first, this really enables me to check in with how I really am that day). This is my essential daily practice. More than that, this is my primary avenue of HEALING.

I can’t wait until I am a qualified Kundalini Yoga Teacher and it makes me very happy to share this with you. I am happy to offer any tips to help you establish your own daily at home yoga practice- just let me know how I can help! My number one piece of advice: ONLY DO WHAT FEELS GOOD!

Now, go get on that mat, and salute that SUN! Whether it is sunny or not, indoors or outdoors, it doesn’t matter. Even if it’s cloudy and rainy, the sun’s still there, behind the clouds, just face East!

Love x

An Open Letter to Anyone Who is Considering Taking Up Meditation from a Vipassana Meditator

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Dear Friend,

So you are thinking about learning to meditate? Let me tell you straight away that this was the best decision I have ever made, and although I know I’ve got a fair few decades to live, I am pretty sure it will hold that title for the remainder.  Meditation is without a doubt the most important cornerstone of my life, and as such it is the most difficult thing to even attempt to write about… meditation is the hardest thing to put into words, it simply has to be experienced. Saying that, like many, I want nothing more than to be able to communicate the ongoing revelation that is meditation to others (you’re missing out guys!) and as such I am in the process of writing my first novel/memoir ‘The Silent Meditation Retreat’ where I will really go into detail about the practice of meditation and what it means to me by recounting the experience of my first Vipassana Meditation retreat: 10 days of silence, 10 hours of meditation a day; it was a truly life-changing experience, verging on unbelievable at points, I hope you will read it. But for now, here is a tiny taster, a droplet, and if these few introductory words go some way enrich your thirst, to bring you closer to sitting down on that cushion, closing your eyes, focusing on your breath and the sensations in your body, and just simply BEING, then great!

In the first section ‘What is Meditation?’ I set the context and go someway towards defining what the practice of meditation means for me, and in the second section ‘Vipassana Meditation‘ I talk specifically about this intensive method, which has changed my life beyond recognition. I hope you will read to the end, as with meditation, the further along the journey we go the bigger the insights get!

You don’t need to be a Buddhist to meditate, you don’t need to be spiritual to meditate; in fact you don’t need anything to meditate… All you need is yourself, a bit of time, and somewhere to sit, and the desire to stop letting your wayward and fear addled mind run (and ruin) your life. That’s it. (I can’t promise that you will remain non-spiritual if you keep it up for a while though!) I find that by meditating in the morning it sets me up to have a good day. Others find that it is best for them to meditate in the evening to help them to wind down before going to bed. If you can do both then you’re well on your way to enlightenment already! If you can make it a quiet place, preferably close to nature, then that’s absolutely ideal, then you’re living the meditation dream! But if not, it really doesn’t matter. As one of my first meditation teachers said as we sat learning to meditate in a Buddhist Centre situated on one of the busiest streets of the city where buses roared by every 30 seconds and crowds of drunken revellers paraded down the streets: ‘don’t disturb the noise.’

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What is meditation?

Well, as I understand it at this point in time, given my own experience so far, it is a process of simply paying attention to the breath or sensation in the body to calm the mind, with the intention to reach a point of stillness where we learn to dissociate from the ‘chitter chatter’ thoughts of the ‘to-do-list’ brain and the fear-based projections and ruminations of dwelling on the past/worrying about the future/about what others think of us/about what we think of ourselves. If you’ll allow me to use a theatrical metaphor: these ego projections become but scripts that you are able to observe being read aloud in your head as opposed to unwittingly embodying the role of the actor and fully identifying with them. You become instead a witness, a member of the audience and not embroiled in the action of the play. This gives you license to re-write the script, to decide where it is going to go from here. Over time the script gets less melodramatic and becomes more profound and universal, and when you see it beginning to verge into the territory of the soap opera you can spot it and quickly nip it in the bud before you end up embarking on a storyline you will undoubtedly go on to regret.

The practice of meditation IS really as simple as keeping your awareness on the breath, or on sensation in the body. That really is all there is to it on a practical level. But that is where the simplicity ends. Meditation can feel like THE MOST CHALLENGING THING IN THE WORLD given our human nature and the world we live in. In my opinion it is not an activity that can be undertaken lightly. It is truly transformational.

It is a technique that encourages you to stop looking outwards for answers (where you will never find them) and instead to turn inwards and LISTEN, and if you are able to get quiet enough you WILL be given the answer to every single question you ask. The voice of the ego communicates by shouting, the voice of the soul communicates in a whisper, and so the only way to hear it is to get as quiet and still as humanly possible. Meditation is the way to get there.

It is a method where, given practice, you are able to see that the constant yelps and to-ings and fro-ings of the anxious and overactive monkey-mind as it jumps from tree to tree are so deafeningly loud and relentless that they completely prevent you from connecting to your true Self, the world around you, and everyone you encounter in your life. Add to this the noise of the overstimulating, inhumane, alienating and non-stop nature of the capitalist world around us and it is surprising we ever manage to connect with ourselves or each other at all. Fortunately we still do, mostly albeit in momentary glimpses, and these are exquisitely beautiful. Meditation will help you to learn how to grow and nurture these moments until they become more plentiful and last longer, maybe one day it will even be possible to live from this place… much more of the time anyway. Meditation will allow you to dwell in bliss states; timeless, spaceless voids of utter peace, pleasure and serenity, the like of which you will have never have even thought possible. They will increase in intensity and duration as you develop your practice. But it is undeniable, being a human being is hard, life is hard, there’s no escaping that. It’s far from permanent bliss states. Someone said to me recently ‘first the ecstasy, then the dishes.’ But knowing that the ecstasy is possible, and you will know this for certain once you experience it, makes the thought of doing the dishes MUCH more palatable (obviously this extends to INFINITELY more profound things other than the dishes!)

In our minds we are constantly stuck either in the past, future, or dwelling in ‘me’ stories, or ‘you’ stories. It is mostly all projection, and far removed from reality. These projections enforce separation between us and keep us from living in the now, and stop us from recognising the real. Meditation encourages you to be fully present, in the moment, and to see yourself in every other person on this planet; there is no separation, it is all in our poor disillusioned heads.

Meditation will teach you that far from there only being once voice in your head, there are many, and no, this doesn’t make you a schizophrenic —far from it— the real sanity lies in learning to identify and distinguish between these voices and know which ones you can trust and which ones you really shouldn’t. We can’t however make them magically disappear. We are human, we are products of our evolution and as such we have voices that find their origin in our mammalian past and our reptilian past which at times trigger us to cower in fear, or attack, thinking we are at risk of being destroyed by predators. Unfortunately we are hard-wired in this fear-based mode and can, when under stress in our modern world, see our colleagues, our partners, or our siblings or parents (always our siblings or parents!) as predators… as well as work deadlines, or any undesired event or situation where we are under stress… and we are human, it’s LIFE, there’s gonna be MANY of these! And it’s not just our inner wild animal we need to worry about as we also carry within us the voice of the damaged inner child (who is deeply hurt and fearful due to not being unconditionally loved by its parents and so is afraid to put its trust in others, or the world… it is ironic that to unconsciously withhold this love the ‘unloving’ parents will have within themselves, a severely damaged inner child of their own, in fact even MORE so, and so a destructive cycle continues until someone down the line is brave enough to break free of it). It’s not all bad though of course as we all also have the counterpart of the damaged inner child – the divine inner child (who is so full of joy and innocence and love, and who just wants to laugh, giggle, run around and PLAY all the time!) This is a voice that we DO want to learn to listen to! The big showdown on this front is of course that we need to learn to stop listening to the voice of the Ego and start listening to the voice of the Soul, or Higher Self. Meditation is key for this as it helps you get quiet enough to differentiate between the two, it is no easy feat. The ego is bombastic, mouthy and wordy- it has a well thought out argument for EVERYTHING, our ‘intellect’ is predominately ego, if it needs to create an elaborate rationale to justify anything- it’s ego. It is the constant stream-of-consciousness worrier, judge, critic and self-important separatist that says things like ‘you need to live in the real world’, ‘no wonder he doesn’t want to be with you’, ‘if it looks too good to be true it probably is’, ‘I need this new <insert whatever it is here> because <lists a million reasons to justify it>, (ironically it is also the voice that says: ‘we can’t afford it. Money doesn’t grow on trees you know’). What else… things like ‘SHE hurt me!’, ‘It’s MINE!’. It also feels the intuitive twang in your stomach that says ‘this is not for me’ and CONVINCES you to ignore it and carry on regardless; or it feels the flutter of your heart and says ‘don’t… we’ll only get hurt’ (although the damaged inner child is in there too of course)… It is the voice that says ‘When/if I do this, go here, fix this thing about myself, about my relationships THEN I’ll be happy.’ And it NEVER is, and It NEVER stops. Each of these statements in essence is saying the same thing: FEAR, FEAR, FEAR, FEAR, FEAR. The soul, or higher self on the other hand speaks in the quietest little voice and just IS. It is happy right now, it wants and needs for nothing as it is fully aware it already has everything. It never raises its voice to be heard above the ego. It doesn’t need to- it only ever speaks truth and so it never needs to defend itself. It is your biggest cheerleader, the unconditionally loving mother and/or father (that you didn’t get in real life), your fairy godmother that encourages you to dream and tells you they CAN come true, and everything it says is not just for the good of one, but for the good of all. It is your inspiration. It is the voice that says ‘have you thought about this?’ and it’s utter genius! (when you hear this whatever you do, don’t let the ego talk you out of it!) The voice of the soul just waits patiently until your ego exhausts itself and shuts up for a second so you can hear yourSelf (all it needs is the tiniest gap) and it will chime in sweetly and lovingly with a truth so complete, so kind, so universal and so perfect you will feel like you’ve finally ‘got it’, all is right with the world! and rather than say ‘About time! I’ve been trying to get your attention on this for YEARS!’ all it will say ‘well done darling, I knew you’d get it. Now what do you really want to do?’ It reassures you that no matter what happens all is well and all will always be well. It has infinite time, patience and love for you, it holds all the answers to your happiness. Everything the soul says is LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. But in order to hear it, and then live from it, you have to get rid of the ego. Let me tell you- the ego will not give up without a fight. It will throw absolutely everything it has at you, it’s gonna get ugly- expect plenty of underhand tactics and nasty vitriolic bile. The ego will do ALL it can to keep you living in a fear-based mode of existence, and stop you from surrendering to love. It takes courage, patience, determination and persistence and a WHOLE lot of love and compassion to first placate, and then dissolve the ego. Meditation is the battlefield on which this takes place, it’s one hell of a battle, but it is worth it: you WILL win. Something I’ve come to realise is that a common misconception of meditation is that the goal is to quiet the mind until there is nothing there at all, when in fact, the real goal is to quiet the mind until you can clearly hear, and act upon, the voice of the soul. (The voice of the soul is the voice of Spirit by the way. That’s the term I have come to use for myself, but I moved through a few different ‘names’ before I arrived here: subtle energy; soul; higher self, Self…. ultimately- Spirit.) A label is a label, a word is a word, a name is a name, it’s not about that, it’s about the experience.

Through the process of meditation our eyes are opened as we learn to recognise ALL of the conditioning we have been saddled with over the years, decades, generations, eras, eons, and Man, it’s A LOT! We look at it, and it breaks our heart to see it in all its painful reality, and we want to shut down in fear because it’s just too frightening, we want it to just go away, we might even think we want to be ignorant again, and revert to our consumerist, capitalist, asleep existence where all we had to think about was that project at work, or what so-and-so said about so-and-so, and where you want to go on holiday or what you want to see at the cinema… ‘ignorance is bliss’, right? But you can’t just UN-SEE something… and in truth we don’t really WANT to un-see it, we just wish it weren’t the reality. What we WANT is to be as conscious as humanly possible, what we WANT is to create a life for ourselves in this world in which we can be truly happy, and to extend and share this with those around us as much as we can, and make a valuable contribution to making the world a better place. So, if you’ll permit me to now use a textile metaphor, we take a big long unflinching look at the monstrosity before us as if it was an old, ugly, badly designed, unwanted damaged rag of a garment, and once we’ve taken it all in, an honest appraisal, we begin to work, to laboriously, painfully, stich-by-stitch, unpick it until we have dismantled it completely back into its raw material state and from there we can begin the slow process of consciously re-making it, again stich-by-stich, into something of our own design, and something we will truly love to wear. We’ll stand proudly in our handmade garments and encourage those around us to go through their own un-picking and re-stitching process until they are happy in their new second skin too. EACH PERSON HAS TO UNDERTAKE THE PROCESS BY THEMSELVES. There are no shortcuts and there is no way that we can do it for them. And we will learn to love our painstakingly reassembled selves, with all the battle scars, tatters and tears that are still evident, as we can’t make them disappear, we can only learn to accept them, and re-fashion them in a new light. And we will also learn to love all the other rags that are walking around, no matter what state of array or disarray they happen to be in at the time. Every single rag can be transformed into something else if it wants to do the necessary work, but it absolutely has to be of its own volition, and there are no sewing machines, this has to be a handmade labour of love, and you will prick yourself, more than once.

In essence meditation is a massive process of examining and UNLEARNING every single thing we ever thought we knew until there is nothing left, and then and only then can the RE-LEARNING can begin.

Although we live in our bodies as men and women, within both sexes there are the dynamics of BOTH the masculine and the feminine, and it is our task to enact a balance between the two. These are split further into the positive and the negative. We have the negative masculine side of ourselves (the aggressive and retaliatory resentfully responsible being who works itself into the ground thinking that the world would cease to turn if it didn’t get everything done), and the negative feminine side of ourselves (the overly emotional, afraid, insecure being with an overwhelming sense of worthlessness, unlovableness and inadequacy who is at risk of collapsing into a pool on the floor at any minute). But we also have the positive feminine (who is also like a pool, but one of still deep water: calm, safe, insightful, inviting and connected to nature and wise beyond words) and then finally the positive masculine (creative, inspirational, pioneering, active in the world and full of energy with which to pursue its dreams). By meditating we learn to live from the positive as opposed to the negative, but we don’t deny the dark, we learn to be WHOLE, we learn to integrate the dark and the light, balance the masculine and the feminine, and accept it ALL as part of our being.

By practicing meditation you learn to get out of your own way. You learn that you can’t control everything, but you CAN choose how to stop mindlessly reacting, and instead to RESPOND to anything that comes your way. You learn to do your best to empty yourself of all the unnecessary ego fuelled thoughts of inadequacy/craving/misery/arrogance/woe/unfairness/separation and allow yourself instead to be filled with energy that will enable you to see, hear and think clearly, and encourage you to love, respect and unite with yourself, those around you, and the world you inhabit. With meditation you choose to approach the world from LOVE instead of FEAR, and you realise that it REALLY IS A CHOICE.

And it is an ongoing process which never ends, with each day, week, month, year, (lifetime?) you learn a little bit more… you become more aware of your deeply ingrained psychological conditioning and patterns, and you begin to learn how to first of all accept them, and then over-ride them. It is a long, never-ending trial and error process. You see something in a new light, a person/an event from your past/an irrational worry you had about your future…. And when you have that ‘A-ha!’ moment it is as if another veil has been lifted, there are MANY veils, maybe an infinite number. And this IS the journey, this is the path towards enlightenment: an ever increasing development of consciousness, a growth, an unfolding— and meditation is the daily practice that allows for you to begin this journey and is your constant companion throughout. Although you have your eyes closed, meditation is the practice of waking up and seeing things clearly in the light of day as they really are. It is staring unflinchingly directly into the sun, and it is simultaneously entering into the darkest caverns of existence and waiting in the darkness, no matter how terrifying, until the light begins to stream in, which it always will. And you don’t just wake up once, you continue to wake up incrementally, every single day, sometimes in the tiniest ways, sometimes on a seismic level, sometimes by realising things that make you do a complete 360 degree turn and change your life beyond recognition. You realise just how asleep you were, you see your past pain and suffering with increasing clarity, and you see the suffering of others, and this is incredibly painful to witness. But you wouldn’t want to un-see it for the world, as it LIBERATES you. And with the pain paradoxically comes real peace, real happiness, real understanding and real acceptance. And you continue to be liberated in different ways with each new day.  So you keep meditating, every day, and the veils continue to be lifted, and the world becomes a COMPLETELY different place. It becomes astonishingly beautiful, even in inescapably deeply troubled and flawed state.

Much more than sitting with your eyes closed and focusing on your breath, eh?! Much more than just seeking a way to chill out and be less stressed..? Of course it can be this- you choose to take it as lightly, or as deeply as you wish. And there are many MANY roads into meditation- some of them only scratch the surface and will affect your life in the sense that you’ll find you have slightly more patience when stuck in traffic, or doing the dishes, or dealing with that annoying guy at work. Other forms literally turn your world upside down, your conception of reality inside out and force you to examine every facet of your own existence, and that of humanity. Soooooooooo…. Choose your weapon.

Vipassana Meditation

How do you get started with meditation? Well, to very briefly give you my story, I got started with meditation roughly seven years ago by finally relenting and taking my father’s advice after months of prodding and marched myself down to the local Buddhist Centre to a drop-in meditation and did my first ever guided meditation. I was an alcohol and drug addicted, cynical, promiscuous, nihilistic, overly-analytical, desperately unhappy girl in my early twenties and I needed help to get out of my own way. I had never even attempted to still my mind before. I vividly remember the tingling sensation present in my hands throughout the 20 minute meditation, which felt like HOURS, where we were simply instructed to count the breaths as they came in, up to 10, and then start over. I had never noticed that my body was constantly generating sensations like this, and I realised that, WOW, my mind doesn’t stay still for even so much as a second! It started to fascinate me.

For the next five years or so I pursued this path, sometimes with admirable dedication, sometimes half-heartedly, sometimes I’d fall off the wagon for weeks, months, over a year (!) at a time. I went to classes at the Buddhist Centre where I learned to meditate in a non-sectarian manner at first, then I felt the urge to explore Buddhism on a deeper level, so I started to attend classes which incorporated the teachings of Buddhism- ‘the Dharma’ as well as meditation. I attended retreats where I meditated alongside complementary activities like Yoga, Tai Chi, Shiatsu… I read lots of books on meditation, I even hand-painted a picture of a Buddha (I have the art skills of a five-year-old) that I had up on my bedroom wall, and I used this little corner as my own personal ‘shrine’ that I would meditate in front of. It was laughably bad, but it made me really happy. It certainly did help me to create a more peaceful existence for myself. It definitely went below the surface, but there were still a good few layers that remained untouched, and I was still unsatisfied with my existence.  I could never really integrate the intellectual ‘academic’ side of my personality- who I felt was ‘paid to think’ and the ‘spiritual’ side of my personality- who I felt was tasked with learning to STOP thinking and start BEING. I also found it very challenging to let go of my party-hard hedonist ways. Although I often experienced extended periods of bliss and deep resonating peace and tranquility in my meditations I always came crashing down to earth afterwards and there was nothing that shifted the foundations of the world for me as I understood it. To me the world was still a chaotic, inhospitable place with no essential meaning; and I just couldn’t find my place in it. I couldn’t say that I KNEW anything for certain. It was an ongoing tussle for years, at points underlying, at points painfully acute, marked by intensive struggles and suffering of different sorts. My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which triggered my entire life (as it was) to unravel, finally forced me to jump in to the deep end and swim right down to my very depths. I realised that I was living falsely as an academic, and in many other senses, and that my true calling was to direct my intellect towards fully embracing the spiritual; and to go on to share that with others, as I am doing with you right now.

The real awakening happened when I found Vipassana meditation. And since I found Vipassana I can say for certain that I KNOW. I had heard about it roughly six years previous, as soon as I had started meditating, I had even signed up for a couple of 10 day retreats over the years, but I had pulled out at the last minute each time. Vipassana meditation is known as the extreme sport of the meditation world. It is INTENSE. There are centres all over the world and you go there for 10 days. They are completely non-sectarian (although based on the teachings of the Buddha there is absolutely no religious dogma) and the teaching is open to Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Atheists alike. You don’t need to have meditated even once before you go, you will be taught everything you need to know. You don’t pay a penny, this is not a profit-driven business. Don’t think that it’s austere though, far from it, you will have a comfortable bed and will be fed really good quality food. But they will not accept any money from you unless you have already completed a ten-day retreat, and even then you are under no obligation to donate, if and how much you donate is completely up to you. It is based completely on a ‘Dhana’ based economy. And it is THRIVING. Once you have learned this technique you want everyone in the world to learn it, because it really does put an end to suffering. On the retreat you agree to remain completely silent and over the course of the 10 days you are taught the technique which is believed to be the undiluted teachings of the Buddha, preserved in Burma (which remained much more of a closed country than India), before it was eventually exported, firstly back to India and then beyond. As Buddhism spread across Asia and finally to Europe many branches were created: Zen Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism, Shambala Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism to name but a few. Vipassana meditation would argue that these forms of Buddhism, and thus meditation were (mostly innocently) tampered and tinkered with in the transition and so the teachings are no longer completely pure, and thus the Dharma can be akin to a game of Chinese Whispers. Vipassana is unique in that it goes right to the source, to the original teachings of the Buddha, and all you learn to do is to bring your attention to sensations all over your body. Sounds easy right? IT IS ANYTHING BUT THAT. Vipassana means ‘insight’ and yes, this technique will enable you to have huge, mind-blowing insights, that will just keep on coming and coming over the days, weeks, months and years you practice. If it wasn’t for the insights brought on by Vipassana I wouldn’t be writing this to you right now, I don’t think I’d be writing anything at all.

But as I said earlier, when we look at the way things really are it can be HELLA PAINFUL! And these first 10 days of Vipassana is like lifting the lid on Pandora’s box if you will. In fact, in my experience learning this technique can trigger the onset of the ‘dark night of the soul’- which is an inescapable rite of passage everyone MUST go through on the road to enlightenment. It did for me, and over the months following I had to delve into the darkest parts of myself and face everything, bring every skeleton out of the closet. SHIT GOT DARK. It was a rough ride, I’m not going to lie, there were points where I was ready to throw in the towel it was so hard (the towel of life, I mean) but I committed to seeing it through, and I’m so glad I did, the more you are willing to go into the dark, the brighter the light is when it is finally revealed. This is what I mean when I say that meditation is truly transformational, especially this technique. The technique teaches that our minds are hard-wired to react either positively or negatively to physical sensation, and this extends to mental experience where it turns into either craving or aversion, and this produces attachment, which ultimately can only lead to suffering. We want the ‘good’ things to last and we want the ‘bad’ things to go away. But the truth is we have no control over either, so we suffer. Vipassana teaches us NOT to react, and instead to accept the infinitely changing nature of all things and the fact that there is no intrinsic selfhood in anything— this is known as ‘Anicca’. EVERYTHING IS IMPERMANENT. EVERYTHING IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE. ‘GOOD’ and ‘BAD’ (but let’s try and refrain from making that distinction). We learn instead to react with ‘equanimity’ to anything as it arises in meditation (and eventually out-with meditation also) and to observe and accept reality AS IT IS whether it be a physically or emotionally painful experience, or an utterly astonishing fully immersive bliss state, and as such WE ARE LIBERATED FROM OUR SUFFERING. When we STOP reacting, we are then triggered to process the suffering we have endured in the past as a result of all our years, decades, (lifetimes?) of craving and aversion. I relived so many painful memories from my past I was shocked to my very core by all the things that came up. But they came up, and I rode them out, accepted them, and they lifted off, and they LEFT. (I should say that I also, for the first time, experienced extended bliss states beyond the realms of anything I had considered possible up until that point.) The Vipassana technique encourages our deepest ‘Sankharas’ to rise up to the surface so that we can lift them off, slough them off like dead skin, and LET GO OF THEM FOREVER, it is an intense process of purification, of acceptance, of forgiveness. Our ‘Sankharas’ are all the things we have said/done/regretted/the things that happened to us/the conditioning passed onto us by our parents or down through the family line/the further conditionings imposed on us by the society we grew up in. Vipassana sees each of these as a knot, and that it is these knots that are preventing us from attaining real peace and happiness. They are preventing us from seeing REALITY. The technique works to loosen and then finally release these knots, one by one, and they move up through the body as both a physical sensation and as a mental experience. This happens over days, months and years of practice. Each of us will go through this process at our own pace. On my 10 day retreat I felt like black matter was literally rising out of my body, I could almost see it the feeling was so palpable. The teacher, S.N. Goenka, describes it as an operation to remove the source of your misery at its very root: you are the surgeon, and the patient. It works to eradicate the suffering of human beings at the DEEPEST level. It is like the most intensive period of self-induced therapy you can possibly imagine. It has to be taught in a concentrated environment such as the retreat centres as this is where you are given the time, space and the correct teachings to learn the technique properly and in safety, surrounded by people that know exactly what it entails. It also has to be taught in a uniform manner for the technique to remain fully intact. So, although it sounds strange, the teachings are delivered by audio and video by Goenka (the Burmese man who exported Vipassana firstly back into India and then worldwide), and this allows for the technique to remain in its original state, and for it to be easily spread across the world successfully, in its undiluted form. And it works. There are teachers there in person, but they are more guardians of the technique than they are the actual teacher- they hold the space and answer your questions (sometimes you are allowed to talk!)

After the 10 days are up, and it does go without saying that these will be among the 10 HARDEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE, you are then left with the technique to practice in your own time, and you will likely want to top up with more courses, one a year, perhaps. Immediately after your first course, but especially as you progress with your own practice, with all the insights it will bring, you will begin to see these 10 initial heart-wrenching days morph into the 10 GREATEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE. With continued practice, over the following months, or maybe years (we all do things at different paces) you will experience a major ongoing transformation where gradually you will process ALL of your ‘Sankharas’ and as you do you will EMPTY YOURSELF IN ORDER TO BE FILLED. And when you are filled, the suffering will STOP (although from the beginning you will experience moments where the suffering will stop, but only temporarily). Please note, I say that your ‘suffering’ will stop, not your ‘pain’: we are still human. (Having said that, further down the line you will be able to eradicate your pain as well as your suffering, this really is powerful stuff!)

And then you will KNOW.

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When the ‘Sankharas’ leave they are replaced with light. It starts as a few flashes within the darkest cave, but as you progress it will develop, first into a shaft of light that cuts through the darkness, then multiple beams, and will finally expand into an all-encompassing beam of light which will envelop your entire being, and then you can call upon it at will. And that is what your meditation practice will become. Your meditation practice will become the act of connecting to Source every day, where you will bask in its energy, and allow it to soothe, refresh, enliven and nourish your body, and entire being. This is a PHYSICAL experience. Once all the ‘Sankharas’ are processed and lifted off, we can be filled completely with light/love/universal energy/spirit/consciousness/big mind/Buddha nature/Chi or Qi/Tao/God… choose your own term, it honestly doesn’t matter. Whether the route to this awareness is through Buddhism, Christianity or Quantum Physics… it really doesn’t matter. We’re all going to the same place in the end, it doesn’t matter how we get there, or what words we choose to define it. All I’m saying is that Vipassana is a tried and tested fast-track. It works, and if you want to dive in at the deep end, and KNOW sooner, then give it a go! And then the fun REALLY begins as you begin to learn how to assimilate everything you have learned (and will continue to learn) into your human existence, with all its limitations.

So my dear friend, you are thinking of taking up meditation? If you’ll permit me to use one more metaphor, this time, to do with the act of cooking with fire: the difference between other forms of meditation and Vipassana meditation is like the saying ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire.’ When you learn to meditate by other avenues you will be like a tasty morsel in a frying pan- you WILL get juicier, more fragrant, and over time, slowly slowly slowly, you will cook in the frying pan, and to eat this will satiate you to some extent, but with Vipassana you will LEAP from the frying pan into the fire. The fire is both beautiful and dangerous, and you will be cooked in record timing. Do you dare to put your fingers in the flames? Are you brave enough to handle the hot coals? Let me tell you, you’re going to get burned. But once that flame ignites and sets your soul on fire it CANNOT and WILL NOT go out. Your soul WILL burn with an insatiable passion and you WILL feel more alive than you ever thought possible, you WILL die to yourself as you knew it, and be born anew in the purifying flames and you WILL see yourself, everything and everyone in the world through entirely new eyes. You WILL see the world as it really is and it WILL be imbued with meaning. You WILL want everyone you care about, everyone you’ve ever met and everyone you have never met and will never meet to join you in the fire. This is the challenge. You will have to be patient my dear friend, as you cannot drag anyone into the fire with you, they have to make the leap themselves. All you can do is stand beside them so that they feel the warmth that radiates from you, and shine your light in their direction so that they gravitate towards you like moths to a flame, which they will as they will recognise that this light in you is also their birthright. You can but stare into their eyes so that they can see the flames dancing behind your eyes, and if you can get close enough, you can whisper in their ear just how great it is in the fire and encourage them to jump in with you so you can dance together in the flames. Be patient. Have faith. It WILL spread like wildfire.

OK. BREATHE. (I’m saying that for myself as much as you, I get so overexcited, this is BIG stuff)… let’s come back down to Earth to finish up….

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So THIS is my understanding of what meditation is, almost a year after completing my first Vipassana retreat, and I am very much still learning, and will continue to do so every day, it is not a journey that has an end. It does however have to begin with just one step in the right direction.

So how to you take that first step? Well it’s entirely up to you how you go about it. You could start small— download a guided meditation and do it in your bedroom (maybe even paint a Buddha for the wall!) Or you could go in search of a local ‘Sangha’ a community of like-minded people that meditate and practice Buddhism together, as I did for the first part of my journey with meditation. Go along and see if the way they teach it feels like your ‘cup of tea’ and that these folks are your ‘peeps’. In the most part you will meet really lovely, welcoming interesting people, but know that you might also encounter situations where the folks you meet are perhaps not your peeps… For example, I once went to this weird place with lava lamps and lurid plastic flowers with people dressed in futuristic white tabards where everyone called one another ‘brother and sister’ and meditated by staring with open eyes at a fluorescent light situated at the third-eye point of the ugliest mural I have ever seen… each to their own and all that, but… not my peeps. Listen to your gut and don’t settle. Feel free to take your time, follow your nose, take it step-by-step. But if you are feeling brave, if you are fed up with suffering, if you are impatient to see the true nature of reality, if you want to leap into consciousness, dive in at the deep end, if you want to make a good go of the ‘let’s get enlightened’ stuff, then take 10 days out of your life and do a Vipassana. As I said, it costs you nothing. It’s FUCKING HARD (excuse my French, however I am still human). But it WILL change your life, and it WILL open you up to completely new levels of consciousness, both at the time, and in the months and years following. And it WILL enable you to live a fuller, happier existence, both for yourself and those around you. IT SIMPLY WORKS.

So go sit down on that cushion, close your eyes, and simply BE. If you can do that everything else will follow. (One thing- Make sure you find a good posture, this is essential, trying to meditate while wobbling about all over the place is a total pain in the arse, often quite literally!)

But most importantly, please don’t take my word for it, it really is impossible to put into words anyway, you absolutely have to experience it for yourself, and your experience will be different from mine, your insights will be different from mine, and hopefully you will want to share them in the way that feels right to you. We will all want to hear them. Do let me know how you get on as I’d be very interested to hear! And maybe, like me, you’ll even want to write a book about it… as I say, I hope you’ll give mine a read when I get it published… and written, I’ve still got a long way to go with it, better get cracking!

Love,

Emma x

P.S. If this resonates with you please do SHARE far and wide, let’s get more bums on meditation cushions!

The Way Through the Woods’s ‘Top Ten of Tree Hugging!’

Tree Hugging: without a doubt considered to be the hippy dippiest, airy fairiest, yogurt weavery, sun and dirt worshipping, let’s all skinny dip in the loch then dance around naked on a hillside activity of them all, right? It will probably come as no surprise to you that I am a massive fan of throwing my arms around our fir-ry friends; yep, I am an unashamed trunk toucher, fern fondler and canopy canoodler.

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By sharing a run down of my ‘Top Ten of Tree Hugging‘ it is my intention to provide a playful introduction, manual and defense of this wholesome yet oft ridiculed activity. By a hug I don’t mean one of those reluctant two-second long hugs you give to people you don’t like very much just to be polite, where you barely touch (and if you do it’s only upper body, you try to keep your pelvis as far away as humanly possible) and you give a swift couple of awkward pats on the back, as your grit your teeth, counting down the milliseconds until you can pull away, phew! No, I mean a full on bear hug, the kind of full body contact cuddles you save for the people you really like, where time stops for a second and you momentarily fuse with the other person, you feel your whole body relax and sink into it; it is just the most satisfying experience there is. These are the kinds of hugs trees give: your body registers it on a cellular level and you feel so soothed you could just melt into a blissful puddle on the floor. Tree hugging is not in fact all about ‘I just love the Earth, man, and I want to spread the peace and love, and express it by embracing my leafy bretheren.’ No, the real reason people hug trees is because it just FEELS SO GOOD. And it is HEALING. When you hug a tree (the bigger and older the better) you can feel as if every cell in your body is being recharged with energy direct from Mother Nature… because it is. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise though as the reason we hug is to feel safe and protected, right? Hugs are stabilising and comforting, they make us breathe more deeply and feel more alive; they are an expression of love. And what could provide more stability and comfort that these native giants which happen to be the biggest, strongest and wisest things growing on our planet? Trees can weigh up to 30 tonnes, be over 200ft tall, cover up to 2,000 square yards, include ten miles worth of twigs and branches and can be up to 4,000 years old, and they constantly renew themselves growing up to 100,000 new leaves every year. Oh, and of course not to mention, they help us BREATHE.

Hugging is healing. What is that saying about hugs? That every day we need ‘4 for survival, 8 for maintenance, and 12 for growth.’ Living in the city I had regular access to several ‘human’ hugs a day, which was nice (apart from the two second, bum sticky-out awkward ones, those I do not miss, and superficial air kisses… don’t miss them one jot either). I didn’t have much access to those of the tree variety, it would have had to be at the local park, where there would likely be onlookers (but please don’t let this stop you, there’s no way I would let it stop me these days!) When I was becoming very unwell, being progressively crushed under the weight of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome far from home on the other side of the world, and away from all my closest friends and family, I would sneak out of the house everyday (it was proper East Coast US suburbia) and go to the nearest park and desperately hug every tree I could get my arms round like they were the only things that were keeping me alive… in some ways I think they really were! And they were stunning at the time, the burnt yellows, oranges and reds of Fall in upstate New York. I didn’t consciously decide to do this, it just kind of happened, it was like an unconscious gravitational pull towards nature. Now, as I live a bit of a hermit lifestyle in the countryside in the Scottish Highlands I don’t often get to see that many people to hug these days, but there are certainly plenty of trees, so I get my regulation 12 easy, and now it’s not so much out of desperation, but rather out of pure joy. Sure, people hugs are wonderful, I love a good hug and I look forward to the day I can fill my quota of 12 with embraces of the bear hug variety, but tree hugs just take it to an entirely new level, and I am a fully converted conifer cuddler.

Before I count down my top ten, permit me a little anecdotal preamble… I was not always such an unashamed tree worshipper, I had just as many inhibitions as the next person and definitely harboured a scepticism towards hippy-dippy tree huggers. This all started to change a few years ago however, things started happening like: I started collecting pine cones, I found myself being moved to tears by the beauty of the last remaining Caledonian Pine forests and I went to California to meet and dance with my free movement idol, Anna Halprin, on her sun-dappled outdoor dance deck situated under the towering Californian Redwoods; I think this might have been the best day of my life so far.

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It was whilst on my first Vipassana meditation retreat last year that I realised that, there was no longer any denying it, I now was one of the hippy-dippy tree huggers. The retreat was 10 days long and completely silent. We were not allowed to talk, gesture towards, or even so much as make eye contact with the other people on the course (and there were about 200 of us in total, although men and women were kept strictly segregated). Our meals and basic needs were all completely catered for so we were absolved of any need to interact with others whatsoever and had no obligations apart from meditating, eating and sleeping, and being with ourselves, which any committed meditator will tell you, can be the most challenging thing you have ever attempted at points. When you don’t have to worry about doing anything for anyone else or having others judge or question, or comment upon your choices, you find that you actually start to let go of any inhibitions you might have and simply meet your own needs. I discovered that I needed to do regular yoga stretches. If we hadn’t have been silent I would have perhaps felt self-conscious about bending and stretching all over the place or twisting my torso about in public, but as no one was looking at me I just went for it, adjusting my limbs whenever necessary, you know, doing huge lunges while going up stairs, that kind of thing.  The other main craving I found that I had was that I needed to be in direct contact with nature. When we weren’t in meditation (which we were for 10 hours a day!) we had short breaks where we could wander around the grounds or lie on the grass, and that was about it as activities like reading and writing were also strictly prohibited. In fact all external stimulation was removed in order to support the journey inwards, and although the major part of the experience focused on getting acquainted with, and penetrating deep into layer after layer of our own mental conditioning and suffering, when our eyes were open and we weren’t on the meditation cushion everything in nature seemed much more alive and vibrant than usual. I would often spend ages watching a bee pollinating, or be fascinated to examine the intricate detail of a fly that had landed on my sleeve. After particularly strong meditations, where my whole body was literally vibrating I was buzzing with so much positive energy, it was all I could manage to stumble out of the meditation hall, kick off my shoes, and fall face first onto the grass, stretching my entire body flat out along the earth so I could ‘vibe in harmony with the cosmos’, I know, it sounds totally ridiculous, but it was complete bliss! Interestingly though, after really challenging meditations, where I felt like I’d gone ten rounds in a boxing ring, I’d come out of the meditation hall all tense, riled up, and often on the edge of tears, dissonantly vibrating with SO much negativity I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had steam rising out of my ears. I would, as if on auto-pilot, march my frazzled self up behind the meditation hall and into the woods where I’d search out the biggest, most comforting tree to hug, like a child who’s fallen over and hurt herself running to her Mum to kiss it and make it better. Usually I’d go from majorly stressed out to zen in under a minute. After a really bad meditation I’d need to hug a few trees, and as I did, with each hug, I would gradually feel myself come back into my body, and eventually would feel like my feet were back on the ground again. I’d make sure to do this only when no one else was around. This secret tree tryst lasted a few days until one afternoon I was getting intimate with a tree and I noticed another girl coming along the path, so I quickly extricated myself and nonchalantly walked past her, hoping that she didn’t catch me at it. It wasn’t until I’d walked a few metres past her that I realised I had a huge branch sticking right out of my hair which despite the lack of direct eye contact there was no way she could have missed…! I could only laugh (silently of course). It made me realise that by hiding my arbory affection I was the only one judging; I was judging myself, she probably didn’t even give it a second thought, and I decided that if I want to hug a tree I should just jolly well go ahead and hug a damn tree, who cares if anyone is watching?  If I want to do it and it feels good then that’s all there is to it: no shame! (This realisation applies to MUCH more than tree hugging, obvs). And I hoped that maybe my actions would even inspire others to try it out for themselves. And so I proceeded to do just that for the rest of the retreat. On the final day, when the silence was lifted and we were finally allowed to talk, a lovely middle-aged red-headed Welsh woman came up to me (her accent was such a shock to me, I had built up this idea in my head where she had a posh London accent) and told me that she had been watching me hug trees for several days and had longed to try it herself but had felt too embarrassed… but she faced her fear and one day, towards the end of the course, she finally managed to pluck up the courage, and it was so beautiful that she cried! I love that story.

So, drum roll please… here is the count down of my top ten huggable trees! These are mostly based on the trees available to me on my doorstep in the Highlands of Scotland, so it’s not a comprehensive list by any means, they are perhaps a few noticeable omissions: like the Yew, for example, one of Britian’s oldest (and no doubt therefore most hug-tastic) tree species, but we don’t really have these nearby. However, I do hope one day to take a campervan round the UK on a bit of a tree pilgrimage, maybe even further afield! So this list will undoubtedly sprout new branches over time…

10. Lime

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I like touching the leaves of Lime trees. They are large, a vibrant green, spade shaped and feel quite moist to the touch. The tricky thing about hugging a Lime is that often they ‘lower whiskers’- branches that grow right down to the bottom of the trunk meaning that it is quite a mission to even get near the thing. I had to jump a fence, make my way through some Elephant Rhubarb (you know the leaves that look like dinosaur food?) and battle my way through the undergrowth to reach the trunk. When I got there I found it was multi-trunked and so I went in to embrace a section, two parts rising together, and I felt exactly like a whiny little child desperately grabbing onto its mother’s legs to try and get her attention… Not what I was looking for. I decided instead to push my way through all the whiskers, and it was a pretty hairy specimen, and clamber right inside so I could get a good leg around. The sensation of hugging a Lime isn’t that powerful as they are pretty young trees but it was the fun of the climbing mission, and being completely ‘inside’ the tree, that made it all worthwhile.

9. Douglas Fir

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Last year my friend and I took a pilgrimage to see the Douglas Fir at Dunkeld, which is the tallest tree in Britain at around 212ft, and it is young, it is very much still growing. It sits across from the Hermitage which is a famous viewing hall the Duke of Atholl had built deep within the beautiful forest in the 18th Century to showcase the grandeur of the gigantic Braan waterfall to tourists on the ‘Grand Tour’. It was originally called ‘Ossian’s Hall’- you enter a dark room where there is a dimly lit painting of Ossian- a legendary Gothic poet, who in the end turned out to be a literary spoof. But the visitors would be lulled into a false sense of calm before the painting would SPRING back into the wall and the RAGING waterfall, which is deafeningly loud and really quite terrifying, would be revealed, causing the tourists to gasp in sublime delight at the epic drop into the gushing water almost immediately beneath their feet. The Douglas Fir in question is across the water and so I didn’t get to hug that one, but we have some in the woods by my house, and they are a treat to hug. They are very tall and skinny which means you can easily get your arms round, you just have to watch out for low spiky branches. There is a definite soothing sensation despite these trees not being that old. I find the Douglas Firs quite amusing as my Dad’s name is Douglas and as they are so tall and thin (as he is) and so it can feel like hugging a person… and if my Dad were a tree he would definitely be one of these!

8. Cedar (a.k.a ‘Weird Tree’)20150807_140528

This is another ‘climb inside’ job. I call this Cedar ‘weird tree’ as it sticks out like a sore thumb within the forest of old, dead, spindly fir trees near my house. Within the tree graveyard the Cedar is an anomaly as it is luscious and the bark looks almost like animal fur and is soft and pleasant to stroke, reminiscent of the bark of Californian Redwoods. Despite being a fern this tree looks and feels decidedly exotic, and when I go to hug this guy I feel like I have momentarily been transported into the Amazonian rainforest and expect a Shaman to come and offer me Ayahuasca any minute or something. Again, like the Lime, the fun of this hugging experience is that you have to climb inside, but the perk of this one is that the trunks are so close together that you can easily hug one part while leaning your entire weight on the other, and you receive a lovely calming, healing sensation from it… maybe there is a medicine man lurking somewhere in those woods!

7. Birch

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Birch trees are so elegant. They have slim trunks and thousands of small leaves which when they flutter in the wind like a huge swarm of moths. Silver Birches in particular are as far as I’m concerned, the most elegant ladies of the tree world. In Winter their white spindly trunks rise up into bare purply branches that glisten against the snow; they are like ballerinas. This Birch is not of the silver variety, but it is still incredibly elegant and grows in my garden. Hugging it is again like hugging a person, but it is not without an energetic pulse, far from it. This tree is particularly special to me as it was planted here before I was born, transported from my late Grandmother’s garden, and as such reminds me of her, and she was also a very elegant lady, if an undeniably crazy one; seems it run in the family!

6. Ash

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Ash trees usually grow near water and are fairly young so can have quite thin trunks. A young, thin trunk does not for a good tree hug make. The older and bigger the better. Ash have beautiful sets of leaves, ranging up to 13 on each stem and this huge Ash actually made for a magnificent hug. What happens with a good tree hug is that you feel a pulse of soothing, relaxing energy buzz right up your body and it can travel right up to the very top of your head. You feel completely grounded but also as if you are being lifted up by the energy. It is a beautiful feeling. As I was hugging this particular tree, blissing out on this feeling, I could hear someone pottering about in their garden (the tree grows right next to someone’s driveway, although we are still in the middle of nowhere in the countryside) and I was half expecting them to venture out and see me and get a bit of a shock!

5. Scots Pine

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Scots Pine are my equivalent of Anna Halprin’s Californian Redwoods. I hope one day to build a retreat centre with an outdoor deck for dance and yoga, just like hers, but mine will be built using Scots Pine. I even have the site picked out, it’s two minutes walk from where I live right now, a piece of land that has lain abandoned for as long as I have been alive, complete with a beautiful stone ruin, and the the most stunning Scots Pine forest behind it. It just calls out to be used as a place of healing, ritual and interaction with nature. All I need is the money in order to convince the landowner to sell it to me, and spookily enough, even the wood for the deck is there already as several of the trees fell due to the 100mph+ winds during some crazy storms we had this Winter. I like to think that they willingly sacrificed themselves for my deck. Time will tell if this dream will become a reality- I imagine lots of people simultaneously hugging a tree each. They are tall and thin and elegant, and quintessentially Scottish. Hugging one of these feels like hugging a person, but they are very strong energetically, you almost feel the history of the landscape as you hug them.

4. Sycamore

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The trees that I would go and hug on the Vipassana meditation retreat when I needed to be soothed and brought right back down into my body were Sycamore trees. The woods next to my house is also full of them, and as such I am very attached to them. You will definitely get a nice buzz from hugging a Sycamore. Also, have a look at one sometime, if there is a light breeze often just one solo leaf will be waving about like crazy, it sometimes seems as if it is trying to get your attention. In the Autumn all the leaves will start to develop hundreds of black spots. Worry not, they have not contracted the tree plague… this it completely natural and in fact the higher the air quality is, the more black spots there will be, so ironically, the more diseased they appear at this time, the healthier they are, and likewise their surrounding environment.

3. Beech

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Big beeches tower over you, this one in the woods next to my house is an absolute beaut. Hugging this mammoth Mother tree would calm you straight down after any argument or upset, no matter how bad. You can quite literally feel its stoic power, stability and peace permeating your entire body, simply by wrapping your arms around its trunk. Enough said- just go hug a Beech, they are one of the most common species of tree in the UK, and they actually only tend to live for around 250 years before they disintegrate completely, which is quite young, for trees of this size, so, GO! What are you waiting for?!

                                                             2. Oak
20150717_143430Now we are getting to the big Daddies of the tree hugging world. The mighty Oak.  So old and wise, and gives a bloody good comforting hug. This one grows under a minute’s walk from my house and its trunk is so thick that I think it would probably take five of me to be able to stretch right the way round it. And this makes it tree hugging gold- the simple checklist being: the older the better, the bigger the trunk the better. When I hug this tree I do feel like I could just melt into a puddle of bliss at its roots. You can see the sheer scale of this by looking at the teensy weensy farm buildings to the right, it’s a freakin’ giant!

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1. Caledonian Pine

20150722_120432And my number one is without a shadow of a doubt is this particular Caledonian Pine, trident in shape, which sits perched on top of the hill that rises majestically across the road from my house, which is called Knockfarrel. It is my favourite tree, and I highly doubt anything will ever pip it off the top spot. This tree is quite literally ‘King of the Hill’ and when I hug it, like the Scots Pine, I somehow feel that I am imbued with the history of the landscape. In fact, when I hug this tree I often have visualisations of a Stag! This is quite honestly the most powerful tree I have ever come into contact with, and it is surrounded by six other trees and they form a circle of 7, which is a very powerful number for ritual. I foresee one day taking my troops of yoga/meditation and dance retreatants up to the top of this hill, yes, to dance about, yes, probably naked, but also to hug these remarkable trees. They have an infinite amount of energy to pass on, they are just waiting to give it to us.

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So my verdict on ‘The Way Through the Woods’ when it comes to tree hugging is really quite simple- hug as many trees as possible! City or country be damned, who cares if anyone is looking, deep down inside they want to do it too! I hope that some of this has tempted you to hug a Hawthorn, embrace an Elm, cradle a Cedar, pounce on a Pine, or get your leg over a Larch. So what are you waiting for? GO AND HUG A TREE!  

And let’s face it… Sometimes no matter how pure the intention is, it will just look down-right indecent!

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We Need to Talk About Periods! Truths, Trials and Tribulations of Surfing the Crimson Wave (or ‘Ode to the Mooncup’)

PMSWhat characterised the greatest day of the year for you last year and why? For me 2014 was without a doubt the hardest year of my life so far (due to the ongoing see-saw of struggling with, and ultimately surrendering to, and learning to live with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for now anyway) but I can say without a doubt that the BEST day for me was Friday 24th October, and on that day I was- kiss the postman, dance along the street, life is a musical- happy…. Why?

Because I GOT MY PERIOD!!!

Yep, that’s right- I was completely over the moon because I was bleeding from my vagina, hurrah!

You think I’m crazy to say that? Hear me out- this was big news as I hadn’t menstruated for over a year and a half (no, I was not pregnant; it would have had to have been a case of immaculate conception for that to be the case, CFS puts quite the dampener on your love life). No, I was having such a dry spell (in more ways than one it appears) as my hormones were all out of whack due to my illness- Adrenal Fatigue and HPA Axis-Dysregulation are in fact caused by discombobulated hormones (that statement is a massive over-generalisation of course, but now is not the place to go into the details.) Now don’t get me wrong: I was really tired- even more so than normal for someone with a fatigue-based illness- (the dancing down the street is just a metaphor). I felt fat and unattractive (so would not have been in the mood to seduce the postman); I was anxious and teary (so not about to belt out a show-stopping musical number) and had swollen and tender boobs, a knotted stomach and a sore back. Oh yeah, and I had a completely insatiable hunger (despite eating ALL the food), a knife-edge irritability and a desire to do nothing but hide under the covers, cuddle a hot water bottle and watch (and weep at) crappy chick flicks. But yes, despite all that, this was definitely the best day of the year. If my life was indeed a musical then the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ would have blasted from the bathroom, booming out in surround sound for miles around as I screamed ‘Mum, I’ve got my PEEEEERRRRRIIIIOOOOOD!!!!!!’

You must think I sound mad to be overjoyed at the arrival of what most women consider to be their most decidedly unwelcome monthly visitor? But I’ll tell you why:  this was the single most important sign that my body was healing I had received since getting ill, I had been waiting SO LONG for this, and I cried floods and floods of tears of joy (and hormones!) and dusted off my beloved Mooncup (and sterilised it, obvs.)

And now the way I approach my periods has changed forever… each month I am delighted by its arrival and I welcome my period like a long lost friend.

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Now, my fully embracing the arrival of my period in this way is a far cry from how we tend to approach our periods, right? Bliss? Really?! In fact, isn’t it the opposite of how we customarily greet this pain-in-the-arse pal who comes to visit once a month? The bane of our lives… The unwelcome frenemy we wish would never visit at all, as they make you feel really uncomfortable and mess everything up, but no matter what you do you just can’t shake them off. ‘The Curse’… Who came up with that name? It’s really horrible. But that’s exactly how we tend to think of it. And why shouldn’t we of course: we feel rotten in the few days running up to it, our energy levels dip, at points we verge between suicidal and homicidal (those who cross our paths better watch out!), we want to eat everything in the fridge and cupboards- yes, including that mouldy cheese (just scrape those bits off); yes, even that crazy concoction of porridge with raisins, hot chocolate powder, honey and desiccated coconut mixed in for dessert as it’s the closest to chocolate we have in the house and we need something sweet and stodgy.

And there are so many things we can’t do with the usual gusto we have the rest of the month: swimming for example (who remembers the excruciatingly embarrassing blue plastic ‘shower cap shoes’ you had to wear while sitting on the side of the swimming pool at school when you couldn’t take part as you had you were surfing the crimson wave?) ’Dear Mrs P.E. teacher, please excuse Emma from gym today, she has her period, Mrs Forbes’. (FYI- that is one of my all-time favourite chick-flick quotes, when Alicia Silverstone, in overprivileged 90s romcom Clueless, has her teacher wrapped around her little finger and when he tries to reprimand her for being late or something and she says ‘Mr Hall, I was surfing the crimson wave, I had to hall ass to the ladies,’ end of discussion.) What else- running (staying in bed is so much more tempting than putting on those running shoes at that time of the month), yoga (especially not inversions such as shoulder stands as yoga urban legend has it that it will make the blood travel back upwards, eek!), have sex (tends to be the furthest thing from your mind, but for when you do want to N.B. the good guys honestly do not care either way, there is no stigma, and they are not even slightly grossed out. And mentioning periods will not render them completely mute, maybe they might even bring you chocolate and rub your belly and curl up and watch films with you…. ah, lovely, progressive, feminist men… perhaps not the guilty-pleasure chick flicks though).

there-will-definitely-be-blood-maybeAnd of course it is nigh on impossible to stick to the healthy eating plan (see aforementioned crazy sweet stodge concoctions). Now it goes without saying that we still can do all of these things in exactly the same manner we would the rest of the month if we want to, but I feel we have to be careful we are not forcing ourselves, and ignoring the signals being sent by our bodies. I feel we need to be mindful of the 80s/90s macho-feminism portrayed in sanitary towel adverts that is still prevalent in our society today which shout: ‘just because I’m a woman on her period doesn’t mean I can’t run the race, swim the channel, own that board meeting, climb the hill, skydive off the bridge and do everything and anything men do and all things in between while on my period’…. Of course, you absolutely can, if you feel like it. But be honest if you don’t actually feel like doing that stuff at this time of the month. It’s not anti-feminist to surrender to the low energy, and admit to being a woman, who bleeds. In fact, in my opinion it’s much more of a feminist statement to really listen to the body… be slow, lie around, do little, rest, sleeeeeeep (there is a biological need for more sleep from day 25 of your cycle onwards- that’s 5 days before your period) rub your own belly, or get someone else to do it. Sucking it up, powering through, getting on with it, ‘coping’ and putting up with, and forcing yourself to do things that don’t make you feel good (even if they do the rest of the month) is not a feminist act. Radical self-acceptance and compassion, unconditional self-love, self-nourishment, self-nurture, supportive self-talk and awareness IS. And it’s not just for CFS sufferers that everything is exhausting both emotionally and physically at this time of the month, right? So we have to be even more patient and gentle with ourselves than ever around this time. Sometimes in the run up to and during our period all we want to do is batten down the hatches and hole up in the house, speak to no one and ride out the storm, and of course, that’s fine too- provided you have a sizable chocolate supply… absolutely essential. Whatever you do, go with the energies, and be honest with yourself about it.

FYI- Natural PMS Relievers that will really help: B vitamin complex- Solgar to a great one; Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc- again Solgar’s is excellent; Evening Primrose Oil (a liquid form is much more effective than capsules); Iron supplement (try a good quality liquid form from a health shop such as Iron Vital F, or Floravital, much better than the awful black pills from the chemist or prescribed by the GP). Good sources of dietary iron can be found in red meat, eggs and leafy greens (N.B. don’t eat spinach with eggs or red meat, it will actually prevent you from absorbing the iron); Omega 3 Fatty Acids (from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, and eggs, or Flaxseed and Hemp Oil if vegan); good quality carbohydrates such as sweet potato, plantain or squash; good quality raw chocolate/raw cacao. Since I started taking care of myself in terms of my diet and supplemental needs my PMS has reduced significantly, sometimes I get absolutely no PMS whatsoever and I go to the bathroom and I’m like ‘Oh, would you look at that, I’ve got my period! Ho-hum, smile.’ Honestly! And even if I do get PMS one thing I definitely don’t get anymore is lots of cramping during it.

The Contraceptive Pill

But back to how we have been conditioned to treat our periods… As we tend to abhor them so much you’d think the idea of not having them for a couple of years would be the BEST THING EVER! But it’s not, it really isn’t. For the first six months or so, sure, it’s liberating, but after that you just start to worry, and wait, and worry, and wait, and worry… what the hell is going on in there? (Could I actually be the next Mary?!) The regularity of our periods are a sign that everything is working exactly as it should, they are a barometer of our health. And how are we supposed to get an accurate reading of the barometer when our bodies are not functioning on their own natural level whatsoever: e.g. we are artificially controlling our hormones by taking the contraceptive pill, or patch, or injection? On these medications we can’t even begin to read the barometer, we have no idea what is going on in there; if we were a map even a compass wouldn’t be able to help us out, as we are completely off grid. It’s dangerous. When my periods disappeared completely for a year a half it was after I’d stopped taking the contraceptive pill, having had taken it for probably… 6 years non-stop at least, probably longer on and off. During that time I had a ‘regular monthly period’, or so I thought, but it wasn’t that at all, it was purely chemical- a withdrawal bleed from the artificially induced state of quasi-pregnancy that the artificial hormones create. I knew this intellectually but I’d never actually stopped to think about what it meant for my body; which I now realise had no idea of its own rhythm; it was all being created for it, and I, unbeknownst to me, for a number of years, had been getting really sick. If I had had the natural health barometer of my menstrual cycle to guide me would I have perhaps taken notice of my Chronic Fatigue earlier, before it was too late? I think so. This was just one of the ways I tried to control my body from without rather than listening to what was within. I went on the pill for a myriad of reasons. Although I am grateful for my periods now, from their onset until my early twenties they were a nightmare. They were so debilitatingly painful and heavy I’d have to have at least one day off school/uni/work a month and would have to take to my bed, dose up on high strength pain killers and even then I’d still be writhing around in pain, yelping like a wounded animal. I went to the GP for 10 years and tried numerous medications before I was finally referred to a gynecologist who suspected Endometriosis, which was confirmed when she operated, and after that I was put on strong injections which made me go through a chemical version of the Menopause at the age of 20! (I was in fact being injected with the same medication my late Grandfather was being administered at the time for his Prostate Cancer) can you believe it? At least I know what to expect when I reach Menopause later in life- I had the hot flashes, night sweats, dryness, everything! And to help prevent the endometriosis from returning I was put on the pill straight away. Now, I know I’m not the only one who felt miserable on the pill, not myself at all, as if I was walking around in a haze, often with no sex drive, and was at points verging on, ok, was, totally depressed. Why is it rammed down our throats by the medical establishment as a one-size-fits-all contraceptive and cure from our teens when it is anything but that I have no idea. You have acne- take the pill, you’re sexually active- take the pill, your cycle is erratic- take the pill. Did you know that on average these days 1/3 of women stop taking the pill because it’s making them depressed? Did you know that you have a doubled risk of breast or ovarian cancer and ditto developing brittle bones if you have taken the pill from under the age of 20? Also, your levels of ‘globulin’ which binds testosterone and affects the libido are four times lower FOREVER if you have taken the pill? And that’s not to mention the weight gain, heightened risk of infertility, risk of deep vein thrombosis, high blood pressure… the list goes on and on. For me personally, I know that the overgrowth of Candida in my gut which has proved to be a major player in my chronic illness was caused by two factors- overuse of antibiotics to clear my skin, and yep, you guessed it, taking the contraceptive pill. Taking this for years completely decimated all the good gut bacteria in my body and made me REALLY sick and it is proving to be a long, complex and exhausting process to undo all this damage and rebuild my gut. The pill can also be a major player in other gut oriented illnesses such as Hashimotos, Auto-Immune disease, Crohns and Fibromyalgia, as well as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Why do we start to take the pill? Of course our reasons are completely understandable- We think it will help get our crazy ‘neurotic woman’ hormones under control, that it will regulate our wayward cycle; that it will help to clear our skin, or help Endometriosis/PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) for example, it could be ALL of the above. The biggest reason we take it of course is to avoid pregnancy: who of us hasn’t had those scares where something just doesn’t feel right but it’s too early to take a test and you google ‘very early pregnancy symptoms’….. ‘EXTREMELY early pregnancy symptoms’….‘EARLIEST POSSIBLE PREGNANCY SYMPTOMS’ – and isn’t it absolutely infuriating that the symptoms of early pregnancy are more or less exactly the same as PMT?! I know we’ve all cried tears of joy and sang the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ when we’ve got our period in this instance. Yes, it’s easier to be on the pill, be injected, have an implant put in, slap on a patch- as then you have peace of mind that you won’t get pregnant. But is it worth it for all the potential damage this might be doing to your body? (I haven’t mentioned the Coil or IUD devices at all, but these are not an option in my opinion too, due to potentially harmful leaching of toxic material entering the body, and issues with damage caused by keeping them in longterm and/or removing them). Can we get old school instead- chart our cycles and get intimate with ourselves from the inside out by taking our temperature daily (this is called the Sympto-Thermal Method) and monitoring our cervical mucous so that we know when we are ovulating (approx. days 12-16 of our cycle) and so know to reinforce the troops (or alternatively of course during ovulation go for it if we are at the stage of our lives where pregnancy is actually the goal as opposed to the thing we wish to avoid like the plague?!) [see links at the end of the article- you need to do LOTS of your own research on these]; and to ‘reinforce the troops’ can we re-ignite our resistant relationship to condoms? Can we take our bodies into our own hands and learn to really listen to them, and embrace our natural cycles instead of handing them over to a synthetic intruder who disrupts our body’s inbuilt methods of self-care and regulation?

My First Period

And of course it’s not just how we medicate our menstrual cycles. Getting your first period is the single biggest initiation in womanhood there is; it is sacred, and as such should be honoured by the family and society alike. In native and tribal societies a girl’s first period, known as ‘menarche’ has been celebrated for thousands of years with rituals including song, dance, feasting, ritualistic bathing and care-taking, and retreats to women’s lodges. These are just examples of some of the sacred activities used to mark this rite of passage into womanhood.

Was yours at all sacred? Mine certainly wasn’t.

I remember the day that I got my first period: November 30th 1998, I was 10 years old, it was just a few weeks until my 11th birthday. I remember the date vividly as it was the night of our primary school’s ‘St Andrew’s Night Ceilidh’ where I was probably singing (both solo and in groups and as a class), playing violin, playing recorder, reciting poetry and God knows what else; I was ‘Miss Extra-Curricular’, even at that young age. Anyway, just before we were about to leave the house I went to the toilet and was aghast at the stains I found in my underwear, and I yelled from the same bathroom to my same mother, who quickly handed me a sanitary towel, told me I’d gotten my period, that it was completely normal, but that life doesn’t stop: ‘Now hurry up and let’s go, you’ve got a performance to do.’ So I put it to the back of my mind, sucked it up and got on with it, and labelled it from the off as little more than an inconvenience as I waddled about all evening wondering if there was an unsightly bulge visible through my tartan skirt. This was just one of the ways in which I unquestionably accepted patterns of conditioning and ‘coped’ instead of really listening to my body, my emotional responses, myself. (If I’ve learned anything from my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome it’s that disease ‘dis-ease’ starts in the mind and if it is ignored enough eventually it will manifest in the body. Could my Endometriosis have been a result of this early repression of my womanhood? I would have to say that it is distinctly possible that it was.)

I told no one I’d started my periods.

No way was I going to admit to my circle of friends that I had started my periods at 10… none of them were anywhere near close to starting (the average age girls start menstruating is 12.8 years these days, compared with 14.5 years at the beginning of the 20th century, we’re starting younger and younger) . Over the next year or so I did my very best to keep it a secret. When we went to my Dad’s house for the weekend I would stash my used sanitary towels in my rucksack and take them home again with me to my Mum’s to bin, God forbid he and his partner see them in the bin, or I would do a disguise job by wrapping them in LOADS of toilet roll before hiding them at the bottom of the bin. This really makes me giggle now, knowing how much my Dad is such a stickler for waste; as am I these days. But ultimately it upsets me that I was so ashamed of my periods that I felt I needed to be so secretive about it.

A couple of stand out early period memories are when my friends and I had a sleep over and were watching ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ (teenage blood-bath horror with a fisherman with a hook for a hand starring one of my top girl crushes- Buffy the Vampire Slayer). In keeping with the blood-bath theme I had a REALLY heavy period and had absent-mindedly forgotten to flush the toilet (I was probably frightened of being alone in the bathroom lest a man with a hook for a hand come in decorate the bathroom red with more than just my period blood. These days I know I can’t watch anything that contains senseless violence, and have absolutely no desire to, I find it completely traumatic, not to mention that watching violence serves to condition us to believe that the world is a scary place with evil people… which is absolutely is not). So the scandal of the night, in all the blood and gore, became a detective game as to who had left all the disgusting blood in the toilet, it was SO MUCH BLOOD to a bunch of 11 year old girls. I flat out denied that it was me, and I blamed it on someone else… I was completely drowning in guilt. In the end I think I might have admitted to the girl I’d blamed that it had been me, but that I’d had a nosebleed and didn’t want to tell anyone.

Why was I so ashamed of my period?!

A few months after that I was shopping with a friend (the sleepover host) and was trying on a dress in the changing rooms when I realised that my period had arrived unannounced, and it was in full flow. This time there was no covering it up, I needed a sanitary towel, stat. So I had no choice but to tell my friend (who was a bit of a gossip, as every adolescent girl is of course, and I knew it would be spread like wildfire to boys and girls alike at school the next week…as it was.)  So I feigned shock and told her that I’d just gotten my very first period and off we went to buy sanitary towels, brought up the chemist counter with beetroot faces. The funniest thing about this story is that I still have this dress, and it still fits me! I bought it when I was 11 years old (I developed early if you hadn’t already picked up on that), it is affectionately known by everyone who has seen the dress and heard this story as ‘the period dress’; and no, it is not red.

Periods are Sacred!

To get a bit hippy-dippy on you for a moment… Thankfully increasing numbers of women who were deprived of their own sacred initiation into womanhood are beginning to reclaim the connection to their own cycle, by re-enacting ‘menarche’ rituals for themselves in any way that might feel right for them, or even in group ceremonies, and understand the importance of welcoming new generations of girls into their own womanhood in a way that celebrates and honours their femininity and cycle, and that does not attach shame or guilt to it. I did my own personal ritual when my periods returned, and it was beautiful, but what I did is a cherished secret between me and my menses. There is a growing movement of ‘Red Tents’ (based on the Old Testament where women would go to a ‘red tent’ to rest during menstruation) and ‘Moon Lodges’ (the Native American equivalent) where groups of women meet, usually around the time of the New Moon, to simply rest, eat, relax and BE with one another in designated spaces that honour our natural cycles. And of course, the menstrual cycle is closely aligned with the waxing and waning of the moon, it’s often referred to as a woman’s ‘Moon time’ and traditionally women would menstruate around the new moon which is characterised by darkness, retreating inwards and reflection- this is known as the White Moon Cycle. Of course as we live in a world where we are so out of touch with nature where our lives are filled with stress, artificial lighting and technological interference so many women are completely out of sync with their natural cycles. As such there is also the Red Moon Cycle (where women menstruate at the full moon- and if you’re at all like me the full moon makes you go a bit mental- ask any Policeman, A&E Nurse or Teacher- we’re all affected, that’s where the word ‘lunatic’ comes from! The full moon is an excellent time for creativity- work late, get manically stuck into a creative project, harness the energy!) Lastly. there is the Wise Woman Cycle (where you have a few months on the Red Moon then a few months on the White Moon and it keeps going like that, just to keep you on your toes! I think I might be a Wise Woman.) Of course if you are medicating with the pill, patch or injection your body doesn’t have the chance to sync itself to the moon’s cycle at all- is it any wonder we feel completely out of sorts when on the pill when we are completely cut off from our natural state? Also, it’s not just ourselves as individuals syncing to mother nature- I’m sure we’ve all experienced ‘syncing’ our periods with women we’re living with or spend lots of time with? That’s why the ‘Red Tents,’ because everyone was in sync- It’s fascinating! Ok… enough hippy-dippy for now.

Sanitary Protection

As I was recounting my earliest period memories there, as with most girls, my first form of sanitary protection was of course the sanitary towel; I shudder to even think of them. Oh the many pitfalls of the sanitary towel- the ghastly smell, the expense, the panty-bulge, the embarrassingly LOUD noise they would make when you opened a new one in a toilet stall so you would cough as you ripped along the seams so that the girl in the next cubicle wouldn’t hear! And I know that I can’t have been the only one with a flow heavy enough that I often had to wear the ‘night-time’ pads during the day, or if I’d run out of those I’d often overlap two regular ‘with wings’ so as to make it through the school day; I must have had a noticeable waddle. Ah, periods were so much more inconvenient in the days of the sanitary towel! Then after a year or two your courage builds and you finally, gravitate to tampons. Big step! Now you can go swimming (no more shower-cap shoes!), no more nappy-like bulges and no more unwanted toilet cubicle concerts. But these are far from ideal. Again, the expense, the fact that they are flushed off into the sea to damage marine life, and not to mention the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome that comes with wearing them. And of course you can’t frolic naked in public (should the urge take you) as you have what one of my ex-boyfriends affectionately referred to as ‘a tail in’ (I say this as I was once able to frolic naked on a hillside with a group of women whilst on my period as I was wearing my Mooncup). No, tampons are perhaps more convenient but they are just as expensive and environmentally unfriendly as towels, and come with an added health risk. And also, as well as a tail, your boyfriend might accidentally mistake them for a SWEETIE they are so small and inciting in their inconspicuous bejewelled wrapping, remember that advert?!

Enter the Mooncupmooncup

I honestly think this should be ranked up there are one of the most important inventions of ALL time. If I was a poet I would definitely write a poem called ‘Ode to the Mooncup’, it has changed my menstruating life. The Mooncup is a silicone menstrual cup that is completely safe (absolutely no risk of TSS or anything like that), it is environmentally friendly (you empty its contents down the toilet, wash it in the sink and put it back in again, so no harming the fishes and dolphins!) and not to mention it saves you LOADS of money as it is longterm re-usable so you never have to buy sanitary towels or tampons again, hurrah! It is quite literally a Godsend. As with anything new, it takes a wee while to get the hang of, you need to work on your ‘folding and inserting’ technique, and to start with you might want to use a little lubrication to help with this. But once you work out how to insert it properly it ‘pops’ open and it collects the blood, no leaks! And no discomfort. It is the best thing ever. You do need to get pretty intimate with yourself, and your blood, as you will be cleaning it out multiple times over the course of your period, but I find that this feels natural and liberating, and as Germaine Greer famously says in The Female Eunuch ‘if you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your own menstrual blood – if it makes you sick, you’ve got a long way to go, baby.’

I think I’ll leave it there and suggest we take Germaine’s words in relation to the whole topic of periods. Let’s talk about them more, let’s get intimate with them and get to know our own cycles inside out, and let’s share our experiences with one another- I hope to attend a Red Tent or a Moon Lodge one day in the not too distant future, or maybe even help to set one up myself with some other willing women. I hope some of this has helped give you some insight into your own cycle, and an appreciation of just how much it does for you and how we really need to honour it, and ourselves. And when my period comes along next I may curl up under a blanket and weep over a trashy rom-com, but I’ll do so happily, filled with gratitude that my body is working the way it’s supposed to, and inside I’ll be dancing!I got my periodFurther Reading

Books:

Moon Time: Harness the Ever-Changing Energy of you Menstrual Cycle ‘ by Lucy H. Pearce

Red Moon: Understanding and Using the Creative Sexual and Spiritual Gifts of the Menstrual Cycle‘ by Miranda Gray.

The Optimized Woman: Using your Menstrual Cycle to Achieve Success and Fulfillment‘ by Miranda Gray

The Wise Wound‘ by Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove

The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You?‘ by Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope

Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control‘ by Holly Griggs Spall

Taking Charge of Your Fertility‘ by Toni Weschler

Articles:

5 Reasons I’ll Never Take Another Birth Control Pill‘ on Mind Body Green

Basic Introduction to the Cervical Mucous Method by Mayo Clinic

Basic Introduction to the Sympto-Thermal Method by Mayo Clinic