Speaking in Tongues

IMG_1549

“Leeds is a city of hills and high places. Where we live, in the north east corner of town, is lofty too. It’s a hard climb with shopping, from the Number 12 bus stop: up from the roar of Roundhay Road, through Gipton Wood (pictured above) to the end of our street.”

THIS IS an opening extract from ‘The Street Where I Live’, a piece of writing I am working on as part of an artists’ exchange between Leeds and our twin city of Dortmund. This year marks half a century since Leeds, in West Yorkshire, was twinned with the German city of Dortmund in the Ruhrgebiet. Two great  post-industrial urban centres in Europe, united in a post-war zeal for mutual understanding. For peace.

This year, also, sees the UK locked in a hopeless Brexit tangle – all ideals of the great European project about to be jettisoned on a tide of Little Englander populism. At moments like this, it is essential to swim against the tide. Galvanising too, to look at notions of geography, of place and belonging. How often do we look closely at the town, the street, the house, where we live? Instead of taking it for granted, it’s good to dig deep, to investigate. To connect. To belong.

Leeds/Dortmund 50

Inspired by a writing exchange between Leeds-based poet Peter Spafford and German poet Ralf Thenior, Leeds/Dortmund 50 is a literature festival planned for the autumn of 2019, celebrating the artistic connection between the two cities. You can read about it here . The theme being offered is Neighbourhood: Nachbarschaft. And already, I am looking at my environment with different – and with more affectionate – eyes.

Matthias Engels is my Dortmund writing partner. He has already been involved in a mighty publishing project called All Over Heimat in which writers from 20 different countries wrote about their  notions of home and belonging – see A Place to Call Home

Together we are beginning to communicate, sometimes in German, sometimes in English, about the place where we live. Striking, already, are the similarities: we each live on the edge of the city; surrounded by neighbours of different nationalities and experience. Just a few minutes away from here in Oakwood, Leeds, is the rolling Yorkshire countryside. Matthias’ own neighbourhood has a station nearby, “Dennoch ist man in gut zehn Minuten aux freiem Feld.” (“In ten minutes – you are in open fields.”)

Slowly we begin to discover – that there is far more that connects, than divides us.

fullsizeoutput_83c

(The little landmark of Oakwood Clock, just down from Gipton Wood, Roundhay, Leeds)

Languages and understanding

It is a great joy to work across language and culture – and something, as a longtime student of languages, that gives me particular pleasure. For many years, I have grappled with the complexities of Hungarian, and regularly work with a Hungarian poet called Péter Závada to render his own Budapest poems into English – see Poems and Pálinka And now, through working with Matthias,  I return to German, the subject I studied at university, decades ago, and which is  slowly, haltingly, being pressed back into service.

Communicating in a different language – or with writers who work in different languages – encourages the mind to think differently. To open up. To be more tolerant, more understanding, of the many different worlds we all live in, together.

Who knows what the writers involved in this evolving project will discover, about each other, and about their own backyards? One thing is for sure. We need initiatives like this, more than ever before. When the international barriers start going up: it is open hearted communication between individuals across countries and cultures, which will break them down again, and begin to re-create the world longed for, after World War Two. The dream of a free  – and a free-thinking – Europe.

Would you like to be involved with this? Then contact Peter Spafford at:

leedsdortmund50@gmail.com

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Uses of Solitude

IMG_1543

“Solitude stands in the doorway

And I’m struck once again by her black silhouette

By her long cool stare and her silence

I suddenly remember each time we’ve met.”

Solitude Standing/Suzanne Vega

TREES do it for me. Woods and water. Those are the places where I reclaim my solitude, and my sense of inner peace. Also, sitting in my favourite chair, in my favourite Reiki Room, at home. Alone. With a book. And my quietly settling thoughts… These are the uses of solitude. It’s a matter of remembering where to go, when the world gets too much. Back to the source. But how often we all forget.

The age of high speed

This is an age of high speed connection, and of twenty four hour visibility. The mass communication tools of online social networks are astonishingly useful – and sometimes corrosively cruel. There is a pervasive collective sense of being on view, on guard: and a heightened fear of being left behind. I am not immune to any of this. Partly this is a professional imperative: my last publisher insisted I join Twitter; whilst a tech-savvy colleague said Instagram was essential to my Reiki business. But partly, it’s pleasure, too. I am curious – and I am full of the trigger-happy smart phone habits of those far younger and far more switched-on than me. How many ‘likes’ on a Facebook post? Who has re-tweeted my latest, carefully crafted tweet, complete with click-bait photo? Oh, those little shots of dopamine, when someone says something nice about you online. And the horror of the constantly lurking trolls. It’s a minefield out there, both online and in the real world.

Stepping off the train

But in the middle of this constant chatter, there is a deeper, quieter, more reliable resource. Somewhere to turn to, for solace and relief. It’s always there. Always available. Being attuned to Reiki has brought me back into its embrace, after too long away. The joys of being alone. Although linked to the quality of stillness, another Reiki-related resource that I have written about here , it can also be tapped into when on the move. Alone in a crowd. When walking or running… Even when doing the washing up! Solitude is a pleasingly transportable and eminently meditative feast. It’s all about tuning in to the “still, small voice inside.”

fullsizeoutput_81f

Extroverts and Introverts

There are some people who replenish themselves through the company of others. They are the true extroverts, like my lively, gregarious mother, who would have found it a torture to be alone with her own restless spirit. Then there are those who are quite deeply introverted, and who would always choose their own company over that of others. My late husband was pointed that way:  steady, silent and serene, in another life he would have been a hermit or contemplative.

I am somewhere between these two extremes. An “extroverted introvert”, as my brother once pronounced, when subjecting me to some cod psychological profiling for his ‘A’ level studies. And he was right. People do matter to me, very much indeed. They comfort, challenge and delight me, every day of my life. But when my tank of energy is empty – or when the phenomenal noise and speed of the modern world  overwhelms me – it is solitude that fills my cup, and settles my frayed and fractured nerves.

Reiki: being alone together

One of the things I have come to love about receiving and practising Reiki, is the sense of quiet and inner listening that it brings with it. Something about the silence that descends, when Reiki hands are placed on the body during a treatment, is particularly special. Someone is there with you – tuning into the deeper rhythms of your physical and mental self – and yet, there is no sense of intrusion. Few words, if any, are exchanged. You are alone: able to travel inwards, for refreshment, even some kind of healing; yet with the hands of another held upon you, keeping you steady and safe.

Challenges and rewards of solitude

Solitude, as singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega suggests in her 1980s classic, ‘Solitude Standing’, quoted above, can be provocative. It brings you face to face with yourself – no escape, through mindless chatter, or another empty scroll down your Facebook timeline. Solitude, as Vega sings, is a “flower with a flame”. It’s beautiful – but it can burn, too.

Too much solitude can turn into loneliness and isolation, and the illumination of a mind turned in on itself can become a trap. As with all things, a balance needs to be struck. The golden mean – a middle way. Enough company. Enough time alone. Switching off the smart phone one day a week, is not such a bad idea (although surprisingly difficult to do!) And seeking out quiet practices like T’ai Chi and Reiki, which bring you into closer contact with your inner – soulful – self,  can bring more balance and flow into your busy life. Sweet harmony. How do you find yours?

If you want to give Reiki a try, take a look at my Reiki in Leeds page, for more details.

And there is plenty of T’ai Chi coming up at Leeds Buddhist Centre. Details on my Classes with Barney page.

Suzanne Vega’s ‘Solitude Standing’ album was released in 1987.

The Power of the Personal

Memoir: a vibrant literary form

MEMOIR – or creative non-fiction – is enjoying  gathering popularity among contemporary readers . Why should that be? Because everyone loves a personal story, powerfully told.  Despite the old-fashioned tinge of the  word itself – ‘memoir’ –  this form  offers great imaginative possibilities to writers. Less constraining than straightforward autobiography – yet holding within it the power of a real-life experience – memoir can draw us into the world of another, in a unique, and often deeply poetic way.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers  by Max Porter – a magical re-imagining of Ted Hughes’ Crow, which explores the pain of childhood loss; and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald – an intense narrative of her relationship with a bird of prey, in the wake of her beloved father’s death, are two stunning, and completely different examples of the genre. Both these books describe a visceral and transforming relationship with the natural world: they show how nature, in all its raw power and vitality, can revive us, when we are at our lowest ebb. Trees, plants, animals and birds, sea, sky and earth – the very world around us – can make us well again, in body and mind.

How animals heal us

Seven years ago, I wrote a memoir called Old Dog. Like Porter and Macdonald, my inspiration came from the animal world. Not birds this time – but dogs. And one particular rescue dog, who came into my own family, and proceeded to “rescue” the  beleaguered humans she lived among: gracefully, tenderly, and with huge canine spirit. My subject was the dog herself, called Muffin. My subtext was grief, bereavement and loss. How do we find strength when illness and death come calling? How to find beauty in an ugly situation? In this case, it was an ordinary little dog, who shone the way.

IMG_0920

The glory of the garden

In a previous memoir, A Handful of Earth, it had been the garden, and a scruffy old allotment, that had provided solace for the soul. In the wake of a grievous loss, I found digging the ground, sowing seeds and vegetable plants, and just watching things grow, were a kind of nature therapy: a metaphor of life, of remembrance, and of hope. Not everything is lost – some things return to us, year after year, if we know where to look for them.

IMG_0919

The Cycle of Life

Old Dog is due to be re-published soon, and I find myself re-reading the original – always a salutary experience for a writer! – and adding contemporary material, reflecting on the recurrence of themes touched on in the book. What I learn from this process, as so often, when I sit down to write, is that life is cyclical. Themes and experiences emerge again and again. Constantly we re-invent and re-discover ourselves, as we tread through the sometimes difficult pathways of our lives. Old Dog ended, inevitably, with the death of its eponymous heroine. And of course, there have been other deaths in the intervening years – of animals and of humans dear to me. Too many of them. And they, too, need celebrating and remembering. But never in a maudlin way.

Memoir may touch on deep and even searing experiences – as Maggie O’Farrell’s recent, astonishing account of her many brushes with death, I Am, I Am, I Am,  goes to prove – but to reach the reader, it must  also be robust, vibrant, even jubilant. This is, after all, a human need: to see some light – to revel in it – even if that light comes from a very dark place.

Shining a Light

Creative non-fiction, much like the novel or short story, resonates best when it is focussed around a powerful event. A birth, a death, a life-changing moment. It comes to life when it hones in on a particular relationship – like that of Macdonald and her hawk, or me and my beloved old dog – and explores that relationship in a searching and honest way. The atmosphere of the world described is all important. Sensory and precise descriptions of scenes and places – inside the room of a house, or out in a particular wild place – can make a memoir come fully alive in people’s minds, making an impression – an emotional mark – that never completely fades away.

New life in the old dog yet

In the final paragraph of Old Dog, written not long after her death, I imagined her running beside me, on one of our familiar walks. She seemed very present, very alive. “And that, for me,” I wrote, “is where she will be now, like the puff of a dandelion’s head seeded lightly in the breeze: dancing, somewhere in the undergrowth and over the bumpy dirt tracks of this simple little wood. On, on and on. Forever.”

Recently, I have taken to walking those woods again, after a long absence. The bluebells are about to bloom. My memories are sharpened. The dog, somehow, is still alongside me. Those words still carry truth. They are rooted in reality, are intimate and personal – yet tap into something elemental, even universal. The things we love, never leave us. Not if we hold them in our minds. Not if we write about them, clearly, honestly, from the heart.

A personal story – powerfully told. Such is memoir at its best. And the need to read these stories, as well as write them, is what makes us who we are as humans: curious about each other’s lives; and ever searching, for deeper and deeper meaning, in our own.

I will be running a workshop on Memoir Writing for the Northern Short Story Festival on June 2, 2019 in Leeds. Tickets and information here

Old Dog by Barney Bardsley (Simon and Schuster)

A Handful of Earth by Barney Bardsley (John Murray)

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (Faber and Faber)

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Jonathan Cape)

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)

A Place to Call Home

IF I think of home, I instinctively place my hand on my heart. “Home is where the heart is.” This is our true home, deep inside us. In the body, the psyche, the soul. These days, the wider notion of home – of homeland, country, politics and power – is an issue of conflict and frequent desolation. There is division everywhere, particularly in my own homeland, the United Kingdom, whose very title – united? – is currently a mockery, and whose constitution is in Brexit crisis.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by worry in such violent and troubling times. But hope comes in unusual places – and reaching out, when our every instinct is to defend and to withdraw, can repay dividends rich in kindness and possibility.

Reiki: A Reaching Out

In the art of Reiki, we reach out (See Reiki in Leeds ).One of the most common hand positions is over and around the heart itself; raising warmth and settling anxiety. The simple act of being alongside another person, of extending the hand of friendship, calm, and of healing intent, is, in this era of grand polemic and posturing, an almost revolutionary act. Here I am it says: and here you are. Here we are together. In quietness. Where the heart is. Home.

Writing: A Reaching In

Writers, by nature, are quite solitary beasts. And when not working in my Reiki Room, I can quite frequently be found in the garden, alone: gazing at the green, or staring up into the wide blue yonder. Dreaming, dreaming, dreaming (See A Writing Life). It is tempting to do this more and more, as  tensions  in the world outside rise to fever pitch. But too much solipsism must be resisted. And in our search and yearning for “home”, it is only by working with others, that we can find proper solace and connection. More than ever, we need a new community to call our own, we need each other.

All Over Heimat: an Anthology of Home

A call went out, a couple of years ago, from three writers in Dortmund, Germany, for contributions to an anthology on the notion of “Heimat” – of homeland, or home – whatever that might mean to you. It was published this month. 150 writers from over 20 countries have filled its pages, responding in diverse languages – German, English, Dutch, Hungarian, Romanian, Albanian, Russian – and speaking of complex and profound things. Two of my own poems are in the collection – Homesick –  and those of two colleagues, Leeds-based writer Peter Spafford, and Hungarian poet Péter Závada. All of us are grappling with these questions.What is home? Where is it to be found? And if we lose it, how can we find it again? Messages for our time. Urgent and humane. All Over Heimat

IMG_1463

A Reclamation of Hope

Dortmund is the twin city of Leeds, where I live, and where I work as a writer and  practitioner at Reiki in Leeds. After World War Two, the twinning of towns across Europe, and the wider world, was seen as a beautiful initiative: a sharing of culture and language and ideas. The foundation for peace. As time went by, the twinning initiative fell by the wayside, somehow. With the free movement of peoples, and the enlargement of the European Union, perhaps it was no longer necessary to encourage such a notion? After all, we were truly global now, weren’t we? Fewer borders, one world.

Events over the past few years have splintered such idealism. The refugee crisis. the rise of Trump – and far right populism across Europe. Brexit. Suddenly, there are walls, where there used to be bridges. But writers are good at resistance. And ‘All Over Heimat’ is pure resistance. Above all it says: reach out to each other and listen. We all have stories to share, and a common humanity to draw on.

One Million Perfumes

Some of the most rewarding work that I do, as a writer and teacher, is with refugees and asylum seekers for Leeds Playhouse. Recently I ran a workshop called ‘Finding Your Voice’ at the Refugee Council  in Leeds. These workshops are unpredictable. People come from all over the world. Many of them have experienced trauma, unimaginable losses. They have come to seek refuge: to find a new home. And simple, kind, human connection. Sometimes we write poems together, as we did here. A handful of diverse individuals – from Sudan, from Egypt – shared their own thoughts about home.

Their words, working through an Arab interpreter, were sometimes halting, sometimes sad. But oh, such sweetness evoked. Such longing and desire. This is all we want, isn’t it? To feel wanted, safe, and at home.

Home is…

Family. Safety. Connection. Friends.

The smell of home is One Million Perfumes

The taste of home is delicious, spicy rice.

The sounds of traffic, car horns, animals, music,

The call to prayer.

The noisy Tuk Tuks everywhere.

And what can we see?

Sunshine. Light blue sky. A clear expansive view.

Carrying our home – always – deep in our hearts.

To make an appointment with me at the Reiki Room, go to my Reiki in Leeds  page.

All Over Heimat’ is edited by Matthias Engels, Thomas Kade, Thorsten Trelenberg and is published by Stories and Friends. The main language of the collection is German.

http://www.stories-and-friends.de

 

Reiki in the Garden

We are stardust, we are golden

We are billion year old carbon

And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

(Woodstock/Joni Mitchell)

SOMEONE in our road has bought themselves a cockerel. Now, we may have a little wood barely a hundred yards away – and North Leeds is known for being green and well-wilded, but it is, nonetheless, a built-up and urban environment. So it feels distinctly strange to hear this bird cock-a-doodle-doing at all hours of the day (though never at dawn, to my knowledge). Strange, but comforting and calm. He is a distant memory of countryside holidays as a child. A jaunty reminder of haystacks and farmyards. A full-throated connection to all that is green and pleasant and good in my imagination. He was crowing today, when I walked out into my sunny February garden to do a bit of digging and tidying up. And I was pleased to hear him, alongside the busy sparrows that are starting to build their nests in the high hedge by the Reiki Room door.

Escape to Earth

I learned to garden late in my life – was forty before I had my own little patch of land and rambling allotment. The garden came to me at a time of great sadness and loss and it helped me heal, no question. I wrote about it in a memoir  – A Handful of Earth – and in a recent blog – The Art of Stillness . The exquisite pleasure of digging the earth, the rich smell of the soil, the sturdy beauty of emerging shoots, of lacy patterned leaves and richly coloured blossoms, filled my senses and restored me to strength, both physical and psychological.

Then, as the years went by, and a new life began to unfold – one of theatre and travel and writing and teaching – the garden retreated in my mind. There is a season for everything: and I was starting a mid-life season in the city. Leeds. London. Paris. Budapest. I had “no time” to garden, and it became, for a while, a place of quiet rebuke. Overgrown hedges. Weedy borders. Pot bound herbs with sorrowful, drooping foliage.

Reiki and Remembering

But over the past couple of years life has changed, once again. A broken shoulder – depleted stocks of energy – and a new inward-turning direction, as I have turned sixty,* has taken me away from all that external adventuring, at least for a while, and has made me quieter… Brought me back to the garden. More specifically, it is Reiki that brings me there. Reminds me. Settles me back, closer to the earth.

For the one thing Reiki does is tune us into our “true selves”. (Reiki master Frans Stiene has written about this in his book “The Inner Heart of Reiki”. See On Books and Being). Embarking on Reiki treatments – and even more so, being attuned and trained as a Reiki practitioner – is deeply calming, but also precipitates great change. It brings us more in line with who we are really meant to be. Shines a quiet light towards our own truth, whatever that might be. And the truth for me is – I am becoming a gardener again.

The Fresh Air Cure

Reiki helps enormously with anxiety and low mood (See Reiki and the Anxious Mind). Warm hands laid on your body, through clothes, in stillness and with kind attention, is immensely reassuring. And it turns our focus towards ourselves: seems to ask the silent question, how can we care for ourselves better, once the Reiki treatment is finished?

One sure way to restore both mood and health, is to be outside. Drinking in some fresh air. Feeling the sun – or wind and rain – on your face. And, if you have a garden, planting something in the ground, as if you are planting yourself back in the earth. Without your own garden to play in, there are still walks to be had, parks to sit in (like our local Roundhay Park, pictured above – and bonny in every season). There are always trees to stroke, and the sky to gaze at.

My T’ai Chi teacher has the tiniest garden, on an inner city road in Brixton, South London. His front yard can be seen from far and wide – the small wall shored up with earth and planted with all manner of abundant green. “If I had no garden”, he told me once, ” I would plant seeds in the palms of my hands.” He was speaking in metaphor – and the image has remained powerful in my mind.

No more so than now: when my own hands flow warm with Reiki – the so-called “universal energy”, accessible to all, if we choose to tune into it – and I find myself not just being guided to work alongside other people, in therapeutic endeavour; but being led back to the garden, too. I feel the urge to enjoy whatever natural resource I can, whenever I can. It’s all there, all around us: earth, sky, water… Crowing cockerels! Food for the soul. And a feast for the senses. A great aliveness in the world around us, in every waking minute.

To book a Reiki session with me go to my Reiki in Leeds page.

*In Japan, home of Reiki, sixty is seen as a particularly significant age.  Called kanreki – kan = circle; reki = calendar of years – this age marks the full cycle of the Eastern zodiac calendar. It is a time to celebrate one’s achievements – and to forget life’s troubles. One is said to enter a new stage of life, having thrown off earlier shackles, and bearing now all the joys and possibilities of a newborn.

 

Work Ethic?

THIS WEEK I had an email from a brilliant young Hungarian poet, whose writing I sometimes translate (See Poems and Pálinka) and who has a brain the size of a planet and a work ethic to match. We were discussing a new European collection of poetry to which we had both contributed. I asked how he was – “I’m overworked as always…maybe it’s an addiction I should get checked out.”

He was joking, of course, but it made me think. When people come to me for Reiki they nearly always talk of pressure: stress at work, commitments at home, a sense of a mind and body in overdrive, leaving them less able to relax and enjoy themselves, leading, ultimately to illness and distress.

‘I’m far too busy…’

This is a trap I’ve fallen into in my own life too often. A sense, even as a maverick freelancer – or maybe because of this precarious status – that I must chase to keep up. That there is always a danger I will be left behind, as everyone else forges successfully ahead. A foolish compulsion.

Yet the times when I resist this false comparison, the endless forward motion and competition – with others, and, more crucially, with myself – are the times when I become truly contented in my own skin. Sitting watching the birds. Writing a card or letter to a friend, instead of tapping out yet another email. Taking time to make something delicious to eat. Walking in nature. Conversations with others. Playing my ukulele (Progress is slow there – but I am getting better!) None of these things make me money. I will never be rich. Far from it. But abundance is surely not measured in bank notes, or in the number of hours clocked up, chained to the office desk? Down time, “lost” time, dream time – is such a beautiful and life enhancing thing.

A broken system

A lot of the work I do, outside of my Reiki and independent classes, is with two big institutions: one a theatre, the other a national newspaper.  I love the projects and the writing that they foster – am committed, body and soul, to the powerful creative collaborations that they engender. But I notice that the people who work within these big buildings are often hopelessly over-committed, even overwhelmed, by the amount of things they have to cope with on a daily basis.

Emails don’t get answered, because they are lost in an Inbox that groans at the seams with demands and diktats. The phone passes instantly to answerphone. Even face-to-face, there is a sense of these valiant worker bees permanently hovering on the wing, primed for the next task, and the one after that, ad infinitum.

Then they leave the office uneasy, knowing that their “To Do” list has barely been touched. And if they are ill – and surely this system is only destined to make people ill? – then they know,  that the workload accrued will have doubled and tripled in their absence.

Isn’t it time we did things differently, somehow? Switched off the computer. Switched back on to ourselves?

The hand of kindness

Twenty years ago, when I was doing some movement coaching for drama students in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, I used to worry about their extreme levels of anxiety, their chaotic young lives. What these people need isn’t drama training, I reflected: it’s therapy.

This was the start of a journey for me towards the healing – as well as creative – arts. It led to using gentle movement for people living with dementia  and running workshops for refugees and asylum seekers. And recently it has brought me to Reiki. A compassionate touch. Relief from the needless stresses that others lay upon us – and that we lay upon ourselves.

I have been to two funerals in the past two months.Very different people: one a university administrator, the other a primary school teacher. Both of them extremely conscientious and hardworking. But  what people talked about most, and appreciated above all, as these dear people’s lives were celebrated, was their kindness and friendship. Kindness is what people will remember you for. It is what will draw them to you. And above all else, it is vital, in this speeded-up, stressed-out, ever-more-edgy society, that we are kind to ourselves. Sit down now  – look at the birds, smell the fresh air. Cherish your one and only, your very precious life.

Winter Blue

A February freeze

It is the beginning of February. The ancient festival of St Brigid, of Imbolc – marking the mid point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Solstice. Something to do with ewes in lamb. Fecundity. And the returning light. On the lawn outside my writing – and reiki – room, two blackbirds are fighting over an apple core. And in my country, here in the UK, people are fighting too, endlessly, over Brexit. But I refuse. What we need, more than ever, in these difficult times, is a connection: to the continent of Europe, to the world, and to each other. Taking care, not tearing lumps. But the blackbirds I forgive – for theirs, at least, is a necessary struggle.

Healing power of nature

Nature, always, remains a powerful solace. Even though it is bitter cold outside, the sky up above the house is a heavenly blue. There is clear sunshine – with its penetrating gaze, seeking out the dark corners, and softening them into the beginnings of a thaw. There are the sharp, feisty points of snowdrops, pushing through the crusted soil – and the yellow witch hazel is in full and spidery bloom.

January endings

It is a relief to be out of January – always a long and dreary month, full of bills and post-xmas hangovers. A time of illness and the blues. Of dying and of death. Just this year, for me alone, one funeral at the end of the first week, and one death at the beginning of the second. Neither person young – but still too young to die. Both of them integral to my life, in very different ways – leaving, as every death does, a sense of bewilderment and sadness in their wake.

There have been many, many losses in my life – and the longer one lives, of course, the more, and more grievous, they become. You think you will get used to it, but no, you never do. But perhaps the one thing you can learn along the way, is the art of self care, amidst all those heart-felt, body blows of life.

Strategies of self-healing

One of the first people I saw dying was when I was 30. It was the 1980s, the era of AIDS: of stigma, of no-cure, of Project Fear. Of course, I was frightened too. Felt sick and alarmed – had no clue how to protect myself, psychologically, nor how to help my friend have a more peaceful death. I did my best, though others did it better. And when my own husband fell ill with cancer, not many years after that, the same sick bewilderment came upon me. It took its toll, no question, body and mind.

But what I learned, from painful – and repeated – necessity, was how, when the darkness falls, to find your own source of strength and of light. The garden became a rough paradise to me, of regeneration and growth. (See A Handful of Earth).  My own beloved dog – and the joy of all animals – gave great solace. (See  Old Dog). Working with the body – through dance, dance movement therapy, T’ai Chi and the Alexander Technique (See Classes with Barney), has been  a constant support: a way to find solid ground under my feet, when the tectonic plates of grief are shifting.

The warmth of Reiki

Recently, it is Reiki that I turn to more and more, both in my professional practise, and for self healing. It is a gentle way to find a sense of calm – and lightness – when the season of the year, or of the mind, seems heavy and dark. Placing quiet hands on the heart, or on creaky knees, a sore back, or an aching head, seems so simple, it’s hard to belief its efficacy. But the stream of warmth that comes through these carefully attuned hands is real enough. Tranquillising and energising, both. A tangible support.

I wish Reiki had been there beside me, when I sat, helpless, at my dying friend’s bedside, 30 years ago. I wish I could have used it to ease my old dog’s arthritic hips; my husband’s sleepless, over-medicated, painful nights. But this has come as a late gift to me. And I endeavour to use it well – for others, and also for myself. Boundaries and balance and poise:  all there for the asking.

The melting snow

The blackbirds have disappeared from the grass now. The sparrows have filched all the birdseed and the marauding pigeons have been seen off a few times, with a sharp rap on the window from me. The thin covering of snow is slowly melting under the heat from the house and the winter sun. I find myself thinking again of veteran poet Mary Oliver – another January loss (See The Art of Stillness). How deeply she understood the relationship between all things. Her words remain both a comfort and a reminder. Only Connect. In her poem ‘Some Questions You Might Ask’ she wonders about the soul, about who has it, and who hasn’t…

“What about the blue iris?

What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?

What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?

What about the grass?”

To read more about my Reiki practise, or to book an appointment with me, see Reiki in Leeds.