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.

The Art of Stillness

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees 

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

from ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver*

Girl on a blanket

There are children who come bursting out of the womb, full of sound and fury, arms and legs flailing, ready for the busy action and freedom of the world, outside the muted chamber of their mother’s womb. There are others, who would rather be quiet, thank you, and who spend all their time trying to get back to that strange watery cave they swam in, before they were born. I am one of those: a seeker of silence, of stillness and repose. Gregarious up to a point – teacher, theatre collaborator, singer and dancer – it is always the quiet of my room, the comfort of solitude, that fills me up, when I am empty and deflated.

When I was small – before I could walk – I could happily be left by my mother on a blanket in the back garden (See Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives) with a book in my hands – not to read, just to hold and to gaze at – safe in the knowledge that I would be in the exact same place, when she returned to collect me, some time later. Peaceful. Content. The “soft animal of my body” absorbed in the tactile tranquillity of simply being still.

My daughter is cut from the same cloth. She has an inner eye, that shines, clear and calm, in vigilant introspection. Now 26, when she was nearly a year old, we took her with some friends of ours, to the paddling pool in the middle of Brockwell Park , in Brixton, South London, where we used to live. It was high summer – hot and noisy – and the pool was rammed with over excited children, roaring and splashing, and causing all kinds of chaos and mayhem. In the middle of it all sat my small daughter, gently passing trickles of water from hand to hand, fascinated with its flow and texture, soothed by its cool rhythms, and oblivious to the febrile atmosphere all around her. Utterly self contained. The adults were mesmerised. Molly was simply being herself.

Meditation in a garden

There is a place for noise and bustle in a life – parties and adventures and excess. Living on the wild side. Drinking and talking and getting giddy on life itself. And in my 20s and 30s there was plenty of all that. But age and experience – and my natural, underlying disposition – taught me a different path in the end. Watching people around me fall ill and die – including my own husband, after 10 years of cancer – took its toll, and taught me to surrender. To surrender to the wisdom of stillness, wherever it can be found.

After decades of living in tree-less streets and flats in London, I found both harmony and joy in the great outdoors, in Leeds, where I have lived since I turned 40. Nature can be noisy, for sure. But it’s a different kind of noise: with none of the clamour of human voices and demands. A rough old allotment – digging for spuds and scratching my hands on the blackberry brambles – and an overgrown, rambling garden, out the back of the house that I live in now, have given me solace, strength and a place for silence and healing. I am looking at the garden now: my Reiki in Leeds room overlooks the dogwood and the witch hazel; the tangled clematis and the thorny rose; and the aged stone Buddha (pictured above), who presides over proceedings from the far end of the grass, under the big old holly tree. Birds visit often and squabble over the fat-feeder; hop on the lawn to pull out juicy worms for lunch; peck at the apples and clean their feathers  in the birdbath. All of this gives me immeasurable satisfaction. Like the great poet Mary Oliver quoted above – who died just this month – I find deep solace in being alone, in nature, in quietness. All things and people connect, when we  return to the earth.

In my room

The room in which I now practise Reiki in Leeds, has a sense of deep calm in it, that comes from the years of meditation, of T’ai Chi, and of “just sitting”, that have passed within it. There is layer upon layer of invisible vibration: a clear intention, whatever the turbulence of my external life, that this modest space be a sanctuary. For me – and for those who step into it, for a Reiki session, or to practise Chi Kung. There is art on the walls, from friends, or people I have taught. There is colour – vibrant oranges and reds – to affirm vitality and aliveness. There are books, for study and contemplation, for writing. But most of all, there is stillness. A stillness I have long searched for, since I sat on that blanket as a child. And now that Reiki has come to the room, with its own sweet wisdom,  there is a chance to be still – alongside another. Most of the people who come for Reiki with me remark that one of the most refreshing things of all, is simply to take time to sit or lie down. Giving something back to themselves. Going back to the source. And by paying this act of quiet attention – we breathe new life into ourselves, and discover  a clearer sense of who we are really meant to be.

*’Wild Geese: Selected Poems’ by Mary Oliver is published by Bloodaxe Books

For details of my classes go to Classes with Barney

To read more about Reiki and to book a session with me, go to Reiki in Leeds

The Wisdom of Hands

HANDS fascinate me. They always have. I look at them as often as I look at faces. Whether old and bent by arthritis – as my father’s were – or young and artistic – like the long-fingered dextrous hands of my ukulele teacher – the beauty of them remains a constant. Newborn. Young and elderly. All hands tell a story. They reveal so much about who we are – and how we are feeling.

Do they wave about in a stream of volubility, as mine do, when I am excited, and in the full flow of telling a funny story to a friend? Or are they clasped tightly, one to the other, like the mourners’ hands (and my own) at a funeral I attended last week? What do they say, about our mood, our state of health, our frame of mind? In sadness and in pleasure – every pair of hands is telling us something, and when words fail us, sometimes hands – with a gesture, or a touch – can fill the void, with an eloquent and loving alternative.

Tools of the trade

My brother is a Master Thatcher. He has worked with his hands, cutting and shaping thatch for his beautiful roofs, through all weathers and seasons,  for all his adult life. If you placed his hands, weathered and nimble, next to mine, you would see quite a different story being wordlessly revealed. But hands are the tools of my trade too. Hands are a vital ingredient in my working life. I am a writer,  and am usually holding a pen, before I go to the screen to type in the handwritten script. I teach T’ai Chi, where the hands must come alive with energy, or “chi”, in order that the sequence of flowing, life-affirming movements can succeed. For where feet receive: hands transmit. (See ‘Walking On Air’) And I am a Reiki practitioner. My hands are my tools of perception. And the process of fine tuning them is a constant and fascinating challenge.

Stillness and Warmth

Hands – like the mind – can be such busy creatures (see Reiki and the Anxious Mind), it is a relief, in Reiki, to hold them perfectly still. Laying hands on someone’s crown – or solar plexus – or feet, and simply waiting, is the best kind of conversation. A subtle dance of energy, that passes from one body to the other. Yet all in stillness and repose. Warmth gathers in the palms – though sometimes cold comes, or tingling – as they gather information from the person receiving the Reiki. And in return, a message is transmitted, simple yet profound: relax, come into balance, find your well of calm.

Balancing the Yin and Yang

We live in a very YANG world in the West: externally focussed, pressurised and fast. Reiki encourages a turning towards the YIN: tapping into the truth and equilibrium which can be found, when we listen more intently to our inner worlds. Reiki hands help us realise, that there can be great power and wisdom in being still, even if just for half an hour, or an hour, once in a while. Gathering our internal resources, to face the clamour of the world again, with more conviction and aplomb.

Take a look at my Reiki in Leeds page for more blogs about Reiki. And if you’d like to book a session, be in touch here:

07400 396231

Baby, Baby, Baby

Planting a new seed

Although I am a passionate gardener, and have been rescued and fed by the earth,  body and soul – see Blooming in the Shadows – one thing I have always been bad at, is planting seeds. Somehow, they just don’t want to germinate for me, and my strike rate is poor. So when someone brought me back a precious packet of specialist wildflower seeds, all the way from Canada, my heart missed a beat. I was sure that nothing would come up. But I was wrong. They took their time, but by the end of the summer, I had a little window box full of blooms, of which the yellow beauty pictured above, is the finest example. Result! And 2018 was a blooming year in many respects, with our uncharacteristic English heatwave – and, coming right alongside it, pregnancies among many of my colleagues and friends. Some of them welcome – yet quite unexpected. Nature works in mysterious ways.

Knowing hands, secret bodies

One of the first people to come along to Reiki in Leeds for a hands-on reiki session with me, was a wonderful young musician called Fran Wyburn whom I regularly  work alongside, creating classes with writing, movement and music for people living with dementia .She is an energetic and upbeat individual, so I was a little surprised when she dropped asleep almost immediately, as I started to lay my hands on her body. Everything seemed calm and quiet in her, with “lots of space and light”, as she said – except for her abdomen, which was tight as a drum. A little “jumpy”, I put in my notes. And no wonder. There was a lot going on. Although she had no idea, and neither had I, she was in the very early stages of pregnancy. A much wanted baby, yet one she had not expected to manifest quite so soon. But bodies know what they are up to. And her body – and the tiny nascent life within it – certainly seemed to appreciate the gentleness that reiki offers.

The ocean of life

Says Fran, “My whole body relaxed so much, I felt like I was floating and I became very calm. I feel the  reiki helped me give into what my body needed. Afterwards I was rejuvenated and felt an enormous release come over me.”

Reiki – like T’ai Chi and Chi Kung – tunes you in to where you are at the time. It soothes – but it also tells the truth. And the truth was, she needed to rest. Never is a female body more busy – except perhaps in labour – than in the first three months of pregnancy. The tiredness, as I remember, 25 years on from my own newly-forming baby, is positively oceanic. And surrender is the best and healthiest option.

From cradle to grave

Reiki has a quiet and special part to play,  both at the beginning and at the end of a life. Recently it has been my privilege to visit a friend who is resident in a local hospice. The hospice movement particularly respects reiki for its non-invasive presence. Sitting alongside someone who is in the last stages of their life, either with reiki hands on, or near, their body – or simply sitting still beside them, is a small but tangible gift. A responsibility  too. It seems to me that the veil is very fine,  between this life, and whatever comes after it; and also – what comes before. The seed. The germination. The flower – and the petals gently falling. The beginning and the end.

The pregnancy challenge

Fran Wyburn, meanwhile, is still very much at the beginning of her particular journey into motherhood. The baby is yet to be born. And let’s not kid ourselves – being pregnant can be tough. Sickness, vomiting, continuing fatigue. At six months pregnant, she had another reiki session with me. She had been having a tough time with persistent nausea. And whilst reiki supports – it never claims to ‘cure’. Still, at least she could have a little respite, and this is what she reports: “It had the same calming, soothing and rejuvenating effects on me. I feel that both times, it has helped my body and mind re-align to the enormous changes that have been occurring inside me. It has given me the space I needed to reconnect with myself – and, the second time, also with my baby – away from all the other things I have been coping with, too.”

Gently does it

When I had my own baby, I was determined to give birth as naturally as possible. It certainly started out that way, but ended up being about as  high tech as it could be, barring a caesarean. Suspected breech birth – baby stuck in the birth canal – last minute epidural – lengthy transition from first to final stage – and a ventouse delivery. Plus one very tired and sore mother at the end of it. But with a perfectly healthy baby. Life happens in its own sweet way, and with all the best planning in the world, things can turn out differently than expected.

But I do wonder how things might have been, if I had had the same midwife all the way through my labour – and if that midwife had included reiki in her repertoire.

The very first reiki session I had myself, some years back, was from a friend who was a midwife herself. “Do you give reiki to your labouring mothers?” I asked. “Not officially”, she said, with a twinkle in her eye. Lucky them, lucky them.

One of the pioneers of the gentle birth method, Dr Gowri Motha, is a great advocate of using complementary therapies to assist in pregnancy and in birth. And why ever not? All these graceful and non-invasive techniques – reflexology, ayurveda, cranio- sacral therapy, reiki – can only help and support, both baby and mother. Of reiki itself, Dr Motha writes, in her book the Gentle Birth Method:

“Reiki can be received at any time during pregnancy, as it is so gentle and safe. It is one of the safest treatments you can have in early pregnancy….

“Reiki warms and relaxes the body and facilitates gentle healing by attracting lymphocytes (the immune system cells) to the affected area…It is very common to feel deeply relaxed and even fall asleep during the session.”

Better to do as much sleeping before the birth as possible. As precious little of it will be available, once the baby is born!

Sweet song of self

Soon my musician colleague will be back for another session, as she nears the end of her pregnancy – a pregnancy during which she has been constantly singing and making music, both for work and for pleasure. So one thing’s for sure – this coming baby, however and whenever s/he chooses to make an entrance, has tuned  into the deep and nourishing melodies and rhythms of life, right from the very start.

To book a reiki session with me, go to my Reiki in Leeds page on this website. You can find links to my other blogs on reiki there too.

Fran Wyburn’s new album is called Wood for the Trees.

‘The Gentle Birth Method’  by Dr Gowri Motha and Karen Swan MacLeod  is published by Harper Collins