New Yellow Raincoat

Soldiers Fields, Roundhay, Leeds, October 2020

“The quality of being: When you do something, if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself.”

(Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind/Shunryu Suzuki)

LEONARD COHEN’S was – famously – famous and blue. But my new raincoat is canary yellow, and known, chiefly, just to me. It is my totem for this autumn and winter, an article of faith that, come rain or shine, I shall open my door and go walking. (As the picture above shows: today it was definitely rain.) Yorkshire is well known for its wet and windy weather. But I have lived in Leeds since 1996 and have never – until this week – owned a proper raincoat. Now that we are in a second lockdown, with a wave of virus washing over the city this September, it became clear to me that the only way out of this mess is through it. Through the woods, through the wild and the cold, and out the other side. Somehow. And the new yellow raincoat was the result.

World tilted off its axis

Early autumn sent my head into a spin. Indeed, the whole world was tilted off its axis, once again, just as we took our first tentative steps into a more social, connected, “normal” physical reality. Being pushed back behind the walls of our houses, behind the muted microphone madness of Zoom, and the mushrooming of email and internet traffic, felt bleak. There was no hot and sunny and exceptional spring to uplift us this time round. Just the encroaching darkness, the inevitable fall – of leaves, of energy – into autumn and winter.

The kicking of chairs

Since I had spent most of August nursing a recurrent tooth infection, followed by a dental extraction of almost medieval ferocity, this wake up to a new shutdown, felt mean and unfair. I was ready to play out now, damn it! A massive dose of self pity left me cross and unpleasant in mood. So restless. Chairs were kicked. Water got spilled over keyboards. There was shouting: at no one, at the world, at myself. Counting my blessings – I didn’t have Covid, I hadn’t lost anyone to the virus – didn’t seem to help.

Go take a walk

To the rescue came the raincoat. In the nick of time. Such a simple, obvious choice: to see things as they are, not as I would like them to be. And to do something about it. Throughout the whole of the Covid 19 crisis, my appetite for reading and for writing has been vanishingly small. Some of the very things that have sustained me thus far in my life have felt difficult and out of reach. I have turned instead to small, practical tasks. Sorting out the cupboards under the sink (for the first time since we moved in, in 2006). Making tomato chutney. Getting back to the garden. Taking a simple walk outside.

I love to walk (Walking the Hill Road) but have always been a fair weather rambler. I am easily beaten back by the darkness and the cold. But the weather in this world of ours is no longer fair. So what choice is left? Walk anyway. Feel the rain. See the beauty in the grey clouds as well as the blue sky. Seek sustenance from the one constant in all our fractured lives: the earth beneath our feet, the sky above us.

Soldiers Fields, Roundhay, Leeds, late September 2020

Everything is going to be alright

The Irish poet Derek Mahon died this week.  His wonderful poem ‘Everything is going to be alright’, was quoted regularly at the start of lockdown. “There will be dying, there will be dying…” He acknowledges the dark here, certainly, but he celebrates the light more, writing his words in a “riot of sunlight”, and giving us a warm glow on the gloomiest of days. For he knows this: “The sun rises in spite of everything/and the far cities are beautiful and bright.” Although my own city basked in sunshine earlier this week – today, the brightest object in my world is that new yellow raincoat. But that’s enough. It’s more than enough. Walk on.

‘Everything is going to be alright’ is published in Faber’s New and Selected Poems by Derek Mahon. 

He reads the poem himself here:

Freedom Calling?

haiku

and now we are free

when all I feel is sorrow

so much has been lost

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Yesterday, Saturday 4 July 2020, was dubbed “Super Saturday” in England. A grand lifting of lockdown. The pubs re-opened. The hairdressers. The restaurants. People queued from early morning for their pints, and to get their unruly hair cut. But the theatres stay shut. Some for good. The musicians are silenced. Live arts have disappeared behind a zoom screen and into the archives. I don’t feel much like celebrating.  I stay at home, sit in my shed in the early morning – listen to the gusts of cold, unseasonable wind, shaking it by its rafters – and wonder how the world became so out of joint. So splintered to its core. Even the singing birds fail to lift my spirits today. Sometimes the only answer to the question is sadness itself.

 

 

Shopping List

Coming out of Lockdown –  a  Confused New World

It’s now over three months since the Corona Virus lockdown began in the UK. There have been so many words written about this, so many opinions shouted, so much hurt and resentment, and most of all – such deep, deep loss. I am a quick thinker – but slow to come to any conclusions. It will take me a long time to figure out what all this means. All I do for now, is take one shaky step at a time: to live my life, stay reasonably well and sane, and reach out – from a distance – to the people, and the things, I care about most. Some people are rushing out into the world, hurling themselves off cliffs, crowding beautiful beaches, and piling into parks in a boozy throng, now that restrictions are beginning to ease. Not me. By nature more cautious, I wait. And still I wait. Trying to figure out how to shape a new life, from the ashes of the old. One thing that has been a unifying force for me and for my young adult daughter, who currently lives at home with me, has been the joy of the weekly grocery delivery. Lists and online slots have become her unique selling point in the household, and there is much excited talk of what to order, what to cook, and how to nourish ourselves in this depleted, exhausting time. Here is a poem based on that premise. I have no joined up eloquence to express what is happening. So a simple list will have to do.

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Shopping List

1. Out of stock/currently unavailable:

The faces of friends, of family and colleagues, wreathed in smiles – poised for argument, or song.

A  touch of the hand in welcome.

Interrupted conversations.

The noise of the theatre: the five minute call.

Soft steps of the T’ai Chi, walked together, as one.

Happy dancing.

Happy drinking.

A beer in the little local bar.

Bus journeys. Train journeys. Plane journeys.

The sea.

Freedom to fly: in body, in mind.

Another country.  Many countries.

Budapest. Ireland. The North Yorkshire Coast.

All my dead beloveds.

My old dog. And other dogs, too.

The beat up gold Toyota Yaris, sent for scrap in January. Would have been useful now.

Courage to go where I please, unmasked, and carefree, and open.

The wildness of the world, beyond the hedges of my garden.

An appetite for reading.

A keenness to study.

A mind that can focus.

The energy to dream.

Stepping out.

Stepping forward.

Stepping up.

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2. Unexpected items in bagging area:

Animals taking over city streets, as the whales start to sing again.

My old shed – tidied and cleared, after years of neglect.

Fairy lights sparkling in the dark, wellington boots standing  to attention.

Tomato seeds planted in tomato cans.

Lettuce plants raggedly greening.

Inertia.

Toothache and patience. Paracetamol and codeine. Moxa and deep red wine.

Raging against injustice.

Rebellion and riots.

Forty thousand dead – and rising.

A black man dies at the knee of a white policeman: fire in the Minneapolis streets.

Eight minutes, forty six seconds. ∗

Justice demanded, statues start to topple.

Frenzied voices, confused agendas.

Moments of calm.

The kindness of strangers.

Deliveries and phone calls.

Solidarity in the distance: disembodied zoom calls. Echoing. Frozen.

Self care, snoozing, sleepiness, exhaustion.

Mother and daughter, together.

Comrades in the kitchen, politics in the living room.

Stillness.

Moonlight.

Netflix.

Sunshine.

Silence and sorrow.

And the bitter-sweet song of the birds.

∗ On 25 May 2020, George Floyd died on the street in Minneapolis, after being arrested and handcuffed, with a policeman’s knee pressed on his neck for eight minutes and forty six seconds, suffocating him to death. #BlackLivesMatter

 

 

 

Just One Voice

“Just one voice

Singing in the darkness

All it takes is one voice

And everyone will sing”

(Barry Manilow)

Blackbird singing

A FEW YEARS ago, I was in a state of quiet panic. My beloved dog had just died – not long after my father, who was, again, a precious presence in my life, now gone. My daughter had been very ill. I held things together, day to day, but in my mind, everything was falling apart. Early morning, just before dawn, was the worst. I would wake, all of a sudden, heart thumping, still trapped in thunderous nightmares, not sure who I was – or where.

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But all through those lonely summer days, I had one feathered companion. Through the open bedroom window, a blackbird sang to me, every single morning. One of the first of the dawn chorus to give voice, his beautiful melodies soothed and settled me, made me ready to face the day. He seemed to sing, not for his sake, but for mine, and it was a deeply healing experience.

Ever since those strange panic days, I continue to wake early. I have learned to settle myself better, and my need of the blackbird’s song is less urgent, more celebratory than medicinal, though always a gift.

Small comforts in times of crisis

One week into domestic lockdown, as we move inexorably deeper into national and global crisis, I find myself consoled by the smallest of details. After waking, there is the quiet panoply of birdsong – not just Mr Blackbird, but the squabbling sparrows who nest in my hedges, the warble of the wood pigeons in the nearby wood. At 7 a.m. our ancient boiler kicks in, and hot water flushes through the radiators to warm our day. Then the builder across the road arrives in his van: loud rock music blaring from the open window. And with that – I am up. The new day has begun.

Builders’ rubble

I find that the things which once irritated me, are now curiously consoling. Take that noisy builder, for example, with his loud conversations on the street, his endless house repairs – and the constant deliveries of concrete slabs, huge bags of cement, fluted roof tiles and wooden beams and struts.

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The intricacies of this renovation, which has been going on for months now, are beginning to fascinate me. Hemmed in by the need to stay confined to the house, the soap opera occurring across the street, and clearly visible in every detail through the front window, has become a regular source of free entertainment.

Green, green grass of home

Meanwhile, out the back, the scene is a very different one: and balm for the soul. I love my garden. It is a little wild, often somewhat unkempt, but full of green promise. And never more so than now. Just past the Spring Equinox, everything is springing into growth. Scrambling clematis. The uncurling of ferns. Flowering currant bushes – their acrid scent, strangely invigorating. Clumps of narcissus. The sharp blades of iris and monbretia. Snake’s head fritillaries, hanging their pretty heads in shy celebration.

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To stand on the grass and simply breathe deeply, is such a privilege: watching the blue vault of the sky above, and feeling the solid earth beneath, and knowing that we will, collectively, survive this terrible time, and that nature itself will help us do so.

It is not just the birds that are singing, of course. On balconies in Italy, the people sing their arias of hope and resilience. On council estates in Scotland, they are belting out ‘Sunshine on Leith’. And in Northern Ireland, the bingo teller perches on a roof top, to call out the numbers to an attentive but quarantined estate.

Sound of silence

Yes, everyone will sing. But now, more than ever, we also have a chance, maybe even a deep need, to be quiet. No airplanes. No traffic. Just our own hearts beating. The great poet Pablo Neruda understood this, and articulated it in his poem, ‘Keeping Quiet’:

“Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still

for once on the face of the earth,

let’s not speak in any language;

let’s stop for a second,

and not move our arms so much.

***

It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines;

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.

…..

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with death.

***

Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

 from Extravagaria by Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid (Noonday Press)

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Passport to Freedom

18FE677C-3F24-438E-BC8F-DAF158E25AAFSzabadság Híd – Liberty Bridge – Budapest.

Snowfall on Budapest, 1988

THE SNOW was thick on the ground, and the airport terminus lay hidden in grey fog. There was no one around, except for the occasional soldier, gun bulging at his hip, an inscrutable expression on his face. She went through customs without being stopped. Just as well, because her suitcase was full of Irish whiskey, which the Hungarians loved, but couldn’t get their hands on, behind the Iron Curtain.

Budapest was empty too, except for faded yellow trams – and the jaded glow of a red star on top of the government buildings. When they got on the train to go south, perching in tiny carriages, on cold seats of green leather, she could see nothing out of the window, except for  fat icicles, hanging from trees, half submerged in the deepening mist. Already she loved this place. It felt strange. It felt like home.

Kaposvár Theatre

The actors were so friendly. None of them spoke English, and she spoke no Hungarian, but they got by with sign language. And the whiskey and pálinka soon loosened their tongues. The company had worked together for years. They lived in a tight knit community – the actors’ flats just across the road from the theatre – and they spent all their free time in the subterranean bar, playing cards, gossiping and drinking.

The work they did on stage was astonishing. Such courage. Such physical bravura. And in every play, a hidden subversion, reaching out to their audience to give a message of liberty, when open dissent was completely forbidden. Hungary: the happiest barracks in the Eastern Bloc. That’s what they said. But it wasn’t true. The sorrow was palpable. And ran deep.

Passport of privilege

“We aren’t allowed to travel abroad”, explained her friend, with the help of an interpreter. “Except every three years. And only to somewhere approved by the regime. Once we were invited to a theatre festival in France, but the apparatchiks said no, because the French actors were clearly Maoist insurgents, and would be a bad influence on us. If it’s so great over here, why don’t they let us go and tell the whole world about the joys of our communist state?” He laughed. But it was a laugh without humour. More of a sob, really. And a shrug of the shoulders in defeat.

As for her, she had such privilege. A British passport. She could travel where she liked, and knew she would always have the freedom to go back home. It gave her an air of authority and mystique, and people wanted to talk to her, wherever she went. As for her, Hungary felt like a secret garden, full of passion and delight.

Suitcase stuffed with whiskey and teabags

The company kept inviting her back, to teach the company movement skills and physical theatre. But the main appeal, she knew, was her Britishness. A fresh breeze blowing in from London from time to time – with a suitcase stuffed with whiskey and tea bags.

When she finally went home for good, after a three months stint, during which she got really sick, and longed to be in England, it was summer 1989. The Berlin Wall fell  four months later. The red stars were dragged from the roofs, and a new era began. And in the end, Hungary even joined the European Union. Her British passport and their Hungarian passports became united under a single blue flag with hopeful gold stars all across it.

Farewell to freedom

Now it’s her own passport that is changing. The UK is leaving the EU. The freedom of movement that her Hungarian friends so envied, and that she took so much for granted, is over. Oh, they can still travel where they like. But what about her? Will her government maybe let her out, every three years or so, to a country whose views are sufficiently in line with theirs?

She feels like a fraud now, and such a fool. She once believed she was free. She felt her status like a magic cloak, wrapped around her ignorant young shoulders, breezing through Eastern Europe with an air of entitlement and superiority. Now she knows the truth. That she is simply a prisoner of a tiny, spiteful island, slowly sinking under the weight of its own post-colonial delusions. And how she longs for that slow train out of Budapest now, with snow piling at the window, illegal contraband in her case, and a sense of something beautiful and foreign and free, just ahead of her, on the country railroad track.

This piece was written as a response to a question from theatre director Alan Lyddiard, whose company, the Performance Ensemble, I am a member of: “If anybody in the world was allowed to travel anywhere in the world, would this be a good thing?” The Ensemble’s current work in progress concerns itself deeply with freedom of movement, and you can read more about this on their website.

I have written extensively about my deep love affair with Hungary, and some of the links to articles and short stories available on this website can be found on my page entitled Blog and Features Archive.

T’ai Chi and Reiki in 2020

ADA9F6C8-054E-4145-84B2-B86BD9211B98This is Roundhay Park, Leeds, on a cold and moody winter’s morning. This is the time of maximum “Yin”, when all energy is directed inwards, for survival, and renewal in spring.

T’ai Chi stokes the inner fires

My classes in T’ai Chi and Chi Kung begin again on Tuesday 7 January 2020 at the Quaker Meeting House, Roundhay, Leeds. This wonderful, gentle, flowing technique, is a useful way to support the body and mind, during a time of winter depletion. It builds energy, without over-stoking the fire. There is a rhythm to nature, and to the changing seasons. And this season is primarily one of rest. But we need to guard against illness and weakness, brought on by the winter cold. T’ai Chi is one tool in our armoury, helping us stay strong, calm and flexible.

If you are interested in the deeper intricacies of the T’ai Chi Form itself, then my workshops at Leeds Buddhist Centre are an ideal way to practise. The next session takes  place on Sunday 19 January and further details can be found on my Classes with Barney page.

My own links to T’ai Chi go right back to the wonderful Gerda Geddes, who was the first westerner to learn in China, in the 1950s, and to bring back her knowledge to the UK, where she practised and taught for many decades. A whole generation of dancers and T’ai Chi practitioners – including myself – owe their roots and branches to her. She wrote eloquently about her journey through the T’ai Chi in  a little book called ‘Looking for the Golden Needle’.

In it, she was most insistent that T’ai Chi is directly connected to the natural world. We must move with the seasons and learn from the animals who belong inside that natural world, as she says here:

“Many of the movements of the T’ai Chi Ch’uan stem from men observing, and enacting, scenes in the lives of animals and birds. These movements were adapted by martial arts experts, making the T’ai Chi Ch’uan into an intricate system of self defence, and by philosophers who were interested in longevity, good health and peace of mind. If, in trying to understand the different aspects of the T’ai Chi Ch’uan, one points to this background, one cannot be wrong; one can only make it richer and give it deeper meaning.”

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Here are the roots of my favourite beech tree in Gipton Wood, the little wood that stands at the end of my road. This is close to where you will find the Reiki Room in Oakwood.

Reiki for balance and calm

Reiki is a hands-on practise, bringing renewed balance and calm to the body. It is very gentle, but goes deep. Its principles are entirely compatible with those of T’ai Chi and Chi Kung, but with Reiki, one receives the treatment through the warm hands of the practitioner, rather than through movement and breath. If you would like to read more about this lovely Japanese healing art, take a look at my Reiki in Leeds page. The Reiki Room is open again from 7 January 2020 and you can make bookings with me via my email or mobile number.

barney.bardsley@icloud.com

07400 396231

“After we have set our intent and the energy starts to fall down we must make no judgements at all, just like the rain. The client will absorb the energy according to his or her needs and ability to do so, just like the tall trees, shrubs, flowers and grass…”

(The Inner Heart of Reiki by Frans Stiene)

Read more about my T’ai Chi and Reiki practise in these blogs:

Reiki and the Sea Inside

Silence is Golden

The Use of Solitude

Work Ethic?

Walking on Air

 

Looking for the Golden Needle by Gerda Geddes is published by Manna Media

The Inner Heart of Reiki by Frans Steine is published by Ayni Books

Silence is Golden

IMG_1859(Back Garden at Reiki in Leeds)

“Silence is golden

But my eyes still see”

The Tremeloes

Early in the morning

THIS MORNING I took my wake-up cup of tea out into the back garden with me, and sat, with just the birds for company, in the quiet of the new day. I live on an urban estate in North Leeds, so in the summer, things are rarely completely quiet. There are small children all over the neighbourhood, just raring to kick their footballs into my raspberry bushes at the front. And adolescent boys keen to intimidate, chugging about the roads on their motorised trikes, and revving their souped-up tin-can cars. But peace can always be found somewhere. It settles, in silky meditative layers, in my Reiki Room at the back of the house. And if I sneak out early enough in the day, before everyone is awake, then the entire garden is an oasis of calm. Silence for the ears. Rich colours for the eyes. Just me on my chair – and the birds, flying from tree to tree, unbothered by the somnabulant human, perched in the corner, and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming.

The spaces in-between

Absolute silence, nonetheless, is a rare and precious commodity. Even when alone and tranquil, as I was this morning at 6.30, there were layers of sound all around me – birdsong, the wind, the distant clatter of a kitchen pan; and sounds inside me too – the constant internal narrative of my chattering thoughts, and the high-frequency tones of my pesky tinnitus! But we can, nevertheless, move towards the spaces in between these sounds; and remove ourselves, now and again, from the relentless layers of noise in our high octane contemporary lives. The relief, when we do so, is palpable, and profoundly rejuvenating.

Just like stillness (The Art of Stillness) and solitude ( The Uses of Solitude ), silence is a beautiful resource. A deep well of energy can spring up from within its contours.

IMG_1853(Listening to Penny Greenland speak at #WildConference. Photo Malcolm Johnson)

Alone in a crowd

I have just returned from a wonderful open air Wild Conference organised by the mighty Slung Low theatre company here in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Set in the rolling hills and woodland of the Temple Newsam Estate, the gathering of 450 people – artists, public policy makers, theatre creators and political activists – met, to discuss ideas, to dream of a better future, and to vow to help that happen, to implement change: with the maxim “be useful, be kind” at its root. Everyone wore headphones and moved from tent to tent, gathering inspiration from the many fine speakers. With the headphones switched on, you could tune in to any of the speakers at any given moment, by switching channels as you wished. You were also free to move – away from the crowds, to sit under a distant tree, maybe, or to lie on a cushion and gaze at the sky. All the while listening to a stream of lovely, intelligent talk. Easily overwhelmed by crowds, this was a perfect set up for me. Even better: I got to feel the wind on my face and the sun on my head. Outside, unchained.

img_1857.jpg(T’ai Chi in the wind at #WildConference. Photo Malcolm Johnson)

Moving together – in silence

There was much to put fire in my belly from this fine endeavour – like a mini Glastonbury, without the music (although there was that, too, at the evening cabaret.) Perhaps closest to my heart was the energy of Penny Greenland, founder of JABADEO , speaking passionately about living an embodied life (rather than retreating, as adults so often do, into our minds and our armchairs, or locking ourselves away behind desks.)

But one of my favourite moments, was away from the campfire hubbub, up on a green hill, where I led a morning T’ai Chi session ( See also Classes with Barney ) for anyone who was willing to abandon their croissant, and come up under the trees, to move with me. I suspected no one would come at all. But they did. And the wind blew cool. But we stood firm, performing the ancient Taoist movements – Wild Goose Flying, Separate the Clouds, Pushing the Wave – in exactly the kind of setting from where those movements’ inspiration came: on the green grass, under a blue sky, in nature. Moving silently together. In peace.

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The Silent Eloquence of Touch

T’ai Chi and Chi Kung gain their greatest power when performed in silence – when the instructor’s voice drops away, and it is just a body of people, moving quietly together, in a stream of flowing energy.

Reiki – the other body-based practice I love – seems quite a different activity from T’ai Chi, to the outside eye: one person lying, perfectly still, on the practise table; with the practitioner laying  hands upon her at various places along the body – head, heart, solar plexus, knees, feet – and simply leaving them there, as if planted, for what can seem like an eternity. Time stops still in the Reiki Room. But all the time, an energetic flow is being released – between hands and bodies, between bodies and minds. It is a quiet summons to life itself. A tuning in, to the hum and pulse of our living, breathing bodies. With stillness, movement. An embodied moment.

All of this takes place in silence. Although music may play softly in the background – though often people elect for none – words are rarely exchanged, once the Reiki session has begun. And this time of silence is curiously intimate, touching and profound.

How badly we need to communicate with each other more openly and optimistically, as patterned by the Wild Conference. How crucially important it is – for  our brain health, as well as our whole being – to live Penny Greenland’s “embodied life” of movement. And how golden it is, to be silent from time to time, whether alone or together; whether in the flow of a T’ai chi class, or the deep rest of a Reiki session… Or maybe, just sitting quietly outside – or in a church – or in your own room. Just being. And leaving the world to its own devices, just a for a little while. To quote another fine sixties pop group, The Hollies: “Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe.”  The sound of silence is calling to you now – listen in.

If you would like to book a Reiki session or T’ai Chi/Chi Kung session with me, take a look at Reiki in Leeds  and Classes with Barney for more details. Or drop me a line at barney.bardsley@icloud.com.

The pictures of the Slung Low Wild Conference were taken by Malcom Johnson. Take a look at his website here: https://www.malcijphotography.co.uk

 

 

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.

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:

barney.bardsley@icloud.com

07400 396231