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mindfulness

Do you believe in magic? Despite what you might have heard, it’s real, and it resides within you: Specifically, within your mind. This is because your thoughts and emotions can directly alter your reality.

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To Hell With Convention

To Hell With Convention

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you are ceaselessly involved in the act of creating the quality of your own life—your looks, values, attitudes, actions, and the nature of your relationships. You do this through image-making—a universal characteristic of the human mind which appears even to precede thinking in the brain. We see, worry, put together ideas, dream, speak, wonder, all through the use of images. We experience a continuous flow of mental pictures, both conscious and unconscious, every moment of our waking lives. In fact, the capacity to visualize—to "image"—is one of the miracles of the human organism, for through it we are able to organize reality, communicate with others, and make sense of the restrictions of time and space around which our lives are organized. And images have tremendous potency. Your own images can be used for your good or they can be used against you. WHAT WE’VE BEEN TAUGHT Each of us comes into the world with a particular set of genes that determine our skin colour, sex, body type and, to a certain extent, our personality and intelligence. But by the time we are four or five, the form of what we were at birth has been altered physically and mentally so that we have become more complex and quite different in the way we respond and function, think and express ourselves. Some of these changes, such as physical growth, come from the same genetic inheritance that gave us our original form. Others, probably by far the largest number, come from what is commonly referred to as behavioural programming—the things we learn spontaneously through day-to-day living, such as motor control and speech, as well as the things we are taught, such as how to communicate with people, dress ourselves, use a pencil, and so forth. In all that we have learned from experience (things like if you touch a hot stove it hurts) and all we have been taught by our parents and other people, there are an enormous number of mental images that greatly affect our ideas and our lives ever after. For instance, from our programming we get a notion of what in our behaviour is considered good and what is called bad. We form innumerable impressions of what we are like and what others are like. And, finally, we come to have "sets" of knowledge about the world. All these things form our belief systems—conglomerates of images, ideas, and assumptions that make it possible for us to function from day to day. Some of these belief systems are individual—they pertain to our inner world alone and are entirely personal. Others we share with the rest of humanity—for instance, together we "agree" that the brown-and-white, rather square-shaped animals with horns that graze in fields and give milk are "cows." We also agree in common with others that if you step in front of a moving bus you will be hurt. Such belief systems are important, for without them we would not be able to live or share our experiences with others. WHAT WE ASSUME IS TRUE Our own individual belief systems are somewhat different in character. They consist of the many unconscious notions and assumptions we hold about what we are and are not and can and cannot do. They influence whether we see life as exiting and challenging or rather as painful and hopeless. And although most people are not aware of it, these belief systems, formed gradually as we grow up, wield enormous power over us. GROWING UP IS NEVER EASY A child who grows up in a family where he or she is treated with respect tends to grow up believing that she is worthy of this respect. When her needs are frequently met, she comes to believe that they are likely to be met in a similar way in the future and, although he is probably completely unaware of this, she actually comes to expect it. Similarly, if someone is brought up in an environment where she is treated with disdain or carelessness or as if she were stupid, then she gradually forms more negative assumptions about herself and they become the "systems" by which she lives her life. The whole creation and formation of our belief systems is a very complex process. It is largely an unconscious one, too, because the amount of sensory information fed into a human brain even in one day is immeasurably rich. We are continually responding to one perception, feeling, word, or sensory experience after another. Our belief systems, formed from these events, are therefore many-layered and extraordinarily elaborate. But they all have one thing in common: power. The images we hold, consciously or unconsciously, about ourselves and our lives are real in the sense that they tend to reaffirm themselves over and over again in our experience. Studies have been done in which a child's IQ, tested at school, is measured against her expectation of herself and her performance in the classroom. Almost invariably, the child whose belief systems include the idea or image of herself as not really very bright does badly in schoolwork regardless of what her IQ shows, and vice versa. In fact, there is also considerable evidence in older children that even IQ measurements soon come to reflect a child's basic intellectual self-esteem—or lack of it. All because of the belief systems she holds about herself. SELF-FULFILLING NOTIONS When it comes to health, relationships with other people, and creative functions, belief systems are particularly important in determining our success or lack of it. If you take the time to sit down and look at a particular area in your life that you consider reasonably successful—say your work, or your relationship with a particular person—you will find that your ideas, feelings, and attitudes about it are generally of a positive nature: pleasing, charming, fun, interesting, and so forth. Similarly, if you look at an area of your life that doesn't work so well or with which you are not satisfied, you will find it is accompanied by negative images or visualizations. Most important of all, these negative images and the belief systems they create will tend, when put to the test in real situations, to bring about exactly the effects you expect. If you feel you are uncreative when you paint a picture, it will turn out to be uninteresting. If you feel like a failure when you try to reach a goal, you will fail. Under even mildly stressful situations you become ill, and so on. And, of course, failures only further strengthen the negative belief systems you already hold. It is a vicious circle—that is, until you are able to become aware of these negative belief systems you are unconsciously carrying around with you, examine them objectively, and then make a decision to change them. So long as they are unconscious, you are in their power and no real act of will is going to change them much. When they become conscious, you can begin working with them, looking at them, examining where they come from and their validity or lack of it, and decide on whether or not they are useful. Then gradually you can become free of them. In a fortnight, we’ll exploring simple practices that make use of the power of creative imagery—the deliberate repeated use of specific mental images— to bring about dazzling positive changes to your health, your life and your core beliefs about who you are and what you love most. See you then...

Celebrating Your Body

Celebrating Your Body

How often do you rejoice your body? How often do you feel absolutely at ease in your skin, at peace in yourself and in harmony with your world? For many the answer is seldom. Instead we tend to us put up with the body rather like some slightly cumbersome baggage we carry with us as we go about. Yet all thought, all feeling, every response to beauty and to horror is mediated through the body. In fact your body is the medium for experiencing everything in life. As any healthy two year old knows, when it is fully alive you are fully alive. This aliveness is something we often have to rediscover. Television, films and advertising are replete with photographs of long legged pencil-thin females who are meant to be paragons of womanhood against whom we measure ourselves. Magazines and newspapers spend a large part of their time giving us advice about diets, clothes, exercise which supposedly will help the bodies of their readers more closely approach whatever shape, size and texture body the general consensus at any moment in time considers ideal. Meanwhile millions of women who, because of the way they are built, their personalities, and their own values (whether or not these values operate consciously or unconsciously) have not a hope in hell of ever looking like that ideal. And they suffer. This suffering goes deep - far beyond the simple (yet often painful) feelings of inadequacy which come with having been built with broad shoulders, big feet or a flat chest when the world you live in tells you you are supposed to be different. (Some of us alas have the misfortune of being blessed with all three). For implicit in the whole way in which the body is presented in almost everything we do and think are two far more crippling assumptions: That the body is separate from the spirit or person and that it is ultimately inferior. These assumptions are anchored deep into the belief systems from the Greco-Roman and Christian traditions in which our society has developed. They have led us to view the body either as something not to be trusted - like a wild animal that needs taming lest it gets out of hand or like a physical object outside ourselves to be watched, studied and manipulated. For most Western women their bodies are things separate from themselves, either to be prodded, criticized, and hidden or narcissistically exposed as a sexual object - something useful in gaining attention or drawing to oneself what one needs (or think she needs). In either case there is a sense of estrangement not only from the body but at a deeper level from ones self. Out of this estrangement comes a sense of powerlessness so that one begins to think that what one needs to be happy, to be complete, to be fulfilled can only be found outside oneself - by accomplishment in the world, or wearing the right clothes, by earning the love of a man or by conforming to some abstract ideal. So long as one is driven by a sense of separateness from ones body whether you succeed or fail in getting what you want from the outside world is irrelevant. For neither success nor failure bring you any closer to living freely with real health and beauty. Rediscovering the aliveness of the child and the innocence of bodily freedom can. It helps heal the wounds of separation and free a woman to live in the fullness of her own being.

How I Learned That Love Is Real

How I Learned That Love Is Real

My first child was born in a huge teaching hospital in Los Angeles. The labor was long and regrettably not natural. I was given an analgesic during labor and an epidural for the delivery. It was all very cold, efficient and mechanical. The hospital I was in happened to be a Catholic one in which every other woman there seemed already to know the ropes since she was giving birth to her fifth or eighth or tenth child. Nobody bothered to tell me much about what was going on or what was expected of me. My baby was taken from me immediately after the birth and put into a nursery with all of the other babies while I was wheeled off to a private room. Soon they brought this tiny creature to me. I held him in my arms and stared at him in stark wonder. Then at three hourly intervals he would reappear for twenty minutes at a time and I'd hold him in bed beside me until the nurse would come and take him away again. The third or fourth time they brought him to me, he began to cry. I nestled him, rocked him, and spoke gently to him but he wouldn't stop so I rang for the nurse. `My baby's crying,' I said, `What should I do?' `Have you burped him?' `Burped him?' `You have fed him haven't you?' `Fed him? Am I supposed to feed him?` The nurse took him and put him to my breast. His tiny mouth opened and reached for me as if he had known forever what to do. He began to suck with such force it took my breath away. It was like being attached to a vacuum cleaner. I began to laugh. I couldn't help myself. It seemed incredible that such a tiny creature could have such power and determination. He too had a purpose. He was raw, insistent and real. With every fiber of his being, this child was drawing his life and he would not be denied. Tears of joy ran shamelessly down my cheeks while he sucked. There in the midst of all that clinical green and white, I had discovered what love was all about. It was really quite simple—a meeting of two beings. The age, the sex, the relationship didn't matter. That day two creatures - he and I — had met. We touched each other in utter honesty and simplicity. This experience was for me a true epiphany. My life was forever altered by it. There was nothing romantic or solemn about it. No obligations, no duties, no fancy games, and you didn't have to read an encyclopedia of baby care to experience it. We'd met, just that. Somewhere in spirit we were friends. I knew beyond all doubt that I had found something real and real it has remained.

Mantra Magic

Mantra Magic

Herbert Benson, who wrote The Relaxation Response and Maximum Mind, discovered that measurable physical benefits accrue from practicing any form of meditation which depends on the silent repetition of a mantra - a word-sound. This can be done by repeating any word over and over while the eyes are closed and the body is in a quiet state. Meditation using a mantra has a long tradition. Some mantras are said to be sacred words that have particular sound vibrations which transmit particular powers. Each tradition has its own mantras such as Guru Om, Om mani padme hum, La ilaha illa 'lla or, in the Catholic religion, Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Whether their magic aspects are true or not, the technique works beautifully to replace the habitual chatter that runs through one's mind, worries about things past and things yet to come. Benson suggests you find a word that is pleasing to you. It could be anything, say, `flower', `peace', or `love'. He likes the word `one' as it is simple and has the connotation of unity about it. Here's how. Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for fifteen to twenty minutes and a comfortable chair that supports your back. Sit down and close your eyes. Give yourself a moment to settle in and you are ready to begin. Simply sit there, feet on the floor and eyes closed, quietly repeating your word over and over to yourself: `one...one...one...' Whenever your mind wanders or you are disturbed by a sound or thought, simply turn your mind gently back to repeating the word again. That is all there is to it. After fifteen to twenty minutes, stop repeating the mantra and get ready to open your eyes. Open your eyes, stretch, and go about your everyday activities. This is a particularly useful technique once you have practiced it a few times because you can do it in so many different places, such as in a waiting room or on a commuter train or bus.

My Life In Beauty

My Life In Beauty

I had a beautiful mother. She was a cross between a golden-haired fairy godmother and a Hitchcock blonde. Always impeccably dressed, my mother could walk through a barnyard in a white suit and emerge without a speck. Not me. I am a walking advertisement for what I ate for lunch, since most of it ends up down my shirt. COOL BEAUTY My mother never shared with me her clothes, her jewelry, or her cosmetics. Even to walk through her dressing room and touch them was a crime punishable by banishment. She did share some important advice though: She taught me that beautiful skin matters. To maintain it, she insisted, you need just the right amount of sunlight –half an hour early or late in the day–and no more ever. She was also adamant I needed to eat natural foods and to supplement my diet with some judiciously chosen vitamins and minerals as well. Stay away from sugar and breads and pizzas, she insisted. Never go to bed without cleansing your face first, and nourish your skin to keep it soft and smooth with something really active—be it fresh papaya or an absurdly expensive but irresistible French night cream—to help repair cell damage that occurs during the day. It was she who taught me to fall in love with the ritual of nurturing my skin. At first I balked at the idea. Then, in my mid-twenties, I decided she was right. I began to make a little time each day to look after myself. I came to realize that the time a woman spends at her dressing table (this can be as simple an affair as a cardboard box covered with cloth at which you sit on a cushion) is a time of silence, solitude, and renewal. It is even better than meditation. And it’s a lot more fun. Fifty years later, I still believe this with all my heart. CAUGHT IN THE NET My professional involvement with beauty began when I became Health and Beauty Editor for Harpers & Queen magazine in London. For that matter, I was the first ‘health and beauty editor’ anywhere. Why health and beauty? Because I insisted that these two aspects of a woman’s life are so dependent on each other that they cannot be separated. At Harpers & Queen, I was blessed with a remarkable Editor for my boss: Willie Landels, a man of vision, humor, intelligence and the best possible kind of genuine sophistication. Willie gazed benignly upon my naïve American enthusiasm and my obsession with getting to the bottom of whatever I was investigating and he decided to place his trust in me. We worked together for almost fifteen years. From the very first month, he provided me with the freedom to write whatever I thought was important, and to say whatever I found to be true about it. In the decade and a half I worked with Harpers & Queen, only once did Willie question anything I wanted to write. It was a piece on Outward Bound for women. He thought it was “too downmarket”. Nobody ever changed anything in my copy— except to correct my abysmall [sic] spelling. Nor, after the first few weeks, did anyone attempt to influence or control what I alone decided I wanted to write about. AIN’T NOTHIN’ SO NICE AS FREEDOM Such freedom is a great blessing. It set me free to delve deep into whatever fascinated me—from writing about how Lancôme formulated their first liposome, to exposing the way plutonium, with its radioactive half life of 2,300 years, was being irresponsibly dumped into the Irish Sea from Britain’s nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Cumberland. It still is by the way. (That was kind of scary. After the article appeared my telephones were tapped for more than a year and my London home broken into twice, although nothing was stolen.) TO HELL WITH PRESSURE In the magazine world, a beauty editor (most nowadays hold the far grander title of “Beauty Director”) is continually bombarded by the publisher and advertising director at the magazine to write about products from cosmetic companies who have bought advertising. Harpers & Queen was no exception. Within the first fortnight, I was approached by its Advertising Director, Terry Mansfield—who later became Managing Director and Chairman of the National Magazine Group in Britain. Terry told me that one of the cosmetic giants had just bought an expensive double paged spread to promote some new skin cream. Would I please make sure I wrote glowing words of praise about the product in our next issue, he requested. With puritanical American blood surging through my veins, I was shocked. (More than a wee bit self-righteous as well.) “But Terry,” I whined, “I can’t do that. I can only write about what I believe in. If I wrote that kind of stuff, our readers would never come to trust me. After all, your advertisers wouldn’t want to buy space in a magazine its readers can’t trust. Would they?” I think Terry was so stunned by my naiveté that he didn’t quite know what to say. When Willie, the editor, learned about my response to Terry’s request, he smiled a secret smile. A year later, Harper’s beauty advertising had doubled. Before long, it tripled. Terry never brought up the subject again. Gradually my articles on health and beauty—some of which, I suspect, were too technical for anybody to fathom—attracted a wide audience. An ‘inside joke’ began to circulate. It was said that the reason why Leslie Kenton’s stuff was so widely was that although, few people understood a word of it, nobody wanted to admit to this. So they just kept on buying the magazine while Willie kept on smiling…

Let's Break Free Together

Let's Break Free Together

It’s easy to get trapped in a prison of your own making and not even realize it. We all do. The bars have been forged out of the worldview we have grown up with. A worldview is not something you sit down and figure out. It is a collection of ideas inherited from your culture, your educational background and what is known as consensus reality—notions about what’s real. A worldview is a package of beliefs learned in childhood that make the world seem coherent. These notions become so deeply ingrained in your thinking that you are usually not even aware of them, yet they define the breadth of your life. They limit your ability to see whatever truly exists around you. A worldview remains unconscious in a culture, yet it governs the judgements we all make as part of that culture. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE? Here are just a few of the basic assumptions on which the worldview we have inherited rests. Every statement below is false. Yet we all go on living as if they were true. And we remain imprisoned by them. There is a clear distinction between the objective world around us and our own subjective experience. Mind is a function of the physical brain. It has no existence apart from the body. Our consciousness cannot affect the material world. The only way we can gain knowledge is through our five senses. Psychic gifts such as ESP, out-of-body experiences and near-death experiences are figments of your imagination. They don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. The universe can be reduced to nothing but a random collection of material particles without meaning. Whether or not you have read the philosophy or understand the mathematics out of which today’s materialistic worldview has evolved, it nonetheless affects you. And it blinds you completely to your own experience of truth from within. As a result, it blocks freedom, entraps creativity and limits joy. BEWARE FALSE SCIENCE Throughout history, we humans have constructed hundreds of different methods for describing what is real. These include a wide variety of political systems, moral philosophies and religions which have shaped our worldviews and our history. In the last three centuries, we have relied for our information about what is real not on religion, philosophy, or cosmology as we once did, but rather on the system we call “science”. Since the 17th century, science has pushed aside political and philosophical thinking, religions and mythology to take center stage as the global authority in shaping our worldview. Since we give such authority to science, it becomes absolutely essential that the science on which we are relying to define consensus reality be up to the task. Today’s so-called science is by no means up to the task. And basing the functioning of a culture on a system of knowledge which is either incomplete or which contains some fundamental flaw in its assumptions means the society based on it will not function properly. As a result, we find ourselves rushing headlong towards a massive dissolution of the political, moral and social structures on which we once relied to orientate our lives and give meaning to our activities. We are now faced with disintegration of the biosphere and degradation of life. Both are happening so dramatically that the ecological destruction around us has become virtually irreversible. WEEDING OUT THE LIES There are two basic flaws in the science out of which the 20th century worldview has developed. They form the crossbars of a prison we have unwittingly constructed to limit our freedom by shaping a consensus reality that is too small to serve us. The first is the assumption that we live in a mechanical universe made up of bits and pieces—atoms, protons, neutrons, and what-have-you—which can be taken apart, studied and manipulated to our own advantage, then used to build whatever we want without concern for the effect that it might have. “Science” has almost entirely concerned itself with the parts. It has neglected the whole. It has remained blind to the complex interactions and feedback loops on living systems and the planet as a whole. It has become mechanistic and reductionist. The more you examine the major problems of our time, the more obvious it becomes that they will never be solved at this level. They are far too interrelated in complex ways for any of them ever to be understood in isolation. World population growth will never be stabilized until poverty is reduced. The devastation to the rainforest and the destruction to thousands of species of plants and animals will continue just as long as developing countries are being crushed under massive debts. Meanwhile, a dearth of natural resources and the degradation of living environments in a world of expanding population are destroying cohesion of local communities, creating ethnic cleansing and absurd religious wars. For us to address such challenges, we need to move beyond the mechanistic, reductionist worldview, reject the bogus science out of which it has developed, and replace it with a more holistic, organic and ecological perspective—one that takes into account these complex interactions. THE NEW SCIENCE A worldview that fosters human freedom looks at living systems as integrated wholes. It takes into account the interconnectedness of all things. Such an expanded sense of reality has long been held by mystics from every religious tradition in history. They have always insisted that the universe is one. Traditional mystic teachings are reinforced by recent scientific findings in quantum mechanics, systems thinking in biology and leading-edge consciousness research. But all this has by no means filtered down to consensus reality yet. This expanded worldview is known as the holographic or systemic paradigm, after the work of independent scientists who demonstrate that living organisms are indeed integrated energetic systems within an integrated universe. The tension between mechanism—which developed out of a sense of separation between spirit and matter, form and substance—and holism in contemporary science must be resolved if you are to break out of any self-imposed prison that may be limiting your life. You must be willing for a time to let go of all your preconceived notions about what is real in order for you to explore the wider universe and discover what you have been missing. This is how to begin taking a quantum leap towards freedom. THE POWER OF CONSCIOUSNESS The second flaw in the science out of which our current worldview has come is equally huge. Mechanistic science has completely ignored—left out altogether—one critical factor in its description of reality: The power of consciousness. By consciousness I mean both our everyday sense of awareness as well as the vast uncharted realms of expanded awareness, which hold our creative powers, our intuition, our dreams, our spiritual experiences, and our sense of ultimate meaning and values. Although consciousness is not something you can hold in your hand or draw a picture of, it has enormous power to affect material reality. This is not just an empty statement. Hundreds of researchers throughout the world have carried out multidisciplinary, multicultural research. Their intention has been to map the whole spectrum of the various states of human awareness, including those generally categorized as unconscious and super-conscious. The efforts of researchers involved in consciousness research have converged to form a surprisingly coherent picture of the various states available to men and women and the remarkably different experiences that can come out of each one. They are discovering that the quantum realms—source of creativity, mythology and spiritual experience—can be mapped. This is some mind blowing stuff. BREAKING THE MOULD Yet despite all this most of us continue to adhere to the conventions of our society, we keep learning in school, buying the things we are told to buy and trying to make sense of a world while somewhere deep inside we feel that we are imprisoned. We experience very little sense of freedom. When things get really bad it can even seem we are living in a wasteland, a mechanical world without meaning or purpose. In short we have become separated from our own authentic power. We keep buying the goods they tell us to buy, we keep playing the games they tell us to play. WE ARE NOT SHEEP Our longing for freedom demands that each of us reconnects with our instincts, for instinct is the voice of expanded awareness. In short, it asks that we come home to ourselves. You can do this without drugs, without gurus, without becoming a disciple or having to belong to any privileged group. You can do it regardless of your age, your physical condition or your religious beliefs. Freedom becomes part of your day to day experience as soon as you are willing to: Become an explorer of the multi-dimensional universe in which you live. Recognize, honor and respect the beauty of your soul and give it authentic expression in your life. Allow your worldview to expand until it gets large enough to encompass the whole of reality. Recognize and be willing to let go of the restrictions imposed on you from childhood, religion and education. Develop an abiding friendship with the inhabitants of the multi-dimensional universe in which we make our homes—from the moles and the stars, the grass and the trees, the rocks and the quasars, to the helping spirits who guide, bless and inform us, the muses who inspire us, the angels who shine for us and the maggots who eat away decaying matter so that new life may come forth from old. Begin to build powerful bridges between the rich inner world of consciousness and your day to day existence. Commit yourself to bringing your own unique creations into being. In its essence, your own path to freedom can bring you home to that sense of bliss and wholeness which we all know should be in our lives but which we often experience only fleetingly. It is an awakening that depends on turning away from all false “science” and rigid convention, and gaining access to the wisdom that lies within you by coming to trust your own unique perceptions and putting it into practice what you discover there. The world is rapidly changing. We are living in the midst of a revolution in knowledge and vision so vast that nothing like it has ever been experienced by mankind. At last, the scientific view of reality is moving ever closer to the mystics’ cosmology. It is a cosmology often referred to as the perennial philosophy. And it crosses all cultural barriers. These are very challenging but exciting times that we are living in. The bottom line is simple: Are you ready to discover and live your truth no matter what it takes? If so, I’m with you 100%. Let me know then let’s move together towards an experience of freedom we humans have never before known.

Crisis To Creativity

Crisis To Creativity

Christmas had been full of laughter. But on Boxing Day when the children left, Emma began to cry. Grief racked her body. It was as though she had been taken over by a power beyond herself. There was no apparent reason for this, yet it went on for three hours. That was the beginning. Within three weeks, each time she went out to walk in the woods near her house, the trees, the grass, the rocks - all came alive. They seemed to vibrate with energy and to glisten with light, almost to breathe. Their colors had become overwhelming - too intense to bear. Panic set in. This healthy and competent woman in her early fifties feared that she was losing her mind. The doctor suggested tranquilizers, sleeping pills and psychotherapy. "Don't worry," he assured her. "We will soon have it all under control." For Rebecca, 32, the crunch came at work after neglecting her relationship with her lover and ignoring a mounting biological urge to have a child, then passing up two intriguing job offers and working 18 hours a day for seven months on a marketing plan for a new toothpaste. She knew it was just what she needed for a promotion which would make her the first woman on the board. Then the managing director announced the take over. The launch had to be scrapped. The product would have been in direct competition with the new company's own product already on the market. Two days later, her boyfriend announced he had fallen in love with someone else and was leaving. Then one morning while doing her morning run in the park, Rebecca sprained her left ankle so badly that she could not walk at all for two weeks. This meant that now, when it was absolutely crucial that she be at work to secure her future, she found herself completely bedridden. She felt her life collapsing around her and knew she was helpless to do anything about it. the signs of molting Two women in crisis - that moment in life when the foundations of personal safety, beliefs, security or values are challenged, overwhelmed by either internal forces or external events. When any one of us experiences such a crisis it is a sign that a molting is about to take place. We are being asked to walk a passage which, if made with awareness and trust, can expand our experience of life and our sense of ourselves enormously. This demand for personal metamorphosis may be triggered by a death, the ending of a love affair, the recognition that one is addicted to alcohol, drugs or work, a dawning awareness that what you have always worked for and what you have achieved no longer holds meaning for you, the loss of a job or reputation, or even the detoxification process of a cleansing regime. Although each person's metamorphosis is unique, experiences of profound change have much in common. The advice to people in the midst of crisis is pretty standard too. It goes something like this: "Pull yourself together," or "Don't worry," or "Go see the doctor" (who most often supplies a long-standing prescription for potent antidepressants, barbiturates, or tranquilizers). In the case of women - particularly women of menopausal age - the men in their lives (whether they be husbands, lovers or bosses) are frequently made so uncomfortable by the unexpected changes in a woman's feelings and behavior (changes that they themselves feel unable to handle) that they insist she must be mentally or biologically ill. For they, like most of us, just want things to return to normal. We are all afraid of crisis, and fair enough. Change that is truly transformative seldom comes easily. mid-life transition Emma's background was simple. After many years as a successful wife and mother, she approached the time in her life when all of the structures on which her life had been built were becoming redundant. Her children had left home for university and work. Her husband, the managing director of a large engineering firm traveled a lot and she, who had given up a job in publishing twenty five years before to look after her young family, felt she had little to look forward to. Before crisis struck, Emma had become vaguely aware of these things and told herself she should take up a hobby or go back to work, but nothing grabbed her interest. Thanks to the success of her husband's business, she did not need to earn money. When, unable to cope with the strange states of consciousness into which she found herself plunged, and on the advice of friends and family, she sought help from the doctor, he told her she was menopausal and wrote out a prescription for tranquilizers and hormone replacement. Something prevented her from having the prescription filled. "I feared I was losing my mind and I was absolutely terrified that these intense visual experiences together with sensations of powerful energies flowing through my body in waves day after day were a sign that I was actually going to die," she says, "But a small voice somewhere deep inside me kept saying `see it through - don't run away from it.' I didn't know where to turn. Everyone, including my husband, thought I was irresponsible not to do as the doctor advised. The irony of it all was that the one thing on which I had always prided myself was my sense of responsibility." The healing power of friendship As it turned out, Emma was lucky. Despite her embarrassment and shame about what had been happening to her, she frequently spoke about it to people whom she did not know very well. "It was as if I had to tell someone" she says "and I couldn't speak to my family and closest friends since they were convinced I was crazy." One of the people she told was a woman who had herself been through a similar experience five years earlier. Emma, relieved to find anybody who "understood" and didn't brand her psychotic, began spending time with this woman. On the advice of her husband who thought a change of scene would be good for her, she decided to spend a fortnight with her new friend in a small holiday cottage in the Lowlands of Scotland. There the two women lived together, ate together and walked in the wilderness. Emma's symptoms continued, but the woman she was with was not in the least afraid of them, neither did she worry about Emma's intense emotions - feelings of grief at the loss of her children, of uncertainty about her future, of abandonment much like a baby must feel when taken from its mother - nor about her strange bodily sensations which were particularly severe at night. She simply stayed with her friend and allowed it all to happen. In Emma's own words, "The experience of her simply letting me be in the state I was in and her complete sense of trust that what was happening to me was all right was incredible for me. I learnt from it that the death I feared was not physical death as I had thought, but the death of everything in myself that was meant to die - the end of the life I had lived as a mother, always sacrificing myself for the sake of my children and my husband, and the death of my image of myself as a responsible but limited person with no real sense of identity apart from the way I could serve others." After about ten days, her symptoms peaked and then began to subside. By the time she got home she was still experiencing strange energy flows in her body and the colors still seemed extraordinarily bright (it took about three months for all that to change) but now she no longer feared what was happening because, she says, "I could feel for the first time in my life that there really was something inside me - something very alive and real. I am determined to get to know it and to find out what it is all about. Where it will lead I don't know. I have begun to paint - to try to get some of that vibrancy of color on paper. Incidentally, a lot of people don't like the `new me'. They prefer the `good old reliable Emma'. But I feel, far from my life being over, that I am beginning a new adventure and that wherever it takes me, it is uniquely mine." harbingers of change This sense of impending death which Emma experienced is common in the experience of molting. It is something I have experienced again and again before a major change takes place in my life. As American expert in transformative psychology, John Wier Perry MD says, "Whenever a profound experience of change is about to take place, its harbinger is the motif of death. This is not particularly mysterious, since it is the limited view and appraisal of oneself that must be outgrown or transformed, and to accomplish transformation the self-image must be dissolved... one is forced to let go of old expectations... let oneself be tossed about by the winds of change...cultivating a more capacious consciousness, open to new dimensions of experience." Perry, a Jungian analyst, encourages people to work through their experiences - even when they are very extreme - without the mitigating effect of drugs. Instead they are given the support of a safe place to be while their particular molting is taking place, and a lot of loving support from people who have, from experience in their own lives, learned to turn the experience of crisis into a passage to power. Perry insists that, like the crab in need of a new shell, what precipitates such a crisis is the surfacing of energy from deep within the psyche, which has been bound up in the structures of a self-image or a worldview that has become obsolete - too limited to suit a person's needs. where inner and outer meet One of the most common objections amongst conventional "batten-down-the-hatches" psychologists to viewing crisis as part of a transformational process is that, while a crisis such as Emma's appears largely to have arisen from within, that of Rebecca was triggered entirely by outside events - the company take over, the decision of the man in her life to leave her, the accident to her ankle which put her to bed - all things over which she had no control. Or did she? According to British transpersonal psychologist Barbara Sommers, the outer and the inner world are not as separate as we might imagine. A woman like Rebecca may be far more responsible for precipitating the outer events that triggered her crisis than she thinks. Each of us has an inner and an outer world. When these two get out of balance, say, by emphasizing external or material values to the detriment of more personal deeper values, then a person invites disruption. The more someone like Rebecca pushes on with her ambitions and neglects her inner voice, the closer she brings herself to situations that precipitate crisis. Then crisis becomes a way of rebalancing things by forcing her to turn and look within. Things fail: She loses the man she loves because she has, by her actions, undervalued and neglected the relationship, and she damages her body so she is quite literally forced to go to bed, to be alone and to listen to her inner voice. In Sommers' words, "The real woman inside her doesn't like the way she has been living so she starts to cry out, `What about me?' The more she drives her energy into her conscious external life, the more power from her unconscious is generated to redress the balance. The `feeling' side of her (as opposed to the `doing' side) actually magnetizes a field around her so things start to happen." According to Sommers the important thing about Rebecca's crisis is that out of its forcing her to be with herself, instead of constantly being caught up in doing, comes the opportunity to ask questions such as "Who am I?" and "What do I want? - is my goal really to have a seat on the board? Or is that something I think I want because my father, my society, my friends think it is important?" All crises big or small are opportunities to get in touch with the wholeness of ourselves, not just to live lopsidedly or as partial people pushed into the way we are living by our culture, by education or by other people's views or values. rehearsal for change All crisis offers transformation provided, as the poet Rilke says, we have the courage to embrace it: "...this very abyss is full of the darkness of God, and where one experiences it, let him climb down and howl in it (that is more necessary than to cross over it)." Let yourself become aware of any structures of your own life - emotional, physical, environmental, intellectual - which no longer serve you and the choices you are making. See if there are any passages that are appropriate for you to make consciously. Making simple changes willingly can be useful practice for developing the skill of transforming crises, when they appear, into passages to power. You might like to experience the passage to new energy and clarity that a detoxification diet followed for a few days can bring. Or you might try doing without some addictive substance or activity which you feel is draining your energies. If you choose to do either, notice any changes that come about and pay attention to any messages that you get from within in the process.

I must have flowers

I must have flowers

Whatever else happens in my life, I must have flowers. These gifts from Nature nourish the soul. We scatter their petals when we marry. We send bouquets of them to celebrate the birth of a child. We decorate our homes and our places of worship with them. We use flowers to comfort the lonely and the ill. We even honour the end of a person’s life by laying floral wreathes on a grave. Not only do flowers play a central role in the rituals of life, they bless our ordinary daily existence by blossoming in our gardens, waste ground and hedgerows – and gracing our windowsills by protruding gaily from a cracked teapot. Perhaps it is the velvet softness of their petals and their luminous colours that make these affirmations from nature so precious to us. Maybe it is the uplifting energy they carry – an energy you sense lying in a field of poppies or when you go into a florist’s shop. It could be the fragrance of flowers, or the transient nature of their coming and going. I don’t know. Ancient Wreaths Our passion for flowers and the awareness that they carry deep healing and sanctifying energies are both as old as history itself. Not long ago, archaeologists digging in the Cave of Shanidar within the Zagros Mountains of Iran unearthed nine bodies of primitive people and discovered that, at least 60,000 years ago, men and women were carrying out flower rituals similar to those we use today. The archaeologists found soil samples in which clusters of pollen from twenty-eight different species of flower lay in a circle forming a wreath which had been laid to rest with human remains. One of the interesting things about the find was that the flowers these primitive people chose to use as a sacred and healing offering to their dead were not the most beautiful, nor were they the most readily available in that area. The flowers from which these wreathes had been made were chosen from plants that are specifically known for their healing properties - hollyhock, grape hyacinth and horsetail - all of which we still use today for medicinal purposes. Precious Offerings The Ancient Greeks and the Egyptians used aromatic oils and flowers for healing too, as they did for embalming, expanding consciousness and for sanctifying space. The Bible is riddled with words of praise for flowers and what they have to teach us, both about the realms of Spirit and about the ordinary world in which we live most of our lives. It tells us “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Mathew 6:28-29). In Song of Solomon 2:12 “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is at hand…” Soul Healers Not only does humanity have a passion for flowers. Flowers have a passion for us. They love to share with us their beauty, their healing powers – their very life force. “When I touch a flower, I am touching infinity,” said the American botanist George Washington Carver: “Through the flower I talk to the Infinite… a silent force… that still small voice.” American clairvoyant and healer Edgar Cayce celebrated the healing power of flowers again and again. He insisted that flowers bring companionship to those of us who are lonely, that they speak to the “shut in”, and that they bring Divine grace and upliftment to everyone. That is certainly my own experience of flowers. The Time Is Now Despite our longstanding love affair with flowers - despite the way for thousands of years we have used them for healing and to mark life’s passages, never in recorded history have we experienced a greater need for their healing and their blessings than right now. For we who live in the post-modern world often feel ourselves to be alienated, isolated, suspended, caught somewhere between the magnificent technology we have created and a longing to bond with the earth and with our own souls. Flowers can help bridge this gap. I think they do this better than anything else in nature. Flowers delight us, bless us and heal us. They clear the spiritual anorexia so widespread in urban life and help fill up our starving souls. They remind us of our own simple humanity as well as our essentially divine nature: They whisper to us of the splendour in the world around us—a world of which we humans are the guardians. Most important of all our relationship with flowers helps realign our ordinary day-to day lives with the authenticity of our unique soul energies. A big statement to make? Yes, but having worked with flower meditation for many years, having explored the potential flower essences have to build bridges for us between our inner truth and our outer lives I have come to believed with all my being that this is so. How Do Flowers Heal? No-one knows for sure. There are so many of their elements which carry healing potential that it would be hard to list them all: Their colours influence our mind, our energy levels, our clarity of thought. Colourful flowers and the plants they come from often carry health-enhancing nutrients within them - anti-oxidants such as flavinoids, which give plants their wonderful colours and help protect from degeneration, and other phyto-chemicals that help to strengthen immunity, improve circulation or delay ageing. Then there are the more recently discovered vibrational energies which Dr Bach called on when he fashioned flower essences and, of course, essential oil treats and treatments for person and place. Last, but by no means least, is the power of flower meditation. Here is where the soul of a human being meets the soul of a flower to bring healing, friendship and blessings to both. To Each His Own Flowers are as individual in their personalities as they are in their looks and fragrance. Some love the night. They only display their beauty and emit their fragrance once the sun goes down. Like night-owl people, at their best in the wee small hours of the morning, these blossoms have a passionate nature. They often carry exotic names like Queen of the Night, Night-Blooming Silene, and Gilliflower. Other flowers, like goatsbeard, poppy and marigold, open their petals at the crack of dawn then close down each evening and drift away into sleep. The sunflower stretches itself boldly towards heaven, while the bright blue borage flower, worshiped by Celtic warriors for its ability to bring courage in battle, bows its tiny head towards the ground. A shy soul with a great power to heal, borage prefers to go unnoticed – despite its heart-rending beauty. I have learned much about the individual personalities and soul nature of flowers not only from meditating on them and using them for healing but also from photographing them. Some, like peony, love the spotlight. Put them in front of a camera and they upstage everything else. Many have very strong likes and dislikes about where you plant them and where you place a bouquet of them in a room. On one table a particular flower becomes recalcitrant. But move it to the top of a bookcase in front of a window and suddenly it surrenders its beauty to the camera the way a woman yields to the touch of her lover. Each flower has unique healing properties and each speaks its own silent language. Learning that language, listening to flower wisdom and opening your heart to a flower’s healing energy can be a joyous and often life-changing experience. Spotlight On Flower Essences Get to know half a dozen of the most useful essences. Choose them depending on where you are in your life now and as you change explore more of these wonderful floral friends. Here is my personal selection with some information about each essence. It can open up a whole new world for you of beauty, healing and joy. Here are a few flower essences you might like Bach Original Flower Essences, Vervain Vervain is essentially a plant of ease. It eases heartache, headache, stomach-ache, concern for the future and bad luck. Dr Bach made a flower essence from vervain to ease stress and tension. Vervain is an essence for those of us who tend to ‘live on our nerves’. These people are likely to take on tasks beyond their strength then force themselves onward through will-power alone. They are the martyrs of this world who will do anything for their cause. Vervain essence is calming. It helps you to slow down long enough to listen to your own needs, and to the opinions of others as well as to let you restore your strength. In all its forms vervain brings relief. Order Bach Original Flower Essences, Vervain from iherb Flower Essence Services, Lotus The lotus is no symbol of abstract perfection never to be achieved. All true lovers of the lotus will tell you that true spirituality grows out of the depths of material form. Step by step it reaches toward the light. The unique power nestled within the lotus’ genetic structure is this: Only this flower among all water plants is born from the muck with such strength of stem that, instead of floating on the water as do others, the power of its life force raises it a foot or more above the pond. Flower essence made from lotus can help when you find yourself knee deep in an endless swamp. Meditating on the lotus flower opens you to a pride-free experience of your soul’s divinity. I find both the essence and the meditation useful in blearing illusions and dissolving spiritual pride. Lotus reminds us that all true spirituality is deeply rooted in imperfection. Order Flower Essence Services, Lotus from iherb Flower Essence Services, Sunflower Sunflower essence helps those on a spiritual path, who tend to forget their bodily needs. It brings grounding and helps us manage times of dramatic change with ease. Its wisdom is a fine example of the Australian aboriginal idea of 'keeping your head in the stars and your feet on the ground'. Sunflower essence also helps strengthen self-esteem. It can improve the way you relate to people in authority by allowing you to maintain your sense of self in the face of someone else’s demands. Order Flower Essence Services, Sunflower from iherb Flower Essence Services, Mallow, Flower Essence The mallow is a flower of the heart. Its flower essence can help you to align the demands of your head with the intuition of the heart – in effect, to hear the whispers of your soul. Mallow is of great help to those who ‘lead from the head’ rather than from the heart and who often feel that life is a struggle although they are not sure why. This essence helps you to integrate your deepest beliefs and desires with your daily thinking and, in doing so, to live out more fully your true nature. Order Flower Essence Services, Mallow, Flower Essence from iherb Bach Original Flower Essences, Honeysuckle Honeysuckle flower essence was a favorite of Dr Bach – father of all flower essences. He prescribed it “to remove from the mind the regrets and sorrows of the past.” It is an essence which can help anyone who is stuck in the past, either through regret or nostalgia. As Dr Bach insisted, the important thing about any experience is that we learn from it, not continue to relive it. Honeysuckle flower essence helps put the events of the past where they belong – behind you – so that you can go forward into the future with the enthusiasm and innocence of the child reborn. Order Bach Original Flower Essences, Honeysuckle from iherb Flower Essence Services Calendula The flower essence of calendula is both warming and calming. It can help speakers, writers, teachers and leaders use words with clarity, compassion and creativity. The flower boasts a benign energy that makes it easier to express yourself and at the same time honor the opinions of others. Marigold can be especially useful for people who find their discussions too often end in arguments. This flower essence brings warmth and patience. It encourages you to listen as well as to make your point and furthers the cause of real communication. Order Flower Essence Services Calendula from iherb

zazen

zazen

One of the simplest ways of meditating, this technique involves nothing more than just being aware of your breathing. But don't be deceived by its simplicity. It is a potent tool for stilling the mind and regenerating the body. And concentrating your awareness on the breath is not as easy as it sounds. You need to find yourself a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. You can sit cross-legged on the floor with a small cushion underneath you, or you can sit in a chair if you prefer, but your back should be straight. This straight-back position is a requirement for many meditation techniques, since it creates a physical equilibrium which makes calm mental focus possible. Let your hands rest quietly in your lap. count your breaths Close your eyes. Take several long, slow breaths, breathing from your abdomen so it swells out with each in-breath and sinks in again when you breathe out. Now rock your body from side to side and then around in large, gentle circles from your hips to the top of your head. Rock in increasingly smaller circles until you gradually come to rest in the center. Now breathe in and out through your nose quietly without doing anything to your breathing - that is, don't try to breathe deeper or slower or faster, just breathe normally. With each out-breath count silently to yourself. So it goes: in-breath, out-breath `one'...in-breath, out-breath `two'... and so on up to ten, counting only on the out-breath. When you get to ten, go back and begin again at one. If you lose count halfway, it doesn't matter. Go back and start the count at one again. Counting isn't the point. It is a way of focusing your mind on your breath. After fifteen minutes - sneak a look at your wristwatch if you must - stop. Sit still for a moment, then open your eyes and slowly begin to go about your everyday activities again. If you are like most people, the first few times you do the exercise you will find you lose count often and you are frequently distracted by thoughts or noises. It makes no difference. It works just as well anyway. Each time some random thought distracts you, simply turn your mind gently back again to counting the breaths. Distractions don't change the effectiveness of the meditation. The exercise, like most techniques, is best done twice a day, morning and evening. A beginner will usually notice positive results by the end of a week, but they become increasingly apparent the longer you go on doing it. Some Buddhist monks do this exercise for two or three years before beginning any other form of meditation. beyond relaxation Once you are familiar with the practice of deep relaxation or meditation and with all the benefits it can bring you, you might be interested to go on to investigate other, more complex forms of meditation. There are many, for meditation is not a word that is easy to define. It takes in such different practices. Some forms such as zazen or vispassana (sometimes called insight meditation) demand complete immobility. You sit watching the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe, and whenever your mind wanders you gently turn it back to this observation. This simply concentrated attention, which can be likened to the `continuum of awareness' in Gestalt theory, is capable of bringing up many repressed feelings and thoughts that have been stifling your full expression and of liberating them. The Siddha Yoga of Muktananda and the chaotic meditation of Rajneesh, where the body is let go to move as it will, are examples of this sort. They often involve spontaneous changes in muscle tension and relaxation and in breathing, and they demand a sense of surrender to the physical body for the release of the mental, emotional and bodily tensions. These kinds of meditation can be particularly good for someone with a tendency to be physically rigid. Then there are the visualization meditations such as those used in Tibetan Buddhism in which you focus your mind on a particular image, fine-tuning it to the specific beneficial energies or influences this symbol carries (the creative imagery techniques in the next section are also an example of this kind of meditation). They have been used recently to cure serious illness and also in the sports world to improve athletic performance. Another form of meditation is that of "mindfulness," where you go about your daily activities simply being aware of each thing that you do, as in Gurdjieff's "self-remembering," shikantaza or mahamudra. These are just a few of the possibilities worth investigating if you want to go further. Each has something worthwhile to offer, and the mere act of learning a new method and the set of ideas and attitudes that go with it can be an exciting experience as well as tremendously beneficial.

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