Nightmares: How to Handle Dragons

This post is about one of my favourite subjects – dreams. Even if you never have nightmares yet you are interested in dreams and what they mean, read on…

Although nightmares are more common among children, apparently one out of every two adults have nightmares now and then – and between 2% and 8% of the adult population is plagued by nightmares.

Recently our two and a half year old has been having nightmares about the dragon from the famous book, Room on the Broom. As a child and teenager I always had vivid or lucid dreams but it’s only been over the last eight or nine years that I have developed a dedicated lucid dreaming practice, one that’s given my life a new richness and depth, one that has opened many doors in my soul.

Dreams and dragons? This was something I could help with.

And so, I actually shared a basic ‘shadow healing’ technique with our little girl recently. As you do. Within a week….whoosh…the dragon was gone.

Even if you don’t have children who have nightmares, this concept is a great way to approach any kind of fear, anxiety or phobia that manifests into a dream or within waking life too.

Now, I’m going to dive straight into what actually happened but if you’d like to read more about lucid dreaming and what I mean by ‘shadow work’, then there’s more to follow at the end of this post.

Meeting the Dragon

For those of you who haven’t read Room on the Broom, here is a picture of the scaly, wide-nostriled archenemy from Julia Donaldson’s magnificent book.

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Although our daughter has loved this story for almost a year, it’s only been the last month that we’ve had refusal of this particular book and complaints about a dragon being in her room, both at bedtime and during the night. Pesky things, dragons. But now that our little girl is understanding more about dreams, I thought, what the heck – let’s try this! Last week when she mentioned the dragon before bed and I said:

“Do you know what Mummy does when she sees a dragon at night, I hug him and tell him I love him and guess what?”

She’s wide-eyed and nodding furiously.

“He disappears! and sometimes he hugs me back!”

Her eyes lit up like Christmas day.

“It’s important to say, I love you, and really mean it, here in your heart”. I repeated these instructions a few times over the course of the week.

I was worried this was a bit risky because I thought, what if she tries to hug it and something goes wrong? And then I thought, no, trust in love, trust in the experts and above all, trust in my first-hand experience of ‘shadow work’ and the fact that her subconscious will protect her if she’s not ready. (This is true! Whatever ‘shadow work’ you do within your dreams, your subconscious will only allow you to experience what you are ready to see.)

Then… a couple of mornings ago, she woke from an uninterrupted sleep, which is very uncommon, and rose for the day at 6.45am (usually its 5am or just before 6am). She was super calm and chilled and I just think, wow, we got lucky last night.

But then, later in the afternoon, she says: “Mummy I saw the dragon last night.”

What happened?! I asked, my heart beating faster.

“I gave him a kiss and a cuddle and said I love you dragon”. (I nearly cried!).

What then, I said… “He disappeared, Mummy” she said with a wide grin. Again, I nearly cried. (She’s independently recounted the same story a couple of times since.) I honestly didn’t think she was old enough to face such a thing, and she did!

Now, toddlers are generally rather unreliable sources at times, I wouldn’t place one in a witness box, but other times they are of course razor-sharp with their honesty. Either way, even if she was just saying this to impress Mummy, what an amazing concept for her to begin to grasp, something to apply in other walks of life, teaching her to be fearless in the face of dragons and showing her what love can do, and specifically, what happens when you direct that kindness and love within, instead of pushing the fear away. But I reckon it did happen, I really do, my instinct says she really did some ‘shadow work’, which is why she woke in a great state of mind.  She was so happy that morning. (Whenever I’ve had a lucid dream in general, and specifically if it’s been a shadow lucid dream, I’ll wake feeling blissful.) Now, I’m writing this two weeks later and we haven’t heard a single thing about the dragon. Not a peep. What a brave soul she is. This is my proudest moment in parenting thus far.

So it was that simple….

My instinct says Evelyn was lucid but even if she wasn’t, I think there’s a lot of power if you can influence your mind to think differently about how you face your fears. Even if you’re not a lucid dreamer (currently), I also think it’s possible to integrate your fears by doing a visualisation before bed. There are actually loads of tips in a book called Dreaming Through Darkness mentioned later on in this post.

So instead of fighting, rejecting or fearing the dragon, give the big softie a cuddle or show it some love and acknowledgement in your own way.

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Sitting on her shadow’s shoulder’s last halloween

Exploring the Subject

I’ve learnt some great techniques from my lucid dreaming teaching Charlie Morley. His workshops, retreats and books have been life changing for me. Charlie is a brilliant teacher and has written three incredibly insightful books on the subject. Most recently, I’ve been reading his ‘Dreaming through Darkness’ book, which is all about integrating the ‘shadow’, largely through dreams but in waking life too.

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Charlie Morley’s books about Lucid Dreaming

 Lucid Dreaming

Let’s go back a couple of steps…. if you haven’t heard of lucid dreaming before, let me explain. Lucid dreaming is when you’re aware that you’re dreaming, which enables you to have a gentle influence over your dream. Many adults have lucid dreams but may not realise what they are (and the potential they hold) and most children will inherently lucid dream. As you get older, many forget or loose the ability. But it’s like riding a bike and if you’re interested in starting a lucid dreaming practice, it all starts with dream recall – keeping a dream diary and trying to remember your dreams.

I won’t go into any further detail about it here, that’s another blog post, but it’s helped me over the last ten years or so during important crossroads, with creative projects and with my spiritual practice. Whether you’re interested in simply flying, meeting a famous heartthrob, learning how to breakdance or visiting far-away lands, lucid dreaming can be such a wonderfully rich and exciting way to spend your sleeping life. Plus, whatever you do inside a lucid dream, such as repeat positive affirmations, meditate or practise yoga – the benefits of this action will be amplified. I forget the exact statistic but it’s several times more powerful to do a positive deed in a lucid dream than if you were to do the same things unconsciously within a regular dream!

My teacher Charlie Morley is far better at explaining what lucid dreaming is here in this great You Tube Interview.

Shadow Work

One of the many things that lucid dreaming has helped me with has been healing past traumas. When I say trauma, it isn’t always necessarily something huge. We all have some sort of trauma from our past, whether we’re aware of it or not: anything from relationship breakups or grief to things we’ve seen or experienced that hasn’t been dealt with.

The fall-out is often stored-up, sometimes in the form of repressed or suppressed emotions, that live in our subconscious. Carl Jung named this our shadow self – the place in our minds where our rejected traits such as anger, fear and shame are stored.

When we say ‘shadow work’, it simply means trying to integrate any fears, phobias or charged emotions that have been repressed or not dealt with.

So if you do some healing work, such as hugging a scary dragon in a lucid dream, you will have done some really deep and gentle healing. What I found most empowering about all this is that this technique enables you to heal and help yourself – to become your own therapist.

Here, Charlie talks about nightmares and lucid dreaming in his Ted Talk.

Sharing Dreams

From a very young age, my Dad always had an enthusiastic interest in my dreams. This was great training and I’m convinced the reason why I’ve always paid so much attention to my dreams, and also why I’ve always remembered so many of them.

I’ve learnt that by writing down your dreams you’re more likely to be in touch with your ‘hidden’ self, your subconscious. There’s a goldmine of creativity and potential down there, so I feel it’s really important to be in tune with your dreams.

If you have a small child, ask them about their dreams every morning. I’m pretty sure that because my own father did this with me as a child, it’s meant I’ve always had a very good relationship with my dreams.

If my two and a half year old can hug a dragon, the thing she feared most, then I believe this can work for anyone. Seize the day, seize the horns of your biggest fears and give it all your love. Don’t fight it, push it away or hide from it. Love it. Integrate it into your being – turn the darkness into light.

Other Books

These are some of my other favourite books on lucid dreaming and shadow work…

  • Dreaming Yourself Awake: Lucid Dreaming and Tibetan Dream Yoga for Insight and Transformation | B. Alan Wallace
  • Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self by Robert Waggoner
  • Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert A. Johnson
  • Living, Dreaming, Dying byt Rob Nairn
  • Feeding Your Demons by Tsultrim Allione

 

If you liked this post, you might also want to check out that time I went on a Lucid dreaming Retreat on the magical Holy Isle.

School for Parents: Review of P.E.T Method

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Muddling Through

Despite what you might see on social media, it’s not all podgy hands and daisy chains in our world.

Nobody hands you an instruction manual when you become a parent. If you’re lucky, a flurry of well-meaning friends will probably lend you a selection of parenting books, each one containing fascinating yet vastly conflicting advice, leaving you with less answers than you had before.

More often than not, most of us are all just desperately trying to keep our child alive whilst making the rest up as we go along. Parenting is all about muddling through. But wouldn’t it be nice to feel like we’ve occasionally got this?

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Why Enroll on a Parenting Course

We have a bright, beautiful and spirited little girl. Like many, motherhood has posed various challenges for me and for some time I’ve wanted to boost my confidence as a parent by understanding more about how children operate and how we can best meet her needs as well as ours.

Partly due to my profession, I’ve always been particularly sensitive to the type of language that’s used when communicating and since becoming a parent I’ve been especially aware of how we talk to our little girl.

Before she turned two she started to disagree, push back and make her specific needs known. We wanted to find a way to converse without reverting to discipline or parenting techniques such as manipulation and domination (star charts and the Naughty Step) – outcomes of each pose challenges to the parent-child relationship.

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Sifting Through the Noise

There are so many books out there to choose from! Where to begin. To me there was only one technique that seemed balanced, straightforward and fair. It’s called the Parent Effectiveness Technique (P.E.T) and in December I graduated from a course hosted by a wonderful coach and consultant called Andrea Rippon who teaches the technique here in Norfolk. (For those who live further afield, Andrea can offer Parent Coaching via Skype.)

Andrea’s taught me before. I completed two introductory courses in Person-Centred Counselling Skills and Theory, through her business “Who Are You Now?”.

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The P.E.T Course: In a Nutshell (or should that be conker?)

Let me begin with the concept that left its mark on me the most: There’s no such thing as bad behaviour. All behaviour is simply communication.

Secondly, what I loved about this method was that it was fair. The parenting approach is not authoritative or submissive; it is assertive, respectful and kind.

It is also evidence based.  The central goal is to provide communication skills and strategies that can help parents have happy, healthy and mutually satisfying relationships with their children, whether they are toddlers or teenagers.

It is based on the principle that humans want to thrive, belong and do the right thing by others.  They want to be themselves AND fit into the world. Our behaviour, as a form of communication, tries to tell others what we need in order to achieve this. But we are not always skilled at identifying our needs, let alone communicating them, especially when we are children. This is when problems can arise.

By using the P.E.T. Behaviour Window ™, I can identify who has the problem in the relationship: my daughter, me or both of us. Understanding problem ownership has helped me to select the most appropriate form of communication to address it. In every situation, the idea is that I facilitate the process by which problems are owned and solved, appropriately, by one or both of us.

One of the skills is Confronting I-messages, which I use in situations where I have a problem with my child’s behaviour. These are brilliant!

They strip away all labeling: You’re lazy, you’re unkind, you’re messy and you’re naughty. Instead, it encourages me to focus on what I see and hear in the behaviour that is causing the problem, how it has a tangible negative effect on me and how that makes me feel.   By communicating this in simple language, without blame, my daughter can experience things from my perspective. This allows her to change her behaviour to fit in with me, if she wants to (or rather, if it doesn’t cause her a problem).

In a nutshell, Andrea’s PET course is about awareness and communication, with some psychology thrown in, to help understand the context.

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PET Teaches You How to Handle Every Situation

There’s so much more to it than this but in short, the approach offers a communication skill/strategy for every situation:

  • When your child has a problem – use Active Listening skills to help them identify what they need and how they might solve their own problem. (For those problems where there is no solution, the aim is to achieve better coping strategies.)
  • When the parent has a problem with a child’s behaviour but the child doesn’t have a problem – use a Confronting I-message
  • When both the child and parent have a problem – use win/win conflict resolution and/or values collision strategies. The aim is to find solutions where everyone can win: Parent and Child.
  • When neither the parent nor the child has a problem (precious time!) – use I-messages to build the relationship and prevent problems from happening in the first place.

Did I mention that this technique can also be applied to ANY relationship in your life? I’ve tried it on my partner, parents and colleagues. I won’t go into specifics but it worked!

What I learnt

One of the greatest skills I left with was not only how to use the Behaviour Window but also I had a chance to brush up on my Active Listening skills. Mastering this opens up so much! Since using Active Listening Skills more, my little girl has been sharing more about her inner workings and her day, how she’s feeling and why she’s behaving in a certain way.

The course also reminded me about the importance of mindfulness. I used to have a very strong mindfulness and meditation practice before my daughter was born, which has since slipped. Yet as a parent, if you can use mindfulness as part of your relationship with your child, not only are you more aware of what’s really going on for you or your child but you’re also able to take a moment to pause before you react to a challenging behaviour.

On my feedback form to Andrea, one of the things I said included something like: “I want to be just like you!”. For me, this was what was so extra brilliant about the course. Yes, the method is proven but Andrea is such an inspirational person. Very wise, straight forward and calm, with a terrific sense of humour.

I left the course feeling more confident in my abilities and more resourceful in our parenting approach.

(Don’t just take my word for it. A number of others have also submitted independent reviews on Facebook, which describes the impact this course has had for them and their families and in some cases, their work colleagues.)

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A Poem for Parents

I wrote the below after watching a YouTube video about Donald Winnacott a couple of years ago. He didn’t invent P.E.T but he was a very famous paediatrician and psychoanalyst who had a very amazing stance on parenting. He basically said, hey guys, don’t worry about being the perfect parent, you might end up doing more harm if you try too hard. Instead, be real, be true and just strive to be good enough.

The Good Enough Parents

after Donald Winnacott

The happiness of humankind does not

depend on Donald Trump’s ability to

conquer carbon emissions or malaria

but on the way we parent our children

parents don’t need to be perfect, just OK.

Remember your child is fragile, helpless

fighting to simply find words to stay alive

if you fail her, it must feel to her as though

the wild beasts will gobble her up whole

Allow your child’s anger to expend itself

If a baby wails, be unruffled and unheard

this strengthens what she believes to be true

is not necessarily real. Be her still ocean.

Make sure your child isn’t too obedient

we should be very scared of good children

Adults who are dead inside are those who’ve

been made “good” way before their time.

those with chaotic parents, will overthink

those with depressed parents, will be too jovial

giving no time to process their own melancholy

Parenting is more vital than being a president.

don’t get offended when something bad emerges

from your child: tune out of yourself, empathise.

prevent the walking wounded who may have

visible success but are not true beneath the skin.

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HOW TO ENROLL

The course took us through Thomas Gordon’s Behaviour Window ™, the full set of communication and conflict-resolution skills and all the principles that underpin the PET approach.  More information is available on Andrea’s website – www.parentingclass.co.uk.

Dates for PET courses in 2018 are:

Monday mornings, 09.30-12.30:

23, 30 Apr; 14, 21 May; 11, 18 Jun, 2, 9 Jul

Tuesday evenings, 18.00-21.00:

24 Apr; 1, 15, 22 May; 12, 19 Jun; 3, 10 Jul

Venue:  Norwich, NR2

Cost: £300 course fee (£90 Deposit, £210 Balance).  Installments are available.

Andrea runs very small groups, so if you’d like to join it’s best to reserve your place online as soon as possible (http://parentingclass.co.uk/dates-times-parenting-classes)

Andrea Rippon is a Certified Parent Educator and a mum of two teenagers.  She has been running Person Centred People Skills courses for 20 years.  She writes a regular Parenting Column for the Eastern Daily Press. 

Reiki Resistance: My Article in Touch Magazine

I’d like to share one of the articles I wrote for the autumn issue of Touch Magazine – the community magazine of Reiki Association UK. I’ve been an Editorial Assistant since the late summer and so this is my first complete issue.

Although I’ve been practising Reiki for a few years, this piece touches on a challenging time where I had a resistance to my practice. Have you ever struggled to help yourself when you needed it most? What helped you out of that situation? Perhaps it was a friend or family member or maybe it was someone you’d only just met. This is what happened to me..

 

Overcoming resistance

Two years ago, assisted only by hypnobirthing techniques and universal energy, my beautiful Reiki baby was born. We were home a lot during those early weeks. Having Reiki at my fingertips felt like a real gift.

However, tickled pink soon changed to monochrome grey. After a couple of weeks we had back-to-back challenges, including breast feeding issues, various midnight trips to A&E and the Community Hospital, unsettled daytime behaviour, colic in the evenings and hourly wakes in the night. When she turned six months old, the chronic sleep deprivation really set in. I had never known exhaustion like it.

The hardest thing was that the Reiki felt muted, and worse still, my Reiki baby cried every time I attempted to give her a treatment. (Thank goodness I’d done my Second Degree in pregnancy so that I could send her Reiki while she slept.) Subsequently, I began to feel sceptical about Reiki. I just kept reciting: This is for our highest good, for our highest good. In truth, I struggled to see that at the time.

Shortly after this, I developed a resistance to Reiki. My hands weighed a ton as I placed them over my eyes in the evenings. I couldn’t visualise the symbols for long and the heat seemed to vanish. Here I was experiencing the most challenging period in my life and I felt like my practise was not making a difference. I knew I should just stick with it but I couldn’t. I felt stunningly lost.

It was only recently when I was reading Charlie Morley’s, Dreaming Through Darkness, that I learned about the Golden Shadow. I was familiar with Carl Jung’s concept of the (Dark) Shadow – the place in our minds where our rejected traits such as anger, fear and shame are stored. However, “Our Golden Shadow is made up of our hidden talents, our blinding beauty and our unfulfilled potential. It contains our intuition, our creativity, childlike vitality and spiritual power,” according to Morley.

Was the powerful gift of Reiki too bright for me to hold when I needed it most?

It was possible, but there were probably a number of factors at play, including the lethargy one feels during postnatal depression. However, there was one profoundly beautiful thing that gently brought me out of my ‘Reiki depression’. I discovered my local Reiki share. It was a two-minute walk from my city flat. Perhaps Reiki had worked after all – it led me there, and if I couldn’t reconnect by treating myself, perhaps someone else might help to release the block.

I felt anxious about giving a treatment again. Was the Reiki energy still flowing through me? What if the receiver didn’t feel anything? Perhaps I needed another attunement? All these unfounded anxieties raced through my mind.

I need not have worried, because I was grouped with the two kind-hearted hosts, Diana Cooper and Margaret Rose who, after the session, both wearing dazed smiles, made a point of telling me just how good the treatment was and I’m sure they didn’t just say this to boost a new member’s confidence.

Since joining the share group I’ve regained my composure, reconnected with my practise and experienced a whole new chapter in my journey. I’ve also made a dear friend, a fellow new mum – we both share similar interests and we often discuss just how pivotal Reiki has been during our journey in motherhood.

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How I feel after Reiki – floating and connected. Illustration by Daria Hlazatova

Reiki Share Norwich

The monthly Reiki share group continues and is open to all students of any lineage. The group welcome new members and are a friendly and supportive group of all ages! Contact details below.

Awareness Day

Margaret Rose and Diana Cooper will be holding a Reiki Awareness Day at The Norwich Wellbeing Centre at the end of November/beginning December. They will be offering taster sessions and informal talks about the benefits of Reiki to anyone who is new to this healing tradition. Do let family and friends know if you think they’d be interested. Contact details below.

Courses

Following on from the inspiring courses that were run this year, Reiki Master, Margaret Rose and Diana Cooper are also finalising dates for a First Degree Reiki course in early 2018. They are also planning a Second Degree Reiki course for anyone who would like to take their journey further. All courses will be taught at The Norwich Wellbeing Centre. If you would like more information about what the courses entail, or to discuss how they might help you, please get in touch with Diana.

For all enquiries regarding the above events and to book a 1:1 treatment, please contact Diana Cooper on email: cooperd79@gmail.com or mobile: 07800 810198.

Do you practise Reiki?

Touch Magazine is looking for contributions! We cover a wide range of stories, news, events, features, and interviews about any individual, group or clinic within a Reiki context.

You don’t have to be a professional Reiki practitioner or a member of the Reiki Association to contribute as long as you’ve received Reiki training and use Reiki treatment or practise regularly.

We are currently looking for by-lined one-page stories (500 words) or two-page features (1,000 words) and any events, book launches or news from the Reiki community. We’d also love to hear from any writers, poets or artists who practise Reiki.

 

 

Using creative thinking to improve your wellbeing

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This week the prestigious Bridport Prize announced the winners of its annual prose and poetry competition. It was an honour to have two of my poems shortlisted again this year. I was very surprised that they liked the sleep-deprived pieces out of those submitted, which also happened to be the first two poems I wrote after having my little girl. I was suffering from chronic sleep deprivation and PND. It was a time when I thought my creativity had plummeted. When in fact, it was those challenging times that brought a wellspring of ideas and inspiration. I was just too shattered to do very much about it at the time.

You don’t need to be a poet or artist to tap into your creativity. Let’s face it, everyone can be creative, although some people might not think they’re naturally creative. People can be creative in different ways, from crafting at home to applying creative thinking to solve a problem. Being creative can have an effect on your life in many ways and help you to improve your wellbeing. It certainly has helped me.

Whether you already try to be creative, with words, art or in another field or perhaps you want to try and tap into a hidden creative side, you could make some simple improvements to your approach. Here are my top ways you can use creative thinking to make your life better.

1. Use Creative Problem-solving

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Being creative can really help with solving problems of all kinds. If you can come up with some creative solutions to issues, it can help you in all walks of life. You might be trying to get your kids to behave, and instead of spending the day nagging them, you can distract them with something instead. Maybe at work, you could be the person to suggest a risky but creative way to solve a problem that pays off. Creative problem-solving can help you to think beyond the most obvious answers.

Top tip: Don’t be afraid to say the first thing that comes into your head during a brainstorm or if you’re working alone on something challenging, write down everything that comes into your head without stopping for five minutes to edit or reread your list, ideas or piece work. This allows you to tap into your subconscious more. If you ‘edit’ yourself too much, you will often stem the flow of creative ideas.

2. Use Creativity in Career and Business

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A lot of people feel like there’s a contrast between work and being creative. Working is often something we do to support ourselves, and for others, being creative is something we do in our spare time. But there’s no reason that you can’t do both! You don’t necessarily have to be in a creative career, although I can personal contest to the fact you’ll have more creative freedom as a freelance writer or a graphic designer. Even in jobs that aren’t traditionally creative, you can still find ways to tap into your creativity.

Top tip: Use creative thinking to help think beyond the obvious. Research any online trend reports for your sector, see what the broadsheets are saying about your industry, what are your competitors up to? Tap into these emerging trends or observe the patterns in these trends and with your knowledge of your sector, try to pre-empt the seed of a new trend!

3. Make Being Creative a Form of Therapy

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Pic Credit: Illustrator, Mia Charro – framed inspiration in my writing shed

Doing anything creative can be a great way to improve your wellbeing. Whether you like to write, draw or do crafts, creative activities give you something to focus on and a creative outlet to express yourself. It can be a method of being more mindful and concentrating on the present. It’s also a good way to express your emotions so that you don’t bottle them up. If you want a form of therapy that you can do on your own (or with others), doing something creative could be really helpful. When I was extremely sleep deprived for the 18 months after the birth of my daughter, writing poems about what was happening felt like a lifeline for me.

Top tip: As soon as you wake up, try writing down some creative ideas for poems, paintings, fiction, some lyrics, a blog post or perhaps another kind of creative project. You’ll find that you’re more in tune with your subconscious mind, and your creativity, when you first wake for the day.

4. Improve Your Patience and Persistence

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Creative activities can help you improve a range of skills and qualities. It can help you to learn better patience, appreciate delayed gratification, and be persistent to achieve your goals. Most creative projects will require you to be calm and patient and to be willing to improve your skills. If you decide to take up a new craft, you can’t expect to be brilliant at it straight away.

Top tip: I often find that I can’t force a new poem or short story. If I’m not in that space, it just won’t happen. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel inspired. Instead, do something you feel like you need to do in that moment but do return to it and try again the next day, and the day after, until you’re in that place.

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I’ve personally found that allowing creativity into different areas of my life has improved it in many areas. As well as doing creative activities, use your creativity in your everyday life. Once you start thinking that way, you’ll find creativity cropping up in different guises!

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The White Witch by photographer Karen Jerzyk

When I wrote the first draft of those two poems, I remember having the luxury of one hour and fifteen minutes until I needed to head home to my little girl. Milk Moss & Baker in Norwich, plied me with cake and the hot black stuff, as I furiously wrote the skeletons of these two poems – one about sleep, the other about the hypnogogic state. They were only seeds at this stage and I revisited them weeks later with a fresh set of eyes.

I dedicate this small triumph to my little sleep thief, and all the Mums out there who don’t have “a sleeper”

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NB: This is a sponsored post. Money was exchanged to feature one or more links published in this post.

A Buddhist Silent Retreat in Northern India

For less than £100, you can spend 10 days on a meditation retreat in Northern India at the Tushita Institute, located a short distance from the Dalia Lama’s residence in Dharamsala.

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This was by far the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done for my mind and soul. In 2013, I spent five months travelling around South East Asia and towards the end of this trip, during my 7-week visit to India, this retreat was by far my high point.

Why take part in a 10-day silent retreat 

I took part in this 10-day silent retreat after much deliberation because let’s face it, it doesn’t sound like the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re backpacking solo around a crazy-different albeit beautiful country. To stay silent for ten whole days? Oh boy. I changed my mind several times, visited the centre before hand, cancelled my place, rebooked my spot, cancelled my reservation again and then finally came to the realisation that I will probably never have this opportunity again and worst case scenario, hey, I could always leave half-way through if it was an absolute nightmare – no one was going to hold me to it. Only me. And actually, that’s what enabled me to complete the full course in the end. I knew I owed it to myself.

Being silent and reflective for that long isn’t something most people will ever have to attempt. So why would you? Well, I guess to actually get to know yourself properly without the countless distractions of every day life. It’s a scary thing to potentially spend that amount of time with yourself yet it’s an opportunity to face up to all sorts of interesting things.

Not only did I really get to grips with Buddhism and the philosophy surrounding the principles of meditation but I gained a huge amount of self-awareness, gained invaluable clarity on a few areas in my life, I became to understand my thought patterns, my triggers, my fears, my crutches and my vices – one of these is food, I never realised how obsessed I actually am with mealtimes. I’ve always been aware that I love food but it was something that plagued my thoughts constantly during the regular daily meditations. I also learnt more about what really makes me tick, discovered how to put my ego to one side and really experience life through a soundless mind. Whilst I was there, it felt a truly authentic way to live, the only way I should be living. There wasn’t anyone to impress, least one’s self. I surfaced from the retreat floating on Himalayan clouds. I felt like a different person and I can safely say, during this time and for quite some time following afterwards, was one of the happiest time of my life.

Of course, when you do this kind of ‘work’ on yourself, you have to invest an entire lifetime. Although ten days can really charge your path and fuel a deeper understanding of your mind, this was only really the beginning for me.

What happened during the retreat

During my stay there was an itinerary of daily talks, discussions and meditation techniques, learned from experienced teachers and monks. Set in the forested hills of McLeod Ganj, the only other inhabitants included daily passing troupes of brown and snow monkeys. Most of the 10 days is spent in silence as I immersed myself in a friendly and encouraging environment. I loved the fact there were so many different nationalities – at least 20!

Early morning and at sunset, the monkey troops were our entertainment as they swung from the prayer flags and stupas, and would steal various items from the centre right before our powerless and silent faces.

Every morning began with meditation in the beautiful Gompa, after which we enjoyed a breakfast of freshly baked rolls, honey and butter, chai tea and banana porridge as we watched the monkeys at play.

After more meditation, a daily lecture, a class discussion (this was the only time we were permitted to speak, for around an hour), a spot of karma yoga (assigned chores around the retreat centre). Then a vegetarian lunch, usually: Dahl, rice, vegetable stir-frys, mung bean salads, sometimes home made chips or baked potatoes, bean stews, homemade soups and more freshly baked rolls – yep, another mention of food :-). The afternoons were filled with more teachings and meditation sessions. Then chai masala tea at 3pm.

The body of the course is composed of philosophy classes supported by meditation sessions, all within a silent retreat environment.

About the retreat centre 

Tushita has an international reputation for this course where Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and meditation is taught from a modern perspective, giving practical tips to help you apply this ancient wisdom to increase peace and happiness in your daily life.

A suggested donation of around £75 for 10-days includes dormitory accommodation, three vegan meals a day, afternoon chai tea and all classes. For more information go to: http://tushita.info/programs/introduction-to-buddhism/

 

Photography: All photography in this post was taken by Roots and Toots. Please ask permission before using.

Toast: A Guided Meditation

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Buttery toast. One of life’s little pleasures. But how many of us really taste everything when we eat? Not just when we’re eating toast but with anything we consume. I try to eat my food mindfully when I can – although that’s easier said than done with a small toddler waving spoons of mashed potato around – but when I do have a meal to myself, I try to savour every moment, observe the colour, texture and taste, slowly and with full awareness. (Well, when I remember.)

I always think fondly of the delicious vegan food from the 10-day silent retreat in Dharamshala a few years ago, not just because the food was full of rich Indian flavours but because at every meal time, with no distractions, no talking, no iPhones, no television, your full attention was spent on each mouthful – just you and your plate.

Last week, my new yoga teacher read the following guided meditation during relaxation at the end of the class and I was keen to share it with you. Not only did I leave the class more focused than before but all I could think about for the next 24 hours was buying a loaf of my favourite sourdough bread from my local baker. (Ha! It worked on two levels.)

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If you feel like giving this simple meditation a try then simply have a read and then the next time you make some toast bear in mind what you’ve read below. You could also ask someone to read it to you whilst you sit with your eyes closed somewhere peaceful.

The idea is to pay attention to what is happening right here and now, to be fully present during everyday experiences and extract yourself from the dreamlike stage our mind wonders in.

 

Toast: A Meditation

Toast a piece of bread and as it’s cooking, savour the distinctive aroma of white or brown, ready-sliced or crusty, seeded or unseeded. Note any happy mental associations that arise. Spread the toast with butter, Marmalade or whatever takes your fancy, listening to the rasp of the knife and appraising the texture of the toasted bread as you do so. Notice and accept any frustrations as they arise in your mind. Perhaps the butter is straight out of the refrigerator and difficult to spread? Perhaps some sticky marmalade has found its way onto your fingers?

When the toast is ready to eat, look at it as if you had never seen a piece of toast before. Notice the fine structure of the bread still visible around the edges where the spread hasn’t reached, the difference in colouring and texture compared with the crust, the smoothness or runniness of the butter, the glossiness of the marmalade, its contours on the bread, its colouration and constituents. Maybe there are fine strips or chunks of orange rind, tiny air bubbles, flecks of darker colour. None of this is beneath your attention.

Sniff the toast and marmalade. Take a bite. Observe how the jaws, tongue and salivary glands immediately go to work of their own accord. Don’t try to stop them or slow them down, just note the crunch of each bite and the accompanying sounds inside your head. Now that you are actually paying attention, it might be surprising how loud these sounds are. Notice the changing texture of the food in your mouth as the teeth grind it down and saliva dissolved it. Give your full attention to the sharp acidity and sweetness of the orange, the oily butteriness of the butter, the butty toastiness of the toast.

Try all the fully automated movements of the tongue, jaws and lips as you chew and finally swallow. Notice the unfolding of all these behaviours as they happen, the almost unstoppable motivation to take another bite, and then another. All your impressions are valid, both the positive and negative. You may discover that you are enjoying the toast a whole lot more than if you’d just wolfed it down without thinking. Or perhaps you find the whole experience slightly disappointing. Maybe the toast is cold and chewy, the marmalade too sweet? There may be bitter, burned bits.

Accept it all with equanimity. This is simply how the toast is.

The above meditation was taken from the book Siddhartha’s Brain – The Science of Meditation, Mindfulness and Enlightenment by James Kingsland. 

And if you’re reading, Hester – thanks for sharing this!

 

Happy (Hypno)Birth-day

My (Hypno) Birth-day: Sunday 26th July 2015: 4:03am

WELLBEING POST: A POSITIVE STORY ABOUT CHILD BIRTH

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This post is dedicated to my little girl who turns one tomorrow and to pregnant women everywhere. I hope this helps.

When I think about this time last year I have nothing but fond memories of childbirth; it was a very happy, relaxing and euphoric time. Perhaps not the response you’d expect from a first-time Mum.

What most people don’t realise, my old self included, is that you already have all you need to have a good birth and by simply empowering yourself with the right knowledge, you can birth your baby confidently, safely and in many cases, including my own experience, you can actually enjoy your day and reflect back on the occasion as one of your fondest memories.

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Blessing Way Belly

I read not long ago that Fearne Cotton hypnobirthed, as did the Princess of Cambridge for the birth of Prince George. It seems hypnobirthing is making its way into the mainstream and thank God for that. I really wish this was a standard practise offered by the NHS. I’m certain considerable sums of money would be saved on surgery costs, drugs and hospital beds, not to mention the sheer amount of happier and more relaxed new parents there would be. The encouraging thing is that many hospitals do recognise the technique, including our very wonderful Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital – many of the midwives there have taken hypnobirthing courses and are happy to support you in your birth choice, as the lovely Gemma did on our big day.

Of course, everyone is different, every baby is different and every birthing context is different too. Even if you adopt hypnobirthing techniques, there are sometimes circumstances out of your control, certain situations where you still might need some medical assistance. If you are at least equipped with these skills, your chances of a smooth birth are far higher. Even if you need a helping hand, you’ll be in a positive frame of mind to face any turn your birthing takes.

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But hypnobirthing isn’t a new-age approach that’s just taken off. If you look back in history or even speak to women living in Asian countries today, birth is viewed as such a joyful experience.  On the whole, our society in the West has got the whole thing wrong: TV, films, friends of friends, people you meet in the doctor’s surgery, it seems there are a lot of folk out there that simply give childbirth a bad rap. All you ever hear are the horror stories. Helpful. JUST what you want to hear when you become pregnant for the first time. If that happens, place your fingers deep into your ears, walk away and when you’re a safe distance, Google: Hypnobirthing courses near me.

What is hypnobirthing?

Effectively, hypnobirthing is a birth education programme that teaches simple but specific self-hypnosis, relaxation and breathing techniques for a better birth. But it’s much more than just self-hypnosis. You learn about what’s happening to your body, your baby during childbirth, what to expect so you feel in control of your situation and ways of managing in the situation.

How do you learn how to hypnobirth?

You could simply buy the book and the CD and practise at home. Or if like us, you need feel like some face-to-face reassurance, then you can either do a 1:1 course, or as we did, a group course. It was a great chance to bond with four other lovely expectant couples within a relaxed atmosphere, with evenings spent talking about and giving massages, visualisations and because we were lucky to find Jackie Heffer-CookeJackie Heffer-Cooke, there was also a good amount of light-hearted banter and fun thrown in too.  It was the best £180 we’ve ever spent.

One of the visualisations I chose to use, was of hot air balloons soaring across the Himalayas, a sight that was very evocative and memory-inducing for me.

Our course was over six sessions and we were taught about what happens in childbirth, in a really positive and gentle way. The explanations used were very supportive and there’s a big emphasis on using only positive language to describe what happens. After all, the more positive you are, the more relaxed you are and the more relaxed you are, the easier it will be for your body to birth your baby. If you’re anxious or fearful this will release adrenalin, which in the childbirth context isn’t helpful. It’s all about oxytocin baby! So think, date night. Candles, soft music, dim lights, gentle words, a few caresses. Same concept, slightly different outcome.

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The beautiful “prayer flags” our doula Steff made for us containing positive affirmations. She fashioned these in and around our room at the hospital

How can it benefit you during pregnancy and birth?

From a personal point of view, these are the things that really helped us:

  • During the weeks leading up to my birth, my friends and family all seemed surprised at how clam and content I was
  • I stayed calm during the early stages of labour through to the actual birth
  • During the early stages of labour, I felt in control and peaceful. I relaxed in my bedroom and practised my breathing and listened to the Rainbow Relaxation CD we were given on the course, which included some visualisation techniques and positive affirmations
  • During my birth Matthew, Steff our doula and the midwife medicated me with nothing more than a hand fan, a cold flannel and supply of bendy straws and still energy drink. We didn’t need any intervention, no drugs or procedures, during birth
  • I used the golden thread breath that we’d learnt during the class in the birthing pool and went within myself, taking myself to peaceful places and happy moments from my life
  • It felt challenging at times but I knew every surge (contraction) would bring me closer and being armed with the knowledge we learnt during the classes, I knew when things were progressing
  • I was not only able to calmly face the birth, but I actually really loved the experience – yes it is possible to enjoy childbirth ladies
  • It was also a pretty awesome bonding experience for me and Matthew
  • After the birth, Matthew and the midwife reported that I was very focused during this time and it was very clear that I was listening to my body. I think they were quite surprised by the number of challenging surges I had that I breathed through calmly
  • I actually really enjoyed the last 40 minutes, the actual birth which I thought would be the most challenging part – but I felt so empowered
  • The techniques really helped Matthew stay clam too, when otherwise he reported, he would usually have found it much harder to understand what was happening and to respond accordingly.
  • I think men find childbirth hard because they want to be able to “fix things” yet they can’t. So armed with hypnobirthing knowledge, this gave Matthew insights into what would happen and how best he could support me on the day. He did all the right things! And didn’t try to fix a thing.

He was such a brave and attentive presence and kept so clam and supportive throughout, I really couldn’t have done it without his support and the things he learnt on the course. He was there for me the entire time without being intrusive or distracted, he was 100% “with me” at the right tone, volume and pace, just simply being with me and supporting me at every beat. My hero! Although that’s what he said I was to him.

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Our summer bundle

Tips for your big day:

In addition to learning hypnobirthing techniques, here are a few practical things that helped us:

Dry run: We visited the hospital’s Delivery Suit and Midwife-Led Birthing Unit for a tour so I knew the environment and could visualise things and manage my expectations. Plus it helps to know where you’re going!

Fuel: Eat a good meal during your early stages of labour. Think marathon carbo-loading. I had a giant plate of meatballs and pasta which armed me for the journey ahead because you don’t feel like eating during labour but you do need energy. But not everyone will feel like eating too much. Do what feels right for you but try to eat something that will give you a slow release of energy.

Drinks: Whilst I was in the pool all I fancied was a cold drink. It was a HOT summer. Sometimes water but I needed energy. We took a cool bag filled with snacks and drinks for Matthew, a few snacks for me post-birth and most importantly, some cold energy drinks with bendy straws – make sure they are not carbonated, buy the flat energy drinks which are easier to drink, you don’t want to choke on bubbles whilst trying to focus.

Take your time: We made it slowly up to Midwife Led Birthing Unit and as taught during our hypnobirthing classes, we stopped regularly en route, practicing my breathing during each surge.

Background sounds: Matthew put the Rainbow Relaxation CD on which was a good support but the thing which really helped me during birth was half way through when he surprised me and put on the yoga music our teacher had played throughout our pregnancy yoga classes – this evoked so many lovely memories and feelings of relaxation. I’d played Evelyn the CD regularly at home when I was relaxing at home too and I like to think she could recognise the music too!

I can safely say that hypnobirthing gave me confidence, peace and calm to face my birthing day and to deal with it in the most positive and calm way possible. I look back and think of it as a beautiful day for so many reasons – the closeness I felt to Matthew, the determination and happiness I felt when Evelyn finally came. I can honestly say, I really think this experience has helped change the way I view hospitals and of course birth.  We can’t thank our hypnobirthing and pregnancy yoga teacher Jackie Heffer-Cooke enough – it’s made all the difference to us and to Evelyn’s start in life and we have nothing but positive and fond memories of our birth. I look back on the experience as the proudest, most surreal, calm and triumphant moments in my life. It was like the biggest lucid dream of my life, but that’s a whole other blog post.

Happy birthday, Evelyn Pema x

For more information about wellbeing during pregnancy, you might like to read my post: Top Ten Pregnancy Tips: My Pregnancy Bucket List

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Lucid Dreaming on Holy Isle

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Length: 4 nights

Course Leader: Charlie Morley

Cost: £308 single room, £264 twin each, £232 dorm. All inclusive rate.

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If like me you’re fascinated by dreams, then this weekend trip to the Holy Isle is perfect for you. It takes place once a year, usually in the spring or summer. Spaces are limited which is why I’m posting this now so that you can keep your eyes peeled – the dates are usually released every January.

Not to be confused with the Holy Island off the Northumberland coast, Holy Isle is located in the Frith of Clyde off the west coast of central Scotland, just a short boat trip from the nearby island of Arran. Holy Isle is around 2 miles long and half a mile wide. The island is owned by Samye Ling, a Buddhist community and the island is also includes the Centre for World Peace and Health on the North of the island. The environmentally designed residential centre holds courses and retreats throughout the year and extends into the former farmhouse. It has solar water heating and reed bed sewage treatment systems.

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As you approach the island by boat you are greeted by Tibetan flags and stupas and on the other end of the island is a community of people in retreat. The rest of the island is a nature reserve with wild Eriskay ponies, Sannen goat, soay sheep and the replanting of native trees. The waters are a brilliant cobalt blue, sparkling and effervescent. The pictures here only really tell half the story, there is a special energy about the place that you can only experience first-hand.

It’s a stunning place to visit. However, this particular trip will only be of interest to you if you’re keen to explore your dreams, if you are, then do read on. But this isn’t just an ordinary dream retreat, this one teaches people how to have lucid dreams.

So what is a lucid dream exactly?

Lucid dreaming is when you are aware that you are dreaming. When this happens, you’re able to participate in your dream and have some sort of conscious involvement. Some people choose to fly above the rooftops, others use it for healing and many even use it to practise a skill such as breakdancing or yoga. Author Clare Jay even used it to help write her first novel – lucid dreaming helped her develop her characters and plot her novel – all while she was dreaming!

Lucid dreaming is basically a window into your subconscious mind, where the gold lies, and an opportunity to connect with a deeper well of resource and creativity. Think about it. We only use a small part of our conscious mind. Think of an iceberg, the top 10% floating above water is our conscious mind and the bottom part the 90%, hiding under the water is the unconscious mind. There’s so much more we can tap into, whether your motivation is to use your inner well to induce your creativity, learn how to surf or to overcome a fear such as public speaking.

Here’s something I said about lucid dreaming in Red magazine earlier this year:

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I’m not making this stuff up, it became a recognised term at the turn of the century, coined by Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik van Eeden. In 1988, Snyder & Gackenback conducted a survey which found that 20% of people claimed to lucid dream frequently (every month) while 50% of people had done it at least once in their lives. It’s not as rare as you might think, it’s just that most people don’t realize that there’s a name for it.

I know what you’re thinking, how do I lucid dream?

There are lots of techniques you can read up on, too many to go into here (I feel another blog post coming). I’ve been lucid dreaming on and off since I was a teenager but it was only when I met Charlie Morley, my lucid dreaming teacher, around five years ago, that I fully realized how fascinating and helpful lucid dreaming could be. And it’s safe to say, ever since I’ve attended his workshops in London, and especially since I took part in the Holy Isle retreat, my lucid dreaming life has really began to flourish. If you’re not able to make the annual Holy Isle retreat next year, then Charlie also holds regular workshops and retreats all around the globe and in the UK too.

For a list of forthcoming events go to: http://www.charliemorley.com/?page_id=464

What happens at a lucid dreaming retreat?

An incredible amount of awesomeness! Where to begin. I met some really lovely people, all very inspired by dreams, their meanings and how they can help you in your everyday life. In fact, I’m still friends with at least a handful of the people I met from this retreat. We even have our own active Facebook group three years on.

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The Holy Isle retreat lasts four days, and most importantly, four nights. During the day we stayed at the beautiful retreat centre. Dorminatries are available and private rooms too. There’s a beautiful communal lounge and dinning area in the converted farm house and a lovely spot with sofas nestled around the wood burner. The vegetarian food served, uses produce from the land and the menu each day was absolutely phenomenal, cooked by a host of dedicated and talented volunteers staying at the retreat centre. I can safely say it was some of the best vegetarian food I’ve ever eaten.

During the day, there are talks from Charlie, discussions and small group exercises (I’m not usually a big fan of this type of thing, but here it was perfect and no pressure to report back unless you wanted to, but I did, and it was cool). Charlie, who is quite possibly one of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered, has a lovely approach and is extremely engaging, insightful, entertaining and inspiring – a rare combination. Everyone who meets him instantly warms to him. I only wished he taught other things too beyond lucid dreaming, you can learn so much from someone like him.

By night, now this is the most exciting part, you have the choice whether to stay in your room and practise the lucid dreaming techniques learned during the day, or you can join the “sleep over” in the main hall – a beautiful space with wooden floor-boards and a pitched roof containing skylights, perfect dream-like surroundings for lucid dreaming, and so it goes, in ancient times sleeping under a pyramid shaped roof, boosted your chance of lucidity.

During the night, should you choose to stay in the main hall, Charlie sets several alarms at one hour intervals after 3am. The idea being, that these interruptions in sleep wake you momentarily and as you slip back into sleep again, you have a better chance of gaining lucidity in a dream. There are also special techniques you learn to put into practise just as you are dropping off.

I had some incredible dreams and a handful of lucid ones too during the retreat. And picked up some very rewarding and life-changing techniques. My dream life has become quite a fascinating place to be these last few years. It’s important to have the right attitude when aiming to lucid dream, as Lama Yeshe the founder of the centre says about life in general: “Be happy to fail, have no hopes to succeed”.

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Getting there:

I travelled by train to Glasgow and then caught a second train to Ardrossan Harbour. The train stops at the ferry terminal, which is where you catch a ferry to the Isle of Iran. A bus ride later to a different ferry from Lamlash, you catch a small boat to the Holy Isle. The journey is well worth it.

For more general travel information go to: http://www.holyisland.org/index/getting-here

Course details will be published here: http://www.holyisland.org/index/courses

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