On bees, yoga and coming home …


This blog post has two seemingly separate story threads  in it which I hope I can weave together to make a tapestry that reflects a little of how I have been inspired over the past few weeks.

At the bottom of our garden in Northwich we have beehives.  A few years ago we started with one, and bit by bit my husband  Karl has built this up to the current levels of eleven active beehives.


I must confess that I have very little to do with the bees other than to sometimes sit and watch their busy activity which seems to put me into a wonderfully meditative kind of trance, and, of course, tasting their honey!  Karl, however, watches over their activity with great interest and occasionally reports back to me on an exciting development taking place in our apiary corner.

Last week, while I was away on a training course, one of our hives swarmed.  Karl followed the swarm and the bees settled on a branch of a magnolia tree in our garden.  Karl said that it was an easy job to snip the branch and gently ease the majority of the swarm into a newly prepared hive.  He blocked the entrance with grass and left it overnight for them to settle into their new ‘home’.​

​While this was all happening I was away in Cambridge on a four day course for yoga teachers to learn how to teach Restorative Yoga. This was a BIG DEAL for me.  I had stopped all of my yoga teaching in May last year due to the overwhelming fatigue of ME/CFS.  After 20 years of running yoga classes I wondered if I’d ever be able to teach again and I grieved deeply, not only at the loss of a career that I truly loved, but also for my vision of myself as a teacher with something of value to share.  After the first few months of feeling loss, confusion and exhaustion I began to water the seed of a dream with hope.  Perhaps there were gifts to be recieved from what I had first perceived as a disaster.  Maybe having to learn first hand what it feels like to be utterly burnt out had some important lessons to teach me.  Perhaps my experience of stiff painful muscles and joints unable to do movements that once came with ease could offer me a deeper insight to bring to my practice of yoga.  And could it be possible that the frightening experience of finding myself constantly anxious, overly emotional and operating from a place of fight/flight could in fact have its own dark gifts to bring?

I began to wonder whether my lived experience of these symptoms and the practices that I found helpful to bring some ease and respite could be used to not only enrich my own experience of yoga practice, but to give me a pathway back into teaching yoga that was both sustainable for me, but also would be of real value to many people.  On my return from New Zealand in January I booked to attend a 4 day Restorative Yoga teacher training course at Camyoga in May, feeling confident that by then I’d be feeling well enough to cope.

ME/CFS is a difficult illness to predict.  After a good start to the year, much of April was spent exhausted and cancelling almost all non-esssential activities.  My days largely consisted of gentle walks with my dog Rolo, taking photographs of nature,  daytime resting and meditation, and very early nights.  My world was becoming smaller and I was finding this very hard.  I knew I was taking a risk attending 4 full days of training and on top of that staying away from home, but my desire to believe that there could be a future for me that was bigger than my current experience of life propelled me forwards.

Restorative Yoga is a practice that aims to bring the body and mind into a space where the busyness, tension and activity of daily life begins to ease and the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, bringing about the relaxation response in the body. The practitioner is guided into different postures where the body is fully supported by props so there is no strain or effort.  Feeling safe, nurtured and supported the student is then given from 5 to 20 minutes to simply ‘be’ in that pose.  Different poses allow a range of spinal movements to be explored as well as encouraging deep breathing and creating space and/or awareness of the deeper organs of the body.  Gradually the body and mind begin to relax and a state of deep peacefulness may be experienced.

As potential teachers of Restorative Yoga we needed to experience the practice for ourselves as well learn how to safely and effectively teach it.  The first few poses we practiced made me realise how tight I was, and how much physical and nervous tension simply getting myself to the course had caused.  As the practice began to allow me to release the layer upon layer of tension, tears began to flow and for a while I felt even more exhausted than before.  I was feeling first hand the effects of Restorative Yoga on a stressed system.  It is a testimony to the skill of our two teachers, Beverley Nolan and Tiffany Thorne that they were able to support me to work through these layers of letting go in a safe and nuturing environment without allowing this to impact on the other students.  They both taught us the fundamentals and possibilities of this wonderful practice with great skill and expertise.

I had come on this training course hoping to add some new tools and techniques to my teaching repertoire, but like all the very best training it gave me far more than this.  Not only did it allow me to find a way to release some of the tension that had built up while living with ME/CFS  for a few years, but it also gave me real inspiration and hope for my teaching in the future.  I was able to see how I could incorporate my own way of teaching with Restorative Yoga.  For the first time in ages I was able to feel as if my years of teaching yoga and developing my own particular style of practice could still be of value in my new way of teaching.  I didn’t need to let go of who I was or how I taught, but could see ways that I could incorporate that fully into new and exciting offerings. I felt like I had not only come home to my body,  but to that place of inspiration and flow as a teacher that I had missed so very much.  There was a deep sense of homecoming.

While all this was going on for me in Cambridge, back at home in Northwich my husband was watching another inspiring drama take place.  Remember at the start of this blog I told you about the majority of the bee swarm being coaxed into a newly prepared hive? After leaving them overnight in the hive with grass blocking their exit, Karl removed the grass and watched them settle comfortably into their routine of flying off and returning to the hive with pollen.  There was a small group of bees from the swarm that hadn’t been put into the hive with the others which were still congregated near the Magnolia tree.  Karl decided that he would see if he could introduce them into the new hive.  He captured the bees from the Magnolia tree and brought them down to the new hive. As he watched, Karl could see the bees who had settled into the new hive overnight come out, become aware of the “left behind” bees, and then change their behaviour.  Instead of flying straight off to gather nectar, the new hive bees turned their back ends towards the “left behind” bees and started waggling from side to side.  They were allowing the scent of the hive to waft to the “left behind” bees.  In effect they were saying “It’s ok – you’re home – smell the scent – this is YOUR hive, your family, your tribe!”.  The “left behind” bees stayed for some time, and then flew straight into their new hive – back to where they belonged.

At the start of this blog I said I’d try to weave together these two stories so that you could  share a little in how I saw a similarity between my experience on the training course and that of the “left behind” bees. What have the bees and the training course got in common you may ask?  As I was telling my parents the story of the bees I realised that one of the things that made my Restorative Yoga training course so inspiring and effective for me was that I had experienced a sense of coming home.  Not only in the way that we talk in yoga of “coming home to ourselves”,  but I also was able to feel that I was coming home to myself as a yoga teacher.  Beverley and Tiff had allowed me to recognise the ‘scent’ of what it feels like to be inspired when teaching and to find our own particular style of delivery.  To be able to draw from many different influences and bring them together to teach in a coherent whole.  Through their very different but highly personal and knowledgeable teaching I recognised, remembered and in some way felt as if I had come home to my hive, my family, my tribe.

I am really hopeful that through careful pacing and continuing with my daily routines to encourage good health that I will before too long be once more able to teach yoga.  That I will be able to bring those dark gifts of wisdom and experience that ME/CFS has given me and use them to enrich and deepen my teaching.  But – and here is the really radical thing – even if for some reason I don’t go back into teaching yoga, those few days away  training with Beverley and Tiff have given me the gift of coming back home to a part of myself I thought I’d lost – to that part of me that can use my knowledge and the experiences I have been through, together with the world around me to teach.  I hope it will be to teach yoga – but I’m now open to recognising that it may come in any, or many forms.

It’s a marathon and not a sprint!

I couldn’t help giggling a little to myself when I wrote this title – those who know me well are probably aware that I’m not much of a runner either of sprints OR marathons.  And certainly not at the moment!  But the beauty of the phrase – however over used – is that it immediately conveys exactly what it is that I’m having to come to terms with day after day.   Moving towards more vibrant health and energy from a diagnosis of ME/CFS is a long and slow process which simply can’t be rushed.


The past month has brought this home to me very clearly.  My wonderful trip to New Zealand really helped to recharge my batteries.  I returned to the UK in January this year with a renewed energy and zest for living.  It was wonderful to reconnect with friends and family and to begin to look towards the future and make plans.   When I last updated my blog a month ago I talked about what was ready to come out of hibernation in my life, what was  blossoming and what parts were staying tightly furled and saying ‘too soon’.  I recognised that social activity was still really exhausting for me and that I needed to spend more time quietly and on my own.  And by and large I have followed my own advice – limiting my interactions with people when energy levels are low, and planning carefully for the times when I know that I’ll be in social settings.  I’ve even begun to learn how to sit quietly and allow others to do more of the talking – a very new concept for me!


But even with these changes in activity and behaviours I’m still not quite back to the energy levels I had when I first returned.  And that is where I really have to understand that moving towards recovery from ME/CFS is a slow process which doesn’t follow a straight line of progression.


Thankfully I have something other than running to help me understand this more clearly (!).  At the end of February I decided to join a slimming club to help me to lose weight.  I have for years been a little curvier than I felt comfortable with, but more importantly I recognised that my fatigue could only be improved by not having a lot of unnecessary extra weight to move around.  Anyone who has ever managed a sustained weight loss will recognise that it will really only succeed if you keep making choices that support the weight loss goal.   It’s the small decisions that you make day after day to opt for eating something healthy that begin to add up.  Little by little these choices begin to be seen as weight loss.


And I have begun to understand that the road towards increased energy and vitality is just like weight loss.  I can’t just do a few big resting sessions and hope that I’ll bound back to full health.  It is the choices that I make day after day that will make the big difference.  It is the commitment to myself and my health that ensure that every single day, without fail, I spend time in meditation,  I take a gentle walk in nature, I find settings that interest me to photograph, and I find things to be grateful for in my life.  It’s the choices I make day after day to take time to rest, to go to bed at a reasonable hour, to limit my time on the computer, to pace myself so that I don’t do too much in a day, and to limit the amount of time that I spend in social situations that will eventually show themselves as renewed energy and vitality.  And just like when losing weight there will be a time when an optimal food choice isn’t available – or you simply decide to eat that pudding and enjoy it, there are times when I push myself a little harder than might be wise so that I can enjoy a much awaited event.  And in the same way that the food choices might show themselves on the scale temporarily, but in the long term the balance of healthy decisions shows itself in healthy, sustainable weight loss, I am sure that the daily disciplines I work with will, in the long term show themselves in improved health and vitality.


It’s not always been easy – and I have had times when I’ve felt real frustration and sadness that once again I’m feeling fatigued.  But I’m staying hopeful and still making plans to slowly be able to return back to teaching specialised One to One and small group yoga sessions from my home yoga studio.  Next month I’m doing 4 days intensive training in Restorative Yoga to add to my skills and to prepare for a new way of teaching. It will be tiring for me at this stage of my recovery, and I’ll have to plan rests carefully around it, but I’m led to believe running a marathon is a bit hard too!

Blossoming into Spring?

img_3843Last week on the first really sunny day we’ve had for what felt like a very long time I sat outside enjoying the sound of birdsong and the neighbours busy in their garden.  I had taken several photos of blossom and spring buds when I had been walking my dog, Rolo, and I felt prompted to consider the following questions?

  • What in me is ready to come out of hibernation?
  • What is blossoming in my life?
  • Which parts are still tightly furled, saying “too soon?”

These questions are good ones to ask at any point, but felt particularly timely ones for me.  I have been back at home now for just over two months after my wonderful break in New Zealand.  Life moves on and I have been exploring how to reintegrate myself into life more fully, while still being mindful of the self care and pacing necessary to avoid the boom and bust nature of ME/CFS.

What in me is ready to come out of hibernation?

The first question felt relatively easy for me to answer.  I stopped all yoga teaching in May 2016 and was very clear that this was the right decision for me to take.  Not only did I not have the physical energy to run classes, but I also felt a real need to withdraw, to draw inwards – to literally hibernate – spending time in a dormant state.  Over the past few weeks as the sap has been beginning to rise in nature around me, I have found myself beginnning to explore ideas about how I could come out of this state of hibernation myself and find new ways of coming back to my role as a yoga teacher.

Any illness or life event which like ME/CFS  forces us to stop what we’ve been doing in our lives and to reflect deeply can  also bring with it what are sometimes referred to as ‘dark gifts’ .  I see these as byproducts of the situation or illness that could bring about positive changes.  For me these include a radical reevaluation of many different aspects of my life to see how I can simplify,  conserve my energy, or make my way of living more nurturing.  But in addition, I believe that my experiences of the discomfort, frustration, bone-aching weariness and loneliness that is the nature of CFS has given me some immensely valuable material that I could usefully bring to a new way of teaching.

So – for the first time in many months it feels as if the teacher part of me is ready to begin to come out of hibernation.  Following the example of nature I will be taking it very slowly – the seed of the idea has been germinated and over the coming months I will be preparing myself to slowly emerge and blossom into my new way of teaching.  My vision is to teach small group and individual sessions from my beautiful home studio, specialising in gentle, relaxing and restorative yoga for those who are exhausted, burnt out, or simply in need of stopping the world for a while.  Keeping it small I’ll be able to keep my own work & life in much better balance, but I will also be able to create the kind of sanctuary that I believe will encourage deep rest and renewal for my students.

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What is blossoming in my life?

A great deal has been blossoming in my life recently.  Returning to England feeling well rested and content after my trip to New Zealand has ensured that I have, for the most part, been in a good place.  I have been able to reconnect on a one to one basis with much-loved friends, enjoying their company and listening to their wisdom.  I have begun a slow process of reclaiming my home and garden.  Years of feeling tired and overwhelmed with life has meant that there has been a build of up ‘stuff’;  but last month we cleared, redecorated and reclaimed the first (of many!) rooms and I am getting huge pleasure of sitting in my new, calm, ordered and beautiful dining room.  So some new additions of calm and order have been blossoming.  Storm Doris took a rather more dramatic approach in the garden, blowing over trees and fences, literally clearing away the dead wood – but I do believe it’s all part of the cleansing process and making way for new things and new ways of being.

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Which parts are still tightly furled, saying “too soon?”

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Despite all the areas of growth and blossoming, there are still some aspects of my life that are saying firmly “too soon!”.  One of the most marked and difficult areas for me is that of socialising.  Those who have been in my life for many years will know that I’m someone who has always thrived on playing to an audience.  I’ve always been somebody to talks rather too much with perhaps a bit too much animation.  And the difficulty is that old habits die hard.  These familiar ways of behaving and interacting with others are easy to slip into – but I don’t have the energy to sustain them.  Unfortunately, instead of venturing out and sitting quietly, I have found that simply being with a group of people seems to encourage my body to release adrenaline and I can find myself becoming highly animated and talkative.  I often enjoy the process – feeling a sense of being ‘my old self’ but then when I return to quietness and stillness I recognise that I’ve been running on empty and I often crash.  If it’s a one-off I can normally cope, but this past week has included a combination of a (joyful) family occasion and a few formal appointments as well as my wonderful weekly Creative Writing class.  As the week wore on I was becoming more tired, but each time I attended one of these events I found myself becoming even more animated.  And then I crashed.  Exhausted.  Unable to do the ‘normal’ things that I usually do in a day.  Needing to rest.  Not reading, not watching anything, just being still and quiet and riding the waves of frustration and sadness that once more I’m back feeling levels of fatigue I thought that I’d moved past.  This, I know, is a feature of this illness and a clear message that I’ve

” …travelled too fast over false ground;” as John O’Donahue puts it so beautifully. 

So this is where I am remaining tightly furled and saying “too soon” – the realms of social activity.  I shall continue to do things – but limit my interactions to one to one conversations where possible and my engagements so that I have time to recover between one event and another.

And who knows, perhaps in time I will become the strong silent one in any group setting! 

 

 

 

Life Continues – Back at home

It’s been just over a month since I returned home to the UK from my time in New Zealand. Leaving New Zealand was hard.  Those who have read my earlier blog posts will recall that I don’t like goodbyes (see here), and even though I was travelling back home to my own family, this wasn’t easy.  Saying goodbye to my sister and her family who had welcomed me so lovingly and wholeheartedly into the midst of their lives; saying goodbye to the warmth and sunshine of a Southern Hemisphere January; and perhaps the most unnerving aspect – saying goodbye to the time, space and freedom which I’d been gifted to cocoon myself in while away from the demands of everyday life.
Being back has taken some adjusting.  My family had seemed to cope wonderfully well without me – and this sparked a complex series of responses from me – from relief and pride through to a little bit of fear… was I really needed any more?  And if my role had changed – what should it be now?  And from there it didn’t take a huge leap to move to more existential questions:  “If I’m not a yoga teacher any more, and my roles as wife, mother and homemaker have changed … who am I?”.  So a couple of days back into the cold and cloudy January weather and I was dealing with big and challenging questions.  I don’t always opt for the easy path in life …Thankfully dogs are much simpler.  Rolo greeted me with great love and excitement and seemed to forgive me immediately for my lengthy absence.  We have quickly got back our routines and she unfailingly gives me unconditional love for which I’m so grateful.  Our cats, Terminator and Cedric surprised me by not showing any feline petulance: they were remarkably unphased by my absence and it has been wonderful to spend the cold evenings in front of the fire with one or other of them curled up on my lap purring.
My return back to Northwich has also given me the opportunity to reconnect with friends. And these friends are able to lift me out of my internal questioning and remind me of who I am. To welcome the return of an Alison who is (a little) more sure of herself, who is less exhausted and more vibrant than before my time away.  To reassure me that I have made good progress in dealing with the effects of ME/CFS but also to remind me that I need to be patient and to reintegrate myself into the busyness of life slowly and mindfully.
And this is what I have tried to do.  I know that there are many factors that I need to address to enable me to return to full, vibrant health – we are all multi-layered beings who need to look for balance and health in the emotional, mental and spiritual spheres as well as the physical.  And this continues to be my work.  Some of what I’m doing to help myself heal feels like hard work.  I’m continuing on the mammoth task of trying to simplify what we own and how we live.  I’m trying to declutter, to let go of “stuff” – which in a house that we’ve lived in for over 21 years and a mindset that has always liked to keep things “just in case” or for sentimental reasons,  this is going to be a long slow process.
I’m also trying to create and maintain a sense of spaciousness in my mind.  Daily meditation helps me let go of the constant inner dialogue and reconnect with the still, peaceful unchanging part that feels expansive and at ease.  And daily walks in nature allow me enjoy the physical freedom of wide open spaces and also a feeling of deep connection with beauty and transcendence.  I continue to take my phone camera out with me and derive enormous pleasure from the photos that I take which help to remind me of how very much there is to be grateful for each and every day.  And the cold weather, the clouds and the low sun of winter have come together to create many breathtakingly beautiful vistas which I have tried to photograph.
Little by little I’m learning new ways of being that will support recovery and vibrant health.  I’m trying to retrain my natural tendency to worry and to let go of feeling that the world will stop turning if I’m not taking responsibility for it.  This last week I was absolutely delighted to discover a new poem which given my particular tendency towards worry  I’m amazed I’ve never come across before. I am going to see if I can follow its wisdom from now onwards …

I Worried – Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Mary Oliver – Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Here’s to singing in the morning x


Into the New Year …

img_1874It’s been a real delight to have lots of feedback about my last post.  So many of you have told me that water has a strong effect on you and your moods – so I’m sure you’ll forgive me for another post that’s heavy on water pictures.

In a few days time I will be leaving the beauty of New Zealand behind and travelling back to England to my family, my home, my pets and ‘real life’.  I’m leaving New Zealand feeling significantly better than when I arrived.  I still have ME/CFS and the symptoms continue to show themselves, but I’m much better at recognising the early warning signs and preventing things from spirallling downwards.   I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to take a pause from the busyness of life, to rest deeply,  and to feast my senses on the magnificence of Nature.  I’ve also had the time and space to reconnect with myself at the deepest level – to ‘come home to myself’.

img_2639When I was teaching yoga classes I used to say that yoga gives us the tools to learn how to stop, become still, and reach inwards to that part of us that is unchanging.  The part of us that is quiet and peaceful no matter what else is going on in our lives.  The part of us that is tranquil.  Undisturbed.  The part that is always there but is so often hidden by the aches and pains in our body, the worries and fears in our mind, or perhaps just the sheer busyness of our lives.  I do believe that yoga does gives us tools to do that.  But sometimes – for a whole myriad of reasons – it becomes harder to settle into that quietness and stillness and to drink deeply of the peace that dwells within.  When I first arrived in New Zealand I was in that space.  I felt depleted.  My mind was busy and my body was exhausted. Things that I had once found easy had become intensely difficult – including relaxation and meditation – and of course we can’t “try harder” to relax!

img_9650Over the past few weeks I have begun to remember how to let go.  How to relax.  How to rest deeply.  How to enjoy the world around me and the world within.  I am incredibly grateful to my family who have given me this opportunity to retreat from the busyness of my life at home and to have time and and space to become internally still and reconnect with myself – with my inner light.

Coming home will bring new challenges, but I return with a sense of optimism and joy as well as a whole host of practices and strategies and a greater understanding of what prompts and exacerbates my fatigue.  I’m sure that it won’t all be easy, but I feel in a much better place to address any challenges than I was back in October last year.  I’m looking forward to being back with my family, friends, pets and the beautiful countryside of Great Britain.  And I’m full of gratitude for the enormous gifts that this time away has given me.  I trust that I’ll continue to have musings to share on this blog and that this journey from burnout to bliss will continue.  And I hope that I’ll be able to share photographs of beauty much nearer to my home.

img_1984was reminded by Facebook yesterday that a year ago I had shared a poem called “Inner Light”.  It was reading this poem again that prompted this post.  I have always known in my heart the truth of what Danna Faulds writes about in this poem, but somehow the effects of CFS had meant that I found it increasingly difficult to become sufficiently still in mind and body to experience that truth.

May the year 2017 bring to us all plenty of opportunities to be still and recognise our own light, and to be reminded that we are all “tiny stars, glowing in the dark”.

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Inner Light – Danna Faulds

The inner light is always with me.
When I slip beneath the agitated
surface of the mind, I find it,
like a fragment of the Big Bang,
still glowing.  This energy doesn’t
depend on health or strength
or even mental peace.  It isn’t a
product of belief, nor is it “me” in
any egocentric way of speaking.
The inner light is always there,
waiting to be felt and seen, waiting
for me to release it through my
choice to be still and recognize
its presence.  The illumination
grows the more I let it go.  Like
radiant heat it flows out of me,
flows from my whole being

without leaving me depleted.
We’re all like this – whether we
know it yet or not – tiny stars,
glowing in the dark.

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Water and me …

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Milford Sound, New Zealand

The last time I wrote for this blog was in early December, before setting out to travel for two weeks around the South Island of New Zealand with my sister. In that blog piece I wrote about the kinds of practices I have been doing to slowly return from a place of exhaustion.  I mentioned that I have been trying to ignore the “do more, achieve more, write more” whispers of my inner tyrant and learn how to rest rather than find things to write for this blog.  But those whispers are hard to completely silence, and the pause between Christmas and New Year seemed like a good time to get my fingers on the keyboard and allow some of the thoughts that have been percolating over the past month to begin to find ways of expression.

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My travels around New Zealand’s South Island were wonderful. The scenery is spectacular and I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit a lot of incredibly beautiful places. I saw this beauty from the air, on foot, from the windows and viewing decks of trains, and through the windows of the New Zealand Inter City coaches. I had brought books to read and things to listen to – but I found that I didn’t use either for the entire time of travelling – I was transfixed by the ever changing landscape, soaking up the atmosphere of being in a new place – or simply too exhausted to do anything except fall asleep! I was grateful for my trusty phone camera and in most places I took photos – though I was keen not to experience the whole of my journey from behind a screen.

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As I look through the photos I took and remember the places we visited I am struck by what really captured my attention. The changing skyline as we moved through the Canterbury Plains into the mountainous areas and to the spectacular coastlines; the vibrancy of the colours – the greens of the grass and the blues of the sky in some parts looking almost unreal; and the changing farming use of the land – we saw dairy and beef farming, sheep farming, vineyards, orchards and many areas with deer grazing on venison farms. But what struck me most of all was all the water – in so many different forms – and more particularly the effect that the water had on me and my emotions.

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My sister reminded me that from an early age I’d always been drawn to water. I had, aged 3, apparently claimed the fountains of central London as “mine” – and was hugely disappointed when travelling on the Number 3 bus from home in Dulwich into the city if ‘my’ fountains in Central London weren’t playing for me. I’ve certainly always enjoyed swimming and playing in water, and I vividly remember the glorious sense of freedom I felt when at 8.5 months pregnant I got into the swimming pool and and was able to do backwards somersaults with my legs untucked. I felt free and supported and it was as if my body simply wanted to dance with joy in that water! It was almost an instinctual movement rather than something I thought about.

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When travelling around New Zealand I began to notice the huge draw that water held for me. Like many others I am energised by being by the sea. And on the three occasions that I went on boat trips while I was away it almost felt as if I’d plugged myself into the elemental mains. In addition to this upsurge of energy when I was by the sea I found that I became disproportionately upset when we were on buses travelling past stunningly beautiful rivers. I watched myself rather desperately trying to “catch” photographs from the moving bus and becoming tearful with frustration as I wanted so badly to stop the bus, get off, and spend a few minutes just sitting with the power and beauty of the water. The feeling was so strong it was almost visceral – so much so that since returning from my trip I’ve been trying to find some poetry or quotation that reflected this emotion. The closest that I have found was from what seems to be a very “Marmite” fantasy novel by Nadia Scrieva – Drowning Mermaids, Sacred Breath 1: (which I have to confess I haven’t read!)

“It is rooted deep in your bones; the water calls out to you until it causes you physical pain unless you come to it.”

So … perhaps the caption that I put with the following  picture has some element of truth in it …

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I think I’m part mermaid.  I sigh with relief when I’m by the sea

Since being back in Hamilton I’ve done some fascinating reading on the research of Dr Masuro Emoto who claimed that the molecular structure of water altered according to the kind thoughts it had been exposed to, or the environment it had run through.  Although there has been scientific criticism of his methods and conclusions, my own personal reactions to being near water and its transformative effects on me have meant that I’ve become fascinated with the role of water in healing.  From the ritual washing of Moslems before prayer, to Christian baptism, the Jewish Mikvah and the Hindus bathing in the Ganges,  the cleansing properties of water have long been recognised for spiritual as well as purely physical purposes.  And Lao Tzu’s famous observation  “Water is fluid, soft and yielding.  But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield…”   reminds us of water’s almost paradoxical properties.

Just spending a few brief minutes thinking about water I realised that there is enough material on the subject to fill a whole book let along a short blog piece.  Water exists in solid, gas and vapour form, it covers between 70-75% of the earth’s surface,  and has a higher surface tension than many other liquids.  Not only are our bodies approximately 70% water, but the average human cannot survive more than 3- 5 days without water.  And because the earth is a closed system, with water falling as snow and rain to then melt and evaporate and fall once more, the same water that existed on the earth millions of years ago is still present today.  And that’s before I even started to think about how water is soothing, cleansing, refreshing, healing and invigorating.  Or about the ways that different cultures have used water for ritual and healing purposes as well as for simple pleasure.

And this in itself is a valuable lesson for me.  Instead of spending hours researching and writing a piece that is scholarly and clever I have reminded myself of the purpose of my visit to New Zealand and of writing this blog.  I’m here to learn how to rest more deeply.  How to ‘unlearn’ some of the habits and behaviours that have contributed to me developing CFS.  And one of those behaviours is to want things to be perfect before  I decide they’re ready to be seen.  So I shall finish writing now by simply saying that one of my learning points from being here is recognising the importance of water to my emotional and physical wellbeing.  Some people find peace and tranquility in the mountains, for others it is woodland and deep forests that become their sanctuary – but for me it is water.  From a still, quiet lake, to a tumbling waterfall; from a woodland stream to a wild, fierce ocean – each of these seem to touch my soul.  And I believe that we all need to ways to regularly connect with our deepest nature and a sense of transcendence.

I am delighted to be able to write that tomorrow I am going away for a few days with my sister and her family to a beach house here in New Zealand.  How very blessed I am!

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The first 30 days …

 

It has been a little over a month since I first touched down in New Zealand.  Tomorrow I’m off with my sister to spend nearly two weeks exploring some of the beauty of the South Island.  I’m very conscious that I’d like to have published something before our great adventure – so here’s a little update for those who are interested in reading.

The month has been a mix of days out every now and then to enjoy some of the fabulous sights and activities in the local area, and a lot of quiet time spent within walking distance of my new home in Hamilton.  Since writing my last post I’ve visited a tea estate and learned more about tea than I’d every known before, seen the stunning Waireinga/Bridal Veil Falls after heavy rainfall, and spent a short time visiting the wonderful surfing and beach town of Raglan.  I’ve also spent a couple of half days exploring Waikato Museum and Hamilton Gardens. It has all been very beautiful, but I have found that I have needed the many days that I have spent pottering around at home to  regain my energy.

On the days that I’ve spent at home I’ve sometimes felt frustrated with the slowness of recovery, and how I still need to pace myself to avoid crashing after activity.  But then I remind myself once more of one of the poems that has had the biggest impact on my life and the gentle advice it offers.  Written by the wonderful John O’Donahue as part of his book of Blessings the poem is called “A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted“.  In this poem he describes with powerful accuracy how it feels to be utterly exhausted and burnt out.  Each time I come back to read it I find new wisdom, or another way that it rings true to me.

When I first arrived in New Zealand I’d already had 3 months at home without being in paid employment (I won’t say without working because running a home and looking after a family and animals does entail work!). On first arrival I believed that I was already some way along the road to recovery from CFS – and perhaps I was – but with hindsight I am able to see how very much I was constantly living on high alert and nervous energy, and how depleting that was for me. In my second blog post here I wrote about how surprising it was to me that even everyday activities like using new currency, or driving a car felt like huge obstacles and I found it hard to recognise myself in this strangely timid and unadventurous person. Knowing this poem so well I should not have been surprised:

“The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will”

And he was right. Things that had once seemed simple required much more effort from me and often a determined act of will. Having read this poem so many times over the past few years I knew in my heart that what I really needed was deep, deep rest. But here I was on the other side of the world with a whole country to explore and a blog that I’d promised myself I’d write. So although the plan was all about resting and relaxing, on an internal level I was still telling myself I had to get out there to see New Zealand, I needed to find words to write – I had to make the most of this opportunity. And that pressure to ‘do’ was in danger of becoming another stick that I could beat myself with….

Thankfully I have those who love me who gave me wise counsel. “Take your time. Be kind to yourself. There’s no pressure to do, be, or write anything. Be patient.” As John O’Donahue says:

“There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days”

And most poignantly of all:

“You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.”

So these past 30 days have been in part an exercise in finding myself underneath the heavy weight of fatigue – of becoming quiet and allowing my soul to come and take me back. There are a number of practical steps that I have taken which I shall outline below, but the common thread that runs through them all is that of self-compassion. I have been trying to extend to myself the same kind of love and care that I’d offer to a student, a family member, or a very much loved friend. Simple in theory – but old habits and behaviours are hard to change and I believe it will be a lifelong practice for me.

1. Meditation
I have continued with a daily meditation practice but I am now much kinder to myself about what that might mean. Some days it’s a seated, silent meditation.  Other days a guided meditation practice. Sometimes I chant, and other times I do a slow mindful walking meditation. If I feel tired and want to meditate lying down – I let myself. And if I’m so tired that I fall asleep, instead of seeing that as a failure – I take it as an unexpected gift of deep rest.

2. Taking Selfies!
Over recent years I have found that I absolutely hate (and I do mean hate …) seeing photos of myself. I sometimes recoil in horror when I catch sight of myself in the mirror or a shop window – and believe me I know that’s not a healthy way to be. The usual way that I would have dealt with this would be to tell myself that I need to lose weight and to notice how tired and old I look.  Or I would simply avoid looking at myself.  Since arriving here I decided that I would take a ‘selfie’ every day of my break over here and learn to get used to how I look – and possibly even how to love the way I am. So – every day now – without giving it much thought I’ve taken a picture of myself. And bit by bit I can see how I’m looking a little less tired. A little less stressed  and sometimes I can even find something good to notice about myself – or I can actually smile and laugh at myself. This small practice is actually a huge one for me – learning to look at myself through the lens of love rather than criticism.

3. Photography and slow walking in nature
I have been taking daily gentle, slow walks in the beautiful spaces around me. The aim of the walk is not to get exercise or build stamina, but simply to let myself notice what I would usually rush past. A trip to the local shops becomes a voyage of discovery. I am able to smell a heady and intoxicating scent as I walk and then follow its source to jasmine and honeysuckle growing wild over a garden fence. I notice the new leaves unfurling daily and the roses moving from bud to full bloom. And where appropriate I play with my trusty camera phone and take photographs which I’m able to enjoy when I get back and share with others. And when it rains I can stop, take shelter and simply watch the beauty as it falls, and remind myself of John O’Donahue’s words of wisdom:

“Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through”


4. Writing, Journalling, & Inner Exploration
The final practice which I have found to be immensely helpful has been writing. On arrival in New Zealand and finding myself alone in the house and a little uncertain about just how to address my inner exploration I decided to join a 30 day online writing group run by the inimitable Lisa Lister.  Every day for 30 days we were sent emails exploring the cyclical nature of womanhood and giving us writing prompts that really encouraged us to drop the masks we put on for everyone else and get to know ourselves at the deepest level. Some of these prompts were uncomfortable to explore. Some brought insight and new truths. All of them made me think. Bit by bit Lisa encouraged us to dive deeply and to begin to write from a place of real truth and honesty – as she puts it to write “the story that resides in your heart + guts”. I truly feel as if some wonderful synchronicity was at work. The course timing was perfect for me – just when I really needed some guidance and the support of other women I joined this course which provided both the prompts, but also a private forum of other women also writing in response to the emails.  This gave me some structure for my own inner exploration and a support network to interact with. As other women shared their writing I found that we were all able to act as mirrors for one another – we could see ourselves in another’s writing. And by supporting each other it felt as if we were at the same time learning how to support and uplift ourselves.

So here I am just over a month into my stay.  I’ve seen a little of this beautiful country (as I hope the photographs will testify). I’ve begun the process of learning how to be kind to myself and how to rest deeply. Tomorrow my sister and I set off to explore The South Island, and, I suspect, a little bit about what it means to be sisters in our 50s – the last time we spent this long together was probably back in our teens!  I hope that I will still take the messages of self compassion, gentleness, rest and ease with me so that I can really enjoy the travels as part of my own personal journey. I’m hoping that the final lines of the poem are prophetic:

“Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.”

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For those of you who’d like to read the whole poem (and I certainly would encourage it) I have copied it below:


A Blessing For One Who Is Exhausted

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;

And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart

And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

–John O’Donohue, from “Blessings” (now in book called Benedictus)

If you’re interested in reading more about and from John O’Donahue see here

 

Reflecting on other journeys

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I started this blog with a view to using the time spent in New Zealand to begin to write about both my general observations of travel and life in New Zealand, but also about how I’ve been trying to unravel some of my own inner workings, habits and thought processes in order to move towards recovery from ME/CFS.

img_8409Last weekend I was lucky enough to travel to Tyburn Monastery, a wonderful Catholic retreat centre run by cloistered nuns.  Tucked away in the hills, Tyburn has the most spectacular scenery and views.  I joined a very welcoming group of my sister’s friends who have been coming regularly to the Monastery to have some much needed quiet time, away from the busyness of their daily lives.  Staying in comfortable en suite single rooms, as this was not a guided retreat we were able to choose how we spent our time.  I took advantage of the stunning scenery to take gentle walks and practice my photography skills.  I also attended the beautiful small chapel and spent time in quiet meditation in the wonderful rosary garden.  With good home cooked food provided by the nuns there was nothing that we needed to do, except to find ways to let the peace and tranquility of this place sink deeply into our souls.  And it did.  There is something very special about a place that is set aside for prayer and quiet contemplation.

As I spent time in this restful space with more opportunity than usual for reflection and introspection I realised that this blog site is not the first time I’ve combined the inner and the outer journeys in writing.  Once I was back in Hamilton,  with time available to read through some of my older pieces of writing I came across one that seemed relevant to share on this blog.  In May 2014 I travelled to Sweden to take part in a Yin Yoga teacher training course.   Taught by a wonderfully wise and humble teacher,  Biff Mithoefer, and supported musically by the equally inspirational Prema Mayi the week’s training course was both challenging and transformational.

In the following piece of writing I attempted on my return to Northwich to convey some of the experiences of the retreat experience – which is, of course, very much an inner journey.  As a little side note I should add that although I talk about discomfort whilst in the poses it is important to understand that I would never advocate pain in a yoga practice.

If you’re interested in reading see below: Continue reading “Reflecting on other journeys”

On arrival in a new land – early days

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I’m so very grateful and humbled that so many of you have taken the time to read my first blog post.  Thank you to those who have commented or fed back to me through all the various mediums we have available for us to do so.  It means a great deal to me.  It has felt nerve-wracking to put my thoughts and feelings out into the public forum – but that is what I have elected to do and I need to get used to it!

So … I arrived in New Zealand a little over a week ago.  I’m staying with my sister and her family which gives me a  comfortable base and the opportunity to enjoy both times of solitude and introspection and times of family banter together with the nuts and bolts of everyday living.  As I wrote last time I found leaving my home, family, friends and animals to be a huge wrench.  I have been so grateful to have been included into my sister’s family life over here – it has helped me enormously at times when both the physical and emotional distance betweeen New Zealand and the UK threatened to feel overwhelming.

Travelling to any new country is full of slightly unfamiliar experiences.  Many of these are to do with the most mundane things.  I suspect I can’t be the only one who when I first arrive in a new country will find myself handing over a larger denomination note rather than trying to negotiate the new and strange array of coins.  Or has been slightly bemused by trying to work out yet another new system to operate taps and soap dispensers in a public loo.  The other day I even found myself trying to prise the plug in my sink out of the plug hole with my fingernails until I realised you simply pushed down and the plug popped up.  Everyday things are often just that little bit different.  I took the picture at the top of this page because it’s only when you look a little more closely at it that you see it isn’t just a picture of everyday greenery that we might see in Britain – there are exotic looking trees growing right there in the middle of it all.  And that’s how life feels at the moment – although things look pretty similar, everything feels just that little bit out of the ordinary –  including that beautiful Kiwi accent!

In normal circumstances I would thrive on this sense of being in a new place.  I have very vivid memories of that feeling when you first step off an aeroplane into the scent and heat of a new land, and of how my pulse would quicken with excitement at the exotic feeling of being “abroad”.  I usually dive straight in to investigate the area I’m in with a spirit of exploration and enquiry.  But travelling with ME/CFS, this time my experience has been rather different.  Instead of feeling a sense of adventure and determination to explore it all, I have been surprised by how slowly I need to take things.  I am much more easily fatigued and simple things feel just that little bit more complicated.  My sister has kindly given me option of driving her car – but even though its an automatic, and in New Zealand they drive on the same side of the road as the UK with very similar road rules, I have yet to have the confidence to take the car out.  I find that I am being forced by my own body to learn to take things slowly and to add new experiences into my daily life step by step.

And this going slowly is all part of my inner journeying work.  I have discovered that in the same way that I am noticing differences in the external world, I am in new territory with my internal voyaging.  Suddenly freed of the majority of my day to day responsibilities with time to focus on myself and my healing, I notice that I am very good at becoming busy.  At procrastinating.  At finding useful jobs that I could do for my sister in the house.  Or fascinating articles to read on the internet.  It seems that I’m equally nervous about the new opportunities to explore within as I am about those around me.  And it is new to me to have uninterrupted time alone.  To neither have the normal responsibities nor the everyday interactions that have become so much part of my life.  I am in uncharted territory and at the moment I am feeling in need of some kind of a map.

And so I find new routines and small disciplines that help me to settle into this different phase of being.  As well as the blessing of being able to join in with my sister’s family life in the evenings and weekends, I have signed up for a month-long writing activity where I’m being emailed a prompt every day for reflection and journalling.  The prompts encourage some deep thought and introspection and are proving very helpful in giving me some focus.  I’m continuing to meditate daily and am often incorporating a longer yoga nidra or relaxation practice to help alleviate the fatigue.  I am also taking time to practice gentle yoga.  Even this familiar practice feels like exploring a new terrain and I have to keep reminding myself to let go of judgement as I find my muscles tight and my joints stiff.  But … with gentleness and patience the body begins to release.  Tightly held muscles begin to let go, the breath deepens and the territory becomes once more a little more familiar.

So … I have discovered that at this stage of my life I am not the intrepid explorer I might once have thought myself to be.  But I am slowly and gently beginning that process of finding my way around in new lands, both outer and inner, and I am hopeful that I will discover beautiful treasures to savour in both.

The Journey Begins …

img_7973For years I thought I might write a blog.  I’ve always enjoyed writing but I have only ever written for myself or for a very limited audience.  Writing for a blog sounded terrifying – my words, my musings out there for the world to read.  But then I did a quick google search.  According to Technorati there are more than 8 million blogs online and 12,000 blogs are created every day.  That’s OK then – I’ll probably slip under the radar – and I can carry on writing as if it was just for me and a few close friends.

So … why now?  What has suddenly prompted me to get my fingers onto the keyboard and start to release my inner musings into the ether?   The answer is a total and complete change of scene.  Three days ago I left my home, my husband, my two (adult) children, my dog, my two cats, my 8 chickens and my rich and varied group of friends behind in the UK and I travelled to New Zealand for an extended break.  Whilst over here the plan is to rest, relax, renew and refresh.  To give myself time and space to encourage  recovery from ME/CFS.  A retreat from normal every day living with a chance to explore both the outer world of New Zealand in all its beauty and wonder, but also my own inner world.  Who am I when I’m away from my roles of teacher, wife, mother and friend?  Who have I become over the years?  What changes can I make in my habitual ways of being that can help me to feel more vibrant and less fatigued?

And the blog?  Suddenly I have time and space at my disposal.  And a need to feel that in some way I’m still connected with all those who are so physically distant from me.  And I made the mistake of telling the other members of the Creative Writing group I attend that I was going to write one.  And I told them what it was called and how to find it …

So here I am.  But what shall I write?

I’m anticipating that the blog will develop into observations and musings about my journeys- both inner and outer.  I’m hoping that it will record the journey from burnout, fatigue and exhaustion towards vibrancy, ease and bliss.  But I imagine that these things take on a life of their own and I shall have to find out what develops.

So – what of my journey to bliss today?  I shall write the truth… I am moving between awe and wonder at the beauty of New Zealand and the friendliness of the people I’ve met, and utter exhaustion and homesickness.  One moment I’m sniffing in the heady scent of jasmine blossom whilst enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face, and the next my eyes are welling up with tears as I watch a chocolate labrador playing in the park, or friends casually chatting and laughing.  It is hard to be away from home.  It is difficult not to have things that I need to get done.  It is strange not to have people I know and responsibilities I need to fulfil.  But I remind myself –  I’m only on day 2 after arrival.  My body is still readjusting to the change in time zones and seasons.  My heart is still adjusting to saying goodbye to those at home who I love and care for.  So … rather than trying to write something clever and meaningful from this place of exhaustion I thought that I’d share a piece of writing from last year about saying goodbye.  It’s very personal and it’s certainly not a travel blog piece – but it does give some insight and understanding as to some of the emotions that I’ve been going through over the past few days.  So if that’s not your thing then you can pause here and perhaps come back to visit another day to read a bit more of my journey from ‘burnout2bliss’.  But if you’re interested please read on …

I have never liked Goodbyes … Continue reading “The Journey Begins …”