Magic is never too far away

In July I spent seven days on my beloved Isle of Mull, in the Western Isles of Scotland. It is a place of breath-taking beauty and glorious wildness.

On the second day I walked from Tobermory up through Aros Park to the Upper Falls. I was familiar with the route, having ventured there two years ago and been awe-struck by the drama and lushness of the waterfall.

I had to return. The memory of the Upper Falls has become iconic for me – a symbol of freedom, cleansing and affirmation. On this visit I longed to be close to its banks once more.

I approached the waterfall from below, from where the streams of Aros Park spill into Tobermory bay. It has been a wet summer so the waters were in full flow, rushing white over rocks, with eddies pooling in the lea of the boulders.

The excitement mounted as I crossed the ranger’s drive and then commenced the final leg of the climb up towards the top of the falls.

On my last trip I had contented myself with watching the cataract from the bench just below. I had been aware of the path that wound on higher, but I had chosen at that time not to take it. Two years ago the bench had been enough, and I had been happy with the illusion that my stamina and curiosity had been rewarded by the discovery of a natural gem.

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At the time I claimed the waterfall as my own – the place where only I could reach and where only I would rest.

But this year I did a different thing. I didn’t stop at the bench. This year I was more adventurous and I followed the path onwards until I was looking down at the falls rather than up. And what I discovered made me smile.

From the bench below what lay beyond the top of the falls was invisible. Hence my tendency to imagine this my zenith, my final resting place even. However from my new vantage point I could see there was nothing heavenly about the top of the falls.

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There is a road bridge spanning the lagoon where the water pools before gushing over the edge of the precipice. The bridge is on the main drag from Craignure to Tobermory. I’ve crossed it dozens of times without even realising what lay beneath.

I found it amusing that something I had found so magical should be found so close beneath the surface of something so ordinary. It made me smile to think of how we typically travel along in our metal bubbles of speed, oblivious to what we’re crossing, intent on the next destination in our busy lives.

And yet if only we were to get curious about the land we’re traveling through, we would discover that magic is never too far away.

 

 

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How dense is your shadow this Summer Solstice?

Today is the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere. When the sun is still in the sky and when we cast our shortest shadow.

Perhaps when shadows are cast the shortest the things that lurk within them are more intensely felt.

When the sun shines its brightest and longest we have no choice but to allow light to shine on the dark places of our experience. This is how the Summer Solstice brings its gift of clarity.

We each have a shadow and we each are responsible for what our shadow-side may contain. Shadows are only discernible in the light, but once they are visible we can study them better.

This is a good time to journal and to shine your reflective light on whatever is lurking in your shadow.

One way to deal with our shadow when it arises is to be grateful. No matter what hides in the darkness we can often transmute it through embracing it and getting curious about how it reminds us to be and to behave.

For example in my journal I find myself writing “I am grateful for this unsettledness. It reminds me to stay in the present moment and to do whatever is needed to keep myself grounded.”

At the moment the thing that is unsettling me and many people in the UK is the  EU Referendum which is only now three days away. What grounds me in the face of so much rhetoric and politicking is finding out as much impartial information as I can in order to think independently and make an informed decision at the ballot box.

And this brings me back to the value of reflective writing at these times. Seven years ago writer Dermot Bolger said in the Irish Times:

“The moment you begin to write…you are making a declaration of independence, determining to think for yourself…”

When faced with big decisions that will have far-reaching consequences being able to think independently about them and make an informed judgement is vital. Reflective writing helps to identify what we need to do to ‘think for ourself’ and it helps to lighten the shadows.

Wishing you clarity and light this Summer Solstice.

 

 

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To stay or to go?

Here in the UK we have just over a week left to make our minds up about how to vote in the European Union Referendum.

Last week I had the privilege of meeting and being interviewed by John Humphrys, a formidable news broadcaster on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, as part of that corporation’s Referendum coverage. Our fifteen minute conversation was distilled down into all of thirteen seconds of featured comment when the episode was aired three days later.

John Humphrys and me

In the period between the interview and its broadcast I felt increasingly doubtful that I’d said anything even vaguely worthwhile or interesting. My fears were corroborated when I received a preemptive apologetic email from the show’s producer, in which he explained:

“As you can imagine, we record a lot and don’t use very much of each guest. It’s the nature of the job I’m afraid.”

Ah well. Maybe my career in radio isn’t quite at burgeoning point.

Nevertheless I did get curious about why I felt so uncomfortable about the whole experience. At first I’d felt euphoric – as perhaps you can tell in the pic! – but then as time passed I began to feel rather like you do after an exam, second-guessing and riddled with doubt.

Regardless of which bit of my lofty opinion was rescued from the cutting room floor I came to the conclusion that the reason I was so nervous after the interview was because I hadn’t done justice to the opportunity. I was kicking myself.

Even worse, I couldn’t form a view on Europe because I hadn’t done my homework or made the required attempt to fully understand the issues. My bad.

Then, purely coincidentally, I came across this book:

Aurevoir

I spent the next two days devouring its content, and I am grateful for the chance to become better informed. David Charter has a sequel to this published in March 2016, entitled Europe In or Out, which provides further analysis about what might happen across different areas of our experience depending on the decision cast.

It turns out that in spite of spending most of my life with an awareness of Europe, even having lived and worked in France and Spain and acquired a Modern Languages degree, like many UK voters I did not really have an understanding of all that Europe means.

Now I do.

This is the most politically important vote for UK citizens in years. It has spawned more discussion and engagement among ordinary folk than any general election, and yet the information that is being presented by both sides of the campaign is at best uninspiring, at worst deceitful.

But it’s too big a decision to leave to apathy and chance. We need to do justice to this opportunity.  We all need to exercise our democratic right and cast not just any old vote, but an informed one.

Don’t be kicking yourself on 24 June.

 

 

 

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Writer or Runner?

Three years shy of fifty I’m a relative late-comer to running. And this morning was the first time I’ve been out in three weeks. I was dreading it to be honest, but I knew something had to be done to break the slow apathy-induced self-destruction that was setting in.

Anyway all is well. Minutes after arriving back, stretching down and grabbing a glass of water I’m sitting at my desk composing a blog, which like my run, is long overdue.

It occurs to me that running and writing are not dissimilar. They are both physical activities – yes even putting pen to paper requires far more muscular energy than pointing the remote control at the telly – although understandably one of them incurs rather more breathlessness than the other.

They also enable the participant to tune into their inner landscape – mind and body. Recently I read an article about how runners need to be both associated and dissociated from their bodies as they run. First of all they need to be physically aware of their breathing, energy and strength, and possibly adapt their speed and style in order to feel as comfortable as possible in response. But also they need to practice mind over matter to a certain degree in order to keep going and not give in.

When we write reflectively a similar experience is available to us. Writing is far from a purely cerebral pastime. We can tune in to what the present moment is bringing us and how our senses are responding; we can interpret the messages our body is giving us; and we can abandon ourselves to the process, without thinking or judging too much.

And the thing that makes both writing and running easier, more enjoyable and probably more beneficial is to do both with a smile.  Pounding the pavements with a grin on my face makes me look like the happiest person on the planet – which I may or may not be – but since smiling recruits less muscular energy than frowning or pouting it actually feels a whole lot less exhausting.

As for writing? It makes me smile anyway.

 

 

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Make your journaling unique

There could never be two journals alike. What you write in your journal makes it a totally unique treasure chest of insights, thoughts and expressions.

And it’s always best to write in a beautiful notebook that gives you pleasure, and helps make journaling a sensual experience.

So what better than a unique, handmade journal with a gorgeous cover design and smooth, water-marked paper that receives your inky words with relish, encouraging you to write more and more?

Here are some such specimens of journal-writing joy-givers:

 

Il Papiro Journals

And here’s a snap of where you can find them in the UK:

Il Papiro Covent Garden

That’s me with shop manager Lorenzo!

Il Papiro in Covent Garden is part of a family-owned chain of shops that were established in the 1970s by two Florentine businessmen, who were keen to revive the ancient art of paper marbling. In Italy Il Papiro has stores in Florence, Venice, Rome, Pisa and Siena. And, lucky for us, here in the UK Lorenzo looks after one of two outlets in London – the other being at St Christopher’s Place.

The paper used to bind each individual journal is hand-crafted at the factory near Florence, using natural dyes and an adhesive solution which helps the colour stick. The designs vary from stippled to peacock to marble, which is the design that gives the technique its name.

Personally my favourite design is peacock – as my Il Papiro journals attest:

Peacock journals

I love that each notebook is totally individual and carefully crafted by hand. The jewel-like colours are stunning and truly make each notebook look like a real gem.

If you want to make your journal writing experience one to treasure, go say Hi to Lorenzo and treat yourself to a marbled notebook.

 

 

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Life Changing Magic

Who knew that decluttering your space could have such a magical, life-changing effect?

Certainly a first reading of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying could lead you to feel rather incredulous about her evangelical praise of chucking stuff out and finding a place for everything that remains. My holiday reading earlier in October included her book section on folding socks. It sounds mundane. But I was gripped.

I desperately wanted to discover for myself whether my socks really would appreciate being folded and not balled, whether it really would put a spring in my step to know that I had allowed my clean, folded socks to ‘rest’ properly in between wear.

And I really wanted to know if having a tidier space around me could really change my life.

For a while I have known that clutter befuddles my brain. I can’t think straight when I’m stepping over piles of stuff or having to shift mountains of junk off the surfaces before I can get to work on anything. As a writer and a creative thinker being surrounded by crap is a serious blocker. Aside from stopping the energetic flow of ideas, clutter feeds the procrastination gremlin so ultimately nothing gets done. On top of that there is the whole feng shui philosophy of unblocking energy and therefore opportunity and prosperity.

Sooo.

I tidied my office. I chucked out a lot of stuff that had really just become receptacles for dust. And since I don’t have a particular passion for collecting dust I didn’t need any extra receptacles for it.

Not only did I tidy, I repositioned my desk and chair to enable me to see all the doorways into my work space. And I placed a picture of a mountain behind me – a strong, solid structure that has my back. Now I’m in a position – literally –  to spot opportunities coming my way, and to feel as if I have firm foundations from which to respond.

Next I sorted my wardrobe and all my clothes, following Marie Kondo’s advice to handle each item one by one and inquire of it “Does this spark joy?” I was extremely surprised to realise, as she promises, that it really is possible to feel joy from a garment. And it is really possible to distinguish joy from anything else you might feel at the prospect of wearing an item of clothing.

So yes. Things are changing. In the month since I sorted out my office I have received 8 new inquiries from new prospects – as well as repeat business from existing clients. Plus my socks are better rested, my feet happier, and my step well and truly lighter.

Magic!

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The New Story of Your Life

October 2015 was a blessed month for me.

I spent five days playing golf in Spain with some dear friends; and one whole week enjoying some late summer sunshine in Turkey with my Mum and my daughter.

In between I got to do something similarly awesome. I got to meet, and spend the whole day with, my journaling heroine Kathleen Adams.

Juliet and Kay Adams

I read Kathleen’s book Journal to the Self almost a decade ago and it inspired me in many ways, not least to produce the Journal Writer’s Handbook. To actually experience a workshop with her and other inspiring women was such a glorious gift that I will remember for a long long time.

The subject of the workshop, which took place in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and which was co-facilitated by the wild and wonderful Mary Reynolds Thompson, was as the title of this blog: Writing the New Story of Your Life.

It’s a poignant, emotive venture to undertake the creation of a new story for ourselves. It’s also alarming to realise how many stories we already have playing in our lives – and how they rarely serve us well.

Kathleen shared with us a wonderful poem by Michael Blumenthal called The New Story of Your Life. I was most struck by the “sense of plenitude entirely your own” that this New Life requires and have reflected deeply on what this means to me over the recent days.

Writing and sharing reflections with a group of generous, gentle souls is a restorative and emboldening experience. I was amazed by and proud of the fabulous women in the room who already had such diverse stories and experiences, and who were so incredibly generous in their sharing and their attention to each other. We rocked.

To borrow from Kathleen the springboard phrase she used to introduce the workshop, I invite you to consider what is the story of your life today?

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