Nourish Your Soul

nourishThere is a hunger in my belly. A gnawing rumble. An emptiness. A hollow entreaty to be satiated. It is not food I crave. I am lucky there, food aplenty in my fridge, or delivered to my door. No, it is a deeper yearning, a desire to be fed, to suckle and be nurtured and be nourished by life itself.

I savour the sweet spots of my existence, like a nectar, a mystical elixir that sits precious in this challenging world. Those moments that are like gold. Framed in a timeless shadow of a memory, that I wear like diamonds around my neck. Time with my loved ones, sunrise over a frosty field, the hug of friends and community, a prayer shared around a fire, a good book under the duvet, lunch club, the weight of a purring cat on my chest, caravan adventures, ceremony, pilgrimage, cold healing springs, a buzzard overhead, an out-of-the-blue email from a friend, belly laughs; these gems are sustenance to my soul. I harvest these moments greedily and display them in the scrap book of my mind.

And what warms your heart and nourishes your spirit when the nights are long and dark and quiet? What brings a smile to your face, and lifts your spirits? Do you make time to feed that empty place within that makes you sad, or makes you ponder the meaning of it all? What makes your heart sing? What brings a smile to your face? Can you taste Joy? Life can become swallowed beneath a regime of duties and do’s, and don’ts, and oughts, and musts, and expectations, and habits, and lists, and distractions until we are so caught up in the wheel of it all, the relentless frenzy of the everyday, the white noise of our existence that we have forgotten why we are here at all. That life is more than merely something to be ‘got through’, it is a gift, even if it sometimes feels like a relentless pass-the-parcel with nothing but forfeits beneath every layer, there is a prize awaiting you at the centre. It is up to us to make a life a work of art. And it is not about the applause or the reward, but about the effort you put in, the journey you undertake, and the beauty you seek to manifest. Seeds sown reap their own reward. It is not about success or failure, it lies simply in the act of having a go. And of the keeping going – the keep on keepin’ on when the road gets tough. If you do not make the effort to prospect for gold then you are unlikely to find it. If you do not believe that it may lie hidden beneath the dirt, then for you it will never exist.

nourish 2

It now comes as no surprise to me that against the backdrop of all that currently challenges me, life can taste sweeter than ever. And I don’t say this with any sense of irony. Not every day nor every moment, but here and there, like a shooting star that illuminates the night sky or the glory of a rainbow before it fades. Small nuggets of gold reveal themselves to me, glinting beneath the water on the muddy river bed. And in those moments I am rich. Where once life was something I took for granted, about which I was at times cavalier, not mindful of its divine preciousness, and even perhaps had an ambivalence towards. Now I have been taught the lesson of humility and gratitude. Illness has given me the eyes to see. I marvel at my prior capacity for blindness, where the spotlight of attention illuminated those things that aroused fear or lack, and the blessings in my life hid themselves in the shade.

And so I return to the question of nourishment. How do we nourish ourselves? Why do we need to nourish ourselves. As humans the first nourishment we receive originates from the mother, first from within the womb, and then for most of us at her breast, where all the nutrients we require to develop, grow and remain healthy in the physical sense are provided and tailored to our needs. But nourishment comes to us in more than just nutritional form, if we are lucky, our mother, our parents, our wider community nourish us on an emotional, psychological, intellectual, creative and  spiritual plane. And so we develop a robustness and resilience to help us negotiate whatever comes our way. But what if we are mal-nourished? Like a diet lacking in nutrients and overloading on sugar and processed foods leads to weakness to sickness, so too does a life poor in the things that feed the soul. So how do you nourish your soul? Do you remember to make time for those things that bring a smile to your face, a glow, a sense of joy and contentment, an appreciation of the here and now, when the mind is not caught up in the worries of yesterday or worrying about tomorrow and what is yet to come?

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Have we mistaken distraction for relaxation, for quality time? A glass or two of wine, hours lost on social media: comparing,  competing and validating our existance, TV, magazines, games, drugs legal and illegal – junk food for the soul – all help us to forget and numb ourselves from what is hard to endure.

 

 

 

But don’t get lost in getting lost. Cherish the time you have. Give yourself permission to savour what is sweet and discard what doesn’t serve. To nourish and nurture yourself and what is precious to you is vital to your wellbeing. It reminds you that you are worth it. That you matter. That you are worthy. That you deserve life. It feeds your self-esteem, which feeds confidence, which fosters your sense of being loved. And when we feel loved, and worthy, and confident we can become proud of who we are, we bring ourselves back into balance and feel less inclined to compete, to compare, to judge, to exclude, to be in conflict – both with ourselves and others. To nourish oneself means that we are less likely to need to seek nourishment or approval or permission from elsewhere: from another person, a habit or society at large. Instead, perhaps discontent, anger, fear, boredom, helplessness, sadness, rage, guilt, resentment, blame, meaninglessness could be replaced by a meaningful sensation of contentment, purpose, satisfaction and inspiration.

I am hungry. My spirit is craving to be fed. A walk in nature is the meal I desire. Alone in the woods where the breeze blows new strength into my being, where the stream washes away my worries, where I sit upon the wet earth and feel her heartbeat, my back against a tree for support, my fingers buried in the damp, green mossy carpet. Plugging into the pulse of life. Interconnection. Inspiration. Belonging. Where before and after dissolve into here and now, where my heart calms, where beneath a rock or in the whisper of the leaves I find restoration and rejuvenation, and I look up not down, forward not back, and I breathe in the beauty of life. A true feast for the soul.

Trouble is, I tripped over some washing (I know, ridiculous, and painful!) and have been forced to slow down, to stop, confined to the static safety of the sofa out of harm’s way for a few weeks. Good in the sense that I have no alternative but to get on with writing my book, but oh the yearning for the sweet nourishment of my heart and soul. No matter, the memory and promise of nature’s caress inspire me daily, she is going nowhere. And neither am I.

Cherish the sweet spots. Nourish your soul. Bon Appetit! Oh and look out for the washing!

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3 Ways of Healing – #Medical

butterfly 2

Perhaps if I had been born in another time, another country, another town, in another family, with another name and the planets had aligned in the heavens in a different configuration, then maybe none if this would have happened. I would not be the person I believe myself to be. When I look in the mirror who would I see? Perhaps I am him, or her. Perhaps I am you. My life would have followed another path with another story,  a different set of characters, setting and plot.  A different beginning, middle and end. Not better nor worse, who’s to say. Just different.

Perhaps in the thread of time, one decision made differently, a glance in an alternate direction, a no instead of yes. A hello and not good bye. And  perhaps I wouldn’t now be perching on the side of the bed, and not for the first time this month, head resting on a pile of pillows, with a needle and catheter inserted into my back between my 3rd and  4th ribs draining what will be a litre of fluid from the pleural lining of my lung. Another litre of fluid. That’s three litres  in the last six weeks so far. There’s more yet to come, but that is in the future, a life not yet lived and breathed.

canute_beach

I am awash with fluid. Water water everywhere so the saying goes. I am like Canute raging  against an incessant and unremitting tide. Impotent and futile against the power of nature and the elements. The lungs, according to Chinese medicine represent grief, and as the sea of sickness seeps from my body drop by drop I feel the release of decades of grief held vice-close, of sadness, of fear, of shame, of guilt, of secrets, of abuse, of self blame, wrong choices, missed opportunities, isolation and silence.                                                                                             Oh the silence is deafening now,  drowning out the white noise that butts and rasps and rattles in my head like a hornet trapped and angered. A pestilent and painful reminder that I too am trapped, that I too am pestilent. Looking out upon the life I want to have that lies beyond my reach. Out of my grasp. On the other side of the glass. Slipping through my fingers. Nothing to do but surrender, be here now, allow the grief to subside like a receding tide, when all is revealed and I can breathe again.

Forty minutes and three coughs later and I am done. The cause of this, my latest incapacitation, the breathlessness, the palpitations, the discomfort, pain and physical restriction when life is reduced to a corner of the sofa and dependency on others, lies malignantly in a plastic bag upon a metal trolley, not yet for discarding, but for analysis, searching for more clues in the crime of my disease.

Beside me, Dr H. wraps things up with a manner at once professional, friendly and endlessly reassuring. We have  met several times over the last year,  despite  my best intentions not to, and  he maintains  an easy dialogue throughout the  procedures that both distracts and normalises this most un-normal of circumstances. As bedside manners go, he rates a 10/10. As I think it, I hear the words fly clean out of my mouth and into his ears.

Drain removed, plaster applied, all swabbed clean and tidy a thank you to the team and I am wheeled from day theatre down the corridor to recovery before the next victim, sorry, patient is wheeled in. Recovery consists of spaces for four patients and Eric* the nurse in charge.

“Hello again” I say

“Hello again you” he replies. “Back again? How are we today? Can I get to a drink of water?”

His accent places him in the region of the Philippines. Like so many of his NHS colleagues I have had the good fortune to meet, who come from South East Asia, Thailand,  Africa, the West Indies,  eastern Europe,  Spain, Greece, India,  China, Hong Kong,  I am grateful he made the journey to work here, healing the sick of Great Britain. Clearly we cannot sustain this great and wonderful institution alone. Our global friends are a intrinsic to its health. And for all our sakes the NHS, needs saving, before the disease of neglect and lack of funding and secretive selling off kills it off once and for all. Where would we be, where would I be without it? Not here and now, that’s for sure.

Eric turns the monitor so I can monitor myself. My oxygen sats read 92, I know they won’t want to let me go until they each around 98. Eric remembers I like a challenge! Tentatively I begin to deepen my breath, lung slowly re-inflating for the first time in weeks, like a butterfly unfurling from cocoon, spreading my wings, come on, come on, I will myself,  that’s it, 93, 94, you can do it. Heart rate is starting to come down from over 100 bpm, it has felt like a runaway train the last few weeks, even when stationary. Is this what it’s like to feel human again? I’m  almost scared to remember.

Eric bustles back with a poly cup of water, de- licious.  He sings quietly under his breath to the retro tunes whispering forth from the radio, to my amusement,  he really does seem to know every song.

“You missed your true calling” I joke, humour returning in equal measure to breath.

“I think  you’re right” he laughs

Dr H. Pops by to check up on me just as my sats reach 98. Job done we both agree.

“No offense,”  I say, “but I hope we don’t meet again for  very long time,”

He smiles, as I have said this very sentence on several occasions over the last year. What I really mean, is thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for making me feel so much better. Thank you for the gift of modern technology, science  and medicine that found its way from you to me and means I am not drowning in my own water, but alive and kicking. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. He departs taking my gratitude with him, radiating 10 out of 10

“OK young lady, you’re looking good, home I think.” Says Eric

“Yes please,” I say to no one but myself.

A new song starts up on the radio, Eric sings along,

“At first I was afraid I was petrified,

La la la Laa  la la la Laa la la la lala laaa….”

HEY! Wait for me Gloria, I’m just putting my skates on,

You sing it girl, you sing it loud. And she does ,

“I will survive! Hey Heeeeey!”

And with that I pirouette into the corridor and back into my life.

butterfly

(c) Leah Bracknell

*name changed

Butterfly photographs: Seb Janiak

Feather

IMG_3039                                                                            (Lion of Judah – Sophie Wilkins)

Don’t take away my hope,

it isn’t yours to steal

Stop right there

Drop it!

Back away

Slowly

Keep your hands where I can see them.

Don’t take away my hope

with your “I’m so sorrys” and your pity eyes

with your “get your affairs in order, and line up your ducks 1-2-3”

Oh I’ll line them up alright and shoot their bloody heads off.

BANG BANG BANG

With your “we’re running out of options”  that leads me up a cul de sac,

that switches off the light and leaves me groping in the dark

while the walls press in.

Who are you to decide if I have a right to hold onto hope?

That ineffable essence  that Miss Emily D once upon a time called

“that thing with feathers that perches on the soul”

YOU may give up on me , YOU may down tools, it may be job done for YOU

But I do not see my life in A to Z .

I don’t want to fit in your box where life is limited by the limitations of your linear

expectations.

I do not want to fit into a box full stop.

For when you strip away hope from the hopeless there is no life.

And life is more than flesh and breath

Spread the wings and step outside and you will see

possibilities of love and joy and magic and a rising sun and all that

resides in the name of hope.

Maya told us she knew why the caged bird sings,

and now I do too

For you may cage me up in your story of finality,

But I have the key that opens  the door from time to time into the halo of divine grace

where I can shelter from the storm.

And I remember nights so golden when the full moon beamed

to light my way

across the desolate moor so I did not stray from the path into danger,

shone as bright as day she did.

And I remember stars so twinkle twinkle

from a billion years away

pinprick  beacons like watchful eyes and fireflies

blinking at me like they blinked at my ancestors in days gone by and by.

Highways and skyways

And how they sang to me of how it is, and how it was, and how it shall be

That we are perfect, that all is perfect and exactly as it is meant to be in the

texture and tapestry  of all time,

And that we matter no more nor less than we do,

But less than we think we do.

And that matter does not matter

That we are come and we are gone

That we are part of it all and part of nothing

Joined in union eternally where beginnings and endings are just how it is meant to be.

And you and I are but a blink of an eye.

And all that I love

and where it has the grace to fall and be received – is all the hope I need

for it is as true as your fear is false.

I am sad for you, not mad at you

and I stand up and claim it back.

And the ancestors whisper in the trees

that we are all just here to become a memory.

As I look up

the skies are raining feathers

I watch and I watch

as patience rewards

and

one fine feather drifts down and perches on my soul.

 

 

 

When No One’s Looking

moon

You came to me

last night

as you promised

you would

Under cloak of night

a million blinking night sky eyes

like fire flies

bearing witness to

our secret

rendezvous

Where I poured out my heart and hopes

beneath your watchful gaze

so silent still,

and in the silence

in the space

between the breath

where life begins and ends

and ends and begins

I feel your love.

Love that never falters

Love that never lies

Nor judges

Nor expects

Nor apologises

Nor shames

Nor blames

A love that is a beacon

on the horizon at the edge of the world

Ever guiding me on

Ever guiding me home

and into your arms

just like Nick said.

Beneath my fingers

earth cool warm

Roots dig deep

I lie with you

Raw

Naked

Open

As you gaze upon me still

You shine

My heart quickens

I shine

a leap

a flame

Behold a life

Behold connection

and there,

you point,

An opening in the coal cloaked sky

like a bullet

shot clean through

and on the other side

I can see clear, clean to heaven.

But wait

Where are you going my friend

my  midnight love

in such a rush

you move so fast,

Freeze-frame this moment

Don’t go

Don’t leave

Dance Dance with me still

still and wild

to the rhythm of life

and earth heart beat

“I will be back”

You say

You say . . . . . you say . . . . as

you go . . . you go . . . you go . .

And now in grace and gratitude I lie

on feather bed

as feathered friends

Sing up the dawn

and welcome the birth

of a precious new day

one that I have never seen before

A warm caress

wanders across my skin

like fingers of gold

and in the blink of my eye-spy-I

beauty lies

and

time flies

and

The world turns around once more

inside out

and back to front

and upside down

Turn around again I say

for I am hungry to dance with you

under a midnight sun

with a wolf heart roar

a swoop owl hoot on a dark tree night

When faeries frolic and mischief make

that we can only see in dreams

‘neath the full moon sky

where Brigid lullabyes

as  belly swells

With fire and love and life

and stars sing to the universe the mystery and magic of who we are

and who we are meant to be.

So come to me again, my love

Impatient I am

Find me in the north under the old oak tree,

There I’ll be waiting

Drum in hand

Song on my lips

And Love beating loud in my heart .

 

Painting: Frank Frazetta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To prognosticate or not to prognosticate

prog“So what’s your prognosis?”

If I had a pound for every time someone asked that question, well, I could probably fund a feet-up, rub-down weekend at Champneys.

But I’m just going to say it – it royally p***** me off!

I made the choice not to ask for my oncologist’s prognosis as to my impending mortality. Why? Well, firstly I wasn’t hopeful that I would hear anything I really wanted to hear. Just a cursory google about lung cancer survival had shocked me enough to know that. On top of which there were other serious issues I was dealing with, so I wasn’t in a hurry to hear the news.

I was also conscious of how our own minds can lock, stock and barrel influence the well being of our physical selves. How our beliefs can impact our health both for the good and negatively. I was mindful of the possible consequences of self fulfilling prophecy. If I am told I only have until Christmas, I could potentially limit my opportunity to survive beyond that, because I have so completely surrendered my authority not just to the disease, but to the medical establishment? I read  a famous account about a man who was diagnosed with liver cancer, he hoped to make it to spend one last Christmas with his loved ones which, happily he achieved, but sadly passed away soon after. An autopsy later showed that tests had shown a false positive reading for the progression of his disease. In fact, very little cancer was present in his body at all. The question is, was it his expectation of his own death that in fact killed him?

Sky Mood Chess Board Tree Hourglass Princess

Making a prognosis is not easy. To my lay person’s mind it is at best an educated guess based on a cohort of statistics. In my case, the statistics for lung cancer are taken most recently from 2010, so they are out of date. They reflect an older population, as at that time this is where lung cancer was most commonly found. In lung cancer terms, I am considered quite young.( Yay, knew I’d find a positive if I persisted) So the median, may not be as applicable to my situation, as I am not someone who is 70 with a lifelong history of smoking. And statistics don’t factor in what else one is incorporating into one’s healing journey such as lifestyle changes addressing nutrition and exercise, addressing stress levels and depression, or taking supplements, alternative therapies and treatments, counselling  etc and nurturng not just the physical and mental, but one’s spiritual life. Which research tells us, feeds into a person’s well being enormously, and therefore could potentially influence healing outcomes.

But back to prognoses – and just as everyone’s experience of cancer is unique to them , so is the decision to ask the doctor to prognosticate. I know that people want to understand what lies ahead for many reasons: practical matters have to be put in place, affairs put in order, maybe take that dream trip you’ve always put off, or what about those who want a prognosis in order to defy it, to exceed expectations, and to continue running right through the tape and beyond the finish line and into numerous triumphant laps of honour – gold medal hanging proud. For the doctors, having an idea of prognosis should enable them to establish the right options, and best care that is needed at every stage. Yes, they can get it wrong – they are human trying to do their best against a disease that has the skill to transform, hide, return, and persist and has outwitted the best brains for too many years.

So back to why I am royally p***** orf.

I think the question lacks sensitivity, compassion and understanding.

“What is your prognosis?” is akin to asking someone the question “how long do you have left to live? How long before you might die?”

It isn’t a casual question. It is profoundly personal, intimate and private.

Yeah, right. Not pleasant is it. At least, that’s what it feels like over here. I am quite convinced that you don’t mean offense. But it is deeply painful to hear. Please, please could you maybe be a bit more mindful if ever that question forms in your brain, and not let it escape your mouth. It might just be a passing question, or even a genuinely concerned question, but please think, engage your brain, and remember that there is someone who, despite looking absolutely bloody gorgeous on the outside is actually doing their damndest to keep on keepin on.

OK rant over. Keep well.

Oh, and I sincerely apologise if the cartoon offends. I find that sometimes black humour keeps the gremlins at bay.

Love always xx

Below is an article from the Guardian 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/02/doctors-predict-patient-die-prognosis-wrong

And for a less ranty evening do join me in London on Thursday January 18th.

https://www.cecilsharphouse.org/component/content/article/21-shared/shared-events/5090-cancer-and-the-art-of-living-an-evening-with-leah-bracknell

 

Talk Update – Cancer and The Art of Living – with Leah Bracknell January 18th 2018

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Hello Everyone,
I just wanted to check in and say thank you SO much for such a positive response and support for the talk –
 
Cancer And the Art of Living on January 18th 2018 in London.
 
Just to clarify I shall be giving a talk inspired by my blogs somethingbeginningwithc.com and my own experience of learning to form a relationship with my disease based on my background in yoga, acting and shamanism.
Though those of you that know me will be unsurprised to learn that there will of course be an opportunity to experience a few practices that I have personally found incredibly useful on this journey, vital even, such as meditation, visualisations, perhaps even shamanic journeying. Suitable for everyone, as there will be no standing on your head or winding legs behind ears – those days have long gone!!
Whether you have been diagnosed with cancer, know someone who has cancer or if you are dealing with another illness or life challenge, we can all afford to reconsider what it really means to be alive, to forge a meaningful and fulfilling existence, to mend what is broken, transform what no longer serves and to find ways of being of service to others, no less than when life is at its most challenging.
This will NOT be an evening of doom and gloom, rather it is an exploration of how we may be able to discover the light even in the darkest of times. How we can might even discover resources of strength and possibility if we dare to allow ourselves. About being the best of ourselves. Of facing fear, honouring our experience, transforming and decluttering our lives of what no longer serves. Being honest with ourselves and others. Allowing a devastating diagnosis or life challenge become our teacher NOT our gaoler.
Cancer is healing my life. Am I cured? Well, I still have stage 4 cancer. They tell me there is no “cure”, but everyday I seek and find healing in the little things. I enjoy my life. I wake up each day ready to embrace ( sometimes with deep trepidation I’m not going to lie) whatever presents itself, and, despite what “they” thought, I am STILL here. I am alive, and I intend to share that joy and celebrate this wonderous gift with my family, my friends, students and with you.
It’s time to change the narrative. I hope you’ll come and change it with me.
For details of Cancer and The Art of Living January 18th in London please visit

Cancer and The Art of Living – an Evening with Leah Bracknell

DSCN3631What would you do if you were diagnosed with a terminal disease?

In September 2016, after surviving a sudden life-threatening illness, actress Leah Bracknell heard the shocking words we all dread.

“Sorry. You have stage 4 cancer”

With no option of surgery, ‘palliative’ chemotherapy was all that was offered to her.

Based on her blog somethingbeginningwithc.com – Leah shares her remarkable and inspiring story of learning to live with a terminal illness. Drawing upon her experience as an actor, yoga teacher and shamanic healer, she shines a light on the human spirit’s power and capacity to be extraordinary, even in the darkest of circumstances. Discovering transformation, wonder, hope, joy, possibility, positivity, and beauty along the way.

“I chose to cultivate a relationship with my disease.  To ask it: why are you here? And what have you to teach me? I discovered that when I ceased regarding cancer as my enemy and looked beyond the fear, it gave me the opportunity to embark on a profound personal healing journey, emotionally and spiritually that has transformed my whole outlook on life.

Having cancer has restored a deep appreciation and gratitude for my life. It has been an awakening. Cancer has been my greatest challenge, but also my greatest teacher, one that has rekindled my passion for life. It has taught me that a life well lived is the best medicine, that we can all be the alchemists of our own “healing”, whatever the outcome, and that life is not merely about existing or surviving, but thriving with a capitol T.

Cancer has given me back my life.”

This is an experiential event and you will be able participate in some of the healing practices: meditations, visualisations etc that Leah uses on her journey to assist you with your own.

“Having cancer or any serious illness can be a dark, frightening and lonely road. So, let’s walk it together, standing tall, side by side, hand in hand.”

WHEN: January 18th 2018 7.30pm

TICKETS: £19 and £14.50

WHERE: Venue and Booking : Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Road, London NW1 7AY

https://uk.patronbase.com/_CecilSharpHouse/Productions/8F/Performances

Leah Bracknell, mother of two, actress, yoga instructor, shamanic healer was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in September 2016, after suffering a near fatal pericardial effusion. She has worked in TV and theatre for forty years, from Shakespeare to panto and is best remembered for her role as Zoe Tate in Emmerdale. A yoga instructor for over a decade, she has taught workshops around the country and at the Yoga Show, MBS, Wilderness Festival, and Mind Body Soul Exhibitions and written for Om Yoga Magazine, Yoga Magazine, Spectrum, her teaching has been widely featured in the press, including This Morning, Lorraine, BBC Radio. She has released 2 DVDs Yoga & You and Yoga for Life. In 2010 she underwent an intensive Shamanic practitioner training.

You can read more of Leah’s work on her blog Somethingbeginningwithc.com