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.

 

 

 

Death and the Elephant

elephant-in-the-room-wip-leah-saulnier-the-painting-maniac

There are some days not quite as bright as others, even when the sun is shining. The dark clouds of grief, or fear, or anger, or helplessness just roll on in like an impending storm to obliterate any rays of hope and possibility.

The elephant in the room looms impossibly loud and large, knocking the china flying like a bull in a china shop. The world stands still but you can’t find the exit. And the roller coaster lurches on, up and down, your face a rictus of terror, a silent scream, on this white-knuckle ride.

Oh for a spoonful of normality. When problems were just problems, and not everything was reflected in the mirror of mortality; not everything had a full stop.

Days when it is too painful to look back and too painful to look forward, that find you adrift and isolated from the everything you treasure. No analgesic to numb this wound. This is the deepest cut.

On days like this, collar turned up, back to the wind, your coat of self-pity a defense and a refuge, beneath which lies your nakedness and vulnerability and the scars of your human frailty.

And as I lie with this unwelcome bedfellow, who whispers unsweet nothings of nothing into my ear, fuelling the terrors and painting the world black, willing me to break, seducing me down the path of hopelessness and despair, I chose surrender. To surrender to the uncomfortable emotions, to honour my vulnerability, to let the cracks show and the tears flow. There is no shame in admitting that sometimes you hit a brick wall, that putting on a brave face just doesn’t cut it, that you want (and do!) to throw all your toys out of the pram.

Because it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to keep on keepin’ on, it’s hard to GLIDE, it’s hard not to see the glass half empty, when you have been issued a sell-by date, and options – a word that can both give and eradicate hope – are running out. It’s hard not to be blinded by the PR, that cancer is a one-way ticket to you-know-where, that life with cancer is akin to going to war, combat unarmed, a battle, a fight against a hostile and deadly assassin. The unexpected visitor, who creeps in unannounced and univited to hijack your health, steal your future and evict you from your life. Who tries to recast us as victim, as tragic, as less than we were, not merely in our eyes but in the eyes of others, whose gaze as it falls upon you turns to one of pity, and fear. For the contagion of cancer is epidemic – it spreads from the unwitting host to friends and family, as if cancer contaminates and infection were a natural consequence, and suddenly one finds oneself in isolation when people can’t see beyond their own relationship with mortality which arises from a cultural fear of death.

Yet, is it death itself we fear? Death has become a taboo – a dirty word, something to be hidden away, expunged, talked about in hushed tones. Much like cancer, have you noticed that? How people change their tone of voice into a “cancer voice” How people brace themselves to see you, because they are never quite sure what to expect? The extra vigorous hug that lasts just a little longer than before. The surprised/relieved “don’t you look wells” The long goodbye – in case it’s the last time? Treating you like a china ornament as if having cancer might cause you to shatter into a thousand fragments right before their eyes.

A person can become concealed beneath the shroud of cancer: the myths, metaphors and cultural expectation of cancer and its association with death play to our deepest most primal fears. This, I believe is also an epidemic dis-ease: the “elephant in the room” which goes by the name of death. But rather than ignore it, which is futile thanks to its unswerving inevitability, let’s dare to look it in the eye. Ignoring the prospect of death cultivates a terrain of fear watered by our anxiety and ignorance, is it not better to explore what death means to us in order to navigate our way through to calmer waters?

My first experience of death came from the east. My maternal grandfather who was from China passed when I was very young. But I remember aspects of the ceremony which would be alien here in this country, but engage us with the passage and process of life and death. Offerings are made to ensure the deceased is well cared for in the afterlife, houses, money, cars, even mobile phones cut from paper are burned to symbolise the things they may enjoy or require. Families regularly tend their graves with offerings of food and incense to ensure they are well fed, and so that they know they are loved and missed. There is nothing a spirit loves more than to know they are still remembered and cared for. On some level it demystifies the whole process, and gives those left behind a means of continuing a relationship, not merely of grief, but of love and care and remembrance.

shaman art 7

The way I see it, is that death itself is not what I fear, death is a bridge between worlds: this life and whatever lies beyond. It is a gateway, a portal through which our soul, our spirit, will pass, in the same way we passed from some other time and space in order to be born into this life. I have smelled death close. Almost 18 months ago now, when it tapped on my shoulder and called my name, enticing me Pied Piper-like to cross over; but thankfully my saviour appeared in the form of Dr B who performed a life-saving procedure, and aided by my allies from the invisible realms, ensured that I hang out in this life for a while yet.

 

So, moving on does not scare me. I have glimpsed enough of the world of spirit, through working as a shamanic practitioner and healer for several years before I was diagnosed, not to be afraid. To understand that we have willing and able allies and ancestors in the invisible realms beyond the veil who want and yearn to assist us. And that, we too, when we pass on, may be able to assist those that remain and our ancestors yet to come.

In order to corral the landslide of invading emotions, let’s separate them out, and look at what’s really going on. When emotional response such as fear, anger, grief, bitterness and so on lock horns it is easy to become overwhelmed and enmired in confusion; one can become entrenched beneath the weight of despair which results in an inability to know what to do and may culminate in the futile resignation to give in. It’s unsurprising, there are only so many times you feel you have the energy and will to deal with it.

Let’s look at two of the most common sources of anxiety for someone with cancer, especially if, like myself, your diagnosis is staged 4:

Leaving loved ones. And leaving full stop.

No one wants to leave the people they love. The imagined pain of that final separation is intolerable. BUT, what is the emotion? If we can pinpoint what it is we are experiencing, perhaps, we can find a means to make peace or honour that truthfully, rather than remain stuck in the overwhelming storm inside heads, the resultant stress of which can be as destructive and as debilitating as the cancer itself.                                                              So ask yourself, how does it make me feel to leave my loved ones?  Afraid, angry, sad . . . etc?                                                                                                                                                    Using myself as an example, I can see that it is not fear, nor anger right now, but sadness. It makes me sad to think I may have to travel on alone, without the companions from this life that I cherish so dearly. Deeply sad. But, this is so for everyone, cancer or no cancer, one day, we all have to part and move onwards on the next stage of our soul’s journey. And who is to say that one hell of an extraordinary adventure doesn’t await us? Unlike me, you may not believe in a spiritual journey, an afterlife, but what I do know is that we leave a little part of ourselves buried in the hearts of those we love, that we live on in their memories, and that while we can, all of us, invest in their futures by expressing our love and gratitude for them.                                                                                    It strikes me how afraid we are of expressing what we truly feel to others, of showing or talking of love. Of all the fears we cling onto, don’t allow this to be one of yours. It is the greatest gift to be able to freely express your love, and an even greater gift to receive.

As a parent, one’s fear of dying multiplies. Actually, I don’t know if that really is the case, but it’s the only perspective I have. In order to put a positive spin on a devastating situation, I am only grateful that my children are adults, they are on their way, they have weathered the storms of childhood and adolescence and beginning to carve out lives independent from parental influence. That I may not be around to witness milestones, or be a shoulder and support for whatever challenges life brings motivates me and inspires me to live by example, to pay it forward. If I can have courage in the darkness, if I can face the challenges that I will meet, if I can enjoy my life, have adventures, turn tragedy into opportunity, show them that  no matter what, it is possible to rise, be empowered even when the winds are against you, be creative, be of service, contribute to the community, to pick yourself up and dust yourself off time after time, to acknowledge truthfully when it hurts, to ask for help, to be resilient, to laugh, to cry, to dare to love, then, then I am still doing my job, from that little place in their hearts where time and space are eternal.

And as for leaving. Well, I won Best Exit once, back in the day at the Soap awards, for leaving Emmerdale so dramatically and efficiently. I joked at the time it was a “glad to see the back of me” award. This time I am blowing up nothing except expectation – the expectation that cancer is a thief on a mission to steal my life. The expectation that one must follow the rules both of the disease and how one is required to behave when one has the disease. The expectation to go off and quietly die, without challenging the system to be a good patient, to follow the rules and embrace the noble victim personality.

Am I afraid to die? Of death itself – see above, of dying? Yes, of course, the uncertainty of the “how” is a rational fear. The universal hope for us all is that it is quick, painless and preferably in our sleep, but I suspect that the road will be a little less predictable. And a little less cinematically poetic than prosaic. What I would hope for is a “conscious” death. In which acceptance replaces anxiety, and love and grace are my companions.

shiva

Another word for human beings is mortals, a word that contains the word death, a reminder that we are all on this cycle of birth, life and death. It’s how we fit into the rhythms of the universe, ever replenishing and renewing, all of nature, and indeed the cosmos is subject to this law of birth life and death. I look to Shiva for inspiration, the Hindu God who represents creation and destruction and everything in between, and who in his incarnation as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance is believed to release mortals from the snare of illusion: thus instilling an understanding of our place in the cosmos.

That cancer has severely compromised my health cannot be denied, but my spirit is intact. Bruised, battered and in need of some TLC from time to time. But please, please cancer is a physical malady, do not give it permission to infect the beauty of your spirit. Let cancer become your reason to be everything you hoped you might be, why not? There is  nothing to lose and everything to gain from discovering just who you are and what you are made of and celebrating life with every fibre of your being.

What futility to fear the inevitable and unavoidable. It is energy wasted and time lost. However, don’t reprimand or blame yourself when you become lost in the fog. We all need to surrender to that at times. Remember to be gentle and compassionate with yourself. It’s OK to struggle. It’s really quite OK.

And try saying  to yourself:

I deserve to live.

I deserve life.

I am worthy of love.

I am loved.

Take as often as required!!!!!

And go tell someone you love them, starting with yourself.

I’ll go first: I love you. Now pass it on.

Namaste – a thousand blessings.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

DSCN3549

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

Blink

clocks

Look!

Do you see?

There it goes again

Slipping through my fingers

just like that

like a half heard whisper

the taste of a half remembered kiss

the scent of a childhood memory

buried at the bottom of the chest

beneath a lifetime of laughter, love and loss.

Time waits for no man, so they say,

You can’t go under it, you can’t go over it, you can’t go round it,

you gotta go through it,

do it,

careful don’t waste it

don’t spill it

don’t lose it

don’t kill it.

Frame it

Pocket it

Wrap it up

with knobs on

and a cherry on top

like it’s happy birthday every day.

Bling it

bring it

snap it

chat it

pin it

bin it

save it

grab it

stretch it

hold it.

Before it runs away again

and babes become children become adult become parent become children become

ain’t no stopping it

like a runaway train

clacketty clack clacketty clack

wild horses a-gallop

manes streaming

wings unfurled

time fleeing

and flying

and freeze framing memories in gold

and wrapping them in love

and rose coloured glasses

and placing them in a locket I wear around my neck

above my heart

which yearns

for more.

 

I want to slo – mo my life.

Slo- mo the good bits,

like in the movies,

talk . . .ing . . . slow . . . ly . . . .voice . . . deep . . face . . gur . . nee . . inggg .

Fast forward through the dross

and rewind da good times!!!!

And press pause.

Slow down, wait, let me catch my breath,

wait for me.

A million yesterdays make mockery of tomorrow,

while today waits

pregnant

with baited breath

on her cheek

and a question mark under her tongue.

Oh Time, are you friend or foe?

More relentless than the sea

more elusive than the wind

invisible

silent

holder of secrets and memories and promises

grain by grain

ever ticking and tocking

ever marching on

ever after.

Happy ever after.

The time is Now.

No time like the present.

The greatest gift.

Carpe diem.

or

Blink!

blink2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saggy not Loose.

lw

The LW ladies were absolutely lovely. Not at all intimidating, nor indeed remotely loose, but genuinely warm and friendly. In fact everyone was. I was bowled over by their generosity. In make up, Jenni McAlpine and I played the “have we met before?” game, decided that we probably had somewhere in our past, and chatted on from there about mutual friends and colleagues. Emmerdale and Corrie have always been quite closely entwined.  Linda Lusardi, also ex Emmerdale, never looks a day older, with her lovely daughter, also stopped to say hello.

I am no stranger to TV interviews, but where in the past, I may have been required to discourse on my character’s  trials, tribulations and traumas, no problem, just switch on professional mode, sell the storyline etc etc this is unchartered  territory. No script. No character to hide behind. My life on display. Raw. Naked.

I wouldn’t have chosen it. So I ask myself, why expose this personal challenging episode so publicly? Why hang my washing out for all to see? Especially as privacy is something so sacred to me. In answer, I suppose that I hope by not hiding away, by shining a spotlight on the elephant in the room, we can change our thinking about cancer or “terminal” illness. Both individually and collectively. As patient, as treatment provider, as a society.

During such a fearful, stressful and uncertain time, one has to navigate a sea of confusion and contradiction. Even when surrounded by loving friends and family, it can feel like being afloat, alone in the dark. The isolation can be deafening.

The truth is that there are already many of us in that boat, trying to stay afloat, like Noah, on the look out for land. Each day I receive dozens of stories of people’s journeys. All of us hoping for the dove to return with a branch in its beak.We are all searching for that beacon of light that says help is here, you are safe. Reaching out in the dark, and hoping that someone will hold our hand. And guide us to where the light shines a little brighter.

uplift

The almighty swell of positive feedback following my appearance on Loose Women truly took my breath away. (Hmmm, maybe I should stop saying that, the irony has only just occurred to me!) I don’t think I can express enough times my immense gratitude for the support, love and prayers I  have received.( I am just sorry I can’t reply to everyone all the time) And if people found the discussion helpful I am grateful for the opportunity to be a voice piece for the many, many people who are living with cancer today. And I honour the many many people who are far braver and have endured far more than me. The people facing their journey alone. The family, loved ones and carers of those who have cancer. And  the amazing dedicated people who treat us and tend us and want to give us life.

My own experience is showing me how vital it is to participate as fully as possible on the journey of your own healing. To be informed, to research, to challenge and question and, if need be, to dare to say “no”. To shrug off the mantle of “victim”, step into one’s  power. To be prepared to make radical changes to lifestyle and thinking. When cancer moves in it is your body trying to alert you to the fact that somehow, something has come out of balance. It necessitates change :physically, emotionally, spiritually. And knowing that can either be daunting or a challenge and a gift. Getting a diagnosis of cancer is like saying “Ok,  the chips are down,  gloves off, sleeves rolled up, now what are you going to do about that?” Sometimes our inner warrior comes to our defence and gives us the strength to face the challenges, and sometimes a sinkhole of despair opens up beneath our feet and engulfs us. Which feeling wins, depends on which one you feed. I’m going to ensure my warrior is well fed and watered. I’m going to need her.

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It also occurs to me, that when faced with the reality of one’s mortality, there’s nothing to do but try to exceed our expectation of ourselves. We hide too long from being our true brave and beautiful selves caught up in the distractions and duties and mundanities of modern life. So it’s time to love as much as you can, to live full and big, to dare, to say YES, To quest towards healing , to nourish and nurture yourself, to give yourself permission to receive, to be prepared to fail from time to time, to honour the pain and grief and anger and fear, and to know that not being OK is OK too.

And I just wanted to say . .

You’re doing amazing.

We are all amazing.

And in the darkness we reach , grab hold and keep one another afloat.

Thank you for keeping my head above water.

Om shanti. Peace.