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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

The Benefits of facing a Challenge

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As if life were not currently challenging enough, someone in their wisdom, namely myself, decided that more challenge was required.

“Why not organise a talk?” I said to no one but myself.

Seemed a brilliant idea in the moment. Never mind that perhaps my attention should be on more pressing matters, such as my health. Is it distraction? Possibly. Or is it actually something that is a vital part of my healing journey?

When illness and dis-ease blasts the wind from our sails life becomes a series of mental, emotional and physical challenges: daily mountainous obstacles to overcome, to face, or to endure. The  stress and fearful anticipation  of facing operations, hospital visits, scans, scan results, injections, blood tests, biopsies, x-rays seems endless in the face of uncertainty, and no, it doesn’t really get easier. It just becomes a part of one’s routine, an aspect of one’s new life.

But having a goal on which to focus, can be hugely motivational and inspiring. Why? because it puts you back in the driving seat. It reminds you how important it is to have things to look forward to in the future. More than that, it dares you to consider a future when a future of any certainty is the one thing that does not come with a guarantee. It reminds you that you are alive and that you still (and why not) have something to contribute.

Something strange happens when you receive a stage 4 diagnosis: contemplating the future, something I formally would have taken for granted, suddenly becomes the elephant in the room. How do you contemplate any future when what you are actually perching on the cliff edge, and the fragility of your mortality is the loudest voice in your head?

Just after I was diagnosed, in September 2016, my partner gave me – an eternity ring? box of chocolates? roses? nope. A calender for 2017. I didn’t even know if I was going to get to 2017 if I am honest. A calender for pity’s sake?

Fill it in, he said. You’re not going anywhere.

And so I did. And , you what, it turns out he was right!! But it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy at all. The feelings and fear and uncertainty it prompts. Yet, we mustn’t be afraid to invest emotionally in our future. It sends out a message to the universe if you like, and more importantly to yourself that you want and deserve a future. Life does not stop at a diagnosis. It used to scare me- Planning something for months ahead, but now? Hell no, we have just booked something crazy and fun for the summer and I have every intention of going.

Unconsciously, we can fall in to limiting ourselves because we buy into the expectations of others. For example, we fancied a little jaunt in our van last spring. We set the compass towards Hadrian’s Wall, but we never got there as we got distracted by the awakening beauty of the Lake District and the blooming Wordsworthian daffodils. We had a blast. However, prior to leaving my oncology team were concerned about the distance.

“Stay near a hospital” they urged. We know people at most of the major hospitals, except around Northumbria and the Lakes, where are you going again??”

Oh dear, my bad.

Not long after diagnosis, unsurprisingly, I felt a little cheering up was in order. And, clothes shopping was my chosen pick-me-up. But, somewhere inside of me a little voice niggled:

“New clothes? Hmmm, you sure you’re going to get much use out of them, after all, stage 4? Tick tock tick tock.

Yes, I actually almost entertained not purchasing a new pair of jeans, for fear of not getting use out of them? Dammit. No, I was not going to give into that fear, not pander to expectation. So I bought 2.

Do not start packing up your life before it is over. When you have stage 4, sometimes it is other people, health professionals, friends, family, who unconsciously and not with unkindness, begin to pack it up for you.

So returning to the subject of meeting a challenge which is to the forefront of my mind with only 3 more sleeps before lift off, why challenge yourself when life is already aiming plenty of arrows in your direction. First of all, I feel really called to do this, passionate about doing it. And I suppose I feel that by making the effort, a considerable effort to attempt to pull off something waaaay out of my comfort zone, that intimidates me almost as much  as it inspires me, that forces me to face my fear and do it anyway, will have a fair pay off in the sense of achievement. Even cementing the date in the diary was fairly daunting. What if I was unable to attend, what if I am unwell, what if… well, just that, what if …… ?

But if I can pull meet this challenge, it will bestow a confidence that will stand me in good stead for the other more medically related challenges that may loom upon the horizon. Every time we conquer a challenge it fortifies us for what lies ahead, each time we face a fear and meet it, stand up to it, we pay into our bank of resilience. It may even grace us with the knowledge that we are more courageous than we remember, and that we can achieve more than we realise. Goals are vital for the enrichment of everyone, it gives us purpose, and having purpose is a vital component for leading a fulfilling life. And, the goal need not be the end, just something to aim for, to aspire to, to motivate, to inspire, and  just having a go is equally priceless. That’s all. So, you may not complete every challenge, but that you take up the gauntlet shows that your spirit is willing and desires expression. There is NO failure in having a go.

“If you are going to fail, fail magnificently ” Martin Prechtel

Goals-1The scale of the challenge matters to no one but you. I know there are days when even getting dressed can seem like an insurmountable challenge, so not everyone need rush to the nearest bungy jump.

So, as I sit here feeling the fear. Feelin’ it in my bones. I know it’s a good fear that’s all to do with creating a successful evening, being of service, sharing, coming together in a spirit of hope and possibility, standing united, seeking inspiration and sowing seeds of hope and love and healing. Yes, it’s a good fear alright. It’s a sensation that says : Here I am Life. Embrace me.

That I have the opportunity to celebrate life in this amazing way is such a delightful gift for the soul. And what’s good for the soul is good for the body and good for the mind. So, I am nervous yet hugely excited. I am look forward so much to hanging out with everyone on Thursday – travel safe, be well, I hope to see you there.

Om shanti shanti shanti. Peace always.

xx

Information and booking for : Cancer and The Art of Living – an evening with Leah Bracknell at Cecil Sharp House, Camden.

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

 

 

 

 

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

Morning Prayer

cobweb

If I can wake each morning with a prayer of gratitude in my heart, and close each day with the same, I know I am living well.

If I can acknowledge all the blessings and gifts that come my way, now, yesterday and tomorrow, it blows away the cobwebs of fear and grief and confusion and despair, and my life feels sweeter and richer than never before.

If I can plant the seed of hope in the garden of my soul, and nourish it with love and compassion, and fertilise it with forgiveness, and water it with the sweet cleansing rain of faith, trust and belief, then I will witness how it flourishes and grows and reaches its roots deep into my heart and every cell of my being, and blossoms in the winter of my yesterdays lost and blooms on the horizon of tomorrow, with the gift of divine grace and beauty, until my spirit soars like an eagle high above the mountains of the Sierra Madre.

If I can remember that each step I take is supported by a thousand ancestors, then I need never fear being alone, abandoned or forgotten. No matter where the path leads.

If I understand that everything happens for a reason it colours my experience with the understanding that all challenges we face are an opportunity to learn and grow, to heal what we have ignored, to love harder, live more passionately, to serve more gracefully, to reach out and join hands with those who need a friend, and to take the hand of those who reach out to us. To embrace life, to embrace one another, build bridges where the way is blocked, and honour this wonderful earth, our Mother, our home.

I have awoken with a fire in my belly, a good fire, one that speaks of life, a beacon in the dark, and if I place it on a high enough peak perhaps you can see it, perhaps it can light a flame in your heart, and when you feel its warmth, then you may be able to light one too, to pass it on, for each of us can be a light in the dark for someone else, and someone else, and someone else, until there is a chain of golden light shining far and wide connecting us one to another. Encircling us in our connection not our disparity, healing not dividing, loving not hating.

If I remember that it is not personal, that the universe is not out to punish me or anyone, that I have not offended god, I have not been bad in a previous life, but that the nature of existence for every inhabitant of this incredible planet: human, animal, plant, mineral, follows the natural order of birth, life and death. At least in the physical and material sense. Then I see that it is not a matter of justice or injustice, it just is. And our spirit sings the song of our soul long before we understood that we had chosen to come here, and our story will echo in the hearts of those we touch long after our job here is done, like a whisper to those who come after us for generations to come. When we become the ancestors who guide the way.

day of dead

I had the honour and privilege this week of sharing a beautiful and profoundly moving ceremony dedicated to honouring our ancestors and those who have passed, sitting in circle with our dear sister and brother from Mexico and friends old and new to celebrate el Dia de Muertos – The Day of the Dead.

teepeeIn a teepee, in a field, under the stars, surrounded by pigs, the call of the owls disturbed by this unexpected nocturnal intrusion piercing the quiet, we gathered together to pray.

In the centre the fire unites us, one to another, and carries our prayers back in time to those who have departed, melting the boundries of life and death. To be able to acknowledge the gift our ancestors have given us, through the living of their lives, generation after generation, their stories flowing in our veins if not our memories, their successes, their failures, their struggles, their joys, to be able to thank them, to weep for them, is a truly humbling experience. One that is not merely about mourning, but celebrating and honouring. And more than that, it is about remembering, even those we didn’t know for they live in us, and feeding them with love.

Day-of-the-Dead-(Dia-de-muertos)-1944-xx-Museo-de-Arte-Moderno-Mexico-City

The altar was resplendent in offerings of flowers, favourite foods, candles, fruits, interspersed with pictures of loved ones. Sacred songs were shared, and beautiful, healing prayers offered to Grandfather fire, with Mother Earth, the stars, the moon, and each other as witness to this moment of beauty. A moment in time in which all our stories weave together across space and time, one unique moment never to be repeated, where we become one with each other and all that is the great mystery of life.                 To be able to make a prayer of gratitude, to give thanks before and above all else is, I have discovered , one of the most powerful medicines I know. I realise prayer, is not merely for demanding what I want or feel I need when the chips are down or when the horse has bolted, but is a doorway to connect with something which unites and inspires, and transcends the material, the mundane, the profane, and gives voice to the person I aspire to be.

So, if I may, on this beautiful, mysterious, misty morning,  I’d like to share my morning prayer with you:

To all our relations, those who have walked before us, and those who will come after, to our allies and guides who walk with us in invisible realms, Thank You.

Thank you for my life. Thank you for my health. Thank you for guiding me and giving me strength and inspiring me each day.

Thank you for my beautiful family, my husband, my mother, my children, my friends far and wide, I pray that you watch over them, keep them well, protect them, give them strength when they feel weak, inspiration when they are lost, and keep the flame of hope alive always in their hearts. I pray they feel loved when they are alone, and that they see and know the beauty of their spirit.

Thank you for all the support and prayers with which I have been blessed, and I pray that I have the grace and humility to truly accept them. And that I may find a way to honour them in return. I give thanks for the ceremonies that have been held in my honour and for those who prayed for me there. I thank you. Deeply from the bottom of my heart.

I give deep thanks for the friendship of our brothers and sisters from Mexico, for the journey shared, for their love and prayers, I pray for them, for their healing and protection of their land and their home. Long may our friendship continue. I pray I may return soon.

Thank you for the healings I have received, for all the medicines that I work with, conventional and alternative. For those that are part of my healing journey. For the abundance of food I have to eat. For my home, my shelter, my haven.

Thank you for my feline friends, who sit with me, make me laugh and drive me mad with little “gifts”.

Thank you for showing me the joy in life that once had become hidden from view, which, despite the greatest of challenges, has exploded like a dazzling firework in the darkest night sky, reinstating a profound sense of wonder and awe.

Thank you for teaching me that a life well lived is the best medicine, and that we can be the alchemists of our own healing, that we can chose to be extraordinary, that life is not about merely existing or surviving but about Thriving with a capitol T.

Teach me to be compassionate and forgiving. Not to judge or criticise neither myself or others too harshly.

And remind  me to sing and laugh and dance each and every day, if not literally, then let my spirit dance with wild abandon wherever I may find myself.

Thank you for giving me my voice, and for daring me to use it when my instinct would have me hide away and retreat to my cave.

Thank you for helping me to see and to understand why I am here, for giving me meaning and restoring purpose, for showing me how I may continue to be of service in gratitude for the life I have been given.

I pray that we may all remember the song that the stars were singing when we were born, that tell us who we are, how precious we are, and how brilliantly we can shine.

I dedicate this prayer to you, with respect, with gratitude and with love.

Blessed Be.

Venado Azul