81. Forty Days and Forty Nights

Today is the 1st March 2017.

March 1st is always significant for me as it is the anniversary of the date I lost my mum to cancer in 1993, but this year feels different because it coincides with the beginning of Lent. I had never been especially drawn to the idea of Lent, being a lapsed Methodist and an almost-Buddhist at that time, but two years after Mum died, Ash Wednesday fell on her anniversary. Somehow, in the depths of my sadness, it seemed appropriate to go to the local church and take part in the extremely solemn service during which the priest made the mark of the cross, in ash, on my forehead. I came away feeling slightly weird at having a giant black cross on my face, but also deeply touched that I was somehow undergoing a cleansing process that would help me to process the grief. It was a complicated grief that has taken a lot of unravelling.

As a brief bit of back history so you get the picture, my youngest son was 11 days old when Mum died, then my dad died three weeks later on 21st March. Which that year fell on, guess what? Mother’s Day! How ridiculously and sadly inopportune. He was very close behind Mum in terms of health as she had breast cancer and he had lung cancer (although he died of a heart attack), and they were both holding on for me to have the baby. As soon as my son was safely delivered they felt they could leave… so they did, leaving crushing waves of grief behind them; I think I’m finally getting close to stepping out of the water onto the safety of the beach now, some twenty-four years later.

For many years I dreaded the whole period from my son’s birthday on 18th February until Mother’s Day. What should have been a happy celebration of birth instead marked the start of a cycle of grief, ending with the double-edged sword of Mother’s Day. Two small boys wanting to give their mum a lovely day, just as said mum is welling up at not having her own mum to spoil and remembering her dad’s passing too. They were dark days, but to be truthful it has got a lot easier in recent years, and last year I was positively light-hearted in comparison.

I’ve tried to keep Lent on and off since that Ash Wednesday in 1995 with varying degrees of success. I did it more as a spiritual exercise than through any sense of religion; pitting oneself against a set period in the calendar is always interesting, and very often I gave up way too early. One year instead of giving something up I thought it would be more constructive to start something – so I practised yoga every morning at some crazy hour before the boys got up – and yay! I did it! In fact when Lent finished I carried on for a long time with my morning practice, loving every moment.

Other years I’ve given up biscuits (easy as I hardly eat any, so cheating really), chocolate (ditto), and of course the biggie, alcohol. Can’t say that was always successful, TBH as I do like wine. A lot. So when this year rocked up and it turned out to be on Mum’s anniversary, I had the idea I would like to do something special.

I remember way back in 1982 when healing energy burst through me with overpowering force and heat, Mum was adamant that I should go out and heal the world, without any real idea how I would do so. There were very few healing groups in those days and hardly anyone I could talk to about what was happening to me, so I dug my heels in (unusually for me), saying that at the tender age of 24 I had no life experience to offer: I was living at home, hadn’t yet married or had children and hadn’t experienced ‘Life’ at the sharp end, serious illness, or death in any form. As it happened, the right people appeared for me and my journey into healing continued, so she was somewhat mollified.

But the irony of those words from a confused young woman hit me as particularly significant as I ponder this special anniversary. Because now I have been married, had children, lost my beloved Mum and Dad, built a business, got divorced and had a life threatening disease that involved state of the art treatment that literally saved my life. There is much to think about, but what interests me most of all is the timing of this, right now in 2017. It was through being ill that I started the blog and discovered the joy of writing, so I am now in a position to explore my inner journeying through the written word. My son Matt has talked recently about performing rituals to honour the ancestors and extend healing down through the generations, so over the course of the next forty days and nights, I am planning on spending some time each day in doing just that, and recording what comes up. I want to consider the beautiful gift of life that has been passed down to me through the ancestors – a gift that I treasure all the more because I was given a second chance. And I want to say thank you.

Oh – and that giving something up thing? Yep – this time it had to be the wine. And I figured that if anyone can get me through 40 days without wine, it will be my dear mum. Think of me.

Wishing you good health

Margaret

 

 

 

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80. And then there’s Titan

Crikey.

So we had four humans, three cats and one problem, and that one problem was small and ginger, or so I thought. It turns out I had another problem too, which was how on earth to write about what happened on Thursday. It has taken a while, and many rewrites, but I think I’m there now.

Titan has featured in many of my Facebook posts doing adorable things like laying all over my keyboard while I’m trying to type, or sleeping next to me on my laptop bag (his ‘office’) while I write, but recently his behaviour has become less than adorable. He’s been bullying the other cats to the point where Rowan sleeps under our bed during the day, and several weeks ago he scratched Matt really badly; I escaped being savaged at one point by making my hand play ’dead’ so he wouldn’t sink his teeth in any deeper, but last week he gave Stephen a really nasty bite which resulted in a tetanus jab and some antibiotics.

The household was divided: Stephen, understandably, wanted to take him to the nearest rescue centre as soon as possible, Matt and his girlfriend Harry wanted us to forgive him and accept he is going through a ‘teenager’ phase, and me? I was stuck in the middle, a position which I seem to assume far too easily. (For any astrologers present that would be my Libra Ascendant.) As I would probably be the one to take him back to the Rescue Centre if it got that far, I have a huge investment in making this situation work; I’m not even sure I could bear to take him back, but obviously something had to change or we would stay divided and Titan would remain on a warning – with everyone on edge in case it happened again.

You might wonder why on earth I’m even discussing all this on what is mostly a cancer blog, and I can imagine any non-cat lovers reaching for the ‘back’ button on the keyboard in sheer boredom at the direction this is taking. Please don’t, as it is very relevant.

When I was diagnosed with lymphoma waaaay back in 2012 I had no idea how I was going to cope with the mental and emotional side of the treatment and just the very knowledge that I had joined the cancer club was terrifying. The whole cancer journey has undoubtedly taught me a huge amount, and being an introspective type by nature it stimulated much inner questing, all of which is contained in these blogs. And it continues, because once you start the process there isn’t an ‘off’ switch at any point, and I’m not sure I would want there to be, as it is a fascinating journey. What I discovered was that in the past I haven’t stood up for myself, spoken out when I wanted to, and I definitely compromised way too much in order to keep the peace. And that’s just for starters :-)

Fast forward six cycles of chemo, a stem cell transplant and four years later to that much longed-for state of remission, and, ooh look! I’m in a position where I’m stuck in the middle again, worrying about how to keep everyone happy.

I love the way the universe does this.

“Nope. You still haven’t learnt it, have you? Here we go… another lesson. See how you get on this time.”

Well I appear to have made some progress, as this time there has been some clear conversation between the housemates which involved me saying I’m not going to be stuck between warring parties again. That initially led to us (well, me, TBH) researching anything and everything that could possibly help with Titan’s bad behaviour. First up was moving the cats to a raw food diet so they aren’t stuffing their faces with additive-filled commercial cat food (think kids with smarties), and it does seem to have helped a bit, but we’re not quite there yet. Massive shout out to Darrelyn Gunzburg for her help and support in getting us going on that and for recommending the lovely people at Honey’s Raw Dog Food, who spent ages on the phone with me – thank you all so much. My questing also led to us getting in touch with Susannah Rafelle, an animal communicator suggested by our dear friend Judy Hall. Having seen Anna Breytenbach communicate with the beautiful black leopard on Youtube in ‘When Diablo Became Spirit’ (have the tissues ready), I was already up for it before Titan started munching people – he very thoughtfully just provided the reason. What none of us realised is how deeply it would involve us too.

I loved Susannah the moment I spoke to her on the phone, and we all had high hopes for the outcome of her visit even though we had no idea what it would be like. I had visions of Titan sitting in front of her and them eyeballing each other in a fierce yet silent standoff, not dissimilar to being called to the headmaster’s office to explain one’s bad behaviour. She kindly fitted us in at very short notice, so on Thursday we assembled in the lounge to await her visit. The cat flap was locked to keep all three cats in and we closed the doors to their favourite rooms so they had no choice but to be present at their own therapy session. That on its own created a potential war zone.

But then Susannah arrived and calmness descended – almost instantly – on the household, feline and human. As she asked questions and took notes about what had been going on, it dawned on me that we were all being helped by this, it wasn’t just about Titan. We spontaneously contributed memories of the cats at various stages of arrival in the household, their growth into maturity, and their developing intolerance of each other (amidst a few calmer moments), but what came out very strongly – including from Stephen, whose hand has only just healed up – was that we all wanted a happy and peaceful home where the cats felt safe and could relax. Voicing that as a family was quite a big thing for us, although we might have said it in conversation with each other in passing. How many families actually sit down for some kind of gentle honesty session?

I recall reading in one of my favourite books, (Horses Don’t Lie, by Chris Irwin) that there are no problem horses, only problem owners, and I wondered what Titan would have to say about his experience of living with us, and how we contribute to the Troubles. After Susannah took the case history she came to sit on the floor, and we sort of quite spontaneously settled ourselves in a circle. She watched the cats for a while with a special kind of intention and openness, so we did too, and in doing so we saw them in a different way. For me that was a revelation, as I’m pretty short on the attention front with small children and animals. It was a really special feeling to be there for them, to invite them to be part of what we were doing through a deep and genuine desire to communicate in order to resolve this problem.

Susannah described her initial sensation of being with them as like waves crashing on the beach, then the pull of the water dragging you back. Constantly changing and completely unstable. None of them understood where they fitted in with each other. I understood at that moment how difficult it must be for them to exist in such an atmosphere, and how they must be wound up like springs, ready to ‘ping’ at any moment. No wonder they keep jumping on each other.

The first thing to happen amidst all this deep thinking was that Titan bounced into and out of and through our circle, frustrated by the closed cat flap, not knowing where to settle. He isn’t usually at ease with guests but he spent quite a bit of time walking past Susannah, ears pricking as he sensed her inviting him to communicate. However, apart from apologising to Stephen for biting him, his attitude was one of confusion. He conveyed that he is constantly on edge because he doesn’t know where he fits in with the other cats, and he certainly didn’t know how special he is to us. He does know now, as we (tearfully in some cases, but completely silently) assured him we love him like crazy and really want to sort this out. At that point he considered it job done and vacated the room. Well that was weird. Not at all what I expected. So he isn’t the problem after all.

Next up was Rowan, who after several frustrated attempts to escape through the closed cat flap resigned herself to a bit of sniffing around the circle, then settled herself as far as possible from the proceedings and retreated to the hallway. When I asked Susannah later what Rowan’s contribution to the dialogue was, she said that Rowan didn’t feel the need to be involved and had literally taken herself away. That surprised me as she is the one that gets picked on by both of the boys – I thought she would have a lot to say. The really strange thing was that when the session finished there was no outward sign it had, just a change of energy as we switched to chatting about what had happened, but at that exact point Rowan came back into the room to sit on her usual cushion as if she knew nothing would now be required of her.

Then right on cue, as Rowan was thinking about leaving, Rio awoke from his slumbers in the conservatory and wandered in to see what all the fuss was about. We have always known that as a (mostly) Russian Blue he is a healing cat; he has proved this time and time again, gravitating to spend time with people who need help or healing, but I realised as he joined the circle that he deserves much more respect than we give him. His communication with Susannah revealed that he feels supplanted by the other two and shunted to the back of the queue in terms of love. At that I really welled up, as he was my first cat and he is so special to me. Funny how we assume that animals understand that we love them, but maybe that message doesn’t actually get through. A bit like couples who never actually take the time to say ‘I love you’ because it is assumed. I was starting to see an analogy here. By slowing us down to observe and be open to the cats, Susannah was also encouraging us to be more in tune with ourselves. Wow. I love this.

At which point Matt leapt up and went to his room to retrieve a crystal he thought should be part of the process – a green quartz, good for healing the heart chakra and also for inter-species communication – which he put in the circle. Within minutes Rio had sniffed it, then to our amusement kind of planted his bottom on it. And then after another few minutes he got up, turned around, and literally arranged himself lying over the crystal so it was right under his heart. Woah!!  That must have been SO uncomfortable. This wasn’t a smooth, tumbled little crystal, it was big and chunky and rough, and I definitely wouldn’t want to lay on it. We sat there for quite a while, touched by the wisdom of this beautiful cat, who quite obviously realised what he needed. Susannah feels that Rio, and not Titan, is the lynchpin to what is going on with them, and that by working to make him feel happier and more settled, we will solve the problem with Titan.

So – cat bit done (I know, yawn, sorry but it was necessary) – I need to say something else which is incredibly relevant. Susannah picked up a problem with Rio’s neck (maybe bad treatment in his early life), and we added that Rowan had stitches in her throat when we got her from rescue (nobody seemed to know why) and consequently is virtually mute. At the end of the session Susannah wanted to concentrate on Matt as she felt there was a blockage in his throat (there is, which has worried me a bit, given my history), and she told him he needs to concentrate on his music and be open to making money from it, as opposed to feeling he should do it for free. That encouraged him so much, and he has launched back into his music in the last few days in ways which gladden my heart immensely.

And so the grand irony in this is that, certainly as a family, we need to have the courage to have open communication with others, human or not, so that problems don’t fester within.

And I thought this was all about a little ginger cat. Wow.

Here’s a picture of the cats in one of their calmer moments, showing they can do it if they want to..

cats-on-decking

Huge, huge thanks to Susannah for opening our hearts and minds to our cats, and for giving them the space to communicate. The problem isn’t solved yet, but we have much more of an idea where to go with it, and we don’t feel at such a loss any more. The cats are calmer and we are calmer and we will be inviting them to regular ‘meetings’ because we loved what happened so much. I can’t recommend her highly enough.

You can reach Susannah through her website http://www.selfselectionforanimals.co.uk/

The amazing people at Honeys can be reached through their website: https://www.honeysrealdogfood.com

Wishing you all good health

Margaret

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79 A Celebration of Life

I have to admit there is a big element of “Ooh look!” in my blogs as they tend to cover whatever happens to be going on in my life at any particular moment. That is in fact the beauty, and possibly the attraction, of writing a blog in this fast moving, media-infused world. Whatever is occurring is what arises. Sometimes I laugh in it, sometimes I cry. This one is more at the tearful end of the spectrum. Last week I heard of the passing of Mario Reading, who was a huge inspiration in my cancer journey, and yesterday we went to his funeral, which was a beautiful, beautiful affair. There were black Friesian horses with long wavy manes pulling the carriage containing the coffin, and I was allowed to stroke their lovely soft noses. I rest my case.

horses

My first reaction when I heard the news was that I couldn’t/wouldn’t go to the funeral. Given that I can cry for England at the drop of a hat at both weddings and funerals, and also at ‘The Last Night of the Proms’ (strange but true), I knew that I could easily drown the congregation in the floods of my tears, which would be completely inappropriate. I only met Mario in person a handful of times and couldn’t be considered a close friend, so why am I so upset?

Mario was a hugely successful author selling literally millions of books worldwide – including the Nostradamus Prophecies – in many different languages. His life and adventures were like something out of Boy’s Own, and apparently the more extreme the activity the more he was up for it; he belonged to all kinds of crazy groups, whose sole intention seemed to be to discover how creatively the members could risk their very lives. I knew very little of this side of him, just hearing about it from his friends, and from the beautiful eulogy to his life at the service yesterday, and it was very different from what I expected. The Mario I came to know (through the Village Writers Group in Brockenhurst) was a deeply spiritual, compassionate and optimistic man who had been bravely living with and loving his cancer for over twenty-five years. His love and zest for life were such that everything else came first and the cancer came second, and his advice to me was to write, write, and then write some more, and pour it into the blog. I did, and the release it provided was a very important part of my journey. Then, as the blog became a book, Mario gave me the most beautiful endorsement, which meant all the more coming from someone who had lived with cancer for so long.

I know that he didn’t want to be known and remembered as someone who was defined by the disease; I’m sure he felt that the important parts of his life were so much bigger and so much more exciting and louder and more colourful than most of us could even begin to comprehend, and that the whole cancer experience came a very poor and trailing last in a long and illustrious line of truly unforgettable memories. But just like I felt I had gone through the wrong door, leading into the cancer ward rather than the health club (way back in Blog #1), so do I believe that most people feel the same when they get such a diagnosis, and that anyone connected with a cancer experience can be encouraged by someone as brave and open as Mario. To continue, nay, actively pursue life with such love and gusto, in spite of participating in numerous clinical trials – each one coming with the increasing hope of overwhelming the foe within in order to spend more time with loved ones – amidst fund raising, writing more books, and doing the things that make life worth living, is to become an inspiration to others.

So, dear Mario, I raise my glass to you (you did say to keep enjoying the wine) and thank you for being there for me when it counted. Your optimism will live on in my heart. But not all that crazy life-threatening stuff you did. I’m a total wuss and I like to play safe :-)

May you soar high with the eagles and enjoy your boundless, new-found and well-deserved freedom. The heavens have indeed gained a bright star.

mario

Mario Reading

1953 – 2017

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78. Inspired up to the Eyeballs

Fancy that. No blogs for months then two come along at once, just like buses. The lovely – and no doubt totally self-indulgent – thing about keeping the blog going is that I can write about absolutely anything that crops up. Oh yes, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. I now have a means of shouting, “Hey, look at this! No, REALLY look at this!” in a way which encourages people to take a bit more notice than your average Facebook post, which is gone and usually almost instantly forgotten as soon as you’ve hit that magic button. And this blog is inspired by a book just as the last one was, only in a very different way. Given that both Stephen and I work in publishing, I guess it isn’t surprising that we have an endless pile of reading material and probably more book cases in our flat than is decent. Stephen has made a kind of career out of topping up my reading pile every Christmas and birthday, a habit which started when I was in isolation after the stem cell transplant. Knowing how fast I get through books he brought me in a gigantic carrier bag full of them, and I had them all lined up on the windowsill – the nurses loved it and couldn’t wait to have a bit of a rifle through what was an astonishingly good selection of reading material. Trust me, he’s good. So the habit has stuck, and the standard has only got higher as he has honed his skills, with the result that this Christmas he excelled himself. He managed to find a book which combines what appeared to be top dollar chick lit with my beloved Rumi. Yes. How unlikely is that? As it turns out this book is very far from chick lit but it is absolutely un-put-downable, and judging by the reviews, men seem to like it just as much as women.

This is it.

Absolutely required reading for anyone interested in Sufism, Rumi, good writing, Turkey, the human condition, politics, feminism, you name it, it’s in there. The Forty Rules of Love has also completely changed my perception of Rumi, in a good way. Actually, that’s not strictly true as I hadn’t exactly studied him, more like stumbled on him, only being slightly aware of the back story in a bit of an academic way through some fairly dry books that didn’t really bring him to life. Not in a beautiful, poetic, heart-breaking, real-person-surrounded-by-real-people kind of a way, which is what Elif Shafak achieves in this beautiful and cleverly written book. Combining the story of a Jewish American housewife with the unfolding of the relationship between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, it is also a journey of increasing awareness through Sufism, which has long fascinated me. She said in an interview given to The Guardian,

The more you read about Sufism, the more you have to listen. In time I became emotionally attached. When I was younger I wasn’t interested in understanding the world. I only wanted to change it, through feminism or nihilism or environmentalism. But the more I read about Sufism the more I unlearned. Because that is what Sufism does to you, it makes you erase what you know, what you are so sure of. And then start thinking again. Not with your mind this time, but with your heart.”

I love that. Anita Moorjani talks about the importance of coming from a place of love, not fear – whatever the circumstances – and it is good to be reminded of it after a fairly challenging week when at times I have fallen off that particular wagon.

And of course once I researched Elif Shafak a bit more I discovered what an incredibly talented woman she is in so many other areas. Stephen and I watched her 20 minute Ted Talk ‘Politics in Fiction’ on Youtube almost without blinking, partly because the subject matter is perfect as I’m writing my next book, but also because she is such an engaging and stimulating speaker. And 20 minutes without notes, and without pausing or repeating herself once. Wow.

So there you have it. All you Rumi lovers out there need to get this book, and become entranced and inspired by his relationship with Shams of Tabriz, and totally blown away by the beauty of the writing. Shall we finish with a bit of Rumi? It seems appropriate and it’s ages since I’ve quoted him, so I think we should. This is one of my favourites from an early blog I wrote while deep in the darkness of chemo. It was a huge inspiration at a difficult time:

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!

Wishing you good health in 2017

Margaret xx

 

 

 

 

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77. Happy Anniversary to Me

So first up, apologies for not writing a blog for months, and huge thanks to all the people who have enquired after my welfare. I know from experience it’s always a bit worrying when a cancer blog seems to grind to a halt, but it is with good reason. Having unleashed my desire to write through creating the blog, and having unloaded all the cancer story through both the blog and my book, Under Cover of Darkness, I’m now incapable of stopping the writing muse, but have changed direction somewhat. I’m a huge fan of really clever chick lit – the kind that makes me laugh like crazy on one page then sob on the next, because it is so easy to relate to the characters. A couple of weeks ago I was suffering from the horrible hacking cough that’s doing the rounds, and decided to cheer myself up by reading Lindsey Kelk’s latest book, We Were on a Break. She is my absolute heroine for this kind of writing – clever, funny, almost like social commentary – so much so that I wrote to her when I was in chemo to tell her that her books were keeping me going during the long hours on the drip. She wrote me a delightful email back that I treasure, and as she matures even more as a writer, I eagerly await the arrival of each new book.

So, a hacking chesty cough and a funny book aren’t good bedfellows. And in fact I was tucked up in bed reading, due to feeling pretty grotty, and trying not to laugh because I knew it would start me coughing. After a while I realised that the more I tried to stop laughing the worse it got, and that the action of a really good laugh was probably a good idea as it would clear my chest. And oh my goodness, it did. A really good belly laugh is so good for the soul – and the chest – as it turned out, and I felt a lot better on several levels after having a good reading/laughing session. I also felt incredibly inspired and was itching to get back to writing my next book, which is the reason I haven’t written a blog for ages. There are only so many hours in a day and mine seem to be pretty over-subscribed at the moment. I’m fascinated by a style of writing that can address difficult issues without appearing too serious and deep. Humour is a great way of communicating otherwise unapproachable subjects, and I’m really enjoying playing with this in order to communicate some themes that are very close to my heart. Think Eat, Pray, Love kind of thing. And if I can get a film star to endorse it so it sells millions and gets made into a film, I really wouldn’t object.

And while I’ve been busy coughing and laughing and reading and writing, Facebook keeps popping up every day with an old post or photo of mine, usually one that goes back several years. Whilst everyone probably has a “No way, really?!” kind of reaction to random memories being shown in glorious technicolour, I find it extra strange because the last four years have been a real rollercoaster of experiences. The older the posts are (and the closer to 2013) the more bizarre it is, as at that point I was in chemo, which seems like another world away. I guess when it gets to June/July I’ll be faced with posts about the stem cell transplant, then later in the year a few pics of me with a bit of hair growing back. To top it all, last week WordPress sent a ‘Happy Anniversary’ message to me, as I started the blog on 11th January 2013. Wow. How my world has changed since then. The blog has been an incredible outlet for me, and almost immediately it became pretty much a life saver. Cancer is a terrifying and alienating disease and the blog connected me to a whole community of incredibly supportive new friends who kept me going in the darkest hours. It also gives me a means of offering support to people who are still in treatment and in need of that same support themselves.

I must say, with all this Facebook memory thing and the WordPress anniversary, it highlights times like Christmas in a totally different way. Different years bring different memories, but since my diagnosis in 2012 I think my experience and anticipation of Christmas has changed forever. I am lucky in that I always wake up and feel grateful to still be here, but Christmas is especially poignant – and not necessarily for the obvious reasons. My initial diagnosis and crazy round of scans and biopsies kicked off on 11th December 2012, so despite my best efforts that period is still a bit tricky for me every year. I don’t know whether it is heightened awareness/being a drama queen/hypochondriac, but as it gets towards my December check-up with Joe each year, I have to fight against a huge sense of déjà vu, as there has also been the odd scare around this time. In fact at the anniversary of the first year in December 2013, I was back in hospital having another biopsy to make sure that there was nothing sinister about my swollen throat and lymph glands. It was the same hospital and the same consultant, and I was terrified I would get the same result as before. Fortunately the tests came back fine, so that Christmas in particular was an important milestone. But what has niggled me in subsequent years is that my appointment schedule always seems to include a date in December. It isn’t easy to get the NHS to juggle appointments, but I thought it would be so lovely if only I could move it back or forward a month so I have December free. Sounds nuts, doesn’t it? I’ve had several people say they never think about it anymore and have just moved on with their lives, but I don’t seem able to do that in the same way; maybe because I am still very much involved with cancer through this blog and through contact with people still undergoing treatment – and I wouldn’t have it any other way to be honest. But I could do without being reminded of it at Christmas.

So imagine my joy when Joe scheduled my check up for November this time. Yay! The universe answered my prayer. I’m usually convinced that everything in fine, but it is comforting to have the whole spectrum of blood tests to back it up. Happily that was the situation in November so all is well, and I was free to enjoy December without the apprehension of the appointment. And you know, it really made a difference.

I am really temped to stop Facebook from bringing up all these memories, as in a sense I want to move forward – seeing those photos and old posts from what was a very challenging time sometimes give me a strange start to the day, and I don’t necessarily want to be reminded of it the whole time. Yes, I could take a holiday from Facebook, but it is also a means of communicating with customers through the Wessex Astrologer and Flying Horse Books pages, as well as advertising, so I do need to be on it. But then I realised how much I treasure those times too, because without them I wouldn’t be the me I am now, and I most certainly wouldn’t be writing – something I really, really love doing. So I guess I’m back at that good old gratitude thing; that I’m grateful to be here, and I’m grateful to have the perspective I do now. Yes, I would maybe have preferred another route to the new me, but it probably wouldn’t have been so effective. Nothing like a massive kick up the arse from the universe to catapult us onto another track, is there? And just in case the Universe is listening, I’m quite happy with this one, okay?

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017

Margaret

 

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76 Interview with Anita Moorjani

Hey lovely people,

I recently had the absolute privilege of interviewing the lovely Anita Moorjani about her new book, What if This is Heaven, for Watkins Mind, Body Spirit magazine, which is available in bookshops now. It is the follow up to Dying to be Me, in which she recounts the Near Death Experience she experienced as she was lying in hospital with end stage lymphoma. An astounding lady with a beautiful soul. Enjoy the interview and her new book. Sorry I can’t make the link look pretty but the technology isn’t behaving itself!

watkinsmindbodyspirit_issue48_anita

 

 

 

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75. The Wolves Within

Sorry for the radio silence. A few lovely people have emailed to check if I’m okay, as silence from a cancer survivor is always a bit worrying. So thank you for your concern, I’m absolutely fine. Fine, but very thoughtful. I think the events of recent months and the world’s continuing apparent plunge into insanity are affecting most of us on a very deep level, and there is a sense of powerless frustration that is very difficult to deal with. I realise I’ve been unwittingly projecting an undue amount of anger onto the things I can have a say in, “will you PLEASE wipe that shower down” because I can’t have an immediate and individual effect on something I care passionately about – like, say, banning fracking, which isn’t right whichever way you look at it – and it doesn’t sit very well with me. I know that astrologically we are being walloped with one massive planetary soap opera after another, so my other reaction is to want to keep my head down, hence the silence on the blog.

But ‘keeping my head down’ isn’t especially constructive (well not for me anyway) as those feelings have to go somewhere, and one very powerful lesson I learnt from having cancer is that strong feelings need to be addressed or they become extremely toxic. I come from a very quiet family, who in their loving wisdom decided not to argue in front of me, because as a tiny child I used to get so distressed when there was any kind of upset. That was incredibly sweet of them, and I know they were doing it for the best reasons, but the result is that any powerful expression of emotion, particularly anger, sends me running for cover as I (still) have no idea how to deal with it. As a child that is understandable, but as an adult it makes life very difficult, as whilst quivering under my chosen cover, I’m berating myself for not being stronger and standing up for myself. From that position is feels like a lose-lose situation, something I clearly need to work on.

And I’m finding that my preferred method of working on something like that is going within, which in fact it is my preferred method of dealing with anything, falling just short of shopping. Although having said that, after a particularly upsetting day recently, I did actually stay in the car to meditate while Stephen did the shopping, such was my need to deal with feelings arising. Years and years and years ago I went to a meditation class run by a Zen buddhist. He was a lovely guy who taught us that meditation can be practised anywhere, and that we should be able to find our calm centre in the middle of a busy shopping area if we need to. So for the first time ever, I tried that one out – in the middle of Sainsbury’s car park. Now that was a revelation in itself. We got a new car a few months ago, and you’re probably not surprised to learn it is pink. Not Barbie pink, but a deep vibrant, beautiful Fuschia pink. Or according to the garage paperwork, ‘Fukshia Pink’ which we laugh about a lot. One of the side effects of having this beautiful little car is that a) I can’t park next to a red car (for obvious reasons) and b) I’m very protective of it. So with Stephen safely dispatched with shopping list and bags, I have just settled into a comfortable position, connecting with the seat, relaxing up my spine, and gently broadening my shoulders and starting to watch my breath, when a big white truck starts to reverse into the space in front of me. And it doesn’t have any parking sensors from what I can see or hear. And he obviously has no idea I’m in the car. Can he even see our little car? The temptation to leap out and make it obvious I’m there to witness any clunking or banging is immense. Then I realise this is it – this is exactly what I am meditating about: the temptation to try and control everything in an effort to shut out all the stuff I can’t control. So back down to Defcon 1 as the guy parks his truck extremely elegantly and safely, with no loud metallic noises, and wanders off to do his shopping, blissfully unaware of the drama that has just unfolded in the little pink car behind him.

It turned out to be a highly beneficial experience, funnily enough, and one I will definitely repeat. I found that allowing all the noises and distractions of a busy car park to come and go helped me to allow all the thoughts to just come and go at the same time; in fact it is easier than meditating to calming music or in silence. That’s where I find I am suddenly deep in thought about something, then think, “Ooh, look a thought! Better let that one go.” Then it takes me a moment to get back to where I was before that thought carried me away.

But joking aside, I’m leaning very heavily on a beautiful book called Seeds for a Boundless Life – Zen Teachings from the Heart by Zenkei Blanche Hartman. It is divided into three parts, and it is the final section, ‘Seeds of Advice’ that I’m finding so liberating and supportive. This is where Zenkei has published some of the letters from practitioners that she has responded to in the magazine Buddhadharma. A lot of Buddhism involves complicated precepts and paths and teachings which I haven’t got my head round yet, so it is good to read that people who have been practising for many years are still facing issues that I completely relate to. Her heartfelt answers are simple and to the point, and echo very much of course the teachings given by the lovely monastics from Plum Village – see Blog #64 for details of that beautiful experience. I must admit I miss them like crazy, and would go over for a retreat in an instant if I could, for a top up of their peace and love. Anyway. One of the questions which was very relevant to me was how to deal with the anger and upset I feel when faced with the evidence of bad treatment and abuse of others – be that animals (yeah, thanks people on FB for sharing all those horrible pictures), people (ditto), or the planet – when I’m trying to project love and compassion. Somehow it feels like a teeny drop in a massive ocean that doesn’t make any difference, and it can become almost overwhelming. Her (much longer) answer included this section, which helps me immensely:

The important work for us then, is to remain aware of our intrinsic connection with all beings and to continuously cultivate our capacity for the beneficial mental states of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. How we actually live this precious life we have been given is the most important point. Although we may fervently wish to end all pain in the world, as many before us have wished, the best we may be able to do is not add to it. If we add judgment and anger to the situation, it can only increase the suffering.

Ooh yes. I like that a lot. And it makes me think of ripples in a pond. If I’m angry with someone (like I was the other day, and I’m sorry for that), then that affects their state of mind too, so they might take it out on someone else, and so it goes on. Viewed from that perspective, I can see that although I’m trying my hardest (usually) to cultivate all the states she is talking about (and do a full time job, lol), and feeling bad about the times I lapse, at least, on the whole, I’m not adding to the burden of all the other stuff that is going on.

So that’s what I’ve been doing with my time. Working on what is coming from within – with all its personal history and ingrained habits, and guilt for things I’ve maybe not done too well – and making that as good as it can be, rather than focusing on the difficult and unsolvable issues ‘out there’ that have the power to make me feel bad and trigger emotions I would prefer not to feed. That reminds me of a Cherokee folk tale I absolutely love but often forget to practise:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Wishing you love, peace and health – and happy times feeding the Good Wolf..

Margaret xx

 

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