84. Yellow Cars

Hope you like the picture of the Harvest Moon. We went down to our local beach specially to watch it rise, and discovered that the best viewing point was inside one of our favourite watering holes right by the water. Funny that. It would have been churlish not to order anything, so in common with several other people there for the same reason, we enjoyed a glass of wine and some chips as that beautiful moon rose in front of us. At one point I belted out to take this picture as the moon finally came out from behind the clouds, and was closely followed by an older lady also bearing her phone. She told me that as a retired midwife this was the first time she’d actually been able to enjoy watching the Harvest Moon rise as usually she was rushed off her feet on the labour ward. The atmosphere in the restaurant was amazing, and it was lovely to be with like-minded people when we least expected it.

 

Harvest Moon

I’ve honestly been thinking about writing another blog for ages and ages. July to October is an embarrassing amount of time to leave it, but so much has been happening on both a global and personal level, that every time I sat down to write it felt like I was already out of date. Summer was amazing, not because of the weather (which, being in England, is always ‘interesting’ whatever the time of year), but because we got to spend precious time with family. It can feel like a bit of an outpost down here, so we’re always delighted when relatives make the big trek South to see us, as opposed to us venturing to the frozen wastes of the North and East. And the lovely thing about their visits is that we see our beautiful area through new eyes. Trips to well-known haunts that we thought we knew inside out suddenly become more interesting and extra-special when viewed through a visitor’s eyes, and I came over all extra grateful that we live here. We take visits to the beach completely for granted because it is an easy stroll both from home and the office, but it was another experience entirely when seen through the eyes of my great-niece Ivy, aged one year and four months at the time of her visit. Suddenly we became one of those extended families on the beach, and instead of running in the opposite direction to retreat to a quieter spot (I know… grumpy!), I loved every moment of watching her play with the sand, shriek at the coldness and shock of the sea, and smear ice-cream all over her face. I had such a massive dose of gratitude that it kept me high for days. Which is really handy as I’ve been working on the gratitude thing a lot more recently.

I realised that in a period when world events are so cataclysmic that it’s hard to know what to think, let alone say, the only way I personally can cope is by paying attention to the GOOD stuff that is also going on so that I am nurtured at a very deep soul level. It’s said that good news is no news because of course there’s no drama, so if television, newspapers and the internet are to be believed we could end up thinking everything is going down the pan. Not true. If we go looking for it we will find it, just like me seeing the beach through the eyes of a toddler for the first time. (I’m sure all the grandparents out there are well used to this, but forgive me, as a novice great-aunt, I’m new at this next generation thing, and I’m loving it.)

So how does all this fit in with the yellow car in the blog title? Interesting you should ask that. I’ve been working my way through Pam Grout’s amazing book E-squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality to help myself stay on the more positive side. Yes, I know I’m usually Ms Bright-side, but the next visit to my consultant is coming up and for some bizarre reason I start to get all jumpy the closer it gets – for No Reason At All. I know I’m fine, and I’m sure he’ll see from the blood tests that I’m fine and totally agree with me, but I’m sure in common with many other cancer survivors there’s always that teeny niggly little worry.

So back to the book – incidentally her Thank and Grow Rich is also excellent. Love the title riff on Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Clever. The whole point of it is to demonstrate very graphically that what you put your attention on is what you get back and she does so with some really easy and fun experiments. Yes, I know this idea isn’t new, and I’ve read literally a whole library of books on the subject, but I love her approach. The second experiment is a particular favourite and it’s become a bit of a family thing now. For just 48 hours you need to concentrate on noticing something that you have chosen in advance. Something that isn’t run-of-the-mill, so no cheating with things like buses or grass or airplanes or black cars. Nope. It has to be a little bit more unusual than that so I chose yellow cars because I didn’t think there were many around. Do you have ANY idea how many there are?! Loads and loads and loads, and that’s not counting our local taxi company which happens to use yellow cars. That would be cheating. What’s happened is that Stephen and I are now incapable of passing a yellow car without commenting on it, even in the presence of others (embarrassing) – and then we have to go on and explain it, which actually opens up some interesting conversations. The really funny thing is that we had my son Ben in the car a while ago. Unbeknown to me, he had also read the experiments and chosen a GREEN car. So we’re merrily driving through Christchurch pointing out all the yellow and green cars like a couple of toddlers. Yay. Bring it on. Do it yourself and feel the power. What you look for is what you find. And in these very difficult and challenging times, I’m determined to keep looking for those yellow cars.

Wishing you good health

Margaret xx

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83. Soaring with the eagles

I must admit I’ve always had a bit of a problem staying grounded. My over-active mind and imagination have taken me to all kinds of weird and wonderful places in the past, as well as some that were definitely not quite so wonderful. You know that awful ‘What if?’ feeling? The extrapolating out a situation until it has assumed massive proportions in your mind – and it hasn’t even happened yet? Yep. My speciality. Got the gold award on that one.

When one of my boys was young and off sick from school, we were driving down the road for a doctor’s appointment and I slowed down just a tiny bit to concentrate on what he was saying from his perch on the back seat. That split second gained by slowing down saved us from what would probably have been a fatal accident. Just as we were approaching a T-junction from the left, a driver lost control of his car and shot across the junction right in our path, coming to rest with the front half of the car smashed into a wall running alongside the road. As it was, I only just managed to stop in time. Seconds earlier and we would have been buried in that wall instead.

It was only after the emergency services had taken statements, carted the occupants from the other car off to hospital and let the witnesses go that I fell apart, thinking how close we had both come to death. Thankfully the people from the other car were safe, although I think the driver had some kind of blackout, which is what had caused the accident. But the ‘what if?’ thoughts kept coming and I couldn’t get the crash out of my mind, especially in those dark hours at 3 in the morning when all the bad thoughts and worries come flooding in. Being an astrologer I looked at the chart of the event to try and calm my mind and was amazed to see Venus in a good position for me on that day. What!? Why? The crash had been giving me nightmares, not sweet dreams. It was only when I talked to the lovely Komilla Sutton about it that things made sense – as things usually do when I talk to her, TBH.

“Margaret,” she said. “The fact that Venus is involved indicates it was a good outcome. You didn’t die, you weren’t even hurt. You are fine. The focus is on the good that happened, not the bad that didn’t.”

Ah. Yes. True. And that seemingly simple exchange, which must have happened about twenty years ago, dramatically changed my thinking from that point on.

So when cancer came knocking at the door in 2012/13 I didn’t exactly welcome it inside and offer tea and cake, but after the initial shock wore off I did look to see if it had brought a guest – and yes, it had. It brought the gift of writing the blog, and with that writing came the chance to explore my deepest thoughts and especially the darkest fears. And those deepest thoughts showed that I needed something to focus on – on a moment-by-moment basis – to get me through the whole horrible experience of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, as the big picture was too overwhelming to even consider in its entirety.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I absolutely do not espouse the idea of always looking on the bright side. I think it is really damaging to paper over difficult emotions with a ‘sky is blue, the sun is shining’ kind of philosophy, which is why all the way through the cancer episode I told it like it was, and I hope I still do. Even if nobody reads the blogs, just writing about pain or fear helps immensely, because if I leave those feelings inside they will fester, and festering is most definitely damaging. Given that I’m thankfully in remission you must be wondering why I’m writing about all this just now. Trust me, there really is a point to this blog, and it has wings. Lots of them, actually, and not just in the title.

So, enter the lovely Thich Nhat Hanh. I’m currently reading Old Path White Clouds, which is the life story of the Buddha, written by Thay, and it is astonishingly beautiful and very, very simple. Whenever we are faced with something difficult the temptation is for our minds to wiz off all over the place, and the point of mindfulness is to slow it down and take life moment by moment, at which level it is easier to cope. And by slowing down and staying undistracted instead of planning everything out and worrying about ‘what if?’ I’ve noticed that you actually open up and become aware of a whole lot more. It’s an ongoing challenge, make no mistake, but my goodness does it bring some rewards, especially to a (recovering) control freak like me. Here’s a case in point.

A couple of weekends ago we had planned to go across to Eastbourne for a meeting with our buyer at the wholesaler that handles the books for The Wessex Astrologer. We were expecting to visit some friends at the same time, one of whom has horses. Very unusually we booked – and paid for (eek!) – a hotel in advance, as it was a lot cheaper doing it that way. After all, what could possibly go wrong? Hahaha. You can almost hear the gods laughing. The first thing that happened was that on the Monday before our trip I discovered my meeting was cancelled, which also affected what we were planning with the horses the following day. Awww. My heart sank, as I was SO looking forward to messing around in a field with them. And we couldn’t cancel the hotel. Well we could but we wouldn’t get a refund, so a bit of a no-brainer really. Presumably, and trying to stay in the moment as decreed by TNH, we decided that Other Things would come out of this so we just needed to deal with what was, i.e. a booked hotel room a 2 and a half hour drive away. I got another business appointment to make the trip worthwhile, and we decided to alter the journey to take in Brighton on the way up to our friends in Horsham the following day. Job done.

Now I know quite a few people who live in Brighton so I need to be careful about saying this, but, um, it has changed one helluva lot since I was last there in about 1988. Obvs. I’m sure it is still lovely, but what with very dense crowds of visitors and a lack of reasonably priced parking, we decided to visit by train some other time and head very slowly towards Horsham instead. The only problem with this plan was that we still had about three hours to kill by the time we were about 10 minutes away. Aaargh.

By this point it was all becoming a bit hilarious, because everything we tried to do just didn’t work out in one way or another. It was all still up for grabs. Having given up on Brighton, where we’d expected to have lunch, we happened upon an award-winning vineyard en route (yes – we have them in England!), and went searching for a bit of grub, but they were more about expensive tours and wine tasting than actual sustenance. So after an exceedingly rapid look around we continued our crawl towards Horsham. Next up was a National Trust property – they are a good bet as their tea rooms are usually a delight. We drove in hoping that we could nip in for a sandwich without having to pay the entrance fee. Nope. We only found this out after getting stuck in the one way system that was their car park, due to a massive wedding that was being held there. You honestly couldn’t make it up. With fixed grins on our faces we eventually got out of the car park and back on the main road, planning to go into Horsham itself to use up a few hours if nothing else popped up.

Back to Thay for a minute. One of the lovely bits I’ve just been reading in Old Path, White Clouds is where Siddhartha (who becomes known as the Buddha) comes out of his latest meditation under the tree (he’s been doing this for a long, long time), and realises that in his journeys ever deeper he has seen how we are all connected at the most miniscule level. I’m not going to paraphrase as Thay has such a beautiful way with words:

The monk Gautama (Siddhartha) went from meditating on his body to meditating on his feelings, and from meditating on his feelings to meditating on his perceptions, including all the thoughts which rose and fell in his own mind. He saw the oneness of body and mind, that each and every cell of the body contained all the wisdom of the universe. He saw that he needed only to look deeply into a speck of dust to see the true face of the entire universe, that the speck of dust was itself the universe and if it did not exist, the universe could not exist either.

 So by looking at something so small, you actually get to see the bigger picture and all the dots (specks of dust) join together and it all makes sense. And going back to our increasingly ridiculous, but very mindful and in-the-moment journey, imagine my delight when we rounded a bend and I saw the sign for Hilliers Nursery, my dear mum’s very favourite place when we lived in Reading, which isn’t a million miles from Horsham.

“Hah! This will be good! This is it!”

Stephen, bless him, went with the flow and we pulled into the garden centre hoping for a life-enhancing cup of tea and possibly a piece of gluten-free (him), sugar-free (me) piece of cake. See why we never eat out? Anyway, long story short and all that, we had tea and a GF sandwich (no suitable cake) and went off for a very slow wander round the garden centre, which turned out to be huge, with lots of very long rows of plants. It was at the end of one particular row I realised something else lurked through the archway. All I could make out from my level (due to a mass of lovely plants around the archway) was ‘rds of Pr’, which to me meant only one thing.

“Oh my God, they’ve got birds of prey here!” I squeaked at Stephen who had his nose buried in some exotic plant. “Didn’t get the horses but maybe we can see the birds”. A quick chat with the lady on Reception revealed that for the princely sum of £6.00 we could basically spend the next day with over 80 birds of prey and take part in flying demonstrations too.

Oh my word.

With arrangements for the next day made, we (or at least me – not too sure Stephen was quite as excited) skipped off to meet our friends at the appointed time.

I expect you know what comes next but I’m telling you anyway. We had a lovely time with our friends and pitched up at Huxley’s Birds of Prey at 12.00 sharp the next morning. It was really quiet so we could spend as long as we wanted with the birds, and talk extensively to the people who look after them. Here’s one of the eagles.

Eagle

The flying display started at 2.30, and as I’d earlier done my shameless “Me! Please, please can I?” act with the owner to snag a place flying the hawks, when that bit came I was chosen and I loved every second. Okay, the hawks were only flying very short distances between volunteers whose gloves were loaded with scraps of meat, but it was amazing being so close to them. The birds very obviously have a close relationship with their handlers – despite what I’ve been told by other falconers – and it was about to get a whole lot better. When the birds are released to fly (on an individual basis) wherever they want, they have a GPS tracker attached to their legs, which I would imagine beats scanning the sky wondering where the hell your bird is. The owner, Julian, gave us a running commentary of where the birds were and how high they were flying. Periodically they would fly back over the centre and literally screech low across the show ring like a fighter jet before swooping off into the clouds again, obviously having the time of their lives. This was fascinating, but then Debbie came out to fly her falcon Kyrie. This is him.

Kyrie

When Kyrie was just 6 months old, and without wearing a GPS tracker, he disappeared for 12 days. He was finally found on the far side of the Isle of Wight, a distance of some 50 miles, proudly standing on a pigeon he’d caught. “Hey mum, look at me!” The GPS tracker is an absolute godsend because as well as tracking the birds it records just the incredible things they get up to. As we watched him wheeling way up high over the show ring, Debbie told us that Kyrie is their highest flying bird, having reached a height of over 2000 feet, and he has been recorded hurtling back down to earth at a speed of 280 miles an hour. I was transfixed at the way he sailed upwards, then circled, with almost no effort. It was so clear that he was playing, having fun. Enjoying just being out in the fresh air, and not planning on coming in any time soon. It made me think of the birds back at home in a whole new light, and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull made manifest.

Then I pulled myself up short, thinking the romance of all of this was getting slightly out of hand. But I just had to ask the burning question that was in my mind to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. I asked Debbie why the birds rise up with the thermals, achieving such amazing height and circle and swoop idly, with all the time in the world.

Her face took on a dreamy, distant look as her eyes combed the skies for her falcon, then she turned back to me.

“Because they can.”

And you know, I can’t stop thinking about that little sentence. Because they can. We all can. We can stop the monkey-mind, and in that space and calmness, we too can soar with the eagles.

Happy soaring.

Margaret

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82. Unleashing the Writer Within

It’s coming up to four years since my stem cell transplant, and these kind of anniversaries are always very thought-provoking. There’s the ‘Wow, aren’t I lucky to be here?’ thoughts, and quite a lot of reminiscing, and a feeling of being disconnected from my pre-chemo life too. Going through that kind of experience tends to do things to one’s outlook on life.

But the ‘thing’ I marvel at the most is that I have also been writing more or less consistently for those four years. In fact it’s about six months more than that as I started blogging way back at the beginning, in 2013, and if I hadn’t have been diagnosed with lymphoma (and one of my lovely authors hadn’t suggested it), I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have started writing at all. The catharsis has been incredible, and the very act of pouring my heart and soul (and medical procedures) into a blog very definitely helped in my recovery. In fact I would go as far as to suggest it to anyone who is going through hard times, as it’s an excellent way to process one’s thoughts. For me, in particular, the blog format worked because when I tried writing my thoughts in a day book (bought for that reason) way back at the beginning, they were dark and negative and angry and I felt as though they were festering quietly when I wasn’t writing, a bit like characters in a Discworld novel. Not healthy at all.

Everything changed when I started writing with the intention of other people reading my words. Reframing a truly horrible experience (oooh, say, a bone marrow biopsy for starters) into something that is more palatable did me masses of good, and very much brought out my previously unused dark sense of humour. I say that because I’m pretty sure my sense of humour was a lot different before I was ill – definitely closer to the light side. Which is a bit weird when you think about it, but then as I just said, being diagnosed with cancer does something to your head, and that’s even before the chemo. Which is another thing, actually. Although the long hours on the drip were indeed horrible they were also good thinking time, as were the twenty-three days in isolation after the transplant. Nothing like a lot of silence to focus the mind. Which is how I got involved in mindfulness, I guess but that’s not what this blog is about. So moving on, I do feel pretty lucky really, that all of this unleashed the writer within. And from where I’m sitting (at my laptop obvs) there’s no way she’s goin’ back inside. Ever.

Just as a quick aside as people do ask from time to time, I’m delighted to say that at my recent appointment with Joe everything was good and the blood tests were fine. Phew. Let off the hook for another six months then.

Anyway, back to my increasing love affair with words. Considering my day job is publishing books, you’d think I have an understanding of the deeper workings of a writer’s mind, but looking back to those days before I was ill I realise I was nowhere close. It always amuses me when I’m introduced to people and the inevitable work question pops up. As soon as they discover what I do for a living my new acquaintance very often launches into a little monologue about how much they want to write and how they never have the time, but they really do feel there’s a book in there, and in fact other people have told them they really should write, but how do they go about writing it? Pre-cancer, I used to just encourage them to write when they felt ready and a whole lot of similar platitudes because my role was to be on the receiving end of the finished manuscript, rather than the actual getting-the-words-on-the-page part of the action.

But now I have an entirely different view. The reason for the ridiculously long gap between blogs (sorry about that) is that I’ve been finishing my second book, which I am delighted to say has nothing to do with cancer or writing a blog. I can’t say much more at the moment as I’m still sorting out a publisher, but what I can say, hand on heart, is that the book virtually wrote itself and I really didn’t have much choice in the matter; every moment when I wasn’t writing I was counting the minutes until I would be again, which felt way weirder than feeling the need to write a blog. Almost every day I was awake early, typing away before work and up at the crack of dawn at weekends, because the characters were literally bursting out of my head, demanding to be heard. This was a whole new ball game compared to the blogs, which do still well up in my head and demand to be written too (like this one), but in a completely different way. And they are one helluva lot shorter for one thing – we’re talking a couple of hours – whereas obviously writing a whole book takes a lot more time and stamina and definitely the total love and support of one’s family. Stephen has been incredible, managing to be shopper and chief-cook-and-bottle-washer as well as my creative muse, as the need arose. In the light of this amazing experience, my authors – and actually anyone who has managed to write an entire book – have gone up massively in my estimation.

And so my advice to would-be writers has changed.

If you feel you will explode if you can’t get the words out, you’re ready to write.

If you’re asking, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ so you can get back to writing, you’re ready to write.

If you don’t want to walk, cook, do the shopping, or in fact just about anything else because it will take you away from the words, you’re ready to write.

Going back to the catharsis of writing, I know that some of you have followed the progress of my lovely brother and his family as they supported my sister-in-law through the horrific experience of early onset Alzheimers Disease. After years of total dedication to her care, which cost every ounce of their energy and love, they have now in a sense been set free, as has she. If you want to read a stunning blog that will rip your heart out, go to Otherkosh.blogspot.co.uk. Have the tissues ready.

With warm wishes for your good health,

Margaret

 

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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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