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Ode to Lady Grey

Oh subtle maiden, so light and ephemeral… are you even real?

Who was your namesake, that you are such a simple pleasure, in your blue Twinings paper gown, with an arousal so light that you tempt me a second time?

Today’s early start and less than well child take their toll as the afternoon wears on.

I urgently scrape the wet side of the last piece of Turkish delight through the icing sugar, hanging out for a hit of false zest.

Water, some nuts, perhaps a meedjool date – I know what I ought to do. And I do these things earnestly, I do. And in addition I crave my fragrant mistress, who seems to promise that she’ll never tell.

Please don’t, my afternoon darling. Don’t tell those neural pathways of the night that we have trysted so late in the day. Our romance depends on your discretion.

For you serve me not well as a morning friend. Not even your husband The Earl will do as a prelude to that exotic dark beaned stud who visits just once a day.

No. Your place in my heart is discrete as it is discreet. My 3:00-5:00 pm liaison. And in that window, I adore and revere you.

But ’tis on days such as these that I may seek your pleasure double.

And if I dare, and I know you won’t dissuade me; how can I know that you will let my True Love, Sleep, wrap her most sincere arms around me when I seek my nightly rest?

How can I trust you not to jostle with her, taking me in rapidly changing directions through diary entries past and future, through refrigerator contents, choreography ancient and yet unknown, through band names, song lyrics, childhood wounds, current concerns… oh light touch you may have; but I know your secret depth.

As I know what you give me in this moment; as the stretch in front of me gapes wide, alluding to another walk, (this time with teapot, unicorn, and boots on the wrong feet), more trampoline bouncing, some kind of cobbled together evening meal and the epic bath book etc end of things… of course I need your sweet whisper of courage.

The bergamot on your breath urging me to recall my optimism at sunrise; your warmth in my mouth softening my every cell to continue my gracious surrender to every moment’s gifts.

Your soft lips brushing mine, with a lightness even more delicate than that of your notoriously gentle husband. Oh my treasured friend, you know I favour you above herbal remedies, or excess sugar, or the sensible option of a protein snack.

So please, as we repeat our most adult dalliance within minutes of the last sip, I beseech you, as the kettle steams in anticipation of our second kiss of the afternoon; betray me not, as I lay me down tonight.

Let me find slumber deep and sweet, and your place in the front of the drawer you shall keep.

The Dawn Chorus

“Mummy! Where are my toes? Where’s Garden Bunny? Where’s my orange blanket? Where are Mummy’s toes?”

We are going through a phase of 4:00 am existentialism.

It’s ok. I quite enjoy the window it gives me into the workings of Little One’s blossoming mind… although, I am glad that my strategy of hugging her quietly through her musings seems to shorten her wakefulness, rather than turning it into a full blown discussion by responding to her queries.

Such a relief really, when she drifts back off to a peaceful sleep and I kiss her soft curls and listen in wonder to her easy breath…

And then: here come the thoughts.

And then: here come some more.

And now: here come the thoughts about how I’m having thoughts and therefore must be awake… and could be asleep… and would be better off asleep…

And there ends any chance of me getting back to sleep.

I have a bag of tricks to dip into at such times – yogic breathing, body scan, counting backwards, ‘lying down meditation’ (you know how when you’re in sitting meditation you sometimes drift towards zzz – trying here to transfer this phenomenon to horizontal plane)… anyway, there’s something about that time of day, when the trees are still still, and you know that even at the coast the first glimmer of light hasn’t yet hit; but if the brain is awake, it goes into alert. None of the tricks seem to work.

I can still relax and allow my body to rest; but am I really getting the true level of replenishment I need to keep up with my daytime self?

Today, I’d wondered this for long enough that I had begun to tune in to the very beautiful sounds of the day awakening.

I could hear the trees starting to breathe more deeply as the birds began to rustle themselves awake and whisper to each other that the light was changing.

I could hear morning dew twinkling.

I could hear the low clouds that had blanketed the night thin themselves out and release a gentle morning rinse upon the earth (and my clothesline of nappies).

I could hear twigs and leaves drop to the ground as the birds got more active.

And then the singing.

So much singing. With such jubilance and clarity. I was inspired to get up and see if I could magic up a cup of tea to enjoy while it was still hot.

Oh the light!

I’ve long considered my sixty year old Rose bush at dusk to be my absolute favourite play of light. But today was pretty freakin special.

All my lying down meditation had me well primed to really soak in the wonder of how every single day the sun comes up.

I watched, from my corner lounge in the corner windows as the golden glow rose up from the east, easily visualising the glimmer it would now be casting over the ocean.

I breathed deeply, integrating into all my cells the gratitude at having this delicious solitude; just me and the dawning day.

What a sublime treat.

Inside the house, my old hound snores, all is quiet from the children’s bedrooms. Incense smoke unfurls, and my tea cup is warm in my hands. This is it.

The very here and now.

“Mummy where’s Garden Bunny?”

Little footsteps carry a little voice down the hall towards me, and the moment I am in is richer even than the one before, as I scoop up a bundle of pyjamas and golden curls and we snuggle into the bliss together.

Lucky lucky me!

(Written in thirty second spurts throughout the morning, long after the sun and Little One had risen).

More Toast?

“More toast please Mum”, I reply.

Aah. Breakfast in bed. My once a week special treat. Babydaddy does a sleepover and I get to have a leisurely morning while he gets to see what it is that I do on all the other days. In theory. But if that’s how it’s gonna fly, there’s a whole lot of ground work to lay. And who’s gotta lay it? Mother hen, that’s who.

Congratulations and hooray for all the women out there who have intuitive partners who really truly share the load. I understand that there’s a possibility of not being the only one to carry the responsibility of doing all the thinking, and I promise that there are times when I really truly have a go at letting go of the reigns; but the reality is, that when I make myself a tray of tea and toast and quietly bring it back to bed, I am still the mum.

And if I want to enjoy peaceful, quiet time, I have to earn it.

I have to explain to the other adult that on all the other mornings I am up with the toddler and on the go, responding to her needs, keeping us on track, and getting us out the door on time.

This includes, and is rarely limited to – having the kitchen cleaned before bedtime just in case I fall asleep with Baby (best case scenario for my ongoing mental health, given the early starts and broken sleep, not to mention mega sleep debt), making sure I’m showered, have taken my magnesium & brushed my teeth, have tidied the living area ready for a fresh day, have set up an ‘invitation to play’ for the next morning, have prepared her lunchbox if it’s a daycare day, and have applied my moisturiser whilst saying to the mirror “I love you, I see you, you are great”. So that’s the night before.

In the mornings, I have to be organised with keeping Baby happily busy if I don’t want to be followed to the toilet, or I just have to accept that having things brought to me in that tiny room is a part of this stage of parenting. The luxury of closed door toileting, long showers, a leisurely coffee… these are things I have forfeited for a child who feels connected and secure. For now, because she is still very small.

So, on my ‘morning off’, my idea is that I get a chance to replenish so that I can keep going on all the other days. I’m lucky as a single mum to have this weekly chance.

But if Babydaddy wants to go to the toilet and shut the door, Baby knows where to find Mum. If Babydaddy wants to have a shower, same. If Babydaddy didn’t get organised with lunchbox the night before, Baby needs to be entertained while he does this at his once a week leisurely pace. And if there was no ‘invitation to play’ set up the night before, then keeping Baby entertained takes more.

As Mother Hen, is all of this intrinsic? Hell no. How I manage sustainably comes down to acquired skills, thought out systems, and practised rhythms. Yes, there is an organic natural flow, yes, there is a lot of intuitive loving awareness, yes, I’m a bloody great improviser and a fast thinker and can operate in the kitchen like one with many more arms than I have.

But at the end of the day, and at the start of the next day, and in the seemingly endless, relentless cycle of keeping on going in a home that is ordered enough to support a developing sense of security, it is my presence and preparedness that keeps me going.

Because this job needs me to keep going.

And that’s why, when, on my ‘morning off’, Baby has come wandering and found me, and nobody is protecting my solitude from outside my bedroom, and she sees me with my tray of tea and toast, and asks for a bit, and then a bit more, I respond with loving gentle parenting. Because that’s easier than getting up to knock on the toilet door to explain all of the above.

Panty Liners

I don’t even know when or how it happened, it must have been gradual, or I just forgot one day… I don’t know, I try to practise mindfulness in daily life, but that’s because it’s essential to my functioning. It doesn’t mean I’m on top of everything. It’s the magic glue that helps hold me together and respond with loving awareness to my children when their developing brains aren’t supporting them to be pleasant. But anyway, I haven’t lost my train of thought; surprisingly, I know this is a piece about my pelvic floor and its incidental recovery from massive weight gain, pregnancy, childbirth and nowhere near enough post partum orgasms…

Yes. Hooray for me. I no longer need to anxiously insert a panty liner before working out. Or before leaving the house. And I definitely don’t need to leave a class half way through to change my panty liner. I do still wear only black leggings, however. Because I invested a tonne of dollars into quality active wear as a gesture of self love when I knew that keeping me going is essential to a) keeping my kids going and b) modeling empowered feminism to my kids.

No martyrdom here please, my life choices are choices, and if I’m not enjoying the way my life is, let me figure out what I need to do to change that. There is only now – it might as well not suck!

For me, that’s the main thing I want my kids, my students, my friends to take away from our time together. That we are agents of change, and that life circumstances are invitations to practise our personal power.

So when my ladybits were left in a state of softness after my magical female body lovingly and enthusiastically gave itself over to the work of building a tiny human, I could have let them stay that way. And spent my whole life paranoid that I smelt a bit like wee. And gone through who knows what huge big feels every time I jumped or sneezed or coughed or even laughed. Avoid laughter? No thanks. And I get hayfever. So…

… I set alarms in my phone to remind me to do the elevator squeezes – ten sets three times a day. Heaps of times, I would put the alarm on snooze, and by the time it went off again, I would have totally forgotten all about them.

That’s why I needed the alarms.

Heaps of times too, the alarm would go off at fairly public moments – during a counseling session, at playgroup, driving in the car with my teen and her friends.

Lots of times I would actually say “oh, that means it’s time to do pelvic floor exercises”, and co-opt the people I was with into being cheerleaders for my elastic hammock, and hopefully their own too.

Is that embarrassing? I don’t think so. I think people like talking about their muscle building prowess with most other muscles, and lets be real; the pelvic floor muscles are pretty major heroes when it comes to keeping it all together.

Letting people know that I’m a mum who’s recovering my pelvic floor is not as embarrassing as having to run to the toilet after 60 seconds of jumping rope (or ten, as it was the first time I went to boxing after baby). It’s not as embarrassing as regular light bladder leakage or more serious incontinence problems. I think my daughter would rather grab my phone from the cradle while I’m driving and switch off the alarm (with muscle flex emoji), than be put off having children because I never want to jump on the trampoline with her baby sister…

So, as I said, in who knows what interval, I stopped buying panty liners, because at some point I must have stopped using them at a rate of ‘keep the entire industry in profit’.

And that’s the thing about support. Sometimes we really hardcore need it in a big big way. And we’re hypervigilant about clutching to it and keeping it in place. But, my Super-vag and I have discovered, that when we couple external support with mindful behavioural choices and strengthening work that is at least mildly consistent; then that urgent, desperate need for the ‘absorbent bleached cotton product’ lessens; and eventually our ecological footprint can lighten a little bit more. And we are more free to enjoy more of what life offers as enjoyable things. Even sneezing – maybe enough of those could make up for that lack of orgasms? But I don’t wanna go through too many tissues…

Peace begins with your lovely smile

“Peace begins with your lovely smile”.

Thay’s skilfulness in including the word “lovely” in this calligraphy works instantly to soften me into smiling.  For if others find it lovely, of course I want to offer it.  And in being inspired to offer a lovely smile, I benefit too.
Is the smile the beginning of peace when it is received, when it is smiled, when it is inspired? 
When I remember to decide to smile, even the breath before the smile is more peaceful than a breath taken with a furrowed brow.  When I know that my smile might bring joy to others, I feel into the broader value of my smile.
When I allow a gentle smile to come through me, I feel instantly more calm.  My heart lifts, my breath softens, my whole body relaxes.  And my readiness to respond to life mindfully is expanded.  
How does your lovely smile generate peace?  

Happiness

Happiness
Is here and now
I have dropped my worries 
Nowhere to go, nothing to do 
I don’t need to hurry

Happiness 
Is here and now
I have dropped my worries
Somewhere to go, something to do
No longer in a hurry

How wonderful! That by the time we come to the end of the second verse in this simple song, it is such a real possibility!

We live in a time in the world where the footprints of hurry are causing pain to the earth, and to our collective consciousness. Hurry is such a contagious energy; and whilst there is a gentle movement growing to decline the invitation to be ever busy and in a hurry, it can still feel like it takes more discipline to do less than to say yes to all the opportunities that come to us.

When this song was new to me, I distinctly recall thinking “nowhere to go, nothing to do!!?! – what an absurd luxury!”. But really, what is absurd is that such a concept should seem like a luxury, not to mention an absurd one!

I love the Plum Village practice of having a “lazy day” each week; a day where we have a chance to catch up with ourselves in our bodies. At first unspiralling from the habit of having a very full diary was difficult, even uncomfortable for me. Life is so full of so many exciting opportunities to do, learn, see, talk, listen, meet, play… so many verbs, such limited time! 

But what is the quality of our experience when we are so preoccupied with cleverly slotting it all into the schedule, planning our route to the next thing whilst we are at the current thing? How available are we for the people we are with, for ourselves, when we are busily trying to manipulate time? Are we fully present at our appointment with life? Are we able to see that here, now, in the present moment, is the very pureland we are conditioned to be chasing?

I am really seeing a difference, thanks to this song, and the permission I needed to consider a lazy day as a valid thing to schedule; in how I parent a toddler with my youngest child now, compared to her older sister, 13 years ago. What a radical thing, to allow enough space in our day, that we can walk a block at toddler pace, enjoying instead of feeling frustrated and anxious about looking at tiny leaves, patterns in the pavement, shapes in the clouds. There is even enough time to be aware that my tea is there! 

How long does it take a toddler to walk a block? As long as possible!

Right now, my parenting is my teacher, my toddler is my bell of mindfulness. And I feel so grateful that her natural way of doing life waters the seeds of mindfulness that are planted in me from times when I could study the dharma more fully.

I remember standing in a very long queue in a busy Paris train station the day after a delicious week in Plum Village, and humming this song to myself as the queue slowly moved. For me, the songs of practice can act as short cuts to some of the essence of the teachings, and I really appreciate this!

I wonder how it is for you?

Why I love Group Fitness

I get more excited than many about group fitness classes, I am convinced that they are one of life’s most giving pleasures; and it’s not just because of the endorphins.

The science of what we go through when we exercise, the science of what we go through when we push past hard times, the science of the difference it makes to do things in the company of others, the science of how music motivates us to move – the science is all there – but I want to focus on that sweet cousin of science – the magic!

Sure, I sometimes work out alone in the gym, with the music of my choice blasting in my ear buds, at my own pace, and this can be great; but I’m a little bit of a performer, and a habitual achiever, so I like having a teacher to please.

And no matter how secure your attachment was in childhood, even if you’re not motivated by acknowledgement and praise; the instructor at the front of the room is not just a person to please – they are your own cheer squad. They are there to keep everybody going, to remind us that what we are doing is hard, but that we can do it.

I absolutely love being at the point where if I was exercising alone I would have already stopped to rest; and there is someone there yelling into a microphone so I can hear it above all my inner-protestations, “YOU CAN DO THIS! YOU ARE DOING IT!!”

This is the exact same phrase my angelic yoigini girlfriend uttered to me when I was at a very low low in my new role as single mother of baby and teen. I was on my couch with leaky boobs and red eyes, and her sweet, strong, voice of all womankind spoke the truth I needed to hear. The truth that became my mantra and got me through those days when all I could do was sing to keep the tears back.

And that truth did get me through those sleepless nights and demanding days. And having it screamed at me when I am dripping with sweat, with my heart pounding, and I feel like I just want to stop; is the greatest metaphor for life that I can access cheaply and regularly just 5 minutes from home with free creche.

How is it different from a personal training session? She is saying what I need to hear to get through, but there with me, is a room full of other sweating, heaving women who also need to hear just those words at just those times.

The solidarity of working out together is such an invaluable metaphor to be reminded of regularly, and at a time when the brain is hot and loose, so the message goes straight to my soul… “we are all in this together’… if someone is flagging, we don’t all decide to give up, we boost the energy.

We dig deep and pull out whatever we can. It’s not competition or comparison that keeps us going, it’s camaraderie. And at a time when mothers are more isolated in our roles than we ever should have become; that is something more precious than midnight cheesecake.

Fleeting eye contact in the hardest moments, high fives as we change sides of the room, the collective sigh at the end of the abs track, whooping and hollering to get us through the final round of a cardio peak – this level of mutual support and encouragement is something we deeply yearn for in all aspects of our lives.

But how often during a challenging supermarket trip with a toddler, or as a carefully and lovingly prepared meal is rejected, do we hear another woman saying “you’ve got this Mama, I see you, I’m with you”. If you do get this – let me know! For me right now, my solidarity need is nourished in the group fitness room. But I do notice each week more and more of our lives as women and mothers is shared as we chat in the change rooms.

We have gone through something that makes us vulnerable together, we have been cheered on by ourselves and each other, and allowed ourselves to be carried on a journey by the heroine in the microphone who hits play on the music. This is more than just working off the midnight cheesecake and warding off osteoarthritis. This is community happening. This is human beings being human together, in a time when AI is only a poem away from having us all figured out.

This week after a high intensity cardio class, the instructor said “I think I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world – it’s so inspiring being here witnessing you all push through and triumph”. And I’ve got to agree. I’m looking forward to sharing what I love about being the one on the mic!

Breathing In

Breathing in
I go back to the island within my heart
There are beautiful trees
Upon the island
There are clear streams of water
There are birds, sunshine, and fresh air
Breathing out I feel safe
I enjoy going back to my island.

This beautiful song is one of my favourites from Plum Village. 

I sing it, and other songs of practice, to my toddler each night at bedtime. Some days, this is the extent of my “formal dharma practice”!

A lecture I heard around the idea of our island, talked about the need to nourish and maintain our island, so that when we really need it, it is a beautiful sanctuary for us.

That we can choose what trees to plant and nourish there. We wouldn’t expect a mango tree to grow from the seed of a lemon, and similarly, if we want our island to be calm, we can mindfully practise feeling calm; so that if there is a tempest in our external world, those trees we have planted on our island are there to shelter us.

In my own life, I really notice the difference between the times that I look after my island, and when I let it slide, and weeds of fear, and anger spring up there. Then, if I am shaken by circumstances, it is harder to find the peace I need within me when I haven’t been looking after my island.

In the same way that we can’t wait til we need our car to learn how to drive it, we cannot expect our island to feel like a safe place without our careful maintenance.

Last night as I sang this song to my 19 month old daughter, she cuddled me and said “Mummy I like this song”. And it was a wonderful motivation for me to do what I can to nurture my island within.

I hope you can find time to plant some lovely trees on your island this week.

New Years Day

Have you recovered from the pressure to have the world’s greatest party? Have you graduated to an age where you feel the pressure to be your most insightful, mature, growing self ever?

How tiring is growth?!

I’m sick of it. All those wonderful analogies of it being the pain of your seed cracking open, your wings unfolding out of the chrysalis… sometimes I just want to choose the cocoon.

Here’s where I confess to being a reformed Pollyanna.

I have had years of my twenties and thirties giving people the absolute shits for being always able to see the silver lining, for always being able to find the positive spin, for choosing optimism and positivity and gratitude.

But 2018 was the year of too much. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived pretty hard, the Pollyanna stuff was all about survival. It was a happy combination of an inbuilt sunny disposition, and a lot of hard work applying so much positive, vibration raising stuff, and being a very earnest learner and grower.

This past year, I simply got tired. I sometimes forgot to take my Activated B and my Magnesium. I let my gratitude and meditation practices slide. I felt into my pain a bit more than ever, and stayed there, because I was too tired to climb back up out of it.

Amongst this, I kept going in my life. Kept my happy face on. Kept being everything to everyone that I expected them to expect of me.

Then my heart broke a little bit more. And it hadn’t had time for it to fix properly from the times before. So I had a big crash.

Gardening helps, but where I live, it’s quite hot right now. And writing helps too.

There is lots of writing I already did. Lots I am yet to do.

This is a place where it can live.