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what others think of me really doesn't matter, as long as I am happy with what I know to be true of myself.

Finding Time to Find Peace

We all want peace, don’t we? By that I mean we want to feel at peace with ourselves and our lives rather than World Peace (although, I’m sure many of us would like that too!) We want to feel that quiet confidence in our lives, that the things we do are “just right” for us, that life is unfolding as it should, and that we are “on the right track”. At least, that is what I think of when I think of peace, a quiet knowing that life is okay, we’re okay, no matter what.

But as much as I strive for this sense of peace, I find it so difficult to catch hold of. It feels like something I am chasing, constantly, as I battle one difficulty after the next. And no matter how hard I try, that peace continues to elude me. Or at least it did, until recently…

Finding Time to Find PeaceThis past year has been a major learning curve for me, and despite making huge leaps forward in many ways, I have felt myself dragged down by circumstance and a fear of the way the world looks at me. I’ve put far more stock in what has happened to me, rather than focusing on what is happening inside of me. And that has led me to chasing after things that do not make me happy, but instead make me jealous and bitter.

I could look at the blessings in my life – my little family, my home, the food on our table – and instead of seeing them for what they truly are, I focused on what they weren’t. I didn’t have the larger family I had dreamed of. Our home was not a place of refuge, but rather a jumble of boxes and piles of “stuff” we had to sort through. And the food on our table was hard won, a constant battle to balance healthy-eating with budget living.

And no matter how hard I tried to see the blessings, I just couldn’t feel them. Gratitude isn’t something you can force yourself to feel. No matter how many ways I went about thinking about it, I just couldn’t get my heart to embrace it.

Until I realised what the problem was – I wasn’t giving myself time. I needed time to stop everything and just focus on being. I needed to step away from all the pressures that wore me down and take some time out to simply be. And I definitely needed to cut down on the amount of time I spent looking at other people’s lives and yearning for things that were never meant to be for me.

The internet and social media can be a wonderful thing. It has brought me a lot of peace lately, but it can also be a dangerous trap to fall into, if you’re not careful (or should I say “mindful”) in how you use it. Not only does it bombard you with “edited” images of other people’s lives (by that I mean most people tend to show more of the “good” in their lives than the bad, giving us a skewed impression of what a “good life” looks like), but it also feeds us with ideas of all the things we need to do to be happy.

We need to have a perfectly pristine home. The food we cook should be ever more adventurous. We should be doing everything to make our kids’ childhoods perfect for them. And we definitely need to be “seen” in a certain light by not only our close friends and family, but also friends of friends and even perfect strangers we have only just met.

The latter is a lesson I am learning gradually. I put far too much stock into how others see me, I have done so for many years, but it has been brought into a whole new light of late. It is only recently, through quiet meditation and taking time out, that I have realised just why I have been so bothered by events over the past year – I am worried about what others must think of me, rather than realising that what others think of me really doesn’t matter, as long as I am happy with what I know to be true of myself.

what others think of me really doesn't matter, as long as I am happy with what I know to be true of myself.

Which brings me back to the good in the internet and social media. You see, the internet has given me access to things I may never have found without it, especially when it comes to the more “unusual” areas of my life. Most recently this has included online kundalini yoga classes (via youtube) that have brought a real peace into my life. I’ve tried yoga before, attending my first classes with my dad in my late teens, but I’ve never felt so empowered by it.

TJ and I started practising with this video just last week, and already I can feel the difference. I felt it from the very first moment we tried it. It wasn’t even that I was doing anything different, simply that I have found something I really enjoy which makes me take half an hour out of my day that is just for me. The benefit of that alone is immense, but combining it with the energising power of kundalini yoga leaves me feeling far more at peace and in control than I ever have. And the reality is that I’m not in control at all, I am simply riding the waves rather than trying (hopelessly) to tame them. And the relief of that is wonderful.

Suddenly I am aware of self-damaging behaviours – comparing myself (and my life) to others, constantly craving for more (or to achieve the next big thing), and feeling the need to justify my life (and my decisions). Those behaviours haven’t just disappeared, they are still there, but I am no longer oblivious to their effect on my well-being and through recognising this I am able to create change. Because I make time for it.

If there’s one thing I have learnt recently, it’s that no matter what you do, no matter how much you learn and how far you go in life, there is one thing that will never fail to assist you and that’s time. In a society where we are obsessed with squeezing every last drop of life out of every single second, it can feel counter-intuitive to stop and simply be. I know, I’ve been driven by both fear and ambition for far too long. But I also know, now, that taking that time is the most beautiful gift we can ever give to ourselves.

In a society where we are obsessed with squeezing every last drop of life out of every single second, it can feel counter-intuitive to stop and simply be. I know, I've been driven by both fear and ambition for far too long. But I also know, now, that taking that time is the most beautiful gift we can ever give to ourselves.

Doorway

When One Door Closes…

…stop banging on it!

The past couple of weeks, I have been dealing with some really huge emotions. I’ve gone from being positive and excited about our new life (new home, new jobs etc) to utterly miserable about the things that we simply cannot do.

It started with sickness stopping us doing something as simple as a day trip to the beach (reminding me of how often our health keeps us from doing “normal” things) and continued with a really bad month with my Endometriosis (just in time for the ten year anniversary of my diagnosis) that made it even more obvious how much my health issues have prevented me from doing.

And then it was just a slippery slope (made worse by hormones, of course) into remembering how much I had looked forward to having and raising kids, only to have to stop after “just the one“. I cannot tell you just how much my heart and soul yearned for things to be different, for another baby to be in our future, for our “baby days” not to be over. So when the Endometriosis kicked off and made me realise that not only could I not have another child, I was also struggling to do all the things I desperately wanted to do with the family we already have, it all just got a bit too much.

Of course, it all became immeasurably easier once the hormones started to settle down (!) but there was still a sadness underneath it all that wouldn’t go away. Until yesterday…

I was busy looking up quotations to send in a little book to a friend who is going through a tough time of her own right now, and I came across this:

When One Door Closes... Reflections on Life

I can only describe my reaction to this as a kick in the gut. Within those two short sentences I found so much truth that it hit me right to my core. I realised that I had been desperately banging on closed doors, like a woman possessed, for far too long. And it was time to walk away…

When I look back on my life, particularly the past few years, I can see many moments in which I chose to keep fighting a losing battle. I chose to invest far too much of my precious (and limited) energy on trying to make something happen that I knew, deep in my heart, wasn’t right. I’m not saying that what I wanted was wrong, just that it wasn’t my journey to take. And whilst saying goodbye to our dreams is very often the hardest thing we can imagine, sometimes it is the best thing we can do.

I’ve known this, at some level, for a long time. I know that I have touched upon it, more and more over the years, each time coming closer to accepting it as one of life’s great lessons. I know this, because I can look back on my blog and see what I was thinking 3 months ago, a year ago, even five years ago. This is one of my favourite things about blogging – it gives you a tangible record of where you were at each point in your life, how you were feeling, and what you were thinking at those times.

When I look back over old posts, I can see recurring themes that crop up time and again. I see acceptance – accepting my limits, accepting the realities of life, and accepting myself. I see understanding – understanding the journey I’m on, the lessons I am learning, and how this impacts on how I live my life. And I see purpose – what I feel like I’m here to do, and how I achieve that.

However, I also see myself making the same mistakes, over and over again. I realise that this time last year I understood that it’s okay when life doesn’t turn out as planned, yet I still continue to try and make everything fit into an old ideal for my life. I see that at the beginning of this year I fully embraced living a life of “surrender” in which I allowed life to unfold as it did, without desperately trying to “fix” it, and yet I find myself forgetting how to do this. And I see that, yet again, I have been trying to ignore my body’s signals that something isn’t right and I need to make a change…

I have an appointment with my GP next Tuesday to discuss moving forward with dealing with the Endometriosis. It may well involve seeing a consultant to fight for something I have been thinking about for several years now but so terrified of pushing for. It certainly means walking away from a closed door. And in many ways, that scares the hell out of me, because once I walk away, there’s no turning back.

But the reality is that this door has been closed to me for a very long time. I’ve been banging on a closed door, holding myself in limbo, waiting for someone to find a way to unlock it and let me through. Even though that will never happen.

So today, I wanted to share with you the message that is carefully working its way into my heart and helping me to move forward… When one door closes, stop banging on it! Trust that whatever is behind it is not meant for you. 

Finding Peace in the Chaos with Mantras

Chanting For Peace

It’s no secret that life is pretty crazy here at The Patch. This year has seen us face redundancy and relocation, and whilst things are slowly beginning to settle down it is still far from peaceful. I’m currently balancing two new jobs, whilst building up my blog again (which is fun, but takes a lot of time). TJ is dealing with lots of changes at work, which is stressful enough without the added concerns of his own health. And Little Man is trying to adapt to life in a new city, which isn’t all that easy for a 3 year old to fully understand.

So with all this going on in our lives, I find that there is constant chatter in the back of my mind. I think at a mile a minute normally anyway, but with so much to think about on a daily basis right now it has become much more complicated. At the beginning of the year I set out some goals for the year. These included being more mindful, worrying less, and living more purposefully. Whilst on the surface it may seem like I am getting there, my internal dialogue is still constantly worrying about what the future holds and missing what is happening right now. I am, in essence, losing myself to the chaos around me, rather than finding a centre of peace within it.

Finding Peace in the Chaos with Mantras

And I want to change that. I want to embrace something which becomes a natural part of my day, setting me up for whatever happens by giving me some sense of internal peace. I have tried it before, making a promise to myself to pray, meditate or try yoga everyday, but it just hasn’t ever worked out. I get distracted, or I feel sick, or I just don’t feel I have the time, and it all falls by the wayside. Until now…

Whilst I was packing for our move, I tried listening to various radio stations, albums, podcasts etc but found I simply couldn’t focus on what I was listening to and focus on packing at the same time. It became more stressful than helpful. Until I discovered this version of Gayatri Mantra on youtube.

I don’t know how to describe how perfect it was… over 2 hours of music and chanting that was so easy to learn and sing along to. Focusing on the repetition of the words alone, even though I had no idea what they meant, was so therapeutic. I could think about what I was packing whilst chanting, because the pattern meant that it became easier to sing each time. I want to say that it meant I didn’t have to focus too much on the words, and that is true, but there was some thought involved because what essentially happened was that the mindless chatter and panicked thoughts that usually ran through the back of my mind began to disappear.

I’m not sure this is exactly how most people use mantras, but it is certainly working for me. Over the past few days I have listened to the Gayatri Mantra again whilst sorting out the bedroom, getting reader for work, pottering around the house… and the more I do it the more I find myself singing without the music too. I’ll be walking to work and it suddenly pops into my head, or I’ll be preparing lunch and the words just slip out. The combination of music and words seems to work so well for me, and I am beginning to really love the way that it quietens the fearful or chaotic thoughts that run through my head, helping me to find a calm centre from which to approach my day.

The weirdest thing is, I’d have never thought that chanting would be my thing! TJ first shared a few with me this time last year when he was learning some as part of his Shamanic Practitioner course. One of them was another of Deva Premal‘s tracks, and when he first played it to me I could feel the power within it, and I did enjoy joining in with him once in a while. But I never really made the time for it. Last year was, in very different ways, equally as chaotic as this year has been and I just don’t think I was in the best place to appreciate what it could offer me. I felt chanting was something I had no time for, especially as I read Eat. Pray. Love last summer and saw the dedication that was involved by the author during her time in India. Little did I know that even the smallest amount of time spent in this way would make a massive difference.

But now I know, and I want to embrace this wholeheartedly. I’ve decided that I want to make time for chanting every single day, even if it is only for 10 minutes in the morning as I jump in the shower. I’m hoping that, in time, I will find a way of making some dedicated space in my days for really focusing on the mantra, feeling the music flow through me and understanding what the words actually mean. But I know that if I set myself too great an expectation I will only give up. So for now I’m going to just try and make sure it is a daily activity, no matter how small.

I feel a particular affinity to the Gayatri Mantra, so I am going to try and stick with that for now, to really try and understand its meaning before moving on to another one. I’ll let you know how it goes. And if you chant, please do let me know what your favourite it, how you integrate it into your day, and what it means to you – I’d love to hear about it!

Beltane Altar White Spring Glastonbury 2012

Beltane Blessings

Beltane Altar White Spring Glastonbury 2012

Happy Beltane Everyone!

This past week has been one of many new beginnings for us as a family (a new home, a new nursery for Little Man, and two new jobs for me) and is the culmination of many months of preparation and waiting. It’s hard to believe that all of this was set into motion right back at the beginning of the year and is only just really coming to fruition, but I find it immeasurably satisfying to see how perfect the timing is.

Beltane is a celebration of union, of all the different parts coming together, and of the fruits of our labours beginning to come to us. It is a time of renewal, of new growth, and of preparation for the blessings yet to occur. We see this in nature, as the Wheel of the Year turns, and yet this year I also see it so very clearly in our own personal circumstances. And it feels good.

We had been hoping to make it to Glastonbury to celebrate Beltane this year, as it is 3 years since we were there with our dear friend for Little Man’s blessing. But I have to say that postponing our trip until later in the year so that we could move home and start a brand new chapter in our lives is more than worth it!

Today is a special day in particular – we hand over the keys to our old house, just as I begin my new job. How’s that for a new beginning? Having surrendered to whatever life may bring at the beginning of this year, it feels so special that life has brought us through the incredible uncertainty we faced at the beginning of this year and provided us with a beautiful fresh start at this glorious time of year.

It shouldn’t surprise me that I feel so connected to this particular time of year – after all my birthday falls in the same week as Beltane and we’ve chosen it as a special moment in our year before (for Little Man’s blessing). But what does surprise me is how much is happening this year in particular, and just how many things are really blossoming in our lives right now.

It’s not just the new house and new job either… they are external changes, but I can feel my heart changing too. Things that have remained hidden, or crushed, over the past few years are beginning to resurface and I find myself excited about embracing them once more. Like embracing spirituality, connecting with others, and celebrating these special moments in time.

And the more I open myself up to the possibilities, the more opportunities and encouragement I find. And Beltane is one such opportunity. We now live in an area where is is easier for us to connect with like-minded communities to explore our faith. We also have easier access to nature, parks, and our own little garden space with room for a veg plot! Celebrating the seasons and embracing their gifts is quite literally right on our doorstep, and we are determined to make the most of it.

For now, though, we will begin by creating our own little Beltane Fire to welcome us into our new home, and give thanks for the blessings that have already come to us. And the rest will all fall into place…

A Journey Through Prayer

Today I want to write about the journey I have been on recently, which in many ways is deeply personal and therefore rather scary to blog about. And yet it is having such a beautifully positive effect on my life, I feel like I need to share it.

How prayer, meditation and journalling have helped me in uncertain times

It all began at the very end of last year. 2014 was a hellish year for us. It followed several difficult years we had already survived and seemed to push us beyond our limits in a way nothing else had ever done. And I was broken. I have touched on this previously, but a lot of it never actually made it onto the blog at all. Needless to say, it was a very dark period in our lives.

I was so caught up in simply surviving that I couldn’t even enjoy the publication of the book, despite knowing what a massive achievement it was. Most days I felt like I was living on an endless spin cycle, dizzy with the inability to ground myself as I desperately gave absolutely everything I had to the many, many responsibilities I had upon my shoulders.

When I finally did ask for help, and things became immeasurably more stressful as a result, I found myself balancing precariously on the edge of reason, unable to eat or sleep, and obsessing over things I couldn’t change. I was lost and I couldn’t see a way to find myself again…

Until I prayed.

It’s not that I haven’t prayed before, but instead of a hasty “please help me” prayer, I sat down and really opened my heart. Beaten by life itself, I took a moment and let out a heartfelt prayer:

“Okay… I’ve tried it my way, and it isn’t working. I don’t know anymore what I want, let alone what I should do. I’m ready for you to show me the way forward, wherever that takes me…”

It is a prayer that I have never dared to say, because by surrendering so completely there is the possibility that something could come along that I do not want to face. But it felt like I had nothing to lose. My way really wasn’t working, in fact it was positively damaging me, so it couldn’t get any worse. What I didn’t expect, of course, was for things to get a whole lot better, almost overnight!

Within moments of saying those words, I felt the tears I had held inside come pouring out. The release was incredible, and I felt a warmth and calm wash over me. Nothing really changed that day, the circumstances that had led me to such despair were still there, but something had shifted inside my heart. I had opened up to the idea of being guided and supported – for the first time in a long, long time I didn’t feel the almighty weight of trying to make sense of everything on my own.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Over the next few days I began writing a journal, reading books and blogs online, and simply allowing myself to feel what I needed to feel. And I began to feel that things would be okay. I didn’t have to feel alone, even when I was alone, and that helped me immensely. I knew I had some difficult times ahead (although I had no idea just how shaken up my life was about to become) but I would be okay because I didn’t have to face them alone. I’d always have a quiet space to return to in prayer.

This led me to choosing Surrender as my Word of the Year. It also heavily influenced my goals for 2015. And all of it was perfectly timed because a few days later my whole world turned upside down. I returned to work after a month off sick, to find out that changes to the organisation meant I was facing possible redundancy.

As the higher earner in our family, redundancy is quite a scary prospect, however my reaction was incredibly calm. It just made sense – I had prayed for direction and direction was what I was been given. It was making me close the door on an area of my life that I had poured my heart and soul into, which I would normally have fought against. But instead, I chose to surrender to it, trusting that the closing of this door was to free me up for the place I now needed to be.

Let me stop here for a moment to really emphasise this point… at the end of 2014 I was on the edge of despair, and yet just a few weeks later, when my entire life became ultimately more stressful thanks to redundancy and all that this entails, I was so much calmer than I had been in a long, long time. This, more than anything else, proved to me the power of prayer!

Things seemed to happen really quickly after that – we found a new house to rent, far closer to my parents, and I attended two interviews for new jobs. And I really, honestly felt like everything was being perfectly orchestrated to lead me into the place I needed to be.

But it wasn’t quite that simple. The house fell through, the job interviews were unsuccessful, and I find myself at the beginning of March with no job and a house full of boxes but no new home to move to. That stress level just cranked up another notch.

I feel exhausted from multiple journeys to and from our new home town, calls and emails chasing people regarding paperwork and payments, and multiple hospital visits thrown into the mix, just to make things extra interesting of course! And my faith began to waiver that little bit once more… until I made the time to sit and pray again.

Looking in my journal, I realised it had been more than a month since I had really made the time and space to sit and be with my thoughts. I had neglected to devote time to prayer and meditation, which in turn had a knock-on effect on my ability to cope with what was happening. That’s not to say I was super stressed again (far from it), but I began to question what it was all about. Until I prayed…

Commit to the Lord whatever you do and he will establish your path proverbs 16:3

In the midst of my prayer asking for guidance and comfort, I felt a very distinct response as if someone were saying to me, “why do you think it isn’t working, just because it isn’t already sorted?” And I knew, right then, that my impatience was getting the better of me. Instead of trusting in the process, allowing myself to be guided even when I couldn’t see the way forward, I was trying to force things to happen in my own time – a sure way to stress myself out!

Patience isn’t a virtue I really possess. I want everything to be sorted now. It’s most certainly a big learning curve for me, this trusting process. And yet, it seems so easy when I remember to take the time out to simply sit in prayer and reflect upon how this makes me feel. I cram so much meaningless stuff into my day, and yet the thing that makes me feel the best so often gets left out. Why is that?

I don’t actually know the answer to that one, but I do know it is worth continuing to try and make it a priority in my day because when I do I feel so much better. My life is currently as crazy as it has ever been (crazier even) and yet I feel as if everything is going to be okay. And that is why prayer is becoming an important part of my life.

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I really want to write a quick note here to say thanks to the amazing team at Thrive Moms. It is through rewatching their Fall Retreat (which I initially wrote about here) that I began to pray in earnest. Whilst still not really knowing where I fit in when it comes to faith and religion, I do love getting their weekly newsletters and seeing the wonderful supportive work they do to help mums do more than simply survive motherhood (because, we all know, that some days that’s what it feels like!)

gift from the Goddess January 2015

On Letting Go

Have you ever found that sometimes, when you stop fighting, things just suddenly begin to fall into place in a way you could never have imagined?

There are so many things happening in my life right now, many of which I simply can’t talk about on here. Some are still very much in transition and to write about them before their conclusion feels unwise. Others seem so huge and life-changing, that I feel cautious to share them so openly, because I do not wish to burst the bubble of contentment, peace, security (I don’t quite know how to explain it) that has enclosed me these past couple of weeks. But needless to say, had someone told me that I’d feel this way just a few short weeks after feeling like my entire world was falling apart, I would never have believed them!

It’s a strange place to be, feeling secure in the seeming unknown, when actually the start of 2015 has been extremely turbulent in both my personal life and the wider world around us. If anything, there is more uncertainty in my life now than there has been in a very, very long time. And yet I am finding it easier than ever to surrender and allow life to unfold without resistance. After years of trying to control so many aspects of my life, it’s refreshingly different and surprisingly productive…

I had a sudden image (a vision, if you will) the other day of being positioned with slight adjustments here and there, just as an artist would gently ease a model made of clay into the perfect position. That’s exactly what it feels like for me right now, and whenever I start to feel my old worry and panic rising up, I stop and take a breath and focus on allowing change to happen. Whilst many changes are taking place externally, the greatest change has most certainly been internal.

It began just before New Year, with a prayer. Not just any prayer, but a heartfelt one which signalled the end of my resistance and the opening of my heart fully. Since then, not only have I found a peaceful core from which to cope with the sudden changes in my life, but I’ve also found the tools and support necessary to continue exploring in a way I have yearned for for far too long now.

For instance… the day I received news of a major change in my life, I also received this most beautiful gift from an unknown friend.

gift

I still have absolutely no idea who sent it… I had to sign for the delivery but there was no postmark on it, no clues as to where it had come from, no name on the card that came with it, just a very sweet and encouraging message…

message

Now, it’s clearly from someone who knows me. They had to know that I would truly appreciate the books included – I haven’t written a huge amount about my faith and spirituality on the blog so I am assuming they know me “off the blog” too. However, given the message above, the gift giver must have seen my post about my goals for 2015, surely? More than anything else, they have to have known my postal address!! Taking all these into account, I have a few people it could be, but I am not 100% which one it is.

Whoever it is though, the “little something” is actually a hugely generous gift that has touched my heart in more ways that I can express and came at the most perfect time. It has come to remind me to continue opening my heart to the unseen, to begin trusting in the unknown, and to embrace the community around me in ways I haven’t done in years, if ever.

I’m learning to accept who I am, to stop feeling apologetic for not “fitting in”, to allow myself to explore my own faith and understanding and be comfortable in that. I am learning not to hide who I am, to know it is okay to be different, and that who I am is unique and perfect for the life I am leading.

This is all being reflected back to me in so many ways that I can no longer ignore it. Major external changes are hard to miss, but the internal ones are pretty easy to dismiss sometimes, don’t you think? You can so easily doubt them when there is little tangible evidence for them on the surface. Which is why the surprise gift means so much – it is a physical reminder of the internal changes towards release and acceptance of support, one which came at the most perfect moment.

Which brings me back to the very beginning of this blog post…

“Have you ever found that sometimes, when you stop fighting, things just suddenly begin to fall into place in a way you could never have imagined?”

 

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This post has been shared as part of the #sharethejoy linky hosted by Bod For Tea

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Word of the Year 2015 Surrender

Surrender

I don’t know about you, but it feels to me as if 2014 has been a year of battles and anguish. Throughout the world there have been so many heart-wrenching stories of pain and loss, coming one after the other in quick succession, providing very little chance to try and get your head around one thing before another comes to rock your world view.

There have been lost planes, mass conflicts in both the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and then the Ebola Crisis in Africa. And it doesn’t seem to be letting up… a few days before Christmas lives were lost in Glasgow as a dustbin lorry veered out of control, and then today yet another airplane has been lost. It just keeps coming.

And away from the large scale news, there are the individual lives that are affected every single day. The deeply personal stories of those affected by the above mentioned events, as well as those fighting their own personal battles. And I count TJ and myself in this.

2014 has been one of the hardest years we have ever had to face. And that is saying something. Since we met in 2007 I have been through 3 pseudo-menopauses, surgery, and a HG pregnancy (further complicated by Obstetric Cholestasis). And TJ has changed careers twice in an effort to continue working despite increasing pain and symptoms that have affected every part of his life. We’ve both faced depression head on, both been in therapy, and both come out fighting another day. Yet this year has pretty much broken us!

TJ’s health took such a huge turn for the worst this year, and in turn so did mine as the stress of working full-time whilst trying to meet the needs of an active 3 year old and a very poorly husband really began to take its toll. We have fought until we had no fight left in us, and thankfully it seems as if the tides are slowly turning and we’re beginning to surface above the crashing waves once more. And we have hope that 2015 will bring us more good news. But we are beat.

And over the past few days I have been reflecting on this a lot. I find that I am in need of a complete change of attitude to the world around us and the personal battles that we all face. For too long now I have been fighting against the tide, passionately hoping beyond hope that one day things will change, when really it might have been easier to choose to surrender and ride the waves instead. But how do you do that when every inch of your being tells you to fight?

Word of the Year 2015 Surrender

It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote a blog post called “Warrior“. And I do still relate to that post a lot. But I’m beginning to wonder whether there is a balance between fighting and surrendering. Choosing our battles has to be wiser than fighting in each and every one that comes our way, surely?

This doesn’t mean accepting injustice, or allowing things that we feel are inherently “wrong” to go unchecked. But it does mean realising that some battles are not ours to fight. Some battles simply cannot be won by giving everything you have to them. Sometimes the battle is not so much the outer experience, but your inner one.

Last night I did something that I haven’t done in a very long time. I prayed. I mean I really, truly opened my heart and asked for help. I didn’t scream out my need for help in desperation, like I have been doing recently, only to then continue trying to fight the battle myself. Rather, I sat in silence and focused on what I really needed. And that was love, acceptance and peace.

TJ and I have so much more ahead of us that we need to face together. Our lives are pretty turbulent at the moment, and it can feel utterly overwhelming at times. And that isn’t going to change overnight. But what can change is our perception of this. We can give ourselves some grace to breathe and be and accept that even when every day feels like a battle, it’s okay.

And I know that for me this means learning how to surrender. I need to give up this idea that I have to fix it all myself. I need to relinquish the thought that I am not good enough, because if only I were better our lives would be better too. And I need to surrender my pride enough to open up my heart and let others in.

It isn’t an easy concept for me to grasp. I have become used to surviving on my own merit. But doing so has led me to become very cynical about life and closed to a lot of the wonderful things in our lives right now. And this needs to change. It is a change worth making, a risk worth taking, and it just feels right.

So my word for 2015 is surrender. I’m going to stick it up on my blog sidebar so that it reminds me every time I log on. I’m also going to add it to the manifestation collage I made for myself on the eve of the Winter Solstice. And I am going to be intentional about surrendering myself to what is happening right now in my life and what is to come over the next 12 months.

Tell me, what changes do you want to make for 2015?

Midwinter Solstice

Solstice Reflections

Midwinter Solstice

Today marks the Midwinter Solstice, or the “return of the sun” and is one of the main celebrations in the Pagan Wheel of the Year. It comes just a few days before Christmas and is a time of celebration of hope for us in some of our darkest days.

I find this very poignant this year, as the past few weeks have really taken their toll on our little family. To be fair, 2014 has been one of the biggest and longest challenges of our lives, and I have felt utterly broken by it. But the past few weeks have pretty much pushed the very fragile nature of my soul into shattering completely. It has been like a metaphorical Winter of the soul!

And yet, within it all, a little light of hope shines. Hope that nothing lasts forever, and one day soon life will begin its upswing into the light and warmth of Spring and Summer. We’ve already seen the beginning sparks of this with the good news regarding TJ’s treatment plan, and having some time and space to stop still and breathe has enabled me to find my footing and begin to put myself back together again.

Sometimes, in life, things get so messed up that trying to fix one more crack is not enough… sometimes it is better to smash it all to pieces and rebuild with firmer foundations. Not that it always feels that way when it happens!!

I feel like 2014 has been my “breaking point” and I have reached that point where the old ways just no longer cut it. TJ and I have been through so much together (and as individuals) and we have had so very many cracks to try and fill and sustain and we finally hit that point where it felt like everything was crumbling around us and we didn’t know what to do. Looking back over the past 12 months I can see how we have had a slow crumble rather than one big crash, but the final push most certainly came over the past quarter.

And just when I felt like I had let everybody down and there was no way out, I began to see that there is an opportunity in all of this. An opportunity to build those firmer foundations, to find a more stable way of living and being, to rediscover the roots of faith that have sustained me in the past and the joys of life which help to balance out the challenges we face. In the midst of my own personal Winter I am beginning to see the light that lies just around the corner.

And whilst I long to be there right now, I am beginning to respect that life is a cycle and no matter how much we may wish to rush things forward, we need to allow things to happen in their own time. I am also beginning to finally understand that I cannot (and should not try!) to do it all alone. Everybody needs help and support and community around them and that is something I truly wish to embrace in a way I have never really done so before.

As much as I feel that 2014 has been our “breaking point”, I really feel that 2015 is going to be our “turning point”, the year in which we begin to find our feet, breathe a little easier, and set the foundations for the future. And whilst 2015 is still a little way off, today marks a significant moment in that process. It is a day that we set intentions and hopes for the year ahead, and look towards the light that is just around the corner.

Happy Solstice, everyone!

 

It’s Okay When Life Turns Out Different To Your Plans

A couple of weeks ago I was at a low point in my life. I was stressed, I was sick, and I was pretty miserable. At times like that I am reminded of how very different my adult life has turned out compared to how I always imagined it would. And I very much doubt I am alone in having these feelings.

But, as often happens, as I was knee-deep in these feelings (note I could have been much deeper!!) I stumbled across exactly what I needed…

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This book. Eat, Pray, Love is the book I have been yearning for and just haven’t bothered to pick it up, despite having known about it for a long time! And then in one weekend we found both the DVD and the book (the book in a second hand shop too) and I made sure to make time to sit and read it whenever I could.

This weekend TJ and Little Man have gone away on a little “venture” as Little Man called it. So I have been home alone. It’s a strange feeling being on my own and actually having time to do what I want instead of trying to fit way too many things into my life, most of these connected to work, being a parent or just because I find I cannot say “no” and offer to do way too many things! And so Saturday was spent feeling an underlying guilt for not doing anything productive at all… because, after all, there were so many things I wanted to do that I just hadn’t had time to do when so busy doing other things, if that makes sense?

But by Sunday I had found a bit of a groove and enjoyed breakfast in the garden, crocheting a little something, photographing the flowers that filled me with joy and picking up this book to read a bit more. And yes, I was wearing my flowery pyjamas with bright yellow shoes and enjoying being lazy as anything at that point.

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The sun was shining and I felt hugely content reading the book. Whilst I do not have the same passion for food as the author (my relationship with food has never been great, but is slowly improving) I do love the way she expresses so much joy in learning another language. As a linguist, this is something I can really relate to.

Okay, I’m not sure whether I can still call myself a linguist because I graduated almost 8 years ago, and it is almost 10 years ago that I first set off to Germany for 3 months and then Russia for 3 months. But my love of languages remains, even if I do not have the time to practise much these days. I’ve always loved learning languages just for the sheer joy of being able to communicate in a whole new way and find these amasing new words and turns of phrase that feel so sensual almost as you try to get your tongue around the closest pronunciation to a native as possible and open up a whole new world of discovery. It’s why at school I spent at least some time learning Latin, French, German, Italian, and Chinese and why I loved helping my dad with his Spanish homework and then went on to study both German and Russian at university. And the Elizabthe Gilbert manages time and time again to express exactly what it is I love so much about learning all these languages.

Interestingly, though, I never planned on going to university to study languages. I had always thought I would train to be a teacher, not study some random degree just for the sake of it. And in this respect I always tell people I know that you kinda need to want to go to university to enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the experience, but the whole time I was there I remember wondering what the point was. I learnt far more in my 3 months in Germany than I ever did in the 8 years prior to it. But my teachers had told me to study something first and then get a PGCE in teaching. But by the time I completed 4 years at university I had pretty much had my fill of education and wanted nothing more than to work rather than study any further.

And I’m glad I didn’t become a teacher for that very reason, to be honest. Teachers have a hell of a time these days. But what this little story of mine means is that my life didn’t really work out the way I had planned and actually that can be okay…

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This afternoon I reached chapter 30 of the book and it amuses me that it is in this chapter that I really found my inner thoughts and feelings reflected back out at myself (after all, I turned 30 just a few weeks ago). In this chapter, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about how she imagined being the one who would end up having children and how making a choice not to do so can lead you to feeling guilty, as if it is a selfish decision:

“I thought it would be me who would end up with a houseful of muddy boots and hollering kids… we grew up into different adults than anyone might have foretold when we were children. It’s better this way though”.

“Not all the reasons to have children are the same, and not all of them are necessarily unselfish. Not all the reasons not to have children are the same, either, though. Nor are all those reasons necessarily selfish… I say this because I’m still working out that accusation, which was levelled against me many times by my husbands as our marriage was collapsing – selfishness. Every time he said it, I agreed completely, accepted the guilt, bought everything in the store.”

For me, aside from the going to university and becoming a teacher thing that never turned out the way I expected, the biggest thing I always thought I knew about myself was that I was the most maternal and deeply broody person I had ever known and would therefore end up surrounded by children.

And I’m not the only one who thought this. My aunt once told me she thought I’d have 6 kids. And my friends have told me, since I’ve had Little Man, how cruel it seems that the most maternal person they have ever known doesn’t feel able to have any more children.

And for a long, long time that realisation has hurt. In my mid-20s, TJ and I discussed not having any children at all, because my health wasn’t great at that time. We talked about how much more we could do if we didn’t have children. But ultimately I have been broody since before I even hit double figures in age myself, so it was kinda inevitable that urge to have a child would kick in at some point. And when it did it hit very hard indeed!

I was so very lucky to be able to fall pregnant naturally and have a healthy (in terms of outcome) pregnancy. However the experience was sheer hell and fraught with worry and even almost 3 years on we still feel our world rocked by what we went through. But I have found myself falling into this trap of wanting another child because I didn’t want this to be “it” for us. I didn’t want that part of my life I always dreamed about (i.e. having babies) to be over so soon. But deep down I also knew that it was and it needed to be and that this was actually the right thing for us.

But it’s so easy to fall into that trap of self-doubt. Yes, having an only child means I can give him so much more than I could if I were even more stretched than I am now by having another child. Yes, having an only child has enabled me to write a book (another dream which I never expected to happen at all, go figure). And yes, having an only child means that as he grows older and more independent I find I have time to do the things that I personally love doing. I have time to sit in the garden, in the sunshine, reading for pleasure. I have the time to blog about the things that mean something to me. I have the time (and the money) to attend a blogging conference for the third year running. I have all this time, and energy and space, that I would not have were we to have another child.

We’ve talked about fostering. And actually fostering is something I do feel we will do one day. But not right now. Not for a long time. Not until our only child no longer needs us so much. Right now I want us to have time to enjoy life… to be like Elizabeth Gilbert and find pleasure in life by saying, “no… that path wasn’t right for us”. And to do so is not selfish at all… selfish, for me, would be putting my entire family through the stress of having another child because they would need to hold me up whilst I followed a long-held dream that no longer fits in my life.

And nobody is more surprised by that than me!

Today I have learned something I have been trying to learn for years. That is is okay to step away from the dreams and plans you have held for years. To realise that whilst it is scary to do so, whilst you may worry about whether it’s the right thing to do, and whilst you may panic that one day you will regret it, sometimes stepping away is not only a good thing but necessary to find your own centre once more. As I discovered in another chapter in the book, sometimes we do not always know who or what we are anymore, but it becomes clear what we are not… and clinging on to that just because we don’t know who we are now isn’t the wisest or healthiest decision we’ll ever make.

If you haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love I cannot recommend it enough. It is such an easy read… Elizabeth Gilbert has such a beautiful honesty to her writing and for all the times she has had me nodding my head in agreement she has also had me crying with laughter just as much with her turn of phrase and amusing descriptions of a situation. I promise you, if you buy a copy you will not regret it!

 

Merely Another Way

You may remember that this time last year I read a fair few books that seemed quite contradictory reading in many ways:

"My recent/current reading list has contained the titles, "What God Wants", "What the Bible Really Teaches", "An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion" and "The God Delusion". Quite a selection – a "new age" book, a Christian challenge to fundamentalists, a philiosophical/theological book, and one written by a staunch atheist!"

I also went on to explain why this was of interest to me:

"More and more I am realising that if I truly want Little Man to grow up and make his own decisions about faith and "God" then I need to be able to encourage and support him in his own exploration as and when he is able and wants to do so… I'd rather he chose to be firmly religious or a passionate atheist (neither of which I am) or even someone who couldn't care less either way,  than follow in my footsteps and choose to believe something just because I do. If I can raise him to have his own mind, I'll be one happy mama."

I didn't really write much more about this after that, even though I continued to read various bits and pieces. But when I picked up another book by Neale Donald Walsch recently I realised that he has this unique way of putting into words so much of what I have felt for so long but never been able to explain very well. I began reading Communion with God just a week or so ago and every time I pick it up I wish I were as able to put my feelings into words. 

You see, I seem to have a lot of friends who either have very firm beliefs in God or who are passionately atheist and I find myself agreeing with each one on so many things and yet disagreeing on many others. And it can be hard to explain where you actually stand when you are neither here nor there, but somewhere in the middle, because that can seem so very "wishy washy" and changeable at times, which it is  (changeable I mean, not wishy washy)!

I love each one for their conviction in where they stand as I feel the same conviction that what I feel is right, is right for me. But expressing that can be difficult. And it can be even more confusing to try and explain how sometimes I can feel I have more in common with an atheist than with a christian, even though I believe in a God (of sorts). 

But when I talk about "God" I mean "Life". Pure and simple, I believe that "God" is a term used throughout the ages to describe the energy that creates life, that sustains life, that simply is life. So that includes you and me. Totally heretical to many faiths to suggest that we are all a part of God, co-creating the life that exists, but at its essence this is what I believe. We live in the world, we affect it through our thoughts, beliefs and actions. We're aren't mere spectators, we are creators. We create new life, we give birth to it, and we raise it. 

And the book puts this so much more succintly than I ever could:

'There is nothing that is that is not God.
'You may better grasp this idea if you use the word  "Life" in place of the word "God". The two words are interchangeable, so you will not alter the meaning…
"Nothing that is, is not Life. If Life needed to produce a result, where would Life get it? There is nothing that exists outside of Life. Life is All That Is, All That Was, and All That Will Ever Be.'

You may think I'm nuts, and that's okay! I think I'm nuts sometimes too. But I know that this really sums up for me exactly what I feel about life and God. I don't believe in God as a person. I think that we have personified an abstract feeling and concept that we struggle to put into words. And I think there is a real beauty in that, so long as we do not then expect everyone to accept our truth as the truth. 

And so this is why I find myself falling somewhere in the middle, enjoying  various perspectives given by both religions and atheists alike. It keeps me questioning whether what I believe today is the same as I believed yesterday, and I like that. Again the book writes this so much better than I ever could:

'Remember… take what you read as valuable, but not as infallible. Know that you are your own highest authority. Whether you read the Talmud or the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita or the Qur'an, the Pali Canon or the Book of Mormon, or any holy text, do not place your source of authority outside of yourself. But, rather, go within to see if the truth you've found is in harmony with the truth you find in your heart. If it is, do not say to others, "This book is true". Say, "This book is true for me". 

'And if others ask you about the way you are living because of the truth you have found within you, be sure to say that yours is not a better way, yours is merely another way.'

This last passage reminds me of the conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu that I shared last year and I think it is worth sharing again. I love how beautifully this conversation expresses the ability to seek your own truth and still be able to honour the truth of another. 

And I think it is a message that holds true in so many situations in life. '…if others ask you about the way you are living because of the truth you have found within you, be sure to say that yours is not a better way, yours is merely another way," is surely a message we should all remember when discussing different lifestyles, parenting choices and so much more. And this is why I love this book so much.

I do hope that as Little Man grows I will not only find the words to express these things to him but also the ability to live my life honouring the paths of others, showing him by the way I live my life rather than simply the words I speak. 

Faith and Spirituality

I have often wanted to write so much about my personal faith and that of our little family as a whole, but I have always been rather reluctant to do so. It seems like a really scary thing sometimes to put your heart and soul out there, for others to see. 

But my faith has really helped me deal with some truly difficult times in my life and it feels right that the ways in which it has helped me and in which we are trying to celebrate our faith should become part of this blog. After all, the blog is a reflection of our life and a place for us to record our memories as a family.

The thing is, my faith is one of unity. It is one where love transcends all else, and even in the darkest of days there is a little light flickering away, reminding me there is hope. It is one where there is no “right” or “wrong” only what is. It is one where God is in everything, God is everything, and so there is no need to do or be anything other than who you are. That doesn’t mean you cannot strive to be the best person you can be, but it does mean that if you ever fall short there is nothing but gratitude for your trying. 

For me, this means that there is a beauty in every single faith and religion of the world. They can be misused, of course they can, but in their very essence there lies love. And this is why I often feel drawn towards reading passages in the Bible or quotes from religions I may not know so well, even if I do not always agree with the dogma that states I cannot or should not interpret it the way I do. For me, faith is personal and to have an intimate relationship with the Divine, whatever form that may take for you, is the most exciting and precious thing you can do. For me, scripture is a guidebook, not a manual.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t find it hard to “speak my truth” or “share my heart” at times, but it does mean that I try always to see unity even where differences exist. Sometimes it comes down to semantics, sometimes to personal taste but there is usually a thread of unity, or commonality,  in there somewhere.

As such, I have often steered clear of ritual or ceremony as it felt too intrusive to me. But recently I have been realising that every day we carry out rituals or ceremonies in our lives without always even realising it. Simply cutting a bunch of flowers to bring into the house or give to a friend, or mixing ingredients to prepare food for the family can be ceremonies of their own. And so I am trying to become more mindful of these as I go about my life. I may not feel particularly at ease with formality and grandeur, but I do love a little bit of ceremony.

And so, it feels the time is right to start writing more about my faith and how I am attempting to nurture my own child to find his very own personal understanding of the world and the Divine aspect within it.

I may write about any number of things that I relate to faith, and I can only hope that each time I open my heart there is more loving reception than rejection. But life has two sides, and sometimes we benefit and grow from the tougher things in life and I’m ready to open myself up that little bit more.

It’s going to be an interesting ride, so why not join me?

Nurturing Faith in the Family

As you may have noticed, I think quite a lot about faith and how that relates to our lives as individuals and as a family. I don't write about it anywhere near as often as I think about it, but it does crop up from time to time.

I've been thinking about it a lot lately, as I've been trying to get my head and heart around certain things and I have been reading quite a bit too (whenever I've had the time). I've been wondering how to nurture faith in our family, especially in terms of introducing the idea of faith to Little Man and encouraging him to explore it in his own way.

I consider myself to be a Unitarian and as I wrote in this post, "The Unitarians believe you should actively seek your own experience and understanding of the Divine". But how do I do this with Little Man whilst he is so young? At this age they want clear and specific answers, not ones that ask them to consider deep thoughts they are unable to really comprehend right now. 

But even more confusing is how do I explain to him that I read the Bible but that I interpret it in the way that I feel guided to inside my own heart which doesn't always tally up with the more typical interpretations? It makes using a devotional very challenging and so we haven't got any of those.

So I was really happy to find and read the book "What God Wants" by Neale Donald Walsch and find that it talked very deeply about what he calls "Separation Theology" (the theology that we are separate from God and one another and that there must be one true religion) and went into detail about how he feels a theology of Unity would work. After all, this is what Unitarian thinking is all about. 

The following two quotations are ones that I want to keep in my mind and heart as I work on nurturing faith within myself and Little Man, and I hope you don't mind me sharing them. 

About Religion

"There is only one God. Whatever we think God is, most of the major religions of the world would agree: there is only One of That […] From "There is only one God" to "There is only One Thing at all" is a small shift. It's not a rejection of doctrine, but an enlargement. It's not an abandonment of traditional religious teaching, but an expansion […] This is not about rejecting religion. It is, in fact, about reinvigorating it, enlivening it, refreshing it." (Chapter 18)

About Scripture

"Humans will understand that God's words are found in all of the world's Holy Scriptures, and that no scripture is more authoritative, more complete, more accurate, or more authentic than any other, but that each contains great wisdom and each leads to a greater understanding of The Only Truth There Is" (Chapter 23)

These two verses speak to me so much and make me feel so much more at peace with how I approach the Bible and other sacred texts in a way that has previously been described by many as a "pick and mix" approach without much substance.

But nothing could be further from the truth, as I am constantly exploring God and my relationship with him. This is currently now being explored through another book I found at our local library, this time a Christian one, "What the Bible Really Teaches" by Keith Ward. 

Although I have found the beginning of this book rather hard going, it is in fact helping me to explore things in ever more detail and depth and I do believe that even though a book may be hard to read, that doesn't mean you shouldn't read it!

The reason I find it so hard is that actually the author is rather forceful in his "challenge" to fundamentalist thinking and beliefs and though I completely agree with an awful lot of the points he makes, I don't appreciate the style and force behind his words. It was a fundamentalist style of Christianity that pushed me away and so it is good to read a book that focuses on it, but even so it could have been toned down (in my mind, at least).

That being said, I am enjoying reading his "six principles of biblical interpretation". These include:

The Principle of Contextualisation

"We cannot read a biblical passage as though it has just fallen out of the sky and was addressed to us personally. We have to try and see who wrote it, when, why and for whom".
"What the Bible really teaches  is usually not very clear, and it is often widely misunderstood. In other words, what the Bible really teaches is not one thing, clearly stated, which it is faithless to doubt or deny" 

and

The Principle of Comprehensiveness

"In reading any passage of the Bible, we must consider all relevant biblical material, and not take passages in isolaton and out of context".

These both make me want to explore the Bible in much more detail than I have in the past and work out what it meant to the people at the time and what it means to me now. 

Essentially, these two books have made me feel more at ease with sharing parts of the Bible to introduce Little Man to God and faith and that it is okay to do this and share my own thoughts on what it all means, even if that isn't the mainstream intepretation. I was so worried that I might introduce something to Little Man and then him come across it again at school or something and find himself in a difficult situation if what I have shared with him is different to what is shared with him by another. 

But isn't that the point? Faith is personal, I have always maintained that, and yet I worry so much about getting it wrong when trying to explain this to Little Man. I need to let go of some of that worry and trust that he will find his own way in his own time. 

Thanks for letting me share this part of my heart with you today. I know that some of you may be very firm in your faith and the way you are raising your children and may find this slightly perplexing. Others of you may have no faith or be quite sincere atheists and may think I am mad for worrying so much about it. Either way, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts in the comment (as long as they are respectful and polite, of course!) 

Exploring Unity

I've been talking about writing about faith for some time, but always holding back through fear of something or other. And this extends not just to my writing here on the blog, but my conversations with others in real life and my own reading about faith.

So I'm starting 2013 with a fresh perspective and taking a deep breath before exploring some big issues that pop into my head from time to time. I am letting go of fear that talking about these kinds of things will alienate many readers, and taking back the blog as a place to reflect on what is important to me and my family. And today, that thought is unity.

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I've been thinking about the concept of unity for many years. It is the fact that I firmly believe that all things are connected in some way that leads me to turn away from mainstream religion and follow a path which feels right to me. I cannot, with all my heart, profess that any single person or religion has "the truth" to the exclusion of all others. It just doesn't feel right.

Every so often, especially when I walk through nature, I can feel this sense of belonging, a sense that everything is created from the same source and that if only we could be aware of this throughout our daily lives we'd have a lot less conflict and the need to say "this is right, but that is wrong" or "this is good, but that is bad" or even "this is the true God, yours is a false idol". When I am in nature, I feel connected to something greater than my own small world, and it is there that I feel most clearly that God created everything… and by that I mean everything. Whatever we term good or bad, right or wrong, it all comes from God. It is our own desire to categorise and understand things which complicates the matter.

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The photo I posted above was chosen for this particular blog post because to me it symbolises a little part of this concept of unity… that three seemingly different things can all come together and work in harmony, because in essence they are all connected anyway. And though I don't wish to pretend I know what this unity is all about, I do want to try and explore it in the way I live my life.

I want to try and get beyond the logical reasoning that so often makes me categorise something as "right" or "wrong" (because, after all, I may feel that everything is connected, but often my mind gets totally in the way of accepting it!) I want to go beyond the mere concept of unity, and truly explore what it means as best I can.

One of the ways I want to do this is to meditate more, to take myself away from the triggers in everyday life that stop me from exploring the unity of everything. It feels essential to me that in our everyday life things have to be categorised to certain extents to allow us to function as we do. I need to separate work life from home life, my role as mother from my role as wife, looking after the needs of others and looking after my own needs… the list goes on. But every so often it feels good to get away from that and just try to enjoy being and letting the world carry on around me. I don't do it enough, in fact I positively find ways to avoid doing it most days, yet when I do I feel so much better. 

I also want to explore the way we celebrate and experience life, by marking the changing of the seasons and the waxing and waning of the moon, not to say "I prefer this holiday to that" or "I am happier in the summer than winter", but to simply experience them for what they are. This is where the Pagan Wheel of the Year will help us out somewhat. I may not follow any single religion, but I do enjoy exploring them bit by bit. 

Some may call this "pick and mix" and a less dedicated way of living life and exploring faith. I personally prefer to see it as exploring my own personal relationship with God, the creator, in whatever form that appears. And in exploring a relationship, surely I am exploring the idea of unity once more?

I have no doubt that I shall return to this topic of unity many times, but this is the beginning of this year's journey, and that makes me excited for what it may bring. 

Interestingly, in a week when this concept was very clear in my mind, I was led to read an article about a meeting between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It is a wonderful read, why don't you check it out? 

Faith without Religion

I've been thinking a lot about faith and religion lately. Until earlier this year I didn't really feel like I belonged to any specific community. I had my faith, but it was my faith which kept me from fitting in to many more "mainstream" religions. And though I missed the community aspect, this wasn't a big deal for me. Until I had Little Man.

It strikes me that by having no religion as such I am "going it alone" in terms of introducing the idea of faith and God and everything else to Little Man. There are very few resources available (that I have found) which offer suggestions and age-appropriate stories and games which could introduce the thoughts and ideas to him, without coming from a very specific religious background. And as I believe faith is unique and do not want to push any one path upon Little Man, this concerned me.

So I was immensely glad when I found out more about the Unitarians this year and that TJ has shown a real interest in Paganism. I guess these two come under the umbrella term of "religion" but still they don't have the same religious concepts as many others do. The Unitarians believe you should actively seek your own experience and understanding of the Divine, whilst Paganism is such a varied path that to define a Pagan is quite challenging. 

There is no "standard teaching", no tagline which defines these two. And that is what makes me feel so comfortable with them. My own experience of faith and God has been that it cannot be squashed into any human terms, not fully. We can try to define the Divine in our own way and I think it is an important thing for us to do personally, but we cannot define it for another. For me, no one religion or person has the whole "truth". We all find aspects of the Divine that are important and appropriate for us in our current circumstances. To me, God is so huge that to claim we know exactly who and what he is and what he wants from us is to limit the unlimitless. 

But then, that is something I have come to understand over many years of experience and thinking. How do I express that very thing to Little Man? How do I show him that this is what mama believes, this is what daddy believes, but what he believes is more important for him? He isn't old enough for that kind of understanding just yet. So where do we start?

And yet, when I think back I realise that religion didn't really play a huge part in my early childhood either. My family weren't religious. I heard the odd Bible story at school but that was about it. And yet I have always had this immense faith that God was there, I was never alone, and that there was a purpose and flow to everything even if I couldn't see it at that time. This has obviously evolved and developed as I grew older, but the basis has always been there.

So maybe as children we are more aware of the Divine than we realise and faith develops anyway, whether we offer up teaching through a religion or not. Perhaps I need not worry so much about how and what to teach Little Man and just concentrate on living life through my own faith and seeing where that leads us. 

What do you think? Do you belong to a religion? How do you/did you raise your children? What resources have you found which help you in this?

Unitarian. Druid. A Strange Combination?

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For the past ten years I have spent an awful lot of time thinking about where I fit in when it comes to faith, spirituality and indeed religion. It has been a rocky road because although I know what it is I believe, finding a name for that and thereby a way to express it has been challenging.

For many, many years I honestly believed that faith in God must equate to being a Christian. It sounds utterly naive now based on everything I have learned in the past ten years or so, but let me paint the picture. My family weren't religious. They had beliefs, but we didn't attend church or home groups or anything. My experience of religion was through school and the odd church service with Brownies, Guides or the few months I spent singing in my friend's church choir. 

So when I went to university, I automatically joined the Christian Union. And that was when it all got complicated…

I found myself in a place that didn't feel right. Things that I had held dear were not only questioned but sometimes downright ridiculed and I went through a major spiritual crisis. I felt lost and alone and I didn't want anything to do with that world.

Luckily I found support online through some spiritual (New Age) forums and began to open up again. I even decided to spend my three month stay in Germany not only volunteering with the Salvation Army but also staying with a family there too. And I had a wonderful time.

Those three months did a fine job of healing a lot of the hurt I had felt and broke down my defensive barriers because they taught me that what I had experienced previously was an extreme and not the norm. I felt happy and loved during those three months and still write to some of the officers every year as I remember my time there so fondly.

But however much that experience brought me back from a place of being hostile towards Christianity, it also left me more confused than ever. Conversations led to my realising that my beliefs weren't always that far from those of what I'll call "mainstream Christianity" for want of a better term, but I still had some major differences that I personally felt stopped me from connecting with the Christian community.

Things like "original sin", "predestination", and the concept of the "Trinity". 

Oh and the fact that I practise Reiki, believe Angels are sent from God to help us all, and that every living thing has a soul that survives beyond physical death.

It didn't help that when I tried once more to connect with a Christian community online to try and figure this all out I was kicked off the forum for "saying the wrong thing". Whoops!

You'd think I would have just given up and gone my merry way in the spiritual community that seemed to have no pre-requisites, right? But there remained a part of me that missed the connection that belonging to a "real life" community brings. And this only grew once I fell pregnant with Little Man and started to think about how I would raise him.

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So when TJ started suggesting we should look again for some "Pagan" groups to join I initially felt rather excited. 

Except, upon reading more I began to wonder if I really was fully Pagan either. It seemed as if I was somewhere in the middle, between liberal (perhaps very liberal) Christian and loosely Pagan, not really fitting in one world or the other.

Yet the week we spent in Glastonbury earlier this year brought home just how much I miss the community spirit of togetherness. We had a wonderful time celebrating Beltane, and we held a beautiful little blessing for Little Man in the Chalice Well Gardens…

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So when TJ decided he really felt like Druidry might be where he felt his heart taking him, I listened with interest as he explained how some Druids consider themselves to be Christian as well and that the two don't necessarily clash.

I don't pretend to know all that much about Druidry as that is TJ's area, not mine. But it did make me wonder just how that would work. So I looked for more information, reading bits here and there, and eventually coming across the term "Unitarian".

It wasn't a new term to me. TJand I had actually been to a Unitarian church a couple of times, but for some reason I had never fully looked into it. And the more I read the more I realised I had probably been "Unitarian" all of my life, without really knowing.

Suddenly I felt less alone. I realised that there are groups out there that will help me as I develop further in my faith and that can offer support as I do the best I can in raising Little Man to seek his own relationship with God. 

And with all the other changes I've been making lately I feel much more confident and secure in sharing this with him, and with others. Whereas before I would carefully write such things as "my faith has helped me through HG" or avoiding the subject altogether, I now want to share that as it is crucial to understanding some of the things I am going through. And whereas I often used to avoid joining in with people when they discussed a topic, I feel able to take part now.

I found this amazing resource this morning answering common questions about Unitarianism and I found myself nodding along with so many parts of it. But the thing that really made my heart sing was this:

"We favour a simple and inclusive definition of the word Christian. Thus a Christian is any person who seeks to live in accord with the life and teachings of Jesus, who identifies with what is best in the Christian tradition, and who, perhaps, sees in Jesus a revelation of the God who is immanent in all people. This is the wellspring of love that permeated his nature and his ministry."

Cliff Reed "Are Unitarians Christians?"

I never felt comfortable saying I was "Christian" but in actual fact I have a huge amount of love for the life that Jesus led. I want to be able to show Oscar the Bible as a part of his upbringing in a way that allows him to think about it and decide what he believes to be true in his own heart. Because I ultimately hope that Little Man will have the freedom and courage to explore various paths before choosing that which he experiences as bringing him into a closer relationship with God, however he understands God to be. 

And that makes me feel glad. 

As a family we can celebrate those things we all share in our beliefs and still celebrate those which are different. We can pray and read the Bible, but we can also meditate, celebrate the Wheel of the Year, plant a Sacred Grove, and be open to learning more about the faiths of others. 

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Oh baby boy… this is going to be such a wonderful journey for us all!

I totally understand that this post may not sit very well with some people. I am leaving comments open on this post as I am happy to discuss this with anyone who wants a mutually open conversation built on respect for differences as well as celebrating similarities.  But I am not open to comments that aim only to either end in a massive theological debate in a hope to "prove me wrong" or simply undermine my own relationship with God. I have had plenty of those in the past and this isn't the time or place for it. Any such comments will be deleted. Thank you. 

Made To Shine

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I came across a message today which really struck home to me. It hit me so deeply that I didn't quite know how to move on from that moment in which everything suddenly clicked into place. It was so beautiful that I felt moved to tears and I just didn't want to lose that precious moment. 

It came after months of pain and sadness, and lots and lots of "soul searching" both in CBT sessions and on my own. In fact, it follows years of repeating the same patterns of behaviour that never quite worked and left me feeling hollow and unsure.

And though I knew this message logically it took this one moment for it to truly sink in to the depth of my heart and soul and make a monumental change. Which is quite a good way of explaining it, especially as I found the reading in the third part of the Educating Heart and Soul course I started at the beginning of the year and only just found time to really delve in to. 

There were actually several parts of this particular session that really spoke to me and it's going to take me time to do them all justice. But I have to start somewhere, and so here it is, the message that shook my world in the most amazing way:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves: "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?"

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. 

We are all meant to shine as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson (Return to Love)
Inspired by 'A Course in Miracles'

Wow!

For months I have been looking at self-esteem issues in my CBT sessions. I have been working through perfectionist ideals and trying to reach unattainable goals. I've been looking at guilt and feelings of inadequacy. And I've been facing, in my own life, a confusion over the outer expression of my inner faith and how to truly live what I believe, without fear of rejection or harsh judgement, in a way that is both beautiful and inspirational for Little Man to grow up with.

And I've spent hours going over and over these behaviours and fears and getting so close to the answer and yet never quite getting there. And now it makes sense: my fear is not my inadequacy, but my discomfort with how good I am,how brightly I could shine.

I have, unconsciously for the most part, pulled myself down in so many ways as I wanted to remain "humble" and avoid becoming "arrogant" by being who I am. And yet, in this light, it seems arrogant to assume that I need to "lower" my abilities. Which makes me realise that this behaviour, though meant in the best possible way, has some very negative results, not just for me, but for those around me.

If I want Little Man to shine as brightly as I believe he was made to shine, then I need to accept and honour the light within my own self and celebrate my own abilities, not hide and doubt them. If I do that he will hopefully learn to honour and celebrate his own light. 

This all follows on nicely from my recent posts and I can look back and see how all the changes of late have led to this moment when upon reading this message it all fell into place. 

So I'd like to just invite you all to read through the message, slowly, and let its meaning sink in. Let's all let our light shine!

Spirituality and Kids

Okay, so this post is a biggie for me. I generally only write very vaguely about my spirituality on the blog (and other places online, and in person, to be completely honest). It's a combination of not knowing quite how to explain what it is I believe and being afraid of sharing it and gaining negative reactions and/or getting myself into theosophical debates with people who have very specific sources of information to refer to when I don't. 

TJ bought me a book called "Pagan Parenting" for Christmas and there is a section within it that sums this up very nicely:

"[…]This raises the question of whether to be totally honest or to pretend to be like everyone else. It is a question faced daily by anyone on the fringes of the majority […] Children growing up with metaphysical beliefs will often not share this side of themselves with mainstream friends for fear of rejection and ridicule.[…] A large part of one's public profile is deciding what should be encompassed within that role. For most followers of mainstream religions, this is not even a question that comes to mind. Unless the individual is extremely devout, religion is not often a part of their public persona. They neither hide it nor broadcast it. It is like skin color, hair color or anything else that is an integral part of who we are without needing to think about it."

In many ways I'm like the child mentioned in that. I have an instinctual urge to be honest and open about who I am and what I believe, but there is that fear of ridicule or rejection. And if I feel that myself, it is only to be expected that Little Man will pick up on this and learn by my example how to fear these things too.

So being honest, first to myself and then to others, is essential if I truly want Little Man to grow up knowing it is perfectly okay for him to explore his own spirituality and choose his own path. I can't tell him to do one thing when I am doing something opposite myself. 

TJ is much better at living his spirituality than I am. He likes ritual and "being a part of something" and it was his idea to dress up for Beltane when we were in Glastonbury this year (in fact he bought the dress for me because I was taking my own sweet time to decide on something!)

But I don't really like ritual. I feel embarrassed when doing it, and personally find it takes my mind and heart away from the matter at hand. I love the idea of it and know it works well for so many people, but I'm just not very good at it. 

So whereas TJ finds quite a lot of help and ideas in various Pagan sources, I continue to find myself falling somewhere just on the outside, not quite sure of where I belong. There is no uncertainty in what it is I believe, that's a mistake people sometimes make when I say this. I know quite strongly what is essential to me and those things that I haven't quite figured out yet, well that's what life is for, right? But expressing it and living it is another matter.

You may wonder why I feel this need to be open about it all. Surely the quotation I used at the beginning of the post points out that a lot of people do keep their spiritual and public lives separate. The problem for me is that although I can quite happily keep them separate for the most part, there are times when my spirituality is essential for explaining my outlook on life and how I get through certain things.

For instance, before we started trying to conceive I had come to a certain "peace" with the thought that if we were "meant" to have our own child we would but if not it meant that there was a different path for us to follow. This "peace" wasn't easy and of course my heart desperately wanted to experience carrying my own child. We were incredibly lucky to have that opportunity, but the hell of a HG pregnancy (further complicated by Obstetric Cholestasis) means that there were times when I truly wondered what I was meant to "learn" from this and what it meant for our future. I still don't know the answers to those questions, but my spirituality still helps me by reassuring me that even if I don't know the answer, someone (or something) does!

And so this reassurance is something that I want to share with Little Man. I want him to know that even when he feels at his most vulnerable and most alone, there is someone he can turn to. I want him to see beyond what is obvious and look to the deeper meaning behind things, to see the connection between all life and all living things so that respecting nature and our environment and other people is more than just something he is "expected" to do. 

I want him to understand that mummy and daddy do certain things for a reason. That we choose to use cloth nappies, try and eat healthy, locally grown foods when we can, and want to do all we can for those around us because that is our way of honouring the life we have been given and the life all around us. 

And the only way I can do this, truly do it, is to live it. Which means stepping out from the fear of rejection and ridicule and being true to myself and my spirituality. And this also means honouring and sharing TJ's own individual spirituality (which is different to my own) and in turn honouring Little Man's too. 

But how do you do this without risking that same rejection and ridicule for your child? What if something I do, some choice I make or some post I write on here has a negative reaction that comes back to Little Man? Judgement waits around every corner and although I believe in being as open and honest as you can be, I do know that sometimes holding back is a good thing. 

Where is the balance? How much of yourself do you share, to avoid confusion and to have trusting relationships with others based on honesty and truth? It's such a difficult thing to know and if I was scared about it before, I'm even more scared about it now that my actions could negatively affect Little Man. Without a "mainstream" understanding and image to guide and support us, where do we start?

I don't know if I'll ever know the answer, but I do know that it is an important question to ask!

Beltane in Glastonbury (and some revelations)

Last week we celebrated Beltane in Glastonbury (my favourite place on earth) and it was truly magical.

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Photo courtesy of Nicole Fischer

We weren’t just there for the festivities, but it was jolly good to join in with the celebrations that happened around the Chalice Well area.

There was drumming (which Little Man loved) and dancing (which Little Man loved) and people dressed in all sorts of finery (which Little Man found fascinating). In fact it all made me rather emotional in a way I cannot quite describe, but let’s just say that seeing the procession coming past the Gardens made me well up with tears slightly as we joined the end of it.

We also had a blessing for Little Man (very small, just us and our friend Nicole) which I shall write about another time. It was very special for us.

But more than all of that, we came home with a renewed sense of passion for seeking out our own spirituality and being who we really want to be. TJ has actually never struggled with that as much as I have, but even he felt a difference being in a place that was so open and accepting.

I have held my beliefs very close to my heart for many years because I never knew where I fit in nor how others would respond. But I always knew I wanted any children I had to grow up knowing that whatever they felt to be true was okay. And suddenly I realised that unless I start living as if my own beliefs are okay to be shared he will never learn this.

Like so many things that have happened this year, it is the very fact that I no longer need to make changes for me but also for Little Man that I am able to take a leap of faith and try a different way of being. Things I have battled with for years suddenly seem to be falling into place as the changes necessary become so much easier to make. And it feels like the right time to start sharing these things on the blog too. Because, after all, this blog is first and foremost a place to record our lives as a family!

So instead of thinking about what I *should* post about, I’m going to start writing about things which mean something to me. Even if they are totally meaningless. And instead of worrying that I haven’t managed to post for a whole month, I’m just going to go with the flow. And instead of splitting my time between a mountain of projects and never feeling I have the chance to stop, I’m making my priorities and I’m going to try my hardest to stick to them.

A week in Glastonbury, without any internet and with a beautiful atmosphere around me, has made me realise what is important in my life.

I actually felt free without worrying whether I’d answered this person or checked up on that person, and though I still want to keep up with the lives of friends and family, I’m no longer going to stress about missing something once in a while.

And knowing I had only my family and the necessary things (like laundry) to deal with, made me a much happier and calmer (and more organised) person. TJ even mentioned he preferred this Amanda, the one who wasn’t constantly stuck to her computer or running from one thing to another. And I have to admit, I quite like her too!

So, Beltane in Glastonbury was a truly wonderful experience. But our holiday meant so much more to me. And I hope to share some of those things with you soon… but only when I have the time.

Faith: believing in what you cannot prove

I’ve been thinking about faith a lot recently, more than I usually do which is saying something. I am an immensely curious person when it comes to faith and how it is personal to each and every of us. I find myself reading the accounts of others on how their faith affects their lives, and regularly get myself in a philosophical tangle trying to understand how so many religions and spiritual paths have developed over the centuries, many teaching that theirs is the “only way” while completely missing or even denying the common threads that bind them all together.

This is something I think I will be confused by for the rest of my life, but this past week I realised something that made it that little bit easier for me to grasp. I cannot remember exactly what I was watching or reading at the time but I do remember suddenly feeling very clear about the idea that faith is believing in something that you cannot prove.

I think I always knew this at some level, but realising it so clearly made me realise just why I find it so difficult to fit into many religious or spiritual communities. I quite simply cannot work out the balance I need between sharing common thoughts and experiences while remembering to honour those which may not feel quite so true for us personally.

And this leads me to wonder exactly how we’re going to introduce and teach faith and spirituality to our child in a way that provides the least confusion whilst leaving it open for him to find his own personal faith. Young children want firm answers to most of their questions, and can often take what you say or do as the absolute truth that they should follow in life. I know this is a part of growing up, but I do want to try and give our son the best chance of knowing that whatever he feels to be true is the most important thing for him when it comes to faith.

How, for example, do I teach him the difference between science and faith? Science is something that relies totally on proof. We accept the ‘facts of life’ such as the world is round and the boiling point of water is 100ºc without question. And yet, at the same time, all of our major scientific breakthroughs come from a person’s ability to look beyond the obvious and question the ‘facts’. Perhaps there is a little more in common between science and faith than first meets the eye. After all, a scientist and a pilgrim are both seekers of ‘truth’, the first being unquestionable proof, the second being more personal.

For me personally though faith is so much more. It is an act of trust in something you cannot know for sure, and that is a huge commitment. Asking someone to believe in the power of gravity is a lot less than asking someone to believe in something that cannot be proven in any concrete way. With faith you have to decide what feels right to you in your own heart rather than relying on the convictions and reassurances of another. I know I could never question that gravity exists, yet I could easily dispute the idea someone has about God.

And this brings in another aspect of faith: how do we fully trust in something beyond ourselves without feeling the need to prove and justify that trust when someone else has a completely different view on the matter? How do I introduce my child to the world beyond the obvious without giving him too many of my own ideas as ‘the truth’? For me the things I believe may be my own truth, and I’d be happy if my son decides he believes in something similar, but how do I ensure he has the opportunity to seek for his own truth as well?

I do not want to project too many of my own ideas onto his life because I want him to be able to follow his own path in life. But I know that in his first few years he is going to need someone to trust and follow to even begin to develop an understanding of something beyond himself. So I guess it is all about finding the balance between sharing my own (and Tim’s) faith with him in these early years but subtly teaching him that it is perfectly okay and valuable to question and seek for his own answers. I hope that by finding some kind of balance like that, he will find it easier to choose his own path when he reaches an age where that is what he wants and needs to do.

When I think back to my own childhood, I realise took everything for granted. If someone told me something about life or God then I accepted it. And yet I also see that even at a young age I had beliefs that I cannot possibly have been taught by anyone else because they are uniquely personal to me and it took me many years to realise that they didn’t really fit in with the groups I was a part of at certain times in my teenage and early adult years. So perhaps I am underestimating children’s ability to question and find their own path with even the most minimal input from others.

Young children are inherently trusting: they trust their carers to show them how life works. They watch and mimic us to develop skills for life, and even overcome what must be the scariest experiences when they come across something new and alien to them. I remember once walking along a beach and a young family we passed were trying to introduce their toddler to the feeling of sand under her feet. The little girl was obviously very unsure and uncomfortable of this new substance, and clung to her parents and lifted her feet as far away from the sand as possible. And yet, within minutes she had decided to trust her parents and take her first tentative steps and effectively learnt that all was well and the sand was actually quite fun to play in!

Such trust in those who care for us is immense and we often forget that. As adults we become used to using our own discernment to decide if something is safe or not. We have gained enough knowledge and experience to trust in our own understanding of the world. But for a child this knowledge and experience is still being built and they have to rely on their carers to provide this for them. And I think this is why the faith we have as children is so much purer and secure than that which we have as adults. In some ways we have a lot less freedom in our ability to have faith as adults than we ever had as children.

Which brings me back to my original point: faith is believing in something that cannot be proven. As adults we seek confirmation and proof of most things in life, which for me explains why we so often feel the need to justify our own faith to others. We need to feel that our convictions in life are accepted by others, not just because we crave acceptance but also because it gives more strength to our ability to believe. But the beauty of faith is that we do trust in something that we cannot prove.

I could write about this for hours, but I don’t want to. What I will do though is leave you with a clip from Futurama that I saw the other day and which brought it all home to me once again. Isn’t it great when even our comedy shows can have things that make us think on such a deep level?


 

 

Faith and Parenting

Over the weekend, Tim and I went for a walk in some local woods to collect Spring leaves and flowers to decorate our house with. After all, Beltane is a lovely celebration in itself, but with us expecting a baby this year, it felt right to honour the new life that is appearing after the harsh winter.

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It was so lovely to get out and about again, as we used to go for regular walks in nature and it is so calming, relaxing and rejuvenating. And, thanks to finally starting to feel a bit better, I was able to enjoy being out in nature just for the sheer pleasure of it.

And this, of course, got me thinking. I wondered how it would be walking in the woods with a child, at every age through his or her childhood, and how what we show him or her will impact how he or she sees the world. Will our child share our absolute joy as just being out in nature, or will it be something that mum and dad just drag him or her out to every so often?

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But more than this, I wondered about the spiritual aspect of it all. You may have read my previous posts on faith and spirituality, and have figured out that Tim and I are rather unconventional in terms of what we believe. We do not follow a single religion, although if we did we would be classed much more as Pagan than anything else.

We believe in the interconnectedness of all life, and so we honour nature and the earth as much as we honour any God or Goddess. We try to thank the earth for providing such beautiful surroundings for us to walk in, and we try to remember to thank each tree when we take something from it. We often stop to offer Reiki or simply “connect” with a tree, plant or piece of the earth by sitting close and meditating. I say we often do this, but we haven’t done so for quite some time, and I miss it.

You see, because we don’t follow or practise a single religion, we don’t have a group or regular meeting to “kick us up the butt” when we become lax and decide that it is too much effort. And this is something I want to change for when our child is born, because I want our child to know how special we feel that everyone and everything in this world is, and I want to do this through “showing” him or her, rather than simply telling them.

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Which brings us to another aspect of the whole faith and parenting question: how do I do this, whilst allowing my child the freedom to explore, discover and express his or her own take on the world around us? My faith is personal to me, and I know that Tim and I differ significantly in some areas regarding what exactly we believe. This is what I love about our relationship, that we can respect each other and still come together and share in those aspects we agree on. And I want the same for my child… I want him or her to grow up knowing what mum and dad both believe, but also knowing that what he or she feels deep inside his or her own heart is what matters most.

I hope that our child will learn to love nature the way we have, and enjoy celebrating the changes in the seasons as the years flow by. I want nothing more than to share our love of Reiki (for it was this love that first brought Tim and me together), and I would love to take our child to places like Glastonbury and allow him or her to feel the magic of such places. But I also want my child to know that whatever path he or she chooses will be respected by us.

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And I guess, the best way I can think to do this, is to share not only the celebrations that Tim and I love, but also to introduce our child to the celebrations of other faiths, through showing him or her that each religion has its own way of seeing the divine and asking him or her to notice the similarities and differences between each one. That way, I hope to instill a sense of respect for all people, no matter what their background or faith, because this is so important to me. I just hope I can do so positively and in a way that does not confuse my child too much, for I know it has confused me in the past and still continues to do so sometimes!

Isn’t parenting both exciting and scary? Our baby isn’t even here yet and I cannot help but think of all the ways we can nurture him or her through the rest of their life.

Keeping Faith: Finding Meaning

A couple of month's ago I started a new series called "Keeping Faith" with a post entitled "Why I Believe". Now as we enter the new year and I look back on all we have come through in the past, it makes sense to expand on this with a post on how this faith helps in times of need.

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It doesn't matter who you are or how perfect your life may seem to an outsider, there will always be times in your life that inner turmoil reigns over inner peace. It could be the loss of a loved one, a change in careers or even a new relationship: the things that shake us do not have to be negative to cause us to lose balance inside.

I remember when I first started my relationship with Tim. The strength of the emotions I felt in connection to him was so overwhelming that I panicked. At first it was visible as "I like him, but I don't know how much I like him", and eventually turned into, "I like him, but I don't know what to do with these feelings". Such was the intensity that I actually became physically ill and it took Tim's wisdom in saying "we can go back to being friends if that's what you want," for my heart to finally conquer the fears of my mind and scream "don't you dare lose him!"

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Such times can be as baffling as other times are painful. Your whole world can be torn apart by fear, confusion or anger. When it feels that life is spiralling out of control and you have no idea where you are headed, that is when faith can help you find meaning.

Earlier this week I wrote about the time, seven years ago, that I re-found my faith and it brought me back from a very dark place. Although such a huge shift in perspective doesn't happen every day, the smaller comforts of faith can be just as helpful. 

Over the past few years, for example, I have had to come to terms with Endometriosis and the effects it can have on my life. Faith helped me to realise that I didn't have to hide this side of myself, that I didn't have to act as if nothing was wrong and that, in fact, I was stronger if I accepted this aspect of my life and learnt to live with it as opposed to despite it. 

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Without faith I would have found it meaningless pain, but with faith I began to see the blessings within it. Endometriosis, for all the pain it causes, teaches me so much about life, compassion and awareness of self and others. I am more passionate about seeing the burdens others have to overcome, and I am grateful for the insight this gives me into the strength of the human spirit.

But it is perhaps, when my faith is failing, that I realise just how much I rely on it. Only when I lost the ability to see beyond the present challenge and find the meaning within it did I truly value the power of faith. Without it, I fell into a pit of despair and depression.

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It has taken me a long time to find my way back beyond the anger, jealousy and fear that tore my spirit apart, and yet now I have I realise just how much meaning faith can bring to life. With faith, no matter what form it takes, even the biggest challenge has a role to play, and although it may not ease the physical pain it can certainly ease the ache in your heart. But more that that, the greatest gift it can provide is this: the courage to keep seeking, and facing each challenge, with the hope that one day it will all have been worth it!

Keeping Faith… Why I believe…

First of all, I must say a massive thanks to all those of you who left comments and sent messages to me following my previous post. I am overwhelmed by the response, for I don't think any post I've written has ever inspired so many people to leave a message. I guess being honest and sharing even those most scary thoughts really does make for good reading!

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So I thought I would expand on this openness and start a new series about the more spiritual nature and inspiration in my life. I have steered clear of going too deeply into this subject before through both a fear of alienating my readers and bringing judgemental, argumentative or theological responses that I cannot answer. 

You see, if someone asks me "what" I believe, I find it difficult to answer. This isn't just because of a fear of rejection, but also because it is hard to define something that is more a feeling and intuition than a solid and measurable thing.

I also feel rather weakly equipped, for although I know the basics of the Bible and Christianity (for example) when their scriptures, teachings or theologies are presented to me as a way of discussing or debating a certain issue I am often at a loss. This does not mean I dislike such conversations, as they can be very interesting and revealing, I just find them difficult when the other person has a range of quotations and religious examples to make their point and I have to somehow take what I feel in my heart and make sense of it with words.

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I may be good with words, but something as personal as faith is very hard to define (and defend, if arguments do arise). Even more difficult can be explaining to someone how you believe in pretty much the same thing that they do, are willing to accept their beliefs as spiritual truths, but are unwilling to accept and follow their religion. I still haven't figured that one out yet…

But ask me "why" I believe, and that I can answer far more easily. 

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I believe, because I do.

There has never been a time in my life that I cannot remember feeling that someone was there. My mind has always been enquiring: as a child I remember lying in bed trying to figure out how we know if we are dreaming or not, and where our thoughts occur because they are far too big to fit in our heads. I could imagine whole worlds in my mind's eye, so where was this world occurring? 

I never once stopped questioning things, but I never once questioned that God existed. (I use the word God as it is what I am most comfortable with, but there was a time in my early adulthood that I felt religion has taken the word away from me and I looked for alternative words such as Source and Energy but eventually I came back to the word God as it felt right for me). 

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I've spent years talking to someone, telling them everything from what I was feeling to what I was planning on doing. It was like a conversation took place in my mind, but there was someone else there to hear it. I even laughed and responded to some unheard reply sometimes, never quite knowing exactly why. I may sound mad, but it is how I live and I'll take madness over loneliness any day.

It didn't matter who this person was, I just knew that someone was there, guiding me, comforting me, and inspiring me. When I became too self-absorbed and run-down by life's events I lost the feeling of security that came with knowing someone was there, but still I talked, sharing my grief. And when things got exciting, I jumped for joy, knowing someone was watching.

So although my answer "I believe, because I do" may sound like a cop-out, it truly is the best way to answer the question of why I believe. To not believe is as alien a concept to me as to not hope or fear. 

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And I cannot blame this on some aspect of my upbringing because my parents never really spoke of anything beyond the visible until after my granddad died when I was 9, by which stage my belief was well and truly founded already.

Sure I came across aspects of religion in school, but never enough to form the strong bond I had with this unseen force. And besides, I only have to look at my conversations with "God" during the times I was angry with religion to know that no matter what questions I had about the specifics of it all, I could never doubt the existence of something beyond the world I see.

Incidentally, I believe in a lot more things than God, but the point is not to discuss that. I only mention it to point out that whilst our environment and upbringing can affect our ideas of the world to an extent, it really is our own ability to create our own beliefs that makes them as strong as they are.

Glastonbury – my favourite place on earth

As we are in the middle of the craziness of moving right now, I thought I would reflect on the peaceful haven of Glastonbury, which is one of my favourite places on earth…

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The old Abbey, so ancient and beautiful, holds a particular place in my heart as it was the place I first met some of my “online friends” and even though it was pouring with rain, the day was just magical…

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There are steps that just inspire dreams of all the people who have ever walked down them…

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And places of such beauty that even Angel feather lie there, waiting to be found…

 

Places of sweet beauty and silence, where my friend and I sat and sang “Amazing Grace” and listened to it echo round the dark hall before we were joined by a man and woman who sang the most gloriously haunting song in a language neither of us understood…

(sorry for the blurry picture, it was hard to get a good photo without ruining the beautiful glow)

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And then there are all the wonderful places to sit and meditate within the Chalice Well Gardens

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Even the shops are magical…

Oh, Glastonbury, how I love thee and long to return in the not-too-distant future.

Tell me, what is your favourite place on earth and why?