We are all so busy, busy, busy... we have to make choices about how we spend our time. What you focus on grows - so there is a need to be mindful about that. And so... I'm in the process of streamlining my various social media blogs and photo-streams. Though I love the connection of them all – and they are very addictive – I need to spend more time in creating the things I want to create. That means more photography (I'm starting to sell my prints now!) and more books about mindfulness, spirituality and self-development. It means less time on FB and IG.
Sometimes it feels like I'm running to keep still!! Life gets so hectic and demanding...
Another change is that I'm in the process of revamping my website. I will be moving soon to a WordPress site - but you will still be able to find me as I will be keeping the same domain name. Some of it is a bit of a challenge... So here is to trying new things and to Change. Bring it on!
"Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love. It humbles my heart, For You are everywhere" ~ Hakim Sanai (from The Book of Everything: Journey of the Heart’s Desire : Hakim Sanai’s Walled Garden of Truth).
I was thinking about my mantra practice and how I use it to help me calm down and focus. I find it very helpful to chant my mantra before settling into a seated meditation. I usually stick with one mantra for a while – until I don't. By that I mean that I am not tied to one particular mantra, though I tend to stay with one for a long time. I have a few that I go back to often.
Usually I know the mantra I want, I might refresh my memory by looking in a book or thinking about a recording I know. But recently a mantra found its way to me! (Well, sort of). I'm speaking about the Gayatri mantra. This is an ancient mantra that is so so beautiful. I found myself very moved by it, drifting into a transcendent feeling of grace. The first word I used to describe it was 'Cosmic'. The strange thing is that I felt this on hearing it, before I knew what the words actually meant.
The mantra was playing quietly in the background of a yoga session. I was immediately enchanted by the beauty of it. I didn't think to ask what it was. Next day, a freind mentioned a mantra that she was really loving and it turned out to be the same one!! Over the next few days I just kept coming across it – hearing it everywhere. It was calling to me. Soon I began listening and chanting along... I found I wanted to chant it several times a day!! I was hooked!! And all this without even finding out what it meant!
It turns out that the Gayatri mantra has a deep and powerful meaning. Like all the ancent mantras its meaning is layered and open to interpretation. I guess you would need to chant it for a long time to fully understand it.
The mantra came from the Rig Veda, an ancient Vedic text. It is mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, where it is described as a poem of the Divine. On one level the mantra is an ecstatic salutation to the Sun deity Savitur – giving praise and thanks for his light. In ancient times people worshipped the Sun because it was (and still is) the source of all life on Earth. Its energy powers our planet. The mantra speaks of our place in the cosmos – the endless, timeless dance of planets and galaxies. But the mantra is broader than the literal meaning – it is describing the Divine light of the creator, the formless, nameless 'One', of which we are all part. It humbly asks for illumination and 'right thinking' of the intellect (or ego) to connect and align with that light. It is a devotion, meditation and prayer of gratitude all in one.
According to Douglas Brooks, a professor of religion at the University of Rochester, the Gayatri mantra is truly sacred. "The sensibility it evokes is more important than the literal meaning. It's an offering, a way to open to grace, to inspire oneself to connect to the ancient vision of India," he says. "Its effect is to inspire modern yogis to participate in the most ancient aspiration of illumination that connects modern yoga to the Vedic tradition." I couldn't agree with him more.
I experienced this mantra in my heart before I knew its literal meaning. This is a powerful, sacred mantra and I am blessed to be able to hear it and to chant it. I feel that this is a great mantra to chant when you wish to be of service and need guidance as to the best path to take. Align yourself with the highest power and you can't go wrong! There are many versions of the tune. It is worth noting that often the mantra is mispronounced by Westerners. I found a very helpful video on Youtube by Jorma Pohjola that explains it and how to chant it correctly.
May this beautiful mantra fill you with light and love and blessings.
For more information about mantra meditation, check out my little mantra book.
A walk in the forest has to be one of my favourite things. I walk and walk and soon my mind calms down and though I am still 'thinking', my thoughts are mainly about all the beauty I can see around me. That's why being in the forest makes it easier to practice awareness. It's the same on the beach – or anywhere in Nature, in fact. It must be because the contemplation of natural beauty is the closest there is to awareness itself.
It is that 'love' connection. Love of Nature, the beauty and natural environment. And the trees...
Oh the trees. Those noble standing ones. I had to stop every so often to take photos and to commune with them (yes, you know I'm a treehugger).
It was raining lightly, but that didn't matter. In fact it was welcome because it meant that even fewer people were venturing up the track. I like it that way – just me and the trees. The walk was up to the top of Conical Hill in Hanmer Springs. When I got there it was so amazingly beautiful – the mountain landscape with the mist lifting off the conifer trees. I had the look-out shelter to myself and I sat and meditated for a while. The gentle icy touch of a breeze on my face sent me instantly into awareness! Awareness is not about 'tuning out' the world. It's about being in it - in the now. Experiencing it without the dialogue of the mind. So I sat and was present as best I could be, with the dripping of rain from the roof of the shelter; the sounds of distant trucks; the constant song of bellbirds echoing through the forest. And all of it was just as it was. And I met it just as I was.
If you liked this blogpost - you can find me on Instagram (@mybeautifulskyphotos) where I post daily photos and heartfelt thoughts. I also have a Facebook page.
Body, mind, spirit practitioners know it. Yogis know it. And now medical researchers are proving that a healthy body means a happy mind. It's all about the bacteria in your gut – when you create a healthy, happy biome, numerous health benefits follow. Research shows that the bacteria in your gut encourage the intestines to produce serotonin, the body's 'feel good' chemical. And this is transmitted to the brain and so your mood improves. (The reverse can happen too – if your gut is in disarray, there is less serotonin and disordered nerve signals fire off to the brain, so creating anxiety.)
So how do you create a healthy gut flora? The key is 'clean eating', which means nothing processed and as organic as you can get it. Your gut bacteria love a variety of vegetables and they don't like man-made chemicals, antibiotics, processed sugars and additives. Eating a 'from-scratch' diet sounds difficult, but when you start to feel the benefits, you won't mind the extra chopping and cooking involved!
I discovered a version of the diet for myself recently, when I came across the mung bean and rice cleanse. I was feeling like I could do with a bit of a detox and this diet promised to be gentle (gone are the days when I can survive on celery sticks and water!) The basics of the diet, as its name suggests, are mung beans and brown rice, which together make a complete protein. Without getting too scientific, this means that they provide all of the nine essential amino acids that the body needs. You cook them up with spices such as turmeric, fresh ginger and garlic, all of which have known health benefits, including lowering inflammation in the body, cleansing the blood and assisting the liver. While on the cleanse you need to give up caffeine, all processed foods, nuts, milk and butter, although a small amount of cheese, yogurt or tahini are allowed. This diet is designed to be kind, so a little tinkering to make it do-able is ok. Fresh fruit and vegetables are unlimited. And you will need to stock up on a variety of herbal teas.
The first time I did the cleanse I stayed on it for 14 days – mainly because I was feeling so good! I would make a big batch up and freeze it in daily portions. I would eat these with added steamed veggies, slices of avocado or baby beetroot on the side and fruit as an inbetween-meal snack. Because this diet is so healthy, you could in theory stay on it forever, with the mung beans and rice providing proetin and all your vitamins and minerals coming from fruit and vegetables. There is a little fat there too, from the cooking oils and avocado.
But it has to be said that after a while, boredom may set in – there are only so many combinations of fresh vegetables you can make!! And this is where a delicious dressing comes to the rescue!! Honestly this is a fabulous dressing – it is delicious and enhances the flavour of salads and steamed veg. You'll find the recipe on the Kundalini Community Group website. Lots of other interesting info there too.
You are always welcome to leave a comment :) Find me on Instagram @mybeautifulskyphotos If you find me there - please say hello!
I also do a bit of photography too – as you can see (!) But my point is that I write books, yeah I edit them too and am very familiar with publishing software, so I know the basics of design and I can lay out and style a book. Fine. But the marketing bit ? well.... Not so great. Or maybe I'm just still learning.
I read an interesting article on the web today and there was a line that made me laugh out loud. 'If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living.' I laughed because it is so true. And Ros Barber, who wrote the piece, went on to say that 'Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.' Cough, splutter w-what!!???? Hmmm.... he does have a point.
It is easy to get drawn in to the whole 'must push my book in everyone's faces' mode and to feel a kind of desperation around marketing on social media. I hate getting spam - and so I wouldn't like to feel I am inflicting it on anyone!! But I have to speak up a little, or no one will know about my book at all. My answer is to choose a middle way. I'm not going to devote 90% of my time to marketing – no way!! And if that means less books sold, then so be it. My plan is to write, publish, let go. I'll have to plug my book on mantras (ha ha – couldn't resist!) occasionally so that people know where to get it. But mainly, I need to get on with the next one. And I already have one developing with more of my photos and some simple, uplifting text.
Shamans often refer to trees as the 'Standing Ones'. These graceful beings do indeed stay rooted (literally) to one spot, where they live out their slow, long lives. Unable to move about, they are stuck with the view they are given, and they make the best of it right where they are, adapting to change and simply basking in glorious light.
I have always loved trees – and I am not alone, since the veneration of trees goes way back to ancient times. In those days people had a greater respect for trees. For them trees offered food, medicine, shelter (from buildings made out of them) and warmth (from burning them). Trees were even markers of safe passage with certain ancient trees acting as signposts through the forest. In New Zealand, the maori planted cabbage trees to show safe passageways through marshland. Trees represented the connection between the heavens (sky) and the material plane (earth). Evergreens symbolised eternal life, while deciduous trees appeared miraculous in that they seemed to die in the winter, shedding their leaves, only to come back to life again in the spring. And so they became symbolic of rebirth and renewal. There is much more symbolism associated with trees – and it is found in the heart of many cultures. To name a few, there is The Tree of Life, The Cosmic Tree, The Tree of Knowledge, The Sephirotic Tree, The Tree of Light, The Singing Tree, The World Tree and the Bodhi Tree, where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
The tree above is a giant banyan growing near Sydney, Australia. How magnificent it is, with its aerial roots hanging like a shaggy beard. Trees have long lifespans and grow to epic proportions, given time. Their experience of time must be so different to ours (!)
I started learning more tree wisdom in the 2000s when I picked up a copy of 'Easy-to-use Shamanism' by Jan Morgan Wood (an intuitive shamanic artist now known as Faith Nolton). It was a turning point for me on my spiritual path, as it made sense of some of the things I had experienced. It was a confirmation that I wasn't mad – that there were others who experienced the world (and other worlds) as I did.
I was living in Surrey in the UK at the time, and just a short walk away from my house there was a grove of yew trees. Now these beautiful beings can be absolutely ancient – and there is so much that I can tell you about them that it must wait for another blogpost ! Anyway, I used to go to the grove often, just to 'be' with the trees. Sitting under the canopy of big branches that drooped down to the ground, I felt safe and had a sense of time being elastic. Don't knock it until you've tried it! Tuning in to a tree is magical. It can be any tree. Just place your hand upon the trunk (or hug it if you like!), slow down, stop 'thinking' and just be. Here is me, getting 'hands on' with a kauri in the Coromandel, North Island, New Zealand.
After the earthquake I had to say goodbye to an enormous pohutukawa tree on my property because a retaining wall needed to be rebuilt right where it stood. In fact, I reckon that the tree with its massive root system actually helped hold the old wall in place during the quake. I felt so sad to lose it – I thanked it for its help and said goodbye. I know for a fact that certain neighbours hate me for bringing the tree down – and they obviously don't know me well enough to understand how devastated I felt about it. But still – the tree knows and I know, and that's all that matters to me.
This last picture shows a tree fern, which can be seen growing in the temperate rainforests of New Zealand. They belong to some ancient genera, and are similar to plants that were living in the days of the dinosaurs.
There is so much wisdom that trees can teach us. So next time you meet a Standing One, remember to say hello.
What is your knowledge of trees? You are welcome to leave a comment.
Connect with me on Facebook or Instagram @mybeautifulskyphotos.
Selfcare is something many of us struggle with. It is easy to care for a friend or even help a stranger – so why is it so hard to care for ourselves? Some of it is conditioning; perhaps we grew up in a household where it was better (by that I mean 'safer') to keep quiet about our own needs and help where we could. Perhaps we were subtly coerced into doing that or openly praised for helping others and we began to think that to help others was a way of being seen and being loved. We need to challenge those beliefs because we deserve love regardless of our usefulness.
Or maybe we picked up on a vibe in society that gives special credit to people who help others and marks out people as 'bad' or 'selfish' if they don't. We have to challenge that too – and the language around it. Selfcare is not the same as selfishness. Selfcare is simply looking after yourself; listening to what you need and honouring yourself as an individual. How can you ever honour others when you don't honour yourself?
Selfcare is something I am learning myself. Evry so often I embark on a 'Self-kindness practice' for a certain period of time - perhaps a lunar cycle (29 days). I find that this creates a vessel or container for the practice and helps me work through and gain insights. I highly recommend it.
When you start to practice selfcare, you begin to really understand yourself and your boundaries and this helps you to care for others. And it is also more authentic. There is no duty or compulsion. You give from your overflow; you give because you want to; because you have energy to spare. It is a win: win situation! But you won't realise this until you start to really look after yourself. Trust me and give it a go. It will be the least selfish thing you do!
Check out my instagram account @mybeautifulskyphotos for more photos and mindful thoughts. I'm also on Facebook.
As it is Valentine's Day, and dedicated to love, I'm posting a photo of Guan Yin (Kwan Yin), the embodiment of compassion. Her love is broad without judgement. Imagine deferring your own salvation so that you can help others – that is what Guan Yin did. She attained a state of enlightenment but instead of heading for Nirvana, she remained as a bridge between our world and the next so that she could help us to get there too. Her mantra is featured in my new book, Essential Mantras.
Valentine's Day is mostly associated with romantic love, but in some ways romantic love is the most shallow form of love. It may feel vast and deep and dizzying, but it is surface sparkle! and often merely a mirage of what we want to see. A bit like the ego fooling itself. Only when it is tested by hard times, illness or loss can you know that a romantic love is true. I'm not knocking it, though. True love, when you find it, is something to be cherished and nurtured. It is something to be celebrated! But it's not the only kind of love and if you happen to be on your own this Valentine's Day, don't be blue. Romantic love is all fine and dandy, but there is a greater love – and this is something innate within you that you can give to your self. It's called compassion.
Why is compassion a greater form of love? Because it acts beyond the ego. It enables us to love even when we don't really want to. We see that someone who on the outside is ugly (in appearance or deeds), is the same as us on the inside. Compassion lets us give them the 'benefit of the doubt', so to speak, so that we can get past our own affront and love the person, who is actually suffering. Through compassion, we can connect on a human level. We all suffer; we are all imperfect. It can be hard to give compassion to someone who has hurt you, and has no intention of apologising or changing his/her behaviour. So first be compassionate with yourself. No one is expecting you to be like Mother Teresa or Guan Yin. These are very special souls. But it is in your own interest to forgive and move on. Compassion will help you to do this.
The love of friends is another important form of love – and this is a reciprocal kind of love that needs a little work. Unlike the unconditional kind of love that is compassion, platonic love is finely balanced between give and take. In a healthy friendship you are expected to be considerate of the other. That's not to say you can't make mistakes - but when you do, you need to be able to reconcile and say sorry. Friendship teaches us to give and to receive.
Life is in constant flow and we meet all these kinds of love in various amounts and forms. But remember that 'Love is a currency in reverse – the only way to be wealthy with it is to give more of it away' ~ Shane Koyczan.
Connect with me on Insatgram @mybeautifulskyphotos and on Facebook. Sending love and hugs xxx
Just a few words and a picture.
I have a new Mantra book out, click here for details :)