Monthly Archives: September 2015

The C word

Yes the photos below were taken at Spotlight at the weekend! and you know what that means…maybe I’m closer to moving into my new house.

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A close friend’s mother died last week and it forces one to think about, and be grateful for, family and friends. I delighted in taking Sam out for a meal and thought that I must make it a ritual to have some time together more often. I wanted to spoil him and make sure he knew how important he is to me. (Without filling him with dread of obligation though!) I am such a clingy, helicopter mother no matter how hard I try not to be.

I am continuing my mindfulness meditations as the course has now finished. The Mindfulness Works company continue to send little snippets and resources to me and one of the things was to go for a mindful walk.  I am living out at Titirangi at the moment and I tell my long-suffering friend that it is the wop wops. I find it completely foreign in many ways and it also reminds me of Dunedin. I feel as though I’m in a different city. Being with her though means long discussions into the night, delicious vegetarian food and lots and lots of herbal tea. I had been in all day today until I went for a coffee and well, all right a piece of sickly cheese cake which I regretted the moment it passed my lips.

I decided to go for a mindful walk as the evening was still quite light and I immediately  became aware of all the birds. Big fat wood pigeons swung overhead, their wings beating fervently as though to keep them airborne. I don’t know how they balance those big fat tummies on the wires. I kind of expect them to tip up and flop to the ground. I also wonder how they keep their clothes so white. You’d think being out all day and night you’d be sure to spill berry juice on your bib.  Tuis were going crazy like teen-aged drunks in the blossoms and fantails well, fanning their tails. Last night I listened to a morepork which sounded as though it was right outside my window.

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I don’t know if it was very mindful taking pictures all the way but I did anyway. I promise I didn’t “arrange” any of the pictures.

These are some other  things I became mindful of as I walked.

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That one looks a little like a rugby ball….

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I am reminded that on my niece’s wedding invitation it respectfully asks people not to take photos but rather, be present and enjoy the day and let the professional photographer do the camera work. It seems a good idea to discourage people spending the day looking through a lens rather than actually concentrating on the celebration.

Living with friends makes me realise what a house-keeping slob I am. I had no idea that people have permanently tidy airing cupboards and beautifully arranged pantries. I thought that they had just done them right before i arrived out of some kind of guilt trip. I am fantasising that
I will be like that but I suspect that’s all it is- a fantasy.  I hoping Deb will pop down regularly and show me how it’s done. What’s even more difficult is that my compulsively tidy friend will be living in an exact replica of my place two doors down and that we have mutual friends. It could be a kind of before and after scenario and I know which one mine will be. She is minimalist and very tidy. No pressure then!!

Have a great week and remember, there are only 87 more days until Christmas. Arrrgh. FG

 

 

 

Pilgrimages

This has been the year of pilgrim films. First there was The Way. The Way  is a story of a father (Martin Sheen) that walks the Camino de Santiago with his son’s (Emilio Estevez) ashes, from Saint Jean de Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.

Then there was the true story of Oscar Nominated Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) and starring and produced by Reese Witherspoon (Best Actress Nomination). It is based on Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir by the same name. Strayed’s story chronicles her experience of confronting a destructive path her life had taken by embarking on a solo trek covering 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada.

Then there was Tracks where a young woman goes on a 1,700-mile trek across the deserts of West Australia with four camels and her faithful dog.

This was closely followed by another Camino way movie, Walking the Camino, 6 ways to walk to Santiago, 500 miles on foot. This is a profile of six pilgrims again taking the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage.

Not to be outdone, Bill Bryson then attempts the Appalachian Way. After spending two decades in England, Bill Bryson returns to the U.S., where he decides the best way to connect with his homeland is to hike the Appalachian Trail with one of his oldest friends.

See what I mean? None of them really moved me. Most of them put me off, snoring, farting, smelly dorm mates, everyone “finding themselves”. The Camino Way looked like a major highway. There seemed to be so many people tramping up and down it.

In the last half hour I finished my book club  book,  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I loved it. Of course it was fiction but it was a great story with a really satisfying conclusion. Harolds’ pilgrimage takes him from the South of England to the north and while he does do some “finding”, mostly he doesn’t bore us by telling us about it. I found it compelling and ultimately very moving.

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Maybe books do it better. Fiona Farrell’s, The Broken Book, documents, among other things, the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.

I have been set to thinking about the walking thing. Almost everyone became aware that they were carrying too much stuff and actually we really don’t need much stuff.

This is of concern to someone like me, who adores my stuff. I love having my paintings, candles, memories, flowers, colours, linen duvets and sheets, fluffy towels, lavender oil, my buttons and yarns box, knitting needles, good kitchen knives, china cups, and on it goes, around me. Some are valuable, most are not. I worry that I might finally take possession of my house, fill it with stuff and still feel empty and lonely. I’m pretty sure the expensive storage locker I am paying for each month is full of crapola.

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I am looking forward to finding a special place for my Picasso dove print.

i am determined that I will put in my “must haves” and leave the rest in the garage until I decide whether to keep or throw. I did throw out a lot of books, clothes and stuff when I got the house ready to sell and it felt good to unburden myself of junk. There is nothing that I regret or have need of so far.

I do think there is pleasure in having a calm and lovely bedroom to rest in at the end of each day.  Of course the “lovely” is entirely an individual thing. I guess I am a nester, a home-body, a stay-at- homer. I hate cleaning though, and know that the well-ordered pantry I imagine, will be in disarray within days.

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Believe it or not, I love to iron a piece of nice linen to put under my rusty ferris wheel. One of my minimalist friends, exclaimed once about my candle house, what on earth is that?? It was kind of hard to explain that I get pleasure from the ritual of opening the little latch and striking a match to light the fat candle inside.

Still, there is the walking thing. It has been brewing in the back of my mind for a long time now. I don’t know where to or even why but I suspect that doesn’t matter much as long as I put one foot in front of the other. What will matter is the accommodation, I’m sorry to say I will not stay in backpackers or in a dorm, I value my privacy far too much!

I would like to hear from you about the walks you have taken and why. Meanwhile I am back to my library books and candles and knitting and day dreaming of my orderly pantry….. FG

 

 

 

Poems and the Past

I was thinking a little more about Helen L and her superior colouring skills. ( see my last post) Those feelings of inadequacy as a child still transfer so readily to the adult. I think I don’t have the persevering skills to make the colouring-in look good. Always, I get a little sloppy, or rush into it with the wrong colour. Both my sisters run immaculate houses and are very precise. My strengths do not run to the precise. My oldest sister does exquisite embroidery. I’ve no idea why I thought I would be able to do it.

Possibly rather foolishly I have bought a tea towel at half price and some embroidery cottons and  I know that even if the front looks okay, the back will be a mess of criss -crossing and split threads. Or maybe I wont even finish it. I won’t start it until I have finished my rug, but it is now becoming a bit of a challenge in my mind. I’m sure not to get it in the middle or I’ll muddle up the colours or get a knot.

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At high school embroidery was compulsory and was taken by a fierce diminutive woman called Mrs Lascelles. It was in her class that my inadequacy reached quite dizzying heights. The compulsory embroidery classes were taken in what I see now, was a gorgeous old house next to the school. We would troop up the stairs of the maids’ entrance and enter the room where an old gas fire would be hissing, its white waffle bars glowing. Mrs Lascelles would be standing behind her desk and above her was a painting of The Lacemaker by Vermeer.

All third formers started with a sampler bag. I knew even then that I had “no taste” as mine was navy blue and orange whereas the clever girls would choose beautiful soft greens and taupes and cream. Although tiny, Mrs Lascelles was easily able to make herself heard and a familiar call was, “No canary yellow girls, no canary yellow.” I kept my bag but it brings with it both the sense of accomplishment and the humiliating feeling  when inspection took place to ensure the crosses were all facing in the right direction. My friend Winifred, now a renowned orthodontist was a fantastic embroiderer. May be she takes those skills into her work.

Each year we had to do something else, first the bag, then the tray cloth and then finally in fifth form, the supper cloth. I remember that as I hadn’t finished mine, I was threatened with not being allowed to sit School Certificate. As a last resort I paid Julia D to do it for me. It was supposed to be a border but when she discovered it didn’t meet up we had to pretend it was just a corner pattern. It was ten dollars well spent.

I was similarly disabled when it came to sewing. I had a mean sewing teacher in Form 1 who made us unpick anything that wasn’t perfect. I remember the details vividly, it was an A-line, mustard wool skirt. As I was pretty small back then it wouldn’t have been more than half a metre of material. After watching me using an entire reel of cotton and not an inconsiderable amount of despair, my mother, who was an excellent seamstress, took pity on me and did it for me.

I have again rather foolishly, been lured into contemplating buying a sewing machine because they are now such a reasonable price. I think the only thing I could manage would be little lavender bags or maybe even a zipless cushion. All I need to do though, is to drive past a Cash Converters and see the row upon row of exercycles and other gym equipment to remind myself where that sewing machine and all its intentions might show up.

I now try to bear good old Leonard Cohen in mind when attempting anything. It gets me out of just about everything.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The mindfulness course helps one to focus on the present and to ditch those feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy -yeah right. I wrote the poem below a long time ago about meeting a “mature”, sensible girl at school who got her periods waaaay before me. I was always in trouble for chatting, giggling and not concentrating and she was always so good and calm with straight white hair. Curly hair seems to immediately brand one with a sort of out of control frivolousness.

I wrote this poem many years ago but I hope you have some fun remembering your years at school.

I Met A Woman I Went To School With
I met a woman I went to school with at the baggage claim.

In an instant I was back in a grey gymfrock
with the incorrectly tied girdle, my flat chest, not getting
the joke about Cleopatra going to the Nile periodically
which was why it was red.

Immediately I was transported to hopeless land.
The blotchy colouring in, the teacher ignoring my waving hand
for a place in the orchestra, both of us knowing
I’d be too much trouble.

Straight away my heart shrank in the face of
The glowering, freckled spinster with
Enormous feet, and orange hair who tried to make me
write-handed because left was Latin for sinister.

I met a woman I went to school with.
I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had just sailed past,
like a grown up might, nonchalantly hailing
a taxi with a confident wave and sitting in the back
looking up something important.

Sue Heggie

Have a good day. FG

 

Vulnerability and voting

I am enjoying the Mindfulness Course and aligned to that a friend gave me a mindfulness colouring-in book :)  You have no idea what joy can be found in a glitter gel pen and a colouring book. Mind you it did take me back to some painful school memories where Helen Landreth was a perfect colour- inerer and i was hopeless and totally inferior. She could do perfect darker lines around the edges and then smooth perfect colouring in in the middle. Her name really was Helen Landreth and it is amazing how quickly that name sprang into my mind at the sight of the book. How rapidly those feelings of envy and shame arose. I now blame it on left-handedness and a general lack of co-ordination. However, I suffered when I smudged a big red blob on the very first page of my new book. I can put it into perspective though, as being a massive first world problem, quite small really in the light of the news at the moment or any moment actually.

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I have just finished an excellent book called The Orphan Master’s Son which won the Pulitzer prize for fiction. It is an account of all you didn’t want to know about North Korea. It makes one eternally grateful for  NZ where you can do and say pretty much whatever you like. Adam Johnson provides a riveting portrait of a world rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. More hunger, casual cruelty and the misuse of power than beauty and love I’d have to say.

These people must follow everything the dear father says and their homes are invaded by propaganda messages night and day through a loud speaker. It reminded me of this clip I like. When elections come around I always put the following you tube clip on Facebook in order to encourage young people, or in fact anyone, to get out there and vote. It is an extract from a film called Looking for Alibrandi which was derived from the book of the same name. It is a teen book but as I love the genre I think you might enjoy the book too.

Following on from there, I was at a bit of a loose end the other evening and, horror of horrors, resorted to going to Wairau Hoyts. So armed with popcorn and an ice cream I entered a pretty substantial theatre and plonked myself down. Admittedly it was a Tuesday night but I ended up having the entire theatre to myself- a private viewing if you will. The film was called, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl and I was forced to assume by the lack of numbers that it would be rubbish. It so easily could have been, you know American, beautiful girl with cancer, geeky boy, falling in love etc, but actually it was a tender, funny and interesting little film. I’ve always been an advocate of co-ed schools and these kinds of friendships I see in real life, are why.

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My sore foot is back. I know, another first world problem but it is quite annoying. The lovely young pharmacist at Hobsonville Point suggested tumeric capsules. This seems to be the trendy herb of choice at the moment but as it is the sort of thing you jut have to rest I thought I may as well give it a try. I’ll give you a progress report anon.

Turmeric has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor and a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, and while it is best known as one of the ingredients used to make curry, it also gives ballpark mustard its bright yellow color.

Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. Turmeric has long been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory in both the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. Turmeric was traditionally called “Indian saffron” because of its deep yellow-orange color and has been used throughout history as a condiment, healing remedy and textile dye. The link below promises all sorts of benefits including stopping farting, Alzheimers, arthritis etc. so I’m hoping for some spin off benefits.

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78

I also want to share a video that I have seen before but was sent again through the mindfulness course i am doing. Partly because she is incredibly funny and entertaining but also because I think there is a lot of truth in what she is saying.

Have a great weekend. FG

A spring in my step and mind.

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A lot of people look forward to Spring but not me. I start sneezing, get headaches and I spend a lot of time berating the dreaded wattle. So here is my annual spring poem.

Out Damn Spring
(Bah Humbug)

I hate spring because
Everything’s new like lust
And lounge suites.

The light is smart
The growth obscene
In its smug luxuriance.

People smile in cahoots
With strangers, lambs frolic,
Calves cavort, dammit.

I hate the green of Spring
My nose itches, I get red spots
In Spring.

Everyone is hopeful,
There’s spring in their steps.
O come back dour winter so we know
Where we stand, and teach this spring
A thing or two.

There’s a bucket of yellow daffodils
Trumpeting at my door,
Their frilly faces like babies in bonnets
Silly kids in the school play.

Blast, I’m smiling like a goon.

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I have really been working on getting out on my bike and have done the Greenhithe -Hobsonville run several times now. It is very cool especially as the battery on my bike is working.

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View from the cycle way alongside the motorway.

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The yachting industry at Hobsonville may be replaced by the film industry. We will know by the end of October.

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Some of you my laugh as you know I am not very good at being mindful…but I’m going to a course. My main aim is to listen rather than blabber. Not sure how successful I’ll be. I’m going with a friend and last night after the course we went for a coffee (and oreo cheesecake). We were parked in a near-empty car park and she still managed to crash her car into a pole. Much hilarity as we were supposed to be learning focus and mindfulness of our surroundings.

“Mental Health Foundation mental health promoter Grant Rix says mindfulness has been shown to benefit our brains to such an extent that we can feel calmer, more aware, have an increased ability to focus and concentrate, remember things better and feel happier.” yeah right.

Still, there is a lot of respectable scientific research around the benefits of mindfulness. So for those of you who think it is some flaky, weirdo business, here are some well-documented benefits.

Empirically supported benefits of mindfulness

The term “mindfulness” has been used to refer to a psychological state of awareness, the practices that promote this awareness, a mode of processing information and a character trait. To be consistent with most of the research reviewed in this article, we define mindfulness as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.

Several disciplines and practices can cultivate mindfulness, such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, but most of the literature has focused on mindfulness that is developed through mindfulness meditation — those self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calmness, clarity and concentration (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006).

Researchers theorize that mindfulness meditation promotes metacognitive awareness, decreases rumination via disengagement from perseverative cognitive activities and enhances attentional capacities through gains in working memory. These cognitive gains, in turn, contribute to effective emotion-regulation strategies.

More specifically, research on mindfulness has identified these benefits:

Reduced rumination. Several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination. In one study, for example, Chambers et al. (2008) asked 20 novice meditators to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat. After the retreat, the meditation group had significantly higher self-reported mindfulness and a decreased negative affect compared with a control group. They also experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less rumination. In addition, the meditators had significantly better working memory capacity and were better able to sustain attention during a performance task compared with the control group.

Stress reduction. Many studies show that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. In 2010, Hoffman et al. conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies that explored the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. The researchers concluded that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues.

Those findings are consistent with evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety and negative affect. In one study, participants randomly assigned to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group were compared with controls on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety and psychopathology, and on neural reactivity as measured by fMRI after watching sad films (Farb et al., 2010). The researchers found that the participants who experienced mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly less anxiety, depression and somatic distress compared with the control group. In addition, the fMRI data indicated that the mindfulness group had less neural reactivity when they were exposed to the films than the control group, and they displayed distinctly different neural responses while watching the films than they did before their mindfulness training. These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation shifts people’s ability to use emotion regulation strategies in a way that enables them to experience emotion selectively, and that the emotions they experience may be processed differently in the brain (Farb et al., 2010; Williams, 2010).

Boosts to working memory. Improvements to working memory appear to be another benefit of mindfulness, research finds. A 2010 study by Jha et al., for example, documented the benefits of mindfulness meditation among a military group who participated in an eight-week mindfulness training, a nonmeditating military group and a group of nonmeditating civilians. Both military groups were in a highly stressful period before deployment. The researchers found that the nonmeditating military group had decreased working memory capacity over time, whereas working memory capacity among nonmeditating civilians was stable across time. Within the meditating military group, however, working memory capacity increased with meditation practice. In addition, meditation practice was directly related to self-reported positive affect and inversely related to self-reported negative affect.

Focus. Another study examined how mindfulness meditation affected participants’ ability to focus attention and suppress distracting information. The researchers compared a group of experienced mindfulness meditators with a control group that had no meditation experience. They found that the meditation group had significantly better performance on all measures of attention and had higher self-reported mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness were correlated directly with cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning (Moore and Malinowski, 2009).

Less emotional reactivity. Research also supports the notion that mindfulness meditation decreases emotional reactivity. In a study of people who had anywhere from one month to 29 years of mindfulness meditation practice, researchers found that mindfulness meditation practice helped people disengage from emotionally upsetting pictures and enabled them to focus better on a cognitive task as compared with people who saw the pictures but did not meditate (Ortner et al., 2007).

More cognitive flexibility. Another line of research suggests that in addition to helping people become less reactive, mindfulness meditation may also give them greater cognitive flexibility. One study found that people who practice mindfulness meditation appear to develop the skill of self-observation, which neurologically disengages the automatic pathways that were created by prior learning and enables present-moment input to be integrated in a new way (Siegel, 2007a). Meditation also activates the brain region associated with more adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Davidson et al., 2003). Activation of this region corresponds with faster recovery to baseline after being negatively provoked (Davidson, 2000; Davidson, Jackson, & Kalin, 2000).

Relationship satisfaction. Several studies find that a person’s ability to be mindful can help predict relationship satisfaction — the ability to respond well to relationship stress and the skill in communicating one’s emotions to a partner. Empirical evidence suggests that mindfulness protects against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict (Barnes et al., 2007), is positively associated with the ability to express oneself in various social situations (Dekeyser el al., 2008) and predicts relationship satisfaction (Barnes et al., 2007; Wachs & Cordova, 2007).

Other benefits. Mindfulness has been shown to enhance self-insight, morality, intuition and fear modulation, all functions associated with the brain’s middle prefrontal lobe area. Evidence also suggests that mindfulness meditation has numerous health benefits, including increased immune functioning (Davidson et al., 2003; see Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004 for a review of physical health benefits), improvement to well-being (Carmody & Baer, 2008) and reduction in psychological distress (Coffey & Hartman, 2008; Ostafin et al., 2006). In addition, mindfulness meditation practice appears to increase information processing speed (Moore & Malinowski, 2009), as well as decrease task effort and having thoughts that are unrelated to the task at hand (Lutz et al., 2009).

So there you go. I am going to be so incredibly mindful and have all the benefits of the above!  and for those of you like me who like the  more poetic relationship:

Trust yourself. At the root, at the core, there is pure sanity, pure openness. Don’t trust what you have been taught, what you think, what you believe, what you hope. Deeper than that, trust the silence of your being.”

– Gangaji

‘Wise understanding sees that suffering is inevitable, that all things that are born die. Wise understanding sees and accepts life as a whole.
With wise understanding we allow ourselves to contain all things, both dark and light, and we come to a sense of peace.This is not the peace of denial or running away, but the peace we find in the heart that has rejected nothing, that touches all things with compassion.'”

– Jack Kornfield

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Sam and me (on the left) out to lunch (possible some more than others…) I hope you’re having a good week. FG