Feeling Graceful?

Finding the Ease

Some days I find it easier to feel more graceful than others! When I think of “grace”, the obvious image that pops into my mind is that of a ballet dancer – smooth, relaxed movements, with a look of calm serenity ever present on their face, no matter the complexity of the shape performed.

Now, I’m not much of a dancer but it would seem that I’ve not been much better at being graceful in my life either! Sure, when life is going reasonably well I can be graceful but when those rain clouds appear, as they surely do from time to time for us all, I have all the grace and elegance of Bambi, his first time on ice.

A great way to start building more grace into your life if, like me, you could do with a little more during life’s tougher times, is through some kind of physical activity, like dancing. For me, I’ve found yoga a perfect way to begin trying to integrate grace into the poses (asanas) first of all and, after some time, that’s really helped me begin applying this to my life off the mat too.

In yoga, the formation of the asanas include both “sthira” and “sukha”, once you have the basics down. Sthira is a Sanskrit word meaning solid, hard, firm, strong, lasting and permanent. Sukha, in Sanskrit, means gentle, ease, pleasantness and mildness. In the poses, we work to achieve both on the mat, grounding down through the spine and the back of the body whilst simultaneously easing our heart and chest space upwards and trying to avoid holding tension in the face and body – so no gritting our teeth and forcing our bodies into positions that it may not be ready for yet.

It’s a bit like the dualism concept of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy – the idea that two opposing concepts can complement and support each other rather than fight one another. To be whole, whether in dancing, sports, yoga or life, you need both to feel whole and well.

In Western yoga, this is often described as “finding the grace”, as grace is a concept more recognisable to us in the West. Holding a pose that you find difficult on the mat, whilst also relaxing your body and face and even smiling despite the strength being used to maintain the pose, is for me, what yoga is all about.

But it’s when you start to make the connection that you can “find the grace”, the strength to face whatever life throws at you with a relaxed, smooth and even calm manner, without adding in unnecessary stress and tension, to your life off the mat too that the tools and practices of yoga (or your physical activity of choice!) really advance to the next level.

Recently, I’ve been able to see this happening in my own life with a few tough weeks over the last month or so. Whether family issues, work, the odd health issue or finances, I’ve pretty much had all of them thrown at me at once and whilst I’m not going to say I found them easy to deal with, I definitely found them easier to deal with when I began trying to “find the grace” in the situation by treating them each like a yoga pose.

With finances, for example, where could I ground into the situation – well by taking a long, hard look at where my money was going. Spending £70.00 the month before on takeaways for 3 of us was completely unnecessary for one! Where could I release tension in the situation? By stopping spending so much on takeaways but not completely restricting myself by maybe cutting out the more expensive takeaways to maybe just a chippy tea twice a month instead of curries/pizzas at a third of the cost.

Another example was to consider if my youngest really needed to go to Breakfast Club anymore which she wasn’t really enjoying and, due to a change in the time she started school this year and the time I started work, grounding into the looking at the cost of this versus the benefit. An extra £60.00 a month for little to no benefit was a complete no-brainer and helped me ease the financial burden I found myself in, again helping to find the grace in the situation.

It wasn’t easy to do these things when I felt completely battered by other things life was throwing at me but I found it far easier to do when I repeated the mantra quietly to myself of “find the ease” and approached each problem like a yoga pose.

Of course, you’ll have to find your equivalent but yoga is a practice I highly recommend. It really can be any hobby. Is there something that you really enjoy doing that requires a certain amount of knowledge and application to perform but that goes more smoothly when you relax into it? Again, examples for me include knitting, cooking and playing guitar or even blogging. How could you apply that to your everyday life?

What’s Stealing Your Energy?

Discovering the Secret to Feeling More Energised

Over the last decade or so, this has become something of a personal quest for me – just why am I so darn tired all the time? To answer this question, I’ve seen doctors, had blood tests come back “all clear”, been prescribed anti-depressants and been referred to NHS talking therapy services. Whilst these all served their purpose and helped to some extent, I still found myself feeling more tired than I felt I should be and still wondering just how I could get more energy.

Asking the Right Questions

But maybe that’s not the best question to ask, as pointed out by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love in this linked article which I wished I’d come across years ago: https://www.glamour.com/story/elizabeth-gilbert-advice. Maybe a better question to ask is:

“Where is your energy going?”

Elizabeth Gilbert

Maybe, as Elizabeth Gilbert suggests happened to her, it wasn’t that I needed more energy; I just needed to learn how to spend it more wisely. It sounded so simple, I had to ask myself why I hadn’t thought about it this way before!

Energy Saving vs Energy Spending

When it comes to finances, I consider that I have a fairly good balance between saving and spending. Thinking about it, I’m not so sure I’ve applied those skills to my personal energy bank account quite so well. Over the years, especially through my twenties, I know I invested my energies in things that didn’t serve me well but, at the time, it didn’t really matter because it seemed so much easier to bounce back then.

Fast-forward a few years and those continual poor energy investments have led to some majorly depleted energy deposits that, like with any debt, take time to replenish – a time of “energy austerity”, if you will.

Now, despite a far healthier lifestyle and choices throughout 2019, it’s taken the best part of 12 months to start feeling like my old self and climb out of the red into the black.

Is it Not Just an Age Thing?

To a degree I’m sure it is – but it clearly isn’t just about age as some older people seem to have more energy than those younger than them. Of course we’re all different and will have different demands made of us, but just like with finances, it seems that how we spend what we do have, can make a world of difference to our daily energy levels.

So, Where is Your Energy Going?

Spending some of your hard-earned energy answering this question properly is likely to be an investment that pays dividends in the long-term.

Unhealthy Diets

We know we get our energy from food so the obvious place to start is to clean up our diets. That doesn’t mean we starve ourselves or dive head first into the latest diet craze, but it does mean we stop fuelling our bodies with unhealthy processed foods that take our body a considerable amount of energy to break down. Having said that, be sensible about it. If your body is used to a daily chocolate bar or packet of crisps, start reducing this slowly and gradually so you don’t hit your body with going from a certain daily amount of sugar to none at all. You’ll feel more tired than before that way. Maybe start with a couple of times a week, swap an unhealthy snack for a healthier version and build it up. You want to be aiming for treats to be a couple of times a week in the end but remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint if you want your new healthier food choices to last.

Unhealthy Habits

This one was the hardest for me – smoking, too much alcohol, lack of exercise, too much screen-time. These will be different for everyone and unlikely to be something you conquer overnight. What amazed me when I refrained from my unhealthy habits was realising just how much energy my bad habits were robbing from me. For me, it’s been taking one energy stealer at a time and taking them on one at a time, replacing them with healthier habits, swapping cigarettes for Champix, only drinking around once a month, daily yoga and dog-walks, putting my phone down and knitting, cooking or playing guitar. I found that until I quit smoking and massively reduced the alcohol intake, I just didn’t have the energy to engage in these healthier habits so if you have more than one bad habit like me, it might be worth asking yourself, which you think is robbing your energy most and start with that one.

Unhealthy Environments

It can be easy to underestimate this one – toxic workplace, toxic family, toxic friends – not the easiest thing to change. I spent years of my life trying to convince some people why they should like me and change themselves/their opinions before realising it was a complete waste of my time and energy. Now if I find myself around someone who is toxic, i.e. draining my energy repeatedly, I ask myself are they worth being around.

Of course, we can’t avoid and cut out everybody who is toxic to our energy – we may need that job or they may be a close family member/friend. But we can limit our contact with those people and set clear boundaries. This has been an absolute game-changer for me this year. I find that I have more time to spend with those friends, family and colleagues that I enjoy spending time with which means that when I do have to interact with someone I find draining, I have more energy, compassion and patience to do so. This isn’t about labelling people toxic/non-toxic or only being around those who always agree with you. It’s simply removing or reducing contact with people who you find draining to be around.

Obviously I’m no doctor nor medically trained in any way so obviously speak to your own healthcare provider before applying any of this to your own life or circumstances. If you’ve any tips you’d like to share to inspire others who may be feeling exhausted and run down feel free to add them to the comments below.

Seven Worlds, One Planet

Not for the Fainthearted

For anyone who’s watched any of Seven Worlds, One Planet, Sir David Attenborough’s latest collaboration with the BBC, I think it’s fair to say, it does not make easy viewing. Having said that, in my view, it’s not supposed to. It is meant to wake us up to the reality all around us. It is meant to jolt us into action.

And not before time.

As hard as it is to watch and to see the devastating effects of climate change on every continent on the planet, I strongly recommend that any adult who says that they care about animals, nature and/or the environment takes the time to do so. But I warn you, it is not for the faint of heart.

Just this morning, whilst I watched Episode 2 with growing horror at the destruction of habitats and how this is already affecting numerous animals living in Asia, my husband turned to me and asked how I could watch things like this. My response? It motivates me to try and do more about it. For me, that is reason enough.

Unfortunately, the time to bury our head in the sand and wait for others to save the planet has come and gone. Turning the other way and pretending it isn’t happening doesn’t mean it isn’t happening right now. If I have to sit through a programme showing me the stark reality of my actions and the actions of all those around me to guilt trip me into doing more, then frankly, it’s the least I can do.

I get it – for some the harsh reality is just too hard to face. For those people, ignorance really is bliss – for now. If those people can be motivated to do more for the planet without facing facts then great, don’t watch it. Get on with saving the planet today. But as harsh as it is to face watching a programme, climate change is encroaching on our lives one day at a time. Wait until we’re living it, as our current culture and behaviour is forcing these animals to do. Ignorance won’t be bliss then will it? Will you wish you had done more then?

Whilst I know that these days I do more than I used to in an effort to make a difference, at heart I know that there is more that I can do than what I am doing, and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it is this fact which makes watching this programme difficult to do. If every single one of us, whether having watched this programme or not, did one thing new towards helping in the fight against climate change today, then this would be a step in the right direction.

There will always be the sceptics out there who question the point of it given the pollution being produced by certain countries. Leave them to it – for some the responsibility is too great to bear that they are defeated without trying. Me, I intend to work harder at what I can do, starting with watching programmes like this and educating myself as to the true, terrible state of our planet and what I can do now, today, to help in the battle.

If you want to learn more and are ready to face up to the challenge, you can find out more here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07dzjwl

Another great source with tips on how you can begin fighting back can be found here: https://www.wwf.org.uk/thingsyoucando

What will you do?

Happy Celtic New Year!

Samhain Celebrations

As I’ve dived deeper into the ancient history and culture of Great Britain these last 12 months or so, purely out of personal interest, I’ve been delighted to discover just how many of our “modern-day” celebrations and traditions are far more ancient than I initially thought.

Modern or Ancient Traditions?

I’ve known since I was a pretty young child that Christmas, for example, was in fact a Pagan holiday allegedly hijacked by the early Christian church as a way to cement the new religion of Christianity on the people but allowing them to celebrate in a way and at a time they were used to, albeit under a different name. Originally known here as Yule by the Celts and later as Saturnalia following the Roman invasion, many of the traditions of Christmas such as decorating homes with holly, mistletoe and even decorating a tree clearly pre-date Christ’s birth. Why at this time of the year? It coincided with the Winter Equinox, a time that marks when the shortest day/longest night of the year, and was really a celebration of light and dark, like so many ancient celebrations.

I remember learning at school that Halloween was really All Hallows’ Eve, as 1 November was All Saints’ Day, being a day to remember Christian saints and martyrs. In fact, from what I’ve read since, Pope Boniface IV only created this celebration in the year 609 and purposely chose the date to coincide with the date Samhain was celebrated, again to replace the Pagan holiday.

More recently, as I started researching Samhain and how it used to be celebrated by the Celts, I was interested to note that bonfires would be lit. This raised the obvious question to me – is our modern day celebration of Bonfire Night here in the UK somehow linked to Samhain rather than Guy Fawkes? I can’t blame the Christian church for this (who I have nothing against by the way!) – whilst at the time there was a war waging between Protestants and Catholics and had been since the time of the Restoration, I think this was more a case of old habits of the people die hard, and celebrating Bonfire Night kept the old tradition alive, just for different reasons. It was a good way for those who still followed the old faith to practice the traditions of the ancient religion without arousing suspicion from those who would otherwise have called them witches and heretics. Confessing to being either Catholic or Pagan back then would likely lead to the same outcome – execution – frequently by burning!

Traditional Samhain Celebrations

Samhain was a 3-day festival honoured by the ancient Celtic pagans here in the UK during the time of the Iron Age, which means “summer’s end”, thus ushering in the Celtic new year. Some of the key themes believed to have been part of Samhain include:

  • Cycle of death and rebirth celebrated as the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter;
  • Final preparations for winter e.g. crops, animal sacrifices;
  • Bonfires/fire festivals to mark the autumn equinox and the start of the dark half of the year;
  • Visibility of the gods by humans, the occult and spirits from the Otherworld;
  • Offerings left for visiting spirits;
  • Playing of pranks and tricks;
  • Fortune-telling for the year to come;
  • Dressing up/costume wearing.

Do any of these look familiar?

When I was little, we were not allowed to go trick or treating as my mother classed it as “begging” and believed also that it was unsafe. We did go to family Halloween parties, bobbing for apples, dressing up usually in a black bin bag with witch face paint on and, with my mum’s birthday being on Bonfire Night, we usually celebrated that too by having a bonfire in the back garden and watching everyone else’s fireworks (being not very well off ourselves!).

Some people say that Halloween has become too “Americanised” but I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. For our honeymoon, my husband and our kids went to Florida in October/November and if there’s one thing Americans do fantastically well in my view, it’s got to be Halloween!! Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights are fantastic and Disney’s Not So Scary Halloween equally fun for little ones. In the UK, Alton Towers and a lot of farms put on some great events too with Halloween being more popular than ever these days. What a wonderful way to keep the old beliefs and traditions of our ancestors alive and kicking for future generations!

I personally feel like I’ve really connected with the Samhain celebration this year. I love that traditionally it was a way to remember those who have gone on to the spirit world and I’ve now discovered that Bonfire Night may be linked to the festival too. My mum died at only 53 a few years ago and with Bonfire Night being her birthday, it has given a special day even more meaning for me.

The kids, me and the dog all went trick or treating and I was blown away by some of the effort people went to this year – fantastic and all in the name of good fun.

Now I’m off to put the pumpkins to good use and make a warming pumpkin soup for supper – yum!

Tarot Cards Anne Stokes www.myholisticliving.co.uk

Energy Tarot Reading: November 2019

November 2019

With Halloween, also known as Samhain, just around the corner, what better time to put to use my new Anne Stokes’ Gothic Tarot Cards, gifted to me last month by my husband for our wedding anniversary.

As this is a general energy reading for November 2019, obviously take what resonates for you from your reading below. If it’s not something that seems relevant to you and your life then these messages won’t be for you this time. If you’re looking for more personalised messages then feel free to contact me for a personal reading, details and packages of which can be found over at our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/HolisticLivingWithCarla/

Your Reading

Tarot Cards Anne Stokes www.myholisticliving.co.uk
Picking your Cards…

Four of Swords Tarot Cards Anne Stokes www.myholisticliving.co.uk

Four of Swords (reversed):

The Swords denote intellect, thoughts, mental stimulation with the four being a time for deep reflection and meditation, musings and pondering. A time to be alone with one’s thoughts to gain a better understanding of a situation.

If you’ve never tried meditation before, this could be a perfect time to give it a try and, with being reversed, suggests to me that is something that you are sorely in need of.

The Empress Tarot Cards Anne Stokes www.myholisticliving.co.uk

The Empress:

A maternal, earthy energy, nurturing and creative. It can of course denote an actual pregnancy or be metaphorical such as birthing a new project or idea.

She is the power behind the Emperor’s throne; a source of inner strength and a wise and loving ruler.

Maybe a time to show your nurturing side – whether to yourself or others.

The Chariot

The Chariot:

A change of energies here, suggestive of a time of picking up the pace, maybe feeling pulled in all directions, forward movement, travel, victory and progress.

It feels as though the end of November could start to get extremely busy for you with you maybe feeling like you’ve taken on too much. Stick with it as the card in the upright position suggests you are moving in the right direction.

Ace of Swords

Ace of Swords:

Another card of the Swords suit. The Ace is the beginning and, being Swords, suggests the beginning of an idea or thought.

Your mind becomes consumed as the seeds of a new idea begin to take hold. Think it over carefully before deciding how to act. Your thinking is likely to be razor-sharp at this time.

Tarot Reading https://myholisticliving.co.uk/
Your Cards

The Takeaway

This felt a very clear message for those it is meant for; if you’re feeling burnt-out, stressed, over-stretched, indecisive, unsure or just out of sorts in any way, what have you got to lose by spending 5 minutes a day in silent reflection with yourself. You may be thinking that you can’t spare 5 minutes a day, but as someone who often feels the same, I know my day always feels much calmer and do-able when I take the time to meditate, especially in the morning.

This would coincide with the message of The Empress – nurturing yourself is a way of not only loving yourself but in doing so you are better able to nurture and love others. Meditation is an easy and effective way to do that. Carve out just 5 minutes a day for yourself to sit with yourself and your thoughts and listen to the sound of your breathing. Meditation is not about not thinking. Rather it is to simply observe your thoughts, which will come, and become aware of them. Then bring it back to the present by simply focusing on your breathing.

And you’re going to need those 5 minutes a day to yourself to better handle the faster-paced energies of The Chariot in the latter half of November when you become even busier. Take the time now to establish the habit of meditation and it will pay dividends for you at this hectic time.

The end of November feels calmer again, if you’ve listened to the guidance and messages from your Higher Self and carved out just 5 minutes a day to nurture yourself through meditation, even through the busy times. In doing so, you’ll sharpen your mental strength and might just hit on a fantastic new idea – be sure to think it through from all angles whilst your wits are about you. This is not the time to act but to enjoy the birthing of a new idea.

Until next time…

Cane Corso Puppy

Our New Puppy!

The First 48 Hours…

Introducing our new family member – Roxie! She’s a 4 month old Cane Corso adopted from the Dogs Trust, https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/ and like most puppies, she’s a bit of a handful!

Until seeing Roxie for the first time, the breed of Cane Corso (say, can-eh cor-soh) was not one we’d come across before. Essentially, they are a type of Italian Mastiff, not particularly well-known in the UK with an impressive history and lineage.

Breed History

Both the Cane Corso and the Neapolitan Mastiff share a common ancestor that was particularly popular in Roman times, when Roman soldiers brought them back from Greece and bred them with dogs already resident in Italy. Due to their strong and powerful build, as well as their intelligent, loyal and protective nature, they were frequently used as war dogs as well as being kept as guard and farm dogs more generally.

In the 1970s, the breed was almost at the point of extinction until two Italians, who were enthusiasts of Molossers in general, set up a centre to save the ancient breed. Thanks to their efforts, and many others who supported and assisted them, we’re now lucky to have our very own Cane Corso puppy today.

The information and guidance we’ve received on this type of dog is that fully grown she’s going to need walking at least a mile every morning and every evening, will need to be given a “job” such as hunting out treats and toys so as not to become overly protective of the house and family and to slowly begin socialising her from a very early age with other dogs and their owners.

We’ve also been told that these dogs aren’t ideal for everyone just because of their size and protective tendencies if not properly trained. This breed of dog takes a substantial amount of work to be a suitable family pet so be sure it’s the pet for you and that you’re prepared to put the time in before opting for a Cane Corso.

The First 48 Hours

Since bringing Roxie home on Thursday evening from the Dogs Trust local to us, it’s been exhausting! I feel like a new mum again especially since she’s only a young puppy and seems very unsure of stairs, refusing to go up them for the past 2 nights, so the husband and I have taken it in turns to sleep on the couch until she gains some confidence. She has today managed to have a wander around up there so maybe this evening we’ll all make it to the bedroom!

As she is going to be a very large dog, we’ve already been informed to be careful not to over-exercise her at this age so as to better protect her joints in later life. That being said, she has enjoyed chasing a Frisbee round the back garden today for 10 minutes to burn off some of that never-ending puppy energy, as well as some very short walks to the end of the street and back as she’s still quite nervous out of the house and garden.

As you’d expect with a puppy, especially one who’s been rescued, Roxie hasn’t yet been house-trained. She’s working on it and so far, despite a few inevitable accidents in the kitchen, she’s slowly learning what’s expected of her.

She’s also learning that she’s not allowed on the couch, just because she’ll soon be too big for it, so all in all we’ve been really impressed with her ability to pick up the house rules as quickly as she has.

The great thing about adopting a dog from the Dog’s Trust is that you get access to their Dog School for a 6-week training course for a very reasonable fee. For any puppies I think that this is important, but especially for one that will grow to be as strong and powerful as Roxie is expected to, it’s going to be absolutely vital. We get helpful guidance and support on the latest training and behavioural guidelines, very much based around positive reinforcement rather than other methods, so lots of treats and cuddles which Roxie just absolutely loves of course.

You also get post-adoption check ins at 2 days, 2 weeks and 4 months but can contact them at any time during the dog’s life for help and assistance with your doggy-friend. The obvious benefit is that you get to help a rescue dog who probably hasn’t had the best start in life giving them a new home and a fresh start.

Cane Corso Puppy
Look at those Puppy Dog Eyes!

If you’re thinking of adding a dog to your family, be sure to check out the Dogs Trust which has centres throughout the UK and can be found online at https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/.

photo/woman-holding-sparklers

Lost Your Mojo?

Rediscover Your Inner Spark

It happens – one day you feel like you can take on the world whilst the next day you feel like hiding from it. You’re in a funk and it’s unnerving, uncomfortable and worse, you’ve no idea how long it’s going to last. We’ve all been there. But is there anything we can do to speed the process up, rediscover our inner spark and feel like we’ve got our “mojo” back?

Luckily, the answer to that is a resounding yes! So, if you’re feeling out of sorts, read on to find out more about what might help, as well as identifying what probably won’t.

Get Back to Basics

Quite often, when I find myself feeling like this, it’s because I’ve burnt myself out, taking too much on than I can comfortably handle.

Of course, sometimes we have no choice but to take those tasks on, say as a single parent having to be both mum and dad, or working full time whilst caring for our elderly parents, or even just during exceptionally busy times in our lives period. It’s during these times, however, that we need to really take some time to assess and evaluate what absolutely must be done and what needs to take a back seat.

For me, getting back to basics is crucial to either avoiding burnout altogether or to recovering more quickly from a bout of it. It’s about doing all the things we probably don’t feel like doing during these times: eating healthily, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and taking adequate time for ourselves to rest and rejuvenate. The oft-quoted example of this that I see is that of the instructions when on an aeroplane to put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others, such as any children.

The difficult part of this is being motivated enough to do it! Just recently, I went through this exact situation. I knew what I needed to do, I just couldn’t be bothered to do it because I was so burnt out. It’s a Catch-22. But do it you must if you want to speed up the healing and recovery process.

Tip: Start small. Identify one or two things that you could start to do now, today, that you know are good for you. What you’re looking for is to start building momentum so that things you want/need to do but don’t feel ready for just yet, feel a little easier once you’ve got some of the basics under your belt. Things I did:

  • increased water intake;
  • went to bed earlier;
  • listened to guided meditations;
  • made sure to have 3 meals per day;
  • started taking vitamins and probiotics again;
  • contacted the GP for help quitting smoking.

A week later, feeling buoyed up with having cared well for myself that week, I felt inspired to take on some other essential self-care that I’d let slip but that a week before seemed just too difficult to face:

  • made sure to have a healthy breakfast;
  • took up yoga again;
  • reconnected with hobbies (knitting, blogging, etc);
  • reconnecting with friends and family;
  • reading self-care books/articles;
  • journalling.

The plan for this coming week is to stay on track with all of the above now that I’m feeling much more like my old self. A couple of weeks ago, every single one of these would have felt impossible.

Set Healthy Boundaries

I’m sure that some of you are thinking “Great – and just when am I supposed to find the time to do all of this?” and I totally get that. The answer, however difficult you may find it (myself included!), is to stop doing all the things that you’re currently doing that you don’t need to do.

I can’t speak from a male-perspective, but as a wife and mother of two who works full-time, I’ve realised recently how much I was doing for other people that I didn’t really need to do or that could wait for a time more convenient to me. It still feels incredibly selfish to write that sentence because, somehow, I have this perception that I “should” be doing those things.

I realised that if I wanted to be a better wife, mother, employee, me, something had to give. I couldn’t give myself the things that I needed for my health and well-being if I was constantly doing things for others first (think oxygen mask analogy again). I also would inevitably burn out eventually and then couldn’t do all the things I needed to, whether for others or myself, and then I really would be in a pickle.

Maybe it comes from wanting to feel needed or liked on a subconscious level but these last 2 weeks I stopped. Told the family, friends and my students that actually I wouldn’t be doing anything that I felt that they could and should be doing for themselves. Yes, there were a few who complained but you know what? The world kept on turning, they did it themselves and I had time for self-care. No, maybe they didn’t do it the way I would have done it but, turns out, my way isn’t the only way! They also learned how to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t have known how to do so actually everyone was happier.

Tip: What did this include? Ironing for the husband and 18 year old. No reason at all why they can’t do their own and saves me a good couple of hours each week. Helping the 18 year old get her first contract phone. Normally, I would have dropped everything and just done it for her and caught up with my work afterwards cutting into my evening time. Instead, I offered to help her to do it at the weekend which we did. With my 7-year old, instead of just doing little things like putting her shoes away and tidying up any toys she left out, asking her to do it which she did (sometimes begrudgingly mind!). With my law students, returning work full of written English errors that could easily be corrected by them with an effective proofread without marking and asking them to resubmit once they had finished their work to the standard they know is required.

What did I learn from this? To set boundaries. This doesn’t mean that you gather your nearest and dearest and inform them that you’ll never lift a finger for them again, but rather that these things do not become something “expected” that you will do, especially where they are the responsibility of someone else. If you want to do something for somebody or if somebody needs your help, of course you will still want to do that but only if your self-care isn’t being compromised in the process.

Result: more time and energy for me to practice self-nurturing habits and build up to the big one – cutting out the things I knew were bad for me!

Banish the Bad Habits

I’m sure most of us have at least one habit that we desperately want to conquer but for some reason we keep on doing it. Mine – apart from not setting healthy boundaries – was smoking. I’ve been ping-ponging for years between quitting and smoking/smoking and quitting. I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t do it by myself, made the call to the GP and went to see the nurse who prescribed Champix. I have to say it’s not for everyone but has made quitting incredibly easy over the last two weeks, more so than any other method I’ve tried. There are uncomfortable side-effects of course but I’m guessing heart disease and cancer, the almost guaranteed side-effect of smoking, are far more uncomfortable and deadly!

I’ve mentioned before on this site that at the end of 2018, I drastically reduced my alcohol intake to no more than around once per month for special occasions e.g. a holiday or celebration and, frankly, my life has been a million times better as a result and I don’t miss it at all now it’s become the norm.

What your bad habit is will be individual to you and, like me, you may well have more than one. That’s fine. I have no issue if anyone wants to smoke or drink or anything else for that matter. This is really for anyone who feels that their bad habit is making them feel bad about themselves. It could be as simple as stopping biting your nails or swearing (next on my list!). If you feel there’s a bad habit that you’d like to change, again, start small. Do a bit of research on the internet on how others overcame the same habit. Start putting a plan together, including a date for when you plan to stop or reduce your habit and maybe start building a “toolkit” to help you in your challenge.

If it’s a habit that takes up a lot of your time, and I can honestly say until I stopped I didn’t realise quite how much time smoking, going to the shop for supplies, drinking, recovering from a hangover and the like took up of my time, then you’re in for a treat when you do get past the first difficult weeks of stopping. You’ll have a ton more time on your hands for more self-care and you time. The only thing to watch with this is that you don’t substitute one bad habit for another!

Another example of how I did this was when I tried to quit smoking previously I replaced cigarette breaks with coffee/tea breaks. Whilst I’m sure nicotine and all the other chemicals are far worse for us than caffeine, being over-caffeinated to the point I was I’m sure contributed to the feeling of burn out. And then I had to wean myself off the caffeine too! Not helpful.

Also, don’t give up if you don’t manage to break your bad habits the first time. I’ve quit smoking so many times now that I doubt anyone believes me anymore, not even myself. I can’t wait to surprise everyone! Remember, we call them habits for a reason and, regardless of our reasons for having these habits, at some point we’ve clearly come to rely on them to help us get through the stresses of the day. Go easy on yourself and take it one day and one challenge at a time. If you do relapse, take a break from quitting your habit of choice, dust yourself off, regroup, re-plan and try again.

Finally, don’t expect overnight results with any of these tips. It took time for you to lose your “mojo”, it’ll take time to get it back again. Just start taking steps in the right direction, at the right pace for you and you’ll regain that inner spark in no time.

How about you? Have you any tips that could help others feeling under-par to get them back to their best selves? Why not share your tips in the comments below.

Wheel_of_the_Year

Merry Mabon!

How Do You Celebrate the Autumn Equinox

This year, the Autumn Equinox (Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere) begins today on Saturday 21 September and ends tomorrow Sunday 22 September. In Pagan and Wiccan traditions, this is known as “Mabon“.

What is Mabon?

Essentially, Mabon is a celebration of gratitude after the hardwork and toil of the last few months especially, for those following the agricultural calendar. In the Christian church, it is celebrated as the Harvest Festival whilst in the US, although held later in the year, it is akin to Thanksgiving. Throughout history and across religions and cultures, there have been similar celebrations where the central theme is one of thanks, regardless of different beliefs and when the particular celebration falls.

Also, much like the Spring Equinox, the Autumn Equinox is a time of balance as the days and nights now are equally long. It is a time to recognise that the warmth of Summer is behind us and the long, cold nights of Winter lie ahead. A time then to look back and reflect on the spoils of the Summer but to plan and prepare for the Winter.

The Wheel of the Year

“The Wheel of the Year” is effectively a calendar used by Wiccans and Pagans alike, amongst others, with 8 annual celebrations/festivals called Sabbats. Four of these relate to the Sun’s position (the solstices/equinoxes) with the remaining festivals and ceremonies relating to farming/the seasons.

Mabon itself is a relatively new name for the celebration, first surfacing, it is believed, as recently as the 1970s. So who or what was Mabon? Mabon is said to be a Welsh God about whom not that much appears to be known. Often referred to as the “Great Son” of the Earth Mother, there’s an interesting and knowledgeable article on who Mabon was said to be here: https://heartofthewitchspath.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/abcs-of-celtic-mythology-mabon-and-modron/

In Greek mythology, this time of the year was linked to the tales of Demeter, Goddess of the Grain and Harvest, and her beautiful daughter, Persephone whom Hades, God of the Underworld, took a serious liking to and abducted. As the tale goes, Persephone would spend half the year in the Underworld with Hades (Autumn and Winter) and the rest of the year with her mother, Demeter (Spring, Summer).

These are just two of the numerous myths and legends out there used all over the world to explain the key themes of this time of the year, of harvest and gratitude, a time of balancing both the light and the dark. I find it fascinating to see how similar yet different these stories all are.

Traditional Importance of Mabon

In today’s western world, it can be difficult to imagine just what an important time of year this would have been to our ancestors. We live in a world where every conceivable convenience is at hand just by the touch of a button. Not so for our ancestors of course, when one’s very survival through the cold Winter months depended on the harvest of the previous Summer. If it had been a bountiful harvest then all was as well as could be. Had the crops been damaged or failed to grow as anticipated then this would mean a long and difficult time ahead until the following Spring. Not to put to fine a point on it, the toil and hard work of the Summer, as well as the weather and elements, could be the very difference between life and death of a family over the following six months.

Whether Mabon was celebrated by our ancestors is unclear – I guess it depended on how well the harvest did! It would also no doubt depend on how ready they were for the coming Winter. If they were still out in the fields collecting what they could, whilst they would most likely have observed it as being the Autumn Equinox, whether they would have always had time to celebrate the time of year formally doesn’t seem to be well evidenced. More likely it seems they waited for the Sabbat of Samhain, or, as we tend to know it nowadays, Halloween at the end of the harvesting season.

Current Importance of Mabon

My introduction to celebrating this time of year was at primary school when, every year, a Harvest Festival celebration was held in the hall for students, teachers, parents and the residents of a local nursing home. Whilst I never attended a church school, we did celebrate it as a Christian celebration, all pupils sat cross-legged on the hall floor, belting out “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed of the land…” at the top of our lungs, awaiting our turn to go the front and put down our harvest gift, a tin of rice pudding maybe or a tin of beans. The harvest gifts would then be distributed amongst our visitors from the local nursing home before they returned home.

Looking back, I have really fond memories of these times. I doubt I appreciated the real purpose of the event at the time but this definitely felt a genuine time of giving to others who might find Winter more difficult than me and of being grateful, much more so than Christmas even, with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

Ways to Celebrate

Schools don’t really seem to make much of the Harvest Festival or similar celebrations these days, which seems a real shame as these nature-based celebrations help to keep us aligned and tuned into the natural world all around us.

So, if you’re interested in moving in harmony through the Wheel of the Year, whether you wish to label yourself as Pagan, Wiccan or indeed anything else, here’s a couple of ideas as to how you can celebrate the Autumn Equinox this weekend:

  • Create a Mabon Altar: take an autumnal walk or have a forage in the back garden for leaves, twigs, berries, using colours and symbols of the autumnal season. You can then add these to any existing altar or display you have in your home as a way of honouring the season.
  • Do an Autumn Clear Out: Like a Spring Clean only six months later! Go through wardrobes and cupboards and take what you don’t want or need to your local charity shop/church/food bank. You may wish to burn incense or try a ritual smudging.
  • Chakra Balancing Meditation: As the duration of the days and the nights are equally long this weekend, this is a perfect time to try a chakra balancing meditation (tons of these on YouTube) to adjust your energetic body to better work with the changing seasonal energies.
  • Have a Wine Tasting Evening: Grab a few friends, a few new bottles of wine and spend the evening enjoying each other’s company and exploring new flavours. Make a theme of it, researching the particular beverage you choose to bring to the gathering to share with your friends.
  • Make a Scarecrow: We visited a local farm a few years ago and had a go at making our own scarecrow, dressing it in one of the old Halloween costumes before bringing it home and popping in our own garden – great fun for all ages as well as a wonderful way to reconnect with the land.
  • Hold a Ritual Ceremony: This could be as simple as lighting two candles, one short and white, one longer and black both lit at the same time and allowed to burn out to honour the light of Summer now giving way to the darkness of Winter. Equally it could include autumnal offerings and/or offerings, prayers or meditations to the Dark Mother/the Crone, the shadow side of the Goddess.
  • Have a Special Dinner: How better to celebrate the time of year than with a home-made meal, celebrated with family, made with all the seasonal foods?
  • Write a Gratitude Journal: I’d recommend doing this frequently throughout the year but if you’re new to the idea, this would be a great time to start your own gratitude journal.

I’d be really interested to hear how you celebrate the changing of the seasons at this time of year – Merry Mabon!

Fantasy Fiction

What’s Your Favourite Fantasy Fiction?

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The fantasy genre – quite literally, a world, or even universe, where there are absolutely no limits, so anything can go: dragons, monsters, sorcerers, fairies, unicorns and magic. Fairy tales for adults really; great for getting in touch with your imagination and part of the reason why it’s one of my all-time favourite genres.

What’s Classed as “Fantasy” Fiction?

Typically, fantasy fiction features some or all of the following:

  • An imaginary world/universe;
  • Elements of the impossible; things that couldn’t happen in “real life”;
  • Mythical/magical creatures;
  • Supernatural abilities;
  • An epic battle of good verses evil.

Sometimes, you might see the fantasy genre being lumped in with science-fiction (“sci-fi”) and/or horror as a broader genre but, as I’m something of a purist, I’m going to keep them separate and save those genres for later posts!

Often, although not always, there’s an Arthurian-type setting and characters with all manner of unusual or exotic sounding names from all over their imaginary world/universe. Most of my favourites include a map somewhere within the book to refer to and get the “lay of the land”, so to speak.

Famous Favourites:

  • Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkien;
  • Game of Thrones, George R R Martin;
  • Discworld, Terry Pratchett;
  • Age of the Five, Trudi Canavan;
  • Harry Potter, J K Rowling;
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, C S Lewis

And of course, many more!

Other Mediums

Of course, fantasy fiction spans across a number of mediums, not just books but TV shows, cinema and games. Many times the story will have originally started as a book and later be adapted for another medium. One of my favourite games, The Witcher, was based on the book of the same name by author, Andrzej Sapkowski, and is due to be released as a Netflix original later this year. I’m pretty excited! Trailer here:

https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80189685

The Good

The absolute best thing about the fantasy fiction genre is the fact that anything can happen at any time – even the impossible and improbable. A recent example of this is the Game of Thrones series of books/TV shows. George R R Martin went against the grain of many other authors in the genre at the time in his not being afraid to kill off big characters at any time, creating a fair, few shocks for us along the way. Looking back, it was in fact a stroke of genius really capturing his audience off-guard whether as readers or viewers, so much so that it really influenced a rapid change in trend in fantasy fiction style generally.

Fantasy fiction as a genre is really reminiscent to me of the fairy tales, stories and games of my childhood so some can be comfortingly nostalgic and familiar even if the author is new to me.

There’s also a lot of scope to expand the story in a wide range of directions in a world you make up yourself and that usually means an extended series and/or spin-off stories if done well.

The Bad

It seems slightly ironic that the worst thing for me about the genre is based on its best thing. For me, sometimes the range of stories, given that it literally can be about anything, are relatively limited with quite a few authors sticking too closely to the tried and true Arthurian style stories.

It can also be ages in between books getting released, Game of Thrones, for the obvious example!

That’s my basic take on fantasy fiction anyway. What about you – do you have a fantasy fiction favourite?

Got Writer's Block?

Got Writer’s Block?

Ways to Combat Writer’s Block

As bloggers, sooner or later, most of us, seem to be struck by the occasional bout of Writer’s Block – that dreadful phase when you sit down to post an update to your blog but can’t think of a single interesting thing to write or everything you do write looks rubbish to you! As the minutes tick by, you start wondering if the creative well of inspiration has truly run dry or to stick at it until you come up with something.

It can be quite unnerving the first time this happens after starting your blog; going from not being able to get your thoughts down quick enough to completely barren of ideas.

Having found myself staring down the barrel of a foreboding blank screen more than once, I thought it might be useful to jot down what’s worked for me in the past to get the creative juices flowing again.

Know Your Key Topics

At the end of each month, I sit down and look back at the key or main topics my blog is about and list them.

So for example, when I did this for August 2019, my Key Topics i.e. my niche areas were:

  • Home & Garden
  • Yoga & Meditation
  • Astrology & Divination
  • Randoms (in case I’m feeling spontaneous!)

If you’re not sure what your Key Topics are, look at any “menu titles” on your blog or your “categories” for repeat topics. Believe it or not, writing a list of article ideas in one go is far easier than sitting down to write each time having to think of just one idea. Mine took me less than 10 minutes.

Identify Sub-Topics for Each Key Topic

This probably works best using the above example:

Key Topic Sub-Topic
Home & GardenHealth: What’s Your Greatest Asset?
Family: London Trip
Yoga & MeditationIntroduction to Yoga Nidra
Astrology & DivinationHappy Birthday Virgo (monthly series)
September 2019: Energy Update (monthly series)
Witchcraft: Which Witch Are You?
RandomsLife Hack: Organise Your Workspace
Light Bite: Feeling Uninspired?
Life Hack: Make a Motivational Playlist

Make an Editorial Calendar

Once you’ve had a think about Sub-Topic articles you might like to write about around your Key Topics for the coming month, draft a calendar for each day of the month either by hand or using the computer. I personally use Microsoft Word which has a handy template for a calendar. Just open up Word, click File and select New. Then just type “calendar” into the search box that appears and frankly you’ll be spoiled for choice!

editorial-calendar-example-august
Editorial Calendar Example

I only started this one halfway through the month in August but the time I spent creating this, an hour to do the brainstorming session right through to creating this calendar, was time well spent. Every time I sat down at the computer to write, I always had an idea in mind so didn’t have to waste time thinking of what to write first.

Don’t be afraid to change the article idea if you think of something better – think of your monthly editorial calendar as a basic back-up or work in progress rather than what you initially decide being set in stone. Leave yourself some freedom to be randomly inspired sometimes.

Don’t sweat it either if you don’t manage to write one day. I had planned to blog every other day in August but amended my calendar as I went if something else came up and I didn’t have time one day.

Try to mix your article type up a bit too. I introduced “Light Bites” and “Life Hack” articles as monthly repeat topics that were intended to be shorter entries. This meant that I could type 3 quick blog posts in one night, helping me get ahead of schedule and be a bit more choosy about what I was in the mood to write about each day. This also meant that the articles that were posted were of better quality as well as feeling less rushed.

Having an Editorial Calendar has really helped with forward planning – for September, as you can see, this led to me posting far more “seasonal” posts based around autumn-related topics which are more likely to resonate with when readers might be looking for such articles.

Planning For Next Month's Articles
Planning Next Month’s Articles

Again, twice already this month, I’ve missed posting on alternate days but I just rearranged my calendar and moved on. Sometimes life gets in the way!

I’ve also redacted in the photos here the ideas coming up as these are subject to change but having found using an Editorial Calendar like this so beneficial, it’s definitely something I’d recommend taking the time to do at the end of each month as a way to reflect back on the last month and to help formulate a plan to move forward into the next one.

Do you use an Editorial Calendar? How has it helped you?

Feel free to share with any writers in your life 🙂