Sunday, 20 November 2011


Most cats seem to have favourite sleeping places and our adopted cat Dora's regular one has for some time been this ancient tartan mohair and wool stole of mine in our back room. She's also been known to hop into my suitcase, which has been out quite a bit lately for overnight work trips.

I was a bit surprised yesterday, though, when she clambered into my case as I was unpacking it and settled down for the morning. I thought perhaps she was trying to make a point about how often I've been away recently. On closer, inspection, though, I realised that I'd left it open on top of her favourite piece of bedding, so this was the nearest she could get. Fair point, Dora.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Northern Drumming

The lure of tobacco once played an important part in my life. So much so that a few years ago I wrote a poem called My Life on the Back of a Fag Packet and researched the different types of leaf and tastes in order to know my Virginia from my Burley and Oriental. But I officially quit smoking in 1985 and had my last ever cigarette in 1998, so the last thing I expected after attending a weekend with Chris Luttichau of Northern Drum was to find myself at W H Smith on Monday morning buying tobacco.

The weekend was entitled The Shaman's Doorway and was an introduction to the ancient spiritual path of shamanism, which Chris has walked and studied for over 20 years. I have felt drawn to the earth traditions of Native American wisdom for a long time but this was the first time that I have had the chance to really encounter and experience the teachings. I was somewhat nervous about what I had let myself in for. The flyer for the weekend promised that I would "learn to access spirit guides, teachers and power animals using the shamanic journey and meditation to establish relationships with them." What exactly would that mean? Would I feel safe, or would I be leaving early feeling uncomfortable or that it was all hokum? As I was pondering all of this in advance of the weekend, I received an email from a friend reminding me that "LIFE BEGINS AT THE END OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE".

So on Saturday morning, I set off for a church hall near Kew Gardens to begin my shamanic journey with Chris. And, as it turned out, I needn't have had any worries at all. Chris, originally from the Jutland area of Denmark, is an entirely safe and gentle teacher, one of those rare human beings who is capable of setting aside his or her own ego. His teachings were entirely consistent with all of the great wisdom traditions, which emphasise the non-dual nature of reality and the need to wake up to to a choice and intention towards enlightenment and awareness of the Great Oneness.

The word Shaman comes from a Siberian native tribe and means the one who sees or knows. The tradition goes back at least 30,000 years and is a spiritual path, not a religion, with an emphasis on discerning the different realms of reality. It is an individual path, so there are lots of variations from a set of central teachings, with an emphasis on self-authority and being centred and grounded. Chris emphasised that we should never give our power away to any teacher. It is a path of the heart, an active and healing spirituality: the shaman helps to maintain balance between the different realms of reality and to help people come as close to their own soul as possible, to really know who they are. One key to this is discovering your own power animal. This is the grounding for being safe, healthy and strong in the world and feeling that it's good to be here. The group was guided on a drumming journey with the intention of discovering our own power animals and we were all successful. This journey is not something that can be described in words but Chris has written a book about Animal Spirit Guides. I tracked down a copy in, of all places, Caversham Library, and had it in my hands by Wednesday morning!

Separate from these guides are our spirit teachers, who can offer us insights from the spirit world and teach us with love and compassion on our path. When we are guided and grounded we can feel safer in life, more centred and protected and are able to source the power of true knowledge that comes through silence rather than the noise of the 'voice of knowledge', the 'monkey mind', the busyness of the world. At the same time we are in greater contact with the natural world and all that is around us. It is not a path of removal from the world but a way of living more fully in it.

Chris's teachings included ceremony, dance, meditation and a gentle healing practice. I came away from the weekend feeling refreshed, restored, empowered and uplifted. No hallucinogenic drugs were consumed and I wasn't asked to do anything I was uncomfortable about. And the tobacco? Chris taught us a morning meditation practice and a way of setting our intention for the day through ceremony, which includes an offering of tobacco. So if you see me sneaking out in the morning to stand by a tree with a packet of Drum, it's not a sneaky fag break but part of a daily practice of setting an intention for the day and asking for the world to be in balance and receiving the deep healing that it needs.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Keatsian Yoga

Season of twists and morning yoga class
Close bosom friends lie on mats one by one
Perspiring with them as you breathe your last
While sweat in lines forms round your chest and bum;
To bend with anguish your crossed knotted knees
And fall from tree pose tumbling to the floor;
To stretch the hips, and watch while belly swells
As you breathe inward, then exhaling more
And still more, let your diaphragm release,
Until you think wonders will never cease,
For somehow you have learned how air expels.

Susanna Reece

To Autumn by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.