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I’ve Fallen in Love with the River


1 Minute Read

It's often said that we live parallel lives in cities. The other day, I was invited to a pub on a familiar junction in London that I must have passed for 30 years yet never noticed. I was meeting some musicians who found the essence of Macedonian mojo in Peckham Rye but were decamping for the season lest it is sullied by the gridlock and the ceaseless barney.

My daily commute in London was getting to be of that ilk and unreliable too, a weary outwitting of arthritic infrastructure with no access to flotation tank and Dead Sea mud. The creaking bureaucracy overarching my profession of 16 years, that had started out years ago with local JP in the shires popping in for an informed chat and a friendly trawl through the books, had become a behemoth survived by brilliant colleagues and wonderful, woefully marginalized, troubled but soulful clients, but unsustainable.

After those 16 years, my knees were buckling under the legal bundles for constant benefit tribunals, last-ditch stays of eviction belatedly on the team radar, and the pavement pounding to beat the traffic and the tardy buses. I used to go to the river to watch the timeless flow, as referred to oddly enough by HG Wells in the epigraph to a novel titled by my family’s surname. Towards the end of Tono-Bungay, about a wonder tonic whose development is as restorative as the finished product, Wells writes of a trudge through the city ‘…But after that one is in a world of accident and nature…. beyond all law, order and precedence… conferences of brown-sailed barges’. His point there I think is that traditional graft, natures’ anarchy and certain stillness revolve around the river. Not a million miles away from the green utopia he envisaged in ‘News From Nowhere’. Wells saw these urban overloads coming down the pike and he noted where the Lighter Men were, unloading vessels so they could travel safely.

During this testing period, I recalled a couple of idyllic days spent making an EP with an old musician friend some distance up the Thames. Yards away a hippie maker of bamboo sax ligatures was testing his products before an audience of newly-hatched goslings and their mum. The shifted, earthed quality of what we put into these tracks as the studio floor juddered intermittently with the current. The lack of dead-eared deadlined din and hum. The industrious and at-ease-with-it who wave as they pass and the zoned out competitive rowers, waterproof as if allergic, who don't. The wind in my face as I took the tiller of Russ' boat for 500 yards or so and felt the benign might of the current and the foliage gently waving and swaying from the bank, the sense of being half a mile from Tesco’s yet in another, ancient world at peace with itself, calling to me. Nearly buying a craft from the Cossack heritage masseur to Dame Maggie Smith and Kylie Minogue whose close circles thereby mutter reverently of the life-affirming qualities of Rickmansworth. A glass of wine swirling with some gentle pitch and yaw is akin to a massage I think.

So a mutual old friend of Russ' is moving to mountainous Italy with his GF and their watery den the Jam Pony is up for sale. My Mum left me part of her bequest and I hovered between her semi-detached sensibleness and her bursts of derring-do, such as flying a glider at 70 and her discreet heroism in the blitz when being the distant relative of one of the Lightermen (they who still unload river traffic from Tilbury that's too bulky and disperse the loads was considered a walk on the wild side). As I was leaving Streatham for somewhere Thames Water were digging up some tunnelling rumoured to have been deployed for shelters then. And in a manner of speaking, it's the water again.

So I fall in love with a little stretch of river and she, 55 foot of blue-twinset liveried doughtiness with a hint of the racy, the Jam Pony. A bit the worse for wear but soon with immaculate internal snagging. The engine has the timbre of a fine lady baritone in a barbershop quartet with sympathetic bass undertones. Another name perhaps?

A former co-worker of mine came to mind, and she has consented, but the word is that its bad luck to reassign a vessel when you first take it on. That current means risky business in the wintertime. The Swans, who had made war with me over my lunch when I worked in the canal side country town a few years ago -I'm reliably informed they are cousins- came to be fed through the window. Terms established for the inevitable payola, I went to my local bank and perspired a little as the payment went through to the broker who has a legitimate business rather than a sandwich-fleecing operation. The quietest of red-letter day moments on a busy urban afternoon, as if the river had invisibly manifested as clearing, windy, cool (to quote the usual reading on my parents' barometer, eventually the case).

I find that I am part of a team. Not as of a corporate training day. As you arrive it’s game on over tea and digestives in a converted Sea Scout hut as mission control. Ropes, timber for decking, scaffolding poles to lash the boat to the riverside even as the bank itself shifts and expands with the challenging winter tides. . Sourcing a dinghy for getting to and fro as there is no direct road access.

It's a bit choppy but you’re assured these things won’t sink though you might fall in once or twice, so here's where to get your gear. You’re embedded through this into the friendly passing noddery of the river network that gets things done and organises its parallels to what you begin to see have been and are the much choppier waters of the school run, the mall, the traffic snarls and the glassy commuter glares at uncommitted fouling of personal space. The swans nod at me now as I drive past them in the dinghy like 50s pinstriped commuters, but there by regal charter, making it clear you are on trial initiation.

What the river also does is flow together bits of your life you had left half-done and re-locate those ships that pass in the night. The person making many of these fix-up calls for my boat, with me by his side, who for many years was the first responder to traffic accidents, overdoses and climatically and unassumingly, a gun massacre by a secure hospital escapee for life-saving at which my fixer got an MBE. Though gratefully received, it’s in a drawer now, on land, maybe 15 miles from the scene, and it secured no decent pension rights or security of tenure.

Yet in a roundabout way, it did start their river journey. We also realise that we were vocationally in parallel in the shires in the swan-baited years when hostel residents overdosed, I made the call in the depths of the night and this geezers' ambulance crew raised Lazarus umpteen times. In a parallel process, we found that the concrete and the clay beneath our feet started to feel that crucial bit less exalted with less challenged, more effusively humdrum missions. In time, tuning into the river and its denizens of all species the and the well of experience finds its wellies, its shed full of useful odds and sods, and time to ponder amid the multi-species waterside welcoming ways and means committee.

 

Neha Misra Tries Out Her First Workshop – Naked Dating!


9 Minute Read

I have a confession to make, until last weekend I was a virgin in the realm of workshops. Despite being an intuitive life coach and healer, the word ‘workshop’ and the thought of all that navel-gazing with a load of strangers has always made me want to run for the hills. Maybe because I am such a rebel and that it seemed almost ‘de rigueur’ that by a certain age, 53 in my case, with a certain lifestyle, one ought to have attended some kind of self-development workshop/course/retreat.

However, I came at Jan Day’s workshop ‘Meeting without Masks’ in a back to front way that sidestepped all my knee-jerk reactions. I went to a talk she gave in Portobello Road’s Electric House one rainy night in February and was immediately struck by Jan’s gentle energy and the powerful content of her conversation. She discussed intimacy in a way I had not heard spoken about before - with really intelligent observations around consent and about when ‘yes’ truly means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ truly means ‘no’.

I was totally hooked in and wanted to know more, because in the months post the beginning of the ‘Me Too’ movement, I was predominantly working with clients wanting to heal and release their sexual traumas. I liked the way Jan talked about how critical it was to explore one’s own boundaries first, and how vital boundaries are in a trusting relationship.

Of course on the actual day, I wasn’t so keen to go. We were having a rare moment of stunning sunshine after the Beast from the East plus it a was the London Marathon and it felt like the entire world had stepped onto my tube platform, it was worse than any rush hour scrum. Consequently, I was a bewildered hot mess when I arrive a few minutes late.

However, Jan and Frieder, (her husband and co-workshop host) couldn’t have put me more at ease with no judgement. In fact, the moment I walked into the room, I felt the loving playful way in which they were holding the space for everyone. Participants were already sitting down in a circle and the only place left was between Frieder and rather fortuitously the best looking man in the room.

The icebreaker in the first exercise was designed to loosen us up and inspire playfulness was actually my idea of hell, plus it didn’t help that Mr Good Looking was my partner. I was even more flustered. Thankfully, he seemed to find it equally awkward and I sensed a mutual rebellious spirit against anything contrived to force merriment. He had a droll deadpan humour and I couldn’t stop giggling. The group was gender-balanced with ages ranging from mid-20s to early 70s. As we moved onto the next exercise, I could see how cleverly they were designed to subtly yet skilfully lead us into exploring true listening and being present to our partner. I know from my marriage of 18 years that this is an area that gets woefully neglected in long relationships.

Meetings Without Masks or Naked Dating (in other words allowing you to remove your social masks) is not created for participants to get to know one particular person, but more to look at one’s own interactions and to get us accustomed to interacting in more heartfelt ways. As I worked with different partners, it struck me just how many men hadn’t considered what kind of relationship they really wanted. I actually started to really appreciate and respect the courage it took for everyone in the room to articulate this. It wasn’t easy to pull masks off that had built up over the years of self-protection. True intimacy requires vulnerability and that requires courage and most of the people I worked with seemed utterly frozen in their fears of rejection.

As the morning continued, I felt that shifts occurring. That maybe some of those shackles were loosening. Jan and Frieder were pushing us gently yet firmly to move out of our comfort zones. We had been asked to write notes of appreciation about everyone we encountered which would be put into envelopes with our names on it to take home. At one point Frieder even came up to and asked if I had written a note to Mr Good Looking and I recoiled in fear at the mere thought of it. I told him if I ever found a man attractive, it actually made me want to run away or even leave the room. Then to my extreme surprise, he asked me if I had been abused a lot by men, which I had. Having done decades of healing on myself, I was shocked to realise there is so much residual trauma left which still impacts the way I behave in a relationship. This workshop shone a torch into all my dark crevices making me see right into those areas that had yet to be healed.

In another exercise, we had a fabulous opportunity to start an honest dialogue with the opposite sex, which is so rare and precious. We were divided into sexes and invited to think about three questions. Firstly, we were asked to think about one thing that we appreciated about the opposite sex, then to consider one aspect that aggravated us, and finally to ponder a question that had always intrigued us about them.

I found myself in front of Mr Good Looking again and despite my lack of comfort, I forced myself to look into his eyes and tried not to get flustered as more masks came off. His answers were surprising and yet confirmed what I had already realised, we are all scared of getting rejected, and we all just wanted to be accepted, heard and loved. The vulnerability of showing these feelings of fear and discomfort - is real heartfelt intimacy.

By lunchtime, I had a lot of insights to mull over. For a small extra amount of money, there was a delicious vegan and gluten-free buffet.

The kindness and nurturing energy emanated by Jan and Frieder throughout the workshop, reminded me of my doula (trained birthing assistant) when I gave birth. They know that this isn’t an easy process and they hold the space in a strong, loving and supportive way so that participants can push through the layers of social masks to give birth to themselves safely if they wish.

It felt as if time was slowing down as we dived deeply into examining our responses to exercises, which encouraged us to practice vulnerability and openness. We went from less talking to more experiential work. In a very simple exercise where we could explore consent, we walked towards a partner after they had indicated their consent with an open or closed arm gesture. This became a moving, revelatory and extremely powerful experience for me because as someone who was brought up with the ‘disease to please’ simply taking the time to check in with myself that I was okay with moving forward, was an alien concept.

I had to consciously stop myself going on doing what I thought my partner wanted. Although a total stranger, my partner displayed extraordinary kindness by waiting patiently and holding the space in a non-threatening manner. I felt safe so I eventually was ready to move forward. It was the first time in my life that I felt that kind of patience from a man.

Having said that, when I was about three feet away from him, I felt the energy between us dramatically change. So much so that I had to go backwards in a knee-jerk reaction and take a moment before I stepped once again into that challengingly intimate space. It was almost too much for me and even though we hadn’t exchanged a word yet I knew he could feel it too. When I caught his eye, we both burst out laughing with the surprise and intimacy of it all.

The second version of this exercise became even more interesting as it required us to look at what was leading us to make the decision to move forwards or backwards. Was it our head or our sexual desire? Jan knows this is an enormous challenge for most of us and I loved the way she gently introduced it – especially to the men - as a way of unapologetically standing in and embracing one’s own sexuality.

As the day ended, we left holding our envelopes with the notes of appreciation and there was no doubt many masks had been removed. I felt tired but lighter. As I left, Mr Good Looking asked me how I had found it? The energy between us felt different. We had both just done the workshop and it felt as if there was another quality to the communication. I felt as if my words were truly being listened to, as if my words were falling into a deep pile that softly held it.

The truth is that I felt a bit discombobulated after the workshop. I was shocked that at 53 and after an 18-year marriage, I didn’t know how to respond to an attractive man. My traditional response had been to run away. Yet now I could look Mr GL in the eye without needing to control the situation. I could be instead present to the connection we were making.

Therein lies the beauty of this day course. Its tools are so accessible and immediate. Perhaps we were still in the bubble of the workshop, however, I think there was a difference to the quality of our communication as we walked and talked and got to know each other better in the beautiful back streets of Belgravia bathed in spring sunshine.

Later that night, I read the notes of appreciation we had been encouraged to write. Mine were touching and sweet. They reminded me of the courage that it takes to be vulnerable. True intimacy is so scary for so many of us, especially for those who have never had it. The last note I opened was from Mr GL, it said; ‘I loved your infectious joy, positivity, sense of mischief and curiosity – and your jewellery which was nearly as plentiful as mine.’

As for what happened next with Mr GL, well that’s a story for another time…

The next Meetings Without Masks is on June 17th in Belgravia. More info on meetingswithoutmasks.com or janday.com

The Advantages of Being 71


6 Minute Read

After joining this group, I started pondering the advantages of being 71. I couldn’t think of any to start with! Last year, I went to a Blondie concert with my daughter and her friends and although Blondie is my age, the crowd was all my daughter’s age, mid-forties because they grew up in the 1970s and 80s listening to her music. They are from a different generation.

I was feeling a bit glum and a bit like an old fogey. I couldn’t stand for hours and my daughter found me a chair so I could sit down, in between jigging to Blondie tunes.

So, what are the advantages of being in my 70s? For me, the biggest is having been alive in the 1950s, a totally different epoch.

I was born in 1947 in Prague, the illegitimate daughter of a Ukrainian refugee. We escaped the Communist regime and ended up in Australia, the only place in the world who would take a Ukrainian single mother and child. Having read the horrors of what happened in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s (copying the terror of Stalinist Russia of the 1930s), I am extremely grateful that my mother risked everything to get us out.

Although Australia was gripped by its own version of McCarthyism and was a puppet state of the USA, I experienced the many positive sides of the 1950s. No one locked their houses, no one had a car, TV or telephone. I walked to school (twenty minutes away) often alone, from the age of 5. Later, I rode my bike - well into the 1960s - and never locked my bike anywhere. It didn’t even occur to me or anyone that someone might steal it. We as kids played in the street and rarely saw a car. I would occasionally listen to serials on the radio, and hardly ever went to the cinema. In the evening, I would read all sorts of books and dip into my trusty Arthur Mee encyclopaedia set. It wasn’t a happy childhood - my mother Olga did not survive the terrors of Stalinist Russia and of being a prisoner in Nazi Germany. She spent the last 17 years of her life incarcerated in a mental hospital, after being subjected to psychotropics, ECT and a lobotomy. These were the days when mental illness was misunderstood and treated as a scourge.That was extremely difficult to bear, but I benefitted from living in a relatively free society.

In 1957, I was riding my bike (not many people had lights in those days) on a dark road looking up at the starlit sky. Then I saw it - the first Sputnik. That was an amazing feeling - that Russian earthlings had put up a spacecraft and I could see it moving through the sky. Then crash, I ran over a man who was also staring fascinatedly upwards. I knocked him out. When he came to, he said: ‘Gosh, I just saw stars and a Sputnik!’

The 1950s were a lot slower. We waited in queues in shops, wielding our string bags and jiggling our coins, and everything was served in brown paper. At 14, I opened a bank account which I have kept to this day. The bank teller would enter my small amount of money in ink and add up the columns. It was all pounds, shillings and pence and when I worked in my stepfather’s delicatessen, I was really good at adding up long sums as well as working things out in pounds and ounces. SUGAR. We all so blithely ingested tons of sugar. I would drink a few cokes on a hot day from the refrigerated machine, which a Coca-Cola representative kindly installed in our shop, for free!! At home, we would drink strong Russian tea laden with sugar. Life was very sweet!! The upshot is that I have now developed diabetes.

Queen Elizabeth II visited Adelaide in 1954. I loved her dearly and thought she was the prettiest woman in the world. In fact, she was the Empress of a vast monolith. I proudly perused a world map, which was dominated by the red countries of the British Empire, where the sun never set. I felt like a privileged citizen of a vast, seemingly ordered world and basked in what was promulgated as an age of freedom. In the north of South Australia, was the Woomera Rocket Range, which we were told, was where Australia was keeping up with the Space Race. It was only when I was an adult that I discovered that nuclear bombs were secretly detonated there and that at times when the wind changed, and Adelaide was swathed in radioactive fallout. Of course, no attention was paid to the hapless Aboriginal inhabitants in the outback.

So, I am glad that I am as old as I am because I experienced a whole different world in the 1950s that was changed out of all recognition by the advent of the 60s and 70s. If I had been born much later, I would not have had that experience. I would have also missed the timing of the Beatles song, ‘She was Just 17’, which thrillingly, hit the Australian charts shortly after my 17th birthday.

I believe experiencing the 1950s has added a depth to my perception of life. Dare I say wisdom? I lived during a time when we were not bombarded by information technology and social media. The world was fine without those things - stretching out in a slow, peaceful and leisurely fashion. However, if you are immersed in modern technology the whole time, you can’t catch the effect it has on you. My daughter and her friends were born into a world of cars, phones, TVs, music tapes - they are like fish trying to see water; they are unaware of their immersion. They don’t know a world without the ever-present technology being used continuously.

Now I am in my 8th decade, I feel enriched by having lived in a totally different epoch. It has given me more of an overview - an ability to identify what is truly important. Like many people my age, I am horrified that people in restaurants look at their mobiles a lot more than at each other.

There are a lot of ‘Age is just a number’ slogans floating around the internet. I understand that these slogans are fending off societal attitudes to age, and rightly so. For me my age is an important number - it signifies a lot. Being 71, is a badge I wear proudly, despite my creaking bones. I am a baby-boomer who emerged from a dreadful dark age in history and survived, being an immigrant and the child of a traumatised mother. I won the freedom I have today, by dint of a lot of hard work on myself and truckloads of psychotherapy. I had to do it because I had a deeply painful legacy to unravel. I am grateful to be living in a time when there are a wealth of techniques to face our dark sides and not be run by them. My dear mother did not have that luxury.

I’m not crazy about my wrinkles but I take heart in a claim by a woman on Instagram who says of herself; ‘my wrinkles are my stripes’.

Campfire Bugle: Reflections of life at 60 : Q&As to self


8 Minute Read

It’s hard to start any article written on the day I turn 60 without resorting to clichés and platitudes, so I thought I’d try a different approach. After spending a fair amount of time reflecting on life on a recent sojourn to Greece, I thought that I’d actualise some of those reflections and put myself on the casting sofa and attempt a few ‘Q&As to self’

Read the full story here: Campfire Bugle: Reflections of life at 60 : Q&As to self

How to Break Unhealthy Relationship Patterns and Find Love


5 Minute Read

Are you always attracted to unavailable men or women, to commitment-phobes, people living on different continents or to those already attached to someone else? Do you struggle to find emotionally healthy people attractive and run in the opposite direction as soon as a decent prospect wants to get serious?

In short, are you tired of repeating the same mistakes in your romantic relationships and getting the same results? If so, there’s no time like the present to change.

Dating for me used to be like banging my head against a brick wall. Why did I keep falling for commitment-phobes or unavailable types? Why couldn’t I fancy the good guys who were into me? And where have all the eligible men gone anyway?

I spent many a Valentine’s Day single, staying home to avoid all the red hearts or arranging a night out with my female friends. I had a good life and was content in many ways but I wanted to be in love. I thought things would never change.

But they have. I’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day with my partner, to whom I’m engaged. More importantly, I feel settled, confident I’m with the man I want to spend the rest of my days with and certain that there’s enough love between us to cope with whatever comes our way.

For an indecisive, restless soul who always thought there was someone better out there and who couldn’t stop looking over her boyfriend’s shoulder for the next guy, my newfound peace is nothing short of a miracle.

So how did I change my unhealthy relationship patterns and find love?

I first had to understand where I was going wrong. For years, I blamed the men I met for being emotionally distant or scared of commitment. What was wrong with them? Eventually, I discovered there was something wrong with me.

I was drawn to unavailable types because I was emotionally unavailable myself. I fancied commitment-phobes because I was terrified of commitment. Dating someone who wasn’t willing or able to give me love made it easy for me. It meant I could avoid getting into a true, intimate relationship with a man, and therefore avoid getting hurt, which was what I was scared of the most.

After years of personal development work and lots of therapy, I understood that my first relationship with a man, my dad, had set me up for a lifetime of self-sabotage. When my father sat my eight-year-old self on his knee and told me he was moving out of our family home, my heart cracked. The experience hurt so much that I resolved never to repeat it. I would never open my heart again. I would never get that close to a man.

I took something else away from that painful experience – the idea that I wasn’t lovable, valuable or good enough. This is what we do as children. We assume everything is our fault. We assume there’s something wrong with us.

My decision to avoid pain at all costs and that core belief that I wasn’t enough formed the basis for my future relationships. Unavailable types were safe to date. Available men who were up for commitment were dangerous so I ran away from them. And I didn’t believe I deserved love so I accepted crumbs and allowed others to treat me badly.

To change those patterns, I had to change how I related to myself.

I had to connect with the painful feelings from my childhood that I’d run away from for years or numbed with excess food (I had an eating disorder for several decades). That meant learning to slow down, sit still and allow the hurt to surface. I thought the feelings would kill me if I let myself feel them. But they didn’t. I’m still here. By feeling the pain, I could begin to heal it.

I had to learn to love, accept and respect myself wholeheartedly, to believe that I was enough and that I deserved a healthy and loving relationship with a man who could love me back.

I had to learn to trust that I could cope if I loved deeply but then lost someone again, to realise that I was a resilient adult now, not a vulnerable child.

I had to truly understand the root of my unhealthy patterns and talk about them with others who had similar experiences.

And I had to dig deep and find the courage to change those patterns.

I helped myself by building up a support network around me and by setting healthy and loving boundaries for myself whenever I went on a date. So I would try to avoid alcohol, which clouded my faculties and got me into scrapes with unavailable types. I would try to keep first dates short so I wouldn’t be tempted to end up in a man’s arms before I even knew anything about him. And I would try to move forwards at a steady pace, always alert to my history of self-sabotage, always questioning whether this relationship was good for me or whether I was repeating the same mistakes.

I say try because I messed up so many times. I am a human being after all. But every time I did, my awareness grew. Gradually, I began to date more mindfully. I began to choose who I spent time with rather than letting myself be chosen. And I began to give myself love and care so that I didn’t crave another’s love so badly. Cravings had always got me into trouble.

Awareness was the key to my transformation and I believe it’s the key for all of us. Awareness opens the door to change. By identifying and owning our patterns and by understanding why we cause ourselves pain, accept less than we deserve and run away from happiness, we can recover and heal.

That is my wish for you this Valentine’s.

Emma Freud: “I’m Not Interested in Spending My 50s Pretending I’m in My 40s” | InStyle.com


1 Minute Read

My amazing mum was 90 last month. She’s been an actress for 70 years—and on her big day she performed two theater shows before hosting dinner for 30 people. She swims every morning, goes tap dancing every week, and has nearly mastered the names, if not the sexes, of her 18 grandchildren.

When someone recently asked her how she is still sparkling at her mighty age, she suggested it might be connected to her lunchtime diet, always the same: a packet of potato crisps and a glass of red wine. She’s sharp, funny, and beautifully eccentric.But each time we talked this year about her 90th birthday, she asked me not to mention her actual age. “I don’t want people knowing how old I am—they’ll write me off,” she said, in a 90-year-old way.

So, in that incredibly patronizing tone that only a 55-year-old can use when addressing her nonagenarian mother, I had a massive talk to her (to her, not with her—she’s my mum, remember).It went something like this: “Mum, if you’ve arrived at 90 with your health and your faculties intact—not to mention your insistence on sunbathing in a bikini and your refusal to wear clothes to bed—surely that is something to celebrate rather than hide. You fought for female liberation in the ’60s—you can’t now be part of the conspiracy that women are valid only when they are young. We’ve moved on from that. If people are standing up and openly saying ‘I’m LGBTQI’ or ‘I have mental-health issues,’ then surely we should say ‘I’m old’ with pride?”

Read the full story here: Emma Freud: "I’m Not Interested in Spending My 50s Pretending I’m in My 40s" | InStyle.com

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