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The Culture Interview – Jan Day, author Living Tantra


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Jan Day is one of the UK’s leading Tantra teachers. She trained for 15 years with Art of Being founder and, like her, former Osho follower Alan Lowen in Europe and Hawaii, as well as being a CTA certified coach. Jan encourages men and women to learn to trust their own unique journeys, to embrace and move beyond the limitations of their own wounds and to move towards their potential. She is happily married and lives with her husband, Frieder, in England. Her book Living Tantra – a journey through Sex, Spirit and Relationship is out on Nov 9th. You can pre-order it here – https://smarturl.it/livingtantra

Can you tell me about the evolution of Living Tantra for you as a teacher?

I started teaching Living Tantra 1 which is a seminar in about 2006 and began the Living Tantra Training in 2009. Prior to that I’d been teaching for about seven years, since 1999, mostly in Switzerland with some workshops in Hawaii (where I was based at the time) and some in the UK. I was offering workshops on a range of topics such as intimacy, touch, being in love, relationships, forgiveness and of course including sexuality.

When I started the Living Tantra Training in 2009, the work developed very quickly and the topics we explored during the seminars evolved a lot because in seminars we were (and still are) responding to whatever arises in the group. I carried on exploring and learning for myself and incorporating anything I found useful. I did some Gestalt training, worked with Genpo Roshi at a Zen retreat learning Big Heart, Big Mind which developed further the Parts work I had already started working with. In one seminar we needed to work with conflict and it became important to dive deep into listening with the group, and that became a process that we incorporated going forward. Of course, the increased understanding of trauma work and attachment theory has become

important to incorporate.

Why was it so important for you to write Living Tantra – a journey through Sex, Spirit and Relationship?

So many people had been asking if I had written a book that they could read either before or after a Living Tantra workshop and I also realised it would be a wonderful and very accessible way to reach people who couldn’t do a workshop. Although group work is a very powerful and effective way of learning and has the advantages of learning with other people, of course it is more expensive than accessing information in a book.

I’d been asked for book recommendations but there wasn’t anything that I could say represented my work fully. Many tantra books are focused on sexual technique and Living Tantra is much broader than that. It really is an embodied form of spiritual and personal growth.

How do couples and singles benefit from your tantra work?

The majority of people who come to my workshops are singles. Couples can attend together but I usually recommend that they come individually to most of the workshops because it is deep inner work. Having a close partner there with you can reinforce old patterns of behaviour and it can also be a welcome distraction from going into your inner world and facing difficult situations. When couples attend separately, the intention is that they do their inner work so that they can bring all the gifts of that learning back to their relationship. So the relationship can thrive and become more fulfilling. I’ve seen it light up both individuals and the relationship with a new sense of meaning and aliveness.

The workshops give people a powerful sense of connection to themselves, a coming home to themselves, to become more sensitive and aware of the sensations, feelings and energies flowing in their body. They develop their capacity to stay present in their own body and to hold themselves in all that is happening within them, so they feel more grounded and confident in their own being.

Because they share a very deep experience, it also leads to an ongoing connection to each other. This happens even in the 7-day workshops but is especially powerful within the 18-month training groups where a strong sense of community develops. It is much easier to grow and let go of old patterns when you are part of a group that is supporting you and cheering you on.

The workshops give people an opportunity to explore their relationship with touch, how they receive it, how they give it, what they expect, how to know and communicate what they want and don’t want. When those things are established, we can find our own unique natural sexual nature, an innocence with it and we can begin to more fully enjoy the pleasure of giving and receiving touch and being sexual. For so many people touch and sexuality have been damaged by insensitive or abusive touch or by distorted beliefs about what touch means. We all need touch to thrive. If it has taken on a false meaning such as ‘this is what you have to do to get loved’ or ‘it’s really unpleasant’ or ‘I’ll be used’ or ‘any kind of touch is going to lead to sex’ etc, then we can’t enjoy the benefits of touch or sex. In the process of learning about touch, we learn about communication, we learn to feel and stay in connection with ourselves, we learn to hold ourselves, we learn to care and to develop empathy. One of the main teachings is the weaving together of body, heart, mind, higher mind and spirit. For body, we include the lower chakras, our sexual nature and wanting. Heart includes our feelings, care, compassion and love. Mind includes our intellect and understanding. The higher mind is about a deeper listening, sensing, a connection to source and intuition. Spirit means we are open to the transcendental realm, the sacred, Source, God, the Divine, the Beloved. It’s a journey. It begins with weaving together sex and heart because these are often split.

People also learn to feel into and attune to others, to stay in connection with themselves, to see and be seen, to understand and experience intimacy and discover how they sabotage that. They learn to listen and feel into the perspective of others. So in short, they learn how to be in deep connection and intimacy with themselves and they learn how to be in deep connection and intimacy with others. Which affects every aspect of life in every moment of our lives.

How is your teaching different to that of other Tantra teachers?

People say they feel safe, they know there is no pressure to do anything or have anything done to them, but rather to keep feeling into what is right for themselves moment by moment. They feel accepted and able to show up and not pretend to be some ideal or other. There is more general work to explore and expand the whole person rather than a narrow focus on sexuality. When we are exploring sexuality, our focus is on integrating heart, sex and the sacred in one dance.

Who has inspired you the most as a teacher and why?

I’ve been inspired by so many teachers. I worked with Alan Lowen for a long time and his creativity and courage was very inspiring and I still use many of the processes he developed. I certainly learned a lot about leading groups from him. I was inspired by Genpo Roshi in the way that he applied Voice Dialogue and included the transcendental realm. Recently I’ve been inspired by how Martin Ucik applied Integral Theory to relationships and how he presented it with such humility and generosity. I was deeply touched by Amma many years ago by her devotion, love, dedication and humility. Different teachers have inspired me in such different ways.

Have you seen a sea change around sexuality in the past ten years that you’ve been teaching in the UK? What does that look like?

Two things stand out.
I think men are now more wary about doing anything that could be deemed inappropriate and that can lead to a loss of confidence and an unwillingness to own their sexuality or show desire. Moving through this to attune to women and understand what it means to honour both themselves and a woman, is important learning.
There is also a lot more mainstream interest in BDSM since 50 Shades of Grey came out. For a few different reasons, we don’t work with that in our workshops. But now I have to be explicit in asking people not to start spanking in touch structures.

What is the number one teaching in Tantra?

To weave together an embodied aliveness that includes sex, power, heart, being, mind and spirit, which means we can be fully present to all experience and all that happens.

What do people misunderstand the most about Tantra?

The biggest misunderstanding is that Tantra is all about sex. It does include sex for very good reasons, but it is absolutely not limited to sex.

How does learning Tantra enrich our lives and relationships?

By making us more embodied and alive, being able to stay present to our whole experience and so to open in love, care, understanding and compassion for all beings.

Could you describe one exercise that we can all do that would help us be more connected?

EXERCISE from Living Tantra, the book – Touch yourself with love

Lie or sit comfortably and put your arms around yourself. Hold yourself as if you were holding a small child who is in pain. Use your hands to soothe and stroke yourself. Gradually over minutes, allow your hands to move further over your body, sensing what feels good, what you’d like. You may find yourself stroking your face or putting your hands on your heart, running your fingers through your hair or exploring a hand or an arm as if you’d never seen one before. Give yourself the fullest attention you can. Stay connected with your feelings using your breath to bring focus and attention to the different areas of your body. Try opening and closing your eyes. Notice if you can be more present and connected with yourself with eyes open or closed. Notice any thoughts that arise. End as you began by holding yourself and find some encouraging words that feel true to say to yourself.
Make some notes about the experience in your journal.
How did you feel about doing it?
How did you feel afterwards?
Did it feel familiar or strange to hold yourself and give yourself loving touch?
Could you enjoy it?
Could you relax into it?
Was there any difference when you had your eyes open or closed?
Did you have any feelings that surprised you?
Did you include your genitals and breasts?
Was it easier or more challenging than you expected and why?
Did you feel more or less connected to yourself after this exercise?

This Wednesday, Nov 3rd at 9pm, she is being interviewed by psychotherapist Noel McDermott for the Well-Being podcast. You can access it here https://www.youtube.com/c/NoelMcDermott/live.

She is being interviewed by Jo Good on Radio London on Nov 9th at 11pm.

The Zoom Launch is on Nov 10th and Costa Prize-winning author, Monique Roffey is interviewing Jan and has been her student. Should be fascinating. You can register here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/living-tantra-a-virtual-book-launch-tickets-182697803047?fbclid=IwAR1tpryYP7VBZOiewj10Q6XZwl3iwx19jRgH0w3Lq3TarPd2Y22vIg_i-jI

Being at LoveJam, a festival where Baby Boomers are in the Minority


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I felt cynical on the way there. I knew I was going to be a rarity. Festivals often feel as though they belong to my generation. Talk about entitlement. Yep, that was me. Putting out festival entitlement.

Oh no said a loud voice in my head, not young facilitators, young teachers of yoga, young breathwork teachers. Hell is a festival like this. It’s going to be endlessly rosy in the worst way. Spiritual bypassing with the flowers intact. What do they have to say to me at 68? Been there, got the Make Love Not War T-shirt.

At least we had a bell tent. I’ve always aspired to own a bell tent and now I could pretend with this delightful borrowed five-metre lovely from my friend Jake. I could at least relish that. I’d even taken fancy lights to adorn it. Not to mention a puce pink garland.

Here we are – arriving on a field in Cambridgeshire, using our grand age to take advantage of passing through the barriers (we can’t park here and pull a cart full of our stuff across the field, we’re too old) and something else happens.

The clouds darken, a rainbow appears. It is a heavenly portent. A message from the festival gods. A double rainbow. We bathe in this extraordinary light, this is a sign of the times.

I still have my ‘observer’ hat on. Vegan cafes, a sober festival with no alcohol, an upcycling clothes stall, a lot of Hemp talk and products. A main marquee with the Hemp Redemption stage – all huge pagan drapes and hangings, a van which half made up the stage, tassels, fairy lights and a very young technician. At first, I thought he was a small person and then I discovered it was Xi, a thirteen-year-old ‘lege’ – as my niece who is co-creating this LoveJam Camp Out 2021 puts it – who plays didge, juggles fire and tends to the musical equipment on stage. In his spare time.

As the light fades, we – I am with my other niece, Mils, and Asanga, my partner – wander over to the sacred fire, which is located behind some odd mounds. A dandy poet declares words of love and honour. There seem to be Vikings amongst us as well. Long haired young men with bare chests and long coats. Violins. Accordions. A young woman sings into the wind, laments, stories of freedom and connections to the ancients. I realise quickly that ANCIENT is a very important word at this festival. It’s everywhere – on lips, hips and in philosophies.

I’m not listening to their hearts yet, I’m still on their style. Modern medieval, I conclude. But there’s Rasta thrown in there. And a lot of natural fibres. No makeup, just face paint.

The next morning is the Opening Ceremony – we gather (maybe 100 of us out of the 600 that will be present on Saturday), Nathan, my niece Zena’s boyfriend, who’s 27 and founded LoveJam by inviting a few people to Victoria Park in London to drum together– starts us off with acknowledgements. He’s also had his grandfather die in the last few days so is trying to cope with that as well as running the camp. He invites offers to lead it and up steps PK – short hair, black humour, a lot of it and a wolf at her side. Well, okay a dog. PK takes us to the four directions and we honour their qualities and what they will bring to the camp while we move around this axis. Someone else invites us to freesound (new verb to me) and lo there are wild, cascading sounds. The dandy poet proclaims our virtues. A blonde-haired young woman sings with passion. That’s it we’re ready to go.

There’s a lot of Nathan-venerating, I worry slightly and hope there isn’t a guru-type situation brewing – after all, that’s where so many communities in the 70s and 80s went awry. By giving too much power to one person and pedestaling spiritual leaders.

One of the joys of LoveJam is that in attendance with my family. Invited by Zena – niece and co-visioner of LoveJam – my other niece Mils is here, my son, Marlon, and his girlfriend, Lina are soon to arrive. We’re an encampment. My sister, Ro, and her husband, Martin, are staying in a Shepherd’s hut a mile away. We’re eating together outside. We’ve made roast vegetable tarts and blackberry – from the hedgerows of Wales – pies. And we’re toasting the proceedings with tonic and lime. They are so tasty. Who needs gin? What a pleasure! And a blessing to be able to do.

And then there are the workshops and the dancing. Tonight we go exploring in the woodland music village. A relic from the Secret Garden brigade, it is a wonderland of trees with a pink neon heart stage called funnily enough New ANCIENTS stage. There’s some psytrance whirling – not my kind of sounds so we find a pathway which leads us to another new world – a fire, wooden structures, huge ones all around, more lights, mandalas specifically made around an oak tree, a young man turns up with a flute and blesses the arboreal altar, a few naked beings scamper towards the sauna in the next area. It’s cinematic. One from the Heart.

The red sign on one of the other trees says – not all those who wander are lost. 

Exactly my ethos.

A quixotic creature with a swirling light tail passes by. A mythical reminder that we are in fairyland.

We walk back to the tents, past so many bell tents, and gatherings of musicians. Guitars, flutes, drums – they regale us with their haunting tunes as we meander.

One of the advantages of not having alcohol is that I’m up and ready for Phil’s yoga at 8 the next morning. He’s a Scouser, who is part of the organizational trio – Nathan, Zena and himself. He also seems to know an awful lot about mudras and Sanskrit. His session is fast and furious. Backbends, front bends, warrior poses, full wheels if you so desire, sun salutations. I do what I can do which is quite a lot. I observe Mils doing some great binding in front of me. My arms are too short for binding but I’m a star at bending. It is dynamic and I appreciate that as well as his devotion to the practice.

And then there is a highlight. Naked swimming in the lake. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be socially possible. I’m with my partner, and my son and his partner. But Asanga and I decide to go for it. And Marlon and Lina lie down and look away!! It’s that thing about the freedom of strangers and the boundaries around family. But I’m so glad we did ditch our clothes and allow that cold water to seep over our bodies. There was hardly anyone around and it was a holy moment. In homage to water and bodies. Amid the water lilies. And so refreshing. There was even a wonderfully positioned carpet over the stones so that walking in can be graceful!

There’s lots of nakedness over the weekend at the lake and it’s so welcome. And lovely. And innocent. These gorgeous bodies. I change my dress code when more of my family is around – brother in law, sister – and opt for a costume. I notice and feel proud that my LJ co-visioning niece strips off and jumps in when her dad is in the water. Great confidence and knowledge of what is right for her.

Nathan is running a Breathwork and Intimacy workshop next. He developed it himself. Impressively – and this is one of the key differences with younger facilitators – he stresses that intimacy doesn’t mean that fire of passion, that it’s not about exchanging that fire and asks for our consent on that front. Everyone’s hands go up. Which really clarifies and distinguishes sexuality and intimacy and prevents blurry lines.

The breathwork was simple in a good way – six breathes in and then out. A grounding support. To recorded bells so we could be in unison. And then the intimacy exercises which most I am familiar and comfortable with. It’s about being open, in your heart and just receiving and giving from that place of love. But wow, what a gift to do with this community. We give each other heart words/appreciations while gazing right into the other person’s eyes. We are walking slowly around the tent until Nathan invites us to stop in front of someone. After a few times around the tent, I realise that Marlon, my son, is in there still. Some people faded away as we came to these structures. And then we’re in front of one another, and unconditional love is pouring forth. I am crying first and then tears roll down his cheeks slowly. We use the breath to ground ourselves and carry on looking deeply into one another’s eyes with such everlasting tenderness.

What a supreme moment!! How blessed we are to both be in the same workshop and get to do this exercise together. This is a first for us. Being in a workshop at the same time.

I honestly felt after this experience, I didn’t need anything else from the festival. It had given me this precious witnessing. But the festival went on giving.

At 5 pm, a band sets up at the end of the pontoon which extends into the lake. It is like being at a wedding, the perfect location. They play Brazilian tunes and a Forro class with partners starts in the middle of the lake. I joined briefly but I am not feeling it so I go rogue and solo

I dance in the breeze. Giving everything to those minutes.  Surrounded by fresh water and naked loveliness, caressed by eddies of air, it is rapturous. My body spins around, limbs twirl, head bobs. It is an utter joy. A sumptuous young woman joins me, we go wild together. We let go into melting and communing. And laughing with our flesh.

In the evening we make our way down to the Hemp Redemption stage and Mobius Loop, these Lancashire musicians who have songs about veganism and death, get the entire tent dancing. And singing. Rollicking, proclamative, political, humorous, they are like crazy cabaret dervishes. My favourite song is Dance Dance Dance while you can, We’re all going to die, Dance Dance, Dance while you can. I sing it very very loudly.

It could be an Advantages of Age anthem. I sing it with determined abandon. I couldn’t agree more. Dance now while we can. We break out into ceiliad -stripping the willow. The joy of dancing and singing about death at the same time. The next day they are down at the protest nearby which is about closing down the beagle puppy farm where they are sold for animal testing. Mobius Loop sing about ending slavery of all sorts, including these puppies. Campaigning and dancing at the same time.

On Monday morning, there’s the closing ceremony. We gather around the sacred fire. Nathan, Zena and Phil do their thank-yous. People stand up and declare themselves grateful. PK does a closing speech – speckled with expletives, honesty and fire. I decide that I need to speak. To honour the young that have created and facilitated this festival. I mention that it’s often the elders/olders that are respected and honoured, but that I also think there’s a fallacy about older people having all the wisdom. We are not automatically wise because we have lived for a long time. We can learn so much from each other.

And then I simply thank them for creating a festival so full of love and kindness and inclusivity and sweetness. That it has enabled me to expand into my better self and also to fulsomely be here.

You will gather that I am no longer cynical about a festival run and peopled mostly by young people, instead I am inspired and ignited on an intergenerational level.

www.lovejamcommunity.com

Midlife Women’s Discovery 3 Day Retreat in Cheshire, UK


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Do you find yourself wondering what life’s about at times, or struggle to find your purpose? Maybe your lacking passion and inspiration or want a new direction.

Our retreats are designed to help you tap into your emotions with journaling, look for opportunities in the universe with tarot and unblock your energy with reflexology and Qi Gong.  Also included are 3 yummy vegetarian meals a day plus homemade vegan cake, because life is always better with cake. The cottage is located in stunning nature with an award winning pub nearby – just saying! Walking, talking, laughing, the odd drink and a dance if the mood takes you, are all on offer.

Dates: 10 – 13 July & 13 – 16 July. Prices from £295 with discounts for AoA members.  Soul Sisters looks forward to having you.

https://www.soulsisterscommunity.com/retreats-for-women

AofA People: Hanja Kochansky – Writer


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A refugee during the Second World War to Italy, in 1948 Hanja Kochansky went to Johannesburg as an emigrant. In 1966 she played one of Elizabeth Taylor’s handmaidens in the film Cleopatra. In 1972 her book Women’s Sexual Fantasies was published by Ace Books in New York and became a best-seller. She is currently writing a novel and editing her memoir.

What is your age (in years)?

I’m 82, will be 83 on the Ides of this March.

Where do you live?

In Sheltered Housing, just off the Caledonian Road, in London.

What do you do?

I write. Have just finished a novel about the love affair between two septuagenarians. I’m also re-editing my memoir Now and Then.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

I’m much more chilled out now, which is a blessing but find it difficult to cope with the deterioration of my body (my mind seems to be ok.) Legs hurt and I can no longer go for the long walks which once were a pleasure to do. I have also become slightly incontinent, which I hate. On the whole, I find what happens to the body in old age humiliating. But I say to myself, it is what it is and you are so lucky to be in good health (I take no big-pharma medication), so stop complaining. But I do complain. I do not like getting old. Although I’m not concerned about no longer being beautiful and having put on some weight.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Everything. Beginning with self-confidence. I had a very unhappy childhood living with a violent alcoholic father. It took me years of reading self-help books, starting with Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, which I read when I was already 50, to turn my lack of self-esteem into love for myself. Also, now I’m always given seats on public transport. At first, given that I don’t see myself as old, I found that surprising, but now I’m grateful for it.

What about sex?

I had my last affair, at the age of 72, with a man of 78. It lasted for two and a half years. The sex was good, but he turned out disappointing. I’m pretty sure I won’t be having any more lovers. I still have sexual urges and masturbate, but have no desire for a man.

And relationships?

I’m happy to say that I am constantly making new friends. Mostly they are a bit younger than I am, but no one seems to be prejudiced towards my age. I’m lazy and happy about being at home, but I make an effort to go out and meet people. I love good conversation, and I never hang out with someone who is banal.

How free do you feel?

Totally free, especially as I don’t have to pay rent and am given Pension Credit and a few other perks. This is such a blessing and I wish everyone in need would have my good fortune.

What are you proud of?

My (almost) daily exercise routine which consists mostly of Tai Chi and Chi Kung. And that, even in bad weather, I go to my Tai Chi class.

What keeps you inspired?

The philosophy of the Dali Lama is inspirational.

When are you happiest?

I am always happy, as I live in gratitude, most of the time. I don’t want to be on my death bed and realise I spent time being unhappy.

And where does your creativity go?

Basically towards writing.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Be the change you want to see in the world.

And dying?

‘I will not go gentle into that good night.’ However, I could easily change my mind about that and hope I will pass away gently and painlessly.

Are you still dreaming?

I dream all the time and should I ever find a Jungian dream therapist who doesn’t charge a fortune I would love to consult her.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I have no desire to be outrageous.

AofA People: Julie Williams – Dog Groomer, Reiki Master, Coach


9 Minute Read

Julie Williams, 61, runs a mobile dog grooming business called Gentle Friends, is a Reiki Master teacher and the founder of Active Connection, a series of Soul Coaching sessions.

Age (in years)  

61

Where do you live? 

Stockport, Greater Manchester

What do you do?

I run a mobile dog grooming business called Gentle Friends with my partner Steve. We cover our local area. I’m also a Reiki Master Teacher, combining the Reiki with basic animal communication, I’ve developed a new modality for rehabilitating groom-phobic dogs that’s proving quite successful.

I’m the founder of Active Connection, a series of Soul Coaching sessions to collaborate with clients to find a connection to the wonder and fabulousness of the soul that they came here with.

I do Shamanic journeying, talk to trees, worship the moon, connect in ritual and gifting with Mother Earth daily, where I receive “downloads” of wisdom.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

It’s great. I feel so much more confident and brave to be myself, to dare to do new things, than I did when I was younger.

I had a hysterectomy at 43, so I went on the menopause, closely followed by a couple of bereavements,  redundancy and a relationship breakup, culminating at 44 with burnout from the corporate world. At that point, I realised that self care and genuine happiness was more important than ambition, acquisition and consumerism.

I got rid of everything that cost money to run and took four months off to recover. I took an evening job so I could go out in the sun, a dog and a bike. I read and read and read, philosophy, self-help books, spirituality, and basically self-healed.

I met my partner eight years ago, we set up a business together. I don’t think I would have had the courage to do any of that when I was younger.

I embarked on a series of therapy sessions at the age of 60 and regret I didn’t do it earlier. I had been on a spiritual path for 20 years prior to that, and I think the three things together – reaching 60, therapy and the spiritual journey – all clicked at the right time. Before that, I was scared to put my head above the parapet, to be vulnerable and authentic, so I wore my mask of “everything’s fine”, when often it wasn’t.

So what’s it like to be my age? It’s fabulous.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Much more happiness and laughter for sure. Wisdom and courage too.

I have my loving partner, the first relationship I’ve had where I believe we are both really equal.

I have in my life my three beautiful grandchildren who are teenagers now as well as two beautiful step grandchildren, three gorgeous stepdaughters, three lovely terriers, the business, the grooming modality, the new coaching business, lovely silver streaks in my hair and a much more solid sense of self-love and joyful entrepreneurship, leading to personal satisfaction.

I also have The Silver Tent. This is an international online community for women over 50, started three years by the visionary Francesca Cassini. There are nearly 7000 women in the group, and it’s a veritable cauldron of wisdom, creativity, projects and collaborations between women from all over the world. I’ve made some amazing friendships there and learned so much.

What about sex?

Yes, it’s great, really caring and nurturing. Not as often as when I was younger, as I might have had a somatic response to historical trauma during therapy. This diminishes as time goes by, and I’m getting back to my enthusiasm for sex.

And relationships?

I’m happily co-habiting with my life and business partner of eight years, Steve.

I reconnected four years ago with my dad from whom I was estranged for about 25 years. It went great at first, then “stuff” came up, therapy helped, and dad has been really supportive, compassionate and open. I’ve only just recently tentatively reconnected with my mum, our estrangement wasn’t total, yet our relationship was always difficult. She’s recently become quite poorly, and I’m starting to visit again. My own ability to respond rather than react, learned with the benefit of aged wisdom is softening our interactions. I’m hoping we can continue to see each other regularly.

My relationship with my 40-year-old son is, for me, a deep and open one. We have discussed issues arising from his childhood, my healing as he was growing up wasn’t that fast, and there were times where my inappropriate behaviours impacted on him. I have apologised and acknowledged my part, and he is very compassionate, intelligent and able to understand and forgive. He is an excellent father to his three children and a devoted partner to their mum. I’m very proud of him.

My relationship with my teenage grandchildren is as it is whilst they are discovering themselves. Contact isn’t as often as when they were younger, and I do miss them a little. I support their lives 100% and cherish the time when we can get together.

I have made some beautiful treasured friendships through the Silver Tent, which I hope will go from strength to strength, to even include working collaborations. There have been a few physical meetups that have been wonderful, online is great but face to face is far better. My partner and I recently met socially with one woman and her husband, we had a great time. This is a new experience for us.

How free do you feel?

In my heart I’m totally free and I enjoy my newly found self-sovereignty. I’m enjoying being free from a lot of the negative emotional burden I used to carry. I really do feel free to be me, I’m blessed to be loved enough to experiment and try new things too.

Yet I’m a Capricorn and ruled by earthy Saturn, so I do nod to the need to have an income, a roof over my head and security. Consideration of those things doesn’t mean the opposite of freedom to me, it means I’m free to recognise my needs and own them.  

What are you proud of?

I’m proud that I’ve learned to truly love myself, to do the inner work, which will continue until I’m no longer on this earthly plane. Also I’ve learned to stay strong in my own vision, a big one, as I used to put other people’s needs first to the detriment of my own.

I my really proud of my son and daughter in law and their family. Things were difficult for my son from the start as his father abandoned us when I was pregnant at 21, I married someone else, and that didn’t work out, my dad wasn’t around, so my son has never really had a male role model to learn from. Yet he has worked so hard to be a great and balanced partner and father to his three children, and he is amazing.

I’m proud of my relationship with my partner. We have learned to consciously co-create, both of us coming together in later life with a lot of personal baggage. We work through the difficulties of being together all the time, at home and at work, we work hard at it, and we make mistakes: we laugh and love a lot too.

I’m proud to have had the courage to start our grooming business and make a success of it. And I’m proud that I’ve brought together my skills that I love doing, my abilities and drive to create two new modalities that I’m bringing into being.

I’m proud of never giving up.

What keeps you inspired?

I’m inspired by the beauty and sheer joy of love and life, believing that there are so many wonderful experiences and discoveries yet to come for me and my loved ones in this life.

I’m inspired to be a strong role model for my grandchildren, this is very, very important. I’d like to say that my legacy will be to tell them to grasp the nettle and just do it, yet more importantly, it’s to show them the example that they are magnificent, very much loved, and perfect just as they are.

I’m inspired to share my story, to show that someone who had hidden, felt isolated and buried themselves under traumatic memories, can learn to balance the light and dark, and to love those two equally. For all our  experiences are what makes us our unique and wonderful selves.

And I’m inspired by the Silver Tent. I’m a passionate supporter of it. The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying that Western women will change the world if so, those of us over 50 in the Tent are making a really good attempt at it.

When are you happiest?

It’s difficult to single out one thing.

I love seeing my family happy and I’m happy working, laughing and loving with my partner. I’m happy when I meet up with loved ones and friends, laughing and hugging.

I’m happy walking in nature with my dogs, particularly communing with trees. I’m happy when I do my daily practice, an earth based ritual and offering, I receive from it such wisdom.

I’m happy working with dogs, I love Reiki and connecting to energy, particularly when dogs respond to the energy.

I’m happy when I create something that others enjoy. I’m happy when I coach someone and they benefit from my service.

I’m happy connecting with the women in the Tent and seeing new projects happen, friendships forming, new skills being taught and shared.

If I had to choose a when I’m happiest, I’d say very early in a morning when I sit quietly with my coffee thinking about my daily gratitude practice. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on my blessings, which are many.

And where does your creativity go?

I write – poems – and I’ve tentatively started writing a book. I’m restarting my blog that’s been neglected for a while. When I was a child, I loved reading and I wrote short stories. This was abandoned due to other distractions, career and so on, and I’ve recently returned to it.

I’d love to paint abstract pieces. That’s on my list for when I slow down a little.

I’ve also created the service modalities, so I suspect work and play overlap in my life. Work as play, play as work.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Connecting to my inner spirit and doing what brings me joy. Being kind rather than right.

Remembering that everyone has a beautiful soul inside, no matter how deeply they bury it. And remembering that it’s all about love.

And dying?

It’s a journey beyond the veil.

I’ll sign up for another incarnation please.

On Ageing With Vitality


1 Minute Read

The first thing that comes to mind with the word vitality is someone who is leaping about, full of energy and health.

But in the process of ageing – I am now nearly 75 – I researched and realised the real meaning of the word vitality.

The free dictionary online gives the following descriptions of vitality;

  • The capacity to live, grow or develop.
  • The characteristic, principle, or force that distinguishes living things from non-living things.
  • Physical or intellectual vigour, energy, or force that distinguishes living things from non-living things.

From the age of 32, I have had a lot of experience supporting older people, in various capacities, as a carer in the care industry, Nursing Home proprietor, a friend and having elderly parents.

Along the way, I observed the values, beliefs, and characteristics of those people who were content with being older, and the differing ones of those, who made everyone’s lives a misery, including their own.

For example, when I worked in the local care home, there was a man who everyone dreaded attending to. I was on night duty at the time, and he was the last resident whose needs I attended before giving my report after a long night shift. He started to verbally abuse staff the minute we opened the door to his room. I found out afterward that he had been a cruel husband and father, and no-one came to see him anymore. He was now bitter, twisted and a very lonely man.

There were also those who professed to be Christians, yet they were among the bitterest ones.

The happiest ones were the ones that gave a smile and thanks when we did anything for them. They were the ones that the staff would love to sit and chat to, which is ironic because the bitter ones were probably the ones that needed the chat. But try as we may, we just heard them bemoaning their lot and that drove us away.

Among the most remarkable was a woman who had lost one leg, one eye, and her breasts. Of course, she needed a lot of attention. But far from feeling sorry for herself, she used to make us laugh. “They will get a big discount when they bury me” she used to joke. “Because there is only half of my left.”

From quite an early age – I decided to get rid of everything in my mind, body, and soul that would make my sunset years unhappy.

That meant forgiveness to those who had hurt me in any way — forgiving myself for the hurt; I may have caused too. I realise now that my strengths as I get older, such as patience, compassion, a way with words, staying cheerful, being grateful, will be much needed for the time I have left.

Life happens, and during my 40s, problems arose for me, and this was the time when someone said to me that I needed to find who Patricia really was, and where she was going.

That started the ball rolling; I realised how much I depended on the teachings and examples of others, and that I needed to start finding out how to be free.

I am now coming up to 75, and it has been a long journey of discovery. But in the last seven years, as I got nearer the top, my ascent became more enlightening. I am not quite there yet, but I have certainly found The Truth for me.

The journey has been one of a major loss, divorce, bereavement, but also love, forgiveness, finding out who I am, and a second very happy marriage.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

Ten years ago, I used to walk 25 miles a week, and I remember thinking and hoping that I would still be doing that in my 80s. However, now I am experiencing the limitations of some of the things that an ageing body can bring.

I have a vision impairment and fibromyalgia, but I am living with those conditions, and dealing with them, and avoid saying that I am “suffering” from them.

I do not believe in the anti-ageing industry but rather that we need to accept ageing; but in a vital way.

Society, in general, is afraid of ageing and death. People do all they can to look younger and ignore the fact that we all die.

I was amused this week when I saw an article about objections to planning permission for a funeral director’s office because it would be near shops, and where a lot of children go. Are we supposed to hide funeral directors’ offices away so that they only come out of hiding when someone dies?

During my research around vitality in ageing, I came across inspiring teaching from a Buddhist, about the grace of ageing. That if we can forgive both ourself and others, it will contribute towards being a gentle and compassionate older person. And also if we can learn to receive graciously, as well as give, it will help us to accept the care that we may need and make those who care, want to carry out their task with pleasure.

And so, I have reached a point where not only am I a full-time carer for my husband but I am also living with fibromyalgia and vision impairment which can at times make life more difficult.

I have found the grace to ask for help, from neighbours, friends and family. Rather than live in denial of my needs.

I have realised that being vital – stays with us until we die. I want to be a vital human being, in the way of recognising that I still have a vital force within me that will not go until I draw my last breath.

I can be vital by being gracious, grateful and knowing that even just a smile can make a difference.

Of course, I do forget at times, that is the human being that I am. I too can moan, be annoyed, irritated and worried. But I soon realise that I do not have to do that. My fellow humans all have feelings, past stories and experiences that make them who they are today.

I practice mindfulness and consciousness, and as my dear old Dad used to say; “Put yourself in their shoes.”

The biggest influence in my life before all of this was being a member of churches who preached the fundamentalism of Hell and Damnation if you were not “saved.” So I grew up feeling pretty worthless. The only way that I could be loved was to be a born again Christian and behave like those around me.

A big part of my growth, study and research from the heart over the last 27 years, has been learning how the teachings of these people, have done so much damage. I have studied the history of early Christianity and how the bible was written.

My complete story is in my upcoming book “The Truth Has Set Me Free.”

And it has set me free to be who I am and made ageing a pleasure instead of a burden. I am ageing with vitality.

I run a group, on Facebook by that name, (please note the e in ageing.)

And if you go to my website http://www.patriciacherrylifecoach.com you will find blogs about my favourite subjects, including weight and food management, ageing, death and macular degeneration.

Since becoming 67, I have gained two recognised diplomas— one as a Life Coach, and the other as a Funeral Celebrant. In the last 12 months, I also trained as an End of Life workshop facilitator, with the not for profit company “Before I Go” which you can find online — run by Jane Duncan Rogers. At the moment, I have had to go a little slower because of my husband’s health making every day a bit uncertain, but I am still going forth in the way I wish.

Patricia’s book The Truth Has Set Me Free is available here.

HOTSTUFF – Embracing The Menopause


6 Minute Read

As an Energy Medicine Coach, I’ve spent pretty much the last 25 years helping others find their way. Now, it is time for me to forge mine anew.

And my path is based upon a personal story that, up until now, I’ve hidden away in a very dark little closet…

Eight years ago, I was facing a hysterectomy following a failed procedure to cauterise the fibroid that was causing me many dire and unspeakable problems. And this op was not to be a keyhole job; I was facing the whole kit and caboodle. Not only did I not want to lose my womb; as a self-employed single parent, I simply could not afford to take time off work.

I pleaded with the consultant to offer me an alternative, but she was adamant. She said that the only chance I had of avoiding surgery was if the menopause were to suddenly appear. This, she said, would basically starve the troublesome fibroid into extinction. However, blood tests had revealed this was not going to be happening anytime soon; in fact, she guessed it would be at least five years. This consultant insisted that I couldn’t wait another few weeks, let alone a few years.

I’d spent a long time and a lot of money trying various approaches; Ayurveda, Chinese herbs, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Healing, Health Kinesiology, Hypnotherapy and The Journey process, but nothing had made the slightest bit of difference. This – for somebody whose whole life had been spent immersed in all things holistic and alternative – was utterly demoralising. I felt like a failure and a fraud.
But there was still a little voice nagging away at me saying there was a way. I just needed to find it. A big part of me thought further research was futile, but in sheer desperation, I nevertheless burnt a lot of midnight oil trying to find something I hadn’t tried.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a little-known ancient tantric birth control technique, which was purported to stop periods. As a very well-read energy healer, I’d never come across anything like this, and frankly, I was extremely sceptical. 

But it was a chance… perhaps my only chance. A shot in the dark, which my logical brain told me I was stupid to try, but nevertheless, my intuitive brain won the battle and I postponed my op for a month to give it a go.

I never had another period again. Within four months, I’d gone through a ‘mini menopause’ and was out the other side. Job done.  And no op.

After the many years I’d spent struggling with debilitating symptoms, I was utterly flabbergasted by what I’d achieved. And yet I nevertheless kept my story pretty much to myself. I just wasn’t ready to out myself as a post-menopausal woman in a world whose judgment I feared.

Instead, I decided that an adventure was long overdue, and I took myself off to Bali – ostensibly to write a book about my healing work. I meditated, did lots of yoga, drank fresh juices, and slowly but surely, immersed myself – ‘Eat, Pray, Love’-style – into this strange and fascinating culture. I watched sunrises and sunsets, lost a stone, grew my hair and took a young lover. And my little sabbatical just kept being extended month after month.

My young beau – a European who’d lived in Bali for over half his life – introduced me to his neighbour, who just happened to be Ketut Liyer, the real-life healer who was featured in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. He was instrumental in turning around the life of the now-famous author Liz Gilbert, whose book turned into a best-seller and a Hollywood movie which transformed Bali almost overnight into the veritable metropolis that it is today.

Ketut and I hit it off immediately. We flirted, joked and talked long into the afternoon. It culminated in me giving him energy healing. Before my eyes, this elderly man who was ravaged with dementia transformed into a coherent and lucid shaman who taught me such a lot during the week I ended up spending with him and his family.
It was, in so many ways, the time of my life but after almost five years of living between Blighty and Bali, and with my young lover having turned his attention to a lovely young Balinese girl to whom he is now married, I began to find my nomadic lifestyle somewhat lonely and rather unsettling. So I returned home to pick up the pieces of my old life.

Of course, life had moved on and so had I. I didn’t feel as if anything ‘fitted’ me anymore. It was time to shed an old skin, turn over a new leaf, and start getting real.

Drawing upon the intensive healing experiences I’d watched Ketut and other Balinese shamans craft with such dazzlingly efficacy, I created The Bespoke Retreat Company to offer private, tailored healing intensives for clients seeking deep and lasting transformation.

After a year of taking all kinds of people from Burnout to Brilliant in literally a few days, I was asked to create a retreat specifically for a woman who was struggling with the menopause. She knew nothing about the energy technique that I’d used on myself all those years ago; but it had an almost instant effect upon her and has since transformed her life.

And with that, a new arm to my business – Hotstuff – was born.

Contrary to the ease with which I’d sailed through it, the menopause for most women is a very big deal indeed. My retreat client had told me she was absolutely at the end of her tether. The symptoms can be seriously debilitating, and affect not only the woman herself, but her relationships with loved ones, friends and colleagues too. 

I’m told that doctors receive less than an hour’s training in the subject, and the commonly accepted medical model asserts it is all about hormones, which is only a part of the story. The modern menopause is bound up with a plethora of complex layers, including diet, lifestyle and the psychological implications of a society that seeks to denigrate ageing as something unacceptable. 

The power and devil-may-care chutzpah that come in the wake of menopause are secrets that have been hidden from women for millennia.

And yes, this does bring me well and truly out of the closet and into the open about my own story!
 
But, this is often the case. When we’re finally on track, there is almost always a personal story underneath it. This inevitably takes us into our own vulnerabilities and invites us to be transparent because we receive our own true powers after we share ourselves fully with the world.

And so here I am: Lynn Jackson, Energy Medicine Coach, Retreats expert and post-menopausal instigator of Hotstuff.

It’s been a pretty circuitous route, but it all happens for a reason, and – at the age of 60 – I feel I’m finally stepping into my power.

I thank AoA for the inspiration, and hope my story will serve to inspire others.

Lynn Jackson is an energy healer and retreats guru who specialises in menopausal issues via her ‘Hotstuff’ menopause initiative. lynnjackson.co.uk & bespoke-retreats.co.uk

She is running a 12-week Menopause online course, which starts on 3rd June, and includes a group retreat in a fabulous Elizabethan manor house on 20/21 June.

How I Became a Family Constellations Facilitator


1 Minute Read

The summer of 2015 was a challenging one. I had accepted an offer on my family home of 16 years and was set to move into a rental property because we were waiting for the people whose house we wanted to buy – to sell up. I was worn out from the break-up of my long-term relationship, then being ghosted by my most recent lover, and trying to sell the house for two years. My health had suffered big time. I was having terrible recurrent chest infections and I just couldn’t find the energy to pick up afterward.

A friend told me about the Unicorn Natural Voice camp and I thought this would be a good holiday for me – something I could handle as a newly single person. There would be lots of community, fresh air, and singing; it would be good for my soul and my lungs. Once I had a confirmed moving date, I eagerly went on the Voice camp website, only to find that it was happening in the very same week I was moving! Then I saw another tab saying – Constellations Camp.

I had heard about Family Constellations but despite being intrigued, I had never found the time to go. Constellations Camp was a five-day camp, taking place immediately after the Voice camp, it had the same principles – camping in circles, cooking in community, no electronics, no mobile phones, no alcohol or drugs. It was also cheaper than the Voice camp, and smaller. I was excited, and I suggested to my friends Edward and Naphia who both had told me about constellations in the first place – that we book on. To my surprise, they both said yes, and a few weeks later Naphia and I found ourselves packing up the car, stopping at my solicitor’s office to sign the final documents and hand over keys, and we were on the way!

We had to take it slowly because it was hot, I was extra-exhausted and just couldn’t rush. I had really bad oedema in my legs and was worried I had heart failure by this time. I had no strength, and we had to stop at various services during the two-hour drive to Somerset. We finally arrived in a bizarre field full of tents and a few hippies. We drove around it a couple of times in the car. In the end, we found someone who told us we were in the wrong field. As we entered the opposite field, we again saw a load of tents, but this time no hippies. We really didn’t know what to do!

At the top of the field was a yurt, so we parked up and gingerly lifted the latch. The entire population of the yurt (about 35 people) stared at us as we crawled in and found a place to sit around the edge. There was a talking stick going around, and we realised when we saw Edward that we were in fact in the right place. After the introductions, feeling extremely awkward because of having arrived late, and with still no idea who was running the camp or what was going on, we did an exercise in groups of four, where we set up representatives for our parents and for life. We stood facing our mother and father, with a representative for life in between and behind them. Life comes to us through our parents. The deepest experience for me was representing someone’s mother. Through my years working as a homeopath, I have developed strong powers of intuition, but this was on another level. I could see this man as a little boy, I could see his dominating brother, I could feel his mother’s struggle trying to balance things out between them, all just standing in the position of the mother. We hadn’t even started on the constellations yet.

The next morning was the first constellation. The issue holder was an Irish man who felt he was blocked in his romantic relationships. He was asked to set up some representatives. He did this by going around the circle and choosing people to represent significant people who had been suggested to him by the facilitator, Barbara. He then put his hands on their shoulders and moved them into a position in the circle and placed them there. The representatives were then free to move as their bodies took them.

A family member had been shot by a black and tan, the constabulary employed by the British government with the express purpose of suppressing the Irish Republican Army in the war of independence. Effectively an occupying army, they imposed curfews and restrictions on movement, crowd control etc using brutality and violence. This family member was choking to death on the floor. I started laughing hysterically and desperately, trying to hide my tears. I wanted to jump into the constellation and ask the representative if he was okay. I wondered if he was really having problems breathing. My body curled up and I didn’t know if I was laughing or crying. I couldn’t believe everyone was just sitting around the edge of the yurt observing all of this and doing nothing.

Later on, sitting around the campfire cooking lunch, a more experienced person told me I was ‘caught in the field’. Systemic theory says we create a field where we are united within a system and we operate unconsciously with one another. An example of this is a school of fish or a starling murmuration where the birds move as one in flocks, sometimes millions of birds “knowing” how and where to move in unison. I couldn’t believe how strongly I’d been sucked into this field. I immediately came to realise that this was powerful stuff, and a lot more than I had bargained for.

By the second day all of the swelling in my legs had disappeared (I’d spent two days running to pee in every break, and more) and I was starting to feel like myself again. In fact I was feeling more like myself than I had done for 20 years or more. My heart was opening and pure joy was flooding in. There was space, time had expanded miraculously and rushing was no longer part of my mental vocabulary. What really surprised me was that all of this had happened and I hadn’t even done my own constellations yet. Just being in the holding circle and representing had been a deeply healing experience for me.

We spent wonderful evenings sat around the campfire and watching the Perseid meteor showers at night, having “stargasms” as one person called them, and talking and listening in an incredibly heart-opening and authentic way. Cooking communally on the open fire, passing round the talking stick, visiting other circles, just being outside, deeply nourished my soul. By day, there would be more constellations, sometimes five or six a day, and more rituals.

After the camp, wracked with grief at leaving, Naphia and I drove around the roads of Somerset, lost. We didn’t know why or how, but we knew we needed more of this. It had somehow completely passed me by, but Naphia told me that Barbara was starting training in September that year and that a few of the people at the camp were going to do it. In fact, some of them had done it already. On that long, hot journey home, we made a decision that would change our lives. We were going to go back and do the training.

Family Constellations is a kind of group work, which sheds light on unconscious inherited family trauma and hidden dynamics. It can reveal how a system rebalances itself after traumas such as war, genocide, famine, early death, children being given away, murder, etc. This usually affects a family member in a subsequent generation, as they identify with the missing person and compensate for the imbalance. They may develop an illness or addiction, or not thrive in life in some way, be it financially, in relationships or other areas of life. It can be used to look at issues such as relationships with family and in love, finances, work, health and much more.

There are two main principles in Family Constellations work. The first is that everyone belongs, so children who have been given away or died, perpetrators and victims, previous partners, husbands and wives as well as parents, grandparents and so on are all part of the family system. The second theory is that there is a hierarchy in terms of time. So first husbands/wives come first, followed by older children and so on. This links into the first law of belonging, so if someone is excluded, for example, a stillborn child, it will upset the balance as the order of subsequent children is not correct (the next child born after the stillborn is treated as the first when in fact she is the second). It also links into rituals, which can be used to create order, and to reinstate missing people in the system. It is a profound healing modality.

Family Constellations work was created by Bert Hellinger, a German, born in 1925 who managed to avoid the Hitler youth. He was eventually conscripted and spent much of the war in a Belgian POW camp. After the war he became a priest and was a missionary in South Africa working with the Zulu for 16 years. He was eventually uncomfortable with the dogma in the Catholic Church and instead became a therapist, exploring primal and systems therapy and working with groups in Germany.

Barbara Morgan’s training was an 18-month odyssey, eight modules of five days each and 23 group members. I am just completing the second training, which I participated in as an apprentice, helping with overseeing other trainees’ practice and having extra supervision on the training. I’ve been running workshops for the last couple of years and am now really finding my feet and discovering how to pass on this deep work for the benefit of others as well as myself. One of the aspects of the work, which has really struck a chord for me is embodiment and attunement. These are central to my work as a facilitator: feeling into my body and sensing what is going on for my client. My 5Rhythms dance practice has fed into this experience of embodiment and I’m excited by the ways in which our body holds and releases trauma, all within the art and practice of Family Constellations.

I can’t recommend a way of exploring your unconscious patterns better than through Family Constellations.

Poppy is a highly intuitive, empathic and intelligent facilitator. She runs workshops in Kingston-upon-Thames, the next is on the 6th April. Tickets available at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/heart-and-soul-family-constellations-and-rituals-tickets-54965862374?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&aff=escb&utm-source=cp&utm-term=listing

Visit www.poppyaltmann.com for more details, or like her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Poppy-Altmann-Family-Constellations-Homeopathy-123984354310660/

Unicorn Constellations camp runs from 11-16 August 2019, tickets available here: http://www.unicornvillagecamps.co.uk/constellations-camp-information

How Creating my Own Rituals Helped me Grieve for my Mother


11 Minute Read

I’m a skeleton collector. I have a large sea-washed radius from a sperm whale beached on the sands in Orkney. Part of its flipper, its hand. One of my most treasured possessions is an early Victorian piece of scrimshaw, engraved with portraits of two women – maybe the whaler’s wife and daughter or maybe his lovers in different ports – made from a sperm whale’s tooth which I inherited from my father. In fact, I have a whole collection of teeth, ranging from a 50,000-year-old European cave bear’s molar to all my baby milk teeth kept by my mother alongside my four adult wisdom teeth taken out when I was 21. I can now keep my wisdom in my pocket.

Bones and teeth survive. Bones remind us of the transformation that occurs at death. I have a bunch of my hair too, literally a fist full of matted dreadlock strands woven with strips of fabric and beads, remnants of my thankfully brief ‘crusty grunge’ phase in 1991 – hair which has lasted nearly 30 years. Like bones, hair lives on. I’ve come to understand I’m a bone worker. Bones have worked their way into my ‘medicine basket’ of ritual tools that have helped me navigate a year filled with death. From the sudden death of my mother at the end of 2017, to the sudden death of my mother-in-law within two weeks of that anniversary in December 2018, to the sudden death of a yoga friend who tragically took her own life shortly after this New Year. Their bones now are ash; only fragments of bone remain, returned to the earth to sit with ancestral bones or waiting, resting, keeping family company whilst loved ones adjust to the massive, unexpected earthquake of transformation that’s hit them. The dead have to adjust too. Sometimes their souls need help crossing the mythic river in the Underworld. There lies the role of the shaman, the psychopomp, the death doula, the soul midwife, the priest or priestess and the Irish mna caointe and baen-shea in the-end-of-life and soul-crossing rituals they perform.

Through all of this, more than ever before, I’ve come to understand the value of ritual in our natural cycle of life and death.  Ritual makes us human. Ritual connects us to our animal, secular and spiritual selves. We know many species have ritualistic behaviours. Corvids have been observed participating in mourning rituals, and I still have the vivid picture in my mind of a London raven jumping up and down on a dead bird’s body, cawing as if were singing an intense keening in St James’s Park as I walked to work. We now know that ritual increases the likelihood of species survival as it binds groups together. I wonder if this large, black bird was performing a ritualistic death dance to warn the rest of the flock, or was it in mourning? Ravens have long since been associated with death in folklore and myth.

Part of being human is coming to terms with death. Ritual has its place in helping us negotiate that final transformation – from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In our increasingly secular society long focused on prizing youth above elderhood, spending vast amounts of money on maintaining a youthful veneer, we have developed an unhealthy relationship with death. Death and its rituals have been pushed to the sidelines in this relentless pursuit of youth, of living as long as possible, even if the quality of that life is often questionable. Death has been taken out of the home and medicalised. So many people want to deny death, they fear death; by doing so death has gone underground until it rears its inevitable skeleton head. Death is all around us, there is no escaping; delaying possibly, but let’s face it, it’s not going away. The planet is at the precipice of the sixth mass extinction, yet still so many of us are ill-equipped for death. We’ve forgotten how to greet it, to sit with it, and ultimately how to mourn and grieve. However, many of us do instinctively know that ritual has its place when it comes to death. Even if that instinct is sometimes more unconscious than conscious.

Death demands ritual. Not just the physical death of our loved ones: our partners, our elders, our families, our friends, our babies, our children, leading ultimately to our own death, but other symbolic deaths too. The end of our bleeding (if we’re a woman), our marriages, our jobs, our old, worn-out selves, all these transformations involve a final goodbye which deserves to be marked and mourned. Ritual and ceremony can provide a framework to do just that. Underlying all ritual (and myth) is a universal pattern: the death and rebirth of a god or divinity that ensures the fertility of the land as well as social order and harmony. When we place ourselves at the heart of ritual we connect back into that universal pattern. I think that’s the key to ritual unlocking whatever transformation and change we are marking, honouring, letting go of or celebrating.

You don’t have to be religious to create ritual. As I’ve discovered, consciously creating your own personal rituals can be very cathartic and freeing. There can often be a sense of drama to ritual, and there is the idea that theatre itself emerged out of ritual. The performer in me, having created improvised theatre and dance over many decades, has been naturally drawn to creating ritual in recent years, particularly in this year of major loss. The death of the mother is one of the most fundamental deaths to grieve, since not only do we come into the world from our mothers, they represent the fertility of our land, of our society, of our ancestors. No wonder 2017/2018 was an earthquake year when I lost both my mother and my mother in law. At the same time I’ve been losing my periods – the ultimate ending of my fertility, although an ending I’m finally glad to embrace after giving birth to death. It’s taking me 13 years, and many deaths in between to reach this place of acceptance.

Through all of these griefs, I’ve found myself creating ritual. I’m not religious; but I am spiritual. For many years I was a card-carrying atheist, rejecting the dogma and ingrained patriarchy of most monotheistic organised religions. Christian mythology never really did it for me anyway. I just couldn’t relate to Jesus, and as a mythologist, I couldn’t understand how people actually believed the Bible as a gospel truth, not as a loose collection of stories written down many hundreds of years after the grains of various historical events had become mythologised and spun into stories. I enjoyed the story telling aspect at Sunday School (I voluntarily went when I was seven for a brief period) and at 14 easily gained an A in compulsory O level Religious Education. I guess it’s because I’m a storyteller.

When my baby died, I found myself craving ritual. I remember going into churches just to create my own rituals focused around Mary, lighting candles for her and my son. The archetypal mother who had also lost a son. To me she was the only remnant of an ancient fertility goddess left, sanitised into a virgin by a male dominated institution. I found Catholic or High Church of England churches always good for some goddess veneration in the form of Mary. Their churches really do the best smells and bells – because they understand the theatre of ritual. The three cores aspects of ritual being:

  • blood sacrifice (the blood of Christ in a cup)
  • a natural process or mythic historical narrative (the Christian mythology), and
  • an act of magic (the Christian symbol of transformation, the Holy Communion)

Thirteen years on from that earthquake birth, I’m exploring and creating my own rituals which have been particularly helpful during my year of mother grief. I have organically gathered together my ‘medicine’ basket with my tools of ritual. My bones, my incense, my core oracles – the runes and roses – and various other objects of meaning and personal importance. My horse skin drum ‘Paskadi’, my rattle, my cloak, my hood, and my 1940s fox fur cape. The elements of ritualistic transformation. I’ve started inviting others to join my rituals and offer rune and rose reading rituals.

I created my rune set after being called to work with runes in three dreams within three months of my mother’s death. This became a ritual in itself; collecting the wood to complete the set (I’d been given the first nine), carving, sanding, polishing and then anointing them with the last vestiges of my own menstrual blood (the blood sacrifice), into a tool that can help others transform (the magic), underpinned as they are with a Norse mythological framework (the narrative).

By working intuitively and instinctively, I’ve found that creating rituals both personal and shared, has really helped me through my grief. It’s provided a focus and an outlet for my grief. When my mother was close to death (she died 24 hours after having a major stroke whilst out shopping), I somehow knew what to do. I didn’t consult a book; I wasn’t a member of a church, but I knew that ritual was important. In the year that’s passed, I’ve also discovered I have a natural ability to do what I now know as soul journey work. I’ve found I have ‘psychopomp’ abilities – I had to look this up – after experiencing very strong and vivid dreams and vision journeys with drumming, where I’ve helped dead or dying people (and trees) ‘cross over’ to the other side.

Birds too, back to the corvids, are said in many cultures to have a psychopomp nature, carrying the dead to the afterlife . A few days before I lost my son, I was lying in my old bedroom at my mother’s house, clinging on for dear life looking out at the sycamore tree at an unusual gathering of at least 15 magpies in the tree. There had not been one before or since. My mother and I were both struck by the strange occurrence. The magpie is my death bird and my magician. I don’t try to explain this psychopomp phenomenon, as ultimately I don’t think it matters. I simply accept it.  All I know is the role of the psychopomp is known in myth, in folklore and in ancient spiritual practices, down through the millennia. I’ve also starting exploring the power of singing laments and keening from the Celtic Scottish and Irish traditions – coming as I do from strong Celtic stock as well as Norman Viking – using my drum to access these songs as they emerge. They are a powerful way to bring voice to death and grief.

I’m beginning to see there is a place for all this work – as we enter into a new, more open and frank relationship with death. Death is coming out of the shadows. Ritual most definitely has its place and new death rituals are emerging, rooted in our landscape, in a way that is meaningful for us today. The growth of the death cafe is one example of communities coming together to talk about death and break some of the taboos that have grown up in our youth-obsessed world. I went to one in Plymouth the week before I led a small family ceremony to interr my mother’s ashes in her family grave. The cafe was well-facilitated, we all sat round tables talking about our experiences of death, dying and grieving, and it was actually very light hearted. There was much more laughter than I expected. Ultimately I think that’s the trick – to laugh with death, even in the midst of the tears, the anger and the whole gamut of emotion death wrings out of us. Gallows humour, morbid humour is there for a reason. Death doesn’t want us to be deathly serious…all of the time.

So I’ll continue to collect my bones, read my runes and bang my drum whilst I lug my increasingly heavy medicine basket around the country singing to the land and telling stories to birds in the trees, laughing along the way like some crazy Sacred Fool literally dancing with Death. And strangely as I sit here in my mothers easy chair finishing this article, the voice on a radio play I’m listening to drifts over, and says: “She deserves a good death.”               

Resources and further reading

Chi In – my poem about death and the Sacred Fool

For rune and rose readings, rituals, poetry, stories and my blog visit www.runesnroses.com

For more on ritual, the book Ritual  – A Very Short Introduction – by Barry Stephenson

For information on death cafes

For information on psychopomps

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