End of the Garden

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Walking with New Boots - and Louise

I haven't been able to go for a proper walk for several years. My left knee was disintegrating, ditto right ankle. Last year, 2012 - feels like last year - courtesy of the NHS and Prof Haddad's team at UCH, I had second knee replacement (first one, right knee, done at his UCH clinic in 1997). Over the past year strength has gradually returned to the left leg, which has eased the pressure on right ankle. Throughout this non-walking period and with whatever has been going on I have kept up T'ai-Chi and Qigong practice and teaching. The gentle yet powerful movements of these practices has maintained my core strength, flexibility and, more importantly, confidence in the power and recovery of my body.

There is a price to pay for leading an athletic life. A professional dancer's career is short and intense, and I wouldn't have changed a thing. But it does wear away the joints, especially the knees. So on Saturday, just over a year after the second insertion of titanium (I always get a massage at security when travelling) was the day to try out new walking boots.



2003       My NHS knees       2012

Finding them had taken a bit of a search. Over the past few years I have from time to time - and in hope - bought myself a new pair of shoes, shoes that differ from the only ones I can wear: sandals in the summer and soft boots in the winter, anything else puts pressure on the disintegrating ankle and makes walking impossible - but not of course, for a few feet in a shoe shop. These unworn purchases ended up in charity shops.  Finally I managed to find some walking boots, men's, that seemed to accommodate the always-swollen right ankle and, more importantly, allowed me to walk more than a few yards. I had been wearing them around the house for the past few months to get used to them. 


Today I put them on and went for a walk!


I am surrounded by perfect walking countryside. For the past few years I have had to look at it but not be in it. Today, walking boots on, I reached for the walking pole and up the hill I went. 


Marvellous! The views. The peace. The air. Celebration!


Louise insisted on following me. My slow pace allowed her to keep pace whilst also investigating all the interesting smells in the hedgerow. It is a narrow lane, so any traffic is slowed down, but I was concerned. Neighbour Celia came down the hill in her car, and Louise ran back to the house whilst we chatted.  

Louise
I continued walking for about a mile, then turned around to come back. A bit tricky that, going down hill is  more demanding on the joints. Slowly, slowly. Turned off lane and walked over Malcolm's very water-logged field, climbed over the fence into our drive. Back to welcome cuppa and a feeling of great refreshment. 

Outdoors is now once again my back garden. 

Friday, April 08, 2011

Blimey Limey

Well, last year I met an NHS angel. I had requested a referral from my local GP to see a specialist in Lyme Disease, someone who knows a bit more than the average medic. After a few months waiting I received an appointment at a hospital that is sort of in my area, a bit of a drive, but hey.

Rolled up at hospital with no expectations - or at least the usual in and out within five minutes, ten at the most that an NHS consultant can offer. After a bit of a wait, an ecg (all OK) and a few other investigations by two nurses I was welcomed in by a most charming gentleman, hand outstretched greeting me with "Your case is very interesting" and a wide smile.

Then followed an illuminating, interesting and heartwarming hour of information about Lyme disease. We peered at web pages on the internet, I learned about bacteria die off - and the tiredness this can cause, which I expereienced for months, and about how pheasants in the UK carry Lyme - which could easily be eradicated by stopping the commercial breeding of the birds, the crucial differences between the USA.

And now I am a fortunate person who had Lyme Disease. I diagnosed it, and the NHS through my local GP and that lovely specialist took action and healing started. All the more reason to protect our wonderful National Health Service.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rings of Saturn - The Lyme Disease Bull's Eye

This is my saga of Lyme disease which began in July 2009 and finished, I hope, in April 2010.

In July last year, 2009, I notice a red patch behind my left knee. It didn't itch or hurt. Later that month I saw that it was starting to creep around my knee, so I phoned Anna, homeopath - have been seeing her for over 20 years. Anna asked if the rash was on the knee I had had replaced in 2007. No. She recommended calendula cream and to continue with the homeopathic remedies she had given me when last we met, which I did. Then I forgot about it.

In  October I went with my friend Ginnie, in picture, on a jaunce to Portugal - and the weather was amazing, so to the beach we headed, saw dolphins dancing in the sea. We swam in clear blue water under a hot sun. And in that dazzling light I noticed that, like an alien creeping through my body, I still had the central splodgy red rash behind my knee plus two rings of rashes, one heading towards my ankle and the other heading up my left thigh towards my hips. It didn't hurt, it wasn't inflamed (though the central rash was a wee bit hot). Licking our icecreams we inspected it in the sunshine. Then forgot it.

In December I was doing some muck spreading. A neighbour's had grazed her two horses in our paddock for most of the summer leaving piles of lovely manure to be shifted to the vegetable garden. Pushing a laden wheelbarrow up a very muddy slope I wrenched my back. On next London visit in January osteopath Gill got back into form and noticed a heart shaped rash creeping up my back. These rashes resembled the mark of a high tide left behind on the beach, or one of the rings around Saturn, not attached to the original. Still there glowing red was the rash behind my knee. Gill told me to use Tee Tree oil to calm it down and to kill off the infection. So have been a Tee Tree queen ever since.

I don't know about you, but viewing one's back, especially the lower back, requires more contortions than even I with my loose body can manage. It was also far too cold to stand naked in front of a full-length mirror this snow-bound winter. So again forgot about it and had faith that this Tee Tree bombardment would clear it up.

On Monday February 8th I treated myself to The Times, I usually don't feed my newspaper addiction on a Monday as I still have all the weekend papers to plough through. The Times that day had this article:

Lyme disease: ‘I knew whatever was troubling me wasn’t a sports injury’

Lyme is a tick borne bacterial infection, and the ticks live mainly in deer populations. They are very tiny... this fellow on the right is hugely magnified. You can read more about it on this web page: Lyme Disease.

That Times article described EXACTLY what I was experiencing, the bull's eye rash, moving around the body etc. A little brick of heaviness in belly grew as I researched Lyme Disease on the internet. Make an appointment with the doctor. First available appointment was Monday, 15 February. A charming and full of cold man who I have never met before listened with a slight suspension of disbelief: "Lyme disease is rare, and how come you think you have it?" he mumbled through the mucus pouring out of him. "Well, I do live in the sticks and there are deer around these 'ere parts," I responded, my confidence in my self-diagnosis wavering. But he kindly pandered to an aging lady and ordered blood tests: one for inflammation and one for the disease itself.

On Wednesday 17th February I saw a lovely nurse who had to consult a colleague to learn the procedure for the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, pictured right, not something she had done before. On the Friday 19th the results of the inflammation tests were in, no inflammation. Phew. Almost two weeks later on Monday 1st March the doctor phoned me at home sounding a little surprised, the second blood test showed I had Lyme Disease and he was leaving an antibiotic prescription (doxycycline, also treats venereal disease) for me at reception. He strongly advised me to take it when I said Anna, homeopath, had given me a remedy for Lyme. He also asked me to come in and have an ecg as Lyme can affect the heart, liver and brain. Oh.

I wavered in what treatment to follow, so phoned a friend or two. But my friends are busy people so no response, and my message was bit veiled, didn't wish to cause alarm. Now knowing that Lyme can be debilitating, swallowed the antibiotics for the next two weeks.

On Friday 5th March had the ecg. The lovely nurse refused to interpret the read-out, she said she didn't know what the wiggles meant. I had a look at it, and there was a little message at the top saying something about an enlargement. I breathed away the little alarm bells tinkling away in my mind.

I was teaching in Birmingham the following morning and requested doctor call me with the result of the ecg on my mobile: heart fine, and the enlargement was natural, the left side of the heart is bigger than the right, he told me. Silly me! Huge relief. 

Another blood test a fortnight after finishing the antibiotic course on 30 March. Result came in on 8th April, I learned later when I went into the surgery on 13 April. The receptionist was puzzled by the verdict: reactive. So requested doctor phone, which he did on the evening of 16th April. He didn't get it either and phoned the Southampton microbiologist who had looked at my bloods (that's the term used: bloods) on 19 April, Monday. Spoke again and doctor said that I must have had Lyme for a long time (yes, noticed rash last July) so now my blood carries resistance to it, thus the 'reactive'. Think I have got that right... 

 
So if you notice a rash that looks like a bull's eye or the rings of Saturn, ask for a blood test for Lyme disease. Wear socks and leg coverings if walking where deer roam - it might not be as rare as we think, there are many pretty deer out there, all over the UK.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Day in Dingestow Village Hall

Exhausted. EXHAUUUSTED. Long day, weary, legs aching, feet mashed. Have I overreached myself today? We shall see. 

I was up early, had to do hair and slap on make up (oh, where art thou, Rosemarie?) before leaving at around 7.30am. Arrived, made tea, then piddled about for the next coupe of hours whilst Ian set up the lighting and camera. I know from my film experience that the technical aspect always takes loads of time. There is a lovely village shop next to the hall where I bought up all the available daffs to dress the very plain hall and a newspaper to keep me calm before we could start filming. Dingestow is a small village outside Monmouth that happens to have this very smart hall which was built with lottery money in 2001/02 - and opened by Princess Ann, no less. Pictures of her maj in the lobby. Dingestow is a quiet place, just what we needed.

We started the shoot with some easy warm-ups for us both to set the scene, get the lighting adjusted, change a few things. It was then that I acknowledged that my energy was all over the place.

Today for me was psychologically challenging, the physical challenge crept up on me during the day. The challenge was to keep my demons at bay, to silence all the little monkeys whispering 'you are too old to do this', 'you are not good enough', 'your form has gone down the pan' 'who do you think you are, thinking you can make a T'ai-Chi DVD, especially the way you do it now. Twenty years ago, yes, but not now, not at your age and your physical decrepitude, when there are all those extremely fit blokes out there doing it so well....' (don't think I thought the word 'decrepitude' when willing myself not to say to Ian that this was all a huge mistake, let's stop now and go home and do something sensible like have a cup of tea. But it seems to be the correct word to describe my condition today.) So had another cup of tea anyway and didn't go home then.  During all this negative bombardment I forced myself to focus on the benefits that this planned DVD might offer to those who study with me - and lots of other people who do not have a great athletic ability. I do believe that our efforts today will encourage many who believe they can't do T'ai-Chi  and to think otherwise, to get out of their comfort zones and give it a go. We shall see.

These monkeys clarified why it has taken me so long to be in action around this filming. I am the barrier. And today I did manage to surmount these barriers and just get on with it.

Of course Ian had his demons too! Like me he was doing his best with limited time, limited equipment and an extremely limited budget.  An instructional DVD is not exactly high art, it needs to be clear, concise, easy to use.... So I knew this venture was going to challenge his finely honed artistic sensibility, especially when I squashed some of his imaginative suggestions that might have looked wonderful but would have clouded its purpose. Thank you, Ian for your patience and perserverance today - most of all at the end of the day when we tried to re-shoot the complete short form with better lighting. By then my legs had most definitely had it and I started to fall over and had to keep stopping. So we gave up, packed up and drove our separate ways into the pouring rain.


Monday, March 22, 2010

The Winter Solstice, written in December 2007

Yesterday I participated in a Winter Solstice ceremony. Our hostess, Chrys, reminded us of the turning of the wheel, that now is the time of the shortest day and the longest. Time to reflect on our achievements of the past year and to let go anything we do not wish to carry forward into the New Year, the time of the sun returning into our lives.

Never have I needed such reminding that circumstances change, like the seasons. These past few months have been a period of deep darkness, a time that on awakening each morning I have consciously taken a vow to be happy, to be grateful for what I do have. Without this constant reminder that life is precious and so much to be appreciated I would have rapidly slipped into a deep depression such were the circumstances of those months.

Friday, March 19, 2010

T'ai-Chi DVD

For many years the people who come to my T'ai-Chi classes have been asking for a clear step-by-step DVD of the Yang style Short Form I teach to beginners. I did manage to get a VHS video made a few years ago which took about two years from the filming to the editing, to the packaging and printing and copying before it was ready for use. It was simple film: one camera angle of Matthew, Kate and I going through the short form in St John's Hall, Isleworth. T'ai-Chi practitioners have found it useful but it only presented the front view, so was always a challenge when attempting to copy the movements back to front, so to speak.

Last year in the autumn one of my Monmouth T'ai-Chi student's told me that her husband had a place on Mon-TV's very comprehensive film training course. It is free - and for those who want to know more, it is funded by the Welsh Assembly and tutored by professionals in the media industry. People come from far and wide to participate.  Part of the course is writing, shooting and editing a five minute film, and Ian Wallace, Diana's husband, was looking around for a subject. Diana suggested he do something about me, mainly because of my dance background, she thought it might be interesting. Go to sueweston.com to see Ian's film Living Without Regrets, - a title that Ian chose and now I have to live up to. (Thank you, Ian)

Ian has a great eye for framing a picture, he was considerate and organised when working out the storyboard and during the shooting. I was bit nervous at the editing stage, but I think he has condensed the over two hours of material to the required five minutes rather wonderfully. What do you think? Let me know, leave a comment at the end of this blog. Mon-TV think so, they are using Ian's film to show potential fund-raisers, including the Welsh Assembly. And he was given a distinction on graduating from the course, congratulations, Ian

Then the subject of the much requested T'ai-Chi DVD floated into the front of my mind. A guide that offers clear step by step instructions in easy-to-use chapters, that is clear and filmed giving both front and back views, as though the student is standing behind the instructor as in class. I mentioned this to Diana at our T'ai-Chi session last Wednesday and she told me that Ian was going to be taking on some supply teaching soon so would not be available for a few months after Easter. I contacted him the next day, he responded enthusiastically, we met this morning, Friday 19 March, and on Tuesday 23 March we meet  to shoot the film in Dingestow Village Hall for an 8am start. If anyone wants to come along and lend a hand, or make a cup of tea, or get your T'ai-Chi slippers on and join in, please do! We need a couple of runners, equipment wranglers etc.

I am making wishes that this time it will not take two years between filming and completion. I'll let you know when it emerges - and keep you updated here as we go through the process of writing, filming, editing, recording the commentary, designing the cover, making copies, packaging....


Saturday, March 13, 2010

What Happens on a Qigong & Meditation Retreat Week?

 
 When I arrived on Holy Isle in September 1999 Lama Yeshe Rinpoche gave me instructions for my year of retreat. To my surprise Lama provided only two guidelines one of which was to not do anything unless I could rejoice. Not what I had expected to hear. The subtly of this has been filtering through ever since: can I also rejoice when things fall apart as well as on a sunny day when all's well?

Lama's instruction is a precious gift that I share freely with others through Qigong and T'ai-Chi, which I have been practising and teaching for many years. When in the summer of 2003 The Centre of World Peace and Health opened I immediately offered to lead Qigong & Meditation Retreat weeks. I knew from my year on Holy Isle that this place would make a superb holiday destination offering beauty, wellbeing and adventure. 
At the beginning of each course I guide everyone through a deep relaxation that allows his or her retreat to begin after the convoluted journey to the island. Over a week or weekend course participants, always a mix of ages, backgrounds, beliefs and abilities, learn the gentle, releasing and healing movements of Wild Goose Medical Qigong. We practice this flowing form alongside simple peaceful mind and loving kindness meditations. People who have arrived as strangers rapidly form friendships as the work and the island weave their magic. Many are at a watershed in their lives. The company, the practise sessions and the non-denominational spiritual sanctuary of Holy Isle provide a space for insight and inspirational choices to bubble through. 
 
As well as the Qigong and meditation the island itself is restorative. In the afternoons, which are kept free for all to enjoy its beauty, participants might climb the mountain even though their greatest fear is of heights - and return filled with glowing confidence. Another day they may help in the garden, take walks along the shores and some plunge into the cold waters of the Firth of Clyde. All reasons to rejoice! The volunteers who so generously look after Holy Isle ask visitors to help in the kitchen. These could be labelled Laughter Sessions, for this is what is heard during the cleaning and washing up.
Relaxed and revitalized participants take back home with them skills to sustain their own ability to rejoice. Katherine's feedback speaks for many:

'What a wonderful, magical and transformational week. I arrived tired and depleted and now have fully restored, and with so much more than I ever imagined.'

And the other instruction that Lama Yeshe gave me at the beginning of my retreat year? I'll share this with you when next we meet on Holy Isle, the perfect place to study the art of rejoicing!
 

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Still Breathing!

Today, Thursday February 4th, is my birthday - one of those birthdays that are termed 'a big one'. And as I rejoice at the daily miracle of still being able to breathe each morning on awakening, I decided that this is not the time to be coy and say silly things like 'I am as old as my tongue and little bit older than my teeth' when friends politely slalom away from the question of age as though none of us really wants to know how old anyone is thus giving us the opportunity to gauge how we are doing ourselves when we slyly compare skin, teeth, health, hair, vigour and shape (a very subjective statement that tells you a lot about me...). Yes, we all secretly want to have an inkling of everyone's age - go on, admit it. So today I toss into the (yes, I know, very small as not many of you read this, but thank you for doing so) arena the fact that today I celebrate surviving 65 years. Not a great age, but still breathing.

Yet I can't quite believe I've got this far, and still feeling like a spring chicken - but the woman who looks back at me in the mirror is most certainly not the one that I am expecting to see, as in this picture of me taken a few years back (not many) holding my precious doll, Mary. The current version is much more like my mother, or dare I say it, my grandmother, who both seemed as old as Methusula when I was younger... Anyway, if you follow this link, Mon-TV you can see the plumped up older model for yourself. It's a lovely little film, nice pictures, thank you, Ian Wallace, who made it.

So, do I now start knitting, give up driving, stop working - or pack my knapsack to sail the seven seas, climb Everest and go and live in a hut in the Himalayas - or move into sheltered accommodation, or book a single ticket to Switzerland, or retire to a sunny spot, maybe Spain or India or South America and chew the cud, or mangoes, in endless warmth? So many choices. Advice please.

Currently none of the above fits. For the present I have decided to carry on as I have always done: learning something new regularly - I am attending a Wild Goose Qigong course next weekend in Manchester led by Sheila. I am utterly committed to my current classes and retreats in Monmouth, Pontypool, Abergavenny, Twickenham, Stourbridge and on Holy Isle. I am hugely grateful for the ongoing education I receive from all the courageous (yes, T'ai-Chi is difficult) people who rock up to the T'ai-Chi, Qigong, meditation sessions and residential retreats. And also to those who come along for a therapeutic massage which I offer at lovely Lorraine's Relaxation & Therapy Rooms. And I plan to do more gardening, cooking, walking, dancing, sudoku, reading, Qigong, writing, MONEW newsletter editing, eating, T'ai-Chi, wine drinking, meditating, slimming, tax paying - and top of the list, nurture and value every amazing friendship that my never-boring life has blessed me with - and you know who you are!

I was recently inspired by a woman who was the teacher of Dr Hu, an excellent man, Qigong teacher and Chinese medicine practitioner, no tardis, now well into his 70s (I am guessing here, maybe someone will put me right on this). His teacher, Grandmaster Yang, Mei-jun, died when she was 106 years old. Apparently she was still teaching at 102. That's her, wielding a sword, not sure how old she was then, probably pushing a hundred years. So my aspiration is to keep going, teaching, practising and all, at least until 103 (why stop at 102?) if my genes offer this. Way to go, don't you agree? Sword in hand, yes. Memo, must buy sword.

So not for me sliding into graceful old age (or wearing too much purple) but my plan is to get out there as long as my great good health allows and celebrate each moment of this precious, precious life. And keep reminding myself to accept whatever life places into my own small begging bowl. For me the myth that we have choices is questionable: I may appear to make my own choices, but actually all I am doing is responding as skillfully as I can to the conditions that life presents to me each and every moment. Some of which are marvelous, and some challenging. Gird loins, (wield sword?) offer gratitude and carry on.

Happy birthday to all February fourthers! And to all the other Aquarians reading this who share this snowdrop time of the year to celebrate their arrival on earth.
Please, light a candle, make a cake and celebrate your own birthday today. Every day is our birthday. Raise a glass and sip precious nectar, share a plate of delicious food with a friend, be emotional, laugh, cry and have fun - and remember the words of dear Lama Samten spoken in his Tibetan-Kiwi accent:

THE MEANING OF LIFE IS TO BE HIPPY

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Our dancing world

On Friday 15 January it was a white world here:















On Saturday 16th it thawed and flooded.
















And revealed this magic that had been pushing up under a thick blanket of snow:


And on Sunday the floods disappeared, the sun shone and the fields are green.



It is very heartening to remember that things do change, nothing is permanent, and that the dance of life flows on carrying it with us - whether we want to move or not... So I might as well loosen up, be flexible and keep my heart open to all possibilities.

Come dance with me!

Happy New Year

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas! It is a white one here.

Seen recently: two beautiful foxes walking over the snow right by the house a couple of days ago. A few weeks ago when coming home late I saw a white barn owl, like a ghost floating through the trees. yesterday driving back through the white sunny countryside a Buzzard was sitting on a telephone wire.

And may 2010 bring you all joy, peace, health and prosperity

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Abhina Foundation: How did this come to be?


What did you dream of becoming when you grew up? I bet it wasn't the founder and chair of a charity! I know this did not feature on my life plan. My dreams all focused on my passion: dance. And dance I did. Dance has taken me to places and opened doors that were never part of that first childish dream of being a ballerina. My dance took me to performing, choreography, teaching, working in film, theatre, TV, cabaret. I danced on stages, studios, art galleries, village halls, lawns, islands, mountains, schools, universities, communities; in India, New Zealand, Peru, Colombia, Curacao, Algeria, Egypt. most European countries, Mexico, Turkey, Iran, Sri Lanka.....

And it was as a movement tutor at LAMDA that I met Anoja Weerasinghe, Sri Lankan film star. Anoja took a year out in 1989 of a very successful career, she had previously won the best actress award at the Asian 'Oscars' in Delhi, to study acting on LAMDA's one year classical theatre course. During this time we became firm friends. And yes, it was an extraordinary action that Anoja took - to study acting whilst at the pinnacle of her career. But then that is Anoja, an extraordinary and inspiring being.

My first visit to Sri Lanka was as an adjunct to the British Council sponsored trip I was making to India in my role as a theatre director and movement teacher. On that first trip Anoja requested that I devise and deliver a month long course for all the leading Sri Lankan film artists. In the middle of this on 1st May 1993 the president Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated by the LTTE in a suicide bombing. This was my introduction to the volatility and violence of the politics in this small and beautiful country. Premadasa's funeral opened my eyes to the power that performers have when they glow from a silver screen into the lives of others. My early passion was ignited, I saw clearly how important it is to have skilled, talented and truthful performers entering our living rooms and cinemas on a daily basis.

I returned many times to Sri Lanka over the following years, I designed and delivered courses to varying groups of people: teachers, actors, dancers, singers, social workers, psychiatrists, doctors, community leaders and others. Some of these courses brought together teachers and community leaders from all over Sri Lanka to Bellangwilla Temple in Mount Lavinia. These groups were a mixture of men, women, Tamil and Singhalese, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim. The emphasis of these 14 day courses was on theatre in its most ancient, sacred and healing apparel, a theatre of uniting communities that transcends separating beliefs.

My own search for healing was ongoing. I had never held the notion that I could help others. I struggled with life in my own little bubble. I went on courses, workshops and trainings looking for insight. I studied T'ai-Chi, Qigong, massage, Reiki, meditation, anger management, NLP, shamanism, Buddhism and other self-development philosophies. I met several wise and compassionate teaches who helped me, and continue to support me, be kind to myself and extend this kindness to others. I respnded to an urge to learn T'ai-Chi in 1986. I started teaching it in 1990 when a group came to me wanting to learn. Through teaching others I have gradually learned more about myself. In 1999 I went into retreat to deepen my meditation practice. One of the treasures I took from this time in retreat was some advice Suzuki Roshi gave to one of his students when told that she wished to help others. 'Be careful', Suzuki said to her, 'Sometimes when we we help we harm.'

How to help without harming? Running a charity is fraught with the dangers of harming when intending to help.

Sri Lanka, a land unparallelled in its beauty, is also a land with a unique set of challenges. The Tsunami of 2004 devastated the country and its people. The on-going war has spanned over thirty years and has left over 70,000 dead, many more wounded and an unimaginable number scarred. and displaced.

In 2005, not long after the tsnuami, I went to Sri Lanka to find out for myself how to support the wo
rk that Anoja was doing to aid those suffering the effects of that disaster and the on-going civil war. Anoja was leading all the community courses herself, wearing herself to a frazzle, travelling all over the country to respond to the many requests for her and her team. To help spread this load I returned in January 2006 and delivered a course to train the trainers, enabling many more people to have the skills to go out into the remote areas and work with communities in shock. This programme has carried on since then and is supported by the Norwegian government.

After the tsunami Anoja and I gathered a group of committed professionals from Sri Lanka and the UK to form The Abhina Foundation. Abhina uses the Performing Arts as a means of developing people, of healing hurts, of refining talent, of releasing anger, of honing skills, and equipping people with confidence; to live life fully, to work creatively, and mostly to be free.

After the disasters of the 2004 tsunami and the ongoing civil war, where so many people lost everything, the replacement of material goods, jobs and homes to live in was a priority. But beyond that is the task of enabling individuals and communities to lift themselves out of dependency and depression to a place of hope and creativity. This is the work of the Abhina Foundation, offering hope where before there was only bleakness.

The work of Abhina is urgently needed as the situation in Sri Lanka worsens and thousands are homeless. On Friday May 22nd we aim to raise sufficient funds to ensure this vital work continues in the camps scattered across Sri Lanka that give temporary shelter to all those displaced as a result of the current crisis.

We can all help and every penny goes where it is needed

Be there on 22 May- or if you really, really cannot join us, buy tickets to be part of
The Clothes Swap Evening!


I look forward to receiving your donation, made payable to 'The Abhina Foundation UK' and to seeing you on Friday May 22nd at Bridges, 6.30pm - 9.30pm for an uplifting and inspiring evening. And if you cannot attend your ticket will go into the raffle.

Warm wishes
Sue Weston

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Autumn Morning


It is the most wonderful autumn day: dawn arrived with a soft mist, now the sun is breaking it up. Whispy fingers linger over the hills. I have just sat outside munching breakfast, sipping tea, watching 'house' pheasants nibble seeds offered to them and other birds of all colours flitting round the the bird table. Will soon go into the fields and pluck some blackberries to go with our fine harvest of apples. Blackberry and apple pie, jelly - and maybe even some chutney.


Yesterday evening I initiated a new Beginners T'ai-Chi Course in Abergavenny. That first class, when people rock up, slightly nervous, their bodies telling them that this is something that is useful, their minds a bit scattered at actually being there and then at the realisation that they are starting to do some of the slow, languid moves for themselves. And it is OK, because everyone else is also engrossed in the magic of being gentle and slow. Taking all the time in the world. When do we do that?

Good atmosphere in the class, but as always, the usual hurdles to jump over. The main one is lack of confidence in our abilities. So many of us can rapidly plunge into a 'I can't do this' mode. Over the years I have sought various ways to allow people to stay with T'ai-Chi even though their belief is that they are not good enough. My main tool is introducing the notion of practice being a place of refuge, a moment in maybe a busy and stressful day, where we can breathe deeply, relax, soften, spend time making friends with any knots, tensions or pain we might be carrying in our bodies, to put to one side all our worries, plans and fears, and simply breathe and move and focus gently, not worrying about getting anything 'right'. I want practice, like it is for me, to be something DELICIOUS, something we really wish to taste each and every day. Then the true values of T'ai-Chi practice will seep into all aspects of our lives. Through the gradual entering of the practice we no longer have to make an effort to be at ease or make an effort to meet life's obstacles with equanimity. It begins to happen naturally. And one day we turn round and notice that yes, I have handled that situation so differently to how I used to. And feel good about ourselves. Very good.

And today, what a day to stand still, breathe deeply, open our hearts wide, lift our arms to the sun, connect softly with our bodies, cultivate ease, settle into our inner ground, and celebrate this precious, short life we are all given!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Waiting in Ambush

Don't Wait in Ambush. I love this slogan. It is one of the Buddhist Mind training slogans. There are 59 of these pithy sayings. They are all a bit tough, designed to wake us up. This one refers to the fact that most of us aspire to be 'nice' people. But sometimes we reveal our ability to attack others when they show weakness. Especially those who might be making themselves a bit more prominent out there in the world. Not that I am referring to the current cult of celebrity here, I am referring to actions far more mundane. Someone like myself, for example. I have practiced and taught T'ai-Chi for many years. It is something that grew from a life-long passion and interest in the philosophy of movement. It is how I earn my living, teaching T'ai-Chi and Qigong. I have chosen not to use my skills in the realms of adult education but to work independently, giving me freedom to be autonomous in my work and seek the greatest benefit to those who study with me as as myself. In order to get the courses into the public eye and thus let those know about them who wish to study this martial art I have to look for and book rooms to work in, write and distribute publicity, keep my web page updated and many other administration tasks, a considerable effort, requiring skill and financial investment. My experience of others who have never worked independently is that they often do not have a picture of the self-employed, which is understandable.

So how does all this activity refer to the slogan 'Don't wait in Ambush'? In order to get my T'ai-Chi classes available to the public I have to stick my head above the parapet. I allow myself to be noticed in the region that my classes will generate interest. This isn't a big deal. I am not looking for world recognition! I am only disseminating information in a small area, the areas in which I hold these classes. In doing this, I lay myself open to comments that might not be useful if I took them too seriously. Comments such as "the Weston empire moves on" or "I see you are taking over the spiritual life of Monmouth." Yes, people do say these things, and more! Ambushed!

I was at a concert recently. A male voice choir. One of the two soloists was a hugely talented young man of 18. When introduced it was  mentioned that he was receiving vocal training. The purity of his voice sent shivers through me. His commitment to the song he was singing was total,  very rare in a singer, amateur or professional. In the interval I went to find out more about his training, assuming he must be heading for an operatic career. He told me that he was studying to be a primary school teacher, the singing lessons were on the side. One of his fellow choir members butted in saying, "We can't let him get big-headed." It was said lightly, laughingly, but it was said. I thought about this then reflected, "Culturally we tend to put down those who are talented, we tend not to openly celebrate their gift." I continued, "There are many primary school teachers, and they are very precious, but we have few great singers with your obvious talents."

I left it at that.

How many of you aspiring artists and enterprising women and men have stopped in your tracks for fear of what others may say or think? How many of you have had the courage to nurture your gift then offer it to the world? And then claim the right to receive payment for the initiative you have shown in developing your skills and talents into something that others can benefit from?

More pertinently: have you ever put someone else down when they shared an idea they had with you? Have you ever been less than enthusiastic when another succeeds at their new venture, or widens their sphere of ope
ration? Are you able to celebrate another's success and achievements? Are you able to wholeheartedly encourage a friend's efforts to build an income for themselves through their own talents and skills? Or does a twinge of envy or jealousy prevent your heart from opening to their initiatives?

I taught at some of the major drama schools in London for many years. Quite swiftly I saw that the culture that most talented young actors arrived with was not useful for their development as actors, vulnerable creatures all. I saw that their ability to put each other down had come from a culture that encouraged criticism and analysis, both useful in their place. It was a

 picking to pieces culture and a cutting down to size mentality. As a young dancer I was fortunate to witness and receive how the more experienced dancers in the company unstintingly gave of their knowledge and talent to the newcomers. Praise was offered on a daily basis for achievements. Help was given when it was noticed that a dancer was struggling. I passed this craft of enabling others onto the young actors requesting that they learn how to celebrate another's success, to always put themselves in the shoes of the prizewinner. That feels good, being a winner. Can we allow another to feel good? If I can get a sense of your success, be you for a moment, than I can celebrate your achievement. And if you succeed, then chances are that I might one day!

Waiting in ambush is the path of the coward, not the warrior. Our ability to communicate generously from our hearts is what makes us human warriors, fearless operators in a turbulent world, whatever our line of business.

Celebrate your own achievements, cheer another's. Allow what others say if it teeters over into cynicism or criticism to wash over you. Yet always open your heart to those who ambush you (or if you ambush another yourself), it is only their fear of taking action and making their mark that is being revealed. It is our duty to use the talent we are born with, find the teachers, develop the platform, deepen our insight, offer to the world. then those who wish to benefit from our skills and gifts will. They are waiting, and not in ambush.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Specsavers

Time for new glasses. Actually time for a new prescription months, if not a couple of years back. So on Thursday last I rolled up for my appointment with the optician at Specsavers on Mono Street.

Have you tried to find a suitable set of frames when you can’t see clearly? In the opticians in Hounslow where last I purchased a new set of specs, there was either the possibility of temporary contact lenses or a video camera that allowed one to see the effect of new frames with old glasses in place. No such service here in the sticks. I wandered around with their only magnifying mirror trying to ascertain if the glasses made me look old, trendy, ridiculous, OK or very elegant. It was the latter I was after.

I was called into the treatment room. There was the usual eye-testing and eye-watering paraphernalia on display. I sat myself in the electric chair.

“Can you see the bottom line?” asked the Welsh Bangladeshi (I had inquired) optician

“No,” I said, wishing that I could. In life, particularly.

He loads yet more lenses on to the mediaeval metal contraption digging into the bridge of my nose. He leans over and reads my details which include my date of birth. Is nothing secret these days? No, of course not.

He starts to make gentle ‘retirement’ chit-chat as he fiddles with his machines.

“Are you retired?”

I am never quite sure how to answer that one.

“Not really,” I explain, “I have always been freelance so don’t quite get the idea of retirement.”

“What do you do?” he politely and rather uninterestedly asks with his back to me as he reaches into yet another case filled with glass lenses.

For some reason that day I gave an honest answer.

“I teach T’ai-Chi, meditation and Qigong.” I explain, “I also practice therapeutic massage and Reiki.”

Usually I mutter something along the lines of ‘This and that’ staying purposely vague about my skills. I have in the past attracted odd and unwelcome reactions to what interests and excites me. I don’t know why I was so open that day.

“Where do you teach?” he asks.
I explain briefly about The Bridges Centre, wondering if because I can now see the bottom line with my left eye and that the red circle is brighter than the green one he has a arrived at a formula for my prescription, all the time worrying about how to choose new frames when I can’t see them without my current glasses in place.

His next question jolts me out of my anxiety:

“Do you write?”

Well, having attended a creative writing course for the past few months since moving to Monmouth my answer was an unconditional “Yes.”

“I run an events magazine and we need an article for the next issue. Would you write one?”

Well, the question of what frames would suit and how I was going to choose something that was flatteringly fashionable and didn’t make me appear an old fogey was swept away. It isn’t every day one gets requested for an article from a commuting-from-Cardiff optician. He tells me that he does the Specsavers job part-time, at other times he edits his magazine and also is a life-coach. And currently the next issue of Ubizy, for that is the name of his A5 free publication distributed to all the bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, art-galleries and civic centres in Cardiff and Swansea, lacks one feature writer.

When I get home I immediately look for the magazine on the internet. It is a groovy little publication with some interesting articles amongst the advertisements. It resides at www.ubizy.com, have a look for yourself.

A few days later I sent an article down the tubes to him, with the message that I welcomed feedback and suggestions. He responded pretty quickly:

Hi Sue

The article was good but i think the lay person may not be aware of the practical benefits of T'ai-Chi or the how it can help them in everyday life. Would it be possible to alter the article to a more practical perspective?

The intro and history of T'ai-Chi is great, but i think the public would want to know what the 'Supporting The Sky' and 'Instant Flow' will help them to achieve.

I hope you take this as constructive criticism rather than be offended. I’m only looking at it from a reader perspective

thanks and cheers again

David


I replied:

Absolutely the feedback required, you know your audience. So good to get constructive advice. Will have another look, and send another version soon.

He wrote:

Thanku so much

I was a bit worried as you are an expert in your field, but l don't want the reader ignoring your article!

So the more practical it looks the better.

We will also add a photo / cartoon to get attention grabbing cues for it,


I re-wrote the article attaching this note with the second submission:

Have had a bit of a rewrite, refocused the article. Hope this fits the bill better. Please do let me know if more adjustments required: it is so useful for me to go through this process. T'ai-Chi is such a vast subject, getting it into a few pithy, accessible words is challenging! Also, I am not bothered about the title, the one I have given it is only a suggestion.

Look forward to your comments.


On Monday  received this:

Sue

Perfect

Thanks and speak to you soon

Regards

DR


I have often wondered how a writer gets commissioned. Now I know. Have an eye test. At Monmouth Specsavers. On a Thursday. And get scribbling.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tai-Chi, The Secret Strengthener


Many people have heard of T’ai-Chi and have no idea what it is. T’ai-Chi Ch’uan means ‘Ultimate Supreme Form of Boxing’, no messing there. A surprise to most is that T’ai-Chi is a martial art. A martial art in its purest form is self-protection, an inner and outer awareness. When I first started T’ai-Chi in 1986 I knew nothing of this, only that it was an unusual exercise form performed very slowly. The martial art aspect was a revelation opening up a whole new world that linked physical health with mental strength and self-confidence.

Having osteoporosis can affect our balance, flexibility and poise; one fall can lead to a huge loss of confidence. In trying to protect ourselves we limit our activity, our world shrinks, our health suffers. Learning T’ai-Chi all those years ago transformed me; it improved my general health and taught me skills to deal with all the ups and downs of life. During many years of teaching T’ai-Chi and Qigong I have watched people change and become balanced; physically softer and stronger and growing in self-confidence. This is true self-defence, one that has none of the hard punching, kicking and other acrobatics of a Kung Fu movie.

Recommended by NICE as suitable exercise for people with osteoporosis, T’ai Chi and its relative, Qigong (pronounced Chi Kung) are excellent ways to help maintain balance, bone density and flexibility. Both forms of exercise strengthen muscles and joints, help to stabilize blood pressure, ease breathing and calm the mind. In China Qigong practice is prescribed in hospitals for many medical conditions. Meaning ‘energy work’ it is simpler than T’ai-Chi to learn so is suitable for those who haven’t attended a formal exercise class for a while, and both offer similar benefits.

The relaxed, circular movements of T’ai-Chi and Qigong appear like waterless swimming, a smooth continuous, flowing dance. Do you remember those inserts on BBC TV? One was a group practising T’ai-Chi by a lake like a flock of red birds in slow- motion. These graceful movements have none of the hardness of other martial arts, the power, strength and healing properties lie in this softness. The slow pace allows us time to become aware of physical and mental habits developed over years and gradually we can adjust to a more beneficial way of breathing, standing and moving. Over time strength and flexibility improve without stressing joints and straining muscles which can occur with more vigorous exercising.

To help understand the simplicity of these forms try this ‘Supporting the Sky’ Qigong exercise at home. Stand with the feet 12-18 inches apart and parallel. Gently release tension by imagining your limbs are like over-cooked spaghetti; heavy, soft, warm and flexible. Spaciously breathe in and out several times. Imagine your back is long and wide. On a long in-breath slowly float the arms up in front of you in a ‘ward-off’ posture (imagine a huge beach ball between your arms) until they are as high as you can comfortably take them. On a complete out-breath open the arms wide floating them down towards the thighs. At the same time slowly bend the knees in time with the out-breath keeping the heels on the floor. Repeat this sequence several times taking all the time in the world. Relax the belly and jaw, feel more weight in the feet and soften the shoulders. Stop if anything is uncomfortable; work with how you are, and not with how you wish to be.


Raising the arms promotes fuller, easier breathing. Working with knees bent tones the calves, helps circulation and preserves bone density. Moving slowly and calmly deepens our self-awareness and allows confidence to grow.

T’ai-Chi & Qigong help us to make friends with our bodies and their inevitable changes. A good teacher will encourage you along the way and will have that twinkle in the eye, the essence of enjoyable T’ai-Chi & Qigong practice. Take the first step; find a teacher and begin learning. Now!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our Lady of Tintern


Yesterday Jeanne and I had the most wonderful and sacred time at Tintern Abbey, in the Wye Valley. For those who don't know, Tintern Abbey is the ruin of a Cistercian Monastery that was knocked about in the Reformation (Cromwell and all that), about 500 years or so ago. William Wordsworth wrote a poem, go to to read it http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Poetry/WordsworthTinternAbbey.htm : He composed this a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of The Wye during a tour. July 13, 1798.

We had read in a local paper that there was to be sung vespers in the ruins so off we trotted. Wonderful weather, with our folding chairs and warm clothes (not needed) and joined about 1000 others, turn-out amazing! Loads of monks, nuns and other ordained beings, looked like a Gilbert and Sullivan opera when they processed into the ruined Abbey together. No organ, so we all sung gustily a cappella the hymns and antiphones and psalms and all. What Jeanne and I hadn't known about was that a statue to our Lady of Tintern was being blessed. This statue, see http://www.ourladyoftintern.co.uk/ was recently carved by Philip Chatfield, who specializes in medieval techniques recreated (and created) this Lady of Tintern from being shown bits of a statue that was found in ruins, He had carved this over the past two years. So the vespers yesterday were dedicated to Our Lady of Tintern, and it was the most feminine of Christian services I have ever attended.

Whilst on Holy Island this August for the
Qigong & Meditation Retreat I was re-inspired (inspiration faded somewhat in years post retreat) to restart daily Green Tara practice. Marvelous, great stuff, imaging strong powerful deity and oodles of compassion from her each day. Making prayers for fearlessness as we start this new life here at Mill House Farm in Llanvihangel Ystern Llewern. And there we were, sitting in the magnificent ruins of the Abbey with swallows flying overhead, the view of the green Wye Valley through the huge empty window frames, the sky overhead, the pillars soaring up.... Watching a beautiful, alive statue being blessed with Holy Water and Incense whose pungent perfume spread throughout the ruined Abbey.

The homily was delivered by Rt Revd Br Stuart Burns OSB, Abbot of Burford, a very Scottish guy and very straightforward. He chose as his subject the time that Jesus as a child had gone missing and his parents spent three days looking for him and finally found him in the temple talking to the doctors: and Mary told the doctors to listen to his son. Br Burns made the point that there is a huge hunger for spirituality yet no-one thinks to look in a church, all sorts of other means are explored. And he added that he understood, as the Church is in a mess. His words. And he is right. he also spoke about how some think that the Church as we know it has to die in order for it to find again its strength. And more. I hope there will be a transcript on the web soon. Will look out for it.

Praising God outside in a ruined Abbey
with centuries of prayer and silence and reflection seeping into the land and ruined walls is good.
As we drove back to Mill House Farm, after joining people, bishops and monks and nuns in Tintern Village Hall for tea and cake, I felt and saw the power of the land around here. And feel truly blessed to be living in such a beautiful and sacred part of Britain, of Wales.

Pray for us as we start our journey here, a journey to offer people a place for healing, relaxation and inspiration. I feel the love of the wider community of our friends out there - and here too, helping where help is needed in all sorts of wonderful ways. helping this transformation of us, this building, our land, our lives - your lives?

May Our Lady of Tintern and Green Tara together bless our endeavours and bring blessings to all who touch us and whom we touch.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Red Handbag Hoist

Never hang your handbag on the back of your chair when eating out. A rule I abide by at all times. Always keep handbag safely nestling between feet, or on lap.

Recently I bought a lovely red handbag from designer Monica Boxley. Beautiful thing, an interpretation of a handbag Monica copied from a 1940s photo of her mother. Too good to go on the floor, too big to sit comfortably on my lap. We met in a nice eatery, Café Rouge in Strand on The Green, up market Chiswick. So I hung the bag on the back of my chair.

Later, CiCi who was sitting opposite me with a view of the whole café quietly asked me if I had a bag on the back of my chair? Yes, I said as I turned round and felt suddenly naked. No.

CiCi got up and went out, she asked Bob to accompany her and both ran to her car. I phoned the police and reported the theft. And then did a mental list of what I had in the bag: my one and only car key, passport (moving home the next day and that day had been hurrying around various banks to move money, all had wanted proof of identity), all my bank, credit, debit and membership cards, Freedom Pass, cheque book, diary, my wallet with some of the above in and about £50 in cash, new sim card set up to change server, keys to Rosemarie's flat, the key to our new home in Wales... Breath out, let it all go. At least I am insured.

The police told me they would come immediately.

CiCi drove back to café. Sitting beside her Bob held my bag aloft. The most amazing sensation of relief.

They had caught up with the woman who had lifted my bag. She had met a man outside the café and both walked off together. Bob and CiCi had swiftly caught up with them. She stopped the car, leapt out and approached them, leaving the car doors wide open. Bob challenged the woman, who had the bag in one hand and the wallet in her other hand. "You took that bag". She, and the man, said they had found it. They gave the bag back and threw the wallet on the ground. Bob challenged them again. They started protesting and shouting, CiCi withdrew: "Thank you, thank you, that's fine, that's fine." And the woman gave her a kiss on the cheek and said in a very heavy Irish accent "God bless you, God bless you" over and over again. She appeared drunk. Later the detective told me that in this sort of petty crime the perpatrators are always very desperate, drug addicts or the like.

As we celebrated the magical return of my bag, me checking the contents, a rather shabby blue car with a blue light flashing on its roof sped up the road and did a sliding turn into a car parking space. Two very fit young men casually dressed got out showing us their identity cards. Quickly they took in the situation and asked CiCi to come with them whilst they did a search of the area. Bob and Rowan, our young 13 year old friend, looked on with envy as she was driven off in this very souped up police car.

The police phoned me back. I gave them all the details I knew. The plain police car returned and I handed my phone over to CiCi.

Missing from my bag, very little. they had taken all the cash, coins included, and the Freedom Pass, today canceled. Blessings and luck - and CiCi's amazing instinct and ability to act diverted what would have been a most inconvenient result. Today I drive down the M4 to our new property in Wales. Without the contents of my bag containing all sorts of essential items this would have been possible, at least, not today..

What amazing friends I have. And how little I yet understand that first posture in T'ai-Chi: attention. And how what was going to be a simple farewell supper to West London with friends turned into a theatrically dramatic evening.

And Rowan did get a ride in the police car. The Sergeant driver took him round the block as the detective took statements from waiters and others. His evening, as a car mad young teenager, was just made.

My hero: the amazing and beautiful (and very tall) CiCi!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Change and Moving On

When I first started learning T'ai-Chi in 1986 my teacher, Dr John Kells, used to talk about change, that T'ai-Chi was a vehicle to help us to deal with the changes that arise in our lives. I thought I had got this. But it took me several years to understand what he was referring to. I simply assumed that because my life had been very nomadic I could and did deal with change with ease. But then the other changes that affect each and every one of us as we move through life started to affect me: people close to me dying, the work I had relied on for so many years no longer being available, my own personal development and growth; not all comfortable issues to absorb and accept. And I started to understand the more subtle ways of dealing with change beyond moving from country to country and lugging the same baggage wherever I rocked up. I started to understand that the soft yielding strength of T'ai-Chi could help me through some extremely devastating changes. It was not there to make anything 'better', but to help me to stay present, accept, grieve and learn. And change.

The T'ai-Chi form is a model for life: it begins in great simplicity, like birth, becomes more complicated, as in life when starting to learn and earn a living, evolve partnerships and friendships, have children, make financial commitments and all the other things in life that can keep us awake at night. Then we head towards death.

Last year one of The Islworth School of T'ai-chi Ch'uan's long term students and assistant teachers, a beautiful woman called Christine, took early retirement at 55. A few short months later she was dead. She died with great grace. It was still shocking to lose such a splendid friend and colleague. Her unexpected and sudden death underlined the realities of our short lives: none of know when we will die, and that NOW is the moment to start living those dreams. Her death moved me profoundly - and I remember her with love and warmth. And got me thinking about my own life and if I was being fair to my own dreams.

There is one dream I have held for many years and a group of us have shared this dream together. This dream is to live in community, to have a place where we can give each other space whilst at the same time support each other. The others in this small circle are still tied up with their every day careers and child raising duties. But Jeanne, my sister, and I are a bit more footloose and fancy free at this stage in our lives. So we decided to go for it. To not wait any longer, but at least get the ball rolling towards the formation of community. The others can join us when they are ready. Both our properties are now under offer and I suspect I will be leaving Isleworth very soon now. And yes, this has been a bit of a shock to me! It is lovely here, I have loads of dear friends, great transport, a village atmosphere, a garden and a very comfortable home. A part of me can't quite grasp that I am letting this go, making a change and moving on to new challenges.

Together we have put an offer on a large property near Monmouth. It is secluded but not isolated. When we started to search for this place of our dreams, where we could host residential courses and retreats, we drew up a list of criteria and looked in Devon, Cornwall and Wales. The place that matched our list and touched our hearts is two miles outside Monmouth, on the Welsh borders, so it is very easy to get to. It has a Victorian walled garden, about nine acres of land which includes three paddocks, ancient woodland and a stream with a waterfall. The property itself has the potential to become a warm, comfortable and friendly place for people to visit: either for a restful break, for a course, on retreat - or as a willing helper to assist us in looking after the property and land.

I first started learning T'ai-Chi in 1986 and have been teaching it since 1990 in Isleworth. This past year The Isleworth School of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan has seen some positive changes. Christopher Pippard and Linda Tillman, two long-term students at the school, have come on board as teachers and have been leading the classes alongside me since September. They wish to take my long thread of years of T'ai-Chi teaching onwards into the future. I am delighted. I have watched both of them become more and more confident each week. During Wednesday 28 February's class, I spoke to the students about these changes winding it around the practice of T'ai-Chi and this being the vehicle that enables us to make radical and creative choices in our lives. My own journey with T'ai-Chi Ch'uan is also changing. This past year I become enamoured with Chinese Medical Qigong - the next session you can join is on Saturday 10 March at St Johns Centre, and Jeanne and I have booked ourselves onto a Qigong training course in China in April. So first China, then Wales.

My final T'ai-Chi class in Isleworth is planned to be on Wednesday 28 March. Will you join us?

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Moment


A random thought flared
Like the sudden bark of Delhi dogs in the middle of silent night.
Metal tinged with acid crimped her lips, drew her face tight,
Body corseted, breath stopped.
That one short thought stank like the must of dry rot.
Its sudden shock glowed white hot,
Clenched at her gut.
Just that one thought
Spiraled her into all those stagnant years.
Her audacity shrouded by fear,
A life lost in endless dullness.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Sacred Contract

There are times in each of our lives when a contract is made or a vow spoken. This vow, the sacred contract, is made knowing that life does not run smoothly, that there will be times when, being human, we wish to run away or change course or abandon our original heart path. A vow helps us through those rocky times. A sacred contract is a lifebelt to hang onto when unimagined obstacles arise that encourage us to throw away the relationship we tied ourselves into years back when things were very different. Doctors make contracts with their patients, vows are exchanged to seal a partnership, a priest will make a vow of service to God and a therapist makes a contract with his or her client. All these contracts are sacred. When these contracts are severed, lives are shattered. There is also a contract between a teacher and student. This too is sacred.

We first meet this contract when as little children we are placed in the care of our primary teacher. We may fall in love with this teacher, it can be our first experience of loving kindness outside the family circle. Adoring our teacher, bringing our mentor little gifts, declaring our undying love for them – all can be very innocent and fleeting. As we grow up this first love is quickly forgotten. But not that experience of being inspired by another through their skill at teaching, a true form of teaching which draws out and inspires the learning. The body remembers, the heart too.

As adults we search for meaning and power in our lives. Finding a teacher who inspires, who moves us out of a place of dullness and depression into meaning through their skills can be awe-inspiring. The mature adult discerns the difference between loving their teacher for the wisdom they pass on from falling in love with this special being. Someone who cannot discern this difference falls in love with their teacher as they fell in love when a little child, and not understand what is happening.

The teacher is a human being. Carrying the responsibilities of transmitting knowledge that has fired and inspired them to follow a path of tutoring can be at times dispiriting and unrewarding. For weeks the sessions are dull, things plod along at a pedestrian pace. One day a new student arrives. This person soaks up everything offered and demands more. This is exhilarating. The teacher is re-inspired, is fired again with enthusiasm. Magic.

Education is sexy. We long to learn. We long to be empowered. We are empowered by many subjects: academic, artistic and physical. At every stage when we stand in front of a teacher, or we are the teacher standing in front of the student, making clear the different roles is crucial to a clean student/teacher relationship. In Asia the student touches the teacher's feet as a sign of respect. This act can be shocking to those educated in the West who have a more informal relationship with their professor or instructor. Witnessing this ritual we see that the student is paying homage to the knowledge being passed on by the guru. The student recognises the teacher as the container of the knowledge. When the feet are touched by the student the guru passes this blessing up to a higher power in the understanding that all teachers are only containers for a certain set of skills. Both student and teacher are human, yet separated by their different roles. The guru does not touch the feet of the student.

As human beings our own nurturing was most probably flawed. Our parents did their best, but like us, they were human too. A part of our psyche remains in childhood and longs to be nurtured. An element of a teacher's remit is to hold and nurture the student. Another element is to help the student mature, become autonomous and independent. Many teachers have not looked closely at their own needs. They forget that they too wish attention, to be nurtured. They find having power over someone else very sexy. Their own un-nurtured child interferes with the clarity of the student/teacher relationship and inappropriate behaviour starts to arise. The play 'Oleanna' graphically deals with the stepping over of these boundaries and the teacher taking advantage of their power over the student - or the student taking advantage of their power over a professor. Both are stepping into places that harm the quality of the transmission. They are not able to see the muddle that arises when a need for intimacy clouds integrity. The sheer joy of finding something that ignites a reason for living gets confused with physical attraction or romantic need. Our want for nurturing and excitement is so present that the unaware teacher or student can lose his or her self in the bliss of learning and can delude his or her self into believing this to be true love.

I have seen this so often: a person’s life becomes dull and grey, then something comes along that helps the sap to rise. It might be pottery, gardening, cooking, or T’ai-Chi. As this greyness disperses there is the potential for confusion to arise between the teacher and student. This confusion gets worse when the student is vulnerable, the teacher powerful and neither have the maturity to recognise their own needs. Teacher: ‘At last, here is someone who loves this as much as I do!’ Student: ‘This is fantastic, and he (and it is usually a he) is so powerful, soft, compassionate. I have never met anyone like this before.’ Both: ‘We have so much in common.’ The teacher’s sacred contract is forgotten. The boundaries are crossed. The transmission is no longer pure. It becomes muddled and muddied.

Life can be tough. At times harsh and heart aching decisions have to be made. How can I live with myself if I do not respect the sacred contract entered into when a new student arrives? The practice of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan goes beyond the outer, beyond the physical inner, into the heart of integrity and respect. The teacher‘s role requires wakefulness and responsibility for the roles that respect their sacred contract. When a student regresses and becomes that adoring child how we, the teacher, manage that moment, then we will know how much we have absorbed T’ai-Chi beneath our epidermis. If we have integrated some of the practice into our every day life then it is possible to keep to the often unspoken contracts made between the student and teacher. Without that absorbtion, a contract can be shattered with devastating effects.