Waning moon, waning year: embracing the dark side

IMG_1603As darkness slightly – but not quite noticeably – outweighs light in our days now, I’m still feeling a little stuck in that little rut that a balance point can bring (see autumn equinox: stillness or waning half moon: spinning wheels). One of nature’s messages at this time of year is that of release: leaves, seeds and the last of the fruits are all being let go. I’m still working out what I need to release right now; my recent stress levels are doing the job of a whirling, flashing, bleeping siren warning me that some thing(s) have to go. Besides, with every year we grow and change and so must cast aside our outgrown, too-worn things to make way for what we need now. Just as I do with my little boy’s clothes.

I may have mentioned before a little trait of mine that my husband and many others just can’t understand: I actually prefer the late autumn, the winter and the spring to the warmer months. As well as not being a particularly hot weather person, (as I truly realised when travelling in south-east Asia), I can just find that summer can be a bit of an anti-climax, especially here in the UK. We anticipate warm, sunny long days, have high expectations of all we want to do – and some years (like this one) these hopes and fantasies are to some extent realised. But so often they are not. With the other seasons, I feel that we know what we are getting and that the surprise weather is often pleasant.

My preference is also perhaps due to what, historically, my hobbies and talents have been. I was quite an indoor child (quite possibly due to my brother and his friends having claimed the garden as their football pitch), doing wintery things like baking, reading and crafting. So I loved the darker months, when it seemed right to be inside doing such things. Yet now, as Rob and I fumble our way along the path of growing and foraging for some of our own food and medicines, dreaming of one day keeping bees, some animals and having a coppice too, I am drawn so much to the outdoors as well. Now with a football-less garden, I can even be found knitting out there! (although who knows what will happen if/when Dylan wants his own pitch…) Yet still I love the cosyness of (knitted) jumpers, blankets and hot chocolate (because, yeah right, like I never drink hot chocolate in summer!), love the mystery of the long nights ruled by the wise goddess in her dark cloak, love the heightened sense of intuition I feel and the closer connection to other worlds and spirits in the paler, more translucent light. I love seeing the trees’ shapes more clearly without the beautiful distraction of their leaves. I love, truly love, these coming months. ♥

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Autumn equinox: stillness

IMG_1596I am rarely still. A naturally fidgety, restless person who, in a single waking hour is likely to be busy juggling many activities, I am very much vata (space and air) dominant in my Ayurvedic constitution. Furthermore, my mind skips about from one dream, memory, worry, idea or opinion to another. I also spend every day with my go-go-go toddler. As i realised when I recently did a course and found three hour stints of sitting and learning unfamiliarly challenging, i am rarely still.

At least I’m not alone, for nature is in constant motion too. Today is one of just two days annually where we have equal light and dark. The moon, too, has only two days of equilibrium in her cycle and arguably the actual points of balance are mere seconds, for our Earth is of course constantly turning.

IMG_1587Yet there are so many reasons to make time for stillness; the benefits of meditation, pranayama (yogic breathing), relaxation and a good night’s sleep are all well=documented. At this change-ful time of year where the leaves are falling, the winds are dancing, the temperature is dropping (in fluctuations) and many of us have been so busy gathering and preserving our material and inner harvests, a little stillness today would be a good idea. I’ve got a ban on housework (and, after this, screen time!). We’re planning a gentle walk, and celebrations involving yesterday’s bakings of apple cake and pumpkin and pecan bread, plus a stew that combines seasonal local veg and eastern falvours. Having enjoyed starting my day with some outdoor pranayama and stillness, I hope that towards the end of the day I will make time for some meditation too.

Happy equinox ♥

harvest moon: gratitude.

autumn heart stoneI believe that if we live consciously and mindfully, gratitude comes naturally to us: we are aware of what we are harvesting and gratitude rides in on the back of that awareness. However, often we don’t live consciously and mindfully, distracted by our busy lives and the fullness of all our interests, commitments, relationships, experiences and dreams. I find that gratitude grounds me in the present, anchors me to the important stuff and breathes peace into whatever the storm is – even if just briefly.

But where to start? My husband and I have sometimes found that gratitude can almost feel a little cheesy, a little Sunday School reminiscent, and that in our hearts, there really is a lot we’re grateful for. Yet if we offer that “I’m grateful for the inventors of toothbrushes and toothpaste and for the knowledge that brushing teeth prevents tooth decay. I’m grateful for there being clean water in which to rinse my toothbrush and for our landlord having installed a mirror above the sink so that I can see what I’m doing…” etc, acknowledging gratitude is going to take all day.

The school/Sunday School gratitudes I remember were quite broad, global subjects such as being thankful for having food and clean water when many people in the world don’t. Furthermore, such gratitude can trigger a huge guilt trip; at times I’ve felt depressed, I’ve then felt worse still wondering what right I have to feel depressed when I have clean water, food on the table, a roof over my head etc. Of course, it’s all contextual and these feelings are still valid. something that came up during some counselling i had a while ago was that we often tend to polarise and make either/or’s. We subconsciously say to ourselves: “I can feel depressed OR I can feel grateful”. Surely, when we think about it, we can feel grateful AND depressed. We don’t even need to try to remedy our sadness with this list of “good stuff” in our lives; just to let ourselves feel both feelings.

I find it more meaningful to be more specific in my gratitudes; to use what has impacted upon that day/week/year. Sure, I am always grateful for food on the table but that’s not the whole story; I’m grateful for these salad leaves growing well in our garden, for Dylan helping me to bake this bread and for the convenience of tinned beans that we can rustle up a quick hummus even when we’re really busy.

For a while, Rob and I have put aside a few minutes each Sunday to reflect on our gratitudes from the past week. We’ve got better at not missing this time, especially as we noticed that the weeks when we were most likely to not make or “feel like” making time for gratitude were the weeks when we most needed to! I’ve started trying to practise gratitude daily – at mealtimes and/or at the end of the day.  I take a deep breath in and, as I exhale, let my mind scan over the day. What will jump out? Brushing my teeth doesn’t (what a surprise!) Some are obvious, easy gratitudes (autumn leaves being just so crunchable!), some less so (those silver linings of the clouds, if you like). Even on days like the ones this week when Dylan’s current teething episode has meant difficult daytimes and sleepless nights for all three of us, there are still gratitudes, such as for the chamomilla homeopathic remedy that seems to help him. For surely, every day has its harvest, for even through pain – sometimes especially through pain – we are constantly learning.

Happy harvest moon, the full moon at this time of year when we are gathering, reaping, enjoying, sharing and preserving. We collect seeds to save for next year by acknowledging the things that we have learnt and gained that we want to carry forward with us into the future. We are thankful in our hearts and in our celebrations, be they just personal or with others. And I am thankful to you for sharing with me this interest in dancing to nature’s rhythm. ♥

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We keep this little basket on our sacred display and, throughout the lunar month, put in it objects that resemble significant events, achievements or gratitudes. 

Autumn health; feeling the season shift in our bodies

haws Autumn (or fall) has been creeping over my part of the world’s landscape for a few weeks, but now it’s truly set itself down; berries and flame-hued leaves decorate everywhere. Chilly mornings and evenings are most definitely here. The suncream, sandals and light trousers have been packed away, the dressing-gowns and hats brought out.  We’ve been draught-proofing our home, have put up our nesting box for little birds and have now sowed under cover crops we’ve been sowing out in the open. Excitingly, our squash and sweetcorn are nearly ready for harvesting (yay!), and more than one blackberry crumble has been scoffed down (not all in one go, I hasten to add!)

I’m noticing the changing in myself too;  mood swings, poor digestion, skin troubles, feeling kind of irritable at nothing and everything, fancying certain things (soup, soup, soup!) and not fancying others. Many people find that at the change of seasons, their body can throw a bit of a wobbly as they readjust to the different temperature, pace, weather, light and whatever else the shift may bring for them. Holistic health practitioners often advise a detox at this time, based on guidance from traditions such as Ayurveda. Detoxing isn’t something I’m very good at but my body’s giving me a bit of a helping hand right now in that I’m just not fancying coffee and very sweet things.

An excuse of mine is that a full-on detox may leave me a bit too tired for full-time parenting. However, my plan for the next few days is to:

  • drink plenty of fluids, (not coffee!), particularly warm water with lemon and ginger.
  • eat warm, nourishing, easy-to-digest foods like soups, dals and kitcheree  (I like Ayurvedic Yogi’s fab recipe. See it here).
  • eat very little dairy, wheat and soya. These are foods I can find hard to digest. Many other people do too – and may have additional foods that their bodies seem to have to work a bit harder to process. I’d say it would be best to reduce or omit any such foods during a time of detoxing or “being gentle on” the body. Red meat and alcohol aren’t very gentle on the body generally – I don’t have these anyway.
  • grains like oats, rice and quinoa are gentler on my digestion. Oat milk is yummy and is helpfully quite widely available these days in supermarkets and the like.
  • try to ground myself to counteract the change. In Ayurveda, this would be increasing Kapha (water and earth) energy to balance the vata (space and air) energy abundant at this time of transition. Grounding activities include yoga, meditation, and gentle walks – if possible, in a forest or somewhere that’s really showcasing Autumn’s gorgeousness. But even a stroll round my local inner city streets and parks provides a lot of seasonal beauty. For me,  some crafts I’m very familiar with are grounding too.
  • I particularly enjoy yoga poses that involve touching the ground, such as forward bends, at this time.
  • regular body brushing and a little self massage, ideally with warm oil.
  • soak seeds and nuts overnight.
  • eat lots of veggies. I do anyway, but green vegetables in particular are super-nutritious.
  • Take daily wheatgrass (or spirulina) for a nutrient boost – if I wasn’t breastfeeding, I’d probably take Triphala too as a gentle laxative and gut balancer.

In spite of the health niggles, i love this beautiful time of year; so many people I know pick Autumn as their favourite season. As the equinox approaches, I’m collating inspiring images on Pinterest and flicking through lovely books for ideas for our celebrations.  Marian Green and Emma Restell-Orr are long-term favourites of mine. Since the shift in focus that becoming a family has brought, I’m loving “Festivals, Family and Food” by Diana Carey and Judy Large, as well as “The Rhythm of Family” by Amanda Blake Soule.

Wishing you balance and beauty in all that you are gathering. ♥

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daughter moon

Delicate, fresh, growing little daughter moon. The smile in the sky in the evening. That’s if the clouds will let me see her before she sinks sleepily behind one of the tower blocks of flats in my neighbourhood. She brings new energy, new hopes, new goals…usually. Maybe not this time. This time, I’m just not bounding along with my typical new moon excitement, just not all hopeful and dream-ful. Certainly not energy-ful. I’m sighing that I’m trotting out the same old goals that weren’t fulfilled last moon, or the one before, or the one before, or the….you get my drift.

Delicate, yes. Little, yes; not just in being physically petite. I’m feeling little in who I am. Naive, needy, new at so much in this world. Sure, I’ve passed from daughter to maiden and maiden to mother but right now I just don’t feel all that mother-ful. This week has seen less intuitive wisdom and abundant nurturing from me than it has tantrums and hug requests. Oh and if someone would only stroke my hair whist I fall asleep!

I may be a Mama approaching 30, but I’m still a daughter, and always will be. Sometimes full of wonder, learning, playing, excited; sometimes needing a little parenting myself. I guess that as we pass through each life stage, we don’t leave it completely; the moon still shines the same light. I remember visiting my Great-Grandmother with my Grandad. I must have been about 10, she in her mid-90’s, he in his mid-60’s. “That’s my baby!” she motioned towards Grandad. “He’ll always be my baby!” I thought this was impossible; he was a grown man. Arguably, an elderly man. Yet she had seen him through all those ages I hadn’t: he was still the same person as the baby she had birthed. I am the daughter and the maiden. And, on a good day, the mother too.

It’s for me to find out who can give me that little bit of parenting for myself and where I can learn more about what I’m oh so new to. Who has honestly mastered it all anyway? They must be pretty bored. ♥

And talking of things that are new, I’ve just added some beeswax tealights and refills to my Etsy shop. Brighten up these darker days!

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Altar space / sacred shelf

IMG_1538Our sacred shelf has moved!

Ever since i became aware of the deep connection that I feel to nature, I felt the desire to have a space inside my home that reflects and honours this. A space to create a seasonal display that reminds me of what’s happening outside in nature, that inspires me, that gives me peace and healing through being that little portal to a forest, beach, hill or other beautiful place. A place where I could meditate, work spells and celebrate solar and lunar festivals. For more than a ten years I’ve created such a display, a kind of school-nature-table-with-candles (and usually a picture or three, for there are just so many beautiful cards in the world! ).

My first altars were in my student accommodation rooms; on a cardboard box disguised under a sheet . Then came the sacred shelf format – on top a chest of drawers, mantlepiece or – after our move to our current home – bookcase. Our stone Buddha head and shoulders joined it at this point to represent the East-meets-West union in my spirituality of ideas from Buddhism, Ayurveda and European pagan beliefs.

The bookcase sits in an alcove in a corner that generally has at the least a chair in front of it – usually accompanied by Dylan’s trike and toys and the contents of the root veg drawer too. I’d change the shelf’s decor with (most) moon phases and festivals but it wasn’t really being used to prompt reflection or discussion, wasn’t really the focal point I wanted it to be and wasn’t really…living.

Rob and I agreed that our sacred display should be in our kitchen as this is the room that we really live in. It’s a big room and is also Dylan’s playroom, it’s where we socialise together or with guests, it’s where most of our daily indoor activities are based (and leads to the garden, which we are in and out of all day). We want Dylan to be able to see the altar space and how it changes, and to use it like a nature table, but he’s not quite old enough for him (and the display!) to be safe if easily within his reach.

IMG_1534The kitchen table seems the natural place. It has meant a little pruning and downsizing of the display but this perhaps represents our recent efforts to simplify  our life and reduce our material possessions. However, Buddha and our singing bowl are still close by! They remain up on the shelf, with more space around them.

Our pinboard with seasonal images and our biodynamic gardening calendar and planting wheel hangs above this space. We already had a candle on the table that we normally light at mealtimes and this candleholder – beautifully made by Rob – is now incorporated into our sacred display to represent fire.  A small bowl of water (usually from either the sea or a natural spring) represents (can you guess?!), a pottery hand and disk represent earth and hold an offering, and a vase that we received as a wedding present holds flowers or incense for air.

These are arranged around a small tree stump we found in the woods where we married, and upon which sits our goddess statue from Starchild in Glastonbury, a spoon made by Rob (to represent the God aspect – it’s slightly phallic!), and seasonal decorations. These are often little bits and pieces found on our walks that are eventually given back to the earth. In the basket are things that represent particular events, themes, gratitudes or memories of the past month. At the dark moon, we look over them as a recap. For example, this month there is a piece of wool, a piece of wax and a wood shaving to represent how much crafting we have been doing with these materials lately. A button brought at a wood fair reminds us of our lovely, if logistically challenging. family day out there.

I’ll usually have a cloth placed under or wrapped around the display in a colour that represents the lunar phase or the festival. These cheery red hearts represent gratitude – something very much with us during this season of harvest and as the vanishing moon draws us into our inner world. – physical or spiritual. ♥

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