On balancing strength with flexibility...


I often ask for guidance from trees. Usually whilst hugging them. I think that hugging them allows their amazing energy to flow into you somehow. If you let it. And for me, what makes trees amazing is their incredible ability to hold both polarities of strength and flexibility. Polarities might be the wrong word because they are not necessarily opposites, but for me they kind of are. Because I find strength relatively easy to channel (much easier to find your inner warrior than expose your vulnerable inner child) and I find flexibility much harder to summon up. Flexibility requires true, inner strength. A real, unshakeable core of knowingness that allows you to deviate from it without losing anything. (Which shows me that what I see as strength is often actually just false bravado or rather a shield covering up what I don't want to face or feel.) Today I was called upon to be flexible. I got a call at 4pm from the travel clinic informing me that the anti-malarial tablets we have ordered for our three children (to last us through 11 months of travelling through high-risk malarial zones) will no longer be available. Because the wholesaler is out of stock. They told me to "go online to source them from a large pharmaceutical chain or to get a private prescription from a GP and ring round some local pharmacies to source the right amount". All by myself. Just the 95 boxes of the stuff. ON A FRIDAY NIGHT. WHEN WE ARE LEAVING IN FIVE WORKING DAYS' TIME.

I first saw these guys in April. They knew I needed the tablets in April. I have since spent nearly £6,000 with them on vaccinations for myself and my family. (Not because I want to - this is not a luxury decision - but simply because most necessary vaccinations are not available on the NHS.) And yet the answer when I questioned why I was only being told that they were unavailable now, was that they could have chosen to wait until Monday to tell me so actually they were being kind by telling me "in advance", today.

My reaction? Shock. Horror. Overwhelm. Confusion. Anger. And disbelief. I spent a good five minutes questioning the status quo (ie. crying / being angry) before I was able to think about how I could possibly move forward. Unfortunately for the children, when I got the call we were on our way to a play date - half way down a busy road, in our waterproofs, in the rain - each of us on our bicycles including little Raphael, newly on stabilisers, who had already fallen over twice. In fact everyone had fallen off their bike once by this stage. And yet they patiently stayed with me on the side of the road for at least 45 minutes whilst I tried to sort out the mess. Unquestioningly. Trustingly. Sympathetically. They were amazing. But then they always are when I really need them to be.

And fortunately for me, I live in the "provinces". A town in which your local pharmacist and GP switchboard do actually recognise your name when you call. And so I didn't do as the travel clinic had told me to do and instead I reached out for help from our local pharmacist. She too was amazing: by 6pm as she was about to close, she had already got on the case for me without having an actual prescription to hand, had found a contact within the HQ of the drugs' manufacturer who had requested a fax of our prescription when it was available, and they were going to contact all the depots across the country to source emergency stocks for us. Even those in Scotland. Note: this is the same manufacturer (GSK) that could not apparently be called by MASTA. And then the friend to whose house we were travelling for tea (and ended up an hour or so late for) then texted her best friend who happens to work for said manufacturer, for help. Incredible.

So today I feet like I have seen both the worst side of people and the best: incompetence, laziness and arrogance from those I don't know, as well as compassion and efficiency from those that I do.

And I was made to think on my feet. And to be flexible. To see beyond the current, emotional disaster and to think coherently of a plan B. Hopefully, fingers crossed, I will be able to source at least one month's worth of anti-malarials so that we won't have to change our flights or cancel our visas to Myanmar. We could then try to get some more on the road by diverting our onward journey via Bangkok. I hope that won't be necessary.

This won't be the first time I am asked to be flexible over the course of the next 11 months. Somehow I dread to admit that I know this is bound to be the first of many such dramas. So I will continue to channel the energy of (and to hug) the humble tree. So strong and firm and rooted to the earth and yet so graceful and flexible in its branches that it sways and swishes in even the tiniest of breezes...

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On dropping the drama...


For six months in a row, from last September until this February, once every four weeks with almost clockwork precision, I would fall ill with a really bad flu that would last over a week. Not just runny nose-feeling-a-bit-out-of-sorts-flu but proper, high-temperature-stonking-headache-can’t-get-out-of-bed-for-at-least-a-couple-of-days stuff. And because I couldn’t work out why I kept getting ill, I didn’t know how to prevent it from happening over and over again. Initially I assumed I was picking it up from the pesky germ vectors that are my three small kids: after all, being sneezed and coughed on continuously and regularly blowing their noses definitely doesn’t boost the immune system. Then I thought it could be my ‘restricted’ diet (I turned vegetarian in April and rarely eat animal protein and there’s nothing more a meat-eater likes to point out than how your meat-less diet might be causing ill effects). But somehow I knew there was more to it than that: this was not just physical but psychological too. First there was the timing of each episode: always a couple of days before my period or on day 1. For those that don’t track their cycle, this is known as the transition between ‘autumn’ and ‘winter’ and should be the time for physical and mental rest, introspection and quiet time so that the body can compost what is not needed, preserve energy and gather strength to create anew next month – a reflection therefore of the natural world outside. I say ‘should’ because for me, it absolutely wasn’t. Ever. My vigorous, multitasking exercise / mothering / working / entertaining schedule would run continuously: there was no let down, no fallow stage, no off button, regardless of how I actually felt deep down. I would ignore the ‘weak’ inner voice that told me it really didn’t want to push on through and instead, I would switch on the turbo boost. And it was the precise synchronicity of the manifestation of ‘dis-ease’ that made me realise that I was being MADE to slow down once a month because I wasn’t doing so independently.

(The female body as a mirror of Nature to whom it is intimately connected, is still a relatively new concept to me. I only started tracking my cycle a year ago having had previously no idea what that even meant. This was partly explained by the fact that my most recent past has been spent either pregnant or lactating so that cycles were not even on my radar. And yet it has been such an eye-opener to experience how we women do indeed follow the same rhythm as the natural world, if only we listen closely enough to our bodies in order to allow them to mimic it. Being aware of these inner seasons and respecting the various phases they represent for my body has made me more understanding of my changes of mood, energy and temperament and as a result, more energetic and, dare I say it, productive!)

So noticing in November that I was definitely being sent a message to slow down, to become a human BEING instead of a human DOING, I cut down hugely on most of my physical output: I ditched the hour and a half weekly run, stopped the daily pilates exercises, halved my weekly sessions of hot yoga, rode the cargo bike full of three kids to school only once a day rather than twice and cut out all strenuous activity whatsoever on the first and second days of my period (the time during which you are meant to DROP). This was massively uncomfortable for me – someone who thrived on getting things done, achieving and of course receiving praise and admiration for doing so. And it didn’t even work. December came along with its own special variant of sore glands and chest infection.

So I took a different tack: the immune system. I started a new daily routine of taking every single supplement and vitamin I could think of: a mug of boiling water first thing with fresh ginger and half a lemon (balances the body’s acidity levels but wrecks the teeth), a teaspoon of turmeric with cracked pepper and oil to diffuse it (a wonder drug and great for swelling in particular), bee pollen (yet another wonder drug so wonderful that it can be consumed alone without any other food for months!), magnesium (for sore muscles and tiredness), liquid iron (to alleviate fatigue), multivitamin (why not?), omega 3, 6 and 9 (for a healthy brain and who knows what else), flax seed oil (more omega – can’t hurt, right?), vitamin B complex (in case I wasn’t getting enough protein?), acidophilus (healthy gut = healthy body), barley grass powder (yet another alkaline food), echinacea (to boost the immune system), vitamin C (anti-cold), not to mention the seeds: hemp, chia, poppy, sesame and linseed. Merely keeping on top of taking the right supplements at the right time was exhausting. And that didn’t work either: January was spent half in bed with a temperature, half out.

Next I took a slightly different look at my energy output: instead of cutting down on just the physical exertion, I examined it in terms of yin and yang. I realised how so much of my life had been full of masculine yang energy – pushing, exerting, stretching, straining. I needed more yin in my life! Of course! Here was the answer! I took up restorative yoga (was this seriously yoga? It felt like resting in 6 variations of lying down with my eyes closed for nearly an hour – bliss), renewed my love of colouring in (the new yoga!) and started up on the self-care: a weekly hot bath, guided meditations, going to bed when I felt tired not an hour after I felt exhausted. SURELY this was it? No. February brought a particularly drawn-out, over-two-week affair full of sinus infection and ear-ache.

By the end of that month I was desperate. And pretty angry too. What exactly did this damn body want from me? To “rest” comatose on my bed all day long like a vegetable? Was I not allowed to do anything I wanted to do? I was sick of being held ransom by my immune system. My enforced passivity was making me feel totally inauthentic. And then the penny dropped. Finally. That it wasn’t about HOW MUCH I was doing but the WAY in which I was doing it: my day, my approach, my existence had always been full of high energy, adrenalin, excitement, anxiety. My body fed off that charge like a drug and I needed another drug - alcohol and a huge dinner laden full of comforting carbohydrates - to come down, to numb out.

I realised that I needed to see life in a different way: without the in-built struggle. To see it less as a challenge to be overcome and more as an adventure to welcome and explore. To be strong but also flexible, to flow rather than to push. And so that is what I did. How I actually achieved this is a whole other blog post - watch this space - but the result? Good riddance flu! For nearly seven weeks now I have been dis-ease free. Despite being in contact with last month’s variety via all three kids and several friends, despite dropping all - yes every single one - of my daily vitamins and supplements and despite reinstating my rigorous exercise regime. I’ve kept up the self-care because it feels great and I still try to go to bed early a couple of nights a week but the main difference between before and after is that I am no longer MANIC. The high energy charge has dissipated. The intensity of life’s impact has lessened. I now value and listen to my inner voice rather than ignore it. I act on what it is asking me to do. I feel things rather than being consumed by those things. I realised that I can feel, authentically, without those feelings being extreme; that emotions can be moderate and still truly felt; that life can still be full of ups and downs but no longer needs to be full of DRAMA.

To my surprise I learnt yesterday that this has a name: modulation. It is something that should be learnt as a child. In my case, it was only learnt this winter, thanks to six bouts of flu. Sometimes there really is a silver lining...


For more info on the female cycle check out Jewel’s Wingfield’s insightful Celtic Womb Mandala teachings

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