• Blog,  Day to Day,  Home,  The Cottage

    Soul Flames: Fire Thoughts

    I watch the bright flames crackle and dance in the soft early morning gloom and fight the urge to take a photograph. To document somehow this feeling of warmth, this primal fire in an 1800’s house, the otherworldly in the mundane. But for who? To sit with experience just for myself is increasingly hard.

    A fire burns brightly in a wood burner. A metal grate contains a large triangular shaped log with bright orange flames all around it.

    This fire and me, we regard each other. Ancient connection, speaking to a part of me long forgotten, cells and sparks of millennia that I cannot put a name to. It is safety and danger, food and destruction. And mesmerising, always.

    New flames settle with me, the fire burning well, and I struggle to write as my eyes are drawn to flame. The space between each flickering tongue. The dark charred wood a case of shadow. As flames die down the fire whispers “feed me”, and I do, entranced, as we are one, the house fading as soul and flame dance together somewhere deep in memory.

    A cat slinks in and by fire she is tiny panther, orange┬áreflected infinitely in huge dark eyes, and this panther flops down and melts into the floor, those wide eyes now closed in dreams of last night’s mouse hunt. The fire shifts in the grate and flames lick over a new surface, flaring and settling again. There is ebb and flow even in this.

    The flames sing to me, to slow, to let go, to remember truths greater than myself. Orange glow, not harsh blue light. To peel away the layers of this world and let the flames devour them, leaving us as one, small fire, small human, and something bigger than us both.

    A dark picture of a black cast iron log burner, doors open, with a fire burning inside. There are a mixture of small twigs and larger logs, with the flames burning a bright white.

  • Blog,  Day to Day

    My mind is full

    My mind is full, and it’s ok. I learnt recently from a lecturer that they weren’t able to read any fiction books during their doctorate, because their mind was full of information for their studies. It made me think about how I’ve struggled to get back into reading for pleasure, struggled to get into doing anything, really, for the last year or so. After beating myself up for this repeated failure to get anything done, I’ve realised that’s probably happening to me, too. The reason isn’t because I’m useless, as my brain keeps helpfully suggesting. It’s because my mind is full.

    A bare tree in London with neon rope lights wound through the branches

    When I say full, I don’t mean full of knowledge, although I wish that was the case. My memory keeps hold of any given fact for approximately 3 seconds before chucking it over its shoulder and moving on to something more shiny. Instead, my mind is grinding away in the background, forging connections and figuring things out when I’m not paying attention. I feel like I’m not doing a lot, and it’s true, I’m not – but my mind is there, munching through information for me, until suddenly I wake up and am able to add some more words to my word count, analyse some more numbers, put something across in a way that finally makes sense.

    Figuring out how to work with my brain, not against it, is a whole new ball game. I’m trying to comprehend this newly discovered neurodiversity, understand how I process information (or not) and divert the tempting feeling of regret into something more powerful. I’m nearly 40 and it’s the first time I feel like I might be tentatively trying to make friends with my mind. It’s there, always full of a million things, seeing infinite connections and possibilities every hour of every day. It’s exhausting – but also exhilarating. How do I work alongside it?

    I’m finally working out why I can’t remember anything that happened in the last few hours, days or weeks. Why I’ve spent three years learning a subject and can’t remember even the most basic facts about it, but I know every boyband lyric from two decades ago. Why my mind is empty yet crammed full at the same time.

    The constant bit of a song or two on loop, the half-formed images that constantly replace each other, the quote from a tv show that plays round and round, the chattering, the lightening-quick overview of any problem and a million and one solutions, the big thinking and infinite ideas, but no clue how to actually start anything. Constantly losing things, but picking up on almost imperceptible information about a situation. White-hot anger and the deepest joys. It’s all still settling with me – yet I feel a kind of peace, too.

    I know now that I can feed it some complex problem, forget about it, and a few weeks later, my brain will have figured it out by itself. I’ll wake up one day and suddenly, I’ll be able to do The Thing that just recently was absolutely impossible. I trust that I will be able to produce work absolute last-minute that will be, if not perfect, to a decent standard, without having to draft and re-draft and re-draft. I try not to feel bad that I have to follow the whims of my brain – if it’s not into something, then it’s absolutely impossible to force it. Funny old thing.

    But brains aren’t infinite as much they feel it. It’s just recently I’ve realised just how much I’m asking mine to do. No wonder I come home and zone out watching youtube, scrolling, or floating away to the deep wub of drum and bass. That little lump of grey matter is munching through universes in the background. Studying for a PhD has upped the game, and I almost physically feel the limits. No wonder I find it hard to get anything started for this blog, much as I want to. My brain’s already pre-occupied and working full pelt.

    So, I’m going to try and cut my brain-friend some slack. I’ve spent 40 years at war with it, really, when it didn’t deserve it at all – it was just a little different from the norm. Of course it was.

    In those 40 years, my mind has never been empty. I never realised that you could think of nothing, or even just one thing at a time. It’s been like a 40-year rave inside my head and I’ve been like the spoilsports that call the cops and try and shut it down.

    I think it’s time to learn to dance alongside it, finally, although I think I’ll also need to make sure there’s a chill-out room, too…!

     

     

     

  • Blog,  Day to Day

    October Review and Reset

    October Review and Reset

    October is almost over. The brighter days turn to grey and mist, to dark evenings and the brief flare of red, gold and brown autumnal leaves. It’s the time to reflect, to look back over the past year and take stock of all that has happened.

    In the wheel of the year, the end of October (or around the end of April in the Southern hemisphere), Samhain is seen as the end of the harvest season, and the start of winter. I feel that natural winding down of the energy of summer is a perfect time to review, and take the time to plant new ideas, new seeds to nestle down in the dark of winter, waiting to come to fruition in the spring. I find the January new year quite jarring – a forced push, in the middle of winter here in the Northern hemisphere, when all else is resting. It’s nice to align with a different timeline, one that fits me, that follows the ebb and flow of the natural world.

    You don’t have to follow a particular calendar, to celebrate a certain festival, to begin to wind down and review around this time. It’s the perfect time to take stock of where you are before January, to re-prioritise if needed, to let go or take on board. If you’d like to give it a go, here’s what I do – you can do what feels right for you, but it might give you a few ideas.

    Ideas for your October Review and Reset
    Creating a theme

    I have one theme for the year, rather than resolutions. I think of all the ways I can bring this theme into my life, and the things I particularly want to work on throughout the year. I used to have 3 themes, but eventually realised this didn’t fit well with me – it might work well for you! I decided that having one overarching thing for the year lets me give it more space. Once I have my theme, I think of things that I want to work on that relate to it.

    A still life of a wilver metal pen lying on a notebook with birds and flowers on the cover. There is also a usb lava lamp, a white mug with a blue letter 'S' on, and a green malachite stone.

    So, as an example, my theme last year was ‘regeneration’. I’d had a bit of a weird time over the last few years, in addition to a close family bereavement the previous month. I wanted to begin to re-root myself in place, to start sustainable systems for food, for nature, and for my mind, and to work on coming back to myself – a regeneration of sorts. I wanted to find a solid sense of self – after years bending and changing to fit in, I wanted a breather and to build some solidity and understanding into my soul! So, for me, the theme of regeneration gave me time to stop and process, to put things I’ve learned from therapy, and from experience, into place to help me re-build a life more true to myself, whoever this self turns out to be.

    Reviewing last year’s theme

    I’m not a very specific sort of person, and find it very hard (and boring) to plan goals and how to achieve them. If my brain isn’t interested, it’s basically impossible. After years of fighting that, I now give myself the freedom to bend and change with how I approach my theme. I will start things, stop things, go on a diversion, get really into something for a while, then forget all about it. So in my review, I’ll look over the last 12 months as a whole, rather than wondering if I should have achieved a specific thing or not. Did I generally align myself with my theme? Where there some months that were better than others? What have I done over the year that reflected this theme?

    The key is finding ways that work for you. Most people I know find it really motivating to set a goal and work out how to achieve it, and if this is you, do that! Whatever works for you, that’s the right way.

    Over the last year, I’ve managed to let the garden go wilder (regeneration for nature), begin to process my neurodiversity and find ways to understand my brain more (regeneration for self). I’ve leaned into using my skills learned from my job to benefit my study at university (regeneration of skills) and learnt how to make a small animation from a course I went on (regeneration of skills and self!). Through this, I’ve begun to find confidence in myself, and am starting to find a more solid ‘me’. Did I plan how to do any of these things? No. But generally, I felt I managed to incorporate my theme into my actions. There were a few areas I didn’t focus on (health, movement) but looking back, I give myself space for the things I was experiencing at the time. It wasn’t the right time for those things – whereas now, that baseline work has given me a stronger platform to start to incorporate those for the next year. It’s all very gentle, but true to what I needed in those moments. Sometimes, change isn’t about putting a lot of energy into a project or goal. Sometimes it’s the lack of energy that allows something the space to settle itself.

    October Review and Reset: looking back month by month

    I use my photo app to jog my memory as to what I was doing each month – usually I look in 3-month (ish) chunks (again with the non-specifics!) and write down any things that happened, and think about how this affected me. Would I want to have acted differently? Did I learn anything? Could I use those learnings to inform my theme for this year? Is there anything I’d like to build on? You could also use a journal to remind you, look at your posts on social media, or review a news site – I often find I remember where I was in relation to big news stories.

    I remember things I loved from the last year, holidays, good walks, moments of learning, connection, nature. Wild swims and good laughs. I also remember the more painful times – worrying events in the news, new understanding, grief, loss, sadness. I find this cathartic – the re-living of those moments, knowing you’re here, on the other side (or still journeying through, as the process changes over time). Sometimes I take a few days for this part. Be gentle with yourself, and remember the joy with the pain. It all goes to make you who you are, and is all part of your journey.

    I look at what comes out of this process – would I like to use any learnings to inform my theme for this year? In my case, this year, I want to build on my new understanding of my brain and start to work with it, not against it. I want to let go of stress with the garden and provide more places for the beings that share the land alongside us. I want to create resilience for times of unexpected occurrences – building my foraging knowledge, creating plans, starting to use my body again. I want to work more on my spiritual path, to be in nature more, make more time for creativity. Begin to build a plan for after I finish university (which is this blog!). I have no specifics, but I know these things all encompass similarities in the intention behind them. Recognising these similarities starts to help me pin down my theme for the coming year.

    Incorporate other tools

    You can incorporate other things into your October review and reset. I like to do a tarot spread looking back over the year, along my theme. I look at learnings and where I can build in the future – I find it gives me another perspective to look both behind me and to the path ahead. A meditation would also be a nice action, or a walk in nature to a special spot. I give myself a few days to do my review, usually leading up to Samhain on the 31st, so have a few days disconnected from the world, intentionally creating this sort of temporal space in which to look back and look forwards. I tidy, I bake, I wander in nature, and feel very contemplative!

    Planting seeds

    I like the gentle easing into the next 12 months. I think of a theme, I think of some vague ideas, I leave them to rest in my mind. There’s no pressure to HIT THE GYM or GO ON A DIET or SUDDENLY CHANGE YOUR ENTIRE BEING or DO EVERYTHING STRAIGHT AWAY or ACHIEVE ALL OF YOUR RESOLUTIONS (I think January has a very ‘capitalised’ vibe when it comes to new year’s resolutions!).
    Winter is the dark time, the time when everything comes to stillness. We need this rest, this conservation of energy – we are beings like all else. The bulb planted deep needs frost to germinate anew in the spring. The energy of the earth quietens, and with it, we, and the ideas we plant in our review, quieten too. It gives us time to settle and contemplate just where we are going to go, when the days start to lengthen once more. How will we use the coming rise of energy, those long summer days? When the leaves start to unfurl, which of our ideas will unfurl along with them?

    In summary

    October, the year-end of the wheel of the year, is a perfect time to take stock, review your past year, and to set intentions for the year ahead. The darker winter months allow your ideas or goals to mellow and rest, and in spring, it is time to act of some of these little idea-seeds that have been waiting for you.

    My ‘theme’ for this year is strengthening.

    What will yours be?

    Pinterest pin October review and reset

  • Blog,  Day to Day,  Home

    Snowdrops and the return of Spring

    Amidst the wild winds of Storm Malik this weekend, I glanced out of the window to see the first little snowdrops of the season dancing their heads in the gales. Small delicate white petals nodding this way and that as the wind whipped over the low stone wall beside them.

     

    Amidst the storm, a reminder that soon the days will lengthen, the sun will warm us, the endless UK grey will give way to bluer skies and louder birdsong. I do not mind so much the days before winter solstice. The darkening and quieting of all, as we settle down to winter. It is the drawn out waiting of January, February and into March – that all pervading greyness, the damp cold, the washed out colours and brown twiggy borders. The trees that seem to take forever to bud, the waiting, waiting for those promised spring days that are always just around the corner. My mood settles with the grey. That something just out of reach.

     

    I am impatient, as always. I want summer, with the heat and 11pm light and heady scents of honeysuckle in the dusk. I thrive with that rush of energy. My soul stretches out to fill those long, bright days. Here, still in winter, I feel small, drab, as if those days will never come. But they will, I know, and even now signs of change are popping up, however small.

     

    A small group of snowdrops with the sun hitting their petals grow from a messy winter flowerbed

    The snowdrops are accompanied by the sun peeking back over the top of the valley in mid-January, shining into the windows to the back of the house, even just for a few minutes each day. I rush upstairs and throw the windows open, close my eyes and bask my face in the weak rays, the pale golden light.

     

    Bulbs planted in Autumn begin to poke tentative leaves above ground – tulips, daffodils, crocuses – bringing the promise of colour and flower and those insects that love to feed on their pollen.

     

    I miss the busy buzz of bees in the background, that soundtrack of spring and summer. Soon the tree bees will return (hopefully) to the attic, buzzing around the stone roof, whizzing around the garden, mating in piles of legs, wings and fuzz.

     

    It is time, too, to begin to move myself. It is all too easy to sink into stasis when everything around you is deep in winter slumber. Although yes, stasis is needed. Winter of the soul. Balance in all, the ever-turning spiral. Now, along with the slowly awakening land, it is time for me to awaken, too. To fall back in love with the area I live in. To take those little sparks of energy, when they appear, and direct them into a life, into enjoyment, laying bases for things to come. Like the turn of the earth, to wax and wane with the seasons.

     

    Now the snowdrops are here, spring will turn ever quicker, a reminder that even when all seems silent on the surface, inside little bulbs life is continuing to thrive. Even in the frozen dead of winter, deep down under the soil, plants and animals still feel the change of the days and ready themselves. I hope I can do the same.

     

    With that, I re-fill my mug with tea and pull on an old jumper. I head outside, in search of more signs of spring.

    A small group of snowdrops are growing from a January flowerbed. The bottom of the plants is in shadow but the petals are in warm sunlight.

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