A Return to Mottisfont

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IMG_0965IMG_0924  In a previous post; Endings and Beginnings, I wrote of a rather chilly visit to Mottisfont last December.  It was lovely, even in the depths of winter, and my family were eager to return in the summer, and yesterday, we did just that.

We arrived just before the gardens were due to open as it gets very busy.  Walking boots on, we had a chat with the friendly staff at the entrance before heading straight for the Coach House Cafe for tea and a scone, which set us up nicely for a few enjoyable hours of exploration.

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The flowers had taken a bit of a battering the night before in a thunderstorm but the colours were still strong and the smell of lavender added to overall calm sensation of the gardens.  It was hard to know what not to photograph there was so much to see!  My mum impressed me with her plant knowledge and my brother took inspiration for his patch of garden back home.  I don’t have a garden so it was lovely to wander among the foliage and listen to the birds flitting back and forth overhead; so healing and inspiring.

After the walled garden, we made our way into the house itself, which my brother and I had only seen part of at Christmas.  You could easily spend a good hour or more exploring each of the rooms, which have so much detail; I loved the old wireless radios and cameras.  Returning to the garden we made our way along the river bank and marvelled at the salmon jumping upstream.  It was so peaceful; just the sound of water and the trees, with the occasional splash from the fish.  The route back to the house cuts across some fields which were knee high with grasses either side of the path, and ended up at the circle of trees which I had photographed back in December on a sunny winter’s day.  Unfortunately, although much warmer yesterday, it wasn’t sunny, so I couldn’t re-create the shot.  However, I tried to do so with as many as possible.

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It was lovey to see the gardens in their summer greenery and we’re planning to go back in October in order to see the trees in all their autumnal glory.

If you’d like to visit Mottisfont, here’s a link for more information:

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont

I visited at my own expense.  All photographs are ©VCUzzell2017

 

 

 

Calm Inspiration

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A few weeks ago I was listening to one of my favourite radio programmes, Radcliffe and Maconie on BBC 6 Music and heard an interview with Haemin Sunim, and immediately placed an order for his book.

I have quite a few books on Buddhism and meditation and was intrigued to see how Haemin would approach the subject differently.  As it has been primarily inspired by his Twitter account, in which he gives advice on a number of topics, the book has similarly been divided up in to the following sections; rest, mindfulness, passion, relationships, love, life, the future and spirituality.  It’s written in a very accessible, conversational style, and you could either read all the way through, or just dip in and out of it.

However, what really impressed me were the beautiful illustrations which accompany the words and elevate this above many others in this field and making it a joy to hold and read.

Stop, look and listen … to yourself

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Recent minor surgery has resulted in much anxiety and forced ‘doing very little’ on me.  Prior to the operation I was becoming increasingly apprehensive and had to find a way to calm myself.  The answer came in the form of a free app; Headspace, which has ten introductory meditation sessions and encourages you to set a daily reminder to find the time and space to reconnect with yourself.  As a former yoga teacher you might think I wouldn’t need to an app to remind me to meditate, but you’d be wrong; even those trained in meditation sometimes need a little shove in the direction of ten minutes of peace each day.  Especially, if like me, you were not very good at sitting and doing nothing in the first place, and much preferred the physical asana practice of yoga.

It is also very beneficial to go back to the beginning sometimes and remind yourself of what you already know but may have forgotten, and possibly approaching it in a different way in the process.  I have almost completed the ten free sessions and have found them very useful during what has been a very challenging time for me.  As yet, I haven’t decided if I will sign up for further access to Headspace but it did lead me to consider re-reading some of my meditation books and I thought I would write a post about them as potential inspiration for some of you.

The little ‘Sit like a Buddha’ book is a simple, straightforward guide to meditation, written with humour, and is a realistic approach to the practice.  It’s also a quick read, so you can get straight on with your meditation!  One aspect of the book which I found useful was the chapter entitled ‘know your why’, which was something I had never thought about before.  I guess I just thought ‘I should meditate’ but never asked myself why I was doing so; it was just something I felt I ought to do.  Yes, I know all the benefits (and they are many) but what was the particular reason for sitting on any given day to practice?  That I had not previously questioned; and so my reason these last few weeks has clearly been dealing with anxiety over my surgery, and the ongoing recovery from it.  Once I had established my why, I felt a greater sense of purpose to practice and found it easier to make the time to do so.

‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ is a classic of the genre from Thich Nhat Hanh; my copy is quite old; it was published in 1991!  That goes to show how good it is because I do not horde, I have regular and quite ruthless clear-outs of everything, books included.  The fact that this one (and others by TNH) has escaped my eager de-cluttering is testament to it being an essential read for anyone interested in meditation.  I love the relevant examples used to allow beginners in to the practice, such as ‘washing the dishes, wash the dishes’ and the importance of being fully present in every moment, regardless of how you might feel at the time.  This is something which I have often used when anxiety comes calling and I consciously re-direct my focus to what is happening in the here and now, as opposed to what I fear may happen.  This is a must purchase!  As are any books by Thich Nhat Hanh.

‘The Meditator’s Handbook’ is one of the first books on the subject I ever bought and takes a more psychological approach to the practice.  It details varies styles of mediation from different belief systems, both eastern and western alike, in addition to perspectives from Tai Chi and yoga.  It is a very thorough and therefore, a more academic guide, with plenty of opportunities to put what you have read about into practice.  I would say this is for those who are more serious about their practice and would like to know something about the various meditation traditions around the world.

‘Mindfulness’ by Williams and Penman is one of the more recent publications on meditation and takes a modern approach by focusing primarily on the practice of mindfulness and how it can help with anxiety and depression.  It includes an 8-week programme with accompanying CD, and is clear, practical and extremely helpful; especially at a time when mental health is (rightly so) being given increasing importance in society.  As someone who is currently not 100%, I am aware that my recovery will be as much mental as physical, and if I can remain positive I will get better much quicker.

Regardless of whether you are a proficient practitioner or a beginner, I hope this post has inspired you, and I would love to hear of your books, apps or any other meditation tips you have.

Happy meditating!

 

 

 

 

 

This month I’m reading

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As a self-confessed book worm I often have two or more books on the go at once.  In fact, technically speaking, I am currently reading four books; one second-hand copy of How to Eat by Nigella Lawson, a Lonely Planet guide to France (started last year, or was it the year before?), The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, and I am about to start The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, one of my favourite authors.

I came across a somewhat battewp-1486922279324.jpgred copy of How to Eat in a charity shop a few weeks ago and looking for some foodie inspiration I bought it and have been slowly working my way through it, often when I’m eating dinner.  A lot of the recipes are not for me as they contain meat, which I don’t eat but what I do love is the way Nigella talks about food, with such passion but also a lack of pretentiousness or preachiness.  She just enjoys cooking and eating and believes in the importance of good, honest, unfussy food, something I can certainly go along with!

I’ve also been dipping in and out of the Lonely Planet guide to France for quite some time now.  I pick it up when I have the odd half an hour and a cuppa in hand and don’t want to spend it flicking through social media.  As a Francophile, I am using it as inspiration for future visits; it’s working rather well!

The Selfish Gene is the second book in my current popular science phase I’m going through.  I recently finished A Brief History of Time by Professor Stephen Hawking, which was a challenge for a non-scientist but then that’s why I bought it, I wanted to educate myself and step out of familiar reading territory.  I’m not at all ashamed to admit I didn’t understand all of it; he lost me when talking about quarks, but I was able to follow most of it.  Now I’ve moved on to The Selfish Gene and am finding that a much more accessible read and a thoroughly interesting one too.

I haven’t read any fiction in a while and am therefore really looking forward to starting The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak in the next two weeks.  I have read The Architect’s Apprentice and The Bastard of Istanbul by the same author and love the beautifully descriptive prose she uses and the complexity of her characters.

What is interesting is that I think my book reading habits reflect my mind quite well; constantly flitting from one thing to another, rarely able to stay focused and do one thing at a time.  That is something of a disadvantage when it comes to getting things done.  I’m writing this when I should be working on an assignment for my MA but I just couldn’t find the inspiration today.  I wrote a little for it earlier but I felt it was mostly drivel, so I stopped and started writing something else instead.  Maybe having done so I’ll be able to go back to my studies.  Or maybe I’ll read …

What are you reading at the moment?  Do you have several books on the go at once, or work through them one at a time?  Share your recommendations for a good read, fiction or non-fiction, in the comments section.  Thank you.

 

Endings and Beginnings

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The time between Christmas and New Year has always felt a bit odd to me; the main event has passed and now I feel I’m in limbo-land, waiting for everything to get back to normal again after New Year. I sometimes feel a little low as I reflect on another year passed and what I have yet to achieve in life, whilst at the same time feeling eager for the following year to begin so I can hopefully bring some more dreams to fruition.  2016 is certainly a year which many will be glad to see the back of, and for a number of reasons, both personal and global.  As mentioned in my previous post, 2017 is the first of the next nine-year cycle, and therefore it is vital that you get off to a good start.

Over the last few months, as 2016 has come to close, many feelings and situations in my life have also changed or ended. Maybe the same has happened for you.  I’ve already made plans for goals I wish to achieve next year, and am really looking forward to putting them into action.  Have you taken the time to reflect on what dreams you would like to see realised in 2017?  Try to get out and about in nature, especially if it is sunny, and use that as inspiration for your reflections.  I went to a lovely National Trust property today; Mottisfont in Hampshire, for a very cold but enjoyable walk around its house and grounds.  Having felt a little tired and down-hearted when I woke up this morning, I left feeling 100% better after strolling around, camera in hand, marvelling at the trees and winter light casting long shadows across the frost covered grass.  Seeing gardens in winter often makes you appreciate them all the more when you see them again in full summer colours.

It clearly had the desired effect as I’ve come home inspired to write a blog post, something I haven’t done in a while. I’m sure many of you who are reading this may be looking back on this past year with a mixture of emotions, so I suggest a dose of Mother Nature to ease any sadness or melancholy.  It has certainly helped me.

A word on Mottisfont; it became busy quite quickly, so I recommend getting there for when it opens. There are two cafes but they too filled up fast, so you may want to take your own lunch, although I can highly recommend the scones!  The grounds are lovely, even at this time of year.  However, the person who recommended Mottisfont to me said June is the best time to visit because the roses are in full bloom and smell wonderful; so a return trip is a must!  At this time of year, the house is only open on the ground floor but it had been beautifully decorated.  I look forward to seeing more of it on my next visit.

For more details, follow the link below. I visited Mottisfont at my own expense.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont

Photographs©VCUzzell2016