Don’t Know Mind, forget everything you think you know…

The older we get, it’s easy to think we know it all. Or that we know more about most things.

These wrinkles are proof of my learning and wisdom, surely?

But sometimes it’s best to practice ‘Don’t Know Mind’, or ‘Beginner’s Mind’.

It’s refreshing, and it might be the best way to really see or hear what’s right in front of you. To drop everything you think you already know, and to be open to a situation. As if it’s for the first time.

To see the one you’ve loved for decades, standing here in the kitchen, as they make toast. To experience it as it truly is in this moment, bathed in rare afternoon sunlight that highlights their silver beard.

Or to notice the way your teenager guides you through a new mobile phone layout, with a confident swagger that’s new this Summer.

Or to marvel at how calmly your dog negotiates a noisy group in a cafe, despite the reactive behaviour the shelter warned you about, when you first rescued them.

Don’t Know Mind allows a tiny gap for wonder, or appreciation.

It’s also an incredibly powerful thing to help you really listen to someone, and what they’re actually telling you. It might also help you to pick up on what they’re not telling you.

As a Celebrant, I practice ‘Don’t Know Mind’ every time I meet a new couple or family. Before I knock on their door, for our first meeting, I consciously drop everything I think I know about the perfect Wedding, or Funeral. I let go of any expectations that I may have, of what they will need from me or the service I’m taking for them.

I am passionate about my work in this profession and have the reassurance of several years caring for hundreds of families, and creating beautiful ceremonies for them. 

But before I meet someone new, I put that to one side, and prepare to listen openly, with my full attention.

It’s important for me to understand everything I can about the life stories and Love Stories of everyone I meet. 

Whether I’m crafting a Wedding to celebrate a deep and abiding love, or preparing a funeral to truly honour all that a person has meant to their loved ones; each story is different.

Working like this enables me to listen deeply to the details that matter, to understand how best I can help and support the amazing human beings who are trusting me with this most important ritual in their lives.

Then I can offer my best work, drawing on the many things I do know, and all the experiences I have. Including those life stories of my own, that have earned my wrinkles… 

But I’m responding to what is needed in each individual case. I never assume I already know what is best for any couple or family.

It’s been a huge privilege to work as a Celebrant in recent years, and I continue to hone and polish my craft with each family that I care for. and learn from. That always begins with ‘Don’t Know Mind’. 

Try it for yourself, at home or at work, or if you’re watching the England Football game tonight. Just because the last game was a bit dull, don’t assume it will be the same tonight. They might be spectacular! 

Jude Bellingham could make our hearts full of joy… Let’s practice ‘Beginner’s Mind’, and watch the game as if it was the first time we’d ever seen a football game. Although that might make the Offside rule even trickier to understand…

(*Frank Ostaseski is a wonderful teacher and writer, whose book ‘The Five Invitations’ I reread every year. One of the Invitations focuses on ‘Don’t Know Mind’, so you can read more about this idea in his compassionate, wise words.)

Photo thanks to Ádám Berkecz on Unsplash

New Year things & being made from 30% cheese…

January Greetings. I hope this finds you well, as we begin another orbit around the sun.

I couldn’t sleep, so was wide awake at 6am, reading in bed. I opened the curtains at 7.30am and marvelled at how light it was, as the Winter sun hadn’t risen before 8 all week.

I decided this was a good sign for the first morning of 2024 – more light. I walked into the kitchen, and it was still pitch dark outside and I wondered why was it so light in the bedroom? 

Because I’d left the reading lamp switched on, that’s why! My tiny brain had forgotten this…

Years ago, I’d scribble a giant list of New Year Resolutions, determined that this year I would finally tidy my flat, get all the piles of paper organised and filed correctly. I’d do a yoga video each morning and never eat chocolate again. You can tell by the word Video, that this habit goes back decades…

The usual rigid self improvement stuff that we expect will transform us on the strike of midnight.

Over the years, we grow older and a hopefully tiny bit wiser. Kinder to others and to ourselves, and perhaps more realistic. I’m now gentler with my own shortcomings, more accepting of reality.

I’m a slightly disorganised, extra tall human who is just doing her best. Phew. Perhaps the same for you? 

Although you may not have been called ‘giraffe’ at school…

Most of us are just doing our best, and sometimes we’ve got way too much to deal with, for any of this self improvement lark. 

So give yourself a break from that pressure this New Year.

Instead of a long list of rigid new rules, just choose one simple thing that you do each day, and aim to really pay attention when you’re doing it. Something small that you already do, like drinking a morning cup of tea. Or cleaning your teeth. Or the washing up. 

Then when you perform this daily task, gently bring your full attention to it. Use all your senses to notice what that actually feels like today, in this moment. It might be different tomorrow. 

Appreciate the warmth of the mug on cold hands, the aroma as tea brews, the shape of the bag bobbing around, the soothing of morning tastebuds as you sip, and the nourishing feeling of a good cup of tea. 

When we pay attention with all our senses engaged, it heightens pleasure and it tastes better.

If you do that, you’ll bring yourself into the freshness of a moment, without the baggage of everything else that can weigh you down. It’s simple, but not aways easy. 

We’re used to endless thoughts & worries swishing around our mind, like scrambled eggs in a washing machine. By focusing attention, we turn down the volume on the worries for a welcome respite.

Try it, and see what it’s like.

Drinking a morning cup of tea can be a cherished ritual when we drink it like this, and we can chill out in a precious few moments of peace. 

Immersing ourselves in a simple activity can become an act of mindfulness. Just one tiny thing. That’s all. Easier than forcing yourself to sit cross legged in silent meditation for hours, frustrated that you’re not in a Zen like state.

Instead of giving up chocolate, we could choose to relish the melting flavours of a few squares of dark chocolate. That can be more satisfying than wolfing down half a tin of Quality Street while watching Netflix. I’ve tried both, so trust me on this…

Another thing you could try, is to join a monthly Mindfulness & Writing Zoom. Whether you’ve always wanted to write something, but never find the time; or if you’re just keen to explore life, the universe and everything just a little more in 2024, without having to leave the sofa!

Each month’s session is unique mix of creative bursts of inspiration, where we explore new ideas, and follow our first thoughts with curiosity, never judgment.

Giggling is encouraged, as we take our practice lightly, and you’ll find a warm welcome from our regulars, in a small friendly group.

No experience of Writing or Mindfulness is needed, just bring yourself and a pen and paper. And perhaps a cup of tea, as we’ve been focusing on tea today…

Beginners bring their cherished Superpower of ‘Beginner’s Mind’, there’s no hierarchy, and never any pressure to share the words you write in a session. Although it’s always a privilege when someone does read their freshly squeezed words, and we appreciate them.

Each session is for 90 minutes and we close with a relaxing and restoring meditation.

‘Like a Lamp, Ladder and Lighthouse’ is how one writer described the benefits of our Zooms, one said they felt ‘nourished’, and ‘part of a special community of friends’. Another said, ‘I’m amazed at how much I write in just 5 minutes & I’m loving writing again.’

We relish the pleasure of making marks on the page, as you find your own voice, with the confidence to write. You’ll be in awe of your own thoughts & ideas that tumble onto the page.

So I hope you can join us and enjoy discovering your own natural creativity, and practice some Mindfulness techniques that help in daily life, along with a sense of light and hope. Each month we’ll also explore a couple of brilliant poems to seed new ideas for your own response.

To find out more about sessions, just message me via the Contact page on the website. There’s one on Sunday January 14th at 10.30am, and one on Monday January 15th at 7pm. (UK time)

Well that’s enough typing words for New Year’s Day. I’ll wish you all the best for 2024, with a few leftover festive treats in the fridge. I’m now made from 23% carbon, 30% cheese and the rest is definitely chocolate…

I’ll leave you with the wonderful poet Nikita Gill’s words, you might like to write your own response based on your festive feasts:

“We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins, carbon in our souls, and nitrogen in our brains. 93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames, we are all just stars that have people names.”

I’ll just squeeze in a picture of cheese. I’ve never tried it with pomegranate though…

Photo by Aliona Gumeniuk on Unsplash

Just enough time for this…

There’s just enough time to squeeze in a quick Thank You note for 2023. You can just ‘think it through’ while sorting the washing, like an imaginary Post-it note to the world. Or a WhatsApp voice note, or a TikTok video, if that’s your thing.

Many of us have had our share of messy, complicated and difficult times this year; such is life. Some of us dealt with unwanted change, uncertainty or loss, and are still fumbling around trying to figure out how to carry on each day. 

But just for a moment, alongside all that, we can pause to focus our attention on a few small comforts that we are grateful for this year. Like watching Ryan Reynolds in ‘Welcome to Wrexham’…

Or the support and kindness of family and friends. Perhaps the nurse who held your hand at the hospital appointment, when your world changed forever. Or the work colleague who knows how to make you giggle in a dull meeting.

Maybe the loyalty of a pet, who still loves you, when it seems the rest of the world has forgotten how. Or time spent pottering in the garden with your hands in the earth, while your heart absorbed whatever slings and arrows of fortune 2023 hurled your way.

I hope that as you look back on the year, there are some highlights to cherish. Like sea swimming in Wales, while silently swearing at the ridiculously cold water… before a flask of hot chocolate warms you up on the beach.

Can you think of 3 things to say Thank You for from this year? Maybe fabulous things like falling in love with someone, starting a new job, or welcoming a rescue cat, with symphonies of contented purrs from your family and the cat!

Tiny things count, like that puppy in the park, whose tail wags like a metronome of happiness. Or standing barefoot outside my Mother-in-law’s kitchen, gazing up at a huge moon after a day of proper Manchester rain. Endless little Thank You’s line up for your attention, once you begin. 

In December I think of all the families I’ve cared for this year, in my work as a Funeral Celebrant. In each service, we say Thank You to someone. Thank you for our treasured connection, and for all the love we shared, we hold it close and it remains with us, long after they’ve gone. 

I am always in awe of how much love there is. It takes courage to love, and then it hurts when we lose someone; but what else matters in this life? Alongside the pain of loss, we’re so grateful to have known and loved someone, and for how they enriched our life, and that is what matters most.

I hope you’ve known love this year, and I hope that alongside the difficult dark days, there has been the lamplight of friendship and that you know how much you matter in this world.

We don’t say this enough, so maybe that’s a good thing to take into a new year, a habit of saying Thank You to those you’re lucky to know and love. 

It might sound soppy, but that’s ok. You can joke that you’re in a Richard Curtis film, as you tell someone how happy you are that you know them. Soppy can be good. And that friend may have a warm glow from your appreciation, like eating a bowl of tomato soup on a soggy day.

I had lunch with a friend in London this year, and she said such lovely things to me about our friendship, that I blushed and was briefly speechless. A busker was playing flamenco music and my friend began to dance, while talking about the spirit of ‘duende’. This translates roughly to ‘having a soul – a heightened expression of heart and emotion.’

Perhaps it was the music, or the sweltering London heatwave, but it’s such a vivid memory of a wonderful day, when we both expressed how much we cherish our friendship. 

You could imagine some flamenco music giving you the courage to say Thank You to someone in 2024, and let them know how special they are to you. (You can warn them of imminent soppy stuff, or find whatever works for you, whilst passing on a few Thank You’s.)

Now back to my Post-it note to 2023… even finding gratitude for the things that seemed rubbish at first.

Like the heavy rain at a friend’s barbecue. Their children are obsessed with snails, so they had the best time collecting snails and naming each one after us adults. And Thank You for whoever invented umbrellas, and washing powder that gets snail slime out of clothes…

Wishing you the best for 2024

Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash

Cake & being Human…

A little confession, I don’t always practise this Mindfulness stuff. Sometimes I eat while watching TV & mindlessly scrolling my phone. Maybe you’ve done the same? We’re all human, just bumbling along and doing our best. But then we switch back into paying attention to the richness of the present moment, and it can be lovely!

I was in Brighton last week, walking though the Lanes when I took a bite of a raspberry & pistachio cake. It was ridiculously delicious, and I relished that first perfect mouthful. Then a blur of white feathers that felt like a clumsy angel brushing past my face, and it vanished. 

The cake and a seagull both gone in a split second.

I laughed, as the timing was impeccable and what else can you do? After checking that the seagull hadn’t left a Jackson Pollock deposit on my shoulder, I relished the typically ‘Brighton Experience’ of having a seagull steal my cake, with the stealth of an angelic ninja.

I’m so grateful that I’d fully appreciated that first bite, and hadn’t just wolfed the cake down while scrolling my phone & watching TV. It was all quite gentle, I didn’t see a sharp beak or beady eye, and no talon scratches to leave a mark. Just a soft blur of feathers and an empty hand.

In some traditional Zen stories, the master will slap the student in the face or pour cold water over them to hasten their enlightenment. Perhaps the seagull was my teacher, pushing me back into the present moment with a sneaky cake theft…

(I should also confess that in my short Brighton trip, I’d already eaten half my body weight in cake & chocolate, so by this point, perhaps the seagull was doing me a favour!)

When we’re away from home, it can be easier to ease back into a Mindfulness habit. In fresh surroundings we can be more aware of the present moment, and less caught up in the usual worries. 

Or perhaps you find this easier when cooking, gardening, or walking the dog? Hopefully at some point in your daily life you relax into just ‘being’ and not feeling as though you’re like Atlas, holding the world on your shoulders, and trying to care for everything & everyone at once.

Sometimes it’s those moments when we’re slightly delayed & forced to wait that we can choose to take a few deep breaths that ground us back to the present. Finding a way to welcome the slow traffic lights, or the laptop freezing, or our loved ones taking ages to get ready. A tiny minute of peace, if we can relax into the moment & notice the world around us. 

Most of us can’t do this 24 hours a day, but these tiny gaps in our schedule  are worth looking out for and practising just chilling out and being calmer. It’s better for our blood pressure and well being, and helps us find a little space in a crowded world.

Although I lost my cake, I decided that it gives me another reason to return to Brighton. The Open Bakery in Kemptown, in case you’re passing through…. Just wait till you’re indoors to nibble the cakes.

A good way to return to this state of naturally being in the moment is to join a Mindfulness & Writing Zoom. It’s a welcoming & friendly space, whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced writer. We’ll meander through some interesting new creative ideas, enjoy bursts of inspiration for quick scribbles, practise simple mindfulness habits and then relax with a meditation to unwind. Cake is optional…

For May our dates are Sunday 14th May 10.30am – 12pm and Monday 15th May 7pm – 8.30pm. Contact me if you’d like to join one. I promise no seagulls will be in the Zoom!

‘Never Love Anyone Tepidly’ & ‘Be More Daffodil.’

Never Love Anyone Tepidly

The words I heard as I switched on the radio the other day.

I like that rule. ‘Never Love Anyone Tepidly’. We can expand this to ‘Never Love Anyone or Anything Tepidly’.

Whoever or whatever you love, don’t do it half heartedly, just go for it!

You love trees? Go walk in the park as often as possible and gaze adoringly at the shapes & structures of every tree you encounter, in utter bliss. Read books about them and count the leaves on a tree one sunny afternoon, as the poet Mary Oliver once mentioned doing…

You love a mischievous three year old niece or grandchild? Enjoy the picture books & world of wiggling worms & lego, giggling often and playing for hours.

Love wholeheartedly those friends you’ve known for years. You may have seen each other through poodle home perms, heartbreak, illness, the usual dramas and crises that can bring us to our knees. They put the kettle on, make a sandwich and gently remind us that someone does care, and that Robert Frost was right, life does goes on.

Eventually.

To love a partner through the years won’t always be easy, there will be times when they are your favourite person in the universe, or at times they might drive you round the bend, just as you might irritate them….. 

Mostly it’s a good thing to do with our time, to love. But let’s not risk loving ‘tepidly’. That could be a greater risk than the risk of heartbreak or loss.

Even when we’ve lost someone, we don’t lose that love, it just continues in a different form. Love is that invisible thread that unites us like ‘a giant wonky cobweb!’ Not the most poetic phrase, but it came from an adorable seven year old in a poetry session I ran, and I thought it should be shared. 

February brings a commercial focus on ‘romantic love’ for Valentine’s day, but there are so many more types of Love than just that. Don’t forget to love yourself, as well. 

Don’t love yourself tepidly, but with enthusiasm, with a wholehearted sense of how ridiculous, wonderful & amazing you are, you have been and you will continue to be. 

You’re not perfect, neither am I or anyone else reading these words. Thankfully! That would be way too much pressure, but we can imperfectly bumble along and love each other and the world we inhabit. That’s a gentle aim for February.

There are tiny snowdrops bowing their heads, and daffodil shoots forcing their way above the ground in search of Winter sunlight in the UK. They have confidence there will be a Spring and they’re longing to show off their bold yellow trumpets. 

Let’s assume daffodils love themselves, and not tepidly. 

Be more daffodil!

Enjoy loving yourself & other people and things in the world this month, and notice when you love fully, not tepidly, and appreciate that quality of paying attention. I hope you also feel loved in return, and treasure that feeling.

I’ve just researched the voice on the radio who said, ‘Never love anyone tepidly’. It’s Catherine Newman, author of a book called ‘We all want impossible things.”

I’ll message her to say how brilliant her words were, as they’ve stayed with me for the last few days. She volunteers at a hospice, a place where each moment of everyday life becomes such a precious thing to be treasured.

Marie Curie hospices in the UK have the daffodil as their symbol. Did you know a daffodil field can bloom for a phenomenal 50 yrs? So the bulbs we chuck in the garden in a spirit of optimism may be cheering people up for decades.

In Japan daffodils symbolise joy and in France they represent Hope. All good things for us to keep hold of, as we navigate February. And some supermarkets have bunches of daffs for £1, which is the perfect way to cheer up a friend who might struggling this week.

This morning a group of lovely writers joined my Mindfulness Zoom session where we wrote about love in all sorts of different ways… from worms & daffodils to Burt Bacharach. We loved it all, and not tepidly!

The irony as I type this, of a ‘tepid’ cup of tea I forgot about. Just off to microwave it… and sending you the optimism of the daffodil for your February, and a biscuit for your tea…

Enchanted moments on the bus & cheesy fingertips…

Random chance moments can be like pure gold in an otherwise pretty average day.

Sometimes they come from nature, like when you see an urban fox gingerly padding around your garden, or a scrappy little blue tit land on your bird feeder, with newly grown punk rock feathers.

Sometimes they come from the amazing human beings that we share this planet with. It’s always good to cherish them.

On the bus yesterday, shortly after a vicious row between two passengers sitting at the back, I noticed a young Mum got on the bus with a little toddler in a pram. They both had the same stunning corkscrew curls that I used to try to coax my straggly hair into, using pink foam pipe cleaner things from Bearwood market in the 1980’s. Never quite worked, nor did the poodle home perm, but I digress!

This beautiful young Mum and her toddler were sharing a packet of Aldi’s cheese puff crisps, and the little one was absolutely captivated by the noise the scrunchy bag made, and examining how her tiny fingers were covered in bright orange cheesy powder, then she’d delicately taste before nibbling another cheese puff.

There was such a gentle and loving bond between the two of them, contented in their bubble of togetherness and oblivious to the angry shouting they’d just missed.

It was pure joy to watch, and I beamed at the Mum as we began a conversation. The whole atmosphere on the bus had softened and tensions dissolved as these two amazing human beings joined us.

It also made me peckish for cheesy crisps!

Then this morning, as I opened the bedroom window, I spotted a neighbour gently holding his baby up to touch the leaves of a tree. I’ll let you imagine the sense of pure wonder on the face of the baby and the pure love shining on the face of the young Dad.

With these two glimpses of all that is wonderful in the world, I have faith that there is still enchantment and magic to be found, on the bus or through your window. It’s there to bolster us against all the harsh and difficult things in the world.

These tender moments of grace, love, wonder, and cheesy crisps are to be cherished.

These glimpses were of two young parents raising future generations with such care and patient attention. Both were utterly ‘in the moment’, sharing precious everyday miracles with their children.

Luckily I got to witness them and I hope you get to see something equally wonderful today. Keep looking and you’ll happen on these tiny moments of effortless Mindfulness. I wish you a September full of them.

Now, where did I put the cheesy crisps…

http://Image Thanks to Janko Ferlic at Unsplash

Dancing round the pitch or living room…

It’s not just that they won, but the way that they won.

Pure joy! 

The England women’s football team hugged each other & danced in celebration as they won the Euros 2022 final yesterday. 

Those who had played their part on the pitch embraced those who had trained just as hard, but were on the Subs bench. 

The cameras showed many families with young girls in the crowd, cheering in jubilation as they witnessed a historic victory to inspire future generations.

Watching the Lionesses singing & dancing their way through the press conference afterwards, they seemed so down to earth and full of pure joy at their victory. Just like the rest of us, dancing in our living rooms.

Brought up as a WBA fan, I’m not used to seeing such historic wins!

Talking of history, there used to be 150 women’s teams in the 1920’s, during the first World War they drew crowds of up to 53,000. In 1921 the FA banned their members from letting women’s teams play at their grounds. 

Just over 100 years later the England women’s team win at Wembley, in front of a record breaking crowd of 87,192. 

Change is the only thing that is certain in this life. Sometimes it happens in a blink of an eye, or it can take a century. It’s not always easy.

One of many inspiring stories from the game is that of Chloe Kelly. As a girl she used to get the bus to Wembley to buy a programme and just soak up the atmosphere of the big football games. 

Last year she missed the Olympics due to injury and she had to battle physically & mentally to recover and earn a place in the squad. 

Yesterday the 24yr old Chloe was a substitute, and scored her first international competitive goal. Not just any goal, this was the goal that won the game. With her proud family in the crowd at Wembley, cheering her on.

But just before she scored, she missed an attempt a second earlier. 

If she had let herself get caught up in focusing on the goal she missed, she would not have been able to score when she did.

It’s something the best sports people work hard on in their training. That ‘Letting go’ in the same split second that something happens, to keep your full attention on this second right now, and what is possible. 

In a ninety minute football match, for each player there will be many shots they miss, challenges they don’t win, or goals they don’t score. If they linger on the frustration or self criticism of each tiny human error, they risk losing the opportunity of the next brilliant shot or goal.

A useful Mindfulness habit for us all to try.  The more we can practice ‘Letting go’ of the not so brilliant bits of life, the more we are able to move with the flow of inevitable changes in life. 

Or in football, the more we can pay attention to where the ball is now, rather than where we wish it was.

As spectators in football, we had to keep ‘Letting go’ of the impending doom of a possible penalty shootout in yesterday’s game. The England mens football team have quite a history of those and not with the best results…

For the bigger events in life, this ‘Letting go’ can take much longer. Maybe years. 

But we can practice with the smaller things. ‘Letting go’ of the train delays this morning, or the parcel that should have arrived but didn’t, or the rain forecast for the family barbecue this weekend. 

It’s good to practice ‘Letting go’ of expecting perfection from ourselves & those we share our lives with. We’re all imperfect human beings just bumbling along and trying our best. 

Sometimes we get injured, or worn out by life and have to sit on the sidelines for a while.

Sometimes we’re on the Subs bench, but still cheering others on. 

Sometimes we get a chance to play in extra time & we find the courage to let go of the darker days to be part of something magical, and score.

Letting go of the past we can celebrate today. 

Preferably dancing around our living rooms, sharing the Lioness’s joy with the family and friends who are our ‘team’ in life.

It’s coming home…

Photo thanks to Leonard Von Bibra at Unsplash.

But what if your trousers fall down? And why it doesn’t matter if they do. Even if a billion people are watching…

Have you ever felt nervous about a stressful situation & started panicking about endless worst case scenarios, including a major wardrobe malfunction?

Me too. 

And probably everyone else on this planet who wears clothes and who isn’t the most super confident human being.

And you know what, it doesn’t matter even if your trousers do fall down.

It could be in a work presentation, on a first date, or appearing on TV live in front of over a billion people… As a proud Brummie, many of my talented creative friends were involved in this week’s phenomenal opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games. 

One of them was terrified that their trousers might fall down on live TV, in front of an audience of over a billion people.

Imagine that…  a billion people seeing your trousers fall down.

Maybe a good idea to wear your best pants for a day like that!

But you know what, even if that did happen, it wouldn’t really matter. And here’s why…

For years I’ve often been nervous & shy, and not felt as good as other people. I worried about all sorts of things… including my trousers falling down. 

Then I trained as a Celebrant and began taking funeral services. One was for a former army man, and life hadn’t been kind to him.

For his Funeral we had a bugler playing The Last Post, and Standard Bearers from his regiment. I was so nervous about making sure everything was perfect, desperately wanting to honour his life and give his family the best possible send off for their much loved Dad and Grandad. 

That’s when I realised that my trousers were not the most important thing that day. 

If they stayed up or down, they were only a minor detail on the outskirts of what really mattered that day. 

A family had lost someone they loved very much, that really mattered. Giving him a meaningful goodbye and paying tribute to his years on earth, that really mattered

If my trousers fell down and everyone saw my pants, well that didn’t really matter.

If anything, it would be a tiny post script to the things that did matter on that day. It might make someone smile at an otherwise incredibly sad time, and would perhaps be a story shared at the reception afterwards. ‘The Celebrant whose trousers fell down’ – nobody would even remember it was me.

Because it doesn’t really matter

Many of us wear trousers, most of us wear pants underneath, and so it wouldn’t actually be that shocking. Maybe everyone else would be so relieved it was my trousers that fell down, and not their own!

And even if a billion people were watching you on TV, what really mattered would be that thousands of people worked for months to create a magical opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. 

Your tumbling trousers might become a meme for a while, but Ozzy the giant mechanical bull would still be centre stage.

I’m happy to report that my friend’s trousers didn’t fall down on live TV, by the way. But my friend found it useful to keep that question in mind, ‘What really matters here, in this moment?’ to calm the worries down.

I’ve found it a massive help in focusing attention onto where it really matters in any particular situation. A Mindfulness Practice helps me to notice where I’m placing my attention, and nudge it to somewhere that really matters.

What really counts? We’re all just imperfect human beings who are doing our best. Our trousers don’t matter that much.

Although for a stressful situation, you could always wear your best pants, and carry a safety pin. Just in case…

Photo with thanks to Matt Moloney at Unsplash.

Paddington at the Palace.

Thanks to Carter Baran at Unsplash for the bear photo.

What an enchanted idea, for the world to focus on a bear slurping tea straight from the teapot, with a marmalade sandwich tucked under his hat. And another sandwich in the Queen’s handbag; so that’s what she keeps in there…

I’ve been working non-stop the last few days, but thanks to social media I’ve caught up on snippets from the Jubilee. Like former President Obama’s words, comparing the Queen to his Grandmother. And the cakes… many people were busy baking to share tea and cake with family, friends and neighbours. That sense of community is worth celebrating, whether you’re someone who supports the monarchy or not.

A friend who is hosting a family from Ukraine loved the symbolism of the Queen welcoming Paddington, who was himself a refugee. Michael Bond spoke of how he’d seen children from the Kindertransport arriving at Reading station during the war, and drew inspiration from this.

Creating the story of Paddington, a bear from Peru, all on his own at a railway station, with a label attached that said ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you.’ Michael Bond once said that he wrote the opening line from Paddington one morning without really knowing what he was going to write, but he wanted to get something down on paper… 

“Mr and Mrs Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform…” 

In the Mindfulness & Writing sessions I run, we meet each other on Zoom and scribble down new beginnings and bursts of ideas. Who knows where they will lead, in the days that follow, when all sorts of thoughts might spring up. Often inspired by something another participant has mentioned…

I like to think that Michael Bond would be proud that we look after each other in our sessions, listening with kindness and curiosity. And sometimes cups of tea. All Grandmothers know that cups of tea are incredibly important, as they give you five minutes to take a break or listen to someone who is struggling with something. And all Grandmothers know that looking after each other is probably all that really matters in life.

In my work as a Celebrant, I’ve been writing funeral services this weekend to honour two Great Grandmothers who were both in their 90’s. Deeply loved and cherished, each had known the pain of sadness and loss in their lifetimes, and stressed the importance of looking after each other. Family, friends, neighbours, dogs, cats, the birds and probably bears as well… Both Great Grandmothers also had magic biscuit tins, that never seemed to empty… 

So we should celebrate a sense of looking after each other in the myriad ways we do; often beginning with a cup of tea. Especially after the Pandemic years, that were difficult for all of us around the globe. When grownups take five minutes to enjoy a cuddly bear with a marmalade sandwich tucked under his hat, the world is definitely a better place.

It’s a great example of Mindfulness in action, that importance of where we place our attention and focus. I needed that reminder last night, and a welcome few minutes of light relief, thanks to focusing on Paddington and his antics at the Palace.

No matter how many difficult things we’re all juggling, a few minutes to take a break, have a cup of tea and marvel at a bear gives us all a brief respite. A mischievous and wise bear, and the sublime voice of Ben Whishaw as an extra bonus. If you’ve never watched a Paddington film, I highly recommend them. And they star Julie Walters, a national treasure herself!

Every home should have a bear to cuddle. We found ours by accident when buying book shelves in a charity furniture shop a few years ago. This solitary bear was sitting on a shelf by the till, looking very lonely and was just £1.

He didn’t have a label attached, just a £1 price sticker. My 6ft 5” partner (who looks a bit like a viking with his long hair & silver beard) picked the bear up and we took it home, where it has been cuddled by many of our visitors in the years since then. Cost us a fortune in marmalade, but worth it!

If I’m writing something particularly serious, the bear often sits nearby. Seeing his cuddly paws helps, I’m sure. Keep a look out, there might be the perfect bear for your household for £1 in a charity shop window this week…

Meantime, I’m off to make marmalade sandwiches and put the kettle on. There’s a laptop that needs to be switched off to avoid overheating, and a bear in need of a cuddle…

p.s. if you’d like to know more about the June Mindfulness & Writing sessions, just send me a message from the ‘Contact’ part of this website. Good luck finding your bear…

Valentine tips: Writing about Love. What I’ve learned as a Celebrant, Poet & Radio Presenter. And why a pineapple is the perfect love token!

As a Celebrant, I listen while people light up, telling me their real life Love stories. Then I write them into bespoke ceremonies & rituals that mark the big transitions in our lives.

It’s such a privilege. 

Like Love, it also comes with a responsibility

To tell their true Love story and for it to touch the heart of each person gathered. We might catch a glimpse of our own love reflected in the words at a wedding, turning to snuggle our beloved, while testing our waterproof mascara… 

Love spreads like this. I would say Love is ‘contagious’, but given recent events let’s think of Love as spreading like the aroma of baked apple pie with cinnamon freckles. Or freshly cooked chips with a vinegar top note. Delicious.

Maybe you or your partner don’t like apple pie or chips, but what do you love instead? Details matter, they make things personal and real.

So think about the one you love…what’s their favourite smell, or taste? Which song do they sing aloud to on the radio? If the words you write capture some details, it will help to make the message unique & the recipient feel special. 

You’ve noticed them. We all love to be noticed, and seen & heard.

Years ago, I used to present late night Love Zone radio shows, which meant sifting through hundreds of hand written letters from listeners every week. (In the dinosaur era, we didn’t have email or texts.)

Real life love stories were stuffed into each envelope. Sometimes 3 identical letters with requests for different names, but all from the same person, declaring to each, ‘You’re the only one for me’. Being truthful is a good idea with love stuff, so you can guess where those letters ended up…

Some stories were messy & complicated, but over 7 pages of green biro scrawl, the depth of feeling was clear. Love really can be ‘The Sweetest Feeling’ as the Jackie Wilson song goes.

We always had far more letters than time in the shows to share their story, so had to choose which dedications made it to air. Some stood out clearly, often thanks to the details which made them come to life.

For your Valentine, write something personal, that only they will get. You don’t need to be Ed Sheehan or Warsan Shire, but if your partner loves the work of a singer or writer, you could quote from them.

If your first date was at the cinema, write a soppy message quoting a line from the film on a home made ‘cinema ticket’ & stream that film.

Talking of films, if you’re in love, first think about your ‘Meet Cute’, Hollywood speak for how a couple first meet. I love asking couples about how they met. They don’t always have the same answer… but you can usually see their faces change. They often blush and sneak flirty glances at each other with a beaming smile, or a filthy laugh!

Maybe just thinking about when you met your beloved has changed how you feel now, softening into a smile widening across your face as you remember.

Tap into that feeling as you pick up a biro to scribble a few thoughts down… anything you remember from those first blushes of love?

What did you notice about this person? Maybe you were nervous & had that awkward self conscious teenager feeling, despite being 42? Or you fell off a chair & talked about how giraffes have the largest hearts of all land mammals? 

That was me on all counts. Luckily he didn’t run away.

Be yourself. If you haven’t scared them off already, with clumsiness & talk of giraffe hearts, then they like you just as you are. One of the sexiest things Mark Darcy said to Bridget Jones in that film, that he liked her very much, ‘Just as you are.‘ Swoon.

‘To thine own self be true’, as some scribe from Stratford wrote. Having watched ‘Upstart Crow’ on TV., I now only see David Mitchell as William Shakespeare. 

If someone loves you, then they want YOU to shine through any words you write.

So write what you’d say to them. If you’re not a natural silver tongued wordsmith, but put up amazing shelves & always do the washing up, then write about that, as your way of showing love. 

There’s a book about the ‘5 Languages’ of Love, the first of which is ‘words of affirmation.’ But there’s probably 5 million different ways we demonstrate our love. All can be amazing. But writing a line or two about what you love about that person is going to result in a warm glow for your beloved. 

For advertisers, 14th February is all about expensive bouquets of flowers, chocolates & champagne. But it can be about pineapples & onions. 

Bear with me here… 

I remember a Grook poem from Danish mathematician & scientist Piet Hein, I read it on the bus to school one day & it’s tattooed in my memory. It’s short & sweet, like all the best poetry, as my non-poet friends say…

Love is like a pineapple

Sweet and undefinable.’

So you could write that on a card, and give your love a pineapple, saying ‘I pineapple you.’

A memorable Valentine, and you can serve fresh slices of pineapple, then compost the skin for zero waste.

Or how about gifting your beloved an onion?

Bear with me again…

There’s a poem called ‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy. It begins, ‘Not a red rose or satin heart. I give you an onion. It is the moon wrapped in brown paper…’ 

Search it online & quote her to your Loved one. Then chop & cook the onion later in the week. Romantic dinners often start by caramelising an onion…

The poem goes on to talk of ‘Its’ platinum loops that shrink to a wedding ring, if you like.’ An original way to propose!

If this year’s Valentine’s Day leads to a proposal, as a Celebrant, I’m always thrilled to listen to a real life love story. We could even use an onion or pineapple in your ceremony, perhaps to hold the ring?!

My Aunty Doreen got married on Valentine’s Day. Her prudent husband thought it a good way to remember the date for anniversaries & save on extra cards or flowers each year!

A heartfelt post-it note & breakfast in bed can work wonders, so no need to splash the cash. Or a bar of Montezuma’s dark chocolate with orange & geranium, sublime flavours & £2.50 from our local shop. That’s my traditional Valentine treat. Hopefully my hairy viking partner has already got one stashed away ready. 

That’s another thing – don’t expect your partner to be a mind reader. They’ve probably got a lot on their plate already & it’s not been the easiest couple of years lately. So a huge act of love is not putting pressure on the one you love to plan epic or expensive surprises, lovely though they might be. Instead you could just talk about Valentines or any other time of the year & what you’d both like to do.

Happy Valentine’s, however you’re celebrating it this year. In a relationship or happily single, I hope you feel a glow of all the love you’ve had from family, partners & friends through the years. Tuck it close to your heart, and in remembering the details, it might sneak a smile from the inside out. 

And perhaps treat yourself to a delicious pineapple.

p.s. A real life love poem is below, commissioned by Julie Boden for ‘Love in Leamington’. It mentions all true life details, from thread veins to the Giraffe heart thing. Music by the outstanding Steve Tromans. Excuse me waddling like a duck, buying a red dress on a whim just before the gig wasn’t my smartest idea, given that I don’t usually wear dresses. You see, be yourself – I should have known!