British values, human values

Posted on June 26th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, has said that schools must do more to promote ‘British values.’

Curious as to what British values might be, beyond tea, politeness and weathering the weather, I checked up on what the Department for Education had said.

Government advice published in November 2014 defines an understanding of British values as follows:

• an understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the
democratic process;

• an appreciation that living under the rule of law protects individual citizens and is essential for their wellbeing and safety;

• an understanding that there is a separation of power between the executive and the judiciary, and that while some public bodies such as the police and the army can be held to account through Parliament, others such as the courts maintain independence;

• an understanding that the freedom to choose and hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law;

• an acceptance that other people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour; and

• an understanding of the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination.

This list has been widely summarised as:

Democracy
The Rule of Law
Individual liberty
Mutual respect for … Read More »

Why we don’t need International Men’s Day

Posted on March 8th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

There have been a few comments on social media suggesting we need a day to celebrate men, amid all the IWD posts.

I have absolutely nothing against men.

Nothing.

In fact, I have a 21 year-old one who lives in my house, eats my food, spends my money and whose wellbeing, happiness and future are more important to me than my own.

But we still need feminism and we need every opportunity, such as IWD, to talk and educate about women’s rights.

Feminism is not about blaming or hating men. Both women and men are responsible for maintaining inequality through unconscious bias, unquestioning acceptance of patriarchal assumptions and failing to speak out when we do notice unfairness. I hold my hands up; I live in this society and although I try to be aware, and I care passionately about supporting change, I am sure that every day I say and do (or fail to say and do) things that maintain the status quo.

So just to make it clear, I have nothing against men. Their rights as human beings are important and in fact I spend a lot of my working life defending them.

Also there are some issues (not going into them today but I … Read More »

Business – what we can learn from large organisations

Posted on February 14th, by Harriet in Uncategorized. No Comments

Like many women of a certain age, I run a business. Mine is the smallest kind as I am a freelancer. I have only myself to manage. Well, that’s the theory, but sometimes it seems like a lot more!

I haven’t always worked for myself. I’ve been employed in the public sector, by a large manufacturing company, by commercial enterprises of all sizes and by several law firms. I also used to run a training company with several employees.

This is what I noticed when I moved from a large organisation to doing all the jobs myself. I was used to going to meetings, often hundreds of miles away, representing my department, Logistics, while other individuals represented theirs, such as Marketing, Purchasing, Sales etc. We would negotiate, sometimes even argue (politely) because we all had slightly different agendas. The factories wanted lots of materials ordered, whereas a ‘just in time’ model meant we were trying to keep stocks as low as possible. Purchasing wanted the new packaging ordered, but Marketing weren’t ready with the graphics. Eventually we would reach a compromise and almost all the time the result was the best thing for the company.

When I started doing all the jobs, the … Read More »

Women lawyers – juggling roles

Posted on February 7th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

A Google search for statistics on women solicitors will tell you that over half of new lawyers are women but far fewer than this number are reaching the top of the profession. The reasons for this may be several but at least one is glaringly obvious. Those of us who have worked hard to qualify and then try to practise while looking after a family know all too well that juggling a legal career and caring responsibilities is hard.

My own story is characterised by what you might call extreme juggling. Soon after qualifying into criminal practice I was made redundant. I was the lone parent of a little boy who found school challenging and it wasn’t long before I was faced with an enormous decision. I took my teenage son out of school to home educate him, working as hard as I could to make ends meet by freelancing. Somehow, with family support and willpower, we managed. But as my son needed me less, my disabled mother needed me more. I swapped one caring role for another and the juggling became, if anything, more difficult.

Things are slightly different now, with my son at College and my mother needing professional … Read More »

Voice – in verse

Posted on February 1st, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

Voice

If I speak
And you turn away
Turn a deaf ear
Turn down the mic
Then I have no voice.

If, when I try to speak
For reasons you may not even understand
You say ‘shhh’
Then I have no voice.

If, while silent, I hear you say
That I have no voice
And believing you
I stay silent
Then I have no voice.

© Harriet Balcombe 25th Jan 2017

Being heard: on having a voice

Posted on January 31st, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

We all have the potential to be heard. Our life circumstances can influence how likely we are to be able to fulfill this potential, however. These circumstances can include our gender, geographical location, skin colour, religion and sexual orientation. We may find ourselves unable to speak up because of fear, feeling inadequate or even because we are prevented from using our voice by those in authority.

This matters at every level. In abusive situations, subjects are often told, out loud or implicitly, to keep secrets or keep up false appearances, The importance of being able to speak out starts at home. Our life may depend upon it. If we have a problem or crisis, we may need to turn to someone whose job it is to speak out for others. A public official, a lawyer or perhaps someone in the media. These are people with the power and ability to make a point, argument or request on our behalf when we are not able to do it for ourselves.

In the past we have seen, often in countries that might seem far away, nothing to do with us, some of these ‘professional voices’ being attacked by the State. Xia Lin, a lawyer … Read More »

Engage with rage or step back in peace?

Posted on November 8th, by Harriet in Being Well, Uncategorized. No Comments

When we look at the world around us, there is plenty to be angry about. Going by my social media feeds, it seems we have two choices as to how we can cope with all the upsetting stuff going on:

1. Keep informed, engage with the issues, spread the message, voice our anger; or:
2. Sell the telly, take less notice of current events and cultivate our own peace.

There are problems with both these approaches. If we take the first and allow ourselves to be consumed by anger, indignation and even bitterness, we are likely to become resentful, cynical, exhausted and even unwell. The second choice may keep us calm and safe unless something unpleasant happens to pierce the bubble, but we could be doing ourselves – and the world – out of the opportunity to make a change, however small, to the world around us.

Engage, get angry, feel uncomfortable, risk confrontation.

Or preserve our own sense of peace, calm and love, shielding ourselves and our families from horrible goings on?

My answer is neither.

Or, more accurately, both.

If we are privileged enough to have access to media of all kinds and the leisure time to peruse it, I believe that we have an obligation … Read More »

The law and bad news

Posted on November 6th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

Lawyers have to give bad news all the time. If my client is facing an outcome he or she doesn’t want – and in criminal defence this happens a lot – I have to tell the truth. It doesn’t help if I suggest we look on the bright side or that things might turn out better than we expect. I have to give my professional opinion about what will happen. Not my personal opinion on what should happen, however different that might be.

Expert opinions are different from personal opinions. Personally, we might favour one or the other political party, we might prefer strawberry ice cream to chocolate, believe in God or not, eat meat or not, etc etc. These are our personal beliefs and preferences. But if, as a professional , we are asked for an opinion it has nothing to do with what we think or feel as a person. It is an opinion based on evidence and certain laws, depending on our discipline.

A doctor, for example, might have to give an opinion about a patient’s prognosis. If the prognosis is not good, he or she will not want to give that opinion, but they are obliged to do … Read More »

Child suspects – the reality

Posted on November 1st, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

The little boy chewed at his fingers. He had been doing this for hours and his fingertips were bleeding. His face tear-stained. Fear was inadequately masked by a 10 year-old’s bravado.

I met this child when I was a trainee solicitor and my supervisor took me with him to a police station to observe him advising his client. His 10 year-old client who had been arrested, locked up and detained and would be interviewed. All in accordance with English law.

Since that day I have advised and represented many child suspects, but the memory of that little boy stays with me. Quite possibly he had done something wrong, and of course it is always important for those working in criminal defence to remember that there is usually a victim somewhere. But it was a shock to encounter the reality that quite small children can legally be arrested, detained and questioned.

There are special measures and safeguards in place. These can be helpful but there are attendant problems and the subject is fraught with difficulty. I explored some of these difficulties in my LLM research in 2011 and the majority of the problems I highlighted still exist today.

Many people I speak to, including … Read More »

Who looks after you now you’re all grown up?

Posted on August 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

This is me. I was about three years old, at my grandparent’s holiday cottage near Maldon. I needed to be looked after really well. Usually my Mummy did that, but for a little while she trusted my Granny and Grandpa to do it just as well. I needed to be kept safe. fed, nurtured, cared for in almost every way.

As I grew older, I needed less and less care. I began to learn to choose my own clothes (well, I am still working on getting that right!), to know what and how much to eat and eventually to get myself from one place to another, choose where to live and with whom. All the grown up stuff.

I didn’t need parents or grandparents to look after me any more.

Not because I didn’t need looking after.

Definitely not that.

But because I had learned to look after myself.

Learning, gradually, day by day and year by year, to do things for myself didn’t mean I no longer needed to be cared for, kept safe, nurtured, put first. It just meant that instead of others doing the caring, I could do it all by myself. I could take care of myself in just the same way … Read More »

The Great Heel Debate

Posted on June 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

During the past month, the question of whether employers can require women to wear high heels to work has been enthusiastically explored in the media. This is since a woman was sent home from work at a City firm for refusing to wear heels. Read more here.

The debate has widened to include the imposition of dress codes in general, especially in relation to distinctions between the genders, so, for example, sometimes women are criticised for not wearing makeup but this is not something that can be applied to men.

I have long been fascinated by the heel issue in particular and have my own perspective to offer here.

Some time ago, I walked bouncily from my parked car to the gym wearing trainers. In front of me was a younger woman wearing high heels, possibly about three inches. She was, I surmised, one of the therapists on her way to the Spa for work. She wasn’t bouncing. She was hobbling.

As we both walked towards the building, I reflected on the difference between our gaits. Walking is incredible isn’t it? I was enjoying the simple but miraculous activity of walking and the lady in front of me was struggling to put one foot … Read More »

I’m not stupid or rude – I just didn’t hear you!

Posted on June 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I grew up as a hearing ear child. My mother was born totally deaf in one ear and often wouldn’t hear what someone said if she couldn’t see their face, or if they were on her right hand side. She had taught herself to lip-read as a child but lip-reading only works if you know the person is speaking to you and you can see their face.

So, as the oldest child, I slid into the role of interpreter, nudging my mother when someone was addressing her without her realising, explaining what someone had said if she mis-heard and generally cringing with embarrassment about the whole situation. Only recently have I seen clearly what my role was. No-one decided I would do this and no-one asked me. I wasn’t trying to be helpful; I just needed to deal with the misunderstandings and awkwardness.

As an adult and in the past decade my mother’s carer, I have re-adopted this role deliberately, encouraging my mother to tell doctors and other professionals that she is deaf, explaining to these people that I will help with communication, and all the more so since eyesight difficulties have made it difficult for her to lip-read and increased the … Read More »

Meditation Questions: Why does meditation make me feel so tired?

Posted on January 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Every time I teach Mind Calm, whether in a group or one-to-one, in person or via Skype, I talk first of all about the tiredness that will come up. I can see my students thinking, ‘I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I’ve paid for this workshop, I’m going to stay wide awake and make the most of it.’ An hour or so later they are usually yawning and fighting drooping eyelids. They have begun to relax properly and deep-seated tiredness is rising to the surface.

It is not meditation that causes this tiredness, however. Meditation, and especially reducing the stimulation provided by constant thinking, allows the tiredness that was already there to arise.

Most of us are operating on unacceptable levels of tiredness. Modern life becomes busier and more demanding every year and there is more and more to think about.

We are asking more and more of ourselves and many of us don’t take enough time to rest.

Even if we get eight hours of sleep a night, we still need to rest while we are awake. Real rest is not just relaxing on the sofa at the end of the day in front of the TV, reading a book or going … Read More »

Embracing impermanence – Alfie’s teachings on age, death and the passage of time

Posted on November 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

What a gorgeous bundle of love and fluff! This was Alfie, six years ago, just before he came to live with us. He was the typical Andrex puppy, large pawed, appealing, cuddly and very, very naughty. He wasn’t much bigger than the Virginia Creeper leaves that littered my patio and had a wonderful time playing in the snow that arrived soon after he did.

And this is Alfie now. During the last six years we have had more than our share, perhaps, of drama with him. Serious gastroenteritis at five months which made him very poorly and required surgery, anaphylactic reaction to his first booster and a ruptured cruciate ligament two years ago which meant two more operations in 2013 and lots of special attention including physio. Despite all of that, he is full of beans and love (except for the postman who apparently delivers dynamite through our letterbox most mornings) and although he is intelligent enough to have become well trained he is also capable of stealing and eating a whole loaf of bread if he can reach it.

Passage of time. We started with a cute puppy, struggled through the awful, chewing, gawky teenage stage and agonised every time he … Read More »

Stillness in bereavement – 21 lessons in grief

Posted on November 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I haven’t written about losing my father in July and I am not going to now, as the story is not just mine. I have, however, been reflecting on what I’ve learned about grief during the past four months. I spend a lot of time in meditation and this has allowed me to feel what needed to be felt, to experience difficult emotions without resisting them or pushing them away and to reflect on my journey.

When I made this list, I realised it needed to be shared. If this is you, now, please know that you are not alone.

1. Grief can still happen even if your relationship was not close.
2. Even after a long illness, with no hope of recovery, death is a shock.
3. Grief can be a surprisingly physical experience, manifesting as fatigue, acute anxiety or symptoms of illness.
4. There can be a sense of camaraderie amongst the recently bereaved. When they are going through what you are going through, and the taboo is temporarily lifted, there is relief and even joy in shared understanding.
5. Bereaved people don’t want to avoid talking about death – their loss, death in general, their current circumstances. Avoiding bereavement makes it into … Read More »

Enlightened Success: the Oxbridge advantage?

Posted on October 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Today I’ve been on a Magical Memory Tour. I had an appointment at Newnham College, Cambridge, to finalise details for the venue for the Mind Calm workshop on 21st November. I was an undergraduate at Newnham, reading English, in the early 80s, so it’s also a former home for me.

I had a lovely stroll in the gardens, for which Newnham is deservedly famous. For two of my three years there, I had rooms looking out over them, and we enjoyed walking through them every day and many hours were spent reading and revising in their lovely tranquillity whenever the weather allowed.

Later, I took myself round the town and revisited some old haunts. The Copper Kettle on King’s Parade, a convenient place for a quick coffee; Auntie’s tea room where I first experienced coffee from a French press; the Gardenia which in those days was ideal for a cheap last minute date. Many of the shops are updated, just like every other town, but the small Sainsbury’s where I found myself at the checkout paying for my groceries next to Prince Edward doing the same thing is still there, much the same.

I was surprised by the intensity and variety of emotions … Read More »

Enlightened Success: what are your successful failures?

Posted on October 28th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I am just old enough to remember Apollo 13. My mother sitting on the edge of my bed, my hands pressed together for nighttime prayers, asking God to keep the astronauts stuck ‘up there’ safe and to bring them back to earth. And then watching their return on the television.

Now, Apollo 13 is one of my favourite films. I am fascinated by the Apollo missions and moon landings anyway, but the story of the Apollo 13 team, who never made it to the moon, has richness beyond the excitement of exploring further than man had ever explored before.

The mission was dubbed a ‘successful failure.’ Clearly, the goal was not reached, because the goal was to land on the moon. That goal was abandoned as soon as everyone realised there was something wrong with the spacecraft. And because the damage had occurred on lift off, it became obvious that the mission’s success, in the traditional sense of the word, had been doomed from the start.

The gravity of the situation was not fully appreciated when the famous, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ line was uttered, but unfolded gradually. Once everyone realised that there was a serious issue, the goal of reaching … Read More »

Enlightened Success: three reasons to procrastinate

Posted on October 27th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Have you seen that social media meme that says:

If you ever feel bad about procrastinating, just remember that Mozart wrote the overture to Don Giovanni the morning it premiered…?

It does make me feel better, actually. I am reminded that sometimes, just sometimes, we do our best work when under incredible pressure.

My late father used to have an idiosyncratic method for boarding planes. He would tell us:

I sit in the lounge until there is an announcement saying, ‘would the last remaining passenger for flight XYZ, Mr KS Stack, please make his way to the gate immediately as the plane is ready to leave.’ Then they send one of those golf carts to collect me and I get through the boarding process at top speed.

My father was a very frequent flyer and this approach worked for him but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. The way he operated, however, was to be either totally relaxed or charged with adrenaline, so this strategy suited him.

These examples go to show that procastination, or leaving things to the absolute last minute, doesn’t always have to spell disaster. Don Giovanni was performed and I don’t remember my father ever missing a flight.

I would go further and … Read More »

How secure are we?

Posted on October 20th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I remember vividly being on a course in London when I was a trainee solicitor. I don’t remember the content; it was something to do with finance which I have never needed to know since. But I remember the lecturer saying, ‘you are all very lucky; you are going to be solicitors and you will never be made redundant.’ Well, a short time after that I was made redundant. And since then, it has become commonplace for law firms to make redundancies. All that studying, training and hard work used to confer a sense of stability and security, a safe career and a job for life. It’s no longer the case, and perhaps it never was.

In fact, nothing in our life situation is permanent or secure. The most stable marriage can hit the rocks and the healthiest body can become ill. Any security that we might feel, be it financial, material or in our personal relationships, is transitory. Nothing in this material life lasts. Ever.

Realising this, as many of us do at some stage in our lives, especially when things don’t go to plan, we may redouble our efforts to create security and stability in our lives. Saving money, planning … Read More »

Mind Calm Meditation Workshops – What Actually Happens?

Posted on September 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

It’s natural to be nervous when you are trying something different. There are all sorts of preconceptions attached to the idea of meditation and as a result the thought of attending an all-day workshop to learn a new method can be daunting.

So let’s deal with some of those misconceptions and throw some light on what actually happens if you come and learn Mind Calm at a workshop with me.

First of all, Mind Calm has been specially developed by Sandy Newbigging for ordinary people like you and me. Our approach is up-to-date and comfortable. We sit on chairs and there is no chanting, nothing tricky to learn and no beliefs to adopt.There is nothing overtly spiritual about Mind Calm and you are not likely to feel uncomfortable if you are easily spooked by anything alternative or holistic.

When you enter the room it looks very similar to any other kind of course you might attend. In fact. clients often look at the flipchart and assume that they are going to have to take notes and remember lots of facts. That couldn’t be further from the truth: yes, I use a flipchart to help to reinforce some of what I am teaching … Read More »

Should we try to understand?

Posted on June 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

We are all shocked, horrified and saddened by the loss of life in Tunisia. These were ordinary people, like you and me, taking a much anticipated break in the sun. Wanting nothing more than to relax and be with their friends and family. What happened is beyond comprehension.

Atrocity and disaster, for me, have to remain beyond comprehension. Some things are too big and too awful for human beings to understand. But struggle to understand we do. Why? Perhaps because this struggle is more comfortable than simply accepting that dreadful things happen that we, human as we are, cannot get to grips with.

Ending the struggle might mean less thinking and more feeling. Trying to understand entails thinking, and the more we think, the less we are present with our feelings. At lunchtime today, I sat in front of the television, seeing the photographs and hearing the names of some of those who were killed, and cried for them for their families and for the distraught Tunisians who were there and tried to help. There was no more working it out, no more thinking or rationalising. Sitting in incomprehension, we are left with pain.

Accepting that we cannot understand, that these things … Read More »

There

Posted on June 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Eat a little better, exercise a little more
Get more sleep
Decide on the perfect diet
Have mindful sex
Clarify your purpose for your work and your life.
Be a better parent, child, boss, friend.
Organise your desk, clear out the wardrobe,
Pay off the mortgage,
Get that power of attorney sorted.
All in the quest for peace of mind,
For that elusive something that will ease your suffering.
It’s all a quest, a restless striving
To get there, a perfect place we haven’t found yet.
And let me tell you, if you continue to seek,
To place your hopes in the next workshop,
The next nutrition resolution, the next relationship,
The next book, the next client, the next moment,
You will remain restless and discontented.
Stop.
Stop the seeking, the belief that it can get better.
Just stop.
There will never be another moment.
This moment is all we have and all we need,
But our in our seeking we mortgage the perfect now for an impossible imagined ‘there.’

Making my father’s day

Posted on June 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

This was me, sitting on my father’s lap, over 50 years ago. A rare occurrence, even then. We weren’t close, and since I have grown up, until his stroke three years ago, we only met once a year for lunch when he returned briefly to the UK from his home in Dubai.

Now everything has changed, this very successful international businessman is barely still wtih us, has forgotten most of his past and is confused about the present. It’s so sad to see what a human being can be reduced to, as a result of a biological event.

There is nothing I can do to change the past and there is nothing to be gained by dwelling on it. If sadness or regret arise, I allow them to stay as long as they want but I don’t feed them. There is an ebb and flow.

On Sunday, however, I helped to make my father’s day. My brother and I visited him at the nursing home in the late afternoon. It was tea time when we arrived, and I took over feeding him mouthfuls of baked potato followed by cheesecake. He said it was lovely. This is the man who ate regularly … Read More »

You don’t need to be ‘good enough’ to love yourself

Posted on May 20th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

Last week I posted this on my Facebook page:

Loving yourself is not conditional; it doesn’t need you to be good enough, for you to like or approve of yourself. The nature of love is that it transcends those things.

It was an understanding that arose from my Calm Sitting, the closed eye meditation practice that we teach in Mind Calm.

We all know that love is unconditional. We love our children even when they are having a tantrum in Tesco or staying out too late as teenagers. Mothers travel hundreds of miles to visit their sons in prison. We love our pets when they leave hair on the carpet and much, much worse. We love our friends when they let us down – everyone is human. We love our parents even when their inability to understand social media frustrates us, and we love our siblings through all the rivalry, the bickering and competitiveness.

But what about self love? Many of us are beginning to feel more comfortable with the idea of loving ourselves, or at least the concept that we should take care of ourselves. But my perception is that self love tends to be conditional.

Thousands and thousands of words have been written … Read More »

Stillness is the answer to success

Posted on April 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I’ve been taking part in the Winning Women Essex blogging challenge during April and I have written about many aspects of my life and other things as well. From rock music to magical gardens, from menstrual cycles to criminal justice, I seem to have covered a lot!

So what has it all been about, and why all this stillness?

When I read about my own activities over the month, I look like a very busy lady. And those are only the things I have chosen – or dared! – to write about. I could be tired, drained, stressed and perhaps grumpy. If you know me in person, however, you will know that I am usually calm and often smiling. The secret is stillness!

In Mind Calm we say that ‘stillness is the answer to success’ and this has many meanings for me:

* Spending time in stillness keeps stress to a minimum which is vital for people who wear several hats

* Meditation helps us to let go of attachment and be present with whatever we are doing right now

* Regular meditators tend to sleep well and to need less sleep, resulting in less tiredness

* Meditation can help us to think more clearly and to … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – how to prevent an almost-all-nighter from ruining your day!

Posted on April 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I have an odd working life. My professional job is in the criminal justice system, and means that I am almost constantly on call to go out to police stations at all times of the day and night.

I was called on Sunday afternoon and eventually ended up being asked to get to the Station for 00.15 on Monday morning. My body and mind were pleading for sleep; I knew I needed not only to stay awake but to be able to drive through country roads for about half an hour and then be sensible enough to give legal advice and communicate with all the parties concerned. The Police work shifts but I just have to turn up when they are ready, so in these circumstances I am asking myself to think, work and interact when I would normally be fast asleep.

The matter went as well as could be expected and I arrived home at 2.45am. I am never able to go straight to sleep; after all, when I used to get home at 7pm I didn’t get into bed for another four hours or so! I usually have a cup of tea and a little snack and make sure … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – let’s give up hard work!

Posted on April 28th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

You can’t listen to politicians being interviewed for very long without hearing one of them talking about ‘hard working families’ or something similar. I could write a lot about the sub-text that I think is running here but that is a different kind of blog perhaps for a different day! What I want to do today is question the use of the phrase ‘hard work.’

Usually, when something is described as ‘hard,’ it’s a bad thing. Just think of ‘hard luck,’ ‘hard day’ or ‘hard feelings.’ All those things are unpleasant, aren’t they? So why should we be encouraged to ‘work hard,’ and rewarded for ‘working hard’? If we spend 40 or more hours a week working, perhaps it would be good to aspire to something better than ‘hard’ during this time.

I try to remember not to talk about hard work. There are lots of other adjectives, such as ‘enthusiastic,’ ‘inspired,’ energetic’ or ‘creative.’ We might talk about ‘a lot of work.’ But let’s choose to aim for a working life that’s full of light, energy and even love, no matter what the politicians, or anyone else says.

When I talk about my own journey with Mind Calm meditation, I always describe … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – closer, easier, simpler

Posted on April 27th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I took this photograph while walking my dog in the local park today. It’s five minutes from my house and I would class it as an ‘ordinary’ sort of place. Not somewhere I would go to find something special. But through my i-phone lens today the scene was far from ordinary. On my doorstep. With a smartphone. Just like that.

This reminded me that when we are seeking something – peace, happiness, fulfillment, for example, we usually end up disappointed because we look too far, too hard and in too complicated a way.

Those things, the things we really want, the inner experiences that we believe will result from all our hard work, are actually inside us right now. The answers are here, within us, ready to be found as soon as we stop seeking outside ourselves and get really still.

And it’s not that hard. We are told so often, and we tell each other and ourselves, that life is difficult, that the best things result from hard work, and that it takes a long while to attain something worth going for. Well, that’s not always true. Some of the things that are most worth having are really easy to get. We … Read More »

Meditation Questions – how do I deal with distractions?

Posted on April 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

There are lots of books and CDs available to help us learn to meditate, and there are many guided meditations available digitally. It seems to me, however, that people often don’t get very far because of the common instruction to ‘find a time when you are sure you won’t be disturbed.’ For those of us with families, there is often no time at all when we won’t be disturbed. So it is easy to feel that our lives just won’t support a regular meditation habit.

As well as this, I am very often asked how to deal with noise distractions when we are meditating. Few of us live in silent houses; even if there is no-one else there watching television or arguing, traffic will pass and workmen will sometimes dig up the road. How can we enjoy still silent space with all this busy noisiness going on around us?

My answer is always that distractions do not need to be a problem. First of all, if you are concerned you might be disturbed, you can practise Mind Calm, the method that I teach, anyway. Even if your three year-old only allows you two minutes of a seated meditation, that is two minutes … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – sharing stillness in Cambridge

Posted on April 25th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Today I drove to Cambridge to share the wonders of Mind Calm at Prime Time Fitness gym. I left plenty of extra time and the roads were nice and clear so I was able to stop for a while on the way and still myself with a Mind Calm sitting.

Prime Time Fitness is a lovely, light, airy space, really inviting and friendly. It was great to have plenty of time to make sure everything was in place before people arrived.

For me, there is always a sense of ‘not quite enough’ when I give an introductory talk on Mind Calm. There is only a little time, so I am limited in how much I can go into the theory, and we can look briefly at a couple of exercises but we stop way short of learning the actual meditation method. I have to tell myself, though, that it is supposed to be like this – an introduction, a taster to help people decide whether they want to learn more.

I am sure that my enthusiasm for this wonderful method shines through. I just can’t say enough about how simple, easy, fun and life-changing it is. And today, as always, I was honoured … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – and Facebook is never still!

Posted on April 24th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

When I was an undergraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge, we picked up our post from ‘pigeon holes’ at the Porters’ Lodge. To find out if I had post or messages, I had to walk a fair bit of the second longest continuous corridor in Europe and check my pigeon hole. If I was feeling a bit lonely while revising, I might do this several times a day. There were no mobile phones, just a few payphones which would have long queues outside them as soon as the cheap rate started, so checking pigeon holes was the only way to get news or find out what was happening.

How things have changed. My house has a letterbox through which post is still delivered, much to my dog’s consternation, once a day at most, but if I want to know if anything has happened, or if anyone wants me, I can check my email, glance at 24 hour news or flick through Facebook or Twitter on my mobile phone. And if someone really wants me, they can text or ring me wherever I am – almost.

Life has become a lot busier, full of information, new stuff happening every few seconds, and the more … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – even at red lights!

Posted on April 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

My brother sent me this video and I found it so enjoyable and inspiring that I wanted to share it with you. It’s long, but if you only have two minutes, see if you can listen to the last two. ‘You can be still even when the world is changing around you.’ Wonderful advice for meditators and everyone about accepting whatever is happening in the moment. But if you have time, give yourself the hour. I did, and I am glad because I found a new source of simple wisdom and compassionate teaching.

And this is why I mention red lights in the title of this post: half way through his talk, Ajahn Brahm talks about traffic jams and stop lights, and how we should treat them as time to relax, how futile it is to try and fight the hold ups. If we know about control and letting go, then this makes absolute sense to us, but do we really use red lights as an opportunity to relax? It’s not something that I have been doing but, having listened to this talk, I plan to start now. Care to join me?

Stillness is the answer – listening and being heard

Posted on April 22nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

How often do you really feel heard? Without judgment, and with enough time to say everything you need to say, or even to be in silence?

With all the distractions of modern life, which gets busier and more pressured every year, it’s less common than it used to be just to sit quietly and listen. And be heard in turn.

It’s important for all of us to be heard, and to develop and maintain our non-judgmental listening skills, but even more vital for those dealing with mental health issues to have access to a compassionate listening ear. Health services themselves are under pressure, and even when regular appointments are available, time is strictly limited.

Those lucky enough to be able to access Essex charity Just Listening to You, however, have a safe and nurturing place to go, on a regular basis, where they can be heard in a relaxed and respectful atmosphere. This is what Bernadette Bentley, who runs Just Listening to You, says about the organisation:

The group vision is a world where anyone living with mental health problems find opportunity, positivity, genuine friendship and a world free of stigma.

We provide help to anyone who has issues with mental health problems, we … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – juggling roles

Posted on April 21st, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

My intention for this month’s blog challenge is partly to examine how I manage the several roles and responsibilities that, together, comprise my life.

Today, I’ve been working in a couple of my ‘secondary’ roles. Every now and then, when I am asked, I do a spot of copy editing. Copy editing is what is often thought of as ‘proof-reading,’ – checking a manuscript for grammar, spelling, punctuation and stylistic details. This is something I love, and can’t help doing even when I haven’t been asked! Having read English for my first degree, I have a love for and intimacy with language, and can be rather pedantic about details. I am passionate, for example, about the correct use of semi-colons and commas.

It’s hard work, though. Working through a full length novel, word by word and space by space, making corrections and comments, feels like a mammoth task, especially at the beginning. I am a little more than half way through the book I am working on this week, and I am feeling the effects of hour upon hour of staring at the screen. It does, however, feel like ‘proper’ work, a little more than some of the things I do, … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – especially in a magical garden

Posted on April 20th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Today was lovely. Nature’s Medicine in Purleigh held its Open Day, and I was there to talk about Mind Calm. Nature’s Medicine Purleigh is a clinic situated in a beautiful house with lovely gardens, surrounded by farmland and countryside. The clinic supports a growing community of therapists and practitioners and I am delighted to be planning Mind Calm events to be held there in the near future.

And this is really exciting: weather permitting, we will be able to learn and practise Mind Calm in the Summer House (pictured) and even, on particularly lovely days, in the garden. Just imagine what it will be like: a peaceful, flower-filled oasis in the middle of the countryside, far from the busyness of life, a perfect setting for a day finding your own inner still silent space.

It’s enough to get a Mind Calm Coach fizzing with anticipation…in a really calm and present way of course!

Stillness is the answer – but it’s important to move!

Posted on April 19th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

In Friday’s post I talked about the importance of living in our whole bodies, not just our heads, especially if we are prone to stressful over-thinking. And I explained that water can be a helpful shortcut to encourage us to be aware of our bodies. But it is also, of course, vital to move our bodies.

Exercise, if it is kind and fun, is perfect for helping us to be aware that we live in our entire selves, and for becoming less stuck in our heads with all our busy thoughts.

I am delighted that I am getting back to my normal levels of almost daily exercise, after many months of not being able to do so much. Yesterday I enjoyed a challenging circuit class with Francesca Townsend. Chloe and Francesca, the Townsend Twins, are a fitness instructor double act with seemingly boundless energy who teach a variety of classes in Essex. They are popular with Zumba enthusiasts, children and exercise fans like myself. Their classes are always upbeat and fun and the twins themselves are supportive and reassuring while pushing us to do our best.

I really enjoyed the circuit, the variety of exercises and the opportunity to work almost all my … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – on video

Posted on April 18th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Today I am letting my own video speak for me. Just over a week ago, Adrian Birtwell from Standout Videos and I clambered over the marshes near the Sailing Club in Tollesbury, looking for the best place to shoot the video while reducing interference from the ever present wind. It was a lot of fun and not like ‘business’ at all. Here it is:

I am so grateful to Adrian for making it all easy and relaxed. Needless to say, I have very little experience in front of the camera but working with a professional film maker who isn’t bothered in the slightest if you keep having to start again or if you feel silly really helps. If you think it would be a good idea to have a video made but put it off because you might feel uncomfortable, do give it a try. If I can do it, anyone can!

Stillness is the answer – water: shortcut to presence

Posted on April 17th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

I was just soaking in the bath after a long and enjoyable day in Cambridge, networking and business planning, followed by an equally enjoyable exercise class. I set myself the task of deciding what I would blog about before I got out of the bath. I had some clever and complicated ideas before I realised that the answer was right under my nose: water.

If you know me, either in person or through my blogs, you are probably aware that I talk a lot about how most of us think too much and how we can benefit from thinking less. Thinking less reduces stress and helps us to be more present, as all thought takes us away from the here and now.

Those of us who are prone to thinking a lot tend to live far too much in our heads. Just a few years ago I really believed that my head was where I lived, and thought of my body as the vehicle that carried my head around. Needless to say, I was stressed and worn out. I have since learned how important it is for us to live in our whole bodies.

There is a lot to say about how … Read More »

Stillness is the answer

Posted on April 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

If we are running a business for ourselves there ought to be a lot of fun. But what constitutes ‘fun’ is different for each person. What do you enjoy most, think of as fun, in your business?

I am really pleased with my productivity today and I am sure that is due to the amount of rest I had yesterday, and well over two hours’ meditation with an hour of yoga on top of that. This morning I felt quite groggy, which I expect is a result of lots of stress releasing, and then gradually I shifted up through the gears and managed to achieve a lot.

And the biggest achievement is that I sailed through the part which I find to be not fun. Unusually, I believe, I don’t enjoy planning promotional material, thinking about posters, flyers and stationery, getting things printed or anything visual. I’m not a very visual person; I’m all about thinking and words. I will happily write the copy but the rest of it is a challenge. So it was great to find that I easily and quickly decided on the flyer and business card design and copy that I wanted and sent off the order. It … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – rest

Posted on April 15th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I didn’t realise how tired I was this morning until my Mind Calm Sitting. Being still in awareness, I saw how my racing thoughts, my eagerness to ‘get everything sorted,’ were a result of weariness rather than any real urgency.

This is often the case. We are tired because we are so busy, then we keep busy to avoid feeling the tiredness. A regular meditation practice allowing us to sit quietly in awareness, rather than in our minds and the thoughts that fill them, can help us to see things more objectively.

There is still work to do and I have a work commitment tonight, but I am shelving non-urgent projects until tomorrow. I have a yoga class tonight which is a wonderful excuse to wear comfy, stretchy yoga clothes all day in preparation.

In between, I will make time to sit in the garden, to meditate, to eat healthily and give my mind and body time and space to rest and refresh. It can be hard to let go of busyness but it’s much harder to deal with a crash resulting from keeping going for too long without proper rest!

If you would like more inspiration to take care of yourself … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – going blank

Posted on April 14th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

There is a blank space on this page. And here is an invitation: see if you can rest with the blankness for a while. Don’t try, don’t resist. Just see what comes up.

Some people find this challenging, even difficult. We live such busy lives that the busyness becomes addictive. Doing nothing, thinking nothing, becomes almost impossible. If you find your mind racing, filling up, when faced with emptiness, don’t worry, it’s very common.

Now, I am not suggesting you ‘let your mind go blank.’ For most of us that is a very tall order. And in Mind Calm, we don’t focus at all on emptying our minds; rather, we place our attention somewhere else entirely, and when our minds find that they are being ignored, they quite naturally and easily become quieter.

If you feel compelled to think, and if spending time doing nothing, alone with your thoughts, is so uncomfortable that you would rather be busy, perhaps you would like to find out how to slow it all down. In Mind Calm workshops we address the ‘Hidden Causes of a Busy Mind,’ explaining what it is, exactly, that compels us to think and why we get so caught up in our … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – befriending our cyclic nature

Posted on April 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

If you are a woman, how do you feel about your monthly cycle? Frustrated with the ups and downs, irritated by PMS? Inconvenienced by bleeding? There is another way.

I’m so excited to tell you that Lisa Lister, a wonderful woman who has helped me to find my own authentic writing voice, has written an important, ground-breaking book that shows us how to work with our cycles instead of trying to smooth them out. It’s called Code Red and it launches today.

Did you know that you can find out how each phase of your cycle affects you and use that information to help you with your relationships, your health and your work? Even the commonly maligned pre-menstrual phase has its qualities, and knowing these can help us to understand how we tick and schedule our activities accordingly.

I just wish that there had been a book like this 30 years ago, so that I could have embraced my reproductive years rather than medicating myself and complaining about the ups and downs, the emotional and physical discomfort. There wasn’t, of course, but there is now. Even mid-life women like myself can benefit from reading Code Red; the book has been a personal journey … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – a day of waiting

Posted on April 12th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Yesterday I came home from running my Mind Calm Meditation workshop to go straight into a 24 hour period of being on call for my job in the criminal justice system. It’s a question of being ready to jump into the car at any moment, day or night, to deal with anything from the most minor matter to something very serious.

It’s always difficult to apply myself to anything much while waiting for the phone to ring, but I did get some ironing done this morning as well as some reading that I had promised to do.

As it was such a sunny day, I was also able to spend some time with Alfie in the garden as you can see. After so many months of staying inside to keep warm or needing to walk briskly when outside, it was lovely to loiter a little.

As things turned out, there were no calls for the whole 24 hour period. Years ago we used to be paid a fee to wait but Ministry of Justice cuts have meant that those of us still working in criminal defence are paid less and less each year. That is a whole other subject and there … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – sharing stillness

Posted on April 11th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

This morning my alarm sounded at 5.30. I needed time to meditate before getting ready and setting off for the Mind Calm Meditation workshop I was running in Colchester. It’s important – vital – to practise what I teach so I make time for a Calm Sitting even when I am starting early.

All my Colchester events are held at The Tree Room which is a lovely venue. It’s an oasis of calm in the middle of the town and has a wonderful energy. It’s very easy for me to create a safe space in The Tree Room, to enable participants to feel comfortable and secure as they relax and spend time in their own conscious awareness.

Today I was joined by eight very special people, with varied backgrounds and levels of experience in meditation, from a little knowledge to experienced meditators. This meant that we had lively and valuable discussions and a lot of laughter. I think that sometimes others in the building are surprised to hear sounds of excitement and humour coming from the Mind Calm workshops; yes, we do spend time in silence with our eyes closed, but we also have some very enjoyable and enlightening exchanges and funny … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – making movies

Posted on April 10th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

You know those days when you get so chilled that you have to have a hot bath in the middle of the day, just to get the cold out of your bones? Well, I know it’s been the hottest day of the year so far, but this afternoon I was in the bath for that very reason. I do feel the cold, probably because I spent my teenage years in the Far East and seem to have missed out on an important upgrade, maybe at about 15. when British youth learn to keep themselves warm. I am that annoying person who, last Summer when everyone was complaining they couldn’t sleep as it was so warm, was still snuggling under a Spring-weight duvet and wearing a sweatshirt over her pyjamas. So, I needed the bath.

This is why. Today, Adrian Birtwell of Stand Out Video and I spent a happy couple of hours clambering through the marshes and fields by the Blackwater estuary in Tollesbury, where I live, filming a video about Mind Calm, the meditation method that I teach. I didn’t want to wear a warm jumper, as I normally would, to make the video as that might look odd when … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – boundaries not barriers

Posted on April 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I read in one of Pema Chodron’s books recently that sometimes you have to create boundaries so that you don’t have barriers. I have been thinking about this for several days and it has occurred to me that this concept is relevant to many different situations.

Of course, if we think about boundaries we commonly bring to mind the subject of relationships, but they are important in other areas of our lives. Today I had an appointment and a meditation class planned and I didn’t want to miss either of them, so I ensured that the organisation I work for knew I wouldn’t be available. Ok, so I might have missed out on some much needed work, but these commitments were important for my well-being, and I can only do a good job if I am healthy in mind and body. I set a boundary by booking myself as unavailable, to avoid possible barriers that might occur if I encountered the dilemma of whether to turn down work if it was offered.

The other boundary I set today was geographical. In between the appointment and the class I had a few hours which I wanted to use to write. I knew that … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – the power of connection

Posted on April 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

This photo is from the ‘events’ page on my website. I use it to represent the power and beauty of a group of people. A cornfield appears to be a beautiful whole, but in fact is made up of many single ears of corn.

Earlier today I had two meetings, both of which, I think, will eventually result in exciting progress for my Mind Calm Meditation practice. I am looking forward to helping more people to find their own inner still silent space and to running a variety of events in wonderful surroundings.

It occurred to me that both of these meetings came as a result of friendships, people I know socially introducing and recommending me to others. This feels like the easiest, gentlest type of networking but it can also be one of the most effective. When we connect on a human level and find out what makes other people tick, what they care about and what they can offer, we want to help and support them. And in turn they want to help and support us.

Most of what I have achieved, my real successes, which are remarkably varied, happened largely as a result of tremendous amounts of support from others. … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – going with the flow

Posted on April 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

This is what I would like to be doing right now but I’m not a daytime sleeper. If I manage to fall asleep during the day, I go so deep that I feel dreadful when I wake and right up to bedtime. So when I get up short of sleep, that is what I am stuck with for the whole day.

I’m a good sleeper when I am allowed to sleep but my professional work sometimes means I am disturbed by the phone in the night and sometimes I am out working at odd hours too. Last night the phone rang at about 1.30am. I could have dealt with the matter fairly easily but I forgot the PIN number I have to give to prove it’s me. Now, this PIN is not written down anywhere and I have had it for nine years. I know it as well as my date of birth. But last night I only remembered the first three out of five digits. I came downstairs to my office to see if I had it written down anywhere. I didn’t. I managed to fend off the calls but didn’t recapture my PIN until this morning, when it was … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – I’ll be there for you

Posted on April 6th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

We all need someone to turn to when we feel stressed, overwhelmed, sad, confused or lonely. It helps to have an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold. Or, sometimes in my case, a waggy tail to cheer you up and plenty of fur for soft cuddles. I have wonderful friends and a solid support system but the one who is always there for me is Alfie, my Golden Retriever.

Alfie gives me unconditional love and his enthusiasm is boundless, as you can see on this video which I took this morning. If I go out, even for ten minutes, he is overjoyed when I come home. He protects us with all his fierceness from the bad postman who sticks dangerous bits of paper through the hole in the door most days, but when it thunders he needs the shelter of my bed, quaking and panting for hours and staying as close as possible to me.

I try not to post too much on my timeline about Alfie, as not everyone loves dogs, so he has is own, very positive, Facebook page which you can find here. I never tire of explaining, however, how much he enhances … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – but loud music rocks!

Posted on April 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

Most people know me as quiet, calm and reserved. So, when anyone finds out a little about my taste in music, they are often surprised or even shocked. I do know a bit about classical music and enjoy listening to it, but I really love very loud music too.

The one redeeming feature of the unhappy year I spent at boarding school when I was 16, in London and far away from my home in Malaysia, was that I was introduced to rock music. In 1978 you couldn’t go far without hearing Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd. I developed a real love for Queen but sadly never saw them live while Freddie was with us. These days I still listen to 70s music, including punk, but also enjoy Blur and Oasis, Radiohead, the Strokes, Stereophonics, Razorlight, Queens of the Stone Age, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and, most of all, Foo Fighters.

Foo Fighters are fronted by Dave Grohl, drummer from Nirvana, and like most of the music I enjoy have a big, deep guitar sound with loud drums. I am very excited to be going to see them at Wembley in June with my son, his girlfriend and best … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – you feel what you focus on

Posted on April 3rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Big day for me today; I went to collect my first ever varifocal spectacles. Life was getting very complicated. I had nine pairs (yes, nine) of prescription glasses, including reading glasses strategically placed in my home, my mother’s home and several handbags, driving glasses, spare driving glasses and prescription sunglasses. There was a lot of organisation making sure they were all in the right place! Plus I was starting to suspect that wearing my distance glasses only for driving was preventing me from seeing how grubby my house is. So I made the decision, got my eyes tested and ordered the specs.

I was using the supermarket optician so, once they had been checked, polished and handed over, the guy suggested I keep them on to go and do my shopping for ‘practice.’ I knew it might feel funny but I wasn’t prepared for the gentleman driving his trolley straight at me from my left. I nearly fell into his trolley! I then found that, as long as I didn’t dart my gaze around too much and too quickly looking for all the things I needed, it wasn’t too difficult at all. In fact, being able to read labels without having … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – do you take days off?

Posted on April 2nd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

This morning I woke up and wondered what day it was and what I had to do. Then I wondered if it might be a day off. I am never quite sure, you see. It’s about eight years since I had a traditional, Monday to Friday job, and now that I wear several ‘working’ hats I am always conscious that when I am concentrating on one area of contribution it feels as if I am neglecting the others.

For me these days, every day begins with meditation, but how long I sit for depends on what needs to happen during the day ahead. This morning I had the luxury of spending rather more than an hour in blissful peace and following it with a little yoga. Then visited my mother and took my Golden Retriever, Alfie, round the fields near my home. As you can see, I am very lucky to be surrounded by beautiful countryside. So perhaps, given that there is no time off from a 30 day blogging challenge, this is indeed a day off.

I am a little bit more sure of that than usual because I have a commitment this evening which means that, even if I receive … Read More »

Stillness is the answer – how on earth do I manage to do it all?

Posted on April 1st, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

We’ve all heard the question, ‘how on earth does she do it all?’ We might ask it about someone we know who seems to juggle work, family, home and hobbies and still have time to socialise. Or we may hear other people asking the question about our own lives. I certainly hear this all the time.

Women are known for multi-tasking, and we are often the ones who wear several hats. Too often, we try to do more than is humanly possible and sometimes berate ourselves for not having achieved the impossible. It is worth having a look at the list of things we are trying to do and reflecting that. if there are several items, we may well be asking rather a lot of ourselves.

Just for the sake of clarity, and to remind myself because I often forget some of the things I do, here is my list:

1. I’m a solicitor in criminal practice (if you want to look me up you’ll need to know I practise as Harriet Balcombe) and I work part time mainly in police stations.
2. I’m a Mind Calm Meditation Coach, running workshops, giving talks and coaching.
3. I write books, blogs and articles, mainly about … Read More »

Making life – and success – easy

Posted on February 25th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

We all like things to be easy. We enjoy doing something, or experiencing something, that seems simple and uncomplicated to us. If we find something easy we tend to be ‘good’ at it and then we feel successful. Things that are easy seem to ‘go well.’ At Damsels in Success, a women’s networking and support group that I belong to, we talk about Success with Ease. Isn’t that what we all want? Achieving our goals and intentions smoothly and happily?

One of the difficulties is that we often devalue the things we find easiest to do. We might find something so easy that it is like falling off a log and we – wrongly – assume that it is just as easy for others and therefore don’t see the value in offering this skill as a service. In fact, very often we find something easy because we are uniquely talented at it. When we approach this activity we are in our ‘zone of genius’ and everything flows. For you, it may be drawing, or communicating, or working with spreadsheets. For others, baking, running or organising events are easy and fun.

Personally, I have been able better to understand the concept of ease … Read More »

The exhilaration of Now

Posted on January 25th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

This is the time of year for resolutions, goal setting and intentions. We habitually look forward, imagining the time when we will have achieved our goals or reached the place where we want to be. Meanwhile, we are ‘getting there.’

There is no ‘there.’ There is only this moment, this moment, and this one. The past and the future exist only in our thoughts. If we are constantly ‘getting there,’ focusing on our future goals, hopes or wishes, we are actually missing our life which is happening now.

Life, however, is a journey. When we say there is only this moment, we do not mean that we are frozen in the Now. The nature of life is that it is always moving. Cycling, circling, changing, transforming. Time goes on relentlessly. We don’t know where it is going but it never stops moving.

How do we reconcile these two concepts? The fact that we are living in the Now and the constant movement that is our existence? How can we sink deeply into a moment when there is no stopping, when we are on a journey, when everything is changing all the time, when our lives are speeding towards an unknown destination?

I was … Read More »

Do you have a special message?

Posted on January 19th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Some of us have something to say that is special, challenging or different. And many of us are keeping quiet. This may be why.

Of course we need to be kept quiet if the status quo is to be preserved. What will happen to the well established systems of control and shared beliefs if we go around saying that doing nothing is important, that only awareness is real or that improved life circumstances can’t make you happy?

Of course we need to be kept quiet if we want to invite people to question the established societal beliefs. to disregard the messages that tell us we need to suffer, work hard, sacrifice and mortgage the now in order to get ‘there.’ If we tell them that there is no ‘there,’ that there is only this, and this, and this, that this is what matters, then they might go and do something different. They might choose joy, freedom, love, right now.

And if we go around telling people that they can choose their thoughts and even their feelings, that how they feel doesn’t need to depend on circumstances, they might become more free than society wants them to be. What would happen if our world … Read More »

The present moment can save your life…or at least your sanity

Posted on December 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

Do you know what it is like to feel tormented?

To face Christmas with the anguish of financial difficulties and to be torn between increasing your debt or treating your family?

To wonder whether the symptoms you are experiencing are hinting at a serious illness?

To ask yourself whether you will ever move past the pain of a failed relationship?

To be desperately concerned for the safety, well-being or health of a loved one?

Yes, those things can feel like torment. I’ve experienced them all over the years.

It’s quite possible that absolutely nothing can be done to take away the life circumstances that are causing your current torment, but a great deal can be done to ease your suffering.

The answer is in the present moment.

The other day I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, at rather a low point, considering all the impossibilities in my life. In a matter of seconds, I rounded up my health, business and family situations and labelled them all as ‘impossible.’ I concluded that things were bad. Does this sound familiar?

Then, a little bit of wisdom found its way into my consciousness and I asked myself, ‘Harriet, can you just breathe in this moment?’

Of course I could. … Read More »

Rebellious rest

Posted on December 5th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Look at Alfie, how relaxed he is. You can tell he’s recharging, can’t you? I’ve had to learn a lot from him this year, and now I am taking a deep breath and sharing some of that learning with you.

Over the last decade, I have come to be grateful for most of my health challenges as I know they have given me wonderful guidance. If I was completely well, I would probably be working full time in an office. Although that would generate a welcome income, I would not be able to care for my family as I now do, and I would not be writing and teaching meditation – missions which I have come to believe are part of my life’s current purpose.

Just recently, however, my health has been more challenging and I have been unable to do a lot of the things that I usually believe are essential. I’ve turned down freelance work, slowed my plans for promoting my meditation workshops and I’ve let the housework go. I don’t feel good if I sit at my desk for too long so I’ve been writing a lot less than I would like.

So what have I been doing? I’ve been … Read More »

Three unexpected benefits from thinking less

Posted on November 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

For the past few years, a lot of my work has centred around thinking less. Why it’s a good idea, what we can gain from it, and how to go about it. I’ve developed my own anti-worry approach, of which more later, and trained with Sandy Newbigging to teach Mind Calm Meditation, which also helps us to let go of the compulsion to think.

So what happens when we do reduce the busyness of our minds? Here are three of the benefits I have experienced myself and known others to enjoy:

1. Reduced pain, both emotional and physical. When we are upset or emotionally hurt, we tend to resist the unpleasant feeling, and we feel compelled to think about it, how much it hurts, how to make it better. Once we can recognise this and let go of the unnecessary thoughts, our discomfort naturally subsides, sometimes disappearing altogether. As for physical sensations, both I and other Mind Calm practitioners have found distinct advantages to practising the techniques in the dentist’s chair. During a particularly uncomfortable session a few weeks ago, I found that I was able to let go of the judgment that the discomfort was ‘bad’ and simply experience it as … Read More »

Meditation Questions: What do I have to believe?

Posted on November 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

This is a common concern. Most organised religions have a tradition of meditation and it is easy to assume that, in order to adopt any practice, we will need to have a corresponding set of religious or spiritual beliefs. Then there are those of us who have our own beliefs and don’t wish to participate in a practice that might not fit with those beliefs.

The truth is that we can all practise meditation, irrespective of our existing beliefs or lack of them. Meditation, the way we approach it in Mind Calm, is simply a matter of directing our attention to somewhere other than our own busy minds, to that place within us, which we all have, which is infinitely still and peaceful.

It does help to understand some of the theory behind the practice, and to be open minded about how easy and accessible our own inner peace might turn out to be. For that reason, we teach some theory before teaching the practice itself. Most people want to know why they are learning to do something, before they embark on that learning, as well as the benefits that they are likely to experience.

So, although we don’t ask you to … Read More »

Meditation Questions: I can’t empty my mind – does that mean I can’t meditate?

Posted on October 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I hear this question so often. Our lives seem to get busier by the decade and most of us haven’t been brought up to understand the value of thinking less, or indeed how to achieve it. So we end up with very busy minds.

Meditation, and Mind Calm* in particular, is not a matter of emptying our busy minds. We learn to shift our attention away from our minds, using simple and enjoyable techniques. Deprived of the attention we usually give our thoughts, as a result our mind tends to quieten down without any apparent effort on our part.

But if thoughts do persist, we don’t judge them or ourselves. In Mind Calm we aim for Peace with Mind rather than Peace of Mind, meaning that, through regular practice, we develop a better relationship with our thoughts and feelings. We are likely to go on having thoughts for the rest of our lives, because we are human beings, but a regular meditation practice helps us to watch those thoughts rather than spending all our time caught up in them.

So the answer is, no, it doesn’t mean you can’t meditate! Regular meditators still have thoughts that come and go, and sometimes get … Read More »

Get still and do more

Posted on October 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

It’s common knowledge that a regular meditation practice brings with it many benefits. Reduced stress, better sleep and improved focus are just a few. As a meditator for some six years before discovering Mind Calm, Sandy C.Newbigging’s modern day meditation method, I was well acquainted with these benefits. I knew that taking time to be still before a busy day would help me to stay calm and focussed. I rarely had any problem falling asleep and, as time went on, my mind behaved better and better.

Learning Mind Calm, and then training with Sandy to become a Mind Calm Coach, deepened my practice and my sense of peace and wellbeing increased. My daily practice became something as intrinsic to my schedule as cleaning my teeth. That was, to some extent, to be expected. If you learn to teach something, the most important part of that process should be the development of a deep familiarity with that something, whether it is an academic subject, a skill or something theoretical.

I had to get over – and to be honest sometimes I still do, when my ‘busy mind’ tries to take over – the idea that taking time out would use up space in … Read More »

Never mind having it all – what about doing it all?

Posted on October 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Yesterday Sky News was reporting an interview of Miriam González Durántez, aka Mrs Nick Clegg (Nick Clegg is the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister). Ms González Durántez was saying that she isn’t really looking to ‘have it all;’ she just wants to have the same as men do. I found myself wondering how, with such a high profile legal career, a high profile husband to support and three small sons, she manages to do it all. Of course, the Cleggs will be able to afford help in their house and childcare, but there must still be a lot to juggle. I wonder how she does it?

Then I thought, just look at yourself, H. People who know me personally will be familiar with the variety of life issues that I am constantly juggling:

I’m a single parent;
I have a professional career, albeit freelance and part time;
I look after two disabled family members, one with mental health issues and one with a physical disability;
I’m a prolific writer and blogger and nearing the publication of my first book;
I’m just launching my Mind Calm Meditation Coaching practice;
I have sidelines in copy editing and private tutoring;
I have my own energy-limiting health issues.

There is probably more but those … Read More »

What I’ve learned from blogging as the Maverick Bluestocking

Posted on August 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

At the beginning of August, I invented the Maverick Bluestocking. I wanted to write in a more overtly spiritual way, which is true to where I am in life at the moment, but also to explore the relationship between spiritual and intellectual in my life. Both perspectives are vital to me and I think they are interdependent. A blogging challenge offering daily topic suggestions based on spiritual subjects was a perfect way for me to go about this exploration.

I would recommend daily blogging to anyone wanting to explore their perspective on a specific subject and in particular to anyone looking for their own authentic voice. If you have to blog every single day for a month, you won’t have time to craft your paragraphs and sentences and think everything through carefully, assuming you have a job/family/whatever to tend to. You just have to think of something to write about, or decide how you will tackle the suggested topic, and get on with it. Letting go of control and not having too much time means you are more likely to end up writing in your own authentic voice. I wrote a few posts at the beginning of the month about thinking … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking on Mind Calm – Part Two

Posted on August 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

Conscious awareness is an experience. Still silent space, love, peace, joy and contentment are all experiences. They can’t really be described and they can’t be thought about. The only way these things can be understood is by experiencing them right now. That’s why it really helps to have someone sit with us, either in actual physical reality or virtually, and help us to find those experiences within ourselves.

For me, it has taken years of on/off practice and then a much more intensive period of practising Mind Calm (Mind Calm Meditation created by Sandy C Newbigging) to discover conscious awareness as a regular experience. Even as someone who loves to write everything down, to describe things in words, I feel powerless to capture this experience using language. I’m therefore incredibly grateful that I am on a path which allows me to sit with others and help them to discover conscious awareness for themselves.

The benefits of a regular meditation practice are many, and I don’t know a better explanation than the one in Sandy Newbigging’s own book. But everyone’s experience is slightly different and each person will highlight particular benefits as the most important to them.

I’ve known the benefits of increased calm, … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking – Who Inspires You?

Posted on August 28th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

I guess we have all been inspired by various people throughout our lives. I’ve noticed how the right people seem to appear at the right time for me, teaching me lessons and explaining things in exactly the way that I have needed. A week ago I went with my good friend Kim Parker to see Richard Wilkins speaking, as he had an engagement near to where we live. Here we are with Richard after the talk.

Richard has a way of explaining things that makes them real and easy to understand. You know that critical voice in your head? He calls it our ‘script,’ and explains that everyone has a script and that, crucially, this is not our real self but conditioning that we have absorbed throughout our lives. We can learn to recognise our script and to act despite it (to choose) rather than allow it to control how we think, feel and act.

Richard also shows us that it is ok to express our feelings, even if they are painful, even for men, who traditionally tend to keep their emotions to themselves a bit more. He does this by owning and showing his own feelings on stage. It’s really powerful.

And … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking – Can We Fix It?

Posted on August 27th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

A quick thought today. But an important one I think.

What if we don’t need fixing? What if we look into our lives and find that nothing, absolutely nothing, is wrong?

If we want to know what this feels like, all we have to do is stop judging, stop deciding whether everything is right or wrong. Just let everything be as it is.

Because if nothing needs fixing and everything is perfect just because it is, then this is paradise/nirvana/heaven.

If we just believe for a second that nothing is wrong, if we just dare to think that we don’t need fixing…..

The Maverick Bluestocking on Mind Calm – Part One

Posted on August 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

A little while ago I wrote this post about my own meditation journey. I described where I am now, training and qualifying to coach Mind Calm Meditation. Mind Calm is a method created by Sandy Newbigging and you can find out more directly from him via the website or this book.

Studying and practising Mind Calm has been a life changing experience for me. The theory, which is simply delivered and easy to grasp, has helped me to understand in concrete terms ideas and concepts which had seemed true to me for some time, but which I had been unable to articulate all by myself.

And learning to practise Mind Calm has given me what I always suspected regular meditators had in their lives, but couldn’t seem to find for myself: an assurance of peace and stillness on a daily basis, when and where I want it.

One of the most important aspects of Mind Calm is that it helps us to have Peace With Mind, rather than the Peace Of Mind that we tend to believe we should be aiming for. We learn how to be at peace with the thoughts and emotions that will always occur, because we are human … Read More »

What does a Maverick Bluestocking Really Want?

Posted on August 25th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

Back on the Spiritual Badass topic today. We’ve been asked:

1) If I did NOTHING different, what would my life be like in 10 years? Will I be happy with that?

2) What kinds of life would I really like to create? Who do I have to be and how do I need to show up in the World to vibrate at the level of my new Magical Life?

Hmm? What do I want to do/be? How might things turn out? Like most of us, I have been asking those questions most of my life.

As a little girl, I wanted to be a writer. I saw myself spending my days making up stories, putting my thoughts into words and enjoying the peace and solitude. I saw bookshops with my own books on their shelves.

By the time I was a teenager, I had put away those silly thoughts (as I had decided they were) and set my sights on being a speech therapist. My grandmother had suffered a stroke and I was fascinated by the work of the women who helped her. I also liked the mixture of science and language that seemed to be involved, along with helping others.

That didn’t last long. … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking on Soul Purpose

Posted on August 24th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

This is a recording that I made and posted a little while ago, but it feels right to offer it again today.

Each of us is unique.
We are all miracles.
We don’t need fixing.
We all have something amazing to offer.
Our most important mission is to be ourselves.
Whether we know it or not we are changing the world now.
That thing that feels easy, effortless and joyful, that thing is our unique contribution.
Everything is ok; it really is.

http://www.harrietstack.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Tiny-talk-on-tranquillity-seven-purpose.mp3

The Maverick Bluestocking Can’t Explain

Posted on August 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I looked at technology when I was considering wireless devices. I’d like to think a bit more about some of that clever stuff.

There’s a lot around us that we can’t see, even though we know it’s there. Radio waves have been used for a long time and we are used to them. As a child I was the proud owner of a small red transistor radio on which I could listen to Radio Caroline, through the hisses and crackles. And there are x-rays and electricity. We can’t see them and most of us don’t understand them but we depend on them, often for our lives. Right now, I am using the WiFi in my house. I know I pay for it and I know it connects me (wirelessly) but I have absolutely no idea how it works.

All of those things are a big mystery to me, and I’m happy with that. I can’t understand any of them and I’m not really that keen to learn. I certainly can’t explain how any of them work. But not understanding them doesn’t mean I don’t believe that they exist, that they work, and that I can depend on them.

What’s more, a couple of … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking Learns about Rest

Posted on August 22nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

How can I pass up an invitation to write about Alfie? Today’s blogging prompts are:

1) How your energy affects your pets (and vice versa)

OR

2) How do you communicate with your pets or help others to communicate with theirs?

I often post about my Golden Retriever and he has his own Facebook page with lots of fans. He is naturally very wise.

Funnily enough, in the last few days I’ve been thinking and speaking quite a lot about a rather controversial subject. You could call it ‘doing less,’ ‘having a break,’ or ‘resting.’ It seems to me that the society we find ourselves in right now is more demanding than it has ever been. Even on our days off, we are supposed to be really busy, doing activities, taking the family out or maintaining the house. And even if we stay on the sofa all day, it’s not enough to watch mindless TV or do the crossword; we have to devour an entire box-set!

Following on from yesterday’s post about invisible illnesses and fatigue, I’d like to introduce a different idea. We need to learn to rest. Not just sleep and not just an hour or so in front of the … Read More »

The Invisible Life of a Maverick Bluestocking

Posted on August 21st, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Today in the Spiritual Badass community we are invited to write about invisible illnesses. The questions are:

1) How does Invisible Illness affect your life and your business, whether it’s yours or someone in your family’s?

OR

2) How do you balance acknowledging Invisible Illness while still staying positive and not making your whole entire life about your disability?

I think this post will answer parts of both of the questions.

My life is, in fact, full of invisible illnesses. My mother lives with Multiple Sclerosis. Although the physical effects such as weakness in limbs can be visible, this condition typically brings with it all sorts of pain and discomfort as well as overwhelming fatigue. All of those things are invisible. If someone looking at my mother thinks that her MS means she can’t walk very well, they are missing about 90% of what she lives with.

The amazing thing about my wonderful mother is that she has used her MS as a vehicle for spiritual growth. Through it she has learned a degree of acceptance that most of us, thankfully, never have to acquire. She is incredibly calm and has become a fantastic listener, even though before she became ill she … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking Runs on Wireless

Posted on August 20th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

This is a short, simple thought I had this morning. Those are often the best ones to have, I find.

My writing setup suits me perfectly. I have a laptop that I can take anywhere and even, for short periods of time, run without it being connected to power. But when I am sitting at my desk I use a wireless keyboard and mouse which are far easier and more efficient than the flat laptop keyboard and trackpad. Fewer cables, sometimes none at all, means more flexibility and portability.

Of course, the laptop needs to be charged regularly, just like my smartphone and Kindle. The keyboard and mouse also have batteries that need to be changed sometimes.

As long as I manage the power levels, all these devices help me to be mobile, connected and independent all at the same time.

Then I realised that I, personally, am permanently wireless. Ever since I was born, I have been disconnected from any physical power source. Granted, I have to eat, drink and sleep, but I have my own power source that I carry around with me. It has a limitless range and the battery life is, well, as long as my life, whatever that … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking on Anti-Ageing

Posted on August 19th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

This is my own topic today – one I’ve been pondering again for the last day or so.

In 2012, I spent the whole year celebrating my 50th birthday by doing 50 exciting, new and challenging things throughout the 12 months. The whole experience was life changing and I am still processing what it has really meant to me. One of the many gifts I received as a result was the opportunity to question what ageing means to us, especially to modern women.

I developed an aversion to anything that promised to be ‘anti-ageing.’ For a long time I wasn’t sure why. Then I decided that the whole idea of anti-ageing (also known as ‘time delay,’ ‘lasting youth,’ etc) assumes a prejudice against older women. There is no doubt that we live in a culture that reveres youth and that there is still a problem with women over a certain age (30, 40, 50…depends on the context) becoming invisible and missing out on opportunities.

Just recently, however, I have dropped into a new, deeper understanding of my aversion to the anti-ageing message. When we take time to contemplate, we realise that life is all about movement. We may (and I do) say over … Read More »

How does fun show up? The Maverick Bluestocking Ponders

Posted on August 18th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

Today we are invited to share how we like to have fun. The important – and serious – subject of fun has already been explored by the Maverick Bluestocking in this post. But today I thought I would dig a little deeper, and ask what fun really means to me, and what it looks like in my life.

Having fun – experiencing en-joy-ment – is the place where we meet ourselves, where we are truly present and feel totally alive. We can learn to do that without moving a muscle, but it never hurts to build joyful triggers into our day. The activities and experiences that bring us to that place are different for each of us, as we are all made, as personalities, to a slightly different, and delightfully unique, recipe.

And for me, real fun looks like:

Sunshine
Nature
Connecting with animals, especially my dog
Baking
Running as fast as I can
Standing with bare feet on the earth
Reading and writing
Music
Visual art
Swimming
Connecting with like-hearted people
Chocolate
Walking, especially in mountains
Resting in the still-silent-space and peace-love-joy of meditation
Following a tricky plot or complicated concept
Having first go at an unopened newspaper
Clean sheets

The list goes on and I am sure that I will remember many more of my fun triggers … Read More »

Does the Maverick Bluestocking Make a Difference?

Posted on August 17th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

Today Spiritual Badass bloggers are asked how we use our gifts to help others and the world or how we use our spiritual gifts to change lives and make a difference. My first reaction on reading this topic was that I would write about something entirely different. My second was that this was the very reason why I should tackle the suggested subject!

My first difficulty was the assumption that I have ‘spiritual gifts,’ or gifts of any sort, in fact. I am blessed with a clever brain and the ability to write clearly. People have told me that I am a calming influence. Beyond those qualities, however, my inherent conditioning still prefers me to see myself as nothing out of the ordinary.

The second hurdle I ran into was the concept of making a difference. I’ve been taught by the culture I am a part of to downplay my influence and not to notice when what I do creates some sort of effect. And if I do notice, to play it down.

The third problem that I created all by myself was to decide that, just for me, if I was going to write about this topic I would have to position … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking on Space

Posted on August 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

This isn’t a post about astrophysics or even about the still silent space inside you. It’s about my favourite film. Today on the blogging challenge we are invited to write about our favourite film or TV programme and my best movie of all time, hands down, is Apollo 13. It tells the story of the three Apollo astronauts who, in 1970, set off for the moon but encountered a malfunction which meant they nearly didn’t get home. In the end, of course, against the odds, they made it home and the whole world breathed a sigh of relief.

I am old enough to remember the Apollo missions, watching Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon and waiting, with the rest of the world, for the Apollo 13 astronauts to land in the sea. I was seven, and along with other little children all over the world we said prayers for their safe return.

This morning I have been asking myself why this film is so important to me. Of course, it is always satisfying somehow to watch a film about an event you remember, but it is more than that. The story of Apollo 13 is a modern fairy tale. … Read More »

Getting a Bikini Body, Maverick Bluestocking Method

Posted on August 15th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

In March, I spent two weeks travelling through Singapore and Malaysia, where I used to live as a teenager. I took my 18 year old son with me to learn a little about my other home. It was mostly a busy time, staying in five different places and checking out old haunts, but we had a few days in Penang where I was able to pause and pretend to be a tourist. This is one of the posts I wrote about that experience.

At the beginning of the year, I thought about my impending holiday for which I had bought some swimwear. I knew that, during the second week, I would have time to spend next to swimming pools and on beaches, and I wanted to take full advantage of those opportunities. Before you scroll down, there will not be any pictures of me in my bikini, but I am a words person and I am happy to share my experience with you.

So I thought, in January, that I would exercise even more, get measured, eat clean and tone up a bit. I can’t change the fact that I am 51, only just taller than five foot and slightly pear-shaped, but … Read More »

Story – The Maverick Bluestocking gets a new Perspective

Posted on August 14th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Today, Spiritual Badass bloggers are invited to share a story. Something from our childhood or something more recent that has affected us. I love this topic because I feel story is so important. It’s how we pass on wisdom and knowledge and often how we make sense of our own lives. Especially for women.

This made me think of something that happened last week, a simple little thing that was over in seconds, that expanded my thinking. I was driving home in the dark, and as I drove through the next village to my own I noticed that two people were walking along the pavement towards me. Thinking that I had my lights on full beam, I quickly flicked the switch so as to avoid dazzling them. I hadn’t realised that I had already dipped the lights, probably an automatic reaction to being in a built up area with street lights. So I ended up doing the opposite from what I intended and momentarily blinding the pedestrians with my full beam lights. As soon as I realised this, of course, I dipped the lights again, but not before the man on the pavement raised his arm to make a rude gesture.

I … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking Contemplates Success

Posted on August 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

Today one of our topics is our favourite quote. I read so much and I am always changing and growing so my favourite anything also changes frequently, but at the moment I have no trouble in picking this one:

A successful life is one that is loved by the person living it. Sandy C Newbigging.

I feel privileged because, as well as reading his book Mind Calm, I have, during my training, heard Sandy say this several times.

The very word ‘success’ used to be one that I recoiled from, even avoided. The difficulty being that I always paired it with the word that I saw as its opposite. Failure. And I had decided that I was a failure.

Having studied at one of the ‘best’ universities in the world, I went on to have a career that looked more like a patchwork than a shooting star. I started off as a librarian, spent some time working as a journalist and then, following my first divorce, worked for a large manufacturing company as a junior manager. When my son was little I started a business that went bankrupt after a few years. I thought I had found my niche when I retrained in the … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking Contemplates her Younger Self

Posted on August 12th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

One of the topics in our Spiritual Badass blog challenge today is:

‘What you would tell your younger self?’

I let this roll around in my mind for a bit and some current events inspired me with this answer:

‘The key to life is liking being alive.’

If I like being alive then I can be happy most days. I have taken a long time – oh, about 51 years – to learn how to like being alive, mainly because I didn’t really know that I was alive. I mean I didn’t feel alive, pay attention to the experience of being alive.

These days I do it more and more. I sit quietly and ask myself, ‘where is that alive feeling?’ Then it becomes more noticeable. A mysterious energy deep inside, a buzzing which, when I pay attention to it, spreads right to my fingers and toes. Then I notice what it is like to breathe. Wow, breathing! What a miracle! How does that happen?

The more I do this, the happier I am. I just look for the feeling of being alive and I find that it is the energy of happiness.

It works for me. How do you find your way to your happy, alive … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking Connects with Nature

Posted on August 11th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. 6 comments

I have nearly always lived surrounded by nature, either in the English countryside or on the outskirts of a tropical city where enthusiastic, lush vegetation has to be prevented from taking over.

As I’ve got to know and understand myself better, I’ve realised how important it is for me to spend a good proportion of my life outside, near green stuff. If I go too long without feeling close to nature, I am uncomfortable, disconnected, not myself, even anxious and drained. I love to have my bare feet on the earth and also to lie on my back, feeling the surface of the planet under my body. I make time to walk outside but I also pop out often, especially first thing in the morning and last thing at night. My garden is small but it allows me to be outside in my own space, which is wonderful.

My house is very old (dating back to 14th century) and full of beams so that sometimes it’s a bit like living in a tree. This is my back door, surrounded by Virginia Creeper. It’s not ivy, so it doesn’t burrow through the surfaces, but sticks on with little suckers. In the Autumn it … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking Changes her Definition of Perfect

Posted on August 10th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

Today our topic is perfectionism. Or thereabouts. Oh dear, perfectionism, what a trial that used to be! I allowed perfectionism, and its attendant functions of fear of failure, procrastination and dissatisfaction to rule my life for many years. It wasn’t much fun and it wasn’t peaceful.

A few years ago, I finally recognised the impossible trap I had placed myself in and decided to try and let go of perfectionism. I could continue to be conscientious, caring and even disciplined, but at last I could see clearly that this vision of a perfect life, perfect achievement and perfect everything that I had held up as my goal was making me miserable. All of those goals were impossible so, if I kept heading for them, I was always going to be like a donkey following a carrot on a stick and never reaching it.

Realising this situation intellectually and actually making associated changes are two very different things, though. Luckily I am like a sponge when it comes to the wisdom and experience of others so I read lots of books and blogs and listened to other, wiser people. I also wrote and wrote about perfectionism. I wrote about how my understanding had … Read More »

Rituals: How the Maverick Bluestocking Starts her Day

Posted on August 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

Up to now, I have been an ‘off topic blogger’ in the Spiritual Badass blogging challenge. We get suggested topics each day but we can pick our own subject if we want and all week I have been drafting my posts the night before so I’ve been too early for the topic. Also there was stuff I needed to say. But today, one of the suggested topics got me thinking.

Tell us about any rituals or special events that you use to add meaning to your life.

The very first thing I do when I wake up, as soon as I remember, is smile as broadly as I can and say, silently, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’ That starts me off in a good mood, usually. Next, I need to go downstairs to see my gorgeous dog, Alfie.

Now, we may have preconceived ideas as to what a ritual should or could be, but I looked at a few definitions and liked this one:

‘…done as part of a ceremony or ritual. : always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time.’

And every morning, at roughly the same time and always the same place, Alfie and I … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking on Big Decisions

Posted on August 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

We all know that decisions can change the course of our lives, and that sometimes we have to make brave decisions. I have been reflecting recently on a big decision I made five years ago that had a huge impact on my life.

For reasons that are personal to him, my son always found school very difficult, and by the time he was 13, in a large comprehensive, it was unbearable. He is very clever and talented but just couldn’t cope with the hustle and bustle and structure of school.

We tried everything but I had to face up to the fact that things were only going to get worse if he stayed at school. So I researched home education and decided we would give it a try. Luckily, having a legal background meant it was easy for me to feel confident that I was doing everything in a way that would satisfy the authorities and it seems to me that many more parents would take this route if they understood their rights and responsibilities better.

Anyway. It was a very big deal because I am a single parent and had just qualified into a profession. Having the Teenager at home meant that … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking Meditates

Posted on August 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. 9 comments

Onwards and upwards with thinking less and being present. Knowing that my mind was very busy and this was causing stress and even physical ill health, I started to learn to meditate seven years ago. I read books, attended classes and workshops and listened to recordings. I learned a lot and there is absolutely no doubt that I reaped huge benefits. I became calmer, less stressed and more positive.

I would particularly recommend anything you can learn from Deepak Chopra; in fact, there is yet another wonderful 21 Day Meditation Challenge about to start on 11th August. I will be taking part and loving the feeling of connection with meditators all over the world. One of the most important – but seemingly prosaic – things I learned from these Challenges was the value of having your meditation timed by someone else. It really helps if you are not having to steal a glance at the clock. So I downloaded an app onto my phone that times my meditations and now I would never be without it!

Anyway, during my first six years meditating, every now and then I would experience a wonderful sitting during which I felt peace, space, bliss and all … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking Has Fun

Posted on August 6th, by Harriet in Being Well. 21 comments

I was a serious child who grew up to be a serious woman. I used to think that serious was good and everything else was frivolous and a waste of time. During my 40s, however, I kept hearing messages about having more fun. I started to take notice.

This is what I learned. Laughter and play bring us into the present. Through joyful activity and discovery without specific goals we can meet our real selves in the here and now. And laughter has tremendous healing powers. My first – and ongoing – teacher was Tracy Shave who is a laughter yoga teacher and facilitates wonderful Giggle Workshops where adults can practise creative play. I’ve also learned from Bharti Kerai and Kama Frankling, both inspiring women who use play in their practices, and I’ve built both play and laughter into my life as essential spiritual habits.

Are you a bit serious? Would you like another easy – and fun – route to getting more present? And after all presence is the holy grail of personal development ; we all know how important it is but achieving more presence in our lives is a different thing entirely.

Here it is then: find more excuses to … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking Takes Time Out

Posted on August 5th, by Harriet in Being Well. 16 comments

When I was first a full-time bluestocking, reading English at Cambridge University, I had no idea about looking after myself. I had all the trappings – bike, books, cigarettes, bottle of sherry, all night parties, ridiculously harsh work ethic. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius (good because I’m not one!) to work out that this is a recipe for disaster, even in a healthy 20 year-old. I ended up with physical exhaustion and clinical depression, having to take a year out to recover.

Luckily, I’ve learned from the experience and over the years have deepened my understanding of self-care. I know that the tiredness that comes from prolonged intellectual effort can be detrimental to our wellbeing. Yesterday, I found myself with a long paperwork task in front of me after a few days of interesting but draining work in my ‘proper’ job. My first thought was, ‘I’ll meditate when this is done.’ I sat down and noticed my tiredness and the residual stress in my body and changed my mind. I put down my pen and went outside to meditate for just 10 minutes.

I came back a different person, still tired but more settled, far less stressed and most importantly remembering … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking – Being Present and Thinking Less

Posted on August 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

One of the most important things to know about thinking is that it takes us away from the here and now. Always. As my meditation teacher Sandy Newbigging says, the act of thinking happens in the now but we can only think about the past or the future. We can’t think about the now; we can only experience it. Sandy’s very helpful book, Thunk!, explains more and is very well worth reading.

Trouble is, knowing about being present and that it’s a good idea and actually spending more time in the present are very different things. I knew a lot about living in the now, how much better it is, and that the present is where everything happens, for a long time before I had any clue about how to achieve more presence in my life.

The good news is, there are simple ways to become more present, and then unavoidably to think less. If you want to try it now, have a listen to my Becoming Present recording here.

Another of my very favourite ways to become more present instantly is to use water. There is something about water that brings us into the here and now. Think of children splashing in … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking: Why Thinking Less Rocks

Posted on August 3rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 14 comments

Well, I never expected to be taking this turn but since I decided to commit to this blogging challenge so that I could be more obviously spiritual, I am going with the flow. I seem to have started off with thinking less so thinking less it will be.

If we are going to contemplate any sort of change we need to know why we want to make that change. So, why think less? We may be forced into it by personal problems, mental or physical health or world weariness, in which case we already know that we need an altered approach to life. But if not, why bother?

Thinking less makes space. Space in your life for new and exciting things, space in your day for relaxing and recharging, and space in your soul for peace. With more space in our selves, our lives and our days, we become much more open to the unexpected and we find it easier to accept uncertainty and to suspend judgment, thus avoiding the pain of resistance.

Thinking less allows you to use your mind, body and spirit in other ways. Creativity, inspiration and enhanced intuition do not come from logical thought; in fact, logical thought can … Read More »

The Maverick Bluestocking on Thinking Less

Posted on August 2nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

I’ve spent all of my life thinking. It’s one of the things I do best. In fact, a few years ago, when it finally occurred to me that I deserved to be happy, and I asked myself, ‘when were you happiest?’ the answer was, ‘at university.’ And it wasn’t to do with the social life or the extra-curricular activities; it was the delicious indulgence of having to think and learn and stretch my brain. So I went back to do my master’s degree.

But something happened in that year. I loved the learning, the analysis, the intellectual challenge, but when I had written my dissertation and others had read it, I found that there was value in more than just the content. Beyond the subject matter, I found creativity, originality and tenacity that I didn’t know I possessed. Although I was asked if I wanted to go on and do a PhD, something I would once have jumped at, I decided that the path I needed to take was the creative one. This was also destined to be an opportunity for me to share my spiritual interests, which had until then been unobtrusive.

Because at the same time I was starting to … Read More »

Introducing the Maverick Bluestocking

Posted on August 1st, by Harriet in Being Well. 16 comments

Ooh, this is exciting and scary! Today sees the beginning of a new blog challenge, this time 30 days of blogging with the Spiritual Badass community. For me it is an opportunity to come out as overtly spiritual and stop pretending that what I write about is personal development, self help or health in general. My writing is all those things but first, last and in between it is spiritual. This month I shall be exploring exactly what that means and looks like.

I am English and wasn’t sure what ‘badass’ means, so I looked it up and found it is ‘a tough, uncompromising or intimidating person.’ Now, I couldn’t imagine myself as any of those things in a month of Sundays, but I do know that I have been described as tough because of various kinds of adversity that I’ve survived, and some people have said they are intimidated by my level of education. And I am beginning, these days, to refuse to compromise where my integrity or beliefs are at stake.

So I started to understand what a Spiritual Badass might be, and wondered how I could translate this into English. My personal recipe is that I come from a … Read More »

The long journey home Part Two

Posted on July 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Going past forests and mile after mile of plantation is almost hypnotic and I feel my presence here is being more and more cemented. It’s not just a matter of seeing beautiful of interesting sights – a country is made up of the mundane, the ordinary, the boring even. The commonplace. That is just as important to me as the unique and stunning aspects…I really like sitting in a coach, tired, barefoot, wrapped in a pashmina, the Teenager bored and watching a film, none of us taking notice of the scenery. This is really being here as opposed to being a tourist.

The above was written on the coach between Penang and KL. Yes, it was boring and yes, we had missed a day of being on the beach because we opted for coach travel, but here we were doing what Malaysians do, taking the cheap option to travel halfway down the country. Cheap it might have been (very cheap by UK standards) but it was the most comfortable coach I have ever been on, with reclining seats, power points, pillows and blankets and a huge choice of in-flight entertainment. The only downside to taking the coach as opposed to flying, … Read More »

Hot or cold – which is best?

Posted on July 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

This is how hot it was on the beach in Langkawi. I managed to grab an hour or so on a lounger under the palm trees and was treated to an iced damp towel to help me cool down. Delicious! This is also how hot it is in Singapore and Malaysia all the time. So close to the Equator, the weather is roughly the same all year round, except that sometimes it rains a bit more. It doesn’t cool down much at night. And it’s always very humid.

As a child of 12 in the mid 70s, I was hardly even taking responsibility for choosing my own clothes, let alone making any decisions about how to keep warm and dry. I remember being cold as a child and I remember complaining about it, but not thinking about it that much. It wasn’t my job to solve the problem, just to draw attention to it!

So when we moved to a tropical climate, I did notice that all I ever needed to wear was a skirt and T shirt, or similar, and of course I noticed it was warm and humid. I also seem to have missed out on some very important lessons … Read More »

The long journey home Part One

Posted on July 20th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I know, it’s been a while since I blogged about the Malaysia trip. Life has got in the way. Just a few more posts left to do, so I am hoping to reach the end by August. This one picks up from where I left off, on the idyllic island of Langkawi.

We didn’t have much time on Langkawi so I was grateful to have taken the time to connect with the place and really feel my presence there. All too soon we were embarking on our long trip home. We had elected to travel by land and sea rather than small planes and we needed to get back to Penang to catch a coach down to KL. But there wasn’t a ferry that would get us there in time so our trip back was rather more complicated: we were booked on a ferry to Kuala Kedah and a car would meet us there to drive us back down to Penang, either taking the ferry or going over the bridge. I was advised to ask him to take the ferry as it is so much more fun than the bridge.

So, first, a taxi from the beautiful Casa del Mar to the … Read More »

How to beat ageing. For ever.

Posted on July 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

I was about three when this picture was taken. I’m 51 now. Sometimes I think about the fact that I am most likely nearer my death than my birth and I want to lie on the ground and sob. Not because of getting older, my looks and my abilities changing or the dwindling likelihood that I will visit all the places I would love to see. But because I find being alive inside a human body such a wonderful experience and I would like to go on and on having that experience.

This wasn’t always the case. For decades I focussed on the pain, the difficulty and the struggle. If we think about life, about the circumstances around us and the things we want to achieve, haven’t achieved yet, think we ought to achieve, then it is certainly a struggle. But thinking is always about the past and the future.

When we are truly present, time doesn’t exist. The present is undescribable. If I talk about this moment, and this one, and this one, I am describing something that just happened, if only a fraction of a second ago. The present can only be experienced, never described. The present moment … Read More »

Earth connections

Posted on June 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

We are having lovely weather in the UK today. It means I can spread a blanket on the lawn, stretch out and feel the earth beneath my body. I can take deep breaths of rose-scented air. I can feel the grass with my hands and be close to nature.

When we were in Langkawi, I felt really close to nature because the door of our room opened on to a garden and the garden opened on to the beach. I was able to wander about barefoot in my bikini as much as I wanted. This gave me a wonderful opportunity.

Several times, during our short stay on the island, I set a deliberate intention to connect with this world. I had fun swimming, and spent some time lying on a sun lounger, well shaded by a tall palm tree, enjoying the cold drinks, ice cold towels and lollies provided at intervals by the hotel. But my connection rituals were more deliberate, more devotional, in a way.

In the daytime, I walked purposefully on the beach, feeling the air move over my skin, unaccustomed to being so exposed. I focussed on the soles of my feet and committed the feeling of the sand underneath … Read More »

Too high

Posted on June 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I’ve already mentioned the cable car. I wanted to do something touristy while we were on Langkawi and the one thing that the Teenager and I could agree on was the cable car. Now, I am a fairly sensible and intelligent person. I can find things out and I can make informed decisions. I have been known, however, to end up doing unwise things as a result of some sort of mental block, or persistent and even perhaps deliberate misunderstanding. I understood this clearly when I rode on a roller coaster, having decided in advance what the experience would be like and then finding that it was much less comfortable and less fun than I expected!

So I should I have known. I really should have. Somehow, I heard the words ‘cable car’, and I had even read that the cable car in Langkawi is one of the steepest in the world, but I had a picture in my mind that was much more similar to the funicular railway in Penang. OK, I know now that they are not the same thing. I even knew that then, but there was some sort of mental block telling me that the cable car … Read More »

Homesickness – then and now

Posted on May 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 3 comments

Today, for the first time since we came back from Malaysia, I am feeling homesick. It started this morning, when I watched, via a link on Facebook, a video that had obviously been recorded somewhere tropical. There was that unmistakable hum of cicadas and other insects, accompanied by chirrups and whoops from tropical birds, constantly in the background.

I felt a pang, a longing to be back in my other home. It felt at the same time so close but very far away. I felt the sadness, the impossibility of wanting to be in two far-apart places, but it was ok. It’s a fact of my life that I have another home, and it’s also a fact that I can’t go there very often. I can face up to that and I can accept it.

This is so different from my earlier experiences with homesickness. When I first came back to the UK at 15 to go to boarding school, I missed everything. The weather, the food, my family, my home, my bedroom, my old school, my boyfriend. It was excruciating and I told my room-mates how badly I was suffering. That turned out to be an unwise policy. I had grown … Read More »

A mother’s perspective

Posted on May 2nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

My daughter Harriet’s recent holiday in Malaysia has been a most enjoyable experience for me. For many years, my health has not allowed me to travel and my Malaysian life has been relegated to the memories section of my personal archives.

I had to leave Malaysia in very unhappy circumstances and the difficulties of restarting life in the UK with two children rather blotted out my years in Malaysia.

Harriet’s travels have allowed me to think of all the wonderful times we spent in that country.As she was aware how much I would have liked to do the trip myself she went to great lengths to keep me informed of the progress of her holiday.

We lived in a most beautiful house on a hillside above Kuala Lumpur but the children were teenagers and did the teenager thing. Dropping things everywhere and untidy bedrooms. I would not have thought the house meant anything to the kids; I was touched when I realised the lengths Harriet went to in finding the house in a district which must have changed so much over the years.

Being woken up at 6.30 am one morning with Harriet saying “quick Mother, where is the Polo Club?” was exciting. As … Read More »

My daughter’s journey

Posted on May 2nd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

My daughter Harriet’s recent holiday in Malaysia has been a most enjoyable experience for me. For many years, my health has not allowed me to travel and my Malaysian life has been relegated to the memories section of my personal archives.

I had to leave Malaysia in very unhappy circumstances and the difficulties of restarting life in the UK with two children rather blotted out my years in Malaysia.

Harriet’s travels have allowed me to think of all the wonderful times we spent in that country.As she was aware how much I would have liked to do the trip myself she went to great lengths to keep me informed of the progress of her holiday.

We lived in a most beautiful house on a hillside above Kuala Lumpur but the children were teenagers and did the teenager thing. Dropping things everywhere and untidy bedrooms. I would not have thought the house meant anything to the kids; I was touched when I realised the lengths Harriet went to in finding the house in a district which must have changed so much over the years.

Being woken up at 6.30 am one morning with Harriet saying “quick Mother, where is the Polo Club?” was exciting. As … Read More »

Home and away

Posted on April 27th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I had been wondering about Langkawi. It’s now a well-known holiday destination, especially for honeymooners, but when I lived in Malaysia none of that existed. Even Penang was only just starting out in its career as a holiday resort. I’d never been to Langkawi before, so felt that the next few days would just be a relaxing break rather than anything especially meaningful.

How wrong I was! Leaving the ferry port and finding a taxi in Kuah, I felt I was still in the Malaysia I know so well. Chaotic, noisy, warm, friendly and lively. The taxi, as I mentioned yesterday, seemed to nearly break down in the middle of Kuah. It didn’t matter. In Malay, one says ‘tidak apa’ or even tid’apa’, meaning literally ‘no matter’ or ‘never mind.’ This is an attitude that permeates Malay culture and one that I had let go, to a large extent, while living in the much more uptight society of Britain, where most things are supposed to matter quite a lot.

The hotel we stayed at is lovely, relaxed, intimate and luxurious, in a breezy and outdoorsy sort of way. (I will do a separate post in a few days about all the hotels … Read More »

Sailing between tropical islands

Posted on April 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

We were originally supposed to travel from Penang to Langkawi by propeller plane, but avoiding flights in small aircraft meant we switched to a ferry. This suited me; I have always thought of flying as the type of travel you have to do, for example to get from one home to another or to and from school, and ferries as holiday travel. The queuing, the clanging and the waiting to set off, all of it means ‘holiday’ to me. This comes from trips to France and Belgium when I was younger and a lot of travel around the Western Isles of Scotland.

The ferry was small and cheerful. We were allocated seats and there was little to do other than look out of the window, people-watch, or read. I indulged in some of each of those activities. I reflected on the contrast we had experienced so far during the holiday. Much of our travelling, and certainly our arrivals, had a touch of luxury. We had been transported in limos with bottles of water and newspapers thoughtfully provided; our bags had been whisked away and everything made smooth and comfortable for us. Now, however, we were in do-it-yourself mode. We had wheeled … Read More »

Beautiful butterflies

Posted on April 24th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

There are lots of touristy things to do in Penang. Part of me felt that I ought to take full advantage of being there and do as much as possible, and part of me felt that my real purpose for visiting was simply to be there, and that being there might or might not include tourist activities. As it turned out, and as I will explore in a later post, the more mundane, ordinary and even boring moments of my trip became some of the most significant.

Our one touristy activity away from the Hard Rock Hotel was a visit to the Butterfly Farm. This satisfied my desire for something light, pretty and tropical, and the Teenager’s interest in equally tropical but much more ugly creepy crawlies.

The butterfly enclosure is lovely, if a little claustrophobic. And the butterflies are amazing, large, colourful and so very many of them. I was a little afraid I might squash one if it got too close but I stayed relaxed and was fine. There was a kindergarten class visiting at the same time as us and it was lovely to see them watching the beautiful butterflies.

One characteristic of travelling with an 18 year old … Read More »

Who doesn’t love a baby orang utan?

Posted on April 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

When I wrote this post about visiting Charlie, the orang utan I had known as a baby, who now lives in Singapore Zoo, I only had a recent photo. But since then I have been sent the picture above.

That’s exactly what Charlie was like when I knew him. Yes, he really was that cute. So, almost Wordless Wednesday. Words are brilliant, but baby orang utans are something else!

And just to remind you, here is Charlie now:

Writing and healing

Posted on April 22nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 3 comments

On 18th March, while sitting on the balcony with this view, I wrote in my notebook,

‘The Teenager is losing himself in playing guitar and I am writing. Both of us going somewhere we feel safe and can retreat into. A private secret place that only we really know. At least we both respect and understand that in each other. I have been watching myself heart riffing during this holiday …I love the way the words form themselves into sentences in my head, sometimes fully formed and sometimes coming out phrase by phrase or clause by clause, neatly, allowing me to build the sentence and the sense as I write. It’s an absolute pleasure and the more I do it the more natural and easy it becomes.’

Ever since Jacqui Malpass, on hearing about my planned trip, encouraged me to write as much as I could while I was away, I had been wondering exactly how to do that. I write almost exclusively on a proper keyboard, whenever I can. I am grateful every day that I learned to touch type as a student, so typing is faster than writing by hand and also allows me to look at the screen and … Read More »

Iced coffee and asking for what you want

Posted on April 21st, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

We were having lunch in the Hard Rock Café in Penang when I had a light bulb moment about asking for what you want. It all centres around iced coffee. I love iced coffee. As a teenager, at the Polo Club in KL, I used to ask the barman Mr Foo for ‘an iced coffee in a bag,’ as we had to have our drinks in plastic bags tied with a piece of string and a straw poking in, if we wanted to take them out of the clubhouse, to avoid glass breaking and posing a potential danger to horses. There was always sugar in it, and although I haven’t taken sugar in hot coffee since I was 15, I still have to have my iced coffee sweetened.

In the UK, as soon as the weather gets warmer, the first thing I want is curry and the second is iced coffee. Or, if I am thirsty, the other way around! But it’s not always easy to find a proper glass of iced coffee the way I like it. Back in Malaysia this time round, I discovered that most places knew how to make perfect iced coffee and I developed a habit … Read More »

To roast or not to roast: traditions and food

Posted on April 20th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

Today, as it’s Easter Sunday, I’ve found myself thinking about food. Driving home from work and looking forward to a few hours to myself before the possibility of more work later, I thought about the many families today gathering for a roast lunch. Probably lamb, as is traditional for this time of year. I wondered why I was so very pleased that I was not going to be part of that, and why I have an aversion to the roast lunch in particular.

When we left the UK, I was a child. I didn’t take much notice of the meals we ate or their preparation. I never had a big appetite and the challenge for me was always to eat enough to satisfy my mother’s concern for my wellbeing. (Later on, just a year of boarding school changed all that; I can now shovel away enough food to keep me going until the next opportunity in record time.)

In the tropical heat, you don’t want to eat a big lunch. Maybe a salad or some clear soup. Quite possibly something very spicy to cool you down (it works!). Any sort of lunchtime celebration usually consists of a buffet, a selection of curry, … Read More »

Stepping into my mother’s shoes

Posted on April 19th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

Throughout my holiday, I had been thinking of my mother Caroline, how she would feel if she was with me, and how she must be feeling back in the UK, knowing I was in Malaysia. She has never returned since packing up our things in 1983 and is now unfortunately not well enough to be able to make the trip.

I had thought of her, and Skyped and Facebooked in order to share the whole experience with her as much as possible, but it wasn’t until I got to Penang that I started to feel like her. Mother was in her late 30s when we went to live in KL and it was a huge upheaval for her. The difference between East and West was far more pronounced than it is now. We couldn’t really do or buy anything the same as we were used to in England, and with two young children this must have been really difficult to manage. She helped us to cope with new, very different schools immediately, and in a few short weeks she had to decide on a house, buy equipment, hire staff and move us in. What a challenge this must have been after … Read More »

How to get a bikini body in no time

Posted on April 18th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

At the beginning of the year, I thought about my impending holiday for which I had bought some swimwear. I knew that, during the second week, I would have time to spend next to swimming pools and on beaches, and I wanted to take full advantage of those opportunities. Before you scroll down, there will not be any pictures of me in my bikini, but I am a words person and I am happy to share my experience with you.

So I thought, in January, that I would exercise even more, get measured, eat clean and tone up a bit. I can’t change the fact that I am 51, only just taller than five foot and slightly pear-shaped, but I thought it would be nice to get into the best shape I could achieve. Then, life intervened. I wasn’t well and needed to take time to get better rather than spending time at boot camp, various classes and the gym. I was busy and distracted and my usually fairly healthy diet deteriorated. I skidded towards the departure date having lost weight because of all that had gone on but knowing that I hadn’t achieved my noble goals of being ‘bikini ready.’

I … Read More »

Retracing and healing

Posted on April 17th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

Stopping in Penang for a few days gave me the opportunity to reflect. The past few days had been so full and so significant and I really needed to ask myself what I had done and what it all meant. I wrote in my notebook:

‘Was thinking earlier about going back. Doing over. Retracing. That is what I have been doing. I have ‘done over’ KL and now I feel comfortable. I used to live there. I said goodbye. I put it in the past.’

Written down, it seems very simple and in fact it was simple and easy to do, except that it took me over 30 years to find the opportunity to retrace. Once I was able to, I simply, very consciously, put myself in those places that for a long time had seemed like another world. The places that, when I thought about them, made me hurt so much that I put the thoughts away.

I am so very grateful that I did so much writing during this experience, because it is helpful to see that, only two days after the Magical Memory Tour, I can so clearly and confidently say that I had ‘put it in the past.’ … Read More »

Hard Rock Experience

Posted on April 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

On arrival in Penang, we were picked up by a car from the Hard Rock Hotel, where we would be staying. The lady who showed us to the car said, ‘have a rocking time!’ and that set the flavour of the next four days. The first Hard Rock Café was, I believe, in London, and since then the brand has grown. When I used to stay in Penang as a teenager, there were only a handful of hotels but now there are so many that there is even room for something as themed as this.

We had looked forward to finding out what the Hard Rock was like, especially since eating in the Hard Rock Café in Melaka. All of the establishments are decked out with rock memorabilia and, whatever your taste in music, there will be something to impress you. The service is much more matey than the elegant and gentle attention one routinely experiences in South East Asia, which was an interesting and refreshing change.

Entering the Hard Rock Hotel, it was as if we had joined a party even before we booked in. Reception is at the bar and we were given drinks to have while we went through … Read More »

Then and now

Posted on April 15th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

It’s half way through the April challenge and I’m taking a day off … almost. I can’t avoid blogging totally, but there are a lot fewer words in this post. The other day I found some photos of Melaka from my visit sometime in the late 1970s. Back then it was still called Malacca, most of the time.

And this is what it is like now:

As is quite apparent from the haphazard arrangement of these photos, visual appearance is not my strong suit, but just for once I am letting the pictures speak. Seeing the vast difference between the sets of photos, and realising how much change there has been over the decades, has brought home to me just how long it is since I have been to Malaysia and how much has changed. I had previously seen the length of time only in terms of my own life. Now I can see it plainly in a much larger context.

Tomorrow – back to the itinerary and Penang.

Leaving home again

Posted on April 14th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

The next morning, we got ready to leave KL. I wrote in my notebook that I’d ‘had enough,’ meaning that with all the changes to the city and all the emotion of the previous day’s revisiting, I was ready to move on. The one thing I would have liked to do was visit the Batu Caves, and I think the Teenager would have enjoyed that too, but otherwise there was nothing more for me in the city. And being a rural dweller at heart, I was feeling a little overwhelmed and suffocated in the middle of all the huge buildings, the bustle and noise. I was looking forward to some quiet and a slower pace.

As we were driven to the airport, I asked myself how I felt about leaving the city that used to be home, not knowing when I would next return. I wondered if it would be painful or sad. In fact, I felt OK. I was ready to leave; I had done what I needed to do and I had seen the changes. I had brought myself up to date. I wasn’t leaving the country but I knew I was leaving the past where it belonged.

The flight … Read More »

Belonging

Posted on April 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

Back in the hotel after my magical memory day and the evening reliving my school days, I wrote this in my notebook:

‘…I realise that I feel I belong much more here…I do feel I belong here. Not sure where ”here” is precisely, whether it’s Malaysia, KL, Asia or just where I grew up…’

Belonging is not the same as fitting in. I arrived at my understanding of ‘belonging’ after reading Brené Brown, whose books have been an inspiration to me. Whereas fitting in is the desire to be the same as others, to conform to some sort of external ideal, belonging is the sense of acceptance that we have when we know we are entitled to exist, that we have a place, not just despite our uniqueness but because of it. I belong because I am me, a unique recipe, different from everyone else. I am a one-off and so is my contribution to the world.

It has taken me many years to cultivate a sense of belonging in the UK. At first, I neither fitted in nor belonged. Gradually, as I grew older and got to know myself better, I realised that I didn’t need to reach any sort of ideal … Read More »

Fitting in…

Posted on April 12th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

As teenagers, we desperately want to fit in. We want to look the same, dress the same, sound the same and do the same things as our peers. We all tend to be striving for the same prescribed ideal. When we are trying to fit in, we believe that feeling comfortable in a certain environment depends upon our meeting certain requirements, certain standards of appearance, behaviour and achievement. So, just as a teenage girl might feel that only if she has the same long, straight hair, the same slim figure and the same clear skin as her friends, will she feel comfortable, a grown woman who still yearns to fit in may also crave the ideal figure, ‘right’ clothes, well-behaved children and successful partner. Fitting in is feeling OK because we are the same as our peers.

When I was growing up in Malaysia, there was no question, ever, of being able to fit in. There were almost as many nationalities in my class as there were pupils. When we went home, we all spoke different languages, ate different food and wore different clothes. We had different beliefs and our parents called different countries ‘home.’ The same went for the Polo … Read More »

Remembering school days

Posted on April 11th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

In the evening of my magical memory tour another important event was planned. This is what had happened. Five weeks before we were due to leave for Singapore and Malaysia, I received an email from someone called Theresa Manavalan. Luckily, since I often receive dozens of emails in a day, I picked up on the name and opened the email. The writer asked if I was the same Harriet Stack who had been at Garden School in Kuala Lumpur, and if so would I like to be in touch.

I remembered Theresa instantly, even though we had not seen each other for 36 years. She was bubbly and confident and got on well with everyone. Whereas I was rather shy and quiet and not at all talkative. Things have changed a little! Of course I emailed back straight away and explained how wonderful the timing was as I was due to visit KL shortly.

In fact, the timing was extraordinary. If Theresa had wanted to contact me a couple of years previously, she wouldn’t have found me as I wasn’t using the name Stack back then. And, as she pointed out, what if she had got in touch five weeks after … Read More »

Magical memory healing

Posted on April 10th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

Today, I’m stopping to reflect. That day, nearly a month ago, was always going to be a significant one for me. Over 30 years ago I had left my home and the Polo Club, travelling to the UK to spend a few months getting to know the country before I began university in the October. I knew from my brief and unhappy stint at boarding school that it would be a good idea to acclimatise before becoming part of another community. I was right; I felt more comfortable in my Cambridge college environment than I had at school. It probably also helped that we were all 18 or 19, rather than the 15 and 16 year-olds I had been surrounded by at school.

But when I left Malaysia, I thought – really believed without a reason to doubt it – that I would be ‘home’ within the next year during one of my vacations. I left lots of clothes and other bits and pieces in my room, bottles in my bathroom and no doubt books etc all over the house. It didn’t occur to me that I might not come back. Later that year, however, when I had just started at … Read More »

Magical memory tour part 2

Posted on April 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

After a quick stop at some stalls for lunch, we had a bit more of our city tour. I wanted to show the Teenager the railway station, which is an amazing building that looks more like a castle with turrets and decorative crenellations. We also saw the big Mosque, the old palace and the new palace. We stopped and looked at the National Monument and I pointed out to the Teenager that there are three periods of war listed:

The last one is for the ‘Emergency’ which was relatively recent when we moved to KL, and was often talked about, as I imagine the Second World War must have been in the UK in the 50s. I was very moved standing before the images of soldiers because I remember my mother taking us there often. It was also on her ‘wives’ tour: whenever my father’s UK colleagues or business contacts visited Malaysia and brought their wives with them, my mother would have the job of showing them round. She had a tour consisting of the railway station, the Mosque, the Museum and the Monument. If there was an extra day she would take them on a special trip to the … Read More »

Sight seeing and the magical memory tour to find my old home

Posted on April 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

We had a car and driver booked for the day and set off soon after 9am to look for the places I felt it was important to visit. Our driver had other ideas. He insisted we wanted a ‘city tour.’ The only place I really wanted to visit was the KL Tower, and I explained this, and provided him with a list of roads and addresses. In the end, the day became a negotiated mix of city tour and Harriet’s trip down memory lane.

At first, we looked for the two buildings where I attended school. It seems that the school moved locations every few years in those days. Now known as the Garden International School, from the glossy website it looks like a wonderful place. In those days it was the Garden House Secondary School, and was certainly the school I enjoyed most out of all the schools I attended, but the arrangements were very simple. We were housed in large, colonial houses or adjacent buildings (the Asian equivalent of the portakabins that schools here use for overflow) and we were kept cool inefficiently by ceiling fans. I used to take a bottle of water that had been in the … Read More »

Arriving in KL and Visiting the Petronas Towers

Posted on April 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

Arriving in KL was a very strange experience. I knew that the city would be very different from how I remembered it. The highway from Melaka had been modern and smooth, and the tolls frequent. Eventually, we saw the skyscrapers in the distance. For the first time, the city reminded me of Dubai, where my father has a home and where I had last visited two years ago.

As we got closer to the city centre I peered out of the window, waiting to see if I could glimpse anything familiar. I really couldn’t find any signs of the place I once knew; the suburbs gave way to larger and larger buildings and busier and busier roads. But far from the chaotic, noisy, free-for-all traffic that we used to know, this city centre’s road system was like any other capital city: too many cars, taking too long to get where they were going, but regimented by signals and road markings. I also noticed the monorail, one of the many innovations that we would never have dreamed of in the 70s.

I asked the driver from time to time which road we were on, and when he told me I remembered the road … Read More »

History, culture and flashbacks in Melaka

Posted on April 6th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

The coach journey became more interesting as we neared Melaka and the guide told us about the town’s varied and colourful history. Melaka’s architecture bears witness to periods of colonial rule by the Portuguese, Dutch and British and there are customs, people and food that are unique to Melaka due to its cultural history. The town is busy, bustling and chaotic, with some tall buildings but still a strong traditional atmosphere.

I had only visited Melaka once before and couldn’t really remember it, so was interested to look around and also to enjoy the ‘small town’ feel before moving on to KL. The hotel was lovely (more about all the hotels in a later post) and the staff had time to spend chatting and making sure we knew how to avoid pickpockets (hold your bag really close and don’t walk with it next to the road or someone on a motorbike may come past and grab it – I knew this from before!).

Our enormous suite had a lovely river view and, even though we were only there for 24 hours, I spent quite some time sitting on the balcony drinking in the sounds, sights and atmosphere. The river was always busy, … Read More »

Finally – Malaysian soil!

Posted on April 5th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

Our fun day in Singapore, enjoying the zoo and then exploring the shops on Orchard Road was pure holiday. The next day, however, my serious pilgrimage really began. This was the day we were to travel by coach from Singapore, across the causeway, into Malaysia and up to Melaka on the East coast.

The coach left early. It was comfortable, and we had a great view being ‘upstairs.’ The only problem with that was the poor driver, who had to ask the Teenager to stop tapping his feet while he listened to his i-pod as he was sitting directly below! There was ‘in-coach entertainment’ in the shape of screens in the seat backs and a friendly guide who looked after us and provided some local information.

I was so excited as we crossed the bridge. How would I feel? What would it be like to be on Malaysian soil after all this time? First, we had to go through Singaporean immigration. This was a slow but efficient process, in a clean and shiny immigration hall much like an airport. All very serious and polished. We got back on the coach but, minutes later, were off again with all our luggage to go … Read More »

Very tall, big flappy ears, a trunk…can you guess what I did next?

Posted on April 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

When I started my list of 50 exciting things to celebrate my 50th birthday (find out more here), one of the first items, along with white water rafting and tea at the Ritz, was riding an elephant. Well, the white water rafting was an exhilarating success and tea at the Ritz was wonderful, but I didn’t manage to find a way to get an elephant ride. Once I realised we would be going to Singapore, however, and looked at the zoo’s website, I knew that I had found my opportunity!

I can’t remember the time I first got on a horse. When I was a small child, there were both racehorses and ponies in the stables at home. Early mornings, evenings and weekends were all about looking after the horses and riding. I can remember thinking that Heaven wouldn’t be much fun if there were no horses in it (I was rather a serious child…). When we moved to Malaysia, it didn’t take long for us to find the Polo Club and for my parents to become involved in the racing community and for my father, and then myself, to start to learn to play polo. Much more about this in … Read More »

The first day of memories, including a baby orang utan!

Posted on April 3rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

Our first full day in Asia was spent visiting Singapore Zoo. I had a particular, personal reason for going there, as you will see.

First thing, I had a very nostalgic experience. We walked out of the lobby of the hotel into the hot, tropical morning air. Leaving the very controlled air conditioned comfort and luxury for the full-on assault of climate and nature that awaits us 24 hours a day in that part of the world. That particular experience, leaving a hotel’s front entrance, took me right back to my first days in KL as a 13 year-old. We lived in what was then the Regent Hotel, and having arrived on about the Friday, started school the following Monday. Well, you know what it’s like when you start a new school; the sensations and impressions stick in your mind. This move, for me, was more drastic than most. I was leaving a very traditional convent in Letchworth for an expat school, open to the air and cooled inefficiently by ceiling fans, in Kuala Lumpur. And that memory of walking out of the hotel each morning to be driven to school brought it all back: how different it was, how nervous … Read More »

Singapore Girl

Posted on April 2nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

Our first stop was two nights in Singapore. During the 70s, when I was living in KL, our occasional trips to Singapore were exciting adventures. Even then, it was a modern metropolis, an efficiently functioning island state that is one of the cleanest, if not the very cleanest, cities in the world. In KL, our shopping was very limited and life was unsophisticated. A weekend in Singapore would provide dazzling shopping opportunities and an insight into more westernised, urban living.

Teenagers see the world slightly differently, and, looking back, the two highlights I remember from trips to Singapore are my first ever visit to McDonalds and my first ever experience of bowling. This, I thought, must be how the American teenagers whose magazines I used to read must live.

Kids my own age were also very different. My friends were a cosmopolitan bunch: Asian, European, American, Australian. We came from different backgrounds and cultures but shared a love of horses and spent a lot of time together as a consequence. When we met up with a similar bunch from Singapore, however, they just seemed more sophisticated, more confident and louder.

My conclusion was that Singapore was where it all happened. It … Read More »

A journey of re-discovery. Beginning in the Far East.

Posted on April 1st, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

This is not what Kuala Lumpur looked like when I lived there. Aged 13, I moved with my family to live in Malaysia; it was 1975. The tallest building was the Hilton which was 21 storeys high. There were chickens, sometimes even bullock carts, in the centre of the city and it was not yet a tourist destination. During the six years that I lived in KL, more Australian and New Zealand backpackers appeared, but no-one really ventured all the way from the UK or US for their holidays.

Growing up in the Far East was very different from how it would have been in the UK. Unusually, my parents decided to send us to schools locally, so I attended a small expat school following the English curriculum and took my ‘O’ levels there. I grew into a very different sort of young woman than I would have been if I had stayed in England.

I returned to the UK to attend university but, sadly, our departure was traumatic. I had just started my first year when my parents’ marriage broke up and I just never went back. The last time I left, I didn’t know I was leaving. I thought I … Read More »

Laugh your way to increased well-being!

Posted on March 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Two years ago, as part of a deliberate campaign to extend my comfort zones, I attended Tracy Shave’s Giggle Workshop. We learned about the health benefits of smiling, laughing and play. We did practical exercises which involved smiling laughing and playing. I had known Tracy slightly through work 10 years previously and was surprised and delighted to find that she was running the workshop.

What I learned from Tracy that day became really significant for me. I put what she taught us to practical use when my Big Problem threatened to submerge me in worry, and I found out how incredibly effective these simple strategies are. Tracy therefore plays a starring role in my soon-to-be-published book, Towards Tranquillity, which charts my journey from worry to increased peace of mind.

I was so very pleased to find out that Tracy was starting a new networking group called the Laughter Gym in Chelmsford, and really looked forward to attending last Thursday. I wasn’t disappointed. The Laughter Gym provides an opportunity for anyone, but particularly self-employed people working from home, to share with like-minded people and learn a little about laughter yoga. A trained Laughter Yoga Leader, Tracy explains what it is all about and … Read More »

Happy New Year! Why not do it differently?

Posted on December 31st, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Before Christmas I wrote a post about learning to love the festive season when it has become a difficult time. One of the things I later wished I had included was how helpful it can be to create new traditions. For all sorts of reasons, some of us find the traditional traditions, the things most people assume you have to do on special days, wearisome or even painful.

I have created some new, and perhaps unconventional, habits and rituals to make my Christmas more personal and more enjoyable, and will talk more about those next year!

Right now, however, it seems to be the perfect time to talk about New Year traditions. There is less pressure to do what everyone else is doing at New Year, and there is more choice and variety. We can go to parties, have people round to our homes, go out somewhere and watch fireworks, or even go to bed. Personally, I have always found that last option impossible as the end of the old year and beginning of the new one are just asking to be marked in some way. Many years ago, when I drank alcohol, I got up to all sorts of adventures … Read More »

Fear of flying – can I choose to feel differently?

Posted on December 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

This jolly looking propeller plane means two different things to me. First, it reminds me that, in the first half of 2014, I will be going on an amazing trip to the Far East, visiting my teenage home for the first time as an adult. This holiday is an incredibly generous gift and I am looking forward to it enormously. Secondly, however, I look at this picture with some trepidation because of my long-standing fear of flying. You can read more about it and how it arose here.

During the forthcoming trip, we will be taking a total of five flights. Two of them will be the long haul, 12 to 13 hour slogs from London to Singapore and back. And the other three will be short hops on planes like this one. I have never been on a propeller plane before so it will be a new experience. Also, I have never flown that much in so short a time before, although I have flown an awful lot having lived in Asia, and even at one time attending boarding school in the UK and flying out for the holidays.

And I have always found flying difficult, sometimes even terrifying. Sure, I … Read More »

Lost the love for Christmas? Here’s how to find it again.

Posted on December 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

How do you feel about Christmas? Do you love it? Look forward to the togetherness, the food, the decorations and music? Perhaps you even enjoy the preparations and present buying. If you do, that’s really wonderful. But it’s not quite that easy for some of us.

I enjoyed Christmas for many years. As a child, I loved the decorations, the lights on the tree, the excitement of presents and waking up to the lumpy stocking on the end of my bed. When I grew up and had a home of my own, I enjoyed decorating it and planning the day, buying and preparing food.

Somewhere in my 40s, however, the excitement died. A difficult home life meant that several Christmases were marred by arguments and pain. Both of my grandfathers died in December, and both of their funerals were held, on different years, on the day before Christmas Eve. Eventually, the weight of sadness became too much and I fell out of love with Christmas. All the jollity felt false; I could only see the commercialisation and the pressure on women (particularly) to make the day itself impossibly perfect. For several years, I dreaded the festive season and just looked forward … Read More »

How can we live well with a parent’s life-changing illness?

Posted on November 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Sometimes the cards that life deals us are particularly challenging. Painful things can happen, and sometimes there is nothing we can do to make it any better. I was asked recently how I cope with my father’s incapacity following a stroke, and the question made me think.

The stroke happened in July 2012, following a routine operation, abroad. I flew out almost immediately and spent four days by my father’s bedside, wondering if I would ever see him again after this. I helped to feed him, tried to encourage him to come back to us a little, talked and talked and held his hand. The intimacy of these days was a shock to me. We had never been close and for decades had only seen each other for lunch one day a year. Not that such a distant relationship was my choice. Suddenly I was launched into the role of a typical daughter and it felt odd.

When I returned to the UK, I noticed how much I missed being able to contact my father by email and occasional phone call. Knowing that he was no longer the powerful, larger-than-life figure he had always been, I found that his critical voice inside … Read More »

Guest Post: Are you a role model? – Irene Brankin

Posted on November 27th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I will start off with two questions for you, “Do you see yourself as a Role Model?”

“Are you being inspirational (quietly or loudly) for family members, friends and colleagues?”

I hope the questions have made you think as it is easy to simply say “Yes or No”, and that you’ll take the time to reflect on them. It is important for us all in life to do just that.

If you have answered “Yes”, then that is fantastic as those who see you, and how you are in life, as well as what you have done or are doing with your life, have a wonderful Role Model to follow. You will have given them the inspiration to see how life can be lived. There are so many wonderful role models for us in life from the young through to the old, from all walks of life.

If you answered “No”, why is this so? One of the reasons for me, is that I’ve seen so many women spending the first half of their lives trying to please everyone else and putting their own needs last, whether within the family or in their work. The ones with whom … Read More »

A louder me

Posted on November 18th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Ok, so most people know I like writing. I can be big and brave and loud with my fingers on a keyboard and I’m super-confident in my use of written words. Gobby, even, sometimes. But people who know me personally also know I’m a little shy and retiring in person.

Something – probably several somethings and quite a few somebodies – told me that I needed to move forward, to find my actual voice as well as my writing voice. I have a lot to share, most of which I think is really valuable and could change people’s lives. Writing is great, and allows me to explain what I want to say in detail. It also helps me to work out what it is I have to say, to clarify my message. But if I am going to reach as many people as possible, then I need to be able to stand up, in my own body, visible, and speak with my actual voice as well.

So I booked to attend Richard Wilkins’ ‘How to be an amazing inspirational speaker’ course. I was first supposed to go in May, but my mother fell and broke her hip two days beforehand and, … Read More »

Good things from bad times?

Posted on October 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

Just over a week ago, I visited Newnham College, Cambridge, where I studied as an undergraduate. I was attending a celebration of the life of Valerie Eliot, widow of the poet TS Eliot. Mrs Eliot had been an Honorary Fellow of the College and an important benefactor to the English Department. She did a lot of important scholarly work on the poet and his poems, including the production of an amazing facsimile edition of The Waste Land.

I wasn’t sure why I was taking a Saturday (weekends are often busy work days for me) to drive all the way to Cambridge for that event. I am a big fan of Eliot and wrote a dissertation on him as a student, and I love the facsimile, but I was still surprised to find myself there. I sat in the ornate College Hall, watching impossibly young undergraduates walking in the gardens outside, not quite able to believe that I was once that young, in this very place. I asked silently, ‘why am I here?’

As it turned out, it was exactly where I needed to be for a number of reasons. One of them was this: Before Eliot married Valerie, he had a very … Read More »

Are you getting enough sleep? Really?

Posted on October 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

Just recently I’ve been thinking a lot about sleep. As you might guess, that’s because I haven’t been able to sleep as much as I wanted or needed. I love my day job but sometimes it’s more of a night job and I can end up coming home at 3am or 4am. And that happened one day last week. Then, the very next night, my son and I spent the early hours in A&E with my mother who was having an angina attack. And you can never be too careful with chest pain. (Don’t ignore it, it’s just not worth the risk!)

So, by the weekend, with plenty to do, for which I am ever so grateful, I was feeling decidedly jaded. Then, last night, my dearest canine companion had a lovely big drink just before bed, resulting in urgent barking to go into the garden at 2am and 4am. Must remember not to change his water just before bed; he likes freshly drawn water best! Today, all I can think about is what time I will be able to go to bed and whether the night will be disturbed again.

Now, I am as guilty as anyone of bravado. I … Read More »

Tea at the Ritz

Posted on September 27th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 6 comments

Last Thursday I fulfilled a long-held ambition: I went to tea at the Ritz. This was the first item on my birthday list, my 50 things to do to celebrate being 50. Originally some friends and I had booked to go on my actual 50th, but we had to reschedule, and ended up celebrating my last day of being 50, ie the day before my birthday.

The whole day was one of unstinting luxury. Two of my lovely friends got together and arranged a big taxi – not a limo but a big people carrier with a table in it – to pick us up, starting at my house, and deliver us at the steps of the Ritz. Never before, or at least not since I was a child and it was easier to drive in, have I been driven door to door into London. We had such fun on the way there, drinking fizzy stuff, eating strawberries and sightseeing. When we poured out on to the pavement, the doorman took one look at the six of us (we were meeting one friend there) and asked, ‘who is the tallest of you ladies?’ We all range between about 5’0” and 5.4” … Read More »

Do you have a sacred space?

Posted on September 18th, by Harriet in Being Well. 14 comments

Today I’ve been for a run – the first for a long time. I took it steadily, walking when I needed to, but I just couldn’t resist the urge to get out into the beautiful sunshine and to visit my sacred place. It’s not far, a short walk or jog down the road and then along a track between fields, and you reach what we call the sea wall. It’s actually a raised path between salt marshes on one side and arable fields on the other. There is space – plenty of it – fresh air, wildlife and colour. Every day is different, depending on the light and the weather, but the revitalising energy and the sense of infinite space is always there.

Before Alfie’s injury, he and I used to walk here almost every day, and I always felt renewed and inspired from spending time in this space. I haven’t wanted to walk without him, though, so I’ve missed out on it during the Summer. Somehow, just knowing that the marshes and their vibrant emptiness are so close is still soothing, however. One day, we’ll get back down there together, even if it is for a sedate lead walk, but … Read More »

Ditching the oughts and shoulds

Posted on September 11th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

This is my kitchen window from the outside just now. It’s not Ivy, it’s Virginia Creeper which will soon turn a wonderful red, and later all the leaves and stalks will drop all over my patio. If I wanted to, I could keep it much better groomed or even get rid of it altogether. And, to be honest, there is a big part of me that thinks I ought to have a neater house, to keep nature under better control, and to let more light in. After all, this is the view from inside:

But really, that’s the point. I love being able to see nature really close, just the other side of the window, and I love the way it looks from the outside as if we are living in a tree. Another attraction is that Virginia Creeper always reminds me of my Cambridge College; when we arrived each October for the new academic year, and when we had our formal photographs taken in the gardens, there was always a stunning red backdrop formed by this creeper on the buildings.

So, as it’s my house, it’s my choice: shaggy or groomed. Everyone who has visited me knows we have … Read More »

Just be.

Posted on September 3rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Well, I didn’t know I was going to have a rest from blogging and newsletters for the whole Summer. What with various family issues, the dog’s health and my health, however, time has flown and I’ve just been keeping up with the essentials. Sometimes barely!

All this has prompted me to think more deeply about that thing people sometimes say. You know, ‘we’re not human beings, we’re human doings!’ It usually comes out when someone is rushing around trying to fix everything, protesting that everything on their to-do list is absolutely vital, and wearing themselves out. I’ve been there and gradually, very very gradually, I have had that belief in the importance of constant activity prised away from me. I do know now that sometimes, or even often, it’s important to stop doing things and just be.

Since May I have been doing a lot of looking after. After my mother fell and broke her hip, she was hospitalised twice more because of cardiac issues, and needed all sorts of extra help from me for quite some time. Of course it was all a shock for me, and of course I felt anxious. It really helped to be doing things: visiting, transporting, … Read More »

Save UK Justice – Part Four – I’ve done nothing wrong so I don’t need a lawyer

Posted on June 27th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

If you are arrested, detained and interviewed, or if you are questioned by the police under caution without being arrested, you must always be asked whether you would like legal advice. This is currently free for everyone, from homeless people to millionaires. Yet research has shown that fewer than 50% of suspects take up the offer of free and independent legal advice at this stage. Often, the reason they later give for this decision is, ‘I haven’t done anything wrong, so I don’t need a solicitor.’

This is number three in the list of assumptions I made when introducing the topic of legal aid, and the Government’s proposals to decrease its scope:

If someone hasn’t done anything wrong, surely they don’t need a lawyer to defend them.

Actually, if you find yourself being investigated by the police for something you are sure you have not done, this is a time when you really do need legal advice.

As I explained in my last post on this subject, misunderstandings and false allegations are common. Contrary to public perceptions, perfectly innocent people are arrested and detained, or asked to visit the police station at a convenient time to be interviewed, every day. This is frightening and … Read More »

Save UK Justice – Part Three – It’s about us too

Posted on June 24th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. 9 comments

Yesterday my 17 year-old son found he had two voicemail messages from a police officer. He played them to me and asked me what he should do. The messages were necessarily vague and asked him to contact the officer to discuss an incident at an Underground station. We knew that the Teenager hadn’t done anything wrong and also that he hadn’t been to London for a long time, but just for a moment my alert level switched to High. I knew that, just because he had done nothing wrong, this didn’t mean that he hadn’t been accused of something. It didn’t mean that the police didn’t suspect him of being involved in an offence, and it didn’t mean that they weren’t wanting to question him.

This brings us nicely to the second of my list of assumptions about criminal legal aid:

This doesn’t affect me. The people who need criminal legal aid are criminals.

I know, from my practice, that this just isn’t true. Every day, all over the country, perfectly innocent people become suspects. They are sometimes arrested unexpectedly, and sometimes they are contacted by phone and asked to come into the station for a chat. This might be a voluntary interview, … Read More »

Women Inspiring Women Awards – Part Two – The Journey Home

Posted on June 15th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

This is the one photo I took at the awards. It’s the dance floor during the party and, although I may be the UK’s worst photographer, I think it does capture the atmosphere and energy of the evening. I love to get on a dance floor and forget about everything else, especially when the music is old enough for me to recognise it!

The next morning, I woke up feeling a bit tired and groggy, even though the most toxic substance that had passed my lips was cinnamon ice cream (yum!). I always enjoy a cooked breakfast when I am away and took full advantage of the hotel’s facilities to fuel myself before the long drive home.

Before packing, I just checked in with the friend who was staying at my mother’s, and immediately realised something was wrong. Especially when she said, ‘now, nothing to worry about…’ Mother had had a very difficult night, struggling to breathe, and the out of hours GP was on her way. I was not to rush but could I please be on my way as soon as possible?

It was interesting, trying to be quick and efficient but also wanting to make sure I hadn’t left anything … Read More »

Save UK Justice – Part two – Fat Cats

Posted on June 14th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. 5 comments

In yesterday’s post, I listed some of the assumptions that are commonly made about legal aid lawyers, the work we do, and the reasons why we are campaigning against PCT. The first on the list was:

The lawyers are just complaining because they are going to lose their jobs. They are overpaid fat cats anyway.

Of course, with at least 1200 out of 1600 firms closing, if the Government gets its way, many solicitors will lose their jobs. Because of the pressures that would be placed on the remaining ‘service providers’ to represent clients at rock bottom prices and still make a profit, many barristers would also find themselves out of work. None of us want that and we are all unhappy about it.

There is, however, a wider issue and that is the survival of UK justice. We all work in a sector which requires a sense of vocation, dedication to making a contribution to justice and fairness, and compassion for the most deprived, and often ignored, members of our society. I believe it would be impossible to work in criminal defence, as either a barrister or a solicitor, for very long if you did not possess at least some of these … Read More »

Save UK Justice – Part One – The Assumptions

Posted on June 13th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. 5 comments

When lawyers leave their offices and courtrooms to march and protest in the streets, you can assume something is really wrong. We usually see this happening in less developed or less democratic states. Until last month, I had never seen lawyers demonstrating in England. Things are different now.

Why is this? The Government wants to introduce dramatic changes (Price Competitive Tendering or PCT) to criminal legal aid which will mean that at least 1200 of the current 1600 criminal law firms will have to close, as there will only be 400 contracts available. The country will be divided into 38 areas and a single company will only be able to bid for one contract per area, but may bid in as many areas as they wish. As a result, the work currently undertaken by firms of solicitors is likely to become the territory of large business structures such as Eddie Stobart, G4S, Serco and Capita. And yes, the first two of those are indeed the hauliers and the security firm who failed to deliver security at the Olympics.

Further, the proposals will remove the client’s right to choose their lawyer and will change the fee structure so that a service provider is … Read More »

Women Inspiring Women Awards – Part One – The Celebration

Posted on June 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

Recently, I’ve been making a lot of noise about having been nominated and shortlisted for an award. I was up for the Author/Blogger category in the second annual Women Inspiring Women Awards, sponsored by Damsels In Success. As you may have noticed, I decided to join in with gusto and told everyone who would listen about my nomination and asked them to vote for me. This was several steps outside my comfort zone but I know that if I am going to reach a wider audience and make writing my full time occupation, promotion, aka making a noise, needs to happen!

Voting closed on Wednesday and by that time I was in the middle of making decisions about my dress, shoes and bag, sorting out directions to the hotel in Birmingham and making arrangements to cover my family responsibilities. A large part of me didn’t want to go; as I’ve said before, my mother has been quite unwell since breaking her hip and I had been looking after her. I felt my place was to stay nearby, ensure she was cared for and comfortable, and be on hand for emergencies, but she had other ideas. She told me that I must … Read More »

A clean break – the brown envelope

Posted on June 5th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

People who have had hip surgery are given ‘hip precautions,’ or things they must not do while they are healing. One of the strictly forbidden activities is picking anything up from the floor. So, Mother knows that when the post comes, she must just leave it and I will pick it up and give it to her when I come in. This morning the only post was one of those brown envelopes that most people recognise as coming from government departments.

Mother receives Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Pension Credit. I knew, as soon as she was rushed into hospital after her fall, that I needed to ring the various helplines and inform them of her change in circumstances, ie that she was now in hospital. Those phone calls were among the many tasks I had to take care of in the first day or so that she was in Colchester General. I was informed that there would be no change to the benefits as long as she was not in hospital for longer than 28 days. As soon as she was discharged, after 13 days, I rang the helplines to let them know, and was informed that there would, indeed, … Read More »

A clean break – what a broken hip really means

Posted on June 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

You hear it all the time: ‘my mother’s broken her hip,’ ‘my aunt had a fall and broke her hip,’ ‘she’s never been the same since she broke her hip.’ Falling and breaking a hip is something that happens to older ladies. The news conjures up images of frailty, hospitalisation and walking frames. And I have to admit that, until recently, I had given little thought to this unfortunate, inconvenient and life-changing set of circumstances.

Then, on 15th May, the day before her 76th birthday, my own mother fell and broke her hip. My uncle was with her when it happened and phoned me because he couldn’t help her get up. Mother has lots of falls because she lives with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and they sometimes result in pain and bruising, but never before had I seen her lying on the ground in pain, unable to move her legs. In a split second, everything changed – our plans for the next couple of days, our expectations for the medium term and our hopes for the long term. It took all day to get Mother into a ward, starting with the wonderful paramedics, the ambulance, the hours in A&E, x-rays and … Read More »

Busy Lizzie Healing

Posted on June 3rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

As many people know, I don’t get too stressed about my house. I don’t feel unsettled or uncomfortable until I get things just how I want them, and I never have the problem of not being able to sit down and relax because some essential housework task is still outstanding. But when it comes to my garden, it’s a different matter. I have a tiny patch at the back of my house and, although it’s far from perfect, there are certain things that just have to be done.

Right now, life is busy and challenging. I’ve felt overwhelmed, and have to keep remembering that, for me, overwhelm is usually a sign that I am tired rather than having too much to do. There is a lot of uncertainty around my mother’s situation following her hip operation, and just at the moment I’m spending a lot of time flitting between our two houses, trying to keep on top of the bare essentials. Then there is Alfie. He is feeling a lot better after his operation but still likes to wake me up for an urgent trip into the garden at about 3am. Just what I need!

And every time I’ve walked through my … Read More »

Self-promotion, how hard can it be?

Posted on May 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. 13 comments

I am thrilled because I have been nominated and shortlisted for an award. It’s the Author/Blogger category in the 2nd annual Women Inspiring Women Awards, sponsored by Damsels in Success. I feel privileged because the other women shortlisted in my category are people I have admired for a long time, whose blogs and articles I read and enjoy. The other categories, too, are filled with dazzlingly successful and inspiring women and I can’t believe that I have found myself in their company.

While it’s flattering to be recognised in this way, this experience also brings up more complex feelings. Once nominated, I was invited to edit my profile, submit a photo and make a video. The profile was the easy bit. I am most confident when I am writing and I have drafted so many CVs in my life that I knew how to approach the task. I wrote what I knew, in my heart, was the truth about myself and checked with a friend that it sounded ok. It did.

The photo was more challenging. I’m not naturally a visual person and I usually feel uncomfortable when someone takes my picture; it usually shows! Having just upgraded my phone to … Read More »

Now this is really something to worry about

Posted on May 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

Just a quick post, different from my usual ones, but I am wanting to show up as myself and keep getting my message out there: we can deal with difficult life issues without being paralysed by worry.

Yesterday morning we were all involved in preparations for my mother’s 76th birthday today. Then she had a fall, broke her hip and has ended up in hospital. Today she is waiting, nil by mouth, for surgery to partially replace the hip. Rehab will be lengthy as she has MS and the side she fell on is her ‘good’ side. So now she has two ‘bad’ sides.

I have had a lot to deal with and there will be plenty to come. Life is uncertain and stressful. I have had to change plans and some of this has been costly. I’ve spent most of the time since we got to the hospital on the phone, texting and emailing to keep in touch with the many people who want to know how she is. And inevitably, I am tired, drained, upset and headachy. I feel a bit anxious. I don’t want to eat. In fact, I feel like crap.

But having the knowledge that I can control … Read More »

Worrying won’t help, so I’m not doing it!

Posted on May 12th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Subscribers to my newsletter will know that Alfie had to have an x-ray last week. They also know, from reading his regular column, that he wasn’t worried about it and he isn’t worried now. He’s got life sussed. It’s not quite so simple for us, though.

I had thought that we might learn he has dodgy hips and has to take glucosamine for life. I wasn’t prepared for the vet to tell me that his cruciate ligament has ruptured and caused the beginnings of arthritis in his knee. He’ll need surgery to repair the damage and stop the bones from malforming further.

Of course this was a bit of a shock and I noticed that I reacted quite emotionally. I don’t tend to cry but my body feels odd when I am emotional and I don’t remember so well what is said to me. What I did remember straight away, however, was that I have an anti-worry strategy and that I could employ it in this situation.

I need it because there are plenty of opportunities for worry in this situation: How much will it cost and will the insurance cover all of it? What will happen on the day of the … Read More »

30 days of thinking, writing, reading, making friends

Posted on April 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

It’s the last day of the April UBC Challenge. This is the fourth challenge that, by the time this is posted, I will have successfully completed. For me, it has been the hardest one yet. That may be because I have been quite busy professionally, with interrupted nights which come with the type of work I do and some very long days. Also, I had created a structure for my blogging, put a lot of thought into it and ensured that every single post was accompanied by a photograph, all of which meant I needed to spend more time and effort on my posts.

I started with looking at how we think, and why we have certain beliefs and make certain assumptions. I examined all sorts of subjects like age, appearance, education and money. There was a wonderful guest post from Ani Richardson about emotional eating. My most popular post was about housework and illustrated with a lovely picture of Alfie which I’ve used again here. It’s important for me to remember how powerful images can be!

For the second half of the month many of my posts addressed how we can take charge of our thinking and gain more freedom, rather … Read More »

Balancing logic with intuition

Posted on April 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

I’ve spent a lot of my life believing that logic is king. That we should gain as much knowledge as possible, think things through and arrive at rational conclusions. And, between the ages of 19 and 49, I spent a total of seven years at various universities developing my intellectual capabilities. I learned to assimilate, analyse and argue in both the arts and more logical subjects. I became a professional thinker and I loved using my brain constructively.

I still do enjoy structured thinking and I still believe it’s important. But I no longer believe that it’s everything. Being able to think energetically and independently is a vital skill which gives us individual freedom and the power to contribute to society, but I now think it’s a mistake to assume that every problem can be solved intellectually, or that our lives are best run totally on rational lines.

Apparently, the left hand side of our brain handles our logical thinking. But that’s only one side. The right hand side is creative and intuitive. Sometimes these two ways of thinking are characterised as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’ That’s not to say that all men think – or should think – entirely logically and all … Read More »

Do you trust yourself?

Posted on April 28th, by Harriet in Being Well. 9 comments

This is the ‘trust’ label stuck on the keyboard of my laptop. I have them all over the place including beside my bed and in my purse. Originally, the idea was to remind myself to trust that things would be ok, that everything unfolds as it is supposed to. Trust being opposite to worry, and to trying to control the things we have no power to influence.

I’ve been thinking recently, however, about another kind of trust which is also very important to cultivate if we want to worry less. The trust we should have in ourselves that we will deal with things if and when they happen, and that we don’t have to rehearse everything, think it through, plan our reactions, in advance.

If we are over-thinkers, people who worry just that bit (or a lot) more than we need to, problem-solvers, analysers, we like to plan for every eventuality. Now, I am not against planning; on the contrary I know how important it is, not only to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible, but also to relieve us of the impulse to worry because we have failed to plan! But planning is constructive, often involves a pen and … Read More »

Are you a fraud?

Posted on April 27th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

This is a late post because I’ve been in Northampton today at another one of Richard Wilkins’ Recharge Days. I’m not going go over the details because I’ve already blogged about the Recharge Days here. And talked about the concept of the Script here.

Because it’s late, and because I think it’s an important point to make, I just want to highlight one thing that Richard said which I hadn’t heard before and which really spoke to me. It’s about the impostor syndrome. You know that feeling that you are a fraud, that you’re not as good as you are making out, that perhaps you shouldn’t be in the position you have reached? I know that not everyone has this experience, but too many of us do. And it’s paralysing people, stopping them from reaching further, from making important contributions and having fulfilling lives.

Well, this, roughly speaking, is what Richard said to us about feeling like a fraud today:

‘Yes, people are frauds. But not because they are not as good as they make out. Because they are far, far more and better than they realise!’

How about that? What would it mean for you if you are ‘playing small,’ believing yourself … Read More »

Combat worry with creativity

Posted on April 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

What has creativity got to do with worry? If I have all these problems, how can anything possibly get better because I draw a picture, do some gardening or make a cake? How can sticking and colouring, making jewellery or doing a sculpture help me feel better? Surely I need to do less, not more?

Those are all logical responses to the suggestion that we might be able to alleviate worry, or lessen the pain we experience in a crisis or when suffering a loss, by doing something creative. And a year or so ago, I would certainly have entertained those thoughts. Not any more though.

First of all, in the process of doing something creative, we can meet ourselves. If we are chronic over-thinkers, logical, problem-solvers, the chances are that we have misplaced that part of ourselves that plays, that loses sense of time and place because we are so absorbed in what we are making. It’s a pity if we are so grown up that we can no longer find that creative, child-like, mystical part of ourselves. The good news is, that part is still there, and we can find it by going back to a long lost hobby, picking … Read More »

The plane didn’t crash, but my confidence in flying did!

Posted on April 25th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

How do you feel when you see this picture? Does it remind you of going on holiday, exploring foreign countries or long business trips? For a long time, the view from a plane window, and the feeling of being in any sort of aircraft, terrified me. Flying is still not my favourite thing, but I’m getting better. Just recently, I’ve been writing about my journey with meditation and I was prompted to share this story.

When I was just 13, my family (my mother, father, little brother and myself) went to live in Malaysia for my father’s job. It was 1975 and I’d never been in a plane before. It was all a bit emotional as we said goodbye to family, friends, pets and our home, knowing we wouldn’t be back until the Summer holidays. All that time ago, the Far East was a long, long way away. Almost no-one went there for a holiday and the flight took 24 hours with several stops to refuel, usually one in Europe, one or two in the Middle East and one in India or Sri Lanka. Then you would usually have to change planes in Singapore to get up to KL. … Read More »

Escape your worries in the here and now

Posted on April 24th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

I never seem to manage an entirely wordless post for Wordless Wednesday, but I am enjoying focusing more on pictures and less on words once a week. This photo was taken at sunrise on 1st January this year; for the last couple of years I’ve welcomed the New Year with a vigil waiting for the light to come. It’s an incredible experience.

Anyway, today’s theme is presence, or being in the here and now. There are very few problems in the now, and becoming present as much as we can is an important step in the journey away from chronic worry or over thinking. You don’t have to get up at sunrise to become present; just take a few conscious breaths, be aware of the sensations in your body, especially your hands and feet, and notice what is going on around you – sights, sounds, smells. You have arrived! This moment..and this one…and this one…the present is all we have. It’s all that is real. The rest is illusion. Dont get caught up in it and miss what is real!

Smile, it’s good for you!

Posted on April 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 20 comments

What do you know about smiling? It’s common knowledge that we find a smiling face more welcoming and approachable, and that there are all sorts of different smiles*, some of which we naturally warm to and others that we are suspicious of. But research is beginning to show that smiling provides benefits which are scientifically valid.

The US Association for Psychological Science reports on experiments that were carried out, requiring subjects to undertake stressful tasks. Some of them were asked to adopt genuine (‘Duchenne’) smiles, some had their faces contorted into smiles artificially by using chopsticks, and some retained a neutral expression. This is what the research found:

The results of the study suggest that smiling may actually influence our physical state: compared to participants who held neutral facial expressions, participants who were instructed to smile, and in particular those with Duchenne smiles, had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities. The participants who held chopsticks in a manner that forced them to smile, but were not explicitly told to smile as part of the training, also reported a smaller decrease in positive affect compared to those who held neutral facial expressions.

Smiling is also thought to assist … Read More »

Saying thank you and walking away from worry

Posted on April 22nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

We all have a very powerful tool at our fingertips. This tool can help us turn our thinking from negative to positive, see everything from a more joyful perspective, and feel better any time we want to. It doesn’t cost anything and anyone can use it. What is it? The practice of gratitude.

The myth that I encounter most often about gratitude is that you have to feel grateful in order to practise it. Nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of the time, it works the other way around: I feel hard done by, cross or sad, so I decide to write a gratitude list to turn my perspective around. The very act of listing things I could feel grateful for makes me feel better. As a result I might feel grateful for something that I had previously taken for granted. The focus on gratitude comes first; the feeling of gratitude comes later.

I have found a rigorous application of gratefulness absolutely indispensable to a worry-free lifestyle. As with other strategies, it can work in two ways: 1) as a regular practice to help keep my thinking positive and healthy and 2) as emergency ‘first aid’ when I’m feeling … Read More »

Why self-care is anti-worry

Posted on April 21st, by Harriet in Being Well. 14 comments

I have eight days of busy…busy…busy coming up so I spent some time planning what I want to blog about for the next little while. I wasn’t taking much notice of which days I had decided to allocate to which subjects, and then I realised I had chosen something about worry and self-care for today. Nothing odd about that, except that last Sunday I wrote about looking after myself through exercise and walking, and deciding not to overdo things. So I guess Sunday must be take-care-of-Harriet day, which is fine by me!

Apart from my recovery from a chronic condition which I talked about last Sunday, why is self-care so important and what does it have to do with worry? Well, once I had performed a 180 degree about-turn regarding self-care, and gone from putting myself last (to be unselfish) to always considering my own needs (so I can be the person that I need to be and that everyone else needs me to be), I started to think…a lot. I mean thinking in a good way, constructively, discovering new and exciting truths. I wondered how many different ways there might be to look after ourselves, and how we might benefit. … Read More »

You got a friend…

Posted on April 20th, by Harriet in Being Well. 15 comments

One of my first suggestions for building a worry-resilient lifestyle is to have a healthy, supportive community around you. Of course it’s ideal to have real people close by that you can turn to, have a cup of tea with and who can give you a hug if you need one. If we have family and friends like this then we are lucky, but sometimes we need to look further afield either because we don’t have many people we are close to or because they are not the ideal ones to help us overcome worry. Social media, used sensibly, means we can reach out to supportive and compassionate friends who understand what we are trying to achieve.

What do I mean by supportive and compassionate? Well, while it is always nice to have people to provide what, in England, we call ‘tea and sympathy,’ too much sympathy can be unhelpful. I am fortunate to have a large group of very positive friends who are full of love and laughter and know that the last thing I want is to talk about my problems for ages. But I have, in the past, found myself in social circles that could well be described … Read More »

Do you live in your head?

Posted on April 19th, by Harriet in Being Well. 19 comments

If you are a natural worrier, like me, you probably live in your head most of the time, and may even find it difficult to connect with the rest of your body. Some of us can even feel disconnected from our feelings. That was certainly me in the past. This situation can be problematic if we would like to worry less. Worrying happens in our heads, and we tend to get caught in a trap of believing that we can sort out our problems – and thus suffer less with worry – if we just keep thinking. Unfortunately, this is very rarely true.

This is how worry and anxiety work together in my experience. First, I have a worrying thought, and it is followed by a twinge of anxiety. The thought is in my head and the anxiety happens in my body. Because I feel anxious, I automatically think about it (‘why am I anxious?’ etc). The more I think, the more anxious I get, and the more anxious I become, the more I try to think my way out of it. It goes on in a loop, getting worse and more uncomfortable.

Last year, I was taught by a very … Read More »

How to take charge of your thinking

Posted on April 18th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

So far this month I’ve talked a lot about thinking. How we think the things we do and some of the reasons we have those thoughts. Beliefs and assumptions that can create our reality. Now I want to look at what we can do about over-thinking and ‘toxic’ thinking. By toxic, I mean anything that doesn’t serve us, that we wouldn’t choose to have in our heads. There is a nice, familiar term that includes all that unwanted and uncontrolled thinking: worry.

Think about a dog worrying at a bone, or someone who is nervous worrying at a tangled mass of twine or fingering a string of beads. Hold that image and you know what it feels like: compulsive, mindless, distracting. When we are thinking like that, it hurts, but we can’t stop. Or at least, we believe we can’t stop, and believing something is as good as it being true.

I’ve spent more than a year now learning about gaining freedom from worry, from unwanted and unhealthy thoughts, and I am delighted to tell you that we can stop uncontrolled, damaging thinking. We don’t have to worry. I’m not a scientist, therapist or psychologist and I can’t tell you the technical … Read More »

Thinking about you

Posted on April 17th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Wordless Wednesday – what does this picture suggest? I see a little girl, innocent, vulnerable perhaps, with her whole life in front of her. Squinting in the sun, enjoying the Summer, no self-consciousness. This is me. I keep this photo above my desk to remind me to take care of myself, to be kind and loving to this little girl. I know a lot of people do this; do you? If not, could you?

How we learn, and learning to think

Posted on April 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

I used to have rather fixed ideas about education. As a naturally academic person myself, good at exams and gaining qualifications, I believed that educational success meant learning a lot of facts and skills, getting qualified and having a great ‘education’ section in your CV. Here I am, after receiving my Masters degree last year. When my son was born, I wondered which subjects he’d enjoy at school, what he’d study at university, and whether he’d be a doctor or stockbroker. I hoped he would learn more languages than I had and be better at maths than I am!

What I didn’t know 17 years ago, but have since learned, is that the academic route, even the school route, isn’t right for every child. And it may have nothing to do with how clever they are. My son is intelligent, knowledgeable and talented, but for reasons that are his, and are too personal to detail here, school didn’t work for him. Once he moved to our large local comprehensive at 11, it was only a matter of time before a variety of medical issues made it impossible for him to attend regularly.

I made a decision that surprised many people, including myself. … Read More »

Thinking about feeling alive

Posted on April 15th, by Harriet in Being Well. 9 comments

Today has been a beautiful Spring day. When I left the house this morning, I thought of all the people who would be saying, ‘it’s great to be alive!’ because of the sunshine, the countryside, the birdsong and the fresh, mild air. It’s easy to feel like that on such a day.

In this very short post I want to make just one point. It’s always great to be alive. We don’t need to have a ‘because.’ It’s common to look at a sunset, watch children playing, languish at the seaside or celebrate a happy event and say, ‘how wonderful, isn’t it good to be alive?’ But I’d like to invite you to try something right now.

Sit still, become present. Allow your awareness to settle in your whole body – not just your head – from the soles of your feet, up through your limbs and torso, through your neck and up to the very top of your scalp. This is where you live. Sit and breathe. Be aware of your breath, flowing in and out through your nostrils and filling your lungs. Just know it is happening. Then feel the aliveness in your body. The consciousness, the chemical and electrical … Read More »

Thinking about taking care of ourselves

Posted on April 14th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

I didn’t know I was going to pick this subject until just now. Of course, my theme this month is thinking and I’ve written about beliefs and assumptions and how we think about various subjects, so I have a vague idea each day, but I like to make it relevant if I can. And just now, looking at this picture of myself working hard at Boot Camp this morning (yes, that is a parachute behind me, just to provide drag and make it that bit harder to run), and feeling tired after a challenging week, I realised I wanted to write about self-care.

The concept of taking care of myself was foreign to me a few years ago. Then life intervened in the shape of a chronic condition, and I found myself obliged to learn how to look after myself, physically, mentally and spiritually. The beliefs I had grown up with were: work hard, put others before yourself, sacrifice is good, life isn’t for enjoying, if you feel tired just push yourself harder. It all made sense to me for too many decades because this is the background I come from. These attitudes helped me to get sick, though, and I … Read More »

Thinking about body image

Posted on April 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Every now and then, I find myself having a conversation with my girlfriends about what we think of our bodies. Especially those of us who exercise a lot, eat sensibly most of the time and are well within healthy weight ranges. We can all describe in detail the parts of our bodies that we don’t like, what is wrong with them, and how we would prefer them to be. You’d be able to recognise a group of women having this conversation from a distance; we are apt to pat or even grab those offending parts of our bodies, as if to punish them for letting us down.

There is something especially interesting about these conversations. As each of us is describing what’s wrong with our bodies, every now and then it happens that we look at one of our friends and say, for example, ‘I want legs like yours.’ The friend will express surprise, and say ‘oh no, I hate my legs, I want legs like yours!’ This shows how irrational our self-judgments are. We think we are setting ourselves against some sort of objective ideal but we can’t actually be doing this if we just want to be like each … Read More »

When thinking is compromised

Posted on April 12th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

This post is a bit of an experiment. Alternative. I have an odd professional existence, which sometimes means that I work at very strange hours. Last night/this morning was one of those occasions, and I got home from work at 4.15am. Surprisingly, I thought that this would be a good time to write my blog post for today, and to focus on how our thinking is affected by tiredness, hunger etc. Today I’m glad that I did this because I’ve had more work on very little sleep and I’m so glad the bulk of the writing is already done! Typing in particular is really challenging and there is a typo in every second word. I didn’t think I’d find a suitable picture, but then I came across this one of Alfie, who had a tummy op at five months, looking very sorry for himself. I am sure his thinking wasn’t tip top when he had the lampshade on his head!

The only thing I wanted to add is just to comment on how easy it is to feel resentful, fearful, angry or sorry for ourselves when we are at a low physical ebb. Again, it’s important to watch out for this, … Read More »

Bare faced truth

Posted on April 11th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

A couple of days ago I wrote about not being too interested in housework. Today I am picking up the theme and spilling all about my makeup apathy. I am probably unlike most women, in that, most of the time, I just can’t be bothered to spend even a couple of minutes with eyeliner and mascara, or even longer getting foundation right. I would be surprised if I found I’d worn lipstick more than once in the past year. I do know women who never wear makeup, but it’s more usual to find someone who won’t leave the house without at least mascara.

What don’t I like about it? Well, first there’s the time it takes. My time is precious and I like spending it on things that are important to me. Focussing on my own face in the mirror, a tiny brush or pencil and trying to get some gunk in the right place doesn’t feel important or fun. Secondly, and explaining why it’s not important, I have just never managed to muster up very much concern about appearance, either mine or that of my environment. I’m much more interested in how I feel and what I think, and I … Read More »

Words and thoughts

Posted on April 10th, by Harriet in Being Well. 22 comments

Wordless Wednesday….
I’ve never done a Wordless Wednesday before, because I am really a word person, but then I thought I’d share the vision board that I keep above my desk. It’s cheating really, because of course it’s a picture with a lot of words in it. But if you’re like me, much happier with words than images, and have struggled with making a vision board because it means cutting out and printing pictures that speak to you, why not try one of these?

For more words, language stuff and extra thoughts, sign up for my newsletter. There’s a link below this post. A little thought provoking ray of wordy sunshine in your inbox every two weeks. Let’s keep in touch!

Thinking about housework and perfectionism

Posted on April 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. 40 comments

My house is usually a mess. Here it is, in a photo taken this morning with no tidying done and dust on the beams. I’ve always been untidy and never thought about housework until I was in my late 20s and found myself living with someone who wanted a tidy house. I grew up in a house where horses and dogs were looked after first, and I learned to muck out and make a stable beautiful with the straw up round the walls, a space cleared for the water bucket and always, always the stable door hooked back if there was no horse inside. I learned to keep tack clean and well maintained and to ensure my pony never had straw in his tail when I put him out in the field. But my bedroom was untidy and the house, although clean, was usually a bit of a muddle. Except for a nice room we didn’t go in very often which is where we took visitors.

I hope my mother will forgive me for outing her like this but I’m not judging; it’s just how it was. Also, I do think that 40 years ago there wasn’t as much emphasis … Read More »

Thinking about getting older

Posted on April 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. 17 comments

During 2012 I celebrated my 50th birthday. All year, in fact. I’d decided at the end of 2010 to do 50 different things to celebrate my big birthday, rather than have a party or a one-off trip. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve gained wisdom, self-knowledge and growth.

Early on in the year, I started to ask myself what it all meant. Why was I doing this big celebration and what message did I want to share as a result? My question was answered by the reaction I experienced when I told people what I was doing. Some people said, ‘shhh, don’t say you’re going to be 50,’ as if it was something to be ashamed of. I got – still get – a lot of comments suggesting that I don’t look 50. And some people said, ‘oh yes, it’s best to have a big party, that helps you get through it.’

These reactions told me that lots of people think that reaching 50 is something to be feared, perhaps even to be ashamed of, and at best to be ‘got through.’ Certainly not something to be celebrated, shouted about and thought of as a wonderful achievement. Funny that, because several … Read More »

Thinking about money

Posted on April 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. 14 comments

I’ve got a money tree in my garden. Actually, I made it myself, as you might be able to tell. It’s a reminder that we all have beliefs about that incredibly emotive subject – money – that we have absorbed from all sorts of different sources. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’ is one of the most common sayings; we also hear, ‘money is the root of all evil,’ ‘filthy rich,’ and ‘make an honest living.’ Interesting, isn’t it, to realise how closely intertwined money has become with morality, in our society and our language?

Last year, at the ripe old age of 49, I decided that I needed to do something about my relationship with money, specifically the way I thought about money. I’d taken on various beliefs and attitudes from my family and also assumed that, as a woman, I wasn’t strong enough to earn money and make powerful financial decisions. I’d also taken to heart some of the things that had gone wrong during my life, money-wise, and decided that these disappointments and changes of direction made me a ‘failure’.

Luckily, I met Rosemary Cunningham, who is a gifted therapist and also a wonderful money and business coach, helping people … Read More »

Empty nest worries

Posted on April 6th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

I’ve written before about the differences between men and women when it comes to worry. My conclusions are based on completely non-scientific research, but everything I’ve observed since I wrote that post just convinces me further that what I concluded was valid. A lot of men worry in a more constructive, work-based or goal-oriented way, and know that too much worry is pointless. They are also confident that they can switch off worry when they want to. Women, on the other hand, often feel more trapped by worry, and have little or no confidence that they can control or turn off their worrying.

It may have something to do with the List that I wrote about in March, and our tendency to strive for acceptance and approval, even though we are often already doing too much. All women are different, and our lists vary, but I firmly believe that too many of us have a List. It really helps me to visualise my List as an actual piece of paper with items written on it, and this takes some of the power away. If I can see in my mind’s eye the words, ‘have a glittering career,’ and ‘be a perfect … Read More »

Just take the medicine!

Posted on April 5th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

Do you ever get cross with TV advertisements? Which ones wind you up? As regular readers will guess, I like to point out messages being put across by advertisers which aim to make us believe we need their product to make us look younger, lose weight or feel successful. My current bugbear, however, is the over-the-counter medicine ad.

I’ve written before about the ‘warning lights’ our body switches on when we need to do some essential maintenance. If my car needs new brake pads, is on a slippery surface or running short of petrol, a light on my dashboard tells me what to do. I’m a responsible car owner so I take action: fill up with petrol, drive more carefully or book into the garage for some maintenance. And my body does the same thing. If I have a headache, it might mean a number of things. I could be stressed or unwell or I might have been staring at a screen for too long. If my tummy hurts, I may have been eating something that disagrees with me or trying to eat my lunch while doing three other things and ended up with indigestion. If I am a responsible body … Read More »

What’s your point of view?

Posted on April 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. 16 comments

What stance do you take when you consider something? When you stop and take notice, you will realise that your stance changes according to the subject, and the source of any information.

Remember, for example, how we looked a couple of days ago at the trust that a child has for the adults in its life, often believing without question anything they say or imply. Similarly, it is common for us to trust that those in authority are telling us the truth. Many of us have also believed something we read in a newspaper, especially a broadsheet or ‘quality’ publication, only to find later that the information was flawed. On the other hand, we might dismiss out of hand something said by a person who looks or behaves differently from the norm, or who has some ideas that we find unpalatable. And by refusing even to consider their point of view, we might miss something of value.

I’ve found it helpful to categorise the various attitudes I might adopt and watch which one I am using in any given situation.

If I am trusting, I have a firm belief in the reliability, honesty, veracity or justice of the information offered to me. I … Read More »

How our thinking can impact our eating

Posted on April 3rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 19 comments

Today it’s a privilege to bring you a guest post from Ani Richardson, whose book on emotional eating, Love or Diet, will soon be published. This is a subject that affects many of us in one way or another, and Ani’s wisdom and compassion is much needed.

Have you ever stopped to listen to your thoughts? To observe them? To be witness to them? Are your thoughts about yourself gentle, kind and loving or are they critical and harsh? In my forthcoming book, Love or Diet, I write about how our thinking can lead us to emotional eating as a misguided source of comfort.

Take a moment to imagine yourself standing on the bank of a river; the rushing water represents your thoughts. You watch these thoughts go by, some are empowering, e.g. ‘what a beautiful day,’ ‘I am so excited about finishing that project,’ ‘I am looking forward to Katie coming over for lunch,’ some are disempowering, e.g. ‘it’s awful being stuck inside when the sun is out,’ ‘this project is taking ages and is so draining,’ ‘I can’t cope with Katie coming for lunch, I hate eating with people.’

Notice this stream of thoughts without judgment. Just notice, be interested. … Read More »

Are you assuming?

Posted on April 2nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 26 comments

There are things that I know. I know that the sky is blue (sometimes), that it hurts when I fall over and that if I feel loved I am happy. I know that some types of behaviour are wrong and that there are plenty of things I can’t do or am not very good at. In fact I could make you rather a long list of the things I can’t do very well.

So how do I know these things? Well, many of them I learned from my parents and other adults who were around me when I was very small. As a child I knew nothing, had to trust that what adults and even what other children told me was right, and turned these messages into beliefs. Much of what I learned was really helpful. I needed to know how the world worked, how to communicate and what was dangerous and what was safe. I needed to absorb a lot of knowledge at school but I also needed to learn to think and judge for myself.

Some of these messages, however, were less than helpful. For example, amidst all the good school reports, the one that is clearest in my … Read More »

First thoughts

Posted on April 1st, by Harriet in Being Well. 22 comments

Wow, that’s come round quickly! Another Ultimate Blog Challenge (UBC) starting, and this one will be my fourth. The UBC challenges bloggers all around the globe to post every day for a month and provides an opportunity to connect with other bloggers, share your posts more widely and comment on a variety of blogs. It takes commitment and a bit of time, but like so many things, the more you put in the more you get out!

I have gained so much from the previous three challenges: found my authentic writing voice, worked out a lot of the things I want to say, made new friends and learned so much from the variety of blogs I have visited. I am so grateful to Michele and Michelle for running the challenge and making it possible for us to connect with each other, learn and grow.

This month, for the first time, I have a theme. I spent some time recently trying to work out what common ground there is in all the subjects I am interested in and write about. I found that always, almost without exception, I am concerned with how we think.

Where do our assumptions and beliefs come from, and … Read More »

Feminist thinking: the checklist

Posted on March 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

It’s International Women’s Day and my social media feeds are full of messages of celebration. It’s wonderful; I love the positivity and happiness. I think it’s important to celebrate and to recognise where things are going well. Today, however, I’m sticking my neck out in a slightly different direction and explaining exactly why I call myself a feminist, and why I think everyone else (men as well as women) should also be willing to adopt a feminist standpoint.

OK, this is the why of it. We all know that women used to be oppressed. Less than 100 years ago, we couldn’t vote. We weren’t allowed to study in universities and we couldn’t own property. It used to be legal for men to hit their wives, and marital rape was only criminalised in 1991 in England and Wales. Yes, 1991. The law used to give us little protection and in fact allowed us to be abused physically, sexually and financially.

Things have got better in terms of the law. Although, in practice, pay is still not equal across the board, legislation is in place to prevent discrimination and we have maternity … Read More »

Is worry different for women and men?

Posted on March 5th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

I’ve been quiet recently because I’ve had a virus. One of those sneaky ones that, just when you think you’re getting better, comes back in a different guise to take you off your feet for a few days. Very frustrating, but it has given me time to read and think, time I didn’t know I needed, but that has proved valuable.

One of my main thinking topics has been How Women Worry. Of course, being female, I only know what it’s like to be a woman, and tend to assume that everyone’s mind works in the same way as mine does. We do know that men and women are different, and over the last few years there have been various experts trying to explain the differences in our brains and how they work. When my girlfriends and I are discussing the baffling behaviour or opinions of someone’s husband, we are apt to conclude, “well, men are different, aren’t they?” Yes, and that’s a good start. Just as it’s important for all of us to remember that our internal programming, in its subtler areas, is unique and different from everyone else’s, it helps to remember … Read More »

Peachey Letters: Love Letters to Life

Posted on February 14th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

This is me, a week ago, with Rosemary Cunningham (left) and Sandra Peachey (middle) in London at the launch of Sandra’s new book, Peachey Letters. What an enjoyable evening it was: talks by Sandra, CEO of Damsels in Success Lucie Bradbury and Mindie Gibbins-Klein, the speaker, book coach and writing and publishing strategist. Then some fabulous catching up and networking accompanied by drinks and canapés. I almost felt like a character in Sex and the City…

Last year, Sandra decided to set herself a challenge. She planned to write a love letter every day of February, and publish them on her blog. In her “Letter to the World”, dated 1st February, Sandra said, “My love letters are intended to entertain me, to allow me to be creative and be a writer; I want them to exorcise demons, to celebrate and give me the space to analyse, enjoy, and give thanks for my life. They are a loving challenge set to myself and to share with the world…”. At this point Sandra had no idea of the impact that her Peachey Letters would have. Soon, she found that people from all over the world … Read More »

Time for love – even for singletons?

Posted on February 11th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

As I write, I’m enjoying a hot cup of tea in my special mug. It’s Yorkshire Decaff, and if you’ve tried decaffeinated tea but find it too wishy washy, I’d recommend trying Yorkshire as it really is like proper tea!

Anyway, this post isn’t about tea, but was inspired by the mug. I bought it just under a year ago, after Valentine’s Day, for 39p in a sale in Tescos. I decided that, being single at the time, I’d buy it for myself and feel loved anyway. I use it every day and it always makes me feel happy.

For those of us who are single, the current obsession in the shops, advertising and social media about Valentine’s Day can make us feel a bit left out. Less than, even. And if it’s not long since your relationship ended, then it can be downright painful and it’s hard not to take it personally. I recognise that and I salute you if you are going through that pain. I’ve been there, too.

But my 39p purchase last February was the beginning of a new attitude. An “if you can’t beat them, join them” … Read More »

Learning to choose

Posted on February 6th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

Nearly a week off, after the end of the January blogging challenge, and I find my fingers are itching to put a new post together. I have a very good reason as well, with some great stuff to share. So here goes.

Last November, I wrote about attending Richard Wilkins’ Recharge Day in Northampton. It was a really positive and educational experience and I came home excited and inspired. I immediately booked on the next Recharge Day, which was on 2nd February 2013 – this last Saturday.

Meanwhile, I had read It’s Not Your Fault, by Liz Ivory, who is Richard’s partner and runs Broadband Consciousness (BC) with him. As reading is always my preferred form of learning, the book helped me to understand Richard and Liz’s message a bit better.

Having driven to Northampton in the morning last time, and then driven back at night, and got rather tired, I decided to try and stay overnight on the Friday and it worked out really well. I found a very cheap, very clean room a couple of miles from the venue and amused myself on Friday evening by enjoying the lack of jobs to do in my … Read More »

End of UBC round-up

Posted on January 31st, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

Day 31, end of the UBC, 31st day of the year and my 31st blog post of 2013. Wow, glad I made it! I thought I’d have a little ponder today about what this UBC has done for me, what I’ve learned and what has changed. In the past, I’ve been quite structured about this type of post, but this time I decided to just see what’s in my head so here goes.

The concept of blogging every day, every single day, for a month is quite a daunting one, but it is possible. It really helps if you write quite short posts; mine tend to be about 700 words and some this month have been a lot shorter than that. I have to say, as a reader, that’s also the optimum length for me, as time is always short and it just takes too much time to read longer posts unless it is something I’ve been looking for specifically. Anyway, daunting challenges need commitment, and a bit of commitment is always a good thing. It helps me to have some structure in a very unstructured and completely unpredictable existence, and that’s one of … Read More »

That stuck feeling

Posted on January 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

It’s day 30, out of 31, of the UBC challenge which means this is the 30th post I have written this year. Enough to make you think I don’t have a problem with “resistance”, or that little (or big) negative voice that tells me I have a million other things to do than that bit of important writing, that I haven’t formed my thoughts yet, or that I don’t need to start because it’s ages until the deadline. Not true, I do get resistance but I just seem to find daily blogging fairly easy. Looking forward to a week off soon though! Most people suffer from resistance in one form or another; if you don’t, please let me know and tell us all your secret!

Resistance is rather subtle and sneaky, so it doesn’t get me every time, only with certain things. I make them into big scary unscalable peaks in my imagination, and find all sorts of excuses not to tackle them. Procrastination is part of it but it’s not exactly the same. It’s just so hard to make myself do certain things!

For example, in the last few days I have been busy … Read More »

Writing for fun

Posted on January 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

I’ve been doing my writer-girl-group homework every day since last Wednesday and I’ve learned some interesting stuff. It’s very freeing to just sit and type for 15 minutes or so, ending up with between 700 and 1000 words, just letting the thoughts come. I’ve always written in all sorts of forms, including journaling to get my feelings out or work through problems, but I haven’t really sat down on a daily basis just to write. No greater purpose, just write for the sake of writing.

And you know what? This exercise has reminded me how much I love the process of writing. I have always seen it as a craft rather than an art, with a wonderful array of materials and tools in the shape of words, grammar, punctuation and imagery. Learning to type, which I shared about the other day, was a huge boost as, once I speeded up, I was able to get the words out almost as quickly as the sentences formed in my head.

Most of my working life I’ve used my writing skills one way or another. I worked as a specialist journalist for a while in my 20s and … Read More »

Going grey!

Posted on January 28th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Did you see Dr Miriam Stoppard on Sky News this morning? She is publicising a book so may well have appeared on other sofas as well. The book is about grandparents and she was talking about her own experience as a grandmother, but her skin is as smooth as a 23 year-old’s. I think she looks awful. There’s no character, no expression and the youthfulness of her skin just doesn’t go with the wisdom and mature energy that she emanates.

This got me thinking about the fear of aging, which, in women at least, so often manifests itself as a fear of looking old. Quite a different thing, actually. As people know, I don’t advocate worrying or being afraid of anything if we can help it, but the more logical aspects of aging to be feared are death, ill-health, loneliness and money problems. I just tried to do a quick search to find some facts and figures on the anti-aging skincare market but I couldn’t find anything but advertisements and reviews. One result was actually headed up “anti-aging skincare for 20 year-olds”. Anyway, I’m sure I don’t need to provide figures to … Read More »

Are Murray and Djokovic Robots?

Posted on January 27th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Did you watch the tennis? I needed a rest so committed to watch all of it, although it was a tad stressful! I don’t play but I’m a big tennis fan, and so happy that with Andy Murray doing so well, all the grand slams and even other tournaments are appearing on our TV channels.

Of course it would have been great if Andy had won, but Novak Djokovic is such an amazing player and was just that much better. In a tennis final, it looks as if the person who doesn’t win, loses, but in fact this couldn’t be further from the truth. Beating Federer and putting up such a strong fight against Djokovic is success, as reflected by the size of the cheque presented to the runner up. Murray is an amazing player and the tennis was so exciting to watch. At times, mesmerising.

It feels like no coincidence that today I reached a passage about tennis in the book I am reading, Incognito by David Eagleman. Eagleman is a neuroscientist and the book explains, in accessible terms, how your brain works. Absolutely fascinating, although I am finding it necessary to read … Read More »

What is Bokwa?

Posted on January 26th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

When I started thinking about this post while walking Alfie today, I thought that it had nothing to do with writing or with worry. But I wanted to write about Bokwa because it’s been quite significant for me, a challenge and an achievement at the same time, on a continuing basis.

Bokwa is a new dance fitness craze, coming from (where else?) Los Angeles, but with reference to its inventor’s South African roots. It’s much easier than Zumba because the steps are all based on letters, numbers and shapes, and once you have learned them, one by one, you become more and more proficient as there is quite a lot of repetition. You can also go to any Bokwa class because the steps are universal. This is what it looks like.

I went to a Zumba class once, probably against my better judgment, and it just made me want to cry. That’s how I usually get if I need to reproduce anything complicated with my feet, and if arm movements are also required I feel like retreating to the corner in a sodden heap. My brain finds it really difficult to tell my arms and legs … Read More »

Accepting the unpleasant inevitable

Posted on January 25th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

This post wrote itself, really, on the way to my yoga class today, and I chose the photo because it feels really calm. It’s a calm place, the marshes where I walk the dog, about 15 minutes from home. Of course it’s looking a bit different down there at the moment because of the snow and ice.

Anyway, back to yoga. I often say that, although I hardly worry at all about big things now, and certainly not for long, I do often worry about being late. I don’t like it, it feels stressful, and I really dislike walking into anywhere after the time I am supposed to be there. Well, today I had arranged to take the Teenager and the bass player in his band to a rehearsal on the way to yoga. I thought I had allowed enough time to get them loaded up, drive to the rehearsal venue (drummer’s house) and get to the gym.

I was wrong. Teenager was ready pretty much on time, but then disappeared into the bass player’s house when we got there. Eventually they came out and both got into the car, at which time the … Read More »

Homework

Posted on January 24th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

This follows on from my post yesterday about my women’s writing group, or what Lisa calls The Writer-Girl Group Jam. We have been given homework, and we have to do it every day! It’s not hard though, and it’s designed to help us to get in the flow of writing from the heart, and to enjoy writing.

Now, I know I don’t have any problem putting pen to paper, or getting my thoughts through the keyboard and onto the screen, but I do need this exercise. The reason is this. I’m writing a lot, and it’s purposeful and organised. I have notes, plans and a goal. I’m expecting people to read my words, and I want it to be “right”. The same goes, really, for blogging. Although it feels much more casual, it is for putting out there, and I am expecting all sorts of people to read it. I have to think about what I am writing and I generally make sure I write in proper sentences. Except when I don’t feel like it.

So this is all quite serious and, to some extent, formal. But I need to remember … Read More »

In a writing group!

Posted on January 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Well, today has been exciting. We had the first of six conference calls in a group for women writing books, led by Lisa Lister whom I started working with about nine months ago. It was Lisa who told me to blog like crazy to find out what was in my heart and how I really felt comfortable writing, and it worked!

During the July Ultimate Blog Challenge I felt as if I found my authentic voice, and I also started to make a lot of friends through blogging. October gave me the opportunity to air some of the subjects that I was looking at a little more deeply, and this one, which we are now 23 days into, is about me looking at my writing, what I have to say, why I am saying it and getting some more feedback.

I have no doubt that, if I hadn’t done these blocks of daily blogging, which is a challenge whichever way you look at it, I wouldn’t have made so much progress in writing what I want to write, in the way that feels best for me.

All this is also all about community and sharing, which is … Read More »

A matter of life and death?

Posted on January 22nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

Today I’ve been reading about Wilko Johnson, Dr Feelgood guitarist and fellow Essex dweller, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has only months to live. He has decided against chemotherapy and says he is feeling calm and even euphoric. Not surprisingly, he also says that all the things he used to worry about don’t matter.

I am sure that we have all thought about the kind of perspective that comes from something life-changing or life-limiting like this happening to us, and even tried to achieve that perspective during periods of relative ordinariness, but it’s not easy, is it? I can say to myself, if the world was about to come to an end, would I worry about this? The answer, of course, is no, but the thought is never enough to change the way I look at everything. In order to change the way I look at everything I need to…er…change the way I look at everything.

But, but, but. What if our worry is about exactly that, our own mortality? I remember when I was little every now and then having that cold realisation that one day I would die and crying … Read More »

What is potential?

Posted on January 21st, by Harriet in Being Well. 15 comments

This subject keeps popping into my head so I thought I had better see what it looks like when it comes out of my head and on to paper. The photo is of the sunrise on 1st Jan this year which I thought was particularly relevant.

“Potential”: what does that word make you think of? For most of my adult life I had a very precise definition, which I am now amending. I went to a top university (Cambridge) and got a good degree (English). In the years immediately after graduation, I watched people I had been studying with on television, reading the news, acting, heard them on the radio, read about them in the papers and read articles they had written. I bumbled through a couple of jobs as a librarian and pharmaceutical journalist, got married and divorced, ended up in a non-graduate job with a large food manufacturer and gave up on the idea of reaching my potential.

You see, for me, “potential” meant the same as “expectation”. It was the linear career progression that we were all meant to launch ourselves on to when we left the safe haven of academia. I … Read More »

Let’s talk

Posted on January 20th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

This post isn’t really anything to do with dogs, walking or snow, but this is where I get my inspiration from a lot of the time. And today, on this walk, I had a nice ponder about something related to the community/sharing subjects I have been talking about recently.

Yesterday I heard what I think was a TV advertisement encouraging us all to talk about mental health issues. Good. I’ve had my share of encounters with mental health conditions and am all too aware of the stigma that exists, the personal shame that it perpetuates and the difficulty that many people have in talking about their mental health. I have also seen how easily a young person who is not really aware of the stigma, who views their condition as not much different from a physical ailment, can deal openly with mental health issues. It’s no big deal; young people can quickly adapt to a new idea and soon forget that there was ever anything surprising about it. Both the young person in question and their friends. It’s very encouraging.

Another serious taboo subject that I’ve had a lot to do with, and sometimes write … Read More »

Before we judge our teenagers…

Posted on January 19th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

This picture isn’t from this year, it’s from three years ago when Alfie had first come to live with us. But too cute not to share! We don’t have this much snow at the moment but it’s very cold and we are waiting for more.

Yesterday I came over all middle aged about the secondary school kids coming home early and just wearing polo shirts and blazers despite the freezing weather. None of them wear coats and I expect it’s just not cool to do so. Having opted my son out of school four years ago when he was 13, all this peer pressure and fitting in business is in the hazy past for us.

I was getting rather judgmental about this when I started thinking about myself at about 15. I was at school in Malaysia which, I think, is partly why I am still baffled every year when it gets unbelievably cold here and starts to grow dark at 3.30pm. I’ve never really got used to that. I thought about my school uniform and how it consisted just of a short sleeved dress, which we wore with sandals. All year round; nothing … Read More »

It’s not me!

Posted on January 18th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

While most of the country is covered in snow and some of it is on red alert, we are still waiting for the hazardous conditions to reach us here. It’s the driest part of the country here on the East coast of Essex, so it makes sense that we get less snow sometimes. It’s coming though. The school buses delivered our secondary school kids home at lunchtime so the schools must have closed in readiness.

And I know it’s on its way because I have a pressure headache and feel very low. At first I listened to those voices. You know, the ones that tell you that whatever you are doing is rubbish: “what are you doing, Harriet, people don’t want to know how to stop worrying, most of them don’t worry much and the ones that do, they enjoy it!” Blah, blah, blah. Then, luckily I needed to get out in the very very cold air to walk the dog, and as usual the open spaces and the icy countryside popped some sense into my head. I remembered that I don’t react well to snow and realised that these thoughts were just … Read More »

Sharing and caring

Posted on January 17th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

Today I’ve been working on the community section of my book, which talks about how it helped to surround myself with supportive people, the experts I sought out and how my community helped me to walk away from compulsive worrying.

Just a word about sharing. We are always told “a problem shared is a problem halved”. This can be true, but the way we share, and what we do next is crucially important. I found that it is also vital not to rely on this one (or any one) strategy alone, but to make it part of a wider anti-worry campaign.

We need to choose the right people to share with, people who will listen without judgment but will not get caught up in sympathising with us or agreeing how awful everything is. Those things just tend to keep us in the problem and can even become rather seductive so that we repeat the process of talking about our problem and eliciting sympathy, like wiggling a sore tooth. Depending on the nature of the problem or worry, it’s also important, clearly, that the person we choose is trustworthy and someone we feel really comfortable with.

It is usually … Read More »

Knowing we are free

Posted on January 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

Today I’ve been working on the interview I did with Bharti Kerai last year, for the worry project. Bharti plays an important part in my story, because she taught me one of the techniques that has become central to my anti-worry approach and an invaluable piece of “first aid”.

I was particularly struck today by what Bharti had to say about awareness. “If you have awareness you have a chance”. In other words, only if you know that you worry, and why, and that it is a choice, can you then make the choice to do something about it. I encounter people all the time who think they have no choice other than to worry, and this makes me really sad because, as with any freedom, the potential for freedom from worry is locked away if we don’t believe we possess it.

A core element of my message is to try to show worriers that worrying is indeed a choice and that we all have the freedom to live in a different way.

Something else that Bharti touched on was accepting our worry. She explained that we can alleviate some of our worry straight away simply by accepting … Read More »

The wisdom of uncertainty

Posted on January 15th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

I love that expression. The wisdom of uncertainty. It’s Deepak Chopra’s, and lately I’ve been making an effort to embrace uncertainty and to appreciate its positive aspects.

This is a very short post as I still have work to do – it’s 10.30pm. I toddled off for a 2pm appointment this afternoon, confidently expecting to be home by about 5pm, but things didn’t turn out like that. The work I do is always unpredictable, but I know how long an attendance will take on average and perhaps add a bit on, and expect it to take that long. For all sorts of reasons, today’s job didn’t go like that and at 6pm there was still plenty to be done, and I was going to miss my evening commitment.

What really helped me to avoid getting stressed today was first, remembering “the wisdom of uncertainty”, and secondly, making plans and then handing over the rest. I planned at what time I would make telephone calls to let people know I’d be held up, and just followed through with my plan at the appointed time. Guess what, the ceiling didn’t cave in because I didn’t get all … Read More »

Taking action

Posted on January 14th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

It’s Monday and there are so many things to celebrate! No snow this morning, then it snowed this afternoon and now it’s just wet – we might as well celebrate both snow and the lack of snow because there are merits in either situation. A brand new week has begun full of possibilities and mystery; I love Deepak Chopra’s phrase “the wisdom of uncertainty” and these days I understand that the last thing we actually want is to know what will happen in the future. How boring! Finally (but I am sure everyone else has loads of other things to celebrate) I have written over 1,000 more words of Chapter One, all done immediately following a very invigorating tramp through the snow, not a soul in sight, on the silent marshes. I suspect I might just live in one of the most inspiring places on earth.

Oh yes and another reason to celebrate: I spent this morning taking action. That really yucky, uncomfortable sort of action that we can all put off that entails filling forms, writing letters and generally engaging with our Big Problem. As always, it was much easier, more pleasant and more … Read More »

This is where being accountable gets you!

Posted on January 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

What a productive Sunday afternoon for me: I’ve written 2,300 words of “Chapter One”, ie the real thing and not just notes or bits of chapters or anything else that puts off actually admitting I’m writing a real book. And if I am absolutely honest, what motivated me to light a fire and settle on the sofa with my laptop (well, if you have the opportunity to work like that you shouldn’t pass it up, should you?) is the blogging community. I’d committed, on 1st January, to blogging every day about my book, and I’d talked about interviews, notes, pondering and planning, but not very much about the writing itself. But I felt accountable so I did something about it.

This reminded me of The Great Gordino’s post from yesterday, comparing blogging with healthy eating and exercise. Because today has been a whole day of being accountable to my community and benefitting as a result. The reason? Today was the start of bootcamp again after the Christmas break. The bootcamp I go to is run by Vicki Cumberworth, a good friend and very demanding personal trainer, who has pretty much steered me from unfit … Read More »

Entertaining my serious academic side

Posted on January 12th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. 8 comments

Today I’ve been working on a different sort of writing. I have a deadline coming up for an article on criminal law, so I thought I had better do something about it, other than just adding it to my “to do” list every day, then moving it to the next day. After a very cold and blustery dog walk, which succeeded in getting my thoughts in order, I fetched my mother to come and supervise me, to ensure that I actually worked on what I was supposed to. The plan worked.

I’m still on the note writing stage but everything seems a lot more ordered now, and the actual writing shouldn’t take long because almost all of the material is already contained within the Masters dissertation I wrote in 2011 on children and police powers. The photo is of me, just after collecting my degree, in October.

This article has a very specific focus. It’s about 17 year-olds in police stations. The United Nations says that everyone under 18 is a child, and there are rules specifying how children should be treated at any stage of the criminal justice process, including police investigations. In England … Read More »

Sharing….

Posted on January 11th, by Harriet in Being Well. 9 comments

Yesterday it felt as if a very important piece of my worry journey jigsaw fell into place. I was pondering on the multi-faceted nature of my approach, and how important it has been for me to do things this way, when I realised that something is motivating me to continue to improve, to work continuously on my freedom from worry, rather than just doing well enough not to feel bad. That thing is a magic ingredient: it’s the desire to share, as widely as I can, what I have learned.

It occurred to me that the fittest people I know are personal trainers and fitness instructors. The healthiest eaters are nutritionists and nutrition coaches, and the calmest, most serene people in my life are those who teach yoga and meditation, or practise as therapists. The biggest smile belongs to the woman who carries a message that smiling is good for your health (she’s also a comedian and wonderful artist – check out Tracy Shave here).

It’s no coincidence that people who carry a message to others are the best example of that message. Of course they are teaching what they love and believe … Read More »

Self care and warning lights

Posted on January 10th, by Harriet in Being Well. 6 comments

Today I am busy. I’ve been working in my professional capacity this morning and there is more work this evening. I’m delighted to have these attendances to do but it does mean that there is less time for writing and other stuff. The old me would have driven myself through, tried to cram in as much as possible and ended up exhausted and resentful. The slightly less old me did learn (through being forced by ill health) not to do the driving through but I found I was still aspiring to drivenness, as if this was the best way to go about life, and to achieve success.

We all know what it looks like. In the UK, at least, we have a long hours culture and, even when we are at home, we are now contactable 24 hours a day thanks to smart phones and all sorts of other technology. It’s seen as laudable in many circles to work too hard for too long and to make sacrifices for our careers. And we end up in a society which advertises anti-fatigue moisturiser for men, as if just making us look less tired will solve … Read More »

A little yoga, a little stillness

Posted on January 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. 9 comments

I felt in need of some serenity and grounding this evening so had a look through some photos I took of my garden a few years ago in June. In fact by the look of the lawn and the border it may have been before we had Alfie who now does his best to turn the garden into a dog playground! Anyway, this picture makes me feel peaceful and it is also an important spot for me.

Some time ago, when I was feeling quite stressed, I talked to Rita, my yoga teacher, and she suggested I visualise myself in a pleasant spot, rooted to the ground in a way that felt good to me. The spot I picked was this very patch of lawn, and I saw myself standing barefoot on the grass. Ever since, I have used this image often when I need some stillness and peace.

There are no coincidences, I believe, and earlier today I have been transcribing my interview with Rita for the worry project. Having attended her yoga classes every Friday whenever I could for several years now, just the sound of Rita’s voice is very calming and reassuring. I … Read More »

Pushing on with my writing journey

Posted on January 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

I’ve taken notice of what so many people have said and here are more photos! The top one is the front of the house as it is today – our bit consists of the four windows and front door on the left; apart from the fact it’s attached to next door, it looks like a symmetrical type of child’s drawing of a house, I think. From the front it doesn’t look that old, but the picture below shows you the back, taken in summer time, and from that one you can see it is quite ancient. When my son was a lot younger, his friends used to say it was like the Weasley’s house in the Harry Potter films. When I get round to some photos of the inside (have to tidy up first!) you can see that even more clearly.

Update on my historical house and a bit of acceptance

Posted on January 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

This picture really belongs with Saturday’s blog; I’m not great at adding pictures and hardly ever think of doing it, so I’m making the effort today just to show that I’m trying to change! Anyway, these lovely shiny taps are the good side of Friday night/Saturday morning’s plumbing crisis. Unfortunately we can’t use them because the boiler has now stopped providing us with hot water and we are waiting for the boiler man to come on Friday. This blog is not meant to be a commentary on the challenges of living in a house that pre-dates Henry VIII but these occurrences are giving me plenty of practice in not worrying and finding something to be grateful for! (By the way, of course the plumbing doesn’t pre-date said monarch, as in those days they…well let’s not think about it too much but there wasn’t much in the way of plumbing… but the house does present challenges for any sort of modernisation and is constantly needing attention.) Perhaps my next picture had better be of the outside of the house!

Right, now to focus on what I am supposed to be talking about. Today I’ve ended up … Read More »

Sunday pondering

Posted on January 6th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

Today has been a day off from writing, research etc, with some extra sleep to make up for what I lost on Friday night, reading and a lovely long muddy walk with Alfie the bouncy Golden Retriever. No days off for UBC bloggers, though, and I have been doing plenty of productive thinking which is setting me up to be raring to go next week.

Yesterday I came across the following quote from the Dalai Lama:

“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, story-tellers, and lovers of all kinds.”

I haven’t been able to find the original source but it’s quoted all over the internet. Something hit me right between the eyes when I read this: “story-tellers”. I realised suddenly that this is what I am. I thought I was a writer but, in fact, writing is just the craft I am using to get my message across. My stories are full of information and ideas which I am working towards communicating to as many people as I can.

My dictionary defines “story” as 1) the past course of a person or institution’s life; 2) an account given of an … Read More »

Reaching a new level of trust

Posted on January 5th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Dear Universe, when I set the intention of blogging every day in January about my progress with my “worry book”, I meant progress in researching, planning and writing, not progress in my own ability to transcend worry, which, I have to say, is vastly improved on what it was and I am very happy with. I thought I would be blogging every day about interviews, notes, plans, word counts etc etc, which in fact I pretty much have up to now. Today, however, what I have to report is a big lesson in my own worry journey, which I already thought was quite full enough to provide material for my story!

It seems I was wrong. Last night, late last night, the Teenager was running a bath when one of those moments occurred. You know, one minute you think you are fully in control of everything around you, and the next minute everything has changed and you have to try and adjust to the new world order. “Mum, there’s something wrong with the tap”. Indeed there was. The cold tap would not turn off, and it wasn’t just a trickle, it was a torrent of … Read More »

What do you worry about?

Posted on January 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

The Samaritans carry out an annual survey asking respondents what they worry about most. On one day in November, they asked 2,000 people a number of questions about their worries and what they do to address them. Unsurprisingly, the most common worries are about money, debt and bank balances , closely followed by issues with family and relationships. There is more detail here.

This year, a new question was added to the survey, asking people how they deal with their worries. It transpires that only 37% of respondents actually talk about their problems. 29% chose to “grin and bear it” and 26% used alcohol.

That’s 580 people who just soldier on, keeping their worries to themselves. And this is just a sample of the population; there must be many, many people in this country and elsewhere who live with worries, taking no action to deal with how they feel. This saddens me for several reasons. First of all, at the very least surely everyone knows the old saying “a problem shared is a problem halved”. If we have no-one we feel we can share with, we are going through life in a very … Read More »

Moving forwards and trust

Posted on January 3rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 3 comments

It’s not fun, it’s not glamorous and it’s easy to put off. But it has to be done: admin, organising, planning. I haven’t written a whole book before but in 2011 I wrote a 22,000 word academic dissertation and I learned then that the more I planned and the more organised I was, the easier and better the writing turned out to be. So today I’ve been printing out and collating a lot of blog posts and notes I’ve written over the past few months about my worry project. I was quite pleased to see how much material I already have and really pleased when the word count turned out to be 13,964! So I am definitely well underway.

The next boring but very necessary job will be to go through all this material, and my interviews, and start to pull together a master plan, showing what I already have and what needs to be written, added and changed. And this is precisely why I wanted to commit myself to blogging every day about this book: so that I keep plodding onwards, doing the fun bits and the boring bits, because I do know that … Read More »

Healing anxiety and worry

Posted on January 2nd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Today I have been mainly transcribing an interview for my worry book. Transcribing is a bit of a slog, and entails playing a few seconds of a recording on my Dictaphone, typing it up, playing a few seconds, typing it up, over and over. Today, however, this usually boring job has been a joy. And that’s because the interview I’m transcribing is with Rosemary Cunningham.

Rosemary has a starring role in my book. She reached out to me when I was suffering with paralysing anxiety, at the beginning of my big collection of problems. She said “I think I can help you a lot”, told me to read “Excuse me, your life is waiting”, by Lyn Grabhorn and gave me some simple daily practices. This was really the beginning of my turnaround, the point where I started to discover the path away from chronic worry and anxiety, the path towards peace of mind and freedom.

Since that time last Spring, I’ve talked to Rosemary a lot, participated in her Heal Your Money Stuff programme, and attended her Vision Massage workshop. She has a unique ability to bring together her gift for physical healing with an … Read More »

Ultimate blogging – and my answer to chronic worry

Posted on January 1st, by Harriet in Being Well. 10 comments

Well that’s 2012 finally waved off and here is the evidence that Alfie and I were on the sea wall overlooking the marshes to see the sun rise this morning. It was quite magical and I was so glad I made the effort, despite the mud and cold and only four hours’ sleep. I’m starting 2013 as I mean to go on: making time to be inspired, experience what is beautiful and be truly present. I learned a lot in 2012 and it will all be worthwhile if I put it into practice now.

So, what am I going to do? Today is the beginning of another Ultimate Blog Challenge which is a dare, of sorts, to blog every day in January. This will be my third go, and last year I managed 31 posts during both July and October, so I have set the bar quite high. I’m using the Challenge this month to blog about my progress with my book project. It’s a way of making myself accountable and also spreading my message a bit. I’m also hoping to get some feedback, comments and questions which will all help … Read More »

Has it really been a whole year?

Posted on December 31st, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. No Comments

2012 is nearly over. It’s 9pm and in three hours we will be into 2013, and my big year of celebration will be finished – or will it? I have actually counted 46 celebrations so I have four to go. A bit like a muffin top hanging over the tight waistband of December. And because I have learned this year that imperfection is fine, in fact it’s real and alive, and because I am the one who makes the rules in this game, I can allow the overspill. Hey, it’s supposed to be a celebration, so what’s the point in getting stressed and controlling?!

Since the drama of my tattoo on Friday I have squeezed in one more challenge, which was to go to the cinema on my own. I wanted to see Skyfall, and found out the last showing at the local Odeon was on Saturday evening. Date night. Well, once I’ve made my mind up I can be very determined so I decided to take myself to the cinema for my very own date. I did feel a bit conspicuous all on my tod but I am very used to … Read More »

Shock: 50 year-old woman gets tattoo!

Posted on December 29th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 3 comments

The year is nearly over and I’m squeezing a few more celebrations in before midnight on Monday! I will probably get to about number 46 so there will be some overspill but it’s all fine; this year I’ve learned a lot about the joys of imperfection, among many, many other things, and I’m happy to say that it was only my rule to do 50 things during 2012, so if it takes a few more days, weeks or a month then I’m a bit silly if I get upset, aren’t I?

Yesterday, however, was a big one that I had been umming and ahhhing about for at least two years. The clue’s in the title and the picture. Yup, yesterday morning I went all by myself to the local tattoo parlour to let a rather young and very nice chap called Luke draw a dove with an olive branch on my ankle. Permanently.

Why did I want to do this? Partly challenge, like a dare I suppose, and partly because if I didn’t do it I would always wonder whether I really should have. Also it was to do with expressing myself creatively in a different … Read More »

Talk and touch

Posted on December 9th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 1 Comment

On Friday I did one of those things that I would never have said “yes” to if I wasn’t doing my celebration year, which includes challenging myself to say yes and stretch my comfort zone. In fact, when Rosemary Cunningham first suggested I attend her Vision Massage Workshop, I said I couldn’t. It didn’t take me long, however, to remember the saying yes ethos and change my mind.

Alongside other therapies and coaching, Rosemary has been teaching adults and children to massage stories on each others’ backs for years. Recently she has developed this into a technique that can be used to work with groups of adults, and Vision Massage was created. Being very much an in-my-head person, I had some trepidation about learning to do something using my hands, but that’s what stretching comfort zones is all about!

I soon found that we weren’t going to get all technical with the massage; it’s done through clothes, with the recipient seated, and the magic is in the place where the touch and the words/ideas combine.

We started with Rosemary showing us how to give a “weather massage”, during which you simply describe different types of weather and … Read More »

Ignite!

Posted on December 2nd, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 1 Comment

This time last week I was in a hotel in Birmingham with 200 other women, networking, singing and dancing, listening to inspiring speakers and feeling re-energised. A year ago, I would never have imagined myself in such a setting, but a lot can happen in a year!

Last November, I joined a group for women entrepreneurs called Damsels in Success. I wasn’t at all sure why I was doing this, after all I was a serious and rather reclusive academic and lawyer, no more than mildly interested in dressing up and being visible, and allergic to anything involving singing in public. As soon as I did join up, however, I discovered that “Damsels”, as well as running monthly meetings in several locations throughout the UK, has a thriving online community, where women can find like-minded contacts for advice, support, celebration and networking at any time of the day or night. I just loved that forum (still do!) and quickly started to make new and inspiring contacts in this country and beyond, as a result of being part of the online Damsels community.

Damsels also runs an annual conference known as “Ignite!”, which is what we were all doing … Read More »

Learning (again) to play

Posted on November 27th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 2 comments

I’m a bit behind with blogging about my 50th year celebrations, and this is a great thing because it means life is busy and exciting! There has been plenty of work and quite a lot of fun in between; in fact, since my birthday, such a lot has happened that it feels as if my life has moved up a gear.

Anyway, 10 days ago I was given a lovely birthday treat by my goddaughter and her parents, which was a visit to Jungle Adventure, a local soft play area. With my new interest in play and playfulness, I realised this would be a great opportunity to learn from some real experts. Messages are reaching me from so many directions at the moment, emphasising the value of re-learning the art of play for adults. It’s a way of getting in touch with our real selves, connecting with people, learning, growing in confidence and beating stress. But how much time and effort do we actually invest in playing? Unless we have a hobby, are involved in sport or music, probably not much, and even then these activities can start to take on a very serious, even … Read More »

On the rapids

Posted on November 20th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 6 comments

Thursday saw the realisation of a long-held ambition, and one of the longest-standing items on my celebratory list. I’ve wanted to try white water rafting since I-don’t-know-when, and when I found out that you can have a go on the Olympic course at Lea Valley I was so excited! As regular readers will know, I am a huge fan of the Olympics, so the chance to try out my dream on the course especially created for the canoe and kayak events was too good to miss. My friend Kim said she would come with me, and the date we chose fell conveniently between our two 50th birthdays.

The day started misty and murky, not the sort of weather you would choose for water sports, but it could have been a lot worse. I was a little nervous, not because of the riskiness of what we were doing, but because I had looked forward to this for such a long time and just wondered whether I would enjoy it as much as I expected, or whether perhaps I would be unexpectedly frightened like I was on the High Ropes. Here we are, arriving all expectant at … Read More »

Us and US

Posted on November 6th, by Harriet in Being Well. 3 comments

Have you heard about Britishisms? Apparently, it’s becoming cool in America to use British words and phrases like “getting your knickers in a twist”, “gobsmacked” and “bum”. I was delighted to hear about this, as it is somehow comforting that our eccentricities are infiltrating the American language when we have for so long been invaded by Americanisms. To such an extent that, it seems to me, the word “butt” is actually more frequently used here now than “bum”. Sorry to lower the tone so quickly, but doesn’t it seem odd that we have swapped our describing words for our bottoms?

I’ve always been interested in language; it’s my way in to understanding thought and culture. And my observation of the differences between our language and American English began early, when I studied American literature in my final year at university. I learned then that American thought and writing is founded on a very different history from ours, different priorities and vastly different ideals. So, although we may think we understand each other because our tongues contain many of the same words, in fact we are in many ways so very different.

Of course, the reason … Read More »

Recharged!!!

Posted on November 4th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 5 comments

Picture this: a 50 year-old woman in woolly hat and gloves, winter coat and wellies, skipping through Great Expectations country at dusk. Yes, I really do live within easy walking distance of the marshes where the recent TV drama starring Ray Winstone was filmed, and yes, I was skipping. Skipping! Why? Well, smiling just wasn’t enough to express how happy I was feeling and unfortunately, singing doesn’t do it for me unless I can’t hear myself because the sound that comes out of my mouth is nothing like what I hear in my head. So I had to skip, to let some of the happiness that I was bursting with come out.

I’m bursting with happiness today because I went to Richard Wilkins’ Recharge Day yesterday. He holds them four times a year and I’m hoping to go to the next one as well – that is if it’s not sold out already!. Richard has invented a programme called Broadband Consciousness, or BC, which he runs with his partner, Liz Ivory, and introduces on the Recharge Day. Amongst the love, laughter and friendliness there is a serious message to put across and it’s all … Read More »

Day 31 – what has October’s blog challenge taught me?

Posted on October 31st, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

It’s 31st October and the last day of the October Ultimate Blog Challenge. I’m delighted that I have managed to post every single day during the month and I thought today’s post would be a good opportunity to see what has happened for me during this challenge.

On 4th October it was my dog Alfie’s birthday and I posted about him, adding photos which is unusual for me. It was lovely to have several people telling me how gorgeous he is (well, he is!) and this inspired me to post the next day about what we can learn from animals, who are so good at being in their own skin, and how we could perhaps be better at “being human”. There was lots of reaction to this post and some of the comments were really interesting.

A bit later, I posted about the Chopra Centre’s 21 Day Meditation Challenge which is due to start on 5th November and several people said they would join me on the challenge. This is fabulous; the Summer challenge was a great experience and I just think the more people that take part the better for all of us.

I posted a bit more … Read More »

Poems

Posted on October 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I have blogged a couple of times about my mother Caroline Stack, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 23 years ago. A bit of a biography and an interview about the Paralympics. I know she writes poetry and I have seen a few of her poems. Today, I asked if I could have a look for one or two to post here and she handed me a large bundle. There are lots and many of them are inspirational. I chose two for today.
The first was written in May 2011:

In the early days
I said this MS
Was a curse or worse
But now I am a different person
I have lived through that thinking
It has made me more accepting
Made me stronger
Now the MS and I are one
I don’t have it I am it
Which means I cannot hate it
Or I hate me
I live my life with it
It is me and I am it

What an insight into living with a chronic, disabling illness and a lesson in acceptance. I am sure that this peace of mind has helped Mother in that the MS has progressed much more slowly than anyone expected.

The second poem is from this February:

I have been blessed
In my … Read More »

List of love

Posted on October 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

A little while ago I blogged about lists. I’ve recently started a new one, just for fun. It’s a list of Things I Love. It starts with “Flowers – except petunias”. I’m not sure why I have such a dislike for petunias but I really can’t bear them. When it’s rained and they’re wet I can’t even look at them. Other items already on the list are cheese, gratitude, walking, galleries, swimming, going for coffee. Once I started, the list grew quickly and easily. It’s very much a work in progress, though, and I intend to see how big I can make it.

Why did I start this? Well, as I said, it’s just for fun, and my initial idea was to focus on things I love so that I can fill my life with as many of them as possible. It’s easy to forget the little things, like lavender, for example, that could actually play a bigger part if I was a bit more purposeful about including them in my day to day existence. And what would happen then? Well, we will have to see, but I’m guessing … Read More »

Just ask!

Posted on October 28th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

For all sorts of different reasons recently, I have been thinking about asking for things. Maybe it’s an English trait, but I grew up believing I shouldn’t ask, I should just wait until someone offered something to me, whether at the table, at my birthday or when I hoped for praise at school. I’m an off-the-scale introvert so I took to this “rule” very happily. In many ways, being self-effacing and non-demanding like this is a good quality, but as a blanket approach, it doesn’t work too well in the modern world.

Believe it or not, I have worked in sales, both for my own company and for other people. Understandably it was a miserable experience. Day after day, phone call after phone call of getting out of my comfort zone and asking. Perhaps this was asking just a little bit (or a lot!) too much of myself and I would never dream of opting for a sales position now!

Life in general still requires that we ask for things, though. Three years ago the Teenager needed a lot of help. School wasn’t working for him and he asked me if he could be home … Read More »

Well, you have to worry, don’t you?

Posted on October 27th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I’ve been looking up the word “worry” in my Concise Oxford Dictionary. First it talks about a dog worrying at something by biting and shaking it, and then goes on to allowing “no rest or peace of mind…”. Further down, there are mentions of worry beads, worry-guts, worry-wart, reminding me how many different ways there are to talk about this uncomfortable aspect of our lives.

We all know what we mean when we say “I’m worried”, and we all probably mean a slightly different thing, simply because we are all different and each of us is a unique recipe of thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs and experiences. But perhaps many of us could agree that worry boils down to not allowing ourselves rest or peace of mind. Doesn’t sound too nice, does it?

This is how worry seems to grow: it starts with either a troublesome thought or a twinge of anxiety. Then the thought provokes anxiety or we start to wonder what the twinge is about. Our subject matter might be an event in the past or something we are anticipating in the future. Usually it takes us away from the present, the here … Read More »

“I haven’t done anything wrong”

Posted on October 26th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

A couple of times recently I have been reminded how traumatic it can be for those of us who consider ourselves law-abiding and respectable to be arrested and detained by the police. Before you stop reading and think this is not for you, think again. False allegations are made, for all sorts of reasons, and cases of mistaken identity or misapprehension do happen. Nice, respectable, middle-class, sometimes professional people do find themselves arrested, searched, deprived of their belongings and locked in a police cell. I know it happens because I spend much of my working life inside custody suites and I meet these people regularly.

I think that such people are amongst the most vulnerable detainees. First of all, they find the whole business frightening and traumatic. They often have so much to lose: reputation, career, self-respect. Many of the “regulars” in police cells have none of these things so they can’t worry about losing them, and they are so used to being locked up that the custody sergeant and detention officer are often friendly faces. The regulars also know their rights. They know what to say and what not to say, … Read More »

Do you look after yourself?

Posted on October 25th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Today I heard that a good friend, and someone I really look up to as a runner, has made the decision to pull out of the Great South Run this weekend. I’ve never managed a 10 mile race but I really care about my running and love taking part in races. Earlier this month I had to decide not to run an 8k, and it was really disappointing, albeit sensible. So I can imagine how she feels, and I empathise.

It is hard to make a sensible decision, especially when you have worked so hard towards a goal. Sometimes, putting our own wellbeing at a high priority means we can’t do what we want or we have to face disappointment. It’s a weighing up process and we sometimes have to miss out now in order to have a better chance of feeling better later on.

I didn’t always understand this. Like many of us, I have learned from many sources that sacrifice, drivenness and working harder than is really good for us will be praised. That in order to achieve we must first suffer. I took these attitudes to heart, pushed myself remorselessly throughout … Read More »

50: invisible or empowered?

Posted on October 24th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 10 comments

I’m very excited today because I’ve been invited to a party. And not just any old party – a 50th birthday party! One of my friends who is just behind me in age and has decided to celebrate her half century in her own wonderful way. I’m really looking forward to wearing a posh frock and being part of a lovely, happy, positive occasion.

In December 2010, I decided I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday but I knew that I wanted to choose something other than a party. And that’s when I came up with my idea of doing 50 things in 2012, both before and after my birthday, to make a year-long celebration. So far, it’s proved to be a life-changing decision with profound consequences, but I won’t be able truly to quantify what they all are until the year is over. The stage I’ve got to now is this: living purposefully, saying “yes” and trying new things have all enriched my life and given me so many gifts, that whether I actually count to 50 by the end of the year matters less and less. But without the number of 50 … Read More »

Should I accept it, or should I change it?

Posted on October 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

I was reminded today of a simple diagram in Stephen R Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey suggests we draw or imagine a circle, called our circle of concern. This circle contains within it all the things we are concerned with in our life. Within that circle is a smaller one, containing the things we are concerned about that we can actually influence. This is our circle of influence. He asks us to examine where we are directing our focus. Are we focussing on the things we cannot influence but are concerned about, or the things we can actually influence or change?

This question is vital to getting a grip on worry, which is my current research topic. Many of us spend most of our time and energy thinking or worrying about the things over which we have no influence at all. Usually these are other people, situations and events, past happenings and future worries. All of which are outside us and impossible to control, change or exert influence over. Worry can become obsessive, compulsive, so that we believe we must worry in order to stop bad things … Read More »

What ‘s your earliest memory?

Posted on October 22nd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

What is your earliest memory? Mine is from when I was nearly three. For a few months, my parents and I lived in a caravan, in a field belonging to the house they were renovating. It was a really hot summer, so I guess I must have spent all my waking moments outside, as the caravan would have been very hot and uncomfortable. At the edge of the field was a big barn, with tarred weatherboarding walls. My mother used to fill up my little bucket with water, give me a paintbrush, and allow me to paint the barn walls with it. The water would soak into the surface of the wood and turn it a darker colour, until the sun baked it dry again. I thought I was painting and I loved it.

This is my first memory, followed by my third birthday party, for which we had a rabbit birthday cake, still in the caravan, in the September. I can still remember that “painting” so well. I can feel the bucket in my hand, see its patterns, and sense the satisfaction in making something look different. I didn’t know … Read More »

Lists: do they help or hinder?

Posted on October 21st, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

Do you make lists? I have always liked making lists and it’s a habit that has its pros and cons. Everyone knows it’s a good idea to make a shopping list, so we don’t forget the things we really need and to prevent us buying lots of things we don’t! And decision making can often be aided by taking a large sheet of paper, drawing a line down the middle and writing all the reasons for a choice on one side and all the reasons against that choice on the other. Then weighing it all up. Long, impossible to-do lists, that sit around unticked for ages can really be depressing, however, as can lists of things we want to do to improve ourselves but know will never materialis, so I do think it pays to know which lists work for you and which ones don’t.

These days, when I make to-do lists they are reasonable, and often contain some really easy tasks that I am absolutely sure I will do so that I get a nice satisfied feeling ticking them off quickly. I have been known to put things on the list that I have … Read More »

Are you committed?

Posted on October 20th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Committing to post on my blog every single day in October is proving to be an interesting exercise. Some days, I can’t wait to post as there is something on my mind that I want to share. Other days, like today, it’s more of a challenge. I have been working in my professional capacity all day and am just finishing up. I found myself tired, stressed and with a headache. It’s Saturday and all I wanted to think about was cooking something easy and getting to sleep. But I’m a perfectionist and I didn’t want to leave my blog post till tomorrow and have to catch up.

I decided to try and turn things round. I downloaded a meditation from Sarupa Shah’s Facebook page and told the Teenager I would be meditating and not to disturb me. (This didn’t stop him from knocking on the door half way through to tell me he was going out.) The meditation was about finding your personal power and I gradually started to feel a lot better: calmer, energised and even a little inspired! I certainly recommend trying the meditations on this page if you are … Read More »

Play: just for kids?

Posted on October 19th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

Last night I downloaded Kama J Frankling’s e-book, Play Curiosity and Confidence. I haven’t had time to read every word but I scrolled right through it straight away. Kama gives 65 suggestions for ways we can become more playful, take life and ourselves slightly less seriously, and increase our confidence as a result. To download a copy for yourself, read her blog post here.

Some of Kama’s suggestions are things that are already part of my life, but there are others which I am going to try out as part of my 50 things to celebrate being 50. I particularly like the idea of going out to a restaurant to eat dessert. What a wonderfully fun, decadent and totally unnecessary thing to do! I’ll always err on the serious side and am prone to justifying it when I do eat out: “It’ll be too late to cook when I get home so better eat now” or “this is the only way for me to catch up with this friend”. I’m working at letting more frivolity into my life!

Another suggestion which really appealed to me, and which I am working on already, is creating a … Read More »

What is a feminist?

Posted on October 18th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

This morning we are hearing media reports that only one in seven women describe themselves as a feminist, according to a Netmums survey. I’m not going to question the methodology of the research, as I know that others are doing this already. I am, however, very concerned about our understanding of the term “feminist”.

My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines feminism as “advocacy of women’s rights on ground of equality of the sexes”, and “equal” as “the same in number, size, value, degree, rank, musical pitch, etc”. Could we agree here that equality of the sexes most likely refers to “value”? Therefore we have a simple dictionary definition of feminism as the campaign for women to be worth as much as men. To be of equal value.

Being pedantic, I don’t want to stop at a dictionary definition, though. Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies, including political, advocating such equality. Equal value. Erm…if we don’t advocate equal value, what exactly are we accepting? Lesser value? Feminism is also, importantly I think, a school of academic thought based on the premise that we live in a patriarchal society, of which we are … Read More »

How can you work with those people?

Posted on October 17th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

When people hear that I am a criminal defence lawyer, they are usually interested. After all, what I do is often the subject of television drama and films, although the former are usually riddled with inaccuracies and both regularly portray lawyers in a very bad light. I can’t watch those programmes any more, because each time I see a lawyer sitting in a police interview, chin on hands, looking bored, I want to throw things at the telly. And, yes, it actually is that interesting. Each day is different and makes unexpected demands.

Once they’ve said “how interesting!”, the first thing people usually say is “but how do you work with those people?” Momentarily, I am sure, forgetting that in our legal system everyone is supposed to be innocent until proved guilty and of course there would be no need for police investigation or, indeed, prosecution, if every person arrested was “a criminal”.

So, just briefly, I’d like to tell you who “those people” are. A large proportion of suspects in police stations have mental health difficulties of one kind or another (or several) including addictions. Many have psychiatric conditions. Some have learning difficulties. … Read More »

What are you looking for?

Posted on October 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

This morning, one of the first things to enter my consciousness was a Facebook post by Richard Wilkins, the essence of which was that what you find to today will be about what you look for rather than what simply shows up.

This sounded like a challenge, which means that it was just about irresistible to me. I had a think and decided that, today, I would look for abundance. Like so many people, I am very well trained to concentrate on lack, to look for scarcity and not-enough-ness, and guess what? If I look for those things I find them all over the place – not only in my life but in the lives of those around me.

One of my friends posted on Facebook that she had decided, on reading Richard’s post, to look for things to make her smile. I commented with my resolution to look for abundance and straight away, the very next post I saw was a moving “pay it forward” type story about someone paying anonymously for a woman’s new tyres. Immediately after that, I picked up on another, similar and very moving, pay it forward story.

Realising that I … Read More »

21 Day Meditation Challenge

Posted on October 15th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

Today I am suggesting that you do something. It’s free, it takes 15 minutes a day and can be done in your own home, lasts just 21 days, and may change your life. What is it? The Chopra Centre’s 21 Day Meditation Challenge, starting 5th November.

I was persuaded to sign up for the last Challenge, which had the theme of love, and it made a big impact on me. Every day for 21 days, you receive an email with a link to a guided meditation. I was sceptical at first, as I don’t really get on with too much guidance and visualisation when meditating, but I was pleasantly surprised. Each meditation begins with a gentle talk and some guidance about how to meditate. All very simple. Some of the meditations are led by Deepak himself and the others by individuals who work at the Centre. Then there is a period of meditation with beautiful music in the background, and no talking. As the leader says, “I’ll watch the time”. My experience was of feeling safe and cared for, able to really let go because I knew I would be told, … Read More »

What is choice?

Posted on October 14th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Today’s post is a continuation, really, of my description of a day in Cambridge yesterday. After the morning’s lecture on the subject of Can We Really Have it All, there was a lovely buffet lunch in the hall where, many years ago, we used to dine wearing our gowns. It’s all very grand, with a beautiful ornate ceiling and light flooding in through large windows. Luxurious but relaxed, academic but now grown-up!

The afternoon lecture was delivered by Dr Jane MacDougall, a fellow of the college who had been an undergraduate there just a couple of years before I was. She is now a consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and a specialist in Reproductive Medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. A real expert then!

I was expecting someone terrifying but Jane was warm, humorous and human. Her talk on fertility preservation and egg freezing was extremely engaging. Many women attending were science graduates, and several of them were GPs, but Jane managed to give a talk that interested and informed both them and also those of us who are not in the least scientific.

What she told us was fascinating, explaining the up-do-date science around freezing … Read More »

I don’t know how she does it

Posted on October 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

Today I had a special day out. I went with my friend Kim to the Cambridge college where we were both undergraduates, to listen to two very different lectures and have lunch. Newnham is an all women’s college, and can be a bit like a grown up girls’ boarding school when a lot of us get together. I don’t have the happiest memories of my time there – nothing to do with the university or the college – so I am grateful now for the opportunity to create some new memories.

This post is just a quick one about the morning’s lecture, which was by Alison Pearson, who wrote a best-selling novel called I don’t know how she does it, about 10 years ago. The novel is all about a very successful London working mother and all the difficulties she has combining a high-flying career with motherhood. There are some very funny moments and any mother will identify with the challenges, heartache and feelings of never-good-enough-in-either-role. I read the book when it first came out and enjoyed it, and then earlier this year watched the film of the same name, set in New York and … Read More »

Are you a mosquito?

Posted on October 12th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Looking for inspiration for today’s post, I found this quote from the late Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito”. Conjures up quite an image, doesn’t it? Even in the UK, sometimes in the Summer when you’re trying to sleep, suddenly you hear that awful zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!! and you know it’s trying to get you. All it wants is to find a bit of skin to attack and suck out your blood. And even if you hide under the covers, it’s impossible to sleep because of the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!! Of course, if the dratted thing actually manages to bite you, you’ll be awake all night scratching, looking for antihistamine and we haven’t even begun trying to swat it.

Now, those are the comparatively mild mannered mossies we have in temperate climates. Find yourself in Africa or Asia and it’s a different ball game entirely. Mosquitoes carry dengue fever and malaria, and protecting yourself adequately can be a life or death matter. They are tiny, and when splatted there is barely a smudge left, as if they’d never … Read More »

How would you like to be remembered?

Posted on October 11th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I love reading those interviews which ask a set of specific questions, such as “who would you invite to your dream dinner party?”, “what is your most unappealing habit?” and “how would you like to be remembered?” The Guardian Weekend Magazine runs an interview like that every week. I don’t mind if the interviewee is famous or not; they could be anyone. I just like to know how people tick and what they think. I’d love to quiz all my friends like this but I’m not sure they’d thank me!

I always know what I’d answer to “how would you like to be remembered”. I think of a friend, not close but long-standing, who died a few years ago. A very straightforward, well-intentioned and wise man. He once said to me, about my life as a single parent trying to manage everything myself, “you and that boy ought to have a bit more fun”.

I went to his funeral and, the next day, took my son to the graveyard so we could pay our respects together. We read the cards on the wreaths and there was one from his grandchildren which read “thank you for … Read More »

Six forms of energy

Posted on October 10th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

I’m very interested in energy. Living with a condition which can limit my energy and also cause a number of symptoms including fatigue, I am now fascinated by the amount of energy that other people seem to have, and it’s a high priority to conserve my own energy and use it wisely.

At the moment, I’m reading a book called The Energy of Money by Maria Nemeth, a clinical psychologist. I’m only half way through but it’s really interesting and enlightening on many levels. There is one specific point that she makes, however, which I wanted to share because it has made such an impact on me. It’s about the nature of energy itself.

What we all want to do is transform what is in the metaphysical realm (ideas, intentions, goals) into reality in the physical realm. This is how success happens, and in order to do this we need to energise our goals.

And Dr Nemeth explains that energy comes in six primary forms:
Money
Time
Physical vitality
Enjoyment
Creativity
Support of friends

When I first read this list, I was transfixed. I had always seen energy as just physical and mental exertion, or what Nemeth calls “physical vitality”, and had recently also … Read More »

Eight ways to tackle over-thinking

Posted on October 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

I’m not really one for “10 reasons to…” or “5 ways you can…” type posts but today I got onto the topic of compulsive thinking, AKA mulling, dwelling, worrying , analysing, etc, and challenged myself to see how many strategies I could think of to zap this energy-draining habit. I found eight. It’s something I have been working on and talking about for decades, and is a frequent subject of conversation, so these suggestions just might be of interest.

Take action: sometimes when we are worried, anxious or anticipating something, there is action we can take that will dissipate some of that thinking. It may be a very small thing, like writing a to do list instead of trying to remember several tasks, or something much bigger like apologising for something we regret or getting down to something we have been procrastinating about. The key is to ask ourselves: “is there some action I could take, which would allow me to let go of some of this thinking?”

Share: the old saying is “a problem shared is a problem halved” and that holds a lot of truth. It helps to talk. Knowing that someone else … Read More »

Prosperity before compassion and rights?

Posted on October 8th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. 1 Comment

Apologies to non-UK readers, today’s post is rather parochial. It’s also left-leaning, but then that is me anyway. I’ve just been listening to George Osborne (our Chancellor of the Exchequer) making his speech to the Conservative Party Conference. I wasn’t going to listen to it because I knew it would make me cross but then I heard the beginning and got sucked in!

I’m not an economist so I won’t comment on the intricacies of whether to cut, how far and how much borrowing is right. I do know, however, that for every expert who says we should cut fast and deep and borrow less there is another who says cuts should be less and more gradual and borrowing is OK. Take your pick. I listen to those whose politics I agree with and I am deeply sceptical when those in government appear to be scaremongering to get the electorate to sing according to the official hymn sheet.

There are two other points I want to bring up. First, Osborne has promised further welfare cuts. He says the party is not intending to create further divisiveness, and then describes the resentment felt by the … Read More »

Does your imagination keep you stuck?

Posted on October 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

This morning I had a lovely telephone conversation with a very dear friend. We were talking about worry; this is a subject of special interest to me, partly because I am on my own exciting journey to let go of worrying, and partly because it is the subject of my current book project.

The kind of worry we were discussing was very specific. You know when you want to do something, or at least try to do it, but you have concerns about something that might happen if you do this thing and, because of these fears or anxieties, you put off trying at all? “If I try to do that, people might say/might not like/might criticise me/it might upset someone/I might be upset/feel rejected/feel a failure…” I would be absolutely amazed if anyone reading this has not experienced at least one version of this scenario. So we procrastinate, put off doing the thing we really, really want to do because of these imagined fears.

My friend told me a story about taking her courage into both hands and doing something she had longed to do, despite all her fears. And guess what? They all … Read More »

Lonely…or just alone

Posted on October 6th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Today I was supposed to be at two separate events. The first was the Running for Women 8k which is a fabulous event held annually in Windsor Great Park. The other one, which I had declined since I was due to take part in the run, was my friend and mentor Lisa Clark’s book signing for her new title, Sassy: the Go-for-It Girl’s Guide to becoming Mistress of your Destiny. The latter was to be held in Southampton and I am now grown-up enough to know that I couldn’t be in both Windsor and Southampton in one day, especially if that day had to start and end in Essex!

As it turned out, I had to make the decision yesterday not to go anywhere so far from home, as I haven’t been too well and I knew all that driving wouldn’t be good for me. This is real, serious grown-upness and I am rather impressed with myself that I could be so sensible!

So what I ended up doing today was reminiscent of Sex and the City, but in a rural Essex sort of way. Spending several hours in the coffee shop of our local garden centre … Read More »

Being human

Posted on October 5th, by Harriet in Being Well. 12 comments

Yesterday I blogged about my Golden Retriever, Alfie, because it was his birthday. We went for a lovely birthday walk, made extra special because it was high tide which gave him lots of opportunities to paddle in the marshes. Rather him than me on a blowy October day! I often find long walks inspiring, and that’s just what happened yesterday. I started to think about lessons I learn from Alfie.

Alfie is good at lots of things, but the one he really excels at is being a dog. He loves sniffing, running, paddling, eating and sleeping. If he has an itch he will scratch it, wherever he is, and if he finds something truly disgusting he will either roll in it or eat it…or both! He has no problem with his body – inquisitive wet nose, flappy ears, furry coat and waggy tail. In fact he seems to enjoy it to the max. You could say that he lives in a very natural, instinctive way.

What about us…do we enjoy being human? Do we think our bodies are fun places to live and enjoy using our instincts and impulses? Hmmm, thought … Read More »

Happy Birthday Alfie!

Posted on October 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

This was Alfie this morning; he is three years old today. He is affectionate, intelligent, bouncy and has a real sense of humour. He’s always happy, first thing in the morning, delighted that someone has come downstairs to let him out and feed him, but greeting us enthusiastically first; every time we come home, sticking his nose out through the catflap as far as he can and wagging happily at the other end. If you are sad there is always a wet nose to console you and if you need a break there’s a perfect excuse to take a brisk, happy walk through the fields and marshes.

The first time we saw Alfie he was three weeks old and looked like this. There were several more visits to see the litter before we could take him home, and when we did he vomited six times in the back of the car, with the Teenager, then 13, coping valiantly.

So then we had our very own Andrex puppy who took over our lives completely. In the last three years we have had a couple of health scares with him. The first was a severe tummy … Read More »

Graduation!

Posted on October 3rd, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 1 Comment

This is me, having just officially received my Masters in Legal Practice at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford, Essex. During 2010 and 2011, I researched and wrote a 22,000 word dissertation on the human rights of child suspects in police stations. This was based on my own professional practice as well as extensive qualitative research and interviews of live participants. The subject is something I care deeply about, and gaining expertise in the area just made me more passionate and concerned.

I finally submitted the finished product, carefully footnoted and edited, complete with extensive appendices, in November 2011. The next thing I did was to take all my research paperwork out of the files and store it all in a box so I didn’t need to look at it, and tried very hard not to think about the results over Christmas and New Year. I needn’t have worried; I ended up with a very good (80%) distinction and some very pleasing comments from both internal and external markers. There was a bit of flirting with the idea of a PhD, both from my side and from the University, but both circumstances and realising I am … Read More »

Are you vulnerable?

Posted on October 2nd, by Harriet in Being Well. 3 comments

Last night I was talking to a very special person in my life and mentioned that I am sensing my greatest power is really in vulnerability. “Have you heard of Brene̒ Brown?” she asked. Sure I have. I’ve read “The Gifts of Imperfection”, which for me is about self-worth and the lack of it, and I absolutely loved “I thought it was just me”, which explains shame so well. Brene̒’s latest book, “Daring Greatly”, is about vulnerability, and I am really looking forward to reading it.

Amazon’s product description of this book contains the following line: “she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection”. This is why it is so important for me to read this book, and I soon will. I suspect, perhaps even believe, that the vulnerability I have spent a lifetime trying alternately to overcome and to hide, is where my greatest power, strength and contribution lie. Perhaps it’s even my greatest asset.

So when my friend told me that Brene̒ is speaking in London tomorrow night, I thought I should try to get to that talk. Then I thought again. … Read More »

Ultimate Blog Challenge Day One

Posted on October 1st, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

It’s 11pm. A bit late for writing a blog post but I have just signed up to the Ultimate Blog Challenge again and would really like to get each of my posts this month done on the appropriate day, just like I did in July.

So why am I doing this? First of all, I do like a challenge and this year, the year that I have my 50th birthday, I am saying “yes” as often as I can. I feel that I am in a really interesting growth stage, a bit like a second teenage, and that if I stretch myself a bit all sorts of extraordinary things could happen. It’s quite certain that if I don’t stretch myself, if I say “maybe next time”, or “I can’t do it because…” then not very much will happen at all!

Secondly, doing the challenge in July really helped me develop my voice and clarify what I wanted to write about. I didn’t know this would happen, but I ended up writing a lot of personal development, spiritual and inspirational posts and enjoyed doing them. What’s more, I received a lot of positive feedback which was very … Read More »

Race for Life

Posted on September 30th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 1 Comment

This is one I do every year. Because I can. Simple as that really, but it is a really lovely event and I always enjoy so many aspects of it. So I absolutely had to include it in my list of 50 celebrations.

I have always done Race for Life (for transatlantic cousins, this is a women-only fun run in aid of Cancer Research which is run in many, many towns in the UK every year) in Chelmsford but this year had entered the smaller one in Colchester, which is my nearest big town. I must add that Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town and has a Roman castle and the Roman walls circling the old town are still significantly intact.

The event was supposed to be in July but the weather was so very wet then that it was postponed to today, and this worked out really well; it was dry, sunny, breezy and just about a perfect autumn day. As always, there was a lot of very over the top dressing up, with pink wigs, tutus, feather boas etc. We all became unrecognisable in a sea of pink. I didn’t go further than … Read More »

Listen to Mother

Posted on September 28th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

Yesterday I talked to my mother, Caroline, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 23 years ago, about the Paralympic Games. I thought it might be interesting to share her perspective and how the Games affected her self image.

Harriet: We both enjoyed the Olympics but this was the first time we had such comprehensive coverage of the Paralympics. Were you surprised at how involved you became in watching the Paralympic Games?

Caroline: No not really because with other Olympics when we’ve had just small snatches of news about the Paralympics I’ve always wanted to see more, particularly the dressage. And the swimming.

Harriet: Do you think the dressage was what you enjoyed most?

Caroline: Yes I think it was because having extensive knowledge of horses it was my thing and I could be right in there feeling it as they did it.

Harriet: Do you think that your knowledge of equestrianism afforded you a greater appreciation of the achievements of the Paralympic riders?

Caroline: Oh absolutely. It almost made me feel that I could be doing it with them. I knew what it took to achieve some of the movements but when I saw a person with only … Read More »

Happy Peace Day

Posted on September 23rd, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 8 comments

Friday was International Peace Day. When I realised that it was the day after my birthday and that Wake Up London was organising a Flash Mob Meditation as well as several other activities, I knew I would have to be there, as part of my birthday celebrations and as one of my fabulous 50 things.

Happily, I found out that my friend Tracy Shave, artist, comedian and smile/laughter/play expert, wanted to go as well so we arranged to travel to London together. This made the whole day a splendid event, as we talked non-stop on the way, sharing views, experiences and ideas.

The first stop was Trafalgar Square, for “bubbles not bombs”. We had both brought bottles of bubbles to blow, thinking that this was a mass participation event, although I must admit that Tracy’s bottle of bubbly stuff, as befits an expert in play and fun, was much more professional than my own. When we found the bubble blowers, however, we only managed to create a few small bubbles each, however, because these people had real, serious equipment and the bubbles were ginormous! All in the spirit of International Peace Day and held in front of the … Read More »

Birthday girl!

Posted on September 23rd, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 2 comments

Thursday was my big day and of course eventually it did roll around! The day before, I had my hair and nails done and thought hard about the fact that I was in the last few hours of being in my 40s. It didn’t hurt at all. I did wonder how I would feel the next day.

One of the first things I did on my birthday was to take my gorgeous dog for a lovely walk around the sea wall. It’s not really a sea wall, more a raised path between arable fields and salt marshes, but it’s a huge, calming space miles from anywhere. While I was walking, I asked myself how I really felt. The answer was easy: I felt liberated! I suddenly remembered by 40th birthday, when I got the present I had asked for which was a pair of Hunter wellies. I wore them to take my son to school and really felt relieved that I didn’t have to make an effort to be cool any more. Now, being 50, I really sensed a sudden lack of pressure to be anything other than myself. Also a … Read More »

Dealing with Big Problems 7 – staying present part 1

Posted on September 17th, by Harriet in Being Well. 8 comments

Babies live in the here and now. They cry if they are cold, hungry or wet. The problem is resolved, they stop crying and feel happy again. They don’t remember the unpleasant feelings they had just a few moments ago, and they certainly don’t worry about future hunger, cold or discomfort. But we all know that, gradually, as we grow up, we become aware that we are a separate human being and we lose absolute faith that our carers will look after our every need. Small children learn to worry about being separated from their mothers, school, nasty things a friend has said. They are already aware of past and future, and allow themselves to be torn away from the present by memories of the past and fears about the future.

And, by the time we are adults, we are expert at living far away from the here and now. We may be racked with resentment about things that have happened in the past, sometimes many years ago. The past can also drag us away from the now in the form of regret and self pity. Fear, anxiety and worry usually fast-forward … Read More »

Day at the Paralympic Games

Posted on September 9th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 6 comments

I had been looking forward excitedly to my trip to the Paralympic Games, my fourth London 2012 celebration for my birthday year. I’d managed to get a ticket to the swimming yesterday (Saturday) and had worked out that if Ellie Simmonds got through her heat I would see her swim the 100m freestyle. And of course she did get through. I realised how much this all meant to me on Friday when I was offered work which may well have dragged through to the next day and turned it down without hesitation.

The train was full of people going to Stratford. I did experience an episode of mid-life embarrassment. I had taken my i-pod with me; I pay my teenage son to load music onto it and don’t really know how it works. I decided to make the most of the whole day and settled down on the train to listen to some music. After a few bars, I noticed several people looking at me, including a Gamesmaker, and the woman next to me started talking very loudly. She then nudged me and said “it’s too loud!”. Unable to turn the volume … Read More »

Drawing inspiration from Paralympic runners: anything is possible

Posted on September 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

I went for a run this morning. I’ll never be fast; if I log a 10 and a half minute mile I’m really chuffed. The reason I keep running, despite all sorts of health challenges, is that I always believe I can do it. This may be down to some sort of delusion but I tend to be rather optimistic when it comes to running, often ending up walking uphill because my lungs (never my legs) give up before my spirit does. The thing is, running is hard for me, but I do it because I believe I can.

There’s a lot of other stuff that I ought to be better at than running. Education, qualifications, experience; you name it, I’ve got it. But those things are no use if you don’t believe you can do what you want to do. You could say that wanting to fulfil your potential but not believing you can do it is as crazy and impossible as wanting to be a world class runner and not having legs.

You could say that, but we know, don’t we, that it’s neither crazy nor impossible. We’ve watched Oscar Pistorius, Richard … Read More »

Turning disaster into opportunity

Posted on September 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Today marks a new beginning of sorts for me. My son, the Teenager, is home educated and has been for the last three and a half years. He has now reached school leaving age but is continuing with his education exactly as before, on a basis that is legally defined as “full time”. If he was continuing with school, or even if he was studying at home for A levels, the Revenue and the Child Benefit Office would consider him still in full time education and continue to pay me Child Benefit and Working Tax Credit. For reasons we can only speculate about, however, they choose to consider him no longer in full time education and therefore excuse themselves from continuing to pay those benefits. This means that, from today, I am roughly £440 a month worse off. Since I had trouble making ends meet before, this is a significant change.

What am I going to do? If I allow myself to be taken over by fear, I start to think that the only answer is to drop everything and go out to find full time employment. My family caring responsibilities, my own … Read More »

Now, what about the Paralympic Games?

Posted on September 6th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 1 Comment

I’ve been a bit quiet, blogging wise, recently. Because I’ve been very busy watching the Paralympic Games in every spare moment, and even with half my attention while working sometimes, to be absolutely honest. Well, I don’t feel guilty, because it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have it going on just up the road and to have four TV channels covering many of the events all day and evening.

I did love the Olympics – always do – and found the athletes’ achievements and their stories inspiring in quite a straightforward way. I knew what I wanted to write; it was all about being patriotic, success, achieving whatever you set your mind on, showing emotion etc.

Watching the Paralympics has been the same and yet very, very different. My first impression was that, seeing the athletes coming into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony, they seemed on a high, more like the Olympic athletes in the closing ceremony than at the beginning of the Games. It seemed to me – and of course I may not be right – that achievement and success had already begun. As I have often said to myself … Read More »

Does my bum look big…?

Posted on August 31st, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

When the Olympics were on, I wrote a post about body image, talking about women like Jessica Ennis who happen to have slim, fit-looking bodies as a by-product of all the training and healthy living they do in order to be top in their sports. We all know that women are too hung up on body image and appearance and the point I wanted to make is that being fit and healthy on the inside is more important than looking “beautiful” on the outside.

A couple of days into the Paralympics and the comparison between world class athletes and those of us who focus mainly on appearance shoots to a whole new level. Yesterday I watched a woman with no arms break a world record in the pool. She had to swim until her head crashed into the side of the pool as she has no hands to touch the side first. Countless cyclists in the Velodrome missing limbs but hurtling round there faster and sleeker than any of us could dream of. People who leave their artificial arms and legs at the start line so that they can get on with winning unencumbered.

Who … Read More »

Are you an expert?

Posted on August 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

A brief remark on Radio 4 this morning set me thinking. The interviewee was talking about qualities he had developed as survival techniques due to the type of family he grew up in. I started to wonder, “what did I learn to do really well as a result of my background?”.

The answer came easily and quickly. I am an expert – possibly a world class expert – in telling myself things, believing them, acting on them and then seeing those things manifest themselves in my life. This has to do mainly with playing small, being academically but not commercially successful, not having confidence etc. I learned to create a set of circumstances which exactly mirrored the role I adopted within my family: the quiet, clever one who was really better suited to the inside of a university or library than the big wide world.

Looked at like that, this seems to be an unfortunate quality to have. But that’s because we are drawn to judging things as either “good” or “bad”. How about suspending judgment, and just looking at the functionality of this quality? The fact is, I have learned to … Read More »

You’re how old?

Posted on August 29th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 4 comments

People often say to me, when I tell them my age, “you don’t look it”. That’s very nice; it’s meant as a compliment. But it’s only a compliment if you take on our society’s belief that younger is better, and that ageing is bad. I’ve never really felt properly grown up, and actually I’m always pleased when someone calls me Madam in a shop, or tells their child, “mind that lady”. It makes me realise that I really, truly am a grown up, or at least that I look like one. I want to be mature, wise and respected. If someone says that I seem a lot younger than I actually am, I often start wondering whether I seem less self-assured or authentic than I could do at my age. This is probably largely because outward appearance isn’t very important to me – aren’t I lucky?!

The other very important aspect of this is that actually I do look 50. This is what 50 looks like! I may seem quite fresh and youthful, and be quite fit, have hair that isn’t grey (down to my hairdresser) and wear jeans and T shirts … Read More »

What inspires you?

Posted on August 28th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Inspiration. It’s a word we’ve heard a lot in the last month. We’ve all talked about how inspiring we found the Olympic athletes and there has been a lot of chatter in the media about young people being inspired to take up sport. And, just thinking about the Olympics for a little longer, it can go beyond sport. Several of the medal winners, when interviewed, said that their achievement showed that anyone could do anything they set their mind to. So if we consider the hard work and dedication put in by Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis or Greg Rutherford, and then the impressive results, we can tell ourselves that this shows us we can start our business, write our book or renovate our house.

You see, after many years of believing that it’s all about hard work, sacrifice and not enjoying life, I’ve changed my mind. I loathe and detest housework. I can find anything to do just to avoid it. But the one time I actually want to do housework is when I watch something like “How clean is your house?” on telly. Suddenly, magically, I actually want to do housework. … Read More »

Rocking a dream

Posted on August 21st, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

In this post I’m looking at two of my favourite things: rock music and the Olympics. How happy I am that I have found a way to bring them together! It’s all about having a dream and knowing, very specifically, what it is. I know that’s not an entirely new subject for this blog, but it IS important, and it gives me a great excuse to scribble about a couple of inspiring men.

The first is Dave Grohl, fifth and last drummer in Nirvana and multi-talented front-man of the band Foo Fighters. When Dave was a boy, his dream was this: he would be at his favourite band’s concert, and someone would make an announcement that the band couldn’t play because the drummer was sick, “…unless, of course, there is someone here who knows all the songs…?” Dave knew all the songs and would be catapulted to stardom as he saved the night. What happened? Not too many years later, after playing for a number of bands, Dave became drummer in the iconic grunge band Nirvana. He was described by top producer Butch Vig as “the best drummer in the world”. After … Read More »

Choose your dreams

Posted on August 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 3 comments

Isn’t Mo Farah great? A real success, whichever way you look at it. Winning both the 10,000m and the 5,000m in the same Olympic Games is the result of years of hard work, dedication and focus, and a great deal of natural talent.

But when Mo was a kid he wanted to be a footballer. That’s what he dreamed of, and even now he is one of Arsenal’s biggest fans. And as Brendan Foster remarked, he has seen Mo play football and he would never have been any good. Mo is a sporting hero, a real winner, but the first step on his path to success was making the right decision about which sport to pursue.

In fact, we are all winners. There is something that every person excels at; that, perhaps, could make them a world champion. But if we don’t make the right choice – switch our dreams from football to athletics – we’ll never reach that place.

It’s easy to think “it’s too late for me” and feel locked in to a career choice made as a teenager. Of course, in our 40s or 50s it wouldn’t be realistic to want to … Read More »

To sing or not to sing?

Posted on August 12th, by Harriet in Being Well. 4 comments

Haven’t we done well? 28 gold medals and it’s not over yet. All those British athletes on the podium, not forgetting those silver and bronze medal-winners as well, watching the Union Jack being raised while the National Anthem is played.

But it’s hard to let go of old habits, and there has been griping even about the best of the best at their moment of glory. I think many of us have seen Piers Morgan’s Twitter snipe at Bradley Wiggins for not singing the Anthem, and the Tour de France/Olympic Champion’s assertive reply. It’s easily found on Google if you haven’t. And Piers Morgan isn’t the only one who has complained about gold medal winners not singing.

I’ve been stewing about such criticism for a couple of days and here is what I want to say about it. First of all, where is the rule that they have to sing? Every single one of them, as far as I am aware, has stood respectfully and watched the flag. Is that not enough? Am I supposed to sing every time I hear “God Save the Queen”, and what will happen to me if I … Read More »

Want to look like Jessica….or be like her?

Posted on August 11th, by Harriet in Being Well. 3 comments

Many of us have now spent two weeks watching some of the best athletes in the world do their thing. They all look great, don’t they? It’s enough to make the rest of us feel rather inadequate. But hang on a minute, let’s think about this. With all the training they do, and all the careful nutrition, enough sleep etc, they do look their best, but they’re not doing it to look good.

Long distance runners tend to be light and skinny; they don’t want to carry extra weight, and their training has this effect, too. Sprinters are very muscly and need well developed upper bodies as well as legs. Rowers and swimmers have broad shoulders and well developed arms. Cyclists have big, muscly thighs. Everything they do in terms of training and nutrition is geared towards excellence in their chosen sport. Looking good is a by-product.

Some of us could really benefit from thinking this way. There’s so much emphasis on how we look, and for many women, the motivation to exercise and eat healthily comes from wanting to look slimmer. Surely there’s something more important than this? We are … Read More »

A happy rainy Sunday

Posted on August 11th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 3 comments

Sunday was the third celebration in my Olympics series: the women’s marathon. Not having any tickets, I decided a long time ago that I’d like to go and watch this. Not only is it free to stand by the side of the road, but I’ve been a fan of distance running for a long time and, four years ago, I stayed up most of the night to watch the women’s marathon in Beijing. So, in my year of celebrating and living purposefully, how could I not take up this opportunity?

I had decided to go to the Embankment for a number of reasons. Rightly or wrongly (not sure) I’d worked out that this would afford me the greatest number of sightings according to the comings and goings of the route. Secondly, my first job was at Kings College on the Strand and I used to run along the Embankment during my lunch hour. Thirdly, and very importantly, the Embankment was the last time I saw the great Mo Farah in the flesh – during the Bupa 10k in May, when I was just starting out and he was already getting close to the finish! … Read More »

C’mon, let’s have a hug

Posted on August 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

We are all in the middle of the Olympics and many of us (myself included) seem to have abandoned our everyday responsibilities in order to absorb as much as we possibly can. I am in my element, because most of my favourite sports are minority ones: athletics, swimming, rowing, tennis.

There has already been a lot of chatter about the legacy of these games. Of course the establishment is concerned that tourism will be boosted and young people will feel more enthusiastic about taking up sport. I do have some different suggestions for our likely legacy.

First of all, hugging. I know, I did mention this when I posted about the Opening Ceremony. It’s not very British, is it? We are quite good at a firm handshake and, these days, there is the cringe-makingly uncomfortable fashion for kissing amongst female friends. One cheek or two? To mwah or not to mwah? Let’s face it, fellow British people, we are not French and we are not equipped with the social kissing gene. All opinions my own.

But hugging is a different matter. Everyone knows how to do it. Everyone likes a hug … Read More »

Dealing with big problems 6 – a gardening parable about letting go

Posted on July 31st, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

There were once two men who lived next door to each other. They both had beautiful gardens which they loved to look after. They spent a lot of time cultivating, weeding, mowing and pruning, and, when the work was done for the day, enjoyed relaxing and playing in their beautiful spaces with their families.

One year, a horrible disease which attacks trees came to the neighbourhood. Each of the men had a splendid tree which was struck down by this disease. The leaves started to discolour and die, and there was a possibility the trees would be destroyed.

Both men were very upset, but they dealt with the problem in different ways. The first man became obsessed with the tree. Every morning, and several times throughout the day, he would go into his garden to stare at the tree, examine in detail over and over all the damage and blemishes, and compare in his mind the diseased tree with its former healthy self. He was so consumed with attending to the tree that he started to ignore the rest of the garden. Half the time he fretted over the tree, and the other half of … Read More »

Teenagers are people too

Posted on July 30th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

When I’m running or walking in the countryside near my home, I usually greet people with as cheerful a “hi” or “morning” as I can muster according to my level of exertion. Yesterday, I was running through the fields down to the estuary and passed a couple of kids going the other way. The oldest was about 13 or 14. I looked at her, smiled and puffed “hello”; she just stared back with her mouth open.

Now, I refuse to assume that this girl just has bad manners or didn’t understand what I was saying. I think that, in all likelihood, she just isn’t used to adults greeting her. It’s quite possible that the last thing she expected was a red-faced, middle-aged woman in lycra looking her in the eye and smiling.
Of course, teenagers can be grumpy and hormonal, and they are going through a very difficult transition from childhood to adulthood. Most of us can remember how painful it could be at times and how we felt that the rest of the world didn’t understand us. But is that an excuse for the rest of us to ostracise anyone between the ages of … Read More »

Save the surprise

Posted on July 29th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

Secrets. There are good ones and bad ones. Parties, presents and visits can all be wonderful surprises. Pretending everything’s OK when it isn’t, or keeping secrets about abuse are the worst kind. Some of us have to learn about confidentiality for our professions, and this is when doing it properly can be vitally important.

The 120,000 of us who attended rehearsals for the Olympics Opening Ceremony were all asked to “save the surprise”, not to tell others about the details of the ceremony, and not to share photos until Saturday. Incredibly, it appears there were no leaks.

Here, writing in today’s Observer, is Frank Cottrell Boyce, the writer for the ceremony, on all the secrets he had to keep, and the trusting way in which Danny Boyle asked us, nicely, to save the surprise, allowing us to take as many photos as we wanted.

This is my theory as to why it worked. First of all, we were asked nicely, respectfully. That goes a long way and, in my view, is much more likely to result in compliance than threats and draconian measures. Secondly, and just as important, the show was so brilliant … Read More »

How Danny Boyle has made me patriotic

Posted on July 28th, by Harriet in Being Well. 5 comments

I’ve had a problem with patriotism all of my adult life. I spent my teenage years living in Malaysia, and so grew up knowing that there are plenty of people in the world (including my history teacher) who see Britain as anything but great. Often with good reason: over centuries, we have behaved in a dreadful way in many countries, including our own “home nations” of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Now that I’ve lived here for over 30 years, I am very fond of the UK and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, despite the weather! I love our music, literature and countryside, and many, many of my compatriots. And I am right behind British athletes (come on Mo!), cyclists and swimmers. But I haven’t agreed that St George’s day should be a national holiday, I don’t think that “British is best” and I am horrified that our honours still use the word “Empire”. I believe that we have a whole lot more accountability to face up to and that we really need to find a new, modern concept of Britishness.

On Wednesday, when I had the incredible privilege of being at the rehearsal of the Opening … Read More »

Reasons to celebrate!

Posted on July 27th, by Harriet in Being Well. 3 comments

Tonight, one billion people all around the world will watch the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. Stratford (Stratford!?) will be the centre of the globe for at least a few hours. As I’ve already mentioned – several times – I was lucky enough to see the rehearsal on Wednesday and I promise you it will be a wonderful spectacle, and a huge party. A celebration of Britishness – not the power/empire/bulldog/stiff-upper-lip image that I’m afraid I recoil from, but the best of British people, spirit and art.

Anyway. Today lots of people who aren’t particularly interested in sport are starting to catch the buzz and get happy and excited. Jeremy Vine, on his lunchtime programme on Radio 2, talked about ending the complaining and cynicism that are still around and getting into the true Olympic spirit. I was delighted to hear people phoning and emailing in to say that they had been cynical but have now changed their attitude, having heard the bells this morning, seen the stadium, or whatever. Surely it’s all worth it if just one individual person, as a result of the Olympics, changes their mood from grumpy to happy!

This … Read More »

On not spilling the beans about the Opening Ceremony

Posted on July 26th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 4 comments

Quick post today – I’ve reached day 25 on the Ultimate Blog Challenge and I don’t want to miss a day after perfect attendance up to now!

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the last rehearsal of the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Now you understand why I can’t say much in this post: it’s top secret and confidential! I do think it’s wonderful that they (spokesperson: Danny Boyle) have enough confidence in us to ask us to keep it all a secret, and I have to say that the atmosphere was incredible enough that I really believe most people will keep mum about it until tomorrow. I certainly will – I feel so grateful to have been given a ticket that it would be wrong to spoil the surprise.

It was an amazing privilege to go inside the Olympic Park and the Stadium, and I really feel now that when I watch the Games on telly (always a given – I LOVE the Olympics) I will feel more involved and I will be able to say “I’ve been there!”. This is my second Olympic escapade, after watching the Torch, and I am hoping to get to one of … Read More »

Powerful people – how do they control us?

Posted on July 25th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. 3 comments

I’m reluctant to jump on the current UK news bandwagon which is all about whether government ministers should make pronouncements about morality. This follows David Gauke’s comment that it is morally wrong for homeowners to agree to pay cash to tradesmen for a discount, on the assumption that the tradesman would avoid paying tax. Hot on the heels of David Cameron telling us that celebrities who avoid paying income tax by holding funds offshore are morally wrong to do so.

I want to go a little further than the current debate about whether it is the role of the Government to decide what is morally acceptable or unacceptable, and look at what they are really doing here. How are they using their power and what sort of control are they exercising?

We know that those in power can control us using the law. If they want to stop us doing something, they can introduce legislation and, if Parliament agrees with it, laws will be made to control us, often using the criminal justice system to enforce them. This is a clear, reasonably transparent, and usually thoroughly debated method of control. We can see what they are … Read More »

Domestic abuse – how much is reported?

Posted on July 24th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. 4 comments

The Crown Prosecution Service reports that 2011/12 has seen the highest ever conviction rate for cases of violence against women and girls. Even so, Diana Barran, the chief executive of Caada, the Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse charity, has said that although there has been an improvement in outcomes for victims, “it is important to recognise that not all victims report the abuse they experience to the police”.

I’d like to suggest that “not all” is a huge understatement. Based on no research other than my own experience as a subject of domestic abuse – I don’t like to use the word “victim” about myself – and my work within the criminal justice system, I believe that most domestic abuse goes unreported. Of course it’s almost impossible to quantify this, no matter how much research is carried out.

As a consequence of my own experience, my reading, and conversations with other women who’ve been through it, I know what happens to a woman in an abusive relationship. In the beginning, we feel hurt, shocked, ashamed and anxious. We hope it won’t happen again. It does, again and again. As time goes on, the shock … Read More »

Do we have to wax to be feminine?

Posted on July 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

Today’s post has been inspired by two women. First, the wonderful writer and coach Lisa Clark, talks about being comfortable and wearing thongs, which are not the same thing. You can read her post here. Unfortunately you can’t read Edwina Ings-Chambers in yesterday’s Style supplement of the Sunday Times, because that publication wants us to pay for most of its online content, so I can’t give you a usable link. Pity, because Ings-Chambers makes some very important points about the modern obsession with women being body-hair-free, and how this is now filtering down to quite young girls.

I’m rather low maintenance and I do like to be comfortable, and I get very cross and worked up when women feel obliged to wear and do things that cause discomfort, or even pain, in order to conform. Underwear is one aspect of this, and footwear another. I own quite a few pairs of heels, and even some that I would define as “taxi shoes”, but I try only to wear them when I don’t have to walk far. I value my feet and I don’t want them to hurt. Walking along pavements, going on the … Read More »

21 Day Meditation Challenge

Posted on July 22nd, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 2 comments

I started the year with an intention to do 50 things during 2012 to celebrate my 50th birthday, but I didn’t have 50 items on my list. I had about 30, and deliberately left room for suggestions from others, new opportunities and spontaneous ideas. I’m so glad I did, as, just over half way through the year, all sorts of unexpected chances have arisen and taken me in exciting directions. I think that it’s quite possible that, by 31st December, I shall have way more than 50 celebrations chalked up!

One of my unexpected opportunities was suggested to me by a friend a week ago. She recommended the Chopra Centre’s 21 Day Meditation Challenge. Now, I’ve meditated regularly for about five years now, and have a nice relaxed practice of my own. I often don’t meditate for long, sometimes maybe five or 10 minutes, but I do remember to do it most days, and I know that it makes a difference to my day, and as a long term habit has vastly improved the quality of my life. So I wondered how much of a challenge this would really be: listen to a recording … Read More »

Good news?

Posted on July 21st, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I’m a news junkie. I love to know what’s going on, to understand current affairs and to know who’s who in politics and foreign affairs. I feel cut off if I don’t get a regular fix. I’m also very aware, however, that a lot of the news presented to us by the media is extremely negative. Stories about atrocities, war, famine and scandal are deemed more newsworthy than accounts of happy, positive events.

Worse still, when something happens that seems on the face of it to be positive, the media always seems to seek out a negative spin. We can see this so clearly at the moment with the impending Olympic Games. I am finding it difficult to tease out exciting, optimistic news about the events, athletes and planned celebrations from the mire of conspiracy theories, criticism and blame. I do want to be informed, and I think we have a right to know, for example, about the G4S scandal, but I don’t want my head filled with this dismal fare to the exclusion of the real purpose of the Games.

We can’t just blame the media, though. I expect the TV, … Read More »

Up in the air

Posted on July 20th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. 2 comments

As many people know, this year, to celebrate being 50 in September, I’m doing 50 different things – challenges, fun, spiritual practices, entertainment etc – during 2012. This week I’d booked to go to Roperunners to have a go on their high ropes course. My Teenager had done this sort of thing several years ago and loved it, so he agreed to come with me. I’m fairly fit and thought it would be fun.

I was quite happy as we arrived at the centre, and even as we were harnessed up and shown how to use the clips. Then a funny thing happened. We climbed the tower to start on the medium level course, and clipped ourselves to the ropes, and then I realised (duh!) that I would have to step out into nothingness onto a tiny ledge. The Teenager was already skipping along the first stage, and I was frozen. I called to him to get someone to unclip me so I could get down. I just thought “oh well, I’ll watch him, it doesn’t matter about me”.

The lovely lady in charge, Jo, had other ideas. She clipped herself … Read More »

Domestic violence – can we talk about it?

Posted on July 19th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

In the UK, one in four women are abused by a partner at some point in their life. Think about how many women you know. Quite a few? Then let’s agree that it’s likely that some of them are in an abusive relationship right now and you don’t know about it. If you are a woman and reading this, there is a one in four chance that you have been, are, or will be in an abusive relationship. So how is it that this subject is so little talked about, if it’s so widespread?

I am one of those one in four. I’ve been in an abusive relationship, survived and recovered. And I’m here to talk about it. I won’t go into details about who, what and where, as I want to preserve my family’s privacy, but I can certainly describe, with authority, various kinds of abuse and their effects. I understand why women stay in abusive, violent relationships, don’t report the abuse, and protect the abuser. Put very simply, it’s something like love (however misguided), shame and fear on the inside, and a huge and dangerous stigma on … Read More »

I’m not rude or stupid – I just didn’t hear you

Posted on July 18th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

I always ask my clients if they are hearing impaired. Hearing disabilities are invisible and, if undisclosed, can lead to misunderstanding, embarrassment and isolation. As the child of a 50% deaf parent, I grew up with an acute understanding of these painful occurrences. In fact, I became a “hearing ear child”, nudging, interpreting, repeating and generally helping to make the outside world more intelligible.

Times have changed; 70 years ago, a child with impaired hearing was simply told to sit at the front of every class. This may have helped with volume, but not when the teacher turned his or her back every so often to write on the board, and the opportunity to lip-read was lost. Too many people have grown up apologising for not hearing and feeling that deafness is a personal failing. Living in a world where everyone hears much better than you do, even your own family, leads to shyness and a tendency to isolate and feel inadequate.

Now that hearing impairment is recognised as a disability and those suffering from it are increasingly encouraged to tell people, shame and isolation may decrease. It won’t happen overnight, however. The next … Read More »

Dealing with big problems – 5 – mental discipline

Posted on July 17th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

In the West, we are conditioned to believe that we can – should – think our way out of our problems. Worrying is seen as not only inevitable but a good thing. If you confess that you don’t worry, you may be seen as irresponsible. I have known for a long time, however, that worrying is pointless. You will never prevent anything bad from happening simply by worrying. And, if the bad thing doesn’t happen, you have wasted time, energy and potential joy. Knowing this and actually putting it into practice are two very different things, however. It took my Big Problem to teach me the practical way to freedom from worry.

It is very important to know, if you have a Big Problem, that you do not have to think about it all the time. In fact, you probably don’t have to think about it very much at all. Unless you are actually discussing your problem with a professional or other person who can do something about it, or you are doing something else practical such as writing a letter, doing sums or some other relevant activity, you actually have no … Read More »

Facing disability and finding peace

Posted on July 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. 7 comments

My mother, Caroline, has Multiple Sclerosis. She was diagnosed 23 years ago, after visiting various doctors over a period of time, complaining that something was wrong. She would say to us “I think I’ve had a bit of a bug”. Once the medics agreed that there was indeed something wrong, they suggested three possible eventual diagnoses, of which MS was the most preferable. So, surprisingly, it was a relief when the tests finally confirmed that she had this condition.

Caroline’s MS is primary progressive, which means that it has generally just got worse and worse over the past couple of decades. She feels ill, fatigued and in pain all the time, and her mobility is severely impaired. As a result, she’s unable to do very much at all; leaving the house is for short drives or simple visits to my house for a change of scenery. She does manage, however, to live independently, with a good deal of help and the knowledge that my house is just down the road and someone can come in an emergency. For someone who used to be extremely strong and active, going for long walks, gardening and … Read More »

In defence of lawyers

Posted on July 15th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

When I first qualified, an acquaintance made a comment to me about “fat cat lawyers”. I explained that, far from being a fat cat, I was a criminal lawyer; at the time, criminal defence was funded almost entirely by legal aid. His immediate response was “Oh, how can you work with those people?”

I hadn’t realised, until I entered the profession, how common these anti-lawyer sentiments are. Of course, I understand that most people encounter lawyers either during the lowest moments of their lives, such as divorce, or at stressful and expensive times, like buying or selling a house. When we quote our fees to privately paying clients, as required, they can seem exorbitant: “how many hundred pounds an hour?!” What isn’t apparent, however, is that the fee quoted doesn’t just pay for the lawyer. There are offices to rent and maintain, secretaries and other support staff to pay, IT systems to run, etc etc. The only way a law firm has of earning money is the work done by its lawyers. And I bet if we could see how much it costs to provide a surgeon, a teacher or an accountant … Read More »

How do we British cope with our weather?

Posted on July 14th, by Harriet in Being Well. 2 comments

It’s raining. Again. We are half way through July and we’ve had no Summer. I don’t mind it being wet, as long as it’s not cold, but even I am starting to think, “come on, that’s enough, let’s have some fine weather before Autumn comes!”

In the UK we are famous for our weather. For geographical reasons, it is always changing and often unpredictable, although, to be fair, the meteorological people do seem to have become a lot more proficient at forecasting than they were. What is more, we are very skilled at discussing the weather for hours on end. In fact, in Britain, if conversation about the weather were suddenly banned, most casual communication would cease. It’s what we talk about in shops, bus queues (yay, we’re British, we’re good at queuing too!) and even at parties, sometimes.

One might think that with our climate we’d plan activities indoors to avoid the chance of being “rained off”; not a bit of it! We love everything outdoorsy: walking, picnics, gardening (well, the rain does help with that), festivals. All of our favourite sports are outdoor ones, and even the Wimbledon rules say … Read More »

Right or left?

Posted on July 13th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Feminine energy? Ooh sounds a bit lightweight doesn’t it? Something to do with pink and fluffy, girl power, or, at best, earth-mothers and matriarchs…? Well, I’ve been learning some interesting things recently and have revised my attitudes.

In the past I’ve spent time polarised at both extremes: my creative, intuitive, feminine right-brain and my logical, analytical, masculine left brain. Our society tells us that left-brain thinking and masculine energy is better, stronger, superior, and we tend to perpetuate this. I certainly have, until quite recently.

Taking time out to heal from ME gave me the opportunity to spend more free-form time, to resurrect my creativity and to connect with other women who want success, but in a feminine way. And during this process I realised I felt more alive, in tune and definitely more myself. Intuition and feeling, as well as logical thinking, have become more of a priority for me. This has been quite a discovery. I just thought, for a long time, that it was better to be driven, hard-working, rational and serious. To eschew frills, frivolity and feelings. What I didn’t know, however, was that living this … Read More »

Dealing with big problems – 4 – getting out of the “story” and into the feelings

Posted on July 12th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

You know what it’s like. You have something that worries you. It starts in your mind, usually as information or a thought or idea. Then, an emotion arises in response to the thought; fear, anxiety, anger or pain. Those things are felt in our bodies, and the feelings are unpleasant, so we try to get away from them. Very often, the way we try to escape is to do more thinking.

I am an expert at this; I’ve been practising and training for…oh about 45 years if not more! It’s a vicious and paralysing cycle: have a thought – feel bad – think more to try and escape the feeling – feel worse – think more and more – and it goes on and on. The thinking DOES NOT HELP. I’ve known this for a while but the problem is that you can’t think your way out of overthinking. In the West we are trained from a young age to live more and more in our heads, to solve problems by thinking, to make decisions by thinking, and to run our lives by thinking. Hmmm, could we be … Read More »

A difficult and dangerous calling

Posted on July 11th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

It doesn’t happen very often in the UK, and when it does, everyone is shocked and it dominates the news. The day before yesterday, a police officer was, tragically, shot and killed. The suspect was on the loose overnight and found dead some miles away the next morning. This time it felt close to home because it was close to home, for me. Both geographically and because of my own profession.

As a defence lawyer, I work in close contact with the police and you could say we are on opposite sides. Certainly, it’s their job to arrest, detain and interrogate my clients, and it’s my job to question them about evidence, ensure my client’s rights are observed, and give my client legal advice.

But it’s not all adversarial. For the most part, we respect each other’s roles, co-operate in many ways, and communicate effectively. When I am in custody, I depend on police officers, and civilian detention officers, to keep me both informed and safe.

Both in custody suites and “out there”, police officers are subjected to abuse, violence and antagonism on a daily basis. Some of the most … Read More »

Who wants to pay tax? Here is someone who does.

Posted on July 10th, by Harriet in A Brush With The Law. No Comments

Clive Stafford Smith is my hero; he’s like a film star to me. He’s a British born US lawyer who works with death row clients, those incarcerated without charge in Guantanamo, and against drones in Pakistan. He’s also engaging and very funny.

Several years ago, I attended a seminar at the Law Society in London during which this man, who knows more about torture from his clients than almost anyone on the planet, and who has witnessed six executions, had a large room full of lawyers laughing hysterically while he talked about torture. But not in a sick way. We were laughing at ourselves while he explained that mental torture is worse than physical, according to those who have experienced both. That talk inspired the masters dissertation I wrote, with some success, last year.

And this man continues to inspire me. He was profiled in yesterday’s Guardian as his new book is now available. The article is well worth reading if you are at all interested, or curious about criminal defence, the death penalty, or justice.

I suspect that I shall post about Stafford Smith again, and again, but today I want to … Read More »

Slow down!

Posted on July 9th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I set off at quite a pace this morning to walk the dog. I have a lot to do today and found myself trying to work out how long the walk would take, and how much time that would leave me to get on with all my important tasks. One of those tasks was to write this post, and I found myself walking fast, thinking fast, hoping I’d come up with a quick subject to blog about.

Something then told me “hang on, slow down!”. I live on an estuary, and we have miles and miles of salt marshes and countryside where you can walk for hours without seeing another person, let alone a road. The most incredible abundance of space, fresh air and life. And there I was, striding along and taking very little notice of my surroundings.

I do know the importance of slowing down. I used to tell my GCSE poetry students that learning to slow down is one of the many benefits of studying poetry, especially short poems which require reading several times and plenty of reflection. I even know that it really helps to slow down when you are feeling … Read More »

Dealing with big problems – 3 –gratitude

Posted on July 8th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I can’t think of anything more powerful than the practice of gratitude. Adopting an attitude of gratitude can make any day better, but in times of crisis it can literally be a life saver.

When my current big problem started to come to light I was, mercifully, already practicing gratitude on a daily basis. It’s been part of my spiritual life for some time, but this year I decided to make it a daily habit. I keep a notebook next to my bed, and every morning I write half a page. The first thing I write, every day, is “woke up”. Then I follow it with a list of other things I may FEEL grateful for or just things I could BE grateful for. At night, I finish the page, very often filling it with all sorts of things that happened during the day that I could appreciate.

This is crucial, and I feel so many people misunderstand the practice of gratitude and suffer as a result. It would be disastrous if we all just waited to FEEL grateful before we made a gratitude list, or expressed our gratitude in any way. My approach … Read More »

Do you en-joy what you do?

Posted on July 7th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about joy. Not happiness, which as I understand it depends more on circumstances outside us, so that we can have happy times and sad ones (or just less happy ones). Rather, that deep, indefinable feeling of it’s-good-to-be-alive or even its-fantastic-to-be-me that exists inside us and we can connect with whenever we want to, once we know about it.

Maybe it’s an age thing, or a spiritual path thing, because I’m sure that a few years ago I might have nodded in agreement with that first paragraph but I’m not certain I would have really understood those words. A lot of meditation, a lot of soul-searching and a good dose of surrender have now brought me to a place where joy is pretty much a part of most days. How wonderful!

Yesterday I was pondering on some of my areas of work which I feel less engaged by, less keen to get on with, than others. It occurred to me that this is probably because I have yet to find joy in them. Some of the work I do can be draining, demanding and in unpleasant surroundings. Clients are sometimes … Read More »

Flaming brilliant!

Posted on July 6th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. No Comments

Just to explain to new readers, this blog has a very specific purpose. I am going to be 50 in September and some time ago I decided that I would make 2012 a year of celebrating this birthday. At the beginning of the year it occurred to me why I needed to do this; I want to show that, far from being a birthday to be dreaded or at worst “got through somehow”, a woman reaching her half century can be 100% positive about it. Being a woman of a certain age can mean living life to its fullest, celebrating the wisdom that comes from experience, and joyfully letting go of anything that doesn’t serve us.

I decided I would celebrate in 50 different ways; some of these are on-off experiences and events, and some of them are things I am doing every day, or 50 times during the year. It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether I actually reach 50 or not; what matters is that I am living purposefully, that I am fully engaged in my own life, and that I am saying “yes” to new and joyful experiences. Half way through and I’m … Read More »

Dealing with big problems – 2 – Resentment

Posted on July 5th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Most of us feel resentful sometimes. When we have a big problem, it is very likely that resentment will be one of the difficult emotions we have to deal with. So, what is resentment? This is how it was first explained to me years ago: “Resentment is like having one minute of bad news and 23 hours, 59 minutes of replay…replay…replay…”. My definition of resentment now is any negative feeling that persists after the initial cause of that feeling has gone away. It doesn’t have to be anger; resentment can be based in any sort of pain, sorrow, self pity or blame.

Any difficult situation or big problem is painful and draining, but the great news is that we do have control over one very specific aspect: any resentment we may be feeling. These uncomfortable thoughts and feelings may be the ones we want to hold on to most, as they can be quite addictive, but believe me, it is well worth working to let go. You will feel freer, more energised and more at peace.

So how do we do it? Real expertise in dealing with resentment can be found in the … Read More »

Why blog?

Posted on July 4th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

On the fourth day of the Ultimate Blog Challenge I find myself thinking about why it’s a good thing for me, and indeed why blogging is so important to me at the moment.

Ever since I learned to read and write, I’ve been a reader and a writer. I would read cereal packets at the breakfast table, notices, leaflets, whatever I could get my hands on as well as all kinds of books. And I have always written: stories, poetry, journals. I love words and language and used to joke that I would relish the job of writing the instructions on shampoo bottles.

Somewhere during my English degree at Cambridge I became overwhelmed and lost confidence in my ambition to be a writer. I did work as a technical journalist for a while – putting words to other people’s ideas – but various personal problems put an end to that and I pretty much gave up the idea of writing commercially.

Funnily enough, personal circumstances have brought me back to writing. Of course, over the last 25 years I have continued to write, but not in a creative way, and not intending to share the results. I … Read More »

Why do we need all this personal development?

Posted on July 3rd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

At the moment I’m living with a big problem. It encompasses a lot of uncomfortable things, including legal action, family, relationships, money, parents, health issues, step-families. Ouch! This involves other people in my family so it wouldn’t be fair to go into the details, but I’m sure that list gives a pretty good idea of how wide-ranging and painful it can be. I’m not going through a divorce at the moment, although I have done twice, and I can certainly say that this is very much the same sort of thing.

Why am I posting about it if I’m not going to tell you about it? Well, I have got some rather remarkable experience to share, and I expect to be gaining more as time goes on. When this problem first came to light, I reacted with a lot of pain. I was quite depressed, very anxious, and felt hopeless and paralysed. I couldn’t stay like that. I needed to take action, to be supportive and productive. So I started to look for ways to thrive despite what was happening. Amazingly, what happened was I started to thrive because of … Read More »

Screaming with rage: it’s a roller coaster, not a tantrum!

Posted on June 29th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. No Comments

I spent quite a bit of time during 2011 making my list of the 50 things I wanted to try and do this year to celebrate my 50th birthday. Some of them were obvious, some were suggested to me or came from reading. The list isn’t complete even yet, as I wanted to leave some room for spontaneity. Wait, that’s not entirely right – I couldn’t think of 50 things so I decided it was fine start the year with 30-something and leave room for spontaneity!

Anyway, one of the obvious ones was to ride a roller coaster. Not that this is something I have always wanted to do. I am someone who finds riding on an escalator quite exciting, and really dislikes taking off and banking in planes because of the squirmy feelings you get. But I reckoned that lots of people really enjoy it, and perhaps I should know what it’s like. I also seem to have incorporated this sentence into the advice I give all my clients in my other job: “this interview is not like a roller coaster, that you can’t get off until it stops”. So, all in … Read More »

What are you worth?

Posted on June 25th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

When my son was very little, just starting to put sentences together, I found him throwing a £5 note in the kitchen bin. I said to him, “don’t throw that away, it’s money!”. He put it back in, “no, Mummy, it’s wubbish!”. I couldn’t convince him that this scrumpled scrap of paper had an intrinsic value so in the end I just took it and put it somewhere safe. Probably in my purse. I had the advantage of knowing that the scrap of paper had intrinsic value that couldn’t be decreased by age or damage. He was taking it at face value; it looked like a grubby torn off shred of paper so that’s what he assumed it was.

This is rather like the speakers’ trick I have heard about – but not seen live myself – where the speaker holds up a £20 note (we are moving up in the world). He or she asks if anyone wants it. Of course several people put up their hands. Then the speaker scrumples up the note and asks if anyone wants it now. The response is the same. Treads on it. … Read More »

The hidden dangers in anti-fatigue moisturiser

Posted on June 24th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

I have been rabbiting on about anti-fatigue moisturiser for a while, whenever I have seen the TV ad. I know it’s a men’s product but it’s the message that bothers me. What it seems to be saying is that when you are so tired that it shows in your face, you can put on this magic potion and hey presto! you won’t look tired any more! Then you can carry on with all the very important things you have to do and it will all BE OK. No mention, of course, of the fact that you will still feel dreadful.

I can’t tell you how wrong I think this is. We (both men and women) are living beings. If your dog, cat, horse or goldfish was very tired would you do some thing to make them look ok and then make them carry on? Or how about your child? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d find a way to let them rest, and then you’d make a mental note to avoid letting them get that tired in future. Wouldn’t you?

So how about, instead of anti-fatigue moisturiser (aka carry on regardless and make … Read More »

What do they learn?

Posted on June 23rd, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

What is education? As far as I’m concerned, ticking boxes required by the National Curriculum and stacking up GCSE grades have nothing to do with it. If we take the word “education” back to its most basic Latin origins it means to lead out. Not quite the same as filling thousands of young heads with the same facts and the idea that there is one right answer and one right way to go about things.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t criticise schools or teachers. And I think that schools are the best place for most children to learn, not just because of the acquisition of knowledge and the availability of expert teachers, but because it’s good for kids to know how to fit in to a timetable, face pressure and work to targets. Because that’s what the world is like, for many of us.

Some of us are very different, though: square pegs. And if you try and file a square peg to fit it into a round hole you can’t avoid doing some harm. I, for one, needed to finish my ‘A’ levels working at home. I’m very academic and since then … Read More »

Are you perfect?

Posted on June 19th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

Saturday’s Guardian published an extract from Oliver Burkeman’s book “The Antidote: Happiness for People who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/15/happiness-is-being-a-loser-burkeman). I’m not drawn to read the book, and, if I did, I’m sure I would disagree with a lot of it. But one comment resonated with me. He says “…there is a greater correlation between perfectionism and suicide, researchers have found, than between feelings of hopelessness and suicide”.

Perfectionism is a bigger factor in suicide than feelings of hopelessness. Takes a minute to sink in, doesn’t it? I do know, from 49 years of personal experience, that being a perfectionist is always uncomfortable, often painful and makes it hard to feel contented and fulfilled. I’m not alone; I have perfectionist friends with whom I’ve often complained about the weight of this burden. The legal profession in particular seems to attract perfectionists, as we are always striving to “get it right”, but the cruel twist is that, if you are a lawyer, there is also always someone trying to show that you are wrong, and often to proclaim this in public.

So for a few years now I’ve been looking for ways to recover from … Read More »

Taking care of us

Posted on June 17th, by Harriet in Being Well. 1 Comment

During the week I was listening to Lucie Bradbury on one of the CDs from her “Feminine Way” course. Lucie is an expert on feminine energy and the founder of Damsels in Success (www.damselsinsuccess.co.uk ). She talks about the importance of women putting themselves first, taking care of their own needs, in order to be able to care for their families. At its simplest, this concept can be understood through the oxygen mask analogy. We all know that they tell us before a flight takes off to put on our own oxygen mask before putting one on our kids. The reason being that if we are unconscious we are no use to anyone. My own mother now remembers how, when my brother and I were young, and we were in an ancient plane hurtling towards the ground somewhere in the Middle East, she instinctively ignored all this and fitted our masks first. Luckily we were all ok (by the way that’s another story and please be reassured if you are of a nervous disposition, this was 1975!!).

While I was listening to Lucie explaining the importance of our own self care as parents, I … Read More »

Control by sugar

Posted on June 16th, by Harriet in Being Well. No Comments

I’ve been struggling with chocolate lately. My nutrition is pretty good: I eat healthy balanced meals and can stay away from white carbs, crisps, pies etc etc. But until this week chocolate was my downfall. I live almost next door to a corner shop which is open daily until 10pm, and it’s been so hard to resist taking the few steps and a £1 coin to get myself a little “treat” in the evening. I did know that this was to do with sugar, as I can easily keep a bar of Green and Black’s 85% in my fridge and have a square or two after a meal. But give me Cadbury’s Dairy Milk or Galaxy and I can’t leave it alone. Until it’s all gone….

I’ve tried all sorts of approaches with myself, primarily attempting to think of my body as a temple and not wanting to put “poison” in it. After all, I don’t drink or smoke and I exercise most days. Somehow that wasn’t hitting the spot. I read “Women Food and God” and found it enlightening, I’ve used willpower, meditation, EFT and all sorts of other approaches which … Read More »

What I Learned From Her Majesty

Posted on June 6th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. No Comments

Not being a huge royalist, I had made myself available to work over the prolonged bank holiday. Things didn’t turn out as I might have hoped. I had struggled a little with a sore throat during the week, and by Saturday was feeling really unwell. So I spent the next four days alternating between lying on my bed watching television and lying on the sofa watching television! At least, I thought to myself, there is something different from the usual daytime programmes to keep me mildly distracted.

Funnily enough, the coverage of the Jubilee achieved more than mildly distracting me. I learned two important things which I can apply to my own big celebration this year.

The first is just that: celebration. The whole country and much of the Commonwealth have just spent four whole days celebrating an elderly lady who has been doing an important job for 60 years. Of course it follows that she really is a little old lady: white hair, lots of wrinkles. But the whole thing has been up-beat, positive and sparkly. Diamonds everywhere, flags, bunting and music. A big celebration about age and longevity. So … Read More »

Running hot and hot

Posted on May 29th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. No Comments

I do the Bupa 10k every year. I have run it for various charities, including Refuge and the MS Society, and this year decided to run for the Stroke Association as my father had a severe stroke in January. Last year I managed it in just over an hour and 11 minutes, so I set a goal for myself to complete it in under 70 minutes this year. I paid careful attention to my training – long runs, short runs and speedwork, even skipping a sociable class on a Saturday morning to do my sprints. I was ready to get a really good time. As long as the weather was favourable.

For a few days before Sunday I watched the weather forecast obsessively. Might it cool down a little? Could we have it overcast and a bit drizzly? The answer was a resounding “no”. It was going to be hot and sunny and that’s exactly how it turned out. The problem was, as everyone knows the weather had been wet and miserable until very recently so none of us are used to the heat. I knew that the race on … Read More »

A Cambridge experience

Posted on May 28th, by Harriet in 2012 - A Year To Celebrate. No Comments

Friday’s celebration brought together a few different themes for me. I went with my friend Dawn to see Dame Stella Rimington lecture on the changing face of the British security services. The lecture was put on by Newnham College, where I read English a long time ago. Dame Stella was the first female head of MI5 and the first one to be publicly named. A few years ago I read her autobiography and have also read several of her spy thrillers, safe in the knowledge that she really knows what she is talking about.

For both Dawn (who is truly clever having read maths at Jesus College, Cambridge) and myself this was a bit of a memory lane excursion, as neither of us get back to Cambridge that often. It was such a beautiful day and we arrived at Wolfson College, where the lecture was held, in plenty of time. There is an intensity in Cambridge this time of year, as it is exam season, but exams are closely followed by May week and serious, professional-level hedonism. Coupled with warmth, sunshine and a leafy breeze, this atmosphere took me back to my final year … Read More »