WNT founder Jennie Duck shares some thoughts around how light impacts our environment and what that means as we embrace the transition of autumn.
My husband and I play a game in our house: I come into a room and turn the lights on, he comes in and turns them off. He is driven by environmental concerns, an aversion to waste and the cost of electricity. My drive is simpler and more visceral: happiness.
Light makes me happy. Different lights make me feel different types of happiness - a misty morning with the sun breaking through fills me with optimism and ideas for the day or an urge to take photographs of the beauty it shows up. Late afternoon light is more peaceful than the morning and speaks of socialising more than doing - beer gardens, barbeques or tea and cake depending on my age and stage. Soft lighting makes me feels safe, cosy, reflective, nourished. A bright kitchen light makes me want to put music on and engage with my family, while a darker room makes me feel like retreating and dampens my energy.
I love the role that lighting plays in a therapeutic setting. My friend used to talk of 'entering the womb' when she came for a massage and I believe that plays no small part in the nourishing effect of a session at WNT or another thoughtfully lit treatment space. You are invited to slow down, to stop and retreat for a while.
This entering into such a space reminds me of Autumn, a time of transition from long, bright, energetic days to short, dimmer, more slothful days – getting ready to enter the womblike winter where so much of the world around us is curling up to sleep.
How does this transition sit with you? Are you like me and derive some of your inner spark from the light around you? Or are you more ambivalent about the role light has on your inner world? How do you adapt around this time of year?
For me this time of year needs a conscious shift, a letting go and starting to prepare for hunkering down. In our home it means adjusting the lights we use in each room to make it cosy rather than bright, getting some candles out and replacing the bulbs in my salt lamps. We will also start to light the fire soon, which in our house is our primary heating source, and that brings with it extra cosiness and a particular type of restorative, wholesome, vital light and warmth.
And pretty soon my husband and I will start a new game with the boost button on the central heating…
Reflexologist and reiki practitioner Laura Devonshire looks at hydration - why it is so important, what it can affect and how much and what we should be drinking to keep hydrated.
It’s summer (hurrah!) and this season’s theme at West Norwood Therapies is water. I have been exploring water and the human body and why hydration is so critical.
Water is essential for life and for our bodies to function optimally. On average water makes up around 60% of body weight in men and 50-55% in women (this can vary depending on age and body composition).
Drinking enough water each day is essential for the function of all the cells in the body, it helps us to: regulate body temperature, keep eyes and joints lubricated, helping to rid waste and transport nutrients, helps convert food into energy, protects the nervous system, prevents infection, and keeps organs functioning properly.
Some organs contain much more water than others and I found it staggering to learn that the brain and kidneys possess the highest percentage of water: a whopping 80-85%, followed by the heart and lungs 75-80%, muscles, the liver and skin are 70-75%, blood is 50%, bones are 20-25% and lastly teeth at 8-10%. This helps to put into context how dehydration can have so many symptoms and consequences.
The current UK recommendation is to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid per day, more specific recommendations about the quantity needed at different ages are shown below:
(provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA):
The EFSA assume that 20% of fluid intake comes from food and 80% comes from drinks.
It is also important to note that doing strenuous activity or living in hotter or more humid climates may need more than the above.
The body works hard to find balance and drinking too little or too much water can have severe consequences. The warning signs of dehydration include:
As mentioned above the brain contains 85% water, dehydration can also impact on cognitive function with difficulty in concentrating, impacting mood making us prone to feeling angry, anxious, and irritated.
It’s important to note that on the flip side at the extreme end of consuming too much water, can lead to hyponatraemia, a very serious condition that causes extremely low sodium levels in the blood.
It is more common for people to suffer with the symptoms of dehydration.
The best way to avoid dehydration is to keep track of how much fluid you drink and drink water throughout the day. It’s ideal to avoid excessive caffeine drinks as they have a diuretic effect on the body, as does alcohol. Of course, I am not staying to cut them out but to just be mindful of intake and ensure you’re having an adequate water intake too.
If you have been unwell with a fever or diarrhoea, playing sports or have been sweating a lot in high temperatures: drinking coconut water or a sports drink or rehydration drink can help to replenish your electrolytes and essential salts and minerals.
Swap sugary drinks for sugar-free or no added sugar and dilute squash drinks to reduce the sugar content.
If you don’t like the taste of water you can try sparkling water or try adding a slice of lemon or lime, some berries or cucumber.
Sports massage therapist Tessa Glover interviews her client Emily Hayter who is a competitive swimmer who trains with Spencer swimming club. Emily shares how she approaches training and competing and encourages us that swimming can be taken up at any age and stage. Thanks for sharing Emily!
How long have you been a competitive swimmer?
I always loved the water and I swam competitively for a few years in my early teens while I was living in Canada. I swam on and off on my own after that but was mainly keeping active through other things. After a 17 year break from club swimming I joined a Masters club, Spencer, in London in my early 30s and started competing again.
How did you come to choose your preferred swimming stroke and distance?
It's changed since I was younger, partly due to injuries (eg no breastroke because of my knees so no medley events anymore). The only one of my favourite events from when I was younger which I'm still doing is the 50m butterfly. One thing that's great about pool swimming is you learn and practise all four strokes, so everyone finds their own favourite.
Aside from the 50 fly I race all freestyle, everything from 100m to 1500m. This year I'm also doing my first open water event which will be 3800m. At some point I might need to choose between the short and long distances though, as it's difficult to train for both at the same time.
What do you love most about swimming? What does it give you?
As an adult, swimming in a club has brought me back to a regular fitness schedule, guided by a coach and in the company of great fellow swimmers. I get so much more from it than I was getting just from going to the gym.
I've also made new friends and started going on swimming trips like training camps at Club La Santa in Lanzarote and sea swimming holidays in Italy with SwimTrek.
I feel inspired by the older swimmers in Masters, many of whom are still racing and setting records in their 60s and beyond. Club swimming has brought me great examples of how to stay fit in later life.
What's the toughest part of training for a competition?
I've always been more of a training person than a racing person. I like training and usually go 3 times a week with Spencer. Some people are the opposite, they love racing but not so much training.
The unpredictability can be tough in both training and racing. You have good days and bad days in the pool, and they can be quite random (ie not linked to diet, rest etc) which can be discouraging. So trust and confidence in the training you've been doing throughout the year is important.
There's also a lot of technique to think about in swimming, and we work on that all the time. It's difficult to change ingrained habits and patterns of movement, and it takes patience. I usually find that as soon as I fix one technique detail I start doing something else wrong! So it's a continuous process.
Can a swimmer get into competitive swimming as an adult?
Definitely! I know several people who only started doing lane swimming or learned all the strokes as adults and then got into competitions, either in pool/Masters swimming, open water or triathlon. At my club not everyone competes in pool competitions, some people do triathlon or open water and others just train for fitness and don't compete at all.
How do you look after yourself physically and mentally?
I do pilates a few times a week, which helps with management of old knee and back injuries that would otherwise prevent me from swimming. Swimming encourages me to do these types of conditioning exercises I should have been doing before but wasn't motivated to do. I used to do yoga but after learning more about hypermobility I swapped to pilates and find it better for me.
I also go for massages with Tessa at WNT which really helps me manage a neck issue I've developed.
I'm lucky to have generally good mental health. I try to maintain it through exercise, work/life balance, social life and occasional restorative yoga.
I love food and eat a lot but generally pretty healthily. Another thing I should have mentioned that swimming gives me is the excuse for a lot of snacking.
Acupuncturist Mihaly Rosta shares some information about the Chinese Medicine concept of 'dampness' in the body and factors that might cause and help this.
Is diet just about what you eat?
Sluggishness (especially) in the mornings;
Heaviness of body and mind;
Loose, sticky stools;
These are only a few symptoms of Dampness in the body.
Imagine a clear beautiful river gracefully flowing through a forest. Now what if this river is being filled with debrish? It slowly becomes cloggy and turn into dirty mud.
The most common cause for this muddiness to develop in the body is improper DIET.
Excessive intake of fried, greasy, raw food; as well as alcohol, sugar, dairy, and even meat may result in the symptoms described above.
However before removing unhealthy, overly processed foods from the diet, it’s important to intorduce new, appropriate foods in your diet.
On the picture you may see a simple stir-fry dish, perfect for lunch or even breakfast -accompanied by some soup or tea.
Bitter and slightly pungent/aromatic food like kohlrabi and romain lettuce are excellent at transforming congealed body fluids.
Add some radish and leeks in order to strengthen the Lungs (Metal/Autumn) and clear any damp/phlegm that may reside there.
Kidney -especially Aduki- beans are great source of protein in this case. Complementing the dish I also used garlic, thyme and parsley to help clear excessive mucus.
To make this dish more seasonal, add some water and cook it on low heat. In order to introduce the sour balancing flavour of autumn (Metal) you may finish your dishes by squeezing some lemon/lime juice over them.
Making small changes in the diet is an excellent tool for becoming more healthy over time. However if an already developed illness (or any of the symptoms above) are present, acupuncture treatment may be especially beneficial in order to address those issues.
Please note that we always advise patients to see a professional Acupuncturist in order to determine the accurate diagnoses, which allows us to make personalised recommendations.
For any seriously health concerns please see your GP.
#diet #damp #acupuncture #bloated #sluggish #autumn
Acupuncturist and massage therapist Mihaly Rosta shares some interesting thoughts around the 'how' of our eating habits being as, if not more, important than the 'what'.
ow important is it to have the right food on your plate?
I usually see a divide amongst my friends and clients when it comes to diet and food.
Some people just eat for the joy of it, not caring much about if they eat a lot of carbs or meat. Whilst other people can be “almost” obsessive about what they eat. May that be superfoods, very specific vegetables and meat, etc.
So what is the correct attitude to diet?
Well, I of course could not give a simple answer to such an important question. Especially as I am not a dietician.
However when it comes to Chinese medicine, we always strife for balance. Walking the middle path.
Sure, it is important to have a varied diet -according to both food energetics, colours, food groups- but I find it much more important to look at how people eat and digest.
In my experience, our mental health and eating habits combined has a much stronger effect on our digestion and general health than the types of food we eat. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that we should all eat white bread, milk and sugar 3 times a day. I am referring to the fact that if you have a varied intake of vegetables, fruits and meats/nuts, you should not worry too much about whether it is organic or not, or how many superfoods and brown rice you include in your diet.
What is important then?
1. Structure and rythmn
It is generally important to follow a rythmn in our daily life. Structuring our days around our meals and sleep can provide with a healthy l. So we priorities ourselves, our nourishment amongst other responsibilities.
Taking breaks between meals (3-4 hours) gives our digestive system a rest, as opposed to continuous snacking which will overwork our Spleen and Stomach.
3. Focus /mindfulness
Eating should be about the food and our nourishment. The taste, texture, colour, smell of our food should be in the focus of our mind when we eat. Not TV, Netflix, news, daily tasks or plans for the week.
Let’s do ourselves a favour and eat mindfully. Just when we decide on the food we eat, we should apply the same mindfulness during our time of nourishment.
There is a Chinese saying that you should only fill your belly 2/3 of the way, so there is space for Qi to do the digestion.
Overeating is overtaxing on our digestive system. Finding the correct amount of food that does not leave us hungry, but also doesn’t makes us sleepy is essential.
It is important to drink plenty of fluids during the day, however it is best to avoid drinking with our meal. If you have a weak digestion, you may find it beneficial to drink digestives 20 minutes prior to your meals. Or if your meal seems to settle in heavy (lots of fats/oils) you may find drinking a (half) shot of clear spirit (I recommend Bison vodka for flavour 😛) also very beneficial.
On a different note. There seem to be a misconception about the amount of fluid we all need to drink. Generally speaking of we want to hydrate ourselves we have to include fluid-ful vegetables in our diet. Soups, curries, tomatoes, courgettes, etc.
6. 100 steps
Digestion does not stop when we finish eating. On the contrary. It’s fairly important that we rest after a meal for about half an hour. The Chinese has been recommending 100 slow steps after eating. As (slow) walking aids the intestinal movements (peristalsis) and thus digestion.
7. Avoid going to bed on a full stomach
Simple as that, we should not be wasting our energy on digestion whilst we are sleeping. More over, it is most beneficial to have a bigger gap (intermittent fasting) in our day when our digestive system is to rest.
8. Anxiety = IBS
Last but not least, looking after our mental health is perhaps the most important of tasks that we need in order to have a healthy digestion. I’ll talk about this more in detail another time.
So these are only a few points that are in my opinion are just as (if not more) important than the quality of the food we eat.
Thus if you are suffering with any digestive issues, you may find it beneficial to go through this list before you start cutting out your favourite foods.
Of course Acupuncture is an amazing tool to help/reset the digestive system. So if you feel you need some additional support in that regard. Do not hesitate to get in touch.
WNT founder Jennie Duck considers how differently we interact with anniversaries of births and deaths and in the week of 'dying matters' shares what currently matters to her about death and dying.
My son turns six in June – something generally agreed to be an exciting event, greeted with enthusiasm and joy (and, as parents, with utter awe that this person exists with a tinge of sadness that the stages he’s gone through are in the past now). It is a time for celebration; we tell people our birthdays and we enjoy marking them with cake and parties. Granted they might become a little less joyful if we are feeling resistance to aging, but they tend still to be a time we are cherished and celebrated.
In July it will be 5 years since my dad died and in February it was 4 years since my mum died. These dates loom very differently on my internal visual map of the 2022. While the anniversary of my son’s birth is a gentle peak, something with a very outward, yang energy, the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths are big craters with much more of an inward, yin energy.
I describe these as ‘craters’ which sounds very negative, but I don’t feel like that. The crater-ish-ness is symbolic of the desire to retreat and go down into the grief, it is also a reminder of what the period around the deaths felt like. These were dark holes of time that have left their mark forever. But they are not something I ever want to avoid. They are there and my awareness of them is part of the landscape of my life now.
These anniversaries change year to year. The first couple of years they hit extremely hard and involved a lot of reliving. I relived the week following my dad’s sudden death when we were absorbing the shock, whereas my mums rapid decline the week preceding her death was something I went through almost hour by hour the first two anniversaries. Now they are more mellow and I can’t always predict how it will pass. I do know, though, that it is vital to give them space, to allow for time and feeling the days leading up to it and sometimes beyond.
I find it extraordinary how we interact with death in our society – or how we try and avoid interacting with death. There seems to be a sense that if we draw attention to anniversaries, it is reminding people of loss, of the pain of grief. But this loss and pain is always there, it doesn’t go away because we don’t talk about it or acknowledge it. For some people an anniversary might just feel like something that they need to get past, but for me it feels as vital as Christmas. It shapes the year, it helps me remember in a mind, body and spirit way that life is precious and fragile and cannot be taken for granted.
This week is ‘dying matters’ week which draws important attention to the circumstances and environment of how we die and encourages conversations around death. It is easy to avoid putting attention towards our own death or that of anyone we love, be that practical or emotional attention.
At the moment what matters to me about dying is that we remember it. That we remember it in our very act of living, that THIS is life, this is our existence, and it doesn’t go on forever. That we remember it in our relationships, that these people we rely on and share with and love so much will one day die. That thought that can be so crippling can also give us fire for living, an opportunity to savour who and what we have while we have it.
And mostly, still in my relatively early years of grief experience, it matters that we remember the deaths of those that we have lost. That we remember their impact on our lives, how they shaped us and affected us. That we remember who they were in their lives, what they did with their time on earth and who they touched while they were around. And, finally, that we remember what we went through in losing them, how that moment rerouted our life path and changed us forever. If we can let ourselves remember this and really feel it then, perhaps, we can let ourselves really grieve, let go and really live.
Acupuncturist and wholesome food enthusiast Philippa Summers shares some of the benefits and uses of bone broth and advises how to get a good batch going with insider tips and ideas to make it tasty and nutritious.
I have always had an interest in cooking wholesome food for both enjoyment and health and am guided away from processed foods by choosing ingredients that ‘ran, swam, flew or grew’ in their most natural state. Like many people I have in recent years leant towards a more heavily plant-based diet with an emphasis on a wide variety of colourful fruit and veg, wholegrains and plant-based protein like lentils, pulses, beans and tofu. However, I do still eat fish and meat, buying far less but of higher quality, higher welfare - by trying to choose largely wild fish and meat that is free-range, grass fed, preferably organic - and using every last bit which brings me to the wonders of bone broth.
It has been revered for its potent nutritional and medicinal properties by various cultures across the globe for thousands of years from ancient Greece, throughout Africa and Asia, to the infamous recuperative ‘Jewish Penicillin’. A South American proverb states ‘Bone Broth will resurrect the dead’. It had a reputation within Chinese Medicine stretching back over 2,500 years for its ability to support digestion and reproductive health – pre-conceptually for both men and women to support egg and sperm health, during pregnancy for mum and baby, and post birth to help mum rebuild her strength.
Bone broth is packed with easy to digest gelantinous protein and amino acids from the collagen in cartilage, and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium from the bones, extracted by long slow cooking. Wide ranging potential health benefits include helping to support skin, bone and joint health, soothing gut issues like ulcerative colitis and leaky gut, supporting immune function, helping recovery from upper respiratory infections and it may also help to promote good sleep. The combination of skin, joint and sleep effects likely make it beneficial for women post menopause, a time when increasing protein and reducing carbs can be helpful.
We can get a bit caught up about what’s in food and what it is good for. Sometimes it is good just to let go of that and enjoy the wholesomeness because you know in another more intuitive way that it is nourishing. For me bone broth is one of those things. A warm soothing elixir! It is delicious drunk on its own, makes a great base for soups and stews.
For convenience you can buy bone broth ready-made, conveniently packaged and delivered frozen direct from the farm to your door but it is far cheaper and satisfying to make your own. It cooks for so long that it is more economical on fuel to cook up a big batch so I collect any chicken bones both raw and cooked in the freezer until I have a good supply, supplementing them with some chicken carcass bones from the butchers to fill a stock pot.
Chicken Bone Stock Recipe
This recipe uses chicken bones and cooks for 4-6 hours. You could make a fish version substituting the chicken for fish heads and bones usually discarded by the fishmonger so very cheap – use about 1kg per litre of water - and simmer for one hour. Strain through muslin to remove all bones.
You’ll need a large stock pot with a tight fitting lid.
Optional: Before making the stock you can roast the bones for an hour in the oven until they are golden for a richer flavour.
The effort will more than pay off for the ease with which you can prepare a tasty meal or quick warming drink that nourishes you deep to the bone. Enjoy!
Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares some insights into what 'sports massage' actually is and the fact that it's benefits go far beyond sports people and also how the treatment might be adapted to suit you individually.
The term ‘Sports Massage’ can sometimes be misleading if taken literally. It is of course a very useful, and often necessary, treatment for sports people, but it can also be beneficial for a whole host of different people. People working from home since the start of the pandemic might not have the best ergonomic set-up and as a result are experiencing neck or back pain. Take delivery drivers, who are sat in the same position all day, using the same restrictive movement patterns to drive. Think of the security guard, standing in a stationary position on their feet most of the day. All of these people and more are using their bodies in a way that will build muscle tension, increase areas of restriction within the soft tissues, and cause restrictions in ranges and ease of movement. Sports massage can help them!
Sports massage helps to resolve chronic pain, injuries, muscle aches and restricted range of movement. At some point in our life, we have or will experience one of the issues listed above. What is great about sports massage is that it uses a range of techniques to assess and treat a problem, rather than following a repeated routine of massage strokes. Each treatment is tailored to the individual and your therapist will spend some time talking to you and listening to your story before assessing you physically. I have treated countless individuals and even if the problem seems to be manifesting in the same way, every body is different and responds differently to treatment, so no two treatments are ever exactly the same.
Something that seems to put people off getting a sports massage is the reported pain that comes with it. Whilst some techniques can and will cause some degree of pain, it is never the goal of sports massage to cause pain. Your therapist should maintain good communication with you throughout the treatment in regards to pressure and pain, and make use of your breathing to help with relaxation in those more intense moments. I always give my clients a choice if I think that a certain technique is going to really help them but I know that it will be painful for them. I explain the technique beforehand and constantly check in during the application, giving them the choice to bow out at any point. Any deeper massage strokes are always applied very slowly, giving the tissues time to adapt and let me in without causing damage.
If somebody is new to sports massage or is feeling particularly sensitive, I use lighter techniques to work with more superficial soft tissue. Sometimes, a lighter more relaxing touch is exactly what the client needs and it is important to realise that massage is mostly affecting the neuromuscular system rather than effecting change physically. Stress is a major factor is some muscle tension, particularly if focused around the shoulders. The nervous system responds to stress by increasing muscle contraction in order to protect the body and prepare it for fight or flight. A relaxing and gentle approach can melt away the tension because the nervous system is responding to that touch and sending signals to ease off protective muscle tension.
A sports massage should leave you with a feeling of freedom within your body, feeling lighter and moving with more ease. You shouldn’t feel limited by discomfort in your daily activities. Those little everyday stresses on your body can develop into chronic problems if left to their own devices. Sports massage plays an important part in the recovery process, whether that’s from an intense training regime or from everyday stressors. Regular massage allows the body to function with less restriction and the hands on approach provides an important element of social touch, something that has been lacking since the start of the pandemic. If you haven’t before, give sports massage a go this year and see the difference it could make in your life.
As 'Blue Monday' - apparently the most depressing day of the year - looms WNT founder Jennie Duck looks at some small actions that can help us navigate times of bleakness.
Welcome to mid-January, the time when the anticipation and excitement of Christmas is over, the days are short and grey, we are often beginning a long ‘term’ of work or education and spring can feel a long way off. This year we are also 2 years into a pandemic that has brough uncertainty, fear, mistrust and pain in abundance. Whatever our personal experience of covid has been to date, the atmosphere around our country – indeed around the world – cannot fail to permeate our own individual world and we may be feeling the residue of this for a time yet.
We have things that can help us, however, and there is hope and peace to be found in amongst any bleakness. These are some things that can help when we feel short on optimism, energy or hope.
Rest. Our bodies need down time, they need to switch off and we can take a leaf out of nature’s book and hunker down in these winter months.
Walks in fresh air. Sometimes going outside is the last thing we feel like doing…but if we can make the step it can really help us feel more alive and at peace.
Music. Music can lift us or it can connect us to the difficult feelings we need to feel. We can create playlists for whatever we want – to dance to, to cry to, to sing along, to remember people and experiences.
Hugging. IF we’re lucky enough to have someone we love nearby then there is little more wonderful than a long embrace. If we are alone we can still hug ourselves – google ‘butterfly hug’ or look for our post from a year ago about this.
Creativity. Finding ways to express ourselves whether this is to release some dark emotion or create beauty from nothing, connecting to our creativity is connecting to life’s energy.
Meditation. Staying present, being here, everything as it is. Let go of struggle, effort and getting to know your mind and body more intimately, it’s so valuable.
Yoga. If you practice yoga regularly you might be familiar with the space, acceptance and support that yoga can bring.
Talking and sharing. When we feel bleak the most tempting thing can often be to shut down and hide away. And yet there is likely someone near to you feeling the same thing and the connection that can be gained by sharing your experience can be an incredibly warming feeling.
Space and solitude. Just as important as connection with others is connection with ourselves, stepping out of the busyness of life and finding some space to be with ourselves.
Take time out for things you enjoy. It can be tempting to throw yourself into the ‘shoulds’ and zone out the rest of the time, but if we can really let ourselves have the opportunity to find joy and fulfilment in something, whether it is going for a run, dancing in the kitchen or stroking the cat this is important stuff that we would do well to make central rather than peripheral in our lives.
Give up! Some days nothing will help and perhaps what is needed is just to retreat into the murky waters and let yourself do absolutely nothing whatsoever.
Therapies. Last but by no means least, go for a massage! Or for acupuncture, reflexology, reiki, sound therapies or any other therapy that feels good to you, gives you a space where you are looked after and cared for and leaves you feeling rested and revived.
So as we approach ‘blue Monday’ we can keep in mind there are some ideas that can be helpful when life feels less vibrant. And sometimes they can help us remember that spring is just around the corner.
Our thoughtful massage therapist Erika Zettervall considers our impact on the planet through our life choices and whether an awareness and gratitude for the intricacies we take for granted can help us to tread a little lighter and perhaps learn to leave less trace.
The festive season is upon us as the year of 2021 is rapidly drawing to an end. Again a new covid variant threatens to upset and thwart carefully made plans of festivities. Remembering last years sudden disruption to celebrations and disappointments is perhaps not what we had in mind gearing up to Christmas. But being prompted to look back into the year we have just had is good in order to see where time has gone. Revisiting good moments reinforces the feelings of joy/wonder/love in life and fills our source of strength. Equally, acknowledging difficulties and hardship and persevering in this crazy unpredictable thing called life develops this source of strength. Reflection can also help in seeing what direction we are traveling and becomes an opportunity to adjust direction.
We need moments to rejoice, to experience abundance and generosity. Connect, congregate and break bread together. Nurturing our seeds of happiness. The true spirit of Christmas contains all that. The trouble is we easily slip into excess, stressing out and inadvertently creating the opposite. Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.
Reflecting on questions such as ‘where does it all come from?’ and ‘where does it all go?’ might bring connection to our impact on our planet and maybe bring more of a sense of being part of our environment. It might also be a bit uncomfortable.
This year we have become reminded what complex logistical network we live in and how fragile the chains of distributions are.
The mind boggles thinking of all the parts that comes together in order to create a simple plate of food. From pretty straight forward seeds that have been watered, nurtured into a plant and then harvested, to animals that have had their food grown and harvested to be feed them then their life taken and turned into cuts. The tools and cutlery we use was made somewhere by someone and ended up in our kitchen. Resources we use for cooking, cleverly arranged so we only switch on the hob. The person who shopped and cooked the food. You quickly create endless complex webs and chains of all that came together to create one meal. It is quite remarkable what we are capable of and how interconnected we are.
Before digging in to your plate of food, pause and give thought and thanks and gratitude towards all that had to come together for the meal to manifest. Some say grace before a meal and thank God. I was brought up in an atheist environment and particularly my father thought it ludicrous to thank God as it was his hard work that paid for the food. My mother who did the cooking and shopping probably wanted to be thanked for that. I think they missed the point. Saying grace is a way of thanking all that came together for the meal to be there, regardless of belief in God or not. Pausing and express gratitude before feasting heightens the sense of wonder and respect.
Where does it go? What do we leave behind?
Definitely less pleasant to think about but non the less necessary - the food becomes energy for our bodies and waste. The waste bit we generally don’t like to give that much thought to: go to the loo, flush, gone. But where does it go? (We have been reminded this year that more often then we like to think it gets dumped in our rivers). We have our rubbish collected as a part of our council tax payments so we pay to not have to worry about it and - when it works - it’s very efficient and convenient.
Currently there is an exhibition at the Design Museum in London titled Waste Age. It’s focus is on solutions. I have not yet seen it but read about it in this article. It sounds optimistic and interesting. Generally, I despair about the state of waste in the world and particularly attitude to littering in this country. (The writer and comedian David Sedaris explored this topic years ago and I will refrain from going into a rant, but it is very noticeable when returning here from abroad.)
I believe there is a natural desire in us to make a mark or leave a trace that we have existed. Cave paintings contain handprints likened to a signature. Carvings in stones and tree trunks leave a mark of our presence to posterity as graffiti paintings do. Monuments and graves are, to some extent, also markings that we have been here. Perhaps we fear being forgotten, that our life’s were insignificant and unremarkable and that feeling drives a need to mark our existence and create a memorial. But I doubt anybody likes the notion that we will be known in history as the era of waste so this flame of desire might not need more encouragement and instead some temperance.
I thought of wild camping. Not so much as a venture but the ethos of it. Leave no trace. You set up your camp discreetly, bring all you need with you and leave nothing behind. If you need a poo you carefully select a spot to not contaminate water, dig a hole and cover it. You don’t scare the ground with fires but take your stove and fuel with you. Visiting a place without engraving your presence on it.
“If you see the suffering in the world but you haven’t changed your way of living yet, it means the awakening isn’t strong enough” – Thich Nhat Hanh
When we live many together as we do, almost everywhere in the world we have found support for our existence by providing infrastructure for amenities. But we may have lost the connection to the impact this has on our Earth. By considering how interwoven we are and what impact we have we might be led to tread more lightly while still celebrating life and so begin to change the course from becoming the age of waste.
Some ideas for Christmas stocking fillers: litter-picker, ticket to Design Museum, Thich Nhat Hahn book Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet.
Blogs from the WNT team. For our blogs from before June 2020 please see individual profile pages - it's a good way to get to know practitioners too.