Posted on November 3, 2015
“The more a characteristic in someone else bothers you the more your soul is trying to draw a reflection to your attention.” - A Little Light on the Spiritual Laws by Diana Cooper.
I have read this Law many times and had always failed to see the logic in this premise. How can a characteristic that annoys me be reflecting back an aspect of my own personality? The reason it irritates me is because I don’t behave in that way – at least I didn’t think I did.
What is it that piques you most?
On reflection (no pun intended) I realise that I am increasingly irritated by those who are so strongly opinionated that they refuse to listen to anyone else’s views. On the radio and TV everyone talks over each other, determined to assert themselves. The ego demanding to be heard because of ’the need to be right‘.
Our opinions are formed by our life experiences and no two people see things in the same way. Some have privileged lives and others have difficult lives. Even those who share common experiences view them differently, so how can our perspective be the same? Yet often this is not taken into consideration. How often do we take the time to listen to others and try to understand why they believe what they do?
The ossification of our ideas leave us as brittle as our old bones; and as inflexible. We can become hard and uncaring, discarding any form of compassion. I heard someone talking in a café the other day about those fleeing Syria. The woman was adamant that ‘those people are just leaving to have a better life on benefits’. This was her opinion (and that of many) and she would not shift from this view. I’m sure, if asked, many of those fleeing would provide a different perspective.
Many of those escaping war ravaged countries know the risks when they leave but are trying to keep their children and families safe. It is desperation that drives them to take their families on a dodgy boat, or trudge miles across land, leaving behind everything they own. I’m sure some are economic migrants but I’m sure most aren’t (my opinion for what it’s worth!) How does it reach the stage where, after seeing a few programmes on TV about benefit cheats and migrants sponging off the state, that our opinions become so entrenched that we lose our humanity?
I’m ashamed to admit that I can finally see the logic behind the Law of Reflection because – and I’m reluctant to admit it – I do exactly the same as the people who annoy me. I often have strong views and am not shy to express them. I have even been know to talk over others and interrupt (yes it’s true!).
We have all been blessed with the gift of thought and our thoughts are free. We have the opportunity to change them at any time. I will use this Law to change my way of thinking by ensuring that my opinions, which can be very forthcoming after a glass or two of wine (culminating in full eruption after three) are not forced on others. I will shut my mouth and open my ears and ask myself: Do I really believe this or do I need to re-evaluate the judgements I’ve held close for so long?…And then I’ll give my opinion!
Posted on October 27, 2015
Tying Down The Lion tells the story of Roy Bishop and his half- German wife Bridget as they travel to Berlin in the summer of 1967 in an old Morris Traveller. Accompanied by their children, fourteen year old Jacqueline and seven year old Victor, along with Roy’s mother Nell they set off from their semi in Audette Gardens, foregoing their usual holiday to Clacton, so Bridget can meet the sisters she hasn’t seen since the war.
Berlin at this time is divided by the Cold War and Bridget has one sister living in the East and the other in the West.
Jacqueline is working on a school project with the theme of ‘contrasts’ and, inspired by an article about Berlin and their forthcoming trip, she chooses Berlin as the subject. With pen and paper in hand she takes notes during the journey but discovers more about her mother’s early life in Berlin than she was expecting.
Grandma Nell has a dislike for anything foreign and criticises her daughter-in-law at every opportunity – whilst busy knitting and eating sweets of all descriptions. She’s also a little uneasy about the travel arrangements as she believes the Morris Traveller is “held together by no more than a couple of sticking-plasters and an overstretched rubber band”.
Teenager Jacqueline is desperate to be allowed to grow up and finds Victor a ‘pest’ a lot of the time, while Bridget and Roy have their own demons to deal with.
The story is told in first person by Jacqueline with wit and humour, mixed with doses of tenderness. She records the interactions between family members that includes the unavoidable bickering which accompanies five people thrown together in a small space for long periods of time. References to Opportunity Knocks, crimplene frocks, Biba and The Beatles keep you immersed in the 60’s for the duration of the novel.
Tying Down The Lion is a book about division but also about reconciliation. It shows the necessity of family love and understanding. There is warmth and humour mixed with the reality of the prejudices and bigotry which inevitably came in the aftermath of World War 2. It is an amusing and entertaining story but equally moving.
Joanna has taken an entirely unique approach to tell the story of the Cold War and the suffering of Germans during WW2, including those who were not Jewish. It highlights the fact that everyone endures misery during war whichever side they are on. There is a lovely sentence towards the end which links to the title and encapsulates the whole essence of the story. A delight to read.
Tying Down The Lion is published by Brick Lane Publishing
Joanna was born in 1960 and grew up in Hayes, Middlesex. Many of her short stories have been published in magazines and she has had fiction shortlisted in many competitions: the Bridport and Fish prizes and the Flannery O’Connor Award to name just a few. A collection of Joanna’s prize-winning short stories, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, is due to be published later this year.
Joanna answers questions in A Conversation with Greenacre Writers.
You can follow Joanna on twitter: @PygmyProse
Posted on October 4, 2015
“Everything In Moderation” – My Uncle Peter (and, I believe, Oscar Wilde)
This has always been Uncle Peter’s philosophy in life: Everything in moderation; nothing to excess. This is such a sensible way to live but, for me anyway, impossible to abide by. As much as I hate to admit it I lack self-discipline. This theme runs through all my activities including mediation practise and eating habits. It’s usually all or nothing!
I decide on a Monday morning – it has to be Monday because I can’t ever begin something mid-week – to go on a ‘healthy eating’ plan and commit to 30 minutes meditation each morning. This usually follows a few weeks of self-indulgent eating and drinking resulting in my jeans getting tight. (How this phenomenon happens I don’t know, I think there needs to be a study of the correlation between eating too much and clothes shrinking in the wash).
Monday passes well. Meditation achieved. Lots of salad and veg with grilled salmon or chicken. No wine or chocolate. I’m so good! Tuesday very similar although a chocolate biscuit is added at the very end of the day due to sugar craving. Wednesday morning a friend invites me to lunch at Al Fresco’s, a lovely Italian restaurant. Do I decline or just vow to eat something healthy?
Of course I don’t decline – I love to meet for a chat and Alfresco’s is the perfect place. I have a food shop to fit in before I go so I decide to meditate in the evening instead. My foot has just stepped onto the slippery slope.
On arrival my friend is sipping a glass of chilled white wine with an almost full bottle glistening in the cooler beside the table. Our usual ritual. Help!
Not wishing to offend I allow the waiter to pour and I indicate to stop when the glass is a quarter full. (I’m trying).
After a quick catch up I look at the menu. Now it gets tricky. I refuse point blank to pay £10 for a plate of lettuce and tomatoes and the fish is a little beyond my lunch time budget so I opt for something middle of the range: a delicious, thin based anchovy and black olive pizza. My favourite.
As we eat the waiter tops up the glasses.
Then, having ruined my healthy eating plan for the day I follow up with a coconut meringue thingy. Absolutely delicious. I arrive home stuffed and a little tipsy (I didn’t drive by the way, hubby dropped me off. Somewhere in my subconscious I knew I would have the wine!). Needless to say I fall asleep in the evening after thirty seconds meditation.
The trouble with all this is that having broken my strict regime I can’t recapture it. Now I will have to wait until next Monday to start again.
Why is it so difficult to have a small glass of wine and not half the bottle? A few squares of chocolate rather than the whole bar? Or two biscuits instead of half the packet?
I know it’s all to do with mind set and mine is obviously malfunctioning. I need to come up with a new strategy otherwise I will end up overweight and alcoholic and walking in the opposite direction on the path to self-awakening.
I will have a think…
Posted on September 9, 2015
Linda Huber lives in Arbon, Switzerland. Although Linda has been writing throughout her life she considered it a hobby until the publication of her first novel, The Paradise Trees, In September 2013. Just a year later, in August 2014, The Cold Cold Sea, was published and her third novel, The Attic Room, was released in July 2015.
The Attic Room is a suspense/thriller that spreads over three generations: Nina, her daughter Naomi and her mother Claire. When Claire dies following a car accident Nina is trying to cope with the deep grief she feels for the loss of her mother when she receives a telephone call from a lawyer.
Nina discovers she has been bequeathed a substantial estate from a man she does not know: John Moore. From her home on the Isle of Arran she travels to Bedfordshire, leaving Naomi with a friend to run their bed and breakfast business, to see the house she has inherited.
Once there she becomes embroiled in blackmail and lies as she uncovers dark family secrets involving her mysterious benefactor. Who is John Moore and what happened in the attic?
Like Linda’s other two novels, The Attic Room is packed with suspense and intrigue. It explores a difficult topic which Linda has weaved into the mystery in a sensitive way. Her research into the subject results in authentic characterisation which enhances the tension and secrets the story reveals. A well written book and a good read.
Watch the trailer to get a taster
You can also see the trailer for Linda’s new book Chosen Child:
You can follow Linda on Twitter: @LindaHuber19
Posted on August 30, 2015
Things We Have In Common is Tasha Kavanagh’s first adult novel, having written books for children under the name of Tasha Pym. She has also worked as an editor on films such as Twelve Monkeys and The Talented Mr Ripley.
Yasmin is 15 years old, very overweight and has no friends. Her fixation with the pretty girl in her class, Alice, alienates her further from the other children and she retreats deeper into her own world of fantasy and obsessions. Yasmin lives with her mother and Gary – her stepdad – which creates additional issues for the troubled teenager.
Yasmin, convinced Alice is to be abducted by a man she knows is watching Alice, becomes embroiled in a rather one sided friendship with the potential paedophile/murderer.
Kavanagh has captured the voice of the lonely and complex Yasmin – desperate for love and attention – very convincingly and it leaves you wondering where the boundary between fantasy and reality lie for Yasmin; they appear to merge, leaving you to speculate on whether the events she relates have really occurred or whether they are just flights of her imagination.
Although a monologue of Yasmin’s confused and unhappy existence – and I have to admit that at times she left me exhausted – it is also a novel of twists and turns. Unpredictable and intriguing. Just when you think you have worked out what is happening – you discover you haven’t.
The novel had an excellent start and then the voice of Yasmin became a little tiresome. However, once accustomed to her expression the novel was all-absorbing. It is a story that flows well and begs you to turn the next page. The only failure, in my opinion, was the ending. I didn’t find it as satisfying as I would have liked.
Published May 7th 2015 by Canongate
Posted on August 25, 2015
Steady and predictable Raimund ‘Mundus’ Gregorius has his life turned upside down one day when he meets a beautiful woman on a bridge. Fifty seven year old Gregorious, a classical languages teacher at a school in Berne, decides it is time to evaluate his life. On impulse he abandons his classroom during the middle of the day’s teaching and embarks on a journey of discovery.
By luck or providence, whilst browsing in a second-hand book shop, Gregorious picks up a book written by a Portuguese doctor, Amadeu Inacio de Almeida Prado, who died over thirty years ago. The book, A Goldsmith of Words, is written in Portuguese – a language Gregorious does not understand. The book shop owner translates the first page and Gregorious immediately feels the words speak to him.
Gregorious begins to learn Portuguese in order to translate the slim book containing the philosophical jottings of Prado, who, as well as working as a doctor, became involved as a resistance fighter during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. Gregorious takes a train to Lisbon to unravel the threads of Prado’s life.
Although Gregorious makes the bold decision to take control of his life it feels as though he has exchanged his own uneventful, mundane existence to live it through Amadeu Prado. His desire to understand the complex life of the doctor appears to control his new existence as he meets Prado’s family and friends to learn what it was really like to be Prado. However, as Gregorious slowly settles into his new life, and reflects on the past, memories of a spontaneous younger self emerge. He realises he wasn’t always so unadventurous and begins to alter the way he has perceived himself for so long.
The philosophical musing of the sometimes self-indulgent Prado can be a challenging read but reveal some thought provoking insights. I have an interest in meditation and often reflect on the meaning of life, which was why I selected the book to read. Because of this I paid particular attention to the sections regarding Prado’s thoughts. That said, some parts took a second reading to grasp their meaning. Although Mercier has tried to reveal Prado in small chunks, parts are a little long which very occasionally slows the book down.
In Night Train to Lisbon Peter Bieri, himself a philosopher writing under the pseudonym of Pascal Mercier, has managed to merge reflective thinking with a classic novel of intrigue, love, passion and adventure mixed with a dose of humour. It is not a book with peaks and troughs but maintains a steady pace. Although it sometimes needs patience and slow digestion – more easily absorbed in a quiet place – I found it very enjoyable.
Posted on August 16, 2015
Half of a Yellow Sun follows the lives of five ordinary people through a decade of Nigerian history. After receiving independent federation rule in 1960 the country was thrown into civil war in the late sixties when Biafra, a state in Eastern Nigeria, was granted secession.
The characters are introduced during a time of peace and plenty. Twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, educated and wealthy, live very different lives. Olanna is introduced as kind and thoughtful as she reassures an elderly lady at the airport that the plane carrying her son will stop on the runway. Olanna gives up her luxurious lifestyle in Lagos to live with her lecturer lover, Odenigbo. Kainene, strong, wilful and less beautiful than her twin, helps their father to run the family business and becomes involved with an Englishman, Richard, who has a fascination for Igbo art.
Odenigbo, a university lecturer in Nsukka, entertains friends where food and alcohol flow and lively intellectual debates ensue. His strong political views cause Kainene to refer to him as Olanna’s ‘revolutionary lover’. Ugwu is Odenigbo’s thirteen year old houseboy who loves to cook for Master and his guests while absorbing fragments of their lively discussions.
Biafra’s secession in 1967 brings a Nigerian blockade and eventually war; the mostly Muslim dominated north against the Igbo population in the south. The world, with the exception of Tanzania, refuses to recognise the State of Biafra.
The novel moves successfully between the early sixties and the late sixties to provide a contrast between the indulgent lifestyle of peace time and the famine and hardships that inevitably come with war. The early imagery of Ugwu’s pepper soup and spicy jollof rice reinforce the horrors of eating roasted bush rats to stave off starvation.
As the war progresses, Odenigbo, Olanna and daughter Baby have to leave their home in Nsukku. Their descent into poverty forces them to live in a single room of squalor, join food queues for any scraps they are able to receive and the need to hide in air raid shelters, which they share with an assortment of small creatures. Relationships that were easy when life was good are put under enormous strain when food is scarce and the people they love are brutally murdered. Kainene has a different experience of the war as she sets up and organises refugee camps for all of those forced from their homes. Her life with Richard is stable and he tries hard to integrate and become accepted by the Igbo people. Ugwu faces challenges as he explores the natural inquisitive passions of a teenage boy.
Half of a Yellow Sun is named after the emblem for Biafra, worn on the sleeves of soldiers fighting the war. This three year war has been consigned to distant memory for most of the world and the word Biafra synonymous with starving, large bellied children in Africa.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche has done an excellent job of bringing the war back to the attention of the world whilst telling a beautifully written story. The account of history, which members of her family experienced, is related through these five wonderful characters in a moving and empathetic manner. She has captured the human condition well: during times of suffering some find a deep inner strength whereas others flounder and surrender, unable to cope. The changes in each of the characters also reinforce that although we often have little control over external circumstances we do have a choice in our personal response to them. An inspirational read
Posted on April 15, 2015
Whether you are feeling ‘under the weather’ or would like to improve your health to increase energy and vitality it is worth having a look at what Ayurvedic medicine has to offer. Even if you do not wish to pursue Ayurvedic treatment it is interesting to see how this branch of medicine understands the progress of illness.
Originating in India over 4,000 years ago it is one of the world’s oldest health care methods. It works on the principle that all things in the universe are one and that if the body and mind are in harmony with nature then good health will prevail. Fatigue and stress have become accepted as part of modern day living but are often precursors for more serious conditions such as coronary heart disease and cancer.
Although the pharmaceutical industry has manufactured a pill for almost every ailment, the body has its own natural defence mechanisms. Unless compromised, our immune system is very effective at dealing with unwelcome invaders; our bones heal without pharmaceutical intervention as do cuts, bruises and other physical traumas. We accept this as normal. This said, our bodies need to be healthy and in balance for self healing to be effective.
Ayurveda aims to balance the body, mind and soul to prevent illness and promote well being. A variety of techniques are used to achieve this: diet and the use of plants along with exercise and meditation. This holistic treatment is having a resurgence in the field of complimentary and alternative medicine with an emphasis on prevention of illness. It also stresses the importance of personal responsibility for healthy living and gives advice on methods of achieving this.
Each person is considered individual, with a unique mind-body type. Three life forces, known as doshas control the activities of the body and each person has a unique combination of the three doshas, with one being prominent. When these three forces are in balance there is good health. A disturbance of one of these forces produces imbalance and possibly disease.
A NOTE OF CAUTION: If Ayurvedic treatment is to be used for an established illness or disease it is important to use it under the guidance of a reputable practitioner and with the consent of a Medical Practitioner. Remedies are complex and some treatments can be toxic. They are often regulated as dietary supplements which do not have to undergo the rigorous safety and efficacy standards required for conventional medicines. Proven conventional treatments provided by your General Practitioner, or a hospital doctor, should NEVER be replaced with unproven complimentary and alternative treatments.
An Ayurvedic practitioner considers there to be six stages in the course of an illness and in the western world we generally wait for stage four to arrive before seeking medical treatment.
|6 Stages of Illness
The following 6 categories show how you can take personal responsibility for good health:
1 .Follow a sensible diet. There is a plethora of information regarding what constitutes a sensible diet. Lean meats, fish, pulses, fruits and vegetables are the recommendations. Plenty of water or herbal tea is also advised. There is a growing body of evidence to show that an excess of processed foods is causing ill health so these foods should be avoided.
2. Use relaxation techniques to prevent and reduce stress. Transcendental Meditation is a method used in Ayurvedic treatments which has proven to reduce stress, calm the body and improve sleep and digestion. If time is limited and meditation cannot be fitted into the daily schedule, then look into mindfulness. This can be used in everyday activities.
3. Make the best of life’s ups and downs. There are obviously situations when this is not appropriate. It would be foolish to even suggest making the most of a serious illness or the death of a loved one. There are many times though when smaller issues take over, causing misery. Dwelling on these has a serious effect on health if prolonged.
4. Cultivate harmonious personal relationships. It is worth working at relationships both at home and at work. Being nice to someone unpleasant often brings surprising and positive results. To begin with it takes some effort but the response could lead to a more pleasant environment for everyone.
5. Watch your thoughts and practice right thinking. Regurgitating last week’s arguments or remaining anxious about some future event is detrimental to both physical and mental health. The mind can only occupy one thought at a time so if the thought is a negative or nasty one then change it!
6. Regular sleep and exercise. Sleep provides rest giving the body time to repair and heal any damage sustained during the day. The benefits of exercise are well documented.
Following all of the above methods need not take any extra time from a busy schedule. Exercise and mindfulness can be incorporated into the daily routine with very little disruption – there does not have to be a formal time set aside for these activities. Thoughts have a great effect on the well being of the body, so watch them whenever possible. Prevention of disease keeps the mind and body healthy and ready to cope with the more substantial traumas when they appear.
Posted on December 16, 2014
If you have tried to meditate in the past and given up then I urge you to try again. I agree that effort is needed but the main reason people abandon meditation practise is due to lack of time. Finding 10 -20 minutes each day for formal practise is difficult with a busy daily schedule involving work and children. Many who meditate in the evening after a long, tiring day often fall asleep. There are, however, many practical exercises involving no extra time from your waking day, that will bring noticeable benefits.
So, what is meditation? It is focussed awareness. The body is relaxed while the mind remains alert. Meditation is not to be confused with relaxation. Relaxation is the state where your thoughts drift and the mind isn’t fully conscious. Sleep is easy when the mind and body are relaxed. The aim of meditation is to gain control over the chaotic thoughts the mind produces every waking second. There is rarely a time when the mind is not thinking about the past or the future. However we do experience times when we are so absorbed that our thoughts don’t intrude. For example, listening to music without allowing the daily worries to butt in is a form of meditation.
So, why mediate? There is plenty of supporting evidence that meditation:
Lowers blood pressure
Relieves stress and anxiety
Enhances personal relationships
Leads to a better quality of life
To let go of the constant nagging worries that the mind dwells on is of enormous benefit to health. When we feel calm and happy everyone is our friend. When we are stressed and irritable nobody is our friend – particularly those closest to us who we love. Always remember that the mind can only think of one thing at a time, so replace any thoughts that are worrisome or unhelpful to your wellbeing with a thought that makes you feel better. Practising meditation exercises allow each person to gain mastery over their mind and thoughts to bring enough awareness to be in a position to consciously change the thoughts that are unhelpful.
Below are three exercises that can be integrated into daily life and will begin the process of relaxed, focussed awareness. Set the alarm on your phone to remind you at frequent intervals during the day. If you are on the train going to work by 8 o’clock set the alarm for 8.05 and practise on the train. Set the alarm for break times, meal times, and various times during the days and evening to bring your mind back to the task in hand – which is to concentrate on what is happening AT THAT MOMENT. The first two exercises can be practised while you are busy at work but to begin with you will need the alarm to remind you.
Watching the breath. While washing, dressing, queuing in the bank or working at the computer you can focus on your breathing. Relax the body and feel the breath move in and out. When you become alert enough this is an excellent exercise for confrontations and difficult personal situations. You remain in control allowing you decide how to handle the problem without reacting first.
Present moment awareness. Concentrating on the task in hand reduces day dreaming and worrying, thereby reducing stress and anxiety while ensuring you do a good job of whatever you are doing. Don’t permit your mind to wander aimlessly. Even if the task is boring, keep bringing your focus back to what you are doing because it is the discipline that is important. If you can concentrate on mundane tasks you will be more aware of your thoughts at more important times. Formal meditation requires sitting for a period of time, concentrating on either a mantra or an object. Concentrate on the filing, or listening to a boring business talk – it’s no different and means you will not have to find the time in the evening or early morning to concentrate on a banana! It is not necessary to close your eyes to meditate. It is all about the mind being alert and aware rather than drifting and becoming aware of the body and relaxing it if necessary. Are your shoulders hunched while leaning over the computer? Then relax them. Is your mind regurgitating last week’s arguments? Then think of something pleasant and let the rest go.
Visualisation. This is easier when the eyes are closed but can also be practised anywhere. On the train, at work during lunch break or even sitting in the toilet provides the perfect opportunity! Look around for any item: a clock, your hand, a vase – anything. Look at it for a few moments and see the detail then close your eyes and try to picture it. The more you practise the easier it gets as with all meditation exercises.
Formal meditation – when you feel ready – will take your practise to a deeper level with greater health benefits. The above exercises will, however, get you started without taking any extra time from your daily schedule and the results will be noticeable.