Just Relax

This is what chilling out looks like…
making headspace
A book, a mug of tea, and nowhere to be. Elvis playing over head – ‘On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’, a poor little baby child is born, in the ghetto (in the ghettooo…)’ – two guys playing chess on the next table, cold outside, warm inside. Works for me, anyway.

Just one month into 2012 and it’s been ‘interesting’ so far. As well as all the previously documented occurrences I can report that the only part of my new year’s resolutions I’ve managed to keep is the not eating processed foods bit. Mostly that involved not having fry-ups for breakfast, but still it’s a victory for me. And I feel pretty good for it. Generally been a bit more energetic and awake this year. Whether one follows the other who can say, but anyway…

Ironic though that I should win a load of processed food just as the month comes to an end. 🙂

chocolate swiss roll no.3

And ironic too that I should (almost) perfect my swiss roll making skills just as I give up chocolate for the month. Still, I can wait to give it a try again. Don’t want to put myself off chocolate for life now, do I? Man, just imagine!

Sivananda Yoga Retreat

Well, I’m back from my yoga retreat. Quite a weekend, let me tell you. Hard work sometimes (getting up at 5:30am for example) but certainly worth it. And I don’t feel half as tired/achey as I thought I would. Maybe I’m getting better, lol.

gaunts house

It was at Gaunt’s House, which is this big old former country house (now retreat centre) in Dorset. The place is massive, with lots of grounds, a big garden, and good sized rooms. I paid extra for a single and got a room that’s bigger than my flat (seriously, though I do have a very small flat!) with a double bed. Oh the luxury of a double bed! So nice to just spread out like that. I miss having a double bed.

enjoying the view

The grounds were made for chilling out, but there wasn’t much time for that. The schedule kept us quite busy. Check this out:

5:30 – Wake
6:00 – Satsang (meditation and chanting)
8:00 – Yoga
10:00 – Breakfast/Brunch
12:00 – Nature walk
14:00 – Demo/talk
16:00 – Yoga
18:00 – Supper
20:00 – Satsang
21:30 – Finish
21:31 – Bed 😉

Quite a lot to do huh? I tell you, took a little getting used to. You just had to relax and go with it (probably part of the ethos I reckon). And I’m not kidding about the last one. Soon as you were finished it was straight to bed (for me anyway). If I’m getting up that early I needs me beauty sleep.

The whole thing was run very well, which is no surprise from the Sivananda lot. I even helped out with some of it, getting to the centre early to load up my car with stuff (I had pictures of the swamis and deities on my back seat, and every time someone cut me up in traffic, and I swore without thinking, I found myself apologising to ‘the boys’ for my bad language, lol), helping set up when we got there, and finally fiddling with the sound system during the satsangs, swapping wires between mikes and twiddling knobs to get the levels right.

All the yoga-ey stuff was excellent. My ability to do it though, varied from day to day. Funny how some days you can get your toes on the floor when doing the plough, and other days you find yourself completely scrunched up, feet flailing, unable to catch your breath.

nature walk vs fence

The nature walks were nice, though ‘walk’ is a bit of a misnomer. March, stomp or trudge might a better way of describing it. With Swamiji and his long legs up front, striding off into the distance, it was sometimes a task just to keep up. I know for a fact we lost most the group on the first day (and the second day for that matter) and it was just some good guesswork (or the sound of our post-meditative omming) that brought them back to the rest of the group unscathed, lol. 🙂

As for all the chanting, I can’t say I’m entirely sold on that. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good Om as much as the next man, but after 30-40 minutes of it… well, you get the idea. Maybe I’ll get into it one day, maybe I won’t (the Swami himself admitted he had some difficulty getting his head around it in the beginning), I just know for now it’s not the thing for me; and so mote it be.

thai yoga massage

On the last night, instead of a long satsang, we had a talent show. People told stories, played the piano, sang, did demos, and I even got roped into doing a bit of Tai Chi for them. Got to admit, I was a bit nervous doing it. It was a big crowd (about 70 odd) but it went ok in the end. I got plenty of compliments afterwards, which was nice, and maybe some people might feel motivated to give it a try; which would be great, as yoga and Tai Chi are very much sister disciplines.

(more pics here)

stonehenge

On the way back we stopped off at Stonehenge to go check that out. Was nice to see the stones close up, though not as close as I’d have liked, as you’re not allowed near them for some reason; and you have to pay £7:50 for the privilege, which seems a bit steep to me.

And, everyone was walking round with these little recorders listening to a commentary on the stones, which made for an odd sight. Made me think of the Victorians, who would go out into the countryside and, since they only ever saw landscapes in paintings, had to use a little framing devices to look around, otherwise they couldn’t ‘see’ the beautiful views around them.

Still, it was worth a visit, and I’m glad I went. And it was fun to spend some time with Swami Krishnadevananda and the gang not doing yoga or anything like that, just monkeying about a bit.

swami and the stones

He’s such a cheery fella! 🙂

kiki and the henge

Still rockin’ the new do’. 😉

All told a very good weekend, and one I would recommend to anyone who fancies a bit of a yoga retreat some time. They have them twice a year in the UK, and at other times at other centres around the world. Check out their website for the what’s going on.

Give ’em a go! You’ll meet some lovely people, learn some new stuff, get a bit fitter, and have a right laugh whilst doing it. What more could you need? 🙂

Doing and Trying

There is a world of difference between doing and trying (and indeed not trying), and you should always know which is which.

It’s been a difficult week for me, though I didn’t realise it until I started telling someone else about it. Not that anything major has gone on really, it’s just work is full of so much bullshit at the moment, then I come home and have to deal with my neighbours and their machinations, that it feels like I have no place to rest. That’s why I’m often down the local coffee shop for hours with a good book, in an attempt to ‘hide’ from the world for a few hours.

At times like this you have to take pride in your accomplishments. To this end I offer you the following photo.

gleaming

“It’s just a cooker?” you say. Well how right you are. What it is though, is a damn clean cooker, in point of fact. Two hours and two brillo pads it took me to get off the inch of burnt on crap that had accumulated around the rings over the years. I’d been saying for months that I was going to sort it out, but until you actually do something to sort it out then it’s all just words. Now I keep going into the kitchen just to admire my handiwork. In fact, even though I just recently finished writing my second ever full length feature film script, I’m far more proud of this at the moment than anything else.

day 21 - peace

I’ve decided to start going to yoga twice a week. If I want to start teaching then the sooner I’m able to actually get my head on my knees the better. That’s what I was thinking anyway, but then I realised I’m trying so hard to relax that I never will. If you’re all tense and trying to force your muscles and tendons to stretch it’s like driving with the brake on; it feels like your doing something, but really you’re not getting anywhere.

Been thinking so much about teaching, and being able to quit work, that I’ve actually gotten in the way of my own progression. Like trying to meditate, or trying to calm a lake with your hands, the more you try the worse it gets. You just have to relax and let it happen. Or more to the point, you have to learn to not try. I’ve learnt that with meditation; I need to learn it with yoga. Don’t try and relax, just relax.

afternoon tea

It occurred to me today for the first time, as I looked at the stats for my blog and saw someone had been looking at some of the recipes, that there might actually be people out there making food from my ideas/recommendations. I mean that was always the idea, but for some reason I only just realised that it might be happening. That tickled me a bit. I’d love to know how they got on.

Week 21: In which our hero goes offline, then goes glamping

Such an odd week this week. As well as not drinking I decided to do away with electronic distractions also; namely no internet, no DVDs and no iPod. I did allow myself some music, but no radio, and I tried to avoid listening to podcasts. Also, where possible, I left the mobile at home too. As best I could it was pretty total.

library selection

First thing I did, I read a lot. Got through three whole books in the first four days or so, as well as various bits of others. Then I started thinking. That was the point you see, without games to play, e-mails to check, and films to watch, I was leaving myself no refuge. I had to deal with my thoughts, and everything that involved.

Now I can’t go into too much detail on the general subject matter, as it ranged over many topics for a great length of time, but I can share some of the conclusion I came to. Here’s two extracts from something I wrote that pretty much sums it up nicely.

“…be centre stage in your own life rather than a bit player. And above all enjoy the life you’ve chosen, because you’ve got to do something day to day, so you may as well enjoy it, because it happening whether you do or not…”

“And remember, most of what happens to you is a construct in your head. They’re your thoughts, and opinions, and ideas; your moods and your musings; and not immutable facts. So you may as well construct a world you enjoy…”

Buddhists and Taoists will recognise the idea, it’s not original, but putting it into my own words really helped me put it into action. So that’s what I’m doing now, constructing a fun world to be in, because if I don’t, who will? 🙂

first barbecue of the summer

Also, as a consequence of not sitting online for hours each day, I got out and did more stuff. Met up with the lovely Sarah and, in an effort to enjoy the glorious sunshine, we went for a walk down by the river, had a (non-alcoholic) drink in a couple of pubs by the Thames, then went back to mine for the first barbecue of the summer. The burgers were excellent (Redwood Company) but the kebabs were a little under-done. Also I normally put some tofu marinated in BBQ sauce on there to liven them up a bit. Still, as first barbies go it did the trick!

glamping

Later in the week I was very fortunate to go ‘glamping’ (glam camping) at the surprisingly lovely Layer Marney Tower near Tiptree in Essex. I went with the Badgers, a bunch who through many years attending The Big Chill, have gotten into the habit of going on mini adventures around the place together (usually Cornwall for a bit of surfing, but we’re open to possibilities).

We are most fortunate in that one of our number is the Travel Editor for Cosmopolitan magazine (I kid you not!) so we get to enjoy the generous fruits of the many publicity driven freebies she has offered to her (God bless you Mrs Mu!).

camping cornucopia

This was by far the swankiest bit of camping I’ve ever done. A massive hut that slept 6, proper plumbing, showers and even a hot tub! I was amazed, and very pleased (I am so over normal camping). A wood burning stove provided heat and cooking facilities – vegan curries and fried breakfasts were abound – and we were quite sated by the end. A good time was had by all, and even getting lost in the fields and absolutely soaked on a poorly planned ‘stroll’ to Tiptree didn’t dampen our spirits.

The interesting bit for me was that, without the internet, I had to go old skool and do everything by phone. From finding out about the unexpected trip, to planning the meet, getting train times and information, I am so used to just having all this at my finger tips. That’s where the internet comes into it’s own, as a resource. It only becomes a problem when it turns into a distraction.

I guess that’s what I have learnt from the whole experience, to keep things in perspective – life, the Universe, and everything – to get out more and just do stuff, and that 99% of how the world is is down to how I view things and what I do about them. As the late great Bill Hicks said, “How about waking up and enjoying the life you’ve chosen?” Amen brother.

ps: I’m famous! The very lovely and super cool Rickicupcake has featured me as this weeks Ask A Vegan on her brilliant blog Seitanic Vegan Heathen Check her out when you’ve got a mo, she’s the tops and well worth the effort. Cheers Ricki for the kudos. I’m well chuffed, hahaha 🙂

Week 19: In which our hero takes up gambling

the winning ticket

Well, as you can probably tell from the illustration, I ain’t a winner (yet). I know, I know, the chances of winning the lottery are astronomical, and really I don’t expect to win, but as a way of exacting massive change in a very short period of time the possibilities can’t be denied. But then again, that’s why everyone does it I suppose.

Actually this whole gambling thing came about initially as a way of getting me a car. I figured that the easiest way for me to get mobile would be to win myself a vehicle, as it’s going to take me ages to save up for one. A quick search online found loads of competitions that you can enter for free, so I went for it. Of course my inbox won’t be happy with me when the spam starts rolling in, but such is the nature of these things (there being no such thing as a ‘freebie’).

I also put in half a dozen entries to the Fuller’s Brewery to win a mountain bike, seeing as I’d drank the beer and had the bottle tops anyway. I even hand delivered them to save myself some money. I’ve already got a bike, so if I win one I’ll probably sell it and put the money towards a car. Also it seemed right that I should get something from the last lot of beer I had in the house. There’s a certain balance to that somehow methinks.

Still off the drink. It’s been ten days now. It hasn’t been easy, as everywhere I turn there’s something that’s stressing me out. Seriously, home, work, play, all of them are giving me aggro at the moment, and I’d give anything to be able to switch off just for a while and relax. But I know I’d regret it the next day, so I’m sticking to my guns.

Did a few more days meditation this week, which is good. The more I can do the better. And I had my first meeting with the guy who’s going to have a go at designing my board game for me. It was all very positive. Now I just need to do a bit more research and we’ll be on our way.

So it’s going ok for the moment. I’ve also done a new recipe this week, as it’s been a while, and maybe next week I can get back to doing some script work. Been in a bit of a funk this past month or so and it’s time I dragged myself out of it. Being in a funk really is an unproductive way to be.

TTFN.

Me and the Floatation Tank

It’s been a good week for new things this week. First of all, I’m in a new year. Turned 36 on Monday and I am glad of it finally. Think I was getting a bit stressed out about it the other week, trying to reconcile what I’ve done, with what I want, with what everyone else is doing, y’know? A losing battle of course, “for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself” (Desiderata, Max Ehrmann), but one we keep on fighting anyway don’t we.

Going to be starting a new year on Sunday too; the Chinese year of the Tiger, which is my year. It’s always good when it’s your year. It means good things are meant to happen. Fingers crossed eh.

Also, going to see a West End show tonight, my first ever after 11 1/2 years in London. Can you believe it? I’ll be reporting on that on Sunday, but first… the floatation tank!

Got to admit, this wasn’t what I was expecting. For some reason I had visualised some kind of pod you lie in (a bit like a sun bed) with goggles and ear plugs and that. Instead I was show to my own individual room with a shower and floatation tank. The guy informed me of the basics – strip off (naked), get a quick shower, dry your face, hop in the tank and shut the door – then left me to it. Once you’re laid down and floating in the rather thick, salty water, you turn off the light and just… float. After about 15 minutes the music fades out and you’re on your own til the end of the session.

Ok, a few weird things. First, I couldn’t decide where to put my arms. They recommended down by your side, above your head, or on your chest. But all three made my shoulders feel weird, like they were up around my ears or something. And there was a lot of pain in my neck and shoulders too, which they had warned me about as that’s where you carry most of your stress and tension, so they were very hard to relax.

When I finally did manage it though there were two things that I found distracting. One was muscle twitches, my arms and legs taking turns to spasm now and then, no doubt as the muscles each individually relaxed completely; and the drifting about inside the tank that I did, sometimes bouncing from wall to wall to wall. Both were exasperated by the thick, viscous liquid, which exaggerated the tiniest movement so that pushing off gently from one end of the tank could easily send you all the way to the other.

That being said, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the experience. As someone who has done different types of meditation before it was interesting to compare and contrast. Floatation seems to offer you the experience of a contemplative state from the outside in, as opposed to the inside out as with other disciplines, so will no doubt be of great value to a number of people. Personally though I don’t think I’ll be going there an awful lot. At £30 a time (off peak) it’s a bit much for me to do on a regular basis. I get as much mental relaxation from Tai Chi or a bit of sitting meditation. But I will go back at some point, as it was a nice thing to do and the people there were really lovely. I got as much spiritually out of sitting chatting over a cup of tea afterwards as I did the float itself.

For those who are interested, here’s where to find them: www.floatopia.co.uk

More in a few days, including a recipe for hash browns, and my theatre review of Legally Blonde. TTFN.