Silence – really rather lovely!

I attended my first full day silent retreat this month with my fabulous, warm and compassionate Mindful Self Compassion teacher, Annette Boden.  I had previously attended a half-day retreat as part of the Mindful Self Compassion Programme (created by Kirsten Neff), and taught by Annette in a beautiful spot in Disley – a really magical place to learn, well, anything really – but especially self compassion!

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I have a strange relationship with silence. I love it, but for some reason there are times I feel like a demon possessed with the desire to fill it with noise, even if I have nothing sensible, interesting or amusingly silly to say (usually at home with my sisters)! I live alone (and don’t often leave the house), so I spend most of the time silent, most days. And yet the first time I tried it at a retreat, it was really really hard! Why?

  1. I think there’s a difference between being silent on your own and being silent where there are other people.
  2. There’s also a difference between being silent, but keeping your brain occupied with reading, writing, TV, radio etc and being silent and just being there.

It started off feeling like a lot of effort to stop talking, but I was grateful that we had some time before the official start for a little catch up chat with the other members of the group.  After that, it was like an itch I couldn’t scratch. My brain forgot its itch after lots of soothing breathing, sitting comfortably with blankets and listening to Annette lead us through some lovely meditations.  I sort of settled into a warm, calm space, where there were words from Annette, words in my head, birds tweeting and creaks, shuffles and gentle breathing (and the occasional gentle snore from a couple of people too!).

Silence means we can’t make our thoughts solid by voicing them. There are things I never voice but I can write.  It feels to me, that saying something out loud can turn nothing into something real. Equally there are things I can’t write, but I can say out loud, and this process too, does something to the ideas to make them more real to me. What I have found is that since my day of silence, I have been more in control of my voice. I have had things to say that normally there would be insurmountable barriers for me to actually, you know, say.

In silence we are forced to let thoughts go or try to cling to those vanishing little puffs of meaning. I think for longer retreats I’d definitely take a notebook, but for this one it felt good to practice letting go of a thought without backing up to paper. I have such a habit of trying to capture all my thoughts in case there’s something useful there that I think this was actually a lovely feeling, difficult though it was. My brain, after some arguments decided it was quite nice to just sit in a bath of warm brain chemicals doing their thing, without any need to do anything with any of it. And I think that’s kind of how it felt – like a hot relaxing bath for my brain! I gave it the day off (well bits of it, I needed a lot of it to stay alive and stuff but you know which bits I mean!).

And in this calm, my brain didn’t feel so terrified (or too low on computing space) to form words and thoughts it might have normally struggled with. Perhaps because I wasn’t going to do anything with them anyway.  It gave me time to appreciate other things, people’s smiles, the sound of my breathing, the ways we connect with each other without a single word, and a lovely poem we had read out to us that I have previously written a post inspired by here.

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There are obviously still barriers, but I have found my day of silence refreshing and empowering. It’s not at all like those “confidence building” tricks, it’s so much more quiet and subtle than that – it’s a shift that just made making words a little bit easier. Perhaps because my brain stopped feeling so much pressure to perform? I don’t know. Whatever it is, I like it. In fact I like it so much I’m doing a week soon with BreathWorks. I may not like it any more when I get back from a whole week, but I suspect I will.

I can highly recommend learning Mindful Self Compassion with Annette, and her guided retreats. We had some wonderful guided meditations, the smell of the most gorgeous lavender oil, the calm warm guidance of Annette, blankets, warm socks, a little sunshine, tasty treats and the most beautiful Peak District setting for a whole day of silence.  I felt like I’d had a week’s holiday when I got back!

My first low fodmap savoury muffins

Yes – I mainly make muffins when I have managed to spare enough energy to cook something for the days ahead. They really are amazing – I can minimise energy use about thinking what to eat, use of cutlery/crockery and washing up once I have a bunch of these in the freezer.

Cooking tip for fatigue/pain: I buy a lot of canned, UHT (like orange juice lunchbox cartons from concentrate) or frozen goods (including chopped herbs and sliced veg). I also buy pre-prepared food and store things like massive bags of grated cheese, bags of cooked quinoa and left over tinned stuff in the freezer. That way your ingredients last until you have the spoons to use them.

 

Mediterranean muffins!

In a measuring jug:

2 handfuls frozen chopped chives

2 handfuls frozen chopped chillies

2 handfuls frozen chopped basil

salt and pepper – to taste

a few tablespoons of lemon juice (I use a bottled version)

80ml olive oil

And a good glug or two of garlic infused oil. No actual garlic to stay low fodmap.

Add water to about 300ml

2 medium eggs

mix with a fork till mixed!

 

In a mixing bowl:

275g flour gluten free plus 2 tsp xanthan gum OR normal flour

2tsp baking powder

40g dried sundried tomatoes (soaked in warm water for 20 mins)

half tin of black olives (freeze the rest) – about 75-100g

couple of tsp smoked paprika

a couple of handfuls of grated cheese (you could also use feta)

 

Add measuring jug liquid to bowl and mix – but not too much – just till you can’t see any flour

Add some cooked quinoa (a couple of handfuls) if you have some (defrost first if you keep it frozen too!)

Put in 12 cases in a muffin tin at 180 degrees for 20-30 minuted – till golden brown.

 

This time, I took pictures:

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Newspaper yarn Gallery

You can buy my newspaper yarn creations on my Folksy shop here.  

Cooking with fatigue/pain

One of the things filling out the dreaded PIP form has helped me to realise is that I don’t have usuallu enough energy to feed myself.

On a really good day, I love cooking. Most days are bad days energy-wise and some days I use that energy to LEAVE THE FLAT or shower or write a blog post or some other wildly extravagant pastime. Inevitably this leaves me eating coco pops, rice cakes, satsumas and bananas all day most days.

On some days I can do some Making of Actual FoodStuffs, but I also am on a fairly restrictive FodMap diet for IBS symptoms. The diet has been really helpful – but impossible when you consider the fact I don’t like eating animals and I struggle with preparing meals and that high fodmap foods include onion, garlic, chickpeas, wheat and many other random foods! This makes even using ready meals or takeaways to feed yourself tricksy! NB: A low FodMap diet should be done with a dietician according to the NHS, so this is about sharing ideas rather than recommending you eat the things I do, or that you should also do this diet – *I am not a medical doctory person/dietician*

I’ve been trying out various recipes and I would like a place to keep them, so I can access on my surgically-attached smart phone, and I thought others might find it helpful for self care when energy/ability is low so here they come!  Some are a bit more demanding than others but laziness  I mean, chronic illness and fatigue, are the mothers of invention.

I shall start you off with my favourite thing:

MUFFINS. Because when you can’t summon up the energy to hold a plate, do chopping, clean a plate, think about plates or cutlery and you haven’t slept and you are hungry:  having these in the freezer or in a tin is very very handy indeed. They come with a muffin case and you can just shove them in your mouth.

I use cups because….well….so much easier!

Maple, pecan, banana breakfast muffins (NOM!)

Oven: 180 degrees, preheated

12 Muffin cases in a muffin tin – fill them with mix and bake for about 20 mins. Use a timer in case you doze off whilst resting after this activity!

 

1 3/4 cups self raising gluten-free flour

1 tsp xanathan gum (worth having if you can’t have gluten)

OR NOT LOW FODMAP OPTION:  use normal flour (no need for xanthan gum if you have gluten)

1/3 cup of sugar – you can add more, but I am trying to do self care with these

1 tbps baking powder

a pinch of salt

1/2 tsp allspice, or cinnamon or something nice

 

GET ALL OF THIS OUT ON WORKTOP plus spoons for mixing and cups for measuring.

SIT DOWN AND PUT ALL OF THIS (in bold, above) IN ONE BOWL AND MIX

Maybe have a little rest or do some mindful breathing and chill

 

Now get another bowl and the following:

about 4-6 tbsp maple syrup depending how much you want it to be sticky and/or sweet

 

1/2 cup oil (of some description – I used olive oil)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup mashed up old bananas

EITHER 1/2 cup of soya milk/rice milk or real milk if you can do lactose

OR 3/4 cup of “milk” plus a large handful of cooked quinoa (I cook a whole box every now and then and freeze in bags for chucking into stuff to make it healthier and more filling)

PUT ALL OF THIS (not in bold) IN ANOTHER BOWL AND MIX

Ah go on, a couple of mindful deep breaths again…

 

Now pour the liquid bowl into the floury bowl – mix till you can’t see flour but not too much – it should be a bit lumpy

Add as many pecan nuts as you can handle/seems sensible and very gently mix in/fold in – I used about 50g and left them whole (I don’t use spoons for chopping!)

 

Spoon into muffin cases and bake at 180 degrees for about 20 mins and put your feet up.

Try not to forget them.

ENJOY with some kind of hot beverage!

I make a big load and freeze them – they are lovely pinged in the microwave for a couple of mins or left to defrost. I’d include a photo, but I ate them all. I will make some more and update this when I do.

I hope they work for you.

 

 

 

 

Making newspaper into yarn

The process I go through to make my newspaper yarn designs mirrors my therapy and recovery journey. It has mainly been about building a new way of “being”.  I can’t change my brain or my history, but I can try to dismantle some of the power held by the stories that make up my ingrained feelings, thoughts and behaviours. The stories that do not help me to thrive (though they have helped me survive). It’s not possible to get rid of these well-rehearsed stories so it’s more about accepting why they are there and reshaping my response to them by not buying into them. To create something new from these stories.

Much like recovery or therapy, the process can be painful, difficult and tedious.

So I take stories that seem so sure of themselves, printed in black and white and presenting themselves as fact. And to start I crumple the paper, to soften and ready it for the process. I liken this to the fact that sometimes it is a “breakdown” or crisis, or some other major event that triggers me to seek help. The softening produced by this crumpling is the safeness and calming created in a trusted therapeutic and in safe supportive social relationships.

Without this, the process will just result in the paper ripping apart.

I then cut strips of paper, paying attention to the colours they contain and the slow process of twisting it through my fingers to turn it into yarn begins. I keep the colours I want and mould the paper yarn using my fingers – a part of my physical body.

In the same way, experience of new feelings and ways of being have to be felt with your body to truly understand and learn. Our feelings are real physiological, biological things that happen inside our bodies. All the thinking in the world cannot change your feelings. We need that embodied experience to really learn new ways of feeling.

We can learn from hearing about something or seeing something done but we only really understand when we do it ourselves. It seems to me we often concentrate on the words and thoughts of our lives and can easily forget the spaces in between, where our essence of simply “being” resides. I think this is where compassion, soothing and connection acts, on the spaces between the words. Only in embracing the whole can we recover a fulfilling life.

This is a slow, messy process resulting in ink-stained, sore fingers but it’s needed to create something new. I can create anything from this yarn. It was once a set story (full of bad news and trauma) as well as sometimes misinformation. It is now flexible, pliable, stronger and more beautiful and can be used to create any design. The words have got new meanings in their new contexts as part of the yarn itself, or lifted from the newspaper to be given new life as little tags on golden thread.

We are not our history. We can be so much more.