I’ve heard it said that selling and buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do. I’m selling two and buying one.
There’s calls to estate agents, followed by follow-up calls. You’re not sure if they haven’t responded because they didn’t get the message or if they just haven’t called you back yet.
There’s emails to and from solicitors and the estate agent for my flat in London. And don’t get me started on trying to sort a mortgage when one of you is self-employed. My accountant has the patience of a saint.
I’ve had a love affair with a house in Kimpton village. It was brief. We met online on the Friday, I fell head over heels but he wasn’t sure. I lay awake a night thinking of nothing else. By Monday when I phoned wanting to take it a step further, I learnt that it was too late. Decisions had already been made.
But it’s funny how you move on so quickly. The mind is fickle. You obsess, but immediately we move onto the next infatuation (aka a semi in Sandridge).
The result is feeling very ungrounded. Everything feels urgent. My self practices are shoe-horned into my days, they’re much shorter, and I’ve noticed my mind flitting all over the place. Very short concentration spans. Very short sentences.
Today has been no different: a mental list of all the calls, chasing, appointments and things to do. After lunch, I made time to sit for 15 minutes and watch my breath. It was noticeable how much tension was in my hips, my thighs, my jaw and shoulders. I watched my exhalations. I softened. And now I feel like I’ve reset my body.
Try it some time.
PS. There’s a very nice one-bed flat for sale in Chiswell Green, St Albans, if you’re interested. Have a look at it on Rightmove – start your own love affair today…
I’ve recently come back from a silent meditation retreat in Devon at Gaia House with Martin and Gail Aylward. We spent lots of time sitting, and the meditation practice was quite unlike anything I’ve done before – no need to chant my Sanskrit mantra until I’ve obliterated all other thoughts. This was far more gentle and offered the chance of actual insight linked to body.
Over the five days, all 50 of us met with Martin in small groups of eight or so people in what was called a ‘group interview’. Having never done anything like it before, I didn’t really know what would happen.
I was in a room with comfy armchairs in a circle, and oak panelling on the walls. Martin sat cross-legged on an armchair in front of a grand fireplace. I’m slightly in awe of him. He’s wise, incredibly knowledgeable, yet approachable. He’s spent time living with monks in Thailand, yet he’s very at home talking about the realities of Western living.* But he’s got these eyes that make you feel like he’s looking into your being.
“What’s come up for you?” he asked me in the group interview.
I didn’t want everyone looking at me. I hadn’t spoken in three days and now I was confronted with having to talk about my inner thoughts and feelings in front of a group of people who I’d been living around – maybe we’d helped ourselves to the breakfast porridge at the same time, or walked into the meditation hall behind each other. But that was it.
I casually answered, “Oh just mundane stuff really, and thoughts around planning for the future.”
“What else?” I felt those eyes on me.
“Er, songs. I’ve got songs going round in my head. That’s all.” Florence and her machine had been plaguing me for days. I was squirming. I wanted him to move onto the next person.
“What else?” His eyes. I shrugged and squirmed more.
“What about all this embodiment stuff we’ve been talking about?” He pressed further.
My response was short: “I don’t know.” In my head I was wanting him just to gloss over it and not look any deeper. But he wasn’t having any of it.
He sighed. “Ok, how do you feel right now in your body?”
I paid attention to the sensations. I was sitting in an armchair, one sole of foot pressed into the seat and my hands tightly gripped the bent knee. I noticed an incredible heat in my body and I was actually sweating. All my muscles everywhere felt engaged. I could not move.
I told him all this, and as I told him, my body physically released and relaxed.
“How do you feel now?” he asked. I replied that I felt calm.
“THAT’s what you need to work on!” he exclaimed, pointing his index finger at me. And he moved onto the next person.
Some people cried as they talked about their fears and anxieties and people slid a box of tissues across the floor to the next person. And you know what? It was all ok.
But after that point, for the rest of the retreat, I was able to go deeper in my meditation. I was more attuned to sensations in my body.
It’s weird because when I’m on my mat practicing, I’m able to notice more. I find it easier (‘easier’ not ‘easy’) to observe the tension and soften.
But when we’re under pressure, when we get caught up in our thoughts, it can all go out of the window. And that’s when we need it the most! I was transported back to school and being scared to speak in class in case I said the ‘wrong’ thing. It’s fear and it manifests as anxiety. We contract around our experience.
Since returning home a week ago, I’ve found it challenging. I’ve felt overwhelmed by all the communication – emails, voicemails, whatsapp messages, texts, TV, radio, speaking and listening… but I’m trying to notice how that contraction manifests in my physical body and seeking to soften.
I would recommend everyone looks up Martin Aylward and I’d love to spend time again next year with him and Gail at Gaia House. There I go again – planning for the future…
*My favourite retreat moment was when, during a talk with Martin in the main hall, a phone sounded the arrival of a text. Phones aren’t encouraged at Gaia House. Martin stopped mid-sentence, reached inside his pocket, pulled out his iPhone and looked at the screen. “It’s a text from my son,” he announced to us all, smiling. His wife Gail, sitting to one side, looked down at her lap and stifled a giggle.
I went for a walk last week. I was making my way along a country lane and I took my phone out of my pocket. I turned it on and started typing a reply to a text. I wrote a couple of words and realised I’d taken a handful of steps without noticing. I put my phone back in my pocket and carried on walking.
Where was I? I was on a five-day silent meditation retreat at Gaia House in Devon. I had gone to spend time sitting, moving and learning with Martin and Gail Aylward.
This ‘noticing’ is really what Gaia House is all about. Everything you do there is set up to cultivate awareness.
Every day we practiced walking meditation. There’s a large room with creaky wooden floorboards and a huge bay window containing houseplants that were just as huge. In a marble fireplace sat a skeleton reminding us of our immortality. I slowly walked back and forth noticing what arose in the space between bones and leaves – the dead and the living.
But it was the outside walking practice that I enjoyed the most. You chose a space in the beautiful grounds and you paid attention to your every step:
the way my feet made contact with the ground
the golden hues of early autumn leaves
the restriction in my left big toe joint due to an old sprain
a plane soaring overhead
a softening of shoulders
the occasional weed sprouting for victory
exhaling breath on top lip
the heat in hands from clasping a mug of peppermint tea
the cacophony of cawing crows
sash windows with wobbly panes of glass catching the light unevenly
the warm sun on face
the subtle smell of peppermint
the inhaling expansion of rib cage.
It’s often said – I believe – that women are brilliant multi-taskers. I’m sure many men would disagree. But is multi-tasking such a great thing? Trying to do ten things at once?