A course in miracles is the holy grail when it comes to spiritual ascension and having a more conscious awakened life. It can completely change your life and heal all fears and wounds. I can’t think of one awakening spiritual helper or leader who hasn’t referred to it at some point. Eckhart Tolle refers to it a lot, as did Wayne Dyer and today’s author Marianne Williamson. Her book “A Return to Love” is, as the subtitle tells us, a reflection on the principles of “A Course in Miracles” (I will refer to “A Course in Miracles” as ‘the course’ or ACIM throughout the blog). I love her simplification of the course into a short book, with lots of relatable examples and stories about spiritual ascension. Whilst it is simplified and condensed, it doesn’t lose it’s power or magic, in my opinion.

A return to love is about just that – returning to love – but not romantic love of course. By love, Marianne Williamson means spiritual love. The course explains there are only two things in the universe love and fear… all that is not love is fear and visa versa. When we are in a state of love, we are balanced and feel peaceful and whole – this is the crux of spiritual ascension. This book is a book about working with a course in miracles in principle and applying it in life. Marianne Williamson has lectured on the course for many years. The book was written a long time ago but has been updated and revised more recently.

I really love the book and think it could help you. Marianne Williamson says that when she comes to life from a state of love, everything works beautifully. I agree, it is my experience also. She explains how to do it in the book . ACIM explains how fear is actually a bad dream and not real … it may sound far fetched to you, it may not. The course is compelling and convincing in its demonstration that it is true and how you can, with spiritual ascension, stop feeling afraid for good!

Marianne Williamson makes it simple and easy to see how fear can be dissolved with a little understanding. She urges us to take responsibility for our own lives and to take action but not in the usual egotistical way that stomps and postures to be right and listened to, but in a more mature and balanced way. She encourages us to act from love. We don’t do it through brute strength and by problem solving our issues away, but rather through passing our fears and worries to the Universe or God for support, help and guidance.

Warning: ACIM, and so Marianne Williamson’s book, uses Christian terminology but it isn’t a religious book or a reason to avoid it. It can be off putting at first if you are not religious (or have any negative bias towards Christianity) but I really urge you to try and look past it and see the symbols for what they are – just symbols. Marianne Williamson is actually Jewish and this hasn’t stopped her spending much of her life teaching the course.

I am not at all religious at all but I don’t see the terminology distracting once you get used to it. I almost look at it this way – imagine you do believe in those symbols for a moment and take the advice, apply it in your life and – if it works – then just accept it. When she says ‘the holy spirit says x, y,z’, I take it in such a way that you could substitute anything instead of holy spirit – for me I’d probably use Universal energy or source but I don’t mind that ACIM call it holy spirit.

Marianne Williamson explains why so many of us feel depleted and lacking somehow…we are lacking in love. She describes it as internal oxygen. She shows us how we pollute our own lives with unloving thoughts and actions both towards ourselves and others and how to rectify that. She shows us how we are supposed to ‘give over’ our troubles and questions to the flow of life and allow the universe to guide us. One of my favourite quotes is, “We are given plenty of opportunities but we tend to undermine them. Our conflicted energies sabotage everything. To ask for another relationship, or another job is not particularly helpful if we’re going to show upin the new situation exactly as we showed up in the last one. Until we’re healed of our internal demons, our fearful mental habits, we will turn every situation into the same painful drama as the one before.

Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we are peaceful, life will be peaceful. Change starts within us. As we change the inner world, the outer world starts to mirror it back. Whilst it’s easy to be reactive and blame the outer world for our inner states. It really is the other way around. I think this is one of the best ways of knowing how awakened you are and is a great way of understanding consciousness or unconsciousness. When we’re asleep, spiritually speaking, everything is about surviving what’s going on out there…. if we ever become totally awakened there will no longer be any sense of an in here and out there – only oneness.

Most of us are somewhere in between. The book, like most spiritual awakening books reminds us that whilst we may still act really unconsciously and it is normal, we would be best not to keep acting on trying to change the outside and just take these external problems as opportunities to go back inside and do the work. We know that on a human level we’re upset by someone, for example, but we know really that it’s our own judgements, loveless thinking that’s the real cause of our pains and then we’re prepared to do the work to heal it.

Please watch this, it’s golden!

Some of you may recognise how similar this idea is to other spiritual books and methodologies like Byron Katie’s book ‘Loving what is’ … most new age or spiritual transformational texts and courses are really mostly saying the same thing just in different ways. The premise of those around us and the situations and events are such that they teach us… often the most challenging things have the most to teach us… they help us notice where we have walls to love. The old paradigm of romantic relationships is challenged and outlined in the book – the guides talk about this a lot during readings and I like way Marianne Williamson talks about it.

The idea is that when we’re looking for unconscious romantic love we’re actually trying to take from the other rather than really and truly love. We’re looking for someone to give us what we feel we either need or are lacking. But, I really like how Marianne Williamson talks about how we can bolster the other in a partnership and do things such as look nice for the sake of the other person. This is perhaps a little different from the, what may be considered inaccurate, concept that the true spiritually robust relationship should be about two totally independent beings. I like the way Kim Eng describes it in a video as interdependent as opposed to either co-dependent or independent. In other words we can be there for each other but we’re not specifically needing, demanding or manipulating for the sake of self creation. Check out Kim Eng here:

Marianne Williamson talks about how we can spiritually heal or handle challenges such as when wanting masculine energy from men, as a woman’s job to offer herself the gift of her feminine energy. When she really feels like a woman by gifting it to herself, she finds masculine energy coming towards her. Or when a man felt his father never gave him enough gifts, she suggests the healing would come through him gifting to his father.

The books points out over and over how we project our problems, fears and wounds onto others. When someone hurts us, it’s really about an old idea or wound being poked. The wound – for example feeling not good enough – is still very much alive in us and so we react when someone does something that prods this. Instead of expecting the world to change to accommodate this, we need to go inside and let go of the thought that we are not good enough. When it comes to having a fulfilled life, the book talks about work in chapter 7: “Success is about knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.” It’s less about what you do and more about how… you need to do things kindly. “If something makes your heart sing this is God;s way of showing you this is somewhere you can make a contribution,” Williamson explains. This again, comes up time and time again in the readings and I wrote about it in the green book (see below for the affiliate link).

The overall idea is that we give our lives to the universe and then things come together… we open our hearts and our talents and lives start to blossom. This is why I love this book so much, it’s totally in line with the general trend of information I’ve gotten from the guides and read or heard about from spiritual teachers and helpers. Marianne Williamson does it really well. She’s very experienced in talking about the topic of ACIM and therefore can break it down really well for the average reader like myself.

There’s a lot of emphasis on miracles in the book. The basic idea is that the Universe can help you or solve any problem when you approach it from grace, service and being humble and authentic. You can expect miracles when you are acting from a loving, service oriented place. Sharing your love, your own spirit and your talents is very important – we might get other things such as money, status or things as a result of our work but – after our basic needs and survival are met – we should be focused on service rather than riches. It doesn’t mean riches are wrong but that focusing on that rather than service, is not coming from love.

Get “A Return to Love” here (this is an affiliate link):

Marianne Williamson suggests that when we show a “willingness to supply love where there was none before, new energy bursts forth from deep inside us.” She tells a story, in chapter 7 part 6 ‘New hearts new jobs”, about someone mentioning to her about her habit of drinking coffee last thing at night. Until that point, it had never effected her. After the comment she found it kept her awake. I found this fascinating and never more poignant than now in the world. It was fascinating to me how someone, particularly someone who was so conscious, could make such a change in a person just by their suggestion. I wondered if perhaps we could all do with considering how much we’re consuming from the so called outside world and how it might be affecting us.

Along with the Dalai Lama, Marianne Williamson talks of how ACIM speaks that our purpose in life is to be happy… some argue this point, but I think if we notice the energy that fear gives off and the energy that joy and love gives off, it’s clear that we’re not just helping ourselves by being happy. In the book there are a lot of suggested prayers and asking the holy spirit to heal us, help us or guide us. If you don’t like the idea of prayer, there are perhaps other ways to do it – maybe seeing them as affirmations but I can’t personally see the harm in prayer. I like prayer even though I am not religious. I see it as spiritual surrender.

There’s a real emphasis in the book of seeing the Universe or God as the great power that it is but not in an intimidating way but rather in a powerful and reverent way – we are to be humble and in a state of open appreciation – knowing that we have part of that greatness within ourselves. Could this book feel too spiritual and woo woo? Perhaps, if you still think you can solve all your problems with thinking and 3D solutions. I think Eckhart Tolle (who is by the way a good friend of Williamson) says about his work, “if you don’t get it you just need to suffer a bit more”… that’s not actually what he says, but something along the lines that.

As human’s in this day and age, we struggle to let go of the idea that it’s all material and can be solved through force and will alone. It essentially takes us to have run out of other options before most of us will wake up to the spiritual beingness that we are and take the steps we’re guided to take. For example in my life, I had a nervous breakdown so that I couldn’t go to work, I couldn’t leave the house… the only thing I could do was read and write.

I wouldn’t have left my steady job and done this by choice. I wouldn’t have given up my comfort zone, so the Universe had to speak very loudly to me. Suffering is always optional though – we don’t actually have to suffer but most of us won’t budge until we are. I love when Marianne Williamson says on page 249, we have to “let go of our belief in fear and danger, and embrace instead, a view of the world that is based on hope and love.” Marianne Williamson’s book is a great insight into the basics of ACIM and it is convincing that we should feel hopeful and that we have the power to change our lives and contribute in the world. If you feel lost, hopeless or uncertain, this book can really be like a beacon that sets you back on course.

Until next week….

Love Kat xx

The serpent starts below my feet

And curls and spirals from below

It all consumes the day time dream

And brings with it a fiery glow

Though words are forced to bring to life

For listeners to understand

Its darkest squal of throbbing force

Obliterates my thoughts and plan

I never meant to let it rip

Up, and through my deepest core

It happened when I turned about

And through your eyes the heavens saw

It came with such almighty flow

With colours I could not explain

With energy that brought to life

The darkest love, the thickest pain

Sia sings…

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, like it doesn’t exist

I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I have a funny taste in music. I don’t really think there’s any genre I don’t like. Being more of a songs person than an artist person, it’s difficult to define my taste with a few band or artist names. However, if I had to narrow it down, I’d say 70s music in all genres or Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac. Anyway, now I’m just rambling about music! This is something I could talk about all day really. Music is so important to me, I don’t really know where to start. So I won’t, only to say, it’s really important to me.

When I was about fifteen, I got my first CD Walkman and my whole world came alive. I remember the precise moment it happened. I had my Carpenters CD playing and it had been snowing. I think it was a Sunday, it might even have been around Christmas time. I went out listening and walking.

At the time, I lived about ten minutes walk from my secondary school and it was surrounded by the school playing fields and a recreation field we called ‘St Christopher’s’ (funnily enough, because it was on St Christopher’s road). I moved out of the area many years ago now, but I have been back in the last few years and it all looks quite different. You can’t get onto the school playing fields now and everything is fenced off. However, back then, you could and the fields of St Christopher’s and the school field somewhat ‘ran’ together.

I was trying to escape something that day, I felt pretty alone and sad. I walked alongside the school fence and squeezed through the gap one of the boys had kicked in it. I remember looking at the school field and it taking my breath away really. The field was perfectly covered with snow and not a soul had walked on it. Having St Christopher’s to the right and the golf course behind it, all you could see was white, pristine, fields edged with snow capped hedges and the odd bowing tree. As I began to walk, the snow crunching and squeaking beneath my feet, ‘Ticket to Ride’ ended and ‘Superstar’ began to play. My heart… it just soared. I was in my own music video. Everything was just achingly perfect.

Ever since then, I have just been completely enraptured by listening to music whilst walking, being in nature, looking, feeling, thinking and being. I am in my own virtually non stop music video and I adore it beyond all explanation. When ‘in ear’ headphones became available and sound quality improved, my life went to a whole new level. But anyway, there I go again with my music obsession!

Fast forward to many years later and I am stood leaning on a wall trying to look over into Bryce Canyon. Maiko, our guide, nonchalantly peers right over and then confidently tells me he’d be quite happy to stand on ‘that ledge’ (he’s pointing to a precipice about four feet beyond the wall) without feeling the slightest bit perturbed. I on the other hand am finding it just difficult to look down. Bryce Canyon is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and one of the most joyous sights I’ve ever had the fortune to see. Despite my annoyingly poor head for heights, I eventually managed to ‘acclimatise’ somewhat to the height enough to really look at it. It was immense, healing and the colour was something else… hard to put into words really.

I carried my music everywhere with me during my US tour. I always do. I had it in my bag but it was difficult when out and about to listen. I was with my friend and the rest of the tour group. I didn’t like to seem rude or ignorant and so I largely didn’t really listen when we were off the bus. There was always someone wanting to chat or comment and that was just an important part of the tour as anything else.

We walked a lot around Bryce Canyon and it was on the last stop that I really got some space. It was so quiet up there and somehow my friend and I managed to find a place with hardly anyone else around. It was so stunning, so moving and the aliveness was intense. I stood and smiled on the inside. The moment was just wonderful. It was then that I turned and, without really knowing it was coming out, blurted to my friend that I had to listen to my music. He was of course fine with that and wandered off along the path.

All of a sudden, I got the need to get some music on and tether this experience to some song or other just like I did all of those years ago on the school playing fields. I didn’t have long… maybe less than 10 minutes and we’d have to be back on the bus. I pressed play and something wildly unfitting came on, I skipped on another track and again, it wasn’t right. I did this several times.

I’m not really sure what I was looking for. Probably a Kate Bush track or something else kind of magical and etheric in some way. But it didn’t happen… first it was A-HA, then Missy Elliot, then I distinctly remember ‘Big Love’ by Fleetwood Mac coming on. None of them were right. Too flouncy or light or aggressive… always too much of something. I looked at my watch as I skipped again and I heard the ‘tape’ sound that lasts for a few seconds at the beginning of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’. I went to skip again and then paused my finger over the button.

As it began I remembered the first time I’d heard “Chandelier”. Sia’s voice is quite remarkable and she sure can write a good song. I’m not usually a massive current music fan but Sia is generally one of a few exceptions. There definitely was a joyous and powerful resonance to Chandelier and so I stuck with it and made this my song for Bryce Canyon.

Whether you believe in angels or not, I tend to attribute these nudges to my angels and always thank them when they help me out. On this particular day they had done just that, in those final moments at Bryce Canyon, they’d given me that nudge to get on and listen. It turned out to be more than appropriate song… of course it was, that’s how these things go when you’re being guided by this mysterious old Universe.

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, like it doesn’t exist

I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I’m not entirely sure whether Sia is being literal or metaphorical in the lyrics of the chorus. Who knows what these words mean or meant to her but to me they are all about freedom and it made sense on every level to me. As she sings the chorus, she has that signature ‘chest voice about to break’ sound that is just breathtakingly beautiful. The sound is full of feminine power, strength and has that ‘phoenix rising’ quality. To me it felt to be about empowerment, climbing up, getting out, flying away. As I listened and looked over the canyon it was the most glorious moment and one I know I will remember and treasure.

A month later and I’m back home walking the dog. It’s an average day, autumn is in the air and the edginess of the area I live in is grating and a bit dark. I don’t feel terrible about it, I’m only resting here a while before I fly off elsewhere but it does make me uneasy. It’s so possible to get sucked back in to the mentality and the churning of the life around you. I don’t want to. I made a promise to myself a long time ago that this wasn’t going to be my reality, that I was going to live a joyful and meaningful existence. But when they’re swearing and jeering – and you’re picking your way through goodness knows what ,trying not to tread on or in anything that might regret – it can be distracting.

Of course, I needn’t have even thought about it. As I walked past the little park where the local children played, what should click onto my MP3 player but “Chandelier”. As it began the kids raced around out into the street, dirty faced, oblivious to traffic and apparently carefree. I waved to a little boy on the top of the climbing frame who regularly came to pat Freja (my dog) and then walked on. As I turned the corner, manoeuvring past an old sofa and what looked like an armchair that’d been sawn in half, the chorus kicked in. I smiled to myself spontaneously and let out a little laugh. All was well and I was free. I remembered the deal I’d made with myself and the promise I was never going to break…’I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry. I’m gonna swing from the chandelier’

I left you there in Meadowfield Rise,

You’d really let me down it seemed,

With all we’d been through and seen,

I wondered why you’d make it so hard.

It was hard, so hard, to let you go,

To be alone and in colder places,

Where people glared with empty faces

And laughed at others’ pitied states.

I left you there and thought I’d rise,

Thought that the new life would give

Me eyes to see a better truth,

Truth laughed at me – Oh, what a fool!

If I had seen the coming surprise,

Wrapped as lies in a jester’s play,

I might have stayed another day

Or taken you within my arms.

I left you there – an ignorant mind

So blind, with pride from wretched lust,

That stole and left only pain to thrust

And kick me deep inside and die.

Die, I did in city shadows,

Wandering heart encased in fears,

Learning the truth after many years,

That hope should never be left behind.

The place in question: ‘Ashley’s’ on Lexington Avenue, Midtown, NYC – a deli with an eat in section. It was the location of my first proper interaction with a New York employee. I am not sure if she was a ‘true’ New Yorker’. It was my first experience of eating in America and the first proper place I went. Because of this, I guess it has special significance. That and the fact that the food is amazing – if a little ‘canteen-y’ looking.

The girl on the register was glum faced to say the least and hardly spoke at all. She barely grunted. In fact, it was so hard to make out that I couldn’t really tell from her accent what her first language was. She seemed Hispanic. I was rambling about not understanding the money as she looked at me with raised eyebrows. I could see she was really wanting to roll her eyes but propriety stopped her. As I thanked her and left, she almost gave a small smile. Picking up her phone, she looked down at it and sighed. I felt I had inconvenienced her day, for sure. Far from making me feel unwelcome, it made me smile. It felt familiar and like being in Europe. It’s not uncommon to feel that you are a blot on a shop attendant’s otherwise exciting day. Mild ambivalence and formality seem to often be the order of the day.

It wasn’t what I was expecting when coming to America. I suppose I’d always expected larger than life, friendly, warm behaviours. I wasn’t wrong, that was exactly what happened post Ashley’s. Apart from the occasional irritated walker in New York, basically everyone I met during my two journeys around America seemed to be essentially open. I was asked so many times; where I was from, what I was doing there, how I was liking it? It never seemed false or forced. There appeared to be a genuine curiosity and sense of care. I really felt like I would have no trouble finding someone to help me out if needs be. Not only that, they were upbeat, jovial and generally very optimistic in their curiosity and in sharing what they could about their country.

My two trips around America were bus tours and therefore, some of my ‘conversations’ were with the bus drivers themselves. The first driver was a Southerner living in New York, the second a Cuban living in Miami and the third a Texan from Texas. The first driver, the Southerner, called me ‘honey’ or ‘ma’am’ which was funny to me. He was warm and kind, although not that chatty with the passengers per se. He drank huge blue drinks from containers that a European might describe more as a bucket than a cup.

The second driver made me laugh. He said little but you could tell he was thinking many things. Older, he’d probably learned, best just to smile and say nothing. He was understated, small and peered at us through slit eyes. He would nod slightly and say ‘good morning’ with a thick accent. He always had a cool air about him. He turned our huge bus around – illegally – on a jam packed road into Miami in order to get us all out of a grid locked traffic jam and to where we needed to be, on time. He was a quiet, confident operator.

The third driver was again, as I have stated over and over again – warm, kind, friendly. They all were. Maybe it’s a rule for being in America. However, unlike the first two drivers, this driver was chatty as chatty can be. He seemed to irritate the guide a little with his commentary on things. During one amusing conversation, the driver asked me if we had cars in England. The tour guide’s eyes nearly popped out of his head and he irritatedly muttered something about comments like that being why other nationalities thought American’s were stupid. The driver answered, “well, I know the roads are small, maybe they use bikes”. I reassured both the guide and the driver that I understood perfectly and I did not think the driver was stupid. I did find the whole interaction hilarious though.

There really was a difference between the North and the South of North America. One helpful person informed our tour group that, ‘it takes two women ten minutes to make a cold sandwich in the South’. I don’t know that it took ten minutes but I caught their drift. Things move at a slower pace. They want to talk more, ponder longer and take things steadily. I actually loved this because, by contrast, in Europe you always feel like you’re in people’s way, wasting their time and generally slowing everything down – even when you’re rushing. I very rarely felt like I was inconveniencing anyone when in America. But this sense was multiplied ten-fold when going to the South.

Nothing was too much trouble in the South, the time was taken to really acknowledge you. For example, when I did order the cold sandwich, the server took time to enquire about everything I might like on it and exactly how I’d like it. When I eventually got said sandwich and thanked her, she took great effort to look me in the eye and express that I was ‘most welcome’ and that she hoped I was enjoying my day, would continue to do so and that it was a great pleasure to have us in their restaurant. Every word was deliberate and emphasised. Well, I liked it. It’s nice to be nice.

In England, if a stranger comes up to you and starts to talk, there are two reasons 1. They need directions or 2. You’re doing something wrong and they want to tell you about it. Since my friend and I were clearly tourists, on the two times we were approached by people, I felt instantly uncomfortable. I knew we weren’t going to be asked for directions therefore, we were in for a telling off. It wasn’t so. Not at all. The first verbal approach was from a woman outside of a ‘Cracker Barrel’ restaurant. My friend was smoking and I was keeping him company. As she drew up alongside us in the car park and rolled her window down, I instantly began to think of all the reasons we might be wrong… how very English of me. But, she was actually wanting to comment on how much my friend seemed to be enjoying his cigarette and how pretty my dress was. She called my friend ‘sir’ and me ‘ma’am’. She was so very enthusiastic. I felt like I was in a play.

The second time it happened, a man who looked like a cowboy to me, just walked up to us and started talking. There wasn’t the slightest hesitation. He enquired where we were from, where we were going to and how we were enjoying this fine day. Again, being European, I was expecting him to get to the point where he’d put the pleasantries aside and ask what he’d come here to ask or request, or whatever. But he didn’t. It seemed that his enquiring about how we were and what we were doing was just about the only reason he was stood there. My friend was smoking. The cowboy lit up a cigarette too and told us a bit about the area, its history and what we might expect from where we were heading next. After finishing his smoke, he left, smiling – ‘ya’ll have a good day, now’. We did as it happens.

A gas station is hardly the place you expect to get engaged in conversation, least of all by the server at a very busy register. He was the manager of the gas station and the station was busy. We were a big tour group and whilst the gas stations are massive – almost the size of a small UK motorway services (Woolley Edge north bound size) – they soon fill up with forty or so people. Not only that, on this day, we weren’t the only tour group and there were myriad other customers. My friend and I were buying some fruit and a few snacks. When we said hello, he instantly wanted to know where we were from and how long we were there for. He was interested to know where other people in the group were from and how we were finding it there. He was smiley and engaging. He showed great enthusiasm and interest in the UK. Surprisingly to me, once again, there seemed to be nothing but good humour from the people waiting in line behind us.

The manager of the gas station had heard of Nottingham (where my friend and I live) because of Robin Hood. He commented on that, as did the security guard at ‘Graceland’ (the home of Elvis). Usually known for their seriousness and adherence to protocol rather than pleasantries, I always approach security guards with a sense of polite distance. Too much familiarity perhaps seems to ignore the ‘seriousness’ of the task at hand. I always think this is fair enough. Therefore, despite the American tendency to chat and be informal, I handed my bag to the man at ‘Graceland’ security with only a slight smile and a ‘thank you’. Instantly, his calm expression became so very animated. ‘ You folks from the UK?’ he questioned with great enthusiasm. When we said we were, he was beyond excited, expressing that he was hoping to go to Nottingham the following year in order to visit Sherwood Forest. He said he had friends in Birmingham – another city about an hour from Nottingham.

The enthusiasm with which the American’s generally approached my friend and I was really quite astounding to me. I had never felt so welcome anywhere. People didn’t treat me as ‘less than’ because I was a tourist, on the contrary, they seemed to be more attracted to me as a result. Perhaps it is because I am English, there seems to be a ‘thing’ about loving an English accent. There also appeared to be a genuine desire to explain what was great about their country. They are proud of it and want to help you to enjoy it. I love this. And I must agree, it is a wonderful place.

Wanting out behind the walls

Of this small room that is my life

Three months in and needing air

But where go and what to do?

Limitation makes me question

What is it that I so seek?

Where is it I want to go?

What is missing now I’m locked

Locked inside and locked in life

Liberty is taken back

Sitting here in solemn silence

Wondering that which I need

Before the lock, I took as red

All that filled my busy life

Now I have the time to see

And wonder what I want to fill

When I go to life again

Will it ever be the same?

Do I want all that I lost

Or am I really free at last

I feel the pang of guilt inside

The pleasure to be free from life

Although I’m locked inside alone

In many ways I’ve gained myself

When the time for set free comes

I wonder who I’ll choose to be

The same illusion I once was?

Or will I really start being me?

I believe what I read,

Not knowing that I’m really

Being quite deceived,

TV doesn’t lie, does it?

Well not everything I read,

But things on the BBC

Or the Proper news on real TV,

They have to tell the truth there, right?

I listen to what everyone says online,

I didn’t mean to realign but after

A few days, I started to agree –

I started to think it was me,

I thought my opinions were true,

I didn’t know I had a hive mind,

Aren’t I really one of a kind?

I’d know a lie if I saw one,

I would never join in when violence begins,

I’d always say it wasn’t right,

But what if everyone else did it,

Perhaps then I might?

It takes a lot to be the real outlier,

The one who thinks higher or wider –

It’s easier to follow the herd than,

To think you’d be the rebel,

Don’t be absurd and deny your own nature

You’d do whatever culture urged

A hive mind is blind

Aren’t you doing it already?

“They’re just giant f***ing flying rats!” my Uncle exclaimed… “bleedin’ things.” I suppose it’s true in a way, they are scavengers. I’m talking of seagulls of course, I’m sure you knew that though, from the title. Having been brought up by the sea, seagulls have always been a part of my life.

Even though I lived, for the most part of my childhood, a few miles from the sea itself, the seagulls were of course regular visitors to our garden. My dad was, and still is a keen twitcher, and always put food out for the birds which the seagulls would promptly steal – rather like the magpies and pigeons do where he lives now. They scare away the ‘real birds’ and their list of annoying habits does not end there.

It is very common to see day trippers sat on Cleethorpes promenade eating their packed lunch. Of course these innocent visitors are the perfect target for these cunning birds who can swoop from rather a great height with incredible accuracy if there is a chance of stealing a sandwich. I have seen a crying child stood with empty cone in hand, ice-cream on the floor, on more than one occasion having being ‘bombed’ by a villainous gull.

Their confidence and pushiness is relentless. Of course when you try to approach one to take a picture for your blog – as I did this morning – they are coy as you like, oh so demure and humble. Yet, bring a sandwich into the equation and there really are no limits. I’ve seen them land on a head, on a shoulder, on a child…. Apparently, although I only saw this through social media, it was reported that, during the summer, a seagull picked up and flew away with a chihuahua somewhere in the noth of England. Luckily for me Freja (my chihuahua) is rather on the portly side and so unless the ‘flying rat’ is the bird equivalent of hulk, I thinkn Freja’ll be OK. But, can you believe it? Are there no limits to a seagull’s pest like nature?

The only other time I’ve seen such avian audacity was in St Mark’s square in Venice where a woman attempted to sit on a bench and eat a flaky, puff pastry biscuit type of a thing. Amusingly, all around the square, were signs commanding that you “should not to feed the pigeons” – almost as if it were a choice you could make. This poor woman, again clearly an unknowing visitor, soon began to regret her mid morning snack as her shrieks confirmed. Within seconds, she was covered in pigeons… from a distance she looked kind of like a bee keeper. She was quite literally covered, head to almost toe, in pigeons. Of course she promptly dropped said biscuit and the excitement was over.

Back to seagulls. For all of their nuisance making antics and my being thoroughly programmed with the idea that they are really vermin, there is something that I just love about them. As I sat yesterday on the terrace of my apartment overlooking Playa de Las Canteras, one soared right past me. This isn’t an unusual experience but every time it happens, it just fills me with delight. The apartment is on the corner and quite high up, it ‘juts out’ enough that it isn’t uncommon for a seagull to soar across the corner at almost eye level. The look in their eye is so knowing; they are so peaceful, so majestic almost.

“Flight of my mind rises beneath the seagull’s wings… then ocean is my motherland I feel” Munia Khan

Of course I’m in awe of a seagull. Look where they get to hang out everyday. They wing their way over the waves and bob around on the surface of the sea. Their habitat is the ocean and my spiritual home and centre. So perhaps they’re like mascots to me. They symbolise what I love perhaps the most. Maybe so, but it’s not just that. It’s the way they soar. That’s what gets me. That calm elegance. That sense of being totally at ease and in the flow of life… inspiring indeed.

“As I watched the seagulls, I thought, ‘That’s the road to take; find the absolute rhythm and follow it with absolute trust’” Nikos Kazantzakis

But anyway, this blog is the life and times of Steve and Graeme… You’ll soon see that I’m not the only one who loves a seagull. During May of 2019 two “inquisitive seagulls became internet sensations” as the London Metro reported. Steve and Graeme, as they became affectionately known, took the country by storm after seeming to pose and ‘talk to’ the traffic cameras on the approach to London’s Blackwall Tunnel. Traffic for London tweeted the picture of ‘Steve’ (or perhaps it was Graeme, I don’t know them personally and the picture did not say) and it received 15,000 likes. From this a sensation was born. Why not take a look at them here:

There’s no doubt there’s something about seagulls. Scavengers they may be but, in my opinion, they rather enviably have the best view of the world. They also have an apparent confidence and, according to reports from London, perhaps a sense of humour too.

‘LazyWednesdays’ is a tour on the island of Gran Canaria by www.excursionsgrancanaria.com and one I can highly recommend. Whichever tour you choose on the island, you’ll get a real treat due to the variety of terrain and interest this little island has to offer. Today’s blog is more like a tour in pictures and hopefully will give you an idea of what you might expect to see and experience on the tour.

This tour goes from the north of the island, starting in the captial ‘Las Palmas’ and goes all the way south to Maspalomas. At the time of writing it was around thirty five euros and was a full day tour, picking up from outside the tourist information at Santa Catelina Park. For more information check out www.excursionsgrancanaria.com (not sponsered). For a full vlog of the day trip, go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAyonaHFve0

Fed up? What’s up?

‘Junk values don’t meet your psychological needs just like junk food doesn’t meet your physical needs,’ states Johann Hari in his 2019 TED talk. ‘This could be why you’re depressed or anxious.’ As soon as I heard this, I instantly felt an internal ‘yes’. This just makes so much sense.

Not very long ago, I wrote a post about travelling and escaping ‘non-culture’. This was exactly what I meant – junk values. Junk values would be an obsession with buying things such as, well, ‘things’ – stuff – ‘crap you don’t need’ as Hari puts it. It isn’t just what we buy that’s the issue but our obsession with showing things on Instagram or Facebook. We are captivated by the need for approval, looking good and vacuous showiness.

Don’t get me wrong here. I like junk food and I like a bit of junk culture too, but too much of it is probably bad for the soul and one’s health. Hari goes on to say that living a life with meaning and not focusing on money and how we look is something we all know about. It’s so obvious, it’s cliché. But we don’t do what we know is good for us. Funny isn’t it?

As Hari says in this short but poignant TED talk, ‘why don’t we see it?’ Apparently, according to Professor of Psychology, Tim Kasser of Knox College Illinois, the answer is simple. ‘We live in a machine that is designed to get us to neglect what is important about life.’

We neglect what is important about life. I turned off the talk at this point. I wanted to ponder the point. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a long explanation of what I think is important about life. But I will say, loosely, my extensive reading and personal experience says what is important tends to revolve around 1. connection and 2. doing something meaningful with your life (whatever that means to you).

Travel feeds the soul – places and connections

One of my favourite things about travel is that I get to visit places where I am not caught up in the non-culture of the place. In a foreign speaking country, I can’t understand the adverts and I don’t know what anyone’s saying. It’s the quickest and easiest way of escaping consumerism and non-culture. Not only this, I tend to choose places that I think will be devoid of this sort of stuff, mainly because I want to experience real authentic living there.

Today I wanted to go beyond  the idea of the places we visit when travelling feeding our soul and instead talk to you about how we might be able to feed our souls with travel connections. There’s no doubt, if we like to travel – experiencing new things, seeing natural wonders and finding new adventures – these can all be very enriching. This ticks point 2 of ‘doing what is important’. But I am suggesting we can get such a lot in terms of feeling connected to others if we choose the right vacation or travel trip too. We can also find connection on a travel trip.

We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep

William James

Most of us travel because we want to bring greater expansion, joy and happiness into our lives. Sure, this makes sense. So we choose a place that appeals to us. But what about also thinking about where we might also find people  we can connect to as well.

Introvert or extrovert: we need connection

If you’re an introvert, like me, you probably spend a lot of time avoiding group situations. They can be draining and hard work in excess, but if we isolate ourselves entirely, this can be just as detrimental. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, next time you’re planning a trip to bring some joy to your life, consider that novelty and interest may only be one side of the coin in terms of bringing you true meaning.

Westerners nowadays are lonelier than ever. We live in a society that creates separateness and competition. Consider this when you’re booking a trip. Even though it can leave us cringing at the very thought of it, a trip that makes you connect to others and work as a group may just be the soul tonic you have been looking for.

Enter the bus tour

I chose a bus tour and I would do it over and over again. You could choose an activity holiday such as learning a skill or going on a cruise. What I’m suggesting here is that you choose something where you will be with other people.

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen

Ernest Hemingway

The first tour I went on was ‘The Grand East’ motor-coach tour with ATI. I booked it with American Sky. The tour started off in New York City and went up, through New England, into Canada. The tour then went back through to the US, into Pennsylvania and down through Tennessee. We ended up in New Orleans and then went down into Florida. It took eighteen days. It was, without doubt, one of the best – if not the best – experience of my life. I wasn’t expecting it.

Connection, connection, connection.

Most people I talked to on my return to the UK swooned at the account of the tour. It took in so many places, they would say. I can’t deny, in terms of a whistle stop tour, it was second to none. If you want to see America quickly or take in as much American culture as possible in a short blast, this is the holiday or trip sensation for you.

It really is amazing what you can see on this type of bus tour. I’ve been on two now. They are so well organised and both the guides I had were quite remarkable. The value, the ease, the excitement and the pace was incredible. Every day left me feeling inspired and tired but it was never too much (well almost never).

In reality, whilst what I experienced on the trips was golden, it didn’t really compare to the connections I made. My first tour guide was perhaps one of the most important connections I’ve ever had with another human being. This person taught me such a lot in a subtle but significant way. I cannot remember laughing so hard with the other passengers or sharing such wonderful times. I was excited to spend time with them and had a sense of warmth, security and happiness I’ve never felt as an adult.

In this book I talk about connection a lot:

,,https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07SBNLTPB/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=B07SBNLTPB&linkCode=as2&tag=spiritualcand-21&linkId=84e7f5950c909fc794a2916acc0762ed

Please be aware that the above book link contains an affiliate link.

I went on ‘The Grand East’ tour with my best friend. We are both self-confessed introverts. We hardly even talk to each other, never mind to other people. So to find myself actively connecting with the other passengers after only a couple of days was quite a surprise. The truth was, it became as obvious as the nose on my face – I was benefiting from being within a group. Finally, I was part of ‘the tribe’ that so many people talk about.

I had regularly tried to join or create a tribe. I am terrible at it. Perhaps there are reasons. Maybe it’s just been the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe I’m not meant to have a tribe. Who knows? What I do know is that I absolutely loved it. I had a tribe as a teenager and I loved it then too. What did it actually entail? Many, many people have asked me how the tour worked. Quite a lot of people recoil in apparent horror at the idea of having to be part of a ‘tour group’. How terrible. The stigma seems to be rife amongst many I know. I don’t get it personally, but it’s definitely there. Anyway, because of this, there seems to be a fair amount of intrigue around it.

Make friends on your trip – you won’t regret it

My days looked like this: leave the hotel room and say hello to other passengers on the corridor or in the lobby and exchange a few minor pleasantries. This notion was repeated when arriving back to the bus after any significant stop for a visit or lunch and maybe again in the evening if I saw anyone when I was out and about. It was nothing more than the sort of conversation you might have in the hallway at work. Add to this the occasional chat with the bus driver and guide. This was what it was like on the second tour I went on and it still felt enough. It gave a sense of togetherness and brought a sense of peace and calm that I struggle to put my finger on. I guess it’s because we’re social animals. This sort of connection, albeit small, makes a difference to our beingness.

On the first tour, I would share a little more with other passengers and genuinely made friends. I was happy to see them and we’d share the odd factoid about our life or show the occasional picture of our family. It made it not just enriching but beyond that. One particularly happy experience came on the space simulator at the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida.

My friend and I had made friends with a particularly funny, exuberant Irish man and his wife. They were lovely, amusing and uplifting people to be around. I still laugh out loud when I remember some of the shared experiences. My friend suffers with vertigo and I am not the bravest. I wanted to go on the simulator but he didn’t. Our friendly enthusiastic Irish friend pushed John, my friend, into it. It was without doubt one of the most hilarious experiences of my life. It was bonding.

I would suggest that if you don’t do it already, make the effort to connect with people when you travel. As I mentioned before, it’s such a cliché, it’s almost nauseating. However, it’s true beyond what words can say.

Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together

Woodrow T Wilson

Make connections and revitalise your life

The truth is we travel because we are looking for something, trying to fulfil something or feel something enriching. Whether you buy it or not, the odds are stacked in favour of connection being able to provide this. I know many angry, sad, self-righteous people that all seem to share a disdain for other people. Sure, we all do this from time to time – look at difference and compare –  but it is not good for your health, so stop it. Instead, consider trying the ‘cheesy’ alternative of reaching out to others. Maybe take people on face value and assume similarity rather than difference. It might sound like an after school special but, after I did this for three weeks, I felt like a new person.

If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere

Zig Ziglar