Mindfulness in autumn – and a poem by May Sarton

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Autumn in Orton (c) Suzie Grogan

We have written recently about how autumn can be seriously good for your soul, and indeed it can. However, for many it is a melancholy time, when thoughts of loss, or of letting go are to the fore. Some of the words we associate with autumn can feel sombre and muted – ‘fall’, ‘decay’, ‘mists’  – and tones are ‘muted’.

But today, as we start work on our autumn programme and gear ourselves up for our latest mindfulness courses, we wanted to use images of autumn as a focus and see this time of year as an opportunity to celebrate and treasure what has been and then let it go. There are ‘autumn words’ that are lively and full of joy – the ‘boisterous’ winds, ‘warmth’ of first fires and ‘blaze’ of autumn oranges – and as the poet John Keats said in his ode to the season – ‘Where are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they? /Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…..

But letting go can be difficult, and takes practice. You have to learn to take responsibility, forgive and cease blaming others. And you have to live in the present moment, rather than filling your brain with concerns about the past.

We often like to choose a poem for mndfulness on ‘let’s talk!’ and today we have found a wonderful ‘Autumn Sonnet’ by May Sarton, a prolific American writer who died in 1995. She was known for her honest, open approach to her writing and her thoughtful expressions of what it means to be human.

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go.

May Sarton

‘If I can let you go as trees let go….’ what a marvellous analogy, with the recognition that autumn can be a time of recharge and the storing up of energy for new bursts of energy in the future.

Do you like autumn, or find it a time of year that prompts feelings of sorrow and loss? We would love to  know what you think.

Mindfulness courses taken by our specialist, Miranda Bevis begin on 1st October 2015. See The Terrace website for full details. 

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Guest post: Words are tools of healing by Vivienne Tuffnell

41Z6WYh-WXL._UY250_Our thanks today to our guest blogger, writer and poet Vivienne Tuffnell, author of a number of wonderful novels, including Strangers and Pilgrims, The Bet and one of our favourites, Away With the Fairies, all dealing with the human condition in a mystical and spiritual way. Her short story collections are full of mystery, with supernatural elements and a deep questioning of what it means to be human. She has written and spoken of her own struggles with depression and has just published a fabulous selection of her prose pieces from her popular blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. These essays challenge, question and nourish the spirit, offering support to others in mental and emotional distress. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking is available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Just words

No one listens to me.
But then I have nothing to say
I have not said a thousand times before.
I’m dying for someone to hear
My silent screams
And offer help.
I’m searching for the words:
The right words
The magic words.
They’re just words;
They hold no power
To save or damn me.
Just words: no more.

I wrote this poem about ten years ago and I would say now: I was wrong. I wrote that poem before I discovered quite how powerful a tool the written word can be for self-healing. The process of reading and the process of writing have effects that I believe are much greater than we’re prepared to imagine.

I began writing almost before I could read; I used to sneak in to use my father’s typewriter, trying to write down my stories, believing that somehow the hitting of the keys would magically reveal the words. And words were magic of the finest kind, because they could transport you from a dull bedroom on a rainy November day when it’s too cold and wet to go out and play, to, well, anywhere in the entire universe. From being read to as a tiny tot, to trips to the local library twice daily during the long summer holidays, I devoured books. I started trying to create them too, from a very early age; I wrote my first novel when I was ten. I read English and Latin at university, which was so sobering I didn’t read much at all in the first year after graduating and it was another two years after that before I tried writing fiction again.

The other constant in all those years was depression. I experienced my first brush with it when I was about six. You might extrapolate that so much reading and so much writing were the cause of the depression, but it was more that they were the result of it. I read and I wrote to escape the yawning, gaping maw of the void that is depression. The times I experienced the most severe bouts of depression were ones where I could not (for whatever reason) read or write.

Recent advances in science have allowed us a sneaky peek into the human brain without slicing off the top of the skull; this means it’s now possible to have some clue about how our brains react to certain experiences. Most curious are fairly recent studies that involved MRI machines, volunteers, and sequences of words and pictures or sometimes other factors. These include  The emotion potential of words and passages in reading Harry Potter – An fMRI study and
Love, Pain, Money, Cocaine Light Up Same Area of Brain.

What is clear is that there are things going on in the brain that are beyond what we had previously thought. It gives great scope for pain relief and other beneficial results.

In the original version of the film Total Recall, memories are planted in a person’s brain to give them the illusion they have had a wonderful holiday. It’s a matter of an hour or two to create weeks’ worth of memories and the associated benefits on a person’s well-being that a great holiday would bring but without the need to travel or take time off. That’s what a good book can do, too.

As a reader, I crave books that can bring me relief from the inner darkness, but not by providing me with unremitting sweetness and light. There is something obviously false and unsatisfying about books that contain no conflict, no peril, no risk, because life isn’t like that. Some demand to be able to buy books with a Happy Every After guarantee (generally romance) but I doubt that this is a wise choice. Knowing beforehand a book will have a happy ending robs the reader of the experience of literary catharsis, of suffering with the main characters without being certain of relief. It’s the experience that brings the changes in the emotional state, not the outcome.

As a writer, I use my writing to explore how I feel and think, and the expression of my inner life in stories is one way I cope with my own sometimes fragile mental and emotional state. Yet there is both catharsis and a kind of creative synthesis that goes on, largely unconsciously, in the creation of a novel. When I write, quite often I don’t know how the book will end until it comes to me during the process of actually writing it. I often don’t know what the main themes of a book are until it is complete, and sometimes not even then. The feedback from readers sometimes brings me insights into what the book is about that I had no conscious clue about. One of the things I have found most rewarding as an author is that readers have found the books have affected them in profound and positive ways. It could be said that the books have been agents of healing and of comfort. It’s something that makes the process so worthwhile, doubly so, for the writing of a book is a process of catharsis and of inner healing for me; to know that it has this effect on readers enhances my own experience

613N30NIieL._UX250_Thanks once again to Vivienne. Do check out the links to her work and let us know how you feel about the ability of words to comfort and heal…

Vivienne’s Amazon page

Zen and the Art of Tightrope walking

Well-being for students – University isn’t all party, party, party…

images (6)We have recently reposted our piece about ‘empty-nesting’ and the anxiety of parents as their children head off to University and college for the first time. This time of year can be tough for the whole family, and it is important for everyone to acknowledge the emotional and physical stress involved in this new phase of family life.

So – today we focus on those young people taking what might be their first steps to independence. Along with the natural excitement of organising accommodation, buying any equipment and books necessary and packing carefully, there is also a natural level of anxiety – it is the body’s natural reaction to the anticipation of the unknown.Will I like my course? Will I make friends? Will I have enough money? It may not feel like it but everyone has these concerns, even the most confident prospective student. It is a time when you need to take your mate’s bravado with a pinch of salt – inside they will have their own worries, guaranteed.

But sometimes anxiety can become overwhelming. You may find you have work to do before you even start your course. There will be the expectations of parents and teachers and of course, the importance of your course to your future hopes and ambitions. This is the time to notice your body, and any physical symptoms that you may experience that can be attributed to this anxiety. You may not even see them coming, as they gradually creep up on you.

  • You may be less able to sleep…
  • You may lose your appetite…
  • You may feel tired and drained…
  • You could be irritable and prone to mood swings…

Sometimes these symptoms can actually affect your life on a day-to-day basis. Panic attacks, when you feel you can’t breathe, that your heart is pounding, that you will be sick and that you need to run, or are rooted to the spot  can stop you doing those things you would normally enjoy for fear of breaking down in front of friends, or being unable to cope in stressful situations.

First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself – moving home for anyone is difficult and for you it will mean new town, new people, and new responsibilities. If you find anxiety levels rising try to remember that they won’t last forever – as you settle in to your new life the initial worries will fade to the background. Day-to-day worries will come and go, that is life. But if you can maintain some control over your life – especially when it comes to things like money, alcohol, getting exercise and eating healthily – you will find things easier to cope with.

Secondly, remember to talk about how you are feeling. This isn’t always easy, but if you can open up you will find you are not alone and hiding your feelings can simply store up more trouble for later. There is always support available at University or college. Student Support, the local GP, your lecturers and tutors…they are all trained to watch out for signs that their students are experiencing difficulties. And of course your parents and family at home need to know how you really feel. Don’t be afraid to approach someone. The longer you leave it the more cut off and hopeless you might feel.

images (7)To find out more about anxiety, stress and depression see the NHS website HERE. If you are reluctant to take that first step, you can approach someone anonymously – there is help at the end of a telephone. Call Samaritans, or Mind for example. Non-judgemental, they will listen and support you. Alternatively there is a great service that has been set up specially to support students. It is called Nightline and if your University or college is linked up there will be someone to help you. See their website at http://nightline.ac.uk/ . They have a useful list of other contacts HERE.

Remember – this is an exciting time, one that can be the very best time of your life. But you need to take care of yourself and always be certain that there is someone who can help you if you are struggling.

Also, see The Terrace website for details of the skilled therapists who work with us to support young people and their families.

How autumn can be seriously good for your health…

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Somerset Levels in autumn

We came a little late to this research, but as meteorological  autumn begins, and the nights start drawing in, we thought it was a good time to cast off any gloom at the imminent end of the British summer and highlight how wonderful autumn is, and how good it can be for your health.

In 2014 The National Trust undertook some research that showed how a walk in the colours of autumn can lift the mood, even as the health giving properties of the light fade.

The National Trust found that more than eight out of 10 (84%) people felt that bright autumn walks made them feel happier, healthier and calmer. About 70% of those surveyed felt a lowering of their mood as the days shorten but almost 50% admitted that they did not get out in the fresh air often enough

It is not just a matter of filling your lungs, however. Colour psychologist Angela Wright is quoted as saying:

“Natural colour schemes can inspire us and lift our spirits. Autumn, combined with the rich light at this time of year, is a flamboyant blaze of intense colours with each affecting us in a different way……Fresh air, exercise and the sense of getting away from it all play a positive role in improving our well-being. However it’s the colours that we experience which are the most powerful tonic to affecting our mood.”

Autumn is a time for reflection and taking stock and for many seems melancholy, heralding endings. Children dread the end of summer holidays and head back to a new school year and parents have to get used to packing young adults off to University. But it is also a time of great bounty as many enjoy a harvest festival and the hedgerows fill with nuts and berries, stored by wildlife to see them over the coming winter.

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Great Wood

The Trust drew  up  a list of some of the best places to experience the full range of autumn colours- those delicious reds and oranges through to exotic purples and deep evergreens. None of the suggestions, from Snowdonia to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire are close to Somerset, so we were curious to know whether there is a favourite local walk you like to take as the leaves turn. We are, after all, in a county with a wide variety of landscapes. One of our favourites is the Red Walk Trail in the Great Wood at Ramscombe in the Quantock Hills, where ancient oak jostle with spruce and fir and you can, if you are lucky, spot the occasional deer….

So on those beautiful, misty mornings over the Somerset Levels or on a cool, sunny Sunday afternoon, where do you head to kick over the traces and breathe in that distinctive musty autumn smell?