Breast Up, Back Down


In a previous iteration I was pretty active for a non sporty type. Like, I started swimming regularly because there was a laundry at my local pool at St George’s. A large load bought me a 40 minute swim. I don’t hate laundrettes, in fact, when I was a kid my mum was friends with the lady who worked at the laundrette and I got to see backstage, which I found entrancing. I pretty much love the back stage of any kind of an operation, and perhaps my love of it started there, in the dusty and oily back end of banks of driers.

Anyway, despite my lack of hatred, if there is a swimming pool actually attached to a laundry it would seem churlish to ignore it. So I swam there regularly. It’s a 33.3 meter pool, and I know I started off at 8 lengths. So that was 266.6 meters. The amount of lengths shot up over what turned out to be quite a short time before I bought my first washing machine and turned to my next fad, weight training.

Now I’m back in the pool. Not that pool, and neither the pool of life, but the pool of Ironmonger Row. Knowing I’d benefit from monitoring my progress I looked up the pool length and have been keeping a note of my progress. It’s a 25 meter pool, but I’ve had three nominal total body replacements since then, all those cells ageing and mainly on the wane. I’ve gone up two dress sizes and now have a much less active life. My aerobic fitness has plummeted over the past two years and I’m leery of getting fat clothes, but look awful in the stuff I’ve already got, and that’s if I can get any of it on. In reality I can theoretically wear about a fifth of my wardrobe, and that’s mostly socks.



I actually moved house deliberately to be spitting distance to a pool, but it has taken me a few weeks to get around to actually swimming. First off, I had to get a swimming costume that was realistically big, and then I had to do all the paperwork that is involved in getting a concession sorted out. And then I had to get over myself for having done it a bit wrong and being angry with the man who gave me the hard sell for the membership option.

A smart smack to the head with a misdirected ball thrown in the park gave me the perfect excuse. Ok, it smarted, but it wasn’t that, it was the way the fibro tickled the shock into a nice entrenched neck pain, followed by a fire storm down my shoulders and upper back, and then a few hours later my lower back and a kind of sciatica thing all the way down to my left foot. Pain killers be damned, this was going to have to be worked off physically, and swimming was just the badger for the job.

I have a fear of new buildings. Not ‘new’ new buildings, just any building I’ve not been in before. So there was an element of loin girding, but however they are laid out at least swimming pools generally have an internal logic which can be tentatively predictable. I wore the swimmie under my clothes and packed all the things I needed, managed to get into the changing room without having a nervous breakdown and stripped off and had an acclimatising shower. The interior of Ironmonger Row has been recently refurbished and is reassuringly posh. There were steps to get in to the pool so I didn’t have to out myself as a less able bodied type of a person, and the water was acceptably warm, so none of the embarrassment of spasming and drowning, then. Good.

All I had to do now was swim. I have to be really careful about triggering migraines and other fibro related aches and pains which can go on, like the ball thing, to tell epic tales in my body, so I reckoned on 15-20 minutes. I counted my lengths. First go round I did 50 meters, rested for five minutes, did another 50, rested, did another 50 then called it a day. I did that two days in a row, rested a day and then did 100/100/100 LIKE A DAMN BOSS!

Even when I was nominally well I had a problem with headaches, so I had a physiological strategy – breast up, back down, thus saving my neck from undue strain. This strategy is good when everyone is lane swimming PROPERLY but not everyone does, and going backwards into gaggles of chatting people is a drag, but everyone was civilised and the pool wasn’t overpopulated. I could relax. I could relax and trust life.

Over the course of my previous swimming patch I’d noticed a tendency to think while swimming, and a sense of not having refreshed my brain the way I’d refreshed my body, so, it being the days of the Louise Hay and other ‘gurus’ I decided to do affirmations. “I relax and trust life, money comes easily to me” scanned for the breast stroke, and I can’t remember what I did for back. Now I just count. Not all the time, but 10 years or so of meditation means I really don’t have to sweat ‘just swimming’ but after the first go round I noticed that it was third bunting, hoist, steps, end of pool, which was just over 8 strokes of backstroke the speed I was swimming at, so bunting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 flip, stop.

As long as the alternative is drowning, swimming lends itself well to an approximation of a meditative state. Swimming is neither eternalistic by nature nor nihilistic. It is radically embodied and totally existential.

When I was at school you always had to really hurry to get dressed after swimming. I really hated it. Claggy clothes and hair clinging coldly to skin, all to rush to a lesson I doubtless had no interest in anyway, and under the apparently watchful eye of our resident pervy gym teacher.

Now I am an adult and no one is the boss of me. I take my time washing and drying, resting and mindfully taking the next thing I need out of the locker and ultimately packing everything away in a sane methodical style. The building mirrors my own carefulness back to me – here is even a bank of five hair driers awaiting use in the most civilised manner just before the exit.

A couple of days later and I dial it back to 200 meters in total.

I’m back in the swim.

Yoga Rage


Last night I went to see Jon Kabat Zinn at the Friends’ Meeting House in Euston. It was hosted by Action For Happiness.

It was billed as  “An Evening With” and pitched at a general audience so I didn’t expect it to be anything I hadn’t heard before, and it wasn’t. It was more like going to see a supergroup and hearing their old standards or a well loved comedian and hearing beloved punch lines. The familiarity of his words left me  just noticing how he structured the talk a lot of the time – and it was pretty much what anyone would do – an overview of mindfulness, a led meditation, further elucidations, a couple of poems, and then Q&A. Just with a much bigger audience than usual. I liked the way that, with a show of hands at various points in the talk he managed to make nearly a thousand people feel like a group, but the content was nothing new. You can hear a version of what he said by going on youtube and watching pretty much any of his videos. He’s good, but the main thing about him is that he did a good thing. Thirty five years ago he stripped down buddhist practices for a secular audience and brought the world MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction).

part of the audience – he said there were 1000 people there, i thought 800, either way though, not a small crowd

So, what did I get for my £15 and my journey several hours out of my comfort zone? (I NEVER go out – not in the evening, it’s not a thing. I am in bed by 7pm most nights and asleep easily by 10.)

Mainly, I got uncomfortable. Yes, yes, it was physically uncomfortable, this was the Quaker’s gaff, and not a theatre, but it was more than that. I started feeling something I used to, in my more physically trim days, call ‘yoga rage’.

I loved yoga. I used to go two or three times a week. I’d done swimming, and then tai chi, and eventually I pitched up at yoga, which is something I always thought I would like, and I did. It’s nice and stretchy. I still do a tiny amount at home, but I do have to be careful. I digress.

At one point in my yoga journey I used to go to an excellent class in Brighton with my friend Nic. Jim Tarran still teaches, indeed he has his own school. He is brilliant. He keeps you in poses for bloody ages so you have to do loads of internal work. It’s a bit boot camp, but in a different way to, say, ashtanga or bikram. Anyway, the first time we went, we were standing still with our eyes shut following his instructions and he went silent and then said “What is yoga?”

Afterwards we giggled about it, because Nic said he nearly answered, which would have been WRONG because it was rhetorical, and it was something he was going to talk about while we stood there, fire in our muscles, working to stand straight and relax at the same time. Oh, and breathe, you have to breathe as well. Anyway, we were hooked, and there being the two of us, naturally we discussed him ad nauseum and all aspects of the classes as we went along. We also did impersonations of him, which I know were funny at the time, but I don’t remember all the catch phrases now. What emerged over the weeks was that we discovered in ourselves something we dubbed ‘yoga rage’ which was a feeling which arose when we were trying to be all OM about it all, and someone, some one would do something annoying.

They might breathe funny or very loudly in what sounded like a showy offy way or be annoyingly keen (not like us, no no, just because we were early and at the front and LOVED him, that didn’t make us annoyingly keen, not one bit of it) or grunt, or fart, or, and there was this one time when this person INCENSED us by doing the poses all wrong because he was clearly a dancer and he was being a poser. And wrong. He was doing it wrong.

Like every other detail of the class we discussed this at length. The thing about yoga rage that differs from road rage or any other kind of rage is that you absolutely know you are wrong while you are doing it. It’s an aspect of what buddhists call dukkha – or ordinary everyday suffering. Not special suffering. Just normal. Normal unfair irritation with people whose breathing, farting, or yoga style is none of our damn business and makes no impact on how we do our own yoga.

Here we are, in a hall filling with people who are passionate enough about mindfulness to buy tickets and turn up and sit uncomfortably for hours and I am irritable as hell and I am super aware of it. Annoying bloody people wanting us to budge up. Annoying people who probably bought their tickets way after we did sitting in the comfortable seats. Annoying lovey dovey couple fondling each other – GET A ROOM!

All of these people irritated me twice as much as they would have done in any other room for any other speaker or performance or whatever because I was super aware that he was going to talk about KINDNESS and as a meditator I am trying to be kind. In thought and deed. And failing.

It wasn’t all like that, but the feeling spiked up now and then and I just had to accept it. As JKZ said in his talk “The present moment is the curriculum”. And it was. And it is.

My friend Al joked on the way in about ‘taking a moment to arrive’ which is a cliche in mindfulness/meditation circles, for the very good reason that we are often not fully present, so it’s a useful tool to bring people’s attention to their own experience in the moment. We snorted a bit when he instructed us to arrive in the room.

So that was nice.

Still taking the piss.

Time Passes, Shit Happens, and Poppet is Opportunistic


Sometimes it doesn’t matter how borked you are, you go ahead and do stuff anyway. Largely speaking, if you spend all day in bed you’ll get more pain anyway. Plus bone loss! As an added treat.

(For anyone not following my gripping life on fb, I fell quite badly on Sunday and now have the classic ‘pain in all 4 quadrants’ AND some. The weirdest thing is the whiplashy thing going on with the muscles at the front of my neck. If I am lying down and want to move my head, I have to do it with my HANDS!)

Also, I suddenly realized TIME IS PASSING and if I want to have a chance at this PhD application I better get my academic boots on, FAST. But I soon found that migraine isn’t a great space to be trying to understand shit from, so I gave up. I hoovered the bedroom and changed the bedding, and Poppet approved.


I’ve been listening to this so many times over the past few days that I probably account for at least half of the 2,054,639 listens.


It turns out that my loopy listening may have stood me in good stead, since I learned today that I am being hauled in to the workfare farce tomorrow morning. I don’t know how scared I should be… but at least I have BUDDHA SKILLZ in my pocket. As it happens, I had just joined a G+ group “Wildmind” who are doing a 100 days of meditation thing – bit late to the party, but so was someone else, so we decided to buddy each other. What’s been interesting so far is less that it has given me a discipline to meditate every day, because it turns out I pretty much do that anyway, but it’s more like when I blogged for Migraine Awareness Month – writing about your practice, even briefly every day for 100 days is going to make it extra conscious. Plus, the support is nice, particularly because I don’t go to an IRL sangha any more.

Although she is speaking about DLA rather than ESA, this clip gives a fair snap shot without being too miserablist.

So, without further ado, I give you Francesca Martinez

So that was nice!


After writing my previous post I tweeted the link to Sh! and they asked for a version for their site. So that was nice. The enbiggened version is here.

What else? Well, today me and Al finally got around to tidying up our Training With Awareness enough to allow it out into the world. It’s not perfect, but it is live now, so any feedback is welcome. We are going to put our mugs up there somewhere soon, maybe friday. There is plenty to add, but the main thing was to have capital letters at the beginning of sentences and so on, so that’s done and done.

We are planning to do some voluntary gigs to get ourselves warmed up, so if you are in London or the South East and you represent some worthy group or other then we’d be pleased to hear from you. Voluntary work will be Wednesdays or Fridays. Thanks to everybody who has ‘liked’ our facebook page – it’s good to hit the ground running with the widget on the site showing some love.


I’ve been insanely ill lately, thanks in no small part to effing up my medications and then seeing a different doctor and changing too many things at once – something my real doctor advised against… anyway, luckily I have enough in hand just to go back to the original dose, and last night I had the first decent night’s sleep in ages, and woke up at just before 6am raring to drink tea and faff around on the internet.


My new hobby is passive aggression.

s  big pile a’crap, yo

See? This is me making a PILE of recycling for Ten to deal with. Actually, he noted my protest and proceeded to do other stuff instead, so it’s all in a bin bag in the garden now. If I was spending any time in the garden just now then it’d be away in the recycling by now, but Ten likes to clean and micro sort recycling whereas I don’t bother.

I am in a bit of a quandary about the garden just now because of the imminent MEN and SCAFFOLDING. Is there much point in doing stuff if they are going to mess it up? I don’t exactly know, but we will have to move the bench and probably the plants which are in my designated nursery space for the scaffolding, and I suppose I will think about those issues then. Meantime the MEN have not arrived yet, and it is getting pretty cold out there, so random Ten hobbies are tolerated.


elaine4queen is unwell


The journalist, Jeffrey Bernard was a notorious drunk. He was the subject of a West End play called Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell because this is what was printed without any preamble in the stead of his column for The Spectator when the writer was too drunk or hungover to hand in copy.

Sadly, for me, my ‘hangover’ is from my big day of two medical appointments and attendant traveling.

tilda swinton in cornelia parker’s ‘the maybe’

Last night I was kind of wired, and even though I listened to an hour of guided meditation I found I couldn’t sleep. Today I couldn’t get up, and Ten has had to do EVERYTHING.

I am now going to watch some TV, and if that doesn’t work I will find some radio.

Today is canceled.

We’re all just walking each other home


We’re all just walking each other home.
— Ram Dass

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

To be brutally honest, I am often brave. Getting through the day with chronic migraine knowing you’ve got it all to go through again and again is far braver than anything else I have ever done, I do it often and I tend to do it alone, without any witness. I appreciate people who really see me suffer because even that experience is ineffable once it is past.

On the other hand, what looks brave might not really be brave. While ordinary acts like leaving the house might take real gumption, I, for instance, rather relish public speaking whenever I get the opportunity. Yes, I was physically ill the first time I gave a lecture, but the buzz is amazing and ‘nerves’ are really the same thing as excitement.

Acts of kindness can feel brave – one does not know in advance how they will be received. I think I was fairly brave to volunteer to visit a senior Buddhist Order Member who had had a stroke – I thought he would quite possibly find me naive and annoying. As it turned out it was a teacher I knew from my earlier days of learning meditation, and I had rather a good rapport with him but I didn’t walk into the hospital knowing it would be him. And I certainly didn’t expect to ‘get’ anything from the experience, but I did. He was an amazing man. While he was teaching there was this one time when he said he couldn’t remember which meditation he should be teaching and he mentioned in passing that this was probably because he had a brain tumor. I didn’t see him for a few weeks, so when I did see him I was relieved that he was alive! I asked about the tumor. He said that he had probably had it for years, but that it had only been recently diagnosed because he’d blacked out and someone thought to look. It seems that when he was younger he found it difficult to read, and was considered rather dim. His story humbled me so much, and heartend me, too. I’d just recovered from several months of near constant brain fog, after my health tanked and I had been signed off from my job. I couldn’t even follow radio or TV programmes, I just had the radio or TV on for company. I had really prized intellect in my former life, and considered my brain to be my best investment. Yet it didn’t save me from becoming ill. I was so relieved to find something I could learn that rather bypassed brain work, and to meet someone so very wise who was intellectually challenged.

When he died he had fallen out of bed. At the head of the bed was the commode that he used. It is entirely possible he spent his terminal moments on this earth with his face on rather a grubby carpet with a view of the underside of his toilet. For some people this would be a very upsetting experience, but I wasn’t in the slightest bit worried for my friend.

At the funeral there was an open coffin. It was the first time I had seen a dead body. I really wanted to get close and have a good stare, but I didn’t dare. A lot of people spoke about how he had been rather a harsh teacher, but that wasn’t my experience of him. To me he was only ever kind. I can only imagine he approached people on a case by case basis. His sister was too upset to attend, but his niece managed to say a few words on her behalf. She spoke about how, one new year’s eve, he had suggested a bike ride – the pair of them rode their bikes into the new year. What a lovely imagination he had, and what a lovely memory for his sister. I sat with the niece after the funeral and we talked for a while. Afterwards I received a letter from the sister, and wrote back as best I could. We wrote back and forth for a short while.

As well as being a sobering experience, spending time with him in his final days was such an honour.


I was looking for a quote to share with you and found myself collating an enormous collection of them;

click through for lots of thoughts from lots of different sources.


How many Hindenburgs?

Today is kind of a Category 2 Hindenburg. Last night I realized that if I didn’t take a triptan before I went to sleep I’d be waking up migraining like crazy and have to spend all day dealing with things from that starting point, and that tends to mean I have to tread gently on the next day. Not just that, though, I am extra tired possibly because you can nip the pain in the bud, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are not having the migraine. There’s a lot more to migraine than headache.

So, while I have a little rest and listen to Front Row here’s a picture of Poppet I took yesterday.

she isn’t always entirely elegant

Let or Hindrance, Tiger Worms, Meditations, and Berzerking.


I really did try to post every day, I promise… but I just went into this incredible migraine and allied trades wormhole and am only just crawling out of it now. You may have seen or got sent a link to about a dozen attempts to post the other day, but for some reason I couldn’t get round the fact that wordpress wouldn’t publish it in full. Very weird, and I tried lots of ways round it. Eventually I was just so exhausted I gave up and just saw it as part of the continuing cascade of things that go wrong. Hopefully this post will behave itself, and I will be able to share my thrilling insights with you without let or hindrance.

I am not entirely sure what let or hindrance really means, but it’s in the UK passport;

Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.

Which is sort of nice, I suppose. I wonder if I went abroad I might get better assistance and protection than I do here? Perhaps I will go somewhere nice and get asylum.

Anyway, bollocks.


One thing I have been *doing* off and on for the past few days is creating a multi-storey worm bin as inspired by new-to-me blog The Good Life. I already have bins, albeit that they are see through. All I needed to do was drill holes in them and play house with the tiger worms. In a house with two electric drills you’d expect there to be drill bits at the ready, but there was only one little one to hand so I asked my dad to bring one over. Which he did, but it was so blunt it was like the butter knife of drill bits, so on my way to my Bowen appointment yesterday I stopped in at the hardware shop on Broadway Market and got a nice sharp new one. When I get my wriggle on I will be completing the worms’ new home and I think I will feel quite pleased with myself.

the tiger worms when they first arrived. there are quite a few more now, i think they are having a good time.


Okay, that was weird, I just had another spooky wordpress moment there… I just posted a load of links about meditation and tried to save and the whole lot got eaten. Maybe by the worms? Who knows, but it’s beginning to freak me out, because I usually have ZERO problems with WP.

Here’s what I want to SHARE WITH YOU FFS!!!

1. Vidyamala’s Three Minute Breathing Space

Also highly recommended – her Body Scan and Kindly Awareness CDs here.

Good free stuff from Audio Dharma For beginners I’d recommend Gil Fronsdal. I particularly like Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Also, not to be too shallow, but he has a lovely voice.

I made a 20 minute Body Scan myself which is free. You can get that here.

My favourite teacher is Ken McLeod at Unfettered Mind. I follow him on facebook. This works pretty well for me. Sometimes I spend a day listening to a whole course.

Now, please WP, let me publish this before you send me completely berzerk.