Tuesday 21 May 2024


My dog gifted me a daily practice of walking. Over the course of 5 short years we covered around 10,000 kilometers. I was so enamored with my direct environment that I learned to forage simply by immersion: I became aware of where the wild garlic grew most abundantly, where elderflower and St John's wort blossomed and where the juiciest berries ripened. I became beautifully in synch with the seasons. There were no days 'off'. I became weatherproof. Every day was a new adventure and we wove passion pathways like invisible webs across the Downs, along the river Ouse and above the tideline of the East Sussex coast. There are many studies which show that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by 20-30%. In the context of my own proposed chemotherapy conferring a benefit of just 5%, this is extraordinary. I have no muscle memory for exercise but for the first time in my life, walking my dog, I felt fully embodied and fit. 

For the past 3 years I have swum in cold water. A weekly practice which initially felt brutal and necessary to get me through a time of great emotional upheaval. Controlled pain defibrillated me through a series of life shocks: a divorce, the death of my beautiful step mum, home educating my children through gcses and A levels, my eldest leaving for university, a house sale and a new business. But nothing replaced the gentle regularity of those daily walks. 

Until now. A dear friend has offered me the opportunity to share her allotment: a magical, wooded space which backs onto a freshwater stream with a waterfall and a pool. Since January we have embedded ourselves into this new-to-us piece of land. Once a large, well maintained plot, it has recently been divided into four. We are stewarding our quarter, spending time observing what is there. Nature has gifted elderflower, hawthorn, buddleia and alkanet, while the previous caretaker bequeathed potatoes, strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries and apricots. We are experimenting with no-dig permaculture practices and companion planting. The entire allotment is organic and slug-pellet free, so gentle curiosity about what unfolds, without controlling, is our one year experiment. I am excited to grow wildflowers to garnish, brassicas and alliums to support my liver, herbs for tinctures and rainbow coloured vegetables for communal eating platters. And I am also practicing letting go of outcome, which feels healthy since we share our plot with hungry rabbits, slugs and birds who were the caretakers of this land way before we arrived. A friend who is well versed in permaculture tells me to grow with abundance so that there is enough for us all and I love this generous outlook.

In this green space there are delicious parallels with healing from cancer: 

  • avoiding the combative and controlling narrative of battling against nature. 
  • focusing attention on tending to the whole environment: watering and feeding what you want to grow rather than focusing on what you want to eradicate. 
  • slowing down, breathing, being mindful and respectful to the bigger habitat in which we are immersed: recognising the power of consciously being a part of our body's feedback loop.
We have evolved to live within nature - getting outdoors, even for half an hour a day, is glorious for health. At this time of year particularly, grounding barefoot brings untold benefits, from reducing inflammation to improving cortisol levels: it brings the nervous system back to a parasympathetic dominant state where we are able to digest, absorb and experience more balanced hormones and improved immune function. Numerous studies show that connecting to the earth directly improves antioxidant status as we are bathed in electrons from the ground up. This optimally raises voltage to all body systems, regulating the heart, brain, and blood circulation whilst oxygenating on a cellular level. 

Beyond the tangible physical benefits, sharing outdoor space with an amazing friend means not only allowing the allotment to ground and connect us, but it improves our mental/emotional health. We are able to remind each other to be conscious when old-pattern mind-games threaten to overwhelm us. For me this sometimes plays out as a need to be productive and busy: to 'get it done' rather than slowing down and enjoying the journey.

For almost 5 months we have barrowed, weeded, planted and watered. I am using unfamiliar muscles and it feels like honest 'work'. I am returning to my body in a more gentle way than the exquisite but shocking self-imposed punishment of winter sea swimming. Stepping onto this plot of land feels like an act of growth and self-compassion - a new space to explore which offers something tangible in return for my care: negative ions AND vegetables!

As a bonus, we are building a community with our quadrant neighbours: sharing tools, information and advice. The warmer weather brings communal watering duties beyond the flimsy rope boundaries of our plots. In summer we will no doubt share gluts of courgettes, squashes, onions and potatoes. Autumn will be the season for seed sharing, and in winter, fires and more swimming in the newly refreshed stream. 

Within all of this is joy and meaning. Being reconnected with the soil feels like coming home to an ancestral part of being human. Stewarding the land reminds us of connection to our environment. Eating food which we have sown, grown and tended requires that we slow down and appreciate the journey. And of course that food, grown with conscious intent, is energetically medicinal in the best possible way: from 'farm' to fork within an hour of harvest, nothing could be fresher or more replete with natural healing compounds.

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Healing as a pathway to joy

Healing is often considered arduous but what if we reframe it as a revival; a pathway to joy? What if illness is a call from the body to improve our lives not only from the way we eat, but to the way we think, engage and respond? What if holistic (that is to say mind-body-spirit) healing, is necessary in order to reset aspects of our lives which are in need of attention or no longer serve us? How would that level of emotional healing expedite physical healing? And how would our lives look once we have transformed? 

We are not consciously responsible for illness, but it is true to say that many of the subconscious choices we make on a daily basis are misaligned with wellness. Redirecting the course of our lives can be uncomfortable at best, and painful at worst. If we are lucky, the diagnosis of a chronic disease such as cancer gives the opportunity to explore and change deep-rooted patterns and this is important for longevity. 

Much of the way we live is entrenched from an early age. In his groundbreaking book The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton talks about this hard-wiring of the subconscious during the first 7 years of life and how this programming imperceptibly runs the way we think and engage as adults. Gabor Mate speaks of people who are prone to disease as perfectionist, stoic and hyper-responsible, often repressing emotion as a longstanding means of self-protection (which may no longer serve). Fortunately, behavioural patterns are not set in stone and in this respect awareness is truly the gateway to deep healing. Becoming aware of patterns, be they lack of boundaries driven by poor self-esteem, or simply an ingrained generational way of thinking about self-care, is transformative. Catching thoughts as they arise and observing them with curiosity rather than judgement or control gently changes old behaviours. We can witness growth by the ways in which we begin to advocate for ourselves, implement healthy boundaries and practice self-compassion. It can take many years to master this awareness and enjoy the subsequent shift, but over time and with patience life can metamorphosize into something even more beautiful, meaningful and vibrant.

Excitingly, transforming how we show up in the world positively impacts our internal terrain. Epigenetics describes the ways that genes respond to their direct environment. Our bodies are constantly moderating and optimising this inner terrain via a complex system of feedback loops: biological mechanisms which seek to maintain balance, from blood sugar regulation to hormone balance, digestion and more. When we heal in a holistic way, we become aware of ourselves as the cell, responding to our own unique external environment. This can be family, home, community and the wider world. Consider ways of improving the terrain in which you are immersed. A life of chronic loneliness, chaos, disconnect, disappointment, frustration, fear, stress or lack is reflected in our internal chemistry, impacting practically every system in the body from the microbiome to neurotransmitter production and detoxification. Engaging in the world in a conscious way positively impacts inner health by reassuring the body that it is safe: that you are aware of your powerful role as a part of the feed-back loop. From this place of connectedness we are able to improve the dialogue we have with our bodies, responding to symptoms in real time, eating consciously, living congruently and harmonising our internal systems through breathing, connecting with nature, exploring healthy relationships and practicing self-care. On a microscopic level this can reduce inflammation, improve the diversity of the microbiome, support digestion, lower cortisol and optimise mood. 

Ill-health is undoubtedly challenging in many ways, but understanding the gifts it can bring if we are willing to sit in awareness with our entrenched patterns and the ways in which we are sleepwalking through life can bring joyful rewards. Healing, particularly from a chronic disease, is not about surviving, rather about thriving. I often ask my clients about purpose, joy and how their ideal world looks once they have healed. Many of us have forgotten the importance of joy as a necessary human emotion for wellbeing and vibrancy, and disease offers us an opportunity to reevaluate what is important. For some, this is brave work, unpicking a lifetime of conditioning which requires the help of others in the form of energy work, therapy or hypnotherapy. For others the shifts happen with relative ease. Either way it can be helpful to start a daily practice, taking time to advocate for your needs, pursue passion, explore purpose and consider what makes you happy. Joy is as important a part of healing as focusing on diet and exercise.