This coming Sunday, 22nd November, is what is traditionally
known as ‘Stir it up Sunday’. This is
the name given to the last Sunday before advent begins and apparently the name
comes from a prayer for the day which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee’ (thanks to
Elspeth Thompson’s The Wonderful Weekend
Bookfor that tidbit of
information). However, this is also
customarily the day to make Christmas cake, so I like to think that the ‘Stir
it up’ name is as much linked to the baking action as the church liturgy. Am sure the coincidence is no accident!
This year will be the first time that I’ve observed this
seasonal ritual and I will be attempting to make a Christmas cake. I’ve always wanted to do this and when
mapping out themes for The Fourth Quarter it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Alas I’m already busy on Sunday itself so it’ll be ‘Stir it up Saturday’
for me – and I’m inviting you to join me!
Whether it’s Saturday or Sunday or any other day of the week ahead, why
don’t you stir it up too?
You can be literal about the theme and make some kind of
baked goods that need stirring – whether that is a Christmas cake or another
creation. Or you could interpret ‘stir
it up’ more broadly. Where in your life
could things do with mixing up a bit?
Think about your life in terms of a recipe. What ingredients do you have? What is missing? Where can you get those items from?
What about the ratios between different ingredients? Maybe you’ve got all the necessary elements
but the proportions don’t make for an appetising whole. What changes do you need to make?
Or is there one specific area where things need stirring
up? What’s the wooden spoon that you
could use to do that?
Whichever you choose, whether stirring literally or
metaphorically, don’t forget to make a wish!
This is central element of the ‘Stir it up’ tradition, with whoever
helps to mix the ingredients getting to make a wish. May all of our stir it up wishes come true,
whatever form they take.
Also don’t forget to share your reflections on this week’s
theme, including any pictures or thoughts about stirring it up, either via the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Okay, so the photograph doesn’t show a bonfire. Just shows I didn’t plan this before *last* Bonfire Night!
Thursday 5th November: Bonfire Night in the
UK. I’m hesitant about trying to
describe this seasonal event to anyone unfamiliar with the concept because
having once tried to explain it to two New York shop assistants, I’ve become
extremely aware of what a crazy celebration it is: we light bonfires and set
off fireworks to commemorate the foiling of a 1605 plot by some Catholic men to
blow up the Protestant Houses of Parliament.
Sometimes we even burn an effigy of the plot’s ringleader, Guy Fawkes.
It’s a strange tradition; pretty gruesome and distasteful
when you think about it in the context of twenty-first century terrorism. It also seems to be on the wane somewhat,
pushed out by an increasing emphasis on Hallowe’en. Yet part of me still hankers after a good
Bonfire Night get-together (this year I’m happily attending two, one on Friday
and one on Saturday – like other festivals that fall on weekdays, it gets stretched
to the nearest weekend). I suspect that
its continuation over the years, and the reason that people still enjoy it, is
less to do with the political background and more because it fulfils some of
our deepest needs in the same way that Hallowe’en does (for more on that, see here). It’s an excuse, a prompt, to spend time with
friends and family. Little traditions
associated with the fire-and-fireworks element (largely food related: jacket
potatoes, toffee apples, cinder toffee) support an atmosphere of warmth,
conviviality and ritual. We remember
these nights fondly from when we were children and want to share that sense of
joy and wonder with our own children too.
There is something quite magical about the occasion. You huddle up in coats and scarves and
gloves, trying to keep warm through liquor or a loved one, and ‘Ooo!’ and ‘Aah!’
at the fireworks. You write your name
mid-air with a sparkler and watch as that word, those letters so integral to
your identity, evaporate without a trace.
You stand beside the bonfire, chatting merrily to a friend, then find
yourself gazing at the flames, transported through memories of all the times
you’ve stood there before, perhaps in a different place, but still simply staring
at the fire.
There’s something so mesmerising about the way it licks and
curls, rages and burns. Fires draw us
closer, attracts us nearer, but also keep us away, fearful of their fierce
power. We relate to them on a primeval
level, as our ancient ancestors must have done when their very survival
depended upon them, yet we live lives so far removed from them as a
source. Nowadays we are as likely to
encounter fire in negative ways, such as when they tear through our homes or
land, than we are the positive – the gathering together in a small circle,
sharing its light and heat.
Where would you like to start a fire in your life? Where could you use the power of its flames?
Maybe you crave the communion of bringing those closest to
you in a coven around the hearth.
Maybe you need to set alight your passion, to strike a match
and let it take hold.
Maybe you need a bonfire to burn some detritus in your
psychic garden, letting it drift in plumes of smoke up to the sky and
Fire has the power and the potential to help us secure
whatever it is that we need most in our lives.
And if you can work it into a fire-fireworks-food combination, then even
Happy Bonfire Night to you all x
Please do share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including any pictures or thoughts about Bonfire Night specifically or fire in
general, either via the A
Life Of One’s Own Facebook page or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.
From the Garden of Eden to the I-Phone, from attracting a
teacher to repelling a doctor (‘an apple for the teacher’ and ‘an apple a day
keeps the doctor away’ respectively), from the wicked stepmother Queen in Snow
White to the humble, homespun American Pie, is there any fruit as laden with
myths, metaphors and meaning as the humble apple?
Whether symbolically or literally, many of us hold an apple
of some kind in our hands on a daily basis.
They are all around us, red, green, shiny, round, crisp, crunchy, sweet,
sour (or rendered in white plastic with a neat bite mark taken). Never are they more common than at this time
of year, where even in towns and cities it is possible to find trees straining
under the weight of their ripe juicy goodness.
For me, as I mentioned in Week One’s reflection, there is no surer sign
that autumn is here than being offered a bag of home-grown apples. Of all nature’s fall bounty, it seems that
apple trees are the most generous givers.
They shower their owners (or the volunteers who gather for the
increasingly common community harvests) with gluts of fruit – branches and
branches and branches there to be picked and devoured, lest they go to waste.
Lest they go to waste…With this abundance comes a sense of
responsibility, a feeling of duty towards the offering set before them. Every person I know with an apple tree seems
to suffer the same sense of guilt if each and every last one is not harvested
and put to good use. They become
obsessed with giving them away by the large bag load – you can never take just
a few. ‘Take more! Take more!’, the
owners cry, ‘Give them to your mum/your nan/your friends/people you work with! Please.
PLEASE. YOU WILL TAKE MORE!’
And so even those of us far removed from possession of an
apple tree begin whipping up all manner of apple-based culinary goods: pies,
crumbles, sauces, chutneys, cakes, even fruit leather. Stodgy desserts that we haven’t eaten all
year suddenly become appealing. This may
be in part because of the cooler weather but I’m convinced that it is also
because in homes the northern hemisphere over there are two dozen cooking
apples sat on the kitchen worktop that one feels morally obliged to use up. Childhood echoes of ‘there are starving
children in Africa’ ring in our ears if we even think about chucking them
out. We become as frantic as the tree
owners themselves: the apples must get used up!
Buy the corner shop’s entire supply of custard – we’re going to need
Thus we find ourselves in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up and
hands busy peeling, chopping, slicing, mixing.
The light outside begins to fade and the windows steam up with the heat
from the oven. We keep checking on
cooking progress because we can’t quite remember if we’ve done it correctly – I’m
sure those were the ratios my grandma used to use – oh if only I could ring her
up, she’d definitely remember – of course they didn’t have fan ovens then, I’m
not sure I’ve accounted for the different cooking times correctly – does it
matter that I’ve used ordinary rather than caster sugar? – I don’t think it’s
important – is it flour or sugar that you sprinkle on the top? – it seems like
so long since I last made a crumble, now when was it? Must have been last autumn, you know, doesn’t
the year pass quickly…
Here we are again.
Peeling, chopping, slicing, mixing, just like last year and the one
before. Just as our forebears did. The seasonal glut of apples connects us with
those who went before in the same way that it links us more directly with the
source of our food than the usual reliance on industrial agriculture and mass
The seasons of the year and the seasons of life were
well-known to earlier generations but they no longer shape our lives to the
same extent. Modern living provides many
advantages that we should be grateful for, but in losing our link to the
changing of the year we have also lost our sense of interconnectedness to each
other and the world around us. Yet the
autumn apple brings it all back to us. They
evoke particular memories along with something deeper, a more ethereal sense of
remembering. We may not be able to put
our finger on exactly what it is, but as we peel and chop and slice and mix, it
slowly comes into focus: the depths of existence, glimmers of what lies beneath
the surface appearances of life.
And when we have remembered what it is that we always knew,
we get to eat the fruits of this profoundly spiritual labour.
This week, then, let us learn what the autumn apples have to
teach us. Pick some up, whether from a
friend, road-side stall or your regular shop, then get curious about what the humble
fruit has to offer you…
Maybe experiment with meditating about your apple. If you uncertain about doing this ‘freestyle’
then there are some instructions about how to go about doing so here.
Whether you love baking or loathe it, how about cooking your
apple in some way? See what the
experience brings up for you in terms of memories or associations (it could be even more interesting if you don’t like baking).
Get out your journal and set a target (say twenty minutes or
three pages). Then put ‘apple’ at the
top of the page and start from there, simply writing whatever comes to
mind. It may begin as a list or
capturing a particular moment that comes to mind, but who knows where it will
go from there.
Children are not required but it would probably be fun for them too 🙂 There’s the hanging from string version or
head in water version (I was never a fan of the latter).
A random assortment of tinned food in a painted wheelbarrow
can only mean one thing: it’s harvest festival time. Like Proust’s Madeleines, for me harvest
festivals come laden with nostalgia.
Growing up I always loved these events: the dappled evening light on the
display of produce; the smell of bracken filling the room; counting the copper pennies
to see if I had enough to buy the can of crème caramel dessert in the sale of
goods afterwards (I’d have gone for the giant loaf of bread baked to look like
a wheatsheaf but my mum said it was only decorative, not to be eaten, so what
was the point of that?!).
Perhaps most evocative is the phrase ‘harvest-home’. As a child, it intrigued me. What did it
mean? And why did my eyes well up every
time I uttered it? I’d stand by my
grandmother singing non-conformist hymns about reaping and garnering and
bringing in the sheaves that I didn’t really understand but I liked the jaunty
and sometimes dramatic tunes (‘They shall rise up with wings…They shall rise up
with wings like ea…gles!’). Then there
would be a line such as ‘Raise the song of harvest-home’ and I’d unwittingly
respond: a chill down my spine, a flush to my cheeks, tears in my eyes. I could never figure out why.
Twenty-odd years later, I’m still not sure. According to the Oxford Dictionary,
‘harvest-home’ is ‘the gathering in of the final part of the year’s harvest’ or
‘a festival marking the end of the harvest period’. These definitions seem well and good, but
they don’t explain why the phrase evoked such a strong visceral reaction in me
– and continues to do so today.
The saying ‘harvest-home’ touches a deep part of me,
somewhere beyond logic and reasoning and rationale. It reaches down into a place of knowing, a
place where understanding isn’t about words and explanations but experience and
connection. It also reaches out, out
across time and space, through centuries and surpassing borders, giving me the
sense of gratitude and reassurance that surely touched all those workers who
over the centuries felt relief when the harvest was safely home for that year.
Harvest-home tells me there is enough, there is plenty,
there is abundance. Everything I need is
gathered and stored, available for me to access when I need to over the cold,
dark months ahead. I don’t have to keep
working for it or striving after it; whatever nurtures me is now home. I can rest.
There is enough.
This isn’t necessarily a religious message, although it
could be interpreted that way. For me, harvest
and its harvest-home culmination are not simply part of the natural cycle,
although that is important. Their symbolism
goes beyond what they literally mean, representing much wider metaphors about
life. From ripened hedgerows brimming
with berries to tinned food freely given to help those who need it most, collected
in a painted wheelbarrow, they speak to generosity and satiety and fulfilment. Harvest-home reminds me that there is enough.
In a world where we are endlessly encouraged to consume and
compare and continually crave more – always more – to recognise that there is
already enough is a radical move. And my
call for this week is to do just that: spend the time recognising where there
is enough in your life, both literally and metaphorically. From food in the fridge to petrol in the tank,
moments of connection with strangers to times of intimacy with those you love,
let’s sink into the enough-ness of our lives.
Let’s recognise when we have enough, then treasure it, celebrate it and
share it with one another.
See that gold zip in the
picture above? That’s fastens up my
wallet. I love my wallet. It’s navy leather and the inside has a purple
silk lining. Using it makes me
happy. Sometimes, on bad days when I
feel like I’m barely holding it together, getting out the wallet to make a
payment acts as a pick-me up. How can
life be that bad, I think, when I possess such a beautiful object?
Even more than that, the
wallet acts as a useful prompt – a visual reminder of how good, how confident,
how self-assured, I can feel. Sometimes
that prompt alone is enough to help shift my mood in a better direction. Looking at its beautiful lines, I tell myself
that the woman who owns such an item cannot possibly be a slatternly, uncouth,
slobbish, incompetent fool (a selection of the words that most regularly
feature in my negative self-talk hotlist).
The woman who went into a shop and selected that purse was calm,
content, knows her own mind (or at least her own taste) and able to make good
And if I could be that way on
the day I bought the wallet, I can be like that on other days too.
The wallet isn’t magical, but
it does feel like a talisman for me. It
has the power to change how I feel – or, perhaps more accurately, I have assigned
it with a level of meaning that can affect my mood. More important than what it says to the world
is what the wallet tells me about my identity, my desires, my aspirations – who
I am and how I want to be in the world.
Perhaps you are reading this
thinking I am potty, viewing an essentially practical item as some kind of
charm. Maybe you think that declaring
such strong attachment to any object as a sign of materialism, with all the
negative connotations that carries.
Or do you recognise what I’m
saying as being true for your relationship with a particular possession
too? Think about your most treasured
belongings. Are some of them important
to you because of the feelings they evoke about yourself?
The shoes you wore to an
interview that you absolutely nailed?
The dress that you had on when you finally told your ex-partner that you
would not tolerate their behaviour any longer?
The necklace you bought when you earned your first pay packet? The ‘proper’ cookware purchased to mark
setting up a home of your own?
This is not simply about
particular memories but visceral feelings.
I believe that we all own objects which have the ability to evoke strong
positive reactions, objects that can remind and reassure us of our own
strength, power and agency.
Let’s make greater use of
this! It’s not uncommon for people to
wear jewellery that they regard as talismanic but what about other items? Which of your personal possessions take you
to your best self, your wisest self, your most awesome self? And are you channelling that enough? Can you use them more often, wear them more
regularly, display them more prominently?
If you’re struggling with
this, think about anything you own that makes you smile whenever you see it or
use it – that could provide some clues as to your own amulet.
Alas the picture doesn’t do this morning’s sunrise justice!
Last spring, I fulfilled a life ambition and travelled to the island of Martha’s Vineyard in the US. Whilst there, my friend and I rose early to stand on the beach and watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. It was a profound experience for me; an enormous sense of gratitude for simply being there as well as awe at the beauty of it. It felt like a wonderful moment to be alive, witnessing the birth of a new day.
This morning, I glanced out of the kitchen window and the stripe of candyfloss blue and pink over the valley below made me catch my breath. As the rising sun began to burn away the winter mists, the scene became a streaky watercolour, a soft rainbow of grey, blue, pink, orange and white. It was like the new day whispered good morning, lazily stretching itself across the sky. No drama, no hurry, just easing into life. The quiet magic drew me in, enfolding me in its warmth. I stopped what I was doing and just looked. Eager to make the moment last as long as I could, I switched off the electric bulbs before continuing to unload the dishwasher and clear away the breakfast pots in the gentle aura of the emerging daylight.
I may never go back to Martha’s Vineyard, however much I hope to return. I may only ever see the sun rise or fall over the ocean a handful of times in my whole life. Yet the sun comes up and goes down wherever I am; it did so long before I came along and will continue to do so when all memory of me is gone. So why don’t I notice it in the ordinary places, only the extraordinary ones?
Why do we search for meaning and poignancy in special occasions and faraway places? Why not start where we are? Look up, look around, treasure the everyday miracle of our lives. Amazing riches are all about us, like secrets hidden in plain sight.
I invite you to join me, today and over the week ahead, in a special game of hide-and-seek. What secrets hidden in plain sight can you find in your life? What gems are before your very eyes, should you look for them? What do you see around you that you too often miss?
What are you searching for? Where can you find it? Where in your life might it already be hidden? If you would like some support and guidance in undertaking such a search, or if you’re struggling for answers to these questions, then get in touch about having a coaching session. Part of my mission in working with people to create lives of their own is about helping them to deepen a sense of meaning and connection in our everyday worlds.
My new training rate price is £35 per session (c$52 / c€46). If you book for a course of six sessions, the cost is £175 (c$262 / c€232); payment in installations is possible. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
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