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A Courageous Life: a funeral celebrant’s thoughts

How often do we use the word ‘courage’ to denote someone who acts bravely in the face of adversity? It’s certainly how most people understand the word and its tone of battle-like determination. Yet, when I reflect on what it means to live a courageous life, it is based on the original meaning. Courage comes from the Latin, Cor, meaning ‘from the heart’.


A courageous life is one whereby you tell your heart story without a flutter of doubt about your north star. It is a life based on inner values and the ability to speak your truth. The languages of trust, listening within, intuition and authenticity are ones few people would associate with courage, and yet, they are essential companions walking ‘hand and heart’ with the life of those who listen to their inner drummer.

 

 

The treadmill of life, which we are all hoisted onto at birth and ripped off at our expiration date – no matter how great and glorious the world has decided we are – has most people just trying to get by. At times, it feels like we have to run just to keep up, or else we’ll fall off. If you ended up being born into Western society, you’ll have been enculturated with beliefs about your worth stemmed firmly in external validation (it begins at birth with our measurements and weight!; and continues with grades, certificates and awards, for example), and status symbols of car, career, house, wealth, and so on. A Yang-based cultural soup encourages egocentricity. Now, it’s not that we shouldn’t aim or reach for such things if they’re meaningful to us. The question, however, must be asked: Does this desire mean something to me or am I trying to prove something to someone else? Parents, siblings, peers, friends, and so on? Honest reflection isn’t encouraged by those around us because, if it were and we were true to ourselves, we’d probably all make radically different choices. However, to our great detriment, almost everyone lives their life based on what other people will think.

 

 

If we truly made decisions based on what felt right to us, and on what made our heart move through this world with joy – and therefore lived our days without fear of censure, or the desperate need of applause – how might our life look? Would it even be recognisable? What if, we were simply true to our inner calling?

 

My work as a Heart-led Funeral Celebrant is based on listening intently to the stories I hear of other people’s lives, and then it is up to me to craft meaningful ceremonies and create stories from the snippets of information I’ve gleaned. Being immersed in a family’s grief has a profound impact on me. Deeply empathic, it’s as if I draw their pain right into my heart. The one thing that always stands out for me, though, is the simple truth: we can’t take ANYTHING with us when we’re booted off the treadmill. Except love. Read that again, if you need to. Love. Where does love emerge from? The heart.

A humanist, of course, doesn’t believe that love continues after death. I do, though.

 

 

So, if we really understood that everything is temporary, and that all the stress, madness, ambition, control and power are, frankly, pointless, would we live differently? How about greed, consumption, jealousy? Who are we without our titles, roles, and material possessions?

 

I met a gorgeous young lady recently, aged about 16, who was not only a truly lovely person, but she had a wonderful singing voice too. Afterwards, in conversation I said to Seanna about how blessed she was to have such a gift. I confessed that I mourned the lack of any such gift or talent. She replied “You do. You’re really good at reading people.” Her words stopped me in my tracks. She was right. I’d never really considered it before as a ‘gift’, only as a given. With radar-like vision, I see people because I look beyond the labels, badges, jobs, empires, wealth and all the other human-made plasters. I look into their heart, and perhaps even deeper than that.

 

 

Who are you?

How would you identify yourself if all these externals were taken away from you? I ask these questions not to be morbid or cruel or condescending, or even disrespectful of your life path and choices, but to encourage a deeper awareness of what creates a courageous life.

Who will miss you when you’re gone?

 

Why will they miss you?

 

It certainly won’t be because of your fancy clothes, expensive car or eye-watering mortgage, boob job or bikini wax. I doubt it’ll be because of your job title or manicured lawn or your business logo.

 

A life invested in mindful awareness of the sacred all around, and the offering of compassion, kindness and love, is one that not only contributes to our well-being, but it also leaves the world a better place.

 

Legacy isn’t about our constructions and empires and pursuits, it’s the feeling we leave in others when we’re gone. And this can only come from the heart.

Bespoke or bespoke? Celebrant or Registrar?

 

With the rise of celebrant-led wedding ceremonies in England, and registrars now offering ‘bespoke’ ceremonies, it’s important for couples to understand the difference between when a celebrant creates a bespoke ceremony and when a registrar offers a bespoke ceremony. Let me say at the outset, they are nothing alike, though you may think for the £850 or so that a registrar may charge you’ll be getting something special.

 

 

Penelope and Freddie’s Askham Hall Wedding Ceremony. Photography by Hannah Hall.

 

 

As a celebrant, I spend an average of 20 hours per wedding couple. This includes getting to know them (face to face or by Skype, depending on if they’re in the country or not), truly understanding their beliefs about life and love and marriage, learning their love story as well as their hopes and dreams for married life, writing their ceremony script, meeting them at the venue before the wedding day, the day of the ceremony, spending hours rehearsing their ceremony so that it flows freely and is ‘off the page’ during the officiating, and travel time. The 20 to 30 minute ceremony I officiate on the day, rests on the foundation of a lot of unseen work.

 

Fiona and Paul’s Dutch-themed wedding ceremony at the beautiful Askham Hall, near Penrith, Cumbria.

 

Bespoke, to me, means that not only do I get to know the couple and build a meaningful relationship with them, but I write a script that is just for them. I am hugely invested in their wedding day, and this shows by the amount of time I spend per couple. In my work, the heart of their ceremony features their love story. Any rituals created are meaningful to them and their beliefs; they’re not simply space fillers or ‘off the shelf’. And just as importantly, I match my energy to theirs.

 

The gorgeous moment when the bride walks down the aisle.

 

A registrar doesn’t write a bespoke ceremony for the couple. End of. They use a templated script which was written by a colleague in the office (someone who won’t even meet the couple), and although it allows for the addition of a handfasting, possibly a quaich or sand-blending ceremony (even though registrars aren’t given professional training about handfastings or other rituals), the ritual scripts are templates. The couple must provide their own cord, cup or sand. To be clear, a registrar is not a specialist in rituals.

 

The bride’s Scottish grandmother offered her silver quaich (Scottish loving cup) for their ceremony at Askham Hall. Photo: Veronika Robinson

 

With a government ‘bespoke’ template, the couple may write their own vows, and choose readings and music. However, these MUST be approved by the registrar (how bespoke is that?) and must not contain any religious or spiritual elements. Interesting, really, that a handfasting would even be allowed (ditto humanists offering it) given that it has ancient pagan roots and is deeply spiritual. Inconsistencies abound.

 

Today is the one-year anniversary of when I officiated Rene and Chantal’s ceremony in Outback Australia.

 

 

As an independent celebrant, bespoke to me means the ceremony I create is unique to the couple. If one of them is Catholic and the other Jewish, or maybe one is Pagan and one is atheist, then the ceremony will reflect their beliefs (not mine or that of a government employee). When two people come together, as one, their ceremony needs to accurately reflect this.

 

Rene and Chantal’s handfasting. Photo by Ben Broady.

 

A celebrant-led bespoke ceremony is not restricted by government guidelines. A registrar’s ‘bespoke’ ceremony is simply another template with space to pop in some vows written by the couple. There’s no crafting, beauty, care or true personalisation allowed. And there most certainly isn’t recognition or reflection that each human being has beliefs that are unique to them.

 

Michael and Victoria’s bohemian wedding

 

To be 100% clear, the registrar taking your ‘bespoke’ ceremony will not have written you a unique script. The words they say aren’t even ones they’ve written themselves. They are, essentially, ‘rent a gob’, to put it crudely. When a skilled celebrant crafts a script, it is done with awareness of pace, pitch and pause; not to mention beauty, flair and creativity. Their script will also accurately reflect their natural vocabulary and the words will flow easily.

 

Loz and Kate

My lovely couple, Loz and Katie, tied the knot by a waterfall in rural Yorkshire.

 

The registrar will not have spent hours and hours getting to know you. And they certainly won’t be available to wait around if there’s a delay to your ceremony start e.g. rain or bride held up or some other reason why things haven’t gone to plan. As a matter of course, I don’t book more than one wedding per day. My couples know, with complete certainty, that if there’s any hiccup that might cause a delay, that I am theirs for the day. A registrar, in most cases, has another ceremony to go to and won’t wait for long.

The use of the word ‘bespoke’ by the registration service is, at best, misleading, and at worst, demeaning. It shows a complete misunderstanding of what bespoke means, and short changes a couple of what could be a truly personalised ceremony.

 

Mike and Sara

Michael and Sara live in Australia. They chose Cumbria for their wedding ceremony. Such a special day!

Just You and I: the magical intimacy of eloping

Is ‘running off in secret’ something couples do to avoid dealing with complicated relations, permission, expensive commercialised wedding days and high-level stress or is the shrouding of the event in secrecy a form of magical intimacy? Culturally we’ve been somewhat conditioned to believe it’s rather anti-social behaviour, and often done in haste, but I would suggest reframing elopement. Perhaps honouring the delicious esoteric nature of lovers’ promises is a healthier way of viewing this less-traditional crossing the threshold?

 

Geoff, the handsome groom

 

When my dear friend Tanya confided that she and her beloved, Geoff, were eloping, I did a happy dance. YES! Actually, I was ecstatically happy! I’ve known Tanya a long time, and had the honour of officiating her son’s naming ceremony in Australia 20 years ago.

Carefully chosen items for the wedding altar

 

 

Why was I so delighted? You’d possibly think, as a wedding celebrant (and, obviously, as a friend), that I’d want to see the gathering of guests and all that a wedding ceremony traditionally entails. Without her giving me any explanation as to their decision, I fully understood why they were taking this path.

 

 

There are many reasons for choosing to elope, and while it’s more common for people entering their second or later marriage, even first timers can enjoy the intimacy which comes from ‘just the two of us’.

Tanya on the verandah of the beachside cottage they stayed in for their elopement

The benefits of eloping:

 

  1. The focus is entirely on yourselves. No expensive venue. No exorbitantly priced disco lights. No wedding invitations. No caterers. No £500 wedding shoes. No having to mediate between parents and in-laws’ ideas about what you should do or have.
  2. No extortionate wedding expenses. If you fancy going away, you can spend money on travel instead and have an amazing adventure.
  3. There’s no worry about who to place at what table for the reception, or the hell of divorced parents having to meet up.
  4. You don’t have to be concerned about who to invite.
  5. You don’t have to worry about stage fright and nerves.
  6. It is incredibly intimate and ever so romantic, and the whole day is about you (not anyone or anything else).

Traditionally a wedding is done before friends and family as witnesses, and the sharing of your joy is what helps to make it such a special occasion. In this day and age where weddings have become so commercialised, often costing couples anywhere between £10 000 and £50 000 (in Cumbria, at a registered venue), imagine what a couple could do with that money? Apart from a lovely destination elopement or honeymoon, it could provide a solid basis for creating a home. Or it could feed a few orphans. Or rescue animals. At the heart of any wonderful wedding is the ceremony. No amount of money in the world will make it extra special. The secret ingredient of a beautiful wedding ceremony is the undiluted love the couple share with each other. It’s not dependent on anything but looking into each other’s eyes as they declare their commitment.

 

They said I DO!

 

Elopement might just become the new norm as more couples recognise how many benefits there are to saying “I do” without an audience.

 

Your wedding day sets the tone ~ a template, if you like ~ for your married life. Whatever choices you make, it’s important that they feel right to you and aren’t based on keeping everyone else happy.

 

Tanya and Geoff on their wedding day. They eloped to Tasmania.

 

Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos with the world, Tanya and Geoff. Wishing you all the best for an amazing life together. You deserve it!

 

About Me:

Veronika Robinson is a wedding celebrant who has been officiating wedding ceremonies since 1995. She loves the intimacy that comes with ‘just the couple’.

 

If you’d love to have an obligation-free chat about eloping in Cumbria or are planning a destination wedding here with guests, contact her: www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

 

An Askham Hall Wedding: I Came Here for Love

“So many people have commented on how lovely it was, and how amazing you are. It was everything we hoped it would be and more.” ~ Fiona and Paul

 

When Paul and Fiona first made contact with me, we chatted about all the options available to them with a celebrant-led wedding. As Paul is Dutch (and so is Fiona’s mother), it was clear that their ceremony simply had to have their ancestry strongly entwined in their day.

 

Personally, I love heading off to Askham Hall to officiate a ceremony. It’s a delightful venue both in terms of the history of the buildings but also the gorgeous gardens.

 

It was my honour to create a ceremony that Paul and Fiona would cherish.

 

Have a look at this video preview of their day.

 

www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

 

 

 

Bohemian Wedding

This week I had the pleasure of officiating a ceremony for Michael and Victoria. They chose a bohemian-themed, personalised, celebrant-led wedding at Watermillock, Cumbria. Their ceremony included a communal ring blessing and a Celtic handfasting.

 

Thank you for choosing me as your celebrant, Michael and Victoria!

 

Here are a few images from this special day. xx

 

 

 

 

www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

 

 

Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training in Cumbria

Are you looking for something that’s more than a job? Perhaps in your heart you know you’re looking for a vocation.

 

Training to be a heart-led celebrant may be the course that will change your life.

 

As a celebrant, I always look forward to going to work whether it’s to officiate a joyous wedding ceremony, holding the space for a family and their friends while they grieve a loved one, celebrating the giving of a name (to a child or adult), or officiating other rites of passage such as a blessingway, menarche, and so on.

 

My ‘office’ is varied. One day I may officiate in a chapel, and another day it’s in a wildflower meadow. Some ceremonies are conducted in ancient stone circles, while others are held in barns. No two ceremonies are the same in location, wording or style.

 

If you’d like to learn more about training to be a celebrant, and obtaining a Certificate in Celebrancy, visit www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant-training

 

Feel free to get in touch for an obligation-free chat.  ~ Veronika Robinson xx

Winter Weddings in Cumbria

It might seem a little odd to blog about Winter Weddings just when I’m working on my Summer tan, but…

There’s a tendency to set wedding dates from Spring through to Autumn, but actually there are some really good reasons to choose a Winter wedding in Cumbria.

In no particular order:

A wedding is a time of joy, celebration and delight! Why not warm up Winter by choosing this time to say “I do”? Banish the grey gloom of Winter with one simple thing: a wedding date!

 

You can add a festive theme to your celebrations.

 

It’s beautiful and cosy indoors, and you can create a truly intimate setting for your special day with fairylights, open fires, and candlelight.

 

 

Being out of season, means you’ve got more chance of getting your first choice of venue, photographer, videographer, florist and CELEBRANT.

 

 

 

Think of all the lovely things about Winter: hot chocolate, woolly blankets, cosy lighting, comfort food. Incorporating these into your wedding day will make it a celebration like no other.

 

 

 

There are some absolutely FAB wedding venues in Cumbria, such as Askham Hall, the quirky ancient ruin Kirklinton Hall, and then there are places like any of those owned by Rowley Estates. And, best of all, if you choose a celebrant to create, write and officiate your wedding day, you can have it where you want, when you want, and how you want.

 

Celebrant Training: Creating Beautiful Ceremonies in your Community

In a few weeks from now, it will be the 22nd anniversary since I trained as a celebrant in beautiful New Zealand. I was in the early stages of pregnancy with my daughter, Beth, as I officiated my first wedding in a public garden in Auckland. I remember ceremonies from back then as clearly as I remember the wedding I officiated yesterday here in Cumbria.

 

 

Being a celebrant is a deeply rewarding vocation, and I would like to share that with others. This September shall see the first intake of students at Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training.
This is a comprehensive and in-depth practical training course in creative, heart-led, authentic celebrancy. You will learn to create, write and officiate all types of ceremonies with confidence.

 

If you’d love to learn more, keep reading! Love, Veronika xx

 

16th and 17th September, 2017
Glassonby, near Penrith, Cumbria

7.30am to 8.30pm both days

Places strictly limited.

Applicants
Applications are invited from people who are committed to developing awareness of self and others, willing to train to an excellent level, are creative, independent, inspirational, authentic and courageous, and wish to consciously create beautiful ceremonies in their community.
Unlike any other training course in England, this focuses on the importance of personal development, and takes a mind, body and soul approach to celebrancy and ceremonies, as well as recognising the importance of ongoing skill building.

 

The foundation of this celebrant training is based on integrity and self-awareness.

 

 

Facilitators
Veronika Robinson is a professionally trained and experienced full-time celebrant. She trained in New Zealand in 1995, where she was registered to officiate legal wedding ceremonies, and has been officiating ceremonies ever since. Veronika has had the privilege of officiating in New Zealand, Australia and England.

 

 

 

Veronika has officiated all manner of ceremonies, including weddings, handfastings, blessingways, namings, divorce healing, miscarriage memorial, conscious conception, funerals, memorials, Wise Crone, menarche, and house warmings.

 

 

She’s also an author (fiction and non-fiction), journalist, public speaker, workshop leader, psychological astrologer, and metaphysician. Veronika is delighted to be a celebrant for Gift of a Wedding, a charity which provides weddings for couples where one of them is terminally ill.

 

She is the founder and facilitator of Penrith’s first Death Café, A Meaningful Farewell, which seeks to open up honest discussion around death and dying.

 

Veronika is also a committee member for the Association of Independent Celebrants.

 

 

 

Paul Robinson has enjoyed a rich career as an actor, broadcaster, compere, voice over, ventriloquist, voice coach, singer and celebrant. He’s deeply passionate about self-development, and utilises the Enneagram of Personality Types as a path of personal growth. http://paulrobinsonproductions.co.uk/

 

Together, they combine skills to offer a one-of-a-kind training in heart-led, authentic celebrancy.

 

Celebrant Training fee
£650 (20% [£130] non-refundable deposit required upon booking). Balance due no later than August 16th. (You will easily recoup the cost of your course after officiating two or three ceremonies.)

This fee includes:
[] Two-day intensive and practical tuition on all aspects of celebrancy: 7.30am to 8.30pm both days
[] A copy of the book Heart-led Ceremonies (the art and soulful practice of creating, writing and officiating ceremonies) by Veronika and Paul Robinson. This complete guide to celebrancy is available exclusively through this training course.
[] Nourishing wholefood plant-based meals and refreshments (breakfast through to dinner, both days)
[] Two follow-up Skype sessions (or face to face in Cumbria)
[] Certificate (upon written completion of three ceremonies and presentations, and active participation in the training course)
[] Upon satisfactory completion of the course, participants are eligible to join the Association Of Independent Celebrants, and immediately receive professional and indemnity insurance for celebrancy work worldwide.
[] Extensive list of readings for all types of ceremonies
[] Extensive list of music for all types of ceremonies

 

This comprehensive course is set over a two-day weekend, and includes:
Learning to create and define space, both indoors and outdoors
What it means to ‘hold the space’
Setting intention
Understanding symbols and rituals
Crafting personalised ceremonies
Ceremonies: Blessingways, namings, weddings, funerals, memorials, housewarmings, etc.
Word Medicine
Voice work
Presentation
Body awareness
Skills of a celebrant
Qualities of a celebrant
Emotional quotient
The metaphysics of marketing yourself as a celebrant
Sacred connections: your ideal client
Care of the celebrant
The creative celebrant
The intuitive celebrant

Please note this is an interactive weekend, and all participants will be required to take part in role play, voice development, presentation, and video work.

Training Venue
We are pleased to host Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training at Glassonby Old Hall, Glassonby, near Penrith, Cumbria CA10 1DU

This five-star luxury venue is a Grade II listed traditional Cumbrian long house. It has original features including old ship-timber oak beams, oak-mullion windows, flagged stone floors, open fires and stone staircases.

Glassonby Old Hall is on one of the higher hills in the Eden Valley with amazing views towards the Pennines.

Glassonby Hall has a galleried dining room with a massive stone fireplace, a sitting room with wood-burning cast-iron stove and a large breakfasting kitchen with four-oven Aga.

 

Local accommodation options:

Bed & Breakfast
www.scalehousefarm.com (3 miles from Glassonby)

Caravans, tents, camping, bunk barns
(1 mile from Glassonby) http://www.edenvalleycaravansite.co.uk

Glassonby Old Hall (why not stay on site?)

[] a four poster Master Bedroom suite
[] a twin bedroom
[] third double bedroom with a 5′ bed.

If you’re happy to share a bedroom, or share a bed with a partner or friend to share the cost, this can be arranged. Contact Veronika directly for prices, and to book (a 20% deposit required, and balance due no later than July 20th)

 

Celebrant Training Booking Form
If you wish to receive a booking form for the Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training, please email:
veronikarobinson AT Hotmail DOT com (make sure you spell veronika with a k and not a c)

Tying the Knot: Handfastings in Cumbria

Have you ever wondered where the expression “to tie the knot” comes from? It has its origins in the ancient Celtic ritual of handfasting.

“Marian and Dave’s handfasting in Cumbria”

 

 

As an independent celebrant, more and more of my clients wish to include handfasting as part of their ceremony rituals. It’s a beautiful yet simple symbolism and is as old as the first couple who ever ‘tied the knot’, and as recent as the one I’m officiating. It symbolises marriage vows, and can be done instead of, or as well as, the exchange of wedding rings.

 

 

“My celebrant basket with handfasting cord, candles, bells, Celtic love knot, feathers, moss, water, ceremony script”

 

 

Handfasting represents the commitment of an intimate partnership.
From Old Norse: hand-festa, which means to strike a bargain by joining hands. The notion of a handshake comes from the old tradition of hand fasting; and even today, let’s shake on it, can represent a vow of sorts.

When I bind a couple’s hands together, I remind them their lives and spirits are held by the symbol of a knot.

 

 

They may choose to make the cord themselves, or with the help of family and friends, or if they prefer, I can make it for them from their favourite colours or in colours to match the theme of the wedding. Because the cord is as unique as the couple it can be made from pretty much anything. It can be from the most luxurious of ribbons or from farmer’s baling twine. Whatever it’s made from, it is the intent that’s important. Regardless of what it’s made from, it contains all the hopes and wishes of the friends and family who have gathered to witness the marriage.

 

“Sara and Michael tying the knot”

 

Some couples choose to have the knot in place just for the ceremony, while others like to keep the knot in the cord permanently and simply slip their hands out of it near the end of the ceremony.

 

“Officiating Dave and Marian’s beautiful wedding ceremony in a meadow by a babbling brook” #Cumbrianweddings

 

Either way, I finish with the words: “May this knot remain tied for as long as love shall last.”
Some couples like to have this traditional handfasting prayer included in their ceremony. It’s called The Hands of the Couple.

“Above you are stars, and below you is earth. Like stars, your love should be a constant source of light, and like the earth, a firm foundation from which to grow.

May these hands be blessed this day.
May this cord draw your hands together in love, never to be used in anger.

May the vows you have spoken never grow bitter in your mouths.

May they build a relationship founded in love, and rich in caring. May these hands be healer, protector, shelter, and guide for each other”.

Veronika Robinson is an independent celebrant who is available to officiate wedding ceremonies throughout Cumbria. She adores watching couples come together before friends and family to declare their love, and has been officiating ceremonies since 1995. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant 

 

“Michael and Sara flew from Australia to Cumbria for their destination wedding which I had the honour of officiating.”

The Life You Want

One of the questions that has been dominant in my mind for a few years has been: “What am I really good at?” Yeah, sure, there are plenty of things I’m good at, but what I really mean is: “What do I excel at?” I’m a classic ‘Jill of All Trades’, and have lots of skills at my disposal, but do I actually have any God-given gifts?

 

bench

The thing about having various skills is that it doesn’t allow one to master a particular skill when we’re being all “butterfly” about it, skipping here and there to enjoy the next passion. I even toyed (ever so briefly!) with the idea of going to university so I could become an expert in a particular area.

 

walking

 

And then something happened: something that changed my perception. It was mid December last year, and as much as I’m not a fan of the British Winter, I do look forward to Christmas. I genuinely love it (my family’s version, not the commercialised one) and was savouring the sweet and gentle crescendo of having my younger daughter come home from uni, and then the three of us travelling to our other daughter and her partner, and scrumptiously gorgeous granddaughter, for some more family time.

 

christmas

 

I had an overwhelming ‘push’ to go and visit my dear friend. She’d been struggling for a long time with life, love and loss, and was the Queen of “Putting up the Drawbridge” (her words). I tried ignoring the voice telling me to visit her, thinking that if she wanted to be in touch she’d reply to one of my emails or visit or pick up the phone. We’d been friends for 18 years, and she knew that our door was always open to her, day or night, no matter what.

I followed my intuition (rather than ego), and turned up at her door unannounced. It took her a long time to answer. When she finally did, I didn’t recognise her. I cried. Had we passed on the street, I wouldn’t have known it was her. That she was standing in her doorway, was my only clue that it was with her. She was skin and bone, and her skin was shrivelled to that of someone twice her age. Hunched, with more than 50% of her vision gone, I knew there was a LOT of work to do to try and repair her health.

She was ashamed that she’d gotten to that state, and didn’t want to let me in the door. Well, I was hardly going to leave! Damn that bloody drawbridge! Her house reflected her inner and physical state. For someone who dearly loved their home, it was quite shocking to witness.

I spent a few hours with her, and promised I’d return. I then spent a whole day with her: cleaning her house, washing her hair, giving her a little foot massage, and just chit chatting all day long about this and that. The big stuff. The little stuff. I had made a couple of big pots of soup to put in her freezer so she could just take a portion out each day and heat it up. I knew my efforts were a drop in the ocean, but I’m also an optimist and truly believed that with time and love we could get her back on her feet. If I could help her get strongly physically, then we had a better chance of shifting the emotional and mental health. I begged her to come and live with us, but she wanted to stay in her own home.

Despite the grim situation, we even managed to laugh several times. It was a joy to see the light flicker in her eyes. All was not lost! We hugged for the longest time, heart to heart; and we both sobbed. We had eighteen years of friendship under our belt, and knew each other’s deepest secrets.

As I was leaving, I asked: “What can I do for you?” She replied: “Take me to the vet!”

The truth is that had any compassionate person seen an animal in that condition, they would have taken them to be ‘put to sleep’. Pain and misery is uncomfortable to witness if you have any level of empathy.

 

soup

I drove away with a heavy heart, and the light bulb went flashing on! “Veronika, you are really good at looking after yourself!”

Hell, yeah!

I suppose because I take my level of self-care and nurturing for granted ~ because it is so ingrained in what I do and who I am ~ I had never fully recognised it as one of my greatest gifts (even though, ironically, my friend had mentioned it many times over the years). Between her home and mine, another book was gestating inside me. The seed was planted. I would dedicate it to her, and she could use it as a workbook on self-love. The way my friend and I were mothered in childhood was completely different. My mum was the ultimate role model in self care!

 

IMG_20160703_122641_resized

That friend, who had shared many Christmases with us over the years, and joined in family meals, and talked on the phone with me for hours, and went to the movies with me, and helped me plant an orchard, is never going to read that book.

She chose to leave this earthly world at Christmas. Her pain has ended, but I feel mine has only just begun as I try and ‘process’ everything about her life, my life, our differences, and my eternal optimism that the second half of her life could be so much better than the first fifty years, and that she could have joy, pleasure and meet a true soul mate who could be fully there for her. She is never going to walk through my front door again, or sit in the garden with me sipping tea. We’ll never discuss books or philosophy again. Certainly no more shared walks through the woods when the bluebells are in flower. There are no more hugs to be shared.

My grief is raw, deep, harrowing. I can only hope that I emerge as the Wounded Healer, and do for others what I couldn’t do for my dear friend: help them love themselves so much that they thrive in this world. That they recognise that self-love is priceless, and the fuller we are with a high-level of nurture, the more we can give to the world around us.

 

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Last weekend, I posted some pictures on Instagram of what I’d been doing. I’d gone for a run in the lovely countryside around my village. There was a pear and vanilla gluten-free vegan cake on the bench that I’d baked. Snuggled on the sofa by the woodstove, I immersed myself in a fabulous book. When the Sun beckoned me outside, I did my first spot of gardening for the year. I was in a state of joy and peace.

I started receiving messages from people saying things along the lines of: I want your life.

I guess what they were witnessing through my photos was a sense of contentment. And that is (grief aside!), how I feel about my blessed life. I’ve had more than my share of ups and downs over the years, but through it all I have always honoured my fundamental need for pleasure (and every human is born with that need).

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My senses are nourished on an hour-by-hour basis, through beauty, integrity and simplicity: love, flowers, wholesome food, my husband’s gorgeous coffee, music, friendship, water, solitude, lovemaking, nature, hot showers, essential oils, touch, laughter, and so the list goes on. It never occurs to me to deny myself the joy of pleasant scents in my home, or to not take advantage of gorgeous rays of sunshine. Whenever I can, I make time to meet with friends for a cuppa or a walk. I exercise most days of the week, whether that’s walking, running, gym or aquafit. Meals are made from scratch, and with love. I cherish the hours I spend with Mr Sweetheart. The key to my lovely life is that I don’t assume I’m going to be here in a year, though I most definitely plan ahead! I adore my diary!

My joy for life comes from today: here. Right now. And with that, is always the intuitive pull towards what I enjoy. Rainbows on my walls from the sunshine going through the window crystal. Yep. Fresh fruit in various hand-carved wooden or glass bowls. Yep. Flowers here, there, and everywhere. Yep. Beautiful music in the background. Yep. Jasmine essential oil infusing the air. Yep. Woodstove on. Yep. Cuddle with my darling. All day long! Company. Yep. Solitude. Yep. Reading. Yep. Walking. Yep. Time for a run? Yep. An urge to be creative? Yep. Doing work I love. Yep.

 

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Creating the life you want is about listening, and saying yes. It’s what I call the Sacred Yes.

There are times when I’m faced with something I don’t enjoy, like annual accounts or washing the mud off my car because it’s always getting filthy with living rurally. And grief isn’t one of my favourite things, either. But when I’m faced with such things, big or small, I find cushions to bring me comfort. I can do the BORING accounts with coffee in my favourite mug, and a candle burning. I can rest my eyes on beautiful flowers in between inputting figures into a database. Music can soothe my soul while the maths part of my brain is being tortured.

 

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When washing the car, I tell myself I’m getting strong leg muscles each time I squat! I fill the bucket with warm water and a hint of lemongrass oil (for my pleasure, not the car’s!). I let the piano music CD nourish me while I rub that pesky mud off.

And as for grief: if it flows through me, it helps. I give myself permission to hibernate and just be with the tears. I allow myself to snuggle into bed that bit longer, or allow the shower to get that bit hotter so I’m warmed down to my bones. The dawn chorus makes my heart lighter, so I listen for as long as I can before the rest of the day beckons.

Creating a beautiful life doesn’t grant you immunity from the shitty times, but it does offer you the grace to humbly see just how much there is in life to be truly grateful for. Even the hurt offers up beauty, if only we can see it.

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We are humans incarnated on this Earth to experience BEING HUMAN. We have this idea that we do all our growing through pain, but I don’t believe it has to be that way. Why can’t we grow through joy? Love? Passion? Contentment? Satisfaction?

I start and end each day with the affirmation: I am so grateful for my beautiful life. I repeat it in my mind throughout the day, too, whenever I’m not having to think about anything else.

Gratitude is life changing.

My guiding purpose in life, and for the rest of my days (and maybe years, if I’m around that long), is to create as much pleasure, love and beauty as is humanly possible. Like the flowers that grow in my garden, I want to hold my head to the sunshine and sigh with nothing but bliss. To melt into the warmth and light. That’s the life I want. That’s the life I have.

 

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