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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?

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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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A consequence of getting older (50 is on my horizon in just over a year) is an ever-growing, deeper appreciation for this amazing thing called life. I suppose, in my youth, it was something I simply took for granted. After all, I was going to live for a very long time. Often reckless, I bumbled along always ready for the next crazy adventure.

 

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When my dad died four years ago, his life cruelly snatched in a car accident one rainy morning in Australia, I faced mortality in a way that impacted me more than any other person’s death ever had. Hell, if my dad—superman—could die, then what hope was there for the rest of us? My dad, who’d survived third-degree burns in a fire in Papua New Guinea, malaria, pneumonia, cancer (twice), triple-bypass surgery, was gone. Just like that.

 

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In life, I was all too aware of how different we were. I hadn’t realised, until his death, the things we’d had in common: workaholic and ambitious. His death was my turning point, and for that I am so grateful. No longer was it acceptable to work seven days a week. Seriously, what was the point? The only thing we take with us when we die is love. And so death taught me to slow down. Really slow down. I no longer put pressure on myself. I haven’t gone from Type A personality to lazy ass, but I have slipped into a way of living that rests on one thing: pleasure. Does it make me happy? Does it honour me and my loved ones?

Interestingly, today’s super Full Moon is in the sign of abundant, money-loving, security-conscious Taurus. When I held my dad’s hand in his open casket, thanking him for all the hard work he’d done so we could have an abundant childhood on our property in rural Australia, my overriding feeling was: what was the point?

 

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He had worked so hard. He’d earnt a lot of money (and lost it, too) in his life. He worked overseas for months at a time. All that work. All that money. None of it was with him anymore. That moment solidified for me the true meaning of wealth: it’s in the minutiae of daily life, and the joy we allow ourselves to feel. It’s never about money in the bank (or under the bed). It’s the wells of gratitude we feel for this amazing life, and the passions we explore. I actually don’t know how long it would have taken me to figure that out had I not experienced my father’s death or witnessed his dead body.

 

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I don’t measure my wealth by my bank statements, but by the feeling I have when I wake up in the morning (glad to be alive, and looking forward to the day ahead), and the sense of satisfaction that tingles through every cell of my body when I crawl into my cosy bed at night.

This Christmas will be the first time, as a family, that we will have one daughter at home instead of two. It was just yesterday, though, I’m sure, when I decorated the tree with all the baby booties knitted for the impending birth of my first-born child; and how my loving husband would massage my pregnant belly beneath the lights of the tree. And now, that daughter will be having a Christmas tree with her first-born daughter. She will be starting her own family traditions. Oh how swiftly life travels by!

 

Each day, I find myself wanting to slow everything down just that bit more. I bought baby clothes for our little granddaughter, Sarah, yesterday…always thinking ahead to what she’ll need. At 11 weeks old, and blessing our lives in such beautiful ways, I find myself looking at clothes for 6 month olds, and even a year old. And yet, as fun as it will be to watch her become more fully who she is, I want to treasure these moments of babyness forever, and to breathe in the delicious scent of her skin. But life doesn’t work like that, does it? And each day she spends getting older, is one more day closer to my mother (now aged 77, living in Tasmania, Australia) getting closer to her transition. I’ve not seen my mother for eleven years now, and each day I am conscious that I want to see her again, and wrap my arms around her tightly. I don’t want to find myself in Tassie at her funeral without having had more time with her.

 

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Death. It makes you want more of life. Makes you greedy for all the love, joy, pleasure, fun and happiness. Life is so precious. Grab it with both hands. Enjoy that cappuccino, laze in bed that little bit longer on a Sunday morning, slow kiss your lover,  throw out your scales, snuggle up by the fire with a good book, take luxurious walks in Nature, kiss your kids even when you’re busy, make time to chat with friends, be extra loving to your partner, create meals you love to eat. These are the things which make life rich and beautiful. These are credit in the bank of life.

 

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“This is what happens around the world;
if you love, you grieve, and there are no exceptions.”

Funerals. They’re not something people like to think about, let alone talk about. They conjure up images from the movies of families huddled together by the graveside on a dark, grey, rainy day, sheltering under black umbrellas, as their loved one is laid to rest.

 

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Or maybe your own experience of attending a funeral immediately comes to the surface of your consciousness. Saying goodbye to someone who held a special place in our heart isn’t something we would willingly choose. The greater the love, the greater the loss. Grief hurts.

 

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If you’ve been involved in organising a funeral, you’ll probably have had a sense of the factory-farm nature of getting one lot of mourners into and out of a crematorium before the next lot of mourners arrive. There’s no time to be still. No time to let go. No real sense of having time and space to process what should be a meaningful and heart-felt ceremony. The same is often experienced in church services, too. You have an allotted time in which to be in and out. Does it have to be this way? No. Not at all. There are alternatives.

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What can you do if you’re responsible for, or part of a family that is, organising a ceremony? Firstly, consider all the aspects of what it means to create a meaningful funeral.

 

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The first step might well be to think outside the box. Do you have to use the church? Do you have to use the crematorium? I’m not saying or suggesting either of these venues is wrong, but do bear in mind that you will be placing yourself and other mourners under a severe time restriction. Regardless of your venue choice, you can still incorporate meaningful beliefs, whether they’re religious or otherwise.

 

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For any ceremony, creating a sense of sacred space immediately brings the human spirit to awareness. We see and feel that something out of the ordinary from daily life is about to happen. Whether you’re acting in the capacity of a celebrant or as a loving family member, there is so much you can do to set up a ceremonial space. Firstly, consider the venue. What was important in the deceased’s life? Were they a member of a sporting group? For example, could you hire a yacht club, or football club or village pub? Maybe they were a keen gardener or potter? Is there a garden or pottery place where you could hold the ceremony, and possibly the reception? Maybe you’ll opt for a graveside burial, and then have a longer ceremony in their favourite café (outside business hours). What about your local village hall?

Maybe your loved one was passionate about the sea? Could your ceremony be on a quiet beach?

 

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Perhaps there’s an old barn that could be used for the ceremony?

There are actually so many possible options for funeral venues that when you start thinking about them, you’ll wonder why people tend to go down the two routes of church/cemetery or crem. You will need permission, of course, from the land/building/venue owner. Legally, your only requirement for the ceremony is that the deceased’s body is covered. You do not need a coffin. You can use a shroud.

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The key for a mindful and meaningful ceremony is to choose a place where you will not feel rushed.

When considering how to set up the ceremonial space, think about all the human senses:

Sight: What decorations might you use? Flowers, plants, leaves, candles, lanterns. If you’re in Nature, let that be your décor.

 

Sound: Music, Nature (such as the wind or a babbling brook), bells, chimes, singing.

Taste: Maybe your loved one had a favourite drink? Could a small drinking vessel, such as a goblet, be passed around for everyone to share? (with a cloth napkin to wipe the rim after each person). Or you could use spring water…the foundation of all life. Maybe a small biscuit or chocolate could be part of the ceremony, as a way of honouring the sweetness of the deceased’s life?

Touch: Soft cloth for the altar, or a little memento for each person.

Smell: incense, essential oils, fresh air, scented flowers, or a sprig of rosemary on each seat for ‘remembrance’ which could then be placed on the shroud or coffin just before the committal.

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To enhance your sacred space, consider how you might define the area. Perhaps near the altar (a small table with a photo, candle, flowers, and anything symbolic of meaning to the deceased), you could make a circle on the ground/floor using: leaves, berries, rosehips, acorns, pinecones, flowers, or things that might have held meaning, such as marine ropes, bailing twine, paintbrushes, Matchbox cars, dolls, etc.

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Why not create a candlelit labyrinth using jam jars with a tealight in each one, inside a brown paper bag filled with sand. This is particularly beautiful if you’re having an evening ceremony. The coffin could be in the centre of the labyrinth, with each mourner taking the time to walk into the centre to say goodbye, and slowly going back out into the world as a different person. You can download a Classical Labyrinth pattern here: https://labyrinthsociety.org/make-a-labyrinth

Perhaps you could create a memory jar. Using a large glass jar, invite each mourner to write on a piece of card their favourite memory of the deceased.

Maybe you could decorate the space with Prayer flags/Love flags with colourful images or words relating to the deceased and their life.

Each mourner could cut out hands (drawing their hands onto cardboard, and then cutting them out) to put with coffin, and writing their names on saying ‘we are with you’.

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What about wooden or paper heart confetti to sprinkle over coffin or shroud?

Print cards with the words “I’ll always remember when…” and leave a pen/pencil for each guest to add their memory.

Consider a Lantern Ceremony (glass jam jars with thin wire and tea light)…glass paints or coloured tissue paper glued on the outside. Mourners could gather in a circle around the coffin/shrouded body, and create a circle of love throughout the ceremony. You can just imagine, I am sure, how powerful such a circle would feel.

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Use the deceased’s favourite colours as a theme.

Why not have a long piece of white wallpaper, and leave crayons or felt pens for mourners to create a timeline of the deceased’s life: they write down when and where they met.

This isn’t necessary, but you might find it inspiring: Consider ‘funeral favours’ for the mourners.

On each mourner’s seat, leave a bookmark of the deceased, plus their favourite quote.

Wildflower seeds. You can print your loved one’s name, dates of birth and death, and words of choice such as ‘forget me not’.
http://www.growamemory.co.uk/Wildflower-Seed-Packet-Memorial-Gifts/

 

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Flower bulbs. Give each mourner a bulb or bulbs to plant in memory of your loved one.

What about leaving a copy of your loved one’s favourite recipe printed out?

Depending on the location of your ceremony, you might consider a dove release, butterfly release or eco-friendly balloon release.

 

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In the midst of your grief, allow yourself to channel the adrenalin into creative choices.

By choosing an independent celebrant, you are taking a huge step towards gifting your loved one with a life-centred funeral. This is your final gift to them.

“When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” ~ Anon

Veronika Robinson is an Independent Funeral Celebrant who is available to officiate life-centred ceremonies throughout Cumbria.
www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

At the top end of Penrith’s cemetery, up on the hill overlooking town, there is a quiet oasis: a little haven away from the busyness of town. It’s the Woodland Burial Site.

 

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Woodland Burial Site, Penrith, Cumbria

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A peaceful haven: Woodland Burial Site

 

It’s fair to say that most people don’t think about how they will honour their loved ones or themselves after death in terms of funeral choices and disposal of the body.

 

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Increasingly, however, as people become more aware of the huge impact the funeral industry has on the planet, some are taking active steps towards honouring Mother Earth by choosing a low-impact burial. What does this mean?

 

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Penrith’s woodland burial site

 

It is about burying a body that hasn’t been filled with formaldehyde (which is used to preserve the body so a funeral can be delayed for a week or longer). Some people recognise that an eco burial also means thinking about the coffin. In some instances, families will choose not to use a coffin, though there a many eco ones on the market, and use, instead, something like a shroud. The only legal requirement is that the body not be seen. It is not a legal requirement to use a coffin.

 

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wildflowers on the woodland burial site

 

A woodland burial site doesn’t use headstones, but instead is a natural and holistic way of honouring death by allowing nature to grow unimpeded. Personally, I find it beautiful, simple and inspiring.

 

 

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A beautiful place

 

Oftentimes, people who have chosen the option of an eco burial will also practise home care: this is where the loved ones take care of the body, by keeping it cool with dry ice, and brushing the hair, cleaning the body, and keeping a vigil until the ceremony. Most people are unaware that using a funeral home is an option, not a necessity.

 

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Secluded and peaceful: Penrith’s Woodland Burial Site

 

 

We’re blessed in the Eden Valley to have such a wonderful resource as this woodland burial site, and I hope in time that it becomes the norm to bury our loved ones in this way (or on private land) as people move away from environmentally unfriendly cremations, headstones, and cemeteries that require constant upkeep through mowing and toxic weed killers.

 

Veronika Robinson is a funeral celebrant who is available to officiate ceremonies throughout Cumbria. Her work involves creating, writing and officiating ceremonies based on the wishes of her clients, and founded on their beliefs, whether they’re religious, humanist, spiritual or other. She is happy to work directly with families or via a funeral director. She is passionate about eco-burials, and opening up the conversation around death and dying in a conscious way. She is a supporter of the Natural Death Centre. https://www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant/funerals-memorials.shtml

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Penrith’s woodland burial site

 

There’s a simple question that I ask myself every time I head off to officiate a ceremony: how will the guests choose to be involved? Will they watch and witness with respect and love, sitting in silence and reverence, or will they chatter amongst themselves as if just watching a TV show?

A ceremony—whether it’s a funeral, naming, wedding or other rite of passage—is a small moment in time (anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes) in which we have permission to slow down, to step away from bustle of daily life; and we can choose to honour the art of ritual when we’re invited into that sacred space ~ or, we can act as if it’s just another mundane event.

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Four-element altar for Sara and Michael’s Wedding. Amethyst, candle, feather, and water infused under the Full Moon. Celtic cross, and handfasting ribbon. The rings were on a twig of rosemary for remembrance. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

 

In an ideal world, and it’s certainly something I try to do in my daily life, we would see each day (and each moment) as sacrosanct, and be mindful of how we experience time and space and symbolism. But this world isn’t ideal. We, as a culture, have been corrupted by devices that remove us from our true nature. We often watch two screens at once: phone and TV. Have you ever gone to lunch with a friend and they spend their whole time looking at their phone? This is the world we’ve created, but it doesn’t have to be this way. These are choices we make. We can learn to be still. We can learn to listen, and learn to be present.

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Without question, my favourite wedding ceremony in 21 years. What a truly gorgeous couple. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

 

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Beautiful flower girl at Sara and Michael’s wedding ceremony www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

As adults, we are role models teaching children how to be witnesses or participants in sacred ceremonies.

As a celebrant, children are always welcome at my ceremonies. I don’t have expectations of them sitting still for long, but I do always hope that parents will be mindful of how they and their children may impact on a ceremony. So, some simple tips for being a mindful guest at a ceremony:

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I present to you Mrs Sara Pearson. What a beautiful wedding! (if I do say so myself) www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

1. Arrive on time! If you are late, do not walk into the ceremonial space. Stay outside or at the side.

2. Understand that this is a sacred space, and just because you may not be in a church or chapel with a priest, it doesn’t mean talking should continue after the ceremony has started. This is particularly true during moments of ritual, such as candle lighting or exchange of vows or tying the handfasting cord. Honour what is happening by being a conscious witness to the rituals, symbols and word medicine. Know that for this person/couple/family, they will never get this moment back again.

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3. Be particularly mindful of young children, and how they may end up becoming centre stage and taking the focus away from the person/family for whom the ceremony is happening. Ensure their needs are met (for food/drink/comfort/amusement/toilet) before the ceremony starts. 4. Ensure your phone/pager is off or down. Don’t assume it’s okay to take photos during the ceremony. Flash lights, the click of a camera, etc., are not conducive to sacred space. 5. Go to the toilet before the ceremony starts. Allow yourself to be truly present. Let your heart really feel into the moment, and give and receive love with those around you, and those who you are witnessing.

 

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Such an honour to officiate Sibella’s naming ceremony. What a wonderful family. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

 

 

Ceremonies are beautiful and powerful rites of passage. They are made even more sacred when guests are there as mindful witnesses, whether they are giving a reading, singing a song, or simply witnessing through their quiet, respectful presence. It’s a role, though silent, that shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

Veronika Robinson is a celebrant who officiates weddings and Celtic handfastings, funerals, namings, housewarmings, blessingways, and other rites of passage, such as New to the Moon (menarche) and Creative Crone (menopause). She has had the honour of officiating ceremonies since 1995. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant She is available throughout Cumbria, north Lancashire and Yorkshire, and Southern Scotland (to within 100 miles of Penrith).

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A little bit of love that I left on my husband’s wood-chopping block.

It’s late at night, my feet are bare on the cool terracotta kitchen tiles, as my husband and I chat happily about various things. Debussy fills the air, lending a gentle tone to the evening. Leek and potato soup simmers on the stovetop. I’ll freeze batches of it for my daughter’s school lunches later. I wash the evening’s dishes, and pop the vegetable and fruit scraps of the day outside to the compost heap. I take a moment to enjoy the birdsong and twilight breeze before heading back to the kitchen to join my husband. He is tending to some jobs, and the scene of domestic bliss is one that makes my heart sing. It might bore the pants off some people, but I don’t care. For me, moments like this are amongst my favourite.

 

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My daughters would laugh if they could have seen me in the late 1980s, what with my killer high-heel shoes (what was I thinking?) and padded jackets. Don’t even start me on the permed hair. Ouch! Feminism was my middle name. I was all about career plans, and the rights of women. Power to the girl, and all that. Hello, I read Cosmo and Cleo magazines. But even then, I think I had a hunch that feminism was about so much more than equal pay!

I learnt about feminism at my mother’s feet, even though she was a stay-at-home mum for all her parenting years rather than a career chick. She was strong, feisty, followed her heart, and wasn’t bound by anyone’s rules. From her, I learnt that women could do anything. From my father, I learnt that it was important to believe in yourself. Pretty good grounding for life, really.

 

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Maybe, though, feminism was about learning to find my voice, too. Perhaps it was standing on my own two feet and not being treated shabbily. I didn’t have the impact of Germaine Greer, but in my own small way I created change that to this day has gone on to help others. In my early twenties, I was sacked from my job as a phlebotomist (the person who takes your blood [and gentlemen, your semen!]) in my local hospital. Why? What had I done wrong? My crime was daring to put in a formal complaint against my boss for sexually harassing me. He thought it was his God-given right to grope me and make lewd comments from 9 to 5. The general manager was sympathetic, but in the end said his hands were tied. It was easier to hire a new lab assistant than to hire a new scientist. Can you feel your inner feminist rising? Mine sure as hell did! As it turns out, at the time, for some odd reason, Queensland hospitals seemed to be exempt from any laws against their staff being sexually harassed. That is no longer the case after my time with the Ombudsman. This was never about me getting revenge, but about speaking up for women and for the underdog. It was about saying ‘wait a minute, we’re important too!’

 

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Several years later, when working as a media officer and author for the Royal New Zealand Society for the Protection of Animals, I became incensed by the many cruelties to animals in the name of ‘human food’. In particular, the fact that a battery hen spends her whole life in a space the size of a piece of A4 paper: denied her biological needs of sunshine, dust, and freedom of movement. My inner feminist began to boil. The way a culture treats animals is usually a fair indication of how it treats its women, too. My daughter Eliza thinks it’s pretty cool that I launched the Ban the Battery cage campaign. The highlight for me was when my boss, bless him, called me into his office because five ‘top’ men from the Egg Production Board were there. They wanted me to stop what I was doing. My campaign was hurting their lucrative industry. I was about 24 years old, standing in a room with men all aged 55 or older. It’s fair to say it was one of the more empowering moments of my life.

So, I stand here today, in my cosy cottage in rural Cumbria, a thousand years away from that young feisty girl, barefoot and content, but as much a feminist as ever.

 

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Feminism has meant that marriage for me is easy. I’m with a man wouldn’t dream of thinking I was anything ‘less than’. My husband is my greatest supporter. He’s the first person who’ll encourage me to sit and write an article or book before I do the vacuuming. You’re more likely to find my husband washing the dishes than me, and I am just as happy to put the rubbish and recycling on the kerb. I mow the lawn (though, in fairness, he has to start the thing for me), and he repairs clothes with his little sewing kit. My daughters find this endlessly amusing.

There are some feminists who’d see the scenes of my domestic harmony the antithesis of their rally cry, and yet…this is exactly what it’s all about. Equality is about looking into the mirror of a relationship and knowing the scales are fairly balanced. Surely the heart of feminism is harmony, whether it’s at work or home?

I enjoy cooking, and it’s fair to say that most of the meals in this house are generated by me. If, though, I was with someone who demanded a meal on the table at 6pm each night… Never mind, scrub that thought, I’d never have ended up with someone like that!

 

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Feminism, to me, is freedom. It’s not a fight. It really shouldn’t even be a cause. It’s had to be, of course, because, like battery hens, women have been treated shoddily for a good chunk of history.

Not all men are like that, of course. In my life, I’m blessed to know men who are thoughtful, kind, considerate, generous and fair. I guess it’s indicative of the journey I’ve been on in life, but every time I meet a man like this, I do a silent cheer.

What have I learnt after decades as a feminist? Feminism isn’t about what’s out there. It’s not even about changing the world. Sorry! Feminism isn’t actually about men and women, or worse: men v. women. It’s about loving yourself. To be a feminist means valuing yourself enough that you won’t tolerate any situation that doesn’t match your ideals and values, whether that’s in the way an animal is treated, or an employee, or how our planet is raped and pillaged. A true feminist is a woman who values herself enough to make lifestyle choices which honour who she really is, and what she loves to do: whether that’s having a career, or being a stay-at-home mum (or in my case, both); or being a humanitarian or anything else that makes her heart sing.

 

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So, to the young women coming along who think feminism is a fight. Stop. Put your weapons down. Instead, slip your shoes off and go for a walk on the grass. Look up the stars. Feel the rain on your skin. Recognise your place in this Universe. Love yourself unconditionally. Don’t buy into the cultural hype about what womanhood means. Be kind to yourself, and be gentle. Define your own values. Live a heart-centred life. After all, isn’t that what the feminine energy is all about? Listen to your heart. It has the answers. Inspire yourself, and you’ll inspire others, whether you’re at the kitchen sink or landing a multi-million pound deal. Being a feminist means being free to write your own script!

 

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There are so many decisions to make for your wedding day, but have you ever given any thought to the energies of the different times of day during which to ‘tie the knot’?

 

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Depending on your vision of where the ceremony and reception will take place, you may feel you don’t have much choice in terms of picking a suitable time of day. Maybe you need to allow time for people to travel to the venue, or for the hair and make-up artists to work on their beautification project. Or perhaps the venue makes the decision for you.

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The energies of the day mirror the seasonal energies.

Morning represents Springtime, and is ruled by Aries. It’s filled with the spirit of “let’s do this!” There’s a dynamic, powerful, and definite liveliness to morning. Think of the power and determination of all those Spring bulbs finding their way through the cold dark soil, and blessing us with their incredible beauty. They give us hope! And what of sunrise? How incredible is that energy? To marry at this time of day will infuse your marriage with a positive and energetic tone.

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How many brides do you know of who married in the early part of the day? I did!

 

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Over the years since that beautiful day in New Zealand two decades ago, I’ve often thought: “What was I thinking getting up so early to get my hair and make-up done?” In hindsight, I’m so grateful that I chose morning, and that by the time the ceremony was done we were able to celebrate with brunch.

 

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To marry in the middle of the day, when the Sun is high in the sky, represents Summer. It is infused with a mature energy. Astrologically, this is identified by the Mother archetype of Cancer. Your marriage may bring this theme into rather sharp focus. Make sure you’re not marrying your mother (just joking!).

 

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Late afternoon brings with it the energies of diplomatic Libra. We would assign the season of Autumn to this time of day. It is symbolic of a ‘gathering in’ sort of energy. A time for inner reflection. Given this energy, think about Autumn and what it means for you.

 

And what of night? To marry in the evening is symbolic of Winter: Energetically, it is Capricorn, ruled by Saturn. This is represented by storage and building our legacy. Saturn, when understood well, brings us discipline, structure and endurance. Perhaps these are energies you’d like to bring to the long-term nature of marriage.

 

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So, perhaps you’re clear on what time of day would be best for your marriage. If you’d like help deciding a great day, astrologically, for your marriage, then feel free to book an astrology reading with me. I can do readings which focus on your synastry (what each of you bring to the relationship) or to help choose a great wedding day. www.veronikarobinson.com

Veronika Robinson has been officiating ceremonies since 1995. She has a deep love of the sacred, and derives great joy from creating, writing and officiating ceremonies for people. She specialises in handfastings, but is equally at home conducting more formal weddings in five-star venues, as well as namings, home blessings, blessingways, vow renewals and funerals. Veronika officiates sacred and inspirational ceremonies throughout Cumbria, northern Lancashire and Southern Scotland, and is particularly fond of outdoor ceremonies. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

A home is more than a roof over our head, and protection from the weather. It is a physical representation of our inner world. The more we infuse our home with love, care and devotion, the more we will receive these gifts back.

 

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Our home is a vessel to nurture body and soul, however if we don’t take care of it, by keeping it clean, tidy and imbuing it with loving energy, then it becomes a place that doesn’t support us fully and may even deplete our energy and health. If a house contains stagnant ‘energy’ it is not a healthy place to live.

 

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Although it is more likely that someone would have a house blessing to open and purify the energies when they first move into a new building, you can in fact have a house blessing even if you’ve lived in the same place for thirty years.

 

 

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Blessing one’s home is an ancient tradition, and can be done with a celebrant or you can do it on your own. You may have family and friends there to witness the ceremony and rituals you choose.

 

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Most of us leave our homes several times a week and partake of the outside world through work or school, for example, thereby bringing the energies of those experiences back into the home. Some are positive, some not so much. As humans, we are energetic sponges containing all our experiences. When we come home, we symbolically squeeze those energies from the sponge and they infiltrate our living space. Becoming aware of this, we may choose a seasonal or annual house blessing.

 

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Before your home blessing, take the time to declutter and clean the space. This is essential. You are defining a sacred space, and you can only do so when your intention is clear. Clutter is not conducive to clarity or well-being.

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When you have cleared your space, invite guests to stand in a circle in the room you’ve chosen for the main part of the ceremony. If you are the one officiating the ceremony, make sure you have grounded yourself (imagine roots, like those of a strong tree, from your feet going down deep into the centre of the earth, and a white light from the crown of your head reaching to the sky).

 

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Open the ceremony by lighting a beeswax (or plant based) candle. (Standard candles are made of highly toxic ingredients…you don’t want this in your home). Inwardly, imagine the life force of the flame bringing healing energy into the circle.

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You may wish to use an aura spray, such as one from Healing Orchid Essences, or burn some incense.

Begin with the ringing of a bell (three times), or by playing music that feels sacred to you. You may prefer to sing.

Welcome everyone for being present, both as witnesses and participants in this sacred circle of energy, as you bless your home.

You may feel drawn to inviting in the Angels of the Four Directions, and opening all the windows on the sunrise side of your home, to invite the sunlight and life force to flow into the rooms.

 

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Depending on your beliefs, you can invoke a divine presence, angels, ancestresses, or other unseen energies.

State what your intentions are for this home. For example, you may wish for it to resonate with laughter, love and deep friendships. Maybe your desire is for it to provide a quiet sanctuary from a busy lifestyle. Perhaps there has been illness or a death in the home/family, and this ceremony is to bring new life and happiness between the walls. It could be that there has been a redundancy for the main income earner, and that this has caused deep upset and shock in the home. Maybe a new baby has recently joined the family, and you wish for your home to accommodate the energy that they bring.

 

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You may wish to use sage or cedar or lavender to ‘smudge’ the rooms. As you do, make spiral movements, and be sure to include hallways, and areas around doors and windows. If smudging, candles or incense are not an option where you live, you can sprinkle salt or use rose essential oil (added to water in a small spray bottle).

 

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If you have a besom (broom) you can symbolically sweep out the energies of each room.

 

 

 

Sample Invocation:

Dear Home

We cleanse this space, we make it safe.

We banish all negativity, and replace it with love, hope, happiness and harmony.

May no one go hungry in this home.

May no one experience loneliness here.

May we always have everything we need.

May abundance be expressed here.

We bless you. We love you. We honour you.

Thank you for protecting us from harm, and holding our heartfelt desires in your safekeeping.

We give you love.

We invite friendship, family, food and fun to be lived and celebrated here.

We give thanks for this home.

Blessed Be.

Consider what rituals would feel meaningful for you. For example, you may wish for everyone to choose a quartz crystal from a bowl, and place one in each room of the home. You might choose to burn a tealight candle in the four corners of the garden, scattering a handful of sea salt around each one, to protect your home.

Together, you may wish to craft a pentacle (five-pointed star, representing fire, earth, water, air and spirit) to hang above the hearth. Perhaps it could be decorated with gemstones or feathers.

 

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You may invite each guest to grant a blessing, prayer, poem, wish or intention in one of the rooms.

Each person who lives there may say:
I am (name), and I live, move and have my being in this beautiful home. This home is my sanctuary.

Asking each guest to choose an angel card is a lovely way of invoking celestial energy. You could then place each one on a small House Blessing altar, along with your candle and anything else that feels meaningful, such as a loaf of home-made bread or cake to represent people always having plenty to eat.

Consider which music or sound to include in your ceremony: singing bowls, healing mantras, drumming, singing, chanting, bell ringing. These sounds are deeply purifying and will transform the energy of the space.

On your altar, you may wish to place branches of cedar or sage or a small vase of flowers.

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Closing the circle
Thank your unseen guests, and express gratitude to all who are there.

“May this circle be open, but unbroken. Blessed Be.”

***

 

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When I officiate a house blessing, I include readings, prayers or blessings, and talk about the family’s intentions for the home. The ceremony has structure, and features elements and rituals that are meaningful to each member of the family.

Veronika Robinson has been officiating ceremonies since 1995. She has a deep love of the sacred, and derives great joy from creating, writing and officiating ceremonies for people. She specialises in handfastings, but is equally at home conducting more formal weddings, as well as namings, home blessings, blessingways, vow renewals, funerals and memorials. Veronika officiates sacred and inspirational ceremonies throughout Cumbria, northern Lancashire and Southern Scotland, and is particularly fond of outdoor ceremonies. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

If you’re a bride and groom with a fondness for Nature, then it’s likely that a woodland wedding is most definitely something you’d consider.

 

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In the UK, it’s surprising how many couples are still unaware that there are alternatives to a church wedding or one in a registry office or registered hotel. In much the same way as you might register a baby’s birth and then have a naming ceremony later, or register a loved one’s death and choose a special venue for the funeral ceremony, the same goes for a wedding. Do the legal ‘contract’ at the registry office, but have the wedding in the place of your dreams.

 

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Why a woodland wedding?

A study in 2004 showed that people who walked in woodland had lowered blood pressure, heart rate and an improved immune system. Those who stopped to admire a woodland view for 20 minutes had a 13% reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. The Japanese call this forest bathing (shinrin-yoku). So, while your guests are witnessing you say ‘for as long as this love shall last’, you’re all being imbued with the positive energy of a woodland.

 

 

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Have you ever noticed how differently you feel when you’re out in Nature compared to when you’ve been in the car for a while or in a shopping centre? All around us are molecules, invisible to the human eye, known as negative ions, which are tasteless, have no odour, and which we breathe in. By breathing in these ions, a biochemical reaction happens once they reach our bloodstream. In turn, serotonin is released which allows us relief from stress or depression, and lifts our energy.

 

 

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Negative ions help to increase the flow of oxygen to our brain. When this happens, we feel lighter, alert and have more mental stamina.

 

 

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Many people have become desensitised to the artificial nature of the life they live. If you’re someone who must have fresh air in a room, you’re sensitive to negative ions and often feel euphoric when in the heart of Nature.
Negative ions are felt most tangibly after a thunderstorm, near falling or flowing water, waves lapping on the seashore, in a woodland, Summer rain, snow fall, in sunshine, and when plants produce water evaporation.

 

 

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You might think the word positive means ‘good’, but in the case of ions, the opposite is true. These ions range from germs, viruses, dust, bacteria, pollen, cooking odours, to toxic residues from furnishings and pets.

So not only is a woodland wedding a great choice ecologically and aesthetically, it’s great for your health.

A woodland wedding can be beautiful and simple, allowing you an elegant and natural backdrop to the essence of your relationship. The natural colours from the earth, such as greens, tans, browns and off white can be incorporated into your wedding designs. You can use moss or twigs as centre pieces. Why not create a wedding arch from wood or branches? With a woodland as your décor, you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful wedding setting.

 

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Veronika Robinson has been officiating weddings since 1995. She trained at Unity Church in Auckland, New Zealand, and was authorised to conduct legal weddings under the New Thought Ministries umbrella. She has a deep love of the sacred, and derives great joy from creating, writing and officiating ceremonies for people. She specialises in handfastings, but is equally at home conducting more formal weddings, as well as namings, blessingways, vow renewals and funerals. Veronika officiates ceremonies throughout Cumbria, northern Lancashire and Southern Scotland, and is particularly fond of outdoor ceremonies. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

 

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Are you looking for a celebrant in Cumbria? I trained as a celebrant in 1995 (Auckland, New Zealand), and am available to officiate ceremonies throughout Cumbria: weddings, handfastings, same-sex unions, vow renewals, namings, housewarmings, graduations, coming of age, crone ceremonies, funerals, memorials and any other rite of passage.

If you need to organise a funeral or memorial service, I am happy to work with your chosen funeral director or can work directly with families who wish to be autonomous from a funeral home and plan a DIY ceremony.

I’m a member of the Association of Independent Celebrants, and featured as a preferred supplier on Easy Weddings.

I offer a reduced rate for Wednesday Weddings for those couples planning to marry midweek.

Please do get in touch if you’d like an obligation-free chat in person or by Skype about your ceremony plans. ~ Veronika x

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