About Suze Margaret

Learning lifelong. poetry, blogging and Dylanology aid my wellbeing.

Mental Health Awareness week 2016

MHAW16 logo 300x300

This week is Mental Health Awareness week. For anyone who is often emotionally/mentally less than well, it’s a useful time to reflect on how the annual event might help.

Well acquainted since childhood of the shaky mental health of people close to me, and then subsequently my own brush with ‘breakdown’, I might as a result, claim to be ‘aware’. I try to remain mindful however ,that there is much to learn from the experience of others.

Disclosing aspects of my episodes of emotional/mental ill-at-easness feel like a risk ,but one I usually take. It’s also an opportunity to reaffirm that it’s just one aspect of my life experience, and one of which I’m not ashamed.

Frequently, and especially this awareness week, I find myself still reflecting on the ‘language’ the ‘powers that be’ would label the experience of emotional/mental ill-ease, and I assert that emotional response is an appropriate one in a ‘world gone wrong’, and therefore not necessarily a treatable behaviour. It’s useful to remain aware!

The theme of this years awareness raising is relationships. The organisation Mental Health Foundation have a lovely set of free downloadable logos which highlight the different aspects of the value of our relationships, see here

May is also National Walking Month …..strolling with friends new or old is an ideal way to build on any existing relationships , or make new ones. Here is a site for some walking suggestions. Often times people with a common interest just meet up informally , and within our group we’ve been privileged to do that. You can read here about one such occasion.

I lead a sedentary life for most of the winter months but usually get motivated to restart some brisk walking in April. Spring was late this year so getting out seemed harder but May blossom was my wake up call to ‘move it’, as was my good neighbour’s invites to join with her for an occasional walk after work……a welcome gesture.

In an age when relationships appear to be increasingly carried out in cyberspace, and many irrespective of age report feeling isolated, I find the physical proximity of relationships ever more important. Perhaps this week is a good time to think over ways our relationships might be mutually rewarding.

Cheers, Sue


Ancient and modern methods to wellbeing

Daniel has been contributing his poems and blog posts to the Wellbeing Web for two years, we recently spoke together about the many things he does that aid his wellbeing. Our informal chats revealed the intriguing blend of ancient and modern techniques, and pastimes which Daniel uses to keep positive.

The first of our chats took place during our trip to buy essential oils and joss sticks that might help our respective current mood.  Among the blends we chose was myrrh, known from ancient times for its medicinal and spiritual healing properties. When we next met to conclude our discussion we burned the myrrh.

People have been orating and writing poetry from ancient times as their muse inspired. Daniel’s recent such musings, ‘Road of Joy’, was his latest blog post. Daniel combines poetry, the ancient means of expressing thought and feeling with the modern art of blogging. Previous discussions had us pondering how and in what way we considered thought and feeling.differed, hindered or helped us in our wellbeing. Lets see if of the things Daniel engages with give any hints if we reached a conclusion.

I like spending time with close friends, playing and listening to music, meditating, consulting the I Ching, reflecting on Zen,Tao and Buddhist philosophy. In addition I take part in a variety of skill based and healthy living courses at Inkwell and Swarthmore Education Centre,  this last twelve months it has included; creative writing; short stories, poetry writing, web design, group Alexander Technique sessions, and art classes. Workshops at Leeds Mind have also helped me with my confidence and to work on relaxation techniques.

Knowing very little about consulting the I Ching, I asked Daniel to describe the practice and how he feels this helps him.

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese book which traditionally is consulted by use of either throwing coins or willow sticks to determine which of its 64 hexagrams to read. It is similar to the way some Christians use bibliomancy when seeking guidance. After opening the bible  at random any text found there is taken as a guideline for resolving a particular issue that may be troubling the person.

I use coins when I consult the I Ching, I feel this works on the principle of synchronicity, enabling and revealing advice and information from the book in a way I find profound.

Daniels musical interests include his playing keyboard in the band Burning Skies Revolution

and he explained what about this is enjoyable, and how he deals with any ‘nerves’ when performing at gigs.

 I find playing a musical instrument raises my spirits, which is cathartic. Socializing with other band members during the nine years we’ve been together is beneficial, and it’s helped me not to watch too much telly.

As a kid I liked listening to electronic music and had a keyboard bought as a present. Earlier this year it was highly enjoyable to see the band Icebreaker, who play electronic music, at Howard Assembly Rooms, and I reviewed it for the Wellbeing Web see here,

I can read music  a bit but mostly play by ear.  Jamming at our weekly rehearsals or on other occasions when me and my mates are just relaxing is fun.

Public performance isn’t something I ever envisaged the band doing, it only happened because we stood in at short notice for another band. Although I get nervous before a gig, my confidence is helped by both the social support of the other band members, and by keeping in mind that I’ve done it sucessfully on previous occasions.

Daniel acknowledged that like most of us keeping active and remaining positive are beneficial for our wellbeing, but that it’s not always easy to remain upbeat. I asked Daniel when the ‘going gets tough’ which of the things he lists is he best able to hang on to.

I’d say it’s the things I can easily access at home, or close to home  that help me if I get down. Contact with my friends who live nearby, and the meditation on ancient philosophies and techniques which I can do at home are my mainstays. In recent years however access to modern technology via the internet and my smart phone have also  helped.

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Discussions with Daniel about wellbeing didn’t reveal a clear divide between thought and feeling, except perhaps that they are flip-sides of the same coin. We might sometimes find ourselves relying more on one side than the other but Daniels use of ancient and modern techniques shows he does much to keep them well balanced.

Sue Margaret


Navel gazing

'Buddha' Niki De Saint Phalle Photo:Sue Margaret

‘Buddha’ Niki De Saint Phalle
Photo:Sue Margaret

Are you sitting comfortably?…then I’ll begin!

Long, long ago, in the days of yore, I was able to sit half lotus just like the magnificent personage here depicted. Some people say sitting lotus style & navel gazing are good for your health!

This sitting pretty, bright and cheery sculpture is an installation, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, close to West Bretton. Yorkshire Sculpture Park was formerly known as Bretton Park, and was the estate of Bretton Hall. There is an interesting twist in the story of the inheritance and horticultural development of this former stately home. Dianna Beaumont, an illegitimate daughter of one of it’s male owners, inherited the pile in 1792 . In that era property was rarely inherited by female offspring even if they were legitimate, they were overlooked in preference for any, often distance male relative. Diana was

 a keen horticulturalist, commissioned a giant domed conservatory, the largest of its kind in the world, which is said to have been the prototype for the Crystal Palace in London. ¹

Another interesting, possibly useless fact, (though it impressed me as a teenager) is THAT wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates, from the film Women in Love, ground breaking in 1969, was filmed at the hall. My short shortsightedness meant that the possibly interesting bits in the scene were blurry and therefore lost on me! Oh, and Henry V111 is thought to have spent three days there, the oak bed he is said to have slept in is now at Temple Newsam. That’s probably not useful information either.

As a young child I considered my family visits to Bretton Park and West Bretton village as far flung in time and space, despite them being only a short distance from our home in Wakefield. West Bretton to this day has neither shop, post office or pub, but its bowling and cricket green make it the quintessential English village.
Too young on my early visits to know what romance was, Bretton Hall’s Camelia House, did strike me as the perfect setting for sitting pretty, tete a tetes. The Yorkshire Sculpture Parks planned re-creation of ‘tea with Diana Beaumont’, (by all accounts a sassy diva) this summer, might provide such an opportunity. The purpose of the event is to highlight the importance of her contribution to the parks horticultural splendor, and to raise funds for Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

By the time I was a teenager I had more idea about romance. Chamber music recitals on the terrace, performances of Shakespeare and Wakefield Mystery plays held in the atmospheric stable block courtyard, all served to inspire and expand my interior and exterior worlds.
Bretton Hall at that time was an Arts teacher training college, later acquired by the University of Leeds Arts Department. Trainee or newly qualified teachers were assigned to the secondary school I attended. The teachers personal interest in we disadvantaged youths, both in school and informally opened our eyes to more culturally diverse lives.
I was encouraged to, and dreamed of one day being a student there. I didn’t so much want to be a teacher, or have a career in the Dramatic Arts but was keen to live on campus and lounge about looking the part! Kohl eyed, patchouli doused, sitting under some tree late into the night discussing all manner of things. My interest in yoga, sitting lotus style and contemplating navel came a few years later, I never found it easy. Nowadays my own style navel gazing might best be described as,…..a trance like slouch on the couch, except when I bethink myself!

When I re-visited Bretton Hall estate after many years absence, it had become Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and my heart sank. Very large abstract sculptures dominated its landscape, I thought they were unsympathetic to it’s natural beauty. However I’ve since learned to appreciate and be more sympathetic to them.

Wakefield, and Bretton Park, as it will always remain to me, still occupy a special place in my heart and memory. I’m a Manygates babe! I now live in, and love Leeds, and have the privilege to be a Lifelong Learner at the University of Leeds, Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications. and get to lounge on their chaise lounges. I still don’t have a career or educational goal, (I’m ‘retired’), and I no longer aspire to ‘look the part’. Some of the text books still have the fly leaf of Bretton Hall College, that gives me a buzz. In a very roundabout way I’ve come to be that lounging student at Bretton Hall. My ‘study’ involves a lot of sitting, contemplating, and procrastinating about deadlines. Life lessons have taught me much of what is discussed formally, but it’s reassuring to have academia, at least Cultural Studies, confirm that my long term ill ease with main stream thought is a valid response, that’s been good for my wellbeing.
As each year passes past and present moments mingle, these are the things that remain. I try to live without regret or ‘what ifs’, ‘navel gazing’ helps me remain buoyant in the oft choppy waters that mental distress, its residual effects, diagnostic labeling and its treatments stir.

Sue Margaret
¹ http://www.theblacketts.com/articles/82-bretton-hall

camelia house image http://www.bretton-hall.com/recent-images/01-page-1/

Poetry slam

Winter nights sees me pretty much grounded for their duration, and with each year that passes the need to get active after them, becomes ever more apparent. Getting out and about keeps me physically and emotionally better, and attending the Headingley Literature Festival each March is often one of my first Spring evening jaunts.

LS6 always seems to buzz but the festival gives it that extra vibe. The programme of events is always extensive and varied, many events are free, of those that aren’t, they’re reasonably priced. This year’s theme was ‘Something Else’, and concludes on April 2nd  with, ‘Own Your Words’ …advertised as a poetry slam, see details here.

So far I’ve only managed to attend one of this year’s events, this too was also billed as a poetry slam, and named, ’One City – Many Voices’. For an entrance fee of £4 we were entertained by the internationally renowned poet, Lemn Sissay.Lemn Sissay

I’m not sure when the slang use of the word ‘cool’ became so commonplace. I don’t recall it being used in ‘my day’, and don’t feel comfortable saying it, BUT writing it occasionally seems expressive?,,,,Lemn and his performance were….. cool!

The word slam in ‘poetry slam’ is also slang, but this too I find expressive. It was used initially to describe a competitive poetry event, and was coined by Bob Holman. ‘a poetry activist and…slammaster’ who called the movement “the democratization of verse”…..he also said

The spoken word revolution is led a lot by women and by poets of color. It gives a depth to the nation’s dialogue that you don’t hear on the floor of Congress

The ‘One City – Many Voices’ poetry slam wasn’t competitive, but those who performed alongside Lemn were a group of talented wordsmiths from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They were pupils of Leeds City Academy and Ralph Thoresby High School.  The flair and conviction of their words was astoundingly good. The young people had been coached by local writer and poet Michelle Scally Clarke.

Michelle told us how when younger, she’d struggled academically because of her troubled life, but she liked writing poetry and after sending some to Lemn, he’d encouraged her to continue. Ms Scally Clarkes’s performance, and presence were impressive. The Academy’s, Head of English, was an equally animated and motivational speaker, he spoke of the personal hurdles he’d overcome to be so. The teacher told us of his difficulties with a speech impairment and shyness when young, and then when older in a southern University, he’d faced ‘teasing’ for his Northern accent. I’m sure his and Michelle’s commitment and mentoring skills were a huge factor in the pupils finding their words and voice.

Most of the young performers displayed a confidence, beyond their years, they recited forthrightly, the young compere was dynamic and as an introduction demonstrated his moonwalking. The focus of the students poetry topics revealed many difficulties in their personal lives, they were angry at injustices they’d faced, but this seemed to spark the passion to expose it.

Though I like performance poetry, my preferred way of ‘hearing’ poetry is to read it silently to myself. Poets performing their own work however are most likely best able to add the nuance, or inflection which conveys their intended message. Lemn is a charismatic performer and he described writing poetry as ‘playing with the spirits’, that point alone inspired me to write about the poetry slam. Hopefully we who only listen to or read it, get to commune with them too.

Of the poems Lemn read, the following one stayed with me, as it spoke of the rejection he’d suffered. The poem also illustrates how when we’re a child, what it’s like to live in the land of ‘giants’ who sometimes get perplexingly angry. It was clear Lemn wrote the poem from experience but it wasn’t until after the event I found out just how difficult his childhood was. I also discovered that he’s an MBE, and whereas I claim letters before or after someone’s name mean little to me, I might have felt a little shyer inviting him to a World Poetry event elsewhere, or about his fee! Lemn, as the cliche goes, appeared to have ‘no edge’ and graciously, whilst not exactly accepting the invite, managed to appear not to rule it out.

Though childhood rejection wasn’t an obvious contributory factor in my angsty youth, it’s something many experience at some time, either as children or adults. Making it easy perhaps to identify with the boy in the poem who was misunderstood, and imputed with wrong motives.  It is only as an adult, and lately, that I’ve come to recognise the insidious ways certain groups are marginalised. If we find ourselves amongst them, choosing to re-frame the experience, see it as an advantageous place from which to act, gives the freedom to draw up inspiration from ‘that wellspring of creativity’.¹

Suitcases and Muddy Parks by Lemn Sissay

You say I am a lying child I say I’m not you say there you go again

You say I am a rebellious child I say no I’m not you say there you go again

Quite frankly mum I’ve never seen a rebellious child before and when my mates said jump in that puddle and race you through the park (y’know, the muddy one) I didn’t think about the mud.

When you said why you are dirty! I could feel the anger in your voice I still don’t know why. I said I raced my mates through the park. You said it was deliberate. I said I didn’t I mean I did but it wasn’t. You said I was lying, I said no I am not. You said there you go again.

Later in the dawn of adolescence it was time for my leave

I with my suitcase, social worker,

you with your husband, walked our sliced ways.

Sometimes I run back to you like a child through a muddy park, adult achievements tucked under each arm, I explain them with a child-like twinkle, thinking any mother would be proud…

Your eyes, desperately trying hard to be wise and unrevealing, reveal all.

Still you fall back into the heart of the same rocking chair saying

There you go again.

And I did.

And I have.

,Sue Margaret

1. Bob Dylan in interview.

Counselling and Therapy

counselling pic

Not everyone finds it useful, desirable or easy to talk about past or present distress, but if you do need someone to talk to, who might it be? A friend, a relative or a professional counselor/therapist,…. all four? If worrying thoughts overwhelm you it may take a combination to help you manage your distress.

The support of friends or family can be immeasurable, but many are not so fortunate, and for some it’s these relationships which are contributing factors in their distress. Having a wide circle of friends or acquaintances is no guarantee that there will be someone among them with the capacity to listen adequately.

What can a counsellor or therapist offer that a friend or acquaintance may not? It is the assurance of their commitment to create a confidential space, and for an ongoing ‘contract’ in which skillful listening and interjection can take place.

Does counselling differ from therapy? What types are there? What guidelines and safeguards can you be assured of, should you decide it’s something that will help? These may seem like a lot of questions but they are important because like it or not we are a generation who have come to accept talking therapy as the norm.

The Counselling Directory goes some way to offering advice about where you might start in ensuring the best experience, see the information here. Unless you are in acute crisis, the most important advice in the directory is that of taking time to get well informed about what counselling and therapy entails,

find… out as much as you can about counselling and psychotherapy,

read-up on the issue you are considering seeking help for, and

browse the therapy types so you can start to get a feel of what it is you want to achieve from the counselling process.”

The directory is a list of  private therapists and explains why they provide the service they do,

“In 2005 we watched a close friend struggle to find the information they were looking for…emotional support… we realised there was a need for a service bringing together the information required to help individuals find a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist in their local area.

The Counselling Directory contains information on many different types of distress, as well as articles, news, and events”


Members who are listed in the directory have complied with the organisations verification requirements. As private practitioners members will charge for their services,  of this the directory says,

You can find out …charges by having a look at the ‘Fees’ section on their individual profile page. Fees often depend on the location … and the experience of the counsellor/psychotherapist.

On average, expect to pay about £35 – £45 per 50 minute session.

Some counselors and psychotherapists may offer initial sessions free or reductions for the unemployed or those on a low income, so it’s always worth asking

At times GP, school and charitable organisations have counselling and therapy services free or at low cost, alternatively a donation may be acceptable. If you are referred via a G.P. or other agency to some private practioners, sessions may be free of charge, but you will need to check this with them.

Here follows some useful links of services in Leeds which are free or low cost.

Mental Health Directory Leeds Mind

Dial House Information

Survivor Led Crisis Service Dial HouseSantuary/Support/Connect Helpline

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (I.A.P.T.)

Guest blogger Toby post wrote here on Leeds Wellbeing Web in 2013.about what to expect of .I.A.P.T.  A choice of short or longer contract, group or one-to-one work is available with waiting lists varying accordingly, months rather than weeks for the latter. Current trends show  an increased availability of short over long term contracts, this might not be a trend to be welcomed for long standing issues of distress may benefit from longer term therapy.

If Counselling and Therapy  are something to which you are drawn it’s good to remember that seeking talking therapy is not a sign of inadequacy, or necessarily that you don’t have anyone else to talk to. Being able to share with friends when troubled is a great comfort, and hopefully friends are willing to listen to any insights you glean in therapy. Attending Counselling or Therapy requires stamina, dedication and commitment in confronting your disquieting thoughts. Facing your ‘self’ may be scary so it’s also brave to be willing to do it, for over time and in order to defend our ego, we may have chosen only to perceive ourselves as altruistic. The outcome of counselling and therapy therefore may surprise you and others with an investment in that ‘old’ idealised you, but that is the subject of another blog post!

Sue Margaret

Image from You Tube    Andria’s Counselling Session

Spring Festival, New Year ritual

Springtime is a time we might expect increased wellbeing, for the lighter nights can make us feel freer physically, this has implications for our emotional health too.

Looking for the first snowdrops is my want each January, early February, it stirs me from Winters inertia.


This photograph is of my first sighting this year, and was taken in St. Peter’s churchyard, Bramley. Other people observe the rite of Spring in more elaborate ways.

The festival of Imbolc on 2nd February is one such ritual. Imbolc may have passed by most of us unnoticed, perhaps only with a vague acknowledgement that it’s a Pagan festival. Imbolc  is when Pagans mark their calendar at the return of Spring, and is thought traditionally to have been determined by the commencement of the lambing season which varies by as much as several weeks each year. Nature signalled the return of Spring, not humans, but here we are in the modern day trying to control and measure time. Hearthfires, divination, omens and such like are a part of this celebration.

Now that Imbolc has gone and so too our solar New Year it might seem odd to be still thinking about New Year rituals, but I am today because, 19th February marked the start of Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s otherwise known in China. For those who observe the lunar calendar it’s the New or dark moon which signals the start of similar festivals. This year is the Year of the Sheep (green or wooden!) or Goats. Leeds Libraries website, Leeds Reads supplied me with some clarification about why the Festival can be named either sheep or goat.

“The Chinese word yáng refers both to goats and sheep and different countries have different interpretations. In Vietnam and Cambodia it’s goat, in Japan – sheep, in Korea and Mongolia, sheep or ram”.


Confusion still abounds though http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-31511109

Needless to say the symbolism of sheep or goats here differs to that of the Christian tradition, in biblical parable they are used to illustrate the supposed difference in character of meek or stubborn humans,..….no guesses which were most favoured! The sheep and goats in Chinese lore refer to the Five Elements Theory, or Wu Xing and the sheep is not regarded favorably astrologically speaking.

Today I’ll be thinking especially of the young Chinese exchange student who spent our solar New Year with me, she’s now returned to Inner Mongolia to celebrate the moon New Year, or Spring Festival with her family. Meeting her as a study buddy was an enriching cultural exchange which rose above the common  barriers of age and cultural difference. We enjoyed together at Leeds City Varieties. that well established UK New Year tradition, pantomime, she for the first time and me after 20 years. Special effects nowadays are so realistic, we were both spellbound. What bits of the Dick Whittington story I could remember, I’d told her and she soon got the gist of the boos and hisses. It was lovely to see all age groups there interacting with the performers corny innuendo, slandering of politicians and dancing in the aisle at the end…..oh yes I did! ….. highly recommended as therapy.

These New Year memories are all that remain of  my meagre end of year ‘rituals’, along with this scraggy poinsettia, wpid-2015-01-28-23.29.58.jpg.jpegand some reflections as to why we measure time. We may set out at New Year, with the relentlessly cheery greeting, ‘Happy New Year!’ The greeting is a convention, and whereas conventions do occasionally serve a purpose, some people recognise that the ticking of the clock at midnight on December 31st, which appears to mark one year from another, bears little connection to our happiness. Losa Marl one of Inkwell’s Studio Artists, suggests that wishing people a …..Better ….New Year might be more appropriate. In a conversation about the week between Xmas and New Year, a week which always feels like ‘a month of Sundays’ someone else expressed confusion as to what day it was, Losa again commented,

“days are just social constructions utilized first by agrarian, then capitalist societies to regulate and define the time allocated for slavish work or religious activity”

For those of us who think it’s the status quo that’s crazy, Losa’s wise and succinct assessment of measuring time was grounding. We might consider ourselves lucky if we are not too slavishly beholden to social conventions about measuring time, or much else.

It is often said that older people ‘get set in their ways’, and I’d agree that repeating some routines can be comforting. One of mine is to at the stroke of midnight on the 31st December, and rather smugly, while others cavort and cackle outside with fireworks, get in the bath, (filled with water, very rarely cavorting, but always without firecrackers) amusing myself with the thought, “I’ve not had a bath since last year”.

Along with most people I know though I appear to have a very short memory,  annually forgetting just how difficult January and February are. We wonder why we don’t function well; or why our resilience is lowered, often berating ourselves for some perceived lack of coping skills. Winters shortage of daylight; penetrating cold weather; the coughs, colds and stomach bugs which accompany it, is simply tough. The expectation we have of self and others, and they of us, that we function 9-5, Monday – Friday, Winter and Summer alike, is crazy! For many years I conformed to punishingly relentless school or work schedules, almost unthinkingly, and without complaint, but not now! I bleat …..often!

The New Year before last is a blur but  memories of last Spring and Summer remain clear, for it was one of my best. The returning Spring light brought such a profound relief from oppressive darkness, in a way I don’t recall happening previously. A midsummer trip down memory lane also lightened my step, bringing release from an otherwise intense period, and leading me to pastures new. A view of my offspring’s fearless gaze reminded me of my own pluckiness in former days, this spurred me on, and remains a positive force for my wellbeing, Friendships were established or renewed, but some were lost in death, or relocation far and wide, though absent part of them remains with me.

I was born under the sign of the ram (not an inn), and I don’t know if in this Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram that is a good or bad omen, but I wish you a BETTER moon New Year and Spring Festival. Perhaps we’ll share a few homespun rituals this coming solar New Year 2015?

Chinese New Year/Aries

Sue Margaret and Goat by Emoji


Winter Solstice 2014


Winter Solstice feels more meaningful to me than Xmas or New Year, neither of these have played a significant part in my life, religiously or otherwise. Each celebration however, does have some themes and rituals which bring me pleasure and time for reflection. Whist thoroughly enjoying a recent carol service and remembering each hymn word perfect, my companion, a visitor from the East, (not a King), listened spell bound as I told the Bible story behind the words. A perfect baby, the Magi, how charming. Try explaining the virgin birth, or the slaughter of all Jewish baby boys ordered by Pharoah, when the Magi told him of the Savior’s birth. It was interesting to hear how in her experience, coming from a predominantly non-Christian country, what Christmas traditions they have adapted totally detached from the Bible story.

Traditional church services have little spiritual appeal for me, but I do enjoy church buildings.The interior of churches are where many find comfort and where they also find space to create meaning. The above photograph was taken in Wakefield Cathedral. I was pleased that my phone camera captured, unaided by flash and in the candlelit space, or without later editing, this rather other worldly image.

The dwindling daylight of the season means I rely more on the lighting of lamp or candle, which I find cozy. I’m happy I don’t feel obliged to observe too many of the season’s other razzmatazz trimmings. It’s good to remember, as one of our last posts mentioned, that this season’s celebrations can be a very difficult time for some people, the reasons may be numerous. Loss of natural light at this time of year can lower peoples general resilience; the perception that everyone else might be having fun.when they are not, can be isolating; lack of money to choose which rituals they might want to join, a lack of adequate heating or essential food, or in addition poor health can severely disadvantage many. (If you need support over the holiday period here are the details again)

My preference for Winter Solstice is because of it’s fewer trappings. I no longer observe any of it’s Pagan rituals that I once found novel in contrast to my earlier Christian but non-conformist traditions. It is the Winter Solstice physical descent into darkness which helps me confront symbolically the life journey I’m on.

Winter Solstice is the “shortest day and longest night of the year”. Daylight hours may be short but it also marks the return to increased daylight, which though imperceptible at first, by a fraction of a second on each successive day returns us assuredly to the sun’s Spring light.

During last year’s Winter Solstice I was moved to write about the different names people have given the moon that signals Winter Solstice. Moon cycles never fail to fascinate me, and that afternoon the sighting of the moon and sun in a bright blue afternoon sky inspired.

Though I feel able to give as much or as little attention to Christian or Pagan rituals as I wish, as the mood takes me. I think the everyday rites we as  individuals re-create are just as valid and meaningful as the ones we might traditionally and collectively.enjoy. It may be tempting to regard disdainfully those who celebrate in different ways to ourselves, especially when commerce and excess appear to drive their enjoyment, but it is meaningful to them in what otherwise might seem a humdrum existence. Dr. Dorothy Rowe describes all of us as “meaning.creating” beings.

Lighting a candle for those in physical or emotional distress, or for those who have died was never part of my religious tradition. I’ve adopted it nowadays as a gesture when words have been insufficient for seemingly unsolvable situations; in memory of  those who’s mood has tipped them into darkness more times than is useful, and for those who’s ill health dims or extinguishes their future.



British Summer Time 2014

Seasonal Change

Those who live with the experience of mental distress, often find seasonal change affects them, sometimes positively, at other times less so. I am no exception. Fluctuating mood change can be exacerbated by a lack or an excess of light, and warmth. Seasonal change, particularly Autumn to Winter, when British Summer Time ends, and I’ve turned back my clock, is a time of reflection.

This year Autumn was mild in temperature and without strong winds, enabling the ‘last of leaves’¹, in all their multicolored glory, to remain clinging to their branches. Making way for a slide show of every shade and hue.

Changing colours

Changing colours Sue Margaret

Evergreens, gold, fuschia, magenta, copper, lime……fruits and berries ripen blood red and burnt orange;

Berry ripe  Sue Margaret

Berry ripe
Sue Margaret

Shiny horse chestnut fruits, rosehips. Natures harvest, a time when the old harvest festival hymns may drift to the surface of my mind. Memories of garnered wheatsheaves inspire  to indoor crafts, and remembrance of my earlier years when household grated fires were commonplace…..’all is safely gathered in’².

The Autumn always touches the wistful parts of me, and thus affects my wellbeing, mostly in positive ways. Initially at the change of season I may feel a twinge of mourning for the passing of the lighter and warmer months.Temporarily I go in to hibernation mode, feeling uncontrollably sleepy,  pj days become more frequent. After the initial adjustment to the seasons change I enjoy it’s mellowness and ‘faint blue mists’³, which tap in to my ‘foggy ruins of time’.¹ It’s  ‘carpet of gold’¹, with fungi and the earthy smells of decaying foliage, evoke feelings that are hard to grasp or write about. I give them freedom to ripple through me. Although every season has it’s charm I think Autumn is my favorite because it keeps me in touch with the transient nature of all things, and my recognition that there is beauty in change. Fallen leaves that have withered and dried or turned soggy, form their own lovely patterns.

Dry withering & soggy beauty

Dry withering & soggy beauty by Sue Margaret

Now in the Autumn of my life I find I’ve physically slowed down, (the mind still races!). This together with ‘retirement’ has given me more time in my daily routine to ‘stand and stare’. I frequently dawdle to admire all the fleetingly gorgeous scenes of seasonal change, and talk to any little furry or feathered creature that crosses my path. During the summer I also had some lovely chats with people over their garden fences, and in addition  glanced more frequently above street level. One mid-summer evening with the sun sinking fast I paused to watch and photograph. I wasn’t sure the dimming light would allow me to get a good shot of Kirkgate Market’s spectacular Kremlin like rooftop. I was pleased with the result my Bloggie snap camera made of the fading blue and tinged pink sky of sunset. This Lower Eastgate vista will soon disappear permanently as it becomes hidden by Victoria Gate, indeed within a few days of taking the shot, cranes and diggers had moved on site, marring the view. Actually I like cranes and diggers, and often stop and watch them, pondering about the amount of design, planning and sheer slog which goes into any building, and the lives of those who regardless of the season labour outdoors.

Bloggie disappearing skyline

The pleasurable warmth and light of this Spring and Summer’s seasonal change and experiences, linger still. As the color show of Autumn fades and the season descends into the stark contrasting shades of Winter, I anticipate with pleasure its glittering hoar frosts, when frozen grass will crunch beneath my feet, and the icy air make steam of each person’s breath. Wellbeing for me involves adjusting gracefully or otherwise to seasonal, physical and emotional change, embracing their darker side.

Sue Margaret

¹ Bob Dylan ‘Lay down your weary tune’: Mr Tambourine Man’ & ‘When the ship come in’

² Henry Alford ‘Come you thankful people come’

³ Seigfreid Sassoon ‘October’

Body learning*

The saying “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”, is often incorrectly attributed to Buddha. Regardless of who first coined the phrase, I find it a wise saying, and applicable to myself as a student of body learning.

Recently over a period of days it’s wisdom floated up into my consciousness. A aha moment as I was practicing the Zen art of washing up!. I’m not making fun of such philosophies. I do believe there is much to be gained spiritually from doing seemingly mundane chores, especially if whilst doing them we remain mindful of body use. I don’t always feel so reverential towards my dirty crockery, this particular episode of enlightenment came soon after a ‘top up’ Alexander Technique Lesson.

I was first introduced to the Alexander Technique many years ago after recurrent attacks of debilitating and painful back spasm. At that time my focus was primarily on relieving pain, I did not complete the recommended course of 12 weekly sessions. The student was not ready. In more recent years I did take the full, one-to-one course. I now see my current teacher, Grant Ragsdale, just a few times a year. and often when I am ill at ease with self or external events. I saw Grant this week for a ‘top-up’, on this occasion ……the student was ready.

I don’t consider myself a particularly good pupil, or example of effective body use. I easily slip back into poor use, hunching shoulders or slumping my spine, thereby compressing my chest. and constricting my breathing. Maintaining poise is an ideal but I look forward to being ‘topped up’, applying the principles more fully, and with gratitude well in to later life. Having a lesson always frees me up, although immediately after I might feel disoriented, as if I’m in a different body and head space. A lifetime of poor use is hard to undo.

Habitual misuse can be the result of  defending ourselves from perceived, or actual physical and emotional threats. In addition circumstance might mean we constantly act out of harmony with our feelings, by so doing we risk cutting our thought off from feeling, I do, and that’s why reminders are necessary. I find the Alexander Technique lessons serves as a reminder.

That the physical and emotional influences, we experience during childhood impact on our health and well-being can hardly be disputed. If our physiological inheritance is sound, and we are lucky to observe from “significant others”, effective use of emotions and body, our general resilience can be enhanced. We therefore have a better chance of withstanding the many ordinary, and extraordinary life events we humans face. If our role models in childhood did not allow us to mirror a useful sense of self, it makes inroads on our later resilience, it’s then that our emotional balance figures large in bodily tension. It is easy to see how when under stress this can be the tipping point for mental distress. Should this happen and our distress becomes pathologised, medicalised,  the body’s signals along with our voice may get quietened.

The modern Western lifestyle itself can place an additional strain on useful functioning of the body. Within our relationships ‘mirroring ‘ occurs and it ‘s common to imitate dominant physical and emotional traits. Gang culture demonstrates this well, when a particular body stance or swagger signifies membership. Climate too has an influence on the way we use our body. In cultures and climates where less restrictive clothing, and all year round outdoor activitities, allow for freer posture, good use is evident. Inhabitants of developing countries where material disadvantage, and where the oppression of civil unrest is common, nonetheless manage to maintain erect posture well in to old age. We in the West seem less fortunate, our bodies telling the tale of our mind/body split when under stress.

Often times a mental or physical breakdown, though very traumatic, can also be a chance to see what’s up,**  through it we may become more  aware of our misuse and untenable lifestyle. Awareness is a step toward undoing poor use.The Alexander Technique is a means whereby we can have a go at undoing poor habits. Remaining mindful of the Alexander Tachnique principles is not a cure all. The Alexander Technique as Grant tells us in the following video is about psycho-physical unity.  Like most things if you don’t take heed of your body’s signals there will be times faulty body/mind connections might trouble you.

As Grant has explained the ideal way to learn the lesson is in a one-to-one session, and this incurs a fee (concessions may be available).Group lessons are a viable alternative and a cheaper introduction. Grant Ragsdale and his colleague Maureen White offer both methods of learning at the Swarthmore Education Centre. New group sessions commence on Monday 29th September at 3.30p.m.to 5p.m. and on Tuesday 30th September at 6p.m.-7.30p.m., and continue for eight weeks. Swarthmore group sessions are subsidised for some income groups, therefore concessions are available.

Affording lessons can be an issue, at the time I first took a course of lessons, when as currently my income wasn’t huge I still made lessons a priority. I’ve paid for lessons by a combination of forgoing other priorities, or when a L.E.T.S, (Local Exchange and Trading scheme) was active in Leeds, paid in beads!…doing childcare, ironing, cleaning ovens, bookkeeping to accrue beads in the ‘bank’. There are stirrings of similar schemes starting again locally, (if you know of more please share the information).

Learning the Alexander principles has not cast a rosy glow over everything in my life, knowing them did not prevent me from having breakdown. My Alexander teacher at that time was accepting of my seemingly bizarre, unfolding story, having her alongside me accepting of my truth when at my worst, was in itself a stabilising, and calming influence. I am still often presented with troublesome and disquieting times, but I believe the Alexander Technique principles enable me to be more  ‘present’, more able to identify thoughts and feelings, and thus to reflect …why do I have this headache, feel tense, have ‘butterflies’,feel elated, high? …..it’s rarely just physical.

Sue Margaret

* ‘Body Learning’ by Michael Gelb.

An inspiring book about learning and applying  the Alexander Technique

** “Inward Bound” by Sam Keen.This book has helped me on many occasions of self doubt.

Leeds Kirkgate Market: have your say

Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market are inviting you to have your say about it’s future. Being empowered to share your opinion is good for your health and the community. Having a say about the future of the city’s planning may have an impact on facilities, and amenities for generations to come. If like me you enjoy the market’s variety of colourful goods and foodstuffs, together with it’s bustling atmosphere, you might be keen to ensure it retains as much of it’s current character as possible. Do Leeds residents need another on trend, more pricey shopping ‘experience’? Many traders have already been priced out of renting stalls, thus depriving shoppers of the variety of goods on which Kirkgate Market built its reputation.

At present Leeds Kirkgate Market, which dates from the mid 19th century, provides an inclusive shopping facility for all Leeds residents and visitors, regardless of their income.  For thousands of years, and world wide, simple lean to trestle boards, covered by awnings, have served as shops. I find an empty market place atmospheric, either at early morning when traders are laying out their wares, or alternatively at dusk when it’s stalls appear forlorn once traders have deserted them. Sometimes I only browse when I visit the market, pausing awhile for a  snack and cuppa. The crepe suzette in the pic was delicious, as was the glass of orange, celery and carrot juice.

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Among the questions Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market would like you to have your say about are,

“Will these new plans safeguard the Council’s equality duty to the poor and vulnerable, the elderly, the disabled and ethnic minorities?

What do you think about the plans to link the Market to Victoria Gate with a grand entrance on George Street?

Will the butchers and fishmongers be able to occupy the same part of the market?

How do you feel about the 1976 hall being given over to day traders?

Will the outside market survive?”

Whereas an appropriate level of free street entertainment by some wandering minstrel, town cryers or poet,  might be in keeping with market places of old. What do you think about “the Council’s intention to run a constant rolling programme of entertainments? Can you really combine show business with shopping”?

The council will soon be finalizing decisions about what changes will be implemented, if you feel able to support the Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market campaign, you can follow their blog, where you will find the necessary details to voice your opinion.