All posts by Margaretha

My horses and I host equine-guided personal empowerment workshops. I also write books.

Gratitude is not enough.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I am going to say, “Gratitude is not enough, it should manifest itself as Generosity if it is to result in a state of Grace.” I have, indeed, said this many times before and I continue to believe it wholeheartedly, but I have learned in 2017 that gratitude and generosity still are not enough.

It has been a difficult year. Pain has been my constant companion for nine months of this year. It started on the 4th of April, the day after I had attended my annual check-up at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, where the professor assured me that all was well with both my eyes. Less than 24 hours later the pain started in my left eye.

I have had corneal transplants twice in the past, thanks to two generous donors to whom I am profoundly grateful. Usually, a corneal transplant lasts for ten years and my current transplant was already more than twenty years old. I knew it would have to be replaced sooner or later, but as the two previous operations were painful experiences that I prefer not to dwell on, I had hoped that it would be later, much, much later, before I would need to undergo this operation again. As a cornea gets older, it gets thinner and thinner and mine was so thin now that I developed one corneal ulcer after another, on a background of continuous keratitis. Which basically means that I was never entirely pain-free, although the pain would increase and decrease depending on whether an ulcer was developing or healing.

Life, of course, went on, with all its demands and dramas. I was afraid to have the necessary surgery, so I kept hoping that the problem would go away of its own accord, as you do. This did not happen and by June I was desperate enough to go and see an ophthalmologist, recommended to me by a friend who is an optician. Not surprisingly, he confirmed that I needed a transplant and referred me to a specialist centre, two hours’ drive from where we live, for the operation. It took another 5 months, during which I had an urgent operation on my right eye before everything was in readiness for the transplant.

Even now, two weeks after the transplant, due to post-operative complications, I am not yet pain-free. One lives in hope.

I coped with these nine months by practising what I preach. I made a list every morning and every evening of what I have to be grateful for that particular day. My list was always long and this kept me going, one day at a time. During the day, I spent as much time as I could living in the present moment, being mindful of the gift of that moment: a mind-blowingly beautiful sunset, the laughter of friends, the taste of my first cup of coffee of the day, the inquiring whinny of one of the horses near my bedroom window, the luxurious feel of the summer sun on my skin…and I translated this gratitude into generosity, by focussing on what my friends and family needed and helping where I could. My main coping strategy was: “The busier I am helping others, the less time I have to focus on my own problems.”

There were many difficult times though, of course there were. Times of uncertainty when I did not know how much longer it would be before I would be able to undergo the transplant. Times of apprehension, when I worried about the operation itself, whether it would be successful or not. Fearful times, while I was afraid that this operation would be as painful as the previous operations. Times of despair, when my coping strategy made the pain worse. Times of intense frustration, when the transplant had to be delayed as I developed glaucoma that needed to be treated urgently. Eventually, I had to have surgery to my right eye to secure the only vision I had left (my left eye is blind.) I did a lot of praying during those endless months.

It was only towards the end that I, purely by accident, found out that gratitude and generosity are not enough. Not for me, in any case. I spend a lot of time and energy every year making advent calendars for the people closest to me. I usually start the hunt for the twenty-four perfect little gifts for each calendar mid-October. It is one of my all-time favourite Christmas activities. I wrap each small gift individually, adding a card with a quote chosen especially for the day and the recipient. This year, I was surprised to find just how beneficial this burst of vigorous creativity was to my state of mind.

Being grateful and generous was helpful, to me and to the people around me, but being creative was my saving grace.

It seems to me, that just as gratitude can be expressed as generosity, it can also be expressed as creativity. I find creativity as beneficial to my well-being as gratitude and generosity. My main creative outlet these past few years has been writing. I have done very little writing over the last 9 months. Reading and writing had been too painful. Now I am thinking this may have been a mistake, that it is time to start writing again. As motivation and for inspiration, I have just downloaded a book from Amazon: “Called to Create: A Biblical invitation to Create, Innovate and Risk” by Jordan Raynor and I am looking forward to reading it as the old year makes way for the new.

Here is to a 2018 filled with Gratitude, Generosity and Creativity!

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No More Meditation

Meditation is no longer working for me. Especially not sitting meditation, but then I had never taken to that. I used to practice two types of moving meditation: walking and writing, but I no longer find either of much use. I have practised meditation for many years now, I have even taught it. I know how to do it and I have listed the benefits of meditation on this blog time and again. I just no longer experience those benefits. Until now, my Connect with Horses Workshops were all about meditation. The workshops introduce participants to various different meditation methods, including meditation with horses, by far the most popular part of these mindfulness and meditation workshops.

Meditation – the end of an era

I stopped meditating at the end of the summer. Did the world come to an end? Not really. Am I worse off now that I no longer meditate? Cannot say that I am. The reason for this might be because I have replaced it with something else, something that works better for me, as a kinaesthetic interpreter and learner. I never took to sitting meditation, as to make sense of my environment, to interpret it, to understand it and to learn from my experiences, I need to move. I learn by doing, unlike most others who learn by seeing and talking, the visual and auditory interpreters. I can still meditate, I just no longer want to.

Morning Pages – starting something new

Looks as if I shall have to design a new workshop for summer next year. Instead of meditating, I know practice free writing. It is similar to writing meditating in many ways, different in others. I have been playing around with this idea since I first read Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, many years ago now. I could see the therapeutic benefits that this practice might have. That was before I started writing books. Now that writing is a daily activity, I revisited Julia’s book and decided that free writing might suit me better than writing meditation. At this stage of my life, it fits me like a hand in a glove. I love writing, so the activity is nearly effortless. It clears my mind at the beginning of the day. It helps me focus during the day, it helps me process my emotions, it helps me to make decisions. I have learned a lot about myself since I have started free writing. As Julia so eloquently says: “Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”

Freewriting, and specifically morning pages, has boosted my creativity in a variety of surprising ways, more than meditation ever did.

You may be wondering what morning pages are. Julia explains, “Morning pages are three pages of longhand (about 750 words,) a stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. Morning pages are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.”

Mindfulness – always present

Julia Cameron advocated mindfulness long before mindfulness became a buzzword. I entirely agree with her when she says, “In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me.” I will never tire of practising mindfulness. It is my number one coping strategy. When I feel overwhelmed, I attend to the moment and specifically to what I have to be thankful for in said specific moment. I also include a list of things I feel grateful for that happened to me in the last 24 hours when I write my morning pages. I have always believed in the power of gratitude to transform people’s lives, and I always will.

It is my intention to base next summer’s Connect with Horses workshops on writing morning pages, mindful gratitude and of course, on connecting with horses. Because this is what is working for me at the moment, in the run-up to yet another serious eye operation, a corneal transplant to my left eye. I can not teach something that I no longer believe in. Teaching what I do believe in, on the contrary, feels more or less effortless.

I shall keep you updated on my progress.

If you would like to try writing morning pages yourself, I would recommend you visit Julia Cameron’s website: JuliaCameronLive.com. Another website I found very useful is 750words.com – it will help you get into the habit of writing every day.

Mindfulness 24/7

I do not want the title of this post to be misleading. It is impossible to practice mindfulness 24/7.  We sleep for several hours out of every 24 and I do not know of anyone who can practice mindfulness during their sleep. What I am implying with this title, is that mindfulness is at our disposal 24/7 to help us cope with difficult situations.

We all have to face adversity from time to time: a challenging job, a demanding boss, an unsettled relationship, a treat to our health, a financial crisis…mindfulness can help us cope with adversity, especially in it is of an ongoing nature.

Mindfulness is all about focussing on one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time. When we face adversity, our thoughts tend to travel either into the future – we worry about the possible outcome – or into the past – we dwell on past failures, our past inability to cope with and overcome a similar situation.

Even if we are in a very stressful situation, we can take pleasure in a single moment. All we have to do, it to focus 100% of our attention on this very second and on everything that makes this single second precious, on everything that we are grateful for in this moment in time. There might be trouble ahead, but in this specific instant in time, all is well.

To handle a difficult situation, we can take 5 minutes out to remind ourselves what we are grateful for. Gratitude, profound and intensely felt, defuses stress. We can choose to be happy during these 5 minutes. We can choose not to let our fears about the future destroy our happiness during the next 5 minutes. Or the next hour. Or this afternoon. Or today. Or this weekend. If there is nothing that we can do to resolve our difficulties till Monday, we can choose to mindfully enjoy everything that the weekend has to offer, instead of miserably fretting the whole weekend long.

The funny thing about concentrating on making the most of each moment, about enjoying each minute of your life consciously and on purpose, is that it gives your creative brain the time to come up with an original solution, in its own good time. This solution is often more effective than any solution you may have tortured into life by worrying about a situation. There is a lot to be said for making time to breathe deeply and slowly during stressful periods, not only does it calm our nerves, it also re-oxygenate our brain, making it easier for our brains to come up with solutions to our problems.

For me personally, mindfulness is also an expression of my Christianity. When I face a challenge, I pray to God for help. I then leave the problem with him and focus on enjoying the next five minutes of my life. I thank Him for everything that I have that I am grateful for. I resolve not to let my current difficulties destroy the whole day’s happiness. It is not easy, my mind travels back time and again to my problem – I am only human after all – and time and again I have to stop and re-direct my thoughts to what I am grateful for and enjoying at this moment in time.

Mindfulness has very practical applications. Mindfulness can help you cope with a variety of problems that may initially look like insurmountable obstacles. This is why mindfulness is an integral part of our Connect with Horse Mindfulness Meditation Workshops.

“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

Mousse au Chocolat Noir in Minutes

Our region has many famous and favourite desserts, like the Croustade aux Pommes et à L’Armagnac, a fruit tart that is not difficult to make but does take a fair amount of time. For our mindfulness and meditation retreats with the horses, I prefer something quick and easy that can preferably be prepared beforehand. Mouse au Chocolat is one of my favourites. I use chocolat noir, usually the Cote d’Or variety and I flavour it with mint leaves from the herb garden.

Ask ten French people how to make mousse au chocolat, and you will end up with ten different recipes. En plus, everybody has their own ideas when it comes to adding flavourings and toppings, but the main ingredients in a chocolate mousse always include chocolate, eggs and sugar. Some recipes also require cream, butter and your choice from a variety of flavourings.

As with any recipe that includes chocolate, the secret is using only the very best chocolate you can. Your mousse is only as good as your chocolate. This basic French chocolate mousse recipe is remarkable in its simplicity.

Ingredients
350g chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup of strong coffee
3 eggs
1/4 cup of caster sugar
1 tablespoon real cocoa powder
300ml thick, heavy full-fat cream

Chantilly (whipped cream), fresh mint leaves and grated chocolate to garnish

Instructions

Place the chocolate, butter and coffee in a glass heat-resistant bowl over a pan of boiling water. The bowl should not touch the water. Stir slowly until all the butter and the chocolate has melted. Remove the bowl from the stove and set it aside to cool.

Place the eggs and the sugar into a large bowl and beat with an electric beater for 3-5 minutes until mixture is pale, thick, lemon-yellow and twice the volume. Carefully fold in the cocoa powder. Add the cooled but still liquid chocolate. Mix well.

Whip cream until thick but do not overdo it. Carefully fold the cream into the chocolate mixture,  keeping the mixture as light as possible. Divide mixture into 6 portions. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours. (The mousse can be refrigerated for up to a day.)

Top with chantilly, a mint leaf and grated chocolate to serve.

This recipe is included in my book Secure Your Promising, Purposeful and Prosperous Your Future.

Secure Your Future ebook

More recipes on my Recipes for Retreats Pinterest Board

Leo’s first ever Equine-assisted Psychotherapy session

Some of you may remember: Leo is the horse we rescued a couple of years ago, who on arrival here was little more than a bag of bones. Leo has been with us for three years now. He has made tremendous progress.

I thought the time was right to see if Leo, so traumatised and abused himself in the past, would be interested in helping our workshop participants resolve trauma they experienced previously. You can read more about Leo’s past here. So I asked my Belgian friend Kat if she would be interested in doing an equine-assisted psychotherapy session with Leo. Kat, herself a healer, and Leo, were both a bit nervous in the beginning. Kat is not familiar with horses and Leo has never worked with anyone else but me. Leo was a STAR, and so was Kat, working together to find common ground, both nervous, but both eager to find a way of communicating and helping each other. It was pure magic. It has taken me near three years to get Leo this point, to rebuild his trust in people, so much so that he would actually be willing to help them with their own problems. 

Here is Kat’s take on the experience:

Just follow your heart, Margaretha said…

I’m used to following my heart, when I work with adults, with children – when I teach, when I coach and when I heal. The only thing is that I’m a bit (read a whole lot) scared of horses. When you’re afraid, following your heart is not that easy.

The week before, Margaretha told me that she wanted to introduce me to Leo, so that I can work with him the following week. I tried to give him a carrot. As I reached out to him, he shied away and fled as if I was going to hit him with an axe. Equally sacred, I took a huge jump backwards.

With the assistance of Margaretha, whom I trust, and more importantly who Leo trusts, I managed to get him to eat a few carrots out of my hand, which Margaretha had to hold!

I could only imagine that during the following week, Margaretha had a good many nights of doubting, about her idea of me working with Leo. After almost three years of patience in trying to win his confidence and showing to Leo that people can be trusted, you do not want a nervous person to undo all of your achievements in a split second.

I, on the other hand, was prepared for the worst. In my mind’s eye and in my dreams, I saw a horse jumping and shying away from me. Anxiety is an emotion and mostly a product of our minds, so I decided to just be and breathe and see what happened. The worst thing that could happen is Leo jumping all over me.

The day we planned me working with Leo, I felt a bit nervous, so I grounded myself and did my full walking heart meditation. Without expectations and without a plan I entered the school.

Just follow your heart…. and so I did, I opened my heart for this wonderful being, let down and hurt by people. I just tried to establish a loving connection, kept my energy low, my movements very slow and calm.  I kept my distance and tried to make Leo curious. What happened I will remember the rest of my life. The pictures speak for themselves. I am so honoured to have attended this healing experience for Leo and for myself.

Thankfulness, Love and Joy. The power of the Hearth is the greatest Power in the World!

Thanks, Leo, thank you, Margaretha
Kat

I posted Kat and Leo’s adventure on my Facebook page and was completely overwhelmed by the encouraging response. You can read the comments here – the post is available for public viewing. I also recently wrote a blog post focusing on what Leo taught me about the pros and cons of mindfulness.

If you would like to meet Leo, please join us for a Connect with Horses Workshop here in the south of France. If you would like to follow Leo’s progress, please subscribe to this blog and to my newsletter at the top right of this page.