Gratitude is not enough.

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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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Mousse au Chocolat Noir in Minutes

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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. 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.

Mousse au Chocolat noir, the making, the sharing and the eating, makes me happy.

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

A Cure for Writer’s Block

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When I started writing, I often got stuck. I surfed the net and eventually found a Youtube video that changed my approach to writing completely. I never got stuck again.

Paulo Coelho explains in this video how walking the Camino de Santiago inspired him to start writing.  He wrote his first book, the Pilgrimage, after he walked the Camino. Thousands of pilgrims walk the Camino de Santiago to Spain every year and pilgrims have walked this route for at least a thousand years.

It just so happens that the Camino runs nearly past my back door and is thus easily accessible whenever writer’s block strikes. Thousands of pilgrims walk the Camino de Santiago to Spain every year and pilgrims have walked this route for at least a thousand years. Walking the Camino is, more often than not, a life-changing experience. It can certainly inspire writers, just as it did Coelho as well as a host of other authors.

Today, few people can take off several weeks to walk to Camino from beginning to end. Luckily this is not essential – just walking the Camino for a day or even for an afternoon, nourishes my creative spirit, so much so that I felt the need to share the experience with other writers. Many of our mindfulness and meditation workshop participants have told us that the day they walked the Camino was the highlight of their holiday. With this in mind,  my husband and I sat down and worked out how we could best go about this. We decided on a weekend break, an introduction to the Camino de Santiago (St James’ Way/St Jacques de Compostelle) Pilgrim’s Route, as a walking and wine tasting holiday.

Read more…

How to practice Art Meditation

Art Maditation
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This is another article in my stress management strategies series “How to Cope with Stress.” We have so far discussed various meditation methods: working meditation, writing meditation, walking meditation, sleep meditation, visualisation meditation, breathing meditation and Christian meditation. Today we look at Art Meditation: what it is and how to practice it.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
Thomas Merton

What is Art Meditation? Art meditation allows us to focus on the process of creation while allowing our thoughts to drift by without engaging with them or reacting to them. According to Eckhart Tolle, “Identification with thoughts and the emotions that go with those thoughts creates a false mind-made sense of self, conditioned by the past… This false self is never happy or fulfilled for long. Its normal state is one of unease, fear, insufficiency, and non-fulfillment.” Art can help us connect to a deeper and calmer part of ourselves. “All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness,” according to Tolle.

Although many of us have heard about the extensive benefits of meditation, some of us find traditional sitting meditation difficult. Luckily, there are various other meditation methods that may suit us like walking meditation, working meditation, writing meditation…and art meditation. Here at Les Sources Sacrées, in the south of France, we also introduce our mindfulness meditation workshop participants to equine-guided meditation.

Let’s also look at what art meditation is not.

Art Therapy

Art Meditation is not Art Therapy. Art therapy is defined by the British Association of Art Therapists as “a form of psychotherapy that uses art as its primary mode of communication.” Art therapy helps patients express themselves to release and resolve emotional issues. Art therapy has a positive effect on a variety of illnesses including depression. In a recent study of cancer patients, an art therapy intervention — in conjunction with conventional treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy – not only diminished symptoms typically associated with cancer such as pain, fatigue and anxiety but also increased life expectancy. The study was based on the theory that “the creative process involved in the making of art is healing and life-enhancing. It is used to help patients, or their families, increase awareness of self, cope with symptoms, and adapt to stressful and traumatic experiences.”

Creative Meditation 

Art Meditation is not Creative Meditation either. Creative meditation enables us to consciously cultivate and strengthen specific mental characteristics like patience, appreciation, empathy, gratitude, compassion, courage, humility etc. Creative meditation enables us to enhance these strengths of character.

How to practice Art Meditation – 10 suggestions
Read more…

Saturday Photo from the south of France

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“When your footsteps and thoughts carry you down the same path your heart and soul are directing you, you will know without a doubt that you are headed in the right direction.” Molly Friedenfeld

As for me, I think I will continue to follow in the footsteps of the two above. I took this photo on Monday, the 19th, my birthday. It was a wonderfully sunny winters day and we had lunch at a restaurant right on the beach, at Arcachon, just south of Bordeaux. A day to remember!

It is Christmas Eve. I would like to leave you with a quote that complements the season’s mood and meaning: “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” Henry David Thoreau

As well as a lasting gift that might re-direct your path:

You ARE Good Enough free e-book

Click on the picture to claim your free e-book

A very Joyeux Noel to you all
from the not-so-sunny south of France!

Prompt for this week’s photo challenge: “Path.”