Monday, 8 November 2010

New Blog: Mind The Gap

I recently started a new blog, Mind the Gap, so am no longer writing on this blog. If you have been directed to this page or used to read this blog, please have a look at my current blog:

Join me as I explore the gaps in our lives – between how it is and how we want it to be; between who we are and who we’d like to be; and many other areas… I’m a single mother of a nearly three year old, writer, yoga teacher, and I’m curious about creating balance in my life and meeting both my needs and those of my son.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Poetry and Yoga

It occurred to me after my last post that I haven't shared any of my poetry for a while, or written about my yoga practice. So, here's a short update on both.

At last I've been getting some more yoga work my way; I have a private client who's been having sessions with me for the past three weeks, and I had the opportunity to cover three weeks of group classes recently too. It's interesting how being in the Kundalini Yoga teacher role pushes me to excel to my capacity, and encourages me to walk my talk and have more integrity. Yogi Bhajan's emphasis on creating teachers rather than disciples was one way of helping us all to develop ourselves. When you stand in front of someone as a teacher, you are a representative of their higher consciousness, and that should not be betrayed.

So I've been working on speaking my truth, and getting more in touch with what that is, lately. A fascinating part of this process has been studying Yogi Bhajan's book 'The Mind', as part of a self-study for my Continuous Professional Development (a requirement to continue to be registered with my yoga governing body). One key teaching from this book is to only speak or act when the positive and negative minds have been balanced and you are in touch with your Neutral Mind. The Neutral Mind is the way that your soul speaks to you: the truth uncluttered by fear, prejudice and past actions. It's simply the truth of this moment.

Last night my friend Lou-Ice and I were talking about being in the moment and how that often means letting other things fall away; things you might have planned to do, but just aren't right when the particular moment comes. There is of course a balance between this and observing one's commitments!

And finally, a poem that I've been working on.It was inspired by a beautiful photograph (see below) by Lydia Panas of teenage girls that I saw at a recent gallery exhibition on an 'artist's date'. It's a bit 'dark' but I hope it makes you might even remind you of your teenage years!


Their faces are set:
chins jutting against the sharp
of what they cannot reach.

At night they go out,
take pills to line the longing
of their empty stomachs.

When they were five and their
bellies were round and soft
they did somersaults on the grass

before they sat on the toilet crying
"Daddy, I'm fat."

Hip-hop lyrics dazzle
off their pierced tongues,
their tongues so traitorous,

new revolutions spilt
like guilt pennies in the gutter of Monday.
How can they trust you

when behind their eyelids
there are a million worlds
without you in them?

Their eyes don't look at you:
they look into their own minds,
bore into their own bodies.

Their silence is weighted
with the words they don't know
to ask for what they want.

Tight-covered thighs
wait for the touch
of hard hands.

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Constant Environment

I've spent this evening singing Christmas carols for charity with the Roundhill Choir, the neighbourhood of a friend I'm staying with. It's another example of the way I've changed since becoming a mother.

It's almost as if entering parenthood has bridged the gap between me and other adults; somehow, I'm more part of my local community and less embarrassed about doing things like standing in the freezing cold singing 'Jingle Bells'. Maybe it's the way being with children so much takes down one's barriers around silliness and spontaneity, returning some of the magical playfulness we adults forget once we take up our mantle of breadwinning. Or maybe it's just that I've learned the value of being part of something bigger than myself, in ways I never knew about before, as a rather solitary child and lonely youngster.

I had a lovely morning relaxing around my friend's house with our children, who were having a sort of tea party on their little stools while we had our own chats and cups of tea. My needs are in many ways simpler, now: real (albeit interrupted) conversation with like-minded people, spending time with my son, and time in nature.

I don't need that much wild stimulation and excitement (well, occasionally, I admit), as evidenced by my recent clubbing excursion which failed to deliver as much promise as I had hoped for; and I can really see the value of my friend's idea that mothers (or fathers, if they're doing the childcare) get together and having 'mother's creches' at each other's houses, as my friend suggested. This is a very 'Continuum Concept' idea: we do what we do as adults, and all around us the children do what they do as children, and we connect and interweave.

In contrast to, perhaps, organised activities such as playgroups that parents often feel compelled to take their children to. On Sunday I took a departure from my usual 'no plastic' attitude and spent most of the day at Funplex: an indoor soft play centre for children. But it was fun, because I fulfilled both my adult needs by talking to the friends I went with, and my child's needs (and my 'inner child' need for play) by exploring a maze with him and letting him call the shots in some games with me, running up and down a ramp repeatedly - "Mummy, run! Mummy, lie down! Mummy, sing the rabbit sleeping song!"

I came home having reminded myself that parenting really can be, well, enjoyable, an aspect I often forget in the day to day focus on survival. My life, as some of you know, is in considerable tumult again as far as domestic arrangements go. One of my biggest concerns is of course how this all affects my son. But people keep telling me: I am his constant environment. As long as he's got me, he'll feel safe.

I'd like to believe that entirely, but I remember how unsettled he was the first few weeks after we last moved house. Still, I have been so grateful recently that I am still breastfeeding him, even though there have been so many times I've felt like quitting.

It's been such a continuous source of comfort and connection, and since reading Pam Leo's brilliant 'Connection Parenting', which I'd highly recommend to anyone who wants to parent in a heart-ful and connected, rather than coercive, disconnected way, (or is sceptical of the idea and wants to find out how it's possible!), I've started to value it even more.

Basically Pam Leo's idea (based on decades of family therapy experience and her own parenting experience) is that building and maintaining a connection with one's child, moment to moment, is the basis of their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, and the degree to which they cooperate with you as a parent.

The more you try to coerce, the more you break the connection. So coercion (punishment, rewards, shouting, hitting etc) might achieve short-term results, but in the long term it causes your children to want to cooperate with you less because they do not feel connected to you and loved by you. Sounds simple, but of course it isn't that simple to practice!

Focusing on bringing my connection with J back to the forefront has been helping me so much during this uncertain period of our lives. I feel like our bond has become stronger, and the battles between us are few and far between - and mostly occur when I am rushed and stressed and out of connection with my own source.

Breastfeeding in particular seems to meet his needs in so many different situations, from coping with transitions, to dealing with unfamiliar or overwhelming environments, to helping him wind down from a tantrum (or even heading one off). It's a tool I wouldn't be without, yet if you had said to me I'd still be nursing him at 2 years and 2 months, I would have been incredulous. That's what I love about parenting: being open to revising your ideas, and learning to adapt to what your child needs rather than what anyone says they should need.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Back to Inspiration

Hello everyone! I've been silent for a while again, but it's not surprising with all the events of the past two months. I'm going through a very motivated phase at the moment and writing more than usual - working on two short stories, writing more poems, and getting feedback on my 'best 16 poems' with a view towards getting a pamphlet out eventually. My mothers' writing group continues to go strong and we will soon start gathering material for our own collection.

Fuel for writerly inspiration came from attending a poetry event at popular coffee shop The Red Roaster on Friday night, where my friend and excellent poet Bernadette Cremin was reading from her new book "Miming Silence", along with poet George Szirtes. I helped Bernie put together the shortened pamphlet form of the book for her recent Ireland tour, so had had a sneak preview of some of the poems. As every time I witness her perform, I was captivated by her voice, her unique choice of words, and the way she is, well, just so 'at one' with her poems, it's as if she lives them out on the stage for us. Bern is one of the few poets I know whose work is just as good performed as live. George Szirtes' poetry struck me as very deep and existential, exquisitely beautiful in the style of a classic painting, and requiring multiple readings to penetrate, but I enjoyed the glimpse into a different world and will certainly check out his work on the page.

It all inspired me to go to more poetry events again: my goal will be one a month; and to start performing in the open mike slots again, frightening as it can be. I have sent my best 16 poems to a poet friend for some critiques and am hoping to be able to eventually interest one of the smaller, independent publishers who welcome new writers. But first I have to get out there and be heard again - my poet friend Lou-Ice was 'scouted' on Friday night when she performed in the open mike slot, so who knows!

In October I moved into a houseshare with some friendly folk but have decided to go for my dream of the community that I shared with you all before. I've realised that living with people who are on a similar path and who can support each other to live at our highest potential, is more important than living with other parents. In fact, I've found that living with other parents and children can be, well, a little complicated! As I've often discussed on here, parenting styles differ so much, and when different families are under the same roof it can be a challenge. So, currently I am meeting with people who are interested in forming a yogic, ecological community with me, and am hoping (with a good dose of surrender) to manifest this in late December or early January. It seems a pity to uproot J again when he took about a month to get settled into our new place, but I know he will benefit so much from being around people who are all dedicated to a spiritual path and to being conscious and compassionate to each other,and hearing lots of yoga mantra's into the bargain!

J turned two on the 1st of October, which felt like a big milestone for me too. It was a bittersweet day as it was also the day he and I officially moved out (although my relationship with his dad ended in August). Still, the change has all been positive, and J has adapted so well. He is using 4 and 5 word sentences now, and I can hardly believe the insights and combinations he comes up with. He tells me about people being 'upset' and 'trying' to do things, which is amazing at the age of only 25 months (I reckon!). It's wonderful being able to get an insight into the workings of his minds through his increased capacity to express himself. After settling in well at his nursery initially, he has been getting more and more upset recently, and really not wanting me to leave him - which in turn, of course, makes me feel upset. So I'm looking at other options. The nursery he attends is lovely and I don't think there's anything wrong with it; but I think J just is at the stage of development (and in his particular personality) where he needs one consistent person to bond to, as has been shown by the way he's been following one nursery staff member around and crying when she leaves. I hate to think of him being sad, especially because he is such a happy boy in most of his life.

Speaking of which, I need to go and fetch him from nursery now. I still don't have broadband at home so my opportunities to blog are limited, so be patient with me! Once I've got feedback on a new poem I plan to post it on here very soon...

Saturday, 26 September 2009

'The FIre Dancers' Poem, and an Update

This poem emerged out of a homework exercise for my mothers' writing group, which was to write from all five senses about a scene or place you haven't been to before. I cheated a little, because I wrote about a festival I attended last year too, and about fire dancing, which I've often seen - but I certainly got in contact with my senses in a way I hadn't before. Here it is:

The Fire Dancers

©Morgan Nichols

Their ropey muscles entwine with man’s oldest force of nature:

Dancing their fear out

Under the empty smell of stars

We, watching, taste the burning oil on the air,

Hear the crack and whir as chains spin,

Their hard metal a safe distance from my

Boy’s soft yielding skin.

The wine fills my pores as my eyes trace the

Fire dancers’ fluid motions,

Hear the swell and hush of voices

And the expectant


Punctuated by a baby’s cry.

Feedback welcome! And now for a little update. J is doing well in nursery so far - his settling in sessions and the first two proper sessions have been absolutely fine, with no tears at all. And apparently he didn't even ask for me until the end of the session at the last one! I'm still looking for another job, and went for an interview on Thursday that seemed to go well, for a company whose ethos I really resonate fingers crossed...I should hear soon. I'm also waiting to hear if I've got an interview for two other jobs, and I'm able to do some work-from-home freelancing for the company I currently work for, to tide me over. So I have hope that things will work out.

My living arrangement plans have changed a few times since I last wrote. The community plan didn't come through for various reasons, but mainly because I decided I didn't want to be the only person with a small child in a house full of childless people. Much as they might love children, everyone wants a little peace at the end of the day (or in the middle of the night, or on a Saturday morning) and I would feel too self-conscious and apologetic if my son was the only cause of disturbance.

I then decided to look for a place on my own, but looking at studio's, more in my budget, was rather disturbing, and one-bedroom flats far too expensive when you factor in agency fees and deposits. I will be staying at friends' houses for two weeks until I move in somewhere in the middle of October. This might be a houseshare with a single father, an acquaintance I've known since I moved to Brighton who is also into yoga and meditation; his daughter, and two others, which feels like something that could work. Plus the house has a garden, always a bonus!But my final decision will wait until I see the house - it's about to be painted and have some repair jobs done on it first.

I was astonished to see that I now have 108 complete typed pages of my novel, when I was splicing bits together last night! Somehow I hadn't realised it was that much. I'm going to get my good friend and fellow writer Lou-Ice to have a look at some of it soon (no, I won't lumber her with the whole thing!) and tell me what she thinks. I finally feel ready to let my 'baby' see the light of day.

I've been reading two fantastic books, 'Broken Open' by Elizabeth Lesser, co-creator of the famous Omega Institute, and 'The Value in the Valley' by Iyanla Vanzant. Both are 'strong women' books about how to tough out difficult times in your life and find the lessons therein. They are powering me up as I continue to face uncertainty and challenges with a steadfastness and patience that I never knew I had. Either motherhood has increased my stamina or my long-term practice of yoga and meditation is bearing fruit in a faith that I actually feel grateful to be able to manifest; grateful for this opportunity of broken dreams and new beginnings to access my warrior heart. Bring it on!

Monday, 31 August 2009

Making Friends With Uncertainty, and Never Saying Never

It seems that uncertainty is to be my friend for a little longer. At this point I don't know where I will be working or living in a month's time. Something that probably wouldn't have unduly disturbed me in my pre-motherhood life, but is now requiring a lot of concentration on 'letting go and letting God'.

The company where I started a job just over a week ago, can only offer me a month's contract due to needing someone to work full-time. 'Discrimination', says a little voice in my head - after all, I'm a mother of a pre-schooler, I'm not on an even playing field here - but I'm trying to see it more as a sign that there's somewhere else more suited to me. search begins again. Exciting things are happening on the living situation front, though: together with a friend, I am looking at creating a 'conscious community' of like-minded people to live together in Brighton or Hove, from October. At the moment fliers are circulating on the web, and soon to be distributed in real life too. I feel positive about finally creating a living environment that reflects my values, and sharing it with people who feel the same about the planet and about spirituality.

A big 'letting go' is coming in the area of childcare with so much about parenting, I've discovered once again the truth of 'never say never'. Never say you won't do something, because you probably will, whether it's shout at your child, give them sweets or...put them in nursery.

After reading Oliver James' Affluenza and Steve Biddulph's Raising Babies: Why Your Love is Best - Should Under 3's Go to Nursery, I was dead set against the idea of J ever going to a group care situation before the age of three. There are lots of reasons which I won't go into here (I've probably discussed it on another post anyway), but basically I'm now finding that a nursery for 4 hours a week is the best way to meet my childcare need. A good friend whose little boy went to nursery at 10 months and has thrived, (to the point where he doesn't want to come home sometimes!), has reassured me a lot, but even so, I feel sad about letting go of one of my 'big ideals' in parenting. J starts his first 'settling in' sessions at a small private nursery next week.

The funny thing is, everything seems to be coming together at the right time. Even two months ago I would never have imagined J being ready for this amount of separation from me, and not being left with people he knew well. He has always been incredibly 'attached'. But just recently, he's taken great strides forward in his 'independence' (I hate using that word in relation to such dependent beings as babies and toddlers, but you know what I mean) and ability to withstand separation. He is genuinely enjoying the company of other children and seeking them out. Just a few days ago I watched him run around the park, with complete confidence, initiating games with children older than him and not looking back to me once. I felt proud - and, yes, a little sad. But more relieved than anything else.

After investigating child-minding options and finding that they're basically the same as a nursery but with less staff, I decided a nursery would provide more safety and peace of mind for me - and having seen the staff from this nursery out and about with children several times, and being impressed with their warm, natural and 'non-hovering' interactions, I decided to try this particular one. My other childcare hours will be taken up by a very kind friend who's doing a 'swop' with me, and by J's dad who has a day off.'s not that bad really.

J has, so far, adapted remarkably well to all the changes, but at the moment he has a cold and his need for 'mummy' has come out a bit more. I'm finding an unexpected side-effect of working part-time is that I appreciate my time with him more, and am more able to focus on him when necessary (except when I'm stressed!) We spent a week at a friend' s house and he loved playing with her children, barely noticing that we were outside of our usual environment.

What's been getting me through all of the uncertainty and change is a very simple, yet amazingly effective breathing exercise from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, which I got from his book 'Be Free Where You Are'. Doing it twice a day, and whenever I feel tense or need a 'pick-me-up', is helping me to stay calm and be in the present moment. I highly recommend it! Prior to that, I was doing a Kundalini Yoga meditation called 'Creating Self Love' daily for a couple of weeks, and I'm now also doing the Buddhist metta bhavana (loving-kindness) meditation - on myself. As a mother, continually giving, I'm finding I need to give some of this energy to myself.

And it's coming out in unexpected ways, with more energy and inspiration for my creativity. My novel has sprung back into my consciousness again this past week, and I've been scribbling away, really enjoying the characters and feeling them come alive. Who knows when I'll ever finish it, but for now it's great to be inspired to write.

Well, I think that's enough from me for now! Next time I hope to update you on the developments with the budding 'conscious community', and on how J does with nursery.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The end of Stay-at-Home Mom-hood - and control vs authenticity

Has it really been two weeks since I last posted? I've been running around like a whirling dervish, applying for jobs and going for interviews. It's been both nerve-wracking and exhilirating. I'm sad at having to let go of my Stay at Home mom role, but necessity calls now that I am officially a single mom. Big transitions all round. I'm doing a trial first day at a new part-time job next week - nothing creative or particularly inspiring, alas, but in a way I like to save my creative energies for my writing and parenting. The main considerations right now are, of course, money, and using as little childcare as possible - so, this audio transcription job having flexible hours appealed to me.

Being faced with the prospect of less time with J has brought me more into the present moment with him: I'm appreciating our time together more, almost soaking up his every smile and joke - and even enjoying the truly boring moments of watching him move his little cars around. Part of letting go of SAHM-hood is letting go of the notion that I can control every aspect of my son's experience. The reality is that he will now be spending fairly significant amounts of time with other care-givers than me (although I'm not doing group care, I believe he is too young for that), and this can feel scary! But a book I've read recently, 'Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves' by Naomi Aldort (listed on my recent post about my top 13 inspiring books) has helped me to feel more confident that I can ride the wave with my son, whatever happens, and stay connnected to him and myself in the process.

This is a really mind-blowing book - beware! It is all about letting go of control, in favour of authenticity. I think if everyone parented this way, we'd have a hell of a lot less neuroticism and fascism in the world. It's all about treating your child with the same respect you would any adult. Letting go of the notion that you can control any other human being. All you can do is gently guide and show them through your own behaviour, how to treat other people, and help them to deal with their emotions lovingly.

It's more than a little radical! Most of us have been brought up with rewards and punishment and other forms of manipulation to get us to 'behave'. And I think most of us struggle at least a little with self-esteem and figuring out what WE really want to do. Although there's no way to bring up a child that guarantees they will be secure, Aldort describes a formula called 'SALVE' that allows us to parent more authentically, and thus help our children to keep their own authenticity.

The SALVE formula involves first of all, separating yourself from your child's behaviour and emotions with a silent self-talk. When our child does something, an automatic tape starts to play in our head: for example 'He is naughty. He shouldn't do that. If I don't stop it, he'll be an out of control brat' - sound familiar? When you can work through that in your own head, realise that it is only old beliefs and not 'the truth' in this moment, you are able to resist reacting automatically, and give yourself space to respond authentically and lovingly. You are then able to apply the 'A' of the formula: 'Attention on your child'.

'L' stands for 'Listen to your child's words and non-verbal communication'. This will help you understand where he/she is coming from, and what he/she may need. 'V' is for 'Validate your child's feelings and the needs he expresses'. So, for example: 'You feel angry because you really wanted that toy. It's hard to share sometimes' instead of 'You must share. Give that toy back right now!' which only disempowers the child and causes resentment, not a genuine desire to share.

Finally, 'E' stands for 'Empower your child to resolve his own upset by getting out of his way and trusting him'. This means not rushing to fix everything, and trusting that children can come up with their own solutions when they feel trusted, safe and free of parents' expectations. Aldort gives many practical examples of how this works, and how important it is for a child to genuinely make a free choice to do something, rather than be forced to. It's no use if someone is being kind only to earn brownie points - we want to give space for the inherent kindness of children to develop, and that involves not being unkind to them with manipulation.

Aldort's book gave me the practical understanding and tools to apply the concepts I first read about in Alfie Kohn's 'Unconditional Parenting', which I've also written about previously on here. In applying the 'SALVE' formula, and trying to understand J through the different needs that Aldort describes - love, freedom of expression, emotional safety, autonomy and power, self-confidence - I have found a huge difference in our relationship. Mostly, I'm simply enjoying it more, because it takes the struggle out of parenting. So much of our struggle comes from these old tapes that play in our head, and not being in the moment. When we can let go of those, it's hugely liberating. Still, it takes a lot of faith and trust to let go of old control models! I'm reassured by comments from other mothers who practice this kind of parenting, who say that others often remark on how well-adjusted and kind their children are - and of adults who were brought up in this way, saying how much self-confidence and security they've always had.

I'll end with a quote from the book: 'At each tough moment with your child, you have a choice: to stop the child's way of being so you can stay devoted to your old ways or to grow into the greater person you can become by flowing with your child's journey. She is your teacher. Self-directed and self-realized people grow in families where parents are growing up side by side with their children.' (Aldort, 2005, xvi).