Saturday, 13 February 2010

Come on cyber sangha, do your thing...For Stella

This evening I went to a kirtan class, and although I feel like it probably “should” clear my mind, I tend to think a lot while I am chanting. But somehow the thoughts seem clearer, and I am to be able to work things out while I am thinking, without getting caught up in familiar patterns. While I was there today, I decided that I wanted to write this post when I got home but I’ll warn you now, it’s going to be unashamedly sentimental and I’m going to try and tug at your heartstrings. Ready?

This is my beautiful niece who is now two and a half. Until she was born I didn’t really understand how much you could love a child who is not your own. I am hopelessly in love with her and what she did for our family when she arrived as the first baby, the first niece, the first grandchild, in July 2007 cannot be underestimated. She helped to turn our family from one that not very nice things happened to, to one blessed with a beautiful, exuberant, intelligent and hugely charismatic little girl. She loves my parents almost as much as they love her, and my brother adores being an Uncle. So why am I telling you all of this?

Just before Christmas, my sister bumped into a lady she met through one of the various baby groups she had attended when my niece was born. My sister hadn’t seen this mum around for a while, and soon discovered why. Her little girl, Stella, who is the same age as my niece, my diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer when she was 17 months old. I’m not an expert on the condition but from what I have read, Neuroblastoma is pretty much as bad as it can get for a child of that age. Her chances of survival with the treatment available in the UK are just 20%. To bring her chances up to 80% the family were campaigning to send Stella to the US for  antibody therapy not available in England. The major drawback was the price: £250,000.

Hearing about this from somebody even loosely connected to my niece obviously touched everybody in my family. After I had donated some money, I posted the link on twitter and was thrilled when one of my online friends in American donated (thank you M). Then while I was in India I had an email from my parents saying that they were organising a quiz for Stella’s appeal (all I could think was, I'm so lucky my parents are good people). Although they attend a lot of quizzes my parents had never organised one before, but soon they were making plans to borrow tables and chairs to accommodate 30 teams of 8 people each – that’s 240 people! Despite feeling very stressed on the day and worried about keeping that many people entertained, everybody pulled together and it all went well (although sadly I couldn’t be there). The end result was fantastic – not only did everybody have lots of fun, but when the sums were done they had collected £2,500 – or as my Dad put it, 1% of the total. Of course that’s fantastic, but there is still a long way to go. The curent total stands at just over £15,000. Having completed treatment here in the UK (as it says on her website: "70 days of aggressive chemotherapy; major surgery to remove the primary tumour; a stem cell rescue that wipes out her bone marrow, three weeks of radio therapy and six months of oral chemotherapy") Stella is actually in America starting treatment as we speak, and the family have been allowed to start it when only a fraction of the money has been raised. So now the pressure is really on…

I appreciate that there are many, many stories like this and other causes which you might feel are more deserving of your money because they will help more people. Afterall, this is a lot of money needed to help “just” one little girl. But I know, and I am sure most of you do too, that is that one little girl was your little girl, or your niece, or your best friend’s baby, or your neighbour, you would do whatever you possibly could to keep her here. The alternative is impossible to contemplate.

So what occurred to me during my class this evening was that if everybody who read this blog, all of the people in my beautiful worldwide cyber sangha donated just the cost of a regular yoga class, whether that is $15, £10, €7: whatever it may be, then that could be your little dose of karma yoga for the day. And if you feel like it, maybe you could leave a comment and tell me that you’ve done it, or label your donation in some way, or else stay completely anonymous. The choice is yours. I’m making my karmayoga donation this evening and holding both of my baby nieces in my heart while I do so, thinking there but for the grace of God…

Here is the link for the donation:
And you can read full details about Stella, her treatment and the campaign here:
I also think it's important to point out that none of the money they are raising is to cover travel or living expenses for the 6 months that Stella and her Mum will be in Philadelphia for the treatment.

Thank you.x 

Thursday, 11 February 2010

On Writing & Yoga

So how long is it since my last post? I'm coming to realise that for me, there are a lot of similarities between practicing yoga and writing. I really really want to do both things, but somehow I will find every excuse under the sun to avoid them.
As anyone who has kept up with this blog will see, I am at best sporadic at keeping it going – at worst, I break my promises! "One post on David Swenson, more to follow" which never materialised – and as for my retreat blogging? The less said about that the better. In my defence, while I was away in India I seemed to come out in a rash (well, substitute an appropriate India-related malady) every time I went in the computer room. I took reams and reams of notes during conference, and wrote other bits and pieces about how I was feeling about everything and what I was going through with my mental and physical journey, planning to write it all up when I got back. But I found the notes all slightly overwhelming, it was going to take so long to make any sense of it, and I came home to a week-long bout of jet lag, followed by a week-long stinking cold, all the while trying to adjust to being back at work after 3 weeks off. And even though I have had other things to blog about since I came back, and keep having tons of ideas and things I want to say, I am overwhelmed by the weight of the “backlog” I have created for myself catching up on my ashtanga retreat.

My practice goes in much the same way. I go through enthusiastic phases, and phases where I resist getting on my mat and would rather be anywhere but there. I have reached the point in the (not too distant) past where it seemed too overwhelming to go back to square one after a break from regular practice. Most of the time I would rather talk about yoga than actually do it: oh in theory I love to practice, or should that be would love to practice, but the time spent thinking/reading/talking (not writing!) about yoga vs. actual mat-time is pitiful. But this last week, I have made it to Mysore classes on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday. I have started to feel a change in my practice, in my approach to the early starts, and I have definitely seen a change in the way my teacher is with me now that I am seen to be practicing more. During a very lovely elongated breakfast and lunch on Sunday (with fellow bloggers Helen, Globie & Susananda), Susan said something about not being able to stop once you start practicing, because your body feels so sore without it. Having been an erratic practitioner over the past year, I am more accustomed to my body hurting because of it, but this week I realised that that has changed. I had been avoiding practice on Monday & Tuesday this week, because of a huge adverse reaction I had to an adjustment on Sunday (It was in triang mukha – which always makes me angry for some reason, I had a strong adjustment and found myself completely livid – it was all I could do not to scream and or smack my poor lovely teacher!). Anyway so Monday & Tuesday was a bit of gentle stretching, but through the day at work my back and shoulders just felt so sore, and I came to realise that the only thing that would help was a proper practice. So on Wednesday I set the alarm for 5.20 and off I went, and it really really helped my back. The biggest newsflash was that I was no more tired by the end of the working day than I ever am: so today I went again. And I think (hope) that I might have cracked it now. If I can get to Mysore classes a couple of weekdays plus Sundays I just know I will start to feel the benefit.

The point was, today I realised that writing and yoga are quite similar for me. Right now, yoga is my “thing”. Those who have known me a long time remember when writing was my thing – for about four years in my mid twenties I was writing a novel, and had reached about 40,000 words when I just lost the faith and gave up. It horrifies me to thing of all of the hours I put into it, and that I just gave up so easily. But much as I am doing with my blog now, I would get so caught up in writing one section and getting it perfect, that I could be on 7 edits of a chapter before I moved on to the next one. My writing teacher was constantly saying “Just get it down, keep moving forward, don’t lose your momentum!” and much as I wanted to do it, I always seemed to fall behind somehow. So while I’m busy trying to write a well formed essay every time I post on my blog, those that I enjoy the most (and envy!) are either short, snappy and regularly updated like Skippetty Street (not to mention funny, cute AND informative, Jaime I should hate you!!), or more stream of conscience style. I need to remember my writing teacher’s words and just get on with it – or as Jaime often reminds me “Don’t think, just do!!”

But the other thing I have realised is that the two things can actually feed into one another: through yoga, I have the opportunity to write again. My problem is actually having too much to say now that I have a ready-formed topic, whereas when I was trying to create a work of fiction my imagination would frequently go AWOL. So if I lose the yoga, I lose the writing again. This post was all so clear in my mind and it has taken on a bit of a different form but I think what I’m getting at is that I am going to try and take a step forward with both things, writing and yoga, and even if they are only little baby steps I’m going to keep on taking them until they turn into big strides.