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At The Happy Starfish we are dedicated to providing a wealth of information, products, workshops and articles all aimed at celebrating health, happiness and peaceful living. We believe that life should be an awesome adventure filled with love; love life and life will love you back. Are you willing to surrender what you think you are for what you could become? Are you ready?

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Maya Angelou, A brave and startling truth


Dr Maya Angelou, one of the most influential women of our time, died at her home yesterday, aged 86.

Although renowned for many things, activist, singer, teacher, actress it was her words that touched me most. 'I know why the caged bird sings,' is a book that stayed with me long after I had turned the final page. It taught me a lot in terms of living fearlessly despite difficult circumstances. I wrote Maya's quote 'You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them', in the front of my journal following my accident and it inspired me to remain positive.

Here is a poem of Maya's that I love. You can read a full biography of Maya at her official website.

A brave and startling truth

Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet 
Traveling through casual space 
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns 
To a destination where all signs tell us 
It is possible and imperative that we learn 
A brave and startling truth 
And when we come to it 
To the day of peacemaking 
When we release our fingers 
From fists of hostility 
And allow the pure air to cool our palms 
When we come to it 
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate 
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean 
When battlefields and coliseum 
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters 
Up with the bruised and bloody grass 
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil 
When the rapacious storming of the churches 
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased 
When the pennants are waving gaily 
When the banners of the world tremble 
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze 
When we come to it 
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders 
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce 
When land mines of death have been removed 
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace 
When religious ritual is not perfumed 
By the incense of burning flesh 
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake 
By nightmares of abuse 
When we come to it 
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids 
With their stones set in mysterious perfection 
Nor the Gardens of Babylon 
Hanging as eternal beauty 
In our collective memory 
Not the Grand Canyon 
Kindled into delicious color 
By Western sunsets 
Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe 
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji 
Stretching to the Rising Sun 
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor, 
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores 
These are not the only wonders of the world 
When we come to it 
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe 
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger 
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace 
We, this people on this mote of matter 
In whose mouths abide cankerous words 
Which challenge our very existence 
Yet out of those same mouths 
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness 
That the heart falters in its labor 
And the body is quieted into awe 
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet 
Whose hands can strike with such abandon 
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living 
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow 
And the proud back is glad to bend 
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction 
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines 
When we come to it 
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body 
Created on this earth, of this earth 
Have the power to fashion for this earth 
A climate where every man and every woman 
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety 
Without crippling fear 
When we come to it 
We must confess that we are the possible 
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world 
That is when, and only when 
We come to it. 

Mindfulness for chronic pain and compassion


I have been tootling along these past few years, adapting to my new world with a disability. Teaching mindfulness to those with pain, depression and anxiety and sharing my experiences has enriched my life dramatically.
Life was constant for the first few months of this year, with no dramatic flareups. I relaxed into living without the flux a chronic health condition can bring. Then the lesson appears again ‘the only thing you can rely on in life is change’ and, for the last 3 weeks I have experienced (note not suffered) a decrease in my already limited mobility and a rise in my daily pain levels.
Today, I could not stand comfortably long enough to make a cup of tea. Now in the past, this would have led to many tears, my critical self to jump in with negative comments ‘you are never going to get better,’ ‘you are worthless, pointless (insert any other derogatory label here)’. My emotional pain would have exacerbated my physical pain, and the more physical pain I felt the more emotionally distressed I would have become.
So, what’s different now from when I first started my mindfulness practice?
The automatic fear reaction instantly kicked in. I would love to say it doesn’t, that after years of established practice fear is completely, and permanently, eradicated, but I wouldn’t be authentic if I claimed that for myself. (I don’t compare my experience of mindfulness to anyone else’s, we are all very different with different circumstances and challenges).
What I am able to claim however, is that I recognised the fear straight away and knew what steps I needed to put in place to ensure I stay fully present and not let automatic patterns or ruminative thinking take control. I am no longer defined by my pain. I am fully (re) connected to my consciousness, my true self, that is aware of the pain, and I am able to step back and observe non-judgementally.
The difference I am most excited about however, and wanted to share today, is the compassion I feel towards myself. Self-love is something I have never had in abundance anyway, and, which virtually disappeared as my health declined. I feel a kindness towards myself and my circumstances I could never have dreamt possible a few years ago.
I did manage to take my children swimming today. It is important to me that I spend quality time with them during the school holidays. I watched their faces, full of joy in the water, and I was totally engaged in the present moment. Not letting my fears and anxieties cloud the Now. I have had a lovely afternoon and despite everything, feel a contentedness with my life. I will have lots to put in my Gratitude Journal tonight.

Red quinoa, tomato and ginger soup


Quinoa is said to be the only plant food that contains all 9 essential amino acids, putting it on a par with animal proteins. It is completely gluten free and really easy to cook. I do find it a little bland plain so am always looking for easy to pep it up like in this gorgeous (and healthy) soup. I usually double the quantities as I freeze a batch.

Small onion
2 cm fresh root ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp cumin seeds
400g canned tomatoes (can use fresh if prefer)
2 tsp tamarind paste
70g red quinoa, rinsed
225 ml vegetable stock
4 tbs fresh coriander

Heat choice of butter or oil (I use coconut oil) in a pan and fry the onion until translucent.
Add ginger, turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon of cumin seeds*, season if you wish and cook for 1 minute.
Sir in tomatoes, tamarind paste, quinoa and stock. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25 minutes stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat, stir in the coriander** and leave to stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
Fry remaining cumin seeds for a few seconds, swirl into soup and serve.

(*I have, in the past, used powered cumin instead and added at step 2 and then omitted final step. **You could also add powered coriander at step 3 if you don't have fresh).

Crunch sweet potato strips

With a 7oz serving of sweet potatoes containing 65% of the daily recommended vitamin c as well as being rich in calcium, folate, potassium and beta carotene they are the most nutritionally rich vegetables around.
For a quick and simple snack I peel strips with a potato peeler, lightly spray with oil (I prefer coconut) and sprinkle with sea salt. I bake in a medium oven for approximately 8-10 minutes, turning once.
Crunchy and delicious - the kids love them too.

The sad loss of Polly Noble


I was really sad today to learn of the death of Polly Noble, a true kick-ass lady.
Polly has bravely fought her battle with cancer publicly inspiring thousands through her book, website and appearances.
A true advocate for living healthily, fearlessly and appreciating each and every day Polly will be truly missed.
I was privileged to get to interview Polly and admired the way she used nutrition and meditation to face her illness head on.
While I can make no sense of the loss of such a young woman I trust she is at peace now.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Mindfulness for Addictions


I have recently had a meeting with STAGES (Support Training Advice Guidance Educational Services Limited), a non profit organisation created to support recovering addicts, along with their family members, regarding the use of Mindfulness to aid the recovery process and help prevent future relapses of recovering addicts.
Addiction is something that has had a direct impact upon my family in the past and while there is limited help available to addicts in regard to their mental health and wellbeing, their families are sadly often forgotten.  I feel privileged to be able to take part in the Healing Minds Project.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool  in the treatment of addictions which take hold in many subtle psychological ways, it enables us to: - 
  • Understand our desires
  • Notice cravings and choose how to react before they take hold
  • Regular practice strengthens our muscles of attention so we find it easier to release thoughts and cravings
  • Teaches us how to experience cravings without necessarily reacting to them
  • Shows us a way to deal with stress so we are less likely to use a 'crutch'
In a recent study Neuroscientists found that after just five 20 minute sessions of a mindfulness meditation technique, people had increased blood flow to an area of the brain vital to self-control, the anterior cingulate cortex.   After 11 hours of practice, they found actual physical changes in the brain around this area. (Reference Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(35), 15649-15652)
The programme we will be using for this project combines Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques which will be running in Corby, Northamptonshire over a period of 10 weeks. There will be two programmes, one on a Tuesday evening for families affected by addiction and one on a Wednesday lunchtime for recovering addicts. 
Participants will be expected to attend each session as well as carrying out some practice at home in-between sessions (MP3's will be provided for this).
To find out more or to book a place please contact STAGES