The Benefits of Being Alone

What living and travelling on my own has taught me

On the beach in Portugal as a participant in  a Heal The Healers retreat in January 2019 - thanks to  Casa Fuzetta

On the beach in Portugal as a participant on a Heal The Healers retreat in January 2019 – thanks to Casa Fuzetta

For the very first time in my life, I’m home alone.

After years of ‘boomeranging’ my adult sons have gone and a couple of months ago, my youngest moved out. She and her boyfriend got their own place, albeit only 30 minutes up the road. For 53 years I’ve cooked, washed, cleaned and looked after other people and absolutely loved it. It’s been noisy, chaotic, exhilarating, terrifying, challenging but almost always, very rewarding. I’ve been a lover, a mother and a carer and before that, I was a 17-year-old daughter living at home with two parents, three younger siblings – and a dog. Now the only beating heart in my home is my own and every room in my three-bed, two-bathroom flat is just for me.

I expected to feel lonely when everyone finally left and took most of their things. I expected to feel sad and yes, initially all the clichés of the ‘one pint of milk and a small, festering loaf of bread’, judgemental stares from the empty mega fridge-freezer, family-sized dishwasher and large-capacity washing machine were true. But bizarrely, I feel 30 years younger and ten feet taller.

The other night, stressing out about not falling asleep as quickly as I wanted, a voice whispered in my ear, ‘Your job is done.’  Freaked out, I changed track in my head and concentrated on my breath and hit back into the mindfulness meditation techniques on which I can always rely. The next morning I realised what that was all about. Yes, my job is done in so many ways. My three kids are happy in their own homes and achieving amazing things professionally, but finally being alone has shone a light on what I have achieved, especially in the last 20 years since my husband died. It has given me space to recognise my own strengths – holding the family together, supporting them emotionally (and sometimes financially) and using my experience and skills to start a new career that I love, empowering others by writing down my life and encouraging everyone to do the same.

Also, maybe I have relied too much, for too long on my children’s company. If ever there has been a film to see, an exhibition to visit, a new travel adventure to plan my first thought has always been, ‘Would Jamie, Will or Lu like to do that with me?’ I have been enormously lucky that a lot of the time, they have said yes. But, it’s time I finally let go and moved on. Found out who I really am and what I want to do for the next maybe 30 years of my life. And lately I’ve discovered that it IS possible to make fabulous new friends when you’re older, you just have to travel more on your own!

2019 lies ahead and I welcome it with open arms. I have no ailing parents to care for, no partner to accommodate, no grandchildren (yet), no health issues that I’m aware of, no car, no mortgage – and no dog. For the very first time in my life I have no dependants, apart from an ever-increasing army of spider plants. The only person I have to look after is myself. What I have always dreaded has turned out to be a true liberation.

A recent report in the UK press stated that, according to the Resolution Foundation report, we are happiest in our lives at 16 and 70. That we are happier, more satisfied and feel a greater sense of self-worth in our earlier years – and again as we approach older age.

I’m 70 in September. Bring it on!

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The Power of Nature

Photo of the Sierra De Aracena by Charlie Chesterton, chef at Finca Buenvino. Follow him on Instagram @foodsunandfun

I’m writing this in a café in north London, down wind from the peppery scent of their Christmas tree. Outside, the sky is blue and the sun shines.

I want to go and play outside, Mum!

Every year it’s the same – every year I’m crawling the walls by December, desperate for sun and fresh air, and yet the answer is in my own hands. Not more extra spending on a possibly-effective SAD light, but getting my butt moving; wrap up, shape up and get out of doors. And not to Savers, Sainsbury’s or another ‘indoors’ but really OUT, OUT.

Whatever the weather.

As a child I found such happiness spending whole days outside –looking after the cows on a near-by dairy farm, searching for shells on the beach, roaming the fields on the family allotment, deep in the Hampshire countryside. All places where I could escape into my imagination, undisturbed by my parents or siblings and find peace and happiness Now, I want a life more in walking boots and waterproofs and less in make-up and outfits socially acceptable for city-living. I want mud. I want to feel my heart race as I climb a hill or mountain and my spirits soar as I reach the summit and gasp at the landscape before me.

The power of the natural world to heal and inspire  is something I need to remember in the dark, indoors days of winter in the Northern hemisphere. Plus now there’s digital help at our fingertips. I’ve joined a Whatsapp group called ‘Nature Therapy Counsel’ which encourages the sharing of photos of the natural landscape. There’s  the website Spirit Of The Trees which ‘provides poetry, folk tales, myths for tree lovers’ and as I type, on my laptop  I have my headphones plugged into a Youtube tape of 11 Hours of  Tranquil Birdsong.

Author Matt Haig was quoted in the Guardian Review recently, in relation to his experience of depression, saying, ‘…the day I realised I was going to be OK was the April after my breakdown, the sun came out and I almost felt a literal weight being lifted.’  And I’ll will be OK too, when the higher light levels return. In May, I’m back in wooded landscape of  the Sierra De Aracena National Park in Andalucia to run writing retreats and there we’ll spend almost all day outside -  meditation sessions, writing workshops, guided walks and eating lunch and dinner – but in the meantime I must  take more advantage of London’s myriad of parks and wild spaces for my mental health, whatever the weather. ‘Tis verily the season for bringing the greenery in but I need to get out as well.

This poem by the American author and poet Wendell Berry is my Christmas gift to you:

When despair for the world grows in me 

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, 

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.’

© Wendell Berry.  From “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry”


 

 

 

 

 

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A Story in Everything

I’m never naked, I’m never alone, I always have my friends around me. In bed, in the bath, on the beach.  I always have my constant companions.

It started with a wedding ring in the early 70s. A three-band Russian from Anschels in the Kings Road, I lost it in a Hot Yoga session in Brighton, slipped off my finger, never to be seen again. My husband had died five years earlier and it had already had migrated to my left hand. Its disappearance didn’t surprise me – its time was up and I was ready to let go.  Then, I lost an earring hung with Wright & Teague charms – all gifts from my husband – during a romantic encounter with a lover in a dark street in Hackney in 2015.  I was bereft for a day or two and then realised, ‘Time for them to leave me as well.’

Lots of us have ‘lucky’ garments that empower us – pants, a flattering white shirt, a favourite pair of jeans. I miss Gareth Southgate and his iconic waistcoat, worn for every World Cup game. But I bet he took it off at bed time. Mine stay with me, like tattoos or piercings. Or the bright sunset orange varnish on my toenails in the winter that shouts, ‘Sandals! Summer! Spain!’ every time I step out of bed on these dark, dank November mornings.

For years, I’ve adorned my body with talismans and totems that I sense are are imbued with special powers as strong as Harry Potter wands or the   stones with holes that are strung on rope in front of my bedroom window – hag stones that the Cornish say may protect me from witchcraft and witches.

Each ring, bracelet or necklace on my body has an emotional history and reminds me of my ability to survive despite what life may throw at me – the twisted silver ring that my son dug up in a garden in Brighton or the thin gold one with a tiny red gem that I bought in Spain, in lieu of an engagement ring from my ex. On my wrist I have memories of Crete, Thessaloniki, Essaouira, Monpazier, Brighton, Hackney, Oxford Circus and Cadiz. Of past loves, present offspring and dear friends.

In April this year, fearful of going alone to a wedding, all dressed up and knowing few others, I drew a tattoo on my wrist with a Sharpie – a triangle with two circles, an ancient symbol for “Widow  with Children’ that a friend-of-friend had posted on Instagram. It was hidden under   all those bracelets but its silent strength empowered me.  I knew it was there and I plan to make it permanent – when I pluck up the courage. I once had a rabbit’s foot that dangled from the zip of my Parka when I was a Mod. But I’ve never carried a twist of a dead relative’s hair in a locket – I know my limitations –  but the Hamsa, the hand of Fatima hangs in my hall and the Turkish nazar, the eye-shaped amulet believed to protect against the evil eye is nailed on my door.

In these times of uncertainty, a few extra tools in our armoury against life’s arrows may come in useful and to the bastardise the words of Jenny Joseph, who died earlier this year, in her famous poem,  ‘Warning,’

‘When I am an old woman I shan’t wear purple but I will  believe in magic.’

This post  first featured on That’s Not My Age - the grown-up guide to great style — edited by Alyson Walsh

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Latest Dates of Workshops And Writing Holidays 2018-19

A purely typographical post for latest information on my writing workshops in UK and writing, walking and meditation holidays in Spain this year and next. All writing is in notebooks with pen or pencil on paper, no writing experience needed for any workshop. They do not focus on spelling, grammar, punctuation or technique but on discovering your unique writing voice and how to boost your self-confidence and self-esteem by writing down your life and sharing your stories with like-minded people.

Creative, unpretentious, down-to-earth, liberating and fun. Uncritical. supportive, small groups.

Mindful Creative Writing Workshops for TOAST, British women’s clothes and homeware brand

TOAST Harrogate store – Friday October 19th

TOAST London,Notting Hill store -  Saturday October 27th

All workshops free, please register here: https://www.toa.st/uk/curates?contentid=curates&contentfolderid=static+pages&

Weekly Writing Workshops

London, Stoke Newington - Women’s Writing for Wellbeing Workshop every Wednesday morning, 10.30-12.00pm at The Last Crumb Cafe 

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/write-it-down-tickets-10041639815

Writing, Walking and Meditation Holidays 2019

At Finca Buenvino, Sierra De Aracena, Andalucia

May 18-25

June 15-22

September 7-14

For more information and details on how to book: http://write-it-down.co.uk/spain/

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Women’s Writing Workshop London N16

Exciting writing workshop news in Stoke Newington 

On Wednesday October 3rd I am launching a new, weekly Write It Down!  Women’s Writing Workshop in north London.

Where and when?

Every Wednesday morning  10.30-12.00pm, at The Last Crumb cafe and work hub in Church St. in Stoke Newington, N16  0AS

What?

Unique small -group workshops that give you space and encouragement to write down your life in notebook form, to re-discover the power of pen on paper and the therapeutic benefits of life-writing and journalling.  An opportunity to delve in your subconscious and re-kindle your creative voice in a calm, peaceful, uncritical and supportive environment. These classes are not about publication, technique, grammar or spelling. They are about the importance of recording your daily life, in hard copy rather than digital, for yourself and future generations. They are about putting your heart on the page, sharing your stories and discovering how writing it down can help you create clarity out of chaos.

How much?

£15 per session, for week one – October 3rd, please pay on the day.

But I have no experience? I’m not a writer?

No experience necessary and I’ll show you that you are!

What will I actually do?

We start with free writing to clear our heads, then more structured exercises. You don’t have to share what you’ve written, most do but there’s no pressure. Memoir, autobiography, creative writing, poetry – lots of laughs and a few surprises. There is a strong confidentiality clause so everyone feels safe to write honestly about themselves.

Location:

Downstairs, private room at The Last Crumb. Lots of lovely drinks and food available to buy.

What do I need?

Sense of adventure, sense of humour and a notebook and pen

I want to be there! How do I book?

I will be posting this on Eventbrite but the first week, please email me elaine@elainekingett.co.uk to reserve a place. Maximum of eight writers.

 

 

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Why People Love Write It Down! Writing Holidays

We thought you might like to read what guests are saying about our holidays this year and see some of the beautiful photos taken by one of our writers from Canada, Darlene Chrissley. Maybe you will take the leap and join us in 2019?

‘Finca Buenvino is beautiful, spacious, gracious, welcoming. I’ve never had better food anywhere. Such attention to details that make a difference, like great beds and bedding – it felt like home. What was missing in my life was the daily writing habit, daily walking habit, a wonderful group of companions on the same journey, a thoughtful guide and to be surrounded by nature and beauty everywhere I looked. Thank you for being, Elaine and for providing all of this.’ Darlene, Canada.

‘Thank you for a great week, thank you for sharing with us and for wanting to help others find their voice. You are definitely right when saying we will leave here different people.’  Sylvia, UK.

‘The walks were amazing! I am so glad I was able to do them. I found them exhilarating and very fulfilling, as well as the wonderful scenery, variety of animals, flora and fauna. I would recommend this holiday to anyone, wonderful, delicious meals, swimming and meditating at the infinity pool. Thank you for encouraging me to come out of my comfort zone and take a leap into writing and reading it out to others. I feel more relaxed, fulfilled and confident than I have for a long while. Long may it continue.’ Anne from Scotland.

The teaching methods were top notch! Totally inclusive and sympathetic to individual needs, while keeping the bar high so everyone felt challenged and encouraged to do their best.The meditation sessions were just the right tone. Not too long and easy to resonate with. As a non-practitioner I thought they were pitched the right level. Not too long and not too deep. You have a great voice for it.’ Julia, UK.

‘Elaine’s Write It Down! holiday is the perfect antidote to everyday life. A chance to take your foot off the pedal, recharge, refresh and get a new perspective. The writing exercises are top notch – but there is so much more – walking, nature, meditation and amazing food! Totally fab in every way, I am so glad I came and so grateful to Elaine for making it happen!.’ Mary, UK.

Finca Buenvino is a heavenly finca and if you love nature, beauty, art, antiques, sherry, swimming, walking, writing and exploring your personal stories, you will love this.’ Jo, UK.

 

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2019 Writing, Walking, Meditation Holidays – Spain

‘‘Elaine’s Write It Down! holiday is the perfect antidote to our hectic lives. A chance to take your foot off the pedal, recharge, refresh and get a new perspective. The writing workshops are top notch but there is so much more – walking, nature, meditation and amazing food! A perfect balance of different activities, still with personal time off. Never felt over-extended, nor bored. Loved the variety and surprises of each new area/ subject of writing that was introduced. Totally fab in every way!’
Thank you to @mary_weaver_interiors who joined us at Finca Buenvino in June 2018.

We are very happy to be returning once again to the fabulous Finca Buenvino in Andalucia for our creative and therapeutic writing for well-being, mindfulness meditation and walking holidays.

 Our dates for 2019 are:

18-25 May, 7 nights

15-22 June, 7 nights

7-14 September, 7 nights.

Prices will stay the same as 2018:

Shared room with private bathroom, all-inc: £1550

Single room with private bathroom, all-inc: £1800

All-inc means pick-up and return to central Seville at midday on first  and last day of holiday, three gastronomic, home-cooked Andalucian farmhouse meals and tapas everyday, all drinks, all outings to local pueblos, two writing workshops and mindfulness meditation sessions per day, guided walks everyday, hammam and spa visit, visit to largest grotto in Europe and intro tapas tour of Seville.

For more info, go to http://write-it-down.co.uk/spain/ or email me elaine@elainekingett.co.uk…and, if you are considering joining, we already have bookings for  2019 so please, be aware and remember NO PREVIOUS WRITING EXPERIENCE IS REQUIRED, only shoes with a good tread and a sense of  adventure.

 

 

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How I Saved My Life

Creating my own happy ending

 

 

 

Portrait by Rachel Vogeleisen
I fell for my Prince Charming when I was a teenager. But when I found myself widowed after a long and happy marriage, my childhood demons resurfaced with a vengeance. It was time to look within and rescue myself from the sabotaging patterns that were threatening to derail my life. With no shortage of drama, I’m now not only living my own happy ending but extending it to others on my writing holidays  mindful and creative writing  workshops

At 17, I would have run away with anyone, I was so desperate to escape the conflict and abuse at home. Luckily, my husband Jerry Kingett was a good man. His death from leukaemia after 32 years together was definitely not what we, or our three children, had on the menu.

Without my cornerstone, I fell apart. I took up drinking as an active sport, threw myself at any available man and moved house down-market, feeling unworthy of a big des-res in a ‘nice’ neighbourhood. All my insecurities came back to haunt me. Within a couple of years, I hit rock-bottom and decided that the kids would be far better off with their happily married and financially secure guardians, rather than their waster of a mother. I’d even worked out that if I hit the central reservation of the M25, it wouldn’t be classed as suicide and they’d still get the insurance.

Then one cold, grey day in Brighton, along came Hoffman, shining off the page of a free mag I’d picked up in the local wholefood shop where I was buying some milk thistle to sort out my liver. ‘Are you repeating negative patterns of behaviour you’ve inherited from your parents?’ sang a strapline. It seemed to have been written just for me, the failure who seemed hell-bent on screwing up her kids in the family tradition. It was on New Year’s Day, with only the dog and a hangover as companions, that I Googled and signed up. The location was near enough to Brighton in case it all kicked off at home, Florence House looked suitably comfy and middle class and the testimonials were from well-known people I respected. Plus the cost seemed to indicate a certain level of full-on experience and involvement.

What I did not expect was how long-lasting the benefits would be. Or how much I would learn about tools and techniques I could use in the future, to cope with whatever life might throw at me. Or how, instead of only seeing myself through my parents’ eyes as the crazy, unlovable and ‘just not good enough’ child, I could see what my husband saw – the strong, beautiful, intelligent and powerful woman hidden inside. The difference for me between the Process and other counselling, workshops and therapists, was that I finally empathised with my parents’ childhood. I wept for their childhood traumas, loneliness and the lack of love that had thrown them together to make a family of four children without positive family experiences of their own. I physically released the pain in my body and that’s what made the change. When I wrote the eulogy for my mother’s funeral and visited my parents’ graves – they died within three months of each other – instead of anger, rejection or a feeling of failure, I felt compassion and love.

What reassured me and encouraged me to participate fully in the course during that extraordinary, exhausting, exhilarating and life-changing week on the Sussex coast, was the impressive way the leaders so gently and intuitively facilitated the daily workshops. They always ensured that the dynamics were well-balanced, acknowledging the needs of every one of the participants. They allowed us a safe space to each find our authentic voice, gaining confidence to express ourselves more clearly and openly – but group therapy this most certainly was not. I never felt exposed or diminished because everything progressed at my own pace; there was no pressure to share anything I didn’t want to. Unlike my childhood, I always felt that I was the one with the power and if I wobbled, someone would catch me if I fell. The diversity in ages, backgrounds and financial status of the people on my Process was refreshing and added to my feelings of acceptance and support. I felt safe, respected and able to be honest with myself and others without fear of ridicule. The leaders’ patience, professionalism and attention to each and every one of us taught me so much about managing and achieving success for the participants on the therapeutic writing workshops and retreats that I now run.


Infinity pool at Finca Buenvino in Spain where I run my Write It Down! writing, meditation and walking holidays.

Today, it’s more than 15 years since I completed the Process, and since then my life has not been without drama or sadness. I’ve learnt from an abusive relationship – leaving with greater self-awareness, no anger or resentment and with confidence to try again. I’ve survived a heart attack and then surgery and treatment for breast cancer. I have also completed an MA, launched a new business and supported my children and my friends in ways I am proud of.

In my work as a writer and workshop and retreat facilitator, I’m grateful to share with others what my time with Hoffman inspired in me. I teach those who doubt their creative abilities and their self-worth to value their lives and the importance of sharing their stories. Together we can learn from one other and find cause to celebrate. We can let go of the past, stop panicking about the future and live in the now – with confidence, gratitude and joy.


To book a Write It Down! visit: http://write-it-down.co.uk

For more information on the Hoffman Process, visit: https://www.hoffmaninstitute.co.uk

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The Orgasm Tree

Finca Buenvino, deep in the sweet chestnut woods. Photo by Jenni Bradbury.

Very often, we begin a conversation with a friend on one subject and progress rapidly to something completely different, discovering on the way the most illuminating information.

This happened to me last week. I was describing the climate at Finca Buenvino in Andalucia, where we run our writing holidays. I explained that whatever the temperature in the summer months, we can always walk because of the shade of the cork oaks and sweet chestnut trees that cover the dehesa - the wooded landscape of the Sierra de Aracena National Park.

‘Oh!’ my friend exclaimed, ‘That’s why the atmosphere is so beneficial for writing and meditation up there! That’s why your writers find it so empowering to stay there. Sweet chestnut’s a well known Bach flower remedy for encouraging new beginnings, transformation into a new and much better life. It’s a treatment for the “dark night of the soul,” the despair of those who feel they have reached the limit of their endurance, it’s for a time when old beliefs and patterns break apart and make room for new levels of consciousness. It is the perfect treatment for when you are ready to open up to the light at the end of the tunnel, the light before the new dawn.’ Buenvino certainly has a magical aire, everyone remarks upon this. When I told her that the flowers of the sweet chestnut purportedly smelt like semen, she laughed. ‘Ah yes, it’s known as the orgasm tree because it produces such a surge of transformative emotions!’

The trees blossom in June, we’re there from the 16 -23…do join us and experience the benefits for yourself.

More info about the writing holidays here: http://write-it-down.co.uk/spain/

Book now: http://write-it-down.co.uk/booking-form

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Why Spending Time And Money On Yourself Is Essential

Often,  the responses I get from writers on my workshops or retreats are, ‘This feels such a treat, such an indulgence, having time to myself, being given permission to write.’

In these frantic, challenging and guilt-inducing times when we can feel powerless to affect the bigger picture, nurturing our bodies and feeding our minds is even more important. And writing it down, bearing witness, leaving a written record on paper is a duty. Not an indulgence; far, far from it. This is a piece that I wrote recently  for Alyson Walsh’s blog That’s Not My Age, for older women with style. Hope to see a lot of you on my writing retreats in Spain at Finca Buenvino this summer, writing down your lives and enjoying the indulgence! We now have extra spaces on all weeks. Write It Down! Spain.

I’m at my favourite hairdresser’s, in charity-shop top and jeans, spending a ridiculous amount on a cut and colour.  The guaranteed boost to my fragile self-confidence will be well worth it. Tomorrow I will pay to have my toe nails painted, even though my bathroom needs re-grouting and the tap has a terrible drip. My saloneyebrow maintenance ritual is a non-negotiable expense, I love the therapist’s gentle attention. Last night I booked a three-week runaway to Crete in August, after weeping buckets at the Charmed Life in Greece free exhibition at the British Museum about the friendships between writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and artists John Craxton and Niko Ghika. God knows how I’ll pay for the care home now. What I once believed were indulgences have become essential mental maintenance.

My kitchen blind is held up with drawing pins and I really must paint my bedroom walls but tell me to invest in a new kitchen bin and I glaze over and buy another novel. I’ve been to the cinema more times in the past month than in the past year and my addiction to Eventbrite is causing concern. My membership of the Tate costs a bomb but visits are intellectually invigorating. So many places to go, people to see, lessons to learn.

Is it my age that is causing me to fast-track through life, sucking up sensual experiences, ignoring practical concerns? Is it the global political uncertainties? Fear of impending climate melt-down? Or is it the realisation, at 68, that it is not selfish to nurture myself? That feeding my brain, my creativity and my self-esteem may pay dividends in the fight against dementia, helps me in my work and in my relationships? Yes, I must attend to the mundane, pay the direct debits and remember to eat more fruit and veg but worrying about the what-ifs in five, 10 or 15 years hence seems a pointless exercise if I don’t cherish myself today.

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