A Prayer to Nature

I have had an uncharacteristic day, a very un-Julie day, something I haven’t had since my summer by the sea in France.

I have had tea in a bookshop with my son. I have gathered windfall apples and stewed them, they are waiting to be turned into cinnamon pies. I have cut back hedges and had a mid-afternoon bonfire, then picked the late and soft blackberries as I walked the dogs along the low-lit golden lanes, before doing yoga on the patio with the dogs.

A Prayer to Nature - Julie Leoni - The Hills Countryside Blog

I have enjoyed a break for tea with my partner, chatted to my kids and sat alone by the river at the bottom of the garden, catching the neon flash of the kingfisher slicing across the late afternoon sun, and hearing the splash and splosh of the near-glimpsed silver fishes catching flies in the lowered eddies. I have taken time to sit and watch the circles they leave expand to the red and pink and amber leaves floating by the bank. I am even now writing on the garden bench, watching the clear blue sky outlining the gilded leaves.

It has been heavenly. Nowhere in particular to go, nothing in particular to do, no-one in particular to see, nothing very much to say. The silence has been so welcome, so soft after the filled sounds of the week.

This is Nature’s eternal gift to me, the way She stills my mind and slows my business. She holds my energy, allowing me to cut and plant, to dig and mow. She feeds my eyes with multitudinous forms, reminding me that perfection is found in difference, not in conformity or uniformity. She bathes my ears in sounds so subtle that that the brash noises of the world fade away. The newly cut lavender hangs in my yoga hut, fragrancing the mats and reminding me of summer. The blackberries still so sweet remind me of childhood sticky fingers, sticky still after all these years. The damp grass, the downy moss, the tart stings of nettles fighting to stay out of the fire, all of nature's reminder that life is here and now, not then and there.

May I always find my way back to Her, when life gets too busy, too full of musts, and have-tos. It is not She leaves me, it is I who leaves her. Nature, please keep tugging on me, drawing me outside, tangling my hair, watering my eyes, stroking my skin until I find my way home to you, the place where I feel most at home, free of judgement, free of time, free to just be me.

 
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Julie Leoni

Julie Leoni is an academic, teacher, writer, coach, yoga teacher and mum, and she wonderfully juggles all of these so that her work fits around her family life. She moved from Kent to the hills nearly 20 years ago and can still remember the first two years when she thought she would never feel warm again. Now, however, when she goes back down south to visit friends, she heaves a sigh of relief as she sees the Shropshire hills on her return after the chaos of the M25.

The Hills Meets - Julie Leoni

One of the most pleasurable and fulfilling activities of running my own business is meeting and spending time with talented people. In this week’s ‘The Hills Meets’ feature, and I am thrilled to be joined by my great friend, Julie Leoni. You may recognise her name from her monthly guest posts on The Hills, when she so beautifully explores themes from nature and our lives alongside. She draws on her own experiences and training in bereavement, domestic abuse, mindfulness, meditation, Transactional Analysis and other therapeutic approaches in her writing, and has previously shared her inspirational musings and stories of multitaskingcommunity and priorities.

I wanted to know more about her current work which has been dominated by her new book - Into the Woods; When Love Isn’t Always a Fairytale. Julie is such a valued writer here at The Hills, so I am pleased to be able to share this fabulous endeavour of hers with you, and encourage you all to follow the links at the end of the post to find out more.

The Hills Meets - Julie Leoni

To dive straight in Julie - you are soon to be launching your second book, on a completely different topic, and in a totally different style to your first!

Could you tell us what has brought you to writing a second book now and why this subject matter?

I have been involved in the Freedom Programme (a domestic violence programme), which clearly lays out what makes a ‘Nice Guy’ and what makes a ‘Dominator’. It was such an eye-opener for me and made sense of the experiences I was hearing about - it made me even more passionate about achieving a deeper understanding of domestic abuse. I was curious to learn how women get into these relationships, what stops them leaving sooner and what they learn from this dreadful experience.

My background as a qualitative researcher has given me the skills to gather information so I interviewed women about their abuse. In order for the experience to be truly ethical and empowering for them, I returned the transcripts of the interviews to each woman, the actual recording as well as every draft of the book.

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The first draft of the book was similar in style to my first book, Love Being Me. However, it didn't light me up at all so I put it to one side for a while. Then, through friends of friends, I met Kate Taylor from Middlefarm Press, Shrewsbury. Kate wanted to work with me as my Managing Editor and even offered her service for free. I was delighted to have her support. She believed wholeheartedly in the book. Her years of professional experience, and the fact that she was so interested and engaged made all the difference and I was newly inspired to pick it back up.

From the outset, Kate asked me many questions about what I wanted the book to achieve; who I wanted to read it, why I had chosen this narrative style, and so on. From here we started to play with the idea of fairy tales. I’ve always been a day-dreamer and I love fairy stories, my excitement for the project was totally reignited. I started to write again, and just loved every moment of re-imagining the traditional fairy stories using the interviews as a starting point. The whole process worked with ease and my imagination went wild!. Importantly the fairy tale form allows the interviewees to remain completely anonymous, and fairy tales universalise stories.

It was Kate too who suggested finding an illustrator for the book to complement the written style. I am extremely lucky to be working with Anita Wyatt, who has had her work commissioned by the National Trust. Anita has kindly donated all of her illustrations for the book, just because she liked the stories and wanted to join us in making a difference.

I don’t underestimate the importance of Kate and Anita’s skills and support. In some ways, I feel their generosity has been its own parallel story where women help other women to find their own power.

You have much experience in supporting sufferers of domestic abuse, how common is this problem?

I come across it more often than you might think in my work. When I talk to people about the book, it is shocking how many have either experienced domestic abuse personally, grown up with it, or have friends or family living with it. Refuge says that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

Domestic abuse is meant to be part of Sex and Relationships Education in schools, but how it is covered is not prescribed so it falls to the school and the individual teacher to decide. Too many people are either uninformed about abuse or just not comfortable talking about it - I definitely don’t think it is covered as powerfully as it should be in schools.

Do you think that the #MeToo movement is helping to open up this secretive world?

I think the #MeToo movement has started some conversations, but because it has been played out in the slightly unreal world of celebrity, I’m not sure what long term impact it will have. I heard one interview recently where men were questioned, a year on, about the impact of #MeToo on them which misses the point as #Metoo was about giving women a voice which is what I hope my book does. It is great to include men in the discussions and cases of domestic abuse will reduce much faster if both men and women work together against it. People have asked me if men can come to the book launch, this couldn’t be better! Men can educate other men and challenge their behaviours.

What do you want your book to achieve?

I would like the book to start conversations, not just about domestic abuse, but about how women give up our power, how we can re-empower ourselves and support each other. I want parents to talk to their children about it (the book is written for adults so not appropriate for young children to read for themselves). I want those who stand in judgement and say: ‘she could have just left’ to start to understand why ‘just leaving’ is so tough and why it takes most women many, many attempts before they eventually take this difficult step. Every week 2 women are killed by their partner and leaving often happens a time when the violence escalates

What are the women on which the stories are based doing now? What has been their opinion of the book?

They have all approved their stories and the illustrations and a couple of them are quoted at the start of the book commenting on it. To find out what happened to each of them, you’ll have to read the book!

Anything else you want to put forward Julie to make your case for buying the book?

Fairy tales are not everyone’s cup of tea and domestic abuse is not the easiest of subjects to open ourselves up to, but 1 in 4 women living in fear is wrong. There is so much shame, secrecy and misunderstanding about domestic violence, I believe the book goes some way to challenging and changing this. I would like people to buy the book to raise money for DV charities, but more than that, I want people to buy the book, to show they care, to learn about DV so that they can help those who are suffering, to educate themselves and those they care about to avoid it and to challenge unhelpful thinking surrounding the topic.

In short, I want this book to make a difference. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a world where DV is as unthinkable as corporal punishment is to us today. People were caned or slippered when I was at school, how unimaginable is that now? Change can happen swiftly and ubiquitously if we all stand together and say “We do not accept DV, there is no excuse for it, there is never a justification or a reason for it, ever”.

All profits from the print copies of the book will go to Domestic Abuse charities to support families who need it. Please buy a copy for all of the reasons I have mentioned, and please encourage others to do the same and spread the word.

More about Julie: Julie Leoni is an academic, teacher, writer, coach, yoga teacher and mum, and she wonderfully juggles all of these so that her work fits around her family life. She moved from Kent to the hills nearly 20 years ago and can still remember the first two years when she thought she would never feel warm again. Now, however, when she goes back down south to visit friends, she heaves a sigh of relief as she sees the Shropshire hills on her return after the chaos of the M25.

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Summer Multitasking

We’ve been blackberry picking, my youngest son and I. Yes blackberry picking at the start of August when we wouldn’t usually go until the end of August bank holiday. Which meant we had out first blackberry crumble, oven on, cream out, in the heat. Very odd. The apple tree is also dropping fruit already and the damsons are peppering the burnt, white lawn with their purple, too-small, too-soon dots. Global warming or heat wave? Either way, my magnolia tree is very unhappy in it’s sparse second blossoming of the season and the weeds are beating the grass in the race to populate the lawn.

As youngest and I were blackberrying, fingers sticky, trying not to smear the crimson down our clothes, an older couple walked by and were delighted to see a ‘youngster’ collecting the fruit. Another older  neighbour, with a bowl-full of berries for tea in their fridge, was bemoaning how the youth of today don’t even know what a blackberry is.

My kids do. But some of their friends don’t. There have been a number of times, over the childhood years, where my kids have grazed from the hedgerow whilst friends have recoiled in horror at the possibility that they might be about to poison themselves.


I only know about blackberries and sloes, elderberries and sweet chestnuts because my mum, as a matter of course, took us out gathering according the season. Looking back now, partly it was because she was doing what her upbringing had taught her, and partly now I see it was because money was tight, and the hedgerow jam was free. She taught me which mushrooms were safe to pick, but I can’t remember that now and she is long dead, so I don’t pick mushrooms in case I get it wrong, so I can’t pass that knowledge onto my kids, which makes me sad.

I’m sure so many of you have that torn feeling that seems to be an integral part of parenting, maybe particularly mothering; the urge to be at home with our kids and the urge to work and self-actualise, and as much as the 80s dream promised us we could have it all, I’m not sure we can. If anything, we can have bits of each, not the whole of either. I’m sometimes at the school gates, sometimes picking blackberries and making crumble, sometimes sewing holes in trousers where they have split yet again but they are a favourite pair so are in need or rescue. Then sometimes I am at work, attending some meetings, in some of the communication loops. But I’m never focused in one place for long and I always feel the pull of the other.

Then add in Facebook and emails and Instagram and there are more ways in which my time and attention is pulled. I want to be with my kids, I want to work, I want to cook, I like being at home, I like being away, I want to check on-line, I want to be off-line, I want time with my partner, time with my friends, my kids and then I also want time alone. The wheel of samsara that Buddha talked about, our attachment to  wanting causing our suffering; he got that right!


We all juggle.

We all split ourselves.

We all multi-task.

We even pride ourselves on it. Like we are circus monkeys, performing tricks, rather than living. I’m not so sure it’s good for us.

I’m not so sure I want to be split in so many directions.

I’m thinking it might be time to focus. To be more discerning and committed. I’m not sure how that looks now or how to make it happen, but the torn feeling is just too uncomfortable and I don’t want it any more.



 How about you?

 
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Julie Leoni

Julie Leoni is an academic, teacher, writer, coach, yoga teacher and mum. She somehow juggles all the different parts of the time so that her work fits around her family life. She moved from Kent to the hills nearly 20 years ago and can still remember the first two years when she thought she would never feel warm again. Nowadays, when she goes back down south to visit friends, she heaves a sigh of relief as she sees the Shropshire hills on her return after the chaos of the M25.

Birds of a Feather Should Flock Together

I’ve been feeding the birds. I don’t usually feed them at this time of year, but we’re home for half term and had noticed them pecking the seeds off our weeds from the kitchen window and we had some bird food left from the snowy period.

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It has been a delight to watch the baby birds especially, fluttering their newly stretched wings and hopping around, capable of flight and picking up the seeds for themselves, but oh, so wanting their parents to feed them, which they obligingly do. Beak to beak, passing on the seeds.

Then as we walked by the canal, where the moorhens slice tracks through the green weed, we came upon three pairs of swans; one with six cygnets, one with seven and one with two. Each dyad of parents, working together to protect their young from our passing feet and the potential threat of our dogs. One swan gathered the cygnets away and the other approached us on the bank, wings parting and widening, sending us the clear message to keep away.

We work so hard to raise our young, with or without feathers! We protect them, feed them, teach them, we do our best to send them into the world as the best human beings they can be. Elephants care for their elders, and buffalo circle the old, the young and the sick, when a threat is at hand.

My aunt has just died aged 89, married for 68 years. In these last years she was cared for by her husband, children, grandchildren and a niece, spending her final years in their childhood home. Not every one ends up with their children living near to them, not everyone lives with someone who can look after them.

But maybe that doesn’t matter if we broaden our sense of family. I had someone else’s grandma living across the road from me helping me with my babies, she’s not my mum but we went out for together for Mother’s Day. A friend visits someone who is not his dad and has him come around to give much needed DIY advice. When he can’t be with his own dad, he looks after someone else’s.

There was a song in the sixties which had the line; ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’. I think there is a deeper truth, that we can all be each other’s mothers and sisters, grandparents and aunts without being blood relations. If we live near someone who is at home with young children, we can be the one to pop in to make a cuppa and lend a helping hand.  If we live near someone older, we can be the ones to do their shopping or call in for a chat.

Just like the cygnets, we feel better knowing that someone has our back, that someone is going to face off the dogs and noisy children of the world.  And just like those sparrow fledglings, of course we can find our own food, but sometimes it is nicer to have someone else prepare it, to share it, and to not have to face the world alone.

 
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Julie Leoni

Julie Leoni is an academic, teacher, writer, coach, yoga teacher and mum. She somehow juggles all the different parts of the time so that her work fits around her family life. She moved from Kent to the hills nearly 20 years ago and can still remember the first two years when she thought she would never feel warm again. Nowadays, when she goes back down south to visit friends, she heaves a sigh of relief as she sees the Shropshire hills on her return after the chaos of the M25.

Why Should You Prioritise Yourself?

Oh my goodness, just when I thought my sun-strap marks were here to stay, I have a blanket wrapped around me I’m so cold. I will not admit defeat to this abysmal spring by putting the heating on, but it does make me sad that at nearly 9pm it is light enough for me to be in the garden except I would drown in the bog that is my garden-turned puddle.

I have had enough.

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Strange how the weather has matched my mood, I have had enough of lots of things all round and have decided to prioritise myself.

Firstly I have had enough of my low energy, bad moods, unexplained crying and unreasonable shouting. My menopausal symptoms came to a head when I couldn’t get my act together to do a road trip with the kids at Easter; a trip I have made many times before but which seemed overwhelming to even contemplate. So, I’ve started HRT and do you know, I feel like my old self again; only mildly hysterical and pretty reasonable.

Then I cancelled all the retreats and workshops I had planned to hold and emailed the people who had signed up to them to apologise and explain why. I thought they would be cross at me for letting them down and changing my mind, I was judging myself as being flaky and unreliable, however, they were much kinder. In fact, I got lots of messages saying pretty much; ‘good for you’ and ‘look after yourself’, which I am.

One of the wonderful and unexpected by-products of cancelling things has been that my email traffic has dropped to barely nothing and the amount of time I have to spend on line is minimal. It’s just lovely not to have that constant nagging of unanswered emails.

Having cancelled so much I am now completely free (apart from my day jobs, my kids, my coaching clients, my partner, my yoga teacher training, my friends and family, the household admin and chores), yes apart from all that, I now have more time to write. Writing fills me up after giving out all day at work and at home. Writing is quiet, solitary and focused. For me writing is a flow activity where I lose myself, and the track of time, only to emerge energised by it. I love it.

Does this mean I’m selfish? Possibly but in being so, I think I’m better able to be of service to others at other times as I have more energy to give having topped myself up first. What’s more, the book I’m writing about domestic abuse is soimportant to me and I really want it to make a difference to the world and unless I honour that desire, the book will never be born.

Sometimes we need to stand up for ourselves and our selfish dreams and passions and say; ‘This is what I love to do, and I will do it no matter what other people think of need of me’. It’s not easy, but then nor is sitting inside on a rainy evening in late April in a blanket and we’re all having to do that.  Whether we weave willow, press grapes, ride bikes, stitch fabrics or herd sheep, if it’s our passion then we need to stand up for our self and find the time to do it. Because no one will ever give you permission and there will never be enough time or the right time. The only real time we ever have is now and the only person we actually need permission from is ourself.

So, give yourself that permission and take that time. Be selfish. Prioritise. Because you and your plans and projects are worth it.

Julie

Ps

  • How can you prioritise yourself?

  • What do you need to give yourself permission to do?

  • What can you cancel or do less of to create time to do more of what you want?

 
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Julie Leoni

Julie Leoni is an academic, teacher, writer, coach, yoga teacher and mum. She somehow juggles all the different parts of the time so that her work fits around her family life. She moved from Kent to the hills nearly 20 years ago and can still remember the first two years when she thought she would never feel warm again. Nowadays, when she goes back down south to visit friends, she heaves a sigh of relief as she sees the Shropshire hills on her return after the chaos of the M25.