Soulhacking Part 3: Acceptance 101

They say that acceptance is necessary for happiness. Acceptance of your situation as it is, not as you wish it would be. Without it we live in the world of could-have-beens, should-have-beens and those magic beans that promise riches and good fortune but somehow never materialise. This is my take on how to achieve it in the hope that others who have found better ways will find it and add to it… Here goes.

Step 1: Accept that you have trouble accepting things

I confess I struggle with acceptance. Every day. But whilst it sounds stupid, accepting that you have a problem with acceptance is the first step. It was definitely mine. It was also eye-opening becoming aware of the impact this rejection of my reality had on my mental health.

Step 2: Face what you cannot accept

This is the hardest step: looking what you cannot face in the eye and getting a measure of the problem. The way to do this was beautifully articulated by a chap called Willis H Carrier and quoted by Dale Carnegie in his awesome book: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. The first one goes like this:

  1. Ask yourself what the worst possible outcome is if you can’t solve your problem.
    If it is a financial issue, start with a spreadsheet or piece of paper and work out the shortfall and when things go critical with your bills. If it’s a relationship issue, journal it with the impact on your life if the worst happens. Whatever it is, be honest and do so with kindness. Some call it self-parenting, which I rather like given the way the voices in my head work. The point is not to go Chicken-Licken all over it (“the world is about to end!!!”) but to pragmatically articulate the issue (“I run out of money at the end of the month and I might lose my home, and these are the bills I need to pay”) in a way that enables you to creatively think up solutions.

Step 3: Prepare to accept

This is not the same as accepting defeat. Far from it.

Willis puts it this way:

2. Mentally prepare to accept the worst if necessary.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve been through absolute paralysis in a crisis, brain shut-down, palpitations and breathing difficulties. You’re not reading advice from a Zen Guru. You’re reading the outcome of a hit-and-misser of what has worked for her.  So far this is what HAS worked for me. Pick what does, drop what doesn’t. You know the drill:

a) Breathe. It’s not by accident that yogis start with the breath. I use what I tell my kids is the “4-7-8 Trick”. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold it in for 7 counts and breathe out for 8 counts. Do this four times OR until you feel your heartbeat slowing down.

b) Scan your body for tension as you consider your situation for what it is. Is it in your heart? Your gut? Your throat? (all places I feel my own stress keenly). When you find it in your body, start breathing into it. Take your focus into that tension and breathe deeply. As you breathe identify the emotion (fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, anger..) and remind yourself that it is a feeling and that you are not your feelings. This takes practice but the more you do it, the more you will enable that stuck emotion to flow out of your body so you can see and act more clearly.

c) Use your body to accept what your mind cannot. This is one I came up with myself. The chances are that there are gurus out there that can give a name to a more ancient, established practice (if it’s a good idea, usually someone else has had it before you!). I realised quickly that when I was anxious, my monkey-mind wouldn’t stand down easily. This made setting any intention (including acceptance) virtually impossible at the height of hyper-anxiety. I needed something to shortcircuit that spiraling negativity. It occurred to me that when mind-over-matter fails, we fix things the other way: matter-over-mind. Most of us know that physical exercise is the NUMBER 1 way to combat stress. This is the same principle but with fewer starjumps (though I will ALWAYS recommend walking and exercise as a longer term fix. If you’re not already doing it PLEASE consider it).

Basically, you use a physical gesture to symbolise your acceptance and breathe into it until your tension subsides. Being Hindu, I use mudras and mantras that are meaningful to me. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, find something that works for you and give it the meaning you need. The aim is to take the focus away from the turmoil in your head and see clearly the outcome you wish to achieve.

Step 4: Make a plan

Willis says: “3. …then calmly improve upon the worst possible outcome.”

Over Christmas last year I had my own crisis about the state of the world. I followed Willis’ words and blogged my way out of it. What came out of me has become my plan for this year.

Step 5: Don’t do it alone – you don’t have to!

If you need support reach out and get help. Human beings only become vulnerable when they are disconnected from their loved ones and their community. If you can’t escape your headspace, escape your physical environment and interact with human beings. Volunteer. Go to the library. Join a Facebook group and share your expertise. Campaign for the environment. Plant some trees. Look at your friends network and arrange to see a few (especially those you think could do with the company). Humans NEED connection. Your healing starts with this one step.


This is a work in progress. I would love to hear from others who have worked on their own take on acceptance.  We learn best from each other.


Soul-hacking part 2: The Gratitude Attitude

I don’t know about you but I have, until recently, found it incredibly hard to tune into gratitude on a regular basis. I mean, I do feel it, but starting every day with gratitude requires you to really feel it, not just say it.  This was difficult until I found prose from someone with a deep understanding of it and it’s relationship to loss. And now I finally understand. Gratitude and loss are inextricably linked. The power of fear of loss, can be turned into gratitude if you know how not to let fear overwhelm you. Have a read of this by Jeff Foster and see what you think (and omg he’s a physicist too!):

You Will Lose Everything, by Jeff Foster

But right now, we stand on sacred and holy ground, for that which will be lost has not yet been lost, and realising this is the key to unspeakable joy. Whoever or whatever is in your life right now has not yet been taken away from you. This may sound trivial, obvious, like nothing, but really it is the key to everything, the why and how and wherefore of existence. Impermanence has already rendered everything and everyone around you so deeply holy and significant and worthy of your heartbreaking gratitude.Loss has already transfigured your life into an altar.


It gives me shivers reading that, every time. But how, I hear you ask, can you use this? Funnily enough I asked the same question and the universe gave me two practical examples.  The first was somewhat extreme. I lost my sanity for three days. It wasn’t a madness/funny farm sort of loss – more a feeling that my bottom of my universe had fallen away and I was in freefall. I didn’t feel safe to drive, I didn’t feel able to keep my children safe (even though in reality I was keeping them safe). I got myself to the doctor, got blood tests, tried everything. If it was menopause or my thyroid it didn’t show up in the tests, and if it was a breakdown then it was incredibly brief because within three days it was gone.

But the revelation afterwards was mindblowing. Because the joy I felt for being able to function and do everything I used to do again was overwhelming.  I had lost, and then I found what I had lost.   And there it was. Gratitude.

My second encounter was physical – I lost the use of my right arm. It was most likely inflammation of the brachial nerve, but I literally couldn’t lift my right arm up to drive or write.  I could type but only if I lifted my right arm to the table with my left, and it HURT. Again, five days of this and it vanished. My fear of losing my right arm permanently was as strong as the relief and yes gratitude that I felt at getting it back.

So, if you’ve lost something that you’ve regained, try to remember that feeling.

Ok, the second tip is for feeling grateful for what you have when you can’t imagine what it would be like to lose it. The secret lies in music, for me at least. There’s a song about everything out there somewhere. Losing a loved one, dying, nearly dying, being dumped, getting out of a toxic relationship.. Whatever it is you want to feel gratitude for, find the song and play it until you feel it. Music can override your logic and get straight to your heart strings. I have a whole playlist for gratitude and a whole other list for positivity (positivity follows from gratitude – being grateful for what you have opens the door for you to be grateful for things to come).

Anyway, forgive the quickie post. I currently have two of my little gratefuls playing behind me and I kinda need to be present with them.

Namaste :).

Soulhacking part 1: self-love

If you’re going to hack your own (in)sanity/soul then doing some desk research is the best first step.  In my journey through the dark times I’ve tried a good few things.  They all work in different ways. Pick the one(s) that work for you. This is an evolving article so I’ll update it as I find new techniques in my travels.

Taming the voices: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Like many (I think) I have voices in my head berating me for mistakes I’ve made, things I’ve not done, imaginings of all the bad things that would happen if I didn’t let them scream louder. Most days they’re in the background, some days they’re screaming loudly.

I’d tried CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) when my kids were very young and I was struggling to cope but it didn’t stick, and I really needed something that took a step backwards before launching me into full-blown mindfulness. I discovered ACT either by accident or because the universe arranged for the book to be left where I would find it. Some love it, others hate it but I have to say it was the first thing that was effective in giving me back control of my sanity.

The crux of it is this. When you get a thought, the first thing you do is label that thought and then dissociate yourself from that thought. “I name thee anxiety! And it’s the same old story. Thanks Mind…”. Russ calls it “de-fusing”. The second thing you do is allow the thought to continue what it’s doing. Don’t try and stop it. Stopping it causes more anxiety and you end up doing something silly. Like binge or drink or do something self-destructive. So let it have its say and breathe around it. Breathe deep, breath slow, and let the thought burn itself out. Accept that the thought is there, accept that it is uncomfortable and breathe. You could try the 478 trick: In for 4, hold for 7, out for 8, until your heart beat slows and you feel more in control. The funny thing is, the thought seems to vanish almost instantly when I give it room to vent. It only gets bigger and more damaging if I tried to suppress it.

Once you’ve moved into full responsibility and acceptance, you can ask yourself some questions. Assuming you’ve identified your core values (and if not I’ll be doing a blog about it later), you can ask yourself if the course of action you would have taken (eat more, smoke more, drink more) is in line with your core values. Give yourself some time, and you will find yourself making better choices than the ones that immediately jump at you when you’re stressed. Commit yourself to living by those core values and the habits you need to maintain those values will grow.

I guess you need to read the book for the full detail but I really took the advice on board. Now I had a technique to stop the ongoing damage from eating me whole. But I still didn’t feel at peace with myself enough to love myself. I needed something else…

EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique (aka tapping)

I’ll admit this looked nuts. I’d found youtube videos of people tapping themselves and saying words and simply couldn’t imagine doing the same with a straight face. But… my anxiety was getting the better of me and I gave it a go. I won’t go into the technique – if you google the term you’ll find many sources on it. But I will say that it did reduce my anxiety for stressful situations or memories I had. It combines self-love-self talk (total responsibility and completely loving and accepting yourself) with affirmations and acceptance of the current situation. Similar principle but with a tapping technique you wouldn’t do in public. No books required – just check youtube for people you tap along with.

Verdict: It worked while I did it, but I couldn’t find the time for it in a house full of young kids bursting in at inopportune moments (hell, even going to the loo on my own was a challenge!!). I needed something else, something I could do in the car, walking on the street, before I went to bed… in silence. I made my wish and the next day a link jumped out at me.

The Ho’oponopono Technique of self forgiveness: “I love you I am sorry please forgive me thank you”

As the title suggests, Ho-oponopono is a method of self-forgiveness and release. The story behind the technique can be found all over the internet. It found me in my facebook stream but in essence it is about healing yourself so your own healing in turn heals your reality. I’ve added a link here:

We take responsibility for our own reality, we love and forgive ourselves and reach in to make contact with our inner gratitude for all that we have already. I’ve found it a very rewarding meditation, where I’m far more aware of good stuff when it happens.  If you want to read about it then there are a few good plates to start:

Ho’oponopono: The Hawaiian Forgiveness Ritual as the Key to Your Life’s Fulfillment

Ho’oponopono Secrets: Four Phrases to Change the World One Love to Bind Them

It’s a form of mindfulness, and certainly an easy second step. But if you’re ready for the whole thing then here’s…

Mindfulness done proper-like (as they say in the West Country)

I’ve read many books on mindfulness now. The one I liked the most is the most recent one: Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”. Again this found me through being left in our company library for my husband to hand to me. He had been listening to Tolle’s podcasts for a while. I tried the podcasts but thought he was way too calm in his talking voice for my liking. I prefer my gurus fiery (yeah, I know, that’s half my problem!). He is really good at explaining concepts however, once you get past that annoyingly calm, quiet voice. I got on far better with the books:

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

And there’s an exercise book too. I’ve ordered it and will let you know once I’ve had a chance to put it into practice:

Practising The Power Of Now: Meditations, Exercises and Core Teachings from The Power of Now

<edit> I don’t think you need to buy this book if you’ve got the actual Power of Now. It’s simply the same book but written slightly differently and I think there’s enough in the original to get going with. You might feel differently though! </edit>

The point made quite succinctly is based on this: most of our pain comes from either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Or both.  The chances are, if we stay rooted to the present, we are more likely to be content. Happy even.  Having dipped my toes in, I’m willing to give this thing a go. See you on the other side, I hope!

The Other Side

So I’ve been coming at this mindfulness thing from a number of angles now. I’ve learned the following that I hope will help save some hours of going around in circles.

  1. When in Yoga they say “Come into your breath” What I actually think is meant is “Come in <to your body> WITH your breath”. This is a subtle but important distinction. Your body is your focus in this reality. If you are, like me, filled with fear/anxiety about the future, or shame/guilt from the past then the moment you make yourself PRESENT, that anxiety vanishes. In the NOW, for most of us*, there is no immediate danger or threat of death, failure, harm or loss. So by breathing, our focus should not actually be on the breath itself but on our bodies through the path taken by the air, in and out. If there are limiting beliefs they are all almost always about the past or the future. Never in the NOW. The moment. Consequently the NOW is a good place to chillax 🙂 (and  a place I’m working towards being comfortable in).
  2. Our bodies are the manifestation of the whole of our experience in this reality. They deserve our respect and gratitude, i.e. (by my definition), HONOUR. Honour is a loaded word for those of us brought up in cultures where virginity and purity are treated as synonymous with honour. The trouble is that from this misunderstanding, a whole tsunami of shame and guilt gushes, wiping out your self-worth. It is really important that we, as human beings, recognise this and treat this damaging definition of “honour” with the contempt it deserves.
  3. Really feeling the happy moments: when something goes right, when you’re moment is happy, take time to really feel it in your body. Stuart (my husband) had read about this one. I find this one hard because my self-sabotaging mind is focussing on when the happy moment will end rather than experiencing the happiness. If you find it hard too, then it’s even more important to remember to do this. Our bodies and minds needs to know what happiness feels like. It makes the Patronus charm far easier to cast…



The monster under my bed was a child trafficker, and other stories

My grandparents came over from India and raised me pretty much from my first few months in the world until I was five, while my mother went back to work as a doctor, on locum work. One of my earliest memories was hiding in in the folds of my Dida’s soft cotton sari while she protected me from the wrath of my mother (who was trying to tell me off for something I’d done). But the other memories that still haunt my dreams were her stories of the HakkaMa who would come in the night to take me away if I did not do as she told me.  The stories were usually of the “don’t do X or the HakkaMa will get you” variety.  X would be things like wandering off, getting out of bed in the night, disobeying and all the way through to not eating my dinner (after all, how would I have the strength to fight him off unless I stayed healthy and strong?).

In my imagination, HakkaMa took the form of a seven foot rabbit, very much like the one in Donny Darko. Black, tarry, oozing with black gunge, horrific teeth with red glowing eyes. Sinister and never speaking.

Image result for donnie darko

Breathing like Darth Vadar (that embellishment must have come later). Don’t ask me how such a beast could lurk under my bed. My vivid imagination would often leave me screaming voicelessly in the night because I’d see his red eyes glowering at me from down there.

Apart from growing up with a huge suspicion that donkeys were in fact large bunny rabbits and not donkeys, my childhood monster faded from my nightmares as I grew, and other creatures took his place, but the eyes were always the same.

Fast forward to parenthood, and I definitely qualify as an anxious mum. I won’t let the kids out of my sight – not for a minute. Not in a box, not with a fox, not in the rain, not on a train. Not around the corner, not in the garden behind a partition fence.  It’s fair to say that I never made the connection until my mission in life revealed itself to me in the form of meeting the CEO of an amazing anti-slavery charity. What he told me blew my mind, but not just because I learned that day that slavery didn’t end when it was abolished (it just adapted and changed its business model). It was what happened next.

I saw the presentation from an anti-human-trafficking operative based in India who devoted his life to tracking down trafficking rings. He described how the trafficking rings knew exactly which families in a village were ripe for the picking. The ones with only one parent. The ones where one parent had an alcohol problem. The parents with so many children they wouldn’t even know how to put up a fight. They would take them to order. Children, I learned, could be ordered from anywhere in the world to almost anywhere in the world with a conveniently handy smart phone. Exact eye colour, hair colour, age and sex. When I heard his story I was shaking with rage. I ran up to him afterwards and asked him how I could help. How I could get in touch with him. He told me that he would get in touch with me. He told me the name he used was not his real one. And he told me that if his identity were known, the traffickers would be able to find his family. I gave him my card and I left that room in a daze. Because something else had started to dawn on me…


Before the partition of India, my grandparents lived on the estate of a beautiful tea garden. My grandmother, Dida, was a geography teacher, my grandfather, Dada, was the plantation doctor. The house, the garden, the life was idyllic, safe, rich. But when the news of the partition came, and the lines were drawn, the plantation was six miles from the boundary, on the wrong side for my family. Muslim Partitionists came to my grandparents’ house and threatened my Dada. They told him he must stay, convert and remarry into Islam. His very Hindu wife and three daughters… well, they were expendable. On the other side of the border the same was happening to peaceful Muslims, threatened by Hindu Partitionists. It was the darkest of times, for everyone.

My brave, gentle, sweet Dada fell into a depression. He could see no way out. He was too valuable to be allowed to leave, and my Dida, my mother and her two sisters (my aunts) were in grave danger. To add to his trauma, he was still getting over the war, in which he was a captain in the British Army (he came back broken and to this day I do not know what happened). It was then that my amazing, strong, beautiful, bad-ass Dida made a decision. She took the sum total of their savings and planned an escape. My Dada was being watched, and if they tried to escape together they would be caught. So she told Dada to travel to a safe house on the Bangladesh side of the border, and told her daughters that they would be leaving Bangladesh that night, to make a new home in India.  She would then return for my Dada who was mentally in a very fragile state.

I still imagine to this day a scene very much like the Indian version of the Sound of Music, with the Vontrapp family leaving to escape the Nazis…

Image result for sound of music vontrapp family image mountains

Only the reality was that there was a dense, perilous jungle across that porous border, not the Austrian Alps, and there would be no singing because those jungles were riddled with partitionists of both sides trying to kill each other. If they had been caught, I wouldn’t be here to tell this tale. Through six miles with three young daughters, in the dark through an enemy filled jungle my grandmother walked, with their life savings in a cloth bag. The nearest village on the Indian side was a little one called Dharmanagar in the state of North Tripura. My Dida very quickly bought a beautiful little house with a pond, banana trees and a small mango grove. She employed house help and then leaving the girls in their care, she went back for my grandfather.  And such was the start of their beautiful new beginning with Dada becoming the new village doctor and my Dida joining the village school. Beautiful that is, until they realised that village children were disappearing.

HakkaMa they would say, would take the children who were naughty. The ones who didn’t listen. The ones who didn’t help their parents. Slavery and human trafficking didn’t start when the partition happened, but it sure as hell made it easier to make those children disappear across that porous border. If you were not significant in the community you would be targeted. If you tried to say something, you would put your family at risk. In the professions my grandparents had trained in, as a teacher and a doctor, they would have seen it all.  In their later years, when my grandparents lived with my youngest aunt and her family, they took in a vulnerable family. The father, a friend of my uncle’s, was a policeman who had been murdered when he stood up to a local trafficking gang. He left behind a wife and three small daughters [traffickers target single parent families, the weak ones, the invisible ones, the ones who won’t fight back..]. The situation was urgent enough that my family took all four in because they knew that if they lived alone, they would be vulnerable.  Their mother worked as their paid home help, and the three girls all went to school. My uncle paid for the girls to pursue further education, paying for their school books, their uniforms, helped arrange their marriages into safe families (the safest thing to do within the culture – and these were not child marriages).

As my brother and I grew up, we went to Dharmanagar during our holidays and played with our cousins and the village street children. We were celebrities, taken to the schools my aunts taught in, telling the children in English and broken Bengali of our lives back in England. I’d always assumed that some of those street children had just moved away. It never occurred to me that some might have been stolen or sold….


Recent research has indicated that children might be able to inherit trauma from their parents (and in the case of nematodes, from fourteen generations back). Whatever is driving me, it’s coming from somewhere really deep inside. Something inside me clicked when I realised that I had a part to play, a purpose. Something that had been in the shadows, in my nightmares my entire life.

Fast-forward once more to now. I’m the CEO of a social enterprise, TISCreport, committed to playing our part to end modern slavery using big data, working with my amazing, genius husband. All the actors in the Modern Slavery space agree that the scourge of Modern Slavery is far too big for one organisation to handle. They urge all businesses to do the right thing and are quick to pounce on those who do not (that’s usually a good thing). And yet, when a profit-with-purpose social enterprise steps up, the reaction from a small but influential few is huge mistrust. I found this puzzling at first but now, this is looking to be more understandable. After all, we’re not a charity/NGO, we’re not being paid by government (we’re self-funded), we’ve come from nowhere.  We have no track record. We’re not deemed to be civil society (something I think we need to debate: “Civil Society is Society considered as a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity.”). Why can’t I leave this to the existing great and good, and keep my nose out of it? Why don’t I set up a charity instead?

It is these questions that prompted me to work out the answers for myself and the conclusion I have drawn is this: Organisations should not need to be charities in order to make a contribution to a better, fairer world. People should not need a reason to do something good. If they did then I think I have a pretty good head start. But beyond my 14 million Indian reasons and 40 million human ones,  I’m an anxious mum; this is happening to innocents all over the world on MY watch. So please, make no mistake. This is deeply personal and I have committed myself and our social enterprise to playing our part. We’ve done this without credentials, without track record, and whilst we haven’t got access to hundreds of thousands in charitable donations, we’ve used what we’ve got.

I’m a geek, I’m a techie, I’m a desktop activist. I’m not as emotionally strong as those NGO and law enforcement operatives who track the traffickers down and rescue human beings from lives of fear and misery. But I don’t need to be. Those amazing NGOs and crime fighting agencies, those ethical companies…  they’re doing exactly what they need to be doing. But I and my team know about data, and we are, to date, the only organisation that knows which companies are in compliance with the UK Modern Slavery Act and which ones aren’t without having been given a list to check against first. That’s not too shabby for four people (five including the cleaner). Just imagine what we could all do together if there were accepted members of civil society willing to do something with that data that we’re giving away for free…

I also know that supply chains are the arteries that (unwittingly or otherwise) fund and fuel the tumours that are modern slavery and human trafficking. I know we can help to make it end, I’ll work with anyone and everyone who feels the same. We’re gathering more and more influential and talented people and organisations who recognise that we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve always done them and expect different results. Open data, technological disruption, experience, knowledge, collaboration and shit-load of passion are what will turn the tide.

Those organisations fighting modern slavery who fear change don’t need to climb on board until they feel comfortable. I know it must seem scary for an outsider to enter this space.  I just need them all to know that they don’t have anything to fear from us. We’re here to help. Our door is, and always has been open.

This is not a fad, a phase or a project we’ll get bored with. I ain’t going anywhere. There’s just way too much to do, and I’m tired of sleeping.


Why the Metro Mayor is not, and should not be about Brexit

You might have drawn the conclusion that I don’t think the Metro Mayor can or should be made to be about Brexit, either way. Here are some things to ponder…

This is NOT another referendum

This is not a national vote. Using it as a protest vote makes as much sense as voting Brexit as a protest vote. If there are any lessons to be learned from the past year it’s that we need to do our research and we need to make sure that we check our facts. We need to challenge our candidates on the issues that really matter to our region, not just the immediate emergency.

We need a decent Plan B

That’s right, the Metro Mayor and the opportunity brought by devolution are now looking like our strongest back-up plans if the worst case scenarios of Post Brexit Britain come to pass. By mixing the two, you’ve effectively merged them into Plan A. We need a safety net.

Think about it: making it about Brexit will almost definitely harm future devolution deals coming to the region. If you want to fight Brexit, you need pro-Remain MPs NOT a Pro-Remain metro mayor (and the same goes for pro-Brexiteers the other way). I don’t know about you but lobbying our MPs must be a priority rather than expecting a Metro Mayor to shout impotently from the sidelines. He or she will have no say in Parliament, and whinging to Ministers is not and should never be a part of the game plan.

The Metro Mayor necessarily needs to put the region first no matter what the outcome, and needs to work across all parties for the good of the region.  The Metro Mayor we deserve will come with solutions and not (just) criticisms, no matter how justified. Nearly a billion will come to the region for devolution 1 (i.e. this first deal). The second and third devolution deals however are where it really starts to get interesting and REALLY hopeful for the region.

The Metro Mayor Can Address Issues that Caused Brexit: Deprivation, Poverty, Fear

We all know from the referendum that logic doesn’t come into this until much, much later, when the emotional battle is won.

So lets just talk about that. Do you want to alienate or punish those who voted to leave, or do you actually want everyone to unite to fix this?

IMHO we shouldn’t look at what people voted for but at their reasons behind it:

  • If they voted to save the NHS then they should ask their candidates about their experience running NHS trusts or health budgets. (the future devolution deals will almost definitely cover health)
  • If they voted to stop the country haemorrhaging cash so that more could be spent on front-line services and on the vulnerable then ask candidates how much experience they have of responsibly managing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of budget. (Remember there’s nearly a billion to manage over a number of years)
  • If they voted Brexit because of transport issues caused by too many cars on the roads then they should ask questions of the candidates about their experience of working cross-party to get consensus on an integrated transport strategy. Historically our problems are linked at least a little to not being able to partner with our local authority neighbours in the past.
  • If they voted because they were worried about job security then ask candidates about what experience they have in education and skills.
  • If they voted because they feared for our national security then the Metro Mayor is not that role (certainly not yet), but even then, look at who might have experience or an understanding of the issues faced by law enforcement.

And did I mention…?

And so I say again: please don’t make this Metro Mayor election about Brexit. This role is about our region’s security regardless of what happens with Article 50. And if Article 50 does go through you want someone who can deliver to address the fears that got us to this point. Those underlying fears have not gone away and deserve to be taken seriously.

And of course if you want a Remainer in charge, you have a few choices. Don’t let that be your only criteria as you’ll be selling your region short. Understand the role because the message we send to those candidates will determine future deals.


A brief political interlude: Yet Another Metro Mayor FAQ

I’ve been watching the metro mayor discussions play out over the last few weeks and I’m afraid it’s clear that most people still have no clue about what it’s all about. It’s not been promoted as well as it should, and as we’re due to have a Metro Mayor here in the West of England no matter what people think, I thought I’d stick my neck out and set up an FAQ. If anything is ambiguous please let me know and I’ll try harder. In fact if you want to help make this better, contact me.

Here goes.

Why do we have to have a Metro Mayor?

The Metro Mayor is a requirement for UK city regions to access devolved powers and cash from Westminster. There are different devolution deals across the country with differing amounts of cash and powers, all negotiated on a case by case basis.

The West of England deal is outlined on the site. In short, if we have a Metro Mayor for the region (in our case, South Glos, BANES and Bristol), we get £900 Million over 30 years.  North Somerset went against it but the three remaining authorities were allowed to continue regardless.

This leaves us with a slightly different acronym: CUBA BUNS (the County that Used to Be Avon But Un-including North Somerset). Catchy, right? (most people will still prefer West of England, albeit a smaller one for the region).

Shouldn’t we be spending the cash on front-line services instead? 

This has nothing to do with the front-line services budgets. It is money from the Treasury as part of the devolution deal. In short, by agreeing to have a Metro Mayor, we get £900M. The role is making us back some of the money taken away by austerity cuts. It’s fair to say that those people saying “we don’t need a metro mayor” don’t realise that they’re actually saying “we don’t need £900M for our region”. We all need to do more to help raise awareness about this. The election is coming up on the 4th May!

Surely this is another role we don’t need? The Metro Mayor will be paid significantly for the role and will come with added costs..

To be clear, the Metro Mayor role brings nearly £1 Billion to the region over the next 30 years. The salary of the Metro Mayor is less, I repeat LESS, than the salary paid to the elected mayor of Bristol for example. It’s also worth noting that a Metro Mayor with experience of raising funding and inward investment will be able to make that money multiply up. If this is something that sounds like a good idea, why not ask your candidates how they might do that?

Has the Metro Mayor have anything to do with the Metro Bus?

I see why you might think that but in short, no. The West of England Metro Bus was as a result of government funding secured specifically to sort out transport in the region (with cash from the three local authorities too – South Glos, Bristol, North Somerset). It was highly controversial because the route of the Metro Bus was deemed as far from ideal by residents and businesses across the region. However, the consequences of failing to deliver a less than ideal route were to forfeit future transport funding for the region. So the leaders at the time did their best to make the best of it, to ensure that future funding would not be jeopardised. The sad fact of the matter is that funding will always come with strings attached. You can’t take money intended for transport and spend it on front-line services.

Does the Metro Mayor Have the Power to Stop Brexit?

First I’ll declare my interest: I’m a staunch Remainer (and one who *did* get on the phones, and *did* chair the pro-Remain rally) and this role has *nothing* to do with the fight to stop Brexit. Just look at the job description.

The Metro-Mayor role is purely to be a conduit for devolution cash and powers DOWN to our region. It has nothing to do with Brexit, except for helping to mitigate the damage by spending the funding cleverly to find new ways to make the West of England self-sustaining for our population. They can be the voice of reason but the Metro Mayor role is far, far more important to focus just on Brexitations. If you want to know more about my thinking about this, take a look at why the Metro Mayor is not the right weapon to kill Brexit.


The Metro Mayor SHOULD be all about Brexit – it will send a strong message to Government, right?

Bristol already voted Remain – that message was already received loud and clear by the Government.

But also look around. We have BANES and South Glos. How did they vote? Do you want to send an impotent message or do you really want to make sure all bases are covered for whatever comes next?

Turnout is likely to be incredibly low here. That does not provide any sort of mandate on Brexit even if candidates who stake their campaigns on a pro-Remain position win. There’s nothing to see here.. move along.


Does the Metro Mayor Have the Power to Make Brexit Happen?

No. See above. However the Metro Mayor has the power to protect our most vulnerable citizens from the cuts, and for future deals may even have the power to ensure that our NHS locally are able to survive (future deals may well include Health).


Are there other FAQs I can read?

Yes. And probably far more considered than my own hacked-in version. Try these:

Also some helpful stats for the West of England for context:

Also thanks to Miles Taylor for providing the link to the official election booklet which can be found on the Bristol city council page about the Metro Mayor election.

Ok. I’m done. I’m going to duck and run for cover. I do hope anyone who lands here finds what they need to arm themselves with the knowledge they need to make a decision reflecting what they hope will be delivered for transport, housing, planning for the region.


building the case for self-love and self acceptance

When I was two years old I had no idea what marriage was. I was loved and happy, no siblings to share my parents with and all was right with the world.

When I was four, my mother said to me, out of the blue “you can marry whoever you want.” I started to wonder what marrying meant, but never forgot the look on her face.

When I was six, she told me “you can marry whoever you want as long as he’s Indian.” ‘Curious’, I thought. And a feeling of uncertainty began to lurk just beyond my peripheral vision..

Eight years old, “You can marry whoever you want but he must be Indian and Hindu.”

And by ten: “You can marry whoever you want but he must be Indian, Hindu and Bengali.” (note, not high caste)

Finally by twelve: “I’ll find you the perfect husband.”

By fourteen I was terrified. I knew my parents loved me, but I felt the weight of cultural expectation and it crushed my heart, my soul, my hope. My eating disorder and self-harm began to peak around then too….

In 1990 I was a fresh-faced first year, a seventeen year old scared of the world. One autumn day I was shopping in the centre of Bristol, and a man in a leather jacket, tattoos and dark greasy hair walked up to me. He said “YOU are the ugliest girl I have EVER seen.” I looked at him right in his eyes and said, simply “I know.”

The man looked at me as if I’d slapped him, and walked away. Perhaps it was because I didn’t take offense. Perhaps he realised that there was no more damage to be done to this particular human being without getting physical, (and arrested :-)). Or perhaps he had finally met someone who hated themselves more than he hated himself. I don’t know. But I’ve never, ever forgotten the look on his face….

Over the years I’ve observed that we all wrap ourselves in layers of self-loathing. Some fight their way out and others remain cocooned inside. I’m still struggling to emerge, but with the cracks of light visible I am now able to ask the question:

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I’ve had a glimpse of enlightenment. A conversation with my higher self where I asked how I could learn to love myself, and back came a series of questions.

Did I hate myself as a baby? No. How could I? I was an innocent. A bundle of love and hope and potential. I felt no hate for that tiny thing.

Three then. Was I unlovable when I was three? No. Imaginative, loving, sharing, growing, learning wee girl that I was, I could not hate her either, nor find a reason to dislike her.

Four. Let’s try four. The rejection is starting to show. My brother has unintentionally, innocently destroyed my world, taken what was mine. And boys, well they were valued more highly than girls. Boys were on a pedestal, girls a mere afterthought. My parents did love me, but my culture did not. The anger started then perhaps. The childish outrage was there, but not the hate. Not then.

But as school became more combative, as I was forced to admit that I was a heathen (Hindu) in the face of their flavour of Christianity (Seventh Day Adventism) I found myself isolated. I had friends, but never close friends beyond my Reception year. I tried hard to please, to conform, to be one of them. All kids do that. All fear being different, and by the time I was ten, I’d read every single version of the bible I could get my hands on, to try and see the world the way they saw it. But in the end I finally learned that I could not. At ten, I had decided that Hindu philosophy fitted my understanding of the universe far better than what was being taught from those heavily adulterated words of a Good Man who simply wanted to teach the world to show love. The class heathen did come top in Scriptures though…

So where were we? Ah yes. Secondary school at 10 years old. This is where the hate and the bullying really kicked in. By 13 I was starving myself, at school and at home.. and at 14 my hair had started to fall out. My parents had enough to handle day by day to notice, but I still remember screaming at my mother that I hated myself and how ugly I was, and my mother’s uncomprehending face as she tried reasoning with this unrecognisable girl who used to be her daughter.

So I took every rejection, every racist comment, every stone hurled at me and I turned it inwards. It suited my self-image. They saw in me what I saw in me, someone to despise, this worthless, ugly girl. And looking back I know that so many kids went through different versions of what I went through, with the same end result. We then continue to walk the world, hemorrhaging self esteem, and continuing to hurt and hate ourselves long after the others have stopped and forgotten, and moved on.  It eats away at our core, our operating system:  and infects our confidence, our ability to succeed, to fight, to feel worthy of being loved. And these memes socially program us with destructive and conflicted beliefs calcify around our hearts, emotional cataracts that cloud our inner vision so we cannot see those who love us or accept the love they try to give.  And all the while so little importance is given to our mental health that it is no wonder we have so many societal cancers metastasizing around us. All because of one thing:

Because we do not know how to love ourselves. And so, we do not allow ourselves to truly love others.

When things started to change

Now, I’m an avid lifehacker, constantly on the search for ideas to do things better, more easily, more quickly. If I was going to deprogram myself I was going to have to do some research.

You can never completely hate yourself when you’re with someone who loves you. The eclipse is only partial, and if you’re lucky, it is not permanent. I did not make it easy for my husband to love me but amazingly he saw through the self-loathing and anger and stayed. Never lost faith. Pulled me out of holes that I had dug for myself more times than I want to remember (although I will).

I expressed a silent desire to stop this emotional self-harm and slowly but surely the universe responded, with small messages, crumbs on the trail back to what I had lost.

“and I said to my body, softly. “I want to be your friend.” it took a long breath and replied, “I have been waiting my whole life for this”.

Nayyirah Waheed.

I saw this and my eyes filled with tears. “I want this too!” I whispered to myself. To stop raging against my body, to take responsibility without dismissing it as self-blame, and to accept me. The trouble was, where could I start? I sent a message to the universe that night, and within a week I had an answer. An airbnb guest in my father’s annexe left a book on the bed: The Happiness Trap by Doctor Russ Harris. It would have been rude to not read it… and it started me thinking that it might be possible to initiate a soulhackers’ guide of sorts….







Kindfulness: from a concept to a movement?

Waking up on June 23rd 2016 in Bristol, I came down to a pensive husband who had let me sleep rather than wake me with the results of the EU referendum. I knew then something was wrong.

I had felt it slipping for the two weeks previous, and had even joined in the phone bank efforts for Remain on the day before, and stepped up to chair the  last minute Remain Rally with a woefully low turnout at St Georges with Lord Paddy Ashdown, MP Thangam Debbonaire and MEP Molly Scott Cato. Preaching to  a handful of the converted (there can’t have been more than 50 people in that room) and I knew then that I’d showed up to the wrong battleground. The business event at Colston Hall was better, with the charming and ever-defiant Don Cameron of Cameron Balloons, brexiting because of EU’s unsafe safety regulations on his products, and with UK Airbus CEO Paul Khan talking about the risk to jobs unless we Remained. But it wasn’t business that was the issue. Our failure to help our voiceless and disaffected millions was.

All that was done. And I woke up feeling like I’d lost something. Tears found me after the school run in the carpark at work, and I spent five minutes sat in our car weeping uncontrollably, when I realised what it was. The day before, I was a proud British Asian, a Member of the British Empire, someone who belonged and was invested. But now, I was a second generation immigrant, who, when told to “go back to where I come from”, could only get as far as Watford where I was born.

I feared for my family, our two boys who were the wrong shade of white to be able to fit in in what was now looking like a country heading into far-right territory.  Looking at them, you would not be able to say “at least they’re half English” to those who would seek to cleanse their neighbourhoods of human beings who originated from the Outside.

My identity shattered, I found myself adjusting my behaviour. Whilst normally, letting total strangers in front in traffic was never a big deal (repeat after me “the traffic must FLOW!”), I began to do so whilst simultaneously leaning forward so they could see my brown skin and black hair, knowing that  in that moment I represented all immigrants now and that we needed to show that we were GOOD immigrants. In my head I quipped; I called it mindful kindness. Kindfulness.

I left it simmering for a while, allowing it to surface when I was mindful of opportunities to show kindness and kept wondering if a simple concept could start to recreate community where our interconnectedness had decayed (or where it had never existed before). After all we have so many in our city alone who go above and beyond the call of duty for their neighbours and communities, we would not be starting from nothing. Isolated kindness seemed a bit hit-and-miss for me. I wanted and needed a way for it to add up to a whole lot more. A sustained connection between our different cultures based on respect and understanding.

Kalpna Woolf, a dear friend who has sought connection of Bristol’s 91 languages through sharing food with 91ways, is definitely onto something. Kindfulness cannot be just about kindness by immigrants to those who would misunderstand or fear them. It must also be about sustained connectedness. A relationship that remains after the immediate ember of the kind act has died.

It is tempting to think that this boils down to funded activity in order to be sustained. But we forget that things that last, last because of ongoing needs that must be met.

So we must look to our communities based on culture, religion, ward, and ask them to do one thing: identify all the needs of the community, and pick ONE thing they can do together to fulfill ONE need, and ONE thing they can do to fulfill that need for a community that is not theirs.

Have you read about circular economies? They fascinate me. The whole concept is defined by this:

“A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.”

Can we define circular communities as a network of diverse interconnected communities that provide each other with what they all collectively need to improve the quality of their lives? Could we redefine a sustainable city as one with a network of circular communities?

Thinking this through, all communities face similar challenges, but the ones that suffer the most are those that for some reason haven’t been able to integrate into a larger population. Language barriers, cultural restrictions, access to education, attitudes towards community members with disabilities all add into the common challenges (poverty, education, childcare, affordable housing and transport – or the lack of it)…

A great example of kindfulness is the Bristol Feed the Homeless Network, which has amongst its founders a Muslim leader in Easton, but is an effort that reaches across cultural divides with a multicultural team. They saw a societal need that was not being sufficiently addressed, and took responsibility for sorting it out.

When Eastern European families living on the same street in Knowle West had their homes attacked three times in six weeks, within three days of the final attack a Peace Picnic rallied and brought community members together to make a stand, and show that the attacks were not condoned by the community. So far, I’m told, there have been no further attacks.

Our business community are rallying around to combat modern slavery in all it’s forms (through our own, and could do so much more if other civic needs were defined more precisely (take a look at neighbourly).  Those happy people at the Happy City Initiative are also giving a lot of thought to this, in full knowledge that giving back to the community is one of the necessary pillars of happiness.

We have groups who focus on the most vulnerable members of our community, but we must also nurture the relationships between our culturally diverse communities in the same way.

I’m not done thinking about this, and I feel that with your thoughts added to mine, we will be able to come up with something far more practical.  For now, let’s create communities where we currently have none. A reason to communicate regularly, find and connect those who are literally dying of loneliness and isolation and show them that we need them too. Perhaps they are our way of connecting with other communities too?

As someone who doesn’t know anyone in my immediate neighbourhood beyond my next door neighbours I guess I ought to start by taking my own advice :).

Definition of Kindfulness 1.1: mindful and connected acts of kindness to forge unbreakable caring communities.




my midlife cartharsis

I have to admit to being more than unimpressed when I turned 40. Like many I felt that I should have “made it”. Achieved world peace, wealth, physical fitness, a size 10, my bucket list, the works.

I spent a year or two in denial, telling journalists not to print my year of birth (privacy concerns, naturally) and generally finding ways to simultaneously nurse my outrage whilst pretending that age didn’t matter to me.

Finally, at 42, I snapped out of it. Thanks in part to my husband, whose calm, very grown-up perspective was able to smother the flames of my fear, but also because we had committed to using our forties to reconnect with a more spiritual (NOT religious!) path to enlightenment. A voyage of soul discovery.

During it, it has occurred to me that I’ve learned many lessons in life, many, many times. I joke that I don’t want to make the same mistake more than three times but in honesty, I’ve found that a hard goal to achieve. The potential for mistakes sneak up on you long before you realise you’ve been down that road before. We, as humans, fill our heads with too many anxieties to be conscious or mindful of such things, and instead must be happy with 20:20 hindsight and wisdom for the most part. More so as parents, with a constant mirror to our flaws being played out by our children on a daily basis.

So. Midlife catharses (note the plural). I’ve had many catharses in my life, some voluntary/self inflicted, and others foisted upon me. Each time I have been driven to dropping the negative, building on the positive, auditing what I need to live with, and discarding what is holding me back.  In the beginning, these were career choices, but soon moved onto relationships – business, friendships, family relationships that needed reframing to make sense.

I’ve given talks on such matters because I’ve made so many mistakes that it would be madness to not enable others to learn to make different ones instead. Growing mistakes to bring Groundhog Day to an end more quickly… so we can all move on.

What’s so special about my midlife catharsis is that it is a continual process of learning and change that I would not have committed to while I was still fighting to achieve for the sake of achieving. In surrendering to who I am now, a transformation of sorts has been sparked and I’m hoping by blogging it, others will join me and share their learning too.  And if you want to join me, then it’s worth defining exactly how to do a midlife catharsis effectively.  I’m expecting my definition to change and be refined as I map out the cul-de-sacs and hopefully get back on track afterwards.

Before I do any defining, it’s important to note that I’m no guru and nor do I intend to be one. I’m a doggy-paddler in the river of life, hoping to find people to swim with who can teach me how to swim stronger, and people I can help keep their heads above water.

Ok. Definitions. Here’s version 0.1 (suggestions and edits welcome but you get my meaning I hope):

A midlife catharsis is the process by which an individual sheds pretensions associated with age and beauty, pressures of goals not achieved, and the expectations of others and themselves not met, and begins to reach a state of well-being ready for true personal growth. During this process, the act of doing (whatever they choose to focus on) becomes more effective, more rewarding. And the desire to do good is finally transformed into the empowerment to DO good, and doing it.

In short, life begins at 42, though I hope for you it starts/started earlier…