Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


2008: Where Hedonism and Ascetism Meet

I’ve been pondering my word for 2008. My word for 2006 was travel, and for 2007, it was beauty. However, this year I realised I needed a more spiritual word, a word that would encapsulate the things I want to achieve in my fortieth year, my goals both public and personal, and a word that would inspire me whenever I returned to it. My word – with such a lot of baggage wanting to attach to it – was eluding me, but I am glad to say I have found it. My word for 2008 is:


I am good at luxuriousness and at rewarding myself. I don’t stint when it comes to food, books or long, hot baths. I love a delicious glass of red wine and a langourous chat with a friend. I can wallow. When allowed, I can lose a day on the sofa. I am not afraid of fun, laughter or pleasure. Living in the moment, relishing the now, is not a challenge for me. I am a big fan of the here and now.

That said, I feel my inner ascetic call. Healthier eating, regular daily writing, more frequent exercise are all required to nourish my soul. Self-discipline means organizing my work better, being more up-to-date with my taxes and getting my invoices in on time, but it also means soul work. I want to be the disciple of me – allowing my self to grow and develop through more regular disciplines of daily writing, exercise and cleansing eating.

This is not just a response to the excesses of Christmas, birthday and New Year in 14 short days, but also a genuine need to tame my tendency to lavishness with a more streamlined personal approach. I want to shop less, acquire less, need less and with that spare time I want to think, write and meditate more. Also, I feel very strongly as I approach 40 that I need to include in my daily life things that are good for my soul. It is a discipline for me to remember and perform them.

Having come to this decision, it was fascinating to have read parts of a book that once belonged to my grandmother and that is now being lent to me by my mother. Joel S Goldsmith’s Infinite Way Letters 1955 is a series of meditations on leading a spiritual life. As I flicked through it before starting to read, I came across a passage noted in my grandmother’s beautiful curlicue handwriting. “V. important”, she notes. It reads:

For all the glorious Gifts of God, the great price is self-discipline. Each of us has the right to accept these Gifts in proportion to the degree to which we develop our ability to discipline ourselves. This is the price of truth!

I will probably have to meditate for some time to understand exactly what this means for me, but how apposite that my darling grandmother had this passage already marked for me, that my mother decided to send it with my brother and that in the last few days I’ve had the time to pick up the book and browse through it. Always my spiritual teacher, she has sent me a message through the years and in the pages of an old and crumbling book.

Along with this more serious bent, comes some different goals for my blog. It’s nearly two years old now, which makes it a grown-up in blog years. I gave myself serious blog fatigue in November posting every day, and now I want to swing away from that towards fewer posts of higher quality. I need to take some time away from blogging for my own writing because this is the year that I am committing to writing and submitting work. Blogging has opened my eyes and my mind to a new and fascinating world but it can also be a vortex into which I am sucked. I will be trying to discipline both my blogging and my reading of blogs into smaller and more manageable chunks of time, leaving time for creative writing, reading and thinking. However it is more than likely that I will break down, take part in memes and tease the Germans.

I have had fun reading everyone’s resolutions and goals for 2008, and I wish you all a wonderful, creative and happy year. I hope your dreams come true.


My Fantasy Escape

My fantasy escape is a writing retreat in the African bush. I sleep in a large double bed with white linen and a mosquito net, and have a view of a waterhole where elephants come to drink, bathe and cavort with their babies. There are monkeys in the trees and warthogs snuffling in the shrubbery.

Silent staff bring me meals – exactly what I require, when I require it, without my ever having to ask – and are available take me on game drives should I wish it.

My family are permitted to make short visits. When they leave they do not cry, but cover me with kisses and wave cheerfully. I feel no guilt when they leave.

There is also yoga, but after the class all the other participants must melt away, unless I like them, in which case they may stay for dinner and be highly entertaining.

I swim in a pool that is the perfect temperature, and take outside showers.

There is a library of books and fat, comfortable sofas in which to read.

There is a verandah, with views, for contemplation.

The temperature never rises about 28° Celsius, and never drops below 18.

I write, and dream, and wake, and sleep, all to the rhythm of the bushveld. I watch sunsets and stars, sunrises and morning mists, but sleep through the heat of the day.

I live in the moment, meditate to the sound of beetles and birds, and write and write and write.

Can I go there now?

Thanks to YogaMum for the inspiration.



I had my first yoga practice in months today, with a wonderful new teacher. Her studio, which looks over the Rhine plain all the way to the Pfalz, was a peaceful refuge from the driving rain outside. For one and a half hours I thought of nothing but myself, my body and how it was feeling. She taught me how to be conscious of my toes, how to attach four corners of my feet to the earth and anchor myself. I learnt how to make my calves, thighs and stomach muscles strong. I left with a wondrous feeling of well-being which lasted for hours.

So it seems appropriate to address Ms Magic Hands’ meme Five Things You Do To Raise Your Vibe while still feeling the afterglow. Here goes:

1. My life is busy. I have three kids, work, friends, and family who require maintenance, even long-distance. One thing I do every day to raise my vibe is to have some time to myself for reading. It usually happens late at night in the bath, when the house is quiet and everyone else is asleep. I pour in the bubbles, keep my toe on the hot tap, add more water when necessary and read, read, read. Right now it’s Elizabeth George’s What Came Before She Shot Him, which is an education in brilliant characterisation and a deeply engaging plot.

2. I plan holidays. One the advantages of where I live is that the whole of Europe is easily accessible. This year I’ve been to Berlin, the south of France, Oslo, Alsace Lorraine. The holidays don’t always have to happen – I enjoy trawling holiday websites, dreaming of what could be.

3. I dance with my children. It’s exercise and it’s fun. I can be as ridiculously silly as I want to be without feeling self-conscious. We call it “working on our moves”.

4. I have a night out with my girlfriends or a date with my husband, all involving wine, food and laughter. Come to think of it, I’d better go and put my party face on right now. I’m heading out to meet the girls.

5. I meditate and dream. After years of practice, I slip readily and easily into a meditative state. I use it in various ways: to relax, to feel better, to raise my consciousness, to commune. It always, always helps.


Meditation: What I Know

In Eat, Pray, Love the recently divorced Elizabeth Gilbert spends three months at an ashram in spiritual practice. She spends many long hours in meditation, both alone and in groups. She finds it enormously difficult but eventually has the kind of ecstatic spiritual experience she was hoping for, and is able to reflect on her journey and the lessons she has learned. I found the section fascinating, both for her frank acknowledgement of the personal frailties that were getting in the way of her spiritual development and her details of life in an ashram.

Part of me was wishing that I could have that kind of an experience, but if I’m honest, my desire is more for a three-month holiday than the kind of floor-scrubbing and mantra-chanting worship that Gilbert had. Another part of me recognised her journey, for, as a child, I was lucky enough to have a grandmother who taught me how to meditate and how to engage in spiritual practice. However, unlike Gilbert, I never had to struggle with the language and idioms of meditation. For me it has always been as natural and as easy as it is for small children who imbibe a second language without realising they are doing so.

My grandmother was a fascinating woman – a non-racist in a racist country, a divorcee (her marriage lasted a whole six years – one year plus the second World War) amongst married women, a painter, a gardener, a spiritual thinker and a gentle soul. She was a wonderful grandmother; adoring, non-judgemental, generous with her time and love. I am so grateful to my beautiful Ellie for the gift she gave me. She was a wonderful teacher, who never took to a podium, but allowed fascinating drips of information to leak through, just enough at a time to keep me interested and coming back for more. She doled out spiritual teaching just as she doled out chocolate – one piece at a time.

I thought I would share, for those who are interested in beginning or furthering their own spiritual practice, some of the things she taught me:

For meditation, you don’t need a guru, an ashram or a mantra. You don’t need a church or a mosque or a priest or an imam. You don’t need the Kaballah. All you need is a quiet place to sit.

For meditation, it is best to sit cross-legged or on a chair with your feet touching the floor. Lying down brings you too close to sleep.

Close your eyes, breathe deeply in and out, and insert a pause between each in-breath and each out-breath. God – or the divine – is in the pauses.

You can imagine a white light entering your head, or you can imagine your chakras opening, or you can imagine a tree. Anything that brings you to peace.

Meditation is about sublimating the ego. Let the thoughts and darts of the ego swim past you like fish. Don’t fight them, just acknowledge them and let them go.

Listen to your heart. Your heart is the seat of prayer. Meditation is about listening, not speaking.

Don’t make a list of the things you want; rather list the things you are grateful for. Prayer is gratitude.

Don’t second-guess yourself. If you are still, quiet and listening, you are meditating. You don’t need a guru for that. And it gets easier with practice.

You can use meditation for relaxation, or to connect with the divine, or you can use it for both. Either way, you will receive insights or messages about how you live your life. This is the wonderful benefit of taking time to be quiet and listen – you will hear what you need to hear.