Author Archives: Nimue Brown

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things.

Seeking Joy

For wellbeing, we need joy. We need things in our lives that uplift, inspire and comfort us. Lockdown really isn’t helping with that – the loss of live music and places to dance has hit me hard. I miss the steampunk evens and the people I only see there. There are people it is distressing not to be able to hug. Joy is really important, and knowing what gives you joy is essential so that you can invest in it.

Depression strips the joy out of everything. It takes away the colours and flavours, and makes life seem thin, hollow and grim, even when it isn’t. If joy is in short supply, depression will leave you with very little.

It is possible to find happiness in very small things. This is usually something I’m really good at. The light on the trees outside the window. The brief appearance of a wild bird. A joke on social media. I practice gratitude and I make the best of what I have, and that helps. It is good to look for the best in things. However, these small joys are crumbs at best. If you have a life that is full of wild beauty and small joys then those many crumbs can start to look a lot like cake. If you don’t, then the diet of crumbs may not be enough.

What I crave most, and have always wanted most, are intense interactions with other people. Thinking and feeling, loving, laughing, co-pondering, imagining, sharing stories, creating together. I’m good at doing that sort of thing online, but I need enough of it in person to sustain me, and lockdown makes that really hard.

How many people live without access to beauty? How many people have little or no comfort in their lives, and no time or money for things that would genuinely feel good? How much depression is caused by the lack of joy and by a society that pushes consumerism at the expense of health and wellbeing? How many people have little or no access to green spaces in their daily lives? How many lives are lived without enough warmth, kindness and tenderness? What if the availability of joy was a collective concern, not just something for those who can afford to buy opportunities?


Hypervigilance, continued

After my first and rather speculative blog about hypervigilance in the body, I immediately started running into information about this. Apparently it is a thing, and there is proper research out there, and poking about with a search engine can lead you to articles and information. Hypervigilance is not simply a condition of the mind. I’m finding that just knowing this has changed how I feel about it.

I know from experience that pushing and training my mind is an option I have. I can be fairly brutal with my head in terms of what I demand of myself. Most of my coping mechanisms depend on making my brain deal with things. I know it is much harder to push myself emotionally that way. It doesn’t work at all with my body. I can force my body to ignore pain and distress, but they don’t go away. I’m increasingly suspicious that forcing my brain doesn’t really solve anything, it just moves the problems around, but that’s a post for another day.

If the hypervigilance is in my body, then I will have to work on calming my body, not forcing it to deal with things. If I want to be better. There are often issues for me around the work involved with being better, the inconvenience it might cause, and what I might have to ask of other people.

I’ve also been talking recently (in this post) about what soothes and comforts my body in the first place – and not much does. Putting the two together has at least given me the mechanics for why I can only nap with a cat. That I have issues with light is a hypervigilance thing. I don’t sleep well with lights on. But, cats calm me, and the presence of a cat can be more powerful than the impact of light.

I think one of the missing pieces in this puzzle may well be kindness. Being kind to me has never seemed like a priority. I push through fear, and pain and difficulty routinely. Feelings of safety, comfort, relaxation, release, tranquillity and ease have never been much of a priority. I suspect that part of why my body is always tensed for the next threat is that I don’t give it much time off, or recovery time, nor do I do anything much restorative after difficult experiences. That in turn depends on stories about what I should be able to do, what’s normal, what’s a reasonable expectation, and that I was probably just making a fuss in the first place.

I’m not currently sure what to do with any of this. I find it useful having explanations for what’s going on. Whether the answer is simply to accept this is how things are for me, or to look at what it would take to make changes, I am unsure.


Learning to learn

I’ve recently dedicated myself to a fairly ambitious learning project, and it’s made me aware of a number of things I have going on around learning and intelligence. When it comes to other people learning I have a clear understanding that room to make mistakes is necessary to the process. However, when it comes to me I have this feeling that I should be able to see something once and then know it, or be able to do it perfectly thereafter. In reality, learning is a process, and it takes a while to get things to stick in your head. What I’ve learned about learning – as it applies to me – is clearly rubbish.

Cleverness is often measured in terms of speed – that’s inherent in taking exams. To get something quickly may be seen as evidence of being a good and clever learner, and it may seem to reflect well on the teacher. In practice, learning is just showing up and doing the work. It’s just time and effort – it helps if you have good resources and guidance, but even if you don’t, time and effort can get a lot done. Cleverness and speed, without determination and application, doesn’t lead to much.

To go from seeing to doing is a leap. It takes time to build body knowledge – that might mean your hands developing the muscle memory for the shape of a tune. It takes time to learn exactly how a specific sort of pen, or paint works. The odds are that on the first go, you won’t perform a dance move in the best possible way. It takes repetition to build insight, familiarity, understanding and to find out how best to do it as yourself. But apparently I think I’m supposed to be able to do everything perfectly at once.

This is a story I have been told. The consequence of this story is not that I feel clever when I get something immediately – because that almost never happens for me. It means I feel stupid when it takes me a few goes. I feel useless when I forget things I’ve been trying to learn. I feel inadequate. I’ve spent the last three weeks fighting these feelings, telling myself the things I would say to anyone who was my student: it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s part of the learning process. It takes time to really consolidate learning and properly embed it. You are doing ok, just keep going over this and you will get it. And, after three weeks, I have learned how to draw and read the characters of the Japanese Hiragana writing system. It’s not exactly an alphabet, it’s phonetic. It was all graft – there’s no innate skill here, no natural gift and that’s fine because learning is mostly about graft.

Intelligence isn’t about effortlessness, it is about being able to effectively apply what you know. Intelligence isn’t about magically knowing things no one has taught you. That’s simply not how anything works. It’s nice when something makes sense quickly, but that’s all it is. It isn’t a measure of anything. How fast you can take something and apply it effectively may be a measure of something, but it’s not the only measure.


How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Winter Festival

A Guest Blog from Melusine Draco

With all the doom, gloom and despondency surrounding the Christmas planning for this year, it might be the perfect time to take a leaf out of the dining table and start preparing a pared-down pagan Yule. Whether ‘bubbling’ or ‘cocooning’, there’s no reason to let the ‘virus’ stop us from enjoying ourselves and observing the festival as one of celebration and good hope. In order to run smoothly, our pagan Mid-Winter Festival/Yule needs to be planned well in advance and not be spoiled by any last-minute disasters. A bit of organisation goes a long way so start by making lists to cover all aspects of the festivities – guests, gifts and gormandising.If, on the other hand, we’ve decided to spend the Mid-Winter Festival/Yule alone, then the same rules still apply. It can be rather daunting to actually plan for a solitary Yule, but since the whole focus of the holiday is usually getting together with those close to you – and if those people can’t be around this year – then the exercise may seem pointless. My advice is stock up with all your favourite treats, a good selection of DVD boxed sets, and treat yourself to a disgustingly expensive Yule gift – mine for this year is a vintage Aquascutum duffel coat!

The solitary life-style is amplified at this time of year and all the hype that is geared around spending time with family often creates the impression that if we’re not part of the glamour then we’re nothing but a sad git! There’s a vast difference, however, between being alone and being lonely. And although outsiders might think it a bit strange, the company of a cat or dog means that there’s someone in the home to talk to and snuggle up with, and discuss what we’re going to watch on telly – just as we’ve done throughout the lockdowns.

Strangely enough, it is Christianity itself that has made a mockery of ‘Christmas’ and turned it into the commercial free-for-all we know today. What is sad, is that a large number of pagans in rejecting the whole concept of Christmas are, in fact, rejecting the ancestral concept of Yule. So, lets us reclaim the Mid-Winter Festival with all its ‘warmth, light and revelry’ and celebrate it in time-honoured fashion without the commercial overtones – even if we have to do it alone this year.

“As per usual and in great style, Mélusine Draco presents a wealth of information about this historically proven pagan festival. Whichever way the reader chooses to celebrate…whether it’s a traditional family Christmas or a traditional Yule in the company of pagan friends or as a solitary – there is something for everyone. From a complete festival calendar with some simple rites and symbolism, to carol lyrics, recipes, gift ideas and feasting to the ‘art of using up’ and festive games; everything Yuletide is covered. And with generous doses of light-hearted good cheer and a sprinkling of dark humour, the author strikes a balance that is both useful, informative and entertaining. A charming little book.”

Sheena Cundy, Witch Lit author The Madness and the Magic

“Have a Cool Yule is a lovely guide on how to truly enjoy the festive season in the depths of winter, whether you call it Christmas, the Winter Solstice, Yule or any other name. In the pages of this book you will fi nd time-honoured traditions, recipes and sensible advice on how to avoid the worst of the commercialism and make the occasion what you want it to be.”Lucya Starza, author of Pagan Portals – Candle Magic


What is courage?

Most often, courage and bravery are both defined in terms of overcoming fear. Apparently it isn’t courage if you weren’t afraid in the first place. It may be heroic idiocy, or naivety, impulsiveness or not thinking it through. I feel like we’re missing something here. I feel like reducing courage to what we do in the face of fear is less than helpful and my totally unsubstantiated personal gnosis is that this is not what ideas of courage meant to our Celtic ancestors. Also, they will have had a totally different language for all of this.

What if fear isn’t the most important thing? What if you can look at the dangers, weight them sensibly, but also not be overwhelmed by them. What if the dangers don’t tend to seem like the most important factors? What if courage, as a quality and as a virtue could have something joyful about it? An enthusiastic, life embracing, challenge meeting sort of feeling that leads a person to live life boldly, bring the best of what they have and do things as well as is possible. What if courage is the virtue of being really invested in how you do something and not overly focused on what you think the outcome will be? On the grounds that living well, with honour and authenticity will always be the right direction to go in, even if it doesn’t seem expedient right now.

Courage, thought about this way becomes the opposite of apathy. The odds don’t matter so much, the risks don’t matter so much, the real question is how much passionate integrity and wholeheartedness you can bring. It becomes a state of being, not a reaction to scary stuff.

At the moment, this is a largely aspirational line of thought for me. I’ve done a lot of trying to be brave in face of things that terrify me. It’s exhausting, and I don’t much like how it feels. I want to shift my relationship with the rest of reality, and I want to re-imagine myself and these are some of the terms on which I’m doing that at the moment.


Cat Parent

The last three cats I took in were seniors who needed re-homing. Back in the summer, the third of these wonderful cats died at the mighty age of 19. We decided as a household that we would get a kitten. It felt like a rather indulgent thing to do, rather than finding another older cat in need of rescue. He arrived in early November.

We take kittens and puppies alike from their mothers far younger than they would leave in the wild. We do it so that they will bond with us as parent substitutes. It’s not a decision that is particularly in the interests of the creature, and I’ve been very aware of this. He has, however, not shown much sign of distress – just that first night when he didn’t know where to sleep and was clearly missing the kitten puddle he had been part of.

It’s been a long time since there was last a kitten in my life – back in my own childhood, so I’m not entirely confident about what it takes to be a good cat parent. But, I’ve tried to be a decent stand in for the kittens he would have rampaged about with, and the mother cat who might have rolled him over when he get too boisterous. I get chewed a lot, because I let him play with my hands like I’m another kitten. My legs are covered in claw marks. But when he’s not in crazy-kitten mode, he’s sweet and snugly.

I don’t want to punish him for being a kitten, and part of being a kitten is the play fighting and rampaging. I do reward him with extra fuss and attention when he does things that I like. We shall see. At the moment it looks like he’s willing to figure things out and be more co-operative – often an issue in the mornings when he wants to be where I am, which for him means on my keyboard and the diary and notes I work from. As I type this, he’s under the table, loudly killing a toilet roll. I think overall he’s more cooperative with me than he was on arrival.

At this point I have no idea if I’m being a good cat parent or not. I will find out over time, as the habits we build settle into something and I find out more about who he is. I expect kittens are a lot like people in that environment will have a big impact on development and behaviour. So, I try to make sure he is entertained and gets enough attention, and that he is happy. I’ve always thought the parenting of creatures and children alike should have more room in it for happiness than is often the case. I don’t mind if he isn’t obedient, that’s not what I seek in raising a young creature, but I do really want him to be happy.0060 (final comment there from the kitten himself as he joined in with the typing.)


Processing Emotions

When we deal with emotions at the time of the experience that prompts them, it all makes a fair amount of sense. We grieve the dead, and other heartbreaking losses. We work through the fear in the aftermath of whatever scared us. We get angry and protect ourselves from threats. These feelings seldom do anything that complicated to a person.

However, if you don’t have the time, resources, space or safety to deal with emotions at the time, this gets complicated. It is an issue for people who have suffered bullying and abuse. It is often an issue for people who have dealt with situations that were stressful over extended periods. When you have to hold together and keep going, the feelings you didn’t have time to process don’t really go away.

Eventually, they come back. When they come back, there’s no context to help you make sense of them. It isn’t always obvious what the original source was. So there you are, sobbing inexplicably, or full of rage but with nothing to rage at, and it is deeply confusing. This is hard stuff to deal with.

One possible way of dealing with it is to seek fiction that allows a context for the feelings. A film you can cry over, a story you can get angry about. It gives your body chance to work the emotions through in a way that makes some kind of sense. Sometimes, along the way, the original source becomes obvious and you find you’re crying for someone who died years ago, or for that summer when you had to be strong and do all the things and there wasn’t time to deal with how afraid you really were…

Emotions can be strange things to deal with, they seem to have their own rules and ways of manifesting, and there is only so long you can deny them for before they will rip through you and find a way to manifest. Best to deal with them when they come up, but if that hasn’t been possible, be patient with yourself and try to be kind as they come through in all their chaos.


Waking with the light

I’m a very light sensitive sleeper. I have a lot of trouble sleeping when there’s light (unless a cat assists me!) and I tend to wake with the dawn. Around midsummer, this can leave me a sleep-deprived wreck if I’m not careful. For a long time now, winter has meant waking in the dark, and I’ve also found that difficult. My body is pretty clear that if there is darkness, I should be asleep, so midwinters can be… odd.

This year my son is studying for a degree course and I no longer have to deal with waking up ahead of going to school. We used to get up as a household because it is in many ways the nicer thing to do, and with a cycle ride to school, the mornings were early. In winter this has never suited me. So, this is the first winter in 18 years where there’s no alarm, or small child, and my body can do what it likes around waking up.

I find it a lot less stressful waking with the light. There’s no awful push first thing in the morning to force myself out of bed. I’m still waking fairly early, as my window faces towards the dawn, and pre-dawn light seeps in through the curtains. It feels so much gentler.

Clock time and alarm time go with industrial time. We have work and school lives that run by the clock – and there are advantages to this, but it is hard on the body. Our bodies are different, and what we need at different times of year and at different life stages can vary rather a lot. It is a wonderful thing to have some flexibility around that and to be able to let my body set the pace. Everything else this winter looks set to be challenging, so it’s helpful to have at least one thing lining up to be easier!


The quest for dopamine

Every time I go a round with mental health difficulties, the question of whether I should be on meds comes up. What I really want to do is fix my underlying issues and have the space to do that. For me, seeking a chemical intervention does not feel like doing something that would help me, it feels like being more convenient to everyone else, and that’s part of my fundamental problems in the first place.

I don’t have a great relationship with my own body chemistry. However, if I do the right things around diet and exercise, if there are cat snuggles and I get enough rest, I can make most of it work. I put a fair amount of effort into this sort of thing. However, having poked around online to learn more about what different chemicals do in the brain, I realise that dopamine may be a life-long issue for me. I don’t really experience a feeling of reward. Something happens around 20+ mile walks but I can’t do those much of the time. Still, it means I know I am capable of feeling achievement and reward, so it’s there, I just have to make it happen.

It doesn’t matter what I do or how well I do it – most of the time I feel no sense of achievement. All I can see is where I went wrong, wasn’t good enough, could have been faster, better etc. etc. I work hard, and I get very tired and I mostly just feel useless. This, clearly could be better. I have a pretty good idea how I got like this, and I certainly didn’t do it all by myself. But, how to get out of it?

I’ve got two approaches at the moment. One is to challenge the story that is always running in the background – this is easy, anyone could do it, and most people would do it faster and better than you, what you do isn’t really good enough, you’re barely keeping up when you do manage things… it’s hard to feel any sense of achievement with a background story that reiterates that you’re always falling short anyway. I need to examine my expectations and watch my thoughts around this and pull out the stuff that other people have put in my head.

I need to factor in how hard things are – how much work I’ve done, how ill I’ve been, how fast I really went. Because this does actually matter and I need to measure achievement against my own effort, not against the imaginary average person who is about ten million times better at everything than I am. I’m doing this by paying more attention to my own effort, acknowledging my own challenges, and checking in with people I trust about what they think is normal. It will be a process.

At the end of it, I have no idea if I will be better able to experience feelings of reward and achievement, but I’ll certainly spend less time tripping myself up, and I can pull some of the toxic historical stuff out of my head, at the very least.


What If?

What if we planted trees

Our urban spaces aren’t places for people

We get sick and sad, we go mad

Sucking in polluted air from grey streets

We need to leave the cars, make room for leaves

Turn our urban jungle from grim to green

Make it live, make it breathe, be serene.

What if we planted trees?

Scientists in studies the world over

Show us with numbers we need to hear

We’re better people with trees.

We hurt less, suffer less, do less harm

We’re calmer, kinder, cooler in the shade

No need for the air conditioning

That ironically helps us heat the planet.

Safer in the shade, cut down the cancer

Grow more trees. Forest our minds

Towards better mental health.

We need nature to feel whole and well

But what we do to ourselves

Is build hell, deny what gives us life

We make our strife, unhappiness is rife

Pouring tarmac over everything, we wonder why

Our souls are hungry

For a softer way, a gentle route through our days

Walk slowly to your job, enjoy the view

Live a few minutes distance from everything

That makes a daily life for you

Amble there sweetly, saunter beneath trees.

What if we stopped telling stories

About the gadgets we hope will save us

Rescued ourselves from our mistakes

With orchards where car parks used to be

And playground groves for children

Cities where people can live peacefully.

What if we plant more trees?

(Rob Hopkins has been asking ‘What If?’ which led me to write this. More on his website https://www.robhopkins.net/ )