“You are not in the mountains, the mountains are in you.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote over the past couple of weeks. As so many of us aren’t able to get out to the hills, the sea, the places we feel most alive. Having the Lammermuir hills within cycling distance from our home is something I’ll never take for granted.
I’m also finding though, that there is a simple beauty in walking the same familiar close-to-home routes each day, watching nature bloom a tiny bit more each time we go out. I’m reminded of those stop-frame photograph books I used to love as a child, flicking through the pages watching a leafy sapling unfurl it’s leaves and spread great sweeping branches in super-fast time, transforming into a mighty oak.
It makes me think of Tove Jansson living her life on a tiny island and the extraordinary detail she writes about. It’s possible to see this evolving beauty in the smallest of places… much harder, of course, in the city, in highly-populated areas, if you are in a place where lockdown requires you to not leave the house, if you are physically restricted, or completely shielding.
Robert MacFarlane writes about soldiers in the war holding images in their minds of the outdoor spaces they roamed as a child, a young adult, to carry them through their immense hardship. As someone who just went through surgery, I’ve been feeling striking similarities around lockdown limitations and the physical limitations of post-surgery recovery. It is humbling to think there are so many people who always experience this physical restriction as part of their lives.
I’m finding the hardest part – but also the most helpful – is learning how to hold in our minds and hearts the places we feel most alive. There’s something incredibly peaceful about paying attention to the tiniest details in nature. Noticing textures and shifting light, drinking in scents and listening to sounds. It becomes easier then to bring the mountain to mind when you need it most. 🌿
Living apart from our wider family and friends, being furloughed at work or working from home… the world feels like it’s on pause. We are now weeks into lockdown and it is looking like we’ll be facing another three weeks at the very least. It is also likely that social distancing measures will be in place and affect our lives for many months to come.
Of course, lockdown will affect us all differently. The trials faced by those full-time parenting young children around work will be distinct to those experiencing the heightened loneliness of living alone and the long hours of each day. Not to mention the vast array of other stressors such as managing health and care issues, feeling trapped in a flat with no garden, trying to keep a business afloat by transitioning to online services, postponing or being unable to honour significant life events such as weddings and funerals, living separately for shielding reasons, not being able to see elderly relatives or new babies.
It would be easy to allow the palpable stress of the global situation and the challenges we are facing at home to overwhelm our daily thoughts. Finding ways to beat the lockdown blues is essential for our mental and physical health both in the short and longer term. Finding what works will be unique to you.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past fortnight, as I am sure many have, contemplating the impacts of a lack of physical contact with others. If you google ‘connection’ the definition that comes up is:
Connection: a relationship in which a person or thing is linked or associated with something else.
Online Dictionary Definition
What does that really mean for us humans? I jotted down a quick list of the first thoughts that came to mind when I considered the value of human connection in my daily life as a mother, partner, friend, colleague, pregnancy/birth/postnatal support worker, massage therapist, and as a celebrant:
touch, laughter, banter, community, sharing stories, halving problems, perspective, outward looking, stimulation, hugs, affection, meaningful contact, letting off steam, relaxation, feeling strong, fun, a sense of purpose, motivation, helping others, fulfilment, joy
If you like, why not do the same? Close your eyes, picture yourself in your daily life and the roles you fulfil and jot down any feelings or thoughts that come to mind.
The challenge that we then face is: how are we to generate those feelings on our ‘connection list’ whilst socially distancing during lockdown?
Some feelings may be easy to kindle through other activities. For example, I am finding I can generate many of the feelings on my list through cycling or hiking the hills near my home, connecting with my writing groups online, catching up with friends over the phone, setting structured tasks for home and work, keeping a sense of community alive through my work for myself and others.
Of course, there may be some things that will feel impossible to achieve. For example, on my list, hugs. Hugs with those we are not living with are clearly not allowed at the moment. There’s no getting around the fact that I am missing facilitating beautiful life celebrations where close family and friends share their joy and where I am in the privileged position of witnessing all those beautiful hugs. However, I’ve discovered it is possible to bring this kind of positive connection into life, even during lockdown. My teenage daughter and I exchange massages a couple of times a week whilst watching movies. I’ve been teaching Indian Head Massage and Baby Massage courses to families and couples online through KnotStressed Therapies where I wear my other ‘hat’). It’s a lovely way to connect, have fun and bring feel-good, peaceful vibes into the lives of those around me.
It’s important to feel good about what works and doesn’t work for you. I realised quite early into lockdown that socialising exclusively via Zoom just made me feel more distant from friends and family. I’ve been much happier since remembering that phone calls are also a great medium for connection! Of course, connecting through any interface – whether it’s the phone or computer – will not be as heart-bolstering as seeing people in person and being able to get out and about in daily life. It can be helpful though to feel that you are at least shoring the gaps by doing what you can to access those missing feelings.
You may need to get a bit creative. In the absence of ceremonies, I’ve been focussing on the ‘behind-the-scenes’ part of my role as a celebrant – the script-writing, scroll-making, word-weaving elements. I’ve also been really enjoying painting and sending Oathing Stones to all the couples whose weddings have been postponed due to Covid-19. An Oathing Stone ritual is a sweet way to mark their would-have-been-wedding date and hold the space until their ceremony. This one is for Lucy and Natalie… I’m counting down the days until December when I can lead the ceremony for these two marvellous people and they can make their promises to each other in the company of their friends and family.
It’s clear that there isn’t a right or wrong way to do lockdown. We will all be experiencing our different highs and lows depending on our circumstances and our situation. Whatever you are experiencing during lockdown, I hope that these ramblings might help you to feel good about finding your own unique-to-you solutions to offset those lockdown blues. Stay safe and well.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game
Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
It seems the perfect time to hold on to these wise words given the challenges people all around the world are currently facing. When these gorgeous photos from Vivienne and Donald’s Wedding Ceremony popped into my inbox this morning – thank you so much, photographer extraordinaire, Rachel Hein – I felt a welcome pang of reminiscence for the time when we could all gather in groups, hug each other and spend the whole day outside if we wanted to. It’s hard to believe the speed at which we’ve all had to adapt and shift our lives and working practices around the current global world crisis. So, in a bid to cheer us all up… I’m sharing these beautiful photos of a wonderful, if a little stormy, and very romantic day in January.
Vivienne and Donald exchanged their marriage vows in the gorgeous Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh. Viv arrived in a beautiful vintage MG, which her Dad had restored over a number of years and completed just in time for her wedding.
The Dovecot Studios building was once a victorian swimming bath and has since has been transformed into a beautiful and totally unique gallery, event space and tapestry studio in the heart of Edinburgh’s old town.
The ceremony was held in what is usually the weaving floor and the beautiful reels of thread in the background definitely added to the vibrant atmosphere.
Vivienne’s sumptously dressed and impeccably well-behaved niece and nephews accompanied her up the aisle.
And the grey skies outside did nothing to dampen the spirits of the joyful gathering of family and friends who sang their heart out to two excellent songs – ‘Love is All you Need by The Beatles and ‘We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters’.
Vivienne and Donald exchanged their vows with these beautiful vows:
I take you my heart
At the rising of the moon
And the setting of the stars.
To love and to honour
Through all that may come.
Through all our lives together.
Then they sealed their promises with a kiss.
All guests were then invited to sign the Wedding Book, following the Quaker tradition – a gorgeous way to invite everyone attending to be witnesses.
Two of Donald and Vivienne’s relatives then read a beautiful Celtic blessing in both Gaelic and English:
Mìlefàiltedhuit le d’bhréid, Fad do ré gun robhthuslàn. Móranlàitheandhuit is sìth, Le d’mhaitheas is le d’nìbhifàs.
A thousand welcomes to you with your marriage. May you be healthy all your days. May you be blessed with long life and peace, May you grow old with goodness, and with riches.
The whole day was relaxed, informal and laughter-filled … exactly as Donald and Vivienne had wanted it to be.
Congratulations Vivienne and Donald. It was my great pleasure being your Celebrant. Thank you! Wishing you all the very best for your many years to come.
A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.
I can’t believe it has only been a month since the normality of a joyful, room-packed Naming Ceremony in the heart of Edinburgh. I’ve been remiss at posting over the past month because it’s been – as it has for so many – a herculean few weeks transitioning to life in lockdown.
My heart goes out to those who are facing illness at this time, and to those who are shielding and unable to leave their homes. My thanks goes out to all the key and NHS workers who are doing their best to keep us all safe and well.
Just before the social distancing measures were in place, I was delighted to lead Rio’s naming and welcome-to-the-world ceremony at The Assembly Roxy in Edinburgh. It was such a joyful day. We even appointed a real life Fairy Godfamily!
As part of Rio’s ceremony, Rio’s mum, Kate, wanted there to be a beautiful ritual about giving back to others and to the planet. I think this sweet ritual feels even more poignant now, in the midst of global lockdown.
All the guests were invited to choose an act of kindness from one of three bowls – one for adults, one for children and one for babies. They could then choose to undertake their act of kindness at any time in their life going forward.
When the guests perform their act they were invited to consider the responsibility that all of us have in giving back and supporting others to pave the way for future generations. And how being kind is one of the simplest, most beautiful and least costly ways to make a difference in this world.
So, here’s to being kind to each other – and to ourselves – going forward. Wishing you all love and I hope you stay safe and well in the coming months x
“Love isn’t always perfect. It isn’t a fairytale or a storybook. And it doesn’t always come easy. Love is overcoming obstacles, facing challenges, fighting to be together, holding on & never letting go. It is a short word, easy to spell, difficult to define, & impossible to live without. Love is work, but most of all, Love is realising that every hour, every minute, & every second was worth it because you did it together.”
In this week of crazy-shifting wild weather, I’m so happy (and just a wee bit relieved) that we stole an almost-sunny slice of the day for Leanne and Alex’s Elopement Vow Renewal Ceremony last Saturday. We didn’t even need the special ‘wedding brollies’!
In the iconic and magical Sequoia Circle at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, this super-lovely couple celebrated 17 years together, 10 years of married life and 15 years of family life with their three children. They exchanged beautiful laughing-weeping vows and toasted their love with a sip from the Quaich (filled with chocolate liquer… ssshhh!)
It was a heart-singing pleasure to create and lead this funny-sweet ceremony and I’m still buzzing from the joy of it all. It was so poignant that my friend who works at the Botanics, and who offered to take these photos for the couple, said she almost had to stop snapping for her happy tears.
Leanne and Alex, Happy Tenth Wedding Anniversary. Here’s wishing you and your beautiful family many more magical adventures to come. In the words of another of your favourite quotes:
This year is brimming with Elopement Ceremonies and I can’t wait!
For a closer look at what a Scottish Elopement involves, check out this super guide and stunning photos by photo-wizards and Elopement Photographer experts Sean Bell / Photographer and Justyna Maria. Wedding photography.
I’m so proud that Agnostic Scotland offers an additional option for couples when choosing what type of ceremony they wish to have, alongside Humanist, Registrar and Church weddings.
There really is something beautiful about creating a fully personalised ceremony for a couple that reflects their own individual and shared beliefs, values and wishes … add to that a majestic view and WOW.
If you weren’t considering a Scottish Elopement, you may well be after drinking in the views in these epic photos:
I had the great pleasure of being Celebrant at this gorgeous Elopement Wedding Ceremony last July, which was also captured by Sean Bell and Justyna Maria. The ceremony took place on the banks of Loch Bad a’ Gaill near Ullapool, overlooking the iconic Stac Pollaidh 🗻 🌿
Happy Hogmanay, Everyone! Thank you to all the incredible individuals, families and communities I have been so lucky to work with this year. There is now a native sapling tree growing in a beautiful part of Scotland in honour of you all.
To start the New Year as I mean to go on, I have decided to support an important rewilding project run by Trees for Life in Glen Affric, Scotland. Rewilding action is something that is close to my heart so I feel soulful-happy to be gifting a tree for every ceremony I have conducted over the years, and will conduct going forward.
Every time a couple are married, exchange vows, or express their life commitment to one another I will plant a tree to celebrate their union. When babies are welcomed by family and friends, and formally given their chosen name I will plant a tree to celebrate their arrival. When families gather to celebrate the life of a loved one who has died I will plant a tree in their memory.
To all the families I’ve had the joyful privilege of working with so far, I hope you will enjoy thinking of your tree sprouting happily and forming part of a stunning wild forest in Glen Affric as you journey through 2020. Take a peek at the grove here.
And to all the super-talented people I’ve met this year who work so hard behind-the-scenes to make ceremonies beautiful, and to those who capture that beauty on film and in photos, it’s been lovely to share time with you and I wish you a magical and rewarding 2020.
Earlier this Autumn, I had the pleasure of revisiting the gorgeous Carlowrie Castle, ancestral family home to the inspirational female Arctic explorer, Isobel Wylie Hutchison. The fun-loving wedding of travel-seekers, Kira and James, was a stunning and romantic blend of both Scottish and American traditions.
Sweet touches chosen by the bride and groom included an American-style line up of bridesmaids and groomsmen to each side of the couple…
A good deal of hilarity as we shared the story of how these two fab people got together…
Not a dry eye in the room as they surprised each other with the ‘secret’ reasons why they loved one another…
Before exchanging rings as a promise of their everlasting love…
An adaptation of the traditional handfasting where James and Kira chose a swathe of white lace to represent Kira’s family and a swatch of tartan to represent James’ family. These symbolic cloths were laid over their joined hands as they made their Marriage vows to one another…
Kira and James then quite literally tied the knot together and held it up for all to admire (a first for me!)…
And they sealed their Marriage declaration with a kiss…
Before enjoying a sweet Sharing of the Quaich ceremony with their favourite whisky…
And a gorgeous Chinese Love Poem read in both Cantonese and English by Kira’s mother and grandmother. Beautiful!
A wish for you two,
zhù nĭ men
May you respect each other like honored guests.
xīang jìng rú bīn
May you always see heart to heart.
xīn xīn xīang yìn
May fragrant flowers bloom and full moons shine over your life together.
huā hăo yuè yuán
May your joy and happiness be forevermore.
băi nián hăo hé
Chinese Love Poem
Congratulations to the new Mr and Mrs Maclean! I loved planning your ceremony with you and it was an honour to lead it. Wishing you many more magical adventures to come, boundless laughter and happily ever after.
Every now and then, you cross paths with people who are meant to be in your life. I feel this way about my two fellow Agnostic Scotland founders, Linda Keys and Andrea Taylor. I’d love to introduce them to you.
I first met Linda when she was expecting her eldest child and she attended a birth workshop I was running at KnotStressed Therapies. Linda is remarkable. She’s someone you remember – even years after a fleeting meeting. You can spend time with her for such a short time and feel like you’ve known her forever. I have already learnt an enormous amount from Linda in the year that we have been planning Agnostic Scotland. She is principled, generous, kind, confident and one of those rare people in life who brings out the best in everyone. I am more excited than I can say to see how our plans unfold and to be working with Linda on this journey.
Over the years in my work supporting families through pregnancy and chilbirth, I have heard Andrea’s name again and again. She is a wonderful and inspiring midwife, birth educator, yoga teacher and all-round-creative genius. From my first cup of tea in Andrea’s gorgeously decorated, plant-filled home it was obvious to me that we share a similar ethos in our approach and values. She is calm, heart-centred, wise, thoughtful and funny. Andrea has recently embarked on her journey as a Celebrant – although really she has been honouring life transitions for years, both in her own life and the lives of those around her. I feel deeply honoured to be working alongside her at Agnostic Scotland.
On 28th November 2019, after a year of planning, Linda, Andrea and I officially launched Agnostic Scotland, a not-for-profit organisation offering Wedding, Naming, Funeral and other Life-Transition Ceremonies. All three of us firmly believe that families should be able to decide how and where they choose to mark the momentous occasions in their lives, however big or small, religious or secular, traditional or unconventional. We are now able to offer these beautiful, people-centred ceremonies, including legally recognised Wedding Ceremonies, through Agnostic Scotland. It feels great as a celebrant to say “Yes! Let’s do what you want to do… it is your ceremony!”
I am so proud of what we have already achieved and can’t wait to develop our plans to provide affordable ceremonies across Scotland through our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund, to bring communities together through our donations-based Community Connection Gatherings, and to launch our Celebrant Training Programme and establish a network of fabulous, principled Agnostic Scotland Celebrants across the country. Watch this space!
We’ve been blown away by the positive reception to Agnostic Scotland, from interested individuals to clients and celebrants. Our Launch Ceremony on 28th November was a joyful, community-spirited event and we were delighted to welcome many friends, clients, fellow celebrants, photographers, wedding suppliers, councillors and funeral directors to the event. Thank you to all those who joined us. For those who missed it, feel free to have a read of our Launch Ceremony speeches on the Agnostic Scotland blog.
Linda, Andrea and I look forward to being in touch with you. Thank you so much for your interest and your support.
Photos by Laura Kate McLean – thanks so much! And thanks also to all the incredible people who volunteered their time and help on the launch night. We are so grateful! ❤️🌿