Let it out and let it go!

Posted on Jun 28, 2016

Emotions have been running high the past few days and it may be useful to reflect on what they are and why they’re needed.

Just as pain is the response to a physical or physiological problem that requires your attention, emotions are the response to a spiritual issue that demands your focus. I have seen much advice since Friday on how to deal with, reduce, or even suppress emotional responses to the result of one of the most important political decisions for generations. So let’s use the pain correlation to explore this…

Imagine you stub your toe really hard on a table leg and the explosion of pain is enough to make you cry out and hop around the room, clutching your throbbing foot and potentially unleashing all manner of colourful phrases. It’s quite natural to want to scream, cry, shout or turn an interesting shade of purple as you attempt to protect more delicate ears from your tirade.

Your reaction is justified because it hurt. The pain that you experience will be yours and is just as individual in its scope. Some people may be able to get over it quickly, others may be more sensitive or expressive. Either way, your reaction is your own and you shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed of it.

But… it should (as far as possible) be appropriate. It’s not appropriate to react to your damaged toe by running around and punching people in the face. Yes, you hurt. But is that any reason to lash out and cause pain to others? In that way, you just perpetuate a cycle of pain and reaction. Applying that to an emotional reaction should be easy – be aware of your words and actions and try to ensure that they do not cause an undue and negative spiritual or emotional response in others.

Of course, this all depends on that other person and their reaction to your expression – maybe you’re reflecting a concern within them and this causes a response? Maybe they just don’t like anything you have to say on the matter and are quite willing to push back? Emotions and spirit are tricky things to navigate; after all, it’s not as if someone’s toe is going to become instantly broken just because you broke yours. Having said that, they may feel sufficient empathy to wince, feel sympathy pain, or even vomit!


It’s also not appropriate to continue your immediate and possibly extreme reaction once you’ve calmed down and no longer feel so volatile. One of the Reiki Precepts contains the suggestion “just for today, do not be angry” and certain styles explore the illusory nature of anger: it’s a temporary and extreme reaction to something but the key is to discover what that problem is, then to rationally and effectively deal with it. Being angry once the reaction has been acknowledged serves no purpose other than to cause spiritual harm to you and those you are affecting with it.

It’s all well and good realising this when your emotions have stabilised but not so easy to take to heart when in the middle of the reaction. While dealing with the moment of toe trauma, it may not be easy to calm down and rationally deal with your mix of adrenaline, pain and anguish when people are saying things such as “calm down, it’s not that bad”, “get over it and shut up” or even “well my toe’s fine so why are YOU moaning?”

Those reactions may or may not be helpful in a more balanced moment but they may be inappropriate or downright disrespectful to your experience while you’re going through it. Half of the voting UK have felt hurt, betrayed, scared or angry as the result of being forced out of the social and economic community and concepts that they embraced and supported. It is natural to express those emotions because they are a reaction and indicator to something that has provoked the spirit. With something this important, it is only right that you be given the opportunity to continue to discuss and express. Denying that essential human quality is the equivalent of telling the toe-stubber to “suck it up and deal with it”, which may not be the most helpful of responses.

But as I have said, there are appropriate ways of processing that trauma. By all means continue the debate but don’t resort to insults or threats. Refrain from lashing out in pain and causing that in others. Then when the immediate reaction has passed, you should hopefully be in a clearer frame of mind to discern why you had that reaction; what was it that got you so passionate?

Perhaps it’s the casual or overt xenophobia that a minority of people expressed and are continuing to do so, assuming that the vote has somehow sanctioned their discriminatory attitudes? Then use your energies to challenge those actions and to support your community in standing against such vehemence.

Maybe you feel that you’ve been cheated out of a potential that you wanted to keep, an economic and cultural community that has been pushed further away simply because half the country seemed to want something different? Then keep that desire in your heart and do what you can to foster the spirit and intention even if much of the economics may be beyond your immediate influence.

It’s possible that you’re frustrated at the lies and obfuscations from both sides and now that major promises are being backtracked, you realise that the UK has simply swapped two systems of partially elected government for just the one and that level of deregulation scares you.

There were a multitude of reasons for people to vote the way that they did and there are a multitude of reasons for people to react to the decision. Clutching your toe and screaming “none of you care, you don’t know my pain!” is an assumption about all unsympathetic people, just as assuming that all Leavers are xenophobic and bigoted is untrue and unfair. Some of them might be, but that’s no reason to tar everyone with the same brush.

The same applies to those who voted to Leave the EU. Not everyone who opposed you feels the same way and there’s no need to marginalise, provoke or gloat. Don’t be the person that cruelly laughs at another’s pain. Both sides could learn from the other and understanding why each person voted the way they did is a step towards resolving the divide that has widened across the country. Each group has their own individual concerns, opinions and desires for the future. Denying those of your opposition is just as hurtful and unproductive as them denying yours.

So let it out, then let it go. Scream your frustrations to the winds and your friends, share the information that could provide wisdom for all, debate and discuss rationally and without viciousness. Then continue to do all you can to work towards building a tomorrow that can support everyone to co-exist peacefully and productively.

“Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you will join us and the world will be as one.”


MRSS(T) status confirmed!

Posted on Oct 28, 2015

Following 18 months of continuous development and study, then 4 months of review, I have been awarded MRSS(T) status. This means that I am now a Registered Teacher of Shiatsu according to the standards set by the Shiatsu Society, the largest Shiatsu Professional Association in the UK.

The Shiatsu Society is one of the main driving forces behind the self-regulation of Shiatsu practitioners as well as the implementation of core standards of teaching, learning and practice. The minimum length of time that it takes to become a Teacher of Shiatsu is 6 years yet the learning and development continues for a lifetime.

I have been an official Teacher with the Shiatsu College, based at the branch in Hastings, since July and my studies are continuing with a Level 4 Certificate in Education and Training and a qualification in Training, Assessment and Quality Assurance (TAQA).

So if you need help with CPD (Continuing Professional Development), tutorials, guided treatments, or support with your learning, just get in touch to see how I can help you to move forward!


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Shiatsu Community Clinic in St Leonards (Hastings)

Posted on May 18, 2015

A small group of graduates of The Shiatsu College have set up a new community clinic to enable people to try the healing art of Shiatsu at an affordable price. The venue is at the heart of the community in St Leonards, Hastings and is fully accessible – the Southwater Community Centre (1 Stainsby Street, TN37 6LA). The centre is right next to Warrior Square train station and only a few minutes walk from the main bus services along the London Road.

Shiatsu is a therapeutic practice that evolved from a blend of acupressure, massage, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. This holistic treatment looks at various factors including diet, lifestyle, health and wellbeing in order to find solutions to your concerns. The therapist may advise on changes to your wider life but the core of the art is on the treatments, which are delivered on a futon or in a massage chair. The aim is to rebalance and vitalise your energy system and to clear any blockages that may be preventing you from moving forward.

The clinics will be run on the last Saturday of each month, from 10am to 3pm. Places can be booked or simply turn up to see if they can help you, with treatments by donation (suggested minimum £10)

For more details, call Mark on 07919 368783 (or see the Contact page on this website) or Steph on 07816 486603

Last Saturday of each month.

Last Saturday of each month.


Massage, Shiatsu and healing in St Leonards and Hastings

Posted on Feb 10, 2014

"Hello, how are you? My name is Mark Barwell and I'm genuinely interested in your wellbeing". I have used that phrase on my website for many years and I mean every word! Let me tell you why….

When I was in my early teens, I began searching for my own spiritual identity, encouraged by the multi-faith RE (Religious Education) lessons I had received in school. I read countless books on a variety of subjects, I attended meetings and services, I explored what I could in order to find the answers that I was seeking. When I was 18, an amazing person (my friend, Charusila) entered my life and lent me a book – Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. This was the biggest clue so far that I was on the right track and the next 10 years would be spent in working on my own issues.

I was called to learn Reiki in 2004 and the possibility of facilitating healing for other people became a more realistic prospect. With my ever-supportive mum by my side, we quit working "for the man" and opened our own therapy space and esoteric shop in 2005. Since then, I have dedicated my life to learning techniques for healing and helping others with their wellbeing and health. Having graduated from the Shiatsu College, my dharma to keep teaching all that I had learned eventually brought me to St Leonards and I now offer my services and advice to those that need it in the Hastings and surrounding East Sussex areas.


mark barwell complementary therapies shiatsu reiki massage healing hastings st leonardsSo what exactly do I offer? I work with every level of the being, from the physical to the energetic, the body to the spirit:

  • Massage – I employ several techniques to treat the physical body and its functions: Holistic Body Massage, Indian Head Massage and Acupressure are my main "tools" in this area. The benefits and effects of massage are briefly covered on my Holistic Body Massage page.
  • Shiatsu – this is a holistic therapy that encompasses a wide range of awareness of health, from the physical problems you may be having through to the emotions, diet, lifestyle choices and general outlook on life. While each treatment session is based on treating the physical and energy bodies, any aspects of wellbeing may be look at in order to achieve a greater sense of wellness.
  • Reiki Healing – a healing therapy that works primarily with the energy body, this is a relaxing and non-invasive treatment that can help to support the body's own ability to re-balance and to heal.
  • Shamanic Healing – rooted in the traditions and practices of ancient cultures, the emphasis of this therapy is on working with spiritual energies and resolving any potentially disabling remnants of past trauma while encouraging a more positive and productive future.
  • Nutrition and Weight Management – I have been following a meat-free diet for almost x years and have learned a lot about a personal experience of dietary wellbeing in that time. I recently consolidated this with formal training as a Nutritional Counsellor and am happy to provide advice and guidance on nutrition for wellbeing and weight management. Further details of this will be coming soon to my website: www.markbarwell.co.uk


As I mentioned, one of my guiding duties is to pass on teachings and lessons to those that seek them from me. To that end, I currently offer Reiki Healing courses and workshops to enable you to learn Tarot Reading.

I have a long history of running workshops in shamanic development as well as local healing workshops, craft-work sessions (such as Shamanic Drum Making) and drum circles. Having now settled in St Leonards, I am in the process of organising appropriate and uplifting venues for these in the Hastings local area so please keep checking my website (www.markbarwell.co.uk) for details as well as guidance on how to sign up for updates. The website also contains details of forthcoming events held by myself and by the Shiatsu College Hastings, which is supporting me as a trainee teacher of Shiatsu.


So as you can see, I am committed to providing a comprehensive set of options to consider when reflecting on your own wellbeing and deciding on enacting any changes that you may need support with. My ongoing training in Health and Social Care ensures that I am able to develop as well!

I always enjoy connecting with new people so get in touch to find out how I can help you to move forward.


Mark is available to work in the comfort of your own home (Hastings & St Leonards area – travel costs apply to other areas) or from a seafront venue in St Leonards. Fully qualified and insured.


The Rampant Ego

Posted on Feb 10, 2014

Cautionary tales from TV drama: although the inspirations for this piece of writing are fictional, they sound out deep and resonant to our own experiences.

SPOILER ALERT!! If you haven't watched the end of Breaking Bad (and why not?!) or the end of David Tennant's reign as the Doctor (Who – and seriously, it's been 4 years!) and really don't want details, I suggest you look away now…

So I finally got round to watching Breaking Bad after much (unfounded) resistance; after several weeks of taking up most of my free time with this endeavour, last night I witnessed the end of Walter White. For those that aren't familiar with the premise, the action takes place in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico and principally concerns a High School chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and through a series of synchronous events decides to cook crystal meth(amphetamine) in order to raise the money to provide for his family when he dies.

Over the course of 5 series (or seasons as my American friends call them), the plot gets ever more convoluted as various characters get sucked into the maelstrom of Walter's plan. But the central story is always that of Walter and his journey. It could almost be a textbook (albeit a violent, blood- and drugs-spattered textbook) account of the Kübler-Ross model, otherwise known as the “five stages of grief”. While supporting characters, both those who are cherished and those who are reviled, are dispatched in inventive ways or simply the well-used “shot to the head”, Walter is finally left in a state of acceptance as his life dwindles away.

But before these final moments are reached, Walter achieves a pinnacle of raging ego – fuelled by the power trinity of money, influence and action, he rages against the world and thrusts his opinionated sense of righteousness into the hearts of all those he meets, smiting the wrong-doers and devastating those he holds dear.

Throughout the programme, Walter holds true to his own perceived concept of morality. Justifying his illegal activities and occasional forays into murder and deadly manipulation with the notion of “doing it for the family”, Walter is able to turn a blind eye to (or in some cases actively accomplish) things that a more objective person may deem to be reprehensible.

In the quest for sufficient money to cater for his family's future, Walter accrues so much that he is able to achieve almost anything. Hitmen are hired, heists are accomplished, witnesses are silenced: all arranged by throwing more cash at a dodgy lawyer. In these instances, money equals power and when there is so much of it at hand, humanity and the lives of others are reduced to lesser currency to be bought, sold and burned on a whim.

breaking bad heisenberg walter white rageEarly in the show, Walter concocts a pseudonym – a shadowy, porkpie-hat-wearing meth cook called Heisenberg. It serves a purpose to have someone else for the authorities to chase and the criminals to fear. But over time, Walter begins to believe in the legend and his character alters accordingly. The man becomes the monster and the monster becomes manifest. It is almost as if his unfettered ego is given reign to act, simply by being given its own identity.

Self-belief is a powerful thing and the mind allows us to pursue, and in most cases achieve, whatever we set our full intent and purpose to. The danger comes when such ego is left unchecked and allowed to flourish in the nutrient of its own perceived morality. Without an external, objective guide we can travel so far from the road of virtue that we stride defiant and destructive through the lives of those we could instead be helping, including our own.

In the end, no matter how powerful we think we are, our actions are always swept away by time and our monuments are the only testament to ever having existed. We can leave a legacy of love, building trust and compassion and fostering the growth of others, helping to breathe life into the future. Or, like Walter White, you can choose to forge an empire from fear, walls held firm by the mortar of your own indomitable will. But when you are no longer here, will those walls fall and crumble into dust, swept away by the hatred or indifference of those who you have destroyed to get where you are? 

One of the last episodes of Breaking Bad was given the title of “Ozymandias” and those familiar with Shelley's poem of that name will recognise the parallels in the lines:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away”

A similar fate to that of Walter befell the Tenth Doctor, emotionally portrayed by David Tennant in “Doctor Who” over the course of the last few episodes of his tenure.

doctor who time lord victorious

Unchecked by the balancing empathy (and humanity) of a companion, his incarnation of the Time Lord rose to ever-greater heights of ego-fuelled dominance, asserting his concept of morality onto all those he encountered. Usually mindful of the effects of his actions, an overwhelming sense of frustration at not being unable to save everyone in a given situation pushed him to an even more frightening conclusion: that he could wield his immense power in whatever way he chose to, consequences be damned!

In the episode “The Waters of Mars”, the Doctor decides that he will change a “fixed point in time” and alter history because he wanted Captain Adelaide Brooke alive when she should be dead. Having saved Adelaide from her doom, the Doctor's arrogance proclaims the supposed virtue of his viewpoint as this dialogue illustrates:

Adelaide: If my family changes… the whole of history could change! The future of the human race! No one should have that much power!
The Doctor: Tough.
Adelaide: [Backs away from the Doctor, unsure of what is going on] You should have left us there.
The Doctor: Adelaide, I've done this sort of thing before. In small ways, saved some little people. But never someone as important as you. Ooh, I'm good!
Adelaide: Little people? What, like Mia and Yuri? Who decides they're so unimportant? You?
The Doctor: For a long time now, I thought I was just a survivor, but I'm not. I'm the winner. That's who I am. A Time Lord victorious.
Adelaide: And there's no one to stop you?
The Doctor: No.
Adelaide: [Noticeably angry] This is wrong, Doctor! I don't care who you are! The Time Lord victorious is wrong!

At that moment, Adelaide acts as the external guide, a moral compass to keep the Doctor's powerful and rampant ego in check. Her subsequent suicide devastates the Doctor and allows him to realise that perhaps he was wrong after all. Coupled with an impending sense of doom about his final days, what follows is a period of self-reflection that echoes the “stages of grief” undergone by Walter White.

Both Time Lord and meth cook complete their journeys with a climactic denouement and a final return to their most heart-felt of motivations: the Doctor sacrifices himself to save another (a recurrent theme throughout his many years) and Walter, abandoned by the very family who supplied his initial motivation, takes refuge in the familiar surroundings of laboratory equipment; science provides a last comforting caress as he falls lifeless to the floor.

What is the lesson in all this? For me, it is a reminder that we must always look towards the purest pull of our hearts in all that we do. Every one of us has a mission, a dharma, an intention that defines our existence. When we act, are we serving our purpose or are we doing it for our own selfish ends? Are we considering the ramifications of our actions or have we sacrificed such empathic reflection in order to pursue what we may blindly see as the right choice?

Today's fame-obsessed world provides clear and disturbing examples of what happens when we are surrounded by “yes men” (those who have chosen to forego the opportunity of providing impartial and concerned advice in order to gain money, recognition or associated fame). Young celebrities spiralling into chaos or thrusting explicit public antics into the faces and cameras of all and sundry…these are just more examples of the rampant, unchecked ego. When someone offers sensible and impartial advice, do we listen and accept the chance to learn or do we react with scorn and derision? (Just ask Sinéad O'Connor how the open letters to Miley Cyrus worked out for her!)

There are times when we all need the support of forces outside our own head. Even if you have no-one around you, the guiding voice of the Universe can be heard through meditation, trance-work and other spiritual practices. I am blessed to have always been surrounded by people who have cared enough to offer criticisms of my more self-centred actions. As I continue to grow and evolve, I hope to be more able to hear and understand such concerns in the spirit of love and acceptance that they were given and I sincerely apologise for those times when I would not, or could not, listen.

When the time comes, will you humbly heed any offered wisdom or turn away in defiance? The choice is yours alone but be aware that the repercussions might not be.


Coming Home – a short story

Posted on Feb 7, 2014

Coming Home - a short story by Mark Barwell

The rolling fields of the English countryside give way to ramshackle buildings of stone and lime as we speed past the worn-out sign that heralds the name of a proud but tired village. From my viewpoint, staring out the window of the taxi, the streets of my old home town barely look real. Maybe it’s because I’m seeing them through glass, like models in a museum. Or perhaps it’s because my memories keep blending with the scenes before me, settling over the landscape like ghosts.

Not much has changed in the five decades since I’ve been gone. The shops have new names and fancy displays in the windows and the old pub’s had a lick of paint but the heart of the place is still there; beating a bit slower perhaps, but not ready to go just yet. I chuckle to myself as I murmur softly: “I know how you feel, old girl”.

As we pull up to the church, my heart jumps and I think that maybe it is my time after all because I think I see Charlie sitting on an old wooden bench outside, smoking an illicit cigarette. I know that’s impossible because he died last week at the age of 63 and I’m here for the funeral. That and the fact that the boy before me can’t be much more than 16. But I swear they could have been twins – same hair colour, same features, even that flicker of a smile that never seemed to hide. No matter what trouble we got into or how scared I’d be, thinking of the spanking I’d get from my mother when she found out, just one look at Charlie and I’d  feel warm inside and happy to take on the world.

If only things had turned out differently, I could spent my life with that smile instead of having to be content with cherishing the memories. But that was then and this is now and I can’t be late for my best friend. I’ve stayed away for almost fifty years so I owe him this much. I take a deep breath and steel my resolve to leave the safety of this taxi.

I trip as I lean out of the car and I take a tumble, the world spinning wildly around me as I clutch blindly at the air. I come to a sudden rest, not on the hard cobbled skin of the pavement as I had feared, but sagging in the well-built arms of the boy. I look up in shock and wonder and stare into the face of my saviour, concern etching his features but still with that hint of a smirk.

“Ch-Charlie?” I can barely speak as my breath stutters from my quivering lips.

“Oh, you’re here for Granddad’s funeral! I thought that was the case when I saw you pull up but I don’t recognise you, I’m afraid. I’m Sam. Sam Didcott,” smiles the young man as he pulls me to my feet and thrusts out his hand for me to shake.

I grasp it gratefully and return the greeting: “Daniel Langford. I knew Charlie when we were boys. Granddad, eh?”

“Yeah, he was a great guy. I miss him a lot. But today’s all about remembering how happy he made us, right? So how about we get you inside – the ceremony’s about to start.”

I smile in thanks as the youth leads me into the church. At the door is a stand with a glass-framed picture board on it. Fragments of photographed histories cascade around the edge and in the middle is the image of a man I almost knew. Time has wearied the features and deepened the lines but the old face before me is still familiar. I catch sight of my reflection in the frame and sigh at the realisation that age hasn’t been so kind to me. I wonder if Charlie would have recognised me still?

I sit at the back; I don’t want to bother anyone and even though the boy is quite insistent, I refuse the kind offer to sit with his family. I confess to being a little scared of meeting them, not for fear of being a stranger but in case they actually know my name. I don’t want to have ended up as an embarrassing footnote in another man’s story, a tale told with mocking laughter and barely-disguised disgust. So I sing to the hymns and listen to the words of others recounting a history I barely shared.

We first met in this church, Charlie and I, at my first Sunday service at the age of 7. My parents had just moved into the village and they thought that the best way of loving God was to fear him. So there I was, suited and booted and bored. Just as the service was about to start, in rushed a flustered family: apologetically-flushing mother, wearily-resigned father and a scruffily-charming boy who couldn’t have been much younger than me. They tumbled into the pew beside us and smiled greetings at my parents, who sternly nodded their welcome in return.

On reflection, perhaps they would all have realised that putting two young and uninterested boys next to each other was bound to be trouble but as it was, such premonition was avoided as the wheezing old pipe organ trumpeted the arrival of the vicar and the whole shebang began. By the time Charlie and I had giggled our way through the songs and playfully kicked each other during the sermon, we were firm friends.

As the collection plate was passed round, we all donated our change and although Charlie seemed to have done the same, when our parents were looking elsewhere he nudged me in the side and I turned to see two shiny pennies in his grip. My jaw dropped in surprise and he winked at me before giving me one of the coins and motioning for me to keep quiet. In a timeless moment of boyhood bonding, I nodded and pocketed it quickly. On examining our bounty later, we discovered that they were minted in 1947, the year of our births: me in May and him at the tail end of the year. We truly felt that fate was smiling on our friendship.

We tried to talk after the service but were both pulled away by our respective families; his were desperate to return to the farm as there was much work to do and mine were concerned with ingratiating themselves with the clergy. As we waved our goodbyes, I hoped that I would see him again.

I am shaken from my reverie as people start to stand and file out from around me. Leaning on the back of the pew for support, I make my way into the grey sunshine and rest against the cool stone of  the building. A middle-aged man approaches and introduces himself with a name that has no meaning to me.

“How do you do, sir? My son was telling me that you were an old friend.”

I’m puzzled for a moment until the boy from before comes rushing up and takes the man by the hand.

“Dad, can I go and have lunch with Will? His mum says it’s OK! Oh, hello again!”

“Hello young man. Thank you for rescuing me earlier!”

Now it’s the father’s turn to look puzzled so the boy explains the circumstances of our meeting. This goes down well and the boy is praised and my health is enquired after. I introduce myself and the man suddenly smirks.

“Daniel? As in…Danny-Boy?” he grins.

I reel in shock and almost faint as I hear that name echoing back to me from across the years. I have been Daniel to almost everyone: my parents, teachers, even my work colleagues in the ensuing decades. But Charlie always referred to me as Danny-Boy and just called me Danny when we were alone. He would take great delight in singing that old Irish melody, not too tunefully, until I would threaten to walk away and never speak to him again. A laugh, that smile, and a promise that he was only teasing, and we would go our merry way, friends once more.

It’s almost tempting to be cheerful but then I see the humour on the faces before me and my knees go weak. The man looks at his son, who stares back in wonder and mirth.

“You mean, THE Danny-Boy?” he titters and they both turn to me and laugh out loud.
I can’t stand this: my fears have been realised and I have to get away. I stumble an apology and stagger out of the churchyard, knocking people out of the way in my haste to be gone. I’m vaguely aware of voices behind me but I won’t stay to hear them! With the perfect bitterness of history repeating, I run away.

Hours pass as I wander through tear-stained streets, finally glancing up and looking around as I marvel at where my feet have instinctively led me. At a bridge over a stream at the end of a lane, I lean on rickety railings and remember the days that we had lived, laughing and playing our way into adolescence.

We were thick as thieves, Charlie and I, and many people remarked that we were like brothers. We even pondered that too and agreed that it would be nicer if we were: in an ideal world, we would live together on the farm and his older, obnoxious brother would move in with my folks. But fantasy and reality were always going to be very different and we resigned ourselves to remaining firm friends.

All of my early memories are woven with thoughts of Charlie. The first time I bought sweets at Mrs Parson’s store, he was there to share them. The first time I milked a cow and squirted myself in the eye, he was there to laugh and offer a cleaning rag and the first time I kissed…well, that was the last day of our time together. I wipe a tear from my eye as I hear a not-so-subtle cough from behind. I don’t have the energy to turn and simply stay staring into the reflective trickle of the stream below me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see the man from the church settle himself beside me and I hear his soft voice speak.

“I’m sorry about earlier, I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you OK?”

I sigh deeply and reply, “Yes, I’m fine. Thank you. You must think me a silly old fool!”

“No, not at all. I feel dreadful for not going after you but Sam insisted that you needed time to yourself. He’s wise beyond his years, that boy.”

“Sam, that’s your son? The boy at the church? Then you must be….Charlie’s son? Son-in-law?”

The man laughed and I grimaced again, prompting a concerned look and apologetic words.

“There I go again, you must forgive me. It’s just that…Charlie never had any children of his own.”

Now I’m really confused!

“But the boy, Sam, he said Charlie was his granddad. How…”

“I see there’s been some sort of misunderstanding. We’ve been calling Charlie that for years, it’s a term of affection because he always looked after us, tried to let us see that there could be comfort in the things we can’t change. Some of us found that harder than others.”

“Do you mean your family?”

“No,” sighs the man, “but let me ask you a question. What do you recall about the last day you saw Charlie?”

For a moment I consider sanitising my words, reshaping history into a form that may be more palatable. But I’m old and tired and I don’t really care much any more. So I talk.

“It was 1964. The summer was in full swing and we had fun, boy did we have fun! It was the year that the lake was created by flooding the old quarry. We weren’t really supposed to swim in there because there were said to still be sharp rocks left over from the old days. But we did anyway!”

My companion chuckles and so do I. Oh how I wish that those memories had ended there, with us playing out our days in those cool waters, running through fields of corn and laughing away our cares. If only I hadn’t spoiled it all. Perhaps now really is the right time to let out the words that have long been buried inside.

“I was always the quiet one and Charlie was the tearaway. He’d never hurt anyone or damage anything, at least not on purpose, but he was always leading us into mischief. Things changed that year and my feelings for Charlie began to grow. By that, I mean that I began to hope for him as something more than a friend. The time we spent together started to have so much more meaning and the times we were apart were devastating. I…I really don’t know why I’m telling you this. I’m sorry.”

“Go on, I’m listening. It’ll be OK.”

I feel reassured by the comforting hand now placed over mine and so I continue, a feeling of nausea threatening to topple me as I recount the beginning of the end.

“You have to understand that all this was frightening. I didn’t know what it was, what I was! It’s all so different nowadays with people like me on the telly all the time, and street parties and the like. OK, OK, so it’s not like that every day but you can see how I feel, can’t you? It wasn’t like that back then. That sort of thing was only talked about in whispers or shouted in hate, accompanied by fists.”

“Charlie said his brother could be like that.”

“You’re not far wrong there, lad! He was a spiteful sod, that boy. Made my life a misery just because I didn’t like football and always wore a scarf in winter. Stupid antics from stupid kids. But it still hurt.”

“And Charlie didn’t say anything?”

“Don’t you believe it! He had lots to say on the subject and half the time was spent running away from his brother after Charlie had shot his mouth off in my defence. But he never asked me if what they were saying was true. I guess I didn’t really know myself until that summer.”

“The year of the lake?”

“Yes. The year of the lake. It was a glorious day and we had been climbing trees. It was that time of year when I was technically a year older even though we both knew there wasn’t much in it. I had been struggling with my feelings for so long and thought that I would go mad with the torment of unreachable hopes and pleasurable but guilt-wracked dreams. Every time we were close, I wanted it to be closer and every time we hugged I didn’t want to let him go.

On that day we had been swimming and were basking in the sun on the warm carpet of grass. I turned to say something to Charlie and found that he had done the same. Our noses touched and I remember thinking that it was now or never so I leaned in and kissed him before my resolve weakened. When I pulled away, I saw his shocked face and knew that I had gone too far. In horror I staggered away, my ears ringing with the curses and damnations that would be cast upon me when everyone found out. My best friend hated me and my life was over.

I didn’t leave the house for two days. When I finally resurfaced, I went to the farm but his father said that Charlie wasn’t there. He wasn’t much of a talker so I didn’t want to press for any further details, afraid of what I might unleash. So I came here, to our bridge. For days I waited, going to each of our favourite places but he never showed up. I knew that I couldn’t face life without him but it would have been even harder to see his face every day and not have it look upon me with kindness. So I packed a bag, left a brief note for my parents and I left. I’ve been running away ever since.”

My old bones creak as I sway back and forth, rocking quietly with grief for what I had thrown away. My companion is graceful enough to give me this time before interrupting me with a gentle touch and an outstretched hand bearing a letter. On the crisp white paper is a name. My name: Danny.

“Here, this is for you,” he says as I raise a questioning eyebrow. “Charlie wrote it a few months before he went, before the cancer took hold and his body began to shut down. It was the last meaningful thing he managed to do by himself. People kept telling him that he was silly to hope; that there was no way you could be found. Some even said that you were just a figment of his imagination; that were never real. But he gave that letter to me and he looked me in the eyes and he made me promise to find you. It was me that sent you the notice for the funeral. I’m only sorry that I wasn’t able to find you sooner.”

My hands are trembling and I can barely stand so I allow myself to be led to the shade of the old willow tree, once upon a time an exciting castle, or a mountain cave, or the palace of a mysterious Arabian prince. Now I look upon it and see only a tree, silent guardian of childhood secrets. In this place of long-lost memories, I read the letter.
“Dearest Danny,

If you’re reading this, then I know that I was right all these years and that you’re still alive. I always thought that I could feel you in the world, a shining light that glistens from afar. Of course, if this isn’t Danny, then bugger off you cheeky little toerag, whoever you are!

I’m assuming that this is you, and that time hasn’t robbed you of your compassion. You always were the one with the heart and I can only wish that is still the case and that you’ll read what I have to say without prejudice or hate. It has been a long time since we parted and I’ve always regretted my actions that day. I was scared, to tell you the truth. We were the best of friends, as close as brothers, and my only fear was of all that being lost.

We were closer than ever in that last year and I kept convincing myself that you were feeling what I was. That rush of excitement, that longing for each other, all the things that I hoped could be possible if only we were together. In the end it was all too much and I had to know how you felt, That day at the lake seemed so right, the perfect opportunity, and as we looked at each other and our lips finally met, I thought I was in heaven. But then you pulled away and I saw the fear in your eyes and I knew that I was wrong. You ran away and you never came back.

Mother dragged me to my Auntie’s that night because she had a fever and couldn’t look after her house. While I was away I thought about all that happened and even though I knew you were afraid, I thought that we could take on the world together. I feared that you hated me but hoped that you loved me back and I almost ran the hundred miles back home just so I could be with you. I knew that I could make you smile. When we returned, a week later, I knocked for you but your parents said you’d gone. I suppose you’d given me your answer.

Time is running out now and I hope this letter finds you before I go so that I can see your face before me once more; maybe wearing a smile and not a frown? Besides, I have something for you so you’d better come quickly before I change my mind. I can hear you chuckling as you read this and I truly wish that’s not my imagination.

If you still care, please come home. The boys will look after you; all you have to do is turn up at the farm and they’ll see you right.

With all my heart,
Your old friend Charlie.”

It’s quiet now and even the birds have stopped singing. My head is full of sadness and grief but even still a small question springs into awareness.

“What did he mean, the boys?”

“Charlie never married, he wasn’t like that as you can see. When his parents died and his brother moved to London, he carried on working at the farm. There was a lot to do and some of us helped him out. But he helped us out even more. You see he recognised certain qualities in some of us, boys of the village throughout the years. A mannerism or two out of place, a few sneaky glances in an unusual direction. Knowing that we were different. So he kept an eye on us and kept the bullies away. He was always there to listen to our troubles and to help us along the way. Letting us see that is was OK to be the way we were, the way he was.”

“But you mean? That you’re…?”

“Yes,” smiled the man, “I like guys too.”

“But didn’t you say that Sam is your son?”

“Some of us can’t change what’s planned out for us. But hearing about you and Charlie made it easier to believe that in another place, at another time, things might have been different.”

“Did he ever…have a partner?”

“No, not that I noticed. He seemed to put all of his energies into the farm. He used to tell us stories of you and him, of the things you used to get up to, the fun you had. When he’d finish, he’d always try to distract us as he wiped away a tear but we all saw and I guess we knew that was why he always went home alone. Because he’d found his perfect match, once upon a time.”

I can’t speak. There are no words for how I’m feeling and my well of tears has run dry. I barely react as something is pushed into my hand before my companion stands and turns to go.

“For you,” he smiles, “because he couldn’t give it to you himself.”

As he walks away, I unfurl my fingers to reveal an old penny, tarnished and chipped but unmistakably bearing the year 1947. A smile lifts my face as I stare into the clouds, remembering a love that might have been.


It’s colder now and the dusky sky settles softly over the churchyard as I make my way to the freshly-dug mound. A small wooden marker is the only thing that heralds my destination and I settle slowly onto the ground, my legs folding gently beneath me as I lay by my best friend’s side. I prop myself up on one elbow and speak to him for the first time in far too long.

“Hello Charlie. Thank you for the letter. I only wish that you’d had the courage to send it a lifetime ago, or that I had the strength to have stayed and listened. But I guess it’s too late now and the chance has long passed. Here, I believe this is yours.”

I take Charlie’s coin from my trouser pocket and place it on the grave. Then reaching into my jacket, I take out an old matchbox stuffed with material. Shaking the contents loose, I pick them up and unfurl my own coin, better preserved than its twin but equally as loved. I place it next to Charlie’s and lean back to stare at the night sky.

“Together again, old friend, who’d have thought it. I always kept it safe, kept it clean. I had the silly notion that as long as I could keep the shine, you’d always remember me. I suppose it worked, eh?”

It’s been a long day and a long life and the night is so cold. But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, now that I’ve come home. They say it’s where the the heart is and I think they might be right. Goodnight Charlie, I love you.


©2011 Mark Barwell


Shiatsu College Hastings

Posted on Oct 15, 2013

What is the Shiatsu College?

Training in Shiatsu and Acupressure and teacher training in Qigong and Meridian Yoga from the Shiatsu CollegeFormed in 1986 to “provide the best possible quality of Shiatsu training, among the first of its kind, of comparable length and depth to that of an Acupuncture training”, the College was a collaboration between the founder teachers: Nicola Ley (Pooley), Clifford Andrews, Paul Lundberg and Carola Beresford-Cooke, all of whom are active in the international Shiatsu community as well as being at the heart of the College today.

The Shiatsu College has several branches around the UK and delivers quality courses in Shiatsu, Traditional Chinese Medicine, energy work, therapeutic skills and practice, and various related topics. Always at the forefront of Shiatsu development, the College was instrumental in helping to establish a minimum 3-year syllabus that is the expected standard for Shiatsu training as overseen by the Shiatsu Society.

Two of the key texts at the base of many Shiatsu courses are written by two of the founder teachers: “Shiatsu Theory and Practice” by Carola Beresford-Cooke and “The Book of Shiatsu” by Paul Lundberg.

Recent developments in the College include the 2-year Qigong Teacher Training course and Meridian Yoga Teacher Training course, now available in selected branches. Each branch also has its own schedule of Open Days, drop-in clinics and Post-Graduate support.

Shiatsu College Hastings

The Hastings branch was established 13 years ago by Annie Cryar, a local therapist with keen interests in Shiatsu, Qigong, Yoga and other aspects of health and wellbeing. Annie still runs the branch today, with a small but dedicated team of teachers, trainee teachers and assistants who provide the support and encouragement for students to grown into their knowledge and practice, all from a wonderful seafront venue in St Leonards.

The Certificate of Acupressure course runs throughout the year to introduce you to the concepts and techniques of Shiatsu and energy work. If you wish to develop further, it can then be used as the first year of a structured syllabus that forms the three years of Shiatsu Diploma training.

For more details, please contact the Shiatsu College Hastings at the details below:

Address: Kings Road Studio, 48 Kings Road, St Leonards, East Sussex. TN37 6DY

Telephone: 01424 756326

Mobile: 07722 868397

Email: hastings@shiatsucollege.co.uk

Website: www.shiatsucollege.co.uk/hastings


Yin-inspired images

Posted on Sep 17, 2013

When I first started to explore the themes of Yin and Yang in the body, I went out to take some pictures of things that were inspired by the concept of Yin. Here are the results!

If you would like to explore these concepts further, the Shiatsu College Hastings offers workshops in energy work, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the foundations of Shiatsu. You can also take this learning further with the Shiatsu Practitioner's Diploma Course. Workshops are starting in October and full details can be found at the College website: http://shiatsucollege.co.uk/branches/hastings/open-programme/



Yin and Yang in the body

Posted on Sep 12, 2013

So how do these energies manifest within the body? As you can imagine, Yin energies tend to be represented lower down the body whereas Yang energies are higher up. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, meridians (energy lines that run throughout the body) that are associated with Yang organs start at the top and run downwards while Yin ones start towards the ground and work their way up.

For instance, Bladder is a Yang organ and Kidney is the Yin organ that it is paired with. Even considering their physiology, we can see that Bladder is a more open space (Yang) than the Kidney, which is more dense and solid (Yin). Bladder starts between the eyebrows and works over the head and down to the little toe. Kidney starts at a point on the sole of the foot and works up.

Yin and Yang can also be attributed to the energy centres within the body. Let us consider the two main schools of thought:


Tantien (Dantian, Dan Chen, etc)

tantiensIn Oriental medicine, these “nexus points” are known as tantien or hara points. All three lie along the central axis of the body that runs down the middle from head to feet.

The lower tantien is also referred to as the Hara (it literally translates as abdomen, or belly) although all three tantiens are sometimes confusingly called hara points too! This tantien is at a point roughly 3 finger widths below the navel. This is said to be the centre of your being, where Original Energy is stored, and is the symbolic energy centre for Earth Ki, or Yin energy.

The middle tantien is level with the heart, is the emotional centre of your being, and the space where we connect and balance the energies of Yin and Yang (more on this in a later blog post).

The upper tantien is in the middle of the head at the rough location of the pineal gland (take a line backwards through the forehead and another line sideways just before the top of the ears. Where they interesect is the upper tantien). This is the symbolic energy centre for Heaven Ki, or Yang energy.



chakrasAs can be seen from the diagram to the right, the lower three chakras deal primarily with issues concerning the self and therefore equate to Yin energies (the root being more Yin than the sacral, which is more Yin than the solar plexus). The upper 3 chakras deal mainly with issues concerning external forces and how we relates to the world around us, therefore Yang energies (crown the most Yang and throat the least). In this way, the chakras equate to the tantiens as seen above although with more differentiation between the groups.


Balancing the body's energies

Everyday life may cause our body's energies to tip out of balance but there are many ways to bring them back into a greater sense of alignment. One of these is with Shiatsu, a Japanese form of bodywork that "uses hand pressure and manipulative techniques to adjust the body's physical structure and its natural inner energies". Another way is with an energy healing method such as Reiki. If you would like to explore these options more fully, Mark offers Shiatsu treatments and Reiki healing treatments in the Hastings and St Leonards area of East Sussex. Get in touch to find out more.


Yin and Yang

Posted on Sep 11, 2013

You may be aware of the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang, opposing and complementary forces that represent aspects of all that is. The following is a video that I created as part of my Shiatsu studies to illustrate the concept, with a transcript below:

In the beginning there was nothing. Although this isn't strictly true because it implies an absence of something. There was simply all that there is. Lao Tzu, traditionally said to be the author of the Tao Te Ching, said:
“There was something formed from Chaos, born before Heaven and Earth, ultimate and wonderful, existing alone without change. Not knowing it's name, I call it Tao.”

Therein lies the problem when trying to describe this state of “oneness”. By giving it a name, it becomes defined and the very nature of it is without definition. So we can only describe our understanding of such a concept:
“The Tao that can be described is not the Tao”

According to Taoist philosophy, this gave rise to different forms:
“Tao gave birth to the One, the One gave birth to the Two.”
“Tao is the beginning of Heaven and Earth and the mother of all the 10,000 things”

These opposing and complimentary forces are named Yin and Yang in traditional Chinese belief. There cannot be one without the other. Even in a moment of ultimate expression of one form there lies the seed of the other. For example, if we were to find the exact moment at the centre of the day when the light is at its greatest, within that moment there exists the potential of the returning darkness and as the day crosses this threshold, this potential is realised and the light gradually turns to dark.

Even such concepts rely on each other for definition. Darkness is the absence of light and light the absence of darkness. Darkness without a concept of light would just be what it is and would not need such a name.

A classical representation of Yin and Yang concerns a hill. During the day when light is shining, the shady side of the hill is Yin and the lighter side is Yang. Yet this is also a relative concept. The shady side of a hill in Summer is more Yang than the same shady side in Winter because it is lighter.
Again we see that notions of Yin and Yang rely on each other for definition.

These contrasting forces can be applied to an indefinite number of situations:
RotateYinYangSmall if Yin is dark, Yang is light
Yin is feminine, Yang is masculine
Yin is introvert and internal, Yang is extrovert and external
Yin is quiet, Yang is noise
Yin is heavy, Yang is light
Yin is Earth and Yang is Heaven.

This cycle of Yin and Yang is constantly moving, with one flowing into the other. The Tao Te Ching expresses is thus:
“A whirlwind does not last all morning and a thunderstorm does not last all day. What makes it this way? Heaven and Earth – Heaven and Earth cannot express themselves indefinitely.”

Each expression of Yin and Yang creates further concepts. For example, our breath is taken in and then expelled and our chest rises and falls, our blood flows to the organs and then away again. Our bodies grow bigger through youth, then shrink as we age.

The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine states that: “The union of the energy of Heaven and Earth is called Human Being.” This applies to the structure and material form of the body as well as the flow of energy, blood and bodily fluids.

Yin elements are that which give structure and shape as well as providing weight. They are also the internal or protected parts of the body. Bones, internal organs, the inner aspects of the limbs and the front of the body are said to be Yin. 

Yang elements are materially lighter, stronger, warmer, more active and also responsive to the environment around us. Skin, muscles, the back of the body and the more exposed surfaces are said to be Yang. Energy, or Ki, has no physical structure and is therefore Yang. Spirit, named Shen, is the most Yang substance of all and is associated with consciousness.

Blood, bodily fluids and other substances that circulate around the body are more Yang than structural parts but again these are relative concepts. Blood, for example, has qualities that are relatively Yin as it is said to be a materialized form of Ki. Thicker bodily fluids are more Yin while thinner lubricating fluids such as sweat and saliva are  more Yang.

Parts of the body are also classified as Yin or Yang depending on their relationship to Heaven and Earth. The upper areas and the head are closer to Heaven and therefore Yang. The lower areas and legs are Yin. This sense of direction produces relative concepts. For example, while the lower areas of the body are considered to be Yin, the feet are more Yin than the legs because they are closer to the Earth.

The same relationship of Heaven to Earth defines the flow of energy, or Ki, around the body. A downward flow, away from Heaven, is Yang. While an upward from, from Earth, is Yin.

Ki flows through channels called meridians which run through the body. Yang channels, like the areas of the body, are on the back and on the outside surfaces of the limbs. They are associated with the organs that are described as hollow: the Stomach, Large and Small Intestines, Bladder and Gall Bladder. These are organs that deal with the processing and elimination of food and waste as well as being involved in the body's defensive functions.

Yin channels are on the front of the body and the inner surfaces of the limbs. They are associated with the organs that are described as more solid: the Lungs, Spleen, Heart, Kidneys and Liver. Yin organs transform, store and distribute the blood and Ki.

Each Yin organ is associated with a Yang organ in a complimentary pairing, such as the Stomach and Spleen or the Lungs and Large Intestine. But the human body is not the only area in which the interplay between Yin and Yang can be seen.

Human history expresses itself as an ever increasing balance between Yin and Yang. There is widespread belief that there is a greater amount of “bad things” in the world today with famine, despotism, war and violence on the increase. But there is also a greater amount of “good” to balance this out. We need only to look at the humanitarian response to the Asian tsunami of 2004 to see that our global community can pull together as a force for positivity even as it seems destined to rip itself apart. For every Hitler there is a Mother Teresa.
Yin and Yang can thus be expressed on every level, from the microscopic to the macroscopic.

Mark Barwell has experienced this interplay of Yin and Yang in various ways throughout his life. In his late teens, Mark was very shy and introvert. He did not talk very much, found it difficult to make new friends, his clothing was very dark, and even his posture was hunched and inwardly focused. This was a very Yin time for him. As he grew in confidence, Mark began to express himself more outwardly. He wore brighter, more colourful clothes. He worked in student radio, joined social groups, and finally gained the confidence to be walk tall in public, secure in his own being. He is now more Yang than ever before.
Mark has periods of calm reflection, when meditating or working with subtle energies. These are his Yin moments. He also practices a martial art style of kick-boxing that allows his Yang nature to be expressed. He also likes to express himself through art, and by interacting with people. These are just some of his Yang moments.

Mark also learned Reiki, a hands-on healing art that originated in Japan. This allowed him to explore the energies within his own being, and to recognise his feelings, thoughts, and behaviour in terms of Yin and Yang. The Japanese style of Reiki that he practices today has a strong focus on such concepts. It teaches that the lower hara embodies Earth energy and is therefore Yin. The upper hara embodies Heaven energy and is therefore Yang. The heart hara is the point of balance between the two.

Oriental medicine strives to maintain such a balance of Yin and Yang within ourselves in order that we can be healthy, as fully-functioning and alive as possible! As with all living things, we are an expression of Heaven and Earth in dynamic motion and within this duality lies the understanding that we are also at one with the Tao.



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