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EMMA HOWARTH: How mystical adventures in every day helped my crippling anxiety

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The feeling of being off-kilter, wrong, not quite good enough first started when we relocated from Bristol to a small town in Kent for my husband’s job as a doctor.

Our new house was a building site and my two daughters, aged six and eight, were living on microwaved spaghetti hoops served in a bedraggled corner of the attic.

I didn’t fit in with the school gate mums. I come from Yorkshire and I had no idea how to find my people in the corner of ‘banker belt’ suburbia I’d crash-landed into.

I began to slip back into habits I’d long since left behind — mainlining biscuits one day then juice fasting the next, living for wine o’clock. I felt constantly tired and anxious.

And then my husband’s father died, quite suddenly, and I felt the weight of it begin to pull me down. The aftermath became a suffocating feeling that settled deep in my chest.

Of course, I’m not the first person to experience anxiety or depression. Or to struggle with the pressures of modern life. I’m not the first to see someone I love suffer a bereavement and find it very hard. 

After a house move, Emma Howarth went off-kilter and fell into some bad habits. Her anxiety and depression spiralled following a death in the family

And yet as I grappled with these difficult feelings, I felt alone, lost and adrift. I needed to find an anchor. I needed to step off the hamster wheel of busy, busy, busy and tap into something ancient, wise and meaningful. But how? I had a job, a husband and two daughters — I wouldn’t be jetting off to find myself any time soon and I didn’t have funds for spiritual life coaches or motivational weekend retreats.

I could hardly wave a magic wand and go wandering along white sandy beaches, gazing at sunsets, much as I’d have loved to.

I’d have to find a way to change my life without bells or whistles or escapes from reality.

So I came up with a plan. I would inject spiritual meaning into my everyday life by challenging myself to have at least one ‘mystical adventure’ every month for a year.

I’d mix it up. I’d see the funny side. No purple robes or midnight chanting or dramatic declarations. 

This was about exploring a side of life that was glaringly absent. It was about tuning in to something deeper, finding some kind of inner peace and seeing what worked best to buffer life’s stresses. 

Emma's anxiety and depression spiralled following a death in the family but she found comfort in the every day

Emma’s anxiety and depression spiralled following a death in the family but she found comfort in the every day

My challenge turned into a book, The Year Of Mystical Thinking — and what did I discover? Well, chiefly that slowing down and looking inside is a wonderful gift to give yourself because you might just find you like what you see there. It’s like one big exhalation of relief. Without my year of mystical thinking I’m not sure I’d have realised how much my two girls needed a mother who not only works hard and achieves things but loves her life.

I discovered it’s much easier than you think to inject a bit of mysticism into your world.

You don’t need to have much time on your hands and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never stepped on a yoga mat. Your path to inner peace is as individual as you are, and it only takes a series of small steps squeezed in between the mess of everyday life to get there. So read on for some of my mystical year highlights — and top tips to embark on your own.

SEARCH OUT YOUR SPIRIT GUIDE

The idea of spirit guides, protective universal forces, is common to many mystical and spiritual teachings, while spirit animals are of significance in some Native American traditions.

It’s said that spirit guides are magical pathfinders, messengers, helpers, showers of the way, beings or entities devoted to our guidance and protection. Easily rubbished by the sceptical? Erm, yes! Intriguing all the same? I think so. Who doesn’t like the idea of a spiritual sidekick who is 100 per cent Team You?

BE AN ASTROLOGY SUPERFAN

Look, I know it’s not scientific. I’m happy to listen to facts about the planets being too far away to possibly impact life on Earth. But if you’re looking for magic there’s no better place to look than up at the stars. As far as I’m concerned, astrology transcends logic for all the right reasons and the deeper I delved into it, the better I understood who I was and what my potential could be.

It was like a road map for life, a way to become more self-aware and more aware of people around me, yet another gift from the ancient world that makes a lot of sense in the modern one. We all know our star signs, but to go that bit deeper, you’ll need to discover the secrets of your birth chart too (a snapshot of the sky at the moment you were born). Plug in your details on a site such as Astro.com, Astro Seek or Café Astrology and see what comes up — it can feel like cracking a secret code.

YOUR TURN: One of the best bits of a birth chart is finding out how other people perceive you — that’s the function of your rising sign, which represents your public self. You’ll need a fairly accurate birth time (within a couple of hours) but it’s worth trying to find out if you don’t already know. Some people discover they relate more closely to their rising sign than their star sign, and it’s always worth reading the horoscope for both (the rising sign is often more accurate).

How others perceive you if your rising sign is …

Aries: Quick-witted, go-getting, fast-paced rebel.

Taurus: Reliable, strong willed, lover of the good life.

Gemini: Super smart, quick-witted chatterbox.

Cancer: A lover, a nurturer and a good friend in a crisis.

Leo: A confident fun-lover who stands out in a crowd.

Virgo: Organised and totally together with a side order of earth mother.

Libra: An indecisive charmer with good intentions.

Scorpio: Magical, mysterious and sexy.

Sagittarius: An outspoken optimist with a lust for life’s big adventures.

Capricorn: Powerful, driven and definitely going places.

Aquarius: A clever, one of a kind crusader on a mission.

Pisces: Head in the clouds, flaky dreamer for life.

Which is how I found myself at a Meet Your Spirit Animal workshop in a candlelit London loft, drinking orange-scented cacao (a sort of healthy hot chocolate thought to have medicinal, heart-activating qualities), ready to go on a two-hour journey with Tamara Driessen, a crystal healer, tarot reader and shamanic practitioner who also goes by the name Wolf Sister.

Tamara’s voice was calm and lyrical and I soon got in the meditative zone. We all have an animal spirit guide waiting with messages and answers from another realm, she explained. This might be an animal with which we’ve always felt an affinity, or that’s been following us around, either literally or on street art or Instagram. I was surprised by how easily visions came and how beyond my control they seemed.

They really did feel as if they were emerging fully formed, without any input on my part. The landscape I found myself in became tropical, humid, hot and hazy and as I slowly walked on, I caught a glimpse of a young elephant between the trees.

Tamara suggested we reach out and touch our animal then ask it its name and if it had any messages. Yes, obviously I felt ridiculous hugging a spirit elephant in my mind’s eye and letting it tell me its name was Rose, but that’s exactly what happened. And somehow, in meditation land, it didn’t seem that weird at all.

YOUR TURN: You don’t have to meditate to work out what your guide is. And it doesn’t have to be an animal (that was just the workshop theme) — it could take human form, for example, in the shape of an ancestor. Invite your guide to find you and they might appear in a dream. Or you might, as Wolf Sister said, begin to see connections between images or characters that repeatedly show up in your life. If your world is covered in unicorn motifs (and not just because you’re the parent of an eight-year-old), maybe that’s your guide.

CARVE A MAGIC SPELL INTO A CANDLE

Much of my Yorkshire childhood was spent grinding up flower petals to make magical perfume or stirring leafy potions at the bottom of the garden. By the time I reached my teenage years, I was something of a magic pro. And absolutely certain I could make things happen with my ad hoc spells.

Of course, at the time that mostly meant love spells. And ‘please let me do well in the biology test’ spells. In my mystical year, I turned to sigils, powerful symbols used to represent magical intentions.

I sent good vibes to friends facing heartbreak and health challenges. I carved a peace sign into a white candle. I know the troubles and complexities of human experience can’t all be changed with positive vibes, but with a bit of awareness I do believe it’s possible to turn magic into action.

I made a few small donations to good causes. I talked to my children about climate change. I phoned friends I’d not spoken to in a while. As well as seeking inner peace, I tried to find ways to make a difference to the world around me.

YOUR TURN: All you need to do is write down what you’re aiming for (inner peace, for example), cross out vowels and repeated letters (in this case you’d end up with the letters n, r, p and c). You then play around, joining letters together and moving them about until you create a magical symbol; the less it resembles the original word the better. This symbol, or sigil, can be carved into a candle, drawn on something for luck (clothes labels are a good one), or written down and burnt to help make your wish come true. 

Emma decided to inject spiritual meaning into my everyday life by challenging myself to have at least one ‘mystical adventure’ every month for a year.

Emma decided to inject spiritual meaning into my everyday life by challenging myself to have at least one ‘mystical adventure’ every month for a year.

WORSHIP THE MOON . . . WITHOUT THE WOO

I did plenty of moon magic, including joining a bunch of friendly moon-worshippers in a Moon Club online ritual run by author Alexandra Roxo, but you don’t need to be mystically minded to harness its power. Who hasn’t basked in the glow of a full moon on the way home from a great night out? Or sat awestruck on a balmy dark moon evening beneath a sky full of twinkling stars?

A home ritual can be as simple as lighting a candle and writing down your intentions on the night of the new moon.

The next full moon is in the early hours of tomorrow. Full moon is the perfect time to wave goodbye to negativity, so write everything you want to let go of on a piece of paper and burn it.

YOUR TURN: Choose a lucky talisman to infuse with the power of the moon. Pick a piece of jewellery and charge it up with your goals. Hold it and visualise yourself by a pure white light. Visualise negative energy floating away and when it feels right, state your wish out loud three times. Place the item outside on a moonlit night to soak up some lunar energy and cosmic magic.

TURN A TEASPOON INTO A WAND

Blame it on my Yorkshire upbringing, caffeine addiction, or procrastination presented by boiling a kettle many times a day, but tea is a big deal in my world. If you could find inner peace on tea alone, I’d have called off the search years ago.

Tea ceremonies are nothing new, dating back to China’s Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD). I began by taking a bit more time over it. I picked my favourite mug. I tried sipping my first cup of the day in screen-free silence. I stocked up on new tea varieties. My stash began to feel like my own herbal apothecary. I fancied a bit more flourish, so began stirring my intentions for the day into that first cup. Those silent wishes, stirred clockwise three times, felt like magic. They helped me focus on what mattered and press pause. Quiet spells cast with a teaspoon wand.

YOUR TURN: Light a candle while the kettle boils in a hue that corresponds with what you’re looking to bring into your life. You can apply colour magic principles to whatever you like. Black: Psychic protection, banishing bad vibes, accepting endings. White: Peace, serenity, truth, hope. Red: Energy, passion, sex, courage. Orange: Confidence, creativity, great ideas. Yellow: Joy, happiness, focus, friendship, communication, travel. Green: Money, health, luck, fertility. Blue: Peace, understanding, truth, hope. Purple: Intuition, spirituality, beating addiction, getting in touch with your higher self. Pink: Love, self love, romance, beauty, kindness, healing. Brown: Stability, grounding, strength, a positive work ethic. Silver: Money, feminine energy, healing, inner peace, dreams, moon power. Gold: Money, masculine energy, fame, fortune, sun power.

ADAPTED by Alison Roberts from A Year Of Mystical Thinking by Emma Howarth (£12.99, Hay House UK Ltd) © Emma Howarth 2021. To order a copy for £11.69 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Offer valid until 10/10/21.

Follow Emma on Instagram:  www.instagram.com/numberseventy_1

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