Asking For Help to Help Others


I took a week out of my self-imposed ‘Start Your Business: Week by Week’ programme to focus on building the Practically Enlightened website. I love doing stuff like that – layouts, fonts, colour schemes and words, I’m a complete geek. A perfectionist. Obsessed. it’s not really ready but I thought I could be waiting forever for it to become perfect, so I’ve just published it and it’s there for anyone to see, in all it’s imperfection!

I’m happy with the results so far but I could do with a bit of feedback – please do get in touch if you’d like to make any suggestions. You can see the website and leave feedback here.

So I’m asking your your help…and that is an interesting dynamic. How good are we at asking for help? There’s often quite a bit of awkwardness around doing so. We don’t want to put on people, we may not feel we deserve help, we may feel that by asking of help we look weak or incapable. However, I think that as social creatures, we humans are somewhat predisposed to help others. Helping others feels good. The small acts of kindness movement, the Pay It Forward trend, these are proof. We inherently know that we are all connected – in helping others we are helping ourselves. Everyone is worthy of help.

I posted my blog about my business ideas on Facebook and my friends responded really well. And I was quite taken aback when many offered to help me with my endeavours. I like the idea of giving people who are interested the opportunity to get involved. By helping me with the start up, they’ll be helping me to help others. That is very cool.

One friend has a good deal of experience in setting up social enterprises, so I’m going to have a meeting with her his week. When I explained my idea to one friend – a psychotherapist, the first thing she said was that I had to put some self-nurturing aspect into my business plan. The next time I saw her, she told me she was going to give me the space and time for me to talk. Just to talk about anything, to have the chance to just speak about anything without judgement. Now that will be a great help.

Others have been looking at my website and making suggestions. Others have been providing me with testimonials.

The next step is to do a crowdfunder. The business needs a van, a decent phone, a website domain and, well, I haven’t quite worked out what it needs yet but I thought I’d have a bash at crowdfunding. It’s scary – I’ve no idea how to do it, I don’t know if people will be interested and I will be putting myself in that vulnerable position of asking for help.

But if I can’t ask for help, how can I expect people to ask Practically Enlightened for help?


Dreams and Schemes

I’ve come to the Lake District for a ‘business meeting’ with my bff, who may be getting involved in the Practically Enlightened project some time in the future. She’s very practical and organised and good at doing tax returns. Which reminds me, I did my tax return on time this year and it had nothing to do with the almost daily text reminders sent by HMRC. Like having a parent constantly reminding you to do your homework. They use this form of bullying nowadays, whereas they used to get Moira Stewart to tell you that tax doesn’t have to be taxing whilst sitting in a cupboard. I don’t think Ms Stewart ever had to do her own tax return, I’m pretty sure she had someone to do it for her. Apparently I don’t get a prize or anything, it just means I don’t get fined £100 for not handing my essay in on time.

I’m reading a book called Start Your Business; Week by Week by Steve Parks and it is very helpful indeed. It’s a step by step guide to setting up a business with To Do lists for each week. Now, I love To Do lists and find them very motivating. I ticked all the boxes in the first week, the final one being to write a blog post, which I did a week ago. That’s why I’m writing this now, because then I can tick it off this week’s To Do list. It’s not because I’ve actually got anything to say…but let’s see if I can rustle up a few more lines…

This week’s instruction was to daydream. Hurrah, methinks, I’m really bloody good at that. As it turns out, if someone is telling me to daydream, it’s not so easy…or maybe it’s just because daydreaming about bumping into Gabriel Oak in a cafe and him offering to buy me cake then me saying thanks but I can buy my own cake thank you very much but have you ever built a compost toilet? and then him telling me all about the wonderful sustainable building projects he’s worked on whilst we eat cake that I pay for isn’t deemed to be helpful in the business set up scenario…

But Mr Parks gives his readers this exercise to encourage them to ensure that their current business plan is actually in line with what they really want out of life. So, picture where you’d like to be in twenty years time. Good Lord, I’ll be nearly sixty. Make it ten years then…ok FIVE. Yes, where do you see yourself in five years time?

The question ‘Where do you see yourself in five years time?’ was put to the eighteen year old me at the Job Centre when I was up for one of those dole review thingies. As it happens, if I had I known then what I would actually be doing when I was twenty-three, I doubt it would have helped my case but I never really had aspired to being a cook in a Hare Krishna commune. Five years in the service of a mischievous blue dude who plays a flute and has a penchant for butter. It didn’t leave me with much in the way of practical skills other than being able to cook a damned good onionless, garlicless curry. It’s a gap in one’s CV that’s tricky to explain at job interviews.

The answer to Mr Parks’ question is simple. I’d like to be living out in the countryside somewhere, preferably with some woodland nearby, maybe a river to swim in. I’d like to have some good friends around. I’d like to know how to nurture the environment to provide food for myself and others and I’d like to also be able to help others in a practical way. I’d like a dog. I’d like a van. I’d like to have two functioning arms so I can felt and hula hoop and hug people properly. Hell, I’m gonna go all out and say I’d like my whole body to be functioning (this is a daydream after all)! I’d like to be able to play the piano and I’d like to be great on the cajon/djembe/bodhran. I’d like a compost toilet. I’d like to not have to cook OR to get over my  aversion to cooking (too many burnt chapattis/under-cooked rice traumas lurking in my psyche). I’d like to be able to speak at least two other languages. I’d like to have all loose ends tied up, bear no grudges and to have fulfilled my promise to my mother to build her a spice rack.

So as you can see, I’ve done this week’s homework, and I reckon that my business idea fits in with my daydream, snug as a newsreader in a cupboard. But crikey, I’ve got a lot to do in five years, it’s just as well there’s no mention of Gabriel Oak in there…so on the train back home tomorrow I’ll have to come up with a plan  of how I’m gonna get it all done.

The business meeting will be called to a close this evening by eating the tiramisu that we made whilst brainstorming business ideas. Ok, ok, you see right through the thin veneer of lies, we’ve mostly been talking about boys, vans and dogs. Nowt wrong with that actually, we were Collectively Daydreaming. Yes, on reflection, it’s been a very successful business meeting.

And if a certain shepherd happens to be sitting opposite me on the way home, I’ll get him to teach me how to build a compost loo in exchange for a curry (with extra onions and garlic).

Oh and I mustn’t forget to add the train ticket to my expenses. Perhaps I could ask Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to text me a reminder.


Practically Enlightened 2.0


I haven’t blogged in ages because I just haven’t been able to be practical for ages. I went out to Australia in October and came back in early December wi
th a broken heart (long story and not within the remit of this blog) and a broken bank balance. I had hoped to do some Wwoofing or volunteering whilst out there but I had a lot of pain in my arm, which meant I couldn’t do much at all. When I got back to the UK, I had no money, no car, no home, no bf and because of my arm, I couldn’t do much in the way of work. It’s been a tough few months and I don’t mind telling you, I’ve been feeling
a bit lost.

Luckily, I’ve got this lovely mother who is putting me up and putting up with me in her cosy house in York.

Luckily, in the UK, we have the amazing NHS, so one of the first things I did when I got to York was to see a doctor, who said it was a frozen shoulder and referred me to a specialist.

Luckily, there’s a shop in York where I used to work, and it’s the loveliest shop ever and the lovely, Eeyore-like boss has been giving me days of work here and there, and my arm seems to be able to cope with that.

Luckily, I also have an amazing bunch of friends here in York.

So I have food, shelter and companionship, and my health is being seen to as well. Not too shabby.

Then on the second of February, I was panicking about money and thinking, maybe I need to just get a regular job, stop all this nomadic nonsense and get real. So I started looking for a regular job. Doing so reminded me of an idea I’d had after I’d finished the Camino de Santiago, to set up a company that helped people get away to go and do stuff that they’d wanted to do but couldn’t because of responsibilities, like kids, elderly parents, pets, farms etc. I thought that I could offer to hold the fort whilst they went off and did their pilgrimage/retreat/sailing trip or whatever it was.
Well, I still think that that’s a great idea but I decided to tweak it.

Last year I completed an online course taught by my meditation teacher Burgs. The course was called The Give Back Generation and in short, it took us through the process of looking at our lives and finding ways to give back to, well, give back.

And for the whole year I was thinking, yes, this is really what I want to do – but how? I was helping at Wilderness Wood, which was great, but it was someone else’s thing, someone else’s dream.

Blake Mycoskie, the hugely inspiring man behind TOMS shoes talks about finding a way to ‘earn money, achieve personal fulfilment, and make a positive impact in the world at the same time.’ (Start Something That Matters, 2012). Now that sounds so simple to me but also, I think it’s revolutionary. Imagine if every business functioned like TOMS?

I was really impressed with Dan and Emily at Wilderness Wood for their brave decision to have the business run on a ‘pay what you feel’ basis. And again, in Australia I came across a company called Lentil As Anything where you can go and eat from an absolutely delicious buffet and then decide how much you want to pay. Most of the workers there are volunteers. It was my favourite dining experience ever and it was very inspiring.

Blake Mycoskie explains that the focus of his business is giving, and TOMS is a hugely successful business.

And so I’ve had the idea to set up a social enterprise as a social experiment that is totally based on the act of giving. I will give my time and my skills and ask for whoever employs me, to give whatever they feel – be it in money, food, payment in kind. I’m going to do this for a year or so, but if it turns out that I’m not able to get by on what I’m receiving then of course, I’ll knock it on the head, but who knows, it may grow, and it may inspire others and people may want to join me to create a team of practically enlightened people!

And from listening to Blake Mycoskie’s talk at the Global Leadership Summit 2010, I realised that all I have to do is focus on giving, and the rest will just work.

So I’m totally fired up! There’s so much to write about this, so now this social experiment is going to be the focus of this blog. I’ll be spending the next few weeks working out how to set up the business, researching the Pay What You Feel system, talking to people, finding out about social enterprises…

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, Practically Enlightened 2.0.

Noisy Nature

Most mornings I wake at around 6.30 to hear the gentle yet persistent demands of the chickens in their coop, which is a stone’s throw from my caravan. They are calling me to let them out, for it is now morning and they are hungry and would very much like their breakfast, thank you very much.

However, a loud rustling awoke me from a dream at 4.45 this morning. I thought it was the miserable chicken who, having been ousted by her five sisters has made her prison cell under my caravan. But no, when I looked out of the window, I saw that it was someone else creating the noise with his attempts to get through the wire fence. This looked risky to me, for his spikes would surely get stuck and he wouldn’t be able to get through or out, like Pooh when he visited Rabbit and as a result of his gluttony (honey and condensed milk) got stuck in the doorway.

I have come across this Pooh-like fellow before, one night when in the garden which was lit by the full moon, as I was answering a call of nature, I heard his nasal grunts. I got back into bed as happy as a clam at having met my hedgehog neighbour. In the morning, at breakfast, I announced my news to everyone, and Dan said that very night he had also heard and seen a badger.

From my caravan I have also spied a jay – these beautiful corvids are one of my favourite birds. I’ve seen rabbits too. They are doing very well from the new plants in the garden. The new plants in the garden are not doing so well.

And so what of my feathered friend, who only comes running from her hovel when desperate enough to face the wrath of her sisters? A dreadful life. We are hoping her exile will end, as it has in the past. There’s talk of liberating her, so that the fox will eventually put an end to her suffering. But if she goes, will the next lowest in the pecking order be cast out? And do I build a little tunnel under the wire for the hedgehog, so he doesn’t get trapped in the chicken wire?

Living in the caravan means I’m close enough to nature for it to wake me at times when I may not wish to be woken. Last year, whilst at Mr and Mrs G’s, I was woken at two in the morning by the fallow buck, bellowing affirmations of his sexual prowess. Be it a buck or a hedgehog, these disturbances can never be resented, because the excitement of such encounters far outweighs the annoyance of interrupted sleep.IMG_0144IMG_0150


Love and Marriage

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a thousand ways to kiss the earth.


A couple of weekends ago, we hosted a wedding for a couple called Nina and Jonathan. It was the first time I’d worked on a wedding so it was good to see how it all works. The whole wood had been booked, including the whole house which would accommodate those wedding guests that weren’t camping out in tents, the bell tent or the tipi.

The family house is a lovely home, comfortable, spacious and aesthetically pleasing. It is home to a lot of people,  has a very loose ‘no shoes inside’ policy and is situated in a wood. This means that it does get rather dirty quite quickly. Now I’m a clean and tidy sort of woman but the dirt never bothered me much, I always saw it as a sign that I was working and living with people who’d got their priorities right.

So when Emily asked me to clean the house in preparation for the wedding, I knew I was in for an epic clean.  I cleaned the 5/6 bedroom house from top to bottom and made up all nine beds with fresh linen. Once I’d finished, it was beautiful, and I was happily exhausted.
Then we, the home-team, had to evict ourselves and allow a bunch of strangers to move in for two nights. I was ok cos I’m in the caravan. Emily had taken the kids to Cornwall for a holiday. Dan and Luska slept in the yurt.

The wedding went very well, the marquee was beautifully bedecked, the courtyard and Luska’s Wild Bar looked fantastic and the tea garden was adorned with bunting and flowers. The ceremony happened in the wood, but of that I can relate very little, for I was not there. There was a silent disco, a dance performance, a bonfire and an ice cream van. And a fair few drunken revellers…



I put my heart into the cleaning…


Stewardship Saturday

Every month Wilderness Wood members of all ages are invited to take part in a day of work, progressing projects, learning new skills and making friends. There’s a variety of tasks to choose from, each led by a member of the home team. Yesterday the choice was; building a picnic table from scratch, weeding the Christmas tree field or wood-stacking/laying wood chip. About twenty people, adults and children, chose what they wanted to get involved with and the teams set to work.

I spent a good few hours happily weeding the Christmas tree field in the sunshine. I saw a really amazing beetle, and enjoyed the company of the others in the team, including Winston the Cockerpoo. Luska asked me to sing a song so I sang a saucy little number called ‘ Matty Groves’ -an old favourite of mine. Some visitors passing by had stopped to listen and I just had to keep going!

We all scoffed a veritable feast at lunchtime and then went back to work. Then to celebrate the results of our efforts we had tea and homemade biscuits at 4pm.

At 5.30, the picnic table was finished and we all admired the craftsmanship and checked it’s suitability by sitting on it whilst eating crisps (and some of the adults drank champagne).

It was then christened Mable the Table by one of the group.

Mable the Table

Mable the Table



Champers for campers!

May Day puts Wilderness Wood on the map

In my first few weeks at Wilderness Wood, I was asked if I could do some work on the 3D map that Dan’s cousin Maddie had started before going off on her adventures to South America. I crafted some trees from wire to add to those already there and Dan seemed pleased. Dan must have been pleased with my work because the asked me if I would take it on as my own project, with the aim of getting it finished in time to be unveiled at the May Day party. I agreed, although in hindsight,  I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for. In the run up to the party, I made hundreds of trees. I enjoyed it, it was good for my fingers to be crafting again.

I managed to get an extra day off from my paid job, which meant I would be able to work on the map the day before the unveiling – there was still a lot to do – it was still going to be tight. I got to Wilderness Wood just in time to see the map being placed in it’s display case. After lunch I set about my task in earnest. I worked solidly until the tiredness and cold made me break too many drill bits. The next morning I continued, until Dan came and put the perspex lid on and told me to go and get ready for the party. I had ten minutes to throw on my outfit.

The May Queen was crowned and seated on a sort of sedan chair beautifully adorned with branches and flowers. We all followed her in procession around the wood on a grand tour of the many projects that were currently being undertaken or had been completed. The 3D map was the final stop and I explained to the May Queen and the procession a bit about how it had been made.

Then there were speeches and presentations by Emily and Dan and a beautiful speech by the May Queen. A ceilidh followed and a big bonfire was lit. People were enjoying drinks from the Wild Bar, for which Luska had foraged ingredients for some very lovely cocktails. A pizza van provided lovely looking fare, although sadly he did run out as there were more people at the party than had been anticipated. WW members had been busy making cakes and it is hard for me to convey just how excited I was to walk into the stall and see such a fine array of homemade loveliness.

As night fell, we all sat around the fire and some people played guitars and sang. The evening closed with my little LED hula hoop show, perilously next to the fire and encircled by the audience. The guitarist played Kiss by Prince, which I thought was just the best thing he could have played.

The map isn’t finished but it does look amazing. There will be a ‘guess the number of trees’ competition…which means I have to count them all….