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FOREWORD It was a busy Wednesday afternoon. We were sitting in the college dining hall with our plates full of food. The mood on the table was grim. It was most unusual. All of us were post-graduate students and this middle-of-the-week lunch ritual which allowed us all to catch up and relax. At the end of the hour, we were used to leaving the hall feeling calmer than when we had entered the hall. The conversations we used to have rejuvenated us to get through the remainder of the week. Our conversations usually flowed from politics to sports and from college gossip to whining about the food. But today things were a bit different. None of us spoke very much and we stared into our plates and gobbled down the food that was served. It was as if we had just been scolded at to finish our food and leave. All of a sudden Alex said, “I wish I was lying on the grass in a park and the sun was shining down on me. I wish I could hear a cow moo as the rest of the herd grazed lazily. I wish I could close my eyes and focus on the birdsong coming from the tree above. I wish, if only for a few minutes, I was able to experience this pleasure!� This is how the Relaxing Stories project was born. The four students sitting around the table wanted to be able to enter a different world, if only for a few minutes, but by choice. Irrespective of where they were and what they were doing, they wanted to be teleported to a place where they could feel relaxed.

In this free ebook, you will find five stories written specifically to enable an experience that we sought on that particularly stressful day. These stories are part of a collection of Relaxing Stories that we will be publishing in a smart phone app and as a Kindle book in the next few weeks. We hope you enjoy reading the book as much as we have enjoyed compiling this wonderfully written collection and share it with your friends. You can email them the book as an attachment or send this link: Akshat Rathi Deeksha Sharma Alex Flint Christo Fogelberg May 2010 Oxford, UK

CONTENTS 1. The Haven

by Sarah Burne James

2. Simply Your Nature

by Marc Maidment

3. The Old Armchair

4. Space Travel

by Stephanie Jones

by Theodore Lister

5. Blue Lotus Pool

by Matthew Hollow

The Haven by Sarah Burne James

You escape from the friendly but full house, for some time with your own thoughts. You grab your coat but don't put it on. The spring sunshine assures you that summer is just around the corner. It takes the chill off leaving the sea breeze refreshing after a whole afternoon of sitting indoors by the fire. You consider turning left, down the coast path to the beach, or perhaps right, up along the cliffs. If you go just past the stile, to where the hedge stops you will be able to watch the waves that you can already hear crashing into the next cove, the lobster pots gently bobbing just a little way out to sea. But something, perhaps curiosity, or a distant memory of a previous visit, stops you. Instead, you decide to go straight on, down the overgrown steps that haven't been used since the you first came here. The path that used to be a shortcut to the beach. You push your way through the leaves, ducking slightly to avoid the larger branches overhead, but once you pass this first obstacle, you can see that the way is relatively clear. The greenery in this part of the cliff has grown very tall and wild over the years but the stairs have held it off just enough to create a tunnel through the undergrowth. As you venture down a few more steps, you step away from the brightness of the sun, to a place where all of the light is filtered through the leaves above you, in an ethereal green glow.


You advance still further into this haven until you are sure that you cannot be seen from the path above and reach a place where the stairs level out slightly, forming a ledge. Here, you sit down to take full advantage of this secret place, so close to, yet seemingly so separate from the real world. You hear familiar voices on the path above, perhaps taking a stroll down to the sea, but you choose to stay hidden. You know that you can stay here as long as you like and that nobody will find you unless you show yourself. The corner of the beach at the bottom of the steps is so overgrown with nettles and beachgrass that nobody will attempt to come up, and the entrance above is concealed to all but those who know that it is there. Safe in this knowledge, you close your eyes to better absorb the calm that surrounds you in your own small piece of wilderness. You can hear the sea wind gently rustling the leaves, sometimes in unison with the more distant rumble of the sea and sometimes after a lapse . The fresh, earthy smell of the air is lightly tinged with salt. You can even taste how fresh the air is, a welcome change after a cosy day spent indoors.You have been sitting for a while, your mind in a meditative state. You don't know how long but it doesn't matter. The sun is getting lower in the sky, and the green glow is enhanced by an orange glittering through the leaves. For tonight, you have nowhere to be, nothing is expected of you.


Perhaps later you will decide to walk along the beach, or up to the cliff top, and you know that you can go back inside to rejoin the company at any time. It is getting colder as night approaches but, for now, you are perfectly content just where you are. You spread your coat around your legs, revelling in the new warmth of this extra layer. With the sun gone, the temperature is dropping quickly. You huddle further into your coat, curling your legs up to your body, leaving only your face exposed to the bracing air. They may ask you where you have been but you will give only a vague reply, keeping your haven to yourself so that you can return, whether in reality or in memory, whenever you need a moment of solitude.

Sarah Burne James is reading Spanish and Linguistics at the University of Oxford. In her spare time she enjoys salsa dancing, singing and being by the sea.


Simply your Nature by Marc Maidment

Resting sleepily in your bed, the radio whispers into life, gently coaxing you awake. You lie in for a while before showering, happy to remain as you are. Then, dressing casually, you stretch and yawn before going downstairs. As you reach the bottom, dusty beams colour the hallway in glory, the motes shining listlessly. Entering the kitchen, you make some toast and lavish it with marmalade, enjoying its amber goodness. Scenting a ripe nectarine in the fruit bowl, you happily indulge yourself, the sweet juices running down your chin before you wipe them away. Then, feeling adventurous, you place a variety of tasty food into a bag, put on some comfortable shoes and leave the house, humming your favourite song. Before long, you've passed from quiet suburban gardens with the smell of freshly cut grass to bright undulating fields where the crops brush your waist. Trailing your hand delicately along the stems as you walk, you reach some shorter grass and lie down in the golden waves, gazing deep into the azure sky, snowy clouds drifting serenely above. The sun gently warms your skin as a cool breeze tickles it, making you tingle with delight. As you continue to admire the sculpted clouds, a kestrel comes into view, its poise in the thermals clear even so far away. Hovering deftly, it lingers here and there before diving gracefully out of sight. Sometime later, feeling refreshed, the intriguing chirps from the


nearby forest beckon you to its dappled beauty. You step lightly between the roots of ancient oaks, the leaves rustling in harmony with you. As you walk, glints of pure sunlight dart playfully amongst the soothing greens and occasional reds and yellows of an approaching autumn.Soon, the murmurings of an eager stream bubble into your mind, and you follow its calm path, the earth soft and easy beneath your feet. With each step, you breathe deeply in the cool, fragrant air, deciding to stay for lunch. You sit down on the bank and quietly open the spread you prepared earlier, watching as a bee flies in circles nearby, before it buzzes towards an enticing flower. It busily teeters atop the petals whilst you relax after eating, and drink gratefully from the stream's icy waters. Rising from the soft earth, you walk further until you begin to see the trees thinning. You find yourself approaching a lake set below soft snowcapped peaks, now partly in their shadow. Taking your shoes off, you turn left and idle along the shore, paddling peacefully in the shallows. Every step gives you a sensational rush as the silt squirms through your toes. Looking back, you can see the ripples of your wanders fading to infinity. The light from the sun has mellowed now, and you watch as it gradually dips lower and lower. As an orange wink signals its departure, you realise the day is drawing to a close, and take one last look at the mountains before deciding to return home. You retrace your steps along the shore to the forest, the scarlet and vermilion sky reflected in the sleepy waters; then, as twilight descends,


through the forest to the field, catching glimpses of the emerging stars as you go. Out from the cover of the trees, the crescent moon grins lopsidedly at you and lights your way, the stars flickering like the embers of a fire. Finally, back along the pavement and past the well-tended lawns, you reach your front door and step inside. Heading to the kitchen, you find the biscuits and make a mug of hot chocolate, gently blowing to cool it before sipping carefully. With each mouthful, you feel the heat from the drink spreading to your fingers and toes. Selecting a biscuit, you relish dunking it in your hot chocolate, taking it out just before it's ready to break. The cookie's flavours tantalise your tongue, the chocolate chips melting easily, and quite soon you feel ready for bed. As you curl under your quilt and place your head on your pillow, you smile contentedly, remembering your wonderful day outside before slipping into a blissful dream.

Marc Maidment is studying for a Masters in Chemistry at the University of Oxford. He enjoys Formula 1, and playing squash, pool and poker.


The Old Armchair by Stephanie Jones

You hear the wind outside distantly roaring as you sink back into the comforting familiarity of the old armchair. The memories of years that have long since passed are encapsulated deep within this old armchair, a humble object though it is; the generations of stories behind it soothe you. The fire crackles, the flames dancing and weaving, entwining and spreading, they tell their own story. The flickering candles scattered here and there perfectly illuminate the room with their wavering orange glow. You smile to yourself in contented bliss as you observe your surroundings with a mindful eye. You take in the ancient oak beams above, unhurriedly weathered by time. The matching oak floor has been worn by the footsteps of ancestors that used to wander through this room.Your gaze wanders to the vast bay windows, and you watch the snow tumble to earth, every characteristic flake spiraling down and linking together as one to cloak the fields in a brilliant-white powdery blanket. You imagine the grass in months to come, steadily emerging from beneath the icy layers, delicately unfurling and unburdening itself from its frosty wrap. As you begin to daydream you see the flowers popping up, a vibrant mural of hues, multi-coloured and beautiful, as spring gracefully skips into play. You imagine the birds, singing their captivating song as they soar happily through the air, and the other creatures shyly poking their heads out of their hiding places to welcome the first moments of spring.


As the roaring of the wind intensifies you shiver and draw your gaze away from the windows. You reach across to the cabinet, on top of which rests a cup of tea, steaming away happily in your chipped old mug. Like many things in this room, this mug is stained with age, but again it's a simple comforting object that makes you feel snug inside. You hug the cup to yourself for a few moments before taking a sip. You ignore the bizarre fuzzy feeling rapidly spreading across your tongue, and as you swallow the mouthful of tea you concentrate on the warmth trickling through your entire body. You stretch back across to the cabinet and put the mug down. You decide that it's time to blow out the candles, and so you get up out of the chair momentarily, and blow them out. As the flame sputters out, you watch the smoke spiral upwards and fade. The smell reminds you of birthdays, and you recall so many parties with fond memories. You simply watch for a moment until the flame finally sputters out, and then you return to your chair. You settle down, wriggling to get comfortable, and then you pull soft quilted fleece over you for extra warmth. As cozy as it's possible to be now; you close your eyes and let your dreams wash over you, like waves over a beach shore. You let yourself drift off into the peaceful land of sleep.

Stephanie Jones hopes to one day share her passion for languages with others. She enjoys being creative with writing and music, and has a keen interest in medicine and forensics.


Space Travel by Theodore Lister

Floating thousands of miles above the Earth is a detached existence, but a peaceful and comforting one. All your worries are insignificant when you've seen the dark side of the moon, and meteor showers dissipating in the planet's atmosphere. The choice to go back is yours; your mission here is over and now you have the chance to simply drift.

Cool, sterile air massages your neck as it wafts from the vents. The temperature automatically adjusts to one that suits you. There is nothing to fear. Whatever disaster could possibly strike has been systematically considered and compensated for by teams of brilliant scientists. The window clouds over as dust caresses the rocket ship, darkness tugging your mind back to the days of infancy, when the solar system spun round and round your cot. Those stars and planets seemed so far away then and were the substance of a dream which pushed you to be chosen above your peers and launched into fantasy. Now that those stars seem a little closer, the dream is changing.Evolving. It is clear to you that pursuing those elusive stars is exactly what you want to do and that it will be as effortless as crawling into bed after a long day's work.


Back on the Earth, it is late autumn. You stretch your eyes and imagination, glancing over the green expanses of Eastern Europe. You think you can see the discarded leaves that have changed colour; the russet collection of colours nestled amongst the evergreens. Your attention isn't too focused right now and it's slipping across the landmarks of the planet. Scanning the continent of Asia, you fail to see the Great Wall of China. Its absence is comforting – it only increases your emotional distance from the planet. A solid wave of vibrations shake the rocket ship as the booster engines fire up and propel you even further away from Earth. As Earth slowly slips away, much of the detail fades into obscurity. All you see now is a beautiful sphere, looking like some rare collector's marble. Most of the surface is a pearly white of drifting clouds. In gaps there are flashes of lurid blue and stark desert yellow. In time, even this collaboration of colour is lost to an indistinguishable melange. The engines hum away, oblivious to the poetry of the rotating and orbiting satellites surrounding the ship. You turn away from the porthole with something approaching regret, but that feeling is replaced with excitement for the task ahead. Smooth, stainless steel bulkheads roll to each side as you propel yourself down the corridor. Earth's gravity is far away by now, meaning you must float down the corridor, finding handholds where they are suitable. It's an undemanding journey. The slightest touch will send you soaring until you


meet an obstacle, which can then serve as the springboard for another jump. Your slow, but enjoyable path, eventually reaches the centre of the ship, where all the functions on board can be accessed. The machines hum with a sort of sentient wisdom and you revere them slightly; after all, you wouldn't be able to go any further without them. The blinking LED lights twinkle like artificial constellations. The austere design of the room draws you to the central command console that allows access to most of the onboard technology. You extend your arm cautiously, as moving your body too quickly can knock you off balance. Your fingertips brush the buttons, searching for the right one. The correct one isn't difficult to find; the interface was designed intuitively. You press the hibernation chamber button and a previously locked door slides open with an automatic hiss. Travelling to the unclaimed corners of the universe isn't a fast process. Your sleep will be long, but uninterrupted. Five years will flicker past like a candle blown in the breeze. You climb into the spacious chamber and pull down the cover towards yourself. The environmental detectors make the air outside your cotton and woollen cocoon chilly and you appreciate the warmth all the more.


Your chamber seals and the artificial gravity kicks in, gently lowering you to the cushioned ground. Rolling around to find the best position to sleep in, you could just as easily forget the thousands of miles you've travelled; it feels like home. Yet home is of no concern. You think of what will be waiting for you when you awake.

Theodore Lister is studying for his undergraduate degree in jurisprudence at the University of Oxford. He enjoys skydiving, photography and literature.


Blue Lotus Pool by Matthew Hollow

You have been this way before, but you do not mind. Gently, you brush aside some creepers hanging from the trees and step out into the clearing. Before you lies the Blue Lotus Pool. Its brilliant blue water sparkles in the late afternoon sun. You smile and carefully make your way towards it. Sitting down upon a moss-covered stone you look out across the pool. The water is pure and tranquil. Lilies float serenely on the surface. Here and there ripples appear. Hypnotised, you watch as they spread out towards you. The pool is perfectly circular. You see the little steps leading down to the platform where the women come to wash their clothes. You also see the beautiful symbols that have been carved into the rocks all around the pool. You study them more closely and your mind becomes more relaxed. Gradually, you begin to forget what it was you were looking for. You relax your eyes and take a deep breath. The air tastes sweet. You look around and see orchid blossoms beside the water. Tenderly, you reach out to pluck the nearest flower. It feels soft and delicate in your fingers. You hold out your hands and let if fall. It twirls in the air and then gently lands in the water. Little ripples spread out across the surface. You smile.


All around you the jungle is singing, but you do not hear. Dreamily, you lean over and look down into the water; it is so blue that you cannot even see your own reflection. You sit back and let your shoulders relax. The calmness of the Blue Lotus Pool washes over you. You look up again. Out into the clearing has stepped a young boy. He is sitting on the opposite side of the pool. He picks up a small stick and dips it into the water. He begins to paint pictures on the surface. You watch as the water moves in harmony with his brush. Slowly patterns appear. You watch as they spread out and merge into one another. After a while you see another boy come out of the jungle. He too picks up a stick. Laughing, he walks across the clearing and sits down next to his friend. Together they make patterns in the water. They look content. Smiling, you shut your eyes and listen to the sounds of their sticks splashing in the water. You try to picture what they are drawing. As you let your mind wander your breathing becomes softer. You take in a deep breath and relax. The pure air fills your lungs. Up above the sun is shining, bathing you in its warm glow. Time slips away. You try to imagine what it would feel like to float on the surface of the pool and you feel a gentle tingling in your fingertips. You start to forget that you are awake.


You open your eyes once more. The water is calm and unbroken and the two little boys have gone. The air about you is still and all is silent. You feel relaxed. You look down again at the water. Two little paper boats float across the surface. There is a tea-light in each. You watch as the flames flicker. The sun is beginning to set and the sky above is slowly growing darker. You feel the calmness of the water cleanse you. Satisfied, you take one last look at the Blue Lotus Pool. The two little paper boats are still there; their tea-lights sparkling happily in the twilight. You get up and make your way back towards the path. You do not look back, you do not need to; you know you will be back again very soon.

Matthew Hollow is studying for a DPhil in History at the University of Oxford. He likes wearing shorts, drinking tea and listening to reggae music.


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Relaxing Stories Free eBook  

The relaxing stories project is releasing a free eBook for your reading pleasure. You can find more stories in our kindle book or on our Rel...

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