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WEP 121017 – Meditation made interesting

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If you want the emotional and health benefits of meditation, but feel uncomfortable sitting like Buddha, you are not the only one.


Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

to struggle: to fight, to have difficulty

to fancy: to want, feel like, desire

maze: a labyrinth

to navigate: to find your way around

removed: far away, separated

damaging: dangerous, causing harm/damage

to boost: to amplify, increase, accelerate, enhance, improve

to anchor: to connect, attach, fix, secure, stabilise

joy: happiness

however you like: any way you want

feet: 1 foot = 12 inches = 30.48cm

riddle: a difficult question to be solved


All of us have different ways of clearing our minds and finding balance. Whether you’ve been struggling with traditional forms of meditation, or just fancy trying something new, here are five unusual meditation techniques to explore.

Labyrinth Meditation

Use the mezmerizing movement of this practice to centre yourself. Many churches, gardens and other outdoor spaces have mazes open to the public. The combination of left and right-brain activity required of navigating a labyrinth is said to help with problem-solving and can even trigger unexpected epiphanies.

Journey Meditation

This practice uses visualisation to transport your mind to a more serene state. Simply imagine yourself in a beautiful place completely removed from your everyday life; somewhere you feel safe. Close your eyes for 5-10 minutes, and visualise a garden, tropical island or peaceful mountaintop to slow down the mind and remind yourself of the world’s beauty. (Warning: Not recommended while driving!)

Laughter Meditation

Laughter, and even the mere anticipation of laughter, can reduce damaging stress hormones and boost levels of healthy hormones. As such, it can be a particularly effective stress reliever. The powerful act of mindful laughter anchors us in the present and brings us to a place of joy. Try imagining humorous situations and letting yourself laugh fully and deeply, ending with a brief silence.

Fire Meditation

To introduce the energy of the fire element into your meditative practice, sit (however you like) and place a candle 3-6 feet in front of you. After focusing on the flame for several minutes, close your eyes. Send any negative thoughts into the flame, and you’ll start to feel lighter and purer.

Koan Meditation

We’ve all heard the old riddle, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” This and other philosophical questions form the basis for a meditative practice called Koan Meditation. It’s a  zen Buddhist technique that involves asking a question that cannot be answered through reason alone.

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

  • How would you define ‘meditation’. Now ask someone else and compare your definitions. What was the result?
  • Have you ever tried to meditate? What did it feel like?
  • Which of the above practices are most/least appealing to you? Why?
  • Would you be interested in deepening your knowledge of Buddhism and mindfulness? Why (not)?


Adapted from:


WEP 171116 ‘Gay cake’ appeal: Christian bakers Ashers lose appeal

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The Christian owners of a Northern Ireland bakery have lost their appeal against a ruling that their refusal to make a “gay cake” was discriminatory.

Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

appeal: request for a judge’s decision to be changed

refuse: to say “no”

ice: to decorate a cake with a sugary topping

deeply held religious views: strong opinion, beliefs

ruling: a decision made by a judge

court: the place where justice is administered

object to sth: to strongly disagree with sth


Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake iced with the slogan: “Support Gay Marriage”. The order was placed at its Belfast shop by gay rights activist Gareth Lee.

Appeal court judges said that, under law, the bakers were not allowed to provide a service only to people who agreed with their religious beliefs.

The firm argued that the cake’s message was against the bakers’ religious views.

At that time, the judge said she accepted that Ashers bakery had genuine and deeply held religious views, but said the business was not above the law.

In reaction to the ruling, Daniel McArthur from Ashers said he was extremely disappointed,  adding that it undermined democratic freedom, religious freedom and free speech. “If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes then equality law needs to change,” he said.

They had served Mr Lee before and  said they would be happy to serve him again. “We have always said it’s not about the customer, it’s about the message.”

In court the following week, three judges said it did not follow that icing a message meant you supported that message.

In their ruling, they clarified that the fact that a baker provides a cake for a particular football team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate any support for either.

The judges also said that Ashers would not have objected to a cake carrying the message: “Support Heterosexual Marriage” or indeed “Support Marriage”.

They understood that it was the use of the word ‘gay’ in the context of the message which prevented the order from being fulfilled. As such, the reason that the order was cancelled was that the bakery would not provide a cake with a message supporting a right to marry for those of a particular sexual orientation.

“This was a case of association with the gay and bisexual community and the protected personal characteristic was the sexual orientation of that community. As such, this was direct discrimination.”

The family’s appeal was heard in May, but the judgement was reserved.

Adapted from

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

  • Why didn’t the bakery want to make the “gay” cake?
  • How would you feel if a bakery refused to make a cake for you?
  • Do you think the court’s decision was fair? Why (not)?
  • What advice would you give the bakery the next time this situation arises?
  • Have you ever been to a same-sex wedding?

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‘Band Aid 30’ to record “Do They Know It’s Xmas” again!

Another version of this song is to be made. Do you want to hear it?

take part in: to participate in an activity

be released: to make s.t. available to buy

feature: to have or show (in this context)

mastermind (v): to make a complex plan

advocate (v): to recommend or support

in due course: at the appropriate time

landscape: countryside

filthy: very unpleasant (in this context)

drought-stricken: affected by low rainfall


One Direction, Ed Sheeran and Elbow are among the acts who will take part in a fourth version of the Band Aid charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas.

Announcing the project, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure said the song’s lyrics would be changed to reflect the Ebola crisis.The original was released in 1984. It sold 3.7 million copies and raised £8m for famine relief in Ethiopia.

The new version will be recorded this Saturday and should be available for download on Monday morning. A physical version of the song will be released three weeks later and will feature cover artwork designed by artist Tracey Emin.

The record is being produced by Paul Epworth, who has masterminded hits by the likes of Adele and One Direction. The download will cost 99p, while the CD single will retail for £4. The song will not be made available on Spotify and other music streaming services until January.

Geldof and Ure, who masterminded the first version, said the project was nothing to do with nostalgia. “We should gather the pop crowd together to do our thing,” said Geldof at a press conference on Monday. He added that decisions about which artist will sing which lines are not going to be taken until Saturday’s recording session in London, while both musicians advocated purchasing the physical format.

So far, confirmed artists include U2’s Bono, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Emeli Sande, Underworld, Sinead O’Connor, Paloma Faith, Foals and Bastille, who have given up two arena dates to record their contribution.

Geldof and Ure said that other musicians would be added in due course.The original track featured the voices of George Michael, Bono, Duran Duran and Bananarama, among others.

Geldof said that changes to the lyrics include “burning suns”, due to the fertile landscape of West Africa compared to drought-stricken Ethiopia of 1984. The money raised will go towards the fight against Ebola in numerous West African countries, which Geldof called a “filthy little virus” which renders its victims “untouchable”.


Something to chat about

  • Is the original version of a song always the best?
  • If not, what examples can you give to prove your opinion?
  • Do you think that making a record is a good way of raising money for charity?
  • Can you suggest any other ways that are better?
  • Did you hear about “The Ice Bucket Challenge”? What did you think about it?


This story was adapted from:

The Pintxo: The Fast Food of the Basque Country

There is no doubting the attraction to a good pintxo, but are they flawed?  (asks ECP coach Darren Lynch)


many moons ago (exp): a long time ago, many years ago

a craze (n): something fashionable that everyone is doing

a sight for sore eyes (exp): a thing that is extremely pleasing to see

finger food (exp): food that is easily eaten with just your fingers

array (n): an impressively large number of objects

spin (n): (in this context) style, way of presentation

bite sized (adj)): small enough to eat in one mouthful

mouth watering (adj): delicious, very tempting

to blow your mind (v): to impress somebody very strongly

finicky (adj): a person who is demanding, difficult to please

to be put off by something (v): when something seems attractive

uneasy (adj): anxious, uncomfortable

bar crawl (exp): to go from bar to bar (normally drinking)

tummy (n): stomach, abdomen

On my first trip to Vitoria-Gasteiz, many moons ago and long before the current craze of looking up everything online, I must admit that I didn’t really know what to expect when I walked into a pintxo bar. When I finally did, I was not disappointed. I was met with a genuine sight for sore eyes. A vast counter display of tasty finger food. As impressed as I was to see such an array of inviting food in front of me, the pintxo has certainly moved on to become something even more special.

Pintxos were originally a slice of baguette bread piled high with food of any kind and an example of this brings me back to eating pintxos in the famous Calle Laurel in Logroño. A street layered with pintxo bars, Calle Laurel has its own spin on the pintxo culture. Each location has an item unique to their menu and perhaps one of the simplest pintxos of all still remains one of my favourites. Three garlic mushrooms piled on to a slice of bread and held together with a cocktail stick. Delicious.

But that traditional idea has evolved into today’s miniature haute cuisine, flavours elaborated and concentrated into bite sized, mouth watering experiences to blow your mind. Added to this, presentation has become ever more important with chefs creating real works of art, designed to make your eyes pop out with excitement.

However, not everything is rosy in the kitchen. If, like me, you’re a little finicky it’s sometimes possible to be put off having a pintxo with your glass of wine. For instance, the pintxos are often left on the counter top for long periods of time, neither refrigerated nor covered, allowing them to be frequently touched and spluttered all over by chatty customers.

Northern Europeans can feel a little uneasy at the sight of a Spanish omelette looking like it has been sitting there for hours and on top of that they are often topped with mayonnaise and seafood, the latter a precarious food even in the best of conditions.  So, it raises the question. Is MacDonald’s fresher than Basque fast food? Which would Usain Bolt choose for dinner the night before an Olympic 100m final? (The Jamaican champion only ate in MacDonald’s during the Beijing Olympics to avoid problems with unusual food.) 

But now I’m on a pintxo bar crawl. I see a gorgeous looking pintxo. Chupa chups of foie with mango. Next to that there is a shrimp, smoked salmon and egg pintxo. My tummy starts to rumble. Any silly notions of there being a lack of hygiene go out the window. It’s time to enjoy one of the worlds exceptional culinary experiences. Long live the pintxo!

Something to chat about

  • Do you have any favourite pintxos? Describe them.
  • What do you think ‘fast food’ really means? And ‘junk food’? Are they the same?
  • What do you think the most international food is?
  • What would you recommend as the best food from your region?

Write your answers into an email and send it to your ECP coach!


Brazil’s police and the World Cup

Is football worth the suffering of the host nations’ people?

Look at this vocabulary before you read and listen to the article:

survey: questions used to find out opinions

to escalate: to intensify / increase rapidly

unveil: to show publicly for the first time

to be better off: in a favourable situation

to rise:  to increase

cops (slang):  the police

to drag: to pull something along by force

in advance of: before…beforehand

hardly any: almost no…(none)


This week, a study by Amnesty International revealed that 80% of Brazilians are afraid of being tortured by their own police force. In a survey across 21 countries, Brazil was found to be the country where people feel most unsafe in the hands of authorities, almost twice the international average of 44%.

In Rio de Janeiro, this fear is very real. Although the media has reported the efforts to pacify favelas across the city, armed violence has once again escalated – weeks before it will receive thousands of football fans for the 2014 World Cup.

In 2008, Rio’s residents dreamed of a life without violence as the government unveiled a project to build Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) in which police would take back territory controlled for decades by drug gangs. Now, the programme’s failures are starting to show; a corrupt, violent police force is the main cause.

Despite claims that Rio is now better off, the Brazilian Institute of Public Security says the number of deaths in conflict with the police rose by 69% from 2013 to 2014. Last year, the builder Amarildo who lived in Rocinha was tortured and killed by UPP policemen; last month a young dancer was found shot dead in a favela  – allegedly killed by UPP officers; and in April, a woman was shot by cops and dragged by a police car on the way to the hospital, where she later died. According to Amnesty International’s study, Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises, “reports of police abuse have increased [in Brazil] around protests in advance of the 2014 World Cup and during military operations in [favelas]”.

The Brazilian media supports the UPPs. But ask any resident of Rocinha, Brazil’s biggest favela, and they will tell you that the policemen placed in the pacifying units are untrained and abusive, and often use unnecessary violence. Although they claim to be there to protect the population, there is hardly any policing during the night, which allows crime to roam free.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that UPPs are a Public Relations move, not a public security policy. They are designed to hide the violence and drive the drug gangs away from the places that will be popular during the major global events Rio is hosting. The lack of long-term solutions to keep the next generation out of crime will result in a never-ending civil war, where the people are forgotten while international visitors drink caipirinhas and watch the football.

Something to chat about

  • Do you think that in general the police are good or bad? Explain why.
  • Describe any encounters that you have had with the police. Were they good or bad experiences?
  • Imagine you have to talk to an English-speaking policeman. Do you think that you could explain a difficult situation? What expressions or words would you need?


This story was adapted from:



WEP 060214


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