We are shaped by our experiences……

 

Getting off the hamster wheel - StrategiesAs I sit in my house in the Maamturk mountains watching a shower of rain approaching and listening to the sound of the wind rising, I am reflecting on the fact that we are all shaped by our experiences in life, be they good, bad or neutral. Looking at the trees and shrubs around my house I see they are all shaped by continually being blown by the West wind.  Thus they all have a slight incline towards the East in their orientation.

It is the same for each of us I believe and having taught mindful movement for nearly 30 years now I have watched all my students and myself continually changing shape as we explore the experiences that have shaped us. This pandemic has truly shaped all of us in ways we may never have imagined or believed possible.

For most of my life I have been shaped by an inner restlessness, which has manifested itself in a nagging sense of being in the wrong place all the time. On the positive side, this restlessness has allowed me to find a work life that meant travelling all over this country and lately to Greece, France, Belgium and Holland.  Almost every weekend I found myself waking up in a different bed; groping  for a different light switch if dark; switching on a variety of kettles for tea or coffee and trying to figure out the workings of numerous electric and gas cookers!!! All of this felt normal to me.

Packing and unpacking a suitcase was a regular habit and leaving bits of myself all over the place a common occurrence.

On the negative side, that restlessness made it very difficult to rest and relax as a part of me was continually ready to go…….

And the mental side of this restlessness meant I was continually fighting with the part of me that is quiet, introverted and doesn’t want to keep reaching out, being out, going out….

For many reasons I grew up with this part of me being unacceptable to the people around me and in the end I  saw that part as flawed and unacceptable. That push and pull between being out and being in  has shaped almost every interaction of my life to date.

Until now. Covid 19 put a total stop to me travelling anywhere further than my house and the local supermarket. I have walked no further than a couple of metres from home to work this past year. And I have come face to face with the depth of the restlessness within.  No more than the trees in my garden I am clearly seeing the way the strong winds of restlessness have orientated all of my being towards going, reaching out, going, reaching out, like a hamster on a cartwheel.

Covid pulled the brake on that cart wheel and sent me flying to a full stop. When I got my bearings all my energy went into creating another version of  restlessness, go on zoom, text, write cards, letters, emails, make WhatsApp calls- the voice inside said “just keeping going, keep reaching out, keep busy, you can do it,”.

Yet slowly but surely the winds of change were blowing in the background. More days of absolute silence allowed the restlessness to reveal itself, and somehow after two weeks of self quarantine on my return from a work trip to Belgium last September, curiosity began to take over from criticism.

Why was being quiet and introverted wrong and outgoing and extroverted right ?????

Was there any possibility of both being ok ?

Was there a possibility of recognising under the restlessness was a very young part of me seeking acceptance and belonging and that years of practice had taught me how to be extroverted and outgoing?

At this stage in my life could they co-exist?

Is there a mid point where these two shapes can build a bridge of connection with each other?

I don’t know yet, as they are just beginning to get to know one another, learning to recognise the shapes of each other and most importantly not to be scared when they meet…..

All I do know is I went into Covid 19 one shape and am coming out of it a different shape -even if it is all inside at present, like a chrysalis awaiting something new, something different to be revealed….

Shaped by yet another experience.

And now as I end this little musing the trees are quiet as the wind subsides and the sun emerges to warm their new found buds,- awaiting the right time to reveal themselves, to blossom……

ᐈ A cocoon stock images, Royalty Free cocoon pictures | download on  Depositphotos®

Change ………

 

 

As we transition from 2020 year to 2021 I find myself reflecting on the nature of change. In bringing this subject to the forefront of my thoughts I realised how change is a constant flow of energy in the background of our lives. Day follows night which follows day;  morning passes into  afternoon that passes into evening; one year follows another as time goes by; in our hemisphere Spring leads to Summer, that leads to Autumn, that leads to Winter that leads to Spring; endings contain beginnings that seed endings that contain beginnings; each year we grow a year older; hair grows, gets cut and grows again, to name a few silent constants in life.

It seems to me we really only notice change when it comes with a force that awakens us to its existence. And so often that meeting is filled with resistance. Change comes in the guise of illness; accidents; births; new relationships; deaths; losing a job; getting a job; leaving home; buying a house; becoming homeless; addiction; recovering from addiction; facing our demons; embracing our goodness; losing an ability; discovering a latent talent; learning a language; moving country; entering a new culture; gaining riches; entering into poverty; becoming famous; becoming infamous; and all the various ways each and everyone of us has been challenged in one way or another to face the reality of change. As the Buddha said many years ago” Nothing is forever except change”.

Having spent the past 10 years exploring the link between the movement practices I teach and neuroscience in the Embodied Presence courses I notice so often that the first response to change is to resist. It is almost like we will embrace the change if we can be guaranteed the outcome.  As if we could “magic” the change to happen overnight and without any challenging impacts on us. Yet my experience of change is the complete opposite.  Change is a process and to enter into the process I have to  give up the idea that I can control the outcome. Yes I can allow myself to imagine how I might wish to be, but making that wish be a fixed outcome may lead me to resisting the various opportunities and challenges that the change process will inevitably throw up. I recognise the human condition of  needing to feel safe, to be secure and to know what is ahead of us. We are creatures of habit – even habits that cause us pain, at least we know them and are in a perverse way attached to them.

” Change is hard at first; messy in the middle and gorgeous in the end.” Robin Sharma

Detaching from old ways and patterns is hard and there is often a part in the process where we truly may not know where we are going or even why we embarked/embraced the change. We hear the mantra ” we want to go back to normal”.  Yet back to normal is no longer an option. As to go back to what we called normal would mean we would have to bury or deny the process we are in. We cannot unknow something we have learned- we can “forget”; we can pretend; we can deny but all that takes energy.

This time of the year we are often full of promise  and resolutions for change without the knowledge that the change will take discipline, consistency of purpose and most of all positive support. It takes one foot in front of the other day after day until there is a space between the old way and the possibility of the new. That space for me is to be valued, nurtured, tended with care and most of all patience, like I would a plant where the possibility of growth shows its head above the soil.

If I have learned nothing else this past year it has been the profound difficulty of change and how to find ways and means to work with it rather than against it. I think this is one of the most profound collective change processes that this generation has engaged in and I believe we can never “return to normal” if normal means how it was before.

From listening to friends and students the change for some has been devastating, for others it has produced a positive fresh way of being, others are somewhere in between.

I am still in the messy middle of wondering what this huge upheaval is all about. I know it has offered me new ways of working -using zoom, something I appreciate but still do not like; a new way of experiencing what it is to live in the one place day after day, to stop travelling; it has taken me to the depths of loneliness and the strange new ways to connect;  it has forced me finally to look into a part of my way of living that I have manged to avoid all my life, or at least skirt around the edges, and that is truly messy inside me at present.

Even still each morning as I awaken I know a sliver of hope lurks in the shadows that I will hear it is all over and I can pack the car, take off and teach in person. Then I awaken fully to the reality of the day and I know the only thing I can do is put my foot on the floor and step into yet another day in this messy middle, bringing with me the knowledge that I am being shaped and changed by this experience.

I have stepped far enough thru this year to see the space between the dreams and wishes I had at the start of 2020, how they got blown out of the water and where I am right now as I write these words. I can sense less clinging to how it was in my life and a growing sense of moments of tolerance for the not knowing what is ahead. I can see more clearly the positive resources that are available to me to stay steady and keep putting one foot in front of the other as I grieve the loss of life as I knew it and turn towards this new year, this new opportunity to finally accept that the only constant in my life is change- both the tolerable and intolerable ones.

.

I never imagined……

As I sit here on a windy, damp, grey, with a white sun trying to shine through the clouds day, wrapping gifts and writing cards for Christmas, I find myself reflecting on the past 9 months and I notice I keep saying to myself “I never imagined…..”

I taught my last 5 rhythms in person class on Thursday 12th March in Westport, Co. Mayo. We discussed at the end of the class that if the schools were closed we would not meet the following week.  Little did I know that by the time I had the car packed we were on our way into our first lockdown.

I had a few bits and pieces to buy in Castlebar so off I went as I was so close. The start of “I never imagined…” was to begin as I entered the supermarket and was confronted by queues of people with trollies filled to the brim! I stood in the queue for 30 minutes with a handful of yogurts and wondered had I fallen asleep and  woken up in a disaster zone!! No I hadn’t. I was now into an unimaginable territory and time in my life.

Manic busyness took over my life as I tried to learn how to teach via zoom and the landscape of ” I never imagined” was  to be carved out over the next 9 months.

I never imagined that :

I would teach from my office in Connemara for 9 months;

I would not see a group of people in a room in person in Ireland the rest of 2020;

I would not drive my car for for weeks on end;

I would look for any excuse to cycle as often as I could to shop in Clifden (a 40km round trip, with permission from the Gardaí!);

I would teach mini movement sessions via Connemara Community Radio and offer a Mindfulness practice every Monday;

I would transfer my ongoing groups to weekend zoom sessions;

I would mainly talk to my friends on zoom or phone;

I would sit face to face with a friend in a coffee shop only 4 times this year;

I would stand in Dublin and Brussels airport and wonder was I part of the last few people left on Earth;

I would end up with 5 vouchers from Aer Lingus for flights cancelled to my ongoing group in Belgium;

I would do 2 weeks in self -isolation on my return from the one opportunity to teach in Belgium;

I would sleep in  the same bed, switch on the same kettle for breakfast day after day;

I would no longer wonder what house and what part of the country I was in, on awaking;

I would have time to study online;

I would feature on The Ray D’Arcy  RTE radio; Radio na Gaelteachta; BBC radio Ulster; Clare FM  show talking about my book Against the Wind;

I would leave Connemara only once for a week camping in Kerry;

I would cycle 100 of kms round and round in circles;

I would be spend more on postage than diesel as I post all my Christmas presents rather than hand deliver them around the country;

Being older seemed to automatically mean being vulnerable;

“being all in this together” could sound so meaningless at times;

We actually could have the opportunity to live in a country /world were we are all valued members of society???;

I could go on and on with all the things I never imagined as we come to the close of 2020.

I am left with wondering  in 2021 “What Can I Imagine” or even dare to imagine for our future?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

 

 

 

My tuppence worth

What do you see??????

“We live in a time when science is validating what humans have known throughout the ages: that compassion is not a luxury; it is a necessity for our well-being, resilience, and survival.”  Roshi Joan Halifax

I have been noticing lately each time I hear “we are all in this together” I have a very strong visceral reaction. And with years of practicing mindful movement I decided to investigate this visceral embodied reaction. I noticed my mouth was clenched, my throat was dry and my shoulders were tighten up around my ears. As I stayed with the shape this made in my body, I began to feel a scream come from deep inside. As I let it out I heard a scramble of half formed sentences emerge,” What are you talking about…who is in this together…what does that even mean????”

As I took a step back from this reaction I realised that I truly do not know what “we are all in this together” actually means. It makes no sense to me and I begin to feel a confused cascade of thoughts going off in my head usually ending in ” I must have it all wrong, I must be missing something or finally I must be very thick!!! ”

As with so many times in my life I was planning the next workshop for my Embodied Presence/Embodied Brain group and integration was one of the main themes. It is the work of Daniel Siegel a neuropsychiatrist I have studied with. I have incorporated much of his work into my movement work.

He talks about Integration as being the “linkage of differentiated parts.” This was like a “light bulb” moment for me in the midst of my chaotic thinking and reacting.

So I began to look at pulling apart-differentiating-  ” we are all in this together” to see if I could come up with to some ability to respond rather than react.

I am not living in a high rise apartment with no balcony; I live on the West coast of Ireland with the 12 Bens mountain range or the Atlantic Ocean as my landscape. I have a huge sense of space even within 5km both visually and physically. So I have never felt ” Locked-in” whatever the restrictions. I have not lost my job – I have been challenged to adapt, to embrace zoom with all the challenges that brings.

I thought of people homeless and still living in hotel rooms; people in direct provision sharing rooms;  people owning two homes which can allow them to  vary the part of the country they choose to live in depending on the restrictions; people owning multinational online corporations making millions from this pandemic, and their workers barely receiving a living wage ; people still living in war zones that we rarely hear about nowadays and on and on……..

I wondered if it was possible for each of us to fully own and embrace our circumstances, and rather that thinking it is the same, could we honestly differentiate and then ask the question ” how can we support each other, how can we be in solidarity with each other”?

How can I fully listen to another whose circumstance are  so different from mine and ask the compassion question “how can I be in solidarity with you” without any taste of being patronising or denying our differences. How can you wonder what might I need in ordered to keep going and venture to ask?

This began to allow my nervous system to settle a little more, to wonder a little more about the people who seem to have a great need to keep saying “we are all in this together”  and maybe ask “what do you mean by that”  “What do you need  ?????”

 

Musings in the time of Covid 19

 

The personal is political

The Road Not Taken
BY ROBERT FROST

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I began these reflections by re-reading the poem “The road not taken”. It was a poem I loved when I was in school as it seemed to give permission for life to offer different possibilities at every crossroads. I could chose to remain on the road I was familiar with or I could risk taking the road less travelled.

I have recently heard many talk of “when we return to normal “. I began to wonder what returning to “normal” meant before Covid 19.
I began asking myself, do I want

to go back to rampant homelessness?
to children being brought up in a tiny hotel room where their development is stunted?
to a two-tier health system where money can dictate your access to health care?
to direct provision being our only response to asylum seeker?
to billionaires paying their workers less than a living wage?
to a society where men do not openly challenge each other about the role of patriarchy in domestic violence and rape?
to a society that sees rampant capitalism as the only way to live?
to where thousands of people’s lives are dispensable by power hungry warlord?
to where positive, creative leadership is becoming non-existent?
to where “Them vs Us” is an acceptable way of being?
to where likes on social media, decides my self-worth?
to where the person who has the business idea is more valuable than the people who implement the idea?
to where valuing justice and equality are seen as old-fashioned values?
to where inane celebrities are deemed more valuable than health workers, domestic cleaners or the rubbish collecting personnel?
to where killing the planet is ok as long as there is a profit?
to where loneliness is becoming an epidemic for all ages?
And on and on ….

If that is returning to normal, I wonder what all the pain we have suffered has been about?

I am wondering can we actually dream of another way of being in the world? Where we see and acknowledge our absolute interconnectedness; our dependence on each other; our care for each other: our wish for the planet and all aspects of it thrive…….
I want to believe that we are now being asked to find the courage and creativity to take the road less travelled in the wake of this Covid 19.

A quote from Mahatma Gandhi has guided me many times when I thought what I was doing was not worthwhile:
“Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.”

Thus, I believe the challenge now, with courage and compassion is to open to another road, the road not yet travelled. The road where we do not know the signposts or even the direction it will take us. The road that encourages us to reach out and connect with others who are willing to take on this struggle even if their version is different. The road that is willing to tap into resources like kindness, patience, humour, compassion, courage, and most of all choices made with awareness.

“In Auschwitz, we never knew from one moment to another what was going to happen,” says Eger. “I couldn’t fight or flee, but I learned how to stay in a situation and make the best of what is. I still had choices. So, when we were stripped and shorn of our hair, Magda asked me, ‘How do I look?’ She looked like a mangy dog, but I told her: ‘Your eyes are so beautiful. I never noticed when you had all that hair.’ Every day, we could choose to pay attention to what we’d lost or what we still had.”
Choice by Edith Eger

Even when we crave the old road, we can learn to ground ourselves, to centred ourselves and to recommit to our choice over and over.
I believe this is exactly what the world needs now. People who are willing to explore the habitual patterns that have brought us to this point in time and are willing to take the first steps on a new journey for the planet, the people and all the animals who share it with us.
It will take huge courage to keep making new choices, taking the roads less travelled over and over until a new more sustainable way of life has been found. To tap into our adult selves even when the old ways seem easier, so that sometime in the future, our adult selves will be in charge and we will move from surviving to thriving.

“To be sure, many of the steps that lead to growth …… go against our natural inclinations to avoid extremely uncomfortable emotions and thoughts. However, it is only through shedding our natural defense mechanisms and approaching the discomfort head on, viewing everything as fodder for growth, that we can start to embrace the inevitable paradoxes of life and come to a more nuanced view of reality.Transcend by Scott Barry Kaufman,

 

Let me end for now with a quote from one of my long-time heroes Viktor Frankl

“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.Man’s Search for Meaning

Bewildering Times

Change can be exhausting. At least that is my experience.

I often think of making changes yet when I am faced with radical change as we are in this moment in time I see my pattern of excitement, let’s do it , become manic with activity and finally face the one thing I don’t want to face -change takes time, takes step by step movements, can feel awkward, and is truly exhausting.

Since my work came to a shuddering halt a month ago I have been trying very hard to find alternative ways of connecting; setting up zoom meetings with on- going groups, learning painfully how to do online movement classes, staying in touch with friends and family, making radio programmes for our local community radio on movement and its link to positive mental health and on and on.

I don’t think I have experienced such busyness in a long time. Nor have I spent so much time in the one place for at least 20 years. I have been bumbling through a maze of technology that each evening has left me in a state of total bewilderment.

As an embodiediment practitioner I have noticed my shoulders have been up near my ears, my lower back aching, my fingers tired from using the keyboard and my breath being held more often that released.

Trying to find some simple routine has proved elusive until now. When I finally named my uppermost feelings as one of exhaustion at the pace that had suddenly come upon me, followed by bewilderment at the situation we have all found ourselves in,  I sensed I could begin to breath again. Daniel Siegal’s motto “name it and tame it” never felt more true.

I have begun slowly, to sense my feet coming back down to earth, to allow myself the fullness of the outbreath, to look around at all the beautiful views I have from the windows of my house, to recognise that my brain has needed to catch up with the massive pace of change. And most importantly my mind has a new mantra “I am enough”.

I have been practicing a little practice called G.L.A.D from Donald Altman. It is a way to honour each and every effort I make to meet this challenging time.

G= One gratitude that I am thankful for today – keeping it very simple.

L= One new thing I have learned today- which can be something about myself; a new insight or a new fact. It keeps me open and curious.

A= One small accomplishment today – a new skill or an act of self/other-care/compassion

D= One thing of delight that touched me today-anything that made me smile, laugh or brings a micro moment of joy to the day

I bought myself a new notebook so I could record these 4 aspects of life in the time of Covid  19. To remind myself that in the midst of great pain and danger other aspects of life are also  available. And I thought I would like to share it with you.

 

That’s about it from a bewildered and bumbling human learning to be Enough❤💕💖

 

Reorganising after loss

I have recently been contemplating the nature of loss. This may be as a result of noticing myself more and more orientating towards an acceptance of the loss of my home.

Many years ago I read a book on grief, unfortunately I cannot recall the name of the book, yet two words stayed with me -disorganised and reorganised. It spoke of the disorganising effects of loss and in time the need to re-organise around the loss.

These words have been ringing in my head lately as I begin to find enough ground under me to recognise and name my loss, to stop belittling and diminishing it and to recognise it as loss-loss of my home as I knew it for 27 years.

The disorganising effects of loss mirror for me the shadow side of chaos from my work with the 5 Rhythms. The confusion; the not knowing; the lack of solid ground; the empty centre; the rehashing of what I should have done; the inability to settle, to find quiet; the fear of stopping; the absence of enjoyment; the heaviness inside; the fear of making another wrong move; the exhaustion of trying this, that and the other etc., etc.

Finally for no reason clear to me yet something is changing. I am recognising the profound sense of disorganisation I have been swimming round in for the past two and a half years.

I think it was triggered by my reflection lately when I had to cancel a workshop. I had planned it for awhile beforehand, prepared for it and then at the last minute had to cancel it. I felt disappointed and sort of all over the place as to what I would now do with this unexpected “free” weekend. It was a small loss and I reorganised the weekend with ease.

Yet somewhere within the disappointment and sense of sadness around the workshop not happening, the words disorganised/ reorganised popped up and I recalled the book on grief.

Such a relief as I felt to have words to put on my experience over these last two and a half years. (“Name it and tame it” as Daniel Siegel says.) I reflected on the other losses I had experienced through my life -deaths of people and pets, ending of friendships and jobs,- and how each had upended me to various degrees. I noted how life became very different when I was reorganised again.

This time the upending came as quite a shock, like a sudden death I was totally unprepared for.  I have been resisting facing the reality of life now- wanting to turn the clock back , to do things differently, to rewrite the past.

Intellectually I know the past cannot be changed. I can only be where I am now and build a different future.

Emotionally I have been living miles away from my intellect-like my heart and my mind were on different planets.

Recently they have begun to communicate and are slowing coming into alignment. My home as I knew it for 27 years no longer exits. It has been transformed into having a house I love in a beautiful area.

I have begun to visit the house again. I spend a little more time there with each visit. I cut the grass and weed the flower beds. I walk around and see the empty spaces where I have removed paintings, ornaments, bits and bobs I treasured, whilst I rented it for the summer.

For the first time in my life there I had complete strangers staying for a few weeks. Weeks when the house no longer felt as if it belonged to me. I now knocked on the door to check all was ok!

I felt the distance grow even though I was grateful for the guests whose payment helped maintain the house in good order.

Absence and emptiness became bedfellows in my heart and I hated these feelings. I kept very busy so as not to feel their depth. I was afraid of drowning under them. Afraid I would never feel presence and fullness again.

Since disorganisation and reorganisation entered my consciousness they have brought a strange sense of calm within.

The ability to name the disorganisation has been such a gift. Yes it has begun to tame the “runaway train of thoughts ” abounding in my mind.

I have been able to Pause. To see my life as it is now -reorganising almost unbeknownst around me. I am noticing the new people who have entered my life. I am appreciating the difference between living by the sea rather than in the mountains.  I have begun to get involved with the Dark Skies movement in Ireland and across the world. I can recognise how often misplaced loyalty has throw me under the bus and consequently am more wary when in the company  of people I do not know very well. I have a little more tolerance and curiosity of the unknown future opening ahead of me.

As I become less judgemental of myself,  I can see how often I orientate towards kindness and accommodating others. I can reclaim a lot of the goodness I have habitually projected onto others, for myself. I am beginning to breath deeply again. I am proud of the courage I managed to muster to write Against the Wind and I am opening with wonder to the response I have been receiving for speaking openly of loneliness and belonging and still riding a bike in my 60s!

My blood is beginning to feel warm again as it circulates around my heart.

I am curiously wondering who I will be in the future if I am not apologising for my existence and feeling grateful to the wrong people. Who will I be when the reorganising phase has completed its work for now? I say for now, because I am old enough to know another time of disorganising will await me sometime in the future.

Yet right now I want to be present for this reorganising time. I truly want to feel Presence and Fullness alive in my being again. I want to invite enjoyment rather than endurance to guide my decisions into the future. I would like to cycle with the wind at my back as I open to life, freshness, wonder and a new felt sense of “home/belonging” in this world. I want a new map to guide me into the future.

image by Sadhbh O’Neill

 

Against The Wind-The Book

 

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” – Albert Schweitzer

 

 

Since I finished writing the blog I have not felt inspired to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard until now. In mid 2018 my dear friend Sinéad Mannion set up her publishing company Plasma Publishing to publish a beautiful book of essays written by her late brother Gearóid. After completing that task she announced to me she was now setting about publishing my blog so to go and “get my act together”!

After much humming and hawing and thinking who am I to write a book, I finally got my “act together” and set in train the work involved in making the blog into a book and printing it.

It all came to fruition yesterday 15 June when we launched “Against The Wind from Endurance to Enjoyment”.

The 2670 km cycle  brought me face to face with profound loneliness and what is means to try to fit in as a way to belong.

The writing of the blog helped me make sense of the cycle.

And now the book has brought me into the experience of support and belonging. Whereas the cycle was done on my own, the book has been a community effort.

The people who made it possible are: Sinéad Mannion the publisher; Úna McKeever did the first edit in order to turn the blog into book form; Philip Darling supportively  and beautifully designed the layout; Sadhbh O’Neill painted the stunning covers and front and back insets; Barbara Egan wrote the most warm hearted and elegant Foreword; Geraldine Fitzpatrick did the final edit and Clodoiri Printers produced what is a beautifully textured book: Karen Mannion MC for the launch and Aileen Foran who gave us the beautiful venue and organised the lovely food.  If these where the ingredients that made the book happen Manchán Magan was the icing on the cake as he launched it.

Words cannot portray the level of gratitude I felt throughout the launch. At times I truly felt overwhelmed with the warmth and love I experienced for me and the book. Talk about turning what originally was a devastating experience prior to the cycle into the most amazing experience of my life.

And now I want to extend a huge Thank You to all of you who read and commented on the blog.

The book is available on my website www.embodiedbrain.ie    http://embodiedbrain.ie/against-the-wind/

 

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ― Melody Beattie

Against the Wind – Epilogue

Everything changes –
although this may not seem so now.
Listen into silence
– that which is most difficult
is our shy soul’s preparation for
Some new adventure
Far beyond
what we may imagine.

Sarah Frances

 

This cycle on the WAW took me to many stunning places on the West coast of Ireland, and  more importantly it took me on a journey inwards that I was not expecting.

It is 9 months since I completed the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW) cycle in Kinsale, Co.Cork and  can finally acknowledge what an epic trip it was, all 2650KM.

I have spent the last 9 months cycling through my inner Wild Atlantic Way. I have ventured deep into the mountains and valleys of the inner life. And it has been as hard if not harder than the actual physical cycle.

I realise changing a core belief system -even if it does not serve one well- is a profoundly difficult experience.  Wishing life was different is radically different than engaging in the process of making that change happen. It is the difference between looking at a film of a cyclist on the WAW and being the cyclist.

I have gather a number of core beliefs throughout my lifetime, which I may have to tackle before I die,  this time round it was the issue of Doubt.

Doubting myself has been with me for as long as I can remember. Almost every thought, action, decision has been plagued by doubt.

Should I do that? What about this? Why did you say that? You should have said this….You should have taken the other road…the other outfit…the other food, the other job, workshop etc., etc.; people don’t really want to hear your opinion; you should give your opinion; you should join that group, you should not join them, they want you, they don’t want you. They are thinking this ..no they are thinking that…..you need to be careful; you should be spontaneous….and on and on until at times I have doubted my existence on this planet or my mind was about to explode.

Turning away from this deeply held doubting habit left me at times truly wondering who could I possibly be if I did not doubt my every move/thought/feeling? What was the alternative? It was like cycling without a map or signpost as to the direction I was going in…navigating without a compass.  The only thing I really knew and did not doubt was my need for help and support.

I had physically cycled the WAW on my own and swore I’d never put myself mindlessly through such loneliness again. This time as I embarked on the internal WAW I sought out and found an excellent therapist. One who could help me see new signposts and stay with me especially at the times when I could hardly tolerate being with myself. We delved into my dream life -which is actually quite sparse-, my body sensations -which are very accessible and rich- my thoughts, my feelings and anything else that was deemed helpful for this internal odyssey. I wrote, I danced, I cried, I cycled pedal by pedal, and step by step until I could sense something new and different occurring within my mind and my brain. I was entering the territory of  a new belief system -one based on trust. One where I had to learn a new language and way of being.

I was reminded of a time when I was in Peru years ago and walking in the mountains. We had drunk all our water and were thirsty for some juicy fruit. An old woman gave us a bag of lemons as we passed her house in the middle of nowhere.  My immediate reaction was to thank her and to think “oh no I really don’t want lemons and now we also have to carry them !” A mixed bundle of gratitude.

After awhile the thirst got the better of me and I decided that maybe the bitterness of the lemon juice would cut through my thirst so I bit into a lemon bracing myself for the bitter taste. Instead of bitterness I was met by the most lovely sweetness I could imagine. For a moment I thought I was hallucinating but no I was tasting sweet lemons for the first time in my life. We easily made our way through half the bagful. Each time expecting to meet the bitter lemon taste I knew and expected, yet each lemon produced the surprising sweet taste. I kept looking at the yellow of the lemons expecting it to change to some other colour to reflect the taste. I was totally taken by the familiarity on the outside and the complete surprise on the inside.

That is how I feel a lot of these days. Ostensible on the outside I look the same and the external circumstances of my life are more or less the same . Yet internally all is different most of the time. Like the lemons I still keep expecting the bitterness and am being met over and over by the strange and unfamiliar sweetness.

I know doubt inside out and upside down, I know how it shapes me and rules my thoughts, desires and actions. Now I am getting to know the territory of self trust. How it could shape my movements especially as I learn to feel it strongest in my back; how it adds spaciousness and confidence to my mind and thoughts. How it steers me away from perfectionist thinking into the territory of enoughness, excellence, delight and most importantly joyful relaxation. It is like cycling with the wind at my back.

To undertake the WAW cycle I called on the one resource I have had for as long as I can remember -endurance. And this internal journey has also relied on my endurance.

“Endurance” was the name of the ship that embarked on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-1917 where all the sailors survived one of the most incredible adventure stories of all times. I loved reading of these adventures as I grew up and especially of Tom Crean’s involvement on this and many other Antarctic expeditions. And I always loved the name of this ill fated boat, as I had made the name of the ship be the description of the quality these men embodied to live to tell their tale- ENDURANCE.

I am glad to give myself credit for also embodying this quality in my external and internal cycle of the Wild Atlantic Way.

I am ending with this photo from the WAW on the South Connemara coastline. I did not take any photos the day of the real cycle as my head was down battling the wind and heavy rain and there was nothing to be seen. This is it on a day when the sun shines dry and bright:)

!

THE END.

 

What are you feeding in 2015

I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: “In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.”

As many of you know I have been studying much of the neuroscience that has come on stream in the last decade or so and especially how it can enhance our experience of the movement meditation practice. One of the interesting things I have found is how the brain is velcro for negativity and teflon for positivity. This basically means that we are so much more orientated towards the negative and it takes commitment, hard work and a willingness, to orientate towards the positive.

The oldest parts of our brains evolved when survival was the most important thing for our ancestors. When they had to be constantly on alert for danger whether it was in the environment or from other bands of hominids. Therefore the part of our brain that saw others as different from ourselves and to be feared was very well developed. Because of this, our inheritance is, that we are also hardwired for negativity. Although as humans we have the most advanced brain-the neocortex- in that we can imagine things being different, we can pause and notice our impulses. We can plan, pay attention, develop compassion and question our beliefs. In order to use this newest brain to our best advantage we have to own our propensity for negativity and its power to control us, and we need to pay mindful attention to the habits each and everyone of us has to feed the wolf of hate.

I think it is vital now that we each begin to take seriously our ways of feeding the wolf of love. In my mind with all the hate that seems to be circulating around the world at the moment we need to apply our imagination to changing this hardwiring in the same way that we need to take global warming seriously or our grandchildren may not be able to enjoy this beautiful world we live in.

I have always kept in mind Mahatma Gandhi’s saying that “whatever you do may seem insignificant , but it is important that you do it” especially when I feel helpless in the face of so much violence and pain in the world and I become convinced that the wolf of hate is running the show. Although it may seem very little in the big scheme of things, each time we pause, notice what we are doing, which wolf we are feeding (and this also includes hurting ourselves by our thoughts or actions ) we are making new neurological pathways in our brains and making a change in the world. Again to quote Gandhi “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

I do not believe any one can stand and act as if the wolf of love and the wolf of hate do not live inside each of us. We only have to take the time to look at the parts of ourselves that we project on to others, the parts we disown- the ways we speak about people; the ways we compare ourselves to others and either come up better or worse; the instant and sometimes wrong judgements we make and then operate out of; the ways we put ourselves down; the times we thing we have not enough and need …..when in actual fact we have more than enough; when we deem some people’s lives to be more important than others; when being different is about making the other wrong or less than, or not worthy of equality and on and on……

Some people seem to be feeding the wolf of hate to the point that they are obese with hate these days and thus justify every action they take as there is no room for doubt.

I really believe there is such a thing as “healthy doubt”. By this I mean taking a moment to really notice the direction I am heading. To become interested in what I am about to say or do and to have enough space between my actions to ask the question -Which wolf am I feeding?

This may seem like curtailing my spontaneity, but I don’t believe that. At first like the creation of any new habit it will seem odd, awkward and unfamiliar. Yet what we know about creating habits tells us that some day it will become the norm, the familiar. We will have learned to pay mindful attention to how we live and will be taking full mature responsibility for our action and speech and the consequences of them. We will be well on the road to feeding the wolf of love, of kindness, of justice, equality and true happiness.We will learn to use our great skill of empathy to feed compassion both for ourself and others. Right action can become more the norm and we will openly own when the wolf of hate, criticism, jealousy, fear is rearing its ugly head in our actions.

Maybe this may seem like utopia. Even so I believe if we do not strive for such life on this earth now we will be offering our beautiful earth and the great beauty of being human to the wolves of hate to eat and destroy. I do not want the latter part of my life to be oriented in that direction. I’d rather do insignificant things than do nothing, or say nothing.

I will end using the powerful poem by Thich Nhat Hanh-

 

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.