Against the Wind part 5

2nd. September.

Saddle bags packed with fresh clean clothes, washed shoes, fresh supplies of fruit and nuts, book, diary and pens. Wet gear on, Garmin in place and Go pro in my pocket. ( I had downloaded all my videos and photos taken on route to date. When I looked at the videos I realised I had videoed hours of roadway!!!! I laughed heartily as I had worn it everyday on my helmet or bike thinking I  was capturing stunning views, instead I had hours of broken white lines. It summed up the nature of much of my trip so far-head down and bracing against the wind. I decided this time I’d stop every now and again and video around me rather than wear it on my helmet.).

I hit the road round 9.30am in a heavy mist. Down the Inagh Valley to Cashel Cross and back on to the WAW. After about 15 km the mist turned to rain and the wind  strengthened.  The two previous days had been dry and sunny. Was someone telling the rain and wind gods and goddesses that I was back on the bike????

This trip to Galway took me on roads I knew well as they had been part of my training routine over the past year. On a dry sunny day this route through Letterard, Carna, Casla, Inverin, Barna and Galway is beautiful with views across Galway Bay. But today all that was non existent. The rain bucketed down relentlessly and the wind was merciless in its strength.

I made one stop in a lovely café for coffee and lunch in Casla. I decided to opt to sit indoors this time even if I was to leave puddles of water under my table. It was a busy spot as I’d say many people where looking for a place to get a bit to eat and refuge from the rain and wind. I have noticed how much I like sitting in cafés, restaurants and pubs that have lots of people around. I think for that few moments I can feel part of a group  rather than the relentless isolation of the cycle.

When I finished I donned my wet gear -I no longer call it rain gear- and headed non stop for Galway city.  I was staying with my friend Marion for the night. The days I know I will end up staying with a friend have an easier quality to them. I have something nice to look forward to and will have someone who knows me to chat with and discuss the emotional issues of the cycle.

I had the most lovely hot shower to refresh me. I think water is a bit like weeds….bear with me in my imaginings, remember my mind is probably soaking wet with all the rain I have endured….. it is said “a weed is just a flower growing in the wrong place”. Well in my mind rain is water falling in the wrong place!!!! A shower is water falling in the correct place and I have to say each night on the trip I took great pleasure and felt blessed as I turned the faucets and out came hot water to ease my tired and sore muscles.  This night was no different.  Marion had the fire lighting so I could dry out my gear. A lovely meal, a bottle of wine, great conversation all prepared me for a nights sleep.

Through our conversation I had been able to finally find the word to describe the trip. Marion had asked was I enjoying the cycle. As I reflected I realised the word was endure not enjoy. My fantasy trip had been based on enjoyment, whereas the real trip was an endurance test especially mentally and emotionally. Physically as I have said before it was a surprise how fit I was. Every evening as I looked in the mirror I was constantly surprised to see a fit, tanned and very healthy woman look back at me. I kept expecting to see a haggard, old woman but no, my outside was looking very different to my inside -yet again the story of my life, a mismatch.

3rd. September.

Repacked my bags, had breakfast, waved goodbye to Marion and headed out the road to Oranmore. The morning was grey and misty. Being Sunday the roads were very quiet. I also reckoned most of Galway had headed to Dublin and Croke Park as the All Ireland Hurling final between Galway and Waterford was on in the afternoon. I was hoping I might find somewhere to watch it on route.

Off I went through Oranmore and on to Kilcolgan. I stopped here for a coffee in the mist and then off again towards Kinvara. It was still damp and dull as I past through this lovely little town. I met my first early morning tour bus as tourists piled out and wandered across the road as only tourists can, to see the castle ruins. I managed not to knock any down or be knocked off my bike by groups of disembodied people chatting and absorbed in their wish to see the castle.

As I nearer Ballyvaughan the mist began to lift and I had my first view of the amazing landscape of the Burren.

No matter how many times I visit this area I am always taken aback by the limestone hills that give the appearance of a lunar landscape in my mind.  I had the pleasure of removing all my wet gear and cycled along in shorts and light cycling gear. The one positive about the weather has been the lack of cold. It has felt quite tropical at times….warm and wet!

I decided to stop around Gleninagh for lunch. It was beautiful looking across Galway Bay to the roads I had travelled yesterday into Galway. I could see the Twelve Bens in the distance. I had no sooner sat down and opened my lunch when the mist came billowing in from Finore around the corner.  On went the wet gear and my lunch was hastily put back under cover so save it getting soggy. I was joined in my little layby by an Indian family who also decided to stop and have lunch. The smell of curry was mouth watering as they dished it out from the back of their  car.  The mist was not deterring any of them from enjoying it.

I packed up all my bits and pieces and took off for Fanore. As I rounded the bend to view this beautiful beach it was like someone lifted a veil and the sun beam out. The change was striking as can be seen in the two photos below.

 

The rest of my journey to Milltown Malbay was cycled in warm sunshine. At times I was actually in shorts, tee shirt and for the first time out came my sunglasses. They had been a gift from my nephew in Australia but had not seen the light of day till now. Oh the joy of a pair of sunglasses!!! I actually managed to top up my tan! I finally experienced the weather I had dreamed of….a slight breeze and warm sunshine. The coastline of Co. Clare has always delighted me, the beaches, the rock formations, the cliffs all so radically different than anywhere else I had been. I cycled on through Doolin and Liscannor  listening to the match on my radio although the signal was a bit erratic. I still kept hoping I’d find somewhere to see at least some of it.

Luck was on my side. In Lahinch I heard cheers coming from a pub whose door was wide open. I stopped and realised this was ideal. I could park the bike outside, stand near the door to keep an eye on it and still watch the last 20 minutes of the match. I ordered my usual pint of cider and as I leaned against the wall a man offered me his seat. I declined as I had been sitting on the bike for quite awhile and was enjoying standing upright. We got chatting as I am beginning to notice happens in pubs where matches are been shown and I’m also longing for connection so I take up each offer with gusto now. He was an avid Galway supporter so he filled me in on the seed, bred and generation of all the Galway lads playing. He made the experience extra interesting. Well the cheers of delight when the final whistle blew and Galway won could be heard far and wide. We were a on a high- I am becoming such a GAA fan!

The trip to Milltown Malbay felt so easy as I returned to listening to the commentary on the radio- utter delight for Galway and utter devastation for Waterford. I have learned that All Ireland Finals are never neutral events, they are packed with emotion on one side or the other and today was no different. I landed in my friends Mary and PJ’s house in Carrokeel just outside Milltown in time to appreciate the best sunset of my trip to date.

I had the house to myself as my friends were wandering around France in their camper van. It was nice again to be able to make my own dinner and relax in a house I knew. As ever I spent some time writing up my diary of the day. It was definitely weather-wise the best day so far. I could feel the “sun burn on my arms and legs” and see the outline of the sunglasses on my face. It was a good day and in the midst of that goodness was a vein of sad loneliness. The loneliness had a different quality to it as I am now mainly cycling roads and routes I have been on before.

Earlier in the trip the loneliness  had been like a huge grey cloud sitting on the back of the bike, with its relentlessly critical voice telling me how stupid I was to embark on this trip; how I should have known beforehand how hard it would be; if only I was more sociable I would not be in this position; maybe I’ll never fit in; wasting my life; just get on with it; get over yourself  no one has died; stop being so self-pitying, so dramatic and  on and on and on…..I just could not stop them. My mind felt like one of those old fashion LP  vinyl records stuck on the record player going round and round with no let up.

Since I entered more familiar territory it had a quieter quality to it, almost as if it had seeped under my skin. The feeling of loneliness had caught me by surprise at the beginning of the cycle and had shouted its messages to me back then. This quote spoke volumes to me:

” ...one of the most influential motivators of my own life, the longing to belong, was shaping me in ways that I was largely unconscious of, until it finally grabbed me by the hair and pulled me deep into its terrifying dimensions.” Toko-pa Turner.

Now I had come to accept somewhat reluctantly that this was my companion and there was no point in fighting it. My job was to try and open to being curious about it and why it was being revealed to me at this stage in my life. Why had a 2670km cycling trip opened up the doors of belonging, fitting in and loneliness at this time in my life?

4th September:

I hung around the house the next morning hoping the heavy mist that had returned would lift. By 10am I gave up waiting, donned the wet gear and headed for Kilkee via Quilty and Doonbeg. Doonbeg is the home of Donal Trump’s Golf resort. I had the great pleasure of seeing it for miles along the road. Actually it is impossible to avoid it as it is located on the highest point in the area!!

I continued on to Kilkee with the intention of stopping off for a coffee. I expected to enter a buzzing town but instead it was virtually empty-like a ghost town. The only thing missing was tumbleweed rolling down the main street. I felt so sorry for the people there as their tourist season must be extremely short-lived. The beautiful beach was empty.

I found a small supermarket and bought a few bits and pieces for lunch and off I took to Loop Head. One of the reasons the WAW is so long is the double journeys in and out to the coast. This was one such. It’s approximately a 60km round trip from Kilkee to Loop Head! It also has to be the flattest road so far, well actually Co. Clare is mainly flat road cycling on the WAW. Believe it or not half way out the Loop Head road I began to long for a hill and had some nostalgic feelings for the hills of Donegal…..At least the wind was still with me -no fear of being abandoned by it on this trip. I cycled into it on the way out and thankfully I had it with me most of the way back. The lighthouse is beautiful with an unobstructed view right out the Atlantic Ocean. I have great respect for these lighthouses and the vitally important work they do in keeping boats and people safe.

After a lovely walk around the grounds to the cliffs I sat on the grass and had my lunch before embarking on the  reverse cycle. The high point of my return journey was stopping to let 200 cows cross the road for milking! I know the number as the farmer’s daughter was stopping traffic and we got chatting about the number of cows and the length of time it takes to milk them, approximately 2 hours.  Co. Clare seems to be full of fields of cows much more than I’d seen to date.

I had intended staying in a B&B about 5km outside Kilrush, but as I listened to the weather forecast for the next day I decided if I could get as near as possible to Killimer  -I was getting the ferry to Tarbert- it would be best.

As I stood on the street in Kilrush looking at my map a kind man asked if I needed help.  He informed me that Killimer was only 10km from Kilrush. When I enquired if he knew any B&B there he took out his phone and looked up the number of a pub he knew that might have accommodation. After thanking him I rang the pub. They did not do accommodation but they had the number of the B&B opposite the car ferry. I looked up Booking.com to book a bed only to find it was full!!! I decided to ring them anyway and boy was I delight I did. Yes they had a bed. I was standing outside it in half an hour later. A lovely woman greeted me and showed me to a very comfortable room. We discovered through our conversation that she had no other bookings, which surprised her as she always has someone heading for the ferry. We checked it out to discover she was mistakenly booked up on Booking.com. Thankfully she was able to rectify it before she lost much business. So I was delighted with the bed for the night and she was delighted I had looked to book in…a win-win for both of us!

After a shower and change into my only non cycling clothes I headed to the pub for a lovely dinner and a new type of cider, Cronins absolutely lovely. I had a great chat with the owners of the pub as the man was a cyclist. We spent about an hour comparing cycling highs and lows! These random conversations are like  precious gems to me now and I have stopped holding myself back when someone offers to chat or is interested in what I am up to. I was well fit for bed by the time I left the pub.

5th September: The rain that was forecasted fell during the night so by breakfast it was just grey and dull. I felt a wave of excitement for the first time on this trip as I walked to the ferry. I was heading for Kerry my favourite county in Ireland and a few days camping near Dingle-my definition of happiness.

For all my years camping in Kerry I had never explored north Kerry before. This would be another day of unknown roads- yet being in Kerry I did not feel quite so alone!!! I would end my day in Tralee and meet my sister Geraldine….all positive things to look forward too.

My first stop of the day was in Ballybunion. After my experience of Kilkee I was  a little wary of going there and finding another empty seaside town but no there were people wandering around and  I found a lovely café with delicious brown bread and coffee. Another conversation was struck up with two people sitting outside a small art gallery. I am actually becoming quite adept at the art of easy conversations. And my well packed bike is often an opening to the positive side of Irish curiosity! I took some time to wander around this town, its beach and castle ruins before a huge shower fell.

As I left Ballybunion the road took me alongside the famous Ballybunion golf course and a statue erected to Bill Clinton. Many famous people have play golf here-seemingly.  One would think I was an avid golf player but I definitely am not. My dad was an excellent player who tried his best to get me to play it but to no avail. That little white ball annoyed the life out of me. But as other members of my family play I am kept up to date on all golf matters…..

I came to a T junction Ballyheigue 2km to the left , the WAW route to the right, off I went cycling  around Kerry Head – a 40 km trip to Ballyheigue!!!! Again the weather took a change for the better and out came the sun. Unfortunately the wind got stronger and it was a full blown head wind all along the coast. The fields were very busy with famers making hay and silage so there was a great air of activity all round. I was also meeting lots of cars and the start of the camper vans. Kerry was busy with tourists everywhere and later in the day I was to meet my first group of cyclists!!!  Ballyheigue beach was magnificent with the waves rolling in as the wind was enjoying itself as it was blowing wholeheartedly now.

By the time I reached Ardfert I decided I’d go straight to Tralee and bypass Fenit. I just didn’t have the heart to face into the wind on the way to Fenit. Mentally I put it on my list to do in the future. My sister Geraldine rang to check my estimated time of arrival in Tralee. I assured her I was not going to Fenit so I ought to be in Tralee in about an hour. Decision made I set off with my spirits good, looking forward to being in Tralee and having time with Geraldine.

Much to my absolute surprise about 30 minutes later I found myself 2km outside Fenit with no notion how I got there!!!!!!! Being so close I decided I’d go and see what Fenit looked like. I have to say I was not disappointed as it was absolutely beautiful looking out at Fenit Lighthouse and I sent the two photos below to Geraldine to surprise her with where I had ended up.

As I turned for Tralee I had the most fabulous surprise as the wind was with me and I had the sheer delight of being whooshed into Tralee. I barely had to pedal and realised just what I had been missing cycling into the wind all the time. I imagined it took me a few minutes to get to the edge of Tralee.  I found my B&B in a lovely small hotel in the heart of Tralee. The staff understood cycling and helped me put my bike away safely. I noticed a group of men and women having drinks in the foyer to find out the next day that they were a group of cyclists cycling from Sneem to Galway for charity. Right now a hot shower beckoned and I was ready for dinner and good conversation with Geraldine. I was so thrilled to be in Kerry:)

Against the Wind part 4

 

August 26th: Refreshed after a day off the bike and lots of great conversations with Rita that began to help me sort out some of what I was emotionally feeling on this cycle, I set off from Rosses Point to Killala in Co. Mayo. I realised I was- metaphorically speaking- taking my life in my hands as I placed my Kerry flag in my bike. It was the replay of the drawn match between Kerry and Mayo and I knew there would be a great desire for Mayo to win. As I cycled through Mayo I think most people must have gone to support their team as it was very quiet on the roads. I saw one other Kerry flag on route …we were in the minority and in the end Mayo won. Sad and all as I was for Kerry not to win I could not begrudge Mayo another chance at the All Ireland. That was to be played on the final day of my cycle.

It was a dull morning with a heavy mist as I left Sligo town heading for Strandhill. This cycle was the first on familiar roads as I had often driven here on my way to teach in Sligo. It actually felt good inside to know for once where I was going, at least this first stage into Strandhill. It was very quiet as I stood looking at the waves that relentless roll onto the beach here and provide surfers with so much delight.

From here I headed to Balisodare, Easky and Enniscrone. I was now back on unfamiliar territory.  I stopped at a church fête near Balisodare and bought myself coffee and some lovely brown bread. I was so enthuastic about the homemade breads and cakes, home grown fruit and veg that I made the fatal mistake of stocking up only to realise I now had quite a bit of extra weight to carry. Well at least I was assured I’d have a good supply of wholesome food for the next few days!!!

The cycle was interesting in that most of it was damp and dull with little or no wind and hardly a hill to be seen. My first day of flat cycling. The views across the bay to Donegal were beautiful and interesting to realise I had been looking the opposite way two days earlier.

I arrived in Killala in the late afternoon and found I had booked into a very quaint B&B over a pub full of Mayo supporters. The building was very old and the room had a slight tilt to the left which gave the impression that I was moving sideways as I walked around the room!! Even in bed I thought I would slide out of it.

 

Killala had an air of old fashionedness about it, as if I had stepped back in time. It had lots of pubs, one supermarket I could find and a really lovely restaurant. I had a delicious meal there. It was such a new thing for me to eat in a classy restaurant on my own. This cycle is throwing up opportunities for me to experience many new things. I have spent so much of my life doing things on my own and yet I never experienced being alone in doing them. This cycle has such a different quality of aloneness to it. I think it is the constancy of it …I cycle on my own, I eat on my own and I stay in the B&Bs on my own, I talk to myself. It truly is shining a light on an aspect of my life I have lived yet not fully experienced before.

Over the last year I paid a lot of attention to getting physically fit, to be able for the amount of cycling required. Now I have no worries about completing the cycle and am not questioning my fitness. On the other hand I paid only cursory attention to the mental side of the cycle. I think because I was cycling in Ireland I didn’t imagine for a moment being lonely or  lost. Maybe if I’d been going abroad it would have dawned on me. Anyway I now am beginning to accept it is part and parcel of this trip -just like the wind! I meditated on staying brave and acknowledging the aloneness as a way to give myself support. I developed the manta “Courage before me, courage to my right, courage to my left, courage behind me, courage above me, courage below me. Courage in my body especially my legs, courage in my heart and courage in my mind.” I recited this over and over as I pedalled the highways and by ways. I felt the words slowing sinking in as the days passed.

27th August: Today’s cycle took me to Belmullet via The Céide Fields and the cliffs of north Mayo. 

Thankfully this part of the journey had stunning views as I spent quiet an amount of time “lost”. Again the WAW signage was totally inadequate and I just had to find a way to keep trusting myself as I cycled up and down tiny roads some with grass growing up the middle! The WAW is definitely not organised  around solo cyclists.  I met absolutely no one for the first half of the day. I truly wondered did anyone live in this part of Mayo. The trip from Ballycastle to Belmullet was  very tough. I realise I find cycling hours of bogland very challenging and lonely. Somehow the landscape as in South Donegal gives off the feel of deep sadness and emptiness. I could not find a pub or coffee shop open so I had lunch by the side of the road in Pól a Thómas. My purchases at the fête in Balisodare were feeding me well and I was also lightening my load.

The weather deteriorated by the time I reached my B&B in Belmullet. I could hardly see around me with rain and the wind was blowing a gale. To this day I do not fully know what kind of B&B I stayed in. Again I only had text contact with whoever owns the house. The key was under the potted plant and I was the only person there. My room was lovely and big but so weird to have a house to myself.  I found out in the morning that it was bed only as there was no sign of a breakfast anywhere!

28th August. I left this strange bed and no breakfast house around 9.30am. I kept putting off leaving as it was so wet and windy. Finally I decided I had to bite the bullet and go, otherwise I’d not get to Achill- my destination for today.

I had decided I would head straight for Bangor as it was so bad but again the rain eased up and off I went on the WAW 10 km outside Belmullet. A trip that would have taken me 20km directly to Bangor took 50km on the back roads to Bangor via Tullaghan. Again the WAW signage proved none existent and at one point I actually had to call into a house to ask where was I plus get directions out of the area. The people were very helpful and interested in the trip -although they were not envious of the weather – lashing rain and wind. They set me on the correct road and although I can imagine it is very beautiful around this area I could see nothing. Head was down as I made my way up and down the hilly roads eventually arriving in Bangor.

I stopped for coffee before heading to Mulranny via Ballycroy National Park. This park is very interesting as it has a special status as a dark sky area and they are very proud of this achievement in the area.

By the time I reached Mulranny I was wall falling. A huge wave of tiredness hit me so I decided a bottle of cider and a sandwich were in order in the Mulranny Hotel. It did the trick! I never felt my cycle on the greenway to Achill.  I was helped enormously by the fact that the sun came out and the rain stopped.

It was a most beautiful ride into Keel and my B&B. But this was not the end of my cycle as my landlady encouraged me to continue on to see Keem beach. She was right in that it was beautiful. But I decided only someone who does not cycle would encourage someone who had cycled 110km to her B&B to keep going for 30km more including a very steep climb up and down twice! She did check if I was fit???? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that question as we had been discussing the last 110km I had travelled!!!!

When I finally completed  my cycle for the day I headed to the local hotel for a bite to eat and another cider- I never drank so much cider in my life but it has become a lovely treat. The hotel was full of tourists and for the first time I felt at ease, just like everyone else and loved the feel of company around me.

I had my best night’s sleep of the whole trip so far. I woke up the next morning and realised I was no longer cycling into the unknown. I had cycled most of the roads ahead of me at some point or other over the last few years. I felt so different as I packed up and left my lovely, “normal” B&B in Keel.

29th August. It was a bright morning as I set off to cycle around Achill Island. I stopped a few km out the road to sort out my saddle bags only to see behind me a very dark sky laden with rain. I just about got the rain gear on before the heavens opened. Life was back to normal, the earlier sunshine had been a bit of a blip! I took off to Dugort, Dooniver, Cashel, up Meewlin to Dooega and the Atlantic Drive to Achill Sound. I had another feast of hills and valleys. It was a spectacular cycle and the rain stopped as the sun came out as I approached Cuan na hAisléime

 

The Atlantic was wild as it threw its spray up on the roads close to the sea. It was a nice change to be hit by sea water rather than rain water. I could taste the salt in my mouth as I licked my lips.

After my lunch in a lovely café at Achill Sound I sadly left the island and headed for the greenway though Mulranny, Newport and Westport- my stop for the night. Achill had proved to be a most enjoyable day as my mind felt much calmer and less stressed than to date. I knew I was entering very familiar territory  in South Mayo and west Galway. I had spent hours practicing on these roads so I knew them well.

I had a most enjoyable night staying with my friend Mary.  Again I treasured being able to talk about the issues that this trip was throwing up for me and not feel stupid or ashamed.

30th August: A great night’s sleep in a very comfy bed, a tasty breakfast and off I took to Louisburg. Again the morning cycle was a mix of showers with a growing taste of sunshine. By the afternoon the  sun had won out and I was cycling in shorts and tee shirt through the stunning Doolough Valley.

This has to be one of my favourite cycles from Doolough through the Delphi valley, around Killary harbour and into Leenane for a coffee. Then on to Glasilaun, Lettergesh, Tullycross, Letterfrack and finally to Aughrismore in Cleggan. I so enjoyed every minute of it and the weather was sunny and windy. Amazing how different the wind feels in the sunshine- we were not fighting all the way!

I was back in my partner’s house and ready for two days off the bike-well sort of….-I would cycle part of the WAW to my house in Recess the next day.

It was so lovely to be in a house I knew well, able to cook for myself, wash all my clothes and actually wear something new! As my way to wind down and relax I cut the grass and enjoyed watching the sun go down on Omey Island.

31st August: As I packed the bike ready to head to my house in Finisglen, Recess I noticed I was feeling heavy in my heart. I had to go back to the place I had called home for 27 years but now no longer felt like that. The feeling of no longer belonging in a place I had tried very hard to fit in, was upper most.

I set off up the Sky road to Clifden. It was a beautiful day sunny, dry and windy.

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From Clifden I headed out the road to Ballyconneely and Roundstone. I have begun to notice since I left Westport  the number of tourists on the roads. I am meeting tour buses and camper vans. It’s  like two different versions of the WAW. Donegal and North Mayo do not seem to be as well known as South Mayo and West Galway. As I moved down towards Kerry and Cork I met more and more people including cyclists and walkers -more about this at a later stage.

Today is a lovely trip right beside the Atlantic Ocean most of the way. I went as far as Cashel Cross and then left the WAW to make my way to Recess and into the mountains.

I was delighted to see my two cats Milly and Joey. They are very sociable so there was a noisy, run around the house welcome. I have decided they know me well and were delighted to see me too!!!! Milly is a chatty cat so she had to fill me in on all that had happened for them since I left! Joey is the silent handsome type just looking for lots of hugs.

I then decided to tackle the garden, cut the grass and do some weeding. I recognised an aspect of myself that always comes to visit when I feel stressed -I get very busy. I allowed myself to be so, as I knew before the sun would go down I’d have the ugly lights to contend with -reminding me of not belonging. I felt as if I was going round in shock when I was there as I could not believe how all had turned out. And I just want to pack the bike head and head off again.  Although the cycle has been a difficult and surprisingly emotional rollercoaster it feels better than staying in my house at present. This issue has triggered very old deep hurts and I know I’ll have to face them when the trip is over. But for now I just want to be gone.

The picture on the left as it was , the right as it is now.

 

To be continued……

Against The wind -part 3

 

 

Finally the day came to start the cycle!

19th August:Starting in Moville, Co. Donegal. I found a little café open at 8am and had the first of many scrambled eggs on toast and coffee breakfasts!

The morning was grey but dry as I set of with Garmin in place to record my kilometres, Go-pro on my head to film the trip, saddle bags that weighed the equivalent of a small child, packed with a change of cycling clothes, rain gear, shoes and “ordinary” clothes for wearing around my destination each evening, pyjamas, book to read, reading glasses, sun glasses -which I wore twice in 30 days- notebook to record my trip, fruit and nuts to sustain me on route and a weird feeling I could not name.

As I left Moville I headed into the unknown, I had never been in this part of Donegal before let alone cycled it. I followed the signs for the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW) and approximately 3 km outside Moville I encountered a companion who would accompany me on every day of the cycle, namely The Wind. I have to say writing this blog from the perspective of having completed the trip I tried every tactic in my repertoire to befriend the wind but failed miserably. The wind won every battle as I cycled into it , across it, battled with it , was knocked off by the force of it and one late evening experienced the pure joy of having it at my back as I cycled into Tralee……but that is to come. Right now I was cycling into a fairly forceful headwind as I made my way to Malin Head.

An interesting aspect of cycling in Donegal was the hills. I am truly convinced that engineers in Donegal Co. Council walk around looking upwards seeing potential to build roads that all seem to go uphill!!! Initially I comforted myself with the reasoning if I go up I must come down and I like hilly cycling for the thrill of downhill free wheeling…well in Donegal many times when I thought I was on top ready to come downhill, the road took another dive upwards….the songs “The Hills Of Donegal” came to mind. It must be the hilliest county in Ireland.

My route took me to Malin Head via Leckemy, Ballymagaraghy, Culldaff, Portaleen and Ballygorman. The coastal scenery was beautiful in the grey dull light. I encountered an interesting issue on the WAW . It is not designed for cyclists as the signs are too far apart and have next to no millage/Kilometres on them. I got lost and had to flag down one of the very few cars I met to get back on track. Getting lost in a car is a totally different experience than on a bike. Each time getting lost added a degree of anxiety and extra kilometres as much of the time I was on my own on the roads, with no cars, no buses and definitely no cyclists meant hoping I was going the right direction.

Finally I arrived in Malin Head Light House the most northerly point of Ireland . It is a spectacular setting. And most importantly it had a mobile coffee shop. Oh that cup of coffee was the nicest I ever had!

 

 

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I had my lunch sitting on a rock looking out on the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean

I headed for Carndonagh via all the little roads hugging the coastline. And then to Ballyliffin. I had never heard of Ballyliffin until this year when it was announced that they are holding the Irish Open Golf competition there in 2018. I have to say the golf club is in a stunning setting. Finally I arrived into my destination for the night, Clonmany  a lovely village with a good supermarket and a few nice pubs and take away cafes.

I found my b&b in a lovely housing estate on the edge of the village. I have to confess I still have not met my landlord! We were in text contact. He was playing in a golf competition and we missed each other twice as I went to the pub for a much needed bottle of cider. All I know is he is very generous with the use of his house ….”help yourself to any food or drink in the kitchen” was written in the note he left me. And in the morning he had breakfast of fruit, cereal, yogurt and bread left out for me. I heard him snoring soundly as I left early next day.

From my diary ” So this is it- it has started, no longer in my imagination but definitely in my body. Am wondering how will I manage it-on my own, days cycling, wind, rain. I keep wondering who am I these days? Like I don’t know what has happen with me and my neighbours and the impact it has had on me. How I feel full of anxiety and not able to bring joy into my mind …feeling as if I am living outside myself, on someone else’s terms…….”

I had an immediate example of how this anxiety was going to affect me on the cycle. I met a young man who was also staying in the b&b in the evening. He was cycling around Northern Ireland and Donegal in the opposite direction to  me for the weekend. We compared notes on what was ahead of each other the next day. ” Are you heading up Mamór? ” “Yea ” Oh my god its brutal, absolutely brutal climb”.

If this slim, fit young man on a carbon fibre bike with the tiniest little saddle bag found Mamór brutal….how in god’s name was I going to make it up the mountain. All night I tossed and turned worried sick I would not make it up and I’d get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Like all late night mulling catastrophic thinking ran riot….how stupid was I to think I could do this cycle and on and on……

20th August: As the sky brightened I got up, packed the bike, had breakfast and set off to face this brutal mountain. It was dry and quiet as I rode out of the housing estate and along small roads looking out on to the Atlantic with some beautiful empty beaches. As I progressed I felt the road begin to rise and gears began to change. Up and up I went peddling hard until I rounded a corner and saw the WAW sign. I could hardly believe it, the sign for Mamór. I had made it , the view was lovely and I was well……what had all that anxiety been about? ….was I so fit I didn’t find it brutal?…..I took my photos and returned to the bike ready for the downhill. I turned the next corner to discover a wall of a mountain in front of me…..the WAW sign was located 1/3 of the way up Mamór!!!!!!!

Off I took and practiced the most profound mindful meditation ever ….pedal, breathe, pedal, breathe, pedal. breathe, There was absolutely no way to waste any energy thinking about anything else. At one stage I did have the thought my lungs were going to burst but they didn’t! I made it to the top and was so proud of my achievement to cycle a category 1 climb with the equivalent of a small child on my carrier! A huge wave of loneliness hit me as there was no one to share it with in person. I did get lots of positivity from my family viber but I learnt along the way that nothing makes up for face to face physical presence. Loneliness was to be my second companion on this odyssey.

Off I took cycling quite cautiously down Mamór as it was so steep and I had a weight on the back of the bike that made it feel a bit dodgy and sheep wandering from side to side across the road.

I continued on following the WAW signs and arrived at Dunree Head. Here I met  two very friendly men walking their dogs in the early morning. Encounters like this became very precious along the way. It was a beautiful spot with stunning views across Lough Swilly, the sea was so calm I began to think maybe the wind was not going to be an issue and my fantasy of meandering the WAW would happen!!!

I flew through Buncrana as at 9,30am there were no coffee shops open and finally ended up sitting outside a petrol station in Burt drinking coffee and eating a sandwich.

I continued to Letterkenny where I was due to stay the night.  I arrived there round 2pm and decided it was too early to stop and I was on a roll after my high of Mamór so on I went to Rathmullen. I found a lovely welcoming B&B -actually the only B&B – and was very lucky to get a bed. This was the only time I chanced not booking ahead.

After a hot shower I set off to find a pub where I could watch the match between Kerry (my team) and Mayo and a bottle of cider. I had a most enjoyable time there with a group of men who had a  break from “child minding” to watch the match. The craic was mighty and especially when they heard what I was up to I became for a brief moment  the centre of  much admiration! The match was a draw so I took myself for a walk on a lovely beach full of families enjoying this rare warm evening. The water was cool and refreshing to paddle in.

I ended my day in a beautiful restaurant with the best vegetarian dinner I have had in a long time.  All in all it was a good day inspite of my earlier fears.

21st. August. Left my  B&B at 9am and made my way to Fanad Head. More spectacular coastline, vast empty beaches, cliffs, mountains and hilly roads. Wind and rain came back to visit. I made my way to Carrigart via the Harry Blaney Bridge -an amazing structure rising up in the middle of this empty rural area.

.

It spans Mulroy bay and makes a  short cut to Carrigart. I arrived in the village of Carrigart at lunchtime. Decided to find my B&B , leave  my saddle bags and head around the Downings with less weight. I discovered Upper Carrigart -the location of my B&B- was actually 5km outside Carrigart!!!! So I backtracked, dropped off my luggage and took off to see the Downings. The rain had stopped, so now I only had my companion the wind to contend with.  Again more beautiful landscapes. Downings was an interesting mix as part of it has a very busy caravan park and mobile homes whilst the back of it is sparsely populated with lots of empty space.

Back in my B&B that night I reflected on the mix of emotions I was beginning to experience on this cycle. I loved the freedom and growing simplicity of my life , yet  the heaviness of heart in the midst of all this beauty was palpable.

Loneliness was not a feeling I had allowed myself to experience most of my life. I learned  at a very early age that loneliness was associated  with being ungrateful. I was used to cycling on my own. I had never joined a club as I am not a fast cyclist -I have endurance rather than speed, and I imagined I’d not be able to keep up with a club. Also being on my own and doing things on my own had been a way of life I took for granted. But now the loneliness came to the forefront with a vengeance.  Much of the landscape I was moving through held a deep sense of loneliness. So my inside emotional life and the outer landscape where mirroring each other.

22nd. August: This was a day of two starkly different halves. I left my B&B on a warm, dry, quiet morning off to see the Glenties. I was closer to the coastline this time out of the high hills but being Donegal they still managed to created roller coaster roads. I was so surprised by this area as it looked like “Lego-land” with the amount of houses scattered all over the landscape. I could not make out any order and wondered what kind of planning permission is given to build! I did imagine there must be a lot of coffee shops here …..but no I did not find any so continued on to a village called Dáire Beag. As I approached the village I got a text from my friend asking was I ok, as the rain was so bad….I looked around and saw no sign of rain and began to make a story that Donegal had less rain than other places!!!!!

Boy was I wrong. As I ate my lunch in the little café I spotted a dark cloud approaching and within minutes the heavens had opened. On went all my raingear as I decided I would be wise to head straight to Dungloe -my stop for the night.

After a few kms the rain began to ease up so I backtracked and headed on the WAW round The Rosses. I was no sooner off again when the heavens opened and I just had to continue. I cycled through walls of water as motorists sped through the many floods that had appeared on the roads.  The landscaped disappeared as the rain poured down. I could barely see ahead of me. I arrived to my hostel in Dungloe like a drowned rat. Every stitch of clothes I was wearing was soaked.

The welcome I received from the  River House hostel owners was so heart warming I will never forget it. They helped me put my bike away and took all my wet clothes to wash and dry. They guided me to a spacious lovely room and gave me directions to a warm comfortable pub to have dinner.

A quote from my diary entry :” Today I learnt about the fear of the unknown. I have been holding fear of not being able to cycle the high hilly roads or of not managing the wind and rain as I listened to the weather forecasts. Today I cycled the roller coaster roads and into buckets of rain and high winds. I realise how the fear of “what might be”23rd, is draining and actually cycling through these fear filled situations is so liberating. I felt so proud of myself as I cycled into Dungloe having achieved way more than I could have believed this morning!”

All night the rained poured down relentlessly and I awoke next morning to hear of the awful destruction that had been visited on the people of the Inishown Peninsula by the deluge that hit them.   Villages I had stayed in or stopped for lunch had mudslides which destroy houses, roads and bridges were washed away. It felt very real as I knew the names of all the places they spoke about. Sadness was the prevailing emotion as I set off from Dungloe.

23rd. August:This was a  very challenging day as I headed up another hard hill The Glengesh Pass.

The wind was relentless and heavy showers made the roads very slippy. The landscape to Glencolmcille was empty, desolate and steeped in loneliness. I honestly do not know how people can make a living here. It was emotionally the toughest day so far. I could not shake off the heaviness in myself. I felt as if I was cycling through sludge at times. I truly wondered what I was doing and yet could not countenance stopping. I arrived into Killybegs as the rain stopped and sun appeared in in the late evening. This time I had booked a little hotel which proved to be a good choice as the bar I had my dinner in was busy and noisy with holiday makers.

I had a nice walk around the fishing port viewing some of the fishing boats in the harbour. This was my last night in Donegal.

24th. August. Off to Sligo and a rest day with my friend Rita.  More wind and rain.

Finally I found my idea of a lovely coffee shop in Donegal town. I sat outside under the awning in the rain drinking delightful coffee and brown scones- a little bit of heaven- . The young woman serving me was amused that I would sit outside on such a wet day . I explained I just could not countenance taking off my rain gear to sit inside and anyway I could keep an eye on my bike.

After being fortified I set off for Sligo town. This part of the WAW is on the main roads and is awful. I had to contend with busses, trucks and motorists in the rain and wind. The road was very narrow in spots and where there was a hard shoulder it was full of potholes. I left the main road at one point to visit Rossnowlagh. Those roads were quiet and gave me a break. Unfortunately it was too wet to enjoy this lovely area.
I was very relieved to arrive in Rosses Point and to meet Rita and finally be in company I knew and knew me.

End of part 3.

 

 

 

Against the wind – Part 2

 

All my life I have struggled to find a sense of belonging. A felt sense of being at home on this earth. Most of the deepest challenges I have experienced in my life have been around this issue of belonging and  never more so than on 2670Km of The Wild Atlantic Way cycle last Aug/Sept.

Part of my way of being in the world is to minimise things -be it my achievements or my challenges..”ah sure anyone could do that” or “it was nothing” are two of my mainstay phrases. I heard myself use them as people asked me about the cycle. Yet hearing their reactions to what I had achieved I am beginning to let in the thought that maybe not everyone could have done what I did and that it might be worth writing about it.

As I thought about how I might go about this writing I kept meeting a squirming, shame-filled part of myself. If my life’s work to date has taught me anything it is to pause, get curious and make some space -however painful- for these parts of myself. When they are so strong and taking up so much of my mind they are usually looking for attention. The challenge is to give them the attention wisely.

In doing so I realised I have a backstory to the cycle, a context for how it actually turned out and unless I put that out first I will never be able to write about it.

I have always had amazingly good physical health. In spite of many accidents and illnesses along the way my rate of recovery is amazing -even to me…but in the area of my mental health each and every day can be challenge. As I said at the top belonging in this world seems to be what I have been tasked to re-discover over and over in this lifetime. One of my favourite quotes from T.S. Eliot sums up how this issue returns to visit me from time to time in all its intensity –

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Somewhere early in my life I made belonging mean being good, being less than, having little or no needs or at best not looking for them to be met, being undemanding. Being on my own had a degree of safety  therefore ultra self-reliant became my modes operandi, and it has served me well throughout my life. I have actually achieved things I might never have, had I not had the positive side of this way of being.

Yet self-reliance is tricky in company as I know I can come across as not needing anyone or anything. That nothing gets to me and I’ll just get on with things. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every now and again something comes out of the blue to crash headlong into this armour and leave me spinning in outer-space.The rug gets pulled from under me and I have the experience of free falling with no ground to latch onto in sight. This is how I have been feeling for the past few months. I am hoping that writing this will help me begin to find my way back to a steady groundedness where I can return again to a feeling of belonging and begin to know it for the first time as true and real.

I had a falling out with two people -I cannot call them neighbours as they live about 25km from me – who own two lovely little cottages just down the road from me. They rent them to walkers and visitors for short stays. At Easter time they erected orange and white street lights coming on at dusk and going off at dawn. I live in one of the most beautiful valleys in Connemara and one of the joys is the darkness. These lights have now destroyed the dark night.

When I approached one of the owners I was met with a stone wall around any kind of compromise.  To sum up I was being petty, a nuisance and in the end, was not from the area, so my opinion or needs did not count. I was totally shocked by the attitude I encountered as I have know these people for nearly twenty years and never met this part of them.

As it came out of the blue it completely upended me and sent me into spin of not belonging, not being part of a community I have lived in for 27 years. I became completely enveloped in anxiety about where could I go and a kinda paranoid that maybe everyone here thought the same as almost everyone is related to one another. I am actually the only “outsider” in my area. I felt the joy seep out of being at home, my sleep became elusive and distracting thoughts came to live in my head. It was an old familiar feeling back again and I had had no warning it would appear.

All my excitement around my big adventure on the Wild Atlantic Way just evaporated  and it turned more into a “just get me out of here” cycle.

So when I set off on August 19th from Moville Co. Donegal as well as my red saddle bags filled with my bits and pieces for the next month I had a very heavy heart and a dead weight in my mind.

Even when I look at the photos my partner took of me heading off I can feel the sadness that was my companion on the trip.

This is my back story and maybe now I can begin to write about what turned into an amazing odyssey. I cycled out of one life and am still cycling into another.

 

Against the wind part 1

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.T.S. Eliot

In early September 2015 I cycled the ring of Kerry. I was the longest one day cycle of my life and I felt such a sense of achievement when I finished it.

I left Killarney round 6.30am in a grey and heavy mist full of intrepidation and excitement of the adventure and challenge ahead of me.

I stopped in Sneem for breakfast. When I was finished the mist began to lift and the rest of the day was cycled in lovely bright sunshine with the odd puff of wind at my back. I so enjoyed the freedom of the bike, meeting other cyclists passing me, the stunning views of the Atlantic coast line. I lunched in Cahersiveen,  had afternoon tea in Kilorglin and dinner back in Killarney. I was so amazed that I had cycled 170km and still felt so good physical and mentally!

I continued on to Dingle for a camping week in my favourite spot on earth -Campail Teach an Aragail.

As I cycled around Slea Head and the Connor Pass that week I began to reflect on my up coming 60th birthday. I wondered how I would mark it. As I’m not a party person that was not on the cards. Each day on my cycles I passed the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW) signs and slowly found myself formulating the question-would I be able to cycle the whole of the WAW to mark my birthday?

I decided to give it a try. I felt as if I was making the first personal goal of my life. Most things I have done in my life I have kinda fallen into them. This felt different. I would have to get maps, check the routes, sort distances, accommodation and most of all set aside time to practice long cycles. I decided this cycle was for me, not for charity, not me organising for a group but just for me …I would cycle the thoughts of being selfish out of myself over the next 2 years!!!

I also did something else quite different I began to tell people about my idea. I am someone who does things and then eventually tells of my achievements, when I know the outcomes. But something about this adventure felt very different. I was going to challenge the mindset of “maybe you will fail”; “you are too old for this” “who do you think you are ” by actually sharing the idea.

I had 2 years to plan and practice. I set about checking circular cycling routes around Galway and Mayo that would make it possible for me to cycle 100-120Km regularly to build stamina and fitness. That in itself opened up to me so much of the area I have lived in for 27 years.

Each day I was at home I cycled at least 50 km and on one day week I did  100-120km. I found myself trying to think up deep and meaningful excuses as to why I could not attend meetings or do work on the long cycling days, as inside my head  it felt like self indulgence doing something I loved when there where “serious” things to be attended too. I found myself wondering was there a PhD course I could make up that would render these days as very important study days!

I did use many of the cycles to listen to books I use in my work to “justify” to myself that I could work and cycle the same time!!!!

I practiced regardless of the weather. I had to learn to cycle in relentless wind and driving rain as well as warm sunny days. This stood me well when the time came for the actual cycle. My bike was well tested and I acquired excellent rain gear.  I mapped out my route starting in Moville in Co. Donegal and ending in Kinsale, Co. Cork. I checked out accommodation along the way and decided on distances and rest days.

Bit by bit my fitness grew. As did my fantasy and excitment of days meandering the Wild Atlantic Way in sunshine and light breezes, stopping at coffee shops to rest and revive myself, meeting other cyclists,   exchanging stories and helpful hints, dropping in to stay with friends along the route. All in all having a great month with nothing else to do but cycle from one place to the next. My own personal “Camino” on the bike.

Nothing could have been further from the reality of how the cycle actually turned out.

This is the first entry to my WAW diary made the day before leaving home for Donegal:

About to head to Donegal to start the WAW -on the day when there are rain and wind weather warnings….Is this what is ahead of me? Will I be able for it? Give me strength in mind and body. And on this one of the biggest adventures of my life I feel more depressed than I have for years-the weather actually matches my inner life, full of sadness and emptiness.

As I watch walkers on the Western way pass my window soaked and tired -if they can do it I will do it …..I have to find some belief in myself.”

 

To be continued……

 

 

The Fog of Unworthiness

“Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small.”
― Tara Brach.

I have so many times wondered how I could explain/describe the new ongoing course Embodied Presence. Recently as I flicked through my photos I found these 3 which have all been take from almost the same spot. I could see clearly with this visual representation exactly what the course is about.

The lower picture represents our real Self – clear, steady, inside and outside matching. The top two photos represent the trance of unworthiness as Tara Brach call it or as I have renamed it The Fog of Unworthiness- the habits we have lived under that belittle us, make us feel never enough etc.

Habits that keep us small, believing we are not worthy to be loved for who we are and not for what we do. Habits that have great power over how we live our lives as they tend to operate from outside our conscious awareness and are like fog clouding our vision, our hearing, our essential goodness.

Over the course of the year we have been together on Embodied Presence we have been mindfully and consciously getting to know the fog of unworthiness, its function in our lives and now as we come to a close we are exploring how we can find ways to lift the fog and allow our true worthiness to shine forth.

I have loved every minute of planning and teaching this course as I have also lifted my own fog and now can for the first time in my teaching career stand proud of the work I have created. It is a most strange and vulnerable stance and one that I am now ready to honour and embody more and more.

I have felt the tremendous support of the 42 participants -between the 2 courses- and 4 fabulous assistants as we all embarked on the journey into the fog and back out. I know real change has happened and we have built support systems to strengthen these changes.

“Just like me” is the mantra that would sum up this course, as we all realised we have our particular version of the fog and we all have a clear steady presence when the fog lifts. No one was above or without suffering and no one was beyond changing. The combination of movement, mindfulness and neuroscience were the ingredients of Embodied Presence.

I’d like to end with quote from one of the participants:

The course you are designing for us has opened up space for me. In understanding how the mind wires itself I can take more control and be kinder to myself by gaining insight into how the brain becomes. By conscious compassionate movement and mindfulness I can choose to change old redundant patterns, this is a real possibility, not just an idea. The dance adds width and joy and love to this learning and is like adding fertiliser to new tilled land. Thank you for taking this step out into your joy.” S.F.

And I thank all who joined me in that dance and made Embodied Presence possible.:):):)

 

 

We saw a Vision

“We saw a vision”

“In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope and it was not extinguished.
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision.
We planted the tree of valour and it blossomed.
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision.
We melted the snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality.
Winter became summer.
Bondage became freedom and this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision. “Liam Mac Uistin

 

A friend of mine sent me this photo with this poem inscribed on it yesterday. She saw it in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin. The Garden of Remembrance is a memorial to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom throughout the last few centuries ending with the memory of the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.

I have been pondering over the significance of the timing for the Yes to marriage equality vote yesterday-almost 100 years since the Rising. I am someone who believes in the synchronicity of events and that what occurs outside of us in the external world also is mirrored in our internal world.

With that in mind I’d like to share my musings from the side of my mountain……

I have always had a fascination with history and how so often an event that can have occurred many decades previously can have a mirror-like likeness in the present day.

As the results were coming in on the radio yesterday I began to wonder about Ireland in 1915 and how seemingly unaware the majority of the population where, that life as they had know it, was to change forever. Within the space of 1 year an event spurred on by the a small group of men and women who by the nature of their deeds lit the spark that could not be extinguished until Ireland had gained independence from Britain.

I don’t think this time last year that we could have envisaged the amazing support for the referendum shown yesterday. Again it was like the spark that had been lit by a few dedicated men and women over the past few years fanned into a full blow fire in this referendum. It was like the minority of LGBG people in Ireland found themselves being held and supported by a ground swell of people that truly believed the time for change had come. We could rise up again nearly 100 years later to make another stab at an Ireland whereby all its citizens could be cherished equally and be able to pursue happiness as in the “The 1916 Proclamation:

“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally,….”

We saw this weekend that the pursuit of happiness and equality is always changing and we continually need to take into consideration the ever changing nature of life and society. Nothing ever remains the same no matter hw much we wish it would, try to hold on to out dated ways of being or are frightened of change. The nature of life is impermanent -otherwise we would never have the passing of time or the sun rise and sunset on each passing day.

As I look around the world today I see so many conflicts that are based on fear and the desire to “have things the way they were”. Yet I believe as long we personally or societally feed the part of us that craves security and the social order to remain the same we will aways be in conflict internally and externally.

We need to learn from history as in the case of the 1916 Rising. In its aftermath was the War of Independence and the the most vicious war the Civil war. The end result was a divided country. As we celebrate the Yes vote I am aware that there are many people not celebrating as they voted No. I ask myself what we can learn from out history to support us moving into a future where giving minority groups their rights does not take away from the majority but actually enhances each side as we acknowledge our differences and simultaneously move towards healthy, wholehearted integration. Daniel Siegel talks of health and well being, being the “linkage of differentiated parts”.

We can grow and mature through our differences rather than fear and defend against them.

I think unless we can honour differences and relax around them some force will emerge which for me was how the Catholic Church became so powerful in Ireland after independence. They saw the chaos and tried -very successfully for a long time – to put order on this chaos with their rigid unbending and unforgiving version of Christianity. Where anything that even smelled of difference had to be quashed, subjected and beaten down. I was born into such a state and felt the shame in the air of being in any way different from this narrow rigid view of the world.

I thank the gods that somewhere inside me was a spark that every now and again reared its little flames and made me question what kind of society was I living in. Rules were there to be questioned not blindly obeyed.Trust and faith were to be earned through thoughtful debate and life had to have a deeper meaning than a safe secure job, a traditional family and head down until death…..

I think inside all of us moments occur in our lives when the spark of our own internal Rising has the possibility to be lit. When we recognise that the maps we are following are outdated, and are leading us up and down the same old same old pathways or into cul de sacs. Life sends us moments of change and I believe if we have the feeling of deep support from allies, the willingness to commit to the hard work involved in change and the courage of our convictions we can all make those changes- we can all have our own internal war of independence.

Then we have to say awake to the possibility of a civil war between the old parts of us that have to be left behind and the fledgling new parts. The old can often feel they have right and might on their side but that is truly short lived if we keep our attention and hearts focussed on the new shoots and tend them careful and mindfully. The old can wither and become good fertiliser for the new shoots. Thus the integration of the old and the new makes the road forward steadier ad stronger

I hope with patience, kindness, courage and confidence we can let go of the no longer useful parts of our past in this country and forge ahead with a new up to date version of what it means to be Irish. Leaving the old stereotypes behind in our history as we create the version we want- not what we think others want of us.

I hope we can harness this new found energy for equality to continue with the may other areas of inequality in Ireland especially our treatment of asylum seekers- virtually keeping them in “Open Prisons” called direct provision centres. I see today as one mighty step on the road visioned by the people of the Rising, and we have more issues to pursue now. I hope you can join me in getting a ground swell of people to show this government that they are presiding over another shameful episode in Irish life in our treatment of the women, men and especially the children in direct provision centres.Yesterday we achieved equality for one minority now we need to achieve equality for another minority living in the country…

 

Oisín Kelly’s The Children of Lir

Wonder

I am just back from my morning cycle. The nip was in the air signalling the change in the weather. We have now entered the time of late autumn. As I cycled I took the time to look around me and in that simple act I felt myself filled with a sense of wonder and gratitude for the day. And I remembered it is Mental Health Day today. I felt compassion for all the people who in this moment would not be able to see what I was seeing all around me – the mist rising from the lake, the moon shining bright and strongly over the 12 Bens Mountain range, the sun colouring the eastern sky with deep orange and pink through the grey clouds, a calf sucking milk from its mother, teenage lambs nestled into their mothers before rising for the day, all quiet as the drama of a night changing to day unfolded.

I could see all this as my mind was quiet and steady. I have known many days when this scene would have been invisible to me as my mind would have been heavy with pain and sadness. When none of my senses would have been available to see, hear or smell what was happen around me. Where my mind would have been stuck in a loop from the past or a loop planning the future way out of the present moment’s pain.

I felt a deep sense of gratitude that change is a feature of life and that things can and do change. I felt the good fortunate that I had had the structures in place to help facilitate the change to be positive.

I live in a (usually) very windy place and it is hard to grow anything delicate or with petals as the wind whips them away . A few years ago I planted a hedge on one side of my garden in the hope that it would provide some shelter for flowers to grow. I also planted a rose bush (totally unbeknownst to myself as I cannot remember doing it, I have to admit) just in front of the hedge . This summer I had the great pleasure of watching it bloom and provide me with something I never thought possible in my garden – a beautiful red rose unfolding fully 🙂

I studied its growth each day and realised that all the things needed to blossom were in place-protection from the hedge, support from a strong stem, nutrition from good soil and sufficient water. It did not need to use its resources to fight the wind or storms, instead it could use everything to fully become itself. I though such a great lesson for life. When all our resources are lined up to support our mental and physical health we can fully become who we are meant to be caring, compassionate, joyful human beings. But when we have to use all our resources to defend against our demons whether internal or external it is impossible to be fully vital and well.

So today I am grateful that my own internal resources where in a positive mindful state of mind this morning to allow me to appreciate the wonder that was made visible all around me as I cycled. And I will cherish it on behalf of all the people in the world today whose mental health issues cannot allow them to feel this wonder right now…….

“are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?”

 

Oceans

I have a feeling that my boat

has struck, down there in the depths,

against a great thing.

And nothing happens

Nothing . . . Silence . . . Waves . . .

Nothing happens?

Or has everything happened,

and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan R. Jiminez translated by Robert Bly

 

I have lately been reflecting on the nature of change. Looking at change as a wave, with a starting point,a heading towards the top of the wave to the point of real change and then the far side of the wave where the new way of being takes root. I often notice how much time and effort, information and encouragement is concentrated on the change taking place yet there seems to be so little around when the actually change emerges. As if a taking for granted that we have gotten what we wanted so now get on with it happens…… Yet I believe the changed way of being needs as much encouragement, effort and time in order to be truly embodied in every fibre of our being,………

what is it actually like as” we stand now , quietly in the new life?

For real sustainable change to take root it is not easy,even if it is what we want or need. The change needs to be nurtured, cared for and supported otherwise it can wither away. The new way will involved a different way of thinking and feeling about life; it will involve different ways of moving in the world, different ways of relating to our friends, family and the wider world. It can be hard, lonely and tough to maintain, especially if the “outside” world is used to us in a certain way and we no longer conform to the old patterning and the new patterning is not fully and strongly in place.

It is a delicate, vulnerable moment, the transition……a moment for great kindness and compassion as the seeds of resilience take root. A time worth being fully present to with awareness and mindful attention. It will set the habits of the new patterning, creating the neural pathways in our brain that will support the change and give us the courage to keep moving forward into the “new life”….

Opening my eyes…

If we could see the miracle of a single flower, our whole life would change.

The Buddah

Have you ever found yourself knowing something cognitively, being able to understand it and talk about it quite abstractly and then in a light bulb moment  you know it in your body, an embodied understanding of your thoughts???

Well I had that a short while ago in relation to the constancy of change. I have intellectually know that  change is always happening and I often talk about changing,- the need for change, wanting to change, wishing things would not change etc.  Yet feeling it in my bones only comes every now and again. I was walking on the west coast recently – the first time since the storms. The changes in the landscape were dramatic. Beaches with mini cliff faces as parts of the headland had been swept away, fencing dangling in mid air as the land holding it in place had disappeared, fields covered in stones from huge deposits left in tthe wake of massive  waves,and seaweed hundreds of yards inland from the water’s edge.

I was taken aback by the dramatic changes that the sea and the storms had wreaked on the coastal landscape. As I continued wandering the coastline I was reflecting on the way change can be forced on us by dramatic events and how often we only see change in these big events. A few days later I was cycling on a lovely sunny wind free day (a rarity in Connemara) when I noticed I had my head bent,  eyes on the road and my mind mulling over the changes at the beaches. With that awareness I lifted my head and for the first time in ages I really looked around at the fields, rivers, and mountains of my almost daily cycle. I was truly taken aback at the amount of yellow to be seen, the daffodils, primroses, dandelions and gorse were  like beacons of light in the green landscape. It seemed as if they had appeared overnight. I realised that the landscape had been quietly changing all around me as Spring  had arrived. Winter and the dramatic storms were gone for now . The quiet constant change of life flowing by was  mirrored by the arrival of the primroses, yet I was so absorbed in the big changes that I had lost the awareness of the changes happening around me on a daily basis.

I realise that a lot of time in my life I have waited for or wanted a big change to occur and in the waiting or wanting I have completely missed the change going on all the time. I sense this has happened in my new approach to the work. I have been quietly studying the ever expanding knowledge on the brain and matching the research on mindfulness with what I have seen happening on the dancefloor over 20 years. As I have added a little shift here, a snippet of information there; a curiosity about a movement or a different way of paying attention; unbeknownst to me my approach, my interest and my enthusiasm have been changing.

I have presented a taster of the way I wish to work in my last few workshops and have received delightfully positive feedback. I have the sense of awaking from a trance of not being good enough in my work to feeling really proud of the new focus and all the background work that has gone into this change. In my mind it is a big shift as I feel so at home, genuinely at ease with the approach. I feel like a confidence crepted into my bones under the radar of my ever critical ego. It took root, spread wings and is now supporting me to experience a change I never really thought would happen. I never really believed that I would get to a place  of ease in my work in this life. I kinda thought that was for another time and this time was to be a constant nagging dis-ease within myself- as in the “could do better”….mantra ringing in my ears forever…….

Now I sense I have finally “come of age” in myself and most imporatnatly in my work. Work is and has always been a very important part of my life. At times it has been my saviour as having workaholic tendancies I can get immersed in it when things get rough, use it to keep me away from myself and others. But I truly never thought a time would come when I could put my hand on my heart, look another in the eye and say yes I have done my best and am now enjoying  the fruits of my labour!

I feel such an excitement about the possibilities of change no matter how intrenched we are in our habits. I feel like living proof to myself that very stuck ways of thinking and being can be changed. That we can release ourselves from the grip of the past and come into the present moment  with courage, confidence and resilience in mind and body.

I sense I can truly agree with the Dalai Lama when he says “The period of greatest gain in knowledge and experience is the most difficult period in one’s life. Through a difficult period you can learn; you can develop inner strength, determination, and courage to face the problems.”

Like the daffodils and primroses that have the courage and resilience to put their heads above the earth and wholeheartedly blossom, even if the weather is not always be kind to them, I feel ready to stand up and embrace the change that has occurred wholeheartedly.