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


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?”



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.


The Mapmaker

Whilst recently walking some of the coastline of Connemara I was struck by the changes that had occurred to the landscape after the big storms of late December /early January. Roads that had been there a few weeks perviously were gone, others had holes that made driving them very dodgy. Beaches had acquired different shapes. Rock and boulders that had been in one area last time I walked the beaches were now in a totally different arrangement. There was a visible sense that something had been changed by the storm. I was thinking that if someone had been sent to map out the west coastline in early December and another was sent in early January they would have two different maps to record. Some things had changed utterly.

I began to reflect on maps and mapping and remembering all the different maps I have seen of Ireland over the centuries. Some of the very old ones seem such a strange image of the island as we know it now. And even these days I keep needing to buy an up to date map yearly as we have radically changed the road system. Many times I have followed an old map and found myself driving on roads not recorded on the map in my hand! It has led to many a driving adventure 🙂

One of the most interesting terms I have come across in the Sensorimotor Developmental Training Course I am participating in this year is “The Mapmaker”.  I was quite blown away when I came across it recently as it coincided with my reflections on our changing landscape. The idea is that we make “maps” of our experiences when very young in life in order to make sense of the environment we are born into. and then we live our lives out of those maps. They are the internal landscape of our lives with the roads, mountains, valleys, rivers,seas and oceans of our experiences mapped on them. It got me curious about the maps we all live out of and wondering just how up to date they really are?

I was thinking of some of  the seemingly unsurmountable mountain ranges in my map ,that I did actually manage to climb them yet I act sometimes as if  they were still recorded as “unsurmountable”. Roads that belonged to my childhood sometimes have the look of a three laned highway  instead of a well worn track that leads to the same dead end no matter how many times I try to convince myself it will be different this time. How often I do not see that the boulders of my internal coastline have been washed away in one of the many storms and I keep  needlessly looking for  them or mourning their loss or not seeing the new possibilities their absence can afford me.

I believe Life is always offering us the opportunities whether wanted or not to continually update the maps of our lives. Death and birth are two very strong opportunities for map changes as are new job opportunities, retirement, travel, new friends, losses, ageing, accidents, illness etc.

Life offers us the opportunities to update our psychological map from being a child to being an adult. We do get moments to see the maps we have been living out of and to notice what needs updating. I believe this updating can happen with good support. If you think, the map if Ireland could only be updated with the use of new techonology -it has supported a more up to date view of the world.

Gabrielle always spoke of the 5 Rhythms in terms of maps of different landscapes with endless possibilities of investigation. I sense within each workshop , class or ongoing group I have taught that we are on an adventure of continual discovery, learning more and more about the maps of our lives and the potential to update them regularly. To enjoy seeing the landscapes we inhabit and to take the chance to travel to new more unfamiliar ones with each dance we participate in: opening to a different lakeside view, to a different angle of a mountain, to a quiet stream on a sunny day, to the wind sweeping away  the old debris stored in the corner of the back yard, to the warmth of the sun as you swim in a new ocean,endless possibilities for change.

My aspiration for my work this year and especially the Ongoing course Embodied Presence is that we will have supportive opportunities to see with true self compassion the  internal maps we have been working out of  and begin to strengthen  a more balanced updated map of our worlds.  For example, those of us that have the “not enough” map ruling our world we will find the changes in the landscape that support “being enough” map to come to the fore. I hope we can learn to look with kindness and fondness at the old map – like the way we can look at the old maps of Ireland-, appreciating that that was the best map at that time in life and it has also been changed by life and we may need to bring ourselves up to date.

I’d like to end with this lovely poem I came across in my “mapmaking search”.

The Mapmakers

This day has found something 
almost forgotten,
faded maps in my father’s attic, 
covered with years and dust.
His steady hand drew these maps, 
places he knew, places he had lived 
and those he imagined, 
but the only land he was unable to map
had its own remorseful measure.Nothing seems as compelling now 
as to trace their lines and symbols,
to circumscribe the compass rose 
with searching fingers, north to east, 
south to west and back to north once more.He had feet that adored the earth, 
self-taught hands that sifted soil and planted seeds 
that took deep root and grew straight and strong, 
but my young head was always lost in the stars,
in tortured awe of Armstrong and Aldrin, 
of Eagles landing on windless, tranquil seas 
and footprints into the unknown.
We were as alien to each other
as the planets orbiting those distant suns
that I had loved and named, one by one.
He was unable to chart my terrain 
or my choice of paths, 
though I know he must have tried.The distance between us
was often too great to hold in the hand;
maps failed us, but, oh– how they remind me 
of the same journey we took on different roads!
Ever-widening explorations of life and love
beginning from origins unknown, they oddly
discovered they same destination within the heart.
Now, I must gather up his light and shadow,
the disciplined workings of his practical mind,
his precisely drawn earth and let the stars 
grow farther, still. They are not yet mine, 
but I find myself wishing on them 
with all that I am.The sun finally falls for certain,
reminding me where I am. 
To the east, autumn flows cold 
from the cup of a crescent moon, 
and with a nostalgia of movement,
I pull on my father’s well-worn jacket 
and walk out into the newly born night. 
By nature, I look up and those far away suns 
are there, patiently waiting
to be mapped by my own hand.
I am undone without regret as love demands
of all good daughters and sons at the passing
and though my sky still keeps its place,
between the stars and earth 
and a father and child, 
there suddenly seems 
as if there is no distance 
at all.

© Melinda Kemp Lyerly.

The politics of dance….


“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning


Like so many millions of people around the world I have been reflecting on Nelson Mandela and his role in my life. I first heard of Nelson Mandela when I moved to Cork over 30 years ago as a young teacher. I became a member of the One World society in UCC and there I received the beginnings of my political -with a small p- education.I was introduced to the Anti-Apartheid Movement and began to hear of people like Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela, I learned of the atrocities of the apartheid regime hand in hand with a true awaking to the massive inequalities of this world we all live in.

I learned to go shopping with 2 lists in my hands – one the items I wanted to buy and two the names of companies to boycott- it led many times to having an almost empty basket at the check out. I remember the Dunne’s Stores boycott and being on the picket line at times when I visited Dublin, as well as not shopping there for years after.

This politicisation had an effect on my teaching. I was a Home Economics teacher and it began to dawn on me , -far from being the second class subject it was so often seen as,- this subject had the potential to be truly political. I saw food as the most political of all issues in the world- who has or has not access to good, healthy reasonably priced food. With that in mind I took a year off to do Development Studies in Kimmage Manor, Dublin with the intention of returning and adding the politics of food to my teaching schedule. I never got back as my life took off in a totally different direction and I began to work in a project in Dublin’s north inner city.

I was introduced to the idea that The Personal is Political. This was my opportunity to bring the many strands of my life together as I had already trained in Social and Health Education whilst in Cork. ( Cork has a lot to answer for in my personal and political development). I began to work with great people who encouraged me to design and facilitate personal development and development education courses. It was a challenging and exhilarating time in my working life as the participants on the course all knew at first hand the inequalities inherent in Irish life and were well able to make the connections with peoples of so called underdeveloped countries.

I can remember well the day Mandela was released and the joy, delight and hope that was all around. I was part of the thousands who lined Dame St to hear him talk on his first trip to Ireland. I read his book The Long Walk to Freedom.

As I reflect on this man and what he was asking of his own country and the world: to treat everyone equally, to forgive, to challenge the status quo,to have courage and speak out……… I think in our own individual lives these are the things we must ask of ourselves personally if we are ever to have just society. He had 27 years to learn to be with himself, to get to know himself well and to see what he needed to change within himself to become in the words of Mahatma Gandhi “…….. be the change you wish to see in the world” .

He had the time to build strength and resilience in order not to allow the regime he was under to turn him into a bitter vengeful man. He learned to thrive within his limitations and most importantly to make peace with himself. I truly believe until we make peace with ourselves and our circumstance we can never have real peace around us. A peace full of justice, equality, challenge, vitality and humour.

All of this led me to take my own personal journey to find strength, courage, resilience and compassion within myself and for myself. To travel through many years of internal darkness where hope seemed to have abandoned me, where I often felt that the lights had gone out and I was groping in the dark for some way through. As time went on candles began to light my way until I was ready to embrace ” our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is out light not our darkness that most frightens us…..” by Marianne Williamson

The decision to teach the 5 rhythms was taken from a place of intuitively knowing that movement was the at core of our being. For me movement is political -just like food had been that way for me years previously. I believe that giving people the space to reflect, to get to know our habitual patterns, to awaken from the trance of unworthiness that so many of us carry around inside is the first step on the path to freedom. The freedom to value our own selves and hence the freedom to value all the people, all the animals and plants, and this planet we live on. I believe when we are reconciled with ourselves and with the internalised oppressed and oppressors we all carry around inside, we can tackle wth courage the external oppression in a mindful and courageously compassionate way.

These last few days as I have listened to and read much media coverage of this great man, I believe he showed us ways to find the best in ourselves. Not the perfect self as I am old enough to appreciate that Mandela was not perfect but he was a true leader in the way he showed us how we can change, we can grow, we can learn to forgive, to have humour and we can learn to move…..

Encouragement; in courage; with courage; with heart

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
Marcel Proust

Hi there, greetings from Connemara on the first of the real stormy days of winter. It is beautiful to see the sea heaving with the huge waves it’s throwing up, to watch the grey clouds scuttling across the sky and last night to witness the mighty electrical storm as the thunder roared overhead and the bedroom was regularly lit up with flashes of lightening. After a summer and autumn of quiet, warmth and lots of sunshine the suddenness of the storm woke me to the fact that things change no matter how much I want them to stay the same. And also to a huge sense of gratitude for the beautiful summer we had, where being outside required little or no effort.

And somehow or other I found the word encouragement going round and round in my mind. Encouragement to gracefully allow the change to happen, encouragement to put on the rain gear and venture out in the wind and rain, encouragement to orient my mind from wishing I could hold on to the “summer” for longer and appreciate what the “winter” may hold.

As I mulled over the word I began to think of the importance of encouragement in our lives. I began to break down the word -encourage, in courage, with courage , with heart…..

I remembered many of the people who had offered words of encouragement to me over my lifetime to date, from the first encouragement to cycle my bike without the stablisers , to fall off and get back up again until I sensed my own steadiness and then the freedom of cycling on my own ; the hand on my back supporting me to go forward at times when I felt the effort to be too much; the encouraging silence of really being listened to; the encouragement to take the risk to train and teach the 5 rhythms; the lighthearted humor of some dear friends who helped me see the chronic madness of some of my very dysfunctional ego parts 🙂 🙂

And now having finally had my back operation (very successfully) to find the encouragement value in the notion of “rest” being as important in recovery as activity.

As someone who is continually active the idea of rest has always had a tricky edge. Yes I can collapse after a days of constant activity – then I “deserve” it, but the notion of resting being active rather than passive is taking quite a lot of internal and external encouragement on my part and of those tasked with the “tough” task of getting me to listen to my body before it starts screaming… awful admission for someone constantly asking people to listen to the voice of their body 🙁 🙁 ( thank the goddesses I have done a lot of work on my sense of shame at not being able to perfectly adapt to every situation!!!!!)

The voice of rest is vey quiet in my repertoire of internal voices so it needs a lot of courage to speak up in a steady voice without having to resort to screaming at me…..I have a sense that I am developing “new” eyes to view the importance of Rest, so that I can recover well. I have had fun experiences of being driven around (as I cannot drive or sit upright in a car for 6 weeks) watching the tree tops, the clouds in the differing skies, noticing the birds on the telephone wires and arriving at my destination from a completely different perspective…., noticing ceilings and the different comfort of surfaces supporting my back.

Two of the most influential beings who are teaching me the positive qualities of rest are my two kitties Milly and Joey. They seem to have their antennas out for any moves I make towards the sofa. When I am in place they each arrive from somewhere , hop up, look for a rub before settling themselves down either beside me or on top of me. As they settle themselves without any fuss to rest and sleep I sense my body relaxing to the sounds of their purrs. I know from my brain study that all 3 of us are communicating on a deep brain level under all thinking to an old brain shared by all mammals and humans. I actually derive warm encouragement that what they do best and with such grace – rest- is of great importance to me in my life right now.

Again my eyes are opened to a new way of accepting encouragement. I believe we grow and flourish though encouragement whether we are days old or nearing our life’s end and all in between. Encouragement can quieten negative voices inside, it can allow us to feel safe and supported as we take risks, it is the fertiliser of blossoming and becoming the best version of ourselves.

Today may you feel the encouragement of another and may you be the encouraging person in the life of another.