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Remembering Jimmy…

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 It has been 10 years. And yes, it is true, time flies, and yes, it is true, time can help and time can heal. But it doesn’t mean I don’t remember. I remember every day.

Ten years ago today my father Jimmy died suddenly while pushing a little boat out onto a lake, surrounded by people who loved him. My mother was at his side, handing out strawberries to a group of kids, fruit which only hours earlier was picked by them in their garden. It was a typical scene: lake, kids, boats, food, friendship.

Jimmy collapsed suddenly. My mum asked if he was ok, and he uttered, ‘Yes’. Friends, one a nurse, rushed to help. They tried to revive him but he was gone from us. Just like that. No fuss. This again was typical- the last thing he would have wanted was a fuss.

Ten years is a long time. And not. I remember so well. I remember at the time of his death how hundreds came, telling us how much he meant to them. I remember how, in particular, the children came- the kids of friends, and friends of friends, standing by his coffin, some holding his hand, some tucking little notes under his corpse, saying that he was like a grandfather to them, and they will not forget. I remember how we stood out on our lawn, a bright July evening, sharing stories, singing and playing music as his body lay in wake. I remember the guard of honour which the kids made with oars when his body was being taken from our home- they understood that this was someone to honour. I remember too the moment I saw his body, laid out, serene, still and cold. This was not my father. I ran out of the house, ran and ran, down to the lakeshore beyond the house, and sat there, just looking at the life around me. It was mid-summer. The lake was alive with life. A heron soared. Dragonflies hovered. Rushes and reeds swayed with the lightness of summer. The water was still and glistening, a silver shimmer appearing every now and then as the breeze released of its gentleness. It was far from cold. There was nothing but life here and in that very alive sense of life, I felt my father.

There was grace in that moment and I think that it was this feeling of aliveness, of abundance, and of the wild, unadorned pageantry of nature, in even its most subdued variations, which brought me to acceptance. Somehow I never struggled with a ravaged grief or an angry grief. Mine has been softer; instead a hushed tone of sadness wrapping the knowing that he will never know his grandchildren, or that he has not been there at my mother’s side. I have missed him, missed him so much, but I have celebrated too that he was released from his body painlessly, quickly, with only his life, and not his decline, to be remembered. For a man who gave so much this, in some respects, was life’s gift to him. He died at one of his favourite places on earth: Acres Lake in Letrim. A seat, erected by friends, now sits there, under some trees and simple reads ‘Jimmy’s Seat. 2004’. No fuss.

 So, he is gone, but I ask myself, does he live too?

 There is not a day goes by when I do not think about him. I search my brain for more memories, and only good ones come. That is all that is there- at least for me. My father was the closest thing to a gentle giant I have ever met. I have always felt lucky, beyond lucky, to have had him as a father- we had a special thing, me and him, a bond I cherish still. Is that a life, in the memory of him, lived now in how I act out the knowing of him?

 Or maybe the life now is in the lives that he saved, or helped or brought into the world? Jimmy was a fireman. He joined Dublin Fire Brigade in 1961, when he was 21, and did 34 years of active service. He saved countless lives and helped many others. He delivered a few babies along the way too.  Fire, he knew, could take lives in an instant: young ones, old ones, poor ones, rich ones. Life, for all, was that fragile. All it takes is a spark and the right conditions for the flames to flare. He knew this intimately.

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Every person has their dark side, their shadow, and I have no doubt that Jimmy had his too. But somehow, he turned quickly outwards, allowing the light in, so that it could come out again, transformed and more resplendent. His was the light born from the dark; the one that knows the grief, the one that has seen pain and witnessed deep tragedy; the one that appreciates the speed of it all.

In his spare time, Jimmy was, for want of a better word, a hobbyist. He had many hobbies, which over the years included boatbuilding, parachute jumping, canoeing, painting, bee-keeping, stained glass making, photography, sand-castle making, deep sea diving, motorbike racing, swimming, grape growing, wine-making, sailing, picture restoration, koi-keeping, bird watching and gilding. Water fights also featured heavily. And pulling funny faces. And bad jokes. Yes, lots and lots of bad jokes. Jimmy taught me how to cut stained glass and make Tiffany lamps, how to smoke bees from a hive, how to develop a photographic print in a bathroom, how to tie up boat ropes and thread different kinds of knots. He taught me how he mixed his paints, how to spot a zebra finch and a wagtail, how to start an outboard engine, how to gild gold leaf onto an old frame, and, importantly, how to instigate a water fight. He taught me many many things, not least, the most valuable lessons of all: how to be spontaneous; how to have fun and how to love. To him, yes, there was nothing but life.

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There were some missing parts to him too- the ends of four of his fingers, which he had had chopped off in two separate accidents. He had also, on one occasion, badly burnt his hands in a fire (when he had given his gloves to another firefighter). His hands were forever being cut and scrapped and were layered with various years of scaring, markings of age and giving things a go. Yet, despite his difficulty with his fingers he still he got on with making things with them, always adapting and finding a way to do what he needed to. His pens, for instance, had a wad of selotape wrapped around them so that he could grip them better. In typical fashion, he also found a way to make a joke out of it all, telling kids that he bit nails too much as a child, and, see look what happens!

I remember the moment I heard the news that my father had died. I was sitting in a park in Dublin, with the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel, who were playing at a concert nearby, carried on the wind. As the news came, immediately so did three things, or a knowing or clarity.

I am really lucky to do the work that I do.

I really want to have a family.

Love is the most important thing.

 Maybe this was his parting gift to me; an edict to live by and strive for. I have carried these with me ever since.

So, he is gone now but he lives too. He lives in the lamps he made and his paintings on the wall. He lives in DNA of my brothers and I, now and my niece and nephew- his grandchildren, pumping through us with the tales of a life well lived. Somewhere, in the memory of the world, he is there, having played his part, well and with little fuss.

Ten years on, we will gather by the lake where his ashes are scattered. We will gather – me, my mum, my brothers, my niece and nephew, to celebrate again, and mark a moment, a passing, and a life very well lived. I intend too to dive into that lake, between the rushes and the reeds, into the dark undergrowth, and swim in her deep depths for while. I will swim there for a while in the knowing that there will be an upwards breach, into the light, into the fullness of summer and the freshness of air.  For that is where life wants to take itself – back onto the lakeshore, to continue, if only to admire it all, for there is so much to admire. And, if I can come even a fraction close to ripple effects of his memory, then, yes, that too may be a life well lived.

Thank you Jimmy. I miss you. I love you. You were the best.

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Enough is Enough.

Today, the world changes and turns, as it does everyday. It is the natural revolution of things. But today something very uneasy revolves in me.

The news in Ireland has been taken up with talk of Garth Brooks cancelling his concerts here- making front page headlines. The Taoiseach (prime minister) was even going to intervene. Excuse me, but really? Really? Is this what governing a country is boiling down to? Is this the value we place on our headlines and what deserves our attention?

Meanwhile in Gaza today, the lives of innocent civilians are under threat from rocket attacks and militant extremism. The treat continues and escalates.

Meanwhile in Srebrenica another 175 bodies will be laid to rest, on this the 19th anniversary of the genocide. And still the pain continues.

Meanwhile in Syria and Afghanistan and The Congo and Darfur…

Meanwhile in the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, the threat continues and escalates.

Today, I feel angry and frustrated. These words are not enough. These thoughts are not enough. My good intentions are not enough. I am on the side of solution, but right now, that is not enough.

I am crying as I write these words. Because I feel so fucking frustrated and powerless right now. But tears are not enough and giving up is not enough. Pessimism is not enough. Ignorance is not enough. Turning aside is not enough. Blame is not enough. Taking sides is not enough.

And yet we need to find a way to say ‘Enough’. Not just one of us, but all of us. ‘Enough is enough’.

There has to be a way.

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Why I write…

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I recently came across a series of pieces from writers about why they write. It got me thinking out my own reasoning. I have been keeping a journal since the age of 11 and haven’t really stopped since. My journal comes with me everywhere. Sometimes  I write just small private pieces, something much larger public ones. But the reasons remain the same. This is why…

I write to come to a knowing. I write to connect to a source. I write as a practice. I write as a craft. I write to uncover and awaken. I write to connect to myself, to others, to the mystery.

I write to come closer to beauty. I write to reveal my truth and allow it to evolve. I write to capture moments. I write as a record. I write because I can. I write to unblock. I write to provoke. I write to find my voice and sing my song. I write because I believe in words and the power of our voices, our songs, our stories.

I write to make something last. I write to celebrate. I write because I don’t want to knit.

I write because it is a doorway, a path, a way, a movement. I write because my brain wants to dance. I write so words take on a new form, through me. I write for me. I write for others. I write to connect myself to others. I write because it brings a part of me to life. I write to find meaning and make meaning. I write because it brings me closer. I write because there are so many stories and I am still writing mine. I write because we depend on stories.

I write to find love and belonging. I write to build bridges. I write to marvel, pay homage, express awe.

I write to find the right questions. I write to find my way to new answers. I write because I love to fill pages. I write because words come. I write because I’ve been overwhelmed with lonliness and overrun with grief. I write to knock and be found. I write because it is magical and frustrating all at once. I write because the voice of the world is rising and it needs catchers. I write because it brings me back to myself.

I write to find the songlines and the storylines. I write to ride a magic carpet, bringing me closer to home.

I write when on one is looking. I write when no one else can. I write because it is a privilege. I write because sometimes all you can do is pick up a pen and make your way down a blank page.

I write because I do and I must and I will. I write for the love of it.

And you? Why do you write? Or dance? Or sing? Or paint? Or do what your heart tells you to do?...

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Life in Flux

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This year has been one rolling wave of change, challenge and chance. This is life in flux, ebbing and flowing as if it has been seeking a new pace and a new place. Flux, it appears, is the texture of my current time in the world. The wave is turning once again. Some days it feels so strong that it is like an entire new tide has arrived.

I have recently moved house but change and chance are packing my bags up again. There is choice in the mix too, my own. My choice to follow these new currents, not knowing where they will take me, but knowing I need to listen. Later this month I leave for Greece for 6 weeks, then with a short hop back to Ireland in between, I will move on to Devon in the UK where I will be taking up new residence in Hazelwood House, an 18th Century hunting lodge, now run as a guesthouse by my friends Anabel and Janie. 65 acres of beautiful land await, a river, an old chapel and so much potential it feels somewhat surreal. I’ll be there for an initial three months, and then we will see how life unfolds and whether Devon will be a resting spot for a while longer. If nothing else, there will be much learning- in fact, there already has been.

I met Anabel and Janie last March, via my good friend in Greece, Maria Scordialos. I had heard much about them, and Hazelwood, so when I got there, it had the air of the familiar and friendship was already a given. We then travelled to Bosnia together where not only did I get to see some of their work in action, but I also got to hear more about their own stories and how Hazelwood came into their ownership. The place has been a gathering spot for over 20 years, and much more than a just a guesthouse. There has been music, learning gatherings, concerts, food events, dance workshops, yoga, theatre and many, many, many conversations where people from all across the world have mingled, shared stories and celebrated life together.

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Initially, there was more than Anabel and Janie though. There was another, Gillian Kean, who by all accounts was a remarkable woman, and who tragically died last year in a car accident. Gillian’s legacy has extended far, not just to Hazelwood, but in her work in conflict and post-conflict zones, showing up around the world in friendship and solidarity to bridge divides, bring people together and do the work of peace. With Gillian’s death comes a big gap, and in a way that death can also bring a clearing, it has inspired a new conversation about what Hazelwood can and wants to be. I now seem to be a part of that conversation.

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I have taken many a leap in life, sometimes moving continents or sometimes just re-orinentating a mental model so I can recapitulate myself into a new way of seeing the world and myself. I have made mistakes along the way, of course, but I have never regretted any of the leaps for they are what has taught me and what continue to teach me. And honestly, I feel so lucky to have these opportunities.

But what of Ireland? I find it even hard to ask myself that question. This place, this land and these people- my friends, my family, my community, my pulse. I know my connection is strong here, but I also know it will travel with me. It feels too deep in me not too. All I can say is that leaving here both breaks my heart and opens it up again. There is something so special about this little island, a bit of magic which grows all the more fonder at the thought of leaving shore. But that is where the listening has been taking me, and so the body follows.

And what of The Trailblazery?

Well, The Trailblazery still indeed has a pulse. We have turned it to some fallow ground for a little while for some r&r, while listing to its beat, and will respond when we feel the pulse is right again. Kathy remains involved, and Ciara too. Over the summer months we are releasing more videos and some new ideas are brewing, so stayed tuned.

And Be Retreats? It too is alive and well. Mari, Jenny and I are planning a retreat in Ireland early next year (watch this space), and some pop-up events also in the mix. You can keep track of happenings here.

And yoga? Well, fortunately that goes where my body takes it too. I’ll be hosting a yoga immersion in Greece from 3-9 August at Axladitsa, and there are still spaces remaining. There are lots of other summer happenings at Axladitsa too, including an Art of Participatory Leadership training at the end of August. Find out more here.

Also over these months I will still be taking on freelance work- both writing assignments and documentary and photographic work. So, please do keep me in mind. You can keep track of my photographic work via my photo website.

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I was down in West Kerry last weekend, in indeed the magical kingdom. My tent was pitched with a view of Ventry Beach sweeping a very fine brow below me, and above me, knitting the sky with delight, the calligraphic markings of swallows and swifts as they were busy making the seasonal warmer air their home again. Observing their flight I was thinking of the distances they traverse, some having flown from as far away as South Africa, with a song on their wing and a mind for good places. Each year, when the swallows return, a little part of my heart sings too, knowing the cycle of the year has spun, the days are longer and the pace of things- these comings and goings of the migratory patterns- have not lost their way either. There is a swallow in us all, I think, and a swift too.

So, l too take to the sky again, marking out new migratory patterns, knowing there will be coming and goings, change and challenge. It feels part of the way of things, connecting me to the very nature of flux and life itself. And am I a bit scared? Hell yes. And do I get the wobbles? Frequently. And do I doubt myself? Yes. And do I know where this will all lead? Hell no, but do we ever?

I had thought my bags would remain unpacked for a while. But no, out comes the rucksack again. Yoga mat, camera, open mind and heart will again be in tow. Plus a handful of hope, and a whole lot of friendship that has come packed up in the support I’ve had from my community and family here.

So, Greece, is open. You are more than welcome.

And Devon too. Please come and visit!

Onwards and Outwards. Until soon. X

 

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Awakening the Wild & Wonderful Within- Greek Style

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The summer countdown is on now before I head off to Greece for some weeks during the summer.

Axladitsa Avatakia, home of my friend Maria Scordialos and The Living Wholeness Institute is opening its doors again for  a summer dedicated to ‘Life Like Art’. As part of the programme of events I will be hosting a yoga immersion from 3-9th August called ‘Awakening the Wild and Wonderful within’.

Axladitsa is a wild and wonderful place, and we will be have a chance in our yoga practice to dive deep too- opening up to the wild within us, and the wild outside us. But it is not just yoga we can expect, but a host of experience and entering life with perhaps a new perspective or way of being. The words below are from Bénédicte Rousseau, and Maria Scordailos who are co-hosting the summer of living art:

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What is Axladistsa:

A Place of Partnership: At Axladitsa, one is invited to authentically partner with the land, the people, the animals and oneself – with the intention of joyfully embracing life and welcoming whatever wants to happen. It is not a place of consumerism.

- A Place with a Learning Ecology: At Axladitsa, we build a strong collective learning ecology to allow the individual to be contained by and transformed with the collective – we believe this is how learning and systemic transformation happen whatever the system might be (oneself, family, group, etc.). Our learning ecology embodies practices and knowledge such as the Living Wholeness Institute Route Map, Participatory Leadership and the Art of Partnership and Protection

- A Place of Emergence: At Axladitsa, we aim at living life with emergence. It is not about living life in chaos (or in control) – it is about being grounded yet developing the capacity to dance with what life shows us in the moment … It is a life of stability and change, it is a life of knowing oneself and allowing transformation to happen. It is a life striving for wholeness !

- A Place of joy and Parea (i.e. Greek word for good company): More than anything, at Axladitsa, we enjoy fun and laughter, good conversations, music and dance. It is a place for the soul to smile, in simplicity and openess to the world. I like to think that the gates are always open, because I see no point in closing them! I also believe that  is a place where one can cry and resource when needed.

- A Place of Diversity … in background, nationalities, experiences, practices, beliefs, knowledge, art forms, age and generations …

Alongside the yoga immersion is a range of other programmes. You can find out more on The Living Wholeness Website: http://www.the-lwi.org/summer-2014

Interested in joining us? Bénédicte Rousseau, rousseaubenedicte@hotmail.com for more information.

Fees are on a sliding scale. For the yoga immersion they range from 300Euro- 450Euro. Accommodation is in local guest houses and hotels. Limited camping accommodation is available on the land.

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Exchange

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For the last few months I have had a start- up desk in The Fumbally Exchange,(www.fumballyexchange.com) a co-working space in the heart of Dublin city. Located in an old Eircom building, there are now over 60 entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and small businesses each sharing the space. Some are here full time, some on desk share arrangements and some on an occasional basis. It makes for a buzzy and vibrant community of doers.

The Fumbally Exchange on Dame lane is one of a network of co-working spaces around the country, and one of several new spaces popping up not only in Dublin, but in cities around the world ( I say cities in that the move to rural co-working spaces is a trend yet to be set)

The model of how these spaces work differ depending on need, location and people, but at a meta level have a sense of shared space at the core. Several (including The Fumbally Exchange) take it further by introducing the ideas of reciprocity, exchange and collaboration as foundational principles. For the Fumbally Exchange, it is the ‘exchange’ piece that stands out, and is modelled, in part, around the question, ‘How can a sense of shared space facilitate the development of a creative and innovative community of professionals?’

From my experience, The Fumbally have been doing very well on that front. What I have found here are a group of passionate people, who have each made bold and brave decisions to engage in life, and business differently. The shared space makes a lot of sense. At a practical level, we each don’t all need an individual photocopier or scanner and pooling the resources means less environmental impact. An old building has been repurposed which in turn has brought more vibrancy to the area and I suspect more footfall to the surrounding shops and businesses. But the real  impact moves beyond the infrastructure into the in-between spaces- into the conversations, connections, relationships, shared ideas, and the creation of  a culture of innovation, however nebulous or hard to define that may seem at times.

As any solo entrepreneur or freelancer will tell you, it can be lonely and challenging at times working for oneself. You can feel on an edge, at the margins, and alone it can be easy to doubt yourself and your ideas. However, the edge and the margins are very fertile places. From the edge, boundaries can be pushed. In permaculture, for instance, what happens at the edge is cultivated to inform the health of the centre. The edge can be a testing ground for new species, new growth and new ideas. So, for thriving societies, we need to allow the margins to experience, investigate, try new things out and do their thing. And this is where spaces such as The Fumbally Exchange can make a big difference for, in a sense, it is like creating an intersection where edges and margins can meet. From where I sit, for instance, I see a documentary maker and an architect having a conversation. I sit beside a fellow writer and a game designer. Upstairs the School for Social Entrepreneurs is forming and upstairs too are photographers, a clown, a graphic designer, more architects and a host of talents in their own guises. The ground is ripe for the cross pollination of ideas and insights.

However creating the space is one thing, but understanding how best to utilise the talents, and then create and innovate from there is another.  I think on the whole, as societies, we have a long way to go on that front.

Collaboration takes cultivation and a deep appreciation of process is required. Do we really understand how to create value, whether through art or business, in a way which best use the talents and resources at our disposal. My sense is no, but my sense too is that models of exchange, co-operation and reciprocity which we can learn from are not too far away. The best examples, I think, are in nature, in the ways a season changes, in how one thing dies and a whole other cycle begins. It is in how leaves fall, offering their death to the fertility of the soil, which in turn sparks new growth. I was struck again by a short (and brilliant) piece which of footage by George Monbiot, called ‘How Wolves Change Rivers’,  introduced into the Yellowstone National Park in the US in 1995.



This resulted in the regeneration not only of the balance of wild animals in the landscape, but also the shape, contours and flow of the landscape itself. This may be been a side step in thinking, but I do think it relates to how we approach the design and use of our systems as a whole and not just our physical space. And it makes me ask, just like in the introduction wolves into the wild, what may need to be re-introduced into our own systems? Is there a wild force? Or has there been a repressed force? And how can things come back into balance. Our systems are so out of synch.

In my own experience, collaboration, true collaboration, is extremely challenging, but I think for change to happen we need to learn as a species to do it better, and faster. And when I say collaboration, I don’t just mean with our fellow human beings, but with our animal and plant based beings too, and with the land and air which supports us, and with the wolves in ourselves as well as the rivers.

So, in thinking of space, I am interested in asking questions which can help us to get there. What are the kinds of spaces which we can design which facilitate this natural flourishing of growth and value? What are the processes and methods which can enhance natural exchange? How can our working environments be more like these natural eco-systems, where there is flow and balance between the elements and actors within that system? What is the necessary wild forces within the system?  Can a new economy be based on different elements of exchange and reciprocity which are evident in nature?  And what is the learning and skills required to build these systems.

I don’t have the answers, but I am finding the questions are leading me to new avenues of exploration and inquiry, and ideas.  One thing I know for sure is that the central model of business and exchange in society is unsustainable.  A radical shift is needed. This shift, I know, is happening. But can this be speeded up and augmented? I think so.

Having co-working spaces to do this is a great help. Shared spaces, where there margins can meet can feed fresh ideas and thinking are vital, and when we engage in that space with the intention of creating new value within the overall system, well this is where I think things can really take off. And when we develop our  processes and practices in ways which can enhance the learning from the margins, then we are really onto something. The Fumbally Exchange is a node in this. As too The Impact Hub networks. As too community gardens, communities spaces and incubators. The Art of Hosting provides some useful process tools, as too methods from The Deep Democracy, and our ancestors knew more than a thing or two in terms of how they engaged with the cycles of the seasons and moved with the currents of the land.

My own enquires into these questions are taking me deeper into looking at the process and educational end of things. Come July I will be back in Greece for a while, calling together, along with some friends, a group of practitioners who are thinking about, and practicing education in new ways. We will be harvesting our learning and I look forward to sharing some of the outputs. One thing I am very sure about is that there is much learning to be done and this feels like just the beginning.

(A huge thanks and much respect to my fellow fumballers, especially George Boyle and Ciaran Ferrie who have been instrumental in setting up the exchange, and to all the people who have crossed my path and supported me here.. onwards!)

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WILD

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Wild. It is a word which is close to me and one which I love. It reminds me of the wild within and the wild without. It reminds me of the untamed and the uninhabited, the unfettered and the free. It is wrapped in natural rhythm. It chimes with natural grace.

I have been living right bang in Dublin’s city centre for the last few months and while the centrality has been great for some things, more and more, as the trees unfurl from the spring and the blossoms blossom even more, I have a craving for green and birdsong, opening skies and the noise-filled quiet of the countryside.  So while I seek the wild out in the city, taking an evening stroll to the parks and watching how the trees outside my window have revealed their leaves, right now is not enough. The wilder is calling.

I am moving again, soon, still in the city, but this time with a garden and trees where the birds can come, sit and make their music, and I am also plotting how I can make a move to the countryside and the coast longer term, while doing the work I am drawn to do. ‘What do you plan to do with your own wild and precious life’, these wonderful words from Mary Oliver have inspired me for years now. The older I get the more relevant they seem to become.

As summer looms, I am excited too about returning to Axladitsa in Greece- a place of true re-wilding. There, I feel my spirit has space to roam and wander and where I learn from the other forms of life which inhabit the space- the owls and the foxes, the plants and the trees. Axladitsa is opening it’s gates for the whole summer with a series  of programmes, including ‘A Time of Living Artistries’, a weaving workshop, the yoga immersion which I will be hosting, and an Art of Participatory Leadership training. You are also welcome to just spend some time at Axladitsa, with ‘being here’ visits and allow the wild to seep in. (More information on all the programmes of The Living Wholeness Institute on their website)

In thinking about wildness this morning, both internally and externally, I was reminded of John O’Donohue’s Axioms for Wildness. His words, as they do so often, help to awaken a deep knowing and bring me back in touch with what is important, no matter where I am or who I am with. So this evening, as I sleep under the city lights and as the moon turns full, I will be listening too for the call of the wild: for the call from within and the call from without, asking myself how I can best re-wild myself, right here, right now with this one wild and precious life…

Axioms of Wildness

Alive to the thrill
Of the wild.

Meet the dawn
On a mountain.

Wash your face
In the morning dew.

Feel the favor of the earth.

Go out naked in the wind,
Your skin
Almost Aeolian.

With the music inside,
Dance like there is no outside.

Become subtle enough
To hear a tree breathe.

Sleep by the ocean,
Letting yourself unfurl
Like the reeds that swirl
Gradually on the sea floor.

Try to watch a painting from within:
How it holds what it never shows.

The mystery of your face,
Showing what you never see.

See your imagination dawn
Around the rim of the world.

Feel the seamless silk of the ocean
Womb you in ancient buoyancy.

Feel the wild imprint of surprise
When you are taken in by your lover’s eyes.

Succumb to warmth in the heart
Where divine fire glows.

~John O’Donohue~
Benedictus, A Book of Blessings

 

 

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Awakening the Wild & Wonderful Within: Greece Aug 3-9th

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Greece is calling again, and Axladitsa in particular.

Axladitsa is a wild and wonderful place. On 24 acres of olive grove, overlooking the magnificent Aegean sea at the base of the Pelion peninsula, it feels like a second home to me at this stage.

It is the home of my friend Maria Scordialos, who once again is opening up the gates of Axladitsa for the summer months, for what is being called, ‘A Living Artistries Summer’ and is a programme of The Living Wholeness Institute. It is a time for creativity, exploring deep questions and reconnecting with the art of living well.

In the last year and a half this will be my fourth visit to Axladitsa (and my fifth to Greece). What keeps drawing me there? Well, is the conversations around the outdoor kitchen table. It is being in nature- hearing the call of the owls and the cry of the foxes. It is the sea- deep blue, warm as hug, enlivening. It is the unexpected- you never know what will happen or who you will meet. It is Freddie, the resident dog, who is simply beautiful. It is the simplicity. It is the laughter. It is the open and warm welcome. It is the chance to re-wild myself, sink into the natural rhythms of the day and the seasons and tune in to myself. Combined, it feeds my soul.

This summer I am returning with my yoga mat and offering another retreat. I’m excited about this one. I see it as a chance to really immerse in the practice of yoga, whatever level people are at, and use to experience to dive into the wonders within us as well as the wonders we will be surrounded by. I would love if you could join us. Please get in touch. More information below.

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Yoga Immersion in Greece: Accessing the Wild & Wonderful Within.

August 3-9th, 2014

Surrounded in the wild and beautiful land of Axladitsa, these five days will be a deep dive into your yoga practice. Whether a beginner or more advanced, we will immerse ourselves in our beings and our bodies, using yoga and nature as our guide. Through morning and evening sessions, we will tap into the energies and lessons from the land, to help access our inner knowing, strength and intuition and to connect to the wild and wonderful within.

With rolling hills, olive groves and the amazing Aegean Sea as our backdrop, each day will be themed around the following:

Day One: The Ground of Being

Day Two: The Centre of Knowing

Day Three: The Heart of the Matter

Day Four: The Wild Within

Day Five: The Realm of Possibility

Daily Schedule:

The day will open with a guided practice, followed by brunch and a form of ‘check-in’ to tune into your day’s calling. We will also work intentionally with what emerges and design some of the content of the days as we go, listening to the needs and desires of those who show up and offering our skills, experience, advice and friendship along the way. Living wholeness opens of space for writing, creative, fun, dance, cooking, rest and play.

As the sun starts to set, we will have an early evening practice, followed by dinner.

This ancient land offers space to surround yourself in the vibrancy of a wild natural landscape. The hoot of the owls, the swirl of swallows, the many beings and forms of life. You’ll meet Freddie, the resident dog and one of the wisest creatures you’ll ever meet, or some of Axladista’s cats. And you’ll have a chance to wander the local beach, Kastri (a 20 minute walk away) or hang out in a hammock. There are some lovely walking routes in the area too.

Dates:

Arrive Sunday 3rd August. Depart Saturday 9th.

Cost includes:

Food, yoga practices and contribution to the land.

Sliding scale: €300-450

“My yoga and writing retreat in Axladitsa last year was very powerful. It was not what I expected, but I guess thats part of it- excepting the unknown while connecting to our bodies and minds. The yoga sessions were great- Clare is an attentive and experienced teacher, giving personal attention to both new and practicing yogis. Nothing better than breathing in that sea air while furthering your yoga practice!”- Maya, 2013 participant.

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Journey to Bosnia: May 22-27.

We are moving into Bealtaine, the new Celtic season, where the days are still lengthening and the time is ripe to bring project and ideas into their fullness. I love this time of year- there is anticipation, blossom bursting and a seasonal warmth and lightness coming into the air. I have a number of projects I’m working on at the moment, and a few which are ready to be released wider into the world. So, with this in mind, and with the spirit and zest of Bealtaine behind them, I wanted to share one in particular with you.

Over the last few years, through stories from my friend Maria Scordialos in Greece and Vanessa Reid in Canada, I heard tales of a wonderful group of women who, by building networks of support and friendship, are heralding new forms of peace, diplomacy and solidarity. One of those women in particular, Gillian Kean, spent her days travelling across the globe into areas of conflict and post-conflict, and in gentle and often subtle ways, reached out to create new bonds of trust and connections. Gillian died tragically in a car accident last August when she was travelling back to the UK from the Syrian boarder. I never met Gillian but I have met her legacy.

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In an interview with Gillian there are three pieces of advice that she offered, which I think give wonderful opportunities for possibility:

-       Follow the cues and clues

-       Don’t take it personally

-       Keep your heart open.

Over the last few months the offering ‘follow the cues and clues’ keeps following me too. In turn, I have tried to follow my own cues and clues. Haunches and openings brought me back to Greece last October and then earlier this year, to Hazelwood, the centre which Gillian and her friends, Anabel and Janie run in Devon. It is a stunning and special place. Over the course of a few days, Anabel and Janie told me about a journey to Bosnia which Gillian and themselves, in collaboration with Ema Miocinovic from Croatia and Emsuda Mujagic from Bosnia, have been undertaking for the last 20 years. Together they have been travelling to besieged cities, refugee camps and more recently, to communities who are still living with the memory and trauma of what happened there. The concept is simple really: to show up, to witness, to encourage, to offer friendship, to learn and in doing so, to build understanding and connection. The initiative is called, ‘Through Hearts to Peace’

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This year, its 21st, the women are calling the gathering again and are specifically reaching out to new people to join the initiative.

From 22 to 27 May 2014, a group of artists and social innovators (so far coming from Greece, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Serbia, Israel and the UK) are going to participate, including attending a two-day remembrance gathering with the local community in a town called Kosarac. For many joining, it is also a way of honour the memory of Gillian and keeping her action and legacy alive.

When I tune into the journey and follow my own cues and clues, something in me tells me I should go. I feel there is something special in how the connections and gathering has come about and I think Gillian was ‘onto something’- the places she connected, and the people she worked with I think have something very special to offer the world. I’d like to travel there this year, with my camera, open heart and open mind to help capture some of the narrative and share the story and experience with others. I’d also love if others could join.

If you are reading this, and would like to come on the journey, please get in touch. We are very open to more people joining in, and I can send along more information.

Plus in order for the journey to happen we need some financial support to help cover flights and accommodation. We have set up a crowd-funding campaign and created a short video to explain more. There are some campaign ‘rewards’ which we will share following the journey.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/through-heart-to-peace-a-love-in-action-journey

 

If you are interested in coming, you are welcome for the whole journey or for the conference/ gathering on 24/25 May.

Thank you all so much – any support you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Let’s see where the clues and cues can take us…

Clare. x

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Obenaus: Marmalade side up

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Obenaus. When I read the word initially I thought it meant ‘Open House’. I didn’t question my own (incorrect) definition as it seemed to fit so well. Taking the train through rolling Austrian hills, woodland on one side and woodland on the other, the countryside was already an indicator of a different way of being. Then, collected at the local station by one of my hosts for the week, Rainer, the drive to their new home, immediately spoke ‘open’ to me.

It was only a few days later I thought to question my particular Obenaus definition. Lena, my other host, laughed. ‘No’ she said, with a chuckle in her tone, ‘you know when a piece of bread with marmalade falls, it generally lands with the marmalade side down, well, Obenaus is when it falls with the marmalade side up, the positive side, the optimistic one’. I laughed too. This definition was much more quirky while containing all the open spin of my original take on the word. Interestingly, Obenaus was also the original name of the farm, which given the ideas for the land now, seems to fit so well.

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I first met Lena, Rainer and Lena’s son Nils, in Greece last year while at Axladista, a similar learning space which my friend Maria now runs. Lena and Rainer had recently moved from Brussels, where they were working in the European Commission, to rural Austria, where they decided to set up a new form of home and try out a different way of being. Through a series of investigations and haunches they were drawn to the region close to the Slovenian boarder, a region some call the ‘Tuscany of Austria’ for its fine vintage of vineyards and rich pastoral land. For many Austrians the region apparently represented the ‘end of the road’; the edge of Europe and to some, the edge of the world. For Rainer and Lena, it was this sense of the edge and the marginal that in part, attracted them there.

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Both tired of bureaucratic life in the EU and the noise-filled urban way of being, Lena and Rainer sensed it was time for radical change. Lena had been ill with cancer, an illness she herself equates to her busy urban life. But she now sees the cancer as a gift- it was the illness, she says, which helped her to see another way.

For them, this other way of being has many aspects to it, from the personal to the communal. Life now is no less full than their life in Brussels but in many ways it is filled with taking more time for the daily details- growing vegetables, preparing the wood for the fire, cooking and tending to the animals. At the core of what they envision however is a life in community- learning, doing and being together in more sustainable ways.

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Obenaus was an old farm that had been lying dormant for ten years or so- the last owners had had an accident and were no longer able to tend the buildings. When Lena and Rainer bought the land it came with a series of farm buildings, part of a woodland, some fruit trees and a small heard of sheep. Never been sheep owners or woodland keepers they however jumped right in. Two years on they are not looking back and plans and ideas for the land are growing too. The cattle shed could become a co-working space; the barn, new living quarters, and the woodland the site of some tree houses.  Lena and Rainer hope to bring back farming onto the land but also in a new way. There will be some animals and some vegetable growing- Lena was busy planting tomatoes and tending to the strawberry plants when I arrived, but the main farming, they say, will be the human variety! They are cultivating new ways of living in community and see themselves of stewards of the land rather than traditional owners. They are hoping to grow a place where people can be, create, learn and work on innovative projects. It is a learning farm, of sorts, testing out how sustainability, community and internationalism interact. I say internationalism as they don’t see themselves as being cut off from the rest of the world but rather, through the virtues of the internet, they are hoping that Obenaus can become a hub- connecting ideas, people and places around the world and sharing knowledge and insights.

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While it may all seem rather idyllic, any farmer will tell you how much hard work it also it. Animals demand attention and the garden too. Moving a teenage family from city life to rural life no doubt is demanding too. Lena & Rainer now live on the land with Nils and Sam, Lena’s two sons, and space for Rainer’s children, Helena and Jean-Sophie when they visit. But they hope more people will come- for some days, weeks, months, or years. Already they have had families stay for a few months and have hosted many visitors from across Europe. A number of workshops have already taken place and come July this year they will be running a two week summer camp for teens, including the construction of what promises to be a very funky treehouse. There is also the promise of many a campfire, and invites are out to some of the local musicians in the area to come and make some noise.  In August they are hosting an ‘open’ month, this time for all ages, where there will be more workshops on offer. Alongside all that the infrastructure developments are progressing as they work with an architect to help repurpose the old farm buildings into some of the new living quarters and working spaces.

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For me, Obenaus represents a new breed of space and way of living. Similar to Axladista in Greece, and Hazelwood in Devon, it is a place for people to come to flourish. It is a place where people are genuinely welcome to engage, learn, participate and be. It, like the other places, is an experiment in rural living and dare I say, loving. I know I loved being there. Having Nils, Sam and Helena around only augmented the experience with many hugs, laughter, pancake making and, naturally, the odd teenage and familial tiff, but that is what makes it real. I had been invited along to with my camera to help capture some of the beauty of the place. It is a place I know I want to return to, to be a part of the growing too. So, I left refreshed, feeling connected and feeling that deeper friendships have been forged. Now, if only they would get a dog (isn’t that right Nils!)… And next time I drop some toast, I will also think of them, hoping it lands Obenaus, marmalade side up.

More information on their summer youth camp here. 

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