Elemental, Elementally

Elemental sm-4The Fumbally Exchange in Dublin is a hot spot of creativity and wonderful community (I had a desk in there for a few months last year and have enjoyed continuing my connection with the place). Pooling talents and curiousities, the exchange have an exhibition of work called Elemental, running until Friday 30th, and I delighted to have three paintings/ drawings as part of the show- a series of birds in pen and acrylic.

The exhibition delights me. It is not just because of the art however- of which there are some amazing pieces from the Fumbally community, but by knowing the story behind the artists: here is a group of people working predominantly outside of their specialization. There are project managers with paintings, an architect with poems, a technician with such beautiful photographs. There is some video work, projection mapping and some amazing ceramics- all from people who do not work in that medium for their main professional pursuit.

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We are many-sided beings. So often what we broadcast to the world is literally the tip of the iceberg, but underneath is a multi-faceted, subterrain system of passions, interests, talents and beliefs. Looking around the exhibition yesterday I saw more than art work. I saw people’s courage and bravery to push themselves. I saw people’s sensitivity and their under the iceberg selves. And through the work, I had a glimpse of the beauty in which they see the world, or the complexity. And that was the bit I found delightful.

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For me, with this exhibition, it was important to push myself and step outside of my comfort zone, which in this case was sharing some of my paintings. Up until the day before they were due to be submitted, I was not sure it was going to happen. I was in ultra critic mode, the voice in my head was loud; ‘Who do you think you are?’, ‘These are shite’, ‘You are shite’…blah blah blah. It is easy to listen to that voice. It can be strong and debilitating. It can keep you stuck and silent. But somehow I managed to have a conversation with the critic, ‘I am choosing to do this. I am choosing to put these out, irrespective of what you think. I need to keep going’.

I am grateful now that the critic was silenced enough for me to get some drafts out, test some styles, review, and get myself back to the page to refine and create the final drawings. I committed myself to being in my room that final day, keeping going until I got to the point where I felt I had something to offer. Do I think they are perfect? No. But am I glad they are out there? Absolutely- this is the first since secondary school that I have had some artwork (other than photos) on display. What happens next is a bonus.

I suspect some of the other people who have work on show had a similar experience. In fact, I know they did, because a few spoke to me of it. But by us all quietening the critic, and listening instead to the bigger calling to create, Elemental emerged, and this I think is a beautiful thing, of which I am very grateful to be a part of.

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If you are in Dublin, do pop along to The Fumbally Exchange, 5 Dame Lane. Open until Friday 30th. Many of the works are also for sale (including my own).

I will be manning the desk on Friday  30th from 2.30-5.30pm, just before the exhibition closes. Come and say hello.

(Huge thanks to the exhibition curators Ciara Maguire and Kate Horgan for their efforts in putting together the event, alongside the many other volunteers who helped to bring it all together, including Graham Thew for his fantastic poster designs)

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For Better Bearing.

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The last few weeks have been tinted with sorrow for me- the sudden death of a friend, the loss of work, the loss of love, the ending of collaborations, and big gaps of unknowns which have led me to deeply question. The ground has felt shaky and unclear. My night dreams have been filled with terror and murder, loss and darkness. It is winter still, and winter has been upon me.

But between it all, something stills. I find comfort in the simple things: the wag of a tail, the warmth of a cup of coffee, the exchange of comforting words, and the commitment to show up. What I mean by that is several fold: mainly showing up to my yoga practice by getting on the mat every day. Some days, when it has been darkest, that simply has meant sitting on my mat; other days it has manifested as a short quiet practice, while other days it has meant getting to a class and showing up to the commitment I have made to my students. The showing up has power in it.

My friends have been there too, which I have tried to show up to but it can be hard to be with people when you don’t feel your best. This is one of my learnings; to be able to be, in whatever form I’m in. I haven’t sat with many friends this month. Clearly there is more to learn.

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There is a line from a Thomas Kinsella poem that has been following me. I have turned to it before, in the knowledge that there is a truth in it. It speaks of pruning and the necessary brutal act of pairing something right back to allow for new growth. ‘Hacked clean for better bearing’, says Kinsella. The hacking is harsh but if it takes hacking, then perhaps that is the necessary force. Once pruned, the new growth is catalyzed and it can take until Spring for the buds to appear again.

This is the cycle of things. This is nature’s essence.

‘Let go, to let come’, a friend of mine inscribed on a book for me as a Christmas gift. He has an aptitude for knowing these things. We let go, in order to be open to receiving again.

I feel the new year is in the wrong place in our calendars. When the western world says, ‘Rise and shine, drink all things green, be sugar free and intimate with fresh’, really what nature is doing is tucking herself up for another month, or two, and lying low until the ground warms again and the buds have a chance appear, fresh and intimately green. Then it is time for smoothies.

We force ourselves to live out time bound, unnatural cycles. What happens if we just wait? If we allow the hacking to do the work it is meant to and allow time to ripen our dreams and energies. I resist this, but deep down I know.

In darkness, light is born.

Rumi knows this too. His wisdom is timeless and unbound:

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”

The sorrow shakes, but as it does I am reminded too of my celtic roots. ‘Tá bron orm’, is the Irish for, ‘I’m sad’, and ‘Tá uaigneas orm’, I am lonely, and similarly, ‘Ta athas orm’, I am happy. However what they directly translate as is this: the sadness is upon me, the happiness too. The feelings come as visitors, to rest for a while, to be upon us. I like to think that they come to teach us things. My ancestors clearly knew a thing or too.

So, yes, sorrow has been visiting with loss by her side. But there is room at my table for it all, the joy and happiness too. This, after all, is the banquet of life. And, as the poet Derek Walcott has beautifully suggested, we should sit and feast on it, taking down our love letters and desperate notes as we do.

So as the year spins again, I am becoming increasingly aware of the cycle of things- the pruning, the growth, the pattern of comings and goings. The older I get, the more I trust that the darkness will fall into light. In that knowing, and that trusting, the darkness becomes easier. The visitors are acknowledged rather than shunned, welcomed almost, for their pruning qualities and their ability to prepare the ground.

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I did choose a word this year, as I do each year, a word to help me steer the way, like a rudder or a plumbline. My word is ‘create’. Already ‘create’ is showing up in unusual and unexpected ways. It is bringing me back to my art practice and to writing, but most surprisingly, it is creating space, creating gaps and creating room.

I look out my living room window to the back garden. The hawthorn tree has no berries now. The ground looks bear and is clearly resting. I think of the little birds, the robins and the bluetits, desperately foraging. So I leave out some seeds for them in a little feeder. Within minutes there are more birds, feasting on their unexpected find. I smile. In my nourishment of them, they in turn nourish me- their little chirps and whistles warming a place in my heart. We can make this winter easier on each other by showing up to our needs and our longings. For this, all it takes is a few seeds and some space. And as we show up to whatever is and to our practices, somehow we also show up to the eternal knowledge that the visitors will come and go. The berries will appear on the trees again and soon the birds won’t need to be fed. But for the moment, let’s do what nourishes, let’s create some space, let’s sit, and feast. New year resolutions can come in the Spring, but for now, I’m laying a little low for a while longer, brewing and hatching new work, new plans, creating in my own way and allowing the hacking to do fulfill its duty: for better bearing. In this I trust, as I refill the seeds and watch the beautiful birds, a little tail waging at my side while the steam of a coffee cup makes its way across my face, encouragingly. It is the simple things after all which offer us the route to better bearing and already I am looking over my shoulder as a visitor seems to be leaving. The door is ajar, for the comings as well as the goings.

 

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A Year of Embrace: 2014 Review

 

1604954_10152148524287456_389019225_nAs the earth has spun its annual pirouette, the days have brought topsy and turvy, and indeed, interesting times. This year, more than previous ones, I feel I have lived a few years in one, for there has been much change and movement, learning, loss, pain and the tipping balance to gain again. Between it all, I write a statement of gratitude in my heart for all that has come my way, and all that I thought would come but didn’t. There are lessons in it all.

Towards the end of each year, I like to do a review of the months past to help me prospect into the year ahead. My word for last year was ‘Embrace’, and looking back now there was indeed lots of embracing of new opportunities which came my way, while simultaneously learning to let go of expectations or outcomes. Here are some of the highlights….

2014 started, deep in storm, on the wilds of West Achill. I had just returned from a few months in Greece. The New Year brought a sense of unknowing- were would I live, and where to next? As the clock rung midnight, we rang in the year with a marching band and a parade under the night sky. In times of unknowing, the rituals of marking time, together, brings a sense of ease. The answers started to unravel themselves as the weather passed. Sometimes there needs to be a wild storm for a clearing…

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January followed, with me moving from sofa to sofa in search of a landing spot. This came later that month, right in the heart of Dublin. January also presented a cello to me, and cello lessons, and the opportunity to join a community orchestra. Thus opened a whole new experience of learning to read music from scratch and just a few months later, bringing me to my first concert performance. The close of January brought me back to Greece for some Art of Participatory Leadership training. It was an opportunity to learn new skills and connect with a wider community of people who are interested in these new methods and skills for social change facilitation.

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February provided a working space in the wonderful Fumbally Exchange, connecting me to another new community of people and some inspiring entrepreneurs. I loved the connections, and while I don’t have the desk at the moment, I also love the continued networks and friendships which it helped to foster (I wrote about the Fumbally here).

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In March, ‘We Need to Talk about Ireland’ was beamed across the globe, in a whirlwind of intense Trailblaze activity. The videos are still out in the world. You can view the full event here. And Myles O’Reilly from Arbutus Years also created his own film from the night which is here.

March also saw visits to the School of Life in London and to Hazelwood House in Devon, which was to spark another train of activity…

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April brought another Be Retreat, which I hosted under sunny spring skies alongside my friend Jenny. There were also a few photo and interview trips to Northern Ireland, a weekend in the beautiful west of Ireland,  and a week of photographing a friend’s community farm in Austria.

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10300958_10152376392427456_2213797190728155930_nIn May, I made my way to Bosnia, for an intense and powerful journey which I am still processing and experiencing inwardly. It gave me a whole other level of appreciation of life in the full spectrum of dark to light. There are many stories from that time which I still have to unpack- they seem to be a waiting in me for the right time to do so. But the stories and the memories are there, and I take pause to remember them and give honour to the amazing people who shared them with me. You can view more photos from my journey here.

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In June, there was my first cello concert, and a weekend at the colourful and beautiful Body and Soul festival and a wonderful camping trip to visit friends in West Kerry- picnics and oceans swims in full flare.

10264702_10152382508952456_572664506954741019_n10401370_10152502713467456_5498036581390388848_n10411790_10152502727312456_5701304788376967602_n In July I packed my bags again to move house, with the intention of moving to the UK, but the winds of change blew strong, and a little health scare brought me instead into hospital for some tests. There followed some months of uncertainty, further tests, change, and a realization that Ireland really is home. (Just last week I got the final all clear- so all is good and I have a renewed appreciation for health and home).

In July my family and I also commemorated my father’s ten year anniversary, remembering his special, loving and wonderful ways. I wrote about him here, and many of you commented on how much you enjoyed reading about him. As ever, thank you Jimmy!

I then headed to Greece to host a yoga retreat and a learning gathering at Axladista, a learning space, olive farm and home of my friend Maria Scordialos. The gathering brought together a whole range of practicioners- from an environmentalist, a monk, a dancer and social activists, asking questions about what is the learning which is needed for this time. There was a lot of discussion about Rites of Passage and eldership, while also having lots of time for swims in the wild ocean!

14793534226_7e44230d0b_o10606183_10152610199087456_2458272466844040030_n August was a month of returning (via a short trip to Italy) to the old house I used to live in, and to life in Dublin. I painted my walls and hung art. It was a time of nesting and planning more yoga classes and events.

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September brought me back to cello, and teaching and figuring out my plans. In October, there was a Trailblazery jaunt to Paris with Kathy Scott, and then in November, a little four legged creature came into my life, exploding it with love and endless delight. Finn has been a wonder. I also took up my pens and paintbrushes again, after nearly 20 years of not drawing. It felt great to be creating in such a way again and then there was the sale of my first drawing, which somehow felt significant. As the nights have drawing darker the urge to paint and draw has grown strong too. I am listening.

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December has been hibernation, friends, community and Finn time. And I have taken up driving lessons again, determined this time to see it through…

And jotted through the months were hill walks, poetry nights, sea swims, photo shoots, lectures, facilitating workshops, teaching, meals with friends, yoga time, visits from friends around the world, and special days out with my niece and nephew.

We patch our days together and weave a life. When we look at a year of time we can see patterns and the shape of things, and you realize how much there is to be thankful for. I feel I have let a lot of things go this year, and not always done it all with grace or elegance but with intentionality and an effort to do things well. There are many elements that have shifted in my life, internally and externally and which continue to move and shake me. It has not all been easy but this is the way of learning and growth. This, I learn, is what embracing a life is about.

I would like to say a big thank you to all the people along the path this year who have journeyed with me- supporting me, challenging me, offering friendship, sofas, refuge, hugs and hope. And to Finn, of course, for her furry snuggles and endless tailwags of happiness.

I am blessed.

I am looking forward to seeing how 2015 unfolds and perhaps our paths will cross along the way.

Wishing you all love and peace of heart,

Thank you all- Clare xx

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The Gift of Learning: Photography Lessons

 

 

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Someone once gave me advice and it went:’Pay for experiences’. Rather can accumulating more ‘stuff’ it has helped me to prioritise learning and adventures, and helped me to channel my resources into investing in learning which feeds my mind and experiences which nourish my soul.

In a similar vein, this Christmas I am offering private photography lessons in the Dublin Region, for beginners or more advanced users. Each session is tailored to the individual needs but cover ground like understanding aperture and shutter speeds, learning to read the available light and adjust camera settings accordingly, and experiments in composition, framing and photographic style.

Gift vouchers available. Please get in touch via email for more information.

 

 

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The Smile Factory

 

Finn Nov 29-8I have been calling little Finn, ‘A Smile Factory’. I think every city should have one.

Walking through Dublin with her these last few weeks has been amazing and revelatory to me. People stop. So many people stop. I can hardly walk 50m without someone stopping and responding to her in the most beautiful of ways.

In fairness, she is quite possibly one of the cutest puppies every to be born (note the bias here) but what amazes me is just how many people stop. Old people, young people, men and women in business suits who are clearly in a hurry, people on phones, people getting soaked in the rain, people you would not expect to stop. The sight of this little bundle of cuteness is stopping them all in their tracks.

People smile, then they give her a pet, then they engage in conversation. First they talk to Finn, then they talk to me. Then, mostly, they tell me a story. One woman told me about her husband with Parkinson’s disease who recently got a dog and the difference it is making in their lives. Another man told me how much he loves his own dog and how it has helped him get through a very difficult time in his life. Another women actually started to cry because it brought up so much emotion for her. People have come out of shops and cafes to meet her, people have walked across the street and out of their way. Everyone that stops leaves with a smile on their face. They tell me it has made their day. Some take her photograph. They thank me, and I swear, if they could wag their own tails, they would.

I am amazed but I am also asking myself, ‘Why am I so amazed? When people smile at Finn, I suppose I am seeing this beautiful and open side to them which is usually locked away. I am noticing how much strangers want to engage and are willing to engage. They will talk in a silly puppy voice; their tender side fully on show. With every stranger that passes me I now have this immediate way into a their hearts; a way into seeing a universal depth of care and emotion. They see Finn, and in turn, I have a chance to see them. I’ve already made new friends.

I will call it the Finn factor. She is a keeper alright and the ultimate smile factory. She is very good at giving snuggles too. And did I say that she is possibly the cutest little thing to have ever walked on this earth? Well, at least in my eyes she is…

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Beginner’s Mind: Cello Lessons

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So often we don’t begin things because we are expecting perfection from the get go. We set standards high and expect to reach there in an instant (speaking very much from personal experience). We look for the quick fix, the fast route. But sometimes things take time, and rightly so.

This year I took up the cello, learning play it from scratch. I had never done music before and other than a few chords on a guitar I had never learned how to play an instrument or read music. But the opportunity arose for me to join a beginners community orchestra set up by my dear friend Ciara Cavanagh. ‘You are a cello player Clare’, she repeatedly said to me, giving me a loan of an instrument and arranging for me to have some lessons with her, in exchange for some yoga classes. How could I say no.

There have been so many interesting moments with the cello so far, and I know there are plenty more to come. One of the biggest has been learning how to fail, and fail again, and being absolutely comfortable with that. The very nature of learning an instrument means that you are going to make mistakes, and make them often. If I began expecting perfection, I would never have started. But even if I began to berate myself for my mistakes, I would never have moved on. The mistakes, you have to quickly realize, are just an integral part of the learning process and if you aren’t making enough of them, you’re not practicing enough!

Playing with an orchestra adds a unique spin to this- when you make a mistake you just have to keep going. The rest of the orchestra will be ahead of you and you learn very quickly to let go of the failure in order to keep up. If you let the mistake get the better of you, it will get in the way of future success and also have a negative impact on the other players. And so, you instantaneously have to get going again, and fast. Over and over and over again.

As in art, so in life.

So often, particularly as adults, we don’t allow ourselves to be beginners. We expect excellence from the start, and we don’t give ourselves the time to experiment, to learn or to be practitioners who show up, day in, day out to craft our particular thing.

I knew setting out to play the cello that I would fail. Each time I sit down to play, I fail. Things go wrong all the time, but gradually, though all the errors, things are slowly starting to go right. I am still making lots of errors but after months of practice, I am finding I am making different ones now, perhaps more advanced ones, and somehow the basics are falling in place.

This is learning. Through practice and through the embrace of failure, over and over, until one day you start to actually sound like you can listen to yourself. And you realize you are falling in love with the instrument which a while ago you thought would never cooperate with you. It now seems to respond, sometimes even with grace, and sometimes even with melody.

I am far from ready for any solo renditions, but one day, maybe. So long as I keep beginning and so long as I keep failing. Over and over and over again.

 

 

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From the Inside Out- A Yoga Journey

‘Oh, are you the yoga teacher?’, said with a quizzical look and tone of surprise.

‘I’m here for yoga, where is the teacher?’, said with a glance that moved beyond me.

These are genuine comments I have received just before I’ve been about to teach a yoga class. When new students arrive, I understand that I may cause a few curious looks up and down and I suspect a few internal judgments may be cast my way. I have come to expect them but I have also had to let them go.

I know I don’t look like a typical yoga teacher. I’m not tall or skinny or have perfect skin. I’m short and curvy and carry a bit more weight than I’d like to. But I have had to learn that this does not make me a bad yoga teacher, in fact, I think it may even have helped me. You see, every time, and I mean every time, I step up to teach a class I feel vulnerable and at risk of judgment. I feel on edge, and because of this edge I think I can relate to students who don’t feel comfortable in their own skin, or who don’t think they are strong enough or flexible enough to even begin. I know this because I’ve been one of them.

If you told me even a few years ago that I would using my body as a teaching tool, and that people would be looking to my limbs (and curves) for instruction, I would have laughed in disbelief and shuddered at the thought. But yoga, I have experienced, does something to you- it helps you to connect with, and even love, your body from the inside out. So I may have a belly, but I have learned to love the feeling of moving into a headstand unaided, holding it for minutes and minutes. I may not look like a typical yogi (or at least what the yoga industry continue to promote on their glossy magazine covers), but I love being able to move into deeper consciousness and awareness of my body, sensing into my organs and even feeling the difference between my right lung and my left, feeling the changing pulse of my heart and the shape of my pelvis. And I may not have perfectly sculpted muscles, but I love that I can hop up into crow pose and balance all my weight on my hands. Most of all, I love that it has been a journey of discipline and a hell of a lot of hours of practice to get me there. It did not start that way. It started with feeling unworthy but it was the practice, more practice and the wonderful support from my own teachers that helped me along my own path.

I remember the week before I decided to train as a teacher. I had a coaching session with my good friend Mari Kennedy and we sat down and faced the fear. I really could not see myself getting to the point where I’d be able to get up in front of a class of people and have them look at my body, curves and all, for instruction. But while the fear spoke loudly, Mari helped me to hear beyond it. Behind the foreboding I discovered deep vulnerability. Something clicked. I realized that the vulnerability was the gold. It was the key to connecting with others. This is what would make me a teacher, not being two stone lighter or six inches taller, but the ability to connect with another person’s journey, wherever they are along it.

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A while ago a new student arrived into my class, looking very nervous. She told me that a previous teacher had said to her not to come to class any more because she was overweight and would not be able to do all the poses.  My heart sank as I heard this, and annoyance flared- I wanted to have a word with that teacher and highlight some of the damage that had been done. Yoga is for everyone- tall, thin, male, female, young or old. It is not about being flexible or strong (these are just some of the by-products), but it is about the journey inwards, to the home of the infinite within. Yoga offers a promise- not necessarily that you will fall in love with your body from the inside out, but that it will offer you the chance to. It is a doorway to experience the inward self, the authentic self, the real and the actual self. It is breath and depth and beauty and grace. This is the journey. It starts with vulnerability and from there it moves to possibility. Along the way it is peppered with imperfection, doubt, challenge and change.

So over the years, as the hours on the mat have clocked in, I have learned to connect and constantly reconnect with my body from the center to the periphery. It is a continual journey. There are still days that I do not like what I see in front of the mirror but yoga has taught me to look beyond the skin and instead to experience the truth of my body.

So this is the real invitation and it is open to all; curves, fears and vulnerability included.  Mine are no exception, thankfully.

Recently I listened to two wonderful podcasts from On Being, a US radio show taking about yoga.

The first with Matthew Sanford, a yoga teacher who has been paraplegic since the age of 13. He speaks wonderfully about the essence of yoga, irrespective of the body which it works through. You can listen here.

The second was with Besel Van Der Kolk, a psychiatrist on trauma treatment and the role of body awareness, including yoga, in recovery. Here

 

 

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The Homing Instinct.

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I’ve been homing. In a big sense of the word. For as long as I remember I’ve had my eye on elsewhere, always plotting my next physical move- to a new home, a new country, a new adventure. I’ve made home in mud huts and fancy universities. I’ve felt at ‘home’ while wild camping or overnighting in the back of pick up trucks. Home has been global, at times transient and generally somewhere else. And even though I have been in Ireland for the last few years, it has all felt transitory. My travels have been wonderful and I’ll be forever grateful for my nomadic streak but something has shifted, big time. Home, in the deep sense of the word, is being recalibrated.

The recalibration came somewhat unexpectedly. In September I had planned to pack up shop again and move to the UK. An amazing opportunity had presented itself, I had felt a strong ‘yes’ in me and the lure of elsewhere loomed large. But as I was preparing to leave, an unusual thing happened, my body flared up in pain. I ignored it and pressed on. But then it got stronger and I decided I needed to listen.  Two days before I was to move out of my home, my gut sense was on uber alert and a sudden realization hit me. ‘What am I leaving for?’ I listened into the pain, and into my body, and asked it, ‘What are you trying to tell me? My answer came not from my brain, my expectations, my sense of loyalty to others, or some wanderlust gene in me but from the uncomfortable sensations in my body. A visit to the doctor re-iterated the issue, and quickly I knew what it was telling me-  to stay. Then the critic voice crept in- ‘Sure, haven’t you told all in sundry that you are going? Sure, won’t you let down others? Sure, isn’t it all just in your head and aren’t you just letting fear take over?’ But still my body was saying ‘no’. I knew I had to ring my landlord and put a halt to the move. ‘Stay’ was the loudest answer. Within a couple of days the pain had gone away.

Looking back now, just a few months later, I feel blessed. In listening to the inner knowing, I feel I have moved into a much wider sense of home, a deeper home within my own skin and a stronger connection to ‘here’. Here happens to be Ireland, and by making a commitment now to place, a whole range of possibilities are opening up. My perspective is lengthening. I find myself talking about 3, 5 and 10 year business goals, and my commitments to the people around me are strengthening too. In committing to making a home, I am doing things I have longed for but never quite gave myself permission to do because home always felt so temporary. I have been painting my walls the colour I want them to be, and framing and hanging pictures. I’ve been making time again for my own drawing and cello practice, cooking and baking. They may seem like simple acts, but for me they are highly symbolic. Most significantly I have made a commitment to a four-legged being by the name of Finn. My housemate got a dog, on the condition that I will help to look after it. Ever since I remember I have wanted a dog, and now she is here, sitting by my side as I type. Finn is revolutionary.

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So, in creating boundaries and deeper commitments, I am finding a whole other level of space. By removing the ever tempting question, ‘Where should I be?’, it has opened up the powerful questions, ‘How should I be, here?’. It does not mean that my travel spirit is no longer present (I was in Paris last weekend and I have trips I would love to take), but it does seen to have transitioned from wanderlust to curiousity. ‘What can I build from here?’, I am asking myself, ‘and how can I create  a solid base from which I can then explore?’.

Perhaps it is a symptom of my age that home is calling more strongly but in hearing ‘stay’, what I have also been hearing are the questions, ‘How are you really showing up to yourself, your body, your friends, your family and your deepest desires?’. And in creating a strong base, I realize too that it is a place people will come to- already there have been poetry nights, dinner parties and visitors from around the world.

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In all, the experience over these last few months has been a strong reminder to listen in. It took pain for me to listen this time, next time, hopefully, it will not so dramatic. But this is the stuff of learning and growth. This is the ground for maturation. The body knows. When we choose to listen, paths clear and ways are forged, not necessarily the ones we expect but the ones that can create genuine freedom, expansion and wellbeing. At home in our bodies, we can create a true home for ourselves. Mine has physically manifested with a turquoise wall, framed pictures and a little Finn. The thought alone make me explode with delight. ‘Welcome home’, I hear my internal self say, ‘my doors and heart are open’.

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Ten books that have stayed with me…

 

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Around the interwebs over the last week I saw a list of books with the title:

 Ten books that have stayed with me long after I have read them.

 It got me thinking, in the most bookish and wonderful of ways.

Here are mine, in no particular order. I’ve bundled fiction, non-fiction and poetry together. A book is a book after all.

Some of these were read in my childhood, some I read during my early twenties and greatly influenced my work, and others are more recent reads.

  1. The Hours by Michael Cunningham.
  2. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimananda Ngozi Adichi
  3. Benedictus by John O’Donoghue
  4. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  6. Common Fire: Lives of Commitment in a Complex World, by Sharon Daloz Parks
  7. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
  8. Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership by Joe Jaworski
  9. Riverboat Adventures by Lucy Kincaid (this was my favourite book as a kid – I would look at the illustrations for hours!)
  10. Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol II. (or any of her works)

(ah, is the list really over… I am going to cheat a bit, here are a few books I read recently which I also know are going to stay with me:

11. When Women Were Birds, by Terry Tempest Williams

12. In the Body of the World, by Eve Ensler

13. Americanah, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichi

And the poetry of David Whyte should be there, and also Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman and The Story of Art by E.H Gombrich. (So, yes, I am really cheating now).

And and and…

..

And yours? (This is a great way to get book recommendations I am realizing. I have got rid of my TV and plan on some extended reading time over the winter- so recommendations welcome).

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Home, via Greece.

 

Axladitsa -57The tides come and go. The moon waxes, then wanes. An inhale follows and exhale, or even the other way round. The wave is the way of things. Each coming and going reveals a new pattern, a new current, a new marking on the shore. For it is a certainty that the tide will turn, yet where it takes us we can never quite tell.

I thought my own current for a while was taking me offshore to the UK for a stint, but life’s twists and turns have brought me back, to a home in Dublin, where I feel a new wave of life about to swell. The time for the UK turned out not to be for now, and so, Ireland, once again I am happy to say I have a home in you. And aren’t you a splendid and curious thing.

I have emerged from my weeks in Greece, where I camped out with the stars, under the shade on an ancient olive tree, the owls and crickets offering their nightly cacophony for company, alongside a myriad of ants and insect descending to my tent. We had a few skirmishes, me and the multi-legged creatures, but I am thankful to say that we all came out unharmed. Overall I loved wild camping- being out under the twinkling sky with the space and expanse of the view of the Aegean to greet me in each morning and the occasional feline visitation by way of Hammoudi and Tarzana, two of the resident cats.

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I was in Greece to visit Axladista, the home of my friend Maria Scordialos, where we together with some other friends (Vanessa Reid and Benedict Rousseau) hosted a collective inquiry into new forms of learning, or what learning is needed for now, given the times of chaos and complexity we are living through. Joining us was a wonderful, diverse group of practitioners who each hold an interest in learning and social change. There was a contemporary dancer, a Capuchin monk, a filmmaker, educationalists, artists, social entrepreneurs, environmentalists and activists. We experimented with each other’s practices- from meditation to body movement, exploring how we can learn from each discipline and apply it to this crazy world, with all its edges and challenges, while still staying focused and working on some of the big issues and opportunities of our time.

In all the inquiry was an interesting experiment that I am still digesting, and an experience which I have a sense will evolve over time, particularly through the new connections which were made and the themes which arose during our conversations and questions. One area of in particular which was very strong was the area of rites of passage, initiation and eldership, and how as societies we have lost so much of the initiation into cycles of life, manhood and womanhood and the skills to navigate the transitions. Coming with me too is the question of how we can hold the chaos within us in order to hold more of the presence in the world around us, and how the skills of yoga, meditative practice and good communication skills have an important contribution to make to the process.  The word practice and discipline came up strongly for all of us, whether that be spiritual, bodily or artistic as a way of grounding so as we can continually align ourselves to our true core and serve from a deeper, steadier place.

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The other night I was reading back over my journals from the last few years and tracking the themes and lines of enquiry I have been following for the past while. I could see some of the seeds of my work and interests now that were sown way back when, without knowing at the time where they will lead. In a similar way I have a sense with the learning gathering that some important seeds were sown. What will germinate I have yet to tell but whatever the outcome the experience of asking powerful questions with a group and watching the process unfold was a learning experience in and of itself.

Our learning gathering then moved into a week of body practice, where I hosted a yoga immersion, ‘Awakening the Wild and Wonderful Within’. It was again powerful stuff, especially to be surrounded by the wisdom of the wild. Over the course of the five days we grounded into our beings and from this rooted place were given reign to explore our own physical, emotional and mental edges. We were a small but intimate group which I simply loved teaching and particularly learning with the group and from the landscape. Nature knows while we participate. It was my first time hosting an immersion of this length and really relished having the time and space to dive deep into the practice with others. So, ideas already brewing for some more…

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In between all this and for some days which followed, with the memory of the yoga in our bodies, there was swimming and more swimming, 40 degree heat, olives, conversations, challenges, connections, more yoga, eating (lots of yummie things, including fresh figs from the tree) and some moonlit dances. Plus I got to hang out my one of my favourite beings in the world- Freddie the dog.

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Axladitsa never fails to offer her lessons. Mine are still unfolding and I feel fortunate to be able to have these opportunities in my life and thankful for the network of friends and colleagues who help enable it. Thanks in particular to Maria Scordialos for opening her home to us.

From Greece, there was also a two-night stop over in Italy where the flaneur in me had a chance to wander freely, soak in some views (and gelato) and dive into a novel- which I had not done for a very long time. (Thanks to Federica, my wonderful wonderful AirBnB host- if you are ever going to Bergamo, look up this).

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Italy, Bergamo 2014-22Italy, Bergamo 2014-35And now, here I am back in Dublin, where the light is still bright but with a chill in the air and the rain making a comeback. But it is a curious thing indeed, this place and this city, and I am curious too about the adventures and experiences which are to unfold here.  I have lots of new ideas and lots of hatching plans for a new phase of life and living. So, for now, it seems, I am home. Amen.

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