From my look out spot, some reflections:
What is the measure of a life well lived?
So often we measure our success based on our productivity, output or some external indicator which society places on us. This usually arrives as a ‘should’- ‘I should have more money by now, or more opportunities, or more X. I should be here in my career. I should be doing more’.
But ‘more’ is not an indicator of depth, value or lasting impact.
Instead, what if the measure of a life well lived was the quality of questions we lived into:
Am I learning?
Am I contributing to something which feels larger than myself?
Am I experiencing wonder?
Am I finding myself drawn into conversations which help me see things differently?
Does curiosity tap me on the shoulder and lead me down new paths?
Am I growing?
Does my heart break a little bit every day to crack me open to the real and raw?
Can my being here be a balm to another, and a friend to all beings, now and for the generations to come?
The right questions can lead to the right quests.
It is this strange thing really: letters falling onto blank pages, making words, to make meaning, to communicate this human experience.
Do we find ourselves in the sentences? Or in the pause between sentences?
Do we discover each other there too, not just the outsides of each other, but the inner workings and the tickings of another mind?
This for one: the stories we choose to shape, and the stories we choose to share. I think they have a potential beyond the sum of their parts. More than words alone, more than mere sentences, what we can find there is the connective tissue of our humanity; the things that bind us and the things which make our hearts yield to the possibilities in each other. When you share yours, it gives me permission to share mine.
Then there are the daily evocations of our moving through the world. Story is where my ordinary —the making of the coffee, the folding of the sheets, the mending of a torn friendship, the sowing of some seeds — meets your ordinary, but also our extraordinary— that glimmer in an eye, that constellation of experience which makes you who you are. It is where our common humanity rubs shoulders; where I can find out what it is like for you to laugh, or cry, or have your heart broken. But then it is also a way to realise that in your broken is also my open, in your speaking of forgiving is my way to understand forgiveness, and in the telling of your grief, I can take some steps on my own path of healing. Of course, you might also tell a story of a love so great it nearly blows us both apart, then plants us back in hope. I think, ultimately that is the power of stories: when we really let them into the marrow of us, they are redemptive and alchemical, changing the very mould of our beings. We are like rubber bands that way, once expanded there is no going back to our original shape.
So, yes, I write to make sense of things, but I read and listen so as to step outside my own world for a while, and expand my boundaries of understanding. It helps me realise there is always another way of seeing things, and that each story is a pathway deeper into the well of our being here together on this little blue dot called earth, and then a bridge to another life, or another land. Perhaps story is just our fastest way of travelling from here to there.
Well, there is always the beyond. I write as a way of staying in connection to a creative capacity which seems to live just outside the known of me. It is a way to keep that river of undiscovered self in flow and force. Sometimes it feels magical. Sometimes it feels alive. Those sometimes keep me going too.
We all write for our own reasons. The writing itself reveals them to us. That is the beauty of the creative process. It is not the end result which is the gold, it is the engagement in the process itself. It is generative, it is affirmative and it is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves: the gift of honouring our own intrinsic creativity which in turn gives life to who we are to become.
What if the world was fuelled by blank pages, words and the curiosity to see where our story wants to takes us next? And what if we realised our creativity was that very fuel.
I think we’d sense it is time to stoke some fires, gather around, write some tales, then listen.
I’m in. Are you?
Write to Your Truth Coming to Lisbon- 18/ 19th May 2019.
I can’t wait to be heading to Lisbon to host a weekend ‘Write to Your Truth’ salon. We’ve found an elegant venue right in the heart of the city, there will be glorious food, I hear the weather in May is generally delightful, plus you’ll get to dive into our stories, learn some creative skills, develop your writing practice, and experience the wonder of words.
Here, Emily – my co-host and I- tell you more.
To book online head on over here.
You can listen to this post here (5 mins)
There is a place I walk out to. A special place, which has a mix of solace and solidarity, out at the edge where wind meets the wild. I have been there many times. I go to write, to think, to sit, to be in conversation. It is a place beyond my definitions of beauty.
But this gets me: each time I walk out, the path is different. It is never clear. It is full of thorns and brambles, and a thick, unforgiving sludge which is a mixture of mud and cow shit. I fell three times yesterday. I stabbed my hand on some barded wire. Milly turned the colour of sodden earth. My feet were so wet I could have rung them out. This is the path less trodden. Sometimes it is full of shit. Sometimes it is full of savour. Mostly it is both.
As in life, so in life.
I want to tell you this: there are times I think I should give up on this freelance life, this working way part-lived online, this walking on paths which are not paths at all. There are days which are shadowy, and days which are slippery. There are days in which I feel all the sludge. Somedays I feel lonely. Somedays I feel like I want to hurl expletives at the next person who claims to have a definitive solution to the complexity of life, or who offers a ten step guide to having your life sorted, as if life is this thing that can be boxed and bound.
Then I remember the castle. Then I remember the path. Then I remember the choices. Then I remember the stories. Then I remember to sit in the mud and enjoy the silky coverings of sea-spray. Then I remember to phone a friend.
We read poetry to each other. Rilke’s words:
‘This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
We sit in silence for awhile afterwards. It feels close to truth. So close. By listening to each other we reaffirm the power of flight. The listening is a way of saying: ‘I believe in you. Keep going’. The listening is an act of stirring up resilience, in us both.
I think this is so much of the real work; the work of accompaniment, this act of dedicated attention to cultivate hope in the spirit of endurance and the creativity of tenacity. For each other, over and over, it is needed when we stop seeing the truth of ourselves. It is so we have each other to mirror back our strength, to help us find the next turn of the path, to remind us of our castles.
I don’t want to give up friends. I don’t want you to give up either. But sometimes we have to realise that we can’t do it all alone. That we need to phone a friend who can help us to trust in the weight of our convictions and remind us of the longer arc of patience needed to take us there. Maybe sometimes that is all we have: our vision, and each other.
Later, I take a shower, washing the mud from my fingernails and unknotting my hair. I give Milly a wash too, returning her to white. As the full moon rises, I read more Rilke. One line shimmers.
‘Through the empty branches the sky remains’
Then I throw some more fuel on the fire and feel the heat rise. As the flames light up the room, an email arrives from another friend. It says: ‘let’s do this’. I respond, simply ‘Yes, let’s’.
So this is a note to all of you today who may be thinking of giving up. But instead of giving up maybe it is time to phone a friend, or walk out to the equivalence of your castle, or take a different route for a while. Sometimes it is not the vision that’s the problem, but how we are approaching it. Sometimes we just need to take a detour for a while, or a pause, and notice how the moon always rises across the arc of open skies.
Sending you love, for wherever you find yourself today,
An Online Writing Circle
Write to Your Truth, the online version starts soon. On March 2nd. It’s eight weeks. It is a way for your to build your writing skill and craft some stories. It needs about two hours commitment per week. There are six beautiful live circles/ sessions in which we will write together. Find out more and register online today
Want to coming to Lisbon?
How about a weekend of writing and connection, learning and exploring in Lisbon.
Write to Your Truth is heading to Lisbon in May. Come join Emily Avila and I as we team up to create this nourishing, supportive creative salon. Find out more and book online here.
Have a creative project you want to grow? Need some support to clarify your vision, values, next steps and communications? My mentoring process is a blend of design thinking, intuition and inner work, and strategic planning- tailored to your needs. Find out more.
Want to stay in touch? Sign up to my mailing list here.
I have a flurry of announcements for you today. Write to your Truth is deepening and expanding!
Write to your Truth is a writing process designed to tap you into the power of your stories, and support you in transforming the raw material of your life into crafted pieces of writing. It’s a creative, exciting journey of discovery of your own inner world, the stories which have shaped you and the story of your life you want to live onwards. Along the way you learn ways of tapping into your senses for meaning making, and a layered story mapping tool which will help you to see how the stories in your life interact and can be crafted into narratives.
You don’t have to be a writer, but you do need to be curious about how story shapes your life, and be willing to do some reflective writing to weave those stories together.
If you have been wanting time and space to write, this is also a great structure, focus and kick-start to a regular practice. If you want to craft your own story to help you develop your own leadership, voice and clarity, this process will also support you.
I have THREE different ways you can now engage with the process, online and live in person.
1. Online Circle- with live calls and individual writing support.
Starting March 2nd.
The most in-depth version of ‘Write to Your Truth’ is my 8 week online course which is starting again on March 2nd. In this version you’ll be introduced to all the practices, plus you will get to work on two longer writing assignments which you’ll craft, edit and then have a chance to share with the group. There are also six live calls during the course where we will be learning together, writing together and sharing both draft and polished pieces.
Anna, who took the first online version of the course in the Autumn, shared these words about it,
“I have taken many online courses, and none compare to Clare’s Write Your Truth course. Clare’s experience, authenticity and guidance make writing not only effortless, but meaningful. The content in this course allowed me to realize that the stories I have within me, as well as the stories we all have within us, are endless. Clare showed me that my story was just waiting there, ready to be put into words, and when I leaned into that, it just flowed onto the page. The Write Your Truth course didn’t only give me guidance on how to be a better writer, it taught me how to connect with my truth and trust myself enough to say what I wished to say. I am forever grateful for everything I learned and continue to learn from Clare and this course.” – Anna Gannon, New York, 2018.
The course starts on March 2nd.
**Early bird available until Feb 17th**
2. One day workshops, Schull, West Cork, Ireland.
Schull, West Cork, is a harbour village, on the wild west coast of Ireland. It also happens to be where I call home at the moment. In the village there is a wonderful country house, Grove House, which have been home to writers for the last 100 years. It is the perfect setting for a writing workshop.
During this day I introduce you to the Write to the Truth process, and we have time to write & share. The day is about sparking your creative expression and giving you the courage and confidence to continue writing and delving into your stories.
We also get a yummie lunch. And cake.
Here is what a previous participant Ger said about the workshop:
‘Gained a realisation that writing is not just for the chosen few. I too have a story to tell and my own writing style. A potential for creativity which never got the chance to develop or flourish. I now have greater self belief’
Upcoming dates: 28th April and 20th July.
Only 12 spaces available per workshop.
If you have questions about any of the events, please get in touch by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Hoping you will join me.
You can listen to this post here
I open my front door to a new day, to begin a new month. Fresh light enters. The air feels immediately crisp having recently been sea-bound. Not far away the waves are rumbling, as they always do, and life spins its onward turn.
It is Imbolc. ‘Meaning: In the belly’. ‘Meaning: ‘What’s brewing?’
The inner impetus at this time of year is a beckoning. In an act of ritual, I place my hands on my own belly, feeling the soft rounding of the years, and the rise and fall of my own breath waves: a perpetual motion of being. It is a time of year to pay homage to the internal inklings, those stirrings of ideas and insights which have been brewing in the hibernating wilderness of my wintering. The cracks are appearing in the night skies. At either end, the dawn and gloaming thickens. It is how the light gets in. To pay homage is to give the light at the end of the darkness, the cresting ideas, attention. The ritual helps to bring me there.
We have the mythological underpinnings of this time of year in our Celtic heritage too. Goddess Brigid: lighter of the flame, kindler of the artistic flare, protector of the poets, feminine force of fecundity and growth. Her memory is here to give force to our imaginings. I find it reassuring that when we go into the deep layer of our collective stories we find a woman, myth or saint, who carried the flame of the arts, a champion of the poets and midwife to our creative potential. And so, the festival of Imbolc is a potent time to pay homage to our own creativity. In doing so we root ourselves in this Celtic lineage as we honour the story of the Goddess Brigid, whose legacy can remind us to trust that we already have what it takes within to bring form to our imaginings: our intrinsic creativity of being.
Yet knowing and doing are two separate acts. We can feel those stirrings, but knowing how to act on them, and how exactly to begin, is another set of skills. I see it all the time, in myself and in others: the moment of beginning, if taken too seriously, can stop us in our tracks. Attention, in this sense, is a verb.
How to begin? I think it starts with trust, but the hardest edge of trust is trusting ourselves. Those little niggling voices of self-doubt and the greedy voices of self-sabotage, they are particularly vicious at the beginning of things when it can feel safer to stay in the comfort of hibernation rather than risk ourselves to the light.
The poets, of course, have something to say about this. And one in particular I have been turning to, in remembrance.
When word of Mary Oliver’s death came through, the internet was flooded with poetry for a few days. In between headlines of Brexit blunders and the myriad unspeakable horrors of the things that are deemed newsworthy, there was a collective embrace of wonder and beauty. It was like a thread we are all desperately clinging too, consciously or unconsciously, for our survival. So it seemed that this frail, powerful, quiet presence of a woman had entered into the hearts of so many, and altered them, utterly and eternally. Her poetic voice rounded the complex themes of metaphysics and philosophy, ecology and spirituality into pared back beauty and simplicity. And her poems, like pumice stones, proved that they could soften the hardened parts of our thick skins and the walls we’ve put up to protect us from those all too durable news headlines, and even the walls that separate us.
So now I take delight in this: she may be gone, but her words will never go: therein the power of the word. Even more so, therein the power of the word which calls us to reverence, wonder, and particularly to connection. Words of hers like these:
‘I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. That the farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honouring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves- we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.
I move through her collection of essays in Upstream, mostly in awe, jumping up from the page when I reach ‘Of Time and Power’. It was as if Brigit was speaking too, with a warning, and that reminder again:
‘The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time’
These are strong words from a wise woman. But Mary Oliver is generous too, and so offers us clues. How to begin? I think she knew we would be wondering.
‘Attention is the beginning of devotion’.
In Spring, we begin to notice. The swelling buds. The first sighting of daffodils, unusually early this year. The grass, putting energy again into its skyward journey. The blossom too, arriving, slowly at first, but knowing that soon it will be in flair. It is life seeking life in a beautiful insistence, as another poet, Brendan Kennelly writes, ‘that we forever begin’
So what if paying close attention is all we need to forever begin? What if, this Imbolc, in honour of Brigit, we place our hands on our belly and really trust in what we sense there, in those stirrings that live below doubt and fear and are speaking not only who we are now, but who we are becoming, individually and collectively. We are each other’s destiny after all, and our links are our vitality.
I have been taking part in an online gathering over this last week called ‘Story the Future’. From around the world, facilitators and trainers, teachers and leaders have been gathering to learn more about the practice of storytelling, and particularly how to use narrative tools for learning and building stronger connections across community and social divides. One of our hosts, Mary Alice Arthur, has a knack for weaving big and timely questions into the mix, by way of encouragement. She gave us this one.
Where can I see elements of the future already manifesting in the present?
‘The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens’, said Rilke. So, maybe our future is already inside us, and it is just a matter of listening, and being willing to give our active attention to what we hear.
Imbolc, it’s our invitation from our ancestors to our very own spring, to that bud which is ready to bloom. So I continue the Imbolc ritual. My hands rest on my belly. I hear the ancient ripples of Brigid, and the poetic whisperings of Oliver, Kennelly and Rilke. I sense the connection of my breath to the tides, and from those tides my connection to every shore, and upon every shore, every stone, and upon every stone every footfall, and within every footfall, every beating heart. Yes, attention is the beginning of devotion.
Then I ask myself.
Where can I see elements of the future already manifesting in the present?
For a while it is quiet. Nothing moving but my breath. But then a deeper stirring. ‘I think it is in the very next line that you write’. I know that line is a proposal. A new project has been brewing and it is time to give it attention. So I pick up my pen, I open a blank page, and I feel something rise within me, this intrinsic creativity of being. It is insisting, beautifully, that yes, I forever, begin.
A Creative Practice: In the belly (15 mins)
Want to do some listening and journalling and take some time to tune inwards to listen to what wants to be brought to life; to what ideas or projects are stirring from within? You can choose to do this practice sitting or lying down.
Place your hands on your belly for a couple of minutes and sit in silence.
Can you feel the rumblings of any new ideas, projects or stirrings? Can you sense into what is moving in your life? Perhaps it is something which has been underground for a while (a dream you have had for ages, a book idea, a project you have been churning for months). What is seeking to emerge? Where do I see elements of the future already manifesting in the present?
Keep your hands on your belly, and after another few minutes ask: ‘What is your gut instinct telling you about all this? Is it time to take action? If so, what is the next step?
Take note of any other thoughts or ideas which are emerging, then take to your journal and write for 10 mins, including these next steps which you listed. Toward the end of your journalling time, decide which next step you are going to action first, and schedule some time to make it happen in the next day or two. This step should be small and manageable- a phone call to a potential client, a blog post, a conversation you need to have. From that step you take the next, and the next. Our dreams are birthed one step at a time…
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A Letter to Mary Oliver, with thanks.
You have passed on, but your words have not. I think there is an extra chamber in my heart where they fully inhabit, pumping wonder and beauty into the places in my being which need them the most. I know your words circle in others peoples hearts too, lining them with awe, and grace, and now an infinite beat of gratitude. We have much to thank you for.
You let your words rest on blank pages, arranged in configurations of strange symbols which we place together as consonants, then poems. But your configurations have a special quality, something rooted and ethereal at once. More constellation than star, more forest than seed. We could say your poems carry the touch of mystery, but I think you’d call it love instead; that your pen was a point of capture and your words a place of gathering, so we can see it more clearly, in the grass and the way light falls daily, or the way a cricket carries its song. You reminded us that it is all love really, this earthly presence of being, this wild and precious life.
Little did you know it Mary, but for more than half my life, since I first read your poems, you have come everywhere with me. I’ve packed you in my backpack and we have travelled the world. I’ve taken you on bus journeys, planes journeys, ferry rides and long undulating walks. We’ve stayed up late at night with a torch under the bedcovers. Do you remember the time when we on a beach in Greece reading poems to the sea? Or the time when my little dog sat beside me and I read your dog poems aloud to her? Or the multiple nights on my yoga mat, when you’d tuck into position by my side, and tell me, over and over, to trust in the way of things. You’d let me cry tears if needed, whether of joy or sadness, and you’d always wipe them with beauty. You have been my companion in dark corners and tunnels which I thought would never end. Your words, the best of friends. Your poems, a lighthouse.
‘You do not have to be good’, you whispered to me in one particular dark patch’, ‘you only have to let the soft animal of your body loves what it loves’. That became my mantra, recalled with regularity and devotion.
You have given instructions for living a life. ‘Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it’. In this, I can say, I am trying.
And you have reminded me that the ‘boxes of darkness can also be gifts’. I open them differently now.
You have said the world offers itself to our imaginations, no matter who we are, no matter how lonely. So you have been training me to seek the imaginative possibility. Belong to this world, you suggested, and give yourself to it, ‘married to amazement’. In this I can say I am wed, only my vows need to be renewed daily. Your poems take me there.
You have spared me the worry of haste and urgency. ‘Don’t worry’, you say, ‘things take the time they take’.
And then you offered me one question which thread so close that is has changed everything. ‘So, tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’. I wake up with those words on my lips and each day I long to live into them. It it the best kind of quest.
Yours was wild, yours was precious, and you have made mine all richer through the gifting of your gift. I hope to thank you in the pay it forward kind of way, in a way I think you’d like, with the simple gestures of love, and a heart seeking always to speak to the wonder of it all.
Rest in peace dear Mary Oliver. May your words work their infinite wonder in the hearts of many more,
With love and eternal gratitude.
Right now, this feels like everything..
by Victoria Safford
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges; nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right,” but a very different, sometimes very lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle — and we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.
Intentional Year Guidebook and Planner / Plus Audio Meditation.
Around this time of year I love to take stock while reflecting and tuning into the next phase of life. But instead of setting goals or resolutions, I believe a more powerful approach is to learn to work with intentions that can be carried through the year as wayfinders and guides.
So, by way of support, I have updated my Intentional Year Guidebook, which I share with you in the hope that it may support your own intention setting process. It includes exercises for connecting with what makes you feel alive, and it brings you through a creative planning process evoking the tradition of letter writing – but with a twist.
Here is an extract from the guidebook to explain more about my understanding of ‘intention’
Intention differs from goals or resolutions in that it hooks us up to the highest innate possibility within ourselves. It does not condemn our faults, it has no grievances with us, it does not resolve to ‘fix’ us or ‘heal’ us. Instead it recognises that we are already whole, beautiful, and sacred. Intentionality brings us back consistently to the remembrance of our intimate and intrinsic wholeness…
Intention calls us to honour our deepest dignity and worth. It is not a fixed, static state as it enables us to move with flow and connects us to feelings of synchronicity and ‘rightness’. To be intentional is to be open to the natural flow of life’s calling. When we are intentional, we find that life bends to meet us. As we step in with our highest selves, so too does the world meet us.
Aligning ourselves to our intention is a daily practice. As such, the more we practice, the more natural and refined this becomes. The exciting part is, we get to design how we want to practice. There is no fixed way, there is no right or wrong. Intention instead brings us to a feeling in ourselves which simply honours the best in us, and when we fall off track, it gently nudges us, taking us by the hand and showing us a way back to our highest selves within.
This guidebook is my gift to you.
It also includes a 10 minute audio meditation ‘Finding Stillness’.
Sign up to my mailing list here. You will be sent a link in which you can download the guidebook.
Intentional Year Online Planning Workshops
And come January, if you’d like some additional support I’ll be hosting two live online workshops to guide you through the process and give you a few additional planning tools in a nourishing learning circle.
Workshops will take place on January 6th and January 12th.
Until soon. And until then: may we find stillness, and from the space of the pause may we locate that which is nourishing and wise to us.
Onwards, with love,
Three years ago today a little creature came into my life. I called her Milly, knowing she needed a bouncy name, one that had life in it. When I brought her to the vet she asked, ‘Is she a rescue dog’, and I said, ‘No, but she is the one that rescues’. You see, if anything I’ve learned from Milly it is this: that love is an infinite, non-divisible, generative act which is best applied universally, liberally and non-discriminatory. In other words: love everyone, in equal abundant measure. In other words: just because I love you it doesn’t mean I can’t love anyone else with the same loyal aplomb.
Like all of us, she has her idiosyncrasies. She jumps on people with unflappable enthusiasm, but not all people are equally enthusiastic. She carries her old toys around and leaves them hidden under pillows in the guest bedroom. She covets the best part of the sofa. She’ll knock the phone out my hand mid-sentence if I haven’t honoured the belly rub quota for the day. And still, I find her hard to resist.
There is an elderly couple who live behind me. Milly visits them most days. They buy her special treats, allow her on their bed, and they tell me, frequently, that they love her too. There is another couple who I think purposely walk by my house so they have a chance to see her. When that happens, Milly’s tail goes into overdrive and it looks like they are all melting into something close to bliss. Milly has served customers in the post office, is a frequent library visitor and a regular hit in our favourite in cafes all the way from Dublin to West Cork.
And so, I call Milly, my little love factory. And I can tell you this: walking around with your very own love factory on a lead for three years changes things. It slows you down for one (‘yes, her name is Milly, yes she is very friendly, oh, I am really sorry about the jumping’). Sometimes this leads to bigger conversations, like the man who began to cry and when I asked him what’s wrong and he told me that it is his wife’s anniversary, that she died a year ago, and how much he misses her. Milly sat by his feet as he sobbed. Then there was the elderly woman on the bench who Milly insisted on befriending, licking her hands, the tail going ninety, until the woman turned to me and said, ‘thank you, that is the best thing that has happened to me all week’.
So, yes, she is scruffy, she’s a bit demanding at times, she never cleans up after herself, and she is a terrible cook, but by God, does this creature know how to love. Three years of a love factory on a lead has changing the shape of my heart too. So thank you Milly for the life lessons. Thank you for slowing me down. Thank you for the gift of your scruffy, imperfect, loveable ways. And yes, you can sleep on my bed, and yes, it is time for walkies.