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.
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’
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…
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,
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.
IntentionalYear 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 IntentionalYear 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.
IntentionalYear 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.
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.
December, the nights are long, the light is clipped and the trees have shed their weight. All things wild need an inward turn, and our hearts are no different.
And yet, the whirl and fizzle of December can cast a spell. Those shopping lists, those awkward party moments, the challenge of consumerism and an obligation to feed the big capitalist machine which has little to do with the word ‘present’, as in presence. Yet when we carve to the core of what this time of year can actually holds, we find the lexicon of the sanctified, longing for our attention.
As an antidote to the noise, and as an offering into the space of presence, last year I recorded a series of short poetry salons, reading words which carried my own heart through the year, and continue to. Over the space of this series of salons, recorded around my own fire, I share poems which span the great themes of our life: love, longing, loss. There are poems too about the mystical and the mythic, poems from the margins of our everyday encounters, and poems which speak to the act of poetry itself, as a wayfinder and a guide.
As we shift gear towards the end of 2018, I want to share these recording again, and also a promise to record a few more episodes as the year draws out, with poems which crossed my path and touched me over the last 12 months- some shared at the live poetry salons in my home, and some sent on from friends afar.
The recordings come with an invitation and a hope: that every few days in December, you’ll find 15 minutes to pull up a chair, make yourself cozy, and lean in to listen. I hope my own reflections are a mirror to yours too, and that my selections invite you to hunt down the words or people which made your own heart stir. You never know, they may even inspire you to pick up a pen and search for the poetic in you too, until a new poem is born, and therefore new life.
The circle of the year is turning. As the leaves fall back home to the earth, and the evenings begin to turn in on themselves, there is a signalling to gather. Inwards.
The fire is lit. The poetry books are scattered around a low coffee table. The invite had been sent a few weeks previously. The season of the poetry salon is upon us. Now, all there is left to do is light some candles, and wait. ‘Whoever comes are the right people’, ‘Whenever it starts is the right time’. I reiterate some gathering guidelines I learned through the Art of Hosting community. They remind me that once an intention is set, once the foundations have been laid with beauty, beauty can only be braided deeper, whatever form it takes. This is not about numbers, after all, but about the act of gathering, and listening, and leaning into the space between friends and strangers, with poetry as the gateway and the salon as the template.
Lady Wilde, or ‘Speranza’ was a woman who lived up to her name, or so the accounts of the 1860s would have us believe. Oscar Wilde’s mother, a poet, Irish nationalist, folklorist and passionate women’s rights advocate, was a gatherer and host of one of the most notorious and flamboyant Dublin salons. Number One Merrion Square, grand and elegant, opened its doors to the literati, musicians, artists, social commentators, medics, law makers and perhaps law breakers, of the time. Under candlelight they gathered to discuss a gamut of affairs and culture. W.B Yeats, Ruskin and suffragist Millicent Fawcett, were all said to have crossed the door, with a young Oscar Wilde listening in from the alcoves.
Lady Wilde’s salon was not in isolation. Across Europe, from Italy to France in the 17th and 18th centuries, salons were places for the circulation of ideas, knowledge and conversation. Often hosted by women, the salon was a ground for the development of an active civic and public life. We can assume these gathering places were not always sober, and not necessarily always civil, but they did create public places for the gathering of difference, for dialogue and debate outside the formal realms of either church or state. They brought together the intersections of disciplines and sectors, where the rules of one did not outweigh the rules of another. Put a woman in the centre of things, especially in those times, especially in Ireland, and here are the ingredients for ripe and radical activism. Here was a way to do things differently.
We have Twitter now of course. And we have digital discussion rooms. But here we also have the digital infrastructure for polarisation and fraction to escalate. We have fear, and worse still, fear mongering. The institutions which one held the power and prestige are crumbling around us and in many cases, rightly so. But I question the spaces in which ‘conversations’ are happening. I watched the recent Presidential debates in Ireland for instance, and I wondered, ‘Where is the room for genuine listening? Where is the room for robust debate, unpinned with respect, and dare I say it, perhaps the most radical word of all, love. There was a poet in the midst too, running for re-election, now under attack for caring to too much about things that do not have a direct economic value. Things like poetry, and things like dignity. Would we, as a nation, dare to listen?
You find the respect in pockets of course, and the digital world can amplify those pockets. I find it with writers, like the environmentalist Terry Tempest WilIiams and Robert McFarlane, with social commentators like Rebecca Solnit, and I find it in online watering holes like BrainPickings and On Being, the latter offering us guidelines for convening with their ‘Grounding Virtues’. I love how words like ’Generous Listening’, ‘Adventurous Civility’, and ‘Humility’, are now active and explicit participants in this online space, values which I know spill over and enliven their public events. Here too: a template.
Right out at the edge of Europe on the west coast of Ireland, my little home goes by the name of ‘Wren Cottage’. It’s no Number One Merrion Square, but it’s cozy and if there are not enough chairs there are always cushions and floor space. Knock on the door by knock on the door, a little flock gathers. Some have come before, some are new. Tea is made, more logs on the fire, and we make our way naturally into a circle. I mention briefly the history of the salons, thinking of Lady Wilde, and I make reference to On Being’s ‘Grounding Virtues’. There is not much need for small talk and soon the poetry takes over. By way of tradition, Mary Oliver opens, then Rilke joins the chorus. There are sighs of awe, and sighs of not knowing what to say because the poem is just beyond words. The poems leave trails around the room. Another participant picks up a scent and offers fresh language into the circle.Then we laugh and marvel at Sharon Olds’ poem about breasts, and we delight in the spaciousness in the language of the Chinese poet Zhao Lihong, a poet new to most of us. Convulsions of laughter ripple outwards in thinking about Rumi on a modern dating site. The laughter builds a deeper bond. The circle tightens.
As the salon continues, I am aware of a friend of mine, attending an environmental conference in the US on the same weekend. It is a place for bringing together activists and changemakers. But he speaks of the fear in the room, and an intense anger too. He speaks of the deep deep grief for these times we are in, and a sense of paralysed frenzy. It makes us wonder, ‘What room for joy amidst such times? What room for beauty? And definitely, what room for poetry?’ A while later he sends me some words from another role model in our midst, the scholar and activist, Joanna Macy, on this thing called ‘Active Hope’;
‘Active Hope is not wishful thinking. Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued by some saviour. Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act.. a readiness to discover the size and strength of our hearts, our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose, our own authority, our love of life, the liveliness of our curiosity, the unsuspected deep well of patience and diligence, the keenness of our senses, and our capacity to lead. None of these can be discovered in an armchair or without risk’.
Around the circle the fire crackles and the flames spark. More tea is made. In my Celtic tradition, like so many indigenous traditions around the world, the circle was the primary shape of things. Stone circles. Fairy rings. In the shape of the circle is the container for the whole; fear and grief, joy and beauty. The circle holds both yin and yang, the masculine and the feminine, the light and the dark. It’s not a place for blind optimism, wishful thinking, nor deepest despair. Instead is a place to return those things back to their wholeness with a singular message: we are in this together.
I am interested in the intersections of things: ‘Where do you end and I begin?; Where does fear become courage?; Where do the arts become activism?; Where does beauty simply beget beauty and joy beget joy? In dark and challenging times, I’m with Joanna Macy on this: there is a radicalism in insisting on beauty and joy, for the very amplification of those things. Yes: Active Hope.
With that we get to ask questions like this: What if we didn’t need more platforms for opinions, but more platforms for presence and connection instead? What if our presidential candidates were seated in a circle, grounded in virtues and invited first to listen, then to speak. What if instead of defending a position, they were asked to defend their values? Then read a poem.
Last week, the Irish nation took to the polls. The poet was re-elected. Our president speaks of the power of words, and values. ‘We are in a time of transformation and there is a momentum for empathy, compassion, inclusion and solidarity which must be recognised and celebrated’, Michael D Higgins said at this acceptance speech, ‘Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide’.
The thing is this: people got up from their armchairs. They voted. They dared. Not all of us, not enough of us, but enough to #keepthepoet . Enough to insist on words mattering, and dignity too.
Back around the fire our poems circled and circled. Towards the end of the evening, my friend Orlagh suggested we each write a question on a post-it note. Any question, any question at all. Then we’d gather those questions to see how they converge. A few minutes later there is a shriek at the back of the kitchen where Orlagh is curating the post-it’s as an archivist would, or an archeologist. Two of us have written the exact same question. ‘Where does poetry come from and where does it go to?’ And the other questions? Well this is what emerged; a poem, written by the whole, from our wren circle:
Where do poems live when the book is closed?
Why does the light on the sea always stretch towards you,
Why do the stars stare?
Where does poetry come from and where does it go?
If the news showed poems instead of the tragic, what would the world become?
When is the Tao not the Tao?
Only in the forgetting of love.
Do I dare?
Around the circle, awe rolls out into the night with hints of laughter and impossible delight. I can feel Lady Wilde smiling from the great beyond, and Oscar Wilde listening in from the alcoves. This thing we are in together? We think it might be magic. If only we can get out of our way long enough to get out of our armchairs and hear the poetry of the world rising. I think the circle might just be our ears. And the salon? Well that’s up to you. Now you have a template. Go.
The Celtic new year begins. I light a candle. I nod my head to my heart to gesture to this commencement of time. But it is eternal time that I bow to; this marking of ancient ways and a knowing which we’ve almost lost. To be indigenous to this place, this land of Ireland, was to be in relationship to its cycles and its ceremonies. Eight annual markings of rituals and celebrations which were aligned to how the earth spun and how the light and the night danced around it. From these markings came stories and from these stories comes a web of mythology, archeology, psychology and in essence, ways of knowing place and our individual relationship to it. To be indigenous to place was to be indigenous to oneself, held and supported in a larger constellation of time and community.
First came Samhain: the new year. Nights open up to the stories themselves; masked ghosts, wild ways, fire and shadowy flame. Who is behind the veil? What lies beneath? Between the thin gauze of knowing and not knowing, between the fine line between the visible and the invisible came an understanding that not all that’s dead is lost, and not all that’s lost is far away. They danced for their ancestors, my ancestors, and they danced for the soul of what makes a myth and what returns us to mystery. They danced for the dark.
I find it comforting that the new year begins in the dark, the unknown. There is solace in not having to understand everything and an appreciation in realising that uncertainty is just a stage in the larger cycle of knowing.
With darkness also comes the time: time to rest, time to recuperate, time to lay low and curl up like an embryo or an ember, until the spark of inspiration descends to rise new insights and then action. The winter is coming and the darkness it brings has gifts for our unfolding.
But I also want to say this: the ways of this land, this place, speaks of ways beyond these waters too. They signal to an awakening and wisdom which is more than these shores, more than Ireland- and that’s to an indigenosity to a larger time, longer cycles, and our place in the wider whole. So wherever we find ourselves, whatever skin or culture we inhabit, this signalling invites universal questions for us,
‘What is my eternal nature? How can I be more in rhythm with the earth’s turning? What is my own relationship with time and can I incorporate these phases of rest and renewal, being preceding doing? How can I honour my own indigenosity to this earth of ours? And how can I place myself here in wider communion with all beings and all peoples?
The ancient Celts knew this of course: we are not alone, nor are we the ones with all the knowing. Trace back any indigenous line, whether Aztec or Aboriginal, Inuit or Diné, Sami or Maori, you’ll find the same threads which bind a cosmic and earthly honouring through rituals, cycles and ceremony, each celebrating the privilege of being placed here, not as a culmination of consciousness or evolution, but as part of an extended family of time and place, human and non-human, light and dark both. Each tradition speaks the same language of knowing: We are made for the earth as we are made for each other. We are here as guests. We are bound to something larger. We have a duty of care.
Tonight in my little West Cork village, the street will be lined with witches and ghosts. Is that the butcher or the local banshee? Is that the hairdresser or a Shaman? They are not questions we’ll need answers too because as the fire parade makes its way down the street, knowing or unknowingly, we’ll be participating in a bigger dance; this global indigenous honouring, this re-acquaintance with a the larger span of time and our privilege of being here. Our ritual is more than the sum of its parts. The bonfire flames will rise, signalling out across the bay: Rise people, rise; the great mystery is upon us, and we are here to dance.
You can listen to a recording of this post here (6 mins)
There have been weeks of whirl. Switch the news on, and this thing called overwhelm has been hitting, hard. I see it everywhere. Walking through Dublin airport last week, I saw a mass of bodies swimming in a sea of overwhelm too. The stress of coming, and going. The stress of all this frantic doing. Then the news comes in from the Kavanaugh case, and the latest IPCC report on our global trajectory. I wanted to bury my face in the sand and just ignore it all for a while. But the thing is, the sand is suffocating too, and it’s no place for a head and a heart which gets broken open from the pain of all that it witnesses. For when the head is buried this thing called cynicism starts to creep in and calcify the openings. It blocks the flow of that which is vital to us: breath and life and connection to something which is deeper and wider and bigger than the pain. This I am realising; broken hearts are also open hearts, and open hearts hold the ingredients of our transformation.
So, I read an essay by Robin Wall Kimmerer on the plane, about how her indigenous elders respected the annual return of Salmon to their waters, and the beauty of her words stirs me up. As I read I let my tears fall onto the open page, and a stranger across the aisle reaches over and passes me a tissue, in recognition. And I attend a conference called ‘Inner Peace’ in Amsterdam, and sit with hundreds of others, who are each questioning and questing to be part of the renewal of the world. Again the tears come, and another stranger reaches from his chair in front of me, turns around, and touches my arm gently for a moment, in an act of recognition. Then back in Dublin, waiting for a bus in the cold and drizzle, I read in one fell swoop Mary Robinson’s new book, ‘Climate Justice’, and some gentle raindrops falls on the pages in a kind of mutual recognition too. Inside me, I feel the need to dance.
I am home. I turn the music to it’s loudest. Among the stacked, unwashed dishes in my kitchen, alongside all the ordinary, I let my rage and grief transform into something called movement. I dance. And dance some more. ‘Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly… you were only waiting for your moment to be free’. Gregory Porter’s version has all the energy of renewal in it. Then I call a friend in the US. Across the span of time zones and a big ocean between us, we speak of loss, and fear, and this need for connection and momentum. Then we read a poem, from Rilke,
‘Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine…..
There is a moment of silence, and in the pause we recognise: in the space of the poem, and the space of the tears, and the space of listening for the openings, we are each trying to find a way to stay in the deeper conversation. It’s the one about love and trees, how the rivers move, and how we can build trust between those who are deemed strangers. No, I am not alone in am trying to find the ways to keep my heart above ground. I have never been alone. That was just a story.
I flip back through the months I’ve just had. It would be easy to focus on the mistakes I have made, and the ways I have been unkind to others, and all that news, but now instead I see flashbacks of the passing of tissues, the dance, the deepening conversations, and all the stories in the books, and the poems too, each showing me that here, just above the surface, rising now and rising more, there is another story being written. It picks up the frayed threads of cynicism and insists that they need not define the map of our way forward. Instead, this story weaves hope right into it’s fabric. But it is not hope as a fleeting feeling. It is a hope defined as presence, showing up to all that is, all the pain and the grief, all the confusion and the fear, and still insisting on action, and in that act, is the thing called hope, offered to us again by Rilke in poetic recognition too;
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they called life
You will know it by it’s seriousness
Give me your hand.
And so, today, on another ordinary Monday, I turn off the news, turn up the music, and do the work which calling to me. For right now, it’s what I have, it’s my dance, and it’s my offering. In it all, I am learning, that together we can go further, and we don’t have to do it alone. This is the story for our time.
Write to Your Truth // Online Circle
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