On Building our Resilience Part two

Resilience: Part Two in Series.

Missed part one? You can read that here.


‘When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle, and this will help things turn out for the best…’

Eric Idle may have been strapped to a cross and his little ditto a smack of classic comedy in Monty Python Life of Brian, but he wouldn’t be alone in affirming the power of the ‘chin up’, ‘glass is half full’ school of thought, especially when it comes to building resilience.

I’ve been curious about cultivating resilience- the ability to bounce back when the going gets tough. I know this is something I need to practice for personal reasons, and while I am not one for general whistling down the street, I do realise that there are things I can do at both an attitudinal and a behavioural level to improve my bounce-back ability.

I also don’t think I am alone in my need to build resilience. A glance at global labour market trends will tell us that we are seeing the rise of ‘the gig economy’ and the ‘portfolio career’. Individuals will transition across numerous jobs and careers over a longer working lifespan. We are also entering the era of AI and robotics where the jobs of the past are not the jobs of the future. Never before will our creative capacities, our inner leadership, our soft skills, and our ability to adapt to new circumstances be more in demand.

Any change and transition has a related stress. There is a good kind stress, or motivation, which can boost our emotional, mental and physical selves for the job at hand, but then there is bad stress- the long term build up of worry and physical exhaustion, which at a chronic level can have long term effects on our overall wellbeing. Learning to understand the stressors in our lives, and develop effective coping mechanisms and preventative measures, again is more relevant than ever.

So, what can you do?

Back to the whistle. Actively cultivating a positive attitude may sound like mere cheese, but there is a growing body of evidence to suggest it’s a keeper. Maureen Gaffney’s brilliant and continually insightful book ‘Flourishing: How to active a deeper sense of well-being, meaning and purpose even when facing adversity’ provides a whole menu of useful tool and resources around positive psychology, and also a magic ratio. ‘Knowing ways to generate and maintain positive feelings and thinking- even under great pressure- is a crucial part of effective coping’, she writes, ‘The heart of resilience.. depends fundamentally on the ability to actively rebalance the positivity and negativity in your life’.

And that balance? Well, it isn’t quite a balance. There is a trick in the mix you see, and it called ‘Negativity Bias’.

We humans can be so hard on ourselves. We get ten good pieces of feedback on a report, and only one bad, but we remember the bad feedback and linger on it for days. We get 80% on an exam, but wonder why we did not do better. Your partner compliments the way you look, but you focus on the stain on the underside of your shirt, or those extra five pounds you want to loose.

Gaffney offers some of the science behind this, explaining that we are actually wired for negativity;

‘Once anything negative appears your brain is on high alert, concentrating of assessing just how negative it is. For instance, you know instantly, without anybody telling you, if you have made a mistake in something you are doing. Within 80-100 milliseconds, there is a change in brain response. There is no similar neurological reaction that takes place when you do something right. Feelings of anxiety, distress, anger or disappointment last much longer than positive reactions to a pleasant experience. And negative events have a stronger and more pervasive effect on your subsequent mood than positive events. Having a good day generally has no noticeable effect on your sense of well-being the following day, whereas having a bad day tends to carry over and influence the next day in a negative way. That is negative bias at work.

The Magic Ratio

So, how to break the cycle? Focus on the positive. No, really. And it’s to do with the magic ratio.

As Gaffney further explains, ‘It turns out that you need a very particular ratio of positive to negative just to function normally. If you ramp up that ratio above a certain threshold a state of flourishing is established. But there is another invisible threshold that is equally precise. When the ratio of positive to negative falls below that threshold, you are tipped from ‘normal’ mode; into languishing. It is the moment when someone becomes depressed; when a team or an organisation is tipped into a downward vicious cycle’

That magic positive to negative flourishing ratio? 5:1
Yes, you need five times as much positive to negative to really thrive. And just to stay in ‘normal’ state- the ratio is still high at 3:1. Anything less and it’s a slippery slope.

The magic ratio appears in all aspects of our lives: from maintaining good relationships, in work and in our personal connection to ourselves.

Training our Attention.

The Harvard researcher, Shawn Achor takes up this vein of investigation in what he calls ‘The Happiness Advantage’. So often we measure our success, he explains, by the outcome of events. We think, if I get to Harvard, then I will be happy. If I loose those five pounds, or get the next promotion, or just make the next thing happen, then I will be happy. The challenge with this approach, as Achor often very entertainingly argues (see his TED talk), is that when our success metrics are based on external validation, the benchmark for success keep changing. When you get to Harvard, you start comparing yourself to all the others in the class and forget the achievement (hello negativity bias), or when you loose the five pounds and are still not happy, you say, well, when I loose the next five, then…. and so the cycle continues.

But, as Achor proposes; what if this was flipped; what if we focused on happiness first, then success.

It turns out it is to with what we pay attention too. Here we are to back to 5:1

I’m not a scientist, but I started to wonder: could I be more scientific about how I tally the positive to negative in my day to day life, pay more attention to both and actually notice if I am in that positive to negative ratio? So, I took on the experiment, and I recommend you to too. All you need is a pen, a blank piece of paper, and your awareness.

Over the course of a series of days I decided to track things in my day to day life, and record them as either positive or negative at the end of the day. I wanted evidence- sticking to actual events during the day, and not just thoughts that were happening in my head. I opened my journal and drew a line down the centre. To the left, were the positive things, to the right, the negative.

Quickly, the ‘positive’ started to fill up; the smell of freshly grounded coffee, the morning walk by the sea, cuddles with my dog, a phone call with a friend, an email from a client thanking me for a piece of work, the texture of the new pillow, lighting a candle, running my hand along a fence like I did when I was a child, the interaction at the post-office, the hot shower after a long day- a list of daily occurrences which ordinarily I would not have paid so much heed to, but with this mindfulness approach combined with the decision to categorise things, the list seemed to go on. Next, it was time to tally the negative; again sticking with actual concrete things that had happened during the day, and not a list of my worries or a transcript of my inner critic. I had two things on the list: locked out of my website (which I knew was temporary), and an unsubscribe from my mailing list from an old friend (I realised I felt sad to see her go). That is all.

I followed the experiment up the next day. That day, I realised the photographer in me was now in the experiment, and was actively scanning my environment for moments of beauty and positivity: the way the light falls, the roses in the derelict building, the smile of the stranger when I said hello.These were all categorised as positive at the end of the day. And the negative? Well, I was so focused on the positive, I was not really noticing the negative. I noted one thing down.
Yes: 5:1

As Shawn Anchor has suggested, we can train what we pay attention too. So, I kept telling myself, think like a photographer: learn to read the light.

I continued my nightly tally for a few days. Each evening, I noticed that the ordinariness of the day was being categorised as ‘positive’, and in doing so, I was actively appreciating just how many positive things are around me. Of course, I’ve heard the suggestions of ‘keep a gratitude journal’ before, but this really is the first time where I felt some of the science and brain chemistry behind it too.

So, what about all that worry I had? Well, it’s not that all the negativity goes away. It’s just that it is no longer the dominant narrative and therefore is not so overwhelming. After just five days of the practice, combined with some daily yoga and meditation, I realised that my thoughts felt a lot more spacious. I am seeking out more of the positive consistently again, I am thinking more clearly and I have more zest for the challenge at hand. When I notice the worry narrative creep back in, I am catching it more quickly and realising I need to train my attention to turn elsewhere, into something more productive, more positive.

So, always look on the bright side of life? We can take the Monty Python route and whistle, or we can also take Mary Oliver’s poetic route, and be photographically in awe of the ordinariness of everyday which surrounds us,

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Resilience then is not a switch we just turn on, it is a daily practice of noticing and being in tune with the everyday moments of comfort and beauty which surrounds us. And to help us we can always remember the magic numbers- 5:1.


Next week, I’ll share a little more about how the creative process has a roll to play in building resilience, with a little help from an ancient Roman philosopher.

Found this post useful? Please share.

Resources from this post:

Maureen Gaffney’s Flourishing

Shawn Achor’s TED talk ‘The Happy Secret to Better Work’

Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life is part of the poem ‘Sometimes’ which can be found in her ‘Red Bird’ collection.

Building our Resilience Muscle


(6 min read) 

What keeps people going when the going gets tough? And what supports people to bounce back?

It was a personal experience this week which made me get curious. I was having one of those work weeks were everything seemed intense and I started to worry, particularly about taking on a new home and about money. The worrying led to doubt, which led to feelings of overwhelm, which led to physical symptoms of stress- not being able to sleep, bouts of tears, feeling nauseous- a classical vicious cycle. Thankfully over the years, with my yoga training and learning about cognitive behaviour, I was able to apply some skills to bring me out of the spiral, and this time, relatively quickly.

Turns out, I am not alone. Money worry is one of the highest stress triggers there is. A quick google search will produce a litany of articles about money, stress and health. Irrespective of how much money you may have, and depending on your attitude towards that figure, money is cited as one of the prime causes of relationship breakdown and personal anxiety. At a chronic level worry can have knock on effects on long term physical and mental health.

I decided to treat myself as my own own guinea pig this week and keep track of the tools and techniques which I applied to bring me back to centre and enable me to bounce back. This buoyancy is a quality which can broadly be defined as resilience and research has shown that it is a learned set of behaviours which can be improved upon over time. Emmy Werner’s landmark longitudinal study on resilience, for instance, identified a set of skills and belief systems which can be acquired and augmented with practice. We can think of resilience in this case as a muscle which if used regularly gets stronger.

So what are these behaviours and what actions to take? 

The first and immediate step in building resilience is to appease any physical stress symptoms. The stress response, trigged by a perceived threat, differs per individual. Typical responses are sweaty palms, increased heart rate, neck and jaw pain, and more rapid breathing. The stress response can only be moderated through the body; which is to say, we can’t think ourselves out of stress. As we begin to feel more stressed, the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol,  is released as a way to keep our blood sugar and heart rate up so that we are remain in a heightened state of alertness and are ready to respond to danger.  Once cortisol is increased, our thinking mind can not decrease it- but our bodies can. And here is the simple hack: by intentionally controlling, slowing and deepening the breath, our blood is thereby oxygenated and we are able to put brakes on the level of cortisol production. Endorphins are released into our system, our heart rates slows and our body moves out of ‘flight or flight’ mode. It is not surprising then to find that deep breath work (or pranayama) is the basis of many meditative traditions. And so we have lesson one: breath deep.

Posture too can play a role. Amy Cuddy’s research at Harvard Business School, is a study of ‘presence’. Her ever popular TED talk has helped to put data behind years of these ancient body practices. Cuddy was interested in the role of body language, non-verbal behaviour and posture in relation to performance outcomes. ‘Could you fake it before you make it?’, she queried.

Cuddy went on to up an experiment in which two groups were invited to an interview. Prior to the interview the first group, were asked to inhabit ‘small’ postural positions (folded arms, crossed legs, slightly slumped over), while the second were instructed to inhabit large poses, or what can be called power poses- open arms, chin slightly raised, broad chest- essentially: to take up more space. And you can guess which cohort performed better in interview- yes, exactly- the ‘take up more space’ group.

The eminently eloquent, Maria Popova over on BrainPickings offers a brilliant synopsis of Cuddy’s work;

At the heart of Cuddy’s research is the idea that the opposite of powerlessness, that ultimate fuel of impostor syndrome, isn’t power but what she terms presence — the ability to inhabit and trust the integrity of one’s own values, feelings, and capabilities. This capacity for presence is the seedbed of the confidence, courage, and resilience required to rise to even the most daunting of life’s challenges.

Then to bring us back to the question of how to be present, perhaps we can find some reassurance in Cuddy’s work: that if we are not feeling it, we can indeed fake it. Make yourself bigger, lengthen your posture, broaden your shoulders, take deeper breaths. Do this for two minutes. Bingo. The endocrine pathways are fired and our bodies are filled with a flush of ‘good’ endorphins. Of course the ancient yogis knew this all along: do a few sun salutations each morning to get not just our bodies limbered, but our brain chemistry too.

And so, back to how I got myself out of a quandary last week. Knowing the power of yogic breathing, I focused on calming my breath, deeper and slower, expanding the frame of my body. Re-calibrated, within minutes, literally.

So that is some of the short term crisis management so to speak, but what are some of the longer terms tools which can help to build resilience?

Values and Purpose

This is where the thinking mind does play a role, on numerous fronts.

Let’s start with values. As Popova touches upon above and which is explored through Werner’s longitudinal research, our capacity to develop resilience is related to our relationship to our internal values, or as what Werner refers to as our ‘internal locus of control’. Essentially, that when we can identify ourselves as the drivers of our own lives rather than external forces determining our circumstances, we have the capacity to design our responses to the majority of external stimuli which we encounter. I say the majority here, as of course, picking up a red hot poker will always trigger unconscious auto-responses which are designed to protect us from immediate and real harm, and thankfully so.

In thinking about resilience I am reminded of the beautiful book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl, a pioneer in the psychological field of logotherapy. The book is Frankl’s personal account of own experiences in Auschwitz concentration camp and how by focusing on finding purpose gave him the will to live. From this he went on to develop a wave of thinking in psychology that ultimately posits that finding meaning and the pursuit of purpose is a central force in what makes each of us tick; the thing that helps us to bounce back in the face of tribulation; i.e. that purpose and resilience are wonderful bedfellows. ‘Those who have a ‘why’ to live’, offers Frankl, ‘can bear with almost any ‘how’.

What do I stand for? What do I value? What is my ‘why’. How do I choose to respond? These are resilience forming questions.  To some spending time pursuing these could be interpreted as idle daydreaming, or to others, they may be literally considered as life-giving. I’ll pick the generative route.

Last week, being clear on my values helped me through that brief black hole. I asked myself, ‘What would creativity do now?’, ‘What would joy do now?’, ‘What would leadership do now?’- all values which I have identified to be core to my personal make up as they have been consistent drivers in my decision making and how I have chosen to live my life. So by asking these questions it helped me to re-orient me to the larger picture and see beyond the immediate challenge in front of me. Values, I have learned, always take a long-term, grounded and wise route. 


Next up in thinking about what builds resilience is the role of narrative; what is the story of the situation we choose to tell to ourselves. In resilience thinking, how we speak to ourselves really does matter: our story is an act of design.

We can borrow for a moment from design thinking – a methodology for innovating- here too. In design thinking we learn about ‘reframing’. This is like flipping current thinking on it’s head, and considering alternatives to be true. In the design industry this is generally applied to how to solve design challenges, but it can also be applied to our belief patterns. What if our ‘failures’ were reframed as our learning? What if worry is a signpost to the things that need our attention? What if our circuitous paths were accumulations of vital life experience?

The latter holds true to my own story. I have tried out so many career routes and different jobs over the years, and there are so many ways I can tell the story of this route. Do I internalise a narrative of ‘I am a failure, I can’t stick with anything for too long’, or do I flip it and reframe, choosing to narrate a positive version of this: that only through the circuity can I offer what I offer now, knowing it too will evolve.

So, this week, a quick re-frame of my situation was needed. Yes, I had a few days of intense worry. Does that make me a failure? Does that mean I am not good enough to do the work I feel I am being called to do? Well, only if I choose to narrate that story to myself and fail to recognise the power in the vulnerability I was experiencing. As Brené Brown’s work consistently reiterates, it is only through vulnerability that we can get to courage. So in as much as we can design how to narrate our stories, we can also design how we choose to categorise core human experience: in-built flaw or route to courage? You choose.

Social Relationships

Which brings me to my last point for the moment on building resilience: friendship.

Last week I sitting across the table from my good friend. I cried and shared how I was feeling worried and anxious. She chose not to advice me but instead listened with an open heart. Once I had the space to vent, without the sense of being judged, everything shifted. (Listening too is a radical act, but more on that later)

Resilience, we have learned, is not an isolated fact but happens in community. Corresponding studies on longevity have been asking, ‘what is the single determinate of a long and meaningful life?’ You’d think it would be a healthy diet or not smoking. Well it turns out that while both of these are contributing factors, it is the quality of our relationships that is a key determinant in healthy longevity. So to flex our resilience muscle, we also need to buffer ourselves with social interaction, daily. That ‘hello’ to the stranger on the street, that knowing the name of the person who makes your coffee, that reaching out to a friend who you have not heard from in a while- these are the foundational building blocks of a life well lived.

So, if you too are feeling like you need to build some resilience muscle, for the moment here are a few very simple and practical ways you can choose:

  • Breath deep,
  • Make yourself big,
  • Get clear on your values,
  • Honour your vulnerability,
  • And phone a friend.

Now, I’m choosing sleep (we’ll get to that point too)- it’s been a long week. Thank you for reading (we’ll also get to gratitude!)

Clare xx

Part two on resilience coming next week when I’ll share some more tools to help build personal and professional resilience.

Found this article useful? Please share… 

Want to get clear on your values: 

This 7-step process can support you. Sign up to my mailing list here where you will gain a download link to it, and a growing library of other resources.

In this article: 

Listen to Amy Cuddy’s TED talk and follow it up with Maria Popova’s reflections. 

This New Yorker article is where I first read about Emmy Werner’s research.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown and Braving the Wilderness have much to offer in the way of resilience building and vulnerability, as too this recent On Being Conversation with Krista Tippett. 

Man’s Search for Meaning leaves a lasting impression. It was given to me as a 21st present. (Maybe gift it to someone you know too!)


Creative Mentoring Sessions

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The turning of 40

Today I turn 40. 
I promised myself I would do this and this is a promise I must keep. So hear goes:

I’m tired. I’m tired of looking in the mirror and not celebrating what I see. I’ll rest that here.

I’m tired of running away from my power because I am afraid of what my family, or friends, or that person on the internet who doesn’t even know me thinks. I’m going to leave that here.

I’m tired of feeling ashamed of my extra bit of belly, or curve or that part of my body that does not want to be tamed. That stays here.

I’m tired of all the ways I let fear shout louder than my love. From here on out, love wins.

I’m tired of trying to explain what I do and why it keep shifting- a life lived, flows. From here, I’m with the flow.

I’m tired of being spoken over, cut across, under valued, under represented, overly forgiving. That stops here.

I’m tired of being tired. Here I rest, to begin again.

These words, this, is a marker, a threshold, my rite of passage.

As I step across I honour my late father Jimmy, whose big wild heart is wrapped up in mine, still gifting me his lessons in kindness and laughter every day. I thank him.
 And I honour my mother, Geraldine, my first home, who with one hand offers me her gifts of generosity, and with the other, reaches out with her gift of unconditional love; the essence of a mother. To this I give my heart.
And I honour my grandmother, Molly, who sacrificed her own truth for the sake of her children’s belonging.
 And I honour my great-grandmother, who was silenced because she did not fit the mould, and whose silence has led me to find my own voice. I honour her, indefinitely.

And to Ireland, this land of my birth, I honour her too. She tells me to listen to her wild ways, for not only is she beautiful she has the power to transform. She is in my blood.

And to the ocean that wrapts it all up; I swim in my honour of her unfathomable depths, for she rises as storms do, then travels as the rain, nurtures the food that I eat and becomes, me. As I honour the ocean in me, I honour the ocean in you.

These words I place as a marker.
 Now I step over them and declare, on this my 40th birthday:
I will not let fear dominate or shame violate this body of mine.
 For I am the power of the ocean and the magnitude of the mountains. I am the wind and the rain.
 I am the wild woman and the forgotton voice.
 I am a white horse running with her wild.
 I am everything that woman contains.
 As I am womb, I am also home. 
As I am here, I am everywhere. As I am heart I am also the music of the heart beat.
 And if I am these things, then you, woman, you are these things too.

I have stepped across into the flow on this wild edge of becoming. I declare: I am finally, home.

Vernal Equinox Guidebook

We are travelling through the cycle of the year, traversing the quarter arc, the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, a time when day and night are in equal measure, an auspicious moment in the calendars of many cultures across the ancient world. This marker of time, this nod to the celestial orbit of the sun, was a moment to pause, to create rituals and traditions where stories of identify, ethnicity, religious and cultural roots could be told, weaving cohesive bonds through global evolving societies.

With origins in Zoroastrianism, the Persian Spring equinox marks the New Year (NowRúz or NawRúz), meaning ‘New Day’, commencing the first day of the first month in the Iranian Calendar (Farvardin), a moment symbolically carved into the rock of the ancient site of Persepolis, where the bull (earth) and lion (sun) are duelling with equal strength. For members of the Bahá’í Faith, NawRúz arrives after an extended period of fasting, a deep inner spring clean, marked as a holy day- a commemorative shabbat- to honour the crossing of the calendrical threshold. The celebrations for the Vernal new year span as far as Kurdish lands in Turkey, across the Black sea and into the Balkans, across Iraq and on into Tajikistan and to Uzbekistan, where ‘Pisanka’ or decorative eggs are hand-painted, echoing the Easter orthodox tradition of decorating the ‘egg’ of fertility, a tradition which, in turn, can be traced down to Greece. We can travel West too, as far as Mexico, to the ancient Mayan pyramidal tombs of Chichén Itzá and witness the vernal sun lighting the side of the tomb dedicated to the snake god Quetzalcoatl; the light revealing a serpentine

creature descending to the earth; the mythic return of the God to bless the forthcoming harvest.

So it may not be surprising then that this quarter cycle of the year was marked in Celtic lands, this time with a turning towards the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Eoster, Ostara, to which ‘Easter’ can trace it’s etymological as well as pagan origins. In Ireland we can find alignment of the equinox sun most notably at Cairn T at Loughcrew, part of the Knowth Megalithic Cairns, when the dawn rising sun, lights up the Sliabh na Caillí, the backstone of the passage tomb, highlighting engraved and decorative sun symbols.

In the ancient celtic calendar, the Vernal Equinox was one of eight points on the annual wheel of the year, mid-way between the festival of Imbolc (Celtic Spring) and Bealtaine (Celtic summer). While not one of the main festivals in the year, it is a time of celebration of the re-birth of life, a resurrection of visible growth, as the budding of leaves and spring greens arrived in ever increasing abundance as the season turns. It is a time of equal exchange between the light and the day, the ying and the yang, the masculine and the feminine, and it is a time of planting and getting back out into the land to do the work which will be harvested at the end of the Celtic year, at Samhain, six months down the line.

So, as we move through this arc of time, let’s take some pause, to tune into our light, to re-calibrate our intentions, consider our relationship to equanimity and to actively plant what we want to harvest, with intention and with hope.

I have designed a planner to help you do just that. It incorporates meditative and journalling practices alongside some powerful questions to tune you into your intentions for the season ahead.

Sign up here to my mailing list to download your free copy.





Stewards to our Rage


You can listen to this post too


The redwoods stood so tall. Some, I heard, were over 1200 years old. When I climbed up into the ‘mother’ tree, one of the oldest in the forest, easing my back against her broad trunk, I noticed the tarnishing and burnishing on her bark. This tree has been through fire, and has survived. It was scarred through time, and has survived. Not only that, now this ancient being is offering solace and shelter and comfort to others. It’s strength is in it’s stillness; it’s beauty in it’s stature.

The word ‘steward’ came to me, and ‘perspective’. As we are stewards to these trees, they are stewards to us. Their protection is a cycle. When I relaxed a little deeper into the redwood, the tears came. I cried, not out of sadness but of joy and awe for this grand perspective of time. These trees speak a language which the ancient parts of us understand. It made me think of the great Navaho ‘Seven Generations’ tradition- a way of longitudinal thinking which, like an arrow, catapults us through a long arc of time. It asks us to think about how our actions will land seven generations down the line; the span of a redwood life.

Back in Ireland, on International Women’s Day, I attended an entrepreneur event in West Cork. There were amazing, talented and motivated women in the room. They spoke of the power of emotional intelligence, of speaking up and out, and of the drive to get their visions out in the world. I tried to listen, but there was a rage rising in me; a rage which was stemming from a little pink aerosol bottle which had been placed in front of each of us. The bottle was a spray-on fake tan. The female entrepreneur behind the product is a passionate and driven individual, with a lot of skill at getting a product out to market. But I could not help but read the ingredients- many synthetically produced. As the can is pressurised, there is also a fatal warning on the label and a flammable warning sign too.

The rage continued to rise. What are we doing to ourselves? What on earth are we creating in the name of ‘beauty’? How long will it take for that bottle to degrade? What chemicals is it releasing into the air that we breath and the skin which houses us? The entrepreneur has won awards and recognition for her product, but I thought, what could that entrepreneur do if she put her talents and determination into creating a product which heals rather than harms our mother earth. Who, if not the women, will be the stewards in this long arc of time?

The other evening I found myself listening to a podcast on Sounds True with Joanna Macy. Macy,  now 88, has been instrumental in a movement called the The Work that Reconnects, incorporating Buddhist teachings and scientific thinking into environmental and social change work. There is an effervescence in her voice; a joy and air of reverence which comes from years of hands-on experience. I could listen to her forever. We have a choices, Macy explains, to participate in parallel narratives of our time. She names them as ‘the 3 stories’ which are simultaneously being written at each level of society. We have a choice as to what story we turn our attention towards. 

The first of these ‘3 Stories’ is Business as Usual- the story of our industrial growth society. It is the paradigm of profit and power in which economic growth is given prominence and provides for the wealth gain of the few- the 1%. This is the story of corporate rule, perpetuated by mainstream media. Next, there is The Great Unravelling. This is the story of the disintegration of our systems, including our ecological habitats. The Great Unravelling is narrating the death of our oceans, the obliteration of our environmental diversity and of climate change. It is the tale of the sixth extinction arising from the perils of the unchallenged ‘Business as Usual’ way of thinking.

Then there is the story of The Great Turning. This is the story which understands the other two stories but refuses to ‘let them have the last word’. It is the story of conscious action and of communities of practice- from business to activism-  who have the longitudinal arc in mind; who are actively choosing to turn attention, power and skill towards the work of crafting this new narrative and the corresponding, sustainable, systems necessary for our time.

The writer Ben Okri’s words come to mind here too when he asserts; “A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick…. Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger’.

The question then becomes, ‘What is the story we want to participant in?’ or even, ‘What is the story we want to write to make our hearts larger?’

Throughout the On Being gathering, there was much talk of this Great Turning story. ‘What is the new story we want to narrate’, asked our host Krista Tippett, echoing Joanna Macy’s work. We heard snippets of The Great Turning being crafted in the simple interactions and kindness of strangers, in the saying ‘No’ to racism and hate, in the reaching out to ‘otherness’ both internally and externally, and in thinking in these longer timeframes. The peace-builder John Paul Lederach, for instance, only takes on projects in which the leaders on both sides are thinking in decade cycles; underscored with an appreciation that we need to work beyond political election cycles for real change to make progress. We heard too from Parker Palmer, Courtney Martin and Omid Safi who spoke about the importance of actively cultivating intergenerational friendships to help us tap into different perspectives and wisdoms, and Dr. Lewis Mehl- Madrona paid homage to the original indigenous peoples who inhabited the land we were on, reminding us so directly that we are not the first ones here, and if we are careful, we will not be that last ones here either. Stewards, all of us.

Back at the Entrepreneur event in West Cork all I could see were little pink bottles. When it came to the questions and answers section, my heart was racing. I sat on my hands so that I would not raise them. I knew that if I did speak, anger would blurt out in a pacy rant. I get emotional that way- overcome sometimes, and in those cases, I am learning that it is best to pause, collect my thoughts and frame my emotions into a question- one that can highlight the challenge and potentially nudge the culture of what we find acceptable forward. Only on this day I seemed to be in overwhelm and my anger had hijacked my coherence. I turned to the lovely woman beside me, and the rage spilled over onto her (sorry lovely lady). Then, after the event, after calming down a little, I turned to another group of friends to ask for their advice: ‘How would you have framed the question’? Orlagh simply and gracefully offered- ‘How about… ‘have you considered a environmentally friendly version?’ Bingo. That’s all it would have taken. ‘Have you considered…’  Those little words pack a lot of punch. They nudge. I wished I had thought of that question at the time. Instead, I sat silent, and raging.

I know I need to work with this anger and surging emotion. I want to learn how to channel it more, and speak in ways which settle into the nudges. So since both the US trip and this entrepreneur event I have been asking myself, ‘How do I harness this anger and emotion, in the moment? How do I learn to speak up and out in ways that nudge the conversation forward?

I brought these questions to my own mentor. Her advice was a gesture back to the trees: be like the redwoods. She encouraged me to sit, so as to expand my capacity to be in the unruly discomfort, to be in the resistance, in the questions, in the anger. Sit for thirty minutes, she suggested, before you get into the whirl of the day. She means; sit to listen; sit to learn how to respond.

‘Stand still’, writes the poet David Wagoner, ‘The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost/  Wherever you are is called Here/ And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, must ask permission to know it and be known’

So, I make my way to my to ‘here’. I sit still (ish). In the sitting, I am finding that there is also a turning. The rage is getting re-shaped into a willingness to allow it to inform and highlight what I need to learn. The sitting is exposing the gaps, and then it is slowly giving me courage to go into those gaps to see how I can fill them.  As it is unsettling, I know it is also nudging. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’. Leonard Cohen knew of these things too.

In this case, the crack came in the shape of a little pink bottle. And the light? Well, perhaps that is the rage.

And then there is the little question of ‘Have you considered?

So, have you considered the story you want to nudge towards, The Great Turning, the seven generations, and the trees which will still be standing if we can learn to be stewards to our rage.


Stay in touch: Sign to my newsletter for more resources and happenings! 


From this article… 

Listen to the interview with Joanna Macy on Sounds True here. Her book ‘World as Lover, World as Self’ is a wonderful outline of her Great Turning thinking.

You can read my reflections from the On Being Gathering over here. Omid Safi also shared this reflections on his encounter with the redwoods in this elegant post. 

Want more poetry? Read David Wagoner’s full poem. I also recommend Mary Oliver’s collection ‘Felicity’ where you’ll find, ‘When I am among the trees’





On Being Gathering- Reflections

Travelling has a way of uprooting us from the familiar and offering new doorways into perception, insight and connections.

As many of you know I recently had the privilege of travelling to the first On Being Gathering, hosted in the new and magnificent 1440 Mulitversity outside Santa Cruz, California, surrounded by 1200 year old redwood trees.

For four days we immersed ourselves in conversations, connections, poetry and nature. It was a time for listening, for questioning, for asking how we collectively can play our role in shaping the world to embrace our full humanity with compassion; asking ourselves some of the big connective questions of our time.

In travelling to the gathering I was aware of the many wonderful people in my own community who were cheering me on and wishing also that they could be there. I was very aware that I was, in some way, representing all of these people- especially those in Ireland, and I wanted to offer something back to this community on my return. This too evolved into having a desire to offer something back to the new community which I met at the On Being gathering.

And so, since returning, I have spent some time attempting to syntheise the key themes and patterns from the conversations that were happening on an off stage. What emerged is a work of amalgam, and in putting this out, I must acknowledge the wise words and presence of all the speakers, participants, On Being staff and our host, Krista Tippett.

It is also a work in progress as I am sure that, with time, I’ll be able to see different patterns and ripple effects from the conversations and experience, allowing them to inform my own path onwards.

I have created my first Medium publication (thanks to my friend Orlagh who told me about the possibility of this) as a digital version of these reflections-

View Medium Publication here

And I have also created a PDF version for download and printing, which also includes a little more of the poetry which was shared or referenced at the Gathering, and have added this to my resource library.

Sign up to my newsletter to receive the link


I’d love to hear any responses you have, or what questions it stirs for you. And I also hope you find it useful in your life and work as you navigate your own questions and choices in this powerful time we are in.

Until soon

Clare. xx





An invitation to slow…

It felt a bit ironic that I read ‘Slow at Work’ quickly, but the ease in which it reads is part of its charm. Aoife McElwain writes in such an earthy and grounded way that reading her new book is like sitting down beside her in her favourite Fumbally Café as she openly and honestly talks you through her quest to get to core of the often ‘elusive’ concept of ‘Work/Life Balance’.

Aoife is a freelancer. For a long time that meant, like so many, running around like a mad thing, chasing deadlines, and juggling multiple projects. Then, one summer, after a bad back injury – induced by too much work and carrying heavy loads, both physically and mentally- she clearly realised the trap she was in: a distinct unbalance modulating her between extreme activity and burnout. And it was taking its toll.

Slow at Work, published by Gill, is the result of Aoife’s year long (ish) investigation in this core question, essentially: how to stay sane in an always ‘On’ world. Alongside extensive reading into the topic she interviewed about 100 people from different sectors- wellbeing professionals, coaches, other self employed people, restauranteurs, artist and creatives- gathering insights. Over the year she then experimented with new approaches and tools to actively apply to her personal and professional life and kept a list of her own nuggets of insight and ‘aha’s’ along the way (which she shares at the end of each chapter).

Diving into topics ranging from managing our inner critics, procrastination, technology and social media, burnout, energy management and gut instinct, Aoife provides a useful distinction between ‘percolation’ and ‘procrastination’ and a handy approach for getting to know (and tame) your inner critic. There are also plenty of insights into how our working environments, diet and physical activity have an impact on our overall wellbeing, alongside an open conversation about money and also our relationship to social media.

It would be tempting to wrap up such a book with the presentation of a ‘Seven Steps to having it all sorted’, kind of list. Refreshingly Aoife instead gives a considered evaluation of the evidence for ‘slow’ in the context of her own life. In that sense ‘Slow at Work’ is not a prescription, more of an invitation. “It turns out you can slow down and keep up’, she writes, ‘it just depends on what your idea of keeping up is”. Like many of the interviewees, Aoife is open and frank about the pitfalls of the entrepreneurial lifestyle- that the promised freedom can come at a high cost unless clear boundaries around time and a very very conscious commitment to wellbeing is applied – with discipline.

In our fast paced, ‘always on’ world, it’s reassuring to meet someone life Aoife who is writing so candidly about the perils of ‘ON’. It’s reassuring too that she’s not alone in her quest to switch gear, still do brilliant work and find ways to create flow and freedom. So if you are looking for new ways into considering what ‘keeping up’ means for you, you’ll find a fresh, friendly and honest voice in Aoife. So grab yourself a coffee, turn off the devises, and in finding your way to Aoife’s words you are already finding a way towards your own quest for sane…

You can pick up your copy of ‘Slow at Work’ in any good bookshop, as they say, or over on Gill Books website.

Happy reading 🙂 And if I have one piece of advice: take your time…


(I was honoured to be one of Aoife’s interviewees in the book, alongside many wonderful Irish voices who I respect and admire. I am also so delighted that Aoife’s work is out in the world in book print form- such a great achievement and a valuable addition to the wellbeing conversation.. well done Aoife! )

What’s in the belly? //


Today, as the Spring light filters onto my desk, as a little bluetit rests awhile on the bird-feeder outside, as the sea beyond shimmers with her openess and depth, to honour the Goddess Brigid, to honour the goddess within, to honour the creative spark of inspiration and insight, I place my hands on my belly and ask: ‘What’s in the belly? What wants to be birthed? What wants to come to form?’

The questions are an invitation to the creative muse within to give voice. The questions open space to listen, to acknowledge, to pay attention to the life which is stirring inside.

From this listening, I journal some new ideas, inklings, tender saplings of projects and possibilities. And then ask… what is my elegant next step?

So often we dismiss our ideas before we give them space to land. We push down the stirrings because they seem too crazy, irrational, ill-timed or inconvenient. We dismiss. And what happens to a friend when we keeping dismissing them? They are afraid to return in fear of rejection.

I think ideas and creativity are a little like that- always stirring and wanting to befriend us, to accompany us on our journey in life; to spark things within.

When we give space to listen, we are creating a welcoming ground for the creative muse. We are staying, ‘Come here, I’m open, and you are most welcome to sit for a while. It’s safe to land’.

So today, on this day of Imbolc, let’s take a few moments to pause, to place our hands on our bellies, and to ask ourselves,

‘What’s in my belly? What wants to be birthed? What wants to come to form’

Then take to your blank pages, your notebooks, your napkins, and write down all those ideas, even the crazy and the inconvenient- let them land.

Afterwards, take a few deep breaths and take note of how it feels in your marrow when you honour the stirrings. And then, only then, ask yourself, ‘what is my elegant next step’.

One elegant next step after the next, we move, onwards, with creativity in our pockets and a new spring in our stride…

Happy Imbolc.

With gratitude to the creative muse within us all, and the goddess too.

Clare. x

Living Seasonally: The Spring Edition starts on Saturday 3rd February, where we will be gathering online to listen inwards, and harness this spring energy in the full spectrum of our lives.

Find out more and register today

Imbolc Ritual- A practice for kindling your creative spark


After a long winter the time for the season’s turning is upon us. The days are slowly lengthening, we are emerging from the dark cycle of the year and moving towards the light. Life in the land is beginning to stir and new possibilities are starting to unfurl.

Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festival, celebrates this beginning of Spring. Marked at the new moon on the 31st January/ 1st February, it is a time to welcome this turning. Imbolc derives it’s name from the Irish, ‘i mbolg’, meaning ‘in the belly’, which in turn relates to birthing season, as the soon to be born lambs are growing in their mother’s bellies.

As we cross the threshold from one season to the next, we are witnessing a re-awakening in the landscape. Imbolc also gives us pause to notice the stirrings in our own internal landscape- what’s in our bellies and what ideas want to germinate or be kindled. It also gives us a chance to ask the nurturing and supportive questions of ‘how can this fire be tended’ and ‘how can the inner creative stirrings be harnessed’.

To support you I have designed an Imbolc Ritual to guide you towards your inner stirrings and your creative potential.

To access your free copy, sign up to my mailing list and you will be sent access link! 

The ritual  includes some breathing and meditative practice, and also encourages us all to do a bit of spring cleaning– internally and externally, so we can make space for fresh possibilities. It also includes some tools and practices for nurturing your creative ideas until they are strong enough to be planted into the wide open world! (This ‘greenhousing’ idea has totally shifted how I ask for feedback for my ideas)

I have recorded a short video to tell you more (click on my mug shot here to view!)


The guide is a prelude to the Spring Edition of Living Seasonally, which starts this coming Saturday, 3rd Feb. 

So, if you have new ideas stirring and you want some time and space to explore them, then Living Seasonally is for you. Plus, it’s a lovely thing which I pour my heart and soul into. Every day I record fresh videos and I am active on the forum- so it is not a plug and play course, but a responsive and facilitated one, evolving as I learn from each participant.

You can find out more and sign up here. 

Thank you so much all, as always.

Clare x

PS. If you are joining the course, can I encourage you to sign up sooner rather than waiting until Friday please. That way I’ll have a better sense of numbers… and this really helps. Thank you!

Working with the dark receptive…



It’s three weeks into January. Christmas holidays seem like a century ago (right?!) And right about now the slump can hit. Slump= procrastination/ doubt/ fear/ wanting to give up on whatever it is you set out in 2018 with and instead curl up in bed. Familiar?

First up, curling up in bed in a wonderful thing, especially with a good book or a cuddly person beside you, or both! I’ve a new found appreciation for naps, for naps are dreamtime and dreamtime is our subconscious/ unconscious helping us to figure out the unknowns in our lives and reminding us of the mystery. So, yes to naps, especially when we are only still 3 weeks into January and (at least in the Northern Hemisphere, and very much in West Cork, it is wintery outside and the hailstones still insist on coming at us horizontally).

And secondly the challenge is that default dominant cultural mode is to do. Get things done. Do things quickly. Like many of us, I’m a do-er. I get a buzz from starting projects and catalysing shifts. I love to see ideas made manifest in the world. So, I know it takes conscious effort for me to tap into the power of being. To be. We often associate being with ‘not doing’, which can, quite frankly, put the fear of God into all the default do’ers out there -and, yes, there are many of us!

The other morning I got up and immediately jumped into my ‘to-do’ list. By 11am something was really off. I felt out of sorts, stressed, worried. Then it clicked- ah, my ‘to be list’. You’d think I would have learned by now. But learning is a cycle too.

I am actively working with the celtic calendar at the moment and in these weeks before Imbolc (early Feb), we are in the dark receptive cycle. In this phase, ‘to be’ is to be receptive- to be open to receiving- to be growing with intent.

I am realising that there are two layers to this receptivity- the inner and the outer.

The inner layer is an inwards orientation to our own bodies. It asks us, what is it like to be receptive to our own presence, to the space of our bodies, and to our breath. What is it like to be open to feeling the textures we come in contact with on a moment by moment basis, and how does it feel to be aware of our intrinsic connection to all beings and all things, purely by virtue of our being-ness. To be is to be enough. That is baseline. This is the actual default of our lives, and yet we cover it up with busyness to safeguard ourselves from not feeling like we are enough.

The outer later is the external ‘being-ness’: how we show up in the world around us. ‘To be’ in the dark receptive cycle is to be willing to give time to those parts of our life which are still in germination or gestation; to be engaged with the world as a receiver of knowledge, emotion, experience, grace and then to express this receptivity through a trust that life is forever unfolding, always, just as nature does.

And so, with the remembrance, I return to my ‘to do’ list with a calmer breath. Suddenly the ‘to-do’ is put in perspective. I cross off some of the things which I realise are not urgent and return to the things which will help me to engage with the full presence of the day’s receptive unfolding.


So, during these weeks, here is a really quick practice for you which could radically alter your day:

As you start you day, begin with your ‘to-be’ list and only then write your ‘to-do list. This way you will be making room for what is essential and important, plus you’ll have a way of prioritising, especially when it comes to longer term goals. The urgent will suddenly seem less so. Try it for a few days in a row and notice how different your week is…


And here are a few journalling questions for you:

What part of your life is in gestation – if could be an area of personal life or business?

And how can you attend to it with the care and support, as if you are nurturing the very beginnings of a tender sampling? 


Learn More about Intentional Living and the Celtic Calendar

If you are interested in learning more about the celtic cycles and using the wisdom with in your own life and business, Living Seasonally, The Spring Edition, is open for registration. We start on Feb 3rd. We will be actively looking into how we refine our intentions and cultivate nurturing inner and outer habitats for our ideas, projects and lives to grow.


COMING SOON! I’ll be sharing a beautiful Imbolc ritual with you all towards the end of this month- so watch this space. If you are not on my mailing list already, hop on over there, add your contact details and the ritual will be sent directly to you.


Want to work one-to-one with me? Clarity Sessions is one month of powerful attention, tools and support tailored just for you. Find out more here.