A trip to an island, meandering the shoreline, noticing how the internal questions shift from large to small and back to large again, but carry on with deeper meaning and more perspective. There were the swims, of course, and a boat trip circumnavigating the island, and friendships kindled, and a love of the wild which swelled to new heights and set the heart a flame.
A photo essay meditation, from Inishlacken, Connemara- to pause, to take in the light, to carry that light onwards.
(This post is dedicated to my aunt, Annie Meehan, nee Mulvany, who passed away, aged 86, earlier this week. She was a bright spark, a woman of the flame, and I always remember her as being the last person on the dance floor. As I was taking these photos, she was being laid to rest; with the light beaming and the birds soaring. Our memories carry)
Thrive School is back. It’s been a journey too, starting this thing, and in the process I have been learning and one of the best things has been getting to know groups of amazing open individuals and support them as they grow, connect and learn together.
It is so very excited to witness how Catherine has been stepping up into her own artistry and fulfilling life long dreams- this is the stuff of inspiration.
You can see more of Catherine’s work here and find out about her art courses here:
I’ve been going back over my journals, tracking the trails and the storylines which I have been navigating. I’ve been keeping journals since I was 11, and in those pages are the many layers of me where the iterations a life moves through are laid bare. Next year I am approaching a significant birthday, turning 40, and to move fully forward I am in a phase of looking back, narrating the threads and weaving them together so that I can use them to lay the next part of the track.
The journals are in many ways a blessing. Here is evidence, here I can see entrenched or repeated patterns. It is bringing delight to reencounter the moments in my life when a person entered it, opening a whole new door, a new love, or a new trail.
What strikes me is that the seeds of what I am doing now were laid a long time ago. The blank pages help give voice to the inkings of ideas, and slowly, with time and circumstance, the right seeds start germinate and take root.
Below is an extract from a journal in 2012. Back then The Trailblazery was just emerging through my collaborations with Kathy Scott and Ciara Cavanagh, and, with hindsight, I can see that the impetus behind Thrive School was also making noise. It has been rumbling in iterations before, and here, I see it again.
From my journal, in 2012
The birds make great sky-circles of their freedom. How do they learn it? They fall, and falling they’re given wings. Rumi.
As I read the above I also thought of a beautiful video called ‘Murmuration’ – which has been doing the internet rounds. It captures a flock of starling on Lough Derg, a place on the river Shannon I spent many a day during my teenage years.
Every time I look at it, it takes my breath deeply away. It reminds me of the beautiful power of the natural systems and the importance of gathering. Making their ‘great sky circles’ together, the birds make their falling and their swooping into a game of dance.
There has been a bit of falling and swooping for myself of late. When trying to put new and fresh things out into the world, and at the same time fulfil a social need, there are inevitably mistakes, and falls and stumbles as I negotiate the hurdles. Juggling lots of projects it is hard sometimes to keep track of all the balls, let alone not let any fall. Admittedly I feel I’ve let some fall recently. Just like the physical act of juggling, juggling projects is a skill- one which I’m ever trying to learn. It is project management, time management, energy management. With each project come the element you are familiar with and then the ones you are not. And sometimes you have to learn how to anticipate them. But with each new thing comes new falling, and new learning. Each time a ball falls, the learning is about picking it back up honestly, exploring why it fell and putting it back on track. And, as projects expand there is a growing realisation that one person can’t physically hold them all, or at least all at the same time. Which brings me back to the Rumi quote, and the footage.
In a sense I am realising the wings we are given are the support networks we build around us- the people I can call upon to bounce ideas with, curl up with, share the highs as well as the lows. They help to take me though the rough and the tumble and they are there for the climb. At the top, they celebrate. But that support network doesn’t just miraculously happen- it takes time to build, nurture, coach, and support. It is about finding the right people at the right time. Creating that network and support is a core theme of my own work over the last few months…
And so it evolved.
The journals are offering me a gift- to see what was calling then, and reenter into those callings to see it they are still there, how they have transitioned and what they are calling for next. They help me to see that yes, I am on the right track, no matter the great swooping and fallings, for this is a game of dance, with the birds, and the flock, and the great circles in the sky.
Time, I believe, is not linear, but circular. We are in a spiral of growth, introspection, extroversion, expansion, contraction and spin. There are times for inwards, and times for outwards. So, my friends, you may not have journals, but you do have memories. Maybe take a quick glance over your shoulder, stop at a particular place in time, and check in with yourself then. What was calling? What was emerging? And how is that showing up in your life now? Are their callings which want to been seen again, or given voice to?
May the grace of the falling and swopping birds be with us, and all the expansive possibility of the sky.
Arriving into Gougane Barra Hotel today a sign at the door seemed to read the language of my soul. ‘Not all who wander are lost’.
I’m wandering today, but I don’t feel lost. It’s summer solstice. It’s a turning point in the year, when – in the northern hemisphere- the light is full and the days are at their longest. As a day to celebrate, it did not feel like a day to be sitting at the kitchen table, so I packed my bags and drove the hour or so up here, laptop included, swimming gear too.
Gougane Barra is a special place. Surrounded by high mountains, it’s an ancient monastic site where St Finbarr said to have built a church in the 6th Century on a little island in the lake. The river lee- the main river running into Cork city has its source close by too. The water here is clear and today calm as glass. With summer is in its full, the foxgloves are necklacing the shore; wild daisy and buttercups too. And there is a quiet here that can only happen inland; a kind of quiet that was calling.
I like to mark each solstice. Ancient as the rituals are, the solstices seems like a brilliant chances to place some pinpoints on maps: the map of where you are now and the map of where you want to get to. I find that wild places are the best facilitators of such conversations. It’s out in nature when I can think more clearly; tune into my deeper voice and shut out the noise.
So, arriving here to Gougane Barra this afternoon there was only one thing for it; to jump into the lake and let her dark waters embrace me. Below the surface, there is a different quiet too; the one that feels so alive, so vital, so energising. Sometimes we have to dive deep to really find our way. It’s only after jumping in that I can write, set the intentions, do the work. It’s through that wandering that I find my way. So today/ tonight, the invitation:
To wander. To find a wild spot for yourself, and see you can find a wild spot in yourself too. To celebrate all that you are and all that you are becoming. To write some intentions. To feel your body move in the light. To inhabit more of yourself and therefore the world. And do whatever it is you need to do to feel enlivened. And may the long day is here to be your guide… your inner wildness too.
(The photo above with from a recent Whale Watching trip… but more on that soon… I don’t quite have the words yet)
Longer days, brighter times. There is a buzz which summer brings.
Which got me thinking about harnessing this energy with my own creative projects and through my work. And so it is that The Summer Sessions are here.
As the days are alive, why not utilise this time of year and bring your ideas to life too.
So, maybe it is time to finally start that project you have put on hold for ages- a book? a film? an exhibition? a new business? Maybe you are already running a business but need some fresh direction and momentum? Maybe you are feeling stuck and long for some clarity on the next steps to take. Or maybe you are busting with ideas but struggling to put some form and structure to them.
Yes- it is time to turn procrastination into progress, and I can help.
Let’s use the summer to shine some big light on your creative power and potential.
Figuring out what to do with our one wild and precious lives; that seems to be a universal eternal quest.
What a beautiful gift we have, the questions. But sometimes the questions seem so dense and impenetrable that they seem to turn us away from the very things that bring the wildness and preciousness to our life in the first place. We get stuck in a loop asking ‘what next?’ We think we are far removed from our own answers. We become disillusioned, and when the going gets really tough we get tired of asking the question, and so we stop. Yet the questions are our lifeblood, and the questions raise the quest.
So instead of letting the questions push you aside, can we learn to invite them to come along for the ride, step by little step. If you you are struggling to know what to do next- with your life, in your job, in your relationships, remember that there is always the invitation to do the simple things; and as you are doing the simple things, you can ask for some clarity; for that next elegant step that would be good for you to take.
The ‘Simple Things’ list is beautifully individual and remarkably universal:
Journal. Go for a walk. Spend time with an animal. Walk along the beach in bare feet. Star-gaze. Have a bath. Sit in silence on your mat. Exercise. Mend a bike. Bake a cake. Garden. Paint. Sing. Dance. Scribble. Sit some more. Write a letter to someone you admire. Help a stranger. Share your lunch. Share your knowledge. Share your joy.
The challenge is this: the simple things are often labelled as ‘procrastination. They can be seen as keeping you away from the thing that think you need/ should to be doing. Do enough of them and some may even deem you as wayward, lazy, unfocused, unsettled, misguided. But what if we flipped all of that? What if deep in the heart of the simple thing there was a clue or a signpost which has the capacity to carry you onwards, into your own deep clarity of knowing what to do next. The simple thing then becomes a map.
There is one secret ingredient though which you’ll need to apply, consistently. It’s the raising agent otherwise known as intention.
Our intention is what refines our action. Without intention our actions can indeed fall in towards procrastination, but by focusing our intention we start to be able to use the action of it, the doing of it, as a way into the deeper knowing of what to do next. The answers are within us and our intention takes us there.
That may sound abstract but I suspect we have all experienced this. Head in a muddle- go for a walk and later the idea pops in the shower. Frustrated and annoyed? Dance that dance and the anxiety dissipates too. In the space of the doing we make room for the next step to reveal itself.
So here’s the little practice:
Next time you are feeling stuck, take your question on a walk or to the bath or to the trees. Kneed it into the dough or onto a canvas. Dance it out. Scribble it out. Plant it deep in the veggie patch and watch it evolve.
And the added bonus is this: Piece together enough simple things- the walks, the wanders, the star-gazing, the frenzied nights at an easel, the shared meals, the shared gestures, the secret letterbox goody drops, the silent moments on a mat- and it makes for a pretty wild and precious life- filled with moments of intention and questions and evolutions- intentionally.
If you want to take this #toolsforthriving practice to your journal, here are a few steps.
Make a list of the questions you are carrying with you. Keep going. You likely have many.
In a different coloured pen circle the questions which are really niggling. The ones that are waking you at night or the ones that are particularly entrenched.
Make a list of your go-to simple things. (they are likely free or inexpensive, easily accessible and things that bring you joy)
Do that thing! As you are doing it, bring just one of the questions you have circled with you. There is a discipline to this to keep our intention, and attention, focused on that question. If you find your thoughts going astray, bring them back to the question. As you are doing the ‘thing’, you can internally ask for clarity or insight. And for your next step.
Jot down any next steps that come to you. It may not be the obvious thing. You may think of a person you have not been in touch with for a while- maybe that person has a clue for you too. Or you may think of resource which will available to you which you have not thought about for a while
Take action quickly on the thing that popped. Write that email that day. Phone that person as soon as you can (this is the key difference and way to utilise the thing- otherwise the circle of questions will spin and spin.
Repeat for another question. This is a practice as much as a process.
Want to stay in touch for more resources and happenings? Sign up to my mailing list here.
As news rolls around the world of deeply turbulent times, it settles uneasily in our hearts. It can indeed feel like we are on very shaky and uncertain ground. It can be so easy to feel overwhelmed, uncertain, even cynical. Where to turn? What to do? What difference can I make or will my work make?
The questions are understandable and legitimate. But let’s lay it down on the line: what we choose to pay attention to matters. What we choose to create, support, honour and do with our time, talent and attention matters more than ever. Our kindness, our compassion, our empathy, our trust in strangers, our courage to keep going, our hope and our actions, send out ripple effects. Individually they may be small but even a small act can welcome a stranger, or see the beauty in the broken bits.
You see alongside the turbulence, there is another a rising tide- a tide of people stepping up to their dreams, visions and values. We have seen the rise of creative leadership, a whole new field of social entrepreneurship and investment, the tech for good movement, the environmental movement, and those reaching out a hand to refugees, those choosing not to give into hate or fear, those willing to see beyond the black and white headlines. This rising tide knows there is always a choice.
So, today, as the sad news enters into a deep chamber of the heart, let’s all do something small for another person. Something kind and compassionate; something simple that signals that there is always another way. It’s not to deny what is happening but it is to be part of the countercurrent.
So maybe there is a person you have not been in touch with for a while- give them a call and say hello, tell them how much you have missed them. Maybe there is a cause you care about- make a donation. Maybe a loved one really needs a hug- offer your arms as a home and a haven. Yes, they are simple things, but each act, no matter how small are the individual the drops in the tide of change.
With that in mind I have listed a few things in the resources and shared some happenings which are part of the tide too.
I have been studying the work of Diane Muso Hamilton via her book ‘The Zen of You and Me’– A Guide to getting along with just about anyone (thank you Mari Kennedy for making the link). Both Diane and Mari are wise women, and the book feels globally timely.
I find a tribe of beauty and compassion gathering around the work of Elena Brower. Her Teach.Yoga site has beautiful resources and connections to great teachers around the world.
I loved this interview on Design Matters with writer and illustrator Maira Kalman. Mario’s curiosity and quest for the extraordinary in the ordinary served a great reminder that inspiration is everywhere.
This TED talk with architect Siamak Hariri, who was the designer of the first Baha’i Temple in South America, speaks about designing for sacred space, taking inspiration from the swirls, twists and texture in nature. It too is a story of hope.
And if you fancy a bit of fun this weekend, and you happen to be in West Cork, the Fastnet Film Festival in Schull is starting tomorrow. I’ll be hopping over to Long Island to see The Crash Ensemble perform at dusk. Magic in the making..
It has been just over a year now since I moved to West Cork. There was a draw here, certainly. I came in many ways in expectation that I would find my next teacher- a yoga teacher? a body worker? a meditation master?- somebody that would lead me deeper into my own practice and therefore into myself. I did find my next teacher, actually I have found two, but they are not what I expected. In fact, they don’t even need to speak, or at least not in a language that needs words.
Teacher One: aloneness.
There have been many hours spent in my own company. There have been long dark nights filled with questions and many hours walking the shoreline and the ridgelines, noticing the calligraphy of a falling leaf and the poetry of open skies. I have spent hours tracing the course of streams until they have become river beds or walking country lanes until they fade into fields. I’ve sat on beaches waiting for the stars to arrive. Storms have come in, and cracking winds, and sometimes the sun set the world aglow. All that time alone but it never felt right to say I was lonely.
I suppose I have learned that aloneness has a richness, depth and a range of qualities to it, each offering their own teachings. At times the aloneness has felt comforting, even sensuous, and at times rigid and difficult. It has been a mirror to my joy and my challenges. It made me face myself like no other teacher could, and in doing so it has been taking me across a threshold into the understanding that all I really have is myself, and when I listen close enough, the boundaries start to melt away to a place where ’I’ becomes ‘each other’ and the breath that links us is but one joyous and lingering dance. The dance makes it’s way into the ebb and flow of the tides, or the current of my mood, offering a remembrance too that emotion has it’s own motion, never static and always available to change.
Teacher One has been generous. As I walked those mountain ridges they became an extension of an inner challenge, reaching into me to break open resistance and invite me to climb higher, or at least onwards. The meandering streams offered a sign that the journey to the open sea, the expanse, is never straight. I’m less afraid of the dark now too, for as you wait for dusk to turn to dark you sit in the knowing that the darkness is just one aspect of light’s full spectrum. And I am less afraid of taking the hidden path, or the wrong turn, or diving deeper, for it’s in those places where wildness and aliveness inhabit their fullness. I’m still not so keen on the cold atlantic waters though, so I know I have a way to go yet. And woodlice. Not so keen on them either.
Of all the places the hours have taken me, it is the edge that I love the most- those places where the sea shifts into sand and then to shore. The place where rugged, hardened rock is putty to the wind or where a cliff suddenly falls to meadow and then back to cliff again. I love how the edge havens colonies of birds and harbours in its nooks and crannies even the most vulnerable of life. It is at the edge where I have felt most at home.
All along the clue was in the word. Aloneness : all/one/ness. Not separate, but part of. Not different, but extension. Not singular but syncopated.
Before me, all around me, in the air that I breath and the land that I stand on, my second teacher was with me all along too. Nature has a way of revealing herself to us in gradual, medicinal doses. Her magic this time has been her intimacy and her disguises. Those little robins who visited me each day in winter showed up to tell me that lonely is but a fallacy I have been colluding with. And that song in the wind, that too had a story of belonging to tell. And, of course that four legged being who has been a shadow to me, with her unfailingly waggy tail and zest for life- espically when it involves walks and even better when it involves the sea- well, she is love, in all it’s finest and tenderest and most innocent of guises. In fact I think she has a special ‘teacher’ status too, but I’ll not tell her yet because the training books tell me that I am meant to let on that I am her master but I’m not so convinced of the order of things.
In a few days time I will be moving house again (still in west cork, but more town based… for a while…) There is a time for all things and the time of this particular phase is ending. The tide will go out, but a new tide will come in and carry me over. Thanks to Teacher One and Teacher Two, I trust this more now; this coming and going and the life on the edge of knowing and not knowing. For this, I will be forever grateful and so forever will I pledge to be a student to the best teachers of all.
In my work as a writer and photographer, I have been blessed to meet the most remarkable of women, each who carry their own light, each to have a gift to bring to this world. I have met them in the best of times and in the most challenging of times. I have witnessed their deep pain and experienced their enduring joy. The strength of these women and girls is the backbone of the world. Their stories are the life-giving source of healing and hope. Today, on International Women’s day, I remember and honour them, for whether man or women,they are us, and we are them. This is for you.
For the ones who love. For the ones who carry us onwards. For the mothers in us. And the lovers.
For the ones who endure. For the ones who sacrifice.
For the ones who give birth; to children, dreams, desires, pain and progress.
For the ones who grieve for us all. For the ones who don’t give up.
For the ones whose voices are never heard. Them. Always for them.
For the womb which was your first home in the world, and the woman who held you.
For the ones who resist. And persist.
For the music makers. For the artists. For the schemers.
For the activists and the changemakers. For the homemakers and the breadwinners.
For the ones who trust in another way.
For the fighters. For the jokers. For the paradigm shifters.
For the learners and the educators, the teachers and the students. For the guides, leading from the heart.
For the one who plant and the ones who tend. For the carers and the givers.
For the ones whose voices are never heard. Them. Always for them.
For the ones leading the way and the ones laying the paths. For the bridgemakers, the weavers, the dancers. For those who are catalysing a new level of conversation and therefore connection.
For the ones whose voices are never heard. Them. Always for them.
For my great-grandmother, who was silenced and shut away, for being the woman that she was.
For my grandmother, who worked until her bones bore the weight of her caring.
For my mother, who gave birth to all this, and more.