Creative Islanders: Mari Kennedy

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Photo: Clare Mulvany

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

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Transformational leadership coach, yoga and mindfulness teacher, and facilitator, Mari Kennedy has been a pivotal friend and colleague in my own life, and in the lives of many. Her creativity spans many ventures including The Ireland Iceland Project, The Yoga Salon, and my own collaborations with her through Be Retreats.

Mari has a special knack of sparking fresh conversations and insights, and creating learning spaces for rich and lasting change. She is always real, ever honest and just through her being inspires creative responses to life. She is great craic too and has been the brightest treasure of a friend anyone could wish for. It is such an honour to be able to include my creative collaborators in this interview series. So, go make yourself a cup of tea and dive into these rich words from the radiant, Mari Kennedy….

(All photos by myself, apart from Cliff of Moher Retreat Centre, by Mari)

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What keeps you in Ireland?

I ask myself this question all the time. Certainly for the first 30 years of my life it was a combination of being very close to my family and fear of the unknown. I was a funny mix of someone who dreamt of travelling and new experiences and a total home-bird, safety junky. The latter always won out. Deep down I was afraid of change and loss. Life threw me a few curve balls over the last 10 years, reminding me there is no such thing as safe, and ensuring that I understand that change and loss are the very essence of living- rather than fearing them they are to be danced with. Now I choose to stay here with a willingness at any moment to leave. I am in Ireland today because I am excited by what I see around me – friends, colleagues and clients who are asking bigger questions, choosing to live in a more courageous conscious way, desiring a different future for this particular corner of the earth and its inhabitants.

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 (Mari speaking at Body & Soul Festival, Trailblaze event)

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

The mystery of life and attempting to show up to the adventure and the crazy complexity of being human. That excites me and terrifies me. I have learned to love the fact that everything is always changing, transforming and evolving. Everything! Think about it – in the utter bliss of kissing someone for the first time is the loss and ending of that relationship, whether it happens a day later or at the end of a lifetime of kisses. Isn’t that amazing and painful and beautiful all rolled up together? That’s what we have to deal with as humans.

I love working with others developing and designing transformational experiences, events, programmes, retreats. Collaboration brings me alive. And yet it’s the most challenging thing I do because it always brings up shadow (the parts of me I prefer not to see or more significantly don’t want anyone else to see!).  It also demands that I stop trying to control people and situations. When we collaborate we are invited to stop relying solely on our own intelligence and trust in the bigger collective intelligence. Its pure magic but it is guaranteed to unearth the small self. My first attempt at collaboration was with Kathy Scott in the ireland:iceland project in 2011 and we’ve been playing with collaboration and learning ever since. More recently we created The Yoga Salon which allows us to bring other great creatives and yogis together.

Inquiry and questioning is also something that makes me tick. Both self-inquiry and asking questions of how we are living as a society are essential to our evolution. I became a coach because coaching provides a place to safely question and open up new possibilities. The world I grew up in did not encourage questioning and it’s taken me a long time to relearn the questioning that was so natural as a 2 year old.

The change I see happening in the world motivates me. It’s really exciting. One thing that really struck me in the last 12 months in my work in Leadership and Mindfulness is how mindfulness and wisdom practices are been taken on by organisations. I have been amazed at how deep people are going in the practice of meditation and how committed they are even in the middle of a busy office and hectic work load.

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Photo: Cliffs of Moher Retreat Centre, Mari Kennedy

What does the creative process teach you?

Perfection is overvalued, impossible to sustain, and ultimately cold and clinical. Imperfection and brokenness are rich with potential and full of beauty.

Play, curiosity and kindness are some of the forgotten portals into creativity.

Mistakes are part of the process and to be celebrated as opportunities to encounter my small limited self (who hates them!). It teaches me to respect and revel in cycles, make friends with the unknown, listen and celebrate.

That loss, confusion, discomfort when given space give rise to hitherto unimaginable possibilities.

There’s a time to listen and there’s a time to act – and that is the process.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

Sit in the stuckness, stay close into the stuckness and inevitably it will open up. As our Celtic ancestors knew, everything begins from darkness.

 

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What do you do just for the love of it?

Jump off rocks into the sea. For the pure joy freedom and craic of it!

My morning meditation- it connects me to larger belonging every day, keeps me close to my heart and to what really matters.

I love words and I find myself collecting them like beads with the hope that some day I will string them together into a couple beautiful pieces.

Making food–put me in a kitchen with music to sing along to, a fridge full of fresh beautiful food and I’m happy out.

Reading poetry -Rilke, David Whyte, Hafiz, Rumi. I just got introduced to Marie Howe when someone recited “Annunciation” to me, standing in a field during Body and Soul and it blew my heart open.

 

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Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Amazing women and men in my life who are stepping up, dealing with their shit, taking personal responsibility for their lives and speaking their truth. Having them accompany me at the edge of my own comfort zone as my friends is a daily inspiration. (You know who you are!)

My Dad’s legacy of gratitude and seeing the good in all situations.

Clients who sit opposite me and say “I’m lost” or “something needs to change in my life and I don’t know where to start”. I celebrate those moments of honesty as doorways to potential.

Integral Theory makes sense of this complex world for me, and Theory U and the work of Otto Scharmer at MIT inspires me to live in the unknown.

The research and work on mindfulness, empathy, compassion, neuroscience and the heart by people like Tanya Singer, Kristin Neiff, Richie Davison, Dan Segal, and The Institute of Heart Math inspire me to believe that we humans are evolving our capacity for compassion and empathy which potentially could enable us to create a caring society.

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How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

I recently read a quote “When somethings goes wrong in your life just yell “plot twist and move on”. I found myself smiling and wanting to yell. I recently lost my home and that was really tough. I had to face fear, vulnerability, grief and shame. I was so grateful to have a practice that allowed me to meet and face all those feelings and allowed me to catch my tendency to fall into, ‘poor me, nothing ever goes right…’ You know the script!

My practice of sitting with myself in meditation and inquiry got me through – it helped me to ultimately see that I have a choice to be the victim of this ‘plot twist’ or turn it into a jumping off point to a new and different life, one that is more real I suspect. One thing I know there is always gold to be mined in the challenge of plot twists. The steadfastness of my family, the extraordinary generosity, support and love of friends, and uncovering some shocking limiting beliefs are some of the gold I continue to mine.

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What key lessons have you learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way ? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

Pausing is one of the most creative (and courageous) acts you can perform. We are so conditioned to be busy and always in our strategic mind. Pausing summons our creative mind.

Right now I am experimenting with just that. I’ve been testing my capacity to press pause – and failing often – since I first realised, eleven years ago, that I was perpetually over-functioning and never ever stopped. When I first tried to stop back then I saw that I actually didn’t know how to even slow down. So here I am now, down in the West of Ireland, without a schedule, without a plan, with the intention of not filling up time with busyness. Sounds quite idealistic and dreamy but it’s actually excruciating at times not to reach for some distraction but to be in the nothingness of nothing to do. In that nothingness I see the panic that drives the busyness. The more I have learned to stop the more creative my life has become.

Over-achieving and trying to be perfect or create perfection is exhausting. The more you allow yourself to be human and stop worrying about being right or “the expert”, the more innovative and creative you become.

Through my failures I have learned how hard I am on myself and how that unconscious self-rejection has hijacked my life. Self-compassion and friends with a sense of humour REALLY helps.

I have learned that curiosity keeps mind and heart open and that the capacity to take multiple perspectives creates connection and invites possibilities that otherwise would have been missed.

Collaboration is immensely difficult for us humans at this stage in our evolution but hugely rewarding and essential for the future of humanity.

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

Yes – I try to spend 60-90 minutes practicing. I pour (but don’t always drink!) a litre of hot water with some cider vinegar, and I always sit. Then I do one or two of the following depending on time and what’s going on – yoga, dance, running hills, journaling, inquiring.

Silence, setting intentions and checking in are some creative practices I also use. Silence connects us to something bigger, attention as a rule follows intention, and checking-in inspires empathy and connection.

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What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to? 

These days I listen and watch as much as read. I think Ken Wilber’s Kosmic Consciousness changed my life and my perspectives and I loved his dairy One Taste.

Rilke’s Love Poems to God.

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

Roger Housden’s Ten poems to Change your Life

Pema Codron’s When Things Fall Apart

David Whyte’s The House of Belonging

I love the writing of John Moriarty but I have yet to finish a book of his.

Integral Life for all things Integral and the work of Ken Wilber.

Tara Brach Darma Talks

Sounds True Insights at the Edge – some of the great leading edge thinkers in evolution.

Yoga Glo –  great for home practice.

The Love Revolution – Matt Kahn

Mystic Mamma for bite sized pieces of wisdom and great images.

 

What advice would you give to your future self?

I suspect my future self would have more interesting and useful advice to give my present self than other way around. So if I can turn it around my future self would ask me four questions:

What’s asking for your attention?

What really matters to you?

What do you want to create?

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

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Thank you so much Mari! xx

Mari’s links:

The Yoga Salon

Cliffs of Moher Retreat Centre (Regular Guest Teacher)

 

 

 

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