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I open my front door to a new day, to begin a new month. Fresh light enters. The air feels immediately crisp having recently been sea-bound. Not far away the waves are rumbling, as they always do, and life spins its onward turn.
It is Imbolc. ‘Meaning: In the belly’. ‘Meaning: ‘What’s brewing?’
The inner impetus at this time of year is a beckoning. In an act of ritual, I place my hands on my own belly, feeling the soft rounding of the years, and the rise and fall of my own breath waves: a perpetual motion of being. It is a time of year to pay homage to the internal inklings, those stirrings of ideas and insights which have been brewing in the hibernating wilderness of my wintering. The cracks are appearing in the night skies. At either end, the dawn and gloaming thickens. It is how the light gets in. To pay homage is to give the light at the end of the darkness, the cresting ideas, attention. The ritual helps to bring me there.
We have the mythological underpinnings of this time of year in our Celtic heritage too. Goddess Brigid: lighter of the flame, kindler of the artistic flare, protector of the poets, feminine force of fecundity and growth. Her memory is here to give force to our imaginings. I find it reassuring that when we go into the deep layer of our collective stories we find a woman, myth or saint, who carried the flame of the arts, a champion of the poets and midwife to our creative potential. And so, the festival of Imbolc is a potent time to pay homage to our own creativity. In doing so we root ourselves in this Celtic lineage as we honour the story of the Goddess Brigid, whose legacy can remind us to trust that we already have what it takes within to bring form to our imaginings: our intrinsic creativity of being.
Yet knowing and doing are two separate acts. We can feel those stirrings, but knowing how to act on them, and how exactly to begin, is another set of skills. I see it all the time, in myself and in others: the moment of beginning, if taken too seriously, can stop us in our tracks. Attention, in this sense, is a verb.
How to begin? I think it starts with trust, but the hardest edge of trust is trusting ourselves. Those little niggling voices of self-doubt and the greedy voices of self-sabotage, they are particularly vicious at the beginning of things when it can feel safer to stay in the comfort of hibernation rather than risk ourselves to the light.
The poets, of course, have something to say about this. And one in particular I have been turning to, in remembrance.
When word of Mary Oliver’s death came through, the internet was flooded with poetry for a few days. In between headlines of Brexit blunders and the myriad unspeakable horrors of the things that are deemed newsworthy, there was a collective embrace of wonder and beauty. It was like a thread we are all desperately clinging too, consciously or unconsciously, for our survival. So it seemed that this frail, powerful, quiet presence of a woman had entered into the hearts of so many, and altered them, utterly and eternally. Her poetic voice rounded the complex themes of metaphysics and philosophy, ecology and spirituality into pared back beauty and simplicity. And her poems, like pumice stones, proved that they could soften the hardened parts of our thick skins and the walls we’ve put up to protect us from those all too durable news headlines, and even the walls that separate us.
So now I take delight in this: she may be gone, but her words will never go: therein the power of the word. Even more so, therein the power of the word which calls us to reverence, wonder, and particularly to connection. Words of hers like these:
‘I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. That the farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honouring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves- we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.
I move through her collection of essays in Upstream, mostly in awe, jumping up from the page when I reach ‘Of Time and Power’. It was as if Brigit was speaking too, with a warning, and that reminder again:
‘The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time’
These are strong words from a wise woman. But Mary Oliver is generous too, and so offers us clues. How to begin? I think she knew we would be wondering.
‘Attention is the beginning of devotion’.
In Spring, we begin to notice. The swelling buds. The first sighting of daffodils, unusually early this year. The grass, putting energy again into its skyward journey. The blossom too, arriving, slowly at first, but knowing that soon it will be in flair. It is life seeking life in a beautiful insistence, as another poet, Brendan Kennelly writes, ‘that we forever begin’
So what if paying close attention is all we need to forever begin? What if, this Imbolc, in honour of Brigit, we place our hands on our belly and really trust in what we sense there, in those stirrings that live below doubt and fear and are speaking not only who we are now, but who we are becoming, individually and collectively. We are each other’s destiny after all, and our links are our vitality.
I have been taking part in an online gathering over this last week called ‘Story the Future’. From around the world, facilitators and trainers, teachers and leaders have been gathering to learn more about the practice of storytelling, and particularly how to use narrative tools for learning and building stronger connections across community and social divides. One of our hosts, Mary Alice Arthur, has a knack for weaving big and timely questions into the mix, by way of encouragement. She gave us this one.
Where can I see elements of the future already manifesting in the present?
‘The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens’, said Rilke. So, maybe our future is already inside us, and it is just a matter of listening, and being willing to give our active attention to what we hear.
Imbolc, it’s our invitation from our ancestors to our very own spring, to that bud which is ready to bloom. So I continue the Imbolc ritual. My hands rest on my belly. I hear the ancient ripples of Brigid, and the poetic whisperings of Oliver, Kennelly and Rilke. I sense the connection of my breath to the tides, and from those tides my connection to every shore, and upon every shore, every stone, and upon every stone every footfall, and within every footfall, every beating heart. Yes, attention is the beginning of devotion.
Then I ask myself.
Where can I see elements of the future already manifesting in the present?
For a while it is quiet. Nothing moving but my breath. But then a deeper stirring. ‘I think it is in the very next line that you write’. I know that line is a proposal. A new project has been brewing and it is time to give it attention. So I pick up my pen, I open a blank page, and I feel something rise within me, this intrinsic creativity of being. It is insisting, beautifully, that yes, I forever, begin.
A Creative Practice: In the belly (15 mins)
Want to do some listening and journalling and take some time to tune inwards to listen to what wants to be brought to life; to what ideas or projects are stirring from within? You can choose to do this practice sitting or lying down.
Place your hands on your belly for a couple of minutes and sit in silence.
Can you feel the rumblings of any new ideas, projects or stirrings? Can you sense into what is moving in your life? Perhaps it is something which has been underground for a while (a dream you have had for ages, a book idea, a project you have been churning for months). What is seeking to emerge? Where do I see elements of the future already manifesting in the present?
Keep your hands on your belly, and after another few minutes ask: ‘What is your gut instinct telling you about all this? Is it time to take action? If so, what is the next step?
Take note of any other thoughts or ideas which are emerging, then take to your journal and write for 10 mins, including these next steps which you listed. Toward the end of your journalling time, decide which next step you are going to action first, and schedule some time to make it happen in the next day or two. This step should be small and manageable- a phone call to a potential client, a blog post, a conversation you need to have. From that step you take the next, and the next. Our dreams are birthed one step at a time…
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