The Immram, the Aisling and Listening to our Quests

Hello all, and hope the summer has been unfolding well for you.
Time for some updates and stories. So, grab yourself a cuppa, make yourself comfortable, as I invite you to dive in. You can listen to this post below (10 min listen)

 

The Immram and the Aisling.

The weather is on a cusp between summer and autumn here in West Cork. Outside the coffee shop window the harbour is still cast with sails and the voyagers are off to seek their pleasure. The sails are bobbing and dancing on the dancing water, letting the wind take them further out. There is so much power in this unseen force.

The sailboats shrink as they get closer to the horizon, leaving my sight as dots, then vanishing across a thin line. What must it have taken back in the day, I wonder, to journey across this line, into what was unknown, uncharted lands. What quest was strong enough to carry these men into the dark sea?

The power of dreaming, and the power of quest, is a power, it would seem bequeathed to men back then, but I can’t help thinking of the women. How did they voyage? How did they quest? So I am searching for the stories.

I turn first to the immrama. In ancient Irish mythology there are tales of men who embarked on heroic sea quests —an immram. They’d set sail on pilgrimages which had no end. It’s wasn’t about reaching a holy place, a Mecca, but the journey itself which held the gold. They didn’t know where they were going but trusted that wherever they landed would offer them clues and some unusual gifts. St. Brendan’s immram, for instance, was an epic sea voyage which took him and his monastic crew into islands of the otherworld, of the mystical and the fanciful, the magical or the surreal — each landing was an island of story and experience. There was the island of sheep and the island paradise of birds. There was an island of grapes- on which they dined for 40 days. Then there was the island on which they lit a fire, only realising it wasn’t an island at all, but a whale. Imaginal or real, the immram was always a creative, almost mystical adventure, the force of which had the power to transform those who dared to journey. One could only return a changed man. Still I wonder of the women.

So, I turn to the Aisling, in search of clues. The Aisling is a poetic form which appeared much later, around the 17th Century, in which a dream or a vision was presented to a bard. The dream was to stir up nationalist or political sentiment, and incite feelings of love and loyalty towards Ireland. The ‘Aisling’, was always in the shape of a female figure who came as spéirbhean, or sky-woman, a heavenly creature who was the carrier of the dream. So, why was it always the men to have the big dreams and the license to sea-quest? So, once again I wonder—What of the women? How did they find their quest? What vision was presented to them? And to what were they called?

I took a boat to an island a couple of weeks, not to quest, but to be in conversation and friendship. It was a Tuesday. The sky was tussled but the sun was promised. So I packed a picnic, rain-gear and my swimming togs, popped Milly on her lead, and then collected my friend Jennifer from the next village over. It’s only a five minute ferry journey to Heir Island from Cunnamore Pier, and by the time we got there, we were already in a different world.

In the two years I have known her, Jennifer has become a dear and trusted friend. She wraps me in listening and helps me see the truth of myself, and the truth of my future-self too. You see, Jennifer is a film-maker. She is one of those people who has a beautiful blend of talent and humility, so when she speaks of her craft and her creative process, she speaks as a learner and a fellow seeker too. She does not proclaim to have the answers. And so we read poems, and talk of open hearts and broken hearts. She tells me of the films she is working on. I tell her of the books I am working on. In between we laugh at silly jokes, drink another cup of tea, then jump into the sea. I am aware that it is a Tuesday, mid-week. I am aware this is another form of wealth. I am aware that this is not considered ‘work’, but I feel alive, and I feel clear, and I feel like I can, in fact, accomplish anything, if only I keep listening to the conversations which are alive in me, then following the conversation into my heart where I will be shown how to keep responding creatively, shown what to do next.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because, I think it has to do with women, and their immram and their Aisling, how we journey, and how we vision. I think it is about how we make our way over the horizon to that place beyond our current sightline, a place we know our hearts are longing to be.

A couple of nights ago I finished the final chapter of a memoir I am working. It is still very much in draft form. There is lots and lots more work to do, but I have made it to a point in the process where I sense there is light. A couple of months ago I wanted to pack it all in. It had been taking so much longer than I thought it would. The timeline of any of our lives is never linear and definitely not straightforward and I was still trying to find the core themes from which I could weave a stronger story. I had hit a part of the process where it all felt chaotic, unruly, even impenetrable. Here was a warren of stories which were not falling into a neat narrative arc, a thing I could easily call ‘a book’, and I was beginning to question the whole venture. ‘Who am I to call myself a writer?’, a little voice nagged, and ‘who was I ever to even begin?’

But that day on the island, something clicked. My journey, my immram suddenly came into focus. I was aware, yes, that it was a Tuesday mid-week, but I was also aware of the choices which had led me to this point, sitting on an island, feeling alive, feeling completely at sea. I have been led to voyage in new ways. It has meant listing to a voice which encouraged me to write, despite myself.  It meant leaving my home in Dublin and moving to an entire new place. It meant asking questions of myself, my mother and my lineage which I have never dared ask before, and it has taken me into a whole new orbit of friendships and connections, on a Tuesday, on an island, speaking of stories.

So, I think I am beginning to see; our dreams, our Aislings, happen through the Immram, the journey. It’s how creativity works. We meet it halfway, and it takes us along for one hell of a ride. It’s not about waiting for the ‘sky-woman’ to descend and offer the dream, but the dream comes from the whispering of the unknown force. Call it a creative urge, the one deep within, which quietly keeps on tugging and says, ‘look here, this is interesting, follow me’.  There is no major fanfare, there is no ecstatic cry, but following the whisperings of our creative urges is like those boats being led to the great beyond through the power of wind and the power of sail. There is a sense of heart opening, an uplift, and a pull to follow the urge out over that thin line of knowing and not knowing.

But here comes the challenge: the whisper- it’s so easy to silence. ‘Oh, that’s just a silly idea’, ‘Oh, that will never work’, ‘Who am I to write, or tell that story, or create that business, or start that thing’. So we sit in the coffeeshop, still waiting for the descent of the Aisling, while looking at others set sail, and we slowly begin to shut down our vital life-force, our creative power, the little voice knocking on the doors of our heart and saying, ‘follow me’.  Little do we realise that beside us in the coffeeshop is a Jennifer, a woman who knows that the Aisling is in the immran, and if you tap on her on the shoulder, and ask her to tell you a story about her journey and her questions, soon you’ll find yourself jumping into the sea of yours. Our guides are always closer than we think.

 

After the island that day, with laughter lines still salty, and my hair knotted with sand, I realised the only way to get through the chaos was to face the chaos. So I got out my yoga mat, I put on some music, I danced until the sand fell out of my hair, and then I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote, until I got to the end of what I needed to get to, enough to know I was on the other side of the horizon. I came up for air, to say that yes, this journey, this life, this immram, the feeling, this is the dream that has been seeking me. Yes, it’s always closer than we think.

So I want to tell you, reader, that urge inside, that voice which says, ‘follow me’, no matter how quiet, no matter how silly, this is our gold. Our creativity has a gift of aliveness, a gift of both the immram and the Aisling. We can not return, but changed. So, yes, as those ancient voyagers knew, it’s not about the mecca, but it is about the pilgrimage —the ultimate journey home. No matter who you are, your creativity is ready to take you on the ride of your life. The way is in the whisper. Listen, then listen deeper, then tap the shoulder of the woman next to you, and start the conversation. That may be just enough to begin.

Onwards,

With Love,
Clare. x

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55 ways to get unstuck…

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Feeling creatively stuck? Here’s 55 quick things you can do to unstick! All in less than 5 mins. GO. 

  1. Doodle.
  2. Write a note to your inner artist.
  3. Write a haiku.
  4. Mimic a bird.
  5. Draw a self portrait in 60 seconds.
  6. Take a photo of an item that inspires you.
  7. Find a new recipe and commit to making it this week.
  8. Write a Limerick.
  9. Tie your shoelaces with your non-dominant hand.
  10. Make a paper airplane.
  11. Dance on the spot to silence for 60 seconds.
  12. Hand write a letter to someone who you admire. Post it.
  13. Describe your favourite colour without using that colour’s name.
  14. Write down a word that you really like the sound of. Sing it.
  15. Rub your head and belly in opposite directions.
  16. Draw the letter ‘A’ in 10 different ways.
  17. If you could circumnavigate the globe, what route would you take?
  18. Sit in silence for 2 minutes and listen to the music of your breath.
  19. Close your eyes. Place your hand on your head and feel the texture of your scalp.
  20. What colour would you be if you were a colour?
  21. Draw your favourite childhood toy.
  22. List 20 uses of a tea pot, other than for tea
  23. Set a timer for 5 minute. Keep writing without stopping until the buzzer sounds.
  24. Write your name with your non-dominant hand.
  25. Take a picture of your feet- what surfaces do they touch?
  26. Sing out loud for 3 minutes. Don’t stop.
  27. Take a picture of the ‘essence’ of something in front of you. What is its real beauty?
  28. Memorise a poem you love.
  29. Draw a picture of snakes and ladders.
  30. Look up: take a picture. What do you notice?
  31. Shake your body for 2 mins. Yes, shake it.
  32. Drink a glass of water from the opposite side.
  33. List your top 5 of your favourite things. Now list them backwards. Now alphabetically. Now backwards alphabetically.
  34. If you could be an animal, what would you be? Make that sound.
  35. Pretend to be rain falling.
  36. Think of the word ‘black’. Now dance the opposite.
  37. Conduct an imaginary orchestra.
  38. Bark like a cow. Moo like a dog.
  39. Draw somebody standing on their head.
  40. Set a timer for 5 min. Invent a board game. Go.
  41. Spell your full name backwards.
  42. Make up an alphabet.
  43. Draw the best slide you could ever imagine sliding down.
  44. Draw a pattern with circles and triangles.
  45. Write down 10 things you used to love to do when you were 10. Do one of those.
  46. Set a timer for 5 mins. Invent a robot. Go.
  47. Mimic a dawn chorus.
  48. List 5 textures you really like.
  49. Think of the word ‘good’. Now sing the opposite.
  50. Invent a new game using a piece of fruit.
  51. Create on paper the best day of your life. Draw the details.
  52. If snakes could draw, what would they draw. Draw that….
  53. Walk backwards in a circle
  54. Use your camera upside down.
  55. Set a timer for 5 mins. Make up your own ‘Get unstuck list’. Go.

Need a bit of extra support? 

I am currently taking creative coaching bookings. The Winter Sessions is open. 3 months to gain momentum and traction on  your creative project. Time to get that book written? Time to finally launch your thing?

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The value of values // Plus a 7 step creative exercise for you to know yours..

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I’m not a fan of cheesy clip art. But for the sake of illustrative purposes, this one does the job!

Vector-BoatIf our goals are like the sails on a sailing boat, then the keel is like our values. The keel is the central axis which helps to keep the ship afloat and provide ballast. In choppy waters, it’s the keel which will help to bring the boat back to upright (note addition of choppy waters in said illustration!) Same too with our values- they act as weights and axes around which we can centre and steady ourselves, and keep ourselves true to our intention and truth.

However like the keel, our values are below the surface, which is why they are often hard to identify and to appreciate the role that they play in our decisions, actions, and outcomes. And yet, deep down, it’s our values which help us sense if we are on the right path and feel aligned or congruent with our sense of self- which is why making a conscious effort to identify them is so important.

Getting clear on our values helps us to design our lives, businesses, interactions and projects with more clarity and intention. They help us have better relationships- personally and professionally. When it comes to business they can help us to design customer or client interactions. And importantly, when we hit choppy waters, they help to keep us resurface and stay afloat.

Trust. Integrity. Honesty. Quality. Joy. Play. Freedom. Leadership. Creativity. Adventure. Responsibility. Kindness. Compassion. Authenticity. You’ll have a set of values unique to you, some more prominent or stronger than others.

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How can you identify them?

Well interestingly we often sense them most clearly them when they have been breached. If trust is a really strong value for you, and someone breaches your trust, you may feel the reaction at a very deep, visceral level. If professionalism is a value and you attend an event which is so poorly run, you may feel a personal affront and anger at the low quality of service. Or if kindness is a value and you witness someone being unkind to another it can alter how you view and in turn value that person. We can also identify them by recalling times in our lives in which we felt a consistent happiness, aliveness or sense of pride. It is likely that your values were being honoured and amplified during these times.

Our values shape the quality of our collaborations too. For instance, understanding where values overlap and where values differ is critical to successful collaborations and so learning to have open conversations with our partners and collaborators is vital to thriving interactions.

We often assume that we hold similar values to those around us, but it’s surprising how much variance there actually is, especially when we see how people individually prioritise those values. If one business partner has a top value priority as ‘freedom’, for example, and another has ‘safety’, then there is a potential clash zone. Maybe the ‘freedom’ person is more likely to take risks in the project and wants take big leaps than the safety person, who values gradual iteration and growth. If you are thinking of going into partnership with someone, doing the values identification exercise below is a great way to tease out potential synergies, challenges or even clashes in advance.

vision day jan 2017-3Plus, when we get explicit about our values it can help us to figure out what to do when we are stuck in a rut or facing a challenging decision. Let’s say you have listed ‘integrity’ as a value, then, when you need some inner direction, you can ask yourself (or your team), ‘What would integrity do now?’ Or if creativity is a value, ‘What is the best use of creativity here, or what is the best creative solution for now?

So, you can see, not only do are values act as stabilisers, they act as propellors too!

(Herein ends the cheezy boat/ ship/ sailing/ choppy waters analogy. RIP clipart)

 

 

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How to identify and prioritise your values: 7 Step Process

Below is a 7 step value identification exercise, developed as part of the Thrive School curriculum. This exercise can be done alone, however it works best where there are at least 3 other people in the room working on it, as it gives you a chance to compare notes and learn together in conversation towards the end.

Time: Initially 45-60 mins. With a 5 review one week later.

Needs: Sticky notes. Blank wall space. Pens.

 

The Process:

Step one: The big list

Write out as many values as you think you have, each one on a separate sticky note. Give yourself about 10 minutes.

A good way to accessing your values is to think about times in your life when you were most happy, and most proud. It is likely that your core values were being honoured during these times.

Or maybe you can recall a time when one was breached? You’ll know if you felt it at a really deep level and it may have been hard to let go of the experience or build trust again.

Step two: Viewing platform

Place all the sticky notes on the wall- take a step back and view. Are there ones that should not belong there? Are there any missing?

Step three: Identify patterns and clusters.

Start placing values which you think belong together in clusters. For example you may think that ‘ integrity’ and honesty should be side by side, or ‘fun’ and ‘play. You may find a clusters of values coming together. Review your clusters. Are there any patterns you see in your values?

Step Four: Prioritising values

vision day jan 2017-9Select your top value from each cluster and place them all together. Depending on how many clusters you had you’ll have a set of values. From these, can you keep removing or adding one until you have 5 values in this group.

Again take a step back. Are these your top five? Sometimes the arrangement of how you place your sticky notes on the wall can tell you something about your priorities. For example: you may have placed them all in a row and have given them all equal value; one may be in the centre and the others radiating from it like spokes on a wheels; or one may be above another. Look at the shape and the form which you choose to place the sticky notes in. Spot any patterns or does the formation give you any clues?

 

Step five (if you are doing this with a group of people)

Bring your top 5 values together as a group. Invite others to view them and ask you questions about your set. Why did you choose this one over that one? How does this one relate to that one? Why not this one? Spend a bit of time teasing out your choices in conversation with others. After the conversation review your set again. Are you happy with this selection?

Step Six

For the following week keep your list of top 5 values visible to you (post them on your bedroom door or beside the bathroom mirror to remind yourself). For the duration of the week track to see how you represent your values in day to day life. In what ways are they honoured? In what ways have they been breached? How have they helped you make decisions during the week?

Step Seven

After a week of tracking your top values take a few minutes to review them. Are you satisfied with your selection? Do you want to swap in one for another? Write out your values in a journal to come back to when you need a reminder.

Thrive School Support Image 2The exercise above is one of many clarifying exercises as part of the Thrive School curriculum.
Thrive School Dublin is soon to start on March 11th – a four month process which leads people through a process of value and vision clarification, into idea forming, through creative blocks and into action.
Applications are now open. You can find more over here. Application deadline is March 3rd.

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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)

 

 

 


A Culture of Ships

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I am interested in ships. Not tall ships necessarily- although some of my best journeys have been on floating vessels- but entrepreneurship, leadership and at the root of it all, friendship and fellowship. If I was to coin a word right now and add it too the fleet, it would also be creativeship (the discipline of creative being). The ship here is important for many reasons, namely because it connotes a culture of this particular thing and not a rarified merit or accolade. Let me elaborate…

Over the next number of years we will witness a radical change in social contexts and labour markets. This will be the era of the freelancer and the creative. This will be the era of rapid automation of what was previously done by manual labour and the subsequent rise of niche markets, specialists skills and a whole new breed of worker. Gone are the days of permanent and pensionable. Instead we are seeing a rise in hybrid work and life, blended careers across sectors and continents, and people seeking flexibility over predictability. As a consequence will need a whole advanced set of skills to go with it, with creativity, innovation and solution mindsets placed centrally. Plus we will need a new system and ground rules for collaboration and engagement. This indeed will be business as unusual.

This too is an era of unstable economic and social tides. We only have to look at the (mis)fortunes of Greece today to see how systems which were once thought to sustain us are in fact destabilising us. There is universal systemic mistrust across politics and power structures, traditional institutions and the very fabric of society which once we lay our trust upon. It feels like shaky ground.

And so to navigate this change, economically on the one hand and socially on the other, we need also to be an era of rapid prototyping, experimentation, innovation, risk taking, openness, and collaboration. We need to be able to forecast, plan, design and execute new social initiatives and political agendas with a maturity which I believe can only come when we excavate our inner landscape and call on our collective compassion, solidarity and trust. We need to essentially learn to raise our conscience and then evolve and design our operating principles based on a new order of values.

Wishful thinking? Idealistic? Maybe- but wasn’t it ideals which built democracy in the first place, and wasn’t it ideals which got us to the moon, and back.

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As it has been said many times over, where there is crisis there is also opportunity. I believe that the opportunity resides deep within in each of us, if we frame the questions right.

At this stage, you may be wondering, where on earth do the ships come into all of this?

Well right here.

You see, we need to broaden the questions and the scope of our inquiries. Currently we don’t ask enough questions about how to cultivate a culture of the right kind of ‘ships’. What if instead of asking how we educate people for the current system, we really asked, how can we build a culture of entrepreneurship, of leadership, and equally of friendship and fellowship, so that we can equip ourselves with the essential skills we need as a collective to navigate these altering tides and not just survive, but thrive in the future- economically and socially. What would our education systems look like then? And our political system? And our economies? And our future?

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do know that how we frame the initial question is critical.

Leadership and entrepreneurship have been heralded as the merits of a few. But this need not be the case. With the right training, and embedded within a culture of these traits, we each can express our own leadership and evolve our own innovative means to solve problems- we are fundamentally creative beings, and our creative intelligence is like our life raft.

We have our hearts to help us too, for with each of us there is the capacity for universal friendship and fellowship (as this is the stuff of hearts). Fear can mask it, and mistrust, but I believe the capacity to unearth and rediscover our essential nature is within each of us. Sometimes it just means we have to slow down, listen and really see each other, and ourselves, for the beauty that we are.

It is not easy, it requires dedication and deep inner work as well as outer work. But it is possible. We can thrive, if only we have the right mindset and the will to make it so.

So yes, it is idealistic, and could even be called naive. But what other choice do we have? I would rather set sail on that ship, trusting many others will jump on board too, in friendship, and in hope.


Press Play

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It is mid-summer here in the northern hemisphere. Dublin has been a delight with lingering summer evenings and awash with blooming roses and fresh colour. It is one of my favourite times of the year, as the light invites us out to play.

The Power of Play

Play, I have come to remember, is an integral part of learning and leadership, yet is all to often dismissed as ‘silly’, ‘a waste of time’, ‘unfocused’, ‘misguided’ or ‘unprofessional’. But play is where we make connections, get our brains and bodies moving in new ways, engage our imaginations, nurture the senses, allow our inner child to be given an airing, and invite in fun and laughter. Play is a rich field, ripe for learning.

When times are busy, play is often the thing which we push back on first (or at least I do!). ‘I’m too busy now’, ‘Just a few more hours at the computer…’ But have you ever noticed how much more enriched your thinking and learning is after you take a break, and even more so, after you play?

I say ‘I have come to remember‘ intentionally. No child needs to be convinced about the power of play. I wonder now instead, how did we forget? To ‘re-member’ is to recall the experience back into our bones- to literally reconnect it to our members. Our bodies never really forget. 

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Living with an 11 month old dog has taught me a lot about play. Little Finn insists on it. When I have been sitting for too long and ignoring her, she literally drops toys at my feet. Play is a non-negotiable for how she engages with the world and is an integral part of how she expresses her being. I am not sure what is happening in her doggie brain when she is at play, but I have a sense of what is happening in mine- an enlivening and an enrichment of the intimacy in which I engage with the present moment, which in turn shifts my neurology. When I return to my work after some time playing, I am more focused, re-invigorated and generally more productive.

But play is not just important for the fun or the productivity, but also because of its ability to connect disparate things. 

Over the years I have been fortunate to work with and interview hundreds of creative and social entrepreneurs- people who are stepping up to make a difference in the world- from social activists, to artists, to medics, to designers, to writers, to sustainable farmers – all people who have a vision and are working to actualise their leadership in their own unique ways.

I asked myself, ‘What behaviours do all these people have in common and can these be learned over time?’

In examining their traits I started to see a pattern emerging- a set of learned skills and practices that can be reinforced and augmented. These are what I call the 12 Paradigms of Creative Leadership and together they not only help people launch new ventures and develop creative processes, but vitally help to sustain them. These paradigms include presence, purpose, perameters, pattern recognition, power, perspective and centrally, play**

Play is like the weave through it all; a way to deeply connect us to our imagination, intuition and inner insights. Importantly, it also acts like our very own personal labororatory, giving us permission to experiment, fail, try again, test new ground and alter our moves. Common to all the creative and social entrepreneurs I have met, it is through play that some of their best innovations and ideas happened, often unplanned or previously unassociated. It was when playing that their ‘a-ha moments’ landed.  Play was the prism for insight.

Play as a Gateway…

As a photographer, many of my favourite images have been taken because of play. When I travel I carry a  colourful hand puppet with me. Often when waiting in queues or travelling on buses, and when there are children around, the hand puppet will pop out and together with the kids, we start to play. That hand puppet has led to the most amazing encounters with children, their parents, and their communities- crossing cultural and language barriers and immediately breaking down any tension or fear. Through it I learned to count to ten in Hindi, Bengali, Swahili, Xhosa and Malayalam and taught many children how to count to ten in English, Irish and Mandarin!  I have been invited into people’s homes as a result of that puppet, which in turn led to conversations and many opportunties as a photographer which I would not have had otherwise. Play has been a gateway and a saviour.

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Having play as one of our central paradigms can re-orientate our priorities , quickly shift perspective and lighten the load when we need it the most. Play can revitalise and re-energise, sparking new connections and generating insights. Play can open doorways and opportunities. Play can be just for the fun of it too. But maybe we need to remember to do it more often, insistent dog or no dog at our side.

So, as the summer lingers and the light cheers us on, let these words be that familiar knock on the  front door when you were a child, uttering some welcome words: Are you coming out to play?

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** Come October 5th I will be launching a new online course, See Deeper, Act Bolder, in which I will be faciliating learning through the 12 Paradigms of Creative Leadership. Each week we will cover one or more of the paradigms, engaging creatively with each theme. Our cameras, journals, paint brushes, and blank pages will be used as learning tools, taking us on a journey into our own inner vision and possibilities, so that we can each see deeper and act bolder.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

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