At our core in an intrinsic knowing- the spine of us, our unique pattern, our individual code, our purpose, our source. Life gives us a zillion fast messages a day telling us who we should be and how we should show up in the world. They sway us from one manufactured desire to another. Our practice helps to strip that back and return us to our core; who we really are, how life is authentically longing to show up through us, and the intention or purpose for this next phase in our lives.
Our practices are designed to help us listen below the noise, below the internal chatter- to the vast expanse of silence, and within that silence, to the vast expanse of possibility and promise. When the world turns wobbly, when feeling off-kilter, when the muddle in the head shows up as anger or fear, or anything but trust and love, it’s time to practice: to return to the yoga mat, to the meditation cushion, to the blank page or the blank canvas, or to that thing which brings you into intimate conversation with your inner life force. Our practice is our prayer, our ritual, our return, our saving grace. This is why I practice. And to that I say, ‘Hallelujah, Amen, Thank you’- over and over and over again.
As 2016 shifts into 2017, and the old turns into the new, may I take this moment to send out some greetings and thanks. Thank you for your support, your participation and your openness. Thank you for your comments, feedback and community. I’m grateful, so grateful for it all.
Like so many of you I love this time of year for the space to retract a bit from the pace of things and tune into what is calling me onwards. 2016 was a full on year for us all. The political has touched the personal and the personal has impacted the professional. At times it has all felt a bit overwhelming. There have been moments that the overwhelm got the better of me- at times it burst my energy and shifted me away from my intention, and particularly on a political level, it rattled my hope.
Hope is such a precious thing, often fragile, and yet I think it is hope that is calling us and hope that must be protected.
Hope, I am learning more and more, is an active and alive thing. It is kindled by small acts and it is amplified when it is met with the hope in others. It’s when you meet a friend, for instance, and you share a dream or vision; a belief that things can change for the better. It is when you see the beauty in the ordinary, knowing it too is extraordinary. It’s when you meet kindness in a stranger or when you are fully and truly listened to. It’s when you deeply connect with your own spirit and creativity, and it’s when you choose to take a step of courage or faith. Each act of hope, no matter how small, matters. And to this belief I feel we must cling, steadfastly.
Over the last few days, the image of a lighthouse keeps popping with for me. Lighthouse are not afraid of their light- their very function is to shine through the darkness. They are beacons, they are steady, they are grounded. And they are most effective when they work together. A single lighthouse may guide a ship to shore, but when that shoreline is studded with lighthouses, the whole coast becomes a marker to harbour- a necklace of light.
As I sense into what 2017, and beyond, is calling, it is for each of us to stand firm and allow our light to shine. All of us. It’s calling on us too to get really clear on our intention, on what is really calling us to create or serve and to focus in on that. The time is precious, and our light is precious too. I’m hopeful that we can, especially when we convert hope into action.
And so my own intention is to kindle my hope with daily action towards my vision and by reaching out to others for collaboration, support and connection. My professional focus in 2017 will be on growing and developing Thrive School- developing even better content, learning programmes, products and curriculum, and on a personal level it’s on my health and fitness. In order to do that, I need to stay really clear with what I seek to create and say no to a lot of distraction. I stay clear with regular yoga practice, exercise, journalling, reading less online news, walking my dog. I keep the vision alive though conversations with other people who ‘get’ it, with a vision board (I use a private Pinterest board for this) and by continually breaking big projects and plans down into small, tangible action steps.
And you? What’s your intention? What is it that is really calling you?
If those questions are too hard to answer right now or feel too overwhelming, please don’t worry. Instead, let the silence in. Find a quite spot. Sit still for a while. And listen. Or if sitting isn’t your thing, take a walk in nature, in a wild spot, and bring the questions with you. Let them stir you and inspire you. Do what you can to keep the questions alive in you. Don’t be afraid of them. Ask for the big dream. Ask for a vision, and let the silence and the wildness guide you. I have no doubt there you will find some clues… then follow them and see how the question has evolved within you. It’s all waiting for you – for your light, and therefore hope, is already inside you.
Next week I’ll be sending another message with Thrive School dates for 2017, news of new one day workshops in Dublin, and other ways we can work one to one together. But for now, as we cross over from one year to the next, let’s collectively bow to the year gone by for its gifts of insights and challenges and let’s open the door to the new, knowing we can be a lighthouse to ourselves and to each other- grounded, rooted, clear, beaming. It’s time.
I decided to do a little experiment with this post, and include a recording of me reading it. Some people love to read, others love to listen. So to all those listeners out there, this is for you. Click on the bar below to play. And for others, read on!
I write it in bold across my diary.
I say it in my head, out loud, repeatedly.
I let the words rest on my heart, to move me.
It was one of my yoga teachers, Cara, who planted them there last Saturday. ‘Fearless Freedom’, she said, ‘they are our words for the year’. Our practice together was an exploration of what it means to move from that place- with an intention to flow with grace and ease; to let go of what we know to discover what we don’t; to act through power with an unfaltering, unquestioning belief in our capacity for joy and our right to it from the inside out. Our practice was our offering. Our practice was prayer.
They are two beautiful words. Fearless. Freedom. Together they pack a powerful punch. I have been sifting through the words over the last few days and it feels like they are here to stay. As signposts; as maps.
I am making some big decisions at the moment, those big life altering ones, and fear has been visiting, frequently. It is the kind of fear that keeps me small; the fear that makes me doubt myself and the fear what swells procrastination to the point that it too becomes powerful.
So what to do?
‘Fearless Freedom’, I say again to myself. What would ‘Fearless Freedom’ look like right now? What would Fearless Freedom do?’ It is as if Fearless Freedom is personified, taking a life of its own. I learn that it is a warrior at heart. It knows its own answers. It locates the cracks of courage within, sounds them out so as to amplify them, one little step at a time. Courage comes when given space to rise.
The question alone is the key. ‘What would ‘Fearless Freedom’ do?’ By asking it, I am finding that the fear itself is diminished and possibility is allowed back in. You see, the questions we ask of ourselves make a difference. We ask bigger questions so that we get to expand into them. The bigger the question, the bigger the response. Then, with warrior words alight within our hearts, there is less room for procrastination, less room for the small, questioning self. Words matter. Questions matter.
So, when I ask myself, ‘What would Fearless Freedom do?’, my inner self talks to my outer self, telling me it looks something like this:
It means writing the email to the person you admire.
It means asking for help.
It means saying no when your gut tells you so.
It means saying yes, over and over, to the dream, the vision, the place of possibility.
It means go.
It means doing it, even if you don’t feel ready.
It means placing value in what you offer.
It means showing up, repeatedly, even when part of you wants to retract, calcify because right now it feels safer. Deep down, long term, you know it is not.
It means I believe in you.
It means let fear be your ally, keeping you moving, onwards.
It means I love you.
Let’s wave that flag and let the questions fly.
May the responses carry us, unfold us, unfurl us, yield us to the warrior within. Let them define us, refine us.
Let the words enter us, to move us, to clear our way, to make us believe again. Let them be our offering. Let them be our anchor. Let them be our prayer.
I say ‘us’ here. For the ‘we’ matters too. Together we can pack a powerful punch. Courage comes when given space to rise, and it is easier as a pack. So I’ll take your hand, if you’ll take mine.
We have grand plans. We have huge visions. We are ambitious. There are so many things we want to do. At times it has a momentum all of its own, other times we feel overwhelmed and internally feel more like a deflated balloon than a rocket ship.
Reaching our goals, we know, is about sustaining momentum and building good habits. But how? There are many ways, but is little trick is one I have used with developing my home yoga practice, which applies across the board, to business and beyond. I call it, Minimal Viable Commitment.
My promise to myself that at a minimum I must step onto my yoga mat each day. That is all. I must step onto my yoga mat each day. It is so little it is almost comical. But what happens when I do that. My yoga mat represents more than just a mat- it represents the mental and emotional space of practice, of calming of the mind and offers a safe space in which to explore and connect with myself. So when I step onto the space of the mat, I am also entering into the psychological space of practice. To me that mat is sacred, and my minimal viable commitment means that I get to enter that space each day. And more often than not, I will do more than just step onto the mat; I’ll practice for 5 min, 10 mins, 30 mins, 60 mins, 90 mins… depending on the day, and depending on my mood. My commitment is easy to keep, and because it is easy, it means I do it. And if there is a day where all I do is step on my mat, I don’t go down a big guilt trip, because that is all I have committed to and it makes it easier to commit to again and again and again.
I’m all for big goals but I am also realistic. What does it take to break those goals down into smaller, manageable, bite sized chunks? What would your equivalent of ‘stepping onto the mat’ be for whatever goal you are setting? Maybe it is writing one line of your book a day, or picking your paintbrush, or taking one photo on your camera phone a day, or reaching out to one potential client each day. Something doable and something you can easily build into your daily routine.
What is your minimal viable commitment? … which before long will become a habit, which before long transforms us….
For those of you interested using an app to track your habits, my friend Mic Fizgerald has built a tool for you. Mic is a serial tech entrepreneur (he has also built One Page CRM)- he is an avid fan of habit keeping and so Habi.io was born to help you keep yours…
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.
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)
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve fallen in love, and out of love, many times. With my camera that is. (The other love is another story- or many!)
Last weekend it took a lake and a quiet moment to turn the love back on. At the best of times my camera and I feel as one – showing up to each other to capture something special, if just for a moment. And last weekend it felt like the best of times again.
The weekend took me to the shores of Lough Derg where my friends Kieron & Sue were hosting a party. They live on the lake shore. It being a full house, I opted for camping, excited that the lake would be the first thing I would see in the morning and the last thing at night. I had spent some chunks of my childhood on that lake, boating with parents and hopping in for swims. The memories were back as reminders of the best of times too.
Early morning, the light was rising. The party goers were still snoozing but the birds had me up with their cheer and dawn insistence. So me and camera went to the lake for a while, first to swim and then just to be.
Then came the click, physically and metaphorically.
There are moments as a photographer where meditation and that very moment merge. The image is all absorbing and the camera merely becomes a vessel through which that moment is amplified and, by virtue of grace, you happen to be there to capture it.
It can take you elsewhere in an instant.
First you are separate and in a click you are one- you, the object, the light, nature, the breath, the presence and the mystery of it all. In a way, the image captured is irrelevant- you aim for beauty but if the moment is beautiful then that is art in itself. The image is icing.
Which is where the love comes back. Some call it mindful photography. But it could equally be called heartful and mindless photography, for when you can allow the moment to arrive and swell the heart with love, the mind is elsewhere, absorbed into the expanse and otherness, the nothingness; that meditative place which can sometimes seem so illusive when trying to get there sitting on a cushion or stretching in a yoga pose.
Just that moment is enough to give a taste of what art opens. My camera forever changes me, for the heart remains swelled, expanded and more capable of capturing it again, experiencing that sense of openness, and timelessness, and love.
My camera teaches me many things: to sit, to be, to listen, to wait, to observe, to sense, to intuit, to investigate, to be open, if only for that moment, to the magic of it all. But perhaps most importantly it teaches me to love, breaking the heart open again, and again, and again, for an expanded sense of presence and expanded sense of being, mindlessly. Click. Click. Click.
First up, thank you all for the thumbs up, support, and shout outs about my new ventures- so very much appreciated. I can only do this work with the cheerleading support of others who help to spread the word- so again THANK YOU. My beautiful friend Sas sent me some flowers too- it was a big surprise and greeted with much glee.
Launching anything is a complex and interesting process- especially products, services or art that is so close to your heart. In the creative world our hearts and values are so often exposed that it can feel tender and oh so very vulnerable, so much so that it can stop us in our tracks out of fear of criticism, ridicule, rejection or failure.
I am coming to realise more and more that those fears are a natural part of the process- to deny them is to deny the very nature of what it takes to create. However, it is how we navigate them that makes all the difference.
Fear can be fuel too.
Yesterday, all those fears and vulnerabilities were there for me, louder that I had originally anticipated. The negative ‘what if’s’ started to be voiced. ‘What if people don’t ‘get it’, ‘what if the website crashes’, ‘what if it won’t work out for me’.. and so on (blah blah!)
But if we give into those voices, nothing gets done and the creative process itself is denied its full expression and the opportunity to run its true course.
So what to do? How do we find space between the critical voices to find room to push onwards with an open heart?
For me, it is about returning to my practices, to ground and settle into the deeper knowing, the one beyond the critical voices and the crippling fear factor.
Firstly, I set the space. I light a candle, remove clutter, and carve enough clean room around me to lay a yoga mat. Sometimes I use intention cards- yesterday Elena Brower’s Art of Attention cards came in handy, as too some beautiful and wise words from John O’Donohue.
Then a yoga session, calling in my highest intention, the spirit in which I created the work and a sense of generosity. This is the grounding and the place to, always, come home to myself. Yesterday, wide-legged postures (with firm bases), and supportive seated poses were what was called for, so that I could imprint this sense of stability and grounding into my body to carry me through the day. I was imagining a flowering tree (it was Bloom’s day after all), with its roots firmly and widely planted, a strong robust trunk/spine which together created enough of an internal infrastructure to enable the optimal flowering and blossoming. Nature metaphors work wonders in yoga practice!
Next- a short meditation to quieten the critic and invite in again the bigger picture, and the mystery of it all. Yesterday, I needed about 10 minutes- enough to still the fizzy energy and bring it back to centre.
And then, what I call the flip practice. This one is essentially is about flipping over the critic voice in my brain and entertaining the opposite motion/ emotion. So, in my case yesterday, ‘What if people do get it, what if the website runs smoothly, what if it works brilliantly for me…’ With the opposite motion installed in our cognitive brains, fuel is given to our creative fires, fear is put in its proper place, and we can press go.
And so we had lift off.
Once again, thank you all for your support and encouragement. We are in this together.
Now to keep this ship a sailing….(and what fun it is to be blogging again!)
Have you signed up to my mailing list?
I have designed a free Vision Guide: A 5 Step Toolkit to Clarify your Dream Future which includes a 10 minute audio meditation. Alongside that are free creative planners to help us integrate our creative goals and manifest our deepest desires into our days. Sign up here and you will be emailed a link to access them.