“Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small.”
― Tara Brach.
I have so many times wondered how I could explain/describe the new ongoing course Embodied Presence. Recently as I flicked through my photos I found these 3 which have all been take from almost the same spot. I could see clearly with this visual representation exactly what the course is about.
The lower picture represents our real Self – clear, steady, inside and outside matching. The top two photos represent the trance of unworthiness as Tara Brach call it or as I have renamed it The Fog of Unworthiness- the habits we have lived under that belittle us, make us feel never enough etc.
Habits that keep us small, believing we are not worthy to be loved for who we are and not for what we do. Habits that have great power over how we live our lives as they tend to operate from outside our conscious awareness and are like fog clouding our vision, our hearing, our essential goodness.
Over the course of the year we have been together on Embodied Presence we have been mindfully and consciously getting to know the fog of unworthiness, its function in our lives and now as we come to a close we are exploring how we can find ways to lift the fog and allow our true worthiness to shine forth.
I have loved every minute of planning and teaching this course as I have also lifted my own fog and now can for the first time in my teaching career stand proud of the work I have created. It is a most strange and vulnerable stance and one that I am now ready to honour and embody more and more.
I have felt the tremendous support of the 42 participants -between the 2 courses- and 4 fabulous assistants as we all embarked on the journey into the fog and back out. I know real change has happened and we have built support systems to strengthen these changes.
“Just like me” is the mantra that would sum up this course, as we all realised we have our particular version of the fog and we all have a clear steady presence when the fog lifts. No one was above or without suffering and no one was beyond changing. The combination of movement, mindfulness and neuroscience were the ingredients of Embodied Presence.
I’d like to end with quote from one of the participants:
” The course you are designing for us has opened up space for me. In understanding how the mind wires itself I can take more control and be kinder to myself by gaining insight into how the brain becomes. By conscious compassionate movement and mindfulness I can choose to change old redundant patterns, this is a real possibility, not just an idea. The dance adds width and joy and love to this learning and is like adding fertiliser to new tilled land. Thank you for taking this step out into your joy.” S.F.
And I thank all who joined me in that dance and made Embodied Presence possible.:):):)
“We saw a vision”
“In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope and it was not extinguished.
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision.
We planted the tree of valour and it blossomed.
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision.
We melted the snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality.
Winter became summer.
Bondage became freedom and this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision. “Liam Mac Uistin
A friend of mine sent me this photo with this poem inscribed on it yesterday. She saw it in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin. The Garden of Remembrance is a memorial to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom throughout the last few centuries ending with the memory of the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
I have been pondering over the significance of the timing for the Yes to marriage equality vote yesterday-almost 100 years since the Rising. I am someone who believes in the synchronicity of events and that what occurs outside of us in the external world also is mirrored in our internal world.
With that in mind I’d like to share my musings from the side of my mountain……
I have always had a fascination with history and how so often an event that can have occurred may decades previously can have a mirror-like likeness in the present day.
As the results were coming in on the radio yesterday I began to wonder about Ireland in 1915 and how seemingly unaware the majority of the population where, that life as they had know it, was to change forever. Within the space of 1 year an event spurred on by the a small group of men and women who by the nature of their deeds lit the spark that could not be extinguished until Ireland had gained independence from Britain.
I don’t think this time last year that we could have envisaged the amazing support for the referendum shown yesterday. Again it was like the spark that had been lit by a few dedicated men and women over the past few years fanned into a full blow fire in this referendum. It was like the minority of LGBG people in Ireland found themselves being held and supported by a ground swell of people that truly believed the time for change had come. We could rise up again nearly 100 years later to make another stab at an Ireland whereby all its citizens could be cherished equally and be able to pursue happiness as in the “The 1916 Proclamation:
“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally,….”
We saw this weekend that the pursuit of happiness and equality is always changing and we continually need to take into consideration the ever changing nature of life and society. Nothing ever remains the same no matter hw much we wish it would, try to hold on to out dated ways of being or are frightened of change. The nature of life is impermanent -otherwise we would never have the passing of time or the sun rise and sunset on each passing day.
As I look around the world today I see so many conflicts that are based on fear and the desire to “have things the way they were”. Yet I believe as long we personally or societally feed the part of us that craves security and the social order to remain the same we will aways be in conflict internally and externally.
We need to learn from history as in the case of the 1916 Rising. In its aftermath was the War of Independence and the the most vicious war the Civil war. The end result was a divided country. As we celebrate the Yes vote I am aware that there are many people not celebrating as they voted No. I ask myself what we can learn from out history to support us moving into a future where giving minority groups their rights does not take away from the majority but actually enhances each side as we acknowledge our differences and simultaneously move towards healthy, wholehearted integration. Daniel Siegel talks of health and well being, being the ”linkage of differentiated parts”.
We can grow and mature through our differences rather than fear and defend against them.
I think unless we can honour differences and relax around them some force will emerge which for me was how the Catholic Church became so powerful in Ireland after independence. They saw the chaos and tried -very successfully for a long time – to put order on this chaos with their rigid unbending and unforgiving version of Christianity. Where anything that even smelled of difference had to be quashed, subjected and beaten down. I was born into such a state and felt the shame in the air of being in any way different from this narrow rigid view of the world.
I thank the gods that somewhere inside me was a spark that every now and again reared its little flames and made me question what kind of society was I living in. Rules were there to be questioned not blindly obeyed.Trust and faith were to be earned through thoughtful debate and life had to have a deeper meaning than a safe secure job, a traditional family and head down until death…..
I think inside all of us moments occur in our lives when the spark of our own internal Rising has the possibility to be lit. When we recognise that the maps we are following are outdated, and are leading us up and down the same old same old pathways or into cul de sacs. Life sends us moments of change and I believe if we have the feeling of deep support from allies, the willingness to commit to the hard work involved in change and the courage of our convictions we can all make those changes- we can all have our own internal war of independence.
Then we have to say awake to the possibility of a civil war between the old parts of us that have to be left behind and the fledgling new parts. The old can often feel they have right and might on their side but that is truly short lived if we keep our attention and hearts focussed on the new shoots and tend them careful and mindfully. The old can wither and become good fertiliser for the new shoots. Thus the integration of the old and the new makes the road forward steadier ad stronger
I hope with patience, kindness, courage and confidence we can let go of the no longer useful parts of our past in this country and forge ahead with a new up to date version of what it means to be Irish. Leaving the old stereotypes behind in our history as we create the version we want- not what we think others want of us.
I hope we can harness this new found energy for equality to continue with the may other areas of inequality in Ireland especially our treatment of asylum seekers- virtually keeping them in “Open Prisons” called direct provision centres. I see today as one mighty step on the road visioned by the people of the Rising, and we have more issues to pursue now. I hope you can join me in getting a ground swell of people to show this government that they are presiding over another shameful episode in Irish life in our treatment of the women, men and especially the children in direct provision centres.Yesterday we achieved equality for one minority now we need to achieve equality for another minority living in the country…
Oisín Kelly’s The Children of Lir
I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: “In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.”
As many of you know I have been studying much of the neuroscience that has come on stream in the last decade or so and especially how it can enhance our experience of the movement meditation practice. One of the interesting things I have found is how the brain is velcro for negativity and teflon for positivity. This basically means that we are so much more orientated towards the negative and it takes commitment, hard work and a willingness, to orientate towards the positive.
The oldest parts of our brains evolved when survival was the most important thing for our ancestors. When they had to be constantly on alert for danger whether it was in the environment or from other bands of hominids. Therefore the part of our brain that saw others as different from ourselves and to be feared was very well developed. Because of this, our inheritance is, that we are also hardwired for negativity. Although as humans we have the most advanced brain-the neocortex- in that we can imagine things being different, we can pause and notice our impulses. We can plan, pay attention, develop compassion and question our beliefs. In order to use this newest brain to our best advantage we have to own our propensity for negativity and its power to control us, and we need to pay mindful attention to the habits each and everyone of us has to feed the wolf of hate.
I think it is vital now that we each begin to take seriously our ways of feeding the wolf of love. In my mind with all the hate that seems to be circulating around the world at the moment we need to apply our imagination to changing this hardwiring in the same way that we need to take global warming seriously or our grandchildren may not be able to enjoy this beautiful world we live in.
I have always kept in mind Mahatma Gandhi’s saying that “whatever you do may seem insignificant , but it is important that you do it” especially when I feel helpless in the face of so much violence and pain in the world and I become convinced that the wolf of hate is running the show. Although it may seem very little in the big scheme of things, each time we pause, notice what we are doing, which wolf we are feeding (and this also includes hurting ourselves by our thoughts or actions ) we are making new neurological pathways in our brains and making a change in the world. Again to quote Gandhi “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
I do not believe any one can stand and act as if the wolf of love and the wolf of hate do not live inside each of us. We only have to take the time to look at the parts of ourselves that we project on to others, the parts we disown- the ways we speak about people; the ways we compare ourselves to others and either come up better or worse; the instant and sometimes wrong judgements we make and then operate out of; the ways we put ourselves down; the times we thing we have not enough and need …..when in actual fact we have more than enough; when we deem some people’s lives to be more important than others; when being different is about making the other wrong or less than, or not worthy of equality and on and on……
Some people seem to be feeding the wolf of hate to the point that they are obese with hate these days and thus justify every action they take as there is no room for doubt.
I really believe there is such a thing as “healthy doubt”. By this I mean taking a moment to really notice the direction I am heading. To become interested in what I am about to say or do and to have enough space between my actions to ask the question -Which wolf am I feeding?
This may seem like curtailing my spontaneity, but I don’t believe that. At first like the creation of any new habit it will seem odd, awkward and unfamiliar. Yet what we know about creating habits tells us that some day it will become the norm, the familiar. We will have learned to pay mindful attention to how we live and will be taking full mature responsibility for our action and speech and the consequences of them. We will be well on the road to feeding the wolf of love, of kindness, of justice, equality and true happiness.We will learn to use our great skill of empathy to feed compassion both for ourself and others. Right action can become more the norm and we will openly own when the wolf of hate, criticism, jealousy, fear is rearing its ugly head in our actions.
Maybe this may seem like utopia. Even so I believe if we do not strive for such life on this earth now we will be offering our beautiful earth and the great beauty of being human to the wolves of hate to eat and destroy. I do not want the latter part of my life to be oriented in that direction. I’d rather do insignificant things than do nothing, or say nothing.
I will end using the powerful poem by Thich Nhat Hanh-
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
I am just back from my morning cycle. The nip was in the air signalling the change in the weather. We have now entered the time of late autumn. As I cycled I took the time to look around me and in that simple act I felt myself filled with a sense of wonder and gratitude for the day. And I remembered it is Mental Health Day today. I felt compassion for all the people who in this moment would not be able to see what I was seeing all around me – the mist rising from the lake, the moon shining bright and strongly over the 12 Bens Mountain range, the sun colouring the eastern sky with deep orange and pink through the grey clouds, a calf sucking milk from its mother, teenage lambs nestled into their mothers before rising for the day, all quiet as the drama of a night changing to day unfolded.
I could see all this as my mind was quiet and steady. I have known many days when this scene would have been invisible to me as my mind would have been heavy with pain and sadness. When none of my senses would have been available to see, hear or smell what was happen around me. Where my mind would have been stuck in a loop from the past or a loop planning the future way out of the present moment’s pain.
I felt a deep sense of gratitude that change is a feature of life and that things can and do change. I felt the good fortunate that I had had the structures in place to help facilitate the change to be positive.
I live in a (usually) very windy place and it is hard to grow anything delicate or with petals as the wind whips them away . A few years ago I planted a hedge on one side of my garden in the hope that it would provide some shelter for flowers to grow. I also planted a rose bush (totally unbeknownst to myself as I cannot remember doing it, I have to admit) just in front of the hedge . This summer I had the great pleasure of watching it bloom and provide me with something I never thought possible in my garden - a beautiful red rose unfolding fully
I studied its growth each day and realised that all the things needed to blossom were in place-protection from the hedge, support from a strong stem, nutrition from good soil and sufficient water. It did not need to use its resources to fight the wind or storms, instead it could use everything to fully become itself. I though such a great lesson for life. When all our resources are lined up to support our mental and physical health we can fully become who we are meant to be caring, compassionate, joyful human beings. But when we have to use all our resources to defend against our demons whether internal or external it is impossible to be fully vital and well.
So today I am grateful that my own internal resources where in a positive mindful state of mind this morning to allow me to appreciate the wonder that was made visible all around me as I cycled. And I will cherish it on behalf of all the people in the world today whose mental health issues cannot allow them to feel this wonder right now…….
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing happens
Nothing . . . Silence . . . Waves . . .
Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
Juan R. Jiminez translated by Robert Bly
I have lately been reflecting on the nature of change. Looking at change as a wave, with a starting point,a heading towards the top of the wave to the point of real change and then the far side of the wave where the new way of being takes root. I often notice how much time and effort, information and encouragement is concentrated on the change taking place yet there seems to be so little around when the actually change emerges. As if a taking for granted that we have gotten what we wanted so now get on with it happens…… Yet I believe the changed way of being needs as much encouragement, effort and time in order to be truly embodied in every fibre of our being,………
what is it actually like as” we stand now , quietly in the new life?
For real sustainable change to take root it is not easy,even if it is what we want or need. The change needs to be nurtured, cared for and supported otherwise it can wither away. The new way will involved a different way of thinking and feeling about life; it will involve different ways of moving in the world, different ways of relating to our friends, family and the wider world. It can be hard, lonely and tough to maintain, especially if the “outside” world is used to us in a certain way and we no longer conform to the old patterning and the new patterning is not fully and strongly in place.
It is a delicate, vulnerable moment, the transition……a moment for great kindness and compassion as the seeds of resilience take root. A time worth being fully present to with awareness and mindful attention. It will set the habits of the new patterning, creating the neural pathways in our brain that will support the change and give us the courage to keep moving forward into the “new life”….