It’s been a little over a year since I wrote my last blog. Whether its been a lack of motivation or inspiration, I am not really sure, but during this time at home I have felt the stirrings of an urge to write again. The last couple of weeks as we journey as a community together, through the changes that life has thrown our way, has been full of moments of beauty and moments of WTF.
I’ve went from defiance to surrender, from frustration to anger to immense vulnerability and have landed for now, this morning in a pause of tenderness, deep trust and acceptance. There is no doubt that this wave we are riding will have twists and turns as we navigate the changing waters we currently find ourselves in. It has been and will continue to be a roller coaster ride, and I believe the biggest gift we have been given in this is knowing that we are all in it together. It no longer matters where you are from, what you do, how you look, your belief system or when this wave hit your community… we are now ONE and being asked to show up as we never thought we would have to for ourselves and for each other.
In a lot of ways we have been preparing for this for a while. Our practice of getting on the mat each morning has instilled a somewhat surreal sense of stability and is, for me personally, what guided me through the last year and has now brought me right back into the present moment. I remember standing with my friends in a random bar, (the fact that we were even out was also random), and feeling so relieved when the clock struck midnight on the 31st December as Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” came across the airwaves. What a song to start the year with and as it played I felt a sense of relief and calm across my whole being as though there was a deep knowing that there would be a break in the ongoing cycle. Little did I or any of us know that the break would show up in this way.
Stepping back into rest has been a part of my classes, retreats and workshops since late last year and on some level, there has been a slow collective awakening to the realisation that we can no longer keep living the we have. Taking a step back and pausing has been an ask energetically for quite a while and yet it seems that we have viewed a rest as a holiday that we do for a couple of weeks and then launch ourselves back into “normal” life and continue going.
It’s an ongoing race to where exactly?! I certainly don’t know and I’m not sure any of us has that answer.
We might think we know but ultimately what this is showing us is that we have no idea what or where the destination lies. The ask in this moment is to come back into the journey.
One thing that keeps resonating with me over these weeks of being at home, is that nature continues to give. She continues to shine, to cry, to show her beauty, her anger, her frustration, her wildness, her peace and her stillness. She continues to recharge and to show up for us. So can we show up for her now? Can we show up for those in our communities that need us? Can we put our people and our hearts first over money and need to escape this and see what the gifts are by approaching life in a new way?
It feels as though we are on a detox and clearing the path for something unknown to reveal itself so can we walk together and allow ourselves to connect back to hearts. It is a time of diving into and revealing our vulnerabilities, even if it feels daunting and scary. On a level, I feel, we have been preparing for this subconsciously so now that the time has arrived, can we recognise that we are held and we are loved and that there is something way bigger than what we can see going on. Can we let go of our supposed identities and who we think we are and connect back to what is real and true for us in our hearts, and in turn enable others to do the same? Can we stand together in heart, in community and in kindness and play our part?
As one of my beautiful friends and teachers shared this morning; "Can we sit in the pause? More importantly for those of us with the gift of being able to pause, can we hold the pause and stillness with tenderness for our people that are on the frontline?”
Pause, stay safe, stay present, stay home and allow the world to reveal herself in a new way.
"The not knowing is part of the adventure."
As I took my seat on the train, I felt a surge of nausea in my belly, there was an underlying feeling of violation and I could feel people looking at me as though they could see it. I thought; “They know… they can see it in me… they can sense the disgust and how much shame I feel right now.” As we pulled out of the station and made our way into the city the feeling stayed with me, as I got into my apartment and pulled off my clothes, jumped into the shower and scrubbed my skin, it was still there. As I put clothes on and headed to work it was still there. I couldn’t shake it off. I felt sick. I felt like hiding. My skin was crawling. I wanted to shrink, contract, retreat and move inwards. I couldn’t. There was a big day ahead, the biggest event of the year and I was running it so I had to bring my A game for work and all the while I just wanted to curl into a little ball and hide so that no one would see, no one could tell and no one would guess. And so the day went on and I pushed through, smiled when I had to, focused on work and at the end of it went out for drinks with a work colleague. After our meal she asked me: “Are you okay? You seem a bit out of sorts…” It was then, after a few glasses of Dutch courage, that I let myself share what had happened.
I’d been seeing a guy for a few months, we started out as friends and it shifted into dating and the previous night we went out to dinner. I liked him. He seemed genuine and I was excited to see where it would lead. Looking back there were a couple of signs that kicked off alarm bells and yet I ignored them. One might say there is a naivety in me and I always want to see the best in people so I pushed the warning signs to one side and put it down as something in me that was overreacting. As the meal came to an end we went back to his place and I knew the minute I walked into his home that something was off. It felt too late to leave and we were in the middle of nowhere so I convinced myself that it would be okay… I could handle myself and I knew him. I guess, in this age of us wanting to be seen as equals, we as women don’t want to see that we still need support and help.
That night, I was sexually assaulted. I said no twice and he listened to the first no, then ignored the second and restrained me. I numbed out. I remember lying there and focusing my mind on other things like moving countries… I could just buy a plane ticket and never come back and then I would never have to see him or anyone who knew him ever again. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak and I felt completely paralysed. I can’t explain it, I don’t know why I didn’t fight him off, tell him to stop or even scream. I’ve asked myself the same questions over and over again and I’ve run the scenario in my head time and time again. I froze and then I exited the situation energetically and headed off to another land in my mind so I didn’t have to deal with what was going on in real time. I blamed myself for not being into what he was into, closed my eyes and willed it to be over.
The shame I felt was huge and it was only when I shared it with a friend and she said that what had happened was not okay that I realised the extent of what I had experienced. I went home that evening, had a cry and then pushed it away as if that was it done and dusted and it was time to move on and get over it.
Over the following months and years it would come up at random times and each time I glossed over it and told myself to wise up and let it go. It wasn’t a big deal, I hadn’t been raped so it was okay and actually I had gotten off lightly compared to other women’s experiences. Yet the same feelings of nausea would be in my gut, disgust in my throat and the crawling feeling in my skin. There was a sense of not being able to bear the shame I associated with it. I then convinced myself that even if I did share it, I would be admitting that I did something wrong, that I couldn’t protect myself and the shame of that too felt too much to handle. It’s been inside me for a long time and then last year I booked a shamanic retreat and I went to Peru.
My intention in going on the trip was to celebrate, celebrate all my personal work of the last number of years and to move into this new decade of my life with a sense of freedom and wonder, to be open and to clear the energy that was stopping me from living life fully. Being on a path to healing there is always an uncovering and another layer to peel away but on arriving in Peru this layer felt bigger than anything I had dealt with before and it was totally unexpected. As I said in my last blog, the trip was a subtle unfolding and even on writing my last piece I still didn’t have full comprehension of what I had processed and was integrating.
“Shame is the most powerful master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”
Not being good enough… the running story in me that always rears it head when things start to go a tad awry in life. When I was in Peru, the memory of what happened years ago resurfaced and I got angry. I was really angry; actually I was boiling with rage. I then moved from anger to feeling sad and then hurt. As I continued to track the emotions and went deeper, I saw the shame and fear sitting underneath it all. The shame was still there and it was coupled with a fear of it happening again and of my inability to stand up for myself and walk away. Listening to how someone else spoke about assault and the beliefs around it, echoed a long held fear in me that I am tainted goods and that ultimately I deserved what had happened to me. I didn’t do anything to prevent it; I actually agreed to go home with him and I trusted him so I invited it in on some level. The shame game kicked into gear and this time I was being forced to play it. After sitting in the stands for years and not dealing with my shame, I now had to look at it, step into the arena, lean into it and get dirty.
“…The next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you are feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in… Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the same stories we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true causes of suffering – yours, mine and that of all living beings.”
When I returned from Peru I knew the game had just begun and that it was integration time and boy has it been a tough one to be with over the last few months. My shame game has an edge and harshness to it and has knocked me down again and again since returning. It has shown up in a number of different ways and this time instead of pushing it to one side, shrinking away and contracting, I have asked myself to be present to it, to ask for help and support from safe spaces and to feel into it. One of the most confronting parts of this was admitting to myself that I was being very hard on me, that I was my own worst critic and in a way I have been abusing myself since that night all those years ago. I have limited myself in terms of what is possible for my life by allowing shame to control me. My self-talk has, in a lot of ways, been worse than what happened that night or what others may have said about my role in it had I been brave enough to speak up and share authentically instead of laughing it off with girlfriends and minimising the reality and actual impact of it on me.
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”
In my quest for allowing myself to settle in a place, to build a home and to belong, I believe my relationship with shame has come up so that I can release the pain, the old belief patterns and really allow myself to come to a place of forgiveness and grace with the experience. In a lot of ways there are days I wish I could just sit back and not say anything, not share and continue to hide these hurt parts of myself away from the world but that doesn’t give others the opportunity to be open and honest about their stories. It doesn’t allow me or them to be brave.
Holding back doesn’t lead me to the most important relationship I want in my life - a graceful relationship with myself, that is open, honest and full of acceptance, forgiveness and love and held in beauty.
“The truth is unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”
Dr Steve Marboli
Today I let go, I forgive me, the situation is over and it no longer owns me. I own my story and I accept that it has, in part, shaped me into the woman I am. It allows me to recognise a person who has also experienced similar trauma, hurt and shame. It has made me a more compassionate and empathic being in the world.
As of now, the shame game is no longer holding me to ransom or controlling me. I may still be standing in the arena looking it square in the eyes and watching it, but the difference is this time I am ready, I am willing to lean in and I have the tools to deal with it. They may not be the tools I expected to be using – forgiveness, acceptance, grace and connection to those I feel safe sharing with – and yet they are the tools that have been my greatest support over these last few months.
Most importantly through facing this healing process and leaning into the shame, the story no longer defines me. It is not who I am or who I may become.
In the words of one of my favourite writers and a woman who has spent her entire career researching shame and our relationship with it;
“When we bury the story, we forever stay the subject of the story.
When we own the story we get to narrate the ending.”
So here’s to a new ending and an even brighter new beginning!
On our last day in Lima, we had the privilege of eating at Central, currently rated as one of the best restaurants in the world. It blew me away. At the beginning of our journey to Peru, we sat in circle, a group of people, some strangers, some not, with a collective intention of connection. Anna, our retreat leader was upfront from the start; “Think of the trip as you would a symphony. There will be highs and lows, there will be waves that you wish were over and waves you wish would last forever and there will be waves of stillness and being.”
It’s hard to put into words all that I experienced during the two weeks away but the one word that keeps coming back to me is subtle. It might seem like a strange word to describe Peru. There is nothing subtle about the country, its people or the energy there, however the whole experience for me was deeply subtle. There were the emotional highs and lows, and at times anxiety, anger and sadness; there was resistance and holding on; and then there was letting go, laughter and love. Most important of all there was connection and beneath the connection there was the subtle beauty of experiencing a land that holds a strong spiritual energy, a land that holds sacred secrets that it shares with the people who choose to visit, secrets that can’t really be communicated outside of it. The movie Avatar was at the forefront of my mind while we were in the Andes. I can almost see where James Cameron had his vision realised and just as there is the underworld of Avatar, a wondrous place of synchronicity and connection, this exists deep in the heart of Peru if you are shown the way and the places to look.
To the outside world there are the pictures I took, the new friends I made, the people I met and I can show this all on a screen to you but the subtle intense energy of Peru seduced me in ways I never dreamed possible. The things that I couldn’t capture on camera are the memories I will treasure forever. Sitting in a garden surrounded by hummingbirds as they flew from one plant to the next, watching a caterpillar connect to a wooden table and begin its journey inwards towards its chrysalis, tarantulas that show themselves only when they feel the need too, sloths who hang out in the jungle, hidden unless pointed out, happy within themselves to be on their own and yet part of an ecosystem that is greater than any other on earth, pink dolphins who hide beneath the waters of the Amazon and pop up once in a while to say hi and stars that glisten in the sky during a night boat-ride with fireflies twinkling on the river and a guitar softly playing in the background... this is the connection, the subtle softness of being present and part of a world that is touched and yet untouched by western society. This beauty, that cannot be captured in an image, is what will bring me back to this land again and is also what brought a lost part of me back to myself.
Coming together at Central, as a group of individuals to celebrate our two weeks on retreat together was a subtle but stunning experience. From entering through high gates, where outside it is only recognisable with a simple sign and then wandering through a garden, a hidden gem tucked away from prying eyes full of flowers and herbs and fresh produce, a garden of eden in the midst of a busy city. Seated at tables with numbers restricted so that the conversation level never quite moves above a certain decibel, a menu that is a veritable taste fest of all that Peru has to offer, decadently prepared with care and served in a timely manner with soft music playing in the background that seems to match each course perfectly. As we sat together and shared our meal, it was not lost on some of us that this experience really epitomised the entire trip. The blank canvas of a gate, our own outer forms as we arrived in Peru, the hidden gems inside ourselves which we were shown time and time again, the stirring of all senses as we moved through the Andes and the Amazon and finally back into "normality"... all culminating in a final dish that tasted sweet and yet left us wanting more.
There were days in the lead up to travelling where I was nervous and excited with anticipation. There were moments on the trip where there was an edge to a conversation that felt uncomfortable and yet held a lesson and knowing it was time to let go and to move on. There were times where I had to say no and permit myself to be true to my needs and also the days where a yes was the way forward even if it felt out of my comfort zone. And there was the day when the realisation came that sometimes the distractions in life are the point and the space held for heart-opening experiences are exactly why we chose to be a part of something bigger and greater than ourselves.
In truth I feel a bit like the caterpillar, who has just attached itself to prepare for its' time inside, retreating to allow itself to grow into something wondrous and beautiful. What it may look like, it may not know yet and for now it doesn’t need to know. This is the time for dreaming and being in wonder, the time for allowing life to unfold without an agenda. How timely it is that we have the gift of winter and all its beauty of allowing us to be in hibernation for a little while, so that when spring comes there is something new, something unexpected that arises from the lessons, the learnings and the letting go. There is a pressure that builds so that when it is time, the transitional state of the chrysalis bursts open and the wings of a butterfly unfold to show itself in its truest form and its wisest self.
I wrote a blog this week about growing up along the border in Ireland. Then I rewrote it and then I deleted it and wrote it again and again and again. It is something that has been in my heart over recent months with the conversations about what type of border is needed in Ireland with the UK moving out of the EU. I am not a keen political operator and to be honest, there are parts of this landscape I don’t understand and haven’t delved into enough to fully engage with it. I shied away from politics when I was at university as we were encouraged to NOT talk about it. Living in Derry and Portrush during the years when we are traditionally meant to develop opinions on governments’, and whether we are right or left wing, just wasn’t supported. The on-going challenges between sides were always cited as the reason and as students and residents in Northern Ireland we confronted these regularly. There was always an underlying sense of fear and being on guard in amongst the partying and youthful self-expressions of living away from home from the first time.
I moved to Monaghan Town when I was 11 years old. It was 1989 and it was nine years before peace came about in Northern Ireland and the hard border was removed. Spending my early years in Dublin, I didn’t fully understand or comprehend the situation in Northern Ireland or in the border counties. I certainly don’t remember it ever being talked about and it was only when I moved closer to the border that it suddenly took up residence front and centre in my life. It was a time of education for me. I didn’t really get why, when we travelled into the North, we had to stop at a checkpoint with fully armed military patrolling it, questioning our intentions of traveling to a different county and then searching the boot of the car or why we would be shushed from speaking. At first it felt like being in a movie and there was an element of excitement. That feeling radically changed and I soon realized this wasn’t a movie; it was now my reality.
They say that the feelings of fear and excitement are very close in their nature and that it is the absence of breath or the attitude to either that determines the one we live in. Having lived on both sides of the border, I can safely say that fear and mistrust were overriding no matter your attitude back in the days before peace and even in the years that followed as the transition was not the easiest one. I look at these quotes and wonder if the author ever lived in a place where conflict was at the heart of its community.
The thing to realize is that this became normal life. Living in this way became part of the everyday. Evacuations, bomb scares, police banging on the door at various times of the day and night, name calling, stones thrown, breaking glass, armoured vehicles, random checkpoints, avoiding certain parts of town… it all became “the norm” and there was an immunity that came with it.
“In the place of stillness, rises potential. From the place of potential, emerges possibility. Where there is possibility there is choice. And where there is choice, there is freedom.”
Those of us who have lived on the border had years of having to get on with day-to-day life and deal with the reality of having no choice but to live with the restrictions imposed on us. We finally found freedom and were given the gift of choice in 1998. The relief and elatedness of this freedom allowed for fear to dissolve. The ‘norm’ shifted to now living in trust and faith. The immunity we had developed to deal with living in an area of conflict melted away. And yet here we are now, asking our immune systems to mobilize once again, against the old deep seeded fears of what the past entailed, and I feel there is a collective question of ourselves as to how we live into a future that continues to be of possibility no matter the border?
As we stand together on both sides now, in stillness, waiting for resolution, there is a collective holding of breath for the impact of this decision on our lives and the lives of our children. This is an old narrative that has been healing and like some illnesses it seems she has been in remission and has reared her head to see if we, as a people, are willing to step up, to share our stories and feel into the fear that sits inside so that we can move through it and trust that none of us want to revisit the days of old.
I believe the ‘ASK’ is for us to continue to walk the path of potential, to recognize that we are no longer willing to accept that a border comes at the cost of peace in our land. We breathe together and collectively recognize that no matter what border they deem as politically correct for our country, we are already one. We are of this land and we choose to be a part of the greater collective striving for a peaceful and better place to live and be a part of.
Brexit: A cry from the Irish Border
‘Jacob Rees-Mogg you're right. You don't need to visit the border... you need to have lived here.’ Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea explores the real impact of Brexit and the uncertainty of the future of the Irish border in a short film written by Clare Dwyer Hogg.
There are moments in life that can define us and as I sat last week with a few friends, we came to sharing some of the experiences that shaped who we are as women today. These moments aren’t always the easiest and at the time, when we are in the thick of it, they seem to give us a choice as to how we move through them, how we receive the lessons, the learning’s and the challenges and eventually come to a state of grace with what has happened.
One of my moments happened standing on Tower Bridge in London in 2011. I had woken up that morning nervous and excited as I was scheduled to attend an interview for what, at the time, was my dream job. As I checked my messages and headed towards the tube, I saw a message come in from an old friend in Australia. One of my fellow yoga teachers and a woman I had come to know and love had taken her own life. I remember the shock and my body freezing in disbelief and then the sadness of a life gone so young. When I got off the tube, I walked towards London Bridge and I paused staring out over the Thames towards Tower Bridge. I wondered about her and thought of the moments we shared together on our trainings. She had always been so full of life and to me a bright light during the more challenging days. I went through my phone and looked at photographs of us, and felt overwhelming sad.
I remember making a commitment on the bridge that day to her and to myself. I did the interview for her and for me, for the dreams she had that never came to fruition, for the illness that took over her mind and heart to make her feel that she could no longer be a part of this world and for dreams I had but had yet to find the courage to fully embrace. I turned on my heel, walked into that interview and I knew I had the job leaving the café. Even though there would be two further interviews and paperwork to complete, I had it and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way. The level of determination in me that day was palpable and the inner strength that came through me was a version of me I hadn’t experienced before. In that moment, the awful news I had that day had awakened a part of me I hadn't yet connected with and gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of immediacy, a want to live life fully for her and for myself.
More recently, the last few months of life have seen many twists and turns and that inner strength has come back in full force. There have been moments of wondering what on earth has been happening and how I invited some of the challenges into my life and as I reflected on this, yet another defining moment showed itself in a more subtle way.
I have been teaching yoga for ten years now and for the last four years it has been my full time work. It has been four years of ups and downs. There have been tears, lots of tears of joy and of sorrow, there have been laughs and there have been moments of pain, frustrations and anger, and there have been unexpected pleasures and plenty of WTF moments too. As many yoga teachers will tell you, we aren’t all zen all of the time, contrary to popular belief!
This last year something began to shift inside of me. I began to pull away from the studio I regarded as my main place of teaching, I moved away from collaborating with other teachers and studios and the places I worked with on bigger programmes seemed to drift out of my life. At first I was confused and not really clear as to what was happening. And then it came to me; I was being pushed into creating my own business and the life I truly wanted. Friends will tell you they saw this coming a long time ago however as with the journey I wasn’t quite ready to see it until now.
“What you resist, persists!”
Truthbomb! I resisted it. I then ignored it and finally the universe got frustrated with me and gave me an almighty kick in the proverbial to force me into jumping off the cliff and taking the leap of faith. Cue the wanting to get into my car, drive out of here and never come back, the phone-call home, the well-meaning advice to go get a job in the real world and let go of the hardship of running my own business in a place I had just moved to and the mounting frustration of hearing exactly what I didn’t want to hear. Then there were the doubts inside my own head… Was I strong enough to stay this time, to not runaway? Was I ready to be with what is and take time to build a home and a life in a place I had fallen in love with? Did I have the ability to create my own yoga business and to trust and have faith in myself in the process? Could I receive what was on offer and fully embrace it? Was the community big enough to support me and also my fellow teachers? So many questions and yet it was the same answer everytime I asked...
The resounding answer was yes, to follow my heart and create what I wanted and give it my best shot.
So ignoring the initial external advice I began building what I had been dreaming of for a longtime and what had been sitting in my heart for over a year. In many ways it is in its very beginning stages and yet it is flowing, which has surprised me. The ease with which it has begun to manifest makes me wonder why I didn’t take the leap sooner. In letting go of the perceived security, in trusting in myself and in the support around me, a block shifted and released along the way and I am learning to receive, and receive in a big way.
“Herein lies the paradox: If you want more of whatever it is you desire, you have to first prove to the universe that you are capable of having it by developing a consciousness that affirms there is no shortage of it. The only way to do this is by creating a vacuum or space for it to be received, and the only way you can create a space for it to be received is by letting go of what you do have, trusting that the universe knows what it is doing. That's the law of circulation in action.”
Dennis Merritt Jones
Coming home after being away teaching for a month, I have received cards, comments, and a lots of hugs. Its been wonderful to be welcomed back with open arms and its been so beautiful to feel so at home and to belong. In letting go and allowing myself to stay through the harder moments, I am receiving gifts beyond my wildest dreams. I am building stability, a community, a business and friendships and I am feeling more at ease with this new concept of staying. There is no running away now. It feels limitless. It feels abundant. And while I am aware there may still be days ahead where I question everything, for now I am sitting and allowing myself to dream, to be acknowledged and to receive with grace.
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