I remember the first time I saw him. He was standing by the large marquee of the camp talking with some other boys. I was 12 and he was 14. I was struck by his stance and then his eyes and couldn’t help but stare over at him. I found myself distracted by his presence and his every move. Being a shy 12 year old, I didn’t really know how to be around boys. I attended an all girls school where there wasn’t a lot of interaction with the boys and if there was, there was always someone there to make fun of it. So it never felt comfortable to simply chat to a boy to get to know him. Hitting puberty and suddenly noticing that there were a range of emotions that came up with that wasn’t my best time, and I had a public teenage experience as we had a family business, so the awkward stages of blushing and getting embarrassed around the opposite sex played out in front of the entire neighbourhood for me.
When I went on holidays with my aunt and uncle that year I had an experience that forever changed me. My uncle was the leader of a Scout group so I went off to hang out with my cousins and my aunt whilst surrounded by a group of boys aged 10-15. It was an experience I will never forget. I remember the days walking the woods and playing around on the assault course, swim competitions in the local pool, dinner with the group in the evenings and this connection that seemed to come out of nowhere with a young man who, to this day is still with me. I remember the first time we said hi to each other and it felt as though I had accomplished a milestone in being able to speak to him. We used to simply sit across from each other and look into the other’s eyes, for what seemed like an age, and then look away embarrassed questioning if it was real. We stood outside the marquee one night and had our first conversation. I couldn’t tell you what it was about but I remember gazing up at him in wonder for what could happen between us.
And life went on, I said goodbye after my time there and every time I visited my relatives I would be itching to get into town to see if I would run into him or catch a glimpse of him once more. He asked my cousin one night, a few months after we had met, if I was coming to the Christmas teenage disco and it ignited hope in that he had felt the same connection I did that week. Weeks and months passed and we came to Valentine’s Day, I had spent the week asking my aunt for his address, choosing a card and sending it to him full of excitement and fear, fear in case he didn’t remember me or that he didn’t feel the same about me anymore.
When the phone call came I was still in my pajama's. It was the 15th February. I let the phone fall into the cradle as my best friend said goodbye and that she was sorry to have to be the bearer of the news. I sat on the stairs and I cried. I cried for what might have been. I cried for the loss of the dream. He was gone. There was no longer a possibility for us. He had left this world unexpectedly and tragically, leaving behind a family who loved him, a community who valued him and a young girl who had seen a life with him even though we had never even kissed.
Last weekend was a weekend of healing and as it turned out a healing into something that I had thought I had let go of a long time ago. Through a visualization I found myself sitting with that same little girl. We sat on the stairs together and I held her as she cried and as she experienced a loss of innocence, a loss of belief and as she made a choice to never fully belong, never fully allow love in and never fully allow the connection to be there for fear it would once again be taken away. Over the years, her fears are exactly what have manifested. Failed relationships that don’t stand the test of time or distance, places that feel like home only to be moved on from and connections that feel so right only to be so wrong.
Being on a path to healing the wounded side of myself has taken me down many roads and it is a path I have never regretted stepping onto. I do question it some days and there are moments I would rather be numb again so it means I don't have to look at who I am in the situation and what I can do to move forward and heal into the present. It isn’t always the easiest path and it takes courage and bravery for those who choose it. On the weekend as I reflected over recent events in my life, I realised that since the day he died, I haven’t really allowed myself to belong. I have moved and travelled since I was old enough to and I never really gave myself permission to stay in one place too long. I never questioned it; I put it down to my itchy feet and restless spirit.
On the weekend as we moved through various healing journey’s, it suddenly hit me that my fear in life has been not been the fear of never having love, connection and belonging but the fear of fully experiencing love, connection and belonging. I had it once and it left so there has been a part of me that believed that this was how it was. No one would stay and therefore if I allowed myself to experience it, it wouldn’t hang around.
In not allowing myself to belong anywhere or to anyone, I have also not allowed myself to belong to me, to fully embody who I am and to experience life in all its technicolour glory.
“Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness - an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it is the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”
So it is with gratitude for the journey so far, a sense of excitement and a little trepidation that I step into embodying love, connection and belonging in my life. It is with baby steps that I ease the younger part of me out of fear and into the wilderness. It is with an open heart I welcome in the unknown, the space for allowing myself to belong and to be at peace with fully being here now because I recognise that I am worthy of love, connection and belonging. We all are.
Last week, on the day of the full moon I took a walk up Knocknarea. The mountain, beautifully situated behind my home in Sligo, is said to be the burial site of Queen Maeve, a legendary Irish warrior queen who had several husbands and was never one to run away from a battle. As I walked up to the cairn, it was a clear day with blue skies. Now, for any of you who live on or have experienced the west coast of Ireland, these blue sky days can be deceiving. As I climbed higher and higher, I was hit with a hail storm, rain and strong winds. There were sheep who stood under stones in shelter looking at me in what felt like disbelief and echoing what I was thinking in my head; “What the f*&% are you at?”, but I kept going, I was determined to be standing at the top at 1:26pm just as the moon hit its fullest here in Ireland.
Arriving at the top wasn’t peaceful and the views were somewhat marred by the incessant wind and rain but as I walked around the cairn, I found a quiet spot, a reprieve from the howling wind and I took a seat and breathed the air into my body. I felt a sense of stillness descend over me and the mountain. The rain and wind seemed to have stopped and I felt as though I could hear for the first time in a while.
“True listening is another way of bringing stillness into the relationship. When you truly listen to someone, the dimension of stillness arises and becomes an essential part of the relationship.”
There are things in life that can throw us off track, we can feel outside of ourselves and not really connected to our essence or put another way, our spirit. It is almost as though the heart of us sits outside who we are and we watch as everything happens around and to us, not fully connecting to how the goings-on make us feel. The last couple of weeks I have spent time in a hospital (visiting) and I have seen that this is never more so than when in an environment where there is sickness. People are drawn into their body with the pain they feel and yet on another level they are pulled back out of feeling with painkillers and other drugs. It is hard to watch and see it happen, especially to a loved one. And yet there is a time to stay and be with feeling and there is also a time where the support is needed; be it painkillers, a friendly nurse, a fellow patient passing by that says hello or a family member to sit and listen.
What I have been reminded of this week is that we as a society have to be better and more open to listening, to hearing and experiencing another person’s thoughts and stories. We may not agree with them but we at least must allow them to speak their truth and listen. One of my fellow Forrest Yogi’s, Erica, put up a post recently asking if we are wedded to our view point. Are we so ingrained in the systems we believe and work in, that we leave no space for other opinion’s, thoughts and beliefs and it really struck a cord. We have been raised in a way to follow in the footsteps of our family beliefs. Some of us choose to walk away from them and some of us continue in the same vein. We go to school and our beliefs and opinions are shaped by who we hang out with and who we admire. We move into the workforce and into relationships and again there are new ideas and ways of thinking and they in turn influence us. By being open to listening and allowing someone to share their story without having our own agenda of needing to get our story out can be hard. It also can be uncomfortable to hear someone’s story and we may not be able to listen as it can trigger emotions and memories within us that we resist dealing with.
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Stephen R. Covey
As I hiked up Knocknarea last week, Queen Maeve was expressing her viewpoint and boy was there a battle through the final few steps with the wind pushing against me and the hail raining down from the sky. It was hard not to listen to her. It begged the question, am I taking a moment to stop and listen to me right now or am I continuing to push ahead without awareness? When I did arrive at the top, the magical stillness that encouraged me to stop felt like a forcefield where I had no choice but to look and listen to all that was around and within me.
For us to communicate clearly, presence is required. We have to stop and be present and aware. Moving to the west of Ireland, life moves at a slower pace and its taking me patience to slip into this way of being. City life is busy and there are plans made weeks in advance, whereas here it’s more of a minute by minute, day by day way of life. And I noticed over the last couple of weeks that I need to be better at listening, really listening to others and to myself. I have to open up more to hearing what others have to share without planning my response or jumping in to reply.
"Listening is more important than anything else because that's what music is. Somebody is playing something and you’re receiving it. It is sending and receiving.”
Listening takes many forms, it can be verbal and non-verbal. It can be through conversation, body language or energetic. Spending time at the side of a loved one's hospital bed can mean sitting in quietness and allowing the person to feel your presence whilst letting them sleep; it can be a hand and foot rub so that they feel a healing touch; it can be chatting about mundane, everyday things; it can be listening to stories of old that they suddenly feel the need to share; it can be listening to them share their symptoms and support their words if need be with those who know best and it can have a beautiful way of allowing us all to learn more so that we become better at listening.
It’s a DIVINE place to be able to BE… simply listening and being there for someone else.
Just as Queen Maeve lies on Knocknarea listening to the many footsteps that walk her land and the words of people who have visited her, she in turn provides a place to voice what we may not be able to voice to others, she provides a quiet stillness to allow us to be and also a howling wind if we feel the need to join in. And this is the gift we can give, if we simply take the time to stop, look and listen.
Does anyone else feel like they are on a runaway train with no clue of the destination these last few months? While I've been surrendering to the essence of flow a lot, this month took the biscuit; it was more like Niagara Falls than a gently flowing river. I've felt energized one minute and exhausted the next. I've felt ecstatically happy and unbelievably sad. I've been angry and frustrated with different situations that have arisen and I have also felt more alive than I have in a long time. It's been crazy. I'm not sure what my planets or moons are at but the energy right now is up for me and seems to be for a lot of us.
During my week of training I had many revelations but one that surprised me was during our last talking circle. When it was my turn to speak, I heard the words come out of my mouth rather than consciously knew what I was saying;
“I no longer want to live in a city. I want to live by the ocean and I feel Sligo or France would work."
Those of you, who know me, know that living on the west coast has been a longtime dream of mine, but hearing myself admit it out loud in a circle, felt very real. I even knew the place I wanted to go to, which has always been my challenge. I knew I wanted to live by the ocean for years but I didn’t know where my place was. I had ideas of Co. Clare at one point, Portugal and Mallorca on other days but there was always something not quite right. As I heard Sligo come out of my mouth I realized that it wasn’t such a foreign place for me. My grandfather is from the county and I have long held an affinity with the energy there. It feels mystical and inherently balanced in its’ feminine and masculine energies with its’ location on the Wild Atlantic Way and the ancient myths and legends that are held in the land.
I believe in fate and the power of being in the right place at the right time but I think a part of me still had a lack of trust in this. The last few weeks have taken these last threads of mistrust and thrown them out the window. Everything happens for a reason… my Mam says this to me on a regular basis especially when I find myself in my head analyzing things rather than feeling into where I am at. What I said stayed with me as I travelled home, and as I moved into the week following the training, I was scrolling through social media and a post came to my attention: "Yoga Instructor Wanted". As I saved the image and reminded myself to look at it later, one of my friends sent the same post to me via what's app stating that this would be perfect for me and I knew then I needed to pursue it. I then sat with it and waited to hear more.
Within a few days I had an email arrive from another avenue that was a surprise but as I read its contents, one that I had felt was coming. This one raised a lot within me emotionally. After seven years of creating an amazing community, Init Yoga was closing its doors and not because it wanted to, but because of the greed and big business that has been slowly creeping back into Dublin. The economy is on the up and as it rises, rents are on the up and the places that stepped up and created something beautiful during the hard times, are now the places to be pushed out in favour of office space and increased opportunities to make money. Init was my home studio for three years; it was the place I travelled back from London to, to teach my first Irish workshops in early 2014 when they launched Power Vinyasa Yoga; it was the place that gave me a ready made community to slot into when I moved to Ireland at the end of 2014 and it was the space where I led my first of four teacher trainings. It provided me with a home, a family of yogis and countless devoted students who came every day to practice. At the last count they have had 10,000 students through their doors and, to my knowledge, it has been the largest yoga studio space in the country. To hear it was closing broke my heart and not just for the owners but also for the community of people who have flowed and breathed together as one over the years. It made me question my values and what I am committed to creating in my life and how my impact is on the world around me.
Community has been a huge part of my yoga journey and was one of the main reasons I took the leap from the corporate world to the yoga world many years ago. From my early days with Power Living in Sydney to the later days at Hot Power Yoga and Lumi Power Yoga in London, I have learned that community is at the heart of a thriving yoga business. The stronger your community, the more abundance you attract in. And the abundance since that email went to students has been overwhelming for Jeanne and the team at Init. Support has come from all angles and keeps flowing in. While they don’t have a solution right now, it will come in time. For me, the email pushed me to take a risk and get into action on creating the vision I set ten years ago while doing my first teacher training.
So I am leaving life in Dublin for life on the West Coast, in an infinitely smaller community. I am trusting in the flow of what has shown up in the last month and I am taking a leap into the unknown. It feels right and I feel ready.
And so while it’s been an exhilarating month in a lot of ways with new opportunities and possibilities knocking on my door, it has also been one with lots of transition.
“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”
Alice Walker, Living by the Word
How we cope with transition is interesting to witness. My action this month as been to feel the feelings, allow the tears to flow, the sadness and the anger to be felt and also to see the bittersweet beauty of what can come out of a transition. In Init’s case a lot of the community coming together to work on what could be created out of this and a celebration of what was. There is more for them to do in this city and I am excited to see what they create together. For me, it is stepping into a life I have been preparing for for a while and building a home by the coast. I don’t really know what the road ahead will bring but I do know that for the first time in my life it feels as though I have chosen this and it has chosen me. There was no force and no trying to control it. It happened and it happened beautifully and for this I am grateful.
So as we step towards a changing date and into another year is there a risk you've wanted to take but keep putting off...
"Whatever you are meant to do, do it now, the conditions are always impossible".
And remember, if not now when? If not you, who?
I was standing in a dark space and I could feel something around me. It felt dark and black and evil. I felt my heart begin to race as my fear turned to panic and I saw this huge dark cloud move towards me. I turned on my heel and began to run as if I was running away from a giant snowball hurtling down a mountain gaining speed, depth and intensity. My heart was thumping in my chest and my belly was heaving. I was going to be sick. As I turned my head to see where "IT" was, I saw it was closing in on me and there was no escape. It was going to get me. I screamed and woke up. I felt my stomach heave and before I could get myself to the bathroom I vomited over my bed. The tears came and I began calling for my Mammy. I was six and this was a recurring dream I had from the age of about three. When the dream came it always ended with my waking and being sick. The terror was immense and overwhelming. It was too much. I couldn't handle it and I couldn't cope.
I hadn't thought about this dream for a long time so when it popped into my mind last week while on a training, I was surprised. The memory was very vivid and underneath this there was a sense of overwhelm that felt really familiar. The week prior to heading away for training was intense with a feeling of there being no way out. It was as though life had spun out of control. I had so many balls in the air and I was failing miserably at juggling them. It was all too much. Life was too much. I couldn't do this anymore. I was tired, so tired of feeling it was all down to me and there was no one around that had my back or to tell me, "It's okay, I've got you".
Arriving to a training feeling this way was, in hindsight, a good thing. It meant the shields that I normally have to work on bringing down were closer to the surface and the only way through them was to allow myself to surrender to the process.
TRUST THE PROCESS!
Three simple words that I have heard numerous times over my yoga and coaching trainings and although I resist it, when I trust things begin to happen. So the first step is to breathe deeply and connect to my diaphragm, my solar plexus and my belly. I began to stalk this terror that had stalked me in my dreams as a child. It wasn't pretty... there were tears, there were deep angry lions breaths, there was a feeling of being full but empty at the same time, followed by a lot of belching and retching as though I held this stuff in the depths of my being for so long now I couldn't release it. But I kept going and in my minds eye I saw that little girl in the dream with the darkness bearing down on her. I called in my guides and I stood beside her. We stood together and faced it, we looked at it and we said; "You are no longer welcome. We are not afraid of you anymore." And it disappeared. I felt hollow and sad. I lay on my mat and as one of my mentors stroked my back and my hair, I felt a wave of gentleness hit me and I sobbed. I cried for the little girl who could never quite face it, I cried for the way my fellow teacher, held and comforted me and how it had been so long since that had happened for me. I cried for how bored I am of telling the same story and slipping into victim mode, how sick I am of always doing the work and feeling like I get nowhere and I cried for the woman I am who has found it so hard to treat herself gently and to trust and allow others to do the same.
To be treated with kindness and gentleness is not an easy thing for me. I am used to being strong and I save my softer side for my family, my students and my friends but not really for myself. This week I learned that I also need to do it for me, for the little girl inside and for the woman I am. The more gentle and kind I am to me, the more I attract this energy into my life. Choosing to lie on my mat during a class while my fellow trainees were continuing to practice around me and allowing myself to be supported in a gentle way was more powerful than any class where I have pushed through and kept going.
Stepping into gentleness is scary for me. In relationships, I am the strong one, the one that doesn't want to be seen to need, that's willing to walk away so as not to make a scene, and the one that will not show the hurt or my vulnerability for fear of it being too much. So this new step is a tentative one, but it's also time. Time to move within the fear, to track it, to view it as an ally and see the possibility in studying it, whilst taking the time to allow this new sense of gentleness in to simply be with it, learn what it looks like, grow into it and embrace it. Just like getting on our mats every day, it takes practice and no doubt I will falter along the way. For now I am like a child beginning to walk in the world. I feel lighter after the training. I feel open, grounded and empowered. These hesitant new steps show a vulnerability and an unclear path ahead but there is also a freedom in allowing myself to not always have to be strong, to push forward and to constantly need to have all the answers.
Stalking your fear is such a brave-hearted task. It is an act of courage, which transmutes the shame by giving you the chance to take actions that make you proud of yourself, building your self-esteem. You step onto the warrior path, the hunter path, instead of the victim path, of being prey. That is something to be proud of!
Ana T. Forrest
This is new. It feels different and it's time. Time to see fear as my ally and more importantly it's time for me to surrender into gentleness, into compassion, into kindness and into unconditional love for myself with all that that invites into living my full life.
The first time I stepped foot on a plane I was a little over two years of age. I don’t really remember it and if you ask my parents about my first trip abroad the response is always; “She wouldn’t leave the apartment during the day, hated the heat and came alive at night once the sun went down, insisting on being brought to the swings. She took ten or eleven days to finally come outside and then didn’t want to leave to return home”. Maybe it was back then that I found a part of myself that wasn’t so content with sitting in and watching life happen around me. Whatever spark was ignited in those last days in Majorca, my itchy feet have been with me ever since and have gifted me with a lifetime of new places, people, cultures and a never-ending need to see and experience more.
What I have realized is what comes with embracing the external world so much is a wonder, an adventure and also a feeling of inherent loneliness. When P.S. I Love You was released I was sitting in a cinema off Georges St in Sydney, Australia in floods of tears as I watched Hilary Swank wander through the Wicklow Mountains meeting the man of her dreams along a country road. The movie was atrocious but there was something about seeing my homeland on a big screen that made me feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness inside. Thinking that Ireland would fix it I moved back shortly after and lasted six months before London called. My itchy feet have served me well and no doubt will continue to over the coming years but a little under three years ago I was called home to Ireland once again and for the first time in fifteen years I stayed.
Staying has been a challenge, there was a dream of a new life on a new continent at one point, followed by the continuous restlessness inside me always searching to see where I could live next, where things would be different, where I wouldn’t feel so lonely and where the man of my dreams would wander down a country lane and ask me if I was lost and did I need rescuing.
“At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one's lost self.”
Brendan Francis Behan
Last week I walked the Camino, my final weeklong retreat of 2017 and as I returned to Ireland, I felt at peace. I was texting a friend and commented how nice it felt to be coming back to my own place, that I finally felt like I had roots of my own. It struck me that I just wanted to be in my apartment with a cup of tea watching the world go by from my window. I was once again transported to that two year old inside of me, who had been happy to sit in her holiday apartment with her colouring pencils and books, watching from the window, feeling content with life exactly as it was.
In this age of readily available knowledge we spend our lives looking at how people live and love. We know what friends and family are up to by checking out a social media feed, we rarely pick up the phone to call someone as we feel as though we are already connected and know everything about their life by seeing their updates. It’s wonderful and it’s heartbreaking at the same time. We are more connected than ever before but we rarely have real conversations and when we do we end it with; “We must do this more often”, and yet another six months or a year passes before it happens again making these moments all the more special. We seem to live in a time sensitive parallel universe where we are constantly searching for something outside of ourselves to connect with and to, to help alleviate the pain of feeling alone inside. Some of us believe that being in a relationship, having a family, building a strong community aka the Hallmark Channel life will solve this, and yet I speak to people who have these gifts in their lives and there is still something missing, something that is not quite right. We travel the world searching, we meet new people, have new relationships, start new businesses, create the life we always wanted and we come home at the end of the day and there is something we can’t put our finger on so we have a drink, eat chocolate, watch TV and numb out. In this world where everything is on offer, it’s still not enough.
And I am as guilty as everyone when it comes to this. For the first time in a long time this week when I spoke with my Mam, and shared my reflections of feeling content, she asked me what was it about coming home that resonated so much. After considering her question I realized that it wasn’t about being at home in my apartment that felt good, it did, but there was a deeper realization and sense of feeling at home within myself. The fear of feeling lonely and coming home to an empty apartment wasn’t there. In fact I couldn’t wait to come home and simply sit in my room, burn sage, have space and time to read and write and connect with myself. I didn’t have a burning need to have someone there waiting for me.
"You do not have to leave your room. Remain seated at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."
Now, it doesn’t happen all the time and there are days that I need external connection and time outside on a swing, but I have realized it is important to also honour and embrace the little girl who sat content with her colours enjoying her solitude in that hotel room so many years ago. If we can allow ourselves to cultivate daily gratitude, celebrate the beauty in the small things, embrace solitude when we can and become friends with ourselves, we in turn can be better in the world, knowing that we like who we are and we enjoy spending time with me, myself and I and therefore others, will in turn, enjoy hanging out with us. This in my experience is what helps with the loneliness and yes sometimes a large bar of chocolate is also needed… its about creating inner balance so that there is awareness of what we are doing, who we are being and how we are reacting to the feelings inside.
"Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone, & Solitude expresses the glory of being alone."
As we move into the time of year that asks us to be still and find home in the darkness, to embrace the energy of Grandmother Moon, how does this sit with you? Is there a fear of the darkness and a want for it to always be longer days, or do you relish the thought of sitting in on the colder evenings embracing the hearth and home? Take time this month to sit with yourself, journal, meditate, colour or do something that simply makes your heart sing and allows your best friend, aka THE REAL YOU, to sit with you.
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