Tag Archives: The Burren

Year of Self Compassion #30 #familiarity

Travelling through time and space, in a tardis camouflaged as a 2017 Kia, it is inevitable there will be familiar and unfamiliar moments to greet me.

This week my pilgrimage has taken me back in time to meet relatives I didn’t know I had and to join some dots on the family tree. Once again the nature / nurture theory is being cross-examined at close range. Rebecca Sohnit says “branches are hope, roots are memory” and these words seem to be helpful.

In the roots, I find more generations of music, lilts and tilts towards the Emerald Isle. The wind instruments echoing and haunting wild landscapes, that somehow contain untamed mysteries. The endless pattern of call and response, the syncopation of clapping and stomping drives home the familiar. (All we were missing was a fiddler.) There was dancing and drinking.

Many branches of hope from these roots across generations uprooted, pruned, cut off, abused, neglected. Faded photographs, snippets of stories, incomplete threads – all have a way of being woven together as the soundscape holds us around the table. Bread broken, wine poured, a powerful eucharist and toast to the common ancestor, a woman Alicia who bore a generation of children that found their way across this country.

You can travel for hours and still be in the same country. That is what grief is like for me – always being in the same country even though I travel far from home. There is wailing on the songlines of this journey and my tears join with the other branches, where loss and being lost has been the status update of other pilgrims. Around this table, I witness resilience from these hardy roots. I experience solidarity without explanation. I offer song without fear. Roots are deep and branches are wide.

Hope is invitational and promises the ability to change the narrative, without denying the history. Memories serve as humus, transforming by decaying into food for the branches. Whatever caused the break is unknown and now irrelevant, as another chord is played and toe is tapped.

I ache to be on The Burren and to have the west wind in my hair. There is a grand disturbance once again making me unsettled and joining with revelations of who no longer longs for me. I am taking instruction from the roots in County Tyrone so these branches can push out power and hope from the dark, blessed and blessing.

For Longing
By John O’Donohue

Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.

May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.

May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.

May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.

May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

Writing Challenge Threshold

Dear Sor Juana,

I have accepted a challenge of writing a thousand words a day for the month of June and invited people to send me topics they would like me to write about. Opening up the space for others to shape has revealed the topics people want to read about and ones they might like to hear my thoughts on.  There are some themes emerging around economies of trust and hope and the transactional relationships of giving and taking in the personal and public dimensions. I have been reminded of a short essay wrote long ago (1993) on an alternative future for ethics and economics for Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace (the 90s were a time for such things and it was an extract from my Masters thesis).  Inviting topics from others has me now on the cusp of many conversations and reflecting on how conversations begin.

How do you begin a conversation? With an introduction, a casual greeting, a question? How ever it starts, there is always an opening, the creation of a space or a gap to allow access or a passageway through to the next space. We may not always know what we will find on the other side and there are times we all prevaricate over the opening of conversations we may not want to have.

The threshold, the place we find ourselves just before the opening where we might catch our breath, is our launching pad. The qualities of that place provide the foundations for what is to come next and as we step off, if they are loose and fragile they may not serve us well as we begin a conversation. The solidity of the ground beneath the feet of the conversation is a very real factor in how we move forward. The higher the trust the more solid the threshold and in turn the deeper the conversation.

I have written before on the poetry of David Whyte and even included his poem The Opening of Eyes previously and on the eve of his visit to my country I am trusting his opening to Australia will illicit his muse and poems from this landscape will emerge. When I met him a couple of years ago, in Ireland, it was the landscape and the music that opened me up in a new way and despite the essays and poems of his I had loved for a couple of decades, nothing prepared me for the place and its capacity to teach me. The joy of stumbling on the Burren and the echo of The Beatitudes melting into fog, are fused onto my threshold for the continuous conversation with the Divine.

Staying open and stepping off from a stable threshold supports this pilgrim. So as I get ready for my writing challenge, I give thanks for those who have sent me topics on which to write and treat their suggestions as solid ground from which to open every door, and in doing so, accept all the topics that have offered up to me.

The Opening of Eyes

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

— David Whyte
from Songs for Coming Home
©1984 Many Rivers Press

David Whyte and I in Ballyvaughan June 2013

David Whyte and I in Ballyvaughan June 2013

New Shoes

10 days ago

Any self respecting pilgrim would have left their shoes at the end of their journey. I left mine in Ennis, County Clare. I first put them on when I started going to the gym, almost five years ago, intent on keeping fit enough so that I would be able to be physically and mentally prepared for mid-life and beyond.  The shoes served me well and were obviously good value for money!  They took me to the gym three or four times a week, to the Willunga Farmers Market most Saturday mornings, to countless short trips to familiar places, to far off lands and to the shores of oceans and streams.

After being on The Burren I knew I was going to say goodbye to them in Clare. And with that goodbye,  I would but some new ones in the new world of Dubai on the way home. And that is what I did.

This new journey warrants new shoes.  Ironically the ones I left behind were designed for walking and the label on this new shoe box says they  are designed for running!  I wonder if the shoes are being prophetic?

I thanked the shoes for carrying me this far and explained to them they had done a great job and their wear and tear was evidence of that. The right shoe had lost all its stitching on the toe perhaps channelling the number of times I have wanted to kick someone or something in or out of my way.
My new shoes were bought at one of the many temples to mammon in Dubai during Ramadan – an oxymoron to this reluctant shopper. Dubai is as far as any one could get from Patrick McCormack and the farmers in Clare.
The shoes will need to be broken in and I will reluctantly be back at the gym in a few days  and maintain my original intention and if the shoes are prophetic I will need to be ready.
I come to the end of these 30 days home and rested with the sounds of the pigeons in the distance, hearing The Ashes and with soup bubbling on the stove to comfort and reassure that I am indeed home in body and soul and ready with my new shoes for the next steps on this pilgrimage.
Dear Hildegard, I have just read what I wrote ten days ago; and it has taken me until today to put on my new shoes. Yesterday there was the most glorious of sunrises and Brother Sun was telling me very clearly it is time to start again!
I think my procrastination is about not wanting the old journey or my holiday to end. But this day has come and on they went. One foot in front of the other the only way to walk – baby steps first.  I am remembering the instruction of The Burren, carefully watching where I am going; being mindful to the hidden holes; enjoying the flat land as a moment to relax vigilance and to test the rock for movement first before completely committing to the stride.  The Burren is a challenging spiritual director.  My new shoes will carry me to new territories and help me through familiar ones as well. They will need to be prepared for times when my reluctance will need to be met with patience.  They will need to be ready for times of both safari and pilgrimage.
When the time comes for these shoes to be rested I will have taken them to who knows where and whatever paths I find myself on with them I hope they serve me as well as the old ones.  So in the spirit of John O’Donohue who, it is claimed, could bless a carburettor and bring divinity to the moment, I have been self indulgent and written a little blessing for myself and my new shoes.
Blessing for the Pilgrim’s New Shoes
May the left shoe lead you to clear horizons.
May the right shoe follow in even time.
May they both hold you firmly
May they help you walk; and climb.
May they cup your feet so you feel grounded.
May they hold your ankles so you do not trip.
May they take you near and far
May they help you run; and skip.
May you always know to thank them,
For accompanying you along the way;
And may you let them bring you home safely,
At the end of every night and day.
Morning 25 July 2013

Morning over Willunga 25 July 2013

A breath of fresh air

The walking Irish musical encyclopaedia PJ Curtis shared a piece of music from a virtuoso tin whistle player and what struck me was I couldn’t detect the breaths of the player. What a remarkable feat. As I strained to listen closer I could hear little sips of air being taken to top up the breath required to bring the sounds to our ears. The speed of the fingers juxtaposed with the steady breath, as true as any duck swimming madly beneath dark waters, the swift movements of pad pressing on tin easily lifting off after what sounded like the lightest touch.

David Whyte writes “Good poetry begins with the lightest touch” and good sound begins in way too, with grace and a gentle ease that may well camouflage a flurry of fast and furious emotions. From the simplicity of the tin whistle to the complexity of the uillean pipes, for the wisp of a breeze to the wild wind on The Burren, this land of my ancestors knows how to be with air.

Ireland knows how to tame air and how to be tamed by it, to love it and to be held by it. The breath of God receiving the invitation of every reed to co-create sound. There is no need to do anything but to feel Her breath and to breathe deeply and often and to keep topping up with sips. I have taken a big breath and breathed deeply. I have been breathed on and joined my breaths with others to make a collective sound of breathlessness in awe and wonder of getting to the top of John O’Donohue‘s land, I have listened and been part of audience participation in Size2Shoes original composition of “You leave me Breathless” (a song of love not endurance after a workout!).

When a musician plays a slow Air it seems to be a wistful lyrical style, giving us all a rest from the jigs and reels of the session. The Air works as a salve to soothe the soul, a mixture of lulling you to sleep and waking you up from a dream, and also to help you catch your breath before you jump up for another dance. And the Air I heard Michael “Blackie” OConnell play on the Uilleann pipes in Cottage 7, Ballyvaughan, was as haunting and restful as any I have ever heard.

Hildegard your enduring mantra, to be a feather on the breath of God, was around every corner in Ireland. Feathers appeared, where my feet trod on the cobblestone streets of Ennis, on the ridge at Fort Lor, in the alley of Galway, in the graveyard at Ballyvaughan and in front of the entrance to Glenstal Abbey, I knew you were constantly present. Consistently you were inviting me to be a feather; to have a light touch, to help give flight, to join with others to create a wing to soar, to enter into the reminder that a single feather is of something much bigger than itself.

The elemental nature of air has conversational properties of epic proportions, from invitations of rest, being at my back to push me uphill, to offering me resistance to build resilience and to co-create beautiful music and words using my own body is a reed. Ireland has been my breath of fresh air, filling my lungs so I am ready to take little sips when I need to for my ongoing and life long pilgrimage.

With good humour and joy You leave me breathless.

blackie entraced