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Bombed-out and rebooted

I know I wasn’t alone in the shelled-out, disorientated state. The trauma of Covid-19 was clearly seen after a year of coping and doing what was necessary to keep my head above water. I had many psychological and spiritual tools to my belt – from meditating to running to spending time with family – but my strength and resilience was dwindling day by day. I wondered how long I could keep it up. I wondered how long I could survive.

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A happy, free heart

It was a time when I learned to love myself – that warm, expansive feeling in my chest that makes life meaningful.

I have just finished another eight-week programme, this time a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) course with the Mindfulness Centre in Dublin. Based on the pioneering work of American psychologists Kristin Neff and Chris Gerber, it was a crash course of the heart that left me hungry for more. Each week we were presented with different meditative practices and workbook exercises that focused on the three factors of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness. I offer you some of my learnings based on three stages of progress.

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Listening to Sarah

How tender is your heart when you hear of someone like Sarah who has recently tested positive for Covid-19? How much do you really listen? How much do you really care? I became aware of my own hard-heartedness some years ago at a 30-day silent retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises. I was invited, through much soul searching, to let go of what no longer served me and to embody a new way of being in the world. I invite you to listen to Sarah’s story from this more contemplative perspective and to see if it has any resonance with you.

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Our ‘Can-Do’ attitude

What becomes obvious from Barack Obama’s latest best-selling book, A Promised Land, is that he wanted to tune into a bigger picture, something beyond his own ego and ambition. Over time, he aligned his own will with the will of the American people.

He learned to deeply listen to his constituents as well as to those from outside his reach. With his family and team behind him, he brought promise to those who believed in a humanity that is enhanced through a shared sense of pain and suffering.

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Mindful spaciousness

Learning to create a space between us and our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations during sitting meditation is an incredibly liberating experience. Not only does it help prevent us from falling into unwanted habits, but it also enables us to communicate from a deeper, warmer place or ‘heart centre’. This is a place where faith and mindfulness can merge.

Imagine, for instance, sitting with Jesus and cooking fish on a charcoal fire by the lake shore. You hear his words: “Come to me, you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. You share your pain with him without judging it, you experience his gentle and humble heart, and you find rest for your soul. Your body feels lighter, your mind becomes spacious and you view your experience more compassionately.

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The heart of mindfulness

I’ve been used to expressing myself with words such as “fine”, “grand”, and “no bother” all of my life. But these aren’t really feelings at all. I think this is the experience of a lot of Irish men.

I finished an 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course last week at the Mindfulness Centre in Dublin with elements of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It enabled me to communicate from my ‘heart centre’ on a consistent basis which has been a deep longing of mine. Here are some of my learnings:

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Holy waiting

Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, tells the story of a man who leaves his home to go on a journey and puts his slaves in charge while he is away. He assigns them different work including the task of the doorkeeper “to be on the watch”. They need to be vigilant because he can return home at any minute.

Can we imagine the master’s reaction if he finds his doorkeeper not on the job? Sleep, according to Kieran O’Mahony OSA, is commonly used to mean inattention, lack of alertness, as well as death. Surely not a good thing this Advent season.

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‘The Spirit of the Rose’

It is not someone who has a huge, precious diamond that is richest, but someone who is able to give a huge, precious diamond away. Something like the extremely rare purple-pink Russian diamond called ‘The Spirit of the Rose’ that was sold at auction in Switzerland for €22.5 million.

In a poem by Rumi, we are told that being human is a ‘guest house’. What a wonderful image of our being! For each day we can experience a whole range of emotions such as joy, sadness, enthusiasm and boredom. But the question is do we accept and welcome them all as guests or do we resist and distract ourselves by focusing only on the nice things?

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Gentle gaze of Granny

“Dear Granny,” I wrote on her special occasion, “It is lovely to celebrate this birthday with you. Before my friends met you, they expected to see a frail lady, but they were surprised to find that you were full of life. Love always, Gavin”.

As I reflect on the whole experience of my Granny’s life and death since my last video (Gratitude in my Granny), I am grateful for a new appreciation of our relationship. I draw strength from our faith which we shared. I often saw her, for example, praying the rosary in her room. She said her prayers silently while going from bead to bead with her fingers. I felt comforted during these times, especially when I felt a little raw and vulnerable. We were in good, loving company and I cherish this memory today.

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