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Yin and yang of Yeats

Seeing beauty is not always like the way a lover meets his beloved for the first time. Sometimes it means seeing black as white and white as black.

Do you ever wonder what goes on when you pray or meditate? Perhaps you maintain an upright posture, breathe rhythmically, and behold an image in your mind’s eye. But what exactly is going on? I invite you to accompany me as I meditate on two of Jack B Yeats’ paintings: The Singing Horseman (1949) » and For the Road (1951) ». Each work contains an animal and human figure offering a profound insight on how we see reality today.

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Keys to a secret garden

I was given privileged access to the Ards Friary Walled Garden in Ards, County Donegal during a one-week stay with the Capuchin contemplative community. Brother Ade brought another man and me through the five-acre land one day and it was a sheer delight in discovering its secrets. After the initial visit, Ade gave me a loan of the keys letting me wander around on my own. I felt like I was given permission to a secret paradise.

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A deeply peaceful Christmas

A mental health professional recently told me that while most people have their ups and downs in life, they don’t normally have to worry about being unbalanced. It got me thinking… if people don’t really worry about being unbalanced, do they care enough to be deeply balanced?

I had good reason to explore deep peace and balance in my own life as I participated in an 8-week wellness course organised by Aware, the Irish mental health organisation. Here are eight tips I learned from the course. I believe they may help us all live well this holiday season:

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Flourishing in the face of anxiety

Sadly, few of us know what it is like to be in harmony with our minds. We are so often subject to our thoughts, feelings, and impulses. We get dragged around as if by an ox, when it is the ox that ought to be following us.

Thankfully, there are ways to ‘tame our ox-mind’ as we transition back to ordinary living. One is to separate unproductive worry from productive worry. In the case of someone who is returning to the office on a regular basis, unproductive worry focuses on the ‘what ifs’.

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Facing anxiety of the ‘new normal’

Have you recently noticed a nervousness in the air? Something you may not have been aware of before? We may feel tension in our bodies as we try to live in a ‘new normal’ world. There may be a tightness in our heads, chests and bellies as we return to our physical work buildings and meet our colleagues or go shopping again on a busy street or socialise more with our friends.

Research shows that even positive change can lead to anxiety, and it can take time to readjust to things we have not done for a while. Although feelings of post-lockdown anxiety are likely to pass, it’s important to take care of our mental health.

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The power of outstretched hands

Do you ever find yourself getting stuck in negativity after a challenging interaction? Or perhaps you’re not conscious of your inner dialogue but find that you dip in mood afterwards? I had the opportunity to face such demons head on with a kind hearted and wise man.

Like the open-armed statue of Francis of Assisi at Ards Friary in County Donegal, I’ve been able to let go over the last couple of weeks. I’ve let go of my plans, I’ve let go of my dreams, and I’ve let go of my stress for something much bigger and warmer.

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Giving voice to the elderly

Can we imagine feeling alone, unappreciated, forgotten, with the news of peers dying from Covid-19?

A new toolkit is being promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help older people during the pandemic. Called Living with the Times, it contains five illustrated posters with key messages on how to maintain their wellbeing, while supporting those around them at the same time.

Poster four encourages older people to get help if they need it. It shows several colourful scenes with a person or group of people doing the following:

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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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