My granny Teresa (who has since passed), my first born son and me in 2002

The grandmothers and the ferns

Over the last couple of months I have learnt a lot about my nervous system in a time of crises. Like many people I have spoken to, when this pandemic first hit, I found myself in a flurry of activity; what can I learn? how can I help? how can I make the most of this time? In hindsight, I can see that this was reactive, it was not coming from a purposeful place of being connected to what really matters. The activity was coming from the survival part of my brain. Neuroscientists call this being in a ‘hyper-aroused state’, it can feel compelling to keep doing things, we are moving energy instead of feeling stuck and it gives us a sense of control.

It can be interesting to notice what we give our energy to, from this place? I found myself on zoom far too much, trying to take in too much information and giving time to projects that I ordinarily would be discerning enough to know, were not for me.

This was followed by getting a bit annoyed at myself as none of these flurries of activity really amounted to anything much. One of the things I love about being in a rural Donegal community is the healthy dollop of grounded wisdom which often infuses every-day conversations. As I spoke to one of my many far out relations up here, unpacking our shopping into our boots (at our 2 meter distance), she commented that lots of people were encouraging her to change her usual face-to-face teaching to online. “Sure what’s the rush”? she said with her lovely, slow Donegal lilt. “I am going to take my time and sure I’ll just see what emerges”. As I absorbed her wise words, I felt my shoulders drop and I could breathe a little deeper. She reminded me of the wisdom of pausing first, honouring this call to ground, to take time to be reflective and introspective and to let activity come from that place. I could take my time and find my rhythm in all of this.

The initial few weeks were also punctuated with self-soothing and seeking comfort, not that there is any right or wrong in any of this, I am all about self-soothing and finding ease. However, what I noticed was that this was characterised by me trying to numb some of the difficult emotions I was having as opposed to allowing them. This involved eating far too much of the copious amount baking we were doing and if I am being really honest drinking more wine than usual (I am still eating more than I need to). These swings from hyperactivity to numbing is a loss of regulation (as the neuroscientists call it). I think it is really helpful to cultivate self-compassion around this, the cells in our nervous system read our environment (neuroceptors) and inform our system about when we are in danger or if we are safe, if they sense danger, they put our system into high alert, we can feel highly activated with lots of adrenaline (hence hyper-activity) or we can feel overwhelmed and stuck, this response is just trying to keep us safe.

The wonderful thing is that our ground and resource are always there for us to re-orientate back to, no matter how often we lose sight of them. I love what Celtic wisdom says -that we are meant to forget, followed by the joy of remembering. For me there was something about moving from judgment to acceptance that I was finding this challenging and accepting that my capacity was more limited than usual, that I was more scattered than normal and that was OK . It was also helpful accepting that being on Zoom is completely exhausting. The more I settled into the reality of things and found ways to pause, spending time in nature and re-establishing my early morning routine of moving my body, the more my system came back into regulation. The more moments I had of feeling my ground and the muscle memory of discernment of what to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to came back online. I am not saying that I wasn’t wobbling or still having crap days, it is just that I found myself coming back into a sense of ground and resource more often. At one point I found myself putting a lot of energy into people pleasing on a project (an old habit), this was restrictive and my body echoed this back to me with a painful frozen shoulder. I could hear the whisper of the grandmothers as I walked through the fields and sat by the river- where are you putting your energy? What is really calling out to be shared? How can you spiral back to what matters most?

Listening to the whispers of the grandmothers, I have been enjoying the chance to really ‘be’ in this place of my ancestors and reminding myself that this ‘deep’ time with the family will never come again and to appreciate it (even when they are driving me mad ). I have also been loving the chance to support some front line staff and palliative care teams. I am missing gathering women and I am excited to experiment with offering some virtual circles.

The Ferns

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One of the great gifts of this time for me has been witnessing the day-to-day changes in the plants and flowers as they grow and blossom in the changing seasons of spring and summer (that I am usually too busy to notice). The ferns have particularly caught my attention-in early spring as they look like a Celtic spiral, tightly curled in on themselves and then slowly but surely they uncoil, spiralling into the green fullness of themselves. It makes me curious about our human experience at this time of year, perhaps you feel more energy rising- it makes me wonder about what we are giving energy to? What are we letting go of, to make space for other things to emerge?

When you connect with what matters, what wants more life within you?

What is whispering and calling to you?

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This month I have been delivering one-to-one sessions with people remotely, supporting teams to help them navigate these times and holding virtual circles. If this is of interest or if you just fancy a virtual coffee and a chat do get in touch.