What does a daily spiritual practice look like?

As some of ye will be aware, on Monday, there is a group of us starting a 30 day journey to deepen and develop our relationship with Brigid. You can check out more details here. But, I cheated a bit and asked a Day 0 question…

I asked people to think about what a daily spiritual practice means to them. And I started to talk about what it means to me, but then… I needed more space than Facebook gives. So here we are. Now, people who have been reading this blog for a while know that I don’t believe it takes a massive amount of effort to build a daily spiritual practice and it needs to fit in with your life. If your daily spiritual practice is a single deep breath while you get the 3 seconds between one child dropping off to sleep and the next waking up, or if it’s a trip to the toilet during the work day where you look in the mirror and tell yourself “you got this” that’s fine. Honestly – spirituality needs to fit into our lives, not cause more stress and strain.

But I know that when people start thinking about this (for people read: me), their (my) brain goes off in all sorts of different directions. For example, when I look at this, I think of what I’d love to be able to do. I would like to get up in the morning and have a nice relaxing cuppa while leafing through my games on my phone. Then have 20-30 mins meditation, followed by a good half hour of dance or walking in nature. Then a nice relaxing shower, breakfast and out the door. That would all take a good 2 hrs, and frankly my mornings usually go about like this: wake up, leaf through phone, shower, breakfast, what do I have for lunch, out the door. And I really don’t have 2 hrs to get ready in the morning. But when someone says “daily spiritual practice”, this calm, serene, blissful morning comes to mind, even when I know it’s not practical. But you know what might be practical? 5-10 mins meditation. Taking that walk at lunchtime. Prepping clothes and meals the night before to ease the stress in the morning.

And, before I go any further – that’s just me I have to get ready. No kids, no dependents that need to get up and go in the morning. I struggle with just me! But it’s there all the time, it’s a “should” in my life, that I should be doing this cos what else am I doing? Well I’m spending time with my husband. I’m sleeping. I’m dealing with a long commute. Like I said, any spiritual practice has to fit into your life.

But at the same time, when looking at developing a practice, it’s useful to get this ideal out of your head and onto paper (or whatever medium is most useful for you to record thoughts – for me it’s online documents usually, typing is now easier than writing for me!) So there’s a challenge for you – spend a few mins to think about what your ideal daily spiritual practice would look like. What do you think you should be doing? What do you think is absolutely essential? Get all the stuff you feel guilty about not doing out of your head and into some other medium for storage.

And then, put it away for 30 days or a month. Trust me! If you want to join us on our 30 day journey with Brigid, you’re more than welcome, but even if you don’t – put that away and out of your head for a month and then come back to you and start looking at how practical it is and what might be doable in your life!

Know yourself

I won’t speak to other pantheons, but I feel the Irish pantheon kinda insists on their followers doing a lot of work around knowing themselves. And within that pantheon, I feel like Brigid pushes her followers to know themselves a lot. Her followers speak about going through the anvil almost as a rite of passage, except it rarely is a one-time journey and it demands self-knowledge in a way my experience of organised religion never did.

(side note: as I was typing the above, I could feel other Irish deities kinda poking their heads up and saying “What now?” Brigid is of course not the only deity that pushes self knowledge among her followers, she’s just the one I have most experience with. )

But what does self-knowledge mean? And how does one go about learning about it? We should know ourselves right? After all, most of the people reading this blog have probably been living on this earth for a few decades at least?

Well true, but there’s many people who can live their lives and not delve deep into themselves at all. And when I think of self-knowledge, I tend to divide the knowledge into 3 realms, similar to how I prepare for festivals: physical, emotional/mental, spiritual. In physical terms, “knowing yourself” often comes up in sexual conversations, particularly with women (or at least, particularly in my experience of being a woman, which is not universal) And it usually comes in related to sexual pleasure, which is an important part of life, in my opinion, so I’m not knocking it. Knowing how your body receives pleasure, whether sexual or otherwise, is hugely important. But there’s also other things to know about your body. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What sensations does it like? What textures, fabrics, surfaces does it like? What foods have what effects on it? (Yeah, there are days I live on chocolate, no harm in admitting it, but really, long-term, that’s not what my body looks for!) What movement does it like? You may not be able to give your body everything it likes, but know what works best can help a lot.

For example, over the years, because of my work and lifestyle, my body has gotten used to a lot of sedentary time. In fact, there are days I can go by with fewer than 500 steps if I don’t make an effort. That’s not the preferred state for my body, it works better with more movement. Equally, washing my body daily is a good idea for me, washing my hair daily – less so. It works better if my hair is washed a few times a week rather than daily. Nothing life threatening really here, but it’s about knowing myself.

You can take this and work through the mental/emotional realm and the spiritual realm as well. What works best for you? And while you might think that quitting your job and running away to wilderness would suit you best, maybe figure out how you’re going to live beforehand and pick up a few of the skills you’ll need before such a major commitment?

What brought this to mind? Well, we’re on the May Bank Holiday weekend here in Ireland and celebrated Bealtaine over the weekend. As part of my celebrations, I didn’t spend money between midday 30th April and midday 1st May. And I found it difficult. I rarely spend money physically, at the weekends anyway, but it is a time when I can spend a lot on Amazon and other online sites. I didn’t realise how much of a habit it was until I found myself very uncomfortable on Saturday night, not browsing my usual websites. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’m not spending money we don’t have, but it was interesting to note my levels of discomfort and this is now something I’m going to explore some more over the coming weeks.

It may just be a habit and my discomfort was the usual discomfort of changing a habit, for however short a time. It might also be that this is a soothing activity of some kind for me. It may be completely harmless, but such a marked experience is worth exploring further.

I have heard people ask what use is it following the habits of our ancestors in the modern world and what use they have for us. Well, this is one of the uses for me – it can expose parts of ourselves we might not otherwise have noticed. My husband and I regularly have something neither of us are interested in on the telly at the weekends, while we read or browse the internet, so that didn’t bother me. Stopping myself hitting “Checkout” though was very interesting and caused some internal discomfort so it’s worth exploring a bit more.

This is just one habit of course, at one festival, one person’s experience. And there are other ways to know yourself – journaling is more consistent, if done regularly, shadow work is useful if done with solid theory and foundations, there are loads of ways to explore self knowledge. Hell, lighting some candles, putting on your favourite underwear and having a good explore session with your body is an amazing way to spend an evening, the work doesn’t always have to be difficult and painful!

Have a think over your practices and which bits can cause unexpected reactions in you and see what you can learn or explore further there. You might be surprised what you learn!

Grounding

More than one of my friends have mentioned to me over the last few days about their struggles with grounding lately. Now, many of these people would have significant experience in working with energy and being focused and in generally, could usually ground in their sleep – and, I’m fairly certain, have done so!

I’ve had some difficulties myself, to be honest, but it’s manifested in a slightly different way than usual, so it took me a while to figure out what was happening. So I thought I’d go through some of my techniques for grounding that don’t really require training as such.

First and easiest for me is to stand barefoot on the ground – grass or sand or clay or earth. Tarmac/concrete/floors work as well, but the natural base helps significantly. Stand barefoot and feel the ground beneath your feet. Imagine yourself being rooted to the earth. It should help a lot.

If you want to go even further and your local weather allows is, lying on the ground, particularly again in nature, exposing the maximum amount of your body to the earth, is very helpful. If you have hair like mine, it might be easier to tie it up, rather than allow it to attract every leaf, cobweb and other natural debris in the local area, but it’s not necessary. Some would say loose hair is a necessity for this, but I say those people don’t have wild, curly hair with a mind of their own! 🙂

Next up is standing in moving water – anything with a current or a wave, regardless of how small it is. So, lake, stream, sea – now, I’ll be honest, a lot of the time, the initial cold takes my breath away when I do this and you need to be careful about safety and not be wading hip deep in a heavy current – water safety is always important! But even that shock to the system of cold water is useful for bringing you back to yourself (as long as you don’t have a medical condition where that shock of cold would harm you) If you can submerse yourself as well, even better. But with Irish weather, this might not be advisable. Although rain would work as well – you’d just have to deal with your Mammy giving out to you and threatening you with pneumonia for standing out in the rain.

Next one is to eat something mindfully. By this, I mean, select something and put some time into eating it. Focus on the taste, the motions you use to eat, to chew, the sensations in your mouth, your throat, on your hands as you move the food to your mouth. Think about the smell, texture, sight. Does the food make a noise? Narrowing your focus like this is a handy way to bring you back to the presence. Think about the journey this food has had to reach your plate. Contemplate the movement around the earth (or down the road, or from the back garden), the work that went into producing it and moving it and getting it to you. Think of all the times this food has touched the earth, moved across the earth, as part of this massive ecosystem of ours.

Finally – and this one is a bit controversial, but bear with me. Go to the toilet. Defecate if you can. It’s hard to feel ungrounded while pushing faeces out of your body. This activity is one of the natural times of the day (or week or month, depending on your body’s cycles, I guess) to consider our bodies, our physical selves and our connection to the other physical bodies around us and beneath us. And yeah, I get it, it sounds yucky. But here’s the thing – our faeces and urine are the waste we expel from our bodies and return to the earth. There is a connection there between us and the earth. OK, these days, we mostly treat our waste before returning it to earth, but nevertheless, at the end of the sewage system, or in the septic tank, that’s what happens.

So there you go – a few quick and handy techniques I find useful for grounding. Let me know if they help!!

Ireland’s (other) patron saint

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland, and indeed all over the world, on 17th March, or your nearest day off, depending on whether you’re lucky enough to get the day off or not. And there’s “controversies” every year about the day, with Irish people moaning it’s yet another holiday associated with a religious holiday, pagans moaning that dear, old Paddy wasn’t all that great, and history experts (the real sort, not the internet sort) getting caught in between.

And after one of my recent emails to my fans (or at least people who agree to sign up to receive emails from me, click here if you’re interested) people came back asking what my thoughts on the day. So here you go…

I’ll be the first to admit that, for a lot of my life, Paddy’s was celebrated as a day off work or a day on double pay when I was in college. In my early years post-college, it was a chance to meet up with friends in Dublin, see the parade, or the tail-end of it, and then hit the pubs for the day. It was a day to relax and let our hair down, and drink quite a lot. So, having been in that tradition myself, I don’t really condemn those who celebrate in this way now. I can’t bring myself to be that hypocritical and, really, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself.

Where I do get a bit annoyed is when people start saying that because it’s Paddy’s Day, there’s almost an onus on us to get plastered, sure cos aren’t the Irish all mad drinkers anyway? Alcohol causes a lot of problems in this country, so don’t be using that rhetoric to justify or excuse letting your own hair down. I drank for problematic reasons for years, beginning far younger than I really should have, I recognise now, even if it was the norm. I also know there are plenty of my friends who started drinking around the same age I did who didn’t end up with the years long dubious relationship with drink. So, that comes down to the individual (and I should add, the laws of the land. I’m not recommending anyone go breaking laws now!)

And the whole dying rivers green thing and the lighting up buildings green and all the rest – it’s great advertisement for Ireland and fair play to those places doing it. I did feel sorry for poor Micheál Mairtín though, getting COVID so he couldn’t meet with Joe Biden. Paddy’s being a chance for our politicians to go promote the Irish tourism industry all over the world – take advantage of it, if it brings in more money to deal with the problems we have at home!

The things I don’t like seeing? Well there’s the annual “Paddy is a druid-killer” debate, seeing as how he drove the snakes out of Ireland. As far as I’m aware, the whole “drove the snakes out of Ireland” thing was invented to explain the distinct lack of snakes on this island – apparently we’re too wet and cold for them. More joy to us, in that case! Also, Paddy wasn’t going around killing people as a general rule. He was a lone man in an isolated country, where he’d been a slave a few years previously, before escaping. He also wasn’t the first Christian on the island either, there were Christians before him, or so Pope Celestine 1’s letter to Palladius in 431 would indicate, referring as it does to Palladius being “first bishop to the Irish believers in Christ.” So, he wasn’t the first, he wasn’t the last, he was just the one with the best propogandist.

He also didn’t eradicate paganism from Ireland. I can’t find anyone daring to specify a date from which we can consider Ireland to be Christian, but most academic resources outline a syncretic process happening over centuries rather than at the point of a sword over a single generation. I have read in various places that a few outbreaks of famine where the monastic settlements had more food than non-monastic settlements helped a bit as well. (Oh yeah, there’s way more than 1 famine in Irish history!!) And some would say, myself included, that Christianity in Ireland was always a thin enough veneer over a deep bedrock of paganism. In comparison to the more fundamentalist Protestant religions, Catholicism is often considered pagan anyway, but it is monotheistic officially, whatever about the realms of saints…

I also dislike intensely people from outside Ireland telling us how we should and shouldn’t celebrate the day. Let’s face it, for many of us, it’s a day off work or a day we get double pay for working. There’s few people would give that up just to satisfy other people’s notions of how we should celebrate our country. And for many of us, Paddy’s isn’t even a religious occasion any more. It’s a time for relaxing, maybe for venturing forth to your local parade, which will be extremely different to the big on in Dublin in most cases, for spending time with family, for catching up on housework or just relaxing and chilling. It’s a day off.

And it’s a day we can celebrate being Irish. Not that we can’t celebrate 365 days of the year, but there is a buzz about the day of the year when it seems the whole world turns green. It’s also fantastic in (very) recent years to see the communities of emigrants celebrated in the national parade, and this year was the first time I have seen the Travelling Community represented in the national parade (although they could have been there in previous years and I didn’t notice? Or did I imagine that? Either is possible and firm answers either way are welcomed.)

This is the day we can turn out our best image possible and let the world admire us.

It doesn’t take away from all the issues in the country – direct provision, homelessness, violence against women, poverty, hunger… All these things will still need to be dealt with. And I don’t mind St. Patrick having his day after all, haven’t I said plenty of times before, he has his day, but Brigid supports the people throughout the year? Patrick is our immigrant saint, the one that we have claimed as our own, as we have claimed other immigrants and invaders over the years. We now need to learn to extend that to the more recent immigrants, extend it to those who maybe don’t look quite like us? (Yes, I’m talking about non-white immigrants here, we need to be better about racism in this country. As in eradicate it and listen to the lived experience of those BIPOC in our society to do so).

Colmcille is our emigrant patron saint, who paved the way for so many emigrants over the centuries, some more willing than others. Brigid is our homegrown and stayed saint. No wonder she’s special!

But back to Patrick. This year, I slept in, no alarm clock. Read a bit. Watched the parade on the telly. Tried to moderate a bit online, but frankly, I’m unsure whether anyone was willing to listen. I didn’t even bother having a drink this year, cos I was looking forward to my bed!

If you’re Irish – no one really has the right to tell you how to celebrate our national holiday. People can give opinions all they like, but it’s up to you. If you’re not Irish, then maybe listen to the Irish around you. And remember, just because one Irish person once told you X was ok, doesn’t mean it is acceptable to any and all Irish people.

If you’re not Irish and if you want to celebrate Irish food and cooking – brown bread, fruit scones, bacon and cabbage, spuds with plenty butter, don’t go skimping now… If you want to celebrate Irish drink – the big named brands are all pretty much foreign owned. Try some of the smaller distilleries, Slane whiskey (distilled not far from where I grew up) is nice, as is Connemara whiskey. There are also some beer/ ale breweries around the country as well, just do your research because big names like Jameson are owned by Pernod Ricard (just as an example) There are also plenty of Irish food producers, whether you’re looking for chocolate or seaweed. Do your research and see what locals think of them – that’s usually your best bet.

Be respectful, don’t talk over native voices and listen to what’s being said. The Irish, no more than any other group of people on earth, are not a monolith and what I’ve said above may not pass for any other Irish person. But seriously – a day without the alarm clock going off, who’d refuse that??

So I took a week off

I was planning on a week off from the day job last week anyway, but then it turned into a week where nothing work related really got done at all. And I thought I’d explain how this happened!

I was travelling on the first weekend to see my new niece – those of you in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group will have seen the pic of the adorable little cherub. Now initially, we were meant to be staying with my baby brother and his wife, but her Dad was then in hospital so the house was given up to her family so they had a base to be going in and out of the hospital from. No problem for us, night in a hotel. And to help out, I was bringing up a boot load of food because I knew damn well my bro would be trying to feed everyone no matter what time they were coming and going at. A few freezer meals is no harm is these situations! But I still got a good 2 hrs solid cuddling with the niblet and I am so happy I did. Plus I managed to fit in a decent walk in Salthill which would rejuvenate the soul frankly, and spent some time with my feet in the sea and just reconnecting with myself essentially.

Then on the Monday, I was over in Waterford, talking to some academics on a new course we’re trying to put together to help technicians advance in their careers, or even just develop the skills to make them better technicians! And while I was there I fit in a lovely few hours in Tramore, again washing the feet, spending time with the sand and the sea and the sky. I was blessed both days that it was mostly fine, decently warm, although most other people were well wrapped up, I was fine in my cardie. Possibly some inner fire from herself there?

On Tuesday, I did nothing. I sat on the couch. I slept. I stared into space. I couldn’t even follow The Big Bang Theory on the telly. So all plans at that point were cancelled, because since I had the breakdown late last year, I am paying attention to my mental state.

Wednesday, I got my husband to Lidl to get some food in (we were reduced to instant noodles on Tuesday night – just on their own, not even a scallion chopped up in them!) and I got a couple of bottles of wine and we planned a quite Paddy’s day.

Oh yes, in case you missed in, last Thursday was Paddy’s Day, when suddenly everyone’s Irish, and has a license to start drinking at 9am or earlier. Well, that’s not how my Paddy’s went. Now don’t get me wrong, when I was younger, I loved the excitement of going into Dublin, spending the day with friends drinking, watching the parade, trying to find out favourite night club that wasn’t charging to get in and generally letting our hair down. We’d have cocktails, and catch up on all the goings on of the last year, because some of these friends I’d not seen for the last 12months. But time moves on. And the days of me spending a full day drinking are long gone. Mind you, so are the days of me needing hair of the dog to function the next day as well. I think the way I spent this Paddy’s was much healthier for me – mentally and physically.

I had a good long 10hr sleep. I watched the parade on the telly. I admired my niece’s latest photo (the poor child is going to be the most photographed child in Ireland!) I spend time chatting to family and friends. I read some books. We had chicken teriyaki for dinner. I didn’t bother with the wine cos I didn’t feel like it in the end. And you know, that probably wasn’t that different to most other people on this island, except anyone with kids would probably have been involved in their local parade as well. The % of Irish people going on the piss for the day fairly low. And if you want to know more about St Patrick, go look at the Irish Pagan School, there’s a grand course on there for the truth about him, not to mention the numerous videos on the youtube channel. And there was a fair bit of time spent on social media countering the various falsehoods about St Patrick and the Irish relationship with him. I could go into that here, but honestly, I’m still drained from it. If my opinions on this are something you’re interested in, let me know and I’ll see about gathering up the energy to do it later on.

Friday, I started to feel more energy, I was reading more, did a youtube workout video, I actually cooked something. Saturday was even better, my husband and I went out for a very late lunch, did some brief shopping around town, and I started to defrost the freezer. I know, I live an exciting life. In the middle of this, my brother messaged me to let me know his father-in-law had passed away, which was sad, but also a release from pain for the poor man. This doesn’t of course make it any less sad for his family though.

Anyway, this meant Sunday was spent finishing off the freezer (which is still empty and shining!!) getting food in for the week, getting to the bottom of the laundry basket and figuring out how I could manage all my expectations for this week, booking hotels and things like that. Also ringing my mother in a panic cos I thought it was Mother’s Day – it wasn’t, it’s next week, in Ireland at least! But still. It also meant packing my clothes to deal with three days away from home and deciding on what approach I’d take to food.

Now after typing all that, it doesn’t sound like a very restful holiday, but it was really. Defrosting the freezer is something I’ve been trying to do since before Christmas but couldn’t make myself start. It’s also been a while since we saw the bottom of the laundry basket, or had all the clothes put away instead of being in piles everywhere. There are loads of things I didn’t do – sorting out our medical receipts, getting last year’s taxes sorted out, getting in to the doctor, etc, etc, etc, but the 10+ hrs sleep a night was really healing and rejuvenating. I work just before my alarm clock this morning which was great, and I was able to do my morning routine with little pain.

Why did I give all that run down? Well, I talk about self care here a lot. And a lot of the time, it’s about eating right, moving my body, sleeping etc. But sometimes it means taking a week off and just going with the flow. A lot of the time it means adjusting your plans for the week to what must be done versus what you’d like to be done. A lot of the time it means eating instant noodles because the thought of having to get in the car and drive somewhere is just too damn hard to contemplate. And hell yeah, I’m privileged to be able to do this and have the flexibility to do this. I appreciate that very much. It also brought home to me how much more I need to tune into my energy levels and my general feelings on a day to day basis rather than waiting til I get to that “sitting on the couch staring” stage again.

My week off was far more and less of a week off than planned, but I’m happy with the way it came out. I was even able to sleep last night, without worrying about what I’d face in work this morning, which was a big change. So there you go. My week off! I didn’t even manage to light a single candle while I was off… I did have a few chats with herself though, more on that later 🙂

Daily devotion

One of the biggest responses I got from my support systems posts (check them out here and here) was a question about my own daily practice. As in what do I do. And I was answering everybody about it individually and then finally realised it might be easier to just write a blog post on it. (I’m a slow learner sometimes! Although to be fair, I wasn’t sure there’d be this much interest in the topic!)

So here we go. I had to think about this a bit because my daily devotional exercises are built into my life rather than specific things I do. But I did come across a few things I’m doing right now. (And it’s important to realise that these practices change over time as my needs and her needs change – staying the same for too long might lead to stagnation in both my spiritual life and elsewhere)

Usually in the morning I’ll acknowledge her in some way, shape, or form. This could mean a quick mental check in, lighting a candle or a more formal prayer or meditation. And by “quick mental check in”, I mean pausing for a min, thinking about her and seeing if I get any nudges or subtle hints. Or indeed not-so-subtle hints. There’s times I don’t listen very well!

Equally, there are things that are kinda like projects. I’m re-learning to walk right now, having some success, after a few years of a very bad ingrown toenail and multiple operations to sort it out. It’s amazing how much my walk had changed and put stress on my legs. So now, of course, I need to re-learn how to walk normally (for me) and am working with a physio on sorting out all the pains that are coming up because of that. Up to 5500 steps a day though, now so not doing to badly.

Then there are specifics she calls on me to do – like the other week, when I held a prayer session for Ukraine and all war-stricken places around the world in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group. Another, possibly more spiritual project, she has me working on is research into the Ulster Brigs as I call them – the three Brigs mentioned in the Senchas Mór as the mother, wife and daughter of Sencha, the brehon. That means time on academia.edu and chasing up obscure references in other papers. I hope to have a class on these Brigs shortly, although for anything more than a brief introduction, it will need to be a few weeks long I think. But that research is an act of devotion as well.

And then there’s the living my life stuff. I do my best to live my life according to the ethics and morals I’ve signed up to. And that’s more and more natural as time goes on. It doesn’t tend to be transactional, in the “If I do this things, you’ll do that thing” kinda way, but it does mean my life is easier and better when I consider those ethics and morals daily in what actions I do and don’t take. Mostly it’s about being in right relationship, treating people fairly, offering support to those who need it, that sort of thing. Sometimes it’s donating money to a given cause, other times it’s sending an email, sometimes it’s listening to someone. There’s an ad for butter in Ireland right now that has the tag line “Spread the Goodness” and it’s not a bad way to think of things. If you can do something nice or good for someone else, why not do it?

I do sometimes complete more formal rituals and honouring activities. I make sure to have several candles lighting for her if I’m teaching an online class, because she can keep the internet running for me! If I’m feeling low or unenergised, I might do a more formal meditation. Around Imbolc I have some practices I do – walking the bounds and grounds, making sure the house is clean for visitors, Brigid’s cross, the brat Bríde, that sort of thing.

But mostly, through the year, the main focus is teaching, living my life, being the best I can be. I can and am called on to enter some battles, usually online ones to be fair, but how I engage is up to me. She knows I’m no warrior, although I think part of the reason she’s pushing me so hard on the walking is so I can get fitted and be able to run when needed 🙂

Anyway, that’s a short insight into my daily practice, I hope ye found it interesting!

Support Systems part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Support Systems (you can check it out here) and honestly the response to that post surprised me. Not so much in likes and comments on the blog, but more in the emails I received afterwards. I was surprised so many people appeared taken by it.

And in my last post, I looked at the supports outside of ourselves, the organisations and people who offer support at different times and in different ways. Today, I’m going to look at the support systems we ourselves construct to help ourselves. I warn you now, you’ll be hearing a lot about my daily life in this one, so be prepared.

While obviously the people we spend time with are very important, it’s possible more important to look at the things we spend time on ourselves, whether by active choice or by habit. As people here know, I spent time off work last year because of mental health and coming back to work has had me reviewing the habits I had slipped into and what needed to change. So here we go.

The night before I go to work, I lay out my outfit for the morning and pack my bag with lunch. I also consciously decide on what breakfast I’m having. If I’m not travelling to work, i.e. working from home, I still lay out my outfit (it’s just more likely to be at the end of the bed rather than hung on the wardrobe door 😉 ) and plan my breakfast and lunch for the next day. I usually, but not always, have my shower at night as well.

When I wake up, I sometimes jump out of bed immediately, but other times I spend some time waking up before hopping out of bed. I go to the bathroom, take my meds and then sit on the couch for a bit to allow me to properly wake up. Here’s where I check my Noom lessons for the day, look at my sleep data from Fitbit, mess around on Facebook for a few mins, read a book for a bit, just generally and slowly wake up my brain. I dance at this point as well a few mornings a week, to ease myself into my body and feelings again. I’ll have breakfast, get dressed and head out the door. I usually drink a bottle of water before leaving the house as well.

I usually use my commute to listen to podcasts and I just line them up in the order they become available, but if I’m having a tough day mentally, I may change the podcast from a business/productivity orientated one to a more fun one. I usually drink a bottle of water while driving to work.

On arriving in work, I do a quick scan of emails, check my calendar for the day, check my t0-do list for the day, refill my water bottle and start work. At the end of the day, I check emails, note anything that needs dealing with in the morning, shut off laptop, refill water bottle, and hit the road.

When I arrive home, I check how long I have until dinner, see if I can do the clothes laying out etc in that time and chill a bit.

The routine helps me keep things going. I build in plenty of time for waking up and sleeping. I build in time for Facebook scrolling and playing games because I enjoy them and they relax me a bit. On the days I’m not in work, I usually do some exercise, some extra dancing or a walk on the treadmill or something like that.

At weekends, I tend to sleep more, catch up on housework a bit, do the shopping, etc. On Sundays, I prepare breakfast and lunch for a few days in advance to make the start of the week a bit easier for myself. even those breakfasts and lunches come out of a fairly small bunch of meals – breakfast is usually oat based, whether porridge or overnight oats or something like that. Lunch if I’m at home can be omelette or sandwiches or pasta, in work, anything that can be thrown in a box and doesn’t require reheating.

It sounds dull, but really, the idea is that what can I spend 5mins doing now that will make my life easier tomorrow or later on? You’ll also notice none of this is a detailed, min-by-min plan, but it’s a rough outline of what a typical morning/ evening might look at. Some days have different routines, e.g. Sunday nights are usually bath night, where I take the time to luxuriate in a long bath before bed to help me off to sleep and relax. Friday nights is our most likely night to have takeaway!

One of the things I do on a Monday morning is review the past week and look forward to the coming week to make sure I’ve not missed something and I’m aware of any upcoming appointments or deadlines. That way, I don’t end up planning a physio appt at the same time as a critical meeting at work or something. It also means I plan fun things ahead of time as well, and look at what friends I want to contact or msg during the week. Even just writing it down usually means it happens. I look at any birthdays coming up, events, disruptions to the routine, etc so things don’t take me by surprise and I can be prepared. I work better (both in work and in life!) when I can prepare.

Now, we can’t prepare for everything in life of course, but for the things I can prepare for, I want to be prepared. So if I know I’m going to be away for the weekend, I might look on Thursday/Friday to make sure I have the makings of breakfast and lunch for Monday in the house. Or if there’s a financial outlay coming up, I’ll make sure it’s noted so I don’t have the same money down to be spent twice or three times.

These routines are in place to support myself and lessen stress where possible in my life. They work for me – they might not work for you! But that basic question: what can I do now for 5mins that will make things easier later? What can I do the night before to make the morning easier? What can I do first thing that will make the day easier? What essential thing must I fit in to make the day easier for me? Looking at the days and weeks this way can help you place support systems for yourself to help you with life.

I’ve not included devotional activities here in detail, but usually if I’m dancing, I will light a candle. Before I sit down to work at home, I’ll light some incense or a candle or both. Part of my browsing/ idle time in the morning is time to check in with Brigid and see how things are with us. Part of my looking forward and back on a Monday is to make sure I’m covering devotional as well as mundane things in my life. It’s all incorporated rather than separated out and that works for me. You may have different mileage! But please, drop a comment or send me an email to let me know what you think! And if you’d like to join the email list, you can sign up here.

Support Systems

In most of my bios, at least in relation to spirituality and my teaching, I say I’m a solitary pagan. Equally in work, I am often the only woman in the room, the meeting, the group etc. Solitary and alone are by defaults to be honest.

But I got a shove last night. I can’t even say it was a nudge or a hint, obviously Brigid has been dropping the subtle hints for a while and is now fed up with me not getting them! But I got a not-so-subtle reminder that actually, while my spiritual practice is predominantly solitary and while my engineering practice means I am usually the only woman around, that doesn’t really mean I’m alone.

I have support systems.

I would not be where I am today without those support systems and honestly, the internet has made this easier by far than it used to me.

I’ll talk about as an engineer first. When I was a baby engineer, fresh out of college, full of zim and zest and zap (I had to go consult dictionary.com to find a third word beginning with z and honest, I’m not even sure it fits, but it sounds good!) I was on my way, I was going to be successful, I was going to conquer the world.

It took about 3 years before I figured out that wasn’t going to happen. In that time, I dealt with an abusive personal relationship, chronic illness, bullys as bosses, assault in work, assault outside of work by work colleagues, lack of personal safety at work… I mean I often joked at the time it was lucky I’d had good bladder training because I couldn’t go to the toilet in work without something happening. Basically, life wasn’t good. And I felt really, really bad, thinking it was all my fault.

I started a new job with a manager that turned out to be closer to a second Dad than a manager (seriously, my Dad called him out at my wedding to acknowledge everything he had done for me!) He suggested trying to find other women in engineering. He knew damn well there weren’t many around the place where we were, so we spent a few hours on the internet. Well ok, I spent a few hours on the internet, while he sat encouragingly at the next desk. He is a great man, but not a tech wizard! And I found an organisation, Women’s Engineering Society. I remember my first event was one on how to dress for work.

Seriously.

Up to that time, my work wardrobe was either a white shirt and black trousers if I was in an office, or overalls (sometimes with PJs under them) if I was on plant. To say it was monochrome and consistent and bland and basic would be a serious understatement. But as an engineer, I didn’t think I should be focused on what I wore to work. I was there to be assessed on my skills, not my appearance right? And then someone pointed out to me on the course, that even though I wasn’t in work, I was wearing a white t-shirt and black jeans to this course. Which was not too far away from my “office” uniform. It was pointed out to me that I was allowed some other colours in my wardrobe. I was permitted to wear tops and trousers that had some shape to them. Not revealing, but things that made me feel good about myself.

It was a massive shock to me that I was permitted to wear something different. Then, this wonderful woman at the course introduced me to the Debenham’s personal shopping service. (This is no longer available due to Debenhams closing in 2020 unfortunately) I thought personal shopping was for rich people, honestly. The thought that it might be offered to someone like me was a revelation. And so, I went along to the personal shopper in Leicester – which was the closest place I was living at the time. It was so cool!! I talked to this fabulously dressed woman, like seriously stylish and cool and comfortable looking! We talked about my job and what I could and couldn’t wear and what I felt comfortable in and what parts of my body I liked/didn’t like (at the time, the “didn’t like” outweighed the “like” significantly!)

I came away with 2 full outfits and loads of ideas. And I went back to the next training course with WES. And the next. And the next. Over time, I covered things like being assertive, dealing with difficult conversations, more on how to dress… the list went on. But more importantly, I met other women in engineering at all stages of their career. I met women who had worked in similar environments to me. I met women who were just starting out like me. I met women who had created a career for themselves, essentially and opened my eyes to what was possible.

That was a support system. And it helped me immensely. These days, my engineering support system includes several good friends from my college days. In fact, with one particular friend, we have a system when we’re trying to write an email that needs to be diplomatic but we are feeling very undiplomatic. We send the drafts to each other – that way there’s no mistaken sending of an earlier draft to the intended recipient. And, if I’m honest, the first draft tends to be along the lines of “listen you fucking dribble of a fuckwit”. It sometimes gets as far as “Hi X, I feel you didn’t quite understand…” These friends are like gold dust. Keep them close!!

I could see the need for this support in my professional life. It had helped me immensely over the years, so it was proven, basically. And while I’m no longer in the UK and so WES events aren’t easy to attend, I’m still on their mailing list and I’m trying to help set up a similar organisation in Ireland.

But on to my spiritual support system next. I grew up in the Catholic faith, so there were support structures there. When I was growing up, kids prepared for First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation in primary schools all across the country. Not doing so was considered strange (which is problematic in itself, but that’s not the topic at hand here)

I went to a convent secondary school, where faith was assumed and the school year usually started and ended with a Mass. When I went to college, there was a church on campus and regular masses held – particularly around exam time. So I grew up with the security of knowing there was always somewhere I could go to practice my faith.

It changes when I went to England. For a start, English Catholics were in my experience, way more Catholic than Irish ones. As in, they appeared to take their religion extremely seriously and didn’t expect to have any fun at all with it. Instead of Halloween, their children went to a Festival of Light on 31st October – something that would be unheard of in Ireland. And then the scandals started becoming common knowledge. At home, the scandals in the church were described as specific priests rather than systemic in the system. But through the 90’s and for me, the noughties, things became clear that there were inherent, deeply held, systemic and systematic issues with the whole institution of the church. To explain the differences between my own practice and that of the English Catholics I met, I thought of myself as as Irish Catholic, but this was no longer true to what I was feeling.

I have described elsewhere an awakening I had after an initiatory weekend in England after I came back to Ireland. It involved sobbing in a Travelodge for hours on end, waiting for a ferry and the Dagda coming to help me. And support me. The notion of a deity as a support system had not occurred to me before that. Saints? Sure. The Virgin Mary? Absolutely. God Himself? Why would he care about someone like me?

When I came home from that weekend, things started changing in me. I spoke a lot to my husband and even though things were tight at the time, we came up with the money for me to attend a moot in a nearby town as a way of connecting in to the local pagan community. That decision was one of the best ones I’ve ever made. I met Lora O’Brien of the Irish Pagan School at that moot (they were setting up the moot at the time) and a few months after my first moot, they held a moot pretty much just for me so I could avoid a trip I didn’t want to take. That was the start of a friendship I value dearly and the start of a support system for my spiritual growth in the last few years.

Brigid has always been in my life, although it is only in recent years that I have recognised her as the support she is. There are other deities hovering about (side-eye towards her Da here) but she’s my main deity and looks like staying that way. Through my work with Brigid and with the Irish Pagan School, I have been supported and helped through a journey that has led to me teaching, starting this blog, starting the Patreon account, starting my own school and so much more! I have been led to pray more, to conduct my own prayer sessions, as well as those for others. I have been led to a place where I’m applying to become a clergy member and representing those who perhaps are like myself in a liminal space with spirituality and carving our own path. I’ve been led to support and help others as well as receiving the support myself.

The problem with describing all this is that it’s hard to describe it without going into masses of detail, but this spiritual work has led to an overhaul of my life with much more of my time going on things that I hold important rather than things other people consider important. My spiritual support system has helped me through crises in my marriage, in my mental health, in my life in general. I have found people I know I can trust and who I know will be honest with me if they see me going astray from my values and core beliefs. People underestimate how valuable that is. I’m even including my (Church of England if you push him hard, but really not into religion or spirituality in general) husband in my rituals and my practices. He’s gotten used to candles burning pretty much constantly in the house and appreciates that incense isn’t just about hiding suspicious odours as well.

I suppose this blog post is about helping people realise that we all need support in our lives. No one can do it alone. We all need help and support in our lives and really, it is best to ensure we get that support through looking at it like a system. (I know, I’m an engineer, I like systems!) A single person can’t be a system, despite what modern views of marriage can tell us. And we may need different support systems for different aspects of our lives – that’s something I’ve certainly found. While dear friends might be willing to listen and help in diverse areas of our lives, it’s good to have people who fully understand what you’re going through as well. If you’re suffering from bullying at work, you probably have someone in your life who has gone through the same. If you’re suffering from lack of development or a feeling of ennui with life, you probably know someone who has gone through something similar. If you want to send an email pretty much filled with expletives – changes are you know someone who can help you with the editing. Or not. Y’know – whatever road you want to go down 🙂

At the end of the day though, we’re none of us islands. Even I, as an introvert who happily goes weeks without human contact aside from my husband (and him only cos we live together!), realise that I need to reach out to people and connect with people for support at times. So have a look about you. Who can you rely on for support in what situations? (Include deities, saints, ancestors, whatever you like in this!) Even when we feel we are completely alone, it can sometimes shock us when we take a look around to see how many supports we actually have in our lives.

Women, engineering, a new study, and Brigid

As many of you know, I have a keen interest in encouraging more women to join the engineering profession and continue their career paths in the profession. Recently I’ve been rethinking my own involvement in my chosen career, and as readers of the blog will know, I am looking at alternative income streams to relieve the pressure on the engineering thing at the minute.

With all that in mind, I was really interested when a friend of mine sent me a copy of How do female engineers conceptualise career advancement in engineering: a template analysis by Julia Yates and Sarah Skinner (Psychology, City, University of London, London, UK) (citation at the end of the post) It’s an interesting read and I recognise quite a few of my own behaviours in this article from over the years. It’s concerning really that as female engineers, we can both recognise the forces at work to make careers harder for us, but also hold a firm belief that we will be the ones to achieve and rise in spite of it all, no matter the cost.

Of course, some people do count the cost and work with that in mind, but perhaps I’m feeling more sensitive to these things given my recent mental health issues. The research asks two questions:

RQ1. How do female engineers conceptualise career development in engineering?

RQ2. What do women feel prevent them from fully developing their career competencies: knowing-why, knowing-how and knowing-whom?

Now it’s fair to say that the study is based in one UK company, with 32 female engineers interviewed for the study. There’s loads on the methodology in the paper – if you’re interested in that sort of thing, search out a copy of it. But I suppose, we need to be careful with extrapolating too far with the cohort studied being so limited. And I would be, except the findings tally very well with my own anecdotal evidence and experience. (Confirmation bias? Maybe!) The authors identified 3 overarching themes to the findings:

(1) promotions come to those who are widely known (seen in the narratives of 30 of the 32 participants),

(2) across the organisation, men are given a higher value than women (28 of the narratives)

(3) mothers have to contend with the conflicting ideologies of a good worker and a good mother (27 of the narratives)

Alongside these themes, there were also some findings about how these women explain away the obvious issues they see with career development as a female engineer:

  • Some feel that claims of sexism are overstated
  • Some acknowledged that women are under-represented in the higher ranks but saw this as the result of their own choice, not any discrimination
  • A number of the participants see that women do not get to the top, but they think it’s not about gender
  • Some noticed that they were excluded at times, but felt that it was for reasons other than gender including age, personality or level of seniority
  • A group of the participants acknowledged that there was some sexist behaviour within their teams but found explanations that would soften the intentions behind the behaviour
  • Some laid the blame outside the organisation, saying that it is simply because enough women are not coming through from the education system, and that is a much more widespread problem
  • A group of the women found ways to make the best of the situation, either because they are so used it, it has become the norm or through minimising the impact the incidents have had on them
  • Finally, some managed to see the positives, feeling grateful for what they have

Only 3 participants highlighted the conflict between the narratives (i.e. difficulty in career progression and mitigating explanations). Only 3. I know why, of course, it’s so you can survive in the atmosphere and think you can still manage, you can still progress, you can still work.  

At this point, you’re probably asking what on earth I’m going on about this so much for. Well, first off, as I said above, my keen interest in getting more women into engineering is widely known – although recently I’ve been feeling more concerned about that. How can I encourage women into a profession I know  will be difficult and awkward for them? But if I don’t encourage more women (and non-binary people and other non-cishet white men to be fair), how will things change? Is there a way to address the issues that this paper, and others, raise for women in the industry and continue to make engineering an attractive career?

There’s also a wider concept here that’s worth looking at. Where else do we hold cognitive dissonance in our lives? (The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes). As a female engineer, I’m really accustomed to the sort of cognitive dissonance the women in this study showed. As I said earlier, I have experienced all of these feelings, all of these thoughts in the last 20yrs. Most women I know working in industry do. It’s a part of our lives.

But with that tension in our lives, it can lead to stretch out elsewhere. It could have something to do with greater numbers of women leaving the profession than men. It could have to do with female engineers not encouraging their daughters or other female relations from pursuing a career in engineering. It can lead to greater stress and burnout for these women – it’s an extra mental load to carry.

I have no doubt that plenty of people can learn lessons from this sort of paper, and yet it will doubtless not be read widely beyond those interested in the pretty narrow field of women in engineering. I feel the issues brought forward can be addressed to any area of life however. And here’s where the Brigid talk comes in!

Because we make some choices in life almost by default, or we come into a situation that is already established, it can be hard to look at where we’re dealing with cognitive dissonance in our own lives. And it’s worth taking a look at. Where are you doing things on autopilot without even thinking about it? Where have you to compromise with your values and ethics and what cost or toll is that taking on your mental, physical, spiritual health and wellbeing?

I spent 2 yrs working for a defence company in the UK. Possibly two of the hardest years in my working career, because every day I was reminded I was working and collaborating in the creation of weapons to destroy life. It’s only now, looking back at it, that I can see where this was taking a toll on me. And I’ve dealt with assault, bullying, oppression in work in all sorts of ways, but that was external. The choice to work in the defence industry was mine. Now, it was the right choice in some ways, but I never factored in the personal toll it would take on me. It’s more than 10 yrs ago now, so the aftereffects are mostly dealt with, but nevertheless…

If something in this article resonates with you, use the opportunity to have a look at the values that Brigid espouses for you and how that conflicts or aligns with the way you live your life. For me, Brigid supports women in male-dominated spheres (the Smith), she supports those without other representation or little representation (Brig Ambue), she takes care of those in need of healing (the Healer, surprisingly enough), she cares about ethics and right relationship and right judgement (the Poet and Brig Ambue again, as well as Brig Brethach), she cares about hospitality, feeding people, ensuring people have their due (Brig Briciu). She cares about a lot in my experience. But fundamentally, it all comes down to allowing people to follow their path in life, removing obstacles, not putting obstacles in the way of others, maintaining right relationship and ethical living, however we define that for ourselves, and dealing with the consequences of our actions.

If you read the above discussion of the article, and the excerpts from it, and nothing resonates -that’s grand. Good on you! But if you can recognise the cognitive dissonance these women display and there’s a niggle at the back of your mind? Maybe take a walk through that niggle, sit with it, and see where it’s coming up for you in your life.

Yates, J. and Skinner, S., 2021. How do female engineers conceptualise career advancement in engineering: a template analysis. Career Development International, 26(5), pp.697-719.

Insomnia, dancing and making the best of it!

(Please note I’m talking about 5Rhythms dancing in this post. To be very, very clear, I’m not an expert or a teacher in this practice. I’ve been to a few sessions and I have several CDs at home that I dance to, irregularly right now!)

It’s 5:30am here in Ireland as I write this and it’s been 3 weeks since I last posted. There were good reasons to take time off over Christmas – I took time off from everything pretty much, as much as I possibly could, becoming even more hermit-like than usual. I took time and started reading again. I took time and spent it with my husband. I took time and thought about things. I took time and imagined fantasy worlds of make believe and supposition. It was fantastic and I feel more rested and energised mentally, if not physically.

Because, yes, I took time off from my physical stuff as well. I didn’t walk much for most of those weeks, my physio exercises definitely dropped in frequency and my meditation sessions dropped as well. I didn’t meet my goal of walking 4miles in 1 hour without pain, but I did walk 5km (3miles) in 1 hour with no pain, so I’m counting it a win. (The next goal is to hit that 4miles target by end of March if anyone is interested!)

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I went to bed about 11:30pm, feeling tired and ready to shut eye and dream. And then my brain started working. This is insomnia for me. Nothing worked for me. Counting sheep, meditation – even the Jason Stephenson one that hardly ever fails me! Breathing exercises, gentle stretching/ tensing and relaxing the body a bit at a time, sips of water… sometimes this happens. The doctor has me on melatonin and once a week or so I see if I can sleep without it – turns out, not yet anyway.

So at about 4:30am, I gave up and got up. I lit a candle and put on a 5 Rhythms cd. This is a new one for me (called Double Wave by Gabrielle and the Mirrors). It became clear to me pretty quickly that I needed this. I was moving very much in the stillness part of the wave – actually hang on. Sweat Your Prayers by Gabrielle Roth was published in 1999 I think – or at least that’s the copyright date on my copy. The book is about using dance as a means of prayer or meditation. Gabrielle outlines 5 waves to move through, usually in the format flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. This notion of dancing your prayers isn’t new – there’s 9-10 verses in the Bible that mention dancing, although funnily enough, those verses aren’t used to often in modern times, wonder why? Most religions/spiritualities that I’ve read about have some measure of dance or movements incorporated in them. So this isn’t and wasn’t a new idea as such. But this form of dancing your prayers, was I think reasonably new. It was definitely new to me anyway!! (For proper information on the practice, check out the official website here)

I speak about this because it became very clear this morning that stillness was calling to me but in a strange way. I can spend hours on end being still, except for the turning of a page or taking a sip of a drink. This morning, I felt like I danced with Brigid and she was reminding me of the importance of real stillness. The type of stillness that doesn’t put achievement above self care; that doesn’t put advancement to the fore of nourishment; that insists on pausing for a moment before jumping off the cliff into this Brand New Exciting Thing that might or might not be a good idea.

So this means right now that I need to pick up where I left off before Christmas. Make time in my day for meditation, movement, physio exercises. I can spend less time advancing my career – especially since I have serious questions about what my career will look like in 5yrs anyway. I don’t have to learn ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW WITH NO DELAY!!! I don’t have to fix everything right now or achieve everything right now. I can move slowly, as if through honey. I can proceed at my own pace. But in the mean time, I can spend the time to instill, properly, those habits that will allow me to speed up at a later date.

So time every day for meditation, movement and physio exercises. Time for ensuring I have food I enjoy and that works for me (yeah over Christmas, we basically survived on Christmas cake, biscuit cake, and one roast chicken lasted 4 dinners for us!!) Time for checking in with myself and making sure my energy is being replenished as much as it’s being spent. And that means drawing hard clear boundaries with myself and others. No more 9pm finishes at work. No more 7 day working. Pausing in progress to consolidate is sensible – especially when there’s a lot to be done in that consolidation.

That doesn’t mean there’ll be no more classes for a while – there’s an Imbolc ritual class coming up with the Irish Pagan School (see here) and I will be doing the 5 week course starting in early Feb as well. The five week course is getting an overhaul this year as well, because my practice has moved on from when I started it and I think it needs to reflect where I am now, rather than leaving it in the past. That would feel awkward. So, stillness doesn’t mean no work or no new material, but it does mean a bit of consolidation as I said and particularly in my personal practice of self care and nourishment – I need to consolidate hard!!

It came to me a week ago, I’m doing a 90 container with Joanna Hunter to give this some structure and the first question she asked us to answer, journal, think about was “what do I require as a human being to be nourished?” More came after that, but I’m stuck on nourished. It’s not just food, y’see, it’s life. What is it in my life that makes me feel nourished? It’s a worthwhile question to answer for yourself and I hope you don’t find it as hard as I am!

For now, I’m going to go make myself some porridge, so I can get a good breakfast inside me (made with milk and probably some raisins or honey or something with it, just in case you’re wondering. Hell, it’s a weekend, I might even throw in some chocolate!) I’m going to make a nice cup of herbal tea. I’m going to watch the sun come up (in about 2.5hrs, cos it’s still January in Ireland and sunrise isn’t until 8:38am apparently!) Then I’m going to settle in and watch the last few episodes of Wheel of Time and decide what book I’m going to read today. I may get around to folding laundry as well…

But seriously – learn from me – what do you need to feel nourished? What are the building blocks that support your mental, physical and spiritual health? What do you need to pause, consolidate or otherwise slow progress on?