Two weeks ago Dublin was basking in glorious sunshine. We got the first touch of summer sun on the skin, warm and delicious after months of darkness.
As I strolled between meetings in the city, I was suddenly aware of my body feeling more open in the warmth. I noticed faces of the people coming towards me were more open and appeared softer than usual. The buds on the trees, lining the streets, felt like they were smiling open.
And then I remembered that things open in warmth. Buds open and we humans open. Of course. It’s both nature and our nature.
This week we mark the beginning of the warm bright season of Summer, with the Celtic festival of Bealtaine. We are mid-way through the journey of the Celtic Wheel which began six months ago, at it’s opposite festival, Samhain.
There is so much I want to share about this important Celtic cross-quarter day but here, I will keep it to what it has taught me about warmth, risk-taking and comfort zones.
You see every season in the journey of the Celtic wheel offers us a number of themes that can inspire us to live more fully and orient more wisely in our chaotic world. Beautiful indigenous guidance that enriches our contemporary lives.
There are two quotes that, for me, hold the golden nuggets of Bealtaine’s wisdom on risk-taking and blossoming beyond our comfort zone.
First, the now infamous Anais Nin quote
“And the time came when the risk it took to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
A Bealtaine moment in your life happens when you are being invited to blossom into your true potential. It happens when you feel that uncomfortable prod from deep inside letting you know you’ve been at the edge for some time now and a leap is required. Time to move in the direction of your dreams.
It’s the nudge from life to blossom in some area of your life rather than stay as you are - a small bud, never reaching your potential.
It usually asks you to take some risk, some outward action that is different from what you might have done before. Stepping across this edge, life is asking for a big “YES” from you.
Yes to growing into the greatest version of yourself.
Yes to the excitement and terror of not knowing how, just knowing you have to.
Yes to moving in the direction of your hearts deepest desires.
Yes to evolution having it way with you.
It’s risky because you’re are moving into the unknown. It's deeply vulnerable. But it’s also too painful to stay as you are.
2. The second quote is a line from the glorious Galway Kinnell poem St Francis and the Sow.
“for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;”
Any time we decide to take a risk, our neurology fires up our threat system. If we dare to step over the edge of our comfort zone most of us will find a loud self-critic voice running a script that might include thoughts like….
“Who do you think you are?”
“What if I fail?”
“It’ll never work”
“Ah sure I’m grand”( that’s a uniquely Irish one!)
In the feedback loop of our body/mind, those thoughts will invoke states of low energy and contraction along with a feeling of defeat before we even take a step. This is the reptilian command and control centre in our brain trying to protect us from failure.
So, we talk ourselves out of the risk, or we let someone else do that, and nothing changes. We settle. The future becomes the past. We press rewind and repeat.
I believe that what we actually need at this critical point, is to motivate ourselves with self-compassion or “self blessing”.
Every time we practice self-compassion we fire up the more evolved part of our brain. We offer ourselves kindness in the face of fear. We unleash the power of our shared humanity - we know viscerally that we are not alone, that other people have been at this edge before. And that truth brings us relief. Oxytocin, the hormone of connection and safety, floods our system.
Yes, it’s counter-cultural, counter intuitive and it’s radical. We have been conditioned to motivate ourselves through negativity and criticism. But these days radical is what is needed to disrupt old habitual ways of being in the world. And I believe our creaking fearful world need a blossoming and flourishing highest version of your right now.
As a recovering perfectionist, I have found self-compassion a profoundly powerful practice that opens, softens, relaxes, expands and energises my system (that’s the oxytocin!).
My many-times-a-day self-compassion practice is based on the brilliant work of Kristin Neff. It has changed my brain and softened my inner critic. It has been a game-changer for me in how I approach living my life on purpose, taking risks, and being willing to fail fast. No practice comes close to it, for me.
I like to compare the effect of self-compassion on my nervous system to the effect the warm bright sunshine has on the buds at Bealtaine. Warmth is one of the conditions that buds need to open their delicate petals and create that symphony of pulsating aliveness around us during summer months.
The light of my awareness and the warmth of my self-compassion is what I need to keep me opening to life and expanding towards my full potential.
If there’s a risk you need to take now in your life, if your comfort zone is getting uncomfortable, if you are feeling the pulsation of life wanting to blossom through you and you are afraid, you are at a Bealtaine threshold.
Three things to keep in mind:
1. Know that life is asking you to blossom towards your potential and it’s will be uncomfortable for a while
2. Know that you have the resources within you to shine warmth onto your budding self- it just takes practice.
3. Get your allies around you. Ask one or two people for their help and support. Allies are the people who really have your back and you always feel warmed in their presence.
If you want to know more about working with Celtic Wheel join me this weekend at the Cliffs of Moher Retreat Centre to celebrate Bealtaine or in August to celebrate Lughnasa Festival or join the waiting list for The Celtic Wheel: Radical Wisdom for Contemporary Women 2019/2020 which starts this October.