Monthly Archives

October 2015

in the world

The Murmuration In You

The video at the bottom of this post has well over 25 million visits.

It shows a close up view of a murmuration, an immense flock of starlings rippling through the sky in a series of complex swoops and turns.

Murmurations usually occur just before dusk sets in, and the shadowy movements of the starlings look striking against the dark sky. While the sight of a murmuration is impressive, the word itself comes  from the sounds made by the birds.

The Old Latin root for murmuration means: ‘humming, muttering, roaring, rustling’–and in Old Greek: “to roar, to boil”. (How great is the word–‘boil’? It really captures that rolling sense of movement.)

Watching the video, where the sounds are mostly blocked out by overlaid music, you get a sense of what it must be like to be close to the bustling and swooping movements of the birds, how thick the air is with their sound.

An elegant response

The movement of the starlings is an elegant group response to either a danger, say a peregrine falcon, or an opportunity, like a food source.

The patterns of flight emerge from each bird’s reaction to its neighbors.

If one bird sees a predator and shifts away, or another sees a food source and shifts towards it, that movement influences the whole flock.

While a murmuration is hauntingly beautiful there’s a sense of brute physicality to it as well.

One lone bird confronted by a falcon would also shift away, but when that movement is mirrored by thousands of other starlings it must be daunting to the predator, as this great shadowy beast rears up and away in the sky.

What are we responding to?

We’ve all seen variations on this movement before in schools of baitfish, blood cells under a microscope, the swirl of galaxies.

Something about those repeated patterns of motion strike a chord with us, and we find them mesmerizing. Maybe we see our own communal movements echoed in the flocking of starlings.
People are social animals, our range of responses may have more complexity but the similarities are there.

This is echoed in the complex movements of traffic through a city at peak hour, guests at a wedding shifting this way and that, an audience at a concert responding to the performers and the people around them, maybe the best human example is the way we interact on the internet.

The Murmuration In You

As well as the interactions we have outside of ourselves, there is also a rich unfolding taking place within us as sensations, emotions, and thoughts weave together, mingling, influencing each other as they meet.

These inner swirlings can be hard to perceive, occurring at the edge of our own dusky subconscious. And we have to settle in and really pay attention to recognize them. I think one reason murmurations are so compelling is that they mirror the unfolding movements of our inner life. We see a deep and hidden aspect of ourselves mirrored against the sky.

The Murmuration Exercise

When I run medium sized workshops I have a favorite exercise I often include that brings the participants together and, with a few simple rules,  mimics a murmuration.

It’s great fun and people are always fascinated by the experience of being inside a living system as it twists and turns through the room in seemingly random movements.

And when we do the murmuration exercise in a workshop and allow our own bodies to be moved in these patterns, we get to experience a small taste of something essential to the universe as it’s projected in us. We are making contact with the seeds of murmuration stirring in our own bodies. It never fails to generate intense discussions afterwards.

6 or 7 starlings

Each starling in a murmuration moves in response to 6 or 7 neighboring birds. These partners remain the same even though other birds may, at times, come closer to the individual bird. This ‘system’ is partly what allows the murmuration to create such elaborate movements and patterns.

Each bird instinctively attunes to to the birds around it, and through this becomes part of a larger ‘being’, a trade-off that gives the birds more safety and opportunity.

While people aren’t starlings, a murmuration is an interesting metaphor for looking at how we interact with the people around us. We certainly shape each others lives in some way as we interact with the people around us.

Thinking about the 6 or 7 people around me in any life situation–family, jobs I’ve worked in, friendship circles–is something I’ve been thinking about while writing this post. I can see how being part of any group influences my behavior as I try to balance my own needs to the needs of the group.

There are times when I’ve partially, or fully, switched out some of these half dozen relationships–through taking a new job, or moving, or entering new relationships–and each time I can clearly see the shifts that have occurred as a result.

So, here is the video. I’d love to see your comments on it: How does watching this video affect you? What did you feel in your body as you watched? Can you feel the movements mirrored in your own body?

blue pools awareness
in the world

Blue Pools Of Awareness

I was leafing through a book by Thomas Leonard the other morning and a simple sentence leapt out at me:

“Own your awareness.”

There was something about those 3 words that grabbed my attention. The idea of ownership, when applied to awareness, is very powerful. Examine how most of your days play out, you might be surprised to see how much of each day is driven by unconscious, habitual responses.

To get a taste of what that looks like, think of a time where you have been driving and allowed your attention to wander, then realizing that you’d just driven a mile or two down the road and were unaware of that part of the trip.

Or being in conversation with someone and getting lost in a train of thought, then returning and realizing you’ve missed nearly everything they said. (Usually, right at the point where they look at you and say, “So, what do you think about that?”)

So, the call to ‘own’ your attention is striking. Sometimes when we try to be more present, or mindfully aware, it can seem like a struggle. But it’s useful to remember that we have that capacity to choose.

Awareness Is The Core Of Who We Are

I was employed as a youth worker for a number of years, and one year we took a group of young people on a caving trip. We were at a place called Jenolan Caves, an amazing series of underground caves carved out of limestone by the water flowing below ground.

Most of the underground trails leading through the caves were located beside the streams and pools of water that were still steadily carving out the limestone. I remember the beauty of those turquoise pools and how amazing it was to to explore these extensive waterways, so completely hidden underground

I think of awareness in the same way, as if it’s a beautiful body of water streaming underneath our life, constantly moving and shaping everything it touches.

These blue pools of awareness are often hidden from view by the busy-ness that we allow to invade us, by the ceaseless chatter in our minds, the deep habitual ruts we rely on to navigate our days. but they are always available for us to access.

Awareness Can’t Really Be Owned

While I like the urgency of Thomas’ direction: ‘Own your awareness’, the idea that awareness can be owned is not completely accurate.

Awareness is not an object we can take possession of, or control.

Awareness naturally springs out of us. (Or maybe we spring from it.)

Rather than owning our awareness, it might be useful to think in terms of aligning with it, of tuning into it.

This is a gentler approach, and one that sees awareness, not as an object we have to chase down and grab a hold of but, as a quality, a part of us that is always present, patiently waiting for our return.

How Do We Align With Awareness?

We become so used to being detached from our awareness that it becomes an almost novel experience to remain aware of ordinary experiences.

We live in a time where movies need multiple explosions and plot twists to hold our attention, where food has to be chemically altered so taste becomes extreme enough to register, where lives are crammed so full we don’t even notice the coffee or energy drink we’re chugging on our way to the next meeting.

It can feel like external events have the power to hijack our capacity for presence by continually placing us on high alert.

But we have a choice.

We sell our lives short when we buy into the idea that everything has to be extraordinary in order to earn our attention. The fact of being simply alive is miraculous enough that, when we choose to pay attention, we can never use up all the mystery and majesty of experiencing even the simplest things.

Like drinking a glass of water.

Or feeling your feet on the floor.

To explore that second example for a moment:

Stand up and give your attention to your own standing. What do you notice in your feet? What, if anything is happening in your knees? Do you feel any effects of your standing rippling out to even further parts of your body?

Even in the ordinary act of standing there is no limit to the depths we can explore.

So, while we can’t actually ‘own’ our awareness, we can claim the boldness of that statement, and make a choice to be more aware, and more consciously engaged with our awareness.

We can offer this awareness to ourselves, and to other people. We can lovingly guide it in ways that nourish and sustain us, and those around us. We can make regular contact with our awareness and watch as it moves through our lives, like a blue pool silently flowing, shaping us as it goes.

you deserve some space in your day
in the world

You Deserve Some Space In Your Day

Daily life can get so hectic, so quickly, that sometimes you don’t feel the mental, emotional, and bodily effects of that until you’re deeply affected.

That feeling of constriction arrives in response to being squeezed on all sides by a rush of distressed thinking and racing to meet impossible expectations.

But in the thick of all this, it’s still possible to reclaim a sense of spaciousness in your day. To release some of that tension, and allow your daily activities to nourish rather than drain you.

Being stressed and harried is unhelpful, and while unavoidable sometimes, it’s definitely not our natural state, and there are ways we can avoid feeling like this, or at least reduce those feelings of tension and anxiety. You deserve to have some space and ease in your day.

What Does It Mean To Have ‘Space’ In Your Day?

To answer that question, it might help to look at the opposite of spaciousness—feeling cramped and constricted. This is what anxiety and stress can feel like: our breathing gets squeezed, our limbs tense up, our movement is restricted, we make ourselves smaller in our bodies, less of a target. To hold ourselves in this way, while racing to get a ridiculous to-do list completed, takes up so much energy.

Spaciousness is the opposite of that. Our bodies are more free to open up, we breathe easier, we move around alert but with our bodies more at ease, maybe we decide to lower the number of things we want to get done and this leads to a series of quiet spots in our day, like the space between notes in a piece of music.

Let’s look at a few ways you can build a sense of spaciousness and ease into your day:

Set An Intention

A great starting point is in setting the intention to take care of yourself and create some space your day. Making this commitment means that you have something to guide you through the day, to keep you on track.

It also means that you get to spend some time at the start of your day imagining space opening up for you. Feel this in your body, hold it in your mind, move a little this way, and that with a sense of spaciousness. Allow the intention to set in your mind as a commitment. Also allow it to settle in your body a little. Give yourself a physical experience of spaciousness so you can recall it throughout the day.

Note any emotions that bubble up when you contemplate the idea of bringing in spaciousness, maybe write them down and see what they might have to tell you. You want the intention that you set to touch all aspects of you, to really sink in.

Give Yourself A Subtle Reminder

Once your day gets busy it can be easy to forget that you were working on creating space for yourself.

This is one of my favorite ways to remind myself when I’m doing a project like this. It’s subtle, it’s self sustaining (you get lots of reminders through the day) and there’s app alarms or post it notes up in public view—so no one else needs to know what’s going on.

You simply write the word ‘space’ (or even an “s” will do) in the little triangle of flesh between your thumb and index finger at the base your right hand.

What I love about this is your eyes will land on this little message at random times throughout your day and remind you. It never fails. And it’s amazing how the reminders seem to come at just the right moments, at the very spots in your day where you need them the most.

Create A Space For Yourself

Don’t just wait for space to appear. Create it.

Sometimes it can feel like our lives are being constricted by external forces. It’s possible to take some sense of control here. Even if it’s just giving yourself a fifteen minute block of time here and there through the day. You can schedule small breaks, or just rely on your body to let you know. It always will (if you listen.)

If your time is super squeezed you can also seek out a small, physical, taste of space. Whenever I feel squeezed I find a way to get outdoors, even if it’s for a moment or two. Just to get my body underneath the sky, to steal a moment away from a cramped room, to escape my desk, and to touch base with the unlimited space in front of me, behind me, all around me.

This is such a quick and easy thing you can do for yourself, and you will feel your body respond immediately. And the best thing? Even a minute will work wonders.

Noticing and Interacting With Space around you

Here’s a lovely mini exercise from Sally Kempton: Focus on the space around things.

As I’m writing this I look up and see the lamp on the stand beside my desk. I’m noticing the space between me and the lamp, the space behind and around the lamp. Taking this the next step I imagine  the space between all the atoms and molecules of the lamp.

Other things to try:

Notice any empty objects that cross your path today: an empty mason jar, cleared dish rack, open sky, empty shoes.

Become aware as you perform actions that create space–like exhaling, finishing a glass of water, cleaning out a room.

Pay attention to the breaks between songs on a CD or your i-pod, notice the silence between birdcalls in your garden.

Just noticing and acknowledging the space that exists in your external environment has an effect on how you perceive and interact with space in your internal environment. Drink it in.

Noticing and Interacting With Space within you

Yes. You can do the same thing internally.

Breathe in, feel the space inside you expand.

Where can you sense space inside your body? In your throat? How about your abdomen, between the organs there? Inside your organs?

You might not physically feel space in these places, but you know it exists there. Can you imagine that space?

What about the space between your knee joints, And the space held by in bowl of your pelvis? the space between your rib bones?

And don’t forget the empty spaces around your body, between your toes and fingers. The shell-like spaces in your ears. Relax your arms and feel the small pocket of space in each of your armpits. space exists within you and around you.

You are intimately connected with space. No one can take that away from you.

Close Your Day With Spaciousness

Reflect on your days experience of focusing on space. Do you feel a sense of space now? Did it change how you experienced your day?

If someone was watching you move through your day, without being told that you were building more awareness and space in your day, would they have noticed anything different about you?

Just a few minutes of reflection and journalling makes a huge difference here. Especially if you spend a few days working on creating space. This is a great way to remember any changes in your experience and to become aware of any habitual patterns that you may have in the way you relate to space.

Watch This Space

I’ve been hard at work behind the scenes designing ways to help you create more space in your life.

The first is my new presence coaching offering: The Refresh Sessions

These are mini sessions (1/2 hour each) that take you through the process of starting your day grounded, refreshed, and focused–so you can move ahead with more clarity and ease.

They’re a great help if you want to get your week off to a fresh start, or if you have a big event coming up and want to feel clear, energized, and ready to succeed.

Click Here to read more about the Refresh Sessions!