Cinnia’s last day, she took a long walk along the Cliffs of Mohr. With a warm breeze blowing through her hair she breathed in the salt sea air. There was a lightness to her step and a smile upon her face as she gazed out at the beautiful scene. She found a quiet place to sit for awhile to take it all in one last time. She took out her journal.
I wish I didn’t have to go. This has been such a wonderful journey. The unsettled stress and tension I arrived feeling has been long gone. I hope it stays that way. I feel refreshed and have a youthful zest and energy that I haven’t felt in quite some time. Revisiting old tales and seeing the sites that bestowed their inspiration, have in turn inspired me. Spending time engulfed in such beauty and rich cultural history, I’m curious to unearth the folktales and sites in my own back yard. Places I have taken for granted and overlooked simply because of their familiarity. Perhaps I’ll even take up step dancing! 😉
She got up and started walking again, her foot kicked a small pebble ahead of her. It sparkled when the sunlight caught it. She bent down and picked up the smooth whitish-gray stone and turned it over and over in her hand. Looking out across the sea, she slipped it into her pocket. To remember!
I have learned something about myself on this journey; I’m a xenophile. A happy traveller, I love to learn about the customs, traditions, and folklores of people and countries around the world. My love of literature, mythology, and folktales has infused me with a natural curiosity to know and understand various ways of life. The only thing better than traveling around the world may be to travel back in time and see the ancient sites when they were young and bustling. Since time travel hasn’t yet become a possibility I’ll have to make due with a passport and airfare. So where will my next adventure be, maybe Greece
Cinnia travelled to the Aran Islands for a few days. There she rented a bike and explored the beautiful patchwork of low stone walls and twisting roads. There is no shortage of ancient Celtic sites from standing stones, to churches, to stone forts. The coastline is breathtaking and rugged with high cliffs overlooking the sea. If you can muster enough courage you can wander out to the edge.
She stopped for some time at a seal colony along the shores and watched the seals sunbathing, listening to their barking calls. The young seals antics made her giggle. Not far from the colony she came upon a lake with gorgeous wild swans and a plethora of shore birds.
As my travels through Ireland are nearing the end, one thing that has resonated with me is the vibrancy of the web of life. All things are intertwined. The trees provide shelter, and food, and warmth. The sea provides food and water. The crisp air adds vigor. The ancient sites once upon a time so vigorous, now being reclaimed by nature in elegant beauty. Ocean, mountains, cliffs, lakes, rolling hills – all animals, domestic and wild – Ireland’s compact beauty offers it all up. This has been such an amazing adventure.
Céilis, or social dances, are a part of the Irish culture. As the days warm up it isn’t uncommon for a céilis to be scheduled on weekend evenings. Walking around on a warm evening in Galway, Cinnia happened upon one. Strolling down the street ducking in and out of shops, she heard the sounds of a fiddle and some traditional folk music being played. Following the sound, Cinnia came upon the town center and the crowd that had gathered. A group of about six young girls were the center of attention as they performed traditional step dancing. Cinnia edged her way to the front to get a better view. As she watched, she began to clap in time to the beat of the music with the rest of the onlookers.
Ahh, the verve and vitality of youth! I’m amazed at how quickly they move their feet. There is such a great energy and spirit here. I love this!
The song came to and end and the girls began to disperse into the crowd as the band struck up another tune. The dancers weren’t done however; they pulled people into the center with them. Cinnia happily joined them as they gave a crash course in how to do some basic steps. Laughing Cinnia tried and tried and eventually started to get the hang of it, at a snail's pace at any rate, not nearly as elegantly or swiftly as the girls.
This is hard! I feel like a klutz but it’s so much fun.
As luck would have it, Cinnia’s vacation happened to fall during Beltane or May Day. She got word of a traditional Beltane festival being held in County Limerick. So she decided to head that way to participate.
Beltane is the dawning of the summer season. It is celebrated to purify the land and livestock for a bountiful harvest. Boughs of Hawthorne and primrose are gathered and placed over the threshold of homes to ward off evil spirits. Thorn bushes (May Bushes) are erected and decorated with colorful paper, candles, and painted eggshells.
Cinnia arrived at the town center in time to help with the decorations. She gathered up the boughs of yellow flowers and put together garlands that were placed over the door to the town hall. She then helped with cutting ornaments of colored papers to place on the May Bush. The atmosphere was festive and children were helping out with the decorations as well.
As the sun set, more people arrived, many dressed in period clothing. One of the town officials extinguished the hearth fire in the town hall and swept out the ashes. Two large bonfires were lit on either end of the town square. As the fires got started, musicians began playing the uilleann pipes. Town folk, young and old, began to dance to the mellow, sweet tones of the pipes. Cinnia was urged to join them and happily agreed. Some people even jumped the fires for luck in the coming season. A small herd of cattle walked between the fires to be bathed in the smoke purifying them to ensure they would produce well for the summer. Food was cooked by the fire and shared among the people gathered as they sang and danced to the pipes. A torch lit from the bonfires was used to relight the hearth fire in the town hall. The fires were left to burnout and then the ashes were distributed for scattering on farm plots.
Upbeat, lively, and entertaining, it was a charming way to usher in the summer season.
While driving along a country road Cinnia came across a tree alone in a clearing. She pulled off to take some photos and check it out. It reminded her of the Tree of Life. In Celtic traditions the Tree of Life symbolized the harmony and balance of living. Trees provide shelter, food, medicine, and wood to heat and build homes. When land was cleared there was always one tree left in the center of the clearing. It was this tree where communities would gather for ceremonies, storytelling, and meals.
On the more spiritual side, the Tree of Life is symbolic of the connection of heaven and the underworld with earth. The deep roots of the tree travel down into the underworld. The vast branches extend up into the upper world. This flow from one realm to another allows communication between humans and the gods.
Yet another symbolic theme of the Tree of Life is rebirth. The leaves change and drop in the fall and winter and regenerate and grow again in the spring and summer.
There is something regal about big old trees. They weather the storm and stand the test of time. I love to sit under the shade of a tree with a good book, listening to the birdsong, being squawked at by squirrels, and hearing the gentle rustling of the leaves in the wind. It’s very tranquil and centering.
While walking through one of the cemeteries at Glendalough, Cinnia noticed a plot of shamrocks growing at the base of one of the stone crosses. The shamrock was a sacred plant to the Druids as its three leaves were representative of the triad. It was believed to be a harbinger of spring. The Druids also believed carrying clover would allow you to see evil spirits. While the lore of the shamrock dates back to the Druids, it is more commonly acquainted with St. Patrick who used the shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity.
While most shamrocks are three leaved, the rare four leaved variety is the one most sought after. It is believed to bring luck to the person who finds one. In Irish tradition the leaves of the four leave shamrock stand for faith, hope, love, and luck. Children often believed finding one would allow you t see fairies.
Cinnia turned in a circle three times saying, “I believe, I believe, I believe.” She then squatted at the base of the cross and ran her hand gently through the shamrocks. And there it was – four leaves – she plucked it out of the mass and pressed it between the pages of her journal. “My luck is changing after all.
Cinnia spent some time wandering through the ruins of the “Monastic City” at Glendalough. Set in the valley of the Wicklow Mountains, you can walk among the remains of old stone churches, homes, towers, and burial sites. The location is picturesque and serene, while also a bit haunting.
St. Kevin, who lived as a hermit for seven years in the mountains, founded the site. Living as a hermit, he developed a great love for nature and animals. He served as a teacher and healer in the area. As legend tells it, King O’Toole of Glendalough had a pet goose. As the goose aged it was no longer able to fly. The King summoned St. Kevin and asked him to make the goose young again. As payment for his services, St. Kevin asked to be granted all the land the goose flew over. The King agreed, since the goose could no longer fly. St. Kevin laid his hands upon the bird and it grew young once again and flew over the valley of Glendalough, and that became the site of the monastic city.
I admire that the Irish people have such reverence for these sites that they have allowed them to remain. Such a rich history and tradition is preserved for all to visit and appreciate. As I walk through the valley among the ruins I try to imagine what it was like in the 12th century. If I was living in this time, what might I have been doing; I somehow picture myself being a weaver. A lone goose flew overhead as I was looking out at the site known as St. Kevin’s Bed and I couldn’t help but laugh.
Cinnia returned to her journal and turned to the page where she recorded the heading “Evaluate the Present.” She pondered and pondered.
Why am I feeling so lackluster? My job is my main source of stress and discontent. I used to love it, but the industry is changing so much and the job itself has evolved into something less than it was. There isn’t enough that is inspiring me or motivating me the way it once did. The constant cycle of layoffs every six months does nothing to keep anyone motivated either. I genuinely feel the lack of creativity and innovation is the primary reason I feel so disappointed and let down. Whenever you attempt to make something that will provide a more enriching experience for customers you can’t get the budget approved to do so. “Do more with less!” is the corporate world motto these days.
I have a lot to be grateful for too. It isn’t all bad. So what do I love about where I am at today?
I love where I live and I love my home. I feel like it’s the right fit for me. I have put a lot of tender love and care into making my house a haven. This makes me feel good. I don’t want to leave any of this.
I love my friends and family. They inspire me. They make me laugh; we have good times together. They give me support when I need it. I wouldn’t want to leave any of them.
Where do I go from here?
Ugggh, questions, questions, questions, I need to make some decisions!
Later that evening, feeling refreshed and centered, Cinnia reflected on this journey so far. She noticed an overlying theme of presence in many of her experiences. So often we get into routines and habits and find ourselves just going through the motions. We do things just to get through them. In essence we put blinders on and miss so much of the detail and beauty of where we are at in any point in time. Perhaps you can consider it a coping mechanism for the mundane, but consider what might be lost.
I love to walk and get out in nature; I use this as a method to relieve stress. Often when I walk I am rehashing the day. What could I have done better? How could I have handled that differently? Or I am already thinking about the next day. What do I need to get done? I would have a much better and even more stress reducing experience if I just let that all go. For that hour or so I should just truly enjoy the presence, the beauty of my surroundings or the others that are sharing the space with me.
I know through snippets of conversation the interests and talents of my coworkers, but we don’t often spend time sharing our experiences and hobbies outside the office with one another. Perhaps we are missing out on opportunities that would add value to our own lives and interests if we made the time to have more meaningful dialogue.
Presence, the core of the word itself is present. A gift. We should give ourselves the gift of living in the moment and appreciating the world and others around us.
Once upon a time...
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