This is Suffering, Sister


If you read my blog regularly, you will know that this time last week I was supping on Italian cuisine and soaking up the charm of Bologna. It was a fantastic trip filled with amazing food, historic sites and the most beautiful, creamy cappuccinos that anyone could imagine! I came home with a grin on my face and a desire to order an I Love Bologna t-shirt- only I didn’t as I know my kids would die of embarrassment.

I felt grounded. I felt mindful. The sounds, the smells, the tastes, the eventual Italian sunshine on my face all supported my practice and truly helped create the space for a deeper dropping into my body. Well, for the most part that is. Indeed, I was feeling incredibly out of body when I climbed the 498 steps to the top of one of Bologna’s tower- only to look down from its dizzying height. This was an exception, though. For, as we made our way to the airport to go home, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for my life and the wonderful opportunities that seem to arise when I am least expecting it.

Sounds all warm and fuzzy- and it was. However, this all started to shift when we got to the airport. Once we arrived, we immediately checked the departure board. All flights leaving before ours was scheduled to leave had been cancelled. This seemed strange. Why? The sun was shining in Italy and surely there couldn’t be bad weather throughout the whole of the Western world.  Flights that were destined for Spain, Sweden, England, Greece… the USA- all cancelled! Well, it turned out that there was a strike happening at the airport. This meant a later departure time, a missed connection and a night in Amsterdam.

Spirits were still OK. Mind was still stable and mindful moments were still weaving themselves through the experience. Although, the odd feelings of frustration and worry were starting to rear their heads. I could feel tension starting to build in my shoulders. However, I could also feel a softening with my breath.

Then, after all of these travel mishaps, I was unable to get to work where I was scheduled to teach for the weekend. My ‘what felt like’ unwavering, mindful equilibrium started to waver. Worry, some panic, sadness and frustration had invaded my headspace. Tension and heat were now radiating throughout the whole body.

What happened to my mindful gratitude?? It was here less than 24 hours ago! I could feel it slipping, being replaced my rumination and anxiety. And just like that, things started to get topsey turvey.

So how do we cope when life seemingly goes from relaxed, cool, calm and collected to what feels like the rug being pulled from under you?

Well, I started to practice moment to moment mindfulness- three small breaths. These breaths would bring me back from my ‘try to fix it mind’ and into the body and into the environment that was all around me- instead of a meditation hall, I was now actually in a warm, sunshine filled apartment with the sounds of Ireland beating Scotland in the 6 nations Rugby coming from the TV. (Something that cheered the mood for this Irish inhabitant).

IMG_6508And even though I was not sure that I felt up to it, I went for a walk through the Scottish snow, finishing with a picnic in the sunshine. The crisp air and the connection with the elements stimulated my senses and I once again could feel my awareness drop into the body. This created a space and a clarity where I could still see the opportunities, still feel the gratitude and still find a sense of presence in the midst of the struggle. My equilibrium was still a bit shaky but I was, as Jon Kabat Zinn says, ‘riding the waves’.

I eventually returned to Ireland. The snow had cleared and I was home in the warmth of my own bed. That’s when I got the news that my father’s health was not doing so well. And that’s when, once again, it felt like I had been sent into a tail spin with the ground being swept from beneath my feet.

The waves were beginning to swamp me and at times throw me into the green room. ( In surfing terms, this means the inside of the barrel of a wave).

So while, for the most part I was able to keep my balance on my own and through my practice, I was starting to lose my footing completely. However, and thankfully, during a peer teacher supervision meeting, a fellow practitioner and friend asked me what was alive for me in this moment. I began to speak and share, feeling a bit shy and almost needy in my struggle.

Thoughts like ‘God Jane, get yourself together’ ‘Everyone has their problems’ ‘You need to toughen up’ kept hitting my chest like a ton of bricks. I was feeling unstable.

Yet, when I finished speaking and looked up at my friend, all he said (with hand on heart) was ‘This is suffering sister. I feel for you and can so understand where you are. How can you take care of yourself through this difficult moment?’

Boom. There it is was. ‘This is suffering, sister’. Or, this is Mindfulness- knowing what is happening while it is happening. I was suffering. His acknowledgment of the suffering allowed me to accept it. His use of the word sister told me that I was not alone. And his question of how I might take care of myself through this tough time gave me permission to be kind to myself.

I had an epiphany:

This is practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty.

We all have times of difficulty. We all struggle and feel alone from time to time. I’ve been through many of these moments myself. However, sometimes when the difficulties arise we can forget that perhaps our practice needs to bend and adapt to the moment. Also, sometimes we forget that speaking with other practitioners, and indeed maybe even our teachers, can be extremely helpful in remembering.

I am grateful for those words ‘This is suffering, sister’. I am also grateful for my practice and for the training that I have received and for the ‘practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty’ sessions that I have delivered and for the reminders that come when we are mindfully aware of all that is happening around and inside us.

Practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty can carry me through.

So, this week’s challenge is to see if you can identify someone or maybe even a group of support you in your practice- to ask the question ‘what is alive for you?’ To remind you of all that you know so that you can find your footing.

If this feels impossible, why not sign up for our membership? Our new site that will be launched at the end of the month and will have the facilities to accommodate practitioner gatherings via Zoom, discussion boards and ways to connect with others. (click here for more details)

We also meet once a week for a weekly sit or a live teaching (tonight Heather Regan Addis will be joining us to introduce us to the practice of On/Off duty.

Or, email me at and ask about some tips on practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty. I would love to share with you any resources that I can.

Sometimes our practice can be difficult, just like life. However, if we can come together to practice and share, we can create a community that not only supports our practice and us but sustains it and us.


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I Have Arrived, I Am Home


After reading Heather Regan Addis’ blog post this week ‘Walk with Me’ which details the movie based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen community of mindfulness practitioners, I was reminded of a wonderful gatha or the short verse that Thich Nhat Hanh uses to help us practice mindfulness in our daily activities:

I have arrived, I am home. In the here, In the now. I am solid, I am free. In the ultimate I dwell.

I love this gatha and I usually bring it into my mindful walking practice. The words I have arrived, I am home are powerful reminders that I am simply practicing being present- there is no where that I need to go. Presence is not a destination, rather it is a state of being that is accessible In the here, In the now– in EVERY here and now. We just have to remember.

This teaching was especially relevant for me over the last few days and it moved beyond my mindful walking practice into my informal practice of daily life.

As many of you might have experienced, the snow that swept across Europe last week caused some disruptions. And for the most part, these disruptions did not really cause me any great distress. I was pleased to have my kids home from school and keeping me company, my internet was still working and I was able to do my job and the snow was, well it was pretty.

However, as the weather warnings kept rolling in and were continuously being extended, it became apparent that my planned trip to Italy might be cancelled.  This led to my preference system moving into overdrive- I wanted to go to Italy. I had a destination. I hadn’t arrived. My destination was ‘in the over there’ and ‘in the day or two’. I was starting to feel the pressure of anticipation.

Stressful images were swirling. Images of being stranded in a car on the way to the airport, of not flying until half of the days I had set aside to enjoy Italy had passed, leaving me ‘ripped off’ of some down time, of losing money on the airline ticket that for some reason Ryanair had not cancelled, despite the red weather warning- these imaginings were robbing me of the enjoyment of a snowfall that only happens in Ireland, once every five years or so.

And then I would remember- there’s nothing to do but be with the moment- or rest in the arriving into this moment, in the here and the now.

In fact, I smile remembering an online meeting during last week with Heather, who was snowed in at her house in Scotland. We both laughed at the situation with a surrendering into the unfolding moment- with an arriving.

And then I would get a phone call, a text, a neighbour knocking on the door asking what my plans were- how would I get to the airport? did I have a plan B? Plan C?

I would then go back to the mini panics and sufferings and imaginings and the disturbed peace.

I flip flopped between ‘I have arrived’ and ‘I need to arrive- oh I need to arrive- oh I need to arrive’ for those days leading up to my flight.

However, what has become apparent and almost comical is that this flip flopping is how it all happens for me. When I am sitting on my cushion practicing, when I am engaged in mindful walking, and sometimes even when I am having mindful conversations, I flip flop between having a sense of arrival with no place to go and having a sense of a need to arrive, a need for destination.

This is the practice.

image2I am happy to report that I am indeed, in Bologna. When the day came, without trauma, I packed my car with provisions, and I drove to the airport. All of the worry, all of the anticipation had been for nothing. In fact, the drive up was quite peaceful and full of presence. I had arrived. I was in the journey with nothing else to do but be with it.

And now that I am in Bologna, the architecture, the food, the stimulation of all of my senses is holding my attention. I have arrived, I am home.

Well, at least until my mind starts pulling me into the weekend and the teaching that I am scheduled to do. Then, the flip flop starts back up again…. And I smile at its familiarity and I rest with the knowledge that this is simply the practice. The practice of remembering that when I do notice, I can choose to arrive In the here, In the now.

So, perhaps this can be our weekly challenge. Can we stop a few times a day and be with the words and the meaning of:

I have arrived, I am home. In the here, In the now. I am solid, I am free. In the ultimate I dwell.


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Snow Down

IMG_6424I’ve been waiting for my life to slow down. In fact, it seems that as of late, my life’s one constant has been ‘full steam ahead’. I’ve had friends and colleagues marvel at how I do it all- yet, somehow there always seems to be more to do.

This got me thinking of a time when I was finishing a degree with three young children. I went to the local Women’s Group AGM and was asked to chair the new committee.

In exasperation, I said to the old committee- ‘Do you know how busy I am?’

Only to hear- ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’.

Apparently, this is a quote from Lucille Ball of ‘I Love Lucy’ fame. She also said ‘The more things you do, the more you can do’.

My mother used to wear this as a badge of honour. (And I’m sure there are elements of this ethos not lost on her daughter)  However, what does this say to me, a mindfulness teacher?

SLOW DOWN. I’ve been caught in a perpetual loop of doing mode. And for the sake of my health and happiness, I need to balance this doing mode with simply being. Kabat Zinn speaks of this being mode when he states that “a lightness of being and playfulness [are] key elements to the practice of mindfulness, because they are key elements of well-being.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am exceptionally good at slowing down, ‘playing’ and enjoying the quiet moments of simple, single task activity. There is nothing more delicious than an hour with a hot cup of tea in front of the fire; or an afternoon on my dock at my cabin with a good book, a leisurely swim and the sound of the water quietly lapping at the wood of the platform; or an afternoon of baking my favourite cakes for my favourite people.

And I nearly forgot this. In my ‘busyness’, I nearly forgot the fact that I NEED these activities to fill my cup. It wasn’t until my best friend pointed out to me that she was happy to see me relaxing in front of the fire this weekend, as the one thing she does know about me is my need to ground myself in my home with quietness.

Recently, the hustle and at times dizzying travel has/had taken over. However, I feel a shift.

This week, the news has been filled with anticipation of ‘The Beast from The East’. ForIMG_6422 those of you in non- European parts of the world, don’t get too excited! ‘The Beast from The East’ is not Godzilla. No, it’s a massive snow storm from Siberia that is blowing its way across the continent and into the UK/ Ireland- and it’s forcing me to SLOW DOWN. Or, for the sake of this blog post, SNOW DOWN.

For instance, I was meant to fly in and out of Manchester yesterday for a day of working in MAHQ. Instead, we cancelled due to the weather.

The kids were meant to go to school today. Instead, it was cancelled due to the weather.

We are all grounded in our house with the quietness of snow. What a perfect opportunity to slow down and enter into that mode of being.

So- what is this mode of being?

Well, it’s a break away from the doing mode of autopilot- from cooking the dinner to get through it so that we can all eat and get on with our evening activities. Instead, it is taking the time to really be with the process of cooking- to feel the textures of the food, to smell and taste the flavours, to experience the transformation of ingredients into a meal. To create. And maybe even to create with joy and appreciation and a resting in the knowledge that this food will nourish our bodies.

It’s a break away from the doing mode of striving- from trying to get every job ticked off the list as fast as possible so that the next moment will be better. Instead, it is taking time to bring a beginner’s mind to each task and approaching them without the finish in view. It’s writing this blog post while looking up every so often to enjoy the vision of falling snow out the window, the smell of coffee wafting in from the kitchen. It’s not looking at the list for the day, but just being with this job, in this moment. It’s knowing that this moment has everything I need- it doesn’t need to be better.

It’s slowing down and taking it all in for what it is. It does not mean getting nothing done- but it might mean relating to my moment to moment experience with an open curiosity.

So, on this Snow Day, my intention is to slow down and simply be with my day, one moment at a time- living deeply and savouring each unfolding. And to start with, I will enjoy taking a lunch break with my Nelly in the woods.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach- Thoreau

*And as I am just back, what did the woods have to teach? There is stillness, and wonder all around me- I just have to step into it*

This week’s challenge- can we all slow down and move towards entering that mode of being as we go about our lives. Snow or no snow. Can we notice when autopilot has taken over, when we are striving, when we are shutting things down out of our preferences? Can we just be with? Can we move away from all of the doing?


Maybe you have been wanting to sign up for our Level 1: Being Present course but there is not a course running near you? Or, maybe you would like to start the Mindfulness or Teacher Training pathway from the comfort of your own home?

I am teaching on an online version of our Level 1: Being Present course (the start of our Mindfulness or Teacher Training pathway) next Thursday, March 7th at 7pm. If you would like to join me and the other participants as we explore mindfulness from the quiet of home, sign up here!

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The Hump

A few years ago, I was visiting my cousins in Canada and we were sitting around a camp fire discussing our social anxiety. Now, if most people saw the three of us discussing our resistance to going into a grocery store where we might bump into someone we know, they would be surprised and maybe even in disbelief.

If any of you have met me, you will know that I don’t exactly appear shy. In fact, I really love people and connecting with others on a human level. This is a great joy to me. Also, my two cousins who I was having this conversation with are strong, confident and vivacious individuals. They teach school, coach sports teams, lead community groups, etc.

So, this idea of social anxiety doesn’t seem to fit the bill, right?

Well it does. And from the conversations that I have been having with many people, AND many of my teaching friends, it is clear that it permeates society, regardless of one’s level of perceived social ease.

What is social anxiety?

According to Schlenker and Leary, “social anxiety arises when individuals are motivated to make a preferred impression on real or imagined audiences, but perceive or imagine unsatisfactory evaluative reactions from subjectively important audiences” (1982). Basically, social anxiety is this fear of not quite measuring up in other people’s eyes.

Many of us suffer from this. I suffer from this. My friends suffer from this. I’m not sure if my dog suffers from this. She’s pretty shameless. In a good way.

However, why would I be afraid of not quite measuring up in a grocery store? I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve come to the realization that this is probably due to my, in my mind, somewhat outwardly perceived by others, extrovert personality. What if I go into that store and don’t feel happy and go lucky? What if people see that I am actually a bit tired, weary and I haven’t washed my face today? What if people know that I don’t feel like talking and that I am a bit shy and unsure of myself?

This spills over into my teaching practice. Almost always, before I have to teach, I think to myself ‘Why am I doing this to myself? I don’t need to teach. What if I forget something? What if I misunderstand my participants? OR…  and this is the best one: What if they don’t like me?’

The fear of not quite measuring up floods me. Social anxiety at its best.

I like to call my social anxiety ‘the hump’. I need to get over ‘the hump’ before I step into a grocery store, before I answer the phone, before I sit on my cushion to teach. However, once I do get over the hump, it all falls into place and I am fine. I am able to step into my self and rest assured that it is all going to be OK, it is OK and I find my voice. Which is usually quite loud. 😉


downloadOver the years, I have built/gathered some reserves/resources to get me through ‘the hump’. Primarily, they come from my compassion training. Whenever I feel that insecurity set in, I employ the self-compassion break or self- tonglen. These are both practices that we teach on our Level 2: Responding with Compassion course. I also have developed my own compassionate gesture that eases my body on a physiological level. I usually rub my belly as I move into the Self-Compassion break of quietly noticing that this is a moment of struggle, that I’m not alone (I mean, even my cousins suffer with this), and I ask myself- what do I need to hear right now that would be helpful? This whole system can take seconds, minutes, as long as it takes, but I find it extremely helpful. My compassion practice enables me to be my full self- even when my social anxiety surfaces. And for this I am grateful.

So, this week’s challenge is see if we can notice when we have feelings of the fear of not quite measuring up- or if there is some sort of social anxiety present. If there is, can we be kind to ourselves? Can we remind ourselves that it’s hard, but we’re not alone and then ask ourselves- how can we be kind to ourselves in this moment?

And if you see me rubbing my belly, maybe send me a kind smile.



Heather and I will be starting and teaching on our Level 2: Responding with Compassion course, this July in Samye Ling. Why don’t you join us? Click Here.

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The Truth of The Matter…

I remember the first time I heard Rob Nairn exclaim that the mind is a liar- that the mind is always telling us untruths. Whether it  is telling us that we are not good enough, or that we are unlovable or that we will fail, we can rest assured that these messages are simply mind propaganda wrapped up as protective shields, but in all reality are driven by fear. And fear stops us in our tracks. In fact, fear can sabotage all our hopes and dreams.


My mind has been telling me lies. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it does so… all the time.

Some days it tells me that people are looking at the grey hairs sprouting up on my head and that everyone who sees me will know that I’m not in my early 20s! (Which is another lie it loves to tell ha!) Other days it tells me that I am not as good or experienced or worthy as those who I share space with.

And then other days, it tells me that I am a rock star and anything that I say or do will be met with wonder and awe and adoration. Let me tell you- it sure is disappointing when this fails to happen!

Lately, it’s been telling me that I am all alone.

Now, I know this is a lie when I bring my rational mind to the story and its details. However, this story is juicy and it grabs hold.

The story that I am a Canadian living away from her country and family. The story that asks- if I get sick, who is my adult next of kin? The story that even if I were to return to Canada, I wouldn’t belong. The story that I don’t even belong in Ireland. The story that I don’t belong.

However, the reality is that I do belong. I belong to my three children. I belong to the Beloveds in my life. My dear friends, my colleagues, the communities that I inhabit.

This story is driven by my fear. The fear that I will be and that I am alone. Isolated. And when this fear sinks in, I stop. I stop making plans, I stop reaching out, I stop talking about it. I stop dreaming. Then, I feel even more alone.

It’s beyond crazy! But it happens to most of us. Our stories may be different, but we can all fall prey to fear and these negative thoughts patterns: these lies that our minds tell us.

So this is where my mindfulness practice comes in. What my mindfulness practice has done for me is allow me to see these lies. It has created the conditions to ‘know what is happening while it is happening’. Once, I see what is happening- the mind telling me stories- the lies lose their power. I am able to step back from the story and recognize it for what it is: untrue.

And, once I recognize this untruth, I can choose to actually look around and feel gratitude for the family I do have over here on this side of the pond- my kids, my Beloveds, my dear friends and colleagues, my communities.

My mindfulness practice really helps me turn towards my fear and see it for what it is. Stories. Elaborate tales told to me by mind. And once I see them for what they are, I am free to move forward with a new way to be. I am free to dream.

So, this week’s challenge is to see if you can notice the stories that the mind tells you. Are they familiar? Are they helpful? How does it feel to be lost in one? What does it feel like when you notice and step back?

And if you would like to know more about mindfulness and move towards ‘knowing what is happening, while it is happening, without preference’, why not join me on one of the Level 1 courses that I will be teaching on? I’ll be teaching in Samye Ling this March and Ireland in June. (Click here for more details)

Or, join our membership and join me for the weekly sits! I’d love to see you. (Click here for more details)


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A Silent Witnessing

I’ve got sunsets on my mind! Well, I’ve got the wonder and curiosity of what it might be like to approach each of my interactions/ communicative exchanges as if I were gazing on a sunset.

This was the challenge we were given during the MA’s Mindfulness Teacher Supervision training session last night. Can we walk around and see people as sunsets?

watching sunset

Now, when I first heard this suggestion, I tried to imagine just that- gazing at a person as if they were a sunset. I had this vision of myself looking all doe- eyed and goofy. Then the thought came- ‘What if people think I am taking drugs?’ This might alarm those who I come into contact with. I must admit, I found this slightly  amusing.

Then I closed my eyes and put myself in front of that sunset again. I felt my eyes soften, a soft smile appeared and I marvelled at the shifting colours with each passing moment.

What might it be like if I was able to bring this same soft, openness to each passing moment of conversation?

Many poets and scholars speak about being present for others. This Nhat Hanh explains that the best present we can give one another is our full embodied presence.

John O’Donohue, the Irish poet and philosopher puts it another way:

Open your eyes and see the friends

Whose hearts recognize your face as kin,

Those whose kindness watchful and near,

Encourages you to live everything here.

For me, these words bring to mind a sense of care-taking and safeness that can come with being heard and held in relationship. It also brings to mind all of the times that I have felt unheard and alone and how in those times I have often wished to be surrounded by those who do make me feel held and safe. I used to, and still do from time to time, tell my best friend that I just want her to brush my hair so that I can feel soothed and held.

Perhaps in times of struggle, I simply need to feel the human connection of being seen in the same way that I gaze upon a sunset. For in the moment as it passes, there might be a shared silent witnessing, where nothing else needs to be done.

In which case, what might it be like if I can do this for others?

This week, I would like to extend the challenge that was given to me- to greet those you meet as if they were a sunset. Can we be present with a soft, warm openness, allowing all that unfolds to be without judgment? A silent witnessing.

Or, as John O’Donohue writes, can we allow the presence of others to ‘encourage [us] to live everything here’?


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Spring Shoots…

Today is a special day in Ireland. It is St. Brigid’s Day or Brigid’s Day, or if you go back even further it is Imbolc. And one of the overriding themes of this is that it is the first day of Spring.

I can remember when I first moved to Ireland and heard and experienced February 1st as the first day of Spring. I was dumbfounded. It was cold and wet and appeared no different to the days of Winter that came before it. It seemed ridiculous.

IMG_6303Still, people all around me showed me all of the subtle signs (soft green shoots of daffodils, full bloom snowdrops, days getting longer) while also explaining the cultural celebration of St. Brigid’s eve/ day. Or, a day where one sweeps the home and the hearth clean while weaving their intentions for the coming year into Brigid’s crosses- crosses made from rushes found in the fields and weaved into what has been called a sun wheel or sun cross.

So this morning, after I dropped the kids to school, I took to the fields to find my rushes, so that I can set my intentions and weave my cross this evening, as I light the first fire on my swept hearth.

All of this activity got me thinking of a conversation that I had with my friend and colleague Alan. Alan and I had been teaching this weekend at Samye Ling on the Level 1 Mindfulness: Being Present course. (For more information, click here)

One of the participants asked us about the importance of setting an intention at the beginning of each practice. In our own words, we shared how setting an intention has been an integral part of our practice- whether that intention be to simply be mindful or to practice noticing our distractions or even something more personal like an intention to ease an anxiety that has been plaguing the mind. We do not always arrive at our intended destination (I.E. notice those distractions or ease that anxiety); however, our intention plants a seed and helps create the conditions for a moving towards- and maybe even one day, full fruition.

Setting a intention and visiting our motivation is something we explore quite thoroughlyIMG_6304 throughout the whole of our Level 1 training, and indeed, throughout all of our trainings. Not only can setting an intention be helpful in our meditation practice, but it can be helpful in our day- to- day living. For instance, we might like to start our day with setting an intention to be more compassionate/mindful/helpful for the day; or start each season with an intention for the coming months. One thing to remember is not to get too caught up on whether we see the fruition of this intention, maybe we can just rest in the reassurance that these intentions are planting seeds and creating the conditions for the day to come.

So, on this first day of Spring, what are your own intentions? Perhaps, this week’s challenge can be to set aside some time for quiet reflection on what are your intentions for the coming year. What seeds will you plant? Hopefully, in time we might be able to reap the rewards of that harvest!


We have many Level 1: Being Present courses starting in Glasgow, Samye Ling, Birmingham, Cardiff, London and Edinburgh- we even have an online version starting in March! Make sure to check them out here

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