Bury Your Apricot Grey Crow

I must preface this story with an earlier story, lest anyone should think I’m mad or something. So, in 2016, I went back to the corporate world for a while. I was stationed in a key location in the military-industrial complex, Baggot Street, Dublin 2.. My desk was positioned on the first floor of a beautiful Georgian building on the part of the street where huge old trees line the centre of the road. If you know those buildings, you’ll know that the windows have little railings around them, not big enough to stand on but big enough for a window box. So one day this noise started behind me while I toiled away at my desk. I turned around and there was a grey crow making shapes in at me. There it was perched on the rail, looking in the window and shouting (cawing or whatever you like to call it) at me. Now, being a person who favours reason over nonsense, I at first thought the bird must be seeing its reflection and having a shouting match with itself. However, I checked the light and the way it was falling on the window and eliminated that as a possibility. So, I just sat quietly and looked at the grey crow, at about a metre’s distance, while it finished its talk and then it flew away.  All of which would have been no big deal, had it not happened repeatedly. It would come and make a load of noise at the window until I turned round and looked at it. If I didn’t turn round, it would hammer at the window. Then it would complete a load of funny whistley noises and fluff its wings and then just look me in the eye for ages. Then it would just fly off. It’s a grey crow you know. One day, I was having my eye contact communication with my grey crow friend when my colleague, Nina (a genuine beaut of a person) waved at it to scare it away. I said “Ah Jaysus, it only wants to come and tell us something.” That got Nina annoyed because “Animals do not come to tell us things. That’s wrong! Only the lord speaks to us!”  Which may or may not be true. Personally, if I was going to do Christianity, it’d be of the early-Irish Christian variety, with birds and animals and hymns to the rising sun-god. I have provided this preface to demonstrate an established relationship with grey crows.

So that’s the preface over. Now back to recent times. A few weeks ago, I was doing my weekly LSD. Yes, I did that deliberately to make my life sound exciting. It now means, in the context of my current life, Long Slow Distance. That week, it was 21K. Round and round the Phoenix Park. It was a beautiful day, sunny and cool and I was running like a champ. It was the easiest long run I had done so far. I was flying, legs light and they just kept pumping. I ran the hills faster than the flat. I run without headphones and on my own. So there are no distractions from the battles in my body and my mind. The whole thing is like one long meditation or series of meditations. There’s the mantra meditation phase, ‘when I run long, I’m light and strong’ or ‘when I run long, I’m fast and strong’. There’s the Mindfulness-Of-Breathing phase, listening to my breathing and counting to ten and repeat and repeat. There’s the counting with the Rhythm-of-My-Steps phase. There’s the Awareness-Of-Sensation-And-Relax phase. There’s the Sorting-Out-All-Past-And-Future-Rows-And-Problems’ phase. Mostly there’s the ‘I- Cannot- Believe-I-Have- Another-8-Miles-To-Go-I-Am-Going-To-Lie-Down-Here-In-The-Mud-And-Puke-And-Then-Die phase. Except this time, although there were the usual phases, it just wasn’t a battle. I was Usain Bolt trapped in a dumpy white middle-aged with GAA legs woman’s body. I finished my last of 13 miles at 9.5 minute per mile pace. That’s huge for me.

So I got back to the car and threw myself down on the grass to try and stretch because my hips weren’t feeling as Usain Bolt as the rest of me. After a while, I hear this rattling and cackling behind me and I turn to look. There’s a beautiful grey crow standing there looking at me. So I say, “Would you like an apricot?” because, by this stage, I had my packet of apricots in my hand. And she seemed interested and came a little closer and I threw her an apricot and she came closer still to collect it. She backed up to a nice patch of well cut grass and had a few nibbles and I munched mine at the same time.  She occasionally threw a few gurgly cackles my way and I said things like, “Yeah I know they’re nice and juicy aren’t they?” and other such small talk. She’d only actually swallowed a small amount of her apricot when she picked it up and walked over to part of the grass where there were a lot of dried grass cuttings. She turned her back to me and seemed to be scratching and digging at the ground. Then she turned and walked back to her nice fresh grass area where she felt we had a comfortable distance between us. She was now minus her apricot. “Did you just hide your apricot?” I asked and she said some cackles back at me. After a while, I walked over to the spot where I thought she’d hidden it, with her standing by making mad noises at me. Please see below photo of the little ground nest she’d made for her precious apricot.

I pulled off the lid to see if I could find it but covered it back over before I stepped way. Once I was at a safe distance, she blustered back over to her apricot nest and bad-temperedly reefed it out of it, marched back to her green carpet area and put her apricot down on the ground and started shredding bits off it. I thought she was angrily going to gobble it to show me what she thought of people who give her gifts, then try to steal them. She was certainly making enough noise about it. But then she picked up the rest of her apricot in her beak and stepped back from the shredded little bits she’d left on the ground. At an even further distance away, she put her apricot down again and started doing these gurgly and chirpy noises at me.  She was sharing her apricot with me. She’d shredded up the little bits off her big apricot for me. She probably thought that even though I have quite the shrón, it wasn’t capable of eating this rubbery sticky thing and I needed my food cut up for me.

So I walked back over to the little pieces and I thanked her very much but explained that it was her apricot and that I needed to leave. I walked back to the car and watched her as she came back to her little pieces and then stood there watching me as I drove away. I’m sure she thought I was a complete dope and really very rude. But I’m not actually mad so I’m not going to eat a beak-prepared meal just to be polite.

This then is the story of how I came to be sharing a meal with a grey crow.

Useful Massage Tips

Sometimes we all need information about unusual, perhaps niche matters. The skills described in the linked video might not seem, at first, to be relevant in an Irish context. However, think Badger, as I always do. You might be wondering what this has to do with yoga. Yoga is about connecting with all of nature, within and without. Shake of that stress. Push and fan. And of course, always lubricate the tail. I know I do.


Diggin’ the Spuds

WHEN I WAS 24, I was having a chat with my dad. I had been reading an article about the legend of Shaolin monks walking through monastery walls. The story was that these monks had, more or less, meditated themselves through the solid stone.

I was full of how amazing this was – imagine if people were so enlightened that they were able to defy the laws of physics? My dad listened to me intently. Then he said: “That’s grand but who’s going to dig the spuds? Someone was diggin’ the spuds while them boys were gettin’ themselves through walls. Someone always has to dig the spuds.”

He was right, of course. There are people who commit long hours, days, years to their spiritual life; those who spend that time in silent meditation. According to the stories and legends, those people might, eventually, walk through a wall. However, those people still need to eat, drink and clothe themselves. In short, someone is digging their spuds for them because they’ve been sitting around meditating for the last ten years.

There are people who commit to their spiritual life but continue to do the day-to-day tasks for themselves, of course – Zen monks, for instance, tend to use general life tasks as part of their practice. However, no matter how simple the life you are leading, if you have removed yourself fully from normal life to pursue esoteric matters, be in no doubt that someone, back in the real world, is digging your spuds for you while you stand on your head.

Bringing it to the world

So, I’ve been thinking about the flip side of this. Another wise man whom I have encountered, Ken Jones, a political activist and leading light of the socially engaged Buddhism movement, explained that, for him, meditation without ‘taking it off the prayer cushion’ was almost pointless. After a long struggle with Zen practices, he decided that he needed to take his inner life into the world. He feels that anyone engaged in spiritual practices should bring what they’ve learned back into the real world. Conversely, though, he feels that without the inner work, your real world work, doesn’t work.

He cited the fact that so many very worthy movements and organisations ultimately fail in their aims. While the people who are involved are active and have the best of intentions, without those individuals doing some kind of inner reflective work on themselves, they become ineffective in the outer world eventually. People’s emotional baggage, their history, their lives, mean that, without a pause for reflection upon their actions and reactions, people act upon their own individual inner needs, at some point.

So now, it seems to me, that a balance is needed. A practical balance that is suited to this modern western lifestyle. Philosophical musings are grand but, again, who’s digging the spuds? Put simply, I’d bet there’s no woman sitting in Darfur navel gazing about how to walk through a wall or how to breathe into her hypertonic pelvic floor. That woman is digging the spuds, while I have the luxury of sitting here thinking and writing (and possibly boring everyone to tears).

As a yoga teacher, I have to consider that before ever stepping on a mat to practice there are the some precepts that we ought to bear in mind – like having gratitude and practising non-violence. We need to remember that it is these precepts that we must internalise before we step onto the mat. When we get up and leave, we need to take them with us.

Find your own ‘yoga’

Yoga without taking what you are learning back out into the world is pointless. Similarly, living and working in the real world is pointless without a pause, no matter how short, to check in with yourself. Your motivations, your feelings, your body. All of these are important, and those moments of reflection and tuning out the hustle and bustle will make you a more effective person in your general life. Most of us simply do not have the time, to spend hours in meditation or doing sun salutes. Those who do, hopefully, will bring what they’ve learned back to the rest of us. We need to find the balance between spud digging and walking through walls.

Not all of us will practise yoga as we know it in the west. The aforementioned great philosopher, Paddy Birdy, (AKA my dad), does his yoga in the form of sitting at a lake, fishing. There’s not a hope in hell of finding him chanting Om and sticking his leg behind his head. Not wanting to do myself, a yoga teacher, out of business, but your yoga might be just while you’re sweeping the floor, to really sweep the floor and nothing else. Don’t think about anything else, just really be sweeping that floor. If dancing is your thing, do that. Really, just be dancing.

Find your yoga and take your time out. Then go back to digging your spuds and I’ll warrant you’ll be much better at it.

This article first appeared on The Journal.ie years ago. Apologies for the blogging laziness but needs must. The Journal edited with a heavy hand too. So be aware the cut-out bits were far more insightful and terribly funny altogether.

Here’s the link to the original publication


Terms of Endearment

Because I procrastinated, because I had an injury, it was too late to enter the Galway Bay Half-Marathon on October 6th. Entry had closed and I had put myself on the waiting list but with little hope, with it being such a popular race, I was now sulky and mildly desperate to find another race. The training schedule stuck on the wardrobe door is completely focused on that race on that date.  So now, I started the search again, briefly toying with half-marathons in far flung Eastern European villages. Think of the Christmas markets and the pickled cabbage for brekkie! So when that dream had died, once I thought of the bank balance, I started looking again at half-marathons in Ireland.

Races at that distance are few and far between as you get into the thick of winter but there’s one place that stays in the game. It has a marathon, a half-marathon, a 10K and sher whatever yer having yerself, in December. It’s Clonakilty. So my interest was piqued because, y’know, West Cork and myself have a thing going. On the event’s website, they tell you that there are no pacers for their races and the reason? ‘It’s your time, to find yourself’.  There are two mobile phone numbers on the website, one for Bob and one for Mark, if you have any questions.

And I did have questions, so I called both and got to leave a message for Mark. He called me back.

Mark, it turns out, is a running coach and a really experienced runner himself. He’s married with three children, has his own business training and coaching people and is studying as well. He doesn’t like undulating courses as much as full-on hilly or flat courses. Kildare’s alright as a county but it’s no Cork. Mark has the sing-songiest Cork accent I had hitherto ever heard. This much I know about Mark after a minute or so. Here are the edited highlights of our phone conversation.

Me: I just wanted to know about the half and maybe the full, what kind of numbers do you have doing them because I haven’t been running long at this distance so I don’t want to be out on the road on my own.

Mark: Oh no, you’ll never be on your own. You won’t get lost. We have more signs than any other race and water stations and gels and stewards to beat the band. We even have Coke out there for you and black pudding and sausages. Oh you’ll be well looked after.

Me: No it’s not that. I won’t get lost but I won’t be able to keep going if I’m the only person out on the road, in December, in West Cork.

Mark: There’ll be loads of people doing it and all the races will melt into one.  Don’t worry about that at all. You’ll never be on your own girl.

Me: If I did the marathon, it’d be my first, how difficult a course is it? Is it hilly like? And think about it before you answer that. They lied to me for the Cork City Half, so don’t go all Corky and tell me it’s flat if it’s not.

Mark: Oh no, it’s nowhere near as flat as Cork City. There’s a lot of climbing on our course but the thing about hills and mountains is, if you have to go up them, sure you get to come back down them too. Isn’t that the way? And the last few miles are totally flat. Well mostly flat.

Me: Would it be mental for me to do this as my first do you think?

Mark: Many do and many do a PB. It’s very surprising really. I don’t know what it is, the Dingle and Connemara races are on a par but you wouldn’t do a PB there. Maybe we’ve better air. The scenery is great. What time are you doing for the half?

I told him my times. And my excuses for my times.

Mark: Sure if you can do those times, it’ll be no problem at all for you girl. You’ll fly through it. I always say, if you can do a 10K, you can run an ultra-marathon. You run long distance with your heart. If someone can run six or seven miles and fight all the battles that it takes to get through that, they can just keep going. Bit of training, few long runs, eat well and watch what you put into your body. You can do all that, take all the gels you want but it’s your heart that’ll get you to the finish. You sound like you have plenty of that. You’ll be grand girl.

Me: Thanks a million for your help Mark and for giving me so much time. I’ll go away and think about it.

Mark: Well you’ll be most welcome if you do come and join us. The thing about it is that it may be a tough course but our marathon is endearing.

Me: (Laughing) You’re calling your marathon endearing Mark?

Mark: Yes it’s very endearing.

Later on Bob called me back.  And now I know that Mark does not, in fact have the sing-songiest Cork accent ever. I explained to Bob that I’d already spoken to Mark and that he’d got with me with ‘endearing’. Bob then wholeheartedly agrees with Mark and tells me that it is endearing. That it’s a touch course, no two ways about it girl but sure what goes up must come down and one thing’s for sure, you’ll find yourself out there. Come on down, did he tell you we have black pudding?

And that is why I am now entered in my first full marathon, on December 8th in Clonakilty. I want to hang out with people who call me girl, tell me I can run marathons no problem, that I’ve got heart, crow about having Coke along the route, tempt me with a fry at the finish, tell me I’ll find myself in a mysterious place called out there and, with no hint of irony, call their 26.2 mile mountainous race, ‘endearing’.

Yoga is Back

September Morn Dublin Ireland. Over all those rooftops, there are the mountains. Blue skies, birds still singing. The city’s waking up. Back to regular yoga classes from this evening. I’m so excited. Monday 19.45, Tuesday 19.30, Friday 10.30, all at The Wisdom Centre, Sophia Housing, 25 Cork St, D8 🙂 #dublin #happy #yogainspiration

More Yoga and the City

Post-race, lying on the grass, in the sunshine, stretching those poor quads in Hero’s Pose, battling those angry September wasps, eating my free apple and banana, soothing my TFL injury, chatting to my beloved who drove me out and back on an early Sunday morning. Absolutely deadly organisation and congratulations to the Frank Duffy 10 Mile organisers and sponsors. Life does not get better than this. #sseairtricityraceseries #sseairtricitydublinmarathon #frankduffy10mile #frankduffyfitness #yogainspiration #yogachallenge #yogaindublin #yogaindublincity #yogaposes