Amidist the covid-19 pandemic and beyond the physical health scare, the toll on mental health that it is taking, I am reminded of another wonderful Irish proverb ‘Is i ndiaidh a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin – Castles are built one after the other’.
In life, no experience is ever wasted, it is all a learning experience, even the bad ones can hold a lesson in how not to repeat, and the truly terrible ones have a big message in that you have survived it and life goes on beyond it.
We humans build upon our experiences, from crawl to walk, from goo-go-gagga to ‘to be or not to be, that is the question’ or ‘I think therefore I am’. We have instinct for it. So, it doesn’t have to be heaping pain upon pain, walling ourselves into a prison of anxiety and stress – it can be building a fortress of resilience and stamina. Pick the good bricks and timbers.
The lesson of this proverb may stretch back to a time in Irish history when the Anglo-Normans sought to conquer Ireland by very deliberate strategies; take a place, build a castle, defend it. What we Irish learned after we learned how to burn them to the ground was that this one castle at a time mode was much more than an efficiency drive and indeed a very effective strategy.
Thereafter, when we spoke of deliberate steps to success and achievement, we invoked an old harsh lesson – castles are build one after the other. The sage advice here is to do things one at a time and do it well. No one is saying baby steps. We are talking castles – so big leaps can be accomplished but then the trick is to consolidate and hold, don’t go rushing on and lose your ground to the locals with a cart of straw, a few logs and some flint. Build the strongest foundation and hold your ground.
Mindfulness is the opposite to multitasking. It is a great way to train the brain to be of an alert, focused attention, set on a single task or in any given moment. It is a real bastion in protecting your stress levels and defending your mental well-being. Quarry those skills. Own that castle.
Build strong foundations – The strong foundations of the castle we want to build is in meditation; the following breath meditation, the mantra or positive affirmation meditations, the visualisation ones, the body scan ones, the sitting, walking, listening ones. Entering the now is a meditation, entering the now is the solid reality, the solidest of rock, the start of your kingdom.
Meditation is not just a consolidating practice restoring spirits and energy and clarity of thought it is a means of transforming the mind – the fortress we seek to own. Meditation not only rewires neural pathways and builds resilience it encourages positive self-regard and a sense of well-being.
Here is a simple one to get us started.
Take a seat. Relax in in. The secret of meditation is the practice of tuning or returning your attention to a single point of reference – that can be the breath, that can be a mantra. No need for lotus positions or ground mats or robes. Any old chair to sit in and relax a moment will do. Sit comfortably with eyes closed and an awareness of your inhale and exhale or a repeated saying or mantra of your choice – it can be ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ (the powerful Sanskrit mantra) it can be ‘yes I can’ (the positive psychology mantra), it can even be ‘Is i ndiaidh a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin’ or ‘castles are built one after the other’. When thoughts arise return the focus to the breath or the mantra. Do this for half a minute for now – later you can do it often and lengthen the time with practice; soon you will be adept at 5 or 10 minutes, soon you may even levitate over that castle wall.
Acknowledging the power of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ – Just in case you opt for a mantra, why not pick a powerful one. This 6 syllable Sanskrit mantra is popular beyond the Buddhist tradition as a positivity manifesting mantra but it does have deep and significant meaning. While any repeated phrasing can act as a mantra device – to facilitate a point of focus, some are prayerful. Know you are on sacred ground.
Om-ma-ni-pad-me-hum speaks volumes; each syllable here invokes a potent pledge or intent to oppose the causes/forces of suffering. Om is the universal “vibration” that breaks attachments to ego and opens the mind-body-spirit of the chanter to a more generous and receiving state of being. Ma (mah) dissolves attachment to jealousy and institutes ethical awareness. Ni (nee) eradicates attachment to desire and develops patience. Pad (pahd) removes attachment to prejudice and activates perseverance. Me (meh) eliminates attachment to possessiveness and forges concentration/awareness. Hum (hum) extinguishes attachment to hatred and fear and fosters wisdom and understanding.
Train for war – Any true Irish person will tell you that Ireland was never conquered, but yes the attempt was made one castle at a time and we won Ireland back one castle at a time too. That’s the fighting spirit. That’s a good defiant spirit. Invoke that.
So, the proverbial wisdom here reminds us that if we are in the gloom, we can reclaim the light, one day at time, one moment to the next moment, one breath after another. If we are in despair or panic, we can get control back one breath, one thought, one action at time. Each victory is one on the road to the next. One castle follows another. These structures can fall one at a time too.
When you are overthrowing the oppressor it is good to have some strength in numbers, it is good to not be always alone in the charge. Investigate a local CBT service or other counselling choice, many are on line in this time of social isolation. Many are at the end of a phone call.
When the lock-down ends it would be good to join a meditation class or find out about mindfulness mornings/evenings in your local community centre. Meantime many are online. Get the right support, it doesn’t have to be a drill sergeant, it can be a sensei. That one to one or group experience is invaluable as we imprint more learning when it is a social or communal experience.
Doing in a group is reinforcing of the positivity, power and rightness of the actions. By all means take up a martial arts or a fitness class – the exercise and the prosocial aspect will both do you the power of good.
Alone or eventually back in groups, this is getting fit for the fight. You are not going to karate kick depression in the guts – well maybe in visualisations, but this is accruing more life experiences, more life skills, more living energy to help you be first up the ladder and over the turret. To get your crown back.
You can do it through vegan cake baking, you can do it through hot yoga, you can do it through whatever motivates and gets you impassioned. No experience is ever wasted.