When spirits take flight…

The paths to peace take many forms and, sometimes, meditation, contemplation, silent reflection or prayer are not actually the key ingredients that nourish us whilst we meander along our own particular way. Sometimes a dream or a passion burns so fiercely inside us that the only way to find inner peace is to give that fledgling dream wings and the opportunity to see if it will fly.

When I watch others do this I see the power that such action can have to create love, in all its many forms, and I feel humbled by the endless forms in which Love manifests itself throughout this material world.

More and more often these days I find that the true Bringers of Light in my life, and the ones that seem to influence me most, are ordinary people leading the way by their example (torch bearers if you like) who teach me, through their actions, just as much as any ancient or spiritual text might do.

Two young men who’ve recently taught me something very valuable in this respect are people that I’ve known for the whole of their lives, since birth in fact, because they’re my nephews, Owen and Jamie McNally. And my belief in the value of their story is so strong that I think it’s worth retelling here.

In 2018 Jamie and his wife Heather moved to a house in the Lancashire countryside and discovered that it was located on the site of the former Hoyle Bottom Cotton Mill with its own natural water source called Tinker Brook. The embryonic dream of a business venture began to form and, in discussion with older brother Owen who was working at the time in Spain, the idea of starting their own distillery emerged and grew into a tangible and measurable goal.

With a beautiful, metaphoric synchronicity, which divine Providence seems to have a way of weaving into all of our lives, Heather also discovered at the same time that she was pregnant. And I watched as the two dreamed-for and longed-for creations grew into maturity and eventual birth, almost side by side.

Potential family funders for the business venture were sought and secured, research and development into the mystical art of distilling took place, and a branding profile was created utilising the heritage of Hoyle Bottom Mill and Owen’s professional skills in graphic design.

At the end of 2018 Heather and Jamie’s son Mylo was born and, at the beginning of 2019, Hoyle Bottom Spirits and its signature product, Tinker brook Gin, were launched.

Team Tinker Brook: the face of inspiration, dedication, common purpose and love.

Almost immediately the young men’s mettle was tested when, the day after launch, their pre-contracted supplier of limited-edition ceramic bottles informed them that there would be a problem with supply. The prospect of defaulting on their delivery commitments to customers, and of disappointing all those who had placed faith in their new business and product, loomed large.

But Jamie and Owen are young men who believe in values. They believe, as does Heather (and no doubt, one day, Mylo will too), that honouring your word, in whatever way you’re able to, and finding creative solutions when obstacles occur, are important character traits required to live happy and fulfilling lives.

So they downed a metaphorical (and I suspect a literal) stiff drink, put any knock to their public ego pride to one side, and set to work on salvaging the situation. They wrote to all their pre-order clients explaining the dilemma, apologised profusely, and offered a refund to those for whom the ‘limited-edition ceramic bottles’ had been a determining purchase choice. They provided free postage & packing on initial orders, in way of compensation, and discounts on future orders to show the strength of their goodwill. They reasoned that any financial loss from this unfortunate, last-minute development should be viewed as a necessary investment in potential future business and that this set back gave them the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their genuine commitment to customer care. They then went into full glass-bottle production and Tinker Brook Gin was born.

Since then it’s been a lot of hard work: distilling, bottling, marketing, promoting, planning, parenting, and selling. Owen, after numerous ‘flying visits’ to provide all the practical help he could whilst still holding down a full-time job in Spain, has now returned to the UK and joined the business full time. The company’s product range has expanded, to include liqueurs and speciality gins. The number of commercial clients has grown steadily and a new, larger ‘still’ has been invested in and installed to cope with increased levels of production and sales.

It’s still a fledgling business, testing its wingspan, and learning best how to fly. But, as an onlooker, what I see clearly is the abundance of commitment and enthusiasm that its young founders invest in its potential, in pursuit of their shared vision and dream. I see the continuing encouragement, love and support of their close family members, providing additional funding when needed and promotional help and advice, when it’s sought. And these are all beautiful things to behold. It’s a dream that is steadily growing, lifted by love and powered by courage, passion and belief.

What I’ve learned yet again, by watching Owen, Jamie and Heather, is that the most effective form of teaching is simply to live by example and that the path to finding inner peace takes many different forms. It sometimes takes a large measure of bravery and tenacity to pursue our individual dreams but, if we just make the effort to open our hearts and to look around, we’ll see that we’re actually surrounded by a legion of courageous torch bearers who, through their own inspiring examples, are showing us all the way.

And I, for one, raise a glass to them all.

“Here’s to friends and family who know us well, but love us just the same”.

– Anonymous toast

If you’re interested in learning more about their story, or the product range that Hoyle Bottom Spirits produce, their website can be found at: www.hoylebottomspirits.co.uk

Blessed be the Navel-Gazers…

For as long as I can remember, whenever I’ve tried to find an answer to the question ‘What is my purpose?’ or ‘What is my destiny?’ the infuriatingly simple and equally mystifying answer that invariably popped up was “You’re here for people like you”. Over the years I’ve tried decoding that to mean “Listening to and loving people like me”; “Writing a book for people like me”; or, even more tangibly, “Creating a hostel on the Camino for people like me”, but none of them felt like ‘my real purpose’, more like something I would enjoy doing and which would, coincidentally, also be of service to others.

So I’ve tried asking myself, more simply, what ‘people like me’ actually means and I’ve taken detours down roads of belief that also failed to arrive at the answer. I’ve told myself “We’re all the same at heart (which is true), so that means I’m here for ‘everyone’ (which is false)”. Because we all know that “You cannot be all things to all men” and neither, I believe, are we supposed to be. Following that path just leads ultimately to exhaustion, disappointment, compassion fatigue and loss of respect for others and for ourselves.

Then last week, completely unknowingly, someone answered my question for me. In describing what I would call ‘inner reflection’ or ‘contemplation’ they used the term ‘navel-gazing’ and that’s when the penny finally dropped: “I’m here for ‘the would-be Navel-Gazers’”. And these are the people that I write for and talk to in my Blog posts, although anyone with an open heart and mind is welcome here.

I use the name would-be Navel-Gazers ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and ironically but also deliberately, because it captures beautifully the essence of what I believe. Generally, it’s not a name that’s used positively to describe ourselves or others. It implies that we’re self-absorbed, detached from reality and too preoccupied with our inner feelings, thoughts or problems. It’s not a name that contains a lot of love or genuine desire for connection, understanding or compassion, when applied to ourselves or to others. It’s a ‘closing down’ rather than an ‘opening up’ phrase.

But I write for anyone who’s open to the idea and value of contemplation, anyone who wishes to explore the part they play in co-creating their experiences and their relationships, anyone who believes in the power of Divine Love and Divine Purpose. In short, anyone who believes, as I do, that we still have a lot more to learn. Because the more open we are to exploring our automatic reactions to similar people and situations the more we come to recognise the limitations in our capacity for experiencing, recreating and sharing Divine Love.

It’s an undeniable truth that we’re all connected, as members of this diverse and beautiful species called ‘the Human Race’, but we’re also distinct and different individuals for a specific reason…and I believe it’s a Divine reason. If we ‘close ourselves down’ or try to bend ourselves or others into a shape that conforms to a set idea of how we should be, we dishonour our own selves greatly and we dishonour the individual seed of the Divine that we all carry within us. It’s a seed which has a personal message and purpose for each one of us, I believe, and for the people that we come into contact with throughout the course of our lives. But we have to be prepared to open our hearts and our minds wide enough to give it space and to let it grow.

We can look to others to tell us what our identity, purpose, or way of being should be, and then try to build our lives and personalities around the outside messages that we receive, or we can give ourselves permission to cultivate more inward reflection and discover the more open, compassionate and natural person we were born to be. In that way we stop needing to expend so much mental and emotional energy on meeting other people’s expectations and, instead, use what feels intuitively right to us in our (more open) heart.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

There’s an interesting YouTube video that explores the balance we need to find and maintain within our lives between attachment (maintaining loving relationships with others) and authenticity (being true to ourselves) in order to grow into healthy, happy and self-respecting individual adults. It describes how so many of us largely lose our intuitive connection with our natural selves during childhood, in an effort to retain the love of those people we have close relationships with. And it explains how we unconsciously carry this ‘altered way of being’ into our adult lives.

I believe that a healthy dose of inner reflection, not about the past but about what is happening to us here & now and the automatic ways that we react to similar situations, helps us to make what is unconscious, and often unhelpful to us and others, more conscious. That way we become freer to make informed choices about ‘how to be’ as adults on a day-to-day basis, firstly in relationship with ourselves and, then subsequently, with those around us.

I’ve walked thousands of miles over the last 4 years and I’ve met hundreds of people from countries all over the world. I’ve had deep, meaningful and sometimes tear and love-filled conversations with complete strangers who were on pilgrimages of ‘reconnecting with themselves and with God ’. Many of them came to realise the inner hole that was left when they tried to be something that they believed others wanted them to be, instead of connecting with the inner source of Divine love that allows them to openly and unapologetically just be who they are. Taking time for inward reflection enabled them to do this.

The term ‘navel-gazing’ appealed to me for another reason too, because of its connection to the process of birth and the moment when we’re physically ‘cut free’ from our mothers’ bodies, becoming individual human beings in our own right. To look at our navels is to remind ourselves of a time when we needed gentle handling, valuing, love and protection, whether we received those things or not. We never lose the need for these things but, as fully-grown and independent adults, we’re now responsible for recognising that fact and for providing them for ourselves.

Cultivating gentleness and understanding towards ourselves, however we choose to do this, is a sign of self-nurturing, growing inner maturity, self-acceptance and strength.

What experience has taught me is ‘the more I live my life as the person my heart tells me to be, rather than as others might like me to be, the more I experience deep and meaningful connection with others’. I’ve learned that ‘just being myself’ acts as its own service to those I am meant to help because it somehow enables them to relax their habitual defences, to let down their guard and to share the most tender and vulnerable parts of themselves. This is an amazing expression of trust when it happens and it answers any doubts I have about ‘purpose’ or ‘destiny’ when it occurs. My purpose is simply ‘to whole-heartedly be myself’ and every day I learn new ways of doing that whilst also trying, through example, to encourage others to do the same.

I’m here to sing my individual song of Divine praise, and the words to my song are;

“Recognise absence of Love, in yourself and others, when you see and feel it. Be honest about it and don’t try to cover it up with distractions, addictions, rhetoric or denial. Find the seed of Divine Love within yourself that lies deep within your heart, underneath your fear and pain, and take your strength and validation from this…only this…because this is where God resides within you. Remove all the walls of anger, fear or judgement that you’ve built around that seed, and then watch as it grows into what it was born to be; a beautiful, fruit-bearing manifestation of faith, hope and love.

And when that fruit eventually breaks down into seed again, as it inevitably will, spread that seed as widely as you are able to, with faith that some of it will fall on fertile ground.”

So blessed be the navel-gazer in all of us, no matter how tiny he or she may be. Because that’s where, I believe, the seed of self-acceptance, true compassion and Divine Love has been planted and is waiting to grow…

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

– Rumi