The Winter of Listening

Today is my friend’s birthday. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years and this reading of The Winter of Listening by David Whyte is for them. 

Breithlá shona duit, mo chara


Recently, I’ve been going to Quaker meetings.

Recently, I’ve been going to Quaker meetings.


At a meeting, attendees sit in silence on chairs. The Galway meeting is small and the chairs are arranged in a circle around a table. On the table is usually a candle, a bible, some books on Quakerism and sometimes a bunch of flowers. The silence is immense. It is a very full silence.  I find it holds me when I’m there. Sometimes members speak. I listen to their words and usually I hear something I wouldn’t have heard or thought before. The meeting lasts for an hour and at the end of the hour, everyone stands up and shakes hands. Then we sit and news is shared.

I have been to a few meetings in Galway and I have also been to a meeting in Dublin a couple of times.  The tradition is rooted in Christianity. That’s no longer an issue for me however I have wondered if it would be an issue for the other people there. I was chatting on Facebook with a gay druid friend and he asked me if Quakers were open to animist, polytheist LGBT people. I don’t know.  I enjoy animism and polytheism as much as the next man but I don’t know what Quakers would say. But then again, does it matter? I have a sense of something very strong and open in the tradition.

Last year I gave my contact details to the man who facilitates the Quaker meetings in Galway. “I don’t identify as Quaker”, I said “is that okay?”. It seems to be so far. At the last meeting I asked if I could bring a book home to read.

I don’t know where this journey is taking me. I don’t know if this is something I want to commit to or join up.  What I do know is I’m going to be at a meeting on Sunday. And again the following week. The experience is too special to miss.


Galway Quakers

Quakers in Ireland


I joined Toastmasters in November 2011. I was living in Kinsale and I joined the local club there. It’s a small club and it was a wonderful introduction for me.  I had been familiar with Toastmasters for years. My Dad has been involved for a decade or so and I had been to meetings in Mallow to see him. I had had a sense for a long time that I would eventually join up.  I was incredibly impressed when I saw my Dad give the father of the bride speech at my sister’s wedding. It was perfect. I wanted that level of confidence.

I stayed with the Kinsale club from November 2011 until April 2012. At that point my partner and I went away travelling for the next six months.  Before I left, however, I took part in an evaluation contest. I stood and spoke before a hundred or so people. I never would have thought that possible. Despite the real anxiety of that day, I’ve been blessed by the memory. I did that.

I am now living in Galway and I joined the club here in November. I’m loving it. I love that I’m learning how to shine in ways I never thought I could.

Toastmasters works on a membership and ongoing learning basis. When you join you get two manuals to work through. One is on communication and giving speeches. The other is on leadership. I gave my stage 7 speech this week.

Aside from gaining confidence in myself and continually learning how to construct and give a speech, I have learned a lot more in Toastmasters.

I’ve learned that I have something to say.  This was a big one for me.  It was actually through being in Toastmasters that I started this blog. I found a new creativity in ideas and the sharing of them.

I have learned to appreciate the value of feedback. Every part of a Toastmasters meeting is evaluated and feedback given to the person performing the role or giving the speech. Rather than being intimidating, I find it verToastmastersLogoColory validating to hear someone show me that they’ve heard me.

Finally, a thought that’s been with me for a few weeks. I had a perception of Toastmasters, before I joined, that it would be a place of talking and showing off. I was very wrong. Apart from during the coffee break, there’s only ever one person speaking. Everyone else is present and listening. I love that silence.

I’m really looking forward to the places my Toastmasters journey will take me over the coming months and years. I’m excited about a meeting before I go and buzzed about it afterwards.


Over the coming week, I’m going to post on topics I have explored recently in my speeches.

If you’d like to explore more, click through these links.


Toastmasters International

Galway Toastmasters Club

Kinsale and District Toastmasters