Shadows Everywhere

Today’s task asks me to describe my shadows. 

It’s funny how it can seem like I’ve dealt with my stuff and then someone can say something or something can happen and I’m back in an old familiar mental place I thought I’d left behind.  For example,  last night when a colleague tried to describe me when saying why he’d miss me and he ran out of adjectives after “nice” and “quiet”. A part of me became a teenager again, feeling boring and inadequate. But just for a moment, and just a part. Quiet is something I have owned and love now but  I have so many other traits, patterns, and habits that I wish I could leave behind. 
In 5Rhythms practice I learn to move exactly with what is, exactly how I’m feeling now. The way my body feels, the way my limbs move. There’s no point in being embarrassed or ashamed. This is now, this is what’s here. I am here and I am enough.  Whatever I do or don’t do here, is enough.  

I experience the same in my Toastmasters journey. I learn through doing. I stand and speak. Sometimes what I said makes sense. Sometimes I rehearsed enough, but usually there’s an awkward performance, some evidence of growth, and plenty of material for feedback. It’s not comfortable. It’s enjoyable, but when I’m growing and developing, it’s not comfortable. 

I spent a year in therapy. None of it was comfortable. I shone light on my behaviour and not all of it was good and responsible. I sat with my self doubts and fears, and learned tools and skills to move forward in life. But I also learned more about the parts of me that I never wanted to sit and be with. They became familiar.  

My shadows are the parts of myself I turn from. The bits I don’t want to know about. It’s not all shame and regret. There’s some really useful treasure there in the dark recesses. Things I didn’t know would be valuable to me one day. 

I don’t intend to list my wounds and inadequancies. I intend on holding myself safely on this journey. I move with curiousity. This is a journey of gentle discovery, not of fixing myself. I move with my psyche exactly as it is. I wonder what happens when I journal, do morning pages, set myself a 10 day writing challenge, and so on.  

I have learned in this life, through all my journeys, that I am enough, and that I might not always feel it. That I have a right to be here just as I am, and that this journey will continue for only as long as it does. 

This post is day seven of my personal responses to ‘Honouring the Darkness’, a ten day reflective period leading up to the winter solstice, facilitated by daily emails from Janelle Hardy at


Doing Something Different

Tonight at Toastmasters, I did something that only a year ago would have been inconceivable for me: I stood on a chair, reading a passage from Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking, whilst wearing a dress and holding some fake flowers. I did that. And I enjoyed it.

For me, Toastmasters is about regularly getting out of my comfort zone, enjoying it, and getting better at it. I am working through Interpretive Reading, one of the advanced manuals in Toastmasters. The goal of this speech was to deliver a monodrama, but in character. It also asked that there be no eye contact with the audience.

I am very pleased with my evaluation. My evaluator tonight is a highly experienced Toastmaster and her insight is always very valuable. She praised the courage needed to do something very different like this, and then talked about how she would have enjoyed more emotional expression and freedom early on in the speech. And she noticed how I became much more expressive once I had put on the dress and stood on the chair.  It was then I got “in character”.  This is new territory for me but also something I’ve been noticing for a while. When leading ceremony, I consciously get “in role”, and that usually involves wearing special clothing or ‘being the one waving the wand about’. At Toastmasters, when I am acting as club President, I step into the role when I am wearing a suit and I put the chain of office on my shoulders.

I did something way out of my comfort zone. I’m proud of that. In all aspects of my life, I’m going to keep stepping out, keep seeking feedback, keep getting better, and keep enjoying the journey.


Sometimes a Wild God

For my Toastmasters speech tonight, I read a poem. I am working through the Interpretive Reading manual. This was Project 2: Interpreting Poetry.

The poem I read was Sometimes a Wild God by Tom Hirons.

Toastmasters is all about getting experience, inviting feedback, and improving.  The feedback I received for this speech was that I could have given a better introduction, explaining the type of poem and the type of imagery used. To the listener not used to hearing this type of language, it can be a lot to take in at once.

I’m pleased with the delivery. Taking off my shoes and unbuttoning my shirt was my attempt to be a little less ‘civilised’ and a little more ‘wild’.

Toastmasters as a Safe Space

Day 84 of #100Daychallenge


I’ve been thinking today about my opening presidential speech at the next Toastmasters meeting. I want to talk about safe space. We had guests at a previous meeting and I spoke to them afterwards about the similarity between a Toastmasters meeting and a peer support group for LGBT people. I want to talk about that at the next meeting, before the meeting to set the tone.

This is a safe space. We come here to support each other. We come here to see and hear each other, to witness each other. Everyone is welcome here, no matter what your religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender idenity, class, temperament, mother tongue, or ability. Everyone is welcome here.

We have some unspoken rules about how that safe space works. Sometimes it is important to make those rules explicit.

  • When someone is talking, no one interupts. Never interrupt the speaker.
  • Give the speaker and the meeting your full attention. Turn off your phone. Don’t have private conversations down the back.
  • Never challenge the speaker on their opinion. It is theirs. Everything we do, we do to create an environment where people feel valued for who they are, where they feel safe enough to stand and talk.
  • Always, always, always applaud when someone has spoken. It took courage.
  • Be mindful of your jokes. Joking about violence, or using hatespeech of any sort makes everyone uncomfortable.
  • If you have construcive feedback to give to a speaker, offer it privately. And accept their no if they do not want to hear it.
  • Be yourself. We want to get to know you. Your differences make you interesting. Share your interests and your experience with us when you talk. The more of yourself you share, the more open you become, the better the experience will be for everyone involved. You enable everyone else to be themselves. I name my gayness frequently. I want people to know that being LGBT is very welcome, and talking about your life experiences, whatever they are is welcome.

Remember, our mission as a club is:

We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.

Sometimes, it isn’t ready

Two weeks ago I was due to give a scheduled speech at my local Toastmasters club. Despite knowing for several weeks that I was scheduled to speak that night, I wasn’t ready.

Over the last year I have gotten more and more comfortable with speaking. For the first few speeches I gave with Toastmasters, my goal was simply to get it done. Simply standing in front of an audience and speaking without dying was success. Then speaking with some coherence was a success.  For my most recent speech, I thought I could wing it. I procrastinated and the days available quickly turned into mere hours. I still lied to myself thinking ‘I can do this’. As soon as I sat to write it I realised I couldn’t do it.

Continue reading “Sometimes, it isn’t ready”

Taliesin at Toastmasters

Last night I gave a speech at Toastmasters.

I had completed the first set of ten speeches – the Competent Communicator Manual- in September.  I then ordered two new manuals from the advanced series: Speaking to Inform, and Storytelling.  I gave a speech in December from the Speaking to Inform manual (on the Tarot) and I signed immediately up for another.  The speech I gave last night was the first speech project from the Storytelling manual.

The Project title was The Folk Tale and the objectives of the project were:

  1. To tell a folk tale that is entertaining and enjoyable for a specific age group.
  2. To use vivid imagery and voice to enhance the tale.

Time: seven to nine minutes

I was excited at the prospect of giving this talk. I have always loved myth and legend and whenever I have seen storytellers talk I have been wowed by their skill. I would have liked have told stories before now but I always felt that the animation of a storyteller was something I didn’t have.

I asked a few friends for suggestions online and in the end I decided on a story that I know well from my membership of OBOD: the story of Taliesin and Ceridwen.

I asked a friend to record me speak:


Toastmasters is about several things for me: challenging myself, enjoying the experience, the camaraderie and the banter, and getting feedback and improving all the time.

I had some lovely positive feedback about my performance last night, and I enjoyed receiving it. For me however, the constructive feedback is the most useful.

One member suggested that I could have tied up the loose ends with the characters. What happened to Ceridwen and Affagdu? She was right, that was never answered.

Gary, who gave my evaluation, suggested that I could use some sort of prop at the end to add to the dramatic tension of finding the baby.

The main feedback I give myself though is to read the instructions! The time of the speech was meant to be 7-9 minutes. Most of the speeches so far, and the last one I did were 5-7minutes. I presumed this was to be the same. I prepared and delivered a speech that took less than 7 minutes. And to do that preparation I rehearsed my talk and I pared the story down until it fitted into that time. Lesson learned.

I am also really glad that I had a friend record the speech. It has been really useful to be able to watch myself back. I used to work in call centres and the first few times I heard my own voice on calls, it was cringe-inducing. However, you get used to it. And this is the same. This is what I look like and this is what I sound like. Get over it.

If you’re planning on delivering a story as part of a Toastmasters project, my advice is this:

  • Read the instructions carefully
  • Choose a story you know well
  • Pare it down to the essentials
  • Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse
  • Enjoy the performance
  • Look for all the feedback you can get
  • Book your next speech as soon as you can

Further Reading

Krish Hughes reading the story of Ceridwen, Gwion Bach and Taliesin from the Peniarth Manuscript:

In English and in Welsh

What is the Tarot?

“Human memory creates traditions just as cellular memory creates the new leaves on trees and the colour of our eyes. Imagine a tradition of almost eighty pictures, fertile with symbolism, call to you from a world just beyond the everyday – reminding you of who you are, and of who you might become. This is the Tarot.” – Philip Carr-Gomm. The DruidCraft Tarot.


I bought my first deck of Tarot cards from Waterstones in Cork when I was seventeen. I remember spending hours on my bedroom floor listening to Skunk Anansi pouring over the images, their relationships, the stories of each card and the story of the deck as a whole.

In a deck of ordinary playing cards, there are 4 suits, 10 numbered cards per suit and 3 face cards, plus 2 jokers.  In Tarot, there are 4 suits, 10 numbered cards per suit but 4 face cards (court cards). We call this part of the deck the ‘minor arcana’ or the small mysteries. In addition, there is a second part we call the ‘major arcana’.  The major arcana is a sequence of 22 cards starting from 0 to 21.  Many of you will be familiar with the names of some of the cards from the Major Arcana, especially the darker cards so often used when fortune tellers are shown on tv dramas. 

The four suits in Tarot are traditionally and usually titled Cups, Swords, Pentacles and Wands. There are variations.  The face cards are known as the King, Queen, Knight and Page/Princess (depending on the tradition).

ImageThe tarot decks we use today come primarily from the occult societies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in particular the Order of the Golden Dawn which had several well known Anglo-Irish members such as WB Yeats and AE.  The order encouraged its members to do research and create their own decks. The most famous of these is the Rider-Waite Tarot.  The imagery and meanings of the cards come from Astrology, Numerology, Psychology and Qabalah. The tarot is a vast referencing system. Everyone creator of a deck as used the basic structure to illustrate their own understanding of the universe. In a sense it is little more than an alphabet and the systems of the west have written their own mythology with it.

The tarot can be used for a variety of purposes:


  • It is a system to hold and transmit wisdom.
  • It is a tool for meditation and reflection.
  • It is a tool for divination.
  • It is a source of inspiration.

There are thousands and thousands of tarot decks in existence. The creators of each deck have used the basic structure and meaning and illustrated it with their own mythology.  This is a wonderful thing and the wealth of art is astounding.  The stories told in the tarot are universal (connection, wealth, loss, grief, training) and it is possible to illustrate it with any world view.  The tarot of the Golden Dawn and other mystery traditions was used to encode wisdom. And a student of that tradition would be able to meditate on a card or sequence of cards and understand every symbol used on it.   The creation of a deck is a very intentional thing and in a good deck everything means something.

If you go to any bookstore you can find a calendar with a thought for each day. Many people use tarot in the same way by drawing a card each day and thinking about the wisdom or the teaching it gives. Most decks will come with a book describing the lesson for each card or the suggestions.

The most commonly known use of Tarot is for divination.  I asked on Facebook this week how people would describe Tarot to those who don’t use it.  One friend came back with a wonderful answer. Using tarot for divination is like looking in a mirror.

To use the cards for divination you first have to be aware of an area of your life that isn’t working as well as you’d like. The tarot simply allows you a chance to think deeply about what’s happening. In essence, it doesn’t matter what cards come back to you.  There will always be a something in it that gives you a starting point to think and to invite greater wisdom into your life.  If you’re a religious or spiritual person, a reading is a consultation with the divine and an act of prayer.


Finally, and I think most importantly for creative people, tarot is a source of inspiration.  If you are ever stuck for a topic or an idea, draw a card and think about what it relates to. There will be several questions in each. What are do you need to let go of. Who is a source of teaching for you.
The tarot holds many deep truths, but they can simply provide the backdrop of your work with it.  You can go as deep or as wonderfully shallowly with it as you wish.  It may be an encyclopedia of the human condition but just because you reference a book on garden plants, you don’t need to become a botanist.

Use it to suit your needs.

Do you use tarot? If so, how?

The photographs of the cards are from my own decks. They are the Druidcraft tarot and the Thoth deck.