The teachers I had in my school years were very different to the teachers I ended up finding later in life.
Thursday 1st July 2021
I don’t look back on my time in school with many fond memories. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one. Through the ages of 5 - 18 years old, I spent my days in soul-less, strict, uniformed, all-girls catholic institutions that used manipulation and shame to make students "behave". Teachers were passion-less and forced a method of teaching - "sit there and listen to me tell you things you need to know for a test"- that I did not do well with, leading me to believe I lacked intelligence and creativity.
There were so many instances in school that made me feel not good enough. Even in my first year of college, aged 18, I was taunted by a lecturer who knew I found the module difficult (chemistry) and on a number of occasions in front of the class he made fun of me when I actually understood the coursework, acting sarcastic and surprised when I raised my hand and got a question right. This made me feel even more resistance, being annoyed at not only being ashamed when I didn’t understand, but being made fun of by a teacher when I did understand. Who would want to learn in an environment like that?
"But after a few years of being free of institutionalisation, I began to understand what a real teacher was."
My negative experience of school teachers made me want to get out of that learning dynamic as fast as I could and never return. I had never respected teachers or believed they had wisdom to pass down to me. I never saw them as elders and I didn’t feel like I was learning anything useful that would help me navigate life. Of course I now recognize my privilege to have been able to go to a public school and college in the first place, I was blessed in many ways, but during the years of my youth I did not consider this, and it didn’t feel like the privileged opportunity it was, because it was tainted with threats, abuse of power, favouritism and an unenthusiastic way of teaching and learning. But after a few years of being free of institutionalisation, I began to understand what a real teacher was.
I didn’t expect to find my first teacher when I did. During my first trip to India, I joined a friend who was acting as a model for a massage therapy training course demonstration on the beach one afternoon. "I’m so excited to meet this guy," my friend said, "I have heard a lot about him for years and have had sessions from his students, but never from him. The technique he teaches is magic!". My friend came away having felt the touch of the teacher and was in complete amazement. Partially curious and partially skeptical, I asked him if I could be the model for the following demonstration, and after experiencing the technique myself -the instant opening, the swirl of emotions, the profound clarity and grounding- I knew I had found an important teacher. Days later I became a student of Rasal Antar, an Osho sannyasin. Rasal was unapologetically himself in every moment. At times he would act like a bright eyed child, dancing, playing and rejoicing, and other times he would show up to class and say, for example, "I’m feeling low today, I desire being held myself and not always doing the holding all the time", in a fiercely vulnerable and honest way. He wore no masks and did not need to be rescued, he could own his feelings. His undeniable dedication and joy in what he did was the most inspiring thing I had ever seen. He taught with patience, he was aware of the wisdom he was passing on and he cared about the students. He would dance with us in the morning, hold space for intense processes his students went through daily and enthusiastically teach us the profound power of deep touch, loving presence and emotional release.
"I believe this reading gave me the openness and understanding to heal my past wounds of being in painful dynamics with teachers and institutions, and come to respect the fact that I, of course, still had lots to learn."
After completing my first certification in BioDynamic Bodywork Therapy with Rasal, he took the class out for a celebratory meal. After dinner, Rasal gave some of us tarot readings from his Osho deck. My reading brought up everything I had been subconsciously working through since I began learning from Rasal. The main essence of my reading was working with "The Master" theme. Rasal said "You may be someone who has had bad experiences in the past with teachers and people of power, or maybe you feel like 'you know it all' and don’t need teachers any more, but there is nothing wrong with having a Master. This is not an all-ruling, dominant and controlling master we may initially think of. This is someone with great mastery that has deep wisdom to share. Allow the ego to let go of the idea that you need to be your own Master and open up to receive the great teachings that are available to be passed down from others." I believe this reading gave me the openness and understanding to heal my past wounds of being in painful dynamics with teachers and institutions, and come to respect the fact that I, of course, still had lots to learn. I was then opened to all the teachings that were to come and over the following years I completed two more training courses with Rasal.
My next teacher came into my life exactly one year after my first meeting with Rasal. I had been familiar with the Irish Center for Shamanic Studies in Dunderry Park for many years, and had been naturally drawn to my Celtic heritage and shamanism in general for a long time. I had experienced the power of shamanic journeying previously, but it had not yet felt like the right time to begin my own training. While attending a Sacred Geometry retreat in Dunderry Park, I saw the pamphlet for the Shamanic Transpersonal Psychotherapy training, which was starting in 3 weeks from that point in time, and my intuition said "it is time". I signed up to the course that day, but little did I know I was heading towards the most profoundly challenging time in my life. Within a matter of days, my best friend tragically died in an accident and my parents announced their divorce. In a blink of an eye, I had gone from feeling at a peak in my life, with so many opportunities and positive things happening, to being overcome by trauma, grief and earth shattering change. It’s difficult to describe the internal places we go when such things occur, but a part of me left at that time. The time for the training course came around, and despite me feeling like I was 10 feet under water and having not even attended the funeral of my friend yet, something deep within me told me to go to the training. While that time in my life is generally blurry due to what I was going through, I know the teachings and healings I received in that training allowed me to understand that what I was experiencing as "soul loss" and I was given the tools to dig deep within myself to allow healing to begin to take place.
Since then, under the guidance of my humble and wise shamanic teacher Martin Duffy, I have spent years working on empowering myself with a healing modality that has given me the chance not only to interact with profound change and spiritual growth in a different way, but also to heal my inner child and the wounds that my previous school experiences gave me in relation to my self expression, self worth and creativity.
Out of what felt like pure luck, but I know also came from my dedication and hard work, I had the chance to learn under two of my heroes in the psychedelic world, Annie & Micheal Mithoefer in 2019. This wasn’t only about studying psychedelic assisted psychotherapy for PTSD from two pioneers of the space, it was also about travelling to Israel -a country I had always wanted to go to- and be a part of a group who had so much more experience than me in relation to trauma therapy. I learned a lot. The topic of PTSD was a strong one amongst the group of students, most of whom were from a war torn country and had served in the army for at least 2 years in their late teens or early twenties. From personal experience I had been completely aware of the potential benefits psychedelics could have for a wide range of people, but to move deeper into complex trauma therapy and to learn how experiences such as fighting in war zones and being a victim of childhood sexual abuse impact the body, mind and spirit was a huge eye opener for me. I was humbled by what I learned and more inspired than ever to understand the deeper role that psychedelics can play in human complex healing journeys.
It was a wonderful day when Mari Kennedy, Celtic Wheel practitioner and teacher graciously entered my life. She so kindly gifted me a one year long "Celtic Wheel: Radical Wisdom for Contemporary Women" course and I was completely over the moon. While I had been acknowledging the Celtic festivals and weaving ritual and nature connection into my life and work in many ways before that point, journeying with her through an entire cycle of the year brought many threads of my interests together and allowed me to connect to cyclical wisdom, herbalism, ancient traditions, rituals and women's empowerment in a holistic way. She is a huge inspiration to me and I am forever grateful to have had her wise guidance be a part of my learning journey.
When my most recent teacher, Samsara Tanner, came into my life, it felt like Life was ensuring I didn’t miss out on the opportunity! For some time before I met her, I had been feeling a pull towards working with women in a whole new way: as a birth doula. A birth doula assists women through pregnancy, birth and postpartum and supports them physically, emotionally and spiritually throughout the whole process. While living in Somerset I had a pregnant neighbour, so pregnancy was a theme at the time. I had casually looked up some local doula training courses and while one had stuck in my mind, I had it bookmarked for a long time and had forgotten about it for the most part. As the time drew closer for my neighbour to give birth, she was having regular visits from her doula, who I hadn’t met yet but had seen her car parked out front many times. My neighbour absolutely loved her doula and even told me she was an Osho sannyasin, the same as Rasal, my bodywork teacher. For whatever reason, I had not asked her name. "I must ask her if she knows anyone or can she recommend any courses before I book this one I’m looking at online" I thought to myself. Before I knew it, my neighbour was in labour and I hadn’t had a chance to meet the doula or ask for advice. On the day of Luna’s birth, her grandmother came in to tell me the news that she had been born. She said "They are all doing great, Samsara is in there with the family taking care of them." "Samsara!" I exclaimed. "That’s the name of the doula teacher I found online!" and in that moment, I realised the website I had been looking at was in fact the woman whose car had been in my driveway the previous weeks, right there under my nose. At that moment I knew who my new doula teacher was and I felt a new chapter in my life beginning.
Samsara is a radical woman in so many ways and my journey into the birth world with her as my mentor gave me life experience that I know I will benefit personally from for the rest of my life. She also passed down her knowledge of ways of holding transformative space for women as they go through the initiation of motherhood that I look forward to offering to others. I had the incredible honour of working with a mother and her newborn twins under Samsaras guidance and grace, which was the most beautiful learning experience.
"We are never too old, we never "know it all" and we never know where such a relationship will take us"
What a gift to come across these elders throughout life, to absorb their knowledge and wisdom, to have role models of people who are passionate about their work, who love it with all their heart and who enjoy teaching others in an empowering way. The lesson here is this: Be open to those who pass through your life to guide you through personally transformative experiences. We are never too old, we never "know it all" and we never know where such a relationship will take us. I believe to be a continuous student in life is a beautiful way to be.
I have had many other teachers in my life. All of the workshops and bite-size courses I have done over the years have undoubtedly led me to where I am today. More "unofficial" teachers include my cherished team members at Alalaho who I have learned so much from in relation to integrity, honesty, leadership, commitment, acceptance and love. All of the clients I have worked with over the years have taught me ineffable compassion, humility, understanding and the power of humans being there for other humans.
Links to teachers mentioned