Nuggets From Noirin Ni Riain & Sons's Call

Posted by Pavi Mehta on May 9, 2020
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Poetry, prayer, sacred songs, and story-telling with kindred strangers were all part of last week's enchanted Awakin Call with Noirin Ni Riain & Sons.

The gifted Irish trio transported us into a circle that embraced ritual, reclaimed ancient roots and reconnected us to the delicate whisper of our own hearts.

"People ask us 'How in the name of God, do you do it, work with family, that is?'" says Owen, "And the answer is-- 'With extraordinary lashings of forgiveness!' If you have ever played music with your family, its a cacophonous mess." Mícheál chimes in: “The concerto of family relations!" Nóirín adds with a twinkle, “Insanity is hereditary-- you get it from your children.” Listening to this family in conversation is like being invited to sit around a kitchen table with old friends -- it is that fun, and that fluid.

For those who missed the call, or are hungry for more, don't miss The Archetype of the Family --the trio's online Mother's Day session -- offered as a gift to ServiceSpace friends (simply enter the code: "awakin" during checkout).

Here's a labor of love graphic recording of the call by Vishesh Gupta -- with one of Nóirín's beautiful songs in the background. [View full screen for readability]

Below is a selection of gleaming gleanings from the call (thanks to Gayathri Ramachandran and Amritha Mandagondi!)

On the role of ritual in difficult times, and what keeps them dynamic and alive:

Nóirín: [After a beautiful opening in sonorous Irish Gaelic,] I wanted to start with the sound of Ireland, a little bit of our language since that has shaped what we are talking about here (role of rituals). Our language is connected with what we are and what we have to offer.

Look at the miracle of us being here…Let us start by a ritual - lighting a candle. In the Irish tradition, it is believed that a candle is lit on your birth into the world, and it is there looking after you, cocooning you and minding you. I’ll be sending this light, full-pelt from my heart to yours.

[All participants and our guests lit candles together in their separate spaces]

In the Jewish traditions, a candle is important too… The light here is coming from the cosmic. We each have a job to do and only you know what you have been called to do in this life. In this time of cocooning, may we have our obstacles removed from us.

This is a reminder of brevity too, of the shortness of full, so we light with the wish that we live our life in full…

A ritual is a habit, a routine. But we are making it sacred by doing it everyday.

What is your heart singing to you now and what are you tuning into?

Owen Ó Súilleabháin: The miracle of the current time is it serves as a reminder for all of us that there is no problem/sorrow/pain that cannot be overcome with a spirit of community and an inspiration of others. The extraordinary sense of presence that we have now even through these virtual tools is pushing us to be embodiments of imagination in a way.

There is no problem, or sorrow, or pain that cannot be overcome in community. Use whatever tool you have with you, which is now Zoom…

The sense of presence after such an encounter, when we do one of our online sessions, is amazing. All of this is actually metaphorical, no one has actually been in your place. The embodiment of imagination is the enacting of ritual. You take the mind and put it in the body, and that refreshes something.

The invitation to live life gets fuller when we realize that mythology is not a mere rational realization of story but an embodiment story. It comes out in folk tales, music, story and its mystery elevates our communication with the cosmos. What comes for me here is that life in its whole is a strange act of so many mystical characters of the mythology that we seek, that we wish to be and eventually really be.

[Consider this as you consider our meeting]: The entire history of the cosmos would have to begin again for two people to meet.

The publication of your poetry book was delayed, and other aspects of your life have similarly been disrupted. How are you navigating this new reality?

Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin: Memorisation or repetition is a word I’m clinging to in this time, the mantra tradition comes to mind. Many of us have the first or second verses of a song, and not the third. I have an obsession to find the third…

Calmness has descended, I feel more calm, I feel the planets spinning around me more in this calm. It’s okay for your anxiety to be confirmed that this was the disaster we were waiting for. Whether is is good or bad, we don’t know. It is not for us to know. We are not here to know but only to experience this communion of love and oneness.

Poem offered by Mícheál to the gathering [written after he had asked for, and was granted permission to join his Hindu mother-in-law-to-be for prayers]

This Is My Prayer Room

This is my prayer room
No one comes in.
I anoint icons here
with sandalwood and pour
milk over deity’s chanting
a throaty mantra.

I sat cross legged
till I could no more.
But don’t worry,
my god already knows
my aches and pains.

This altar holds my trinkets
of faith, the tools of prayer,
instruments of hope, and
rag offerings to my elephant god.

If you wish to pray I’ll let you,
turning halfway through
my rosary making sure
your comfortable.
Tuesday’s prayers are slightly longer,
you see.

The incense will rise for you and I
For there is peace in worship
at the foot of a virgin mother
and a blue skinned baby.
The gurus and martyrs,
the saints and angels.

And when I hand you the bell, ring it.
Not once, but keep ringing
till I tell you. Pray with me.
Say the words, ring the bell
We’re almost there
This part is my favourite,
It’s where god feels the closest.
So ask for mercy, or for help
or forgiveness, no need to tell.
For my story is your story,
is every body’s story.

Let the bell stop ringing now.
We’ve prayed well today,
thank you for your silence.
I know my god is pleased
to meet you, sees your sad
eyes and sweet spirit
and knows you
have much more
to do.

[From 'Early Music' available here].

Nóirín: We are like two people coming together now, though virtually. Ireland is right in the centre, the threshold space. It is so wonderful that we are voicing from Ireland; we have marvellous stories, mythologies, The Irish word for Ireland is the name of a Goddess. We are great listeners. Mícheál poem (that he read) says ‘my story, everyone’s story’ and that is so true…

The term ‘cocoon’ has caused great controversies in Ireland (some love it, some don’t). We are in this collective cocoon together, coming out to hold hands with Mother Earth for the first time and she is smiling.

As a nation, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We laugh even in the midst, we try to keep the laugher there…Catherine of Siena says, ‘If you cried in heaven, everyone would laugh because they would know you are joking.’

Rumi says that ‘Every sound I hear in the cosmos, God made it." Not just music is Theosony [divine sound], all sounds are.

Full Text of Rumi's poem:

What is deep listening?
Sema is a greeting from the secret ones
inside the heart, a letter.

The branches of your intelligence
grow new leaves in the wind of this listening.

The body reaches a peace.
Rooster sound comes,
reminding you of your love for dawn.

The reed flute and the singer's lips.
The knack of how spirit breathes into us
becomes as simple and ordinary as eating and drinking.

The dead rise with the pleasure of this listening.
If some cannot hear a trumpet melody,
sprinkle dirt on his head and declare him dead.

Listen and feel the beauty of your separation,
the unsayable absence.

There is a moon inside every human being.
Learn to be companions with it.
Give more of your life to this listening.

As brightness is to time, so you are
to the one who talks to the deep ear in your chest.

I should sell my tongue and buy a thousand ears
when that one steps near and begins to speak.

~ Rumi
from The Big Red Book, translations by Coleman Barks

Nóirín: I’ve been thinking about Irish poets…
Their (Owen and Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin’s) father talked about the bringing together of the global and the local (the ‘glocal’, he called it.

A friend of ours says that, ‘You can’t speak Irish and be an atheist!’ And that’s true.

Just last week, I heard the sound of the cuckoo. And this morning, I heard it again. I was thinking of Bob Marley’s song…[She sings a snatch of the song, and her sons continue it.]

“Rise up this mornin'
Smiled with the risin' sun
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
Saying', (this is my message to you)
Singing' don't worry 'bout a thing
'Cause every little thing gonna be alright
Singing' don't worry (don't worry) 'bout a thing
'Cause every little thing gonna be alright”

Nóirín: A great message for this time: do not fear. That is scripture.

Owen: In Ireland, we were raised with the story that an Irishman was the first European to discover America. St Brendan went on a psychedelic magical mystery tour and came back 7 years later with his companions. Columbus came up to Galway and consulted the maps of St. Brendan, before he set off…The story is a metaphor, of course…One of the stories there is about discovering land in time to do the Easter rituals, when the monks were at sea — the land they discovered turned out to be the back of a whale. The whale turned up ever year before Easter…

Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet reimagined this scene in his poem where he talks about “In extremis”

The Disappearing Island, by Seamus Heaney
Once we presumed to found ourselves for good
Between the blue hills and those sandless shores
Where we spent our desperate night in prayer and vigil,

Once we had gathered driftwood, made a hearth
And hung our cauldron like a firmament,
The island broke beneath us like a wave.

The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm
Only when we embraced it in extremis.
All I believe that happened there was a vision.

Owen: “One of the great pieces of wisdom for me is when we ask what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do after this zoom call ends? How do I carry this spirit into my daily life? The island appeared and the monks walked onto it. The idea that every moment can be a ritual, every moment can be a sacred act… Your room is your cathedral…”

The best way to encounter sorrow or desperation is taking the next step and doing what has to be done next. And that’s what I have to say.

[Nóirín, upon Mícheál's request delights us all with a song that celebrates the song of the cuckoo]

Mícheál: I only heard that song for the first time a few days ago. The idea of the (h)Edge school came out of our own isolation, from each other. I haven’t seen or laid hands on my mother, my Irish mammy for two months now. And I’m discovering why she is a national treasure, I'm learning new things about her all the time.

During the breakout session, in groups of three participants shared with each other the practices that help them tune into the heart's ear.

Owen: Anyone who is drawn to an experience like this, instead of binge-watching a rom-com, don’t underestimate that yearning…there is something you are honing into, in this time…

Mícheál: Mastery and committing things to memory is my last word. After we commit something to memory, we start again.

Owen: When we connect with the ServiceSpace community in the Bay Area, ripples and synchronicity finds us!

[The closing ritual led by Nóirín, invoked the blessings of water and fire, for us and tall those around us who may be suffering, and all those who are on the front lines. With the aid of a little sprig of green, participants sprinkled water around their houses, blessing too the immediate cocoon of home and hearth]

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Comments (1)

  • Gayathri Ramachandran wrote ...

    Vishesh -- what a gorgeous graphic illustration of the call! Thank you for that. I will be re-visiting many times, to take it all in, and hear Noirin's singing :)