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Tag: Ireland

Cold Water Can Work Wonders

To help me deal with panic attacks and flashbacks that I now experience more often because of the pandemic, someone gave me an info sheet called the “Distress Tolerance Handout.” In it, I found a page called Cold Water Can Work Wonders:

When you put your full face into cold water . . . or you put a zip-lock bag with cold water on your eyes and upper cheeks, and hold your breath, it tells your brain you are diving underwater. This causes the “dive response” to occur. (It may take 15–30 seconds to start.)

Your heart slows down, blood flow to nonessential organs is reduced, and blood flow is redirected to the brain and heart. This response can actually help regulate your emotions. This will be useful as a distress tolerance strategy when you are having a very strong, distressing emotion.

I tucked this information away somewhere in my memory – maybe I’ll give it a try some time, I thought

I am glad I read about this technique because it helps me to appreciate the movie, My Octopus Teacher. In it, Craig Foster, who is both protagonist and filmmaker, talks about returning to False Bay in South Africa, where he grew up free-diving in the kelp forests of the Atlantic.

After many years away he returns, suffering from burnout and great emotional distress. He can no longer do the things he loves, like communicating with his son and making documentaries. There in False Bay, he begins free diving again — with only a snorkel and flippers – no oxygen tanks. He says:

In the beginning, it’s a hard thing to get in the water. It’s one of the wildest, most scary places to swim on the planet. The water drops to as low as eight, nine degrees Celsius. The cold takes your breath away. And you just have to relax. And then you’ll get this beautiful window of time for 10, 15 minutes.

Suddenly…everything feels okay. The cold upgrades the brain because you’re getting this flood of chemicals every time you immerse in that cold water. Your whole body comes alive. And then, as your body adapts, it just becomes easier and easier. And eventually…after about a year…you start to crave the cold.

Foster finds a way to slip inside of nature through his dives in the kelp forest and the friend he made there: a common octopus (octopus vulgaris). As much as I love the story of Foster’s octopus friend, I need to keep this story moving, so now I’ll talk about Claire Paris, another freediver.

Paris, a master at holding her breath, can do six-minute plus breath holds in a pool and dives more than 200 feet down in the ocean on a single gulp of air. Once she gets down there, she feels an immense sense of calm.

She prefers to dive without goggles to enhance the diving reflex, the body’s response to submersion in cold water. This mechanism kicks in when you immerse the nostrils and face in the water. Paris and other freedivers say that so far beneath the ocean’s surface, everything slows down.

I have a friend who lives by the Irish Sea and swims in the ocean every day—he loves both swimming and surfing. But it’s also a way to dealing with the stress of the pandemic. I’ve seen photos of him with his friends, pushing their way into the sea through the big frothy Atlantic waves. Soon enough, I’ll be up near Killaloe, Ontario, where I can swim in a cold lake and catch the last of the summer’s rays. Maybe I’ll try a few dives and see if cold water really can work wonders.

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How to play Canadian bodhrán dog

Check out this useful lesson on playing your dog like a bodhrán.

I’ve been keeping myself sane by playing the bodhrán and taking lessons via Zoom. My dog doesn’t like the noise, but he’s pretty chill about my attempts to play him.

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Lullaby of the land

I wrote this song recently, after doing a “deep dive” into the Pogues’ music. It’s a contrafactum, a song in which the melody is similar to another song yet contains different lyrics. In this case, the melody is from The Lullaby of London by the Pogues.

I posted the lyrics for the original side by side with my version on social media and asked my musician friends if they wanted to give it a try. My friend John Linehan (who is, of course, Irish) volunteered. We polished the lyrics some more and he brought it to life by performing it.

I recorded it live at the Irish Session at St Brigid’s Well in Ottawa.

Have a listen!

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What is reconciliation? Memory of stones

Dusk was coming to the balcony of our Montreal apartment. We could see lights flickering on in windows of the city below the cliff. We lit cigarettes using the gas ring on the stove and I singed my hair. Standing on the highest balcony, I saw smoke drifting up and lights coming on: street lamps, flickering neon signs and high beams of cars, as I stood there with my friend and her brother.

He was visiting from his cabin in the woods near Peterborough. A small cabin with a wood stove that never gave enough heat in winter—where one night, when it was pitch black, an owl swooped down and startled him just after he had put the campfire out. His cabin was near a place called Silent Lake, not far from Curve Lake and the petroglyphs. The air is fresh up there and feels gentle and warm when summer is coming.

Back then, before the Good Friday Agreement, Ireland was on our minds: people were hoping for an end of the Troubles. Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) people from Kanehsatà:ke, Quebec invited the Northern Irish to speak to them of their struggles, so much like home—disputed borders and broken promises, guns threatening to fire, soldiers and police guarding all rights of way, armed checkpoints on the roads.

In 1994, four years before the Agreement, Gerry Adams spoke at the university in Montreal and people gave him a standing ovation, but I stayed in my seat. I knew he lived in a house surrounded by a fortress. How could he be a man of peace? I suspected him. Afterward, my friends and I were invited by an IRA supporter to have a beer at the nearby pub, in a private room, with Gerry Adams a few tables away. The whole time I waited for an explosion.

Years later, I visited Saskatchewan and a different friend, who took me walking on a flat, silent expanse of land covered in sage and short grasses. He showed me a tipi ring he had found near his home, and I stood in the circle. After dark, we made a campfire in his backyard, such a long way from my home. No trees blocked the night sky—it went on and on forever. There I remembered the campfire in the Ontario woods near Silent Lake and I remembered the owl, swooping down in the dark. I thought of all the campfires among the Pines in Kanehsatà:ke during the pow wow—everywhere I walked, the sound of drums and strumming guitars. I thought of the Easter Rising in 1916 and how the Good Friday Agreement completed a circle.

Near my friend’s home on the prairies, we listened to the crackling fire and talked about medicine wheels and stones, marking a year’s passing. We thought of how we were sitting under a slowly spinning night, under a wheeling sky. Our thoughts turned around and around the memory of stones.

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