Look to Irish seanfhocail (proverbs) to help de-clutter your mind during these stressful times.
If you’re feeling the tasks of modern life are getting on top of you, it may be that you need to be looking to the ancient Irish and in particular, their proverbs, to help you de-stress, clear your mind and help you prepare for whatever life throws at you.
In his book “By Time is Everything Revealed,” Ireland’s Wellness Guru Fiann Ó Nualláin explores the meanings behind these ancient Irish seanfhocail (proverbs) and how they were very much a way in which our Irish ancestors were engaged in their own mindful living, proving that we often have to look to the past to see how we can take on challenges in the future.
Creating mindfulness exercises around 52 Irish proverbs, one for every week of the year, each one speaks to the various stresses and worries of modern life and uses the proverb to engage in the ways we combat and overcome them through mindfulness.
Below, you can find four extracts from the book that explain how these wondrous ancient Irish proverbs can be used to calm your mind.
Irish proverb: Cleachtadh a dhéanann maistreacht
Practice makes mastery
The more you practice breath control the more you will master self-control. The more you do those yoga asanas or follow the sutras the quicker you will master them. As an infant, how many attempts did it take to say your first word? How many attempts to stand, to walk, to master holding a cup or using a spoon? We have learned everything we know by repetition. We program our muscle memory and our thought processes by repetition. Repeated mindfulness will bring about ultimate mindfulness. You can master your destiny – with practice.
Irish proverb: Léig an donas chun deiridh, a n-dúil s’ nach d-tiocaidh se choidche
Leave the bad luck to the last, in hopes that it may never come
Pure optimism from the Irish psyche. We Irish often forget, owing to our history, that we are essentially positive people. People of all nationalities make that same mistake.
Too often in life, we prioritize the negative. The squeaky gate instead of the scenic walk is at the top of the to-do list. It’s as if we are programmed to attend to the bad stuff first – but if we left it to last it might not even arise as we would fill the order of the day with positive stuff.
Part of it is how we are emotionally programmed – we dwell on the break-up and sense of loss rather than the newfound freedom and the potential of a new relationship. That is a shocking statement to some, but it is not diminishing the love you had – it is acknowledging it, acknowledging the relationship is over and acknowledging that you deserve to love again. You lose your job – don’t dwell on being unemployed forever. Get motivated now to find the ideal job or to start your own business where you will get paid for your passion. The latest kitchen experiment was a complete failure – does that mean you can never cook again? Put the negative to the end of the list and get on with the good stuff in life.
Starting off with the positive and ranking it first may occupy the space long enough for you not to notice the negative.
Exercise: Count your hatched chickens.
It’s OK to count your hatched chickens to recount the good times and see the joy and fortune in your life.
This notion of not counting your chickens before they are hatched is wise as it spares you disappointment, but you don’t have to be overly cautious with the ones already hatched. They are the chirping success stories, and may even lay more golden eggs.
Think of the top five great achievements of your life. One of them may be climbing a tree when you were ten – it doesn’t have to be climbing the corporate ladder. Whatever makes you proud. Write them down.
Every now and then you can pull out this list before breakfast and count down the high points of your life. It reminds you of the successes, of good luck. You can update the list as often as you like.
Irish proverb: Ní fhaghann cos’ na comhnaidh aon nídh
The foot at rest meets nothing
Doing nothing gets you nowhere. It is time to dip that toe in the water.
Motivation and movement are linked. Get yourself moving. Jump on the spot, jog in a circle, swing your arms about. Notice your elevated heart rate, the new rhythm of your breath – you are alive. What do you want to do with this life? Get motivated. Get living. Sitting around thinking about it won’t make it happen.
It may help with a strategy but to achieve you need to get up and go. The foot at rest meets nothing; the moving foot is bringing you somewhere.
Action: Try something new.
Learn to swim, go to a film on your own – enjoy the trepidation, savor the experience. Find joy in the accomplishment.
Irish proverb: Is maith an mustárd an sliabh
The mountain is good mustard
This seanfhocal is about how work builds up an appetite. It is often said that food tastes better when you are hungry rather than when you are just eating because it is the designated time. We often shovel food in as fuel, like coal into old steam trains. We should stop and experience it. Mindfully enjoy each meal. But beyond that, there is further wisdom here: appreciation for endeavor and gratitude for its rewards.
Effort is rewarded. Know that.
The task of climbing the mountain gives you an appetite. It stimulates and enlivens. Understand that.
Engaging with nature can bring you into mindfulness.
Exercise: Practice mindfulness outdoors
If you can, go somewhere scenic – the sea, the hills, a forest – someplace to stimulate you. If you can’t get to the great outdoors, just get outdoors – a local park, your own garden, campus grounds, a walk around the block. Being outside is a great and pleasurable way of coming into the present. Feel the temperature of your skin, be aware of your breath, feel your footing.
Encounter the sights, sounds, and fragrances of nature – all good mustard for relishing the now.
“By Time is Everything Revealed” is written by Ireland’s Wellness Guru Fiann Ó Nualláin. You can purchase the book from Amazon.
* Originally published in January 2018. Updated January 2024.