Every culture has its own proverbs - ancient words carried on from previous generations. They may even be the most primal learning tool of mankind. To the Irish a proverb is known as a seanfhocail - translating as the old word to give it its due respect. 'Elder wisdom' is here, 'Stood the Test of Time' is here, 'sit up and listen' is here.
Irish author, Fiann O'Nualláin's new book, "52 Proverbs to Build Resilience against Anxiety and Panic" (Mercier Press) is grounded in what he calls ancestral insights, those old words, gems of life guidance distilled into bite-sized proverbs that we digest at our leisure but ignore at our peril!
O'Nualláin's views a seanfhocail as the advice that our ancestors wished to pass on, a far-reaching chain of respect and self-care, a throve of hard-learned experience, a loving kindness to the next generation. He asks the reader to think of these proverbs not only as ancient sense but also as contemporary affirmations to bring new life and meaning into a contemporary context. Fiann asserts 'affirmations are not fool's errands, they are stories we tell ourselves; instead of telling ourselves how hard it is to be ourselves with all that luggage we lug around, let's write a new narrative - lets navigate our new world with a brighter more successful outlook.'
Each proverb in the book is teamed with an exercise or mini-challenge borrowed from positive psychology, sports psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness to help reset perspective on a problem and work towards a solution. Using Irish proverbs as roadmaps through the vicissitudes of life, Fiann supplies the skillset to overcome past trauma as well as current woes. O'Nualláin, a holistic therapist for over two decades, weaves positive affirmations and the call to self-care with actual tools to diminish woes and anxiety. This book is self-help with an emphasis on the methodologies of help.
One cannot escape the Irishness of this book and while relevant to all readers, O'Nualláin as a culture bearer, records the proverbs firstly in their original form, Irish, before giving the English translation and explanation of the proverb's meaning. He explores seanfhocails in terms of the Irish psyche, reminding us of the connection of these wisdom nuggets to the goldmine of history and culture. Pinpointing the adoption of a mindset and attitude that brought strength, resilience, and defiance to bear against colonization, famine and political oppression, he explores how the Irish adapted and survived their way around adversity, and also how the Irish sense of fun, friendship and hospitality also informs pathways to a more fulfilling life.
Certainly, there are lessons to be learned from the Irish and how they overcame history and remained a spirited, creative and cheerful people. O'Nualláin reminds in his exploration of the proverb 'Níl tuile dá mhéid nach dtránn - Every tide has its ebb - that it embodies one of the more regular messages from the Irish psyche - that things come and go, situations change, there is a rhythm to life, the transition is ongoing, nothing is permanent, and yes, the negative goes away. Anyone can adopt this proverb as a call to hang in there! We can apply it to all our worries and anxieties - they will abate.
O'Nualláin at one stage invokes the Irish sporting chant 'You'll never beat the Irish' in explaining how the Irish face adversity 'We sing it not so much when we are 1 - Nil up at half time but rather we belt it out when we are 10- nil down at full time. When it comes to the Irish mindset on adversity, the chant says it all, we cannot be defeated or humiliated by circumstance - it's just a temporary setback, life goes on, this momentary setback means nothing. We have come through colonialism, opportunistic and structured attempts at genocide, not to mind the attempted genocide of our music, language and way of life. We were not defeated then, so a sporting loss is nothing. There is a powerful lesson in that sports chant, one as powerful as the cyclical tide. We are not sinking our heads and shoulders and taking a week to get over it, we are not cursing the team selection or weeping at the referee's blind spots, the whistle has just gone and we are rejoicing that we are already over it, 'resilient to it.' How is that for a touch of indomitable spirit, how is that for a way forward?
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