A journey from the Park


NEW LIFE:Having left a hectic job in President Mary McAleese's office, a personal crisis led Mari Kennedy into yoga and dance

MARI KENNEDY sits calmly drinking a cup of peppermint tea as I arrive 15 minutes late for our meeting. "I used to be always late for everything and in such a panic about it. I'm not late for people anymore," she says.

Not being late for appointments, meetings and other events is a good example of one of the ways Kennedy's life has changed radically since a personal and work crisis completely upended her way of living four years ago.

Born and reared, the second of four children, in Aclare, Co Sligo, Kennedy attended the local convent school where her mother taught and then studied geography and archaeology at University College Dublin (UCD)from 1985 to 1989.

Realising she didn't want to become a teacher, she took a postgraduate course in marketing at the College of Marketing and Design in Mountjoy Square, Dublin. She then took the opportunity to do a stage, the one-year internship with the European Commission.

"It was a fantastic experience, learning to understand how the EEC worked. I came back a fully fledged European, yet with a more solid Irish identity," she says.

Following her year in Brussels, Kennedy returned to Dublin to do press and publicity work for the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Therein followed marketing jobs for Dance Theatre of Ireland and later the National Concert Hall which led to an offer to work in Mary McAleese's private office following her inauguration as President of Ireland in November 1997.

"President McAleese's campaign manager, Eileen Gleeson, was on the board of the National Concert Hall and she approached me to see if I'd be interested in working for the President. I took her up on the offer and started work there in January 1998.

"I was responsible for developing and creating a programme of inhouse events, receptions and projects to reflect the President's theme of bridge building," explains Kennedy.

"It was very busy, really challenging yet very fulfilling and exciting work. I was struck by the President's vision, her enormous energy and her ease with people.

"I didn't travel with the President in Ireland but I did go on official trips abroad so I got to see the world on the political stage," she says.

Particularly memorable trips included the President's visit to South Africa for the inauguration of President Thabo Mbeki's in 1999, meeting Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in 1999 and the President's South American tour to Brazil, Argentina and Chile in 2004.

Meanwhile, Kennedy got married in 1999 and her husband's work as a film producer also involved a lot of travel. "Our life was crazy. Everything was very sociable. We lived the high life and had what looked like the perfect Celtic Tiger lifestyle," she explains.

However, things all began to fall apart soon after Kennedy gave up her job in the President's office with the aim of living a less hectic life. "The last thing I did before I left was to co-ordinate and manage the President's inauguration to begin her second seven years as President of Ireland in November 2004," she explains.

Around the same time, Kennedy and her husband sold their city centre home and moved to the suburbs. And then, according to Kennedy, their marriage suddenly fell apart.

"In a period of three months, I lost my job, my home and my marriage," she says.

"The crisis forced me to stop and take time to look at where I was and what I needed to let go off - apart from what had already gone.

"I realised that my life circumstances had been driving my life. My life kept on throwing up good jobs and circumstances that I had never taken the time to stop and question.

"It was saddening and disappointing that my marriage lasted for such a short period of time. There are no signposts when a marriage ends. But, I would say to people whose marriages are falling apart that there are opportunities to be happy and grow in themselves and have a great life."

Two years ago, Kennedy began a new relationship.

Before leaving her job at Áras an Uachtaráin, Kennedy had embarked on a teacher-training course in yoga. "I had been going to yoga classes for about 10 years and had considered the teacher-training course for quite a while," she explains.

Following that, she opted to volunteer in the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts, US where she also trained as a dance/movement instructor.

"I started to dance at the age of 38, which gave me great freedom. I realised that dance was one of the great passions I'd let go of earlier in my life."

Upon her return to Dublin, Kennedy began to teach yoga and host wellness workshops and organise yoga holidays. On a personal level, her life was also transforming.

"I realised that previously, I had no space in my life, no space even to breathe. I would never have sat down with a cup of tea to just drink it. I would always have been doing something else as well, like reading the newspaper, making a list or watching television."

Now, she rarely does any of these three activities.

Kennedy freely admits that her own personal crisis has taught her a lot about living life in the present, rather than chasing memories of the past or plans for the future.

"I have relaxed into my life and, as a result, life is richer and has become an awfully big adventure," she says.

Her next big adventure is the setting up of a wellness business called Soulworks. "It's a business committed to the development of human potential. I coach individuals and organisations in the areas of transitioning, life balance and self mastery," she explains.

And will there be many people in need of such services? "Yes, I definitely think so. There is so much change and fear at the moment. The world is in a period of huge transition.

"It is important to remember that, in these shifting times, we are more than our thoughts and our fears and we have the resources within ourselves and as a community to survive and thrive," she says.