Coping with COVID: Reimagining your life with Melvin Dowdy

Author: Zoe Langsdale

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During this time of upheaval and uncertainty, the Kylemore Abbey Global Centre would like to offer opportunities for inspiration, encouragement and reflection, perhaps leading to a reconnection with your own creative, inner resources. Guided by faculty member Dr. Melvin Dowdy from the executive Inspirational Leadership program at Kylemore, participants will embark together on a journey to greater self-awareness and appreciation of life, cultivating resilience during this time of disruption, despair and feelings of helplessness. Using various media platforms, the Centre is launching a weekly inspirational series drawn from Dowdy’s experiences of teaching at Kylemore and his conversations with the natural wonder that has inspired travel writers, artists, playwrights, poets and adventurers for millennia.

Dowdy is a longstanding partner of the Mendoza Business School's Executive Education Center at Notre Dame. He brings more than 30 years of leadership consultative experience, and has developed a particular interest in values-based leadership. He has coached senior leaders from a wide range of industries including clients from Fortune 500 companies, family-owned businesses, political and educational leaders, law firms and medical practices.

The first time Dowdy set foot on the grounds of Kylemore Abbey, a deep connection formed between his body and his heart to the rugged green landscape and lakes of Connemara and Kylemore. Dowdy's connection to Kylemore began in 2011 while he and his wife Bonnie were on a road trip throughout the South, Southwest, and West of Ireland. Building on family research, Dowdy successfully traced his family’s ancestry back to county Sligo. As they traveled the western coast, the pair was able to make it to the estate of Kylemore Abbey. Remembering that first visit to “this amazingly beautiful place” he said, “I felt at home, a familiarity, a belonging here at Kylemore."

Dowdy reconnected with Kylemore again in October of 2016 when he was asked to facilitate the inaugural Executive Leadership program at Kylemore, finding again that the monastery, the landscape and Irish culture were a perfect context for teaching leadership that develops from “the-inside-out.” He rediscovered the poetic inspiration of John O’Donohue, quoting him to his classes, “in the beginning was beauty,” and turning their attention to how “the beauty of Ireland, and certainly the West Coast and around Kylemore, is the beauty of a place that is fundamentally spiritual, fundamentally connecting.”


"Kylemore makes it easy to speak of spirituality and not have to frame and re-frame, apologize, defend, and get into arguments about religion," he says. "It also makes it easier to turn to poetry or storytelling as a source of self-discovery.”


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For Dowdy, poetry and storytelling invite personal reflection and can help identify what is truly meaningful to each of us. During this pandemic, he has turned to his personal and spiritual certainties: poetry, music, and Ireland. He has already written quite a few poems about Kylemore and is making a point to try and be more connected with Ireland while writing a poem a day. One of his poems features an ode to the Nobel Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney, which he has titled with Heaney’s famous last words: “Noli Timere”—do not be afraid. This poem explores what Seamus wrote to his wife, Marie Heaney from his sickbed; the words invoke the strength, courage and resilience needed in moments of fear, worry and loss.

It is by sharing stories with one another that Dowdy believes builds community during this time of uncertainty. He hopes the new series will bring tranquility and wonder that the landscape of Kylemore offers during this period of social distancing and remote learning. Dowdy says now is the time to seize upon creative impulses and inner strengths to compose, rebuild, and connect.

“In some ways, every moment is a creative moment," he says. "If we are living life well, then we are allowing what is in the present moment to be rich, to be inspiring, to be nourishing. When we write and tell our stories, we are inviting ourselves and others into that authentic, present moment. We draw from what O’Donohue calls the monastic cell in the heart, not knowing exactly what is going to emerge but willing to find out and to discover with others, who are also creating from that place of solitude.”

The Kylemore Abbey Global Centre is inviting the public to join in on this journey and help create a virtual community to share the thoughts, poems, music, art, and stories. The goal is to move participants to perhaps reimagine life in a profoundly different way. Participants are encouraged to interact with the posts, send feedback and submit topics.

Check out Dowdy's full poem “Noli Timere: Remembering Seamus Heaney” and follow the series on the Kylemore Abbey Global Centre’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages with the usernames @undkylemore.

Learn more about the executive education programs.