On Tuesday of last week, a few hours before a scheduled phone call that I was pretty sure would mark the end of a brief courtship with an attractive man I really liked but kind of knew wasn’t for me right now, I cycled off to the London Fields Lido – that’s east London’s outdoor pool for non-local readers – and had a swim.
I was partly motivated by a desire to stretch, shake and move my body after seven hours sat in a car, on a train or on a station bench the day before on the way back from a long weekend in Cornwall. I was also motivated by a desire to burn off some calories after three days eating stuff I don’t often eat – bacon and eggs for breakfast, chocolate, crisps and delicious clotted cream ice cream (It’s amazing how quickly over-eating or eating fattening stuff can start to mess with my head and how quickly I can feel it on my body, even if that’s all in my mind too).
But another motivator, and perhaps the most important one, was to remind myself who I am and what I love doing. Seeing the blue sky and clouds above as I lifted my head from the water, feeling the breeze on my body as I got in and out of the pool and being among like-minded people who also want to swim outdoors in early May was like an affirmation of my true self.
It felt important to swim that particular afternoon, knowing that a little later I would inevitably feel a little sad and somewhat rejected – even if the rejection was on the back of me stating my needs, being clear about what I was looking for in a relationship and not being willing to accept less than I felt I deserved.
And then today, still feeling a little blue, regretful and out of sorts (I don’t deal well with endings, I tend to dwell a little, question, blame myself, think about how I could have done things differently, wonder if I’ll ever meet anyone I’m that attracted to again – although I always come to a place of acceptance and trust in the end, and I know I’m nearly there), I took myself for a good tramp across Hampstead Heath.
I walked on the grass and stomped through some mud, getting my boots wet and my jeans dirty. I walked quickly up hill, feeling my leg muscles kick in and my breath quicken. And I took long strides on the downhill, admiring the views across the heath and beyond.
On the way down, I stopped at a big tree that had caught my eye earlier as I sat eating my lunch near the duckpond. From a distance, its leaves had looked purple (my favourite colour) and as I approached, they were rustling wildly in the wind. I stood on its base, leaned my head against its trunk, closed my eyes and listened to the noise.
Then I turned and gave that mighty tree a great big hug, pressing my heart against its trunk.
This is where I find God, I thought.
I’ve always felt closest to God when I’m in Nature. Often, it’s when I’m swimming in the sea (there’s something so vast, powerful and endless about the ocean) but I can also get that feeling from standing or lying on the earth. But there was something about the size, strength and solidity of this tree, the fact it had been around for thousands of years (I think – I’m no expert) and the fact that my arms barely got half way around its trunk that brought God to mind.
This tree was supporting me (I was still stood on its base), holding me somehow (perhaps because my arms weren’t big enough to hold it) and stabilising me (because it was so huge and unmovable). It had also been there long before my arrival on the earth and would still be around long after I’d gone. And then there was that sound – that incredibly soothing sound of the wind rustling its leaves and sweeping across the long grass at its feet.
I hung on for a good while, disregarding the feelings of embarrassment that wanted to intrude on my peace. I felt so grounded and secure. I felt as solid as that tree (which is lovely because at times I feel like a feather blown around in the wind). And I felt totally present in that moment, in my body (as opposed to in my head) and close to God.
It was one of those rare times (they are rare for me at least) when I think, “I have everything I need to be safe, happy, loved and free.”
After my tree hugging session, I marched on across the grass, through the mud and over to the Ladies Pond. There was nobody swimming – although I dare say there might have been a few hardy souls taking a dip earlier on – and there was nobody around (aside from the lifeguards shut away in their little cabin). The water was calm and inviting (I’m sure I’d have gone in if I’d have had my stuff) and the grassy slope, which in the summer is packed with topless women chatting and picnicking on grapes and humous, was completely empty. I sat for a bit on a bench, loving that sense of being in the middle of London but in such a tranquil, Nature-filled spot with nobody else around.
As regular readers will know, the Kenwood Ladies Pond holds a special place in my heart. It’s always been a bit of a haven where I’ve managed to find solace on my own and where I’ve enjoyed special times with friends. There’s something about that lush, green, little corner of the capital that enables me to leave all my stresses and anxieties at the gate.
Back home now, I feel completely different from how I felt this morning, which was angry, sad and troubled, for a host of reasons not just to do with the recent break-up.
Somehow, getting back in touch again with my true self – my love of the Great Outdoors, of getting my heart rate up, stretching my muscles, feeling the breeze, walking through mud, hugging trees and of sitting in stillness and peace – restored my sanity and reminded me of who I am.
I’m incredibly grateful, today, to know who I am (most of the time), to know what I’m about (fun and adventure, Nature and the outdoors, creativity, friendship, laughter and love), to know what I need (a lot of the time) and to have the courage and the determination to meet those needs, be that by speaking my truth to protect my heart or by taking a detour on my scooter to the wide open spaces of Hampstead Heath.
I don’t always understand or meet my needs perfectly – far from it – but every time I try, or get it wrong and then correct course, I learn and I grow.
Knowing who I am and what I need feels really good. And it gives me hope