Keep breathing

My world feels surreal at the moment, but I keep breathing. Oftentimes I feel like Alice falling into the rabbit hole – looking around and seeing things that are strange, unusual and make no sense whatsoever. We talk about irrelevant stuff but feel the real feelings of fear for life, collective grief and sense of helplessness. Some of us thrive, of course, and move on easily. However, others fall deeper into the darkness of the unknown future. Finding safe spaces becomes harder and harder. But…there is a way to navigate this. I am ever so grateful for access to informed and kind people who carry me through this time with hope, care and insight. So as I continue to build my new skills and my clear vision of my future, I am also finding it easier to get back to my summer plans. It’s great to see a lot of my friends picking up sports – for other reasons, more in worry for their health due to the pandemic. But it’s nice to do things attuned with others. For me, the focus on reconnecting with my body comes from the need to improve my person-centred coaching and counselling practice. Planned in winter, after months of research, I can finally put it in practice. It is actually a fantastic opportunity to realign myself with my inner moral compass too and reflect on how I grow in this time of such obvious change. I am learning so much these days.

My new running routine is perfect for thinking. It gives me time to reflect in peace, now that I learned how to run and got used to my routes, sweat, heat and pain. Few weeks into a simple Couch to 5K training I am already feeling stronger and lighter – physically, mentally, spiritually. I now understand the importance of listening to my body and to my mind, to my gut feeling. I learn to slow down at the right time and to push myself harder at times too. I learn the importance of resting and replenishing my energy. I finally see clearly the need for space and time to recover deeply. I learn to slow down to reach a further goal, not rush things off but never miss a chance for growth.

Hillfields, Bristol

My new weekly yoga classes help me reconnect with my body and my immediate reality. I am learning about their layers, structures and flows. I learn to listen to them and to respect them. Sometimes my body needs me to slow down and sit still. Oftentimes it actually needs me to move, to walk, to play, to explore new boundaries of what is possible, stretch beyond my limitations. My reality is imperfect, but so blessed with awe and joy of everyday connection – with people I love and who love me back, with nature, with my community. Society teaches us that joy and happiness are in resting passively, preferably far away from our daily reality. But that’s quite silly, frankly. That doesn’t work. It’s a missold dream. This approach only reinforces the idea of being a victim of our circumstances and disliking our daily reality. When actually, we could embrace it, shape it into our preferred version of it and stand up for what we need here and now: in our home, city, community. So instead of facing our challenges, we complain and escape – preferably to a remote beach with perfect sand and sunshine (certainly pushing away the thoughts about the locals who clean the beach at 5 am each morning or the carbon footprint of our flights). For the record, I think travel is important, but it should be conscious and informative, not passive. So when I practice yoga with mentors and guides who understand those modern paradoxes I feel I am home.

Getting back to cycling helps me expand my tribe. Being a Polish ex-pat in the UK it’s pretty hard at the moment. As the racist narrative eases off finally so I can stay informed and avoid those subtle moments of unconscious or well-hidden dislike from people around me (for those of you outside of the UK, the GOV.UK ads on the radio claim we have already left EU and need to prepare for the new adventure – so the public narrative is finally moving away from using us as victims and causes of economic decline). I now rarely get educated on how to behave the “British way”. I now rarely get asked about my accent. I still get ignored, dismissed or teased sometimes when mentioning new ideas, while my local friends get clear attention, but I have learned from my BAME friends that this lack of attention can actually be helpful – it’s better to be ignored than actively attacked. People still misspell my name. After a long phase of rawness and vulnerability, I am now making more and more new, resilient, nurturing connections. The cycling community is carrying. In cycling (and many other sports, I bet) the more advanced people always look back, slow down, stop to check if you are OK. People cheer you for every single small step forward, and if needed, carry you over to the next place where you can continue on your own. They share their water, feed you and fix your bike if needed. They don’t pay attention to the artificial binary divide of them and us. Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone starts one day. We all need to start somewhere.

Second thing I am learning from the cycling community is the importance of getting up and moving on, but carefully. I am never going to forget the leaders and also specific individuals around me for their silence when EU citizens needed support. I will remember each and every person who did not support me/us during the Referendum and around each Brexit deadline especially – because ignorance and ostracism hurt just as much as physical pain. My relationship with those people will never be the same and that’s a pity. However, I am learning to get up, let go, move forward – leaving their ignorance, bad intentions or lack of kindness behind. I have learned so much from those last few years for my own practice and I will be able to help so many people who are left disempowered. I always had a thing for racism (xenophobia and all other forms of divide based hatred) – even in my own, predominantly racist country. That is exactly why I left it behind. I know it’s silly to move away from unsafe places but it is also not very sensible to stay and suffer. When we sign up for abuse but have tools to move on, we become a part of the problem too. So I am slowly getting up, cleaning my gear, fixing up my bike and starting to pedal too. The road ahead of my is not yet clear. I am still a bit traumatised, battered and vulnerable, but I also feel more connected to those who can see the real strength in vulnerability. Reaching the end of my route feels more of a success, because I fell during the journey and yet, I made it. Not alone, of course. There are a lot of wonderful, kind, honest, humble and pretty carrying people around me who make it all possible. I look back at them and smile – we are in this together and when they fall, I will be there for them too.

Hillfields, Bristol

I chose Hillfields for my running training on purpose. To me, this area represents change, challenge and the power of community. It is an area where early kings used to enjoy their hunt, but change also came their way. Kingswood was and is still crucial for British politics, I am told, so I think a lot about the powers we are all dealing with. I think about women a lot – and their rights. I run via Bryar way where back 1910 local Soufragettes organised their protests. I think about our connection with nature – I look out for ancient oak trees – so very rare today – and admire every single small wildflower. I think about our need for safe spaces. I run directly through the Homes for Heroes project and the first woman architect involved in it. Such a symbolic place to remember that society can be carrying and humane. I find it humbling to run next to the youth club in the Hillfileds park and think of all the amazing people who make it accessible and safe today. I met some of them. My son goes to a club there too. I hope to help as a counsellor one day, if I may. I also run supported by a local artist, @theartkindness, who in response to COVID19 displays positive messages across the city. His little notes of hope keep me going along my route. They make me smile.

I keep breathing the air of past, present and future. I carry the hardship of our past lightly. I take in deep breaths to nurture my entire self – gently. I breathe out with a clear intention for a better, vibrant, hopeful future.

I keep breathing.

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