“A single day is enough to make us a little larger or, another time, a little smaller.”
“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham
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.
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.
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.
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.”
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
“There are no facts, only interpretations.”
“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
I love this photo, as it resembles the theme of my recent pondering. The woman in the photo above is in pain, but what kind of pain? Sometimes it is so hard to tell what is really causing our pain and how we can handle it…
I continue running. I am also doing many yoga sessions in the week. I aim for at least one long bike ride each week. After six months of studying the fitness and its impact on mental health – as my next step in my personal development of a coach and counsellor – I am finally at the stage of actually doing it all.
The first week was exhilarating. I am obviously doing more because the lockdown and slow life allow me the opportunity to use the summer months to do more. I need at least three months for those new habits to remain steady and to build them into my weekly routine, so it’s easier to do it while life is somewhat slower, locally contained. It works. I don’t have to think about the morning commute and family routine, so I can easily figure out my morning run too. I can immerse myself in relevant books, movies and discuss the fitness routines with my friends who are doing the same. My boys join in and we all thrive better in the current challenging times.
However, I am also learning. I struggled to start running for a long time to the point when it had to come from a place of anger and joy at once. realising that gave me the motivation to get out of the door and totally own up to enjoying the running routine. My first week was mainly focused on learning and figuring out how to run, sorting out the gear, the route, the tracking apps and Strava community.
But in the second week of my exercise, while my mind started getting back to the old habit of questioning the entire idea of new – we hate change, we prefer to do stuff the old way by nature – I have also started paying the price for my new daily movement plan: pain.
So for the last two weeks, I was more or less in pain. I still am. I am slowly working out ways of or getting used to it, or managing it. I am learning to take it easy and rest. I am allowing myself to be sleep-deprived and then to write my book slower – I have plenty of time, and I want to be kind to myself. I am learning a lot about the value of rest to our mind and bodies. I sense the need to go out for a run, I really want to and it’s hard to force myself to take it easy, to skip a day – I genuinely want to be on the road every morning.
Both pain and rest are relatively new to me. Ask anyone in my circle and they will tell you that I am oftentimes rather occupied – with writing, gardening, family stuff, work stuff, studies, creativity, journaling, plotting with friends. I thrive in an active way of being, even if it’s a quiet pondering over my morning cuppa…even if sitting still, especially when I am very quiet there is a lot going on in my head.
I do know how to switch off, but I do that actively too. I can go to the allotment and spend hours without a sense of time just doing stuff. Switching off serious thinking, just being in the moment with Mother Nature. Sitting down, listening to the birds even, but even that feels like doing – because everything around me is so vibrant.
But when you are in physical pain, you HAVE to stop and rest. You need to give your body time to recover from the effort and restore its vitality. Regardless of our age, although for menopausal women this might be a challenge, we need to find the right balance between activity/movement and rest/stillness.
So that’s what I am practising now – being sensible about venturing out for a ride or run, or staying at home for a calm yoga session with a studio that encourages free choice and allows space to just be, not move, rest, listen to your body and its needs. Perfection.
I am thinking about pain and its different types and how our society changes and messes up our relationship with it. On one hand, we know so much about pain, even if in the history of medicine it wasn’t always the starting point for a diagnosis (back in the day it was actually ignored). On the other hand, we do our best to avoid it. And even if we do, there are huge discrepancies in how we do so. Most of our systems still completely ignore the mental pain, providing a very low level of support towards mental health (not to mention prevention or even considering the factors of mental health challenges). However, we have industries based on the notion of our strong need to avoid physical pain.
So when people like me start to take care of their bodies and the pain arrives as a natural result of those new shifts and habits, we are not prepared to cope with it. I am amazed at my rather low capacity to cope with pain comparing to my mental resilience in situations like years of Brexit or toxic working relationships.
Comparing my physical pain to mental pain is helpful though. I am using the very same tools to manage both: reflection, examination, mindfulness, gratitude, work with my inner strengths and smart use of external support (including people, of course), with a large dose of rest.
On some days I can hardly move due to my neck pains (years of bad posture really hurt at the moment). But then again, on some days Brexit and racism (no matter how subtle) hurt just as much. So I carry on, wisely measuring my pain levels, adjusting levels of rest, nourishment and support to ensure that I can carry on steadily.
Those new habits provoke a lot of growth, in so many ways. Growth is not supposed to be easy. On some days it is smooth, fun, nurturing. I can feel my muscles growing stronger, my backbone stretching, my heart pumping the blood to my brain faster. I focus better, work faster and take in more of the world around me. On other days, I shut down, ache, stop, curl up and sleep it off during longer mornings (allowing myself an hour of sleep longer and taking it easy in the morning). On those days I work less, seek friends and family and nurture not just my body, but my mind and soul.
The more I think about it all the more I realise that the pain is all the same – it is the reaction to change, to threats and a way of protecting myself and growing stronger. It does not really matter if it’s my feelings or body that experience it. I am one and to think we are not connected in all those aspects would be foolish, naive and very traditional. Thinking of myself more holistically helps me tap into my already well-known resilience, self-care and self-protection tools.
It is a learning curve and a journey. I made a promise to my clients to care for them, and so I need to take good care of myself to be capable to hold the space for them as well. I also made a promise to myself – to be well. It’s as simple as that.
“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”
Martin Luther King Jr.