Swims that saved me #2

Salcombe Mouth

It’s my last day of being 44 today. I’m in a reflective mood – musing on the turmoil and exhaustion of 2020; the moments of joy and connection.

This swim sums up all that the water has given me this year.

May 2020

The lockdown rules have just been lifted to allow travelling a ‘reasonable distance’ for exercise. After weeks of dunking in shallow muddy streams and a strange smelling gissage in my home town, the longing for the sea is visceral. I’m exhausted from the relentless days of working at the kitchen table and home-schooling.

We walk across empty fields, feeling the buzz of late-spring in the tall grasses.

Descending steep wooden steps to the beach, the sea is glistening – cobalt blue and perfect white horse waves at the shoreline.

The beach is deserted, I throw off my clothes and run into the welcoming arms. I’m almost in tears with gratitude, letting the waves break over my body as I say “hello, hello, beautiful sea”

I want to be enveloped, immersed in the sea with its millennia of knowing. Endless years of gnawing away at the cliffs to reveal their secrets. So many pandemics have come and gone as the sea continues its tides, breathing in… breathing out…

I peel off my swimming costume and stand naked, arms aloft to welcome the sun, the salt, the cold.

I swim, peace descends. It’s just me and the waters that cover the earth.

Swims that saved me #1

Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.

April 2017

I arrived at Jacob’s Ladder beach in Sidmouth a jangle of anticipation and nerves. I was looking for a lady called Lesley who I would try to recognise from a blurry Facebook photo of her in a bellydancing costume.

I’d been following TEDS (Team East Devon Swimmers) on social media for a good few months, summoning up the courage to join a sea swim. I was nervous of strong, lithe triathletes who could swim front crawl and would probably zoom off around the headland leaving me bobbing about like an abandoned cork.

But today was the day. I’d arranged to meet for one of the regular 6.30 pm swims and dip my toes in the (freezing) water, so to speak.

I noticed the peaceful, rounded silhouette of a woman looking out to sea, sitting on a wall by the railings. There was nobody else on the beach, and the water had a curious stripe of silty brown sienna and miles of cobalt blue that I now know tends to follow rain or high winds at Sidmouth.

Today the sea was still. Lesley welcomed we warmly, and led me through a few tips for entering the water. April is pretty cold in the sea, probably around 11-12 degrees Celsius as it’s had all winter to drop in temperature.

Cossie on under my clothes, I quickly stripped off and I put on neoprene beach shoes to stave off the “ouchy” pebbles so common to East Devon beaches.

And then we were in the sea, up to our thighs almost immediately down a steep shelf.

Nowadays I much prefer Sidmouth like this, at high tide, as it gives you no choice but to commit. I’ve waded out for ages in wild, bitter easterly winds in January and it takes courage to believe the water will feel better.

Once in to waist height, Lesley taught me to gently dip my hands in the water – “it helps to remind your body what’s about to happen”. Then a deep slow breath out to immerse body and shoulders into the water.

A whoop of exhilaration, then an unexpected surge of warmth in my body as I settled into the silky water.

Head up, breastroke, bobbing about, looking up at the red Jurassic cliffs. All encouraged, and tea & cake for afters.

I was hooked. I’ll be forever grateful to Lesley and the beautiful sea that day, for introducing me to a world of connection and adventure.

On earth as it is in heaven

I honestly don’t know how to begin to write about what my world, our world… the world feels like during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Russell Brand told me (not a voice in my head, through Luminary) that people are Googling how to pray in droves.

Perhaps that’s a place to start. Long gone are my days of hallowing a name. But in a glass-clear sea something like prayer welled up in my chest and as I dried my body, tears spilled on the still sun-warmed stones.

So a prayer

Mamma Earth, guide me in the ancient ways. May the seasons of my life unfold, may I listen. To be attuned to the time for sowing or harvest; when to rest my spent and weary soil in furlough. May I gather my little ones to shelter, be it dry stone wall or rustling dune-grass.

Papa Ocean, hold me in your depths of knowing. May I find the wisdom of salt-tears; the peace of a seabird on the wing. May I be a sturdy boat, steering my little ones to shore through storm or fair wind.

Mamma Earth, Papa Ocean; you have trod these paths a thousand, thousand times before us. Guide us and teach us the way.

#2 contemplating a mussel shell

mussels

sometimes life feels a bit like

clinging on to

a rope

tide washing in

tide washing out

remember when

the empty shells

marked the fullness

of an evening?

two glasses

home-making

now the spring tide is upon us

the fickle moon

our ebb and flow

throw me a rope

you are still

my lifeline

 

 

A new series

I have a dear German friend who has affectionately nicknamed me her little ‘pusteblume’

Pusteblume: noun (German) meaning dandelion clock.

pusteblume-thomas-haslinger

Let’s call my friend Astrid.  She has really encouraged me lately to rekindle my creativity in order to balance the increasing demands of work in the NHS and family life.

And so, dear Astrid, this upcoming series of blogs is dedicated to you.  I will be writing a short piece of prose or poetry about found objects in nature or cityscapes – as an exercise in ‘everyday mindfulness’.  Writing this way will help me to engage with the beauty of noticing, the peace of presence, and the value of time spent in contemplation.

#1 Contemplating a Pusteblume

featherlight orb

is it true that fairies take wing on your seeds?

etherial yet earthy

deeply rooted

unwanted weed begets

joyful plaything

keeper of wishes

marking time

 

 

The frozen Spirit

Well hello friends… and welcome Winter.  When I last wrote my thoughts were of warmth and late evening swims.  Now the branches are bare and the icy pools and waterfalls of Dartmoor are calling.

In my pause from writing there has been much to ponder, and a deeper exploration of where my spirituality sits now that I’ve started ticking the box “no religion” on Equal Opportunities monitoring forms.

As in previous years I’ve found some solace in the world of Disney…  Frozen 2 stirred streams of tears for Eldest, and tender hugs with Little One.  Here are the lyrics from the opening lullaby which cast some light on the journey:

frozen 2

Where the north wind meets the sea
There’s a river full of memory
Sleep, my darling, safe and sound
For in this river all is found

In her waters, deep and true
Lie the answers and a path for you
Dive down deep into her sound
But not too far, or you’ll be drowned

Yes, she will sing to those who hear
And in her song all magic flows
But can you brave what you most fear
Can you face what the river knows

Where the north wind meets the sea
There’s a mother full of memory
Come, my darling, homeward bound
When all is lost, then all is found

Music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

I’d highly recommend Kacey Musgrave’s version on Spotify if you would like to listen to these beautiful lyrics set to music.

My quest for meaning, memory and magic continues.  I guess that’s at the heart of spirituality.  It’s just that now my frame of reference is shifting away from God in a ‘traditional’ sense.

Without giving too much away, in Frozen 2 many of the answers were found to lie within.  They were bound in forgiveness, in being one’s true self, in breaking the rules.

This year I have had the privilege of working in the Recovery College in our Secure service for men who have been in prison.  Many of these men live with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.  The two groups I have held on ‘managing unusual experiences’ have raised some of the most humbling, powerful, spiritual and philosophical discussions I have ever encountered.

We do a disservice to people in mental health services when we shut down conversations about spirituality and meaning because of our fear – all we can see is “psychosis”.

To the men I have met, and to myself – may you continue to dive deep into the river.  May facing both memory and magic lead you to your true self.

Wild women #3

This beautiful hot weather always tempts me into the delights of the sea. There has been a keen Easterly wind which whips up the breakers. I had one of my funniest and most exhilarating swims yesterday at Coryton Cove. Suffice to say that I emerged part sea-monster, part-siren with grit, seaweed and shell pieces all over me (especially in the cups of my swimming costume!)

s-l400

In the spirit of all things sea, stream and river I will introduce you to two of the water nymphs in my life. I’m so grateful to have met my tribe of free, wild women who take every opportunity to strip off and jump into cold water.

Halia

Halia is a woman of the sea, a swimming coach, a mentor. I really miss swimming with her while she is in a season of adventure living on a boat and sailing to ports across Europe…

Halia has a passion for stories, taking time to really find out what makes people tick. She’s also hugely humble about her own achievements. Her smile is vibrant and she is absolutely full of fun. She inspired me to measure the water temperature of each my outdoor swims to create a piece of artwork with yarn (more on this to follow…)

I’m looking forward to the next time she pops back to Devon and we can enjoy the thrill of the sea together. She definitely knows better than me when the waves are likely to take you out!!

Naia

Naia is an intrepid swimmer, unfailingly passionate and a lover of river swooshing. I’m so grateful for her openness – we talk about everything from politics to parenting while we swim.

We both swim to heal our hearts and minds. We both love crazy swims in the mud and rain. We have shrieked at our bare feet in the snow and basked in the sun after swimming flat calm turquoise seas. The times I spend with her are just… pure joy.

 

Wild Women #2

Although I don’t consider myself a christian in the traditional sense any more, I have a few incredible friends who humble me with their faith and spirituality.
Continuing my series in honour of the wild women in my life, may I introduce you to Grace and Klara.
hearts
Grace
Grace is a yarn-lover, a giver, a warrior.  Grace and I first met when Eldest was an energetic, bouncy-ball of a two year old!  We knew in an instant that we were going to be friends.  She continues to love me, my girls and my man with a depth that just astonishes me.  She is funny and wry and has the most beautiful mahogany brown eyes.
Grace walks with suffering.  Her body is limited but her hope is limitless.  She weaves kindness into every stitch of her crochet or knitting.  When we sit together and share lunch (soup, of course) she never fails to ask all about the little details of how the girls are doing.  I feel so loved when I spend time with Grace, and she brings a peace with her that’s hard to fully put into words.
I am so glad that in leaving the church I didn’t lose Grace.
Capiz-Shell-Chandelier
Klara
Klara is an artist, a lover of tea and beautiful fairy cakes, a pioneer.  For me, she is the epitome of an adventurer – both in her work for which she travels all around Europe, and in her life as an artist.
Over the years Klara and I have prayed and talked deeply.  We have eaten the most delicious pizza.  We have shared with each other our wildest hopes and dreams.   Even though Klara now lives in another country, I will always picture us in her bijou terraced house sharing tea in china cups.  There will be rose-scented icing on tiny cakes.  There will be flowers artfully arranged on the table and I will sit and admire the most beautiful iridescent capiz shell chandelier.
Klara rides a red bike, she paints, she writes, she loves.  When we speak on the phone it’s like we are just there, sitting under the shell lampshade and delighting in our friendship.  I still miss spending time in that bijou little home, but our conversations never fail to leave me exhilarated and ready for the next adventure.