I think I’m getting old. The tell-tale signs are there. I won’t go into detail on all of them, but I think it’s healthy to admit it. One of the reasons I have for thinking this is that I seem to be fighting a lot nowadays. I don’t mean going down the pub and smashing a bottle over somebody’s head. Those days are well behind me. Luckily, last time, the victim didn’t press charges anyway, so I was quite fortunate. She was my mother-in-law after all. Anyway, I digress. By fighting, I mean standing up for things. People with flash LinkedIn profiles probably call this passionate, if at all they know what passionate means. I’ve discussed my job before here, and I think the main reason I hate it and seemingly suffer there is because I try to do my job right, and thoroughly, and I seem to be the only one. Everyone else has a wonderful day scraping by on the bare minimum required so they don’t get sacked. Whilst this mentality causes me to suffer at work, it does give me the strength and determination in other areas of my life to fight for something I feel is right, and is more likely to be a worthwhile cause, unlike my job which is feeding fat cats so they can get even fatter and do ridiculously unethical things with their money.
Despite feeling exhausted on Sunday morning when I woke up (a couple of hours before my alarm), I knew I needed to get out. I set out running just before six, heading off in the bright sunshine, heading in one direction – out of town.
It may be a modern human condition or something deep within us from generations gone by, but a lot of people feel the need to get outdoors to relax, escape and deal with various stresses. It is widely known that green is a relaxing colour, and I can’t help but feel this is deeply wired in us from when greenery surrounded us more than it does today.
Two miles in, and the houses are getting fewer and fewer. Hedgerows appear, copses, circling swallows and insistent skylarks. By the time I get to the woods, the silence and the low morning sunlight flooding in makes me stop and just sit. I sit down on a fallen tree and just soaked up the surroundings, immersing myself in nature and the feeling of breathing in the new day, replacing the negativity.
During the 1980s, the Japanese developed Shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing, which involves taking in the forest with the senses. You can either sit, or walk in a forest and soak everything up, just as I did. It doesn’t involve any high intensity exercise and has been proven to be very successful. A 2-hour forest bathe helps you to unplug from the working day, laptops, phones and other modern day distractions and stress enhancers.
It is predicted that by 2050, 66% of the planet’s population will live in cities. With cities and towns getting bigger and bigger, this is not too surprising. I always imagine cities like giant octopuses, spreading their tarmac tentacles out into the countryside, swallowing it in chunks and expanding their concrete mass as they go.
I know I will always favour the outdoors as therapy. It works for me in many ways to cope with modern life. Plus it’s much more interesting than 99% of what’s on television and spending hours reading silly blogs online. Oh, hang on…
A neighbour told me a story about one of his school friends who moved out of town, went down south, started windsurfing and now makes a living out of teaching it around the world. “Git”, thought I. He’s barely twenty.
Whilst I’m still lagging far behind where I’d like to be in my life, I’m a bloody hell of a lot closer to it than I’ve ever been. I hate my job. I live for my hobbies. I’m a little too old to start looking for new careers (as I mistyped careers then, autocorrect suggested carers instead. Apt.) I’ve got tonnes of interests, if only I could be paid to do them. Twenty minutes at my allotment is more rewarding than a week of my job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not career driven. I’m quality of life driven. Having a crap job that makes me feel pointless is all well and good, but sticking at it until I’m too old to go to the toilet alone is unacceptable. It’s this kind of thought process that keeps me physically fit, keeps me outdoors, keeps me writing, keeps me daydreaming and keeps me searching for something I’ll never find.
Despite my rugged, muscular, ‘man of the mountains’ aura (sic) that I possess, I do have a sensitive side. A few years back, I felt sensitive enough to put my feelings down on paper in poetry form of how I was feeling about some proposed housing developments on designated green belt land near the town where I live. I was quite pleased with the result, not because it was good (it wasn’t) but for the fact that for the first time, I had actually hit the nail on the head with what I wanted to say without being vague and dancing around the subject. The title of this as-yet-to-be-published ditty was Progress.
I called it so in a ironic, sarcastic way as in my view, carving up the green belt was far from progress. After all, how can sacrificing greenery and its own delicate ecosystems in favour of bricks, mortar, cars and concrete be a sign of progress? Councils have the habit of removing green belt status from any previous green belt land as and when they see fit. In my view it makes a mockery of all the systems and policies in place. If green belt can be reassigned, what about conservation areas, SSSIs, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or even National Parks? Is it just something to revoke when the call is made?
Apart from having nice spaces to look at, humans need them. More importantly, so does the planet. The planet seems to be the biggest loser among all of this ‘progress’, having to contend with our materialistic existence and demands to move quicker at whatever costs. Green spaces, clean air and generally exercising outdoors have been proven to promote healthy bodies and minds. With diabetes, obesity and mental illness on the rise, could there be a link between lack of open space, natural beauty and increased urbanisation and these human conditions? Maybe. A huge part of the problem though is down to increased industrialisation and automation making the human race and labour redundant. With nothing for us to fill the void left by an honest day’s work, we have to look towards other things that ultimately make us unhappy – the never-ending vacuum of material want.
All of this is bringing me more questions than ideas, and not wanting to ramble, this is the end – for now. Which is why it is called Part One!
It would be interesting to hear your thoughts, ideas, or experiences from your lives, cultures and environments too.
Sit down children, today’s subject is mindfulness.
For various reasons close to my shrivelled, unworthy heart, I chose mindfulness as a cause for 2018. It is a topic I touched upon in studying Buddhism over the years but didn’t truly embrace it or appreciate its importance. I find the word ‘mindfulness’ everywhere now – mindfulness cafés, mindfulness colouring books for adults, mindfulness potty training for children, mindfulness chocolate bars. I exaggerate of course, but hopefully you get the idea. It seems to be ‘trending’ which is something I hear and tend to switch off from because it usually means as many money-makers as possible hitch up to it and distort it. Protein is another one. Protein this, protein that. I’m ranting, I apologise.
Anyway, where was I? Mindfulness! Yes. I’ve began to work mindfulness in to my outdoor life. Maybe I’m guilty of distorting mindfulness too, because in my pursuits I am trying to live for the moment while doing them. Paying attention to sensations while running is one. The feel of rain on your face, the warm sensation of being two miles in and finally thawing out. The wind in your hair. It is probably best illustrated while hiking, especially if I take my camera. Paying attention to minute details like dewdrops on grass, ripples in streams, or listening to bird song. I love listening to bird song of common birds. Even though you hear them every day, it is important to never take them for granted for one day them or you will be gone. Watching sunsets and the like tend to be cliché but they’re simple and free to access. The other day, I stopped in the street to appreciate a murmuration of starlings. Who knows if and when you’ll see one again.
Mindfulness, when completely mastered is a kind of meditation, tuning in to the moment, and sounding out the everyday noise in our consciousness. There are health benefits too. Combining this with outdoor pursuits therefore seems to me to be ideal. Just got to keep practicing!
Does anyone out there have any experiences to share, or tips, or ideas? Please share!
The quote in the headline of this blog might not be completely appropriate, but the thinking is, if you can silence the thoughts whizzing through your mind, your real dreams might speak a little louder.
After a week away from it, I decided I would make the most of the early autumnal sunshine and walk down to the rough ground. I find September to be a melancholy time of year. The end of summer, impending winter, watching things die back. I used to dread the end of August. But in recent years, I’ve grown to embrace it. Not like it, just embrace it.
One advantage to shorter days is you get more time to catch up on any reading. I especially like reading books about natural history and reading about spring and summer flora and fauna leaves you looking forward to the new year, giving hope. Autumn and winter also help me to get out more, as strange as it sounds. The cold doesn’t bother me, it’s more the wet and grey that gets me down, so if there’s a sunny day, it’s a great chance to drop everything that can wait, and plan a last minute trip to the hills, lanes, rivers and fields.
I get reflective at this time of year. I used to get depressed that another summer had drifted by without much thought and appreciation but nowadays I’m not like that so much, probably because I do more things that fill my imagination and needs, things I love doing, so when August comes and goes and that fluttery panic feeling creeps in, I smack it back with memories of the past four months. Walks, runs, camping trips, time at the allotment. Basically, less time on the sofa, in front of the TV.
The rough ground looked different yesterday. It was bathed in sunshine. The greenery slowly turning yellow and red. I heard more birds, a couple of crickets and began looking at what trees grow there. I noted a few maples more than anything.
I started to imagine if I could take ownership of the rough ground. What would I do with it? Would I close it off and leave it to mother nature or actively manage it? I thought first and foremost that I’d manage it. Remove non-native trees and plants, and encourage young saplings to grow up to regenerate the area. I pretty much worked out that I was more or less taking things away, not adding anything, which sounds unproductive but in the long term, it’s adding new trees and plants. It’s hard to work out what is ‘natural’ for an inner city scrub. Invasive species thrive. Being near a river, in flood, seeds will wash up. Damp ground fauna will survive over ill-planted species. I did definitely decide to keep it as open access, I mean, what’s the point in creating an urban wild patch that no one can appreciate also? Other that the obvious litter problem and the burned out car, and trolleys, there’s no sign of vandalism. If I showed care for it, would other people? Would I even mention it to friends? I haven’t even told my friends about this blog.
I assume most people reading this (if any) work most of the day, most of the week, most of the year. Even so, if you don’t, the same applies. Today’s subject is about making the most of the outdoors and what is around you when it is not the weekend.
For me, I work on the northern edge of a major city. My office window looks out over a packed motorway, a grimy railway line and a busy main road. You can see houses, blocks of flats, Church spires, and trees. There is life out there. But city life is about hustle, bustle, money, short tempers and bleak views. That is, if you don’t actively look for the alternatives. I should point out that this window of mine isn’t mine at all – it’s behind me. Yes, I face the wall more or less. It just means I can’t watch the world go by, or the rain pour down, but it does mean I still get to appreciate the sun rolling in and the shadows it creates across the carpet.
It was earlier this week that I decided to explore a patch of land that I drive past every day. Well hidden, accessible yet still remote in a city. To give you an idea, it sits between a main road to its East, a motorway to its north (which actually goes over it via a flyover) and a river (also beneath the flyover). It is fairly overgrown and I can see signs of previous human habitation in the shape of old pavements and concrete, slowly being reclaimed by mother nature. Nearly every side is hidden from view by trees and shrubs. Behind some of this on the western edge, are houses. This place is not exactly a secret, more of a cut through for people going to the shops, or work.
Once I set foot on the path, I decided to stray from the main path straight away, cutting north-west down a track perhaps created by a fox or badger. I soon found myself amongst trees and very close to the flyover. My first thought was how loud it was, and how I couldn’t see or hear birds, or any sign of life for that matter. So I just stood still.
Seconds later, I heard the hum of a hoverfly. Then more. There were several busying themselves on the blackberry bushes, which still contain flowers.
After standing still for a few minutes, a quick glance at my watch told me it was time to get back to work. While walking back, I heard a brief but sweet chirp of a Great Tit (Parus Major). Not a rare species at all, but welcome in this urban pocket of forgotten greenery.
All of this was only a fifteen minute walk from my desk. If I lived here, I would disregard it. If it was under threat of development, I wouldn’t care either, but as I’m an out-of-towner, it would be a shame to lose it.