This morning, I opened my window to a view of tall blue sky and sun-drenched mountains and sea; a waning half-moon just rising behind our mountain. Birdsong and the calling of sheep mingle with the constant rushing of the river at the bottom of the glen. We have a home now in a place where I can slip out the front door and walk twenty minutes in the morning sunshine, down a narrow, stony, grassy path to the beach below, without meeting another person.
I spent an hour there on the strand. There, I finally encountering tourists bussed to the beach on this beautiful Saturday morning; but walk far enough along the unbroken ten kilometres of sand, and you can outwalk even most of the locals. Once in relative solitude, I removed my shoes and socks, hiked my leggings above the knees, and waded out through the fierce push and pull of the tide into the beach-warmed ocean-cool water.
I relinquished myself to the waves. Time stood still as I walked, more slowly now, feeling the water tugging against my legs, first out to sea, then back in over the sand. I gazed out to the mountains, watching the waves come, letting them dash against me. And I could feel something deep within me stirring, some deep cleansing and renewal.
Being here has reiterated a few key components for me of maintaining mental health and personal wellbeing: spending time in beautiful natural spaces; spending time outdoors; establishing some utterly unscheduled days; spending time at the altar, in devotion; and spending time alone.
Toady has been the first I’ve had in a very, very long time that incorporated a significant amount of all of these criteria. I have had to guard them jealously; and I will not pretend that I have magically unwound, all of my tensions released in one perfect day. But I know that I’m doing something right when I find myself spontaneously creating and expressing—the thoughts that are usually so caged within me spilling out onto a clean page.
I believe that this feeling—or at least regular intervals of it—is what many of us struggle to cultivate in our day-to-day lives. I know that when I feel it, I recognise it as the elusive and difficult-to-describe element around which I would like to build my life.
And so I offer up these components of my day as a potential recipe for this peace, this productive contentment. I know that a full and busy life requires some plans and order, but I posit to you that the more scheduled your day-to-day is, the more you might need to incorporate the non-scheduled. I love the life and social potential of the city—the connecting and bonding experiences they provide. But time away from noise and infrastructure, time in green places with clean air, alongside other forms of wildlife, feeds my soul in a way that the city cannot. If this can be done alone, all the better; because nothing clears my mind and my heart like letting myself breathe in my own company.
The urge to create an altar and spend time at it seems, like other forms of creative self-expression, to arise most easily when I make space for all of these things. I know from experience that once honed and cultivated, I can feed and maintain a spiritual practice for some time amongst the chaos of daily urban life—in the brief stolen moments between work and socialisation, my candles mirroring the sparkling lights of the never-sleeping city. But I find that after a while, the practice becomes stale. After a while, I have nothing new left to feed it, and I am recycling stale spiritual air that has been cycled through too many times.
The remedy, it seems, is simple—time, nature, solitude—but in the context of an urban lifestyle, difficult to find. But I’m starting to see how much has suffered due to this stagnation. When I find myself creating a new altar, and excited to spend time at it, I know that my creative juices are starting to flow again. It is in these times that I create the most, both in private self-development and public output. No matter how swept away I get, no matter how excited and rejuvenated I am by the things that the social, urban life can provide, sooner or later the well dries up—and when it does, everything I love doing most dries up with it.
So I’m starting to see that a lifestyle that does not allow me to make this space, to take this time, is just not worth it. It’s not worth anything to experience that well going dry, to feel the pale drag across parched stone. This might mean certain sacrifices; this might mean cultivating a lifestyle different from what I once envisioned for myself. But if we don’t give ourselves our best chance at being free and alive, then our priorities have gone awry.
For those of us who have these choices, I believe it our human duty to allow ourselves to fulfil our potential as best we can.