Am I being watched? A woman’s journey alone in the hills.

Ben Mhor Assynt towered over me as I worked quickly to ‘un-peg’, ‘un-pole’ and ‘un-tent’. I’d arrived last night in soft gloaming light, relishing this wild space, this wild isolation. Rain was promised so I made haste.

 

My tent near the Bone Caves, Inchnadamph

My tent near the Bone Caves, Inchnadamph

~

This thought was interrupted by the sight of a figure on horizon. He was tall and lithe. A climber perhaps? As he drew closer I saw his face wore weathering and kindness. Maybe in his 50s? His eyes smiled, and he offered words. I in return offered some of mine. And we walk on, he to the Ben and I towards Inchnadamph.

~

They say the hardest part of a walk is finding the start. They were right. I mistakenly turned up the path to the Estate House, rather than keeping straight till the turning off at the small bridge over the burn. Upon realising my error and I stopped, found my position on the map and I retraced my steps.

But as I did so I felt I was being watched. I felt eyes burning into the back of my neck. Were they laughing at me? Sniggering at my foolish mistake? I wondered if I caught a flash of eyes watching me with concerned pity.

~

The last time I’d seen that look of concerned pity in another’s eyes had been on my summer mountain leadership course.

It was 7pm and darkness was falling on the plateau of the Cairngorms. The air felt bitterly cold as I merged from the relative warmth of my tent. I was already flustered as my headtorch light was low, having accidentally knocked the ‘on’ switched in my backpack.

As my Instructor rightly chastised me for not carrying spare batteries, I was transported from my adult self to 12-year-old me. A girl who had a very strong belief that she wasn’t enough.

From that moment the night navigation session went from bad to worse. I struggled with the cold but mostly I struggle with my own head and self-doubt – I performed terribly.

I hadn’t felt my heart beat so fast nor felt so panickily since my nervous teenage years. I caught a glimpse of Paul looking at me with what I read to be pity.

I responded with shame.

For the remaining two days of the course I shrunk from my course colleagues.

I felt like half of me was missing: my personality and my words. It was as if the truth I’d managed to keep hidden all these years was finally revealed – I was stupid and had no right to be there. It even affected the way I perceived my appearance – I felt hugely unattractive. Such a visceral memory.

~

I was still on the hill above Inchnadamph and had walked on for several  kilometres, climbing the steep heathery land, making my way to the Beallach.

My heart was pounding healthily, I was moving well. Maybe I was alone and unwatched again.

I started picking my way down the hillside when the fog gathered in about me as. Rain spit turned to a deafening pour. My firm ground became slippery. I was getting cold and wet. On went my Gore-Tex jacket and trousers.

As I checked my map, I knew was again being followed by the gaze. Despite the fog I was being seen, being judged and being found wanting.

And as full grey clouds darken overhead, my thoughts darkened:

“I shouldn’t be here.

What was I thinking?

Who was I kidding?

This isn’t my place.

I don’t belong here.”

~

 

View from Glen Coul Bothy

View from Glen Coul Bothy

Sunlight floods through the clouds and it’s warmth penetrates beyond my skin, into my spirit.

It’s like someone has just pressed the ‘play’ button and the birds are singing in obedient response.

The sight of Glen Coul Bothy has made the last two hours of bracken and bog trodding worth my toil. She stands on a small hillock by the sea loch. Led by her insatiable pull, the sight of the fastened silver bolt on the glossy emerald green door fills me with joy. No one’s inside – I have this bothy all to myself. It’s late, just gone 7pm and its remote enough that no one’s likely to arrive.

I quickly get to work, making home.

Sweeping first the dusty sleeping platform in the bedroom, then the kitchen floor. As I lay kindling and start the fire, I’m grateful to the kind stranger who left ample supply of wood.

Making home and drying my kit in Glen Coul Bothy

Making home and drying my kit in Glen Coul Bothy

I hang my sodden trousers, jacket, tops, boots and backpack on the pulley above the fire place and sort out my kit. Kneeling on the floor I saw more wood down to size, intending to keep the blaze going until bed. In the fire’s warmth and woody/smoky smell I lose myself in thought and in reading extracts of the Bothy Book.

It’s 10pm before I have any interest in boiling water for my dinner. Food feels strangely unimportant tonight. I just want to savour this rich place and these precious moments.

Yet my veggie pasta packet dinner only adds to the blissful contentment that’s filling my belly, my chest, my whole being.

The fire‘s down to embers as I leave my kitchen den for the bedroom. It’s cold. A simple, sparse room with a curtainless window looming large.

I turn off my headtorch and coorie into myself, searching for warmth in my sleeping bag. As I look out into the sheer black-velvety darkness I know I’m completely alone.

No one is watching, no one is judging.

And as I drift into a deep, tired, peaceful sleep I’m no longer watching nor judging either.

cobweb

Post script

I’m both in love with, and relatively new to, mountaineering. In this blog I’ve given voice to my feelings of watched and judged when I’m facing challenge in the outdoor environment.

I recently attended a summer mountain leadership course. With hindsight, I wasn’t experienced enough to gain all I could have from the course and this knocked my confidence. I’m a work in progress and am continuing to walk, to learn from others and to practice my navigation skills.

My self-judgement comes from my own old limiting beliefs – a combination of internalising cultural narratives and my own meaning making.  I sometimes catch myself projecting these onto an unseen watcher.  When my watcher is at its loudest, as it was on my course, I feel horrendous.

Paradoxically my watcher shows up on my journeys to wild places – the very places where I feel most ‘me’, most connected and most free.

My watcher may continue to hang around for a while longer on my outdoor journeys but as I learn to pay attention I realise it’s not because she is mean and bitchy but because she wants to keep me safe. When she next comes to watch over me, I’ll thank her and gently remind her that I’m okay.  I’ll continue to live and act in spite of my fear.

Can you related to any of this? Do you feel judged and watched? The feeling may show up for you out doors, or somewhere completely different like the gym or at work? Are you tired of watching and judging yourself?

I’m passionate about helping people finding freedom from self-limiting thoughts, life scripts and stuckness. I do this through one to one life coaching and also through running Women’s Treks for Wellbeing in the beauty of the Cairngorms. (Don’t worry we have a well-qualified Mountain Guide also!!)

Find out more about life coaching with me HERE and more about our Treks for Wellbeing HERE.

 

Finding my heart’s desire in my own back yard

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” 

(L Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).

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“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.

Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” 

(L Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).

The living room ceiling wall paper was neither attached nor was it free. It was hanging there, limp and half finished. It started peeling off 2 years ago – ‘a poor decorating job’ he said. I didn’t even notice it anymore.

Each of the pillows on my double bed were different. Two lived unused on the left side because age had rendered them flat and they smelt a bit musty. The other two had more puff but still not enough for my liking. The pillow cases were unmatched and faded to a dirty cream. My mishmash of sheets wore tiny pen stains.

The papers in my bureau drawers spoke of delayed decisions; the jewellery box on my dresser would often catch my attention but it remained full of untouched sparkly things from another life.

~

For the last two years I’d been decluttering my home but one day it hit me – “Airbnb it”. I’m away a lot, and plan to be more so next year, it made sense.

I spent a glorious weekend decluttering and scrubbing with a fury. I stuffed my bike paniers with clothes, old sheets, crockery and headed to Barnardo’s Charity Shop so often that I’ve become a known face. With each load I felt lighter.

I contracted a Decorator who fixed the ceiling wall paper and freshened the paint. I’ve 4 equally puffy pillows, fresh pen ink free bedding and a duvet that feels like a velvet hug. My surfaces are nearly clear.

Sometimes I think I need to go away to feel different. Or live somewhere else. But in reality, I can feel different in this wonderful home, that’s already here.  I just had to show it some love and care and not leave my my own crap all over the place.

~

Of course most of you reading this won’t be rushing out to Airbnb your home! But my what’s true in my house story is true at a deeper level in life.

If we can show love and care to ourselves and others and not leave our mental crap all over the place, we are probably already close to our hearts desire. Our heart’s desire may already be in our backyard!

I’ve often felt my heart’s desire would be met in another.  And I still hope and expect to fall in love at least once more in my life! But I’m learning not to attach to this in a graspy way. I’m letting go of mental crap that tells me I ‘should’ be a in relationship or that happiness is to be found there.

I’ve also felt that my heart’s desire would be met in finding the right career or vocation and as a result I’ve re-invented my career about 5 times. I love what I do, and I also accept that my career will never be perfect.

For me at this moment my heart’s desire is very simple:

– to be outdoors in beauty as much as I can,

– to listen, be kind and help others through my Life Coaching work,

– to connect to those I love & to those I might

– to learn and grow everyday

– to create

This might sound overly simple or a bit cheesy but isn’t intimacy and kindness all most of us crave?

If you simplify your life what does your heart’s desire look like?

Is it possible that most of what you desire is already here?

Is it possible that you don’t need to travel far, or have that new experience or thing?

Maybe we need less experiences and stuff, so we can enjoy the treasure in our own back yard.

Oh and if you want to stay in my home – here it is!My home on Airbnb

 

 

 

Clutter and coffee. (How to make everything feel better in an hour!)

A half-drunk mug of cold coffee lurks dangerously close to my lap top, random scribbled Post It notes and a pile of unopen bank statements on my desk.

I’m hunched over, trying to write a blog but flitting distractedly between projects, Facebook scrolling and Insta checking.

My mind’s racing and the unhelpful shadow thoughts are winning the race.

clutter blog 1Focus Shona.

 You are way behind.

What are you even doing?

No one is going to be interested in your retreat!

 People are bored hearing about your treks.

 You’ve nothing new to say.

 Maybe it’s time to get a ‘real job’

 Stop kidding yourself”.

 

My body feels completely in sync with my head situation:  heavy, dull, lethargic and defeated.

Coffee seems like a good idea – the only idea.

Pushing back my chair the stack of books and the papers on the coffee table catch my eye.

Their brazen misplacedness irritates me.

Leaving the lounge, my tall grubby white washing basket menacingly blocks my way.

clutter blog 2

At the bottom of the stair a mountain of outdoor gear – shoes, hats, gloves, bags, spill out of the shelves.

The letter dump area by my small window SCREAMS of delayed decisions and procrastination.

My head’s hurting now.

I’m completely out of alignment.

My mind’s scattered all over the house.

So, I stop.

And breath.

And I remember what to do.

I give myself over to blatant, un-adulterated selfcare.

Blatant un-adulterated decluttering and sorting.

Letters are opened, filed or chucked into recycling.

Decisions are made about woolly hats requirements.

Boots and shoes are put in their boot and shoe homes.

Books are re-shelved.

Time stands still as I absorb myself in this beautiful act of self-love.

As each item is homed to its place or discarded, I feel a growing expansion in my chest and dropping of my shoulders.

A wave of pride runs through me as I fill a Tesco’s shopper:

  • A pink stripy woolly hat with a bobble that gets in the way of my hood ,
  • A red running top that doesn’t suit me,
  • A bunch of old recipe books which I’d kept ‘just in case’.
  • Counselling text books that have gathered dust over the last 10 years.

Letting go.

This simple act of letting go of things takes me from the shadows of self-doubt to a lighter clearer and freer space.

And I remember things:

That I can do little things well.

That I love and respect myself enough to sort out the basics.

That making my physical space clear gives me a beautiful freedom in my headspace.

~~~

I’m sat at my desk, with a piping hot coffee and an open lap top. I can’t wait to start writing a decluttering blog:

“A half-drunk mug of cold coffee lurks dangerously close to my lap top…”

clutter 3

Post script:

We each have our own relationship with our physical things and I’m probably at the higher end of the scale in terms of sensitivity to clutter! Please read no judgement to your space from my blog.

I know intuitively and from experience that decluttering and caring for our physical spaces has a direct relationship with our inner world. There’s growing scientific evidence of this also [J Neurosci. 2011 Jan 12;31(2):587-97. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3766-10.2011.]

As a life coach I’m passionate about us finding freedom in our lives.  One tool I use in helping people find freedom is using your body as a compass to guide you when things aren’t quite right.  As you can read in this blog my body was giving me some pretty strong signals.

If you are based in the Highlands of Scotland my colleague and I are running a Mind Over Clutter Workshop on the 25th August, read more here. 

Where ever you live, if you are like me and get overwhelmed at times, I’d massively encourage you to look at your physical space and see if you can make any changes there.

Good stuff usually happens when we let go of what we don’t need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this it?

10 June 2018

My door gives a satisfactory clunk as I pull it shut and turn the key.

I let the railing take my weight as I go up the stair.

A few years ago, a carpenter from the Black Isle laboriously removed decades of paint from those stairs and railings. The house was build c. 1890.

Thirty-three cups of builder’s tea later we both stood in awe, enjoying the simple beauty he’d excavated from generations of white gloss. He wondered out loud why someone would have put such an ornate banister in such an ordinary small house.

IMG_2218

I forget to remember this story as I slump on my bed, phone in hand and start scowling on Facebook.

An hour later I emerge from social media feeling irritated and kind of empty.

When I tune into my feelings I realise I feel very alone and with a sense I’ll always be so.

More than that, I have a sense that my looks and body are slowly but surely moving on a downward trajectory and there’s nothing I can do but watch.

When I tune into my thoughts I recognise that I’m in ‘Is this It? – Land’.

‘Is this It? – Land’ is a pretty dodgy place…

It’s a place where I place attachment onto things that are beyond my control.

It’s looks a bit like a murky stone cellar in a badly made BBC kidnap drama.

It smells damps with a hint of an old ladies rose talcum powder.

Despite its darkness I’ve chosen to hang out in this cellar. I’ve let the thoughts seduce me.

~~~

10 July 2018

My door gives a satisfactory clunk as I pull it shut and turn the key.

I let the railing take my weight as I go up the stair.

I love my stairs as they remind me of the beauty of aging things.  

Today’s my birthday.

I’ve trained at the gym and want to cry with joy that my Achilles feels different. I slowly, tentatively took a lap of the track, like an infant learning to trust her legs for the first time.

Whilst coaching, my client smiles with her eyes as she tells me she feels her strength is returning.

During lunch Scott messages me, telling me he’s a peace loving vegetarian punk and would I like to meet for a drink?

My meeting with my sister and little nieces tastes of hot one-shot coffee, feels warm and soft like a child’s pudding arms and sounds of kind and silly words.

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~~~

It’s taken me most of my 41 years on this planet to learn how to manage my thoughts.

Knowing I choose what I let my mind rest on changes everything.

Knowing that I don’t need to be seduced by the ‘Is This It?’ thoughts.

Our circumstances don’t need to change for us to feel gratitude, contentment, possibility, hope and joy.

Anytime I feel seduced down to my pity cellar I’m going to let my beautiful old banister pull me back up.

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So, “Is this it?”

For me, it’s it for now and it’s pretty good.

And there’s an unwritten future that I haven’t even imagined yet.

~~

As a coach, it’s my joy to help others learn to manage their thoughts, to dream again and to make those dreams real.  ‘Freedom’ and getting ‘unstuck’ are my words that describe what I do.

One to one coaching with me is a great way for us to work together to help you get unstuck, find out more at  www.shonafitness.co.uk/services.

I’m also excited to share that I’m running a retreat in the Scottish Highlands in the second weekend of October, 2018. It will be a place for thoughtful women to come together to work on getting unstuck and on dreaming of the next step.

Please message me if you’d like to be on my ‘Retreat Interest List’ to get an early bird discount on a place.

Walking and remembering Lewis

27th March 2014, Inverness

My car had broken down – or was it in for a service?

Either way, Joanne and Lewis picked me up outside Les McLaren’s Garage and we drove to The Priory in Beauly. Being 6-foot-tall, he’d have ridden front seat next to Jo. I’d have been perched in the back, popping my head forward between the seats as we blethered. The others were waiting at the hotel.

We ate high tea.

I’ve always found high tea an odd meal: a main course served with tea and toast, followed by plates piled with cakes and scones, scarlet red strawberry tarts and puffy clouds of meringue bursting with confectioners’ cream.

It was Lewis’ 17th and with his signature huge appetite he ‘out caked’ the rest of us.

I don’t recall what we talked about over the meal but the memory feels warm and kind, punctuated with laughter.

I see him now, with his massive smile, shrugging his thanks for the driving lesson vouchers we’d bought him.

We’ll never know exactly what happened –

he didn’t take his own life and no one was to blame –

but he died a sudden and unexplained death just weeks later.

~~~

25th April 2018, Sandwood Bay, Cape Wrath Trail

Although Lewis loved the idea of travel, walking to Italy had been his dream.

This trail wouldn’t have been his thing, at least not at the age I knew him. But he’d have liked – or at least been mildly amused – by the fact that his auntie was doing it.

It’s 6pm and I’m climbing the hillside to the west of Sandwood Bay. It’s duller and over cast here. As I follow the path leading towards the cliff, the damp straw like grass saps under my tread.

The sea stack, Am Buchaille, meaning ‘shepherd’, visible from the Bay is no longer in my eye line. Whilst on the beach moments before, I’d felt an urge to visit and as I walk this urge grows.

sea stack.jpg

 

Now I see him standing just a kilometre or so from land, yet completely alone and cut off.

The waves are frothing at his feet and beyond him lies a small island and then a never-ending Ocean.

The wind’s picking up. I know I need to retreat from this cliff edge yet I’m filled with this beautiful paralysing sadness.

Time passes.

My animal body pulls me inland.

As I retrace my steps back to the bay these words come to me.

I share them in loving memory of Lewis and in the fearful hope that they may bring comfort to another who grieves:

 

“The Shepherd”



You stand tall

Now made of stone.



Am Buchaille

Your new name.



Standing between this boggy earth

And an Atlantic of ‘what ifs?’.



I welcome this scarf of sorrow

To tighten around my throat.



In this moment, I too am made of stone.

And a warm tear tracks down my fleshy cheek.

 

lewis Mac.jpg

Post Script:

Mikey’s Line are an Inverness based suicide prevention charity. They provide support for those who feel alone, desperate and without hope.

Although Lewis didn’t take his own life, his loss has brought home to me the fragility of life. I’m passionate about preserving and embracing the gift of life and of the importance of speaking of those we’ve lost.

It’s been a privilege to fundraise for Mikey’s Line whilst walking The Cape Wrath Trail, I know Lew would have approved.

 

 

 

 

 

Instructions for life

“Instructions for living a life

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”  (Mary Oliver)

Pay attention.

She shifts in her chair, turning away.

Desperately looking for something to focus us on,

something to take the gaze off her.

~~~

The snow squealed under the weight of my La Sportiva boot. The child in me worries I’m inflicting pain.

Be astonished Continue reading