“I’m doomed. I’ve lost my tent”. Limbic Lies Part 2

“Crap. It should be here.

 Where is it?

 How long have I got before the cold kicks in?

 Why isn’t it here?”

This is the story that my ego and pride didn’t want to tell you. But in the telling, I hope I hope to convey something useful about how to soothe a stressed mind.

It’s the story of how on a dark, wet winters night, I lost my tent in a remote wild Highland glen.

Story 1 – Are you sitting comfortably?

It’s a windy Saturday night evening, unseasonally mild for February. At 600 meters of elevation there’s a fierce south westerly. I’ve found shelter for my tent behind a grassy knoll, near a Loch with a view out onto the ‘witches hat’-like peak of Sgurr Mor.

I’m here to test out my new super light-weight tent that I’ve bought for my Pacific Crest Trail adventure. But I’m also here because I’ve felt a familiar pull to wild camp alone again. The winter’s felt long and I’ve missed camping out.

I’m in the Fannichs, a mountainous area West of Inverness, on the Ullapool road. I’ve pitched my tent with no problems. It’s only 6pm and darkness has just descended. I decide to practice some night navigation before bunkering down for the night. I noticed an enticing small hill near me as I pitched my tent.

 

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The stunning view from my camping spot.

I take my pack, map and compass and walk on a bearing to an attack point north of me. I reach that point and take a bearing to the summit. It’s not an obvious summit so I use my phone GPS to confirm I’m there.

I’m exactly there – all good.

Navigation practice

Navigation practice

I find a contour feature on the map, about 500 meters away in a south easterly direction. I’m practicing my pacing as I walk on a bearing to get there.  Again, all good – I find it.

Ha, maybe I’m getting the hang of this navigation lark?

It starts to rain lightly so I head back down towards my tent. I clamber down the rough terrain and expect to see my tent in front of me.

It’s not there.

I didn’t take a bearing of my tent location before I left because I felt it was in such an obvious location – behind the knoll, beside the river which feeds into the loch.

I must just be a few meters away.

The rain’s getting heavier and I don’t want to waste time stopping to put my water proofs on. I’m confident I’ll find my tent in a minute.

~~~

Time passes and I’m wandering back and fore, feeling confused as to why it isn’t where it should be.

My phone isn’t good in the rain, so I need to use it wisely.

I open up my GPS app and plot where I think I’ve camped and then locate where I am.  It makes no sense, I’m practically there.

I can hear the river beside me and I know it leads into the loch.

And so, I keep looking, shining my head torch into the darkness.

My heart leaps as I think I see it and then realise it’s a rock.

~~

My hearts beating faster now. I’m soaked.

 I wonder how much time I have left before I get cold.

I’ve an emergency survival bag in my backpack and I wonder if I’ll need to wrap it around me and hunker down for the night. I also remember passing a small animal shelter about 3km down the track. That was another option for shelter. Or I could walk back to the road.

Each of these options would mean a long and miserably cold night for me. I was fairly confident I’d survive but the shame I’d feel when people found me was too much.

And then a story popped into my mind.

 ~~

Story 2 – A story within my story.

In August 2013 Geraldine Largay went off the Appalachian trail to go to the toilet.

As she tried to re-join the trail she became disorientated and lost. After wandering around for a few hours, she made camp in the wood and hoped to be rescued.

Tragically her remains were found in her sleeping bag 2 years later.

Her journal was found with her bones. She had journaled for 26 days before she died of exposure and starvation.

Apparently she had no compass, no GPS and a poor sense of direction. Her mobile phone had no signal.

When I read of Geraldine’s tragic story a few months back the journalist made the point that her story doesn’t mean would stay safe at home but rather more of us need to experience trails and hiking at a young age including what to do when we get lost.

And here I was. Not lost as such – but with a lost tent – trying to work out what to do.

~~~

Lost TV show image

A bit of a random share but I used to love this TV show!

My thoughts jump back to the present.

“Shona you are such an idiot.

How could you have got yourself into this situation? You got way too cocky.

They were right to doubt me.

 And what were you thinking telling people you are going to hike the PCT? “

 And then hear myself whispering:

“Shhhhh shhhh, stay calm. It’s going to be alright. 

You know where you are right now, and the tent can’t be far.

Stop giving yourself a hard time.

Shhhh.”

I went on like this a bit longer – alternating between harsh self-talk and self-soothing kindness.

I can’t work out exactly how long I was looking for but I’m guessing about 20 minutes.

After taking deep breaths, walking a bit more, to my JOY my torch beam hit upon my tent.

I was soaking wet but the first thing I did was take a massive pee! I’d been holding it in as it didn’t feel important until now.

I’ve never been so glad to unzip a tent door as I was that night.

I took of my wet clothes in the porch and crawled in. I put on what dry ones I had left and huddled into my sleeping bag. I boiled water on my mini stove to make dinner. Everything was going to be okay.

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The tent in question, exactly where I left it. 

** Once in my tent I marked my location on my GPS. As you can see from the photo it was less than 10 meters from where I thought it was. But 10 meters in the dark is a long way.

Where I thought my tent was, and where it actually was.

Where I thought my tent was, and where it actually was.

I also noted that my new tent had no reflective markings.

Three big learnings for me from this incident were

1) Always take an exact location of my tent if I’m leaving it in the night.

2) Have a light in, or light reflectors, on my tent.

3) When it starts raining put on water proofs, no matter how near to base I think I am.

What’s was going on in my wee brain during this little epic?

As I shared in Part 1 of this blog, ‘Limbic Lies – why my brain tells me I can’t navigate’, our brains can be broken up into three main parts:

  • The brain stem is the oldest part – it controls our basic bodily functions.
  • The limbic region is the older part of the brain. It’s reactive, it’s the source of our emotions. It acts quickly and can also act on autopilot to ensure our survival. The limbic part of the brain is where the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus are housed.
  • The neo cortex is the thinking, aware part of the brain. It’s flexible in its ability to respond. It enables us to self‐reflect and to rationally assess what’s going on in a particular moment.

When I realised I couldn’t find my tent my limbic brain would have been firing pretty rapidly. My amygdala would have been triggered, and it would have released the stress hormones, including cortisol, making it hard for me to think clearly. (Evidence that this happened was that I found it very hard to unwind and sleep that night).

I was rightly worried about my safety. My mind even recalled the Geraldine Largay story, maybe as a warning.

The judgemental left side of my neo cortex was likely firing as I was thinking in quite a harsh and judgemental way. But amidst this self-judgement and limbic firing, I was able to remember the importance of staying as conscious and mindful as possible.

When I noticed panicky feelings, I spoke kindly and soothingly to myself. The wise part of my brain, within my neo cortex, helped me to slow my racing thoughts down.

By engaging this part of my mind, I was able to create a pause between stimulus (I’m lost) and response (panic), and into that space I could see more clearly and respond more effectively.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” (Victor Frankl).

Had this happened a few years ago I might have been in more danger as I didn’t yet have these self-soothing skills. I may have gone into full panic mode. I wasn’t as mindful, I wasn’t as aware of my thinking.

In my third and final blog in this series, coming in next few weeks, I’ll explain how I’ve learned to self sooth and to become more mindful.  I’ll share the latest research on mindfulness and some thoughts and tips. Stay tuned.

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Why not sign up for my E-newsletter so you don’t miss my next blog and so you can follow my adventures on the Pacific Crest Trail? Here’s the link.  Or if you are down with the cool kids on Insta I’m on the ridiculously named https://www.instagram.com/walkwildcoach/

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Shona's  (my) face - in case you are new here and wonder who is talking.

Shona’s (my) face – in case you are new here and wonder who is talking.

 

It means a lot that you’ve taken a bit of time to read my blog story. Thank you.

At the time of writing, I head of to hike the Pacific Crest in less than 4 months’ time (1st July 2019).

Before I go I’m running a women’s Unstuckifed Retreat in May – I ran my first retreat last year and we had an amazing time of rest and personal discovery.  I’ve a couple of places left for this years and I’d love it if you can come.

Or if you want to ‘camp and coach’ with me (without losing your tent!!) I’ve still places left in May’s Low Level Wellbeing Trek and June’s High Level Wellbeing Trek.

Limbic lies – why my brain tells me I can’t navigate.

My Mum tells a story of me as a little girl. I was learning to play the recorder in primary school and being small for my age my fingers wouldn’t stretch the bottom holes. At home  I cried in frustration and although my Mum tried to soothe me as she explained it just wasn’t possible for me – I kept trying.

I was a determined wee thing.

I wish I could say this was an ethic I carried into all areas of my life but in some areas I’ve given up on myself.

I can’t read maps

I’ve always given up on myself when it comes to navigation. I held a belief that I’ve a poor sense of direction. And various well intentioned friends have light heartedly confirmed this to me over the years.

In my mid 20s I worked as an Aid Worker and I lived in various villages and cities in Africa and Pakistan. I struggled with the geography of our various projects and relied heavily on my colleagues and drivers to help me navigate.  Rather than working to improve my spatial awareness and spatial memory I instead put energy into hiding this shortcoming.

~~

Three years ago I decided to stop making excuses. I wanted wild outdoor adventures on foot and bike. I couldn’t let my lack of navigational ability remain a barrier to my freedom.

It was time to stop making excuses. Time to learn new skills.

PCT MAP

I want to navigate so I can have adventures like this!

I attended coures and learnt from colleagues in my Mountaineering Club.   I even did my Summer Mountain Leadership training. But the whole time I had a nagging voice in my head saying:

“You can’t navigate, who are you kidding?”.

I felt like there was something wrong with me. I felt I was innately stupid.

Recently on a winter skills course, whilst working on nav. things started to fall into place and I was navigating well:

I orientated my map correctly, took and walked on a bearing, identified key features, paced and arrived at the correct locations.

Then in just a few seconds everything changed.  Our instructor started talking about ‘aspect of slope’, which I didn’t understand.  I felt confused and went very quickly from calm to ‘shutting down”.  I noticed my negative self-talk and desire to quit.

wet wet wet

A photo taken of me on the navigation course

From study I know that our brains are highly malleable and that neuro-plasticity means we can create new pathways and learn new skills – but for some reason I don’t live like this is true.

From study I know that our brains are highly malleable and that neuro plasticity means we can create new pathways and learn new skills – but for some reason I don’t live like this is true.

This blog is an exploration into why I/ we do this and how I/we can unlearn this urge to give up on ourselves.

~~ 

What parts of our brain are involved in navigation?

The specialized region within our brain for navigating the spatial environment is the hippocampus. It helps us determine where we are, how we got there and how to navigate to the next destination.

Reading maps and developing navigational skills can affect the brain in beneficial ways. It is thought that using orientation and navigational skills the hippocampus grows and the brain forms more neural pathways.

A study by scientists at University College in London found that grey matter in the brains of taxi drivers grew and adapted to help them store detailed mental maps of the city. MRI scans showed that the taxi drivers had larger hippocampi when compared to other people. The more time the drivers spent on the job, the more the hippocampus changes structurally to accommodate the large amount of navigational experience. Conversely a study at McGill University showed that using GPS excessively may lead to atrophy in the hippocampus as a person ages.

The study shows that experience with the spatial environment and navigation can have a direct influence on the brain itself.

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Gender and navigation

Research show’s gender differences in navigation that are more nuanced and interesting than ‘men are better at navigating than women’.  Thank goodness.

Men and women have small differences in spatial orientation and it’s thought there are biological differences in our brains as well as differences due to different learning experiences / socialisation.

A study from the Netherlands asked men and women to find their way back to their cars in a crowded parking lot. Men tended to use more mileage terms when describing the route while women mentioned landmarks more often.

A study which asked a group of men and women in a Mexican village to gather mushrooms found that the women expended less energy and seemed to know where to go. The women were also more likely to recall their routes using landmarks and retraced their paths to the most productive areas. In this study men were better at reading and using maps, women usually got to their destination quicker because they are better at remembering landmarks.

Evolutionary psychologists suggest that men and women develop different methods of navigating and orienting themselves to the spatial environment because of differences in roles as hunters and gatherers.

Basically being a woman is not an excuse or reason for me to struggle with navigation so I’m letting go of that story!

Why do I freak out and tell myself that I can’t navigate?

I believe one of the reasons I give up on myself when it comes to navigation is that I have  an underlying belief that I ‘can’t do it’. I’ve created a strong neural pathway in my brain that tells me I can’t.

I’m a reasonably intelligent woman, educated to masters level. At an intellectual level I know the thought “I can’t do it” isn’t true.

But at a deeper level I believe and act like it is true. And I can find evidence from the recent past to back up this belief – like my struggling on my mountain leadership course.

It’s thought that we have about 70,000 thoughts per day;  70 to 80% of these are negative and about 95% of our thoughts are repetitive (I can’t find any research to back this up but let’s work with the ballpark figures).

Evolutionary biology has resulted in 5 things:

– We scan for bad news in the world, in the body, and in the mind.

– We over focus on it.

– We overreact to it.

– We turn it quickly into memory.

– We sensitise the brain to the negative.

 

The human brain is often called the triune brain because it’s broken up into three main parts:

The cortex is the thinking, aware part of the brain. It’s flexible in its ability to respond. It’s also the reflective part of the brain; it can self‐reflect. The prefrontal cortex is the wise part of the brain that can rationally assess what’s going on in a particular moment.

The limbic region is the older part of the brain. It’s more reactive. It’s the source of emotions. It acts quickly and can also act on autopilot to ensure our survival. The limbic part of the brain is where the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus are housed.

The brain stem is the oldest part – it controls our basic bodily functions.

Our limbic brains only cares about our basic need for survival being met. When I get cold or scared out doors it’s really easy to believe old repetitive thoughts from my limbic brains.  As we become more anxious, irritated, or frustrated, our attention tends to narrow.

So how do I move from this bind? How do I over ride the programming I’ve created in my brain?

View from Glen Coul Bothy

It’s so easy to believe the negative about our self but I never got lost on the Cape Wrath Trail!

How to create a new pathway in my brain? 

To create new pathways in my brain to help me believe that I can learn to navigate well, I need to engage my pre frontal cortex.

Great Shona – but how the hell do you do that?

I’m doing it right now by writing this blog. When we think about our thinking – rather than being slave to our thoughts we are engaging our pre frontal cortex.

Daniel Seigel puts this more elequently than me:

“Inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them.”

When we learn that our thoughts aren’t always true – and there are other ways of thinking that may be as true or truer – we begin to rewire.

My limbic brain may send me a message that I’m in danger that I can’t get out off; it can be quite black and white in it’s thinking. But my prefrontal cortex can challenge these thoughts.

“One of the key practical lessons of modern neuroscience is that the power to direct our attention has within it the power to shape our brain’s firing patterns, as well as the power to shape the architecture of the brain itself.” (Daniel Siegal).

Practicing mindfulness can support us in having a deeper connection with the prefrontal cortex, especially in those moments when the threat response system is engaged.

In part 2 of this blog, next week, I’ll explain more about how this works in practice.  We will look more into mindfulness, self compassion and science. And I’ve some juicy stories about losing my tent on night navigation last week. Stay tuned!

~~~

I’d love to know what you think of this blog.

Do you have any questions? Does any of this resonate with you? Do you feel your limbic brain is holding you back at all?

 

Please message me and let me know – I’d love to hear from you!

 

If you’d like to work with me on finding freedom and contentment before I go, I’ve space on 2  main offerings running until June 2019.

These are:

Women’s Treks for Wellbeing ;

and

The Unstuckifed Retreat. Please message me to chat more. Thanks for reading, Shona x

 

 

 

 

Rewrite your Christmas?

We all hold stories of what Christmas should be like but these stories might actually be the thing that is hindering your joy.

This blog is about how you and I can create new stories of what we want from this Christmas season and day.

It’s a quick dive into where our stories and expectations for Christmas come from and why these can cause us disappointment and pain.

I share how I’ve learned to let go of these expectations and how this has changed my experience of the season radically.

Happy Christmas Memories

As a child, my parent’s religious beliefs meant that our Christmas celebration was actually on New Year’s Day. We didn’t have a Christmas tree or decorations and I don’t remember this bothering me, beyond the slight embarrassment of having to explain it to friends.

We’d put Dad’s socks up by the mantelpiece on New Year’s Eve. New Year’s morning was the most exciting morning of the year. My even more excited sister Jo was always up first, she’d run back into our shared bedroom and update us on the contents of our stockings!

 

Presents were exchanged and much feasting was to be had on New Year’s day. We’d have a three course meal at my Granny’s in her old farm house up the road. My Granny, Aunt and Mum pretty much invented the Bake Off with their attempts to ‘out pudding’ each other. Lots of my older cousins were there and we loved playing chase and hide and seek, running up one set of stairs and down the other.

assorted pastry on shelf

Yes you could say we ate quite a lot of sugar at Christmas..

I don’t remember having massively high expectations of the Christmas season, just lots of very happy memories.

New Expectations & Disappointments

Then at some point I lost my childish naivety and started having expectations about what Christmas ‘should’ be like. Or more specifically what I wanted it to feel like.

I wanted to feel special, magical, to know I loved and was loved. I wanted us as a family to communicate well and I didn’t want to have large moments of boredom. Our family Christmas’ couldn’t live up to these expectations as much as everyone tried.

If I was in a relationship, I’d have high expectations of my partner – I’d want things to be perfect between us. Yet a special day was never going to fix a compatibility issue.

If I was single, I’d pine for a partner and a family of my own. I’d feel inadequate and wonder what was wrong with me.

I’d look at all my friends on Facebook sharing pictures of their happy family, ‘baby’s first Christmas’ etc. All of a sudden my life seemed pretty sad, lonely and well…  pretty rubbish.

Christmas came with high expectations – expectations that were met with equally high levels of disappointment.

Why did I have such high expectations?

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Coffee chains lucrative creation of the Christmas cup

Facebook

Facebook is such a mixed blessing for me – it’s been amazing both for my business and for keeping up with friends who don’t live near me.

And it’s a nightmare in terms of comparing myself to others. Especially when others only share the show reel of their life highlights.

Christmas time can be especially bad for this –

“Look at us looking radiant as we eat our perfect meal”,

“Look at the little darlings opening their presents”,

…meanwhile, behind the scenes..  it took about 15 selfies to get that perfect picture and the ‘little darlings’ are probably driving their parents to distraction.

When I have icky feelings from Facebook I try and limit my time on it. I consciously remind myself that “comparison is the death of all joy” and “don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides”.  #Shonaclichequeen  2018 update: this is as much of a struggle now as it was 2 years ago – only now I’ve added Instagram into the equation!  

The season/ our cultural psyche

Christmas expectations are drip fed to us through adverts, TV, radio, music, our work places. Even a trip to the shops…

There’s an expectation that something special is about to happen. Something we should all be looking forward to.

Me in Supermarket last Friday:

Cashier:   Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?

Me:            No. I haven’t started but I’ll do it online tonight.

Cashier:   What? You can’t, they won’t come in time.

(Look of genuine horror!)

grayscale portrait photo of shocked woman

Lady in Tesco’s looking shocked at my lack of shopping organisation.

2018 update: I only now buy gifts for nieces and nephew and for my Dad so it’s even easier. 

My close friend, who’s a single mum, shared how she feels guilty because she can’t cook a Christmas dinner with a huge turkey roast as the centre piece of the table like they show on the adverts. She lives in a small flat and there’s no room for the basics, let alone a 15-pound turkey in the middle of the table!

2018 update: She’s let go of that story and her sons now cook the dinner for her! 

Hollywood Christmas Happily Ever Afters Don’t Help!

When it comes to our modern day expectations of romantic love, dear old Hollywood has a lot to answer for – and even more so when it comes to the idea of Christmas and love.

Maybe I should go on holiday and hope that Jack Black will come and visit me? Or pay more attention to the single father/ hot widower living down the street, who looks just like Jude Law?

the-holiday2

I hate to admit it, I love this movie!

 

Maybe I should stand out side the door of my unrequited love’s house, play him a tape of children singing Christmas carols. Hold up signs with a “romantic” speech written on them. Don’t say an actual word and hope that Kiera Knightley doesn’t make an appearance!   2018 update: I don’t have an unrequited love (I don’t think i had in 2016 either – unless I have a very bad memory… I think I just made it up to fit in with the story.)

perfect

I really like this one too. Cheese fest I know!   (Film Title: Love Actually. Pictured: MARK (ANDREW LINCOLN). Photo Credit: © Peter Mountain. Copyright: © 2003 Universal Studios.)

Geek fact: “Happy-endingification” began in the 1930s in response to a time of grinding poverty and uncertainty about the future. Those funding film on both sides of the Atlantic decided that audiences wanted a good dose of escapist fun.

Eighty-six years later many of us still want a good dose of escapist fun and the film industry know this is a recipe that sells – especially at Christmas. There’s nothing wrong with this –  as long as we know it’s just that. Real life will always seem a huge let down if we compare it to the big screen!

At some level, as ashamed as I am to admit it, I know that the Hollywood happy endings were part of a false narrative that I was telling myself about Christmas.

Why humans suffer

In my life coaching studies I’ve become fascinated with human suffering. I know this sounds dark and weird but bear with me!

I passionately believe that much of our suffering comes not from circumstances or events but from the stories we tell ourselves about what these mean. This was the theme of my TED Talk a few months ago.

We are the only creature to commit suicide.

Why is this?

Because we are the only creature that can create abstract stories about a past or a future that doesn’t exist.

Story and language are hugely influential in shaping our thoughts and world view.

Suicide is an effort to avoid future suffering.

One of the approaches I study, ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), is based on the assumption that suffering is a normal and unavoidable part of human experience. Furthermore, it assumes that it is actually people’s attempts to control or avoid their own painful experiences that leads to much long-term suffering.

I am working on myself, and in the future I hope to help others, to learn ways to let go of the struggle with pain, to be more mindful, to get clarity on what really matters, and to commit to living a full, vibrant life.

It’s not about eliminating certain parts of one’s experience of life, but rather it’s about learning how to experience life more fully, without as much struggle, and with vitality and commitment.

Practicing this for me means that I accept that my life and my Christmas isn’t going to be perfect. It means at times I may struggle with being single and not being a parent – and in the future I will lose family and friends who I love very much.

It also means I realise how much I already have, who I have and how precious this gift of life is.

ermty4rqulg-ben-white.jpg

Random Christmas picture to remind you what this blog is about!

It’s a wrap

I entitled this post “Always winter but never Christmas” which you may recognise from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.  I feel that for some years this title reflected my experience of Christmas due to the stories I was telling myself about what Christmas ‘should’ be like.

At the moment my 25th of December 2016 2018 looks like it will involve:

  • run or and maybe gym with my younger sister alone (in a good way; younger sister has 2 little ones that make logistics difficult)
  • serving food and washing dishes at homeless people’s Christmas lunch (Hmm I seem to be less charitable this year!)
  • dinner with my older sister and her partner’s family  Bring and share dinner with most of my nuclear family
  • hiding away in bed with a new novel I’ve been saving! (I don’t have one yet. Any recommendations?)

This might not be your idea of a good Christmas but that’s okay because it’s just my story and it sounds kind of perfect to me!

What will a Christmas that’s perfect for YOU look like?

Your story will be different but, like me, you may face some struggle this Christmas. The struggle may be about someone’s absence or presence.

Let’s invite our grief as well as our fun selves. Many of us will feel the absence of a loved one as strongly as we felt their presence in years past. It hurts. It’s hard. It’s real.

There’s something important and beautiful about acknowledging and embracing both the joy and the struggle that this season brings.

If we can lose the cultural expectations of Christmas it’s easier to  find joy in the little things. Christmas can offer us rare moments of stillness, slowed down-ness in our overly busy and overly structured lives.

Let’s let go of the stories we tell ourselves about what Christmas ‘should’ be like.

Somehow in the act of letting go, something more precious emerges.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Charles Dickens

 

Post Script

I hope you have an amazing Christmas and New Year!!

Thanks so much for making the time to read my blog. I’d be delighted to hear from you if anything in this blog resonated with you. Please drop me a message.

If you are interested in coaching, walking, retreating or workshopping with me find out more here: http://www.shonafitness.co.uk/services/

 

 

 

 

 

I want to be a Mountain

“I want to be a mountain” she said.

“You want to be a mountain?”  I laughed.

Day light in winter is short and precious. We’d chosen to spend today’s light ration hiking the two main summits of An Teallach.

An Teallach is one of Scotland’s most famous mountains – a complex sandstone massif with a pinnacle ridge.

 

We’d hiked in mist and when it lifted by the ridge we looked on in wonder. It was like we’d climbed through a portal to a new world of beauty. A beauty so dramatic that words don’t scratch the surface of its depths.

Now we’re sitting on a rock, just a kilometre or so from the car. It was freezing on the hill  with snow underfoot and we’d felt too cold to eat on the hill. Here we are out of the wind, scarfing down homemade tuna and sweetcorn wraps with hungry pleasure.

“Why?” I asked.

Her reply: “I want to be strong and firm, unmoving in who I am”.

i wish i was a mountain

Lindsey on An Teallach

Lindsay and I sit in our fleshy ‘non mountain-ness’ on the cusp of the most materialistic season of our year.

And I wonder, what would this Mountain think if she could see us Non Mountains in our winter habitat.

I imagine to her we look as crazed ants…

  • Well-groomed ants, all dressed up on a night out.
  • Or ‘at home’ ants numbing out on turkey dinners, prosecco and Family Sized boxes of Roses.
  • Ants struggling to move under the burden of shopping bags.
  • Ant’s like me, scrolling and shopping online – receiving bulky Amazon Deliveries.
  • Busy ants with “to do” lists as long as Loch Broom.
  • Tired ants with over loaded nervous system watching ‘just one more’ of that Netflix series.
  • Lonely Ants who crave rest and connection but don’t know where to find it.

I can see her now, this Mountain – Sgurr Fiona – looking on, not with judgement but with a sad bewilderment.

tea

An Teallach

If I silence my mind I can just catch her words through the NOISE of ‘ant world’. She kindly calls now through the wind and I hear what sounds like Hafiz’s ancient poem:

“Troubled?

Then stay with me, for I am not.”

Selfishly I’m glad my friend Lindsay isn’t a mountain.

But mountains are alive.

All of nature is alive.

And in this season, we often numb and remove ourselves from that which makes us alive.

Winter can feel cold, cruel and uninviting but when we find the courage to swaddle up in layers, step outside and get our hearts pumping good things always happen.

Your health or mobility may limit you from getting your heart rate too high and your locality may make it difficult for you to visit mountains regularly. But just stepping outside and noticing outdoor beauty in any form is one of the simplest and kindest things you can do for yourself this winter season.

Nature runs on a different frequency to much of modern life. This energy can calm our nervous system. It can recalibrate us. It can bring us back to our self.

Seeing life from a Mountain’s perspective can bring a about a helpful shift. Increasingly a perspective that I try and view my life from.

Living an outdoor life has gone from being an occasional pass time to becoming a fundamental part of who I am.

There are times when I feel cold, bored and frustrated and I wonder why I’m out.

But these moments are outweighed 100 fold by the wonder, the joy and the centering that being outdoors in nature gives me. Like a mountain – I feel stronger and firmer and less wobbly in who I am.

If you are feeling tired, fractured or smothered by the season why not become like a mountain. Slow your pace, lean into its solidity and listen:

“Troubled?

Then stay with me, for I am not.”  (Hafiz).

An Teallach

Lindsay on An Teallach

Post Script:

Thank you so much for reading.

** If you are reading this in 2018 (when it was published) I’ve a plan to make my message more ‘actionable’.  I’m going to be posting daily outdoor photographs on my Instagram and Facebook through out December using the hashtag #Decemberbeauty   .

Why not join me and challenge yourself to get outdoors and notice beauty each of the 31 days of December? (It could just be 5 minutes outside your door!).  You can share using the same hashtag, or message me and tell me – or keep it private for you!

If you’d like to walk and coach with me find out more here for low level and here for high level treks in May and June 2019!

Or if you’d like to retreat with me and Lindsay to connect with mind, body and nature to get Unstuck find out more about our 2019 retreat here.

 

 

 

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).

red cons.jpg

 

“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