It Takes a Village. Pacific Crest Trail Preparation Blog No. 2

On the 1st July this year, I’m leaving the UK to head off for a massive adventure. It’s just over 3 months away and time seems to be passing very quickly.

Last month I decided to start a monthly Pacific Crest Trail Preparation blog, with hope that it will be of interest and also that I’ll find some accountability in the telling, to help me get my laid back arse into gear.

(If you missed it you can read my February one HERE).

This is to be a real life, non sugar coated, telling of how I feel as I prepare for something that scares the life out of me! (Today’s blog is pretty tame – talk of pants and bras is as ‘real’ as I go. Next month’s might get more interesting!)

I’ve named this blog “It Takes a Village” as that’s what I’ve learned and felt this month. I’ve felt an unexpected, and therefore all the more precious, sense of interest, care and kindness and assistance. Continue reading

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

Read Part 1 here: ‘Limbic Lies – why my brain tells me I can’t navigate


“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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Walking home

“We are all just walking each other home”*

*This title comes from a book of the same name by Ram Das.

My imagination and concept of love has much changed these last few years.

I’d like to show you through these two short stories of friendship-love from beautiful long trails I walked in Scotland last year.

This first story picks up where my blog “Carried: Finding strength when you’ve none left” ended.

April 2018, Day 4 of the Cape Wrath Trail.

It was day 4 of my 16 day trek of the Cape Wrath Trail. I’d just finished the 30 km walk from Clunnie to Kintail, when I realised I had an additional 5 km road section to walk to get to my accommodation and to meet my friend.

My only focus had been getting to the road. That was enough. It was all I had the capacity for.

On the hill I’d fleetingly imagined that Lindsay would pick me up or that I could hitch hike. But now I’m here I’ve no phone signal. And there’s nothing. No one.

My flat, throbbing feet search for the soft cushioning of grass amidst what has become tarmac hell.

I plod on and pass a caravan park. Ah yes!  I’ll meet some folks from the caravan park who’ll give me a lift.

A couple come into view, walking towards me. As they get closer I notice more:  They’re maybe in their 50s but with an age defying outdoor glow. Sports casual – he in chinos and she in jeans, both fleece clad, walking a small dog. They must be staying at the caravan park. They must have a car.

“You look tired”, they greet me. “Have you come a long way?”

I tell them my route and acknowledge I’m tired, trying to look even more pathetic.

Pity me. Pity me. Offer me a lift.

Continue reading

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?

hot choc lady.jpg

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.