Stay in the sun when the sunshine is gone, and you will find that the sunshine lives within you.
For mental health month I wanted to share a little bit of how a particular activity has helped me. It may not be for you, but hopefully you will feel encouraged to do something that gives you a boost or helps you manage grief , anxiety, depression.
We have had over a year of a pandemic that has changed so much of how we go about things, some of it has been extremely challenging but there have also been opportunities to focus on new things. For me this has been the introduction to outdoor immersion in cold water.
When we moved house in February 2020 little did I know that I would be getting into the river nearby, a year later, but, as my swimming friend says "this winter just gone has been a very special time”.
When my new neighbours said that a couple of them were getting into the river every morning I really wanted to have a go; but thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. Somehow I went from a spectator to those first tentative steps of getting in.
Outdoor swimming carries with it so many health benefits but, it has to be said, it also has risks that need to be acknowledged and managed. The outdoor swimming society has information on their website about how to stay safe, one of the risks is cold water shock. Believe me the water is cold and at first it takes your breath away, you have to acclimatise yourself. Once you get to a point where you feel you can immerse, the feeling is fantastic.
There is something about conquering your fear, controlling your breathing, which you have to do, and the exhilarating feel of the water on your skin. When you get out, the numb tingling cant be described adequately in words. Being outdoors in nature doing all this, you are in the moment, it stills your worries and, for me, makes me focus on so many things that maybe I take for granted. I’ve seen snow, a lot of frost, hardly any rain, till last week, the sun, clouds. On some days the steam rises off the water and you think you are getting into a hot tub only to realise you are not!! The river has gone from a torrent of deeper water that you struggle to swim against to a meander. I have watched different birds, kingfisher, dippers, heron ,and its lovely when the ducks join in. The morning birdsong, is really loud. Some days my valley dipper buddies are quiet and reflective at other times we laugh, maybe having a song or two. We sit around in water and chat, we have built a dam, like children free on a hot summer day. Over the weeks our little group have developed our own rituals and a rhythm to start the day, we giggle at how we veer towards a certain place to leave our clothes, where we get in, how one person gets straight in and I wander around for a few minutes saying I cant do it. There is no judgement from the environment, or the people you are with, no pressure, nobody says but you must do it, it doesn’t matter how you look or whether you swam for the county. Its quite liberating.
I am not saying all my aches and pains have disappeared I haven’t a clue if I’ve boosted my immune system but it has worked for me.
In the brilliant book “Taking the Plunge” by Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan there is a quote that I think describes how I feel;
The peace of the wild things, (Wendell Berry).
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.