Yearning19th February 2022
We live in stormy times and stormy weather has been our lot in recent days. There also is a wintry feel since snow is falling in places as I write these words. Often, I have written here about the storms of life with the understanding that being out in nature is so restorative.
That has been the refrain from John Muir and so many others. We hear in the outdoor press about those who are unhappy in their everyday life and then leave that after them, at least for a while, to take on an outdoors challenge. That also features in the stories of people like Elise Downing who ran around the coast of Britain and became a Silver winner in The Great Outdoors Awards for her book Coasting. Some even have followed this kind of endeavour by changing their whole lifestyles.
The subject of soothing solitude has been mentioned in my writings numerous times and is one of the motivations for my excursions into nature. The landscapes may be human-influenced in so many ways yet it is their present-day emptiness that draws me. It might my introversion but I relish being away from others for periods. It certainly has drawn me out in wilder lands in Scotland and England but it also has its limitations.
Dependence on incursions into emptier lands still does not eliminate dependence on others. First of all, they need to be conserved but there are other things too. Political developments can affect them and my reverence for the Scottish Highlands and Islands made me emotionally vulnerable in 2014 when Scotland was debating its constitutional future. That led me to look elsewhere.
Unfortunately, that too can be bedevilled by global events like the ongoing pandemic and geopolitical tensions in different places. Developments like Britain’s exit from the European Union can unsettle as well. In many ways, this demonstrates the problems with having oases and havens outside of oneself. Going elsewhere for peace and healing can be forestalled by other intrusions all too easily.
At the start of 2020, I was reading Anthony Storr’s Solitude and the enduring lesson from that book was the power of interior self-efforts. That certainly has for me been an ongoing effort in life when solitude allowed me to heal enough during a career break to go back to working again and get through an emotional period in my work life. The same could be said for dealing with grief, loss and upheaval since the passing of my parents who thankfully were spared the travails of the pandemic and other intrusions.
It has taken interior efforts to deal with the fear and restrictions of the pandemic too. Initially, I was left floundering and a heavy withdrawal from caffeine consumption lasted several months but has left me sleeping more soundly nowadays. It took me a while to find again the relaxing effects of outdoor wandering and I will not forget the benefits of a circular stroll from home in May 2020 that took in Croker Hill, Bosley Reservoir, Bosley and Gawsorth in what was a wider sweep than I recognised at the time.
Books feature in interior journeys too and they certainly do in my case. Peaceful, evocative descriptions of nature have been mentioned in other postings that you will find here but there has been another strand to this over the last twelve months that may make some readers feel awkward. That has gone along the paths of faith and spirituality. Authors like John Barton, Karen Armstrong and Edward Feser have been on the left-brained portion of this reading ramble but it has taken a more mystical turn with authors like Richard Rohr, John O’Donohue and others that I have yet to read. This is experiential reading with a little more than what you might find in nature or travel writing.
That is not to say that I have abandoned nature writing because it deals with bodily sensing but that it has taken more of a backseat for now. There is a whole body of writing that awaits experiencing and brings its share of helpful peace, healing and meaning. To mention this is to bare my soul a little yet it could influence how I approach my wanderings and show them in a different light. The wonder of nature and the way that light falls on a landscape remains attractive for me but this may be encountered in a more holistic mindset.
Too often, I have felt that some frame outdoor activity too superficially and focus on their efforts to the point of disregarding their surroundings. That makes me look at the athleticism of some as being too shallow an existence when a more transcendental experience is possible. Certainly, that follows from the thinking of people such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau as well as even the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Physical condition and skillfulness remain important but they need to serve some higher purpose.
For many people, this involves being with others and adding the ambience of nature’s wonders to this certainly enhances that. That is good in itself but there is something about being alone in a landscape that it soothes and heals with its peacefulness. There are times when apparent absence is full of presence and becomes what is needed by a stressed and overwhelmed soul.