Mindful Adventures

IMG_2603Two words have revealed themselves to mean something very different to me over the past four weeks. I thought I understood adventure. I thought I understood what it meant to be mindful. We often hear that phrase (mostly from our parents or teachers), to be “mindful of that step”, or “mindful of the traffic”. And what we class as adventures no doubt arose from reading stories of events that unfolded for people other than ourselves. Adventures were things that happened ‘out there’ or ‘in another country’.

Discovering additional meanings for these words, perhaps emotionally, I admit, but also tangibly (I err to use that word), has allowed a freedom within my mind to widen my grasp on what makes me, me.

I can’t speak for others, we all experience life and words and meanings and events in entirely different ways with different outcomes, though we all appear to be striving for some similar sort of result through our relationships and our community engagement, to whatever degree that may be. What I can say for myself is that I now understand Mindful and Adventure to be two sides of the same coin.

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On the 28th November I took my younger daughter on a road trip to Bristol to attend the first ever Women’s Adventure Expo which showcased not only a full programme of seasoned explorers and adventure seekers, but also a full day of workshops for those wanting the nitty-gritty and the hands-on approach. I opted for the full seminar programme, simply because the list of women who were to divulge trade secrets was already outstanding, and I needed to look after my brain capacity and that of my mini-me. I was also the one doing all the driving out of the two of us, so past 2pm was already going to be a challenge.

On this day, my understanding of what an adventure could be became clearer. Not suddenly, like an epiphany {though I do often have those} but more like a blooming flower that finally catches the bee’s attention before it swoops in for the forage. Adventures are literally under our very noses. We can seek them here, and we can seek them there. The Monkey’s knew what they were talking about, but I’ll be darned if I thought that adventures were only for those who dared pack up and set off. Come to think of it, I did just that when I was nineteen years old, heading off to Lyon without many pennies but certainly high hopes and grandiose desires. I never looked back on it as much of an adventure though, more of an experience, a rite of passage through desolation, desperation and depression.

Squash FalconerIMG_9715 ~ “If you have a dream, no matter how big – go for it!” ~ reminded me that through adventures, especially arduous and adrenaline-fuelled ones, eating lots is forgiving. Her stories of para-gliding off mountains didn’t leave me with a taste for the sport, but I absolutely admired her resolution for getting things done no matter what, and the importance of the little things – the right underwear can make or break your entire day.

Felicity AstonIMG_9719, the first woman to ski across Antartica alone, is a story teller with a seriously funny side that drew me into her wintry tale like a cup of cocoa and marshmallows on a stick. Freezing cold places scare me, perhaps because of their absolute nothingness when faced with the real elements, but in her story there was more than just ice, frozen garments or white-outs. There was also passion, determination, a colourful bag, the befriending of the sun, and an experience that I related to because of the mental strength required to just get out of the tent, everyday. When I thought about my challenge ahead, this resonated with me. Would I be able to get out of my tent everyday, to go another mile, another forty miles? I spoke to Felicity afterwards and her advice for me was simple, yet perhaps paramount to the completion of the task. I need to know why Im doing this, because that why will be my anchor to get me through each day. I need to have a checklist of ideas, thoughts, memories to reach out to when the tough gets absolutely stinking rotten. I need to have lots of different uplifting songs on my iPod because I will get bored. These were just some of her nuggets, and no doubt more will be discovered when I read her book.

Arita BaaijensIMG_9722 recounted her wilderness days of the world’s deserts with camels, and finally her finding the path to Shangri-La through the Altai Mountains. Her spiritual tale invoked an alternative sense of adventure for me, a longing for enduring enlightenment. It is possible to find oneself though adventure, wherever that may be, as long as we are mindful of what is around us – the air, the sky, the sea, the rivers, the plants, the mountains, the trees, the animals. Everything is connected, and everything is sacred. It appears that in our culture we have somehow forgotten that.

IMG_9732Ann Daniels stole the show for me with her enthusiasm for story-telling and her – what can only be described as epic – adventures through the polar ice caps, starting over two decades ago as a fairly fresh mother of triplets. If ever there was a story that could be told to uphold the strength capability of mothers, hers would be it. Ann didn’t recoil from the details, the stark realities were bared and shared: with adventure comes a price, sometimes at a cost of a life, sometimes at a cost of immediate health and well-being. What Ann conveyed is that I am never too old to begin my adventures, I can always find a way, and being present with my family when I am not on an adventure is one of the fundamental keys to life’s balance. I will be away for six weeks during my challenge – that has never happened to us as a family before, I have never been away for more than six days. It is vital that I make lasting memories to use as my soul-nourishment for the challenge itself.

IMG_9726Each of the speakers were able to share something that I could take away with me that was vital in some way, and will no doubt stay with me throughout my own journey. The point of going to WAExpo, though, was not just for what I could learn, but to introduce my daughter to a world of inspiration and female mentors. I am passionate about my children growing up with mentors that they can relate to, and for Sydney, my little adventurer-storyteller who has already spent six months abroad with a foreign family and is now fluent in three languages, I could not think of a more appropriate, fun, and engaging opportunity than this. The mother-daughter bonding session was complete with no radio in the car for the entire nine-hour journey, a run around Bristol before dashing to the coffee shop for breakfast, giving every homeless person we came across some of our food rations or money or coffee, and a short sight-seeing session of the city by sunrise and nightlight. These were good memories made right there.

IMG_9714Now where does this link in with the mindful part of the post? I will delve into greater detail in another post about meeting entertainer and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax in a few days’ time, but essentially I learnt from her that I am already being mindful – using mindfulness in the sense of meditation – during my runs. I cannot say that I am doing this when I am not running, but for the most part this is what goes on…

When I run, a few things happen.

  • I start to listen to solely my breathing and it often sounds really loud, there is a pattern and I focus on the pattern to moderate it.
  • I am aware of the sound of my clothes rustling, and I focus on the swish, and is it an issue?
  • I spot colours, I rarely look at just the road, because my head is up, moving left, right, up, and down, looking for bright colours to photograph and record as part of my journey.
  • I listen to the birds, there are so many, and there are so many different calls that I wish I could understand what they were singing to each other.
  • I see the light display through the clouds, the peaking of the sun through the hedges, the colours that change across the sky, the lights of the cars through drizzly rain, or the reflection of the moon on the puddles and rivers.
  • I am aware of the smells of the honeysuckle trees, the freshly-cut grass, the smoke of the barbecue or the bonfire, the potent farm odours and the remnants of a dog-walker’s companion.
  • I am aware that it’s very hard to catch rain on your tongue whilst running, but that some rain can stab you in the eyes.
  • I am also aware that, when I am not aware of any of the above, my mind can tumble down into a monotone dungeon and start to fester whilst it wades through the rotten past, the gruesome problems, the grizzly details of political and social injustice, and before long I am trapped inside my own head, ruining my run through stress, tension, anger, and a rising lust for vengeance. It is in these thoughts that I want to curl up and forget everything an everyone through bitterness and rage.
  • There is, however, an in-between. I don’t quite fall to the bottom of Dante’s seven rings of hell, but I fall just enough off the enlightened path to start to dream up grandiose ideas of everyone I can meet, all the possibilities that can play out to enhance my situation and the cause I am striving for, and that no person or idea is too big for me to approach or complete. I can do anything! It is in this place that I have to be extra-mindful of who I am, what I am capable of, and where these thoughts take me, because they are my slippery slope upwards into my very own house filled with helium balloons heading towards Paradise Falls.

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Mindful Adventures – I have come to reason with the idea that each run out of my home is a mindful adventure, as sure as walking across the Arctic would be for Ann Daniels. For me, adventure is not just a physical notion, it is predominantly a mental one. Managing my condition {my illness/ situation/ problem/ blessing, whatever it is called on any given day} Bipolar Disorder is about keeping a balance to prevent me from teetering over the edge, whether that be falling downwards, or upwards. I have come to learn that through mindful running, I can keep myself grounded by becoming focused on the plants, the flowers, the skies, the sheep, the colours, and the sounds which I also photograph to feed my creative desires and needs; the endorphins that I produce as a result are an essential part of my personal pharmatherapy. They are how I cope with being mentally ill.

My 1686-mile challenge, therefore, is an opportunity for me to take on my greatest adventure towards recovery, and to hopefully encourage, empower, inspire, or guide others along the way, to find theirs too.

2 Replies to “Mindful Adventures”

  1. Wonderful record of the WAExpo day, I felt the same but could not have articulated it like this. And you have reminded me what it is I like about running – which I am to resurrect as a ‘thing I do’ this week…I’ve never run to music, but do listen properly to the birds/sea/rustles instead.
    Thankyou!

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