As some of you may know, I am privileged to be working alongside very experienced Dru yoga tutors this year – assisting and supporting the current yoga students on their teacher training journey.
When I volunteered for this I expected to be attending in person, in Stirling once a month – helping make the tea, assisting students with postures and questions and generally supporting in a background role – oh and it gave me an excuse to go and stay with my dear friend and her family.
Of course, this year, nothing has gone to plan and Dru has been amazing and taken the teacher training online - the students have all been fantastic and welcomed this with open arms and have been brilliant in going with the flow. Their dedication and determination is inspirational.
They are currently gathering photos of their meditation shawls to make a collaborative patchwork piece of art - it reminds me of my meditation shawl I purchased from a stall in London en route to a yoga retreat I was heading to in Sussex - my treat to myself to reconnect and set the scene prior to beginning my journey as a Dru teacher. Now my sister is crocheting me a set of shawls to correspond with the colours of the chakras - part of our energetic body. There's something lovely about the symbolism and emotional attachment we give to something like this - I guess the items embody the intention and the energy and vibration of the sacred space we create within ourselves as we practice our yoga and meditation.
And so, I find I am only making tea for myself and with the huge privilege of witnessing and feeding back on ‘homework – reflective learning sheets and assignments; I’ve been assigned to support a senior tutor in helping with study groups and have now ventured into a tiny bit of teaching online. Quite a journey in itself and the latest weekend found Joe (the senior tutor I’m working with) and myself giving the anatomy and physiology presentation for the course - on the circulatory system – a subject close to my heart (see what I did there) as I shared my experience from several years ago when I ignored my body and landed myself in hospital receiving a transfusion of 3 units of blood and being extremely grateful for blood donors and the NHS.
After the presentation, I realised that this had happened when I was about 7 months into my yoga teacher training – about the same place they were just before the last weekend of training. One of the things I didn’t mention was that one reason I was ignoring my health was that my husband was already in hospital, having been blue lighted in with chest pain – turned out he had pericarditis (inflammation of the protective sac around the heart).
We both really had a crisis of the heart going on and afterwards, we took this opportunity as a gift to reassess our lives – we committed to downsizing, to working less and playing / travelling more. This was over 5 years ago and is still very much a work in progress – we have released so much - it has been a peeling away of layers, of my aspirational self, of who I thought I was, of physical stuff - and yet here we are, still journeying along our path – it’s not one we can rush.
This is our journey but there are points that I find myself reflecting on that I think are common when we commit to a practise, to our self development and to about this time in the course….
So today, in this blog, I want to chat about that often, uncomfortable space – when we reach that point where we change – our outlook, our ideas, travel beyond our comfort zone – altering our vibration.
We’ve spent years being comfortable and knowing ourselves and during the course, there comes a step over the threshold into the unknown – we often don’t realise we have crossed it – yoga can be sneaky – working away in the background without us realising what’s going on until we arrive at a point where ‘we no longer fit’. We can feel naked, exposed – old fears can arise – freeing themselves from the shadowy places to be looked at, acknowledged, thanked and released if they no longer serve – often they are there to keep us or our ancestors safe. This place of uncertainty can feel weird, bring over-reactions, questions from friends and family who don’t feel so comfortable around us as we change – our vibration feels out of kilter. This change is of course simply us becoming ‘more’ us – releasing layers – like peeling off really old comfy jumpers that don’t actually keep us very warm any more but we have a strong emotional attachment to them.
And this journey is cyclical - an ever deeper spiral to oneself.
As an assistant tutor on this course, I find myself at a point where I’m back at this slightly uncomfy place – I can recognise it more easily now as I cycle round again - I begin to doubt my place in the support team, old ‘not enough’ monsters rear their head – I’m not good enough, I’m not the right person to be doing this; I find myself feeling slightly resentful at the time it takes and yet, I made this commitment, I set the intention – I know it is my path..but jings….here I am at the uncomfy place – again..
I feel emotional for no apparent reason – I’ve not been teaching yoga for that long compared to the other very experienced tutors on the course – most of whom were tutors on my course, or the tutors of the tutors from my course…I have to have a word with myself – I’ve been practising yoga since my teens, I’ve been a sports coach for over 25 years, I’ve mentored community and outdoor education students, I’ve organised more training events that I can remember, I have several tickets, been on lots of courses including level 3 coach, train the trainer, business support, coaching skills blah blah blah but of course – yoga is a sneaky thing – stepping over my comfort zone to support this course, deepening my own learning and practise, being seen – my heart feels vulnerable, I’m in that scary, shadowy place once more.
I am of course learning heaps, deepening and refreshing my knowledge - gathering information that perhaps bi-passed me the first time round - including the link between the posture - natarajasana and waterfalls - that explains why I frequently feel drawn to working with that posture in these wonderful places. The Dru Scotland tutor team have made me feel extremely welcome - they are so supportive and it's truly wonderful to feel part of that community.
This time of year is a time to pause – to go, as Persephone does – into the shadow-world, to be like a seed planted in the ground; to recharge our batteries, reflect, release and restore.
As I stand and gaze at this evenings full moon - the last before the winter solstice, I reflect on my ever continuing cyclical yoga journey, I can begin to look back at the path travelled, the journey undertaken and realise how far I’ve come. I’m constantly learning, always changing, ever deepening – discarding the old, out of date, over worn, no longer warm layers of jumpers – acquiring new, appropriate (for now anyway) ones and snuggling down for the winter.
My journey into the virtual world of teaching yoga online….
I would never have thought I would / could be teaching regularly online - yet here I am, twice a week.
I've been blown away by the response - it really shows the power of Dru. At first I did it for my local class and many of them are coming along - a couple to both classes each week - they are all so supportive. Folks who have been to some of my pop up classes and workshops are attending - one person from a workshop I ran at a yoga festival last year, people I used to work with in different sectors, folks' daughters, friends of others on facebook, people I went to school with, folks mum’s - I've (re)connected with folks far and wide. I’ve been truly astounded at the number of people getting in touch and coming along.
I’ve been trying to work up to creating online content for ages - my friend Ros and I are running an online course around the chakras and I found I reached a real block when it came to making the videos.
A year ago, I started filming at the beach thinking I would add voice over later - I set my standards really high - looking at others online and comparing myself - finding myself not good enough.
Last November, I went back to my life coach, the wonderful Saskia; to focus on bringing abundance, flow and creativity back into my worklife. She encouraged me to keep a gratitude journal, to write about my not enough monsters and to make a vlog about why I was finding it so hard to film myself - you have to understand - I burst into tears when Laura first showed me my draft website 2 years ago - not because I didn’t like it - it was gorgeous - but because there were pictures of me on it and I couldn’t handle that. I managed the first 2 of Saskia’s tasks but never the 3rd - the vlog. I'm still writing the gratitude journal - it has powerful magic.
My 14 year old nephew has his own youtube channel and has no issues making content - I went to him for advice - he’s been great - making me laugh, pointing out that I hold my head to one side and I fiddle with my feet, but he’s always really supportive.
Finally lockdown arrived - the end of my live classes and workshops in the village hall for a while - to begin with I felt quite overwhelmed - we had a lot going on at the time - we were meant to be finishing our house renovation and moving. I took a couple of weeks to sit with the idea - everyone was heading online…. earlier this year I had been to some great training with Business Gateway Argyll & Bute about making online content, Dru Professional Network then ran an online workshop for their teachers thinking about taking their classes online. And finally, I attended a course with Om Line Training about making youtube content - a fabulous piece of advice from Lucy was to stop comparing ourselves to others, to just get on with it, start somewhere and stop worrying about it being perfect! Oh and some good friends volunteered to be on the end of Zoom while I tried out the tech, picked their brains and generally attempted to find some confidence.
My patient husband has been great - we’re living in quite small temporary accommodation and in order to teach, I have to rearrange the entire downstairs - he goes off to hide outside or upstairs depending on the time of day. And he has to put up with me having total meltdowns when I can’t get the tech to work beforehand - last minute stress… He helped me make a video about it…and now I even have a YouTube channel.
It takes more organisation and time to teach online, I find I have to change how I teach too - can folks see me properly - can they hear me ok - one week I turned into a dalek which totally spoiled the vibe of the relaxation - exterminate, exterminate.. the joys of broadband in rural Argyll - allegedly I’m on fibre here… I’ve felt like a beginner teacher again - trying new ways, trying to engage folks who have been coming to my ‘in person’ classes for a long time whilst explain things fully for new folks. I don’t get any live 'at the time' feedback - gone are the chats about how did you find that, what worked for you and folks' chance to ask questions. Fortunately people are really good about dropping me messages with feedback - that really helps keep my energy up - at first I was nervous about that - was I just feeding my ego by looking for positive reinforcement that the class was ok? but actually, I genuinely find it helps my motivation and does help me understand what works, what could be improved and most importantly helps me to feel connected to my students.
During lockdown, the main focus for my online classes has really been about feeling grounded and at a slower pace. There are already 1,000s of great online classes which are much more 'active' or in the physical layer - I don't see the point of trying to repeat the choice that is already there.
However, it’s taken me a while to be comfortable sharing the more ethereal aspects of yoga, as for me it is very personal (and I'm actually quite shy) but I have made a commitment to myself that folks will accept this and come to my classes because that is what they are looking for - I'm trying to learn to not have to try and please everyone.
Big girl brave pants.....
This week there were 15 people (eek) at each class and we experimented with exploring the sun sequence in a gentle way as it was the dark moon - supporting our inner flame to shine light on our shadow and use the dark moon to release stuff which no longer serves into the transformational fire before the new moon today - (preparing to potentially ease out of lockdown into a new world) - and all that....I even managed to find my big girl brave pants and chant the mantra at the end of the sequence for everyone.
I'm never very sure what newcomers make of me wittering on and chanting .... Anyway - the other day I received this feedback from one of the newcomers which made me cry and I want to share it.
Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed last night's class.
Thanks for reading and thank you to the wonderful Dru community and all you amazing people who share space to practice yoga with me. I'm so grateful xo
I try and practice yoga and permaculture. Both I feel overlap completely. Permaculture has 3 main areas of focus and a list of ethics. Yoga has ancient philosophy and a list of ethics – called the yamas and niyamas (more on them another time ;).
Earthcare, fairshare and peoplecare are the 3 main principles of permaculture – practising people care is one of the reasons I became a yoga teacher. The way of learning in permaculture is to observe nature – she will teach / show us everything.
As a yoga teacher I have squillions of techniques in my toolbox to help alleviate stress and worry – sadly I don’t have a magic wand that changes my personality from a total stress head who seems to be addicted to that habit – and so it becomes my life journey – to learn how to stay on this path to the zen mountain, to learn to be gentle with myself when I wander off – as I do – I am very easily distracted.
Which is what this beach is about. It brings up so much for me…
It brings up judgement and leads to feelings of total despair and why do I bother?
Although I haven’t been to a Craignish beach clean, I have participated and organised many litter picks in my life – as a voluntary field officer with Scottish Conservation Projects and then as Canal Development Officer in Maryhill, Glasgow in the 1990s - I have helped clean up canals, rivers, beaches and woodlands. It feels like all for nothing though when I see the state of this beach here, just round the corner from where I live at the moment.
I generally pick up litter when I’m out and I do spend a lot of time at the beach during the year and have a wee pact with myself to always pick up at least one piece of litter everytime as a thank you to the beach.
This year - with social distancing in place - our community beach clean is a bit different – no organised day, just a general, if you are out on your daily walk, please take a bin bag and collect what you can.
With a bit more time on our hands at the moment we took ourselves for a walk the other day round part of the gorgeous place we live – here’s the view where I practiced some yoga. I was shocked at the litter though and vowed to return the next day with bags.
So we did – 2 hours later and I was finding it hard to focus on what we had achieved rather than what was still left to do.
It feels endless – easier just to give up before I even start. A bit like life sometimes, eh?
My granny had TB at 15 – she lived but that illness stayed with her for the rest of her life and I’ve been told that some ancient forms of medicine believe that TB leaves traces down the generations. My whole family has been plagued with a persistent cough – on both my mother and fathers side. What grief is it that we are carrying through the generations? How can I release this – my mind wants the story – to know the why – and yet my heart knows, the story is irrelevant – do the work – release the fear, the stress the grief – how?? I ask. Take every opportunity – be thankful for what I have, accept emotions, really pause and feel, witness them, cry if I want – remind myself that it is ok to cry, to release old grief through these current opportunities of death and destruction. Allow the exhaustion and helplessness to pass, focus on selfcare, earthcare, people care and fairshare.
And that is the journey…lessons from the beach - more yoga, more being, less doing; learning new patterns, releasing the old – ready for the new world that is coming.
What little things make a difference in your life?
How do you learn from nature?
How do you release grief and make space for the new world?
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post – I’ve been having a year of transitions. I wrote a blog a year ago about letting go of our house and other things in order to downsize.
We’ve come a long way and are still navigating the journey. We handed over the keys to the new custodians of our old house last June, moved onto the boat, went to Germany and bought a motorhome, came home to Argyll and bought a small house which needs work, so we’ve been camping in the new house, travelling in the motorhome and learning how to sail with the cat on board. It sounds amazing – and it was – and I’ve learned a few things about myself…..
It’s an interesting thing, this peeling of layers, this journey with myself. A peeling of layers of stuff, of emotions, of my past – a time of digging deep, of experimenting and perhaps learning to forgive myself for not being perfect, for not living up to my own expectations.
Talking of moons and cycles, it’s now 2 years since my last physical cycle and nearly 4 years since I landed myself in hospital through losing too much blood (and I’m making no apologies for too much information – we need to talk about these things). I feel as though peri-menopause kicked me round the park – gifting me much insight and many opportunities to review who I really am, to prepare to transition from creatress to dark queen – that opposite of the bright maiden – and I’ve found it a time to reconnect a bit with some of my ideals and hopes and aspirations from that time. I reconnected with dance through my shakti dance training.
It’s now time though for me to own this dark queen aspect of myself – she takes no shit and she’s fed up with some of the baggage I like to hang on to – the old ways.
I have a fabulous life and the old ways are holding me back. Life is about exploring edges and I love this quote.
This is my failure party – a celebration of some of my failures and imperfections:
I am actually quite shy – I know I may not appear this – I’m forthright, I’ve had jobs that involve me chairing meetings, presenting at conferences, running training and workshops but yes, I am actually quite shy, especially in groups. Having chosen to listen to the criticism I received as a child, I am scared of stepping up, of being seen, of getting it wrong, of hurting feelings, of breaking things, of being too loud, of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, of being naïve and not tough enough. I also have an inner belief that it is not safe to be seen – this could be from the old adage – ‘children should be seen but not heard’ or perhaps it is an old pattern handed down the generations from ancestors from a time when it truly was not safe for them – I’ve been told that someone traced part of our family back to the Huguenots so perhaps being on the run was the only way to be safe; or perhaps it’s part of the collective we now call the witch wound – my husband reminds me that if I was born a couple of centuries ago I would have definitely been in line for a burning. Who knows? All I know is that this old way no longer serves me or others. I’m learning to show up – baby steps but I’m setting myself intentions and creating opportunities that allow me to do this.
I’m a bit of a people pleaser and a fixer. I want to say and do the right things and I want to help people when I can, even though me trying to fix things for others is not necessarily the best path for either them or me. I’m learning how to support without attempting to fix. I’m learning how to look after me first – I’ve been going to yoga classes for me, practising yoga just for me – mostly at the beach.
I’ve found teaching yoga quite terrifying at times – and still do. It’s like exposing a really personal side of myself – I don’t do that – and I’m learning to. Sharing spiritual stuff, hippy stuff, non tangible stuff – sharing this aspect is scary stuff to someone like me – I feel as though I will be judged for this even though I don’t actually care too much what others think – I guess the person judging is me – now where on earth did I learn to do that? That serves no-one, that path leads to shame and guilt. And while we’re at it, I recently realised that although I’ve thought I have fairly weak boundaries I actually have almost all or nothing boundaries. I can have walls up so high – trying not to show my imperfections – scared that if anyone looks too closely they’ll see I’m a fake, they’ll see I’m no good.
How do I show vulnerability? How do I really be my authentic self if I’m in hiding? This is why I need new ways.
I often encourage folks to shine their light, to stand in their power and to accept themselves as the wonderful beings that they are. And I’m a fraud – I’m not actually sure how to do this for myself. One thing I’ve discovered over the last few years is that even though I may know something – I don’t actually accept or be that thing – it’s like the thought has to drop in to my heart.
I have such a fear of not being perfect, not being good enough and such an expectation that I’ll have done something wrong, that if someone asks to have a chat with me I immediately think I’m about to get a row or called out on something – it’s like I have a permanently guilty conscience. This is a habit that absolutely no longer serves – I call upon Kali to slice her sword through that.
Learnings from a year of transition
I thought I was a nomad, I aspire to minimalism – less is more, I can travel light, I don’t need much stuff and my stuff doesn’t take up much room – pish!
I've come to the brutal realisation that I don’t travel light, I like my stuff – I like having stuff, I like using my stuff and having easy access to it, I need to know where it is – I like it to be organised, I like routine – I function better when I have routine.
- I like home comforts
- I like having space around me
- I’m not really very tidy although I would love to be
- I work with about 20 different projects on the go at any one time (I am making an effort to reduce this though)
And now I’m learning to accept that all of this is ok:
- It's ok to want to have some stuff, to be slightly over the top about wanting access to it, to know where it all is
- It's ok to want a routine
- And its ok to want to live in comfy surroundings
I’m perhaps not that much of a minimalist but I do function better with less and a simpler life – I’m learning to find the balance.
But this means we can focus on our moho travels and windsurfing and my yoga, without the guilt of leaving a boat on a mooring or out on the hard without purpose or use.
We’re reminding each other constantly that the house will be ready when it’s ready – that we don’t have to knock our pans in, that it’s ok to accept help and it’s ok to still go travelling – we’re off to Cornwall tomorrow – back into the moho and leaving the cat to guard the stove at home.
Cycles of Fire
Summer Solstice 2019
or the art of letting go....
Letting go of the house brings up many emotions - relief at not being responsible for my large garden, guilt and grief about leaving all my plants, loss of our comfortable home, loss of our identity that is wrapped up in a house we designed and spent many hours working on together. Shelter and home are directly linked to the root chakra - to not have this is ungrounding and can be very unsettling.
And yet, it is so exciting - another description of aparigrapha is non-attachment and so I'm learning to let go of expectations - the old story of who I thought I was - that I will live in one place forever, that I'm going to grow as much of our own food as possible blah blah. I'm not worried about the future - we are not really making ourselves homeless as we have our boat and van - our mini adventure pods. We have the skills to look after ourselves.
We will regain spaciousness to create more adventures without feeling torn about being away from home and coming back to overgrown vegetable beds.
ps Bill just read this and said
"it's not about the kit you are using - it's about using the kit"......
I’ve always loved essential oils – for me they are part of plant medicine – I love plants and love connecting with their very essence – through hanging out with them in my garden, growing herbs and drinking herbal tea, taking flower essences, and working with essential oils. I wholly believe that plants carry their own unique vibrations and love their place in my life.
As a woman of many talents ;) I can get very easily distracted – drawn to this, drawn to that – there are so many choices out there that it is hard not to have a go at all of them – which is fine but actually is exhausting and means I tend to be a ‘jill of all trades’ rather than settling and going deeper with one or two. And so it is with all the different ways with which to work with plants - perhaps it is time to focus more with the essential oils.
I kind of fell in to the Wellness Advocate thing – a friend and I got swept up in a wave of enthusiasm – doTERRA essential oils are gorgeous, certified therapeutic grade and not available except online or via a Wellness Advocate. However, doTERRA runs as a multi level marketing business and I’ve been shy about building it as a business. This means that I have taken this year to gradually begin to work with them in greater depth, experiment, build my own collection, share them with friends and get feedback.
One of the main reasons I got involved is I would love to use essential oils more in my yoga classes and workshops. May people don’t like the smoke from incense and find it irritating but I love using incense as a way to purify the air and cleanse the space both aromatically and energetically. Scented candles generally contain 'scent' or 'perfume' which are chemical based. But by working with essential oils in diffusers or a spray bottle I can gain the same effects and probably go further with different blends to link to the themes of the class.
During my year of experimenting, learning and taking things at an unhurried pace, I have discovered that I love working with the oils and am using them in many different ways. I've been diffusing different oils, experimenting with room spray blends, making my own natural cleaning products and taking some of the different doTERRA wellness supplements.
I've been sharing the experience with holiday guests at Elder Cottage (a gorgeous holiday cottage in Craobh Haven) using a diffuser to freshen the air, gifting tiny sample bottles as part of their welcome pack and using the natural cleaning products I've made to minimise use of chemicals.
A few weeks ago, I attended training for the doTERRA AromaTouch technique – this is an oil application technique involving 8 essential oils which can help relieve stress and support the body’s natural immune system. There is also a hand massage technique and we will be sharing this as part of lovely nurturing yoga workshops this autumn and winter. I am really excited to be able to share the oils in this way and I loved the training where we all received a treatment as well as learning the technique. I will be offering AromaTouch technique treatments from November onwards.
Please get in touch to find out more.......
Defining values and life purpose
At this time of equinox when the world is balanced between light and dark, day and night; and the wheel of the year turns to autumn and the trees show us the beautiful skill of letting go; I'm sharing some of my experience of seeking balance and learning to let go - the acceptance that although I could do lots of things, I can choose not to - staying in balance is more important than full on burn out. This for me is both learning for life and life long learning...
During the last winter and spring, I worked with a life coach. These 6 months brought me to a clearer path - it was intense, liberating, exhilarating, fear inducing, hard work and fun.
Prior to this I felt huge overwhelm, I couldn't focus, I've been 'tired' for years, always busy. I've been constantly seeking a simple life since my mid 20s. How come I'm not there yet? I would bemoan. It turned out that my constant business, tiredness, 'poor me' attitude is total avoidance. A way to feel accepted in this culture of doing and rush. Busy also means I can avoid taking responsibility. Not avoiding responsibility in the usual sense, but avoiding fully taking responsibility for myself - I had to realise that there was a little 'victim' me in the picture. At the time I wondered how come I 'knew' this stuff but didn't 'know' it really? The knowledge was in my head but it wasn't until the knowledge dropped in to my heart that I could actually begin to feel and truly understand. That word seeking is perhaps a clue - seeking instead of being.
One of the first things we looked at were my values - it is so much easier to prioritise when I view things through the lens of my values. It's kind of like getting my head out the road so my heart can see....
I want to share my values with you as these are also the values of Woodland Elements :)
After defining my values, we worked on a creating life purpose statement using words that carry deep meaning for me. Here is the result.
I feel I have my L plates on, I am practising my path of ease; my life of unbusyness and space - it's hard work, I know I will wander off and yet there are positive signs - I can begin to recognise when overwhelm threatens, when my diary starts to fill. I can take steps to catch myself gently and with compassion - this is a new skill, it takes time to nurture and practise.
I would recommend life coaching to everyone – Saskia, my coach and I agreed how we would work together and I learned much from her integrity, her boundaries and her example, she also called me out on my bullshit lol, often catching me as I drifted off in to story and guiding me back to focusing on the issues which is very good for me. My website and blog are part of the courage I found through her support and I've got a 6 month check in booked for next month. Saskia resides online at https://rawfreedom.co.uk
So, at the beginning of May this year was Scotland's first yoga and adventure festival - Scapafest - and it was held in Argyll. Such an opportunity right on my very own doorstep - yoga, sea kayaking, bushcraft and camp fires. Imagine that - my favourite passions in my favourite place. It would've been rude not to go......and yet, I nearly didn't. Here is my Scapa story...
Scapafest gave me so much - I made new friends, I shared amazing experiences and I learned lots about myself. By the end of the 3 days I knew I had regained something I had lost - I was changed - refreshed and full of wonder at the power of festivals, yoga and selfcare. Having injured myself a few weeks before, I was still practising yoga but pretty much from a chair, in a knee brace, unable to get off and on the floor - by the time I left Scapa, the knee brace was off and I had been able to practise a supported handstand (and I haven't even tried a handstand since primary school lol). I began to learn to look at my story from a different perspective. How did this happen?....
As I said, I nearly didn't go - I bought a ticket right at the last moment even though I had known about the event for ages. I remember seeing the early adverts on social media and thinking - yahoo. that sounds fabulous, that's exactly my kind of thing........ and then....... my ego got involved - my head was like - hey - who's this, why are they doing this here - I do this - this is my patch - who's coming to sit in my chair and eat my porridge..haha....And yet, of course, the reality is, I so don't do this - I don't set up big festivals, I don't take that risk, I wasn't even out there publicising that I teach paddlesports and yoga and love crafting and nature and, and..... And actually - what does it matter? It is funny this story, the goings on in my head.
All photos courtesy of Scapafest (except the ones of the trees)
Time is a funny thing. I turned round the other day and discovered that it’s 20 years since I was a Winston Churchill Travel Fellow. And so, I shall use this moment of nostalgia and amazement at the passing of time to reflect how this lifetime opportunity changed my life and continues to influence it to this day. Pull up a comfy chair, get a cup of tea - this is a long one. In short - the trip was EPIC.
What is a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship? These life-changing opportunities to travel and study are still available every year – check out www.wcmt.org.uk for more information.
All of these seem quite inconsequential now but at the time they were huge. And hilariously my report mentions me using the internet to do research on companies and email to contact them – I had even signed up for a Hotmail account. Jings! Imagine that. So much of what I take for granted today was new back then.
Most of my lasting memories are based around the people I met and the landscape in which I travelled. In looking back, I sometimes wonder how I found the courage to do what I did – not sure I could do that now, things like:
Driving from Toronto to Cape Breton and back via northern Ontario was a fabulous experience (including the breakdowns – the radiator blew up in the middle of Algonquin Park and the rear end fell off one night in Halifax – hey ho). These too became experiences – getting a new radiator built from scratch and the garage who ripped out the ignition so I could start the car with a screw driver as the key broke in it. I drove most of the way through Quebec in one go because although I reckon I could get by in French in terms of sorting out a campsite and coffee, French for my fan belt needs tightened was utterly beyond me.
The companies, the people and the landscape from this time continue to inspire me to this day. I learned loads about working with different groups on, in and around the water. I learned a lot about myself too including the 2 sides of travelling alone – I meet more people but visit less places with no-one to share the experience. On what sounds like a really shallow thing to say - I renewed my entire wardrobe – Mountain Equipment Co-op being my first experience of a big outdoor store and more importantly they made and sold kit and proper outdoor clothes made specifically for women – but this was revolutionary to me back then. In the past, I often struggled with the whole being a woman thing – often being driven to prove I can do something - feeling bound to that old adage of ‘you have to be twice as good as a man to be thought half as good’.
My jobs over the last 20 years have involved less water but still been based around landscapes and communities. Working for Community Woodlands Association took me to the 'real' Knoydart and the opportunity to support the wonderful Knoydart Forest Trust. Although not waterbased, the Trust and the whole peninsula is full of dedicated people, passionate about their community and their landscape. I love how transferable these qualities are.
It is fantastic to see the new paddlesports centre at Pinkston Basin, Glasgow – I like to think that somehow the aspirations of the Forth & Clyde Canal Community Project - we undertook a feasibility study for a watersports centre at Firhill Basin, tried to encourage polo pitches at Pinkston and took 100s of local we’ans paddling every year; and a report I produced when working for ROCK DCM on the social inclusion benefits of an artificial whitewater course may have had added some slight influence out in the ether, tee hee…
My paddling has mostly become confined to a hobby and yet still there are always opportunities – 10 summers ago I helped restart kayaking and canoeing as part of Craignish Boat Club. Again, the people involved are dedicated and passionate; and over the years we have shared the paddling experience with most of the children in the area. In 2016, the club was recognised as SCA (Scottish Canoe Association) club of the year which was a great boost to all of us. This summer, the club is out on the water without me – our newer, homegrown coaches and assistants now leading the way.
Where does time go? I am so grateful for the experience and opportunity this travel fellowship gave me even if I can’t quite believe that it is now ‘ancient history’ in the journey of my life. I am the sum of my experiences and yet I am not defined by them – they are only my interpretation of what happened. Stories, reflections and memories – snap shots of time. The experiences become part of the cells of my body and the stories part of my personal myth...
I am still working on becoming less of a burn out, stress head – still working on creating space in my life, letting go of old patterns of business although I do believe I have made some progress towards living my intentional path of ease. Inspired by the companies and people I met, I will remain forever passionate about creating opportunities for young people through watersports, landscapes and community.
Musings from wandering about woodlands, paddling in the sea and meditating by rivers ...