In September 2016, I moved to the west of Ireland. It was unseasonably warm, we were experiencing an Indian Summer. I remember the leaves were clinging on and the swallows lining up on the electricity lines, discussing their departure tactics. I woke early and watched the sunrise like a long laborious exhalation just after 7 am.
That first year, it was hard to accept that I was here. It felt regressive in many ways. Throughout my childhood, I craved to leave this place. I eventually did. Then I came back for 3 years in my early 20’s and left again, vowing that this was it. Home never felt like my home. I loved that I had a curious, wandering spirit. I travelled the world alone, with then-partners and with friends, always excited to feel new soil under my feet. Breathe in my arrival and let my senses heighten and relax. The brevity of the newness stabilised me and I was able to leave before insecurity crept in once again.
On Thursday, I went for a ramble around the Burren National Park. This place is a natural wonder, an ancient kingdom of limestone sculptures carved over millennia by the rain and wind. As a child, I knew that the famous exterior of Fr Ted’s house was here and that was all I knew about the area. Now, every time I visit, I see it through new eyes. Locals have told me it is a land of spirit and magic, you trust that this native land will nourish you and shelter you.
I’ve been drawn back here since I moved home. The unreliable ground beneath my feet felt familiar. To look up and absorb the majestic Mullaghmore or Sliabh Rua, you must stop so you don’t slip between the crags and crevices. When you look down, the famous flora and fauna grow deep within them, sheltered from the elements, and ash trees growing horizontally. It was here in the Burren, that I understood the power of the natural world and to let go.
This week’s ramble was different. I started out on an old famine relief road, built in the 1840s. I didn’t go far, I spent time foraging blackberries, sloes and wild thyme. I observed a frog as it leaped across the limestone, never missing its footing. A few drops of rain fell. The smell of the feral goats rose with the rain but there was no sign of them. Acorn casings strewn across the ground, the red squirrels long gone, the trees now bare.
There was a noticeable shift in the weather too, it was a perfect autumnal day. Crisp, clear, and, on the side of the mountain, deathly silent.
For me, September is a time of new beginnings. I don’t rate January when we’re encouraged to make resolutions. Yet the September I moved back here, I saw it as a tragic ending. It felt stagnant, heavy, restrictive, and embedded in a sense of unease and shame. I couldn’t settle for the first year. This life I had created was not the one I imagined or wanted. I woke up teetering on the edge, a sense of unease deep withon me. Outwardly, I appeared fine, but inside, I was far from it.
One way of dealing with this was filling in my calendar. I booked city breaks, weekends away, yoga retreats. Yes, I might live here, for now, I said to myself, but I’ll live somewhere like (insert current destination) soon. I was merely existing being transient in my approach to my life. I wished and craved for a life a future, unable to see what was in front of me. The restrictiveness of this mindset eased over time but the pattern of leaving for short periods continued. I’d return with heaviness, and longing for something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Something out there, outside of me.
Then March 2020 arrived and I had no choice but to stay where I was.
I committed to this place. And the idea didn’t freak me out. In fact, I was, dare I whisper this, happy. I didn’t spend time looking up flights and destinations, instead, I turned to reading more and making sure I got outside every day for a long walk around the countryside. I began to feel more nourished. When I connected with people, it was with more attention, listening to them on a deeper level. I journaled more and wrote words to myself that I needed to hear, a reassuring pep talk. Instead of thinking people didn’t get me I wrote on these pages letters of support. I became my own social experiment.
The foundational skill of mindfulness is grounding oneself. Coming back to your body and breath again and again. Verse 47 of the Tao Te Ching states Without going outside, you may know the whole world. There was nowhere for me to go, my default distraction (travel) was gone. When I felt stuck, I investigated this feeling with curiosity. I asked myself why I was feeling stuck in this particular moment. Over time, I realised that I am at home. By tuning into my here and now, letting go and feeling my feelings I am good. Sure, fear still comes. It whispers to me and suddenly I find my nervous system coming under attack. And I go back to watching my breath, feeling my feet on the ground and reminding myself that I am safe. I accept that I am a work in progress, before I believed that I had to be a polished finished product, there is a big difference.
Rambling around the Burren this week, I didn’t crave unsteadiness under my feet as I did before. I have allowed myself to be here fully, that’s enough.
It’s always enough.
TO COME HOME TO YOURSELF
May all that is unforgiven in you,
May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities.
May all that is unlived in you,
Blossom into a future,
Graced with love.