As a young woman, whose life wasn’t panning out as she expected nor wanted, I legged it to a remote mountain village in the North of Italy. Didn’t speak a word of Italian, didn’t know anyone but I knew I needed a circuit breaker for a life that could so easily have spiralled down the wrong way.
My courage paid off, as it often does I’ve found. I had the most magical, intense and healing times of my life. I made lifelong friends, learnt to ski/speak Italian and realised early that at each turn in life one can go many different ways.
Now I don’t know if I have an especially strange personality, or what it is, but every now and then I just need to throw everything up in the air and see where it lands. Christmas and New Year always seem like a great time to do this. More on this in a moment.
I chanced on complete alignment of body, mind and soul
First back to my extraordinary year. Something very particular happened in that year that I have never forgotten. It was late in the day and I was skiing, no gliding, through a beautiful blue run through a forest. Fresh snow and the sun still just peeking over the horizon. Distant cow bells, so evocative of this part of the world, conspired to create an audible backdrop to a scene which I can only imagine is what heaven, if it existed, would look like.
It felt like I’d come home and that every part of my body, soul and mind at moved into harmony. It was better than any drug I’d ever experienced that was for sure. As the song goes it really was “a perfect day”.
And now I’m studying psychotherapy, that memory keeps coming back to and I want to understand it better/repeat it maybe. If you could bottle that feeling – well wouldn’t that be great.. How can one find complete happy peacefulness in the most simple of situations?
If I were a religious person I might have assumed that I’d gone through some spiritual awakening – I certainly felt closer to my God than I ever had before or since. But through my study of psychology, buddhism and general philosophy I think what had really happened was that I chanced on a complete alignment of body, mind and soul. Some might call it a Gestalt moment, flow, enlightenment or something that captures that moment of wholeness. Wholeness being an incredibly important concept in psychology. I want to write much more about this as I’d completely overlooked the damage splitting off parts of the psyche to fit into the world really can be.
I guess what’s most interesting about this is how I got there and why. And I’m not entirely sure to be honest. But there are some clues in my behaviour up until that point. Firstly I decided not to be unhappy/small/locked in any more and took action to leave a situation. I was spending most of the time outdoors in the most stunning scenery on earth (lots of research saying looking into the distance especially at beauty is good for mental health) and I was living life on my terms. On that day I’d been skiing with some locals, who were seriously good skiers, so I’d been pushed out of my comfort zone and it felt thrilling, exciting, that I was really alive… All of the above have been linked to encouraging a person to move into more moments like this.
I don’t know about you but I approach the festive season with a mixture of heady childlike excitement and deep deep sadness that so many people I have loved aren’t here anymore. But it is only a day and maybe if we approach it with the right mindset it could still be a magical day for us whatever our circusmstances.
Here are some thoughts. I hope they help you if you are in a difficult place or you’ve experienced any kind of loss
- Be kind to yourself first and foremost. Have realistic expectations. If you are mourning it is going to be very tough. If you’ve lost a child, like me, it will always be tough. Forever. That’s just how it is There is something incredibly thrilling about accepting/embracing reality. Something cathartic about just sitting in sadness. There really can be peace and happiness in the sadness.
- I don’t think anybody should be alone at Christmas unless they truly, truly want to be. Please reach out – people might say they don’t want to join you as nobody wants to feel that they are alone/lonely. But keep asking anyway.
- Have realistic expectations of relatives. So many people find Christmas sad and difficult – sometimes we all behave badly as we are hurting so much underneath. A little patience/a little kindness goes a long long way.
- Think back to your childhood and what are the kind of things you loved doing then. I loved anything crafty and this Christmas I’m picking up what my Grandmother used to do crocheting. Apparently it’s become very trendy:)
- And as somebody once said how can anyone be sad and lonely with a book in their hand. My recommendations to keep you glued for the whole day Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout or Sorrows and Bliss by Meg Mason.
And maybe if you are a woman, of any age, and want to work at making life more vivid, richer, have more meaning then watch this space. My colleague Erika Uffindell and I are working on a series of workshops and retreats this year to guide, inspire and encourage people to rewrite the narrative of our lives. With all the upheaval around we think this is really important work.
In the meantime have a lovely holiday wherever and whoever you are