I’m writing this in a café in north London, down wind from the peppery scent of their Christmas tree. Outside, the sky is blue and the sun shines.
I want to go and play outside, Mum!
Every year it’s the same – every year I’m crawling the walls by December, desperate for sun and fresh air, and yet the answer is in my own hands. Not more extra spending on a possibly-effective SAD light, but getting my butt moving; wrap up, shape up and get out of doors. And not to Savers, Sainsbury’s or another ‘indoors’ but really OUT, OUT.
Whatever the weather.
As a child I found such happiness spending whole days outside –looking after the cows on a near-by dairy farm, searching for shells on the beach, roaming the fields on the family allotment, deep in the Hampshire countryside. All places where I could escape into my imagination, undisturbed by my parents or siblings and find peace and happiness Now, I want a life more in walking boots and waterproofs and less in make-up and outfits socially acceptable for city-living. I want mud. I want to feel my heart race as I climb a hill or mountain and my spirits soar as I reach the summit and gasp at the landscape before me.
The power of the natural world to heal and inspire is something I need to remember in the dark, indoors days of winter in the Northern hemisphere. Plus now there’s digital help at our fingertips. I’ve joined a Whatsapp group called ‘Nature Therapy Counsel’ which encourages the sharing of photos of the natural landscape. There’s the website Spirit Of The Trees which ‘provides poetry, folk tales, myths for tree lovers’ and as I type, on my laptop I have my headphones plugged into a Youtube tape of 11 Hours of Tranquil Birdsong.
Author Matt Haig was quoted in the Guardian Review recently, in relation to his experience of depression, saying, ‘…the day I realised I was going to be OK was the April after my breakdown, the sun came out and I almost felt a literal weight being lifted.’ And I’ll will be OK too, when the higher light levels return. In May, I’m back in wooded landscape of the Sierra De Aracena National Park in Andalucia to run writing retreats and there we’ll spend almost all day outside - meditation sessions, writing workshops, guided walks and eating lunch and dinner – but in the meantime I must take more advantage of London’s myriad of parks and wild spaces for my mental health, whatever the weather. ‘Tis verily the season for bringing the greenery in but I need to get out as well.
This poem by the American author and poet Wendell Berry is my Christmas gift to you:
‘When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.’
© Wendell Berry. From “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry”