Walking in the glades
One of my favourite memories this summer was my walk in the countryside. I didn’t take my phone.
Not only did I leave behind distractions as I followed the path, but I had to rely on a deeper sense of intuition to find my way through the thickets and journey across the glades.
As I put one foot in front of the other, I felt the crunch of my torn trainers on the dried mud.
I was absorbed by the expanse of the foliage, high above on the branches of the trees, and sodden beneath my soles. I revelled in the colours of the leaves, which in early July were iridescently yellow and lime green. There were the munching sounds of bulls grazing in the fields. And the clucking of hens close to piles of hay.
For once, I didn’t need to worry about where I was going, whether I had a GPS signal to help me trace my steps, or indeed, whether the latest turn in the path presented me with a photo opp. The great outdoors.
I was finding my way.
Wayfinding is used in inclusive design so companies can organise facilities that help customers or users to find their way. There are principles used to design better way finding systems in hospitals. And way finding is used to promote physical and mental wellbeing in large interior spaces.
I like to think the principle of way finding can be applied to the freest and simplest of adventures – a simple walk around any village, town or city, and most uplifting of all, in the countryside.
Isabel Hardman recently published a book The Natural Health Service, which convincingly describes how any of us can reconnect with nature and in doing so, not cure, but certainly ease certain ills. She goes for freezing morning swims and takes pleasure in the endorphin high of speedy runs. While she’s refreshingly frank that being in the Great Outdoors doesn’t solve everything – how could it – she does wonder why we’ve become so programmed to medicalising people experiencing mild anxiety and depression.
I’m inclined to agree, even as a user of Prozac for close to nineteen years. I too benefit from being in nature. As a city dweller, I often used to view the countryside as pleasant but dull.
Not anymore. I need its oxygen and the escapes it provides.
Since my walk along the St Jacques pilgrim’s pass in Golinhac, France, I’ve had the pleasure many times since ‘wayfinding’ in London and Paris. I know these cities well, but I turned my phone off and allowed myself to get pleasurably lost. Not everyone has this privilege, I recognise that. With kids and work and many other obligations, getting lost is a luxury in these frenzied times.
But then again is it such an indulgence? Should we really all be rushing about quite this much?
One of the key things I am focused on as a newly qualified coach is helping people to reconnect to things that make them happier. At its best, coaching is an approach that can help us reset; remember who we truly are. We can lose sight of our creative side, our passions, the core sense of what it is we want to do with our lives.
We get habituated to doing things we’ve always done. Repeat behaviours and patterns can disagreeably emerge.
I’ve been there, I still know the traps.
In 2015, I got into a rut as I stressed out at work and and the simplest of triggers would send me into spin. I’d feel my blood pressure rise over the simplest of tasks and order takeaways full of MSG. Sesame prawn on toast is fine, but not when you then eat it again at breakfast… cold.
I wasn’t getting the MSG, though, simply turning instead to the same anchors of comfort food to dull my senses and stress.
And then I took a sabbatical and thought I’d changed my world. But back to managerial jobs I went, and for all the advantages – friendly colleagues, the intellectual stimulus and above-average pay, I wasn’t being my creative self. I fell back into some of the same traps.
As a gay man, I’ve experienced the traps of ‘validation addiction’, as David Parker, a gay coach in London has termed it. Many occasions, I repeatedly and fruitlessly trawled through apps like Grindr and Scruff, much in the same way I misspent many hours logging into Gaydar in my late teens.
I’ve benefited from reading psychologists like Joe Kort who specialise in building up LGBT adults’ confidence and dealing with unaddressed repression or trauma. He also talks about how we build neural pathways, getting stuck in patterns that don’t affirm us, but on the contrary, can be destructive. In lockdown the tensions and uncertainty of confinement can see us return to patterns we thought we’d long ago junked.
Nature can reconnect us to who we are; ‘wayfinding’ can help us breathe.
But to truly reset, we need to get into the challenging terrain of changing our habits and habituating new behaviours – healthier, more productive ones.
That means, whatever the temptations to laze around, procrastinate or succumb to self-criticism, we choose running, swimming, painting, singing, learning a new language, writing, or something else instead.
It’s hard work. But when we’re stuck in a rut, and know we need to find a new path, it’s the only way.
I’m working to do just that, and I’m so proud to see some of the friends I’ve coached try new, more affirming, habits instead.
To check out my limited offer of a free 45-minute coaching session, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it’d be great to talk about how I might be able to help!