First published on Medium.
Recently, whilst I was in India, I had a sudden realisation. It hit me when we were halfway up a huge hill on a forest trek with a group of school children. I was sweating through my clothes, panting slightly from exertion and wearing a pair of seemingly over-the-top sturdy boots (in comparison to the sandals of one of our guides). Each time I paused for a breath or for a swig of water I felt tired, but I felt good. Usually any kind of exercise that is constant for an elongated period of time makes me feel sort of guilty. It makes me feel bad about my health, my low levels of fitness and the state of my under exercised heart. I tend to choose sports like climbing, yoga and silks — which take short spurts of energy and strength, combined with resting positions and moments of consideration. Which way does my body move, where is the fulcrum of my balance? Half of this kind of exercise is about understanding your body and solving the riddle of how to use it to it’s best potential, a form of technique or style. The other half is pure strength.
On my way up the hill I realised something. I felt grateful. I felt grateful for my health — rather than the usual feeling of not feeling quite healthy enough. I felt grateful for my knee which has always caused me problems, but seems to be doing so less and less these days. I felt thankful that actually, I do exercise - cycling every day, climbing and doing yoga, and that my body seems to function more or less in a great way. Aches and pains come and go — I occasionally get a cold, but I haven’t had a serious knock out flu for a long time.
I have never really thought of my health this way before. To be proud of my body — not in an aesthetic sense but in a deeper way. I had that little buzz, the little ripple of excitement in my stomach, that I can remember from way back (over ten years ago) when I reached the bottom of the Himalayas after a two week trek in Nepal. Back then I was in Kathmandu, watching the pouring monsoon rain from my humid hotel room, slowly registering that I had climbed the Himalayas. It felt indescribably good. And it felt good in a deep deep place.
Suddenly, I had this feeling again. I felt indescribably good about my body. My bones, my skin, my nerves and my muscles — they all seemed to be working. They were doing what they are supposed to do and it felt like a fucking miracle. Yet, it’s just the human body doing human body things that it’s pre-programmed to do. Lift leg, place foot down, take a step. But even these minute details blew my mind. It was like a moment in a film when someone is brought back from the dead, or given a new body, or made visible for the first time (there should definitely be a film about this if there isn’t already) and they look at their hands as they slowly turn them over… These are my hands. And they do all the things hands are supposed to do. Aren’t they brilliant? YOU ARE BRILLIANT, HANDS, well done.
I wondered why this feeling had resurfaced. When I arrived in India I told myself to stop worrying about my lemons. I asked myself to not wallow over the negative feelings I’d been struggling with in 2015 and to not focus on what happens when I get back to the UK — instead, to just sit with myself. Be present. Try and see India for what it is — a break. A series of moments to appreciate everything that India may mean to me, without pulling it apart. I found myself just sitting much of the time. Listening. Watching. Just kind of ‘being’ (whatever that means). At the time I didn’t think anything of it, but now, back on my home turf, I feel as though it has allowed me to see the good alongside the bad. I’ve always turned to words, turned into myself when I feel things are bad — capturing descriptions and frustrations in my private notes. Yet, now the staccato moments that I usually have of seeing the spectacular or of recognising this beautiful life we are all a part of — these moments are lasting longer. They are sitting inside me for longer. The sunset last night still lingers in my mind. The beauty of the winter sunlight drowning me as I cycled home past the dock yard this afternoon feels overwhelming. The bright and simple feeling of my feet on my bike pedals driving me across the city that I love. The funny words in the local paper that made me smile. The little girl in the vegetable shop eating a pear with such detailed dedication that she almost made me cry with happiness.
I don’t really know what this all means, and to be honest, I don’t really mind not knowing. As long as it keeps on happening, I’ll keep on lifting up my legs, placing my feet down and taking another step.