Anam Mara, Part 2: Seaside
My last post was Part 1 of my escape to a friend’s cottage in Donegal for a week of relaxation, reading, reflecting and recharging. This is the second of two posts about unforgettable Anam Mara!
R(est) & R(eading), Lots Of
After a grey, windswept, atmospheric and brilliant weekend, Monday dawned clear and sunny. After breakfast I took a walk down the garden to the water’s edge, and then clambered into Foudre Bleu (my knackered Peugeot) for the daily circuit of Atlantic Drive. Even more glorious in the sunshine, one view down over a beach had an almost Bond-film feel.
Back at the cottage, I settled in for a week of work. The plan was to make a start on some written coaching materials, but as I started reading through my notes I realised it had been quite a while since I’d made time to re-read and re-ponder some of my old coaching/business books. And it was hitting me in this peaceful place how exhausted I was – that stop-start of getting sick, resting, trying to catch up, getting sick etc. that had been going on since at least the previous summer had worn me out physically and mentally. Before I could think about getting busy with creative output, therefore, I’d have to slow down and recharge my mental batteries. So I lit the fire, pulled up the armchair and settled in with my books and the laptop for a leisurely day of reading and taking notes. With a break for dinner and a glass of red, and a wee wander up the shoreline at the bottom of the garden as the sun went down.
The next day was bright and sunny again, so after another healthy breakfast and a workout, I flung open the French doors and settled into a chair in between them, for shelter. (Sunny as it was, it was cold and a tad breezy.) Wrapped in a favourite poncho/blanket, I began my daily practice of automatic writing. This is a practice I recommend to many clients – particularly anyone feeling stuck, lost, in denial or in need of some creative inspiration. (Basically, this is writing – or typing – without allowing yourself to pause, to prevent your conscious mind from editing your thoughts as you write. Once you get used to the process, you get some fascinating results.)
After three pages of writing all sorts of revelations and insights, with a backdrop of water lapping on the shore – and the odd bleat from my friend the sheep, I felt de-cluttered and focused and decided to go suss out that Bond-film-esque beach I’d driven past so many times over the weekend. I packed up a couple of books, pen and paper and some emergency dark chocolate and headed for Atlantic Drive once more.
Trá na Rosann (Rosses’ Strand) is now officially one of my favourite places in the world. (The surf there later claimed my iPhone – and I didn’t really care! And believe me, I love my iPhones. But sure isn’t an impetuous, gleeful dash into freezing foam off an Irish coastline more meaningful than a gadget, in the grand scheme of things?) The beach became my day-time workplace for that week, and I had a few favourite spots to sit in – with nicely-sloped rocks acting as chair backs, and a cushion in a plastic bag, wrapped in a comfy blanket, as a seat. I got into the habit of reading, writing notes, meditating, contemplating the horizon whilst munching on biscuits or chunks of dark chocolate, and then going for a run up the beach in the shallowest water. (It occurred to me that I could do with some toughening up really, so I ran through the bitterly cold water, reciting times tables to myself to distract myself from the pain. Hardcore, eh? I impressed myself.) Goodness knows what the odd visitor to the beach made of me sitting there in two layers of clothes, a woolly hat and sunglasses, surrounded by books, paper and pens and a bag of snacks.
All of this with no internet, and the laptop being used only in the evenings to take notes and write follow-up lists. And honestly, this was one of the most liberating aspects of the trip, being offline. They said I’d never cope! But I’d updated my social media avatars to show I was offline until 21/3/11, had put on an email autoresponder and told anyone who needed to know that I’d be off the radar until the 21st. And although I could have gone to the Singing Pub or Carraig Art to get online, I didn’t – apart from one temporary logon: I got a few texts on Monday from a client who was in need of some emergency support, so made the decision to go to Cáife na Sráide next day to use their wifi for an afternoon Skype call. (An excuse to have lunch there too – crispy prawns in plum dipping sauce – oh my…)
Danger! Danger! (Okay, not really.)
To clear my head after the coaching call before settling back into my retreat, I decided to go on a short tour of the coast – I wanted to be sure that my beach was indeed the best beach to be spending my time on. (It was.) Consulting my map, I was trying to hug the coastline as closely as possible, and one of the places the road was closest to the ocean was ‘Horn Head Drive’. As I followed the signage for the drive, I wondered had I misread something, or missed a car park beside a pedestrian entrance – it was a one-lane road up the side of a cliff; quickly turning out of sight once you’d committed to the path. I’m not what you might call a trepidatious person, and it was a Tuesday afternoon in March in Ireland, so I took the chance there’d be no tourist traffic and motored on. As I approached the first bend, I looked down to my left, onto the top of a smaller cliff, and ahead to a very short stretch of road and a very vast quantity of ocean, and it occurred to me that it was perhaps a bad thing that my MacBook was in the boot and not on the passenger seat. I’d happened upon a steeply descending road with more twists and turns than an average season of Lost – and then I turned the corner, to see a route worthy of Gran Turismo disappear into the sea. (Fellow fans, remember this? And this? Ahhh, memories of student days…)
At this point, I undid my seat belt, thinking there was a slim chance I might not be able to control the car properly on the steep, winding descent; or indeed that the road might disappear altogether into the rocks, and I might have to throw myself from my beloved jalopy as we plunged over the side of the cliff. (I’m not a pessimist you understand, just occasionally given to theatricality.) I was thoroughly relishing the drama of it all – gunning a small car up the cliff roads near Tor Head in Co. Antrim is most entertaining, particularly with American friends who are used to larger, more robust vehicles, but this was another class of coastal thrill entirely. Of course, I did actually make it safely down the far side, and, head now nicely refreshed, I headed back to the cottage and resumed the working routine that I enjoyed for the rest of that glorious week.
Do you need a break?
I really, really, really recommend taking a proper break from work like this if you can. One thing I hear again and again from clients – whether self-employed, working or caring for dependents – is that they’re burnt out and frazzled but are holding off until some major event or piece of work is ‘out of the way’ before pausing to take care of themselves. Or that they can’t take a break because too many people are depending on them. What happens if you don’t take a break, and then completely break down? You cannot keep your foot to the board without taking a break to recover every now and again – and sometimes, you need a bit of distance to get real clarity and perspective. If you can’t afford to get far away, think about swapping homes with a friend for a spell. And at the very least, consider an internet detox – it was an utter relief to be unplugged for a week and a bit. I love the connectedness of our modern world in many ways, but if you’re already feeling a bit depleted, being contactable through so many channels can feel like having so many tentacles wrapping around you, leaving you tangled up and exhausted.
Try meditation to give you a mental break – try this free online class in mindfulness meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn, a highly respected leader in the field. Or search on ‘meditation’ on YouTube for a short video that you can get into easily. There are so many different styles, and voices, and images – all along the spectrum from no-nonsense to far-out hippy. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it! And for the most basic meditation of all: just sit and observe your breathing for some minutes. Don’t try and control it (unless you’re hyperventilating, which is unlikely if you’re still reading); just observe it. The shrinking of mental focus to this one rhythmic action will calm you down immensely.
Get out of the city!
…Even whilst in the city. I’ve taken to calling into my local (Belfast) Botanic Gardens between meetings; a 20-minute wander through the tropical ravine and palm house have a remarkably calming effect. And when you can’t get anywhere near a blade of grass, you might be interested in this research by the University of Michigan which claims that looking at pictures of nature has a better effect on cognitive performance than an actual walk down a city street. (I feel duty-bound when citing research to also introduce you to, if you’re not already familiar with, Ben Goldacre’s wonderful www.badscience.net.)
But better yet, make time to head off into a natural environment – a park, forest, mountain trail or beach; alone for head-clearing, or with friends, partner or family for shared enjoyment.
Your Health Is Your Wealth
And finally, do create good habits of exercise, diet and relaxation – and get a good sleep routine. We all of course have primary responsibility for our wellbeing, but if you’ve niggling health concerns, do seek advice/help. Go talk to your doctor, or specialist. (And change your doctor if you aren’t happy with your current one – clients often tell me they avoid going to their doctor because they don’t find them helpful or sympathetic, but are sticking with them anyway because ‘that’s the family doctor we’ve always used’, or because they ‘don’t want to cause offense’. Your wellbeing is too important to worry about causing offense!) Sometimes rest and relaxation isn’t enough – whilst my retreat helped my health immensely in the short term, it was only when I went back to the doctor’s for a raft of tests later in the year that they discovered I’d been harbouring a streptococcus infection for quite some time, and nixed it. (Hoorah!) Remember: no-one is as invested in your health as you are. Ask for what you need.
PS: Looking for the Gran Turismo tunes, I came across the original Japenese version’s soundtrack – this is awesome!
[This post is one of those that have – I hope – benefited from a light edit since original publication.]