A Mindful Walk Around London At Night
Well, to be more specific, The City LAST night. No, I wasn’t availing myself of the pubs and bars that have mushroomed throughout the square mile, where Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are all the new Friday. That’s not my thing. My thing is going for a stroll to unhook from the stresses of the day and to find places, spaces or diversions to soothe my furrowed brow.
In my work as a psychotherapist and coach, I listen intently to my clients and process loads of information, there’s a real intensity to it. It’s essential for me to take myself away during the day or I spend all evening thinking about my work (sound familiar?). Like everyone, I need to “step out of the circle” so that I can come back to my clients refreshed. Occasionally, watching an episode of a favourite TV programme will do it, but often enough I’ll realise half way through that I’ve drifted and my mind has gone back to work or the perennial list of Stuff To Do.
The best thing I’ve found by far is a ‘mindful walk’. I stroll out onto the City streets, often as not without planning beforehand where I’m going to go, as this in itself can be a bit stressful. Once I’m out, I take my awareness firstly to my feet and gauge how grounded I feel – whether I can really feel the contact between my feet and the pavement or if I feel a bit floaty or distracted. If I do, with each step I’ll make a small but noticeable (to me, not to anyone else!) grinding heel movement to exaggerate my contact with the ground. When I feel more connected with terra firma, I take my focus to my breathing, just allowing my outbreath to be a little longer than my inbreath. Taking just a normal inbreath, nothing fancy. The simplest way to make my outbreath last longer is to let the air out of my mouth through a gentle, almost imperceptible hissing sound. This breathing helps my nervous system to regulate itself. Our nervous systems are self-regulatory, they want to be in a balanced state. Breathing this way gently reminds it do so.
I find that being curious about my surroundings yields the greatest relaxation. Seeing something new and different that amuses or stimulates me creatively or emotionally is incredibly refreshing, rinsing my mind of clutter.
I didn’t go out until early evening yesterday and I took myself down to the Thames, crossing from north to south over the Millennium Bridge, round the back of Borough Market and back up onto London Bridge via Nancy’s Steps, where Bill Sykes purportedly murdered Nancy in Oliver Twist. Although I believe in the book that she was at actually at home at her time of departure, I think that the steps were used in the film of the musical. They certainly feature in her story anyway and are incredibly atmospheric at night. The Thames was magisterial, indigo, swollen and flowing very fast. I could have sat for hours watching the thousand twinkling lights from the surrounding buildings dancing in the waves created by passing boats. It truly blew the cobwebs away to be down there and with each step, I could feel the day falling away as I ambled home humming “All I want is a room somewhere”.
And did my lust for seeing new and different things bear fruit? You bet! I found a mysterious and marvellous melting house! Artist Alex Chinneck’s installation of a full size 2 storey house made from 8,000 wax bricks that will melt over the ground over the course of 30 days, celebrating the history of an old candle-making factory based in Bankside a couple of hundred years ago. You can find it dripping on Southwark Street, near Redcross Way as part of the Merge Festival http://mergefestival.co.uk/ until October 26th 2015.
I hope that I might have encouraged you to take some time out and allow the river and it’s environs to inspire, refresh and soothe you and I look forward to writing again soon with some other suggestions of ways to find serenity in the urban landscape.