Shoulder-of-Mutton Hill

Saturday. It is supposed to be hot – well, hot by English standards, but when you are used to cool weather, 27 feels hot – and I am going in search of the poet Edward Thomas.

It’s not the first time. Midsummer 2019, I went in search of the footpaths of Edward Thomas and his best mate, Robert Frost. They had matching cottages over the hill from one another in Gloucestershire and spent many fine, late summer evenings talking and walking through high grass on the path that connected them. Back then, I was in the middle of staring down the void – a ragged shell of a woman just after a series of ego-stripping life events culminating in being laid off from my dream job, the one I’d built my entire life and identity and friend circle around.

Three days alone, walking footpaths, climbing steep Malvern Peaks, one after the other: Midsummer Hill, Swinyard Hill, Hangman’s Hill, Millennium Hill, Black Hill, Jubilee Hill. Finally, Perseverance Hill, and this was the sort of metaphorical place naming synchronicity I couldn’t even take in fully at the time.

Years of perseverance, before and since, and now, we have reached June 2021. Well?

Back to this hot Saturday, and I pull on the lightest-weight mask I have (as there is now a choice of four masks, one for almost any occasion) and board a Southwest Trains service to Petersfield. I have been to this little town once before, and it occurs to me as I leave the station that Petersfield was, literally, the first place I ever really walked from. Sure, I had walked and hiked and all the rest of it. Most of my young life was hiking. But that trip from Petersfield was different. It was my first overnight across the South Downs in preparation for 2017’s coast-to-coast walk across England. I was haggard and in deep grief, my stepfather having passed away that week. I needed to cry, and spent 48 hours sobbing up and down chalk hills, through mud and rain; the Earth cried with me.

So, Petersfield is a special place.

Today, I am not going east to the South Downs, but instead, walk northwest out of the station, up over the A3 screaming with Saturday sunseeker traffic heading to the south coast, and into the hamlet of Steep. This Hampshire village was where Edward Thomas spent most of his life, moving from cottage to cottage with his wife, Helen Noble, and their family.

There’s not much in Steep. Some quaint homes and cottages. A large boarding school, where Helen Thomas taught for many years. A tiny, medieval church with a small yard full of wonky headstones – the windows on the south wall were apparently dedicated to Edward Thomas in the 1970s, but sadly the doors remain firmly locked on my visit. I go looking for the cottages where Thomas lived, but all are privately owned or difficult to find now.

Thomas’s name appears on a small but lovingly tended World War I memorial on the main corner of the village. Thomas came to poetry late in life at the prodding of his best friend, Robert Frost, and was only a working poet for about three years. His first poem, “Up in the Wind”, was published in 1914 and a slew of some of the finest verse on landscape, nature, solitude and love followed until he died in the trenches in France in 1917.

Thomas was a walker like me. He loved being in nature and revered the English countryside, and was lucky enough to have lived in it before the advent of motorways and mass tourism. Most of his poems address nature, many of them set in the hills around Steep.

These are the Ashford Hangers, a series of escarpments running north-to-south, west of Petersfield, perpendicular to the South Downs. A small internet wormhole into the etymology of the word ‘hanger’ yields very little, leaving me to believe these may be the only ‘hangers’ in existence.

A path leads me past a small waterfall marking the site of an old mill, through a dappled woodland, up a quiet country laneway and onto a steep forest path leading to the summit of the main hanger: Shoulder-of-Mutton Hill. At 750ft, it’s no Sandia Peak, but the rocky trail leading past pines to a view across what feels like all of Hampshire is perfect.

It’s hot and I’m sweaty and breathing as though I’ve been sedentary through a pandemic for a year. Partway up, I plunk down on a log and pull out my copy of The Selected Poems of Edward Thomas and turn to ‘When First’.

When first I came here I had hope,
Hope for I knew not what. Fast beat
My heart at sight of the tall slope
Of grass and yews, as if my feet
Only by scaling its steps of chalk
Would see something no other hill
Ever disclosed. And now I walk
Down it the last time. Never will
My heart beat so again at sight
Of any hill although as fair
And loftier.

‘When First’

Edward Thomas knew what it was to stare into the void. Later in the poem, he hints at a changing tide in the world, as whispers of the Great War were reaching Britain. Thomas vacillated and eventually decided to enlist in the British Army, motivated mainly by a desire to protect the pastoral life of the English countryside that he so loved. “Something, I felt, had to be done before I could look again composedly at English landscape,” he wrote to Robert Frost about his choice to go to war. He left England to fight in France in early 1917 and would never see his beloved landscape again.

Walking on this hot Saturday is easier than so many before it. For a good handful of years, I cried everyday. Purging things I didn’t know I needed to purge from childhood and maybe lives lived before this one. I was silent and felt broken, staring into the void. Walks were another place to commune with the darkness, and I found in those footsteps – one after the other – a form of meditation and healing that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

Keep on walking! a friend messaged me during my coast-to-coast walk. There is no simpler and more profound a life meditation. These words are now etched on my heart.

Though many forms of movement can incorporate meditation – yoga being one I also practice weekly – it is only in walking that the body assumes a kind of methodical, gentle purpose. Running is too intense to be meditative and other sports occupy the mind in such a way as to distract. Only walking allows you to experience the void while moving through it with direction.

The day passes and the sun is high. I stop at the top of Shoulder-of-Mutton Hill to eat a warm chicken-and-tomato sandwich and some crisps in the company of a few pollen-fat bees. Today, there is only one other set of hikers – a mother and daughter, who I run into several times over the hours, each time offering one another friendly words of encouragement about the steepness of the trail and the heat. Keep on walking! I tell them.

By the end of the day, I haven’t come close to many Edward Thomas landmarks, but his soul is everywhere. And somewhere between back then and now along this long path of perseverance, I seem to have reached contentment.

Of the footsteps of life,
The friendliness, the strife;
In its beds have lain
Youth, love, age, and pain:

I am something like that:
Not one pane to reflect the sun,
For the schoolboys to throw at—
They have broken every one.

I am something like that;
Only I am not dead,
Still breathing and interested
In the house that is not dark:—

-excerpt of ‘Gone, Gone Again’

Poem on a thesis of romance

What is it you think
I want
some bouquet of conventions,
lame dinners, fakery,
cliched on balloons with coiled ribbons?
Sometimes my words are uncomfortable(y)
My mouth gets it wrong,
what my heart wants.
Romance: it’s not an arc-shot kiss
soundtracked by a hipster ballad;
it’s not anything except when –
being just you – that is enough.
But there are some things I think are romantic:

sending songs, instead of saying it.
whole playlists of feeling.
in-joke emojis
and in-joke everything
like that moment at a party
in a room full of people
you look over and a split-second of eye-contact, you just know.
Trying not to laugh at an in-joke
when someone else says something that is serious
but all you can do is laugh inappropriately
and can’t wait to talk about it, later.
Knowing that song sounds like me.
Kissing in the kitchen.
Making out in a forest;
surviving a night of wild camping
where an argument almost breaks out
and then the stars come out and
your problems are hushed by the universe.
Buying me a coffee
and looking past my facade of strength, the day after my
stepfather dies, to say
“You will feel this, you know. You need to feel this.”
Just being able to be,
let your hair down
swim naked
enjoy the realness of a body unadorned
and to speak out loud, in moments of quiet,
the things we are most afraid of, and still be admired
afterwards.
To fuck up, say the wrong things,
have everything go sideways
and know that you
will still show up.
To hold the memories of what we did
and almost did
in hot springs
so long ago and still wish
for more moments like these.
That you do not fear my wildness
you admire it.

I think that romance
is the courage of being
unafraid in the mirror of your eyes.

2021 Travel Resolution

I was recently approached by a major travel publisher and asked to write a short contribution to a round-up of authors offering their travel resolutions for 2021. The piece was to be about 150 words and include a photo. I was offered US$40 for this. I wrote the piece, focusing on two places I would love to visit if able, and received feedback that they were changing the direction of the article and now wanted something less destination-specific and more themed, with ‘tips’.

I rewrote the piece from a deeply honest place. It was longer than 150 words (but, really, not that long and do I need to remind anyone that the internet is infinite?). I was asked if I would “make some cuts”. I said no, that this is what I have to say. That’s when they ghosted me. A couple of days ago, I saw by chance that the article had been published without my contribution. Luckily, the commissioning editor of this website was happy to publish a slightly longer piece, so it is below.

It’s time to make change happen and we have to be brave enough to say the scary and honest things first so we can then get about the business of doing them.

Travel Less, Travel Regeneratively

I don’t make resolutions and this year is no exception. I find them to be either empty promises that make you feel good about yourself with no follow through, or just a way to self-flagellate. What can we say about travel in this new decade? 2020 changed the world fundamentally, cracking open our systems of social order, governance and economics. We have to take this, our one chance as humanity, to rethink everything. Mass tourism cannot continue along its previous and destructive course, and so if any resolution is to be made this year, it is to understand how our social order has contributed to a system of travel and travel media that is fundamentally unequal, white, colonial and exploitative. Can travel be a force for good? Absolutely. Is it most of the time? Certainly not.

To move forward from here is for travellers and travel writers like me (read: white, rich European/Americans), to understand our part in the systems of the world that create inequality, climate change and environmental destruction, and critically, to change. This means owning the uncomfortable truth that we must travel less or not at all, and we must travel very, very differently. Some of us, many of us in the industry, probably need to consider career changes (I have), and travel as a whole must be understood as a privilege and not anyone’s right, and one that comes with grave and profound responsibilities to listen, self-reflect, learn, fight for justice and give back.

One pathway to this is the concept of regenerative travel, whereby each trip not only is ‘sustainable’ or carbon-zero, but actively regenerates the environment and communities. But these trips are hard to find – the concept is new and most of the travel industry is focused on economics, money and restoring what was. To travel this way takes real effort. There is no quick list a traveller can tick off to achieve a life of regenerative travel. It means doing the hard work of self-reflection and owning your personal history and part in the systems as they are today, and then making the tough choice to travel a lot less, and when you do, to choose trips and experiences that actively give back in a non-exploitative way. It’s a nigh impossible ask just yet.

An example of this is the Global Himalayan Expedition’s regenerative trips, which are carbon negative by funding and putting travellers to work installing clean, solar electricity in remote communities, while providing multiple opportunities for the traveller to listen and learn from the Indigenous people they meet along the way. Tips? Stop travelling for a period of self-reflection. Listen. Reassess why you want to go somewhere. Ask yourself, ‘Is this actively helping the world or just self-indulgent?’. Nine times out of 10, the answer will be a tough pill to swallow, and in those cases consider staying home and getting involved in your local community instead.

Longing; The Ride Home

It’s the kind of Sunday for lazing – maybe all Sundays are? – pouring a second, then a third cup of tea. Standing in the kitchen, cocked hip, savouring the way soy milk pours in thick swirls, wrapping myself in a long cardigan, pulling it round as if it will stave away shivers from the deep cold that has set in outside.

Never has a January felt like so much longing. I readily admit that I am a longer – one who longs – in general. I have that romantic, wanderlusty personality for which there always seems to be something just out of reach, something far away and unattainable. Last year was a year of learning presence and satisfaction in the neverending now, and releasing fears of what might never be.

But a little of that longing is good for the soul. It reminds me I am alive and that nothing is permanent. Emotional foreplay of things that have not yet come to pass – bread for a writer. The pandemic has taken so much away from us, stripped us all bare, making room for what is new and fresh and alive. There is hope in this longing.

When my mind strays, it goes to New Mexico – galloping across pink-red pastures and mountain passes so high the sun bleeds the colour away. Sandias glowing in the hue of melon flesh and an air blown dry and brittle in winter wind. My current existence being confined to a little London studio flat and the few terraced-house streets surrounding it, this is not difficult to understand.

This is a particular brand of melancholy adopted by a certain type of individual who chooses to make their permanent home far away from the land of their childhood. Sometimes you have to roam distances away from it to truly understand what home means to you, or who you are because of it. James Joyce, for example, hated Ireland and left it as soon as he could, living most of his adult life in Paris and later Trieste, Italy. And yet he remained obsessed with Ireland, writing about it in every work. He famously quizzed each visitor that came to see him on specific details: at what exact angle a sign hung skewed on a specific Dublin street, or the colour of the rain and the exact placement of a tree or which flowers grew under a statue in Merrion Square. Joyce had no desire to ever go back to Ireland – most of his books are scathing satire on just how terrible he thought the whole place was – yet he was deeply obsessed with the beauty in its details from far away.

Something of New Mexico lives in my soul and breathes out of me in every word I write, and in every cloud I see passing overhead, in whatever new and distant place I take myself. A mountain in the Lake District that, somehow, shades in the colour of the Sangre de Cristos. The sky over Tibet is the horizon on the high road to Taos. A sunset in Kerala the fire of a high desert evening. New Mexico is everywhere to me, everywhere in me.

We are all trying to find our place in the world. The people who came before us, our family lineage, those that lived in the rented house before us or centuries ago visited a place we visit and left their written record. I am trying to find my own self in this endless line of humanity. Who am I in this eddying galaxy of existence and what do I contribute? What is the fabric of my soul even made of? How will someone link with me long after I am gone?

I have recently been reconnecting with an old friend and lost love – one of a number of unexpected gifts proving 2020 was not entirely a shitshow. He seems to mirror back to me my longing for elsewhere by constantly reminding me that New Mexico is windy and dusty and hard to love when you’re stuck there. It’s raining and cold and gross here, I tell him. Rain makes things alive, he says.

My search for connections through time and place brought me to the poet John Curtis Underwood, heir to the Underwood Typewriter company, who owned and lived on my family’s land south of Santa Fe before it became my family’s in 1958. Can we say that land really ever belongs to anyone, though? I don’t believe that we can. We do not own land, we are guests on it; if we live openly, then we understand we are part of it.

I ordered Underwood’s book, Trail’s End, a poetry compilation he wrote in New Mexico and New York. It arrived in a strange A4 sized book, printed-on-demand from scanned typewriter (fittingly) pages complete with typos. The date and place in which each poem was written printed at the bottom like a strange, cryptic code.

Santa Fé 12 4 18
New York 10 29 19

I was in search of family history ordering this book. I hoped maybe to find something familiar – a corner of the old ranch house where he lived before my grandparents, or the fleeting light of a Lone Butte sunset – somewhere in his poetry. A connection that would bring me and this stranger together across space and time.

Most of the poems are about Santa Fe life; most seem to be written in the autumn/winter of 1918-19. Elsewhere, Armistice in Europe was bringing World War I to an end; Teddy Roosevelt passing away in his sleep; a Russian Civil War was setting the stage for a new era of history’s unfolding. Underwood lived out the Spanish Flu in my grandmother’s house, and a century later I’m living out another pandemic a world away across the sea, dreaming of my childhood through a stranger’s poems.

In the end, I’ve found little of my family home in Underwood’s writing, but deeper pieces of myself are all over it. He was prone to taking long horse rides across the dry, dusty pastures, looking at the stars on frigid desert nights, noticing the way the sky slanted through his studio windows; writing. Like me, Underwood saw the world through the romantic lens of poetry; he noticed shades of shadow on mountainsides and the colours of clay soil.

There are answers here, as there are in the search for darkness amid light. Existence is not a series of boxes to be chosen: live here or live there; prefer desert or rain; love then or love now. Everything is always moving, changing. Flowing water in a parched arroyo. We have to flow with it.

Everything is, all at once.

We do not, cannot, own land but land can form the fabric of a soul, and maybe this is what connects us all through space and time.

Through a corridor of mountains that opened on the stars
We rode without speaking a word and all the while we were drinking in
The silver flood of moonlight that made the night a miracle
And I wanted to go straight on and follow you
Riding forever through space to the rim of the range and beyond.
There in the air was our empire, and there we went riding,
Riding on the moonlight rim of a planet that galloped through the night.


-John Curtis Underwood, from ‘The Ride Home’, Trail’s End
Santa Fé, 11 18 18

Honest Year-in-Review

If I look back carefully, this year was actually really good to me. I was strong and I did a lot of things. I got a new lease on my work life. I read heaps of books and rested. I became an International Dark-Sky Delegate at the beginning of the year and by the end of the year had started London’s first dark-sky group. I wrote some great stuff. I reconnected with people, and more deeply connected with others. I got to visit a couple of places in the UK when it was safe. I learned how resilient I am. I learned to cook more things. I healed a relationship with an old lover. I learned to be happy and peaceful in the moment. I developed a gratitude practice to be a constant reminder of the simple things. 2020 was, in fact, a year of deep and positive growth.

But when you’re in the throes of depression, these things are tough to see. They can be impossible to see. I imagine there are people out there who did not experience depression at some point this year, but they must be rare birds indeed. Being fucking knackered, feeling like you can’t muster any strength for a new year, being overwhelmed by a gentle and unwavering sadness, or just plain numb…I don’t know about you, but this is the New Year I am experiencing.

Choosing to remember the me of a different day, she’s still me.

I write here as therapy. It’s purely for myself, and if anyone that reads it and finds something of themselves in it, well that’s a bonus. But this is a space I have created for myself to write whatever the fuck I want to write and not worry about commissioning editors or tone of voice or word count or angles. It’s just me, unfiltered.

When someone talks openly about their feelings of depression, sadness, overwhelm or despair, the first response seems to always be to try to help ‘manage’ them. Make them feel better. Fix it. Even those of us who have experienced profound and sometimes lasting depression can fall into this response when confronted with a loved one who expresses a struggle.

I have thought about this a lot. Partly because I know when I receive a pitied or fixer response to my own openness, how revolting that feels. And partly because when confronted with my closest people expressing their sad-end-of-the-spectrum emotions, my knee-jerk reaction can sometimes be to offer solutions too. It is a real skill learning to hold space for someone else…to witness their pain or their joy without trying to change it or feel sorry for it. I have failed at this many times for those closest to me, despite my best efforts and intentions to be a true space-holder.

Being depressed and sad and angry and feeling broken beyond repair is okay. I’ve learned it’s really rather normal and I daresay even a necessary part of the cycle of life and healing. How can we possibly make a difference if we do not experience the full range of human emotions?

Society would tell you that these emotions are “negative” and need to be fixed. Managed with medication even. Made ‘healthy’ or shut down and put away for an ‘appropriate time’ (aka not in front of others or out in public). Fuck alllllllll of that. All human emotions, from wild joy to cavernous, aching, gut-wrenching sorrow, need and deserve to be seen and felt.

Openly and fearlessly.

If you are worried about being beyond repair, believe me you aren’t. I am not, and I am about the most ravaged person I know. Whatever coping mechanisms you’ve engaged in to keep showing up to life, that’s cool and fine and good. Keep showing up is the point.

Mainly, express the emotions. The MOMENT they arrive if at all possible. Emotions left unfelt will be stored in the body and turn to physical malfunctions. Our bodies offer us all sorts of clues to what we might be experiencing emotionally but not expressing. Sit still for awhile and you will begin to hear those cues. With more intense emotions, we have to find ways to do this safely. Rage and anger most of all need to come out, but in ways that are not causing physical harm to self or others. I like to scream into pillows or sometimes just stand up and shake my whole body like a child having a temper tantrum. I rage cry a LOT. Like a lot, a lot.

If you are managing to celebrate your wins this year, great job, you deserve to. We all deserve a goddamn medal for just getting out of bed in 2020. If you’re celebrating wins today, you’re much stronger than I am.

And if, like me, you are ugly crying in your kitchen to Jonatha Brooke, that’s fine, too. Let ‘er rip.

Better out than in.

Purge

I am the sort of person who doesn’t like anyone to see me not being strong. I was raised by a parent with some deep-seated emotional issues and being strong was a coping mechanism. When I excelled and was capable, I was rewarded with attention, which was the only form of maternal ‘love’ I ever got. Or maybe it’s because of my Leo sun and Cancer moon. Or maybe it’s just a personality quirk (ok I don’t believe in those). Whatever. The end result is that when I am curled up in a ball sobbing, no one ever sees it. Ever.

I’m strong to a fault. I caretake to my own detriment. I people please. I over-give. And because I’m an empath, I’m acutely aware at all times of every single thing that other people are going through and make every effort to accommodate them. Then when it comes my turn to be vulnerable and sad and broken, I don’t even know how.

A few years ago, I crumpled. I crumpled into a dark night of the soul that lasted months and I still haven’t fully healed out of it. I had so many emotional splinters that I’d been ignoring – actually I didn’t even really know I had them – it took emotional purge after purge. I purged until I was in a heap and no more tears would come, and then just dry heaved. One dark January evening, I had purged so much emotion out that I didn’t think I could get through it. I wasn’t suicidal but I just didn’t think I had the strength to exist anymore. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t move. I was just purely exhausted. I grabbed at the last string of something I hadn’t tried yet, and that was meditation. It helped, briefly. I kept going. It helped more.

Slowly, slowly, since that 2018 night, my nervous system has been restored. I cried everyday still for a long time, but a little less each day. Then there were days when I didn’t cry! Miracle. Days turned into a whole week, and then suddenly I found myself meditating more than crying. Meditating, and moving — not self-flagellating exercise, but soothing and gentle movements like walking, quiet yoga postures, stretching — these helped shift my energy.

But when a new trauma strikes, the old trauma responses are ingrained. It’s one thing to feel peaceful and healed when you aren’t actively being triggered, but when a situation comes along that scratches at that old wound, it can feel as if you never healed at all.

Tonight, I was fine, totally fine, until I wasn’t. I am alone. I am lonely. I am sad. These realities make me feel weak and powerless. Are others judging me? I am judging me. Everyone else has someone to drink gin with and watch bad TV with and welcome Tier 4 with and I am a sad sack sitting in my flat. Alone. I know I am strong and capable and beautiful and I know I have to give this love to myself, it comes from no one else. But let me judge myself some more for this, is where my mind goes.

I know these things are Brian – my brain, my ego – telling me lies. But tonight I am struggling to move through it. So first, I will write it and I will publish it and I will splay it around on the internet so that people can judge me or feel smug or pity me or whatever they want to do. At least I am telling the truth.

Then I will feel it all. The sadness. The loneliness. The abandonment from way too many people ignoring me, giving me up, forgetting about me or not even caring about me the way I thought they did. I will love myself through it. She deserves that love, she has that love. I will resist Brian’s cries that I should not write this. Should not publish it. It’s too raw, too honest and too much a chance for everyone to see you at your worst, Megan. Look at you, what a pity, Brian says. People will think you are really fucked up, Brian says.

I will feel it all and let it out, then let it go. I will look at the stars. I will sleep and I will get up tomorrow and try again.

Benediction

It is quite possibly the biggest cliche to wax lyrical about gratitude on Thanksgiving, and that is precisely why I’m sitting down to write what I am writing.

Since 2018, gratitude is something I practice everyday. I use the word ‘practice’ deliberately, as it is a ritual and an act that takes learning and practicing, much like my other practices: writing, yoga and meditation. It seems astonishing to me now that gratitude was not a calculated part of my daily life before then. Sure, I was thankful for stuff and kinda generally “grateful”, but I did not have a gratitude practice.

My gratitude practice has become prayer. I should go back, though.

I stopped praying, like praying to god, when I was 20. Having been raised in evangelical churches and schools, I spent most of my young life under a shroud of Christian propaganda. Not the sombre, ritualistic prayer of Anglican or Catholic traditions. No, prayer in evangelical Christianity as I understood it was a constant acknowledgement of the importance of my own self-loathing, my lack before a god who thought very badly of me and an ongoing self-admission of all the things I’d done wrong: ways I might have led a boy astray by wearing something too tight-fitting or short-cut, or hugging him at the wrong angle — and the fact that I had a girl’s body at all was bad altogether; ways I hadn’t shown up to church and looked or acted Just Right (“Honey, your bra strap is showin'” said the lady behind me on Sunday morning); ways I hadn’t honoured god with every action both seen and unseen; ways I had touched myself in pleasure, and every shameful thing — wearing makeup, dancing, saying the wrong words — BAD words, listening to the wrong songs by the wrong artists — artists who supported abortion or liberal politics. All of these were shame, and my prayers were a constant, sad, desperate plea for god to forgive me for being me.

When I left Christianity, that was it for me. Fuck this. Fuck religion. Fuck god and definitely fuck the southern right-wing church.

I recently have been reading a book called Longing for Darkness by China Galland, much of which is concerned with her worldly travels in search of Tara and the Black Madonna, and in doing so, finding a route back to her own spirituality and reckoning with her Catholic upbringing.

My own path back to spirituality has been similar. Years of tentatively walking through Buddhist and Taoist temples on my trips through Asia. Going through a Catholic wedding. Listening to musician friends openly leaving Christianity themselves. And then, a period of my own dark night of the soul: a series of deep cuts that left me so emotionally broken down that I had no choice but to find my own inner spirituality again to make sense of it all. I absolutely had to reach for the universe or I would have been sucked under and never come back up.

Several practices helped slowly anchor me into these important, dark depths. I don’t like to believe I’ve left the water so much as found a submarine in which to ride the waves, let the dark waters of emotion and spirituality and self come to me. Be surrounded by my own dark, sinuous, lovely murkiness. Me as god is a very rich, dark, indulgent and playful essence.

Meditation has been one of those practices. Learning to be present and, through that, disavowing every inkling of self-judgement. Jesus, learning self-acceptance is hard. Perhaps that’s what he was thinking during his own dark night of the soul. Yoga — something I’ve “done” on and off for years, but never really understood until I’d had a full year of meditation practice in me and then I really could grasp how yoga is about being present in the body, about self-acceptance, meeting your limbs and muscles where they are, not pushing but nurturing (not exercise and not fitness, because fuck that that self-hating nonsense).

And so we come to gratitude. The third in this holy trio. Every evening, after another self-nurturing ritual of cleansing face and teeth, I sit on my bed in the dim twinkling of fairy lights. I take into my hand a piece of smooth clear quartz that I found on my stepdad’s land in rural New Mexico, and I hold it carefully, lovingly. While running my fingers over the cool stone, I say out loud this nightly benediction.

Usually, I say the best thing that happened today. Often that is something small or simple. Sometimes it is something huge. On some nights, I offer myself a whole list of thank-yous – thank-yous to the universe and me and sometimes loved ones for all things, big and small.

Awareness, presence – these are the two foundations of Buddhism, and if I were to slot myself into any one religion (which I decline to do), it would probably be Buddhism. Staying in the moment. Because at the end of the day, the things that cause us worry and strife, the things that become stress, and the stresses that eventually become lodged into the body, resulting in physical illness (dis-ease) – none of these things are real. They are the result of a mind, or ego, attempting to “save” us by planning for unforeseen circumstances. By focusing on those scary unreal timelines, you call them in. By focusing on gratitude, you call in a timeline of abundance. This is the core of what some New Ageists call manifesting. I believe in manifesting because I manifest through gratitude and it is real in my life.

My best friend and I started an adjacent practice. The two of us are both prone to whingeing and can easily fall into negative spirals, and so when we find ourselves there together, we shout (over Whatsapp): FIVE THINGS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR. There are always five. Sometimes they are really funny things. Like “I have a toilet seat,” and “We don’t have to listen to that one person eat their salad really loud at work anymore.”

Gratitude drops you into the present moment. No matter what kind of bad day I am having (and I have had some pretty fucking bad ones, just like you have), I can find one small thing to be grateful for. With this, I am not suggesting we gloss over the hard things, the shit, the pain or the suffering. But I rest in the knowing that, by finding a moment of gratitude, the hardest days become easier.

What’s on my gratitude list tonight? So many things. For now? You, reader! This medium to express myself. An absolutely ma-hoosive Thanksgiving dinner, which I cooked in honour of myself. A nicely scented candle. And the supreme knowledge that I am deeply loved and cared for. First and foremost, by me.