Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Walking, swimming and Sufjan Stevens

"Going barefoot in nature immediately helps clear your energy. Stepping out onto the sand, putting your feet into the ocean, hugging a tree, all of these clear your energy. Nature is an incredible neutraliser of energy." Anita Moorjani

A lot of my routines have fallen by the wayside. The fatigue has been acting up quite a lot lately and I am technically on holidays, so I took a break from my normal day-to-day, including elements of my healing-from-cancer regime. I am aware that I put a lot of pressure on myself to do all the right things, and that pressure equals stress, which is what 'all the right things' are supposed to ease... I am still trying to find a rhythm that allows me to trust the process and not beat myself up when I fall short of my often unfeasible expectations. 

Exercise is an antidote to fatigue, though I have a tendency to overdo it and then pay for it the following day(s). And sometimes only proper rest will help. But while I haven't touched the dumbbells and haven't done any running for a few weeks, gentle exercise such as walking and swimming has been a salve.

Stripey symphony: My sister and nephews in the Burren - hats made by my sister
John and I went away for a few days (within Ireland) and did a lot of hiking - since the lockdown walking has become a huge part of our life. In recent weeks I have walked around islands (Cape Clear and Omey Island, Inis Oírr - we cycled around the latter), in forests, on beaches, Greenways, the karst landscape of the Burren, on the loops near our house, 5km along the rocky shoreline to a pub and returning via the coast road. We have walked together (often in silence) and each on our own, with family and friends, with dogs, and with strangers: I took part in a forestbathing session with a lovely group and two wonderful guides and hugged a lot of trees on my personal forestbathing forays.

The old runners I have been wearing in lieu of hiking boots are now falling apart, and on the recommendation of a friend I am tempted to buy a pair of recycled barefoot boots. Feeling the texture of the ground is like a foot massage (I also regularly walk barefoot in the garden or on the beach to ground myself) and the balancing act of walking on a rocky shore or any other uneven surface makes you use different muscles in your legs.
I still go swimming in the sea at least twice a week, and it was a joy to explore other beaches and find hidden swimming spots. We took my nephew to Inis Oírr and swam in clear turquoise water. On Cape Clear I waded into the water among rocks covered in shells and emerged with bleeding scrapes all over my legs, from what had felt like lightly brushing against the stones as I floated. I loved even that. Being in cold water makes me feel so alive. 

 On the ferry to Inis Oírr
I spent the Irish heatwave of 2018 indoors suffering the side effects of aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy and unable to handle the hot weather. Last year I stayed covered up (the advice was to do so for a year following radiotherapy) and didn't swim until September. This year I have been exposing the surgery scar on my back and my radiotherapy tattoos with abandon (and SPF 50). Sometimes those souvenirs catch me by surprise when I see them or when my hand touches the scar in the shower - it all still feels unreal - and I marvel at what my body has been able to do since I finished treatment.

The soundtrack to these last few months has been at least 50% Sufjan Stevens, an all-time favourite. One of the songs I have been playing on repeat for the past couple of years ("Casimir Pulaski Day") is about remembrance and cancer and I connect with it on so many levels. This concert from 2006 is one I keep returning to. I almost feel I am in the audience when I watch this, and something about the overall aesthetic and the atmosphere - the wings, the uniforms, the group dynamic on stage, and of course the music - gets me every time ("Casimir Pulaski Day" starts at the 6-minute mark).