“Wildness is the state of complete awareness. That’s why we need it.” Gary Snyder quoted in “Wild’ by Jay Griffiths.
I am writing this at the kitchen table, in the quiet dawn of a Saturday morning. My family is sleeping upstairs and I have a homemade sourdough loaf baking in the oven, permeating our home with the reassuring smell of our Saturday morning. I’m carving out a few snatched moments of quiet to write this before my life as a mother kicks back in.
When we were planning to have kids, I envisaged myself as being different to the harried, tired mums I saw berating their kids as they hustled them to and from school. Somehow, I told myself, with my extensive knowledge and insight (!), I could carve a different path. Turns out, I couldn’t and I haven’t.
Slowly but surely, in the nine years of intensive parenting so far, I have become that tired, aged mum, worn down by parenting responsibilities. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my daughters more than I love myself and, with complete self-awareness, I’m completely dedicated to parenting them. We desperately wanted our daughters and now we have them, I don’t want to miss or begrudge a single moment. This is a short phase in my life, so while it is hard, I’m not looking for ways to escape it either.
However. What I have realised is that children need a home, reassuring rhythms (rather than strict routines) and the presence of their parents. As a mother, I also realise that I am hard wired to provide this for them. We talk about ‘nesting’ in late pregnancy as though it only relates to that time, but I continue to feel this strong urge to provide a safe nest for my family nine years on. It feels primal and instinctual, coming deep from my womb and it overrides my conscious thoughts from my mind about what I need for myself. This last line feels controversial even to myself, in this age of individualism but I cannot deny that this is how I feel. I want to provide a safe home for our daughters, a refuge from the outside world filled with love, kindness and homemade, nourishing food. Providing this takes up the majority of my time, energy and my very ’beingness’ and what I hadn’t realised was that providing this entails some serious hard work, dare I say, drudgery at times.
Take the simple concept of feeding our family: I have to plan, or at least think about what we need, shop for it, put the food away, manage it, prepare it, serve it and then clear it up. Three times a day plus snacks. Every single day of the year. Add to this clothes, cleaning the house, the list goes on and on… Before we realise, we are firmly enclosed in a cage made up of domestic routines. What gets to me at times is the sheer repetitive nature of each and every task. It doesn’t matter uf we are on an amazing beach holiday in Mexico or at home in Bristol, with kids, the same basic rhythms need to be observed: they need to eat, sleep and go to the toilet at regular intervals, and god help us if this doesn’t happen.
Sometimes, these non-negotiable tasks seem overwhelming and it’s easy for me to feel that I’m on a hamster wheel of domesticity.
And yet, I’ve found something that gives me a few minutes of release: swimming in a lake.
Here in Bristol, there is a members only lake, set like an oasis in our urban sprawl, that I am lucky enough to get to go to thanks to the generosity of my good friend, Laura. The lake is a filled up quarry, set in some beautiful woodland and there is an area for fishing and for swimming. The first time I went, a month or so ago, the water temperature was 14 degrees celsius. We changed into our swimming costumes in an old fashioned, 100 year old clubhouse and left our towels on the grassy side. Laura got in first, drew in a sharp breath and remarked “ooh, it’s cold”. So, following her lead, I gingerly climbed down the mossy steps and plunged into the muddy, freezing water.
My mind and body just stopped on impact.
I couldn’t breathe, my mind went blank. A moment of blissful nothingness that seemed to go on for much longer than it actually did. Then I started rapid, raggedy breaths and my legs and arms started swimming instinctively. I hadn’t experienced anything like it for such a long time. Everything done by instinct alone. Maybe child birth was the last time I had been so truly instinctual…? In those initial moments, my body felt truly alive, completely free from the binds of domesticity, completely immersed in the state of being truly wild. My mind was free of its continual chatter, there was no past or future, just the all encompassing present, being wholly aware of every fibre of my body.
It was absolutely glorious.
We swam up and down the lake, my body taking over and moving without input from my mind. I could feel my blood coalesce in my core, leaving my head and limbs gloriously free. After a while, my legs and arms were completely numb with cold and my awareness was able to extend to the beauty of the surroundings. It was a cold, cloudy day so we were the only people in the lake. Moving through the calm water, we created ripples and movement and the sounds. Sinking deeper into awareness, I started noticing the pockets of warm water and the little air bubbles and moving circles created by the small silver fish who we were sharing the space with. When one of the fish jumped out of the water close by, it startled my mind to react with an instinctive “fish?!” before settling back into blissful nothingness. We saw a moorhen and a heron.
The utter stillness and simplicity and wildness of the experience was a balm for my poor, tired soul.
When we got out, I was so numb with cold that I couldn’t get dressed properly. My legs were shaking and achy but my entire body was positively tingling with the aliveness and possibility of it all. “This is truly living!”, my body was saying to me. It had been a short sharp break from the warm and cosy confines of domesticity. And it made me appreciate returning to it even more, I took true delight in hugging my daughters tightly, drinking a warming up of tea, taking a hot bath and eating our Friday night pizza. With all my senses heightened, I could truly relish it all.
I truly believe that it is the wildness of the setting that gives me what my body craves and that allows my mind to stop for a moment. I had tried to find this escape in swimming before at the local indoor pool, but could only find tiny, snatched moments of it underwater. Swimming at the lake makes my body sing and tingle; my brief respite from domesticity. I also find that swimming at the lake when it’s cold and empty provides a more intense experience than when it is hot and the lake is full of other swimmers.
So now, my domestic routine is alleviated by almost daily walks in the forest on my way to and from work as well as this intense weekly ritual of immersion in wildness. It reminds my body what it is to be wild and provides enough nourishment for me to continue in this domesticated phase of my life.
As I finish writing this, my family has woken up and joined me here with me in the kitchen. My youngest is writing in her journal next to me and my husband is making my cherished morning cup of coffee. The hustle and bustle of family life has started once again and thanks to my experiences of ‘wildness’ coupled with the self reflection of them, I am happy to be in this full domestic sphere once again.