I love ‘The Outrun’.

‘The Outrun’ by Amy Liptrot

I love ‘The Outrun’. I read it over two years ago and it still prompts me to pay attention to what I see.

Amy Liptrot describes her growing dependency on alcohol in the years after graduation. After three months in a rehab clinic she returns home to Orkney for ‘a few weeks’. Weeks turn into a year. She remembers and explores her descent into addiction. She also maps for us the elements of her recovery – a new and expanding awareness of her environment and her own body.

The physical labour of repairing the stone walls on her Dad’s farm gave her something to do as she practices  the new disciplines of a recovering alcoholic. Outside all day, in the rain and wind, she began watching the clouds, and then learning their forms and types.

She explores in every direction around her. Long walks around the islands for exercise increasingly turn into a detailed investigation of the coastline and its geology, then visits to the pre-historic settlements and standing stones.  Liptrot lands a night time job counting Corncrakes, shy birds rarely seen and who can only be heard at night, ‘the perfect job for a recovering alcoholic and clubber’. The job extends her awareness, not just to birds but to the stars and satellites. Awareness of the natural world is combined with awareness of human interaction with the natural world. She visits old deserted crofts on outlying islands and ponders the experiments for tidal electricity generation. Liptrot takes her  immersion in the environment to the next level and joins the wild swimmers of Orkney.

There is much concern in Universities about student mental health, and a growing awareness of the part that digital culture plays in the rise of anxiety and dis-ease.

In The Outrun Liptrot uses the digital world to enhance and extend her vision and observation. She shows how the digital world mapped her journey of recovery and gave new connections to people and to the world. Her digital life includes a Facebook group has alerts for sightings of whales and eagles. The star gazing apps open up a new night vision to the veteran clubber. Her phone GPS tracker charted then change in her movement from long walks around the island to in-depth exploring of each inlet. She is interested in the passing space station  as well as the stars. In the routes of shipping and airplanes passing and crossing the island. As her day to day relationships slowly develop so too does a way to handle the online and digital relationships.

She shows us the daily learning and never ending discipline of being a recovering alcoholic. This is vivid nature writing that explores  the natural world and human life within it. It also her story of moving from illness to a new form of health – physical, mental, relational and digital. And all are connected.

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Mindfulness/Bodyfulness

cropped-p1000688.jpgAfter many years of running weekly mindfulness sessions I keep being struck by how little the mind features in ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness is mostly a ‘return to the body’. The mind is notoriously elusive concept in philosophical and scientific language.

In the Chaplaincy we start each Mindfulness session with some simple stretching exercises to help people physically settle after a morning’s work. Today my colleague asked the group if there were any particular exercises that they wanted to do. One person asked for something for neck ache. This elicited the disclosure of neck and back ache throughout the room. Not a surprise I guess from a group of people in academia sitting at pc’s all day every day.

The comments reminded me of Bessel van der Kolk’s argument that most of us can do more to befriend our bodies. Here are some quotes from Bessel’s book ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’.

“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”

“Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.”

“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves.”

“As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are “Notice that” and “What happens next?” Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”