• Gill Coombs

The Current under the Surface

Like many others, I’ve been hooked into my screen a lot lately. I suddenly find myself in Facebook or Twitter without quite knowing how I got there: a bit like an alcoholic finding a drink in his hand, or a compulsive thief looking with surprise at the item she takes from her pocket.

And like any addict, I've found fallacious ways to justify myself: it’s good to take breaks from what I’m working on; I need to stay connected to the real world; the world needs my input. I should respond to all my emails, and keep up with every WhatsApp thread. Yet it's all been keeping me from the real world. I knew this in my head and heart, but not in my body until last week, just before lockdown began.

Peter and I had planned a walk on the coast, but he woke up feeling dizzy, and decided it was wisest not to go. He said he was sorry to disappoint me. I said it didn’t matter; my main concern was for his health.

And then I realised I could go on my own. Even writing this feels ridiculous, for someone who has always been independent and adventurous: who lived on her own for eight years, and has a lifelong habit of going off on solo adventures. And yet after fifteen years in relationship, I've slid into forgetting I can do certain things alone.

Even having made the decision, it was hard to break away from the gravitational pull of relationship. I told myself: Peter knows this symptom well, and will probably be fine. But attachment wound its tendrils of inertia round my entire being.

After much procrastinating, I left the house. And instantly felt different. Less cautious, more self-assured. More myself and - cliche for good reason - more alive. And of course it's not about Peter: it’s how I’ve lost sight of my individual identity.

I was soon walking south from Cadgwith on the coast path, with no plan, relishing the sensation of my whole body working. It was one of those days where you seem to flow over the terrain, your eyes working in harmony with land, brain and body to perform miracles, so that not even one footfall lands in the wrong place.

My hand unconsciously took my phone out of a pocket. I wondered briefly about checking in with Peter - and then switched it off.

As I flew along the path between the ocean and the gorse, my work with Extinction Rebellion came alive in my thoughts and my psyche. An alchemical process was at play: the issues worked on themselves in a kind of transformative process. Problems felt resolved, or at least clear; necessary conversations became apparent; ideas emerged and crystallised.


Straddling mud, jumping from stone to stone and running down hills, I presently reached what is, for me, a sacred site. I asked for permission to enter. Sensing it granted, climbed I over rocks and into a space of serene power. I wondered how long to stay. If I was brief, could I make it to Housel Bay and back before the dog needed to go out? Then I realised I potentially had all the daylight hours ahead of me. Right now, ‘brief’ was not what was being called for. I chose to trust and let go: trust in Peter’s self-care, in whatever decisions he would make, that he would see that the dog was alright. Trust in whatever shape the day might take.

Standing in this precious and magical place I took in all the details, as you might with a beloved: the cross-hatched rock face, reflected between clumps of sedge in the pond, sea campion tumbling down the bank, a tongue of granite extending into the water. All worries having receded for now, I closed my eyes and once again committed my life and my work to the great Spirit. I stood still in that place for however long I stood there, aware only of the calls of ravens.

Eventually I re-joined the path, and walked on down the coast to Housel Bay. This is a place of many memories, and I revisited and honoured them amongst the rocks. A cormorant floated on the high waves, and I wondered if it was the same one I’d written about five years ago when I was preparing to stand for parliament. Time fell away once more. Waves surged in and rolled back, gulls came and went. My body, not my mind, decided when it was time to leave. Rounding Bass Point and leaving the west wind behind, I dropped fully into myself. Until it happened, I didn't know how scattered I’d been. I began to notice detail: blackthorn blossom, the delicious scent of a fox, a perfectly cross-sectioned back half of a mouse. The shifting colours of the ocean. This state of intense observation was no better or worse than my earlier state of striding and inner fermenting; just different.

   I found a rock perfect for lying on your back, and this I did. The curves of my body moulding to the stone, I watched as skeins of white cloud rushed north against the blue sky above me, and skeins of gulls streamed silently south, balancing on the wind. The two-directional flow gradually induced an altered state of perception, taking me to a yet more fundamental level of awareness.

I continued in a state of rapture, profound wellbeing, and love: love for the gannets circling above the waves, love for the lifeboat crew, love for the people of Cadgwith. Love for myself and all beings.

I suspect this rapture is a natural human state. Not the only natural state, but one we have gradually forgotten in our rejection of the spiritual, and our attempts to stuff our souls with merchandise, food, and information. I have been alone, offline, in a wild place for less than four hours, and here it is: a source of rich nourishment that flows always just below the surface, ready to be entered.

Ending the walk, I told myself this: I do not want to forget that I can experience myself embodied in the land, and immersed in the great Spirit. I want to put screen time, and in particular social media, into small boxes that I can open and shut at times of my choice. I want to create conditions in my life for nourishing things like walking, drawing, singing, dancing, and most of all writing. Perhaps I can guard Wednesdays as soul time…

Several years ago, I wrote a piece in praise of discipline, but I have hardly observed my own wisdom. If anything, there is less discipline in my personal life than ever. Routine isn’t easy for me: I like to keep my options open. What if someone arranges a Wednesday Zoom call I really want to attend?

In my work as a coach, I find some people come to me as an external holder for their personal commitments. Part of the work is to support them in integrating that holding, so they grow more self-sufficient in this respect. But it’s rarely the stricture of discipline that brings transformation: it’s the depths of self-awareness that come with practising some soulcraft.

In the days since that coast walk, I've been clearer in calibrating my optimal blend of structure and fluidity; (online) engagement and seclusion. Choices have been simply arising: considering others, but also honouring my need to stay aligned with what my soul is trying to do as part of the greater collective consciousness.

It takes work; frequent solo adventures in the wild when possible, daily meditation, ongoing mindful attention. I can't always tap back into such 'flow'. But something whispers to me that without discipline, I will forgetfully slip back into ways of being that don’t support me, or the work that’s mine to do in the world.

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