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Scotland Day Seven - Stillness

Day seven was... slow. I woke up in the tiny airbnb at the northern end of the Isle of Skye. I slept in because I knew I couldn't drive anywhere that morning anyway. I'd had plans to get up for sunrise, but I had to wait for a new tire before I could get anywhere.

It was 10:30 before the mobile tire repair truck came. He swapped it off within minutes, and then I was able to be on my way. I drove up further north to the ruins of an old castle that sat on a cliffside. When I first walked through the ruins, I'd looked around for the best spot to sit, taking my time. I brushed my hands along plants as I went and stopped to touch the stones of the old and forgotten walls. I found a perfect spot to sit where I could look through an aperture in the wall and see a tiny island just off the coast. I got my journal out to begin to write and try to dispel this continual frustration from the last day. As I sat, my hands started to burn and I realized the plants I'd been brushing up against had been stinging nettle.

I sat there in the ruins for quite a long time and journaled nearly the whole time, my hands continuing to sting. I was weirdly appreciative of the stinging, it didn't hurt exactly, but just continued to bring me back to my body. It almost seemed to give me purpose to keep using my hands to write. People came and went, climbing all through the overgrown castle. And on and on I journaled.

I wrote about how off-track I felt. The frustration at the last 18 hours had not been a result of merely a popped tire, but I think a result of feeling out of balance in my normal life. I'd escaped for a few days into peaceful bliss, but that couldn't last, it was unsustainable. I had to sit and deal with the discomfort that I had pushed away, thinking I could leave it on the back burner for the length of the trip.

I'm learning, still, that there are layers to that untangling I spoke of. I think on our paths to growth we peel back a layer of hurt, frustration, anxiety, grief, fear, and we find space then to turn inward and seek. But then we hit a new snag. For me, it is usually that I either get distracted again, sucked back into those things I'd been working to shed, or I uncover a new, deeper layer of that hurt, frustration, anxiety, grief, or fear. I am typically caught up by the first. I am constantly being taught the lesson of needing to slow down. I move too fast, my anxiety builds and builds, I move faster to try to avoid it or to try and counter it, I stack things up, I add in distractions to escape from it, and then I'm caught off balance and fall back down hard. Back to a place that begs me to stop. To just be still. And once grounded, from there, I have space to rebuild again.

The irony is that I know this cycle is happening at this point. How could I not, when I play this game over and over again. I can feel myself begin to teeter off balance, and I try to force through a counterbalance and push "onwards". I blame my circumstances or bad luck for the anxiety that continues to build, when really I'm the one who is not maintaining a sustainable pace. And so I am forced into stillness and solitude again.

How do we learn how to slow down? I sat there and wondered if most of my problems boil down to just moving too fast. I struggle with memory, because I'm moving too fast to retain the world around me. I struggle with anxiety because I'm moving too fast to process. I struggle with frustration because I don't slow down enough to be careful and intentional with my actions. I struggle to trust myself and my intuition because I'm moving too fast to hear and feel the subtleties of my body. And on and on this loop goes, like a spinning top that will always inevitably fall because it is never actually in balance. And yet I keep restarting this top, thinking this time it'll be different. If I just stop and look at the patterns, I can recognize that I can't have feasibly found balance when I'm not actively seeking it out.

Stillness. The only way I can figure out how to slow down is to utterly stop. Every time I spin out of control and topple over, it is an opportunity to wait before finding movement again. It is an invitation to stop, to still, to listen, to ground myself. A chance to let go of the cycle I am constantly navigating and choose a new way forward that might actually offer balance.

"I've sat here now, a while. Many people have come and gone from this place, and the time between them offers a silence. The earth, the rock, the sea, this island and all the islands surrounding me fill the time between. They are what will remain and endure. Completely still in their presence. Constant. They offer me all the companionship I could need, and they are the steadfast teachers in this act of stillness."

After the castle I drove back to make and eat a quiet dinner in my tiny house. I then headed to one spot that would be a repeat from my previous trip here: The Quiraing.

It was only a ten minute drive from my house, I'd hoped this would be my sunrise view that morning, but sunset would do. On my way, I pulled off to the side as a tour bus flew past me on the narrow single-track road. It kicked up a rock, putting a decent crack in my windshield. Wonderful. I finally arrived and saw that here, too, they had built up large parking lots since my last visit. I assumed I was very lucky that the place had nearly emptied out for the evening.

I didn't hike up far, really only about five minutes. I didn't feel the need to exert much effort this evening, I didn't need a real hike. Everything I needed to see was right in front of me, presenting itself in beautiful colors. I needed more time to just sit and observe. I found a spot amongst the ferns and watched the light travel across the landscape as the sun set. Sheep grazed all around me, I watched them too as they traversed the steep terrain, just taking it a few confident steps at a time as they ate their way along the edges of sheer cliffs.

I tried to study the landscape intentionally and thoroughly. My eyes traced the contours of the mountains, I watched the light dance its way across the ferns, I watched the water sitting in the lochs fade into darkness. My mind was still reeling from the past day, from all of the unprocessed thoughts and starting-to-process emotions. But I wanted to see if I could really commit this place at this time to memory. If I just sat and stayed still, could I finally take this place in?

I can now say a year later, this didn't exactly work. The places that are so vivid in my memory now are not the places where I was physically still. Maybe it is a start, but physical stillness only gets me so far. The places I retained, the times I now hold most dear from this trip, are the ones where I found a stillness of mind that led to a freedom, an exploration, a curiosity - an opportunity for immense expansion.

That circle of consciousness I spoke of before, that ebbs and flows, these days were a perfect example. I saw and felt that expansion, and then I also felt it snap back on me like a rubberband when I started to lose grip on what this place was trying to reveal to me.

Finding a state of more stable expansion, interwoven and intrinsically linked with times of stillness - that I think was, and is, the key lesson to be learned.


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