Being in nature has become a spiritual practice for Britta Schmitz – read how it supported her year-long journey to heal grief:
Last year in September I started walking to the beach every day. This was a big thing for me as I believed I’d never be fit enough to move much. I thought the cold air would hurt my lungs and make me ill, and I’d get lost in the dunes on the way – this has happened many times as I lack any sense of direction. In short, there were many more ‘good reasons’ to talk me out of that idea.
But the problem was I was really sad, having had one of the most challenging times of my life, and something in me knew that spending time by the sea might be just what I needed. So I went. Every day. In the beginning I used to put little markers on my path to find my way back home. A bit like Hänsel and Gretel. Believe me, having no sense of direction meant finding the 12-minute way back from the beach was almost unachievable – every single gorse bush looked exactly the same.
At first I was happy enough just to make it to the beach. Often I would just reach my favourite log right by the sea, sit down and watch the sunrise or sunset and then walk back. Eventually I started walking more and more. All through the winter my walks got longer and longer; I walked in wind and rain and in the dark and it really helped.
When summer came I’d walked so much my friend Daniela thought I’d be ready to climb a mountain with her – something I thought was completely impossible for me. So we went on an all-day hike. Climbing a mountain, crossing rivers barefoot, climbing up steep slopes on what basically felt like – and possibly was – bracken and thin air. I loved it and didn’t even have any signs of sore muscles the next day.
During summer I walked on the beach several times a day and often stayed on the beach till sunset, and headed back there again to watch the sunrise. This could mean coming home at 11pm and going back out at 5am. I’d always leave my shoes on the beach and walk barefoot. Many times my shoes got moved or decorated with stones and feathers. Some of the shoe movers I talked to said they thought somebody had left their shoes the night before and forgotten them!
In summer I started swimming in the sea more often as well as in the Findhorn river. And I often saw dolphins, seals, otters, eagles and so much magic and beauty.
In late summer I began walking to the beach barefoot, even though I believed it would hurt, through the woods and over the pebbles in the dunes, and it would surely be too cold. Often in the evenings, coming home in the dark with cold feet, I would take a foot bath and enjoy the feeling of freshness and clarity in my body.
When I was on Erraid in October I walked to Balfour Bay barefoot, something I had never done in the several years I lived on the island. It was so beautiful and soft, especially in the warm, dark, peaty puddles. I swam there in all weather, including in a gale with the other Erraid ladies, and took cold outside showers under the rainwater tanks every morning.
So when I came back from my last trip to Iona – where I also swam in the sea of course – and it was Samhain and we were going into November, I noticed that going into the sea every morning helped me overcome my morning sadness, which is still with me and has been waking me every morning at 4 or 5am since May last year. Also my life had not become less challenging over the past year; the old pain hasn’t quite gone yet and the Covid situation for sure changed my world drastically.
So I decided to go and swim every morning. I leave the house in the dark and can’t wait for the ice-cold embrace of the sea. It’s like resetting my mind and body. Everything changes in an instant and after my swim my whole outlook on life has changed.
I’m sharing this with you as I believe that nature is our biggest healer. When we feel part of her life becomes better. I feel how I am part of the whole web of life and the mystery that moves us all.
I would like to share a few words from Liz Proctor with you, that helped me to keep going outside to change my life:
‘Go outside! Go outside! Whatever the day brings, it will be better outside. You were made to breathe the open air, feel the sun on your skin and taste the rain on your face. It doesn’t matter where you go, how far you travel, who you’re with, or how the weather behaves. When you don’t know where to turn, when everything is too much, when you feel a yearning for a nameless something you can’t identify – you need the wide sky and the wild world. Four walls can never give you the space your heart needs to soar. Go outside!’
Or as my friends Christopher and Sarah put it: if in doubt go out!
Lots of Love, Britta