Yesterday I had one of those frustrating days. I woke up tired, with a furrowed brow, and I don’t think either affliction left me all day. My housemate turned the hot water on (twice) just as I put my face under the shower, then he beat me to the washing machine. Neither of these things would normally bother me, but he obviously sensed my irrational annoyance because apologised to me and I found myself feeling irritated that I’d been such a cranky pants*. Then I walked all the way to the train station and realised I’d forgotten my wallet as I went to pay for my train ticket. I had to walk all the way home and then back again, only just making the next train, and only just making it to the class I was teaching at midday.
And it went on like this all day. Practicing yoga myself at home frustrated me because my body was tired and reluctant to hold itself in a headstand or twist too deeply. A cup of tea and a cupcake melted the frustration just a little but not enough that I could concentrate on doing anything useful.
Finally at about 5pm, after a full day of wearing my cranky pants, I decided to go for a walk. Walking to the park I was aware of how heavy my legs felt, annoyed that I still wasn’t better after last week’s sickness. But already the walking-for-the-sake-of-walking was eating away at my irritability. My tired legs managed to carry me past the play equipment and cafe at Sydney Park, and up the hill to my favourite spot. (From the top of this hill you can look one way and see planes flying over the airport, and the other to see the cityscape of Sydney. I’ve spent many hours sitting here by myself, writing or mulling over things. And also some time being photographed doing yoga — this photo is an outtake from that shoot. You can see the tiny white speck of a plane just to the left of my head.)
Off came the shoes. I moved off the path and continued my walk in the grass. Within about three steps my frustration was all but gone.
I often do this barefoot walking in the park. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realise this was what I needed yesterday. Ambling along on the grass has helped me work out countless life/boy/money/writing problems.
I wandered along until I reached a part of the hill that had a view of the man-made lake and I plonked myself down. I sat there and thought about all the things that were frustrating me and was finally able to use that irritable energy to achieve something.
For me, frustration is usually the precursor to a period of action — something that pulls me out of whatever situation is frustrating me in the first place. Of course, I’m only just working this out now — and I’m not always quick on the uptake. Sometimes I have to collapse into a sobbing mess or go flying over the handle bars of my bike before I realise that I need to stop and take a look at the irritability rather than just trying to bury it.
I don’t know what it is about walking that manages to let me both acknowledge the frustration and work through it. And the barefoot thing makes the walking even more powerful. For a while there I was getting an hour’s walk in twice a week, because I was teaching in Marrickville and it took half an hour to wander there and back. I rode my bike each way for a while (until I took a spill), but I realised that I preferred the walk. The walk gave me time to think. And after a while I seemed to save up my most convoluted problems for those walks.
Now that I don’t teach in M’ville anymore, I think I need to make sure I’m still getting my thinking walks. Regularly. Yes, for my mental health, but also for my work. As I wandered yesterday I thought about things in my personal life that are frustrating me, but I also thought through a number of professional issues and some writing problems.
I’ve heard of companies who have their meetings walking around a park. I think they’re onto something.
* Luckily, my housemate is due to go off to Byron for a few days today and so was in a “nothing’s botherin’ me” mood yesterday. I’m not always a grumpy housemate. Promise.