Going on a mama sabbatical and why naked, wild swimming made me cry...

wild swimming amongst the lili pads!

This week I returned from 4 days of wild, woman camping in the Forest of Dean. It was enforced rather than gifted (I'd originally envisaged close-bonding, mama time - me and three kids, immersed in nature) but after 14.5 weeks of builders on my back, a study that has turned into a temporary furniture storage room and 4.5 weeks of kids on holiday at home, I snapped (literally) and decided that what I needed most of all was me-time, and a much-needed break from being bombarded by and tending to other people's demands.

This turned out to be a great decision (even though the intense mama guilt resulted in crying myself through the four-hour drive there). Not only because of the sudden onset of autumn which decided to coincide with wild camping day 1 - this meant I barely took off my wellies and waterproofs and most of my bedding got soaked by the sides of the tent (I didn't realise I could actually close the air vents - derr) - but because I allowed myself the space and time to truly feel and reveal the emotions that had been building up in me since the beginning of the holidays. And these were frustration, overwhelm, isolation, exhaustion, shame, depression, anger, fear and guilt. Quite a cocktail, no? 

Frustration with the lack of head space I'd been experiencing and not allowing myself the outlet to express this, guilt over not feeling grateful for the extra time I had to spend with the kids, overwhelm and exhaustion with the sheer amount of tasks I had to juggle (loft conversion, business building, housekeeping, parenting), isolation because it felt like there was no-one out there that truly understood or could help, shame that I couldn't cope when everyone else seemed to be doing so brilliantly, anger with myself that I am not providing enough for the kids (our town-house garden is too small for them to roam wild and explore - things I've assumed are necessary for a 'fulfilled' childhood), and an existential fear that I don't really know what I am doing as a person or mama, I don't really know where I want to live or what will satisfy me the most, I'm not sure whether my happiness comes first or what I've assumed will contribute most to that of the kids (bit of a head f8%k that one when you start to think about it) and I don't know what the future has in store. 

And yet four sodden days and three almost sleepless nights later (my airbed had a hole in it and I realised I can't sleep in a straight line), I emerged from my wild woman retreat renewed, nourished, patient, serene, happy and connected. Apparently even my physical appearance changed, according to my eldest, who commented (within five minutes of my arriving home) that I looked "different: more relaxed, happy".

And this, dear mamas, is the power of Nature and of the feminine collective. When women come together (as we have done for millenia – the problem is that ‘civilisation’ has bred it out of us), we reveal our vulnerabilities, our joy, our pain and our longing, we are heard without being judged or fixed, we nurture each other with our deep listening and we realise that we are all the same despite our superficial differences. 

Because sharing IS the only healing there ever is to do. If not sharing in public (which makes it even more potent) then sharing just with yourself by acknowledging the feelings that are running through you rather than trying to change them or push them away. (Which is what I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to do for weeks). 

And this, I learnt, is what being wild really means. Not just outdoor camping, cooking on an open fire and no electricity but the unfurling of the constrictions that we unknowingly place upon ourselves. Being wild means peeling back the layers of conditioning, being untamed, unfettered and giving yourself the permission to be messy rather than permanently nice, neat, kind, happy, caring, good and flexible. It means trusting that what you are feeling IS who you truly are and that you don't, in fact, need to fit in. In essence, being wild means revelling in the freedom to be yourself. 

And the irony is, that this actually requires quite a bit of effort! Because it is easier to remain a victim that feels crushed by your expectations of how you and the world should be, than to take the leap of faith that it will be ok if you reveal who you actually are.

Hence the tears before I was able to get into the lake. I longed so badly to join the others amongst the lilly pads but I was terrified of what it signified. I never did get to the bottom of my fear (the superficial layer was that it was dirty plus I felt ashamed of revealing my naked body) but I know that it had something to do with taking off some of the deepest layers of my armour - originally there to keep me safe and then suddenly so very suffocating.  

But rather than push through the fear 'and do it anyway', I gave myself the time to feel both the terror AND the longing, and to sit - temporarily paralysed - in the middle of the two emotions. I allowed the inner conflict to express itself through tears and I realised that what I wanted most of all, was to feel supported IN my fear. So I felt the shame of admiting this and risked ridicule by asking another woman to come and help me in. And of course I loved it (we even enjoyed an impromptu face mask with the clay from the lake bed). The photo above is of the newly reclaimed, confidently untamed, wild me (on the right) paying it forward and supporting someone else to brave the dark depths of the lilly-pad lake. 

This beautiful memory will remain with me forever. A symbol of so many things: of my well-earned mama sabbatical, of the fact that I was able to gift myself this break, of my allowing emotions to be felt rather than pushing them to one side, of asking for help when that is what I longed for the most, of overcoming a primal and unexplained fear, and of revelling in a shared, wild experience. 

So mamas, what does wild mean to you? What does it look, smell, sound and feel like? How can you be more wild in everyday life? And which feelings can you allow yourself to feel rather than bypassing them in order to fit in? Let me know in the comments box below! I'd love to hear your insights.

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