I woke up this morning feeling pretty bad. The problem, I decided, was that I wasn’t at all fit and that I didn’t get outside and in nature enough. I felt frustrated and trapped – and this despite the fact that I rode 70 miles around the Isle of Wight at the weekend and that I’ll be spending two days frolicking in woods this week.
Perhaps it was because of the big bike ride and the days in the woods. I felt that zing of health in my skin and realised that it hadn’t been there for a while. I got a bit teary-eyed for the time that I was really fit – when I was training for a marathon and working as hired muscle at Staplefield Organics and I went wwoofing in Devon and threw hay around like it was candy floss. Yes, I mentally edited out the time that I was so tired from all of that that I tipped my dinner onto a gas hob (I just turned the frying an upside down) and was so out of it that my housemates had to turn the gas off, remove my dinner and then sit me down.
One of the ‘problems’ is that, while training for the marathon has given me the belief that I can get fit, I think I lack the faith that I can stay fit without giving over my whole life to it. I am reluctant to start any kind of running regime, for example, because I know that I am only motivated for training for an event, and that training for an event can easily take over my life – and right now, I don’t want it to.
Wait a second, I thought (through the tears). This is a design issue, really. If I can maximise the opportunities for getting fit, being outside, and maintaining mental equilibrium through the things I am already doing, then I’ll only have ‘the surplus’ to deal with. I won’t have to tack exercise on as an extra in my life, which I am really starting to resent doing. Plus, if fitness, getting into nature and good mental health are designed into my projects from the start, then this will make maintaining those elements much easier.
I decided to do a PMI (plus, minus, interesting) analysis of what opportunities for getting fit, being outside and working with nature and maintaining mental health my current projects had. Here’s what I came up with…
Scythe teaching: Whilst scything itself is really good for mind and body, and teaching scything is great for mental health because you feel like you’re passing on an interesting skill, there is a lot of admin associated with running courses. Marketing, answering questions etc locks you to a computer and keeps you inside and it can impact badly on your mental health if its not going too well.
I am already working on the administration question, but it struck me that what I really needed to do was get outside and scythe more. Sometimes its as basic as that… I have resolved to track down some spots where I can get a bit of practice in. This is especially important if I want to do well in the competition this year (by ‘do well’, I mean win), which I do…
Pen to paper/Localise: When it comes to getting fit, being outside and maintaining your mental health, writing is not the first activity you would turn to. I’ve always known that in order for me to be able to write, I would need to offset it with other activities that got me outside and moving around. It was one of the key premises behind designing my diploma (which is essentially a ‘life redesign’) in the way that I have.
But writing is still really important to me. Theory, as well as practice, is important. While I still think that the combination of writing and outside activities is a winning one, I have some work to do on zoning. Sitting down and thinking for a few hours makes it really difficult to get up and do anything else like go to the woods, or go foraging. You just don’t want to, even if you know you’ll feel great once you’ve moved your fat arse off the chair. Having half a mile between you and anything resembling nature, as I do, makes it even harder. It needs to be outside of the window, winking at you coquettishly as if to say ‘put your
pen computer down and come out and see me.’ The answer is that I need to be in the countryside, but there are reasons why I am not there right now, so I’ll have to pencil that one in as a ‘work towards.’ What was interesting when I was doing this exercise was that I had never really thought about motivation as a zoning issue before – or at least I had never really applied it beyond ‘put the plants that need the most attention close to the house’.
Wild Food: Get fit. Check. Be outside and in nature. Check. Positive for mental health. Check. It seems like this is the perfect project from the mental and physical health point of view. I was struck, when I was looking at this project how it connects and interacts with almost all of the others. I think this is because it’s evolving into a botany and observation project rather than one that is specifically about food. It connects to scything and coppicing because whilst I’m out in a field or a wood I am mentally (or physically) taking pictures of the grasses, flowers and trees that I see, it connects with writing because it gives me plenty of things to write about, it connects to preserving because there are plenty of things out there in the wild to preserve, it connects to teaching permaculture because if you’re going to teach a design system based on observation of nature then you bloody well should have observed nature, and it connects with gardening for obvious reasons.
Preserve-a-thon: Not a lot of direct opportunities for fitness here, but there is a definite connection to nature. You’re preserving what you have grown or foraged (or bought locally) often using natural processes like fermenting. Given that I don’t have a big space to grow anymore, I thought some more about teaming up with other plots from a preserving point of view. I don’t want the responsibility for them, but they might appreciate some help in preserving their produce in return for me getting a share of the produce. That would get me outside picking things and working with other people. I shall have to explore this idea further.
Wild wood: Coppicing has plenty of opportunity to get fit, especially if the coppice hasn’t been worked for a while and you’re dragging fairly big logs around. It can go so far as to be really really really tiring!
Teaching Permaculture: This is a kind of inside and outside job. Teach inside then take everyone outside to look at examples in nature, then back inside again. It won’t get me fit, but it’s a great way to consolidate what I am learning whilst being outside in other capacities.
The edible flower garden: The small amount of space here doesn’t really give much opportunity for working on fitness but it is being outside and working on the amount of ‘nature’ close to where I live. In that sense, it’s really good for mental health because it’s lovely to come home everyday and see a profusion of green.
This was a really interesting exercise to do, and it reminded me that I am on the right track but I just need a little tweaking now and then. Instead of whining about fitness and being inside all the time I need to look at my projects and look at what I could do outside to progress them and then go and do that. So, the answer is, get up and move around which I could have told myself before I started – but sometimes it takes a little analysis to work out how and when to get up and move around.