Mind vs Body: I felt my feet were not my own

15 05 2015

Walk No1: 60min, 4K (Shepherds Bush to Big Change offices in Paddington)

I felt my feet were not my own.

Given that my feet are more accustomed to being bare, I found the aesthetics of my new mountain-boots terribly distracting. Not simply because my feet looked twice their normal size, but also because the boots made me bounce, they lifted me forward with each step, subtly suggesting I maintain my stride. My toes were comfortably warm but encased in an unfamiliar rhythm.

Strive. To strive. Striving.

Strive towards? Strive against?

To exert ones will—exert oneself?

To try? To fight against the odds?

Who’s odds? What odds?

I wanted to find a podcast that might help shed light on these questions and after three failed attempts, I finally found just the right podcast to inspire me: NPR’s Ted Radio Hour was airing a conversation about the minds and bodies of champions who achieve extraordinary feats—about people who use challenges as a way to live beyond limits. The interviews with swimmer Diana Nyad and double-amputee snowboarder, Amy Purdy, made me cry. Particularly when Amy described her handicap as a magnificent gift that ignited her imagination to push forward creatively. I’m still mulling over what Sarah Lewis had to say about the difference between “mastery” and “success”. Success, she argues, is all about proving yourself to others—it is outward facing—while mastery is about valuing your own opinion of what you’re doing. “What gets us to convert success into mastery? I think it comes when we start to value the gift of the near win,” she explains.


The near win. The internal drive to strive towards a goal knowing that we fail many times before we finally get there. I’m a bit confused. If I accept failure now ahead of the Strive challenge, will that make me challenge myself less? Does the pressure to succeed overwhelm the joy of mastery? Are some people better equipped than others to trek over hills and climb mountains?


Striving for change, BIG CHANGE

7 05 2015

So there I lie on the plateau, under me the central core of fire from which was thrust this grumbling grinding mass of plutonic rock, over me blue air, and between me the fire of the rock and the fire of the sun, scree, soil and water, moss, grass, flower and tree, insect, bird and beast, wind, rain and snow – the total mountain.
– Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain


I like to walk.
And I like to talk.
But walking and talking at the same time?
When I talk,
I like to sit.
And I like to drink.
And I like to smoke.

If I do any exercise at all, it involves a short sprint from my car to the school gates. This has been the case for nearly a decade. I love dancing (and used to do lots of it back in the day) but one doesn’t really dance and talk. And the only walking and talking I do currently is at a snails pace with my children, articulating any combination of: hurry-up, we’re late! don’t pick that up, it’s dirty! you’ll be okay, let me kiss your knee and make it all better.

But recently, something shifted inside me. I think I’m under the spell of Big Change.

It’s called Strive! they explained excitedly during my first visit to their offices. We walk the equivalent of two marathons across the Scottish highlands over two days, and on the third day we climb Ben Nevis!

We will be a group of 60 to 100 change-makers. You know, those people who inspire, those who use their creativity to influence change across a variety of sectors for young people here in the UK. We will be a mix of educators, artists, policy-makers, entrepreneurs—and we will all be walking and talking; basically brainstorming new ideas for change as we climb, as we strive, up the highest mountain the British Isles have gifted us.

I listened attentively, trying to control my left eyebrow from twitching.

What an amazing challenge, I thought to myself and then my mind drifted as I began to picture this group of super-charged, super-fit, smiling young explorers, dressed in cool looking mountain gear, all standing proudly at the top of Ben Nevis. A flag waving wildly with bright beautiful words:


Yes, I thought to myself, this is what we need; more people like this striving for change.

And then they smiled back at me and waited politely for me to speak.

Fabulous, what an extraordinary challenge, I said. Let me know what I can do to help—I do know some big changers who might just be physically strong enough, and ambitious enough, to take part.

Well actually, we’d like you to participate in the walk, twinkle-eyed-Essie explained, grinning from cheek to cheek.

Very funny, I responded. Believe me, walking and talking is not my thing.

And that was that. A conversation that was had toward the end of February, at a time when London was still holding tightly onto winter.

But then the cherry blossoms bloomed pink.



And I attended my first Holi festival, in celebration of colour. I danced with my daughters and gave thanks for spring, for the changing of seasons and the reincarnations that are possible even among the living.


And then a little Easter bunny arrived and my daughters named her Ginger—I took that as a sign that my roots needed some stirring.


And if that wasn’t enough, one of my brothers gave me this book. He gently told me that I—that all of us—were born to run…



In 9 weeks time a group of Big Changers will take to the hills.
And the simple truth is, I want to be with them.

It’s all about developing a growth mind-set, they tell me.

A growth mind-set? Okay, well let’s see.

I wonder if they’ll let me bring a flask for my whiskey?


Inspiring reads at the start of this journey:

Nan Shepherd’s manuscript of The Living Mountain was written during the Second World War and lay untouched for more than thirty years before it was finally published.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science and pure inspiration. An epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? http://knopfdoubleday.com/2009/05/05/born-to-run-by-chris/