It’s been a while since I packed my travel bag and, as I stood in my bedroom with an empty bag on the floor, I was almost getting a rush thinking about the clothes and equipment I needed for a short adventure. I was heading up to the Peak district with a friend to hike, but also to write, to discuss psychology and to find some inner peace.
I left after work and drove up the ugly motorway and through ugly towns towards the village of Edale in the Peak district.
As I got closer to the moors, the houses became squarer, heavier and entirely granite.
As I drove through the darkness of the moors, I could see the thin clouds moving quickly across a high night sky and the dark curves of the hills all around me. There was a strong wind pushing against the window and I became aware of my loneliness in the moors. I instinctively looked at the petrol tank level (quite low) but there wasn’t far to go. I was meeting my friend, Nick, in a pub in Edale.
Soon enough, I was parked up right outside of the pub – and there he was! Sat at a table by the front window, looking curiously out the window and blinded by my headlights. I could see China plates on the wall behind him. It looked warm and safe inside.
I walked in and sat down with him. Nick hadn’t cut his beard or hair for over two years and started to resemble a famous German, communist philosopher who was inspired to by horrors of industrial Manchester. Nick was already dressed in his hiking gear even though we were only going to the hostel.
We were both sat on stools with flowery fabric and we were surrounded by black beams, China plates and brass kitchenware. Our glasses of cloudy amber ale were so full they almost spilled over. The scent of thick gravy and pie crusts from nearby tables convinced us to order some hearty food. We’d need it!
We wanted to go on a long walk to find the peaks. We also wanted to find some peace along the way.
We were so comfortable and content that time no longer mattered until I glanced at the wooden grandfather clock which showed quarter to ten. Meanwhile, outside the heavens had opened and rain poured against the square window panes. The youth hostel closes at ten, I remembered!
We ran to the car and jumped in. The windscreen wipers were on full speed and still I could see no further than a few feet.
The large manor house, surrounded by old cypress trees and fifty-foot conifers, must’ve been an estate at one point belonging to the gentry (or maybe even an industrialist). We promptly checked in, dumped our bags in the room and then crawled into a bunk beds, and drank one more beer out of a steel camping cup.
We woke up early at 6 am, and it was still before the late winter sunrise. We dressed warmly and went to the living room. It was quiet in the hostel. We sat ourselves by the huge ten-foot bay windows, and in the morning pre-light we sketched and wrote in our diaries, waiting for the sun to rise.
At some point we were both lost in our work and I assume the sun had risen – somewhere behind the tall moors, somewhere behind the dark, blue-grey, fast-moving clouds. Slowly the heather on the moors in the distance became visible and discernable from the dull green grass.
We wrote for about 45 minutes and then did 15 minutes of deep breathing; counting to seven on the in-breath, then pausing, then counting to seven on the exhalation and then pausing before breathing in again. This was a technique I had read in the ‘Sufi Way’ by Reshad Field. After 24 cycles, I let my breath take its own course as I sat without thoughts, my mind clear and calm, until the thoughts popped into my consciousness. But I let appear and disappear. In and out, breath in, breath out.
I opened my eyes again, and needed a few seconds to see where I was. It was February, cold and windy. And we were in the middle of the Peak district.
After breakfast, we set off to climb Lose Hill, a large steep hill somewhere in the distance. A path from the hostel would take us there.
We started following the path. It was slightly downhill at first and soon we approached a little brook. This spot was sheltered and perfect. It was tempting to pause – right here – and listen to the water washing over large stones, and watch endlessly how the clear water widened by a flat section, bubbling gently and then narrowed again and curved round a bend downwards and under an oak tree’s roots.
There were stepping stones by the flat section, presumably thrown there by some goblins, and we hopped over, inevitably brushing against some sharp heather when we landed on the muddy trodden gruond again.
We were now on the other side. We left only our footprints behind.
After about an hour and a half of walking, we started ascending again. It was quite clear to see where the peak was and even though it seemed only a few hundred meters away, it would take another hour to reach the top. The grass became hardier, and the shrubs no longer could grow up here.
Stone walls marked how far sheep could travel, after that, it was free land. I climbed over the last of the stone walls and continued. At about three quarters of the way up, the grass was long and thick like the hair of an ancient and mythical beast who was grumpily slumbering in the cold winter, waiting for the cold to pass.
Wind pushed the grass like invisible hay bails rolling along the hillside. The invisible bails rolled into the distance and up towards the grey horizon. By this point the incline was so steep that I almost needed to use hands to hold onto the thick grass. Climbing this monster wasn’t easy, but we had to keep going. I reached the top and when standing up at the top I was then hit by strong gusts which almost knocked me back down the hill. But I leaned forward against the wind and I could only hear the howling white noise of the wind.
We had approached the peak from a sheltered but steep ascent; maybe it would have been easier to have ascended from the other tor and walked along the ridge with the wind behind us. But we had taken this route and so we continued along the ridge, going up and down and up again, as if along a spine of a giant horse till we reached the final tailbone and paused at Mam Tor. It was rugged and wild at the top. The wind was relentless.
It was too strong to talk or stay still. We carried on walking for another hour.
Gradually, we started descending again and our pace picked up as the walking became easier.
Then, as we neared civilisation, the plants became more abundant and the foliage was softer again, like in a sheltered garden.
Soon enough, I could see post boxes, train stations, pubs, taxi ranks, sign posts and telephone masts. We soon approached a country lane and I could soon feel my mind – and my entire being – becoming more complacent, switching off to any potential dangers or hazards. I could feel my focus reduce.
And in this exterio world of the safe garden, it’s easy to make mistakes.
That evening, Nick and I talked about facing up to our own struggles, facing up to ourselves and going deep into the realms of the subconscious. In recent years, we had both been tested, we had both had struggles. We had both been through a lot but in vastly different ways. We had troubles we wanted to resolve.
I recounted to him a piece of text that I appreciated:
The mind is a mirror but obscured by its own darkness; a pond ruffled by the gales of its own passions, by winds of the transient emotions, the restlessness of “Him Who Blows”. If it were only like a lovely mountain lake, sheltered against the ruffling breath by hill barriers on every side, crystal, unaffected by any turbid affluents to stain its clarity and give a ripple to its surface, fed by only an underground source in its own depth – then it might be capable of mirroring without distortion, the form of truth. And yet, even then, there would remain this dualistic problem of the two-fold context of the mirror and the light.
I explained how, to me the words had helped me to realise that I am ‘him who blows’. But I’m also the pond.
It’s difficult talking about things and it’s not easy to open up.
I was glad that we were able to talk to each other, honestly and openly. No doubt there are too many who feel that they cannot talk to their friends about the things that have bothered them and how they ruffled the pond of their tranquil mind.
Together, we talked about practical ways to stay focussed and stay more at ease.
To be a pond and a gentle breeze.
To be a warm sunrise.
To be a child finding a pebble by the shore.
To be smile and bright clear eyes.
To watch the distant storms pass.
To be a man who knows himself.