I have been finding a certain serenity in my being recently. And that isn’t asupposed to sound as pretentious as it does, but this particular kind of calm has been alien to me for some time.

It’s like walking through a ravine.

The cliffs either side reach up and touch the sky, and every so often fragments of rock and pebbles scatter down towards me. I walk. Not in fear of a landslide, but in a state of hyperawareness that it might happen. I’m on edge. And I keep walking, thinking of worst case scenarios and unfeasible solutions in my head and then all of a sudden the ravine opens out onto a huge valley. The sky is clear. The wind is alive. And the view takes my breath away and I fill my lungs and my head clears and I smile at the worries I had before. They’re still here with me, but the vista before me allows perspective. I should be more content. I should be looking forward. Or just looking. What’s the point in rushing and worrying about the future when there is so much in the present? And I know that, in order to complete my journey, I must go through another ravine. I’ll start teetering on the edge again. But for now? I’m here.

And the valley isn’t a valley, it’s a coffee shop or the tram or my living room or a cigarette break at work. But somehow, I find it. The vista, I mean.

It’s this book I’m reading – Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson. He goes and lives in a cabin on the edge of Lake Baikal in Siberia. He makes himself into a hermit. And in all honesty, nothing sounds more appealing. He has daily tasks and book and nature and his notebooks. And awe. Wonder. The place where he lives for these six months takes his breath away on a daily basis, from the top of a mountain to the unconditional love of dogs. The instantaneous camraderie in the handshake of his nearest neighbour, nine miles away. The boom of the ice ice as it cracks on the lake. And he makes such a good case for solitude, not loneliness, solitude, that it seems like the greatest thing in the world.

Sat here in a coffee shop in the middle of Manchester, watching the rain, I know I couldn’t do it. I’m not great on my own – I get stuck in the ravine. I couldn’t do a six month stretch inside my own head. But every so often I feel a smile appear on my face and have no idea where it came from. I’m finding pieces of peace in the lining of my jacket, humour in the superglued soles of my shoes, fractions of serenity between the pages of each day. Maybe this is what optimism feels like.

My brain is racing and my hands are shaking from the amount of caffeine I’ve had today. It’s my little brother’s birthday. I’m in work at half seven tomorrow morning. The rain is getting worse.

I’m smiling.


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