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Ruth Steadman

• Writing • Therapy & Wellbeing • Travel • Vivere Ad Alta Voce • London UK & Italy •

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On my first day on Salina, exploring out the far side of Malfa on a deserted stretch of road bordered by Malvasia vines, a huge unaccompanied dog charged at me from out of nowhere. Basta! I yelled, fearing the worst. The dog approached anyway. I tried to lose him by ducking down alleyways and small lanes, but of course the dog knew his island far better than I did and so always found me at the end of each of my escape routes. I simply couldn't get rid of him. But then something interesting happened: A car, travelling too fast for the narrow road, whipped past me a little too close. The dog turned to face the disappearing vehicle, all snarling teeth and gums, growling and barking angrily. And I realised that, far from keeping pace with me to ward me off or attack me, he was there to protect me. Which he continued to do, pausing whenever I did and looking back to check on me every time I lingered, guiding me almost entirely back to my hotel. . Faith. Faith. . A month has already passed since I left the NHS. And the lessons... No, wait, I mean gifts: the gifts just keep on coming. . . . #salina | #aeolianislands | #islandstories | #sheisnotlost | #finditliveit | #iamatraveller | #passionpassport | #mytinyatlas | #livefullyalive | #feliceadesso | #faithoverfear | #thisidid | #daringgreatly | #redefineordinary | #awakethelight | #mystoryoflight

4

Malfa's beach is deep and narrow and made up of large, loose, black volcanic rocks. It's not really a beach for sun-worshipping; with the rhythmic boom of waves filling the amphitheatre of the surrounding cliffs this is far more accurately a temple to the sea. Even reaching the water's edge here requires a sort of meditative concentration - picking out the largest, flattest and most secure stones, working from the core, pausing, each step considered, deliberate. At the foam-line the bay shelves away sharply, an oblique angle of shining, slippery, mineral black against which each wave presents its full visceral shoulders before retreating with an almost otherwordly creaking sound as it remakes its base. To meet the water here requires determination, requires faith. But yes, yes: once you do, swimming in it - in the coiling, living strength of it - is an entirely religious experience, Stromboli all godly on the far horizon. . Of course, as I made my way along the path hugging the cliff edge, dreaming of the life I might live in this perfect cliff-top villetta, I knew nothing of this. I knew nothing of how it would feel to learn to dance with the water's strong currents; knew nothing of the garland of sweet bruises the wave I rode to get out of the water would give me to wear around my knees; knew nothing of the hallowed place I'd find in my fleshy, muscled, physical body between fragility and strength. And isn't that such a wonderful thing? The way we can be standing right on the cliff-edge of baptism and know nothing at all about what is just about to happen? . ~* ~ . On Friday night I had my second contemporary dance class - another great leap into the unknown. There is, already, so much to say about this. So much. But perhaps all I really need to tell you is this: that there is a new map of bruises around my knees, and that my aching body is deeply, so very deeply, smiling. . . . #salina | #aeolianislands | #principedisalina | #principelife | #daringgreatly | #courageworks | #sheisnotlost | #thisidid | #freedomthinkers | #redefineordinary | #feliceadesso | #faithoverfear | #risingtidesociety | #livefullyalive | #awakethelight | #mystoryoflight

2

The dive. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to look like my dives used to when I was at school — all muscular and lean, like a dolphin. The island of Filicudi was in the background and I thought it would make a great photograph. But I was scared — I had only just started jumping from boats into the sea the day before, and this was so much higher. Plus I so often carry fear in raised shoulders and slack in my belly, and it's not safe to dive wearing googles, so without my prescription lenses I was squinting pretty badly. . But I dived all the same. And it was glorious. Glorious. The way the fear just slid off my shoulders into the clear water. And my goodness, that clear, warm water. Fucking glorious. . In the video, which I asked Simone, the boat's captain, not to take but which he did anyway (and in slow-motion), I am soft, messy, vulnerable. I wanted to hate it, to hate myself in in, in part because I assumed others would too if they saw it. But I didn't. Back on the boat, filled with music and the smell of delicious grilled cheeses, Simone and I laughed until tears ran down our cheeks. Because it's hilarious, joyful, imperfect. Real. . And of course, having just walked away from a secure job into the unknown, the metaphor is not lost on me. Courage. Vulnerability. Authenticity. We only truly and wholly and confidently know our messy selves when we dare greatly, after all. . . #salina | #aeolianislands | #thisidid | #faithoverfear | #daringgreatly | #courageworks | #risingtidesociety | #freedomthinkers | #redefineordinary | #boldbraveyou | #sheisnotlost | #livefullyalive | #feliceadesso | #awakethelight | #mystoryoflight

6

"The thing is, Ruth, if you stay in this job you know exactly what the next 30 years of your life are going to look like." . My friend has a sense of humour that makes me feel five years old again. Humour that generates the sort of full-belly-crying laughter that necessitates checking back in with him later to make sure he hasn't disowned me (he never has). But we both know this is no laughing matter. I am a writer. Why would I stay in a story the ending of which I already know? . This week, after almost 11 years' service, I left the NHS. I am feeling so very deeply in these first shimmering, rivering days. There is grief and sadness and loss, of course there is. But there is also so much pride (I can barely look at all the beautiful things colleagues said about me in my cards without crying). There is an entirely rational uncertainty about what my future now holds. And yet, in that uncertainty, there is also an entirely certain, earthily certain excitement. Because I can't help but feel that I have just given myself the most precious gift in the world. . Tomorrow I go to Sicily and on to the Aeolian Islands - another gift I have given myself - to restore, to reflect and to resolve; above all to mark this transition. And then? And then ... . . #thisidid | #faithoverfear | #daringgreatly | #courageworks | #risingtidesociety | #sheisnotlost | #freedomthinkers | #boldbraveyou | #redefineordinary | #calledtobecreative | #choosejoy | #heartinthehustle | #ignitetheskillwithin | #awakethelight | #mystoryoflight

13

It was my father who taught me the meaning of the word faith. I'm not quite sure how, as a vicar's daughter, I'd managed to get to my early thirties without fully understanding it, but still. Dad was in the final months of his cancer, and I remember us talking together on the sofa. I remember how, by then, his whole face was puffy from steroids, softening the definition of the once-strong jaw that, for me as a young proud girl, had been one of the many tiny intimacies that marked him out as My Dad. I remember the late autumn afternoon light, and the heady over-ripe smell of the lilies in the vase behind us. "It's the willingness to believe in the absence of any kind of proof." Dad said, his eyes focused on something a long way off; something I knew I couldn't possibly hope to see. . I am not religious in the way that my father was, but I do believe in something much bigger than myself, though quite what that is I don't really know. And in becoming a psychotherapist I have, unwittingly (or perhaps not so unwittingly), found myself in a profession not that far removed from dad's - both are in the business of finding meaning and comfort in chaos, after all. The practice of psychotherapy has also taught me that worry and prayer (whether religious or secular) might quite accurately be synonyms - both being the repeated petitioning towards a particular goal, though with very different emotional expectations attached to each. . This week I took an enormous step into the unknown. Enormous. I will tell you the story soon - it is long and complicated. But it is also this short and this precise: It is the story of deciding to choose faith over fear. . . . #trust | #faithoverfear | #daringgreatly | #courageworks | #gritandvirtue | #thisidid | #risingtidesociety | #sheisnotlost | #freedomthinkers | #todaysgoodthing | #redefineordinary | #calledtobecreative | #ignitetheskillwithin | #awakethelight | #mystoryoflight

23

That pewter taste. The breath held too long in the throat. The slow-spreading prickling just under the ribs. The cold thrumming. The vast bone-white emptiness of trembling hands. That familiar vertigo, held so often in the hips. The old reluctance of feet. . And yet. And yet when we lean in. When we lean in to anxiety. When we lean in to anxiety just look what happens. Just look at what gold goodness happens. Gold goodness happens. . Yes, it really does. . . . #wellbeing | #anxiety | #cognitivebehaviouraltherapy | #daringgreatly | #boldbraveyou | #redefineordinary | #ignitetheskillwithin | #fosterthoughtfulness | #wherecalmlives | #smallmomentsofcalm | #smallsolace | #gowildlyandslow | #thewildnesstonic | #awakethelight | #mystoryoflight

5

I am a deep thinker. I always have been. From my earliest childhood, almost more than any other pastime, I have utterly relished those moments in each day when I can gently fold the world away and even more gently fold myself into the warm and sweetly familiar blankets of my thoughts and dreams and imagination. . We are all given such gifts as human beings. . But our capacity for vertiginously deep thought can also trip us up at times, can't it? Whether that be through the memories that haunt us, the well-worn pitter-pattering of worry, or the shapeless fears that so often sit darkly on the horizon. And our brilliant minds actually can't help this; we all carry within us millions of years of evolution, layering our brains with fossils dating as far back as our lizard ancestors. Indeed, the longer I practice as a therapist, the more I realise that so many of the knots we get tied in as humans are a result of the fractious relationship between old brain and new. . This summer I have been learning how to listen more attentively to my old brain, through the language of my body. It's as challenging as learning any new language, and there have been many moments of blinking helplessly at information I simply cannot understand. But there have also been other moments, moments that of course, inherently, transcend any new brain descriptive power, but moments so richly layered and beautiful they have taken my breath away. You know that look on a lizard's face when it finds the perfect spot of sunlight? That lizard isn't writing any poetry about that moment. But quite frankly it doesn't need to. . . . #wellbeing | #selfcompassion | #mybeautifulmess | #fosterthoughtfulness | #soulful_moments | #smallsolace | #breathepausereflect | #slowandsimpledays | #holdthemoment | #awhisperedbeauty | #wherecalmlives | #feliceadesso | #vivodiparticolari | #awakethelight | #mystoryoflight

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There's always that moment, isn't there? Early yet, and whispered, like something glimpsed out of the corner of the eye and then gone, but that still somehow settles with all the certain weight of a feather or a favourite shoe. Season's change. . For years, with the arrival of each new season I would boldly declare it my favourite of all. Until eventually someone pointed out that what I actually like is the change. Yesterday I met my deeply lovely friend @cathy.pyle in Richmond. We watched rowboats on the river, touched as many beautiful pots as we could in @petershamnurseries and finally settled in a blousey corner for sticky almond chocolate cake and white peony tea. And so much of our (tremblingly, gorgeously) real talking was full of the possibilities of the new. . I'm not quite ready for autumn's high scarves, blown leaves and unwritten pages. I don't take my Sicilian summer holiday until the end of September, and so for now I am holding greedily on to every last salty barefoot moment that I can. But lately, in the peculiar slant of the afternoon light, in the smell of water and earth, even in the more solid way my muscles are moving, I can't deny the pull onwards... . . . #petershamnurseries | #fortheloveoftexture | #aseasonalshift | #latesummer | #feelslikeautumn | #gowildlyandslow | #wherecalmlives | #slowandsimpledays | #feliceadesso | #vivodiparticolari | #exploretocreate | #stayandwander | #stillswithstories | #fosterthoughtfulness | #mystoryoflight |

11

The entire weekend spent chasing light across the keys. Thank you @reginaspektor for lifting London, and this girl, out of the rain last week, and most especially for this song. . . . #reginaspektor | #meandmypiano | #pianoheart | #pianolove | #pianosofinstagram | #pianoforte | #calledtobecreative | #nativecreative | #wherecalmlives | #slowandsimpledays | #distractionsandinspirations | #feliceadesso | #mode_emotive | #stillswithstories | #capturinglight | #mystoryoflight

2

Often, when I am travelling by bus through London — perhaps because I am both a writer and a therapist and have a deep love of human narrative, and certainly because bus journeys are ideal times for reverie — I find myself imagining the interior worlds of my fellow passengers. It's quite giddying, picturing the complex star-pointed networks of thoughts and worries and memories and hopes and daydreams and passions and straightforward everyday plans, like three-dimensional worlds orbiting each face, and then scaling back to see just how many such worlds are travelling together, quietly together, through the same space. And it's an important reminder for me to tread gently in all my interactions, because none of us can ever know what might be alive in all those other worlds. Though like most harried city dwellers I forget to carry enough care more often than I care to admit. . And then of course — like most Londoners; like most human beings — there are all those other times I find myself, simply and gleefully, gazing into strangers' windows... . . . #bergen | #norway | #windowsoftheworld | #tostandandstare | #fromyourperspective | #weareunveiled | #boldbraveyou | #soworthloving | #forgeyourownpath | #fosterthoughtfulness | #adailysomething | #stillswithstories | #thestoryofeveryday | #littlestoriesofmylife | #mystoryoflight

6

What is it that calls us so deeply to ritual? And deeper yet: to the magic that swims in the starlit dark underneath? We witness it, don't we, in the games and spells conjured up by the youngest of children; an instinct that exists long before rational thought. While the same folktales echo the world over with ceremonies that connect even the most geographically and culturally disparate of peoples. And every one of us quietly knows the private paths and patternings we tread so regularly through our human lives they can't help but write themselves into our hearts and bones as a sort of personal mythology. Even my cat has daily habits that seem, somehow, elevated beyond themselves. . For lots of complicated reasons, I have needed to take some time out this summer. And one of the gifts I am giving myself in my rest is the same slow morning routine to begin each new day: the burning of essential oils; Max Richter's soaring, soul-dilating soundtrack to Woolf Works; and long coffee, deep and black and chewy with stories. It is all, I am quite sure, old medicine. . . . #morningscenes | #mymagicalmorning | #todaysgoodthing | #adailysomething | #thestoryofeveryday | #thesimpleeveryday | #wherecalmlives | #somethingquieting | #slowandsimpledays | #inpraiseofslowness | #fosterthoughtfulness | #smallsolace | #selfcompassion | #wellbeing | #breathepausereflect | #mystoryoflight |

2

The gifts we give each other as human beings — not the presents beautifully wrapped in ribbons and good paper; the real gifts — are so often entirely beyond descriptive power, aren’t they? This summer I’ve been very slowly (and very belatedly) reading @brenebrown’s Daring Greatly. And I’ve been even more slowly (and even more belatedly) letting its lessons soften into my life; letting its lessons soften my life. And the path into the arena of authentic vulnerability has become something a pilgrimage. If pilgrimage means a series of transitory moments that tremble and blaze on an unseen breeze, there for one brave and brilliant moment and then gone, written only (gratefully, preciously only) into memory as the deep seen and seeing water in another’s eye, the softly unspoken word, the traced shadow edges of warm breathing hand alongside warm breathing body; the painfully exquisite space between… . . . #thepowerofvulnerability | #daringgreatly | #courageworks | #showupbeseen | #thedaringway | #adailysomething | #weareunveiled | #boldbraveyou | #fosterthoughtfulness | #soulful_moments | #wordsfromthesecretplace | #smallsolace | #wherecalmlives | #mystoryoflight

3

On Saturday night my neighbours had a summer party. A crackling fire-pit in their back garden that thickened the air of my flat with charcoal, loud music and hoots of laughter like sudden exclamation marks well into the small hours of Sunday morning. . I tried reading my book about wild swimming in an attempt to transport my mind elsewhere. I stuffed my head under the duvet, despite the humidity, to try and block out the noise. I even resorted to doing some 1am yoga, breathing into my frustration and all the discomfort that went with it. But I struggled. I resented my neighbours' drunken lack of awareness and the fact they were having fun at the expense of my peace. And then I resented myself double for resenting them, and for not being out enjoying myself on a Saturday night, too. . Showing up to practice compassion is so damn hard, isn't it? But I'll tell you what finally allowed me to sleep - it was when I took hold of my struggle, warmly and firmly the way a good parent might, looked that struggle squarely in the face, then let my neighbours off the hook for being drunk and unaware, and let myself off the hook double for being angry and upset (and promised myself a cottony gentle Sunday as a reward - and kept that promise). Because we are all stumbling and soft in our shared humanity. And that is OK. That is so very much more than OK. . . . #adailysomething | #todaysgoodthing | #fosterthoughtfulness | #boldbraveyou | #bedeeplyrooted | #soulful_moments | #wherecalmlives | #somethingquieting | #smallsolace | #selfcompassion | #wellbeing | #daringgreatly | #mystoryoflight | #thestoryofeveryday |

3

We break our good habits so easily, don't we? And yet (and I say this smiling) all the terrible ones are so very easy to keep. Of course, one of the hardest practices of all is self-compassion, especially for all those times we slip up. But these are precisely the times, of course, we need it most. Hello there stumbling, soft, shared humanity. So here’s to the brand new week and the chance to begin again. Which for me means getting back into bed with some good sleep routines, and a pledge to be just that little bit more self-compassionate. What about you? . . #morningscenes | #thesimpleeveryday | #slowandsimpledays | #inpraiseofslowness | #todaysgoodthing | #thestoryofeveryday | #fosterthoughtfulness | #wherecalmlives | #somethingquieting | #smallsolace | #selfcompassion | #wellbeing | #daringgreatly | #mystoryoflight |

12

For the last few summers I have travelled in the opposite direction to most holidaymakers - away from the crowded beaches of southern Europe and into the northern wilds of Scandinavia (this was taken last year on my way out to the Norwegian fjords). But for the first time in over a decade I am craving a proper Mediterranean summer holiday: a small whitewashed harbour town where I can watch trawlers tug in and out all day, a view of turquoise water from my dapple-shaded dozy hammock, and a fish restaurant I return to night after night because the food is so straightforwardly good, and because by the end of my stay the owners have become friends. Indeed, dreaming about holidays is almost as relaxing as the real thing, isn't it? But it's almost like having too much sugar, too. I spent most of the weekend lost in multiple browser tabs of @airbnb listings, flight prices and ferry timetables, so much so that as I drifted off to sleep last night my closed eyes were still full of sun flares, and I've woken this morning with the grit of golden sand still very much between my toes. But how delicious. So tell me, where are you travelling to this year?

10

Summer, basically. . Last night I slept for a full eight hours - my first unbroken night's sleep in months. I woke (sweet scraps of dreams dissolving in the soft fingers of sunlight through my bedroom blinds) to find the full weight of this one stretched the length of my body, her tractor purrs thrumming against my shoulder, my ribs and my hip. It was all a little too hot, but all far too delicious to move. She knows. And this summer she is teaching me everything.

9

Um, no - I don't think I have a stationery problem... Surely everyone has separate notebooks for their day-to-day planning, for their poetry, and for their Italian lessons? Though I'm not quite sure how I'm going to capture the hilariousness of last night's final Italian class of term. (And sadly this photo doesn't quite capture the watery teal deliciousness of this limited edition Nordic Blue Leuchtturm.)

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