When Life Knocks You Down…

It had been a really tough week; a week that started with me learning about the untimely death of my first serious boyfriend and ended in a break-up. I could feel a swell of grief building inside of me, so I decided to take myself for a ‘prayer walk’.

A prayer walk is where you dedicate your walk to a question or a person, using the meditative power of putting one foot in front of another to access an inner wisdom (or outer wisdom, depending on your belief system). Before I left the house I made my prayer: ‘Please show me how to get through this dark time. Guide me to find the lessons in this pain.

I had barely left the house when I tripped and went flying, hitting the ground with such force I tore a hole in the knee of my jeans. Stunned, I clambered into an upright position, then stumbled back inside to inspect the damage: cuts on my knee and hand and a stinging wrist. The tears that had been threatening, amassed behind my eyes. ‘Just stay indoors and cry,’ I told myself. But I knew that if I did that I’d be consumed by feelings of sorrow and gloom, so I dusted myself off and set out again.

I headed straight for my favourite prayer walk destination, the Sussex Downs, which are just five minutes from my house. As I climbed the steep track up to the Downs I tried to ignore the twinge in my aching knee.

Maybe falling over is going to be part of the lesson, I thought to myself. Maybe getting back up again and walking anyway will teach me something.

Finally, with my knee and wrist aching and my lungs burning, I made it to the top of the Downs. It’s so high up there you sometimes actually look down on clouds but that day the sky was clear blue and a pale winter sun painted the tips of the grass white-gold. I breathed in the fresh air and open space. Please help me to feel hope again, I prayed.

I put on my i-pod, in need of some musical inspiration. A beautiful mantra started playing. I walked past sheep, chewing on the stubbly grass. I saw cows on a distant hill, black and white polka-dots on the velvety green. The tension of the week started to ebb but my cloud of sorrow stayed with me, hovering above like my own personal weather system.

But then I reached the crest of a hill and I was greeted with the most incredible sight. Hundreds of birds, drifting and spiralling in the air in front of me, swooping and swirling in time to the music playing in my ear-buds, in the perfect act of serendipitous choreography.

I stood there motionless, watching and listening, awash with gratitude that I should get to see this visual treat. And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any more stunning, an old plane, circa World War Two, came flying across the valley. I was so high, it was actually flying beneath me. The whole thing was so strange and so beautiful it took my breath away, not to mention my pain.

I stood there until the plane disappeared from view and the birds swooped down, down, down, to land in a field. This is the lesson, I thought to myself. In life, you get knocked down – by loss, pain, disappointment – but if you can find the grit to get back up again, you will be treated to the most incredible gifts. It’s all in the getting up again and keeping walking.

So I kept on walking.

And then I tripped and found myself falling and landing face first on the grass.

This time I hit the ground with such an impact that the hole in my jeans doubled in size, now with an attractive trim of mud and grass stains, and I tore the strap right off my bag.

‘What the hell?’???’ I exclaimed as, for the second time in an hour, I struggled to pull myself upright again. Then I looked at my walking boots and saw that one of the hooks had come loose. It had been catching on the lace of the other boot and causing me to trip.

I sat there for a moment, laughing and limbs stinging. Clearly my prayer walk had one more thing to teach me: When life knocks you down it’s not just about the getting up. You need to look for the reason you fell in the first place, to try and stop yourself from falling again.

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