This article comes from Steph Weir who is a third year PhD student at Heriot-Watt University’s Orkney Campus. With a Masters in environmental anthropology from Aberdeen, she is now investigating the trends of and attitudes towards enclosure and privatisation at sea, with specific emphasis on the ‘fairness’ of such socio-political movements on coastal communities. She likes rugby, musicals, and feminist rants, and posts about all three on Twitter: @phd_steph17
‘Try not to just stare out the window the whole time,’ my supervisor joked as he showed me to my desk on my first day. Now, two years on, I find staring out my office window is a persistent indulgence.
Perhaps indulgence is the wrong word. Certainly its enjoyable, a ‘treat’. But it’s also necessary on days like today when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed by the half-baked ideas that are circling around my mind.
My desk looks out onto a stunning assemblage of sea, sky, islands, and the town below. On dreich days, when the wind makes the lampposts shake and the sea looks ireful, I sit by the radiator and look out, understanding that hygge feeling that’s been everywhere recently. Other days give beautiful sunrises over the water, or mists through which the ferry carves its way towards the town.
Today I found myself, pen poised on lips, a semi-permanent frown on my face, just staring out to sea. And turns out I had been like that for a good twenty minutes. I used to chastise myself for wasting time daydreaming and not writing down any of the thoughts I was having. But I’ve learned to come away from this not rebuking myself, but grateful for taking a small, meditative break from squinting at meaningless words on my screen. Because I always leave these (sort of) trances with a fresh take on something, or an understanding of a paper that I had been thinking about for hours, or just a way to word a sentence that had eluded me all morning.
You can spend hours reading about the benefits of meditation, the literature is endless. Or perhaps many of you are already aware of its usefulness. ‘Why write about this, this is just common sense,’ you might be thinking. But I’ve struggled for so long with the noise inside. I suffer from anxiety which affects so many aspects of my life that I often forget that suffering severe pain after eating is not normal. Not being able to sleep more than two hours, also not normal. I have practised yoga for about two years now, but still can never quite get that last corpse pose right; my brain is too busy thinking about what’s next, what’s for tea, oh shoot you forgot to feed the cat, remember that feedback that wasn’t exactly positive, you should be worrying about that.
But my window has done something I didn’t think was possible before; it has paused the worry a little. This sounds overly dramatic, but it is true. And so, thank you window. Over the past two years of my PhD, my use of ‘meditation’ (whatever that term might mean) has transformed from something I had to reluctantly do at the end of a yoga class with 30 other people in the room, to something that genuinely helps me, even when done for just ten minutes whilst watching a fishing boat go by.
I am conscious that I am incredibly lucky to have the view that I have; a trade-off for being slightly removed from ‘civilisation’, studying on a remote but beautiful Scottish island. But I encourage those who also might not get their head around the normal ‘close your eyes, clear your mind’ meditation, to stare out your window. Any window will do. Just watch. Don’t write down your thoughts. Don’t look at your phone, or think too hard about a problem, or worry about whether your officemates are silently judging you for being a bit weird. Just look out of your window at the world, and maybe something will click that didn’t before, that hours of scrolling the internet and reading papers hadn’t mustered. I hope that happens for you.
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