The other day, I made my first journey outside London for over 7 months. I went with friends to visit the Essex coast at Bradwell-on-Sea where we had lunch at the Othona Community (https://www.othonaessex.org.uk/), a stone's throw from the Saxon chapel of St Peter-ad-Murum. We took the train from Liverpool Street. I had not been to Liverpool Street station for a long time as I usually travel to Essex via Stratford station. I got a little lost as I walked to Liverpool Street from Moorgate. Looking back, I feel that this was the first incidence of the disorientation which I felt during the trip and have continued to feel since.
It was 9.00am and Broadgate was deserted as I approached the entrance to Liverpool Street station. This in itself seems unusual to me even after a year of the pandemic but also Broadgate looked different. I cannot say how exactly (except that I had not seen the Elizabeth line entrance before) but I did not recognise it. Liverpool Street station has changed since I was last there. The ticket office has moved. For this journey, I bought an electronic ticket using an app for the first time. I grew up in Suffolk and travelling via Liverpool Street has been a part of my life since I first gained my independence as a teenager. It was therefore the ideal way to use my first electronic train ticket! I wonder though how many people now use the ticket office and I feel a little sad that this source of human interaction is being lost. My friends bought their tickets there, helpfully as it turned out since they were able to remind me that our tickets were not valid before 9.30am.
There is now ample seating in the concourse at Liverpool Street, a huge improvement in the facilities which makes me wonder why it was not installed there decades ago. "They took out all the seating and the bins because of the terrorists.", my friend, a long time resident of central London, reminds me. The journey to Bradwell-on-Sea had not changed. Well, except for the alarm of the bus driver at Southminster when he realised that there were four people waiting to board his socially-distanced minibus (capacity: 6 people). With goodwill on the part of driver and passengers, we managed. And the driver recognised me, as usual, which I appreciated.
On arrival at Bradwell Waterside, we strode out along the sea wall and walked the three or so miles to the Othona Community. The Blackwater estuary looked the same as ever, that is to say, different. The view from the sea wall changes constantly and is never the same - one reason of many why I am unlikely ever to tire of visiting the estuary. After lunch, my friends went to visit the chapel but I stayed sitting in the sun, drinking tea and chatting to the Community staff. I needed to stay still a little longer.
And now, sitting at home in London once more, I long to stretch my legs again and move. I feel restless and unfocused and unsure where and how to spend my energy. I realise that this is how I have felt for months. The contrast with the purposefulness of the trip to Essex is disorientating. I am also aware of inhabiting two worlds, London and Essex. This is not new but the contrast is greater when I have lately spent so much time inhabiting the former and have such brief, recent experience of the latter. Skilfully dividing our time and ourselves between work and home, home and abroad, our home and others' homes and between our different roles in life is something which we may have to learn again.
On my trip to Essex, I encountered a good deal of outer change. Home again, I am aware of inner change. The restrictions imposed on us during the pandemic have restricted the outlets for our energy, time and money. As I pick up my life again, I am more aware of what energises me and what doesn't, how I want to spend my energy and how I don't want to spend it. If I follow these currents in myself, my life will change. In the Gestalt world, we have the paradoxical theory of change. Change occurs when we truly invest in what we want, think, feel, rather than what we "should".
As you move out into the world again now, as I hope you will be able to do joyfully, be ready to encounter change, outer and inner - some related to the pandemic and some not. If you feel disoriented by it, rest if you can along the way and give yourself time in which to adjust.