I often miss the simplicity of childhood, being able to meet friends with a few minutes of walking rather than an hour trekking across the city after a month of advance planning. I miss sitting on the steps as the sun goes down, sipping on dye-filled icy watermelon Slush Puppies and gossiping about what happened at school that day, whether the boys we had crushes on liked us back and other topics we thought were of utmost importance.
We played sports back then without labeling them “exercise”, without thinking of them as something we have to do to stay fit. Now, you announce, “I’m going running!” and then spend the set amount of time wishing you were finished, wondering if it’s making any difference and coming home to shower – to complete the process.
We ate without thinking about calories or if what was going into our bodies was healthy or if it would later make us feel bloated or give us a sugar high. Put a dessert menu in front of us and there was no umm-ing and aww-ing over whether we could fit it in; we always did.
We fell asleep when we fell asleep, often pushing as much as we could to stay up later so we didn’t miss anything. Sleep was the bane of our existence. Now we’re set in such a routine that a lot of us crash by 11:30 and wake up on the dot at 7am, even on weekends.
We didn’t make mental notes to build mindfulness into our days, to make sure we remembered to take in the smells and sounds around us. Instead, we just did. Noting and appreciating – being in awe of the world around us just came naturally, unprompted by blog posts and the latest research on how to reduce stress.
And then we went to high school and university and we got jobs and responsibilities. Expectations increased, pressure to be “successful” – whatever that means – increased. We suddenly had rent, bills, college loans, relationships, gym passes, grocery lists and too-busy schedules. And then the nostalgia for the simple life once we saw how complicated it had all become.
I think the closest I ever feel to having that simplicity back is when I’m in nature, when there’s fresh air to breathe, when it’s possible to shift to do lists away from the forefront of the mind, when it smells of soil and moss and evergreen trees.
Not long ago, I walked to Richmond Park in South West London. I left the house at 7am on a Saturday and walked three hours until I reached one of the city’s biggest green spaces. And then I walked for hours along the trails.
I found myself face to face with wild deer – in awe as they stared at me with their wide eyes and incredible antlers and then went back to munching on grass.
I found myself standing in open expanses of fields, not another human in sight, no concrete or red busses or noise apart from an occasional plane swooping down toward Heathrow, the rustle of squirrels scurrying over dried leaves, the persistent buzzing of crickets and the chirping of birds.
It was hot. The sun beat down on a proper summer day. I walked along the dusty trails, watched horses trot by kicking up rust-coloured clouds with their powerful hooves, watched dogs rolling in the grass for a back scratch, bellies up.
I strolled through the Isabella Plantation in the corner of the park, admiring plants I can never seem to name, sitting on secluded benches, watching fish swim together at the bottom of shallow ponds, ducks dipping under the surface, blue dragonflies flitting among the reeds.
Richmond is the largest of London’s 8 royal parks and the biggest enclosed space in London. It’s a hilly park full of grasslands, gardens, ancient oak trees, over 1,000 species of beetles and 630 deer. You could spend days lost in there.
We’re lucky, because London does have a lot of parks, green spaces, inviting places to escape the city and re-connect with nature. And if we can’t fully re-experience the simplicity of life in the way we did as children (and let’s face it, those bright pink “watermelon” slushies probably are best left in the past), at least there’s Richmond Park, right?