19 Mar A Walking Meditation In Camden
Mind-Bending: A Walking Meditation in Camden
Éva Kincsei takes us on one of her favourite walking meditations through one of North London’s most tranquil spaces and onto Hampstead Heath.
For me the best way to start the day is to connect with nature and my body through some outdoor exercise. That is what I call meditation. I’ve just got up and I’m flying down to Bondi Beach to do my early morning yoga practice before the daily grind begins. Wait. No, I’m in London, and the image of Sydney’s Bondi is probably the product of my half-dreaming mind. But part of the yogic mindset is that you are not annoyed by outside circumstances, instead, you just live with them and make the best out of what you’re given in case you cannot change it. Nothing can stop me from meditating outside. Not even a city without sea and sun. I always devise my itinerary to include diverse terrains which will trigger different types of walking and will affect my brain in different ways. (We know from research that walking in nature affects the mind more positively than trundling through an already congested area in rush hour, even though walking is always beneficial for both body and mind.)
Today I want to explore a tranquil inner city space before heading off to the lush greenery in Hampstead Heath through Hampstead Village. I live in South-East London but have a constant longing for North London where I used to live when I first moved here. So I take the tube to Swiss Cottage to start my meditation in Camden. I have a splitting headache, and the rolling thoughts and emotions slow me down as I start ambling upward on Fitzjohn’s Avenue, one of my favourite streets in London. The imposing fusion of all the eclectic historic styles: the trademark Victorian architecture and the creeping plants on the walls of brown and red brick villas, overwhelm me and manage to pull me out of my head at least for a few minutes.
I stop in front of North Bridge House Nursery School to marvel at the plant-themed barge boards and the neat, intricately designed latticework of the gleaming white canopy while feeling a pang of nostalgia about being in nursery school again. A few hundred yards up another Neo-Gothic red-brick villa, The Tower, imposes itself on me as I’m passing by and I can hardly tear my eyes from the sublime structure exuding the air of a stylish medieval fortress. This tree-lined street with all these solid but intricate stately buildings slow me down and I can hear myself much better than in the jungle of the city half an hour ago. But I know there’s more to come in Hampstead, as I will walk down on Hampstead High Street flanked by boutique shops and cosy eateries.
Avoiding Temptations on The Walking Meditation
What I cannot miss on my way to Hampstead Heath is the Antipodean-style café, Ginger and White down Perrin’s Court where – and I’m almost certain – you can buy the best latte in London. Being allergic to dairy and soy, one of my constant missions in this city is to find cosy little cafés where they serve latte with almond milk, and every time I find one I feel that I’ve found another oasis amid the crowed and the chaos. I’m a coffee lover and I mean it: I could just down three of these lattes in a row in less than 3 minutes. But now I’m just savouring it to exercise self-control which might help tame my mind still brimming with racing thoughts. Ginger and White is friendly and snug and the smell of coffee and cakes float around in the intimately sized space filled with wooden furniture. This is exactly the place where I could numb my mind with the finest gourmet sandwiches, but I resist.
There’s still distance to cover and finally I feel brisker and clearer. I keep scampering down Hampstead High Street and Rosslyn Hill longingly swivelling my eyeballs backwards whenever I go past another café luring customers in by decorating their windows with hand-made ciabatta sandwiches overflowing with prosciutto, cheese and a bush of leafy greens. I take a left turn at the junction of Rosslyn Hill and Pond Street leaving behind St Stephen’s Church and the Royal Free Hospital. The two adjacent buildings – almost like juxtaposed images – trigger rich associations about birth and death before reaching Hampstead Heath. Solid masses of clouds swirl above my head blotting out the last remaining bright blue part of the sky as I finally venture into nature. But nothing can deter a walker with an agitated mind so I wade into the green, always choosing the less visible track with the thickest flora. That is my only strategy to get through Hampstead and to reach Kenwood.
Out in the not so perilous wilderness of Hampstead Heath and Kenwood the only souls you meet on a rainy weekday afternoon are some peppy dogs and their devoted owners, so my thoughts and emotions intensify as if I were hearing them blaring from loudspeakers nestling in the surrounding trees. There is only a fine line between acknowledging disturbing thoughts and dwelling on them, but the best place to practice walking this fine line is in the thick green bushes out there in balmy weather.
I’ve been on the road for more than two hours and when I flop down on a couch in front of Guardi’s painting of the church of Santa Lucia on the Grand Canal Venice in Kenwood House half an hour before closing and with no one in sight, I’ve finally stopped feeling defeated by all those nagging thoughts which accompanied me on Fitzjohn’s Avenue. No, I have not solved anything, but hovering among the sublime pictures of landscapes and nobilities while enjoying perfect silence, I can see a bit clearer and I know it will be easier to get through the jungle on my way home.