I was down by the sea the other day watching my kids play, enjoying a rare glimpse of the February sunshine, listening to the waves crashing on the beach (my most favourite sound in the world), being buffeted by a cold winter wind (yes I do actually enjoy that!) and smelling the salty sea air. I can understand why the Victorians were so keen to go to the coast to rest, recuperate and revitalise. It has such healing properties. A day by the sea and I feel recharged.

How we got here

We moved to East Sussex from Surrey four years ago. We had been looking to move for a while. It was too expensive where we lived, too busy and too stressful, paticularly for me. I was suffering from severe anxiety at the time and was feeling very trapped and claustrophobic. My husband, for different reasons, was feeling a move was on the cards too.

Although a beautiful village with a great community of people (not to upset my friends who still live there!) we were bursting out of our little house. There was no space to breathe. Everyday it was a battle to park anywhere near where we lived. I had a daily routine of juggling 2 small kids, a busy ‘rat run’ road, bags, buggies, shopping out of the car and up the hill to home. It sounds a bit ridiculous writing this now, but when you’re already struggling with anxiety, layering more stressful situations on top is not conducive to the road to recovery.

Love to haves

One of the ‘love to haves’ on my list was to be nearer the sea. Growing up in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, we lived on a hill and I had a panoramic view of the sea from my bedroom window. As a child this was normal to me but I realise now how special that was and possibly was what shaped my lifetime’s obsession with the sea.

When fate plays its hand

Sometimes the stars just align. My husband and I went away for a weekend break in East Sussex. We were, at the time, obsessive online property searchers. That same weekend we saw a house online – we could afford it, it was beautiful and seemed too good to be true. We booked a viewing whilst passing through, fell in love with it, put an offer in and sold our house in a week. All the months and months of agonising about what to do, everything just fell into place over matter of days.

It was meant to be.

So here we are

So, four years later, here we are, in the beautiful Sussex countryside, 15 minutes drive to the coast and as I sat here, Sunday afternoon, on the beach, I started to think about a visualisation exercise I practise called safe place, special place.

Safe place, special place

The basic premise is to visualise where feels special and safe for you. A place of peace and calm where you can come to if the world around you or inside you feels stormy and unsettled. For me, obviously, it was the sea, but it could be anywhere – sitting by a roaring log fire, by a tranquil stream, in a beautiful meadow or woodland. It may be sitting in your favourite coffee shop in a busy city, people-watching, if that’s the place where you feel calm and at peace – it’s whatever works for you.

Now, ground yourself by focusing in on your breathing. Just sit, following your breath, breathing in… breathing out. Notice where you feel the breath the most in your body. It could be your nose, your chest, your belly – wherever you notice it. Now stay with this for a few moments.

Once you have spent a few breaths grounding and reconnecting with your sense of self, turn your attention to your special place. Visualise it in your minds eye. Sense how it feels to sit here – what do you see… what do you hear… what do you smell… what do you feel? Slowly, turn to each sensation one by one and stay with it for a moment. Try to immerse yourself in these feelings.

Your special place is here for you whenever you need it – a place to feel safe, a place to feel calm, a place to feel at peace. Hold this for as long as feels right for you and when you’re ready, take a last look around and say goodbye to your special place. Know you can return whenever you want too. I always like to take 3 deep breaths at the end of a practice to ‘sign off’ and ease me out of the exercise.

Cultivating practice

A note. Visualisation exercises can take a while to cultivate. If you cannot hold onto the image in your mind, if the image is just a fleeting experience, try and connect in with a sense of that experience, however it felt for you. It can take time.

Our cricket minds

Our minds are like crickets, they flit around, they get distracted, that’s just what they do, even for people who have been meditating a long time. So acknowledge that this is happening, and each time it does, without judgement, bring your point of focus back to the exercise. It’s not a bad thing and it’s not that you’re doing it wrong. In fact it’s a good thing! It’s part of training our brains to focus – I think it was Ruby Wax that called it ‘the bicep curl for the brain’. Think of it as a work out for the mind!

Holding the feeling

For me, when sitting on the beach, I stay in the moment, stay present and soak in everything I feel, hear, smell and see. I hold those feelings and when I go to my special place, I take them with me. My special place doesn’t look like Eastbourne beach in any way! It has sand, it has dunes, it has grasses and I sit up high in the dunes watching the sea before me. It’s not a tropical beach, it’s definitely the UK – the sea is the colour of the North Sea from my childhood, not an azure blue. It’s blowy and I love the feeling of that on my face. It takes inspiration from all my memories – my hometown, a childhood beach holiday in Wales, the UK weather –it’s an amalgamation of real and fantasy. It is, whatever I want it to be. It’s my special place, my place to feel safe and at peace. My place to return to whenever I want to.. whenever I need it.