Do you remember the stories and books you loved as a child?
…the ones that stayed in your mind and heart long after you’d read them? … the ones that became friends?
I wonder what they were.
Books like that are magical. They live with us forever. In some ways, they form who we become…they speak to our deepest selves, even before we really know what that ‘self’ is.
If we listen carefully to what they have to say, they can become marker posts in our journey to find our unique path in life
Reading my special stories takes me back to being nine again, sitting with ink-stained fingers at my little wooden desk at school, lost in a book….the only good place to be lost.
I’ve discovered that those early stories tell us more about who we really are, what stirs us, what moves us, what causes us pain, than hours of navel gazing or therapy! They speak to our true identity before that identity took on the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and masks involved in ‘doing life’.
So I’m going to tell you about my all-time favourite book (there are many I love). It’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame.
I so loved this book as a child, with its description of life by a chalk stream river, with its deep banks and shady, hanging willows. I dreamt of going boating with Ratty and taking a picnic hamper full of potted meats and ham and ginger beer, and learning how to scull. I wanted to explore the Wild Wood and meet the formidably gruff but kindly badger. I even loved reading the deliciously scary ‘Wild Wood’ chapter and imagining the hard little eyes glaring out at me from the undergrowth as dark enveloped the wood. Oh yes, I could get lost in this book!
But there was a chapter that I didn’t want to read again…a chapter I avoided re-reading as a child. A chapter that made me sad to my very soul. I didn’t really know why, but it was almost heart-breaking to read.
It was Chapter 5, the chapter where Mole’s old home ‘Mole End’ is calling to him.
In the story, Ratty and Mole are returning from their day’s adventures… snow is threatening and Rat is pushing on to get home quickly. All of a sudden, Mole becomes aware of something very familiar, ‘one of those mysterious fairy calls’ that made him ’tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal’.
It was his old home calling to him.
He tries to get Ratty to stop or slow down, or simply to hear his pleas to go back and find his old home, just once… but Rat overrides and jollies him along, ignoring his increasingly desperate friend with sensible exhortations to ‘come along Mole, don’t dawdle, there’s a good fellow’.
Mole sees the distance between himself and his old home widening with every step; the beckoning call becoming fainter, left behind. He fears he will never find home again.
Eventually, he stops, slumps to the ground and weeps.
Of course, you know the story. If you don’t, then this is the time to beg, steal or borrow the book and read it!
To his immense credit, Rat stops, apologises and listens to his friend, and (though not really grasping what’s going on for Mole), agrees to go back and find Mole’s home with him. He is the soul of tact and diplomacy, the perfect friend.
Mole reacquaints himself with his familiar, homely dwelling; Rat all the time complimenting his friend on his little home. Eventually, Mole feels he can leave, and go back out into the wider world with Ratty again. He sees ‘Mole End’ as ‘some such anchorage in one’s existence’ and exclaims that ‘it was good to think he had this to come back to’ (whenever he wanted to).
Now that I am older (a lot older), I can read the chapter with ease. It ends happily. Mole does find and return to his old home and it’s even ok that he only visits and doesn’t go back to live there permanently.
But I can also see the episode as a kind of metaphor for how, as quiet souls, we can risk losing ourselves in being ‘out there’ in the world too long and too often without respite, whilst our neglected inner lives are plaintively calling out to us to pay them heed!
To come home to ourselves.
‘Mole End’ becomes a metaphor for what Prof Brian R Little has referred to as ‘restorative niches’…those little gaps and spaces in our days when we can step out, step back, replenish drained energy, but more importantly, get to know ourselves again and set our compass to our own path.
As quiet people, we need this. It’s non-negotiable if we are to live in harmony with how we are created. It’s not a luxury (though some might make you feel it is!)…. above all else, as introverts we need to make sure that we don’t lose ourselves, our direction and our inner motivation through too much external interaction and adaptation.
The engine that drives us needs the oil of solitude and self-connection regularly, or we are no use to the world we live in. We lose our voices, we lose ourselves. Our communities lose us.
So, what is your ‘restorative niche’ today?
It can be as simple as stepping outside for ten minutes to enjoy a coffee in the garden, or walking through a park on the way to work, lunch-break in the art gallery… or headphones and favourite music on a busy train…
Only you know what is restorative to you, and what is possible in your life…but regular restorative niches or ‘Mole Ends’ are essential to your soul. Give yourself permission to carve out space for them in your day. It will change your life.
Back to ‘The Wind in the Willows’ for the final word!
In the wonderful spin-off ‘Counselling for Toads’ by Robert de Board, Toad (the quintessential extrovert) finally runs out of steam and suffers from depression. Supported by his friends, Ratty and Mole, he reluctantly finds that even he has to step back and seek out his own ‘restorative niche’ in therapy with the Heron.
This is a delightful book, featuring all the familiar riverbank characters, and a few extra. Put it in your Christmas wish-list if you’ve not already got it. You’ll not regret it.
But for now, schedule in those restorative niches, re-discover who you really are in the quiet places.
Come Home to yourself!
‘Til next time,