Bernadette Petrie tells us, as this year we’ll celebrate a very different sort of Christmas, maybe the great outdoors can provide us with a different way of celebrating the light that we are..

I‘d like to tell you about my favourite swimming muse. I came across her in 2005, she must have been in her 80s. She was sitting in the sand dunes – post sea swim wrapped in a blanket, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. She looked so content and happy. I immediately thought – I want to be like you when I’m older.

It was the 2011 North Berwick looney dook that set me on the path of swimming all-year-round. I remember clearly, that new years day, perching on the edge of the bath wrapped in my dressing gown, deliberating as to whether I was going to do this crazy, very public thing. At times of indecision, there are always a few people in the room. The inner critic fuelled by fear is there, so too is the inner child and the intuitive part of you – your inner wisdom. Picture that crowded bathroom. No wonder I had to perch on the bath! 

By giving yourself a moment or two of stillness when making decisions, the quietest but most clearly heard voice is that of our inner wisdom. It’s the voice which allows us to be. On that day I felt a strong knowing and my inner child’s desire for fun. Knowing and desire out-voted the inner critics fear, and off to the dook I went. I was on a high for several days. I loved the feeling so much, that I set out to swim in the sea every single Saturday that year, only missing four days.

Fast forward to today, and I swim daily. As I write, I’m sitting in my cosy post-swim clothes, with a cup of coffee by my side. I never did find out my muse’s name, but I remember clearly her contentment, as she gave me a beautiful smile. And her image has stayed with me and guided me on. My swimming journey continues, almost as a parallel with my spiritual journey. I’ve gone deeper. I’ve been more courageous, humbled, held and healed. Throughout my recent cancer treatment and the COVID pandemic, being barefoot and swimming in the sea has been my constant. As a woman in my fifties, I feel stronger, braver and more liberated in my imperfect body because I put on a swimming costume daily and plunge into the freezing sea in all weathers.  

Like all things in life, learning to do something which scares your mind is a process. But, I’m leaning into the fear, the doubt, and having a go anyway.  And now plenty of others are joining me. My mantra – ‘its freezing and I love it’ is more powerful than you might think. Science is now showing evidence that this activity really does help suppress depression, reduce inflammation, prevent dementia and supercharge your immunity. 

Back in the day, North Berwick beaches and pools were destinations for cold water therapy, and it is, in my book, one of nature’s best medicines. With love

THE BAREFOOT SANCTUARY
45 Melbourne Place, North Berwick | www.thebarefootsanctuary.co.uk