But Edinburgh is a Golden Dream

Mindfulness Chaplain Dr Kitty Wheater reflects on how we might retain a sense of transcendence as we move into the busyness of the semester.

As I roll up the blind in the mornings, I have learned to guess the colour of the dawn sky from the tones of light that creep in upon the window-seat. A cool, calomine pink; a purplish hue; the indigo, still, of night; or, the last few days, a glow of gold. As the world turns and the day’s beginning shifts slowly sooner, I find myself in a pocket of time when the journey to work is lit with a warmth that belies the fog of my breath and the burn of my ungloved hands. Never mind that later in the day the grey moves in, and feet skid cursing over black crystals on the pavements. From around eight thirty in the morning for an hour or two, the gold lights up Edinburgh, and brings its regality home. 

It’s the glow of sandstone in the Georgian houses, and their geometry of shadows from the slowly retreating night; the green and white loom of Arthur’s Seat in lingering snow, each blade of grass tipped with light-trapping ice; the sweep of the bus into Princes Street, and the golden stone of Victorian grandeur all around basking in the winter morning sun. It’s gold on Royal Mile, golden Old College, McEwan Hall, golden warmth on the earthy chill of the Meadows. ‘But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream,’ wrote Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, mid-twentieth-century. I think it must have been a mad god to have the audacity to create something as beautiful as the great clock tower of the Balmoral, and the lavender sea glimpsed from South Bridge. If all dreams were lit like Edinburgh in winter morning sunshine, perhaps waking life would be the sweeter.  

With the return of classes, we all wake from our Christmas slumber. Inboxes fill, meetings proliferate, plans ripen. The march of time, the slowly turning world that makes the mornings briefly golden, also makes our brains whirr and our hearts beat faster. It’s an exciting moment, creative, the vista of new conversations and projects and possibilities. But watch how quickly necessary business inclines to unnecessary busyness. It’s just Week 1, but how tempting, on the walk from South Bridge, to re-read last night’s email while we dodge slow walkers at speed; to compute the path that gets us through the door two minutes sooner, but without that moment of lavender sea; to bury our heads in the desktop and miss the instant the golden sky fades to grey. How easy it is to push away the dreaminess of Edinburgh in gold, in favour of Edinburgh: Red Bull Edition.  

But dreams are not only the time we take rest. (Ah, rest. That underrated skill of adulthood.) They’re also how we create meaning and momentousness. It’s from dreaming, the wanderings of mind, the deep shift and renewal of neural networks, that we wake with clarity and purpose. All manner of madness, even that of the most chastising gods, finds its way towards beauty given sufficient repose. Look up from your inbox to watch the light changing in the sky; put away your phone at lunchtime; take a nap. Get off the bus a stop earlier, so you can walk down Princes Street and savour the briefly golden mornings in this city that is our home. Find your own site of dreams, even while the world calls you harshly awake.

A photo of Edinburgh castle covered in snow