An Exercise in Stillness

In all the time I’ve spent in transit, I’ve noticed there are many different ways to approach travel, but most people tend to fall at either end of an extreme spectrum. You can be constantly in a rush to check everything off your meticulously planned to do list, because there is so little time and so much to see and you must do everything. Or, you can just show up, go with the flow and see where your days take you. Both have merit, but my worry with the former is how stressed we can become. This is a problem, because you go on vacation to get away from stress, right? Right. Just checking to make sure you knew that, because I know I sometimes forget.

My first time on a plane was as a tiny baby only nine months old – I caught the travel bug very early on in life, and I don’t think it ever really went away.

My family was heading to Sweden with a team for the 11th World Gymnaestrada. I received a lot of love from the girls who just thought I was the cutest thing in my custom-made Canadian tracksuit. Apparently, I was a fussy eater back then: I refused to eat anything but mashed potatoes (good thing Göttenburg had a lot of those) and maybe a little applesauce, if you were lucky. But I did have the best seat in the house, cuddled up to my parents wherever we went. That’s one of the benefits of traveling as an infant, I suppose.

Almost nineteen years later, I am back in Northern Europe for a trip of an entirely different nature. I’m a young woman traveling on her own for the first time. I’m in Iceland in the midst of a chilly spring, and I’m a slightly less picky eater than I was back then. But it’s an eye-opening adventure, all the same.

After so many years on the road, I like to think of myself as a fairly calm traveler, that I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. There are times, however, when I am admittedly quite the opposite. I can be stressed and hurried and obsess over tiny details until my brain hurts. Let me tell you, it isn’t enjoyable for anyone if you’re uptight all the time – yourself included.

I know this so well, yet still sometimes I forget. Yesterday, my plane landed at 5:00 AM; despite the lack of sleep, I was filled with such a sense of joy and possibility, I walked around with my head in the clouds for the next couple of hours. Things just worked. It was magical. I stepped off the bus into a whole new world. I walked through quaint streets to find a place I’d read about for breakfast and admired the character in the colourful houses lining the street. I arrived at my destination a few minutes later, starving and ready for food.

By 8:29 AM, reality began to set in.

I quickly realized this cafe was not the place for me. Two minutes later, as I rushed out the door, I embarrassed myself further my tripping on the ledge, nearly landing flat on my face with my heavy backpack on top of me. Out on the street again, I brushed off my hands and it dawned on me that I was missing something. I’d stupidly decided I would carry two books with me in my hands, and I’d left them on the bus. They were gone, and I wasn’t getting them back. I continued to walk, taking out my frustration on my poor rubber boots. A short while later, I found a cute cafe (Bergsson Mathús) and began to plan my day.

I spent a majority of the rest of my day in a flurry of activity and indecision, overwhelmed by everything I felt I had to do in a week. It takes time to figure things out when you’re in a new country for the first time and I was acutely aware of every minute I spent getting acquainted with this different way of life. On top of that, everything is so much more expensive than I’m used to. How was I ever going to do everything on my to-do list? How was I ever going to pay for it all?

It wasn’t until I was sitting in one of the city’s infamous “hot pots” that I began to relax. All over Iceland, there are geothermal hot springs. The power of these hot springs is harnessed through public pools and spas, among other things. Each one has basins of varying depths and degrees of temperate. There are some warm regular sized pools, one or two cold pools, and a few hot tubs. Instead of going to regular pools to swim, the people of Iceland come here, where the water has endless healing health benefits.

Iceland is one of the happiest nations in the world.

It is an interesting place for me to visit, because some parts of their culture feel like home, while others are foreign and strange. The weather is damp, cold and moody (albeit much more so than I’ve experienced before – and I thought Montreal was bad.) For a foreigner, their language is impossible to understand. But the people are incredibly open, helpful and kind. As I was walking down the street yesterday morning, a gentleman driving past noticed my backpack had come undone. He stopped, rolled down his window to let me know, and continued in his way. Where I’m from, that does not just happen, people! Everyone is too caught up in their own worlds to notice such details, let alone tell you about it.

Maybe in such a harsh climate, people learn to accept and take care of the people around them, whether they know them or not. The host of my Airbnb is incredibly thoughtful and gracious, going the extra mile to make sure I enjoy my stay. Iceland was one of the first countries to implement democracy, to elect a female president and legalize same-sex marriage. They have a vibrant night life, and their art scene is bursting with talent and innovative ideas.

Most of all, Icelanders know how to work hard, but they also know how to relax. They take the time to look others in the eye when they talk to them, or make sure a neighbour gets the groceries he forgot. And they have this tradition of going out to sit in nature’s hot tubs at the end of of the day, to unwind and be with people they care about, or just to sit with themselves. They know how to plug into nature, to take a moment and recharge.

Maybe this ability to go with the flow comes from living in a climate that is so unpredictable. Whatever it is, it’s starting to rub off on me.

As I say there in that hot pot amidst the chaos of chatting adults and squealing kids, I closed my eyes and let the noise wash over me. All I saw were opposites: the contrast of cold rain drops and the warmth of the water, cloudy skies and laughter echoing through the steam. Chaos and calm. For the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to lose track of time. In that moment, I began to truly enjoy myself, and I gave myself permission to let this trip be whatever it needs to be.

When we travel, it is so easy to plan our days, to make endless to-do lists and schedules in an attempt to make this memory a perfect one, that we may treasure it forever. We want everything to be just right. We feel like if we’re not doing something all the time, we’re wasting valuable time, and we’ll regret it later. We come home feeling like we need a vacation from our vacation when in reality, it doesn’t need to be this way at all.

Be a little more gentle with yourself and give yourself some space to breathe. Perfection is a myth, so stop trying so hard to achieve it.

I am very good at giving others these words of wisdom, but I am not very good at taking them myself. Often (or always) I write these posts because I have something to share, but also because it is what I need.

I need to be reminded that I am not some machine who is expected to produce and create and do things all the time. I need to be reminded that sometimes doing nothing is not a waste of time, sometimes doing nothing is what I really need. I need to be reminded to let go, to go with the flow and let things happen, because Serendipity is quite good at her job, if you haven’t noticed, but you need to give her space to do her work.

Repeatedly in my life, I find when I enter a situation with no expectations, that is when the best things occur. My favourite memories are things that happened by accident, or periods of time when I wasn’t doing much at all: I was sitting on my favourite beach in Hawaii watching the sunset while my father sat beside me, or lying in bed reading next to my mom. When I step out of the shadows of judgement and expectation, that is when I truly begin to live.

I am in the process of learning to let go and spend more time in the spaces that let my heart be light. It’s a much more interesting way to go about life. We’ll see where Serendipity takes me next.

Perspective

Have you ever noticed how two people can look at the same painting and see something completely different?

As human beings, we generally dislike uncertainty. At least, I know I do. All we want is one straight answer, preferably one that aligns with our beliefs. We ask ourselves day and night, who is right and who is wrong? All day, every day. When our world is a mess of polarized and conflicting opinions, it’s easy to be confused. Religion or science? Liberal or conservative? Climate change or climate crisis? It’s all a matter of perspective, and each person has one that is entirely unique to them.

The lens through which you observe the world is a culmination of everything you’ve seen and experienced from the time you were born until now.

Actions often speak louder than words, but language is far more powerful than we give it credit for. Yes, your lens has been shaped by the things that have happened to you, but more than that, it has been shaped by the ways in which you’ve been taught to view those experiences, by the words and phrases and stories you learned when you were young.

Embedded in the language of a culture are that society’s deepest held beliefs: words are wires that heighten our awareness of certain things and dampen our awareness of others. A culture that places importance on people over things will have words to describe the nuances of emotion that others have completely ignored. If you do not have a word for an emotion that describes the melancholy of saying goodbye to a loved one or the longing for something that might’ve been, you will be unaware such an emotion exists. The word in Portuguese is saudade. In your mind, however, you will merely be sad. You may never fully understand what it is to cherish a person with all your heart and be present for every moment you get to spend with them.

People are important, but it is easy for us to forget in the West. We are entangled in a world obsessed with wealth and capitalism, one enamoured with physical things. Measurables and metrics reign supreme. The goal in life is to be rich, right? But rich in what? Success is an outward thing, we say. The ends always justify the means.

I beg to differ.

Our actions have consequences we will never fully understand. The world is like a spider web of cause and effect; we are sewn into the fabric of time and one step can cause a ripple. The path we take is our thread, just one thread woven into a much larger picture.

Many Aboriginal cultures have words or stories to describe the interconnectedness of all living things. One such word exists in South Africa: ubuntu. Vaguely translated, it has been said to mean, “I am because we are.” While the origins of the word are unknown, it is a philosophy that runs through the blood of many communities across the continent, collecting a series of cherished values and pulling them into a single word we can grasp. It reminds us to take care in how we treat ourselves and others, for in harming another, we harm ourselves – and vice versa.

Ubuntu says we cannot exist in isolation from one another, as much as we try. It says, “your pain is my pain, so let me help you heal.” It says if this is true, the focus, then, should not be placed on the individual, but on the community. How do your actions effect the world around you?

There is something universal about the human experience. I have not lived the life you’ve lived, but there are things we share in common that can help us relate to one another. I have not endured your struggles or felt your grief; I have not known your joys or the answers that brought you relief. But I do have my own story with its own highs and lows, one that gives me a base of knowledge and understanding if I choose to use it as such.

I know what it is to have loved and then lost that love at the moment you least expect. I know what it is to cry for so long there are no more tears left. I know what is to find out you were wrong, to fear rejection so deeply you change how you are and say things you regret. I know what it is to sit with your heart in your throat, to feel it pound in your chest harder than you thought possible as your palms fill with sweat.

I know all these things, but I also know what it is to find happiness in the little moments that make life great. I know the sweet taste of a gentle kiss, and the smell of the earth after it rains. I know what it is to dance when no one is watching or sing so loud everyone can hear and still not care. I’ve seen the first stars appear as the sun sets over a far-off horizon. I’ve felt sand between my toes and grass under my bare feet and the joy of being truly in the moment, even just for one moment… I have lived.

The experiences I have accumulated may not look anything like yours; I may not speak your language and we may never take note of the same things. But that does not mean my experience is any less valuable than yours. It does not mean I can’t look at the tears in your eyes and say, I’ve been there. I’ve felt pain, too. I understand. It does not mean I can’t see your joy and celebrate with you, that I can’t be grateful you’ve received such a gift. It does not mean I can’t sit with you in the tension of unknown spaces or hold your gaze when I see you on the street. We are all connected in ways we cannot understand, and that is beautiful.

Some things in life are meant to be left, not questioned. Sometimes that’s just the way it is, and sometimes that’s enough

Other times, it’s okay to question things. Sometimes there are things that need to be questioned. There are rebels in every generation, and change is necessary if we wish to move forward as a human race. But the things they choose to question and the ways in which they ask are of utmost importance. It is the difference between initiating a non-violent revolution and starting a senseless riot. One seeks a solution to a problem, while the other is simply looking to cause a disruption.

Always remember this: the way you ask the question will guide the answer you get. If you only look for problems, you will find all the things that are wrong this world and you will affirm your belief that life is bad. If you ask yourself what went wrong in your day, you will find everything that went wrong. On the contrary, if you ask someone three things they are grateful for at that moment, they will undoubtedly be able to answer you. In fact, if they allow for it, that list will continue to grow. It is called the confirmation bias – you will always be able to find more of what you look for in life. Focus on the problems and you will get more problems. Seek out solutions and you will be surprised how quickly they show up knocking on your door.

When I look at my life among the diversity of our world, I see the things we all share in common – I make connections. My brain has always been wired this way. If it’s all about perspective, what do you choose to see? Do you look with judgement or curiosity?

It is easy to misunderstand another if you never take the time to listen. I listen to others because people are worth it. I see you – do you see me?

On Technology

Let’s be real for a second, here. When is the last time you went twenty-four hours without touching your phone? Without answering a text or scrolling through social media? When is the last time you truly went “of the grid” to be alone in nature or spend time with your loved ones?

My guess is, it’s been a while.

I have developed a love-hate relationship with technology. In so many ways, technology is truly incredible. I can appreciate the fact that it allows me to stay in touch with my family in a different part of the country and talk to friends overseas. It can help lonely individuals find a community or learn a new skill. Technology is enabling people in rural places opportunities that would’ve been impossible just a few decades ago; it is literally saving lives and opening the doors for children across the world. It is the reason I can share these words with you right now, and for that alone I am grateful.

If technology were suddenly stripped from my life, I have no doubts I would feel its absence. But our world has become so dependant on technology, so much so that most of us can’t imagine leaving the house without our phones. Sometimes I question whether or not this is a good thing, whether or not this kind of dependency is truly healthy or if it will have detrimental effects in the long run.

Sometimes I just want a break. A break from the constant distraction of notifications and the subconscious fear of missing out, of the awareness that comes with being connected and the constant expectation of a reply. Sometimes I just want to go somewhere without my phone for once, to get a little bit lost and find my way back home with nothing but my wits and a map. Sometimes I don’t want to hear about the latest disaster in Syria, or the drama going on in the United States. I just want to exist right here in this moment with you. Is that too much to ask?

Whether or not we like to admit it, technology changes things. Sometimes this change is for the better, sometimes for the worse. In a recent study done at the University of Chicago, researchers investigated the effects our phones have on our brains when they are present but not in use. They had participants complete a series of problem-solving questions with their phone sitting on top of their desk, hidden in their bag, or left in another room. The results were shocking: those who had their phone with them in the room performed more poorly than those who had been asked to leave it elsewhere.

The mere presence of one’s phone actually has the ability to diminish the brain’s capacity for focus, critical thinking, and creativity.

It seems impossible, doesn’t it? Such a small, inconspicuous device can’t possibly have such an effect on us. But science has just proven to us they can. The researchers called this phenomenon “brain drain.” You have a limited attention span; when your phone is present, a portion of this limited resource is devoted to stopping you from picking it up and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or checking your emails. Your brain is subconsciously aware of the fact that you may, at any given moment, receive a notification, so it is constantly searching for one.

When your phone buzzes or beeps, it lights up the part of your brain responsible for pleasure and you get a hit of dopamine. You got what you were looking for. You matter. It is easy to get addicted to this cycle if we are not aware of what is happening. We are only beginning to understand the consequences of “brain drain” and the effects it could be having in our schools, in our work and daily lives.

These days, I have an increasing appreciation for people who can engage in a full conversation without once reaching for their device. It is one thing to be on high alert for an ailing parent or a child at home who might need your help. It is yet another thing entirely to be scrolling through your Facebook feed while you’re having a conversation with someone. If you find you’re too busy to look a person in the eyes to see how they’re really feeling, maybe you need to ask yourself about your priorities.

Just as your phone can diminish your ability to concentrate, it can reduce the quality of your interactions and the richness of everyday life. Life is a series of ordinary moments made extraordinary by the people we spend them with and the beauty of the simplest things. If life truly is a miracle, maybe we need to start acting like it.

By leaving your phone face up on the table or keeping your eyes glued to a screen while you speak with a loved one, you lessen the value of the moment you’re sharing. You are sending them the message that there are people you are thinking of elsewhere, and you consider these potential notifications to be more important than what they have to say. You are telling them you don’t really care, whether this is your intention or not.

We’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another in our lives. I can recall so many times in my teen years when my mom came home from a meeting, and I couldn’t be bothered to put down what I was doing for thirty seconds to give her a proper hello. Yes, there are times when we are working and we are in the flow and we don’t want any little interruption to break that. Yet even in these times, I think we can pause for a moment to acknowledge someone who might want to speak with us. If you explain to someone you would like to give them your full attention but you are doing important work at the moment, they are usually willing to come back at a later time. More importantly, they know you care.

I was listening to a podcast recently; the host had spoken with someone who worked with Morgen Freeman over the period of a month. The host asked the man what made Morgen Freeman so special. The person responded that Freeman had “the ability to make each person he met feel like he hadn’t seen them in many years.” In other words, he knew how to show up and be present for others, to let them be seen and heard.

We have a tendency to get caught up in our own little worlds and take so much of life for granted. Especially people. When we are young and naive, we never truly appreciate all our family does for us. When we are older and busy, oh, so busy, we often forget this invaluable truth yet again. Family is everything, and people are important. More important than any measure of success we could possibly stand to achieve.

What is the point of reaching the top of the mountain if there is no one with you to share the view?

If you are living away from friends or loved ones, yes, please do send photos and texts and FaceTime. When someone you care about wants to know about your day, please do respond to their message. But there is a fine balance to be had, one between staying connected with those closest to us and being obsessed with this supercomputer we all carry around in our back pockets. It is a balance I think we need to find again.

Put down the phone, for once. Leave it in another room. The next time you’re having a conversation, look that person in the eyes. Speak with someone you think you know and let them prove you wrong. Collect memories. Ride the bus and people watch. Sit in the park and people watch. Just people watch, in general. It’ll be much more entertaining than TV, trust me on this one. Forget about time. Go on an adventure. Sleep under the stars. Sit around a campfire and roast marshmallows and exchange stories with your favourite people in the world.

Just live a little. Life is short. And people are worth it.

For more information:

Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity

Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google

LIFE

People are fascinating. Did you know that?

These days, I’ve been spending a lot of time on my own. I’ve found one of the perks of flying solo is that my brain has become hyper-aware of the world going on around me. I’m attuned to micro details, so I hear snippets of loud conversation and notice scenes I thought only existed in movies. It’s a unique experience and one I’m grateful for, even if it does get a little lonely at times.

You can only spend so much time with your thoughts before it becomes monotonous and boring, so one of my favourite ways to pass the time has become people watching. I’ve never been one for spending endless hours on my phone or reading on the road, and this is the next best thing to having my nose stuck in a book. Actually, in some ways it’s even better.

Life can be highly entertaining.

Some days, I seem to be invisible to passerby, while others there are multiple instances of fleeting eye contact. I find it amusing, how quickly most people look away. This seems to be a distinct trait of the generation I’ve grown up in – those who are later on in life are much less afraid to share moment a moment with a stranger. And then, of course, there’s the children.

Younger than the age of seven, most kids have not yet been taught to enter each human encounter with the level of suspicion most adults do. I remember even I was a somewhat extroverted child. I loved to chat with adults and bring a smile to the faces of people I didn’t even know. I have a distinct memory of being four years old and crossing the street with my mom: one of my hands held my mother’s, while the other hand waved to all the people in stopped cars whom I wanted to thank for ever so politely allowing us to pass. I didn’t really understand the concept of traffic lights back then…nor did I have a care in the world what other people thought of me. I was so light and free.

Children are so pure and special because they haven’t learned to hate or judge or worry – they simply show up as they are and exist within the moment. Then they’re there for the next moment, and the next, and the next. They aren’t too busy to play a game of peek-a-boo with that friend they made on the bus or the stranger they see on the street while waiting in line for ice cream. Everyone is equal in their eyes, and they don’t take themselves so seriously. Life is a game, and the first rule is you have to have fun while you play.

We could all learn a thing or two from younger generations, things we seem to forget over time.

Sometimes I wonder what these children will grow up to be like. Everyone has a story, after all. While these stories may share plot points, no two are alike. There are details and nuances to each of our stories that make them entirely our own. No one else on earth has ever been born with your unique combination of DNA, dreams and memories. No one else perceives the world exactly as you do. Sometimes I wish I could step into someone else’s mind for a day to get a feel for how they view life – I have no doubts it would deeply impact my own thought process and open doors I didn’t know existed.

Books, I believe, are the closest thing we have right now to being able to share our consciousness. Books, and the ability to listen to others speak about their own stories and experiences of life. This ability sits right at our finger tips, but how often to we actually slow down enough to listen? I get the sense that the question, “How are you?” has taken on the role of a greeting we are expected to exchange in passing. It is so rarely a genuine question anymore. But to take the time to show up for another, to check in and see how they’re really doing is a small thing that holds immeasurable power. I know a few people like this, people who have the ability to make you feel like you are truly being heard for the first time in ages. It is a quality I myself am working to cultivate. It starts with this simple rule: if you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question.

Empathy has never been a problem for me. In fact, I find I often empathize too deeply. I fall into other people’s stories and experience their emotions with them, so much so I find it hard to separate their feelings from my own. I’ve only recently been able to put words to this phenomenon; there was a time when this habit of mine became unbearable and overwhelming, and so my brain took emergency measures for the sake of self-preservation. I stopped feeling anything at all.

Maybe this sounds like a dream to you, but trust me – it was quite the opposite. I became adept at the reliable smile and nod, boys. Smile and nod. I would give the appropriate answers at the correct times. “I’m excited, really, I swear.” I think I must have come across as quite heartless at times. I forgot what sadness felt like; if I was rejected, there was only a dull ache. I wouldn’t cry for months at a time, until there was an overload on my circuitry and I would break down, sobbing at some small, insignificant thing. Then the cycle would start all over again.

My body was in survival mode. This strategy may seem like it can work for a period of time, but the problem is, when you kill the “bad” emotions, the “good” ones die, too. There is no internal peace, or joy, or fleeting happiness. There is no overwhelming sense of gratitude and love for all the amazing things in life. And there is no wonder. Life is work; that is all.

Gradually, over time, changes occurred in my life that made me realize I’d been living a life not my own. Somewhere along the line, I’d picked up the habit of saying sorry for who I am, of attempting to fit myself into a series of boxes in which I did not belong. When I stepped out of the old boxes, I tried out some new ones, but those didn’t work out either. I’ve never exactly been good at doing what I’m told, fitting into a specific mould. I tend to do best when I do my own thing, and it has been hard for me to accept, that is okay.

No matter what anyone tells you, you don’t have to fit into a box. If that box is comfortable, then by all means, make it your home – but know it is not a matter of “right” and “wrong.” It is figuring out the steps that are right for you, and acting accordingly.

It has been a journey with many ups and downs and detours to get to where I am at this moment, doing work I believe I am meant to do and feeling all the feels. If there is one thing I have learned in the last few years, it is this: deep down at our core, we all know what we truly want. Don’t ever let any one make you question who you are or make you think they know you better than you know yourself, because they don’t. That is a question only you can answer. You may not know right away. You may not know for a long time. Life is simply the process of figuring that out.

If life is a game, the first rule is this: don’t ever apologize for who you are. And of course, remember to have fun while you play.

WANTED: Hope

Hope? What is hope? How do some people maintain hope in the face of terrible circumstances, while others lose it and seem to never find it again?

Hope defies all the odds. In fact, Hope can be so elusive it leaves us speechless. I find it funny that, for something I am so passionate about, I am having a terribly hard time finding the words for what I want to say. When I look over to where Hope is sitting in the corner of my kitchen and ask her opinion on the matter, she just shrugs, turning her head to gaze out the window. The sky is this gorgeous, breathtaking blue today – there’s not a cloud in sight. I suppose the beauty of this day is far more interesting to her than my struggles to put words on a page. And maybe she’s right. Figures.

Our world can be such a loud place sometimes, it’s easy to forget about the gentler things in life. We’re force fed a stream of bad news all day long until there is little room left over for simple joys. We’re tricked into believing Hope has disappeared when really, she’s been walking beside us all along, hoping over cracks in the sidewalk while we have our eyes glued to our phones. Hope is unassuming and subtle – she doesn’t like to shove herself into places she isn’t wanted. But she’s always there, somewhere, waiting for us to look up for a second and take a breath of fresh air. You see, we all have something to live for, but this is something we tend to forget. Hope lives in that thing; it’s where she’s made her home and she ain’t leaving any time soon.

Is it foolish to have hope? That depends on what you believe.

There is a point when hope can become blind optimism and faith in the wrong thing, but that is a far cry from believing we have a reason to live. In the last few years, I’ve learned there are two fundamentally different ways to go through life: one looks at the world and says there is a reason I am here, and the other says this is meaningless. It is a difference in mentality that can lead a person to take their own life, or find a way to crawl themselves out of that black hole, whether with help or alone. It is a difference in what you believe resides at the core of every human being – are we broken, or are we whole? Meaningless, or meaningful?

Everyone struggles sometimes. Life can be unpredictable. Life can be hard. We do not choose much of what happens to us in life, but we do choose how we respond. We can choose to be a victim of the challenges we face, or collaborate with life to seek out solutions. I am not here to diminish your pain. There are some who have dealt with struggles I cannot begin to understand; the dark depths of the mind some wander into are undoubtably terrifying. We find Depression enters most of our lives at one point or another, whether in the form of a loved one, a colleague, or in ourselves. It has become a leading cause of disability and will continue to expand its domain, unless we do something about it. Depression stems from the belief that tomorrow will be no different from today, when we forget we have something to live for and tell Hope to go bother someone else, we’ve already pitched a tent and we’d rather be left alone with our suffering, please and thank you. In reality, this is the last thing we should do.

Under the threat of Depression’s oppressive reign, it’s our job to remind each other life is beautiful, and no one is ever alone – Hope is sitting right over there and there are plenty of people around.

Hope continues to baffle me. I’ve met privileged adolescents who are caught in the throws of Depression, and I’ve met people who’ve been through Hell and still see Hope exists. One of the most powerful examples I’ve encountered is the story of how circus changed the lives of people in two vastly different communities, one in the far north of Canada, the other in the heart of West Africa. The story began with two circus artists who met during their performing career. They found they shared the dream of making a difference in the community that had raised them, and quickly became friends.

Guillaume Saladin had spent his childhood divided between three places: a town in France, the lively city of Montreal, and the bitterly cold Igloolik in the far north of Canada. He had a love and appreciation for all three places and their people, but he had seen the sorrow of the North and longed to do something to help. In the summer of 1998, the town was struck by the suicides of two young people. It was not the first time, and it was a pattern that needed to stop. Guillaume returned to assist in a project aiming to give the youth an outlet for their emotions in order to prevent further suicides, and this led to the creation of Artcirq.

Yamoussa Bangoura had grown up in Guinea, West Africa, a country plagued by poverty. He was fortunate enough to have found circus at a young age, and the passion and drive with which he pursued the art enabled him opportunities far beyond the norm. He was able to travel the world, performing, while supporting himself and his family back home. Some time later, Yamoussa returned to teach circus to his siblings and community, later building a grassroots school to continue the initiative. In 2007, he created Kalabante with a few of his highest performing students. Some were related by blood, and some were not, but they became a family.

The two friends decided to do an exchange: the African-based circus would visit Igloolik, and Artcirq would visit Guinea. Circus Without Borders was born. (You can watch the film here or here.) The differences were shocking, but so were the similarities. Both communities embraced the other with warm, welcoming arms. Both had faced struggles of their own, but the ways in which they approached these struggles was astonishing. Yamoussa spoke of the culture he grew up in: you deal with struggles, maybe you deal with feelings of depression, but suicide is never an option because you are working to find a way to support yourself and your family. You see everything your family gave you and you want to give back, so you work until you can. Life is hard but there are things to live for, people to live for, joy to be felt and love to give.

Life is hard but it’s also worth it – that’s something we should never forget.

These days, Hope tags along wherever I go, and I’m glad. Things are a whole lot brighter with her around. Why should we keep Hope around? Because even in darkness, there is light to be found.

Smile!

You never truly know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.

I’ve heard this cliche time and time again over the years. It’s easy to ignore such sayings for their cheesiness, but I think we often ignore the fact that each one holds some truth. They are sayings that have stuck around for a reason – time is something that should never be taken for granted, but it is something that often is.

When I was young, my parents used to love taking photographs. Of me, of the dog, of the trees and the paths we wandered down – especially when we went on family trips. I never fully understood why this persistent documentation was necessary until I’d put a few years behind me and came to appreciate the genius invention that was the camera.

Around the time I was six, I went through a phase where I absolutely loathed anyone who tried to take a picture of me. I would pout and hide my face in my mother’s side. Maybe, if you were really lucky, you’d get me to give you a grimace. These were also the days of no, what I like to call my rebellion phase, the one I skipped in my teen years. I look back on those days now and smile. Life was so simple back then.

As time went on and life became routine, less photos were taken.

At one point, I got my own camera, then iPod, then iPhone, and began taking photos for myself. Once I discovered the medium of photography I fell in love, because that is exactly how my brain works. I imagine my brain to be some kind of super computer that can process emotions (albeit not always that accurately.) I have an insanely vivid memory for the moments that make up my life: I can go back in my archives and find an image or watch an entire scene unfold from years ago, much like watching a movie on a computer screen. For me, the art of photography and writing poetry are one in the same. It is the art of capturing instances of the human experience, of freezing time so that it can be saved and never forgotten.

There came a time when my dad was rarely the one behind the lens anymore, unless we had traveled somewhere exotic or were doing something especially fun. Life had grown too busy for such things. As so many people do, we forgot how to appreciate the beauty of everyday life. I became increasingly aware of the rapid rate at which time seems to vanish. For a while, I wanted to document every moment of my day, until I didn’t. In my angsty teen years, there were entire months where not a single photo was taken. I see this now as a reflection of my own lack of self esteem and the general state dissatisfaction we seemed to exist in.

This year, for the first time since I was born, my mom and I celebrated mother’s day in separate time zones. For the first time since I moved out on my own, I was struck with an intense longing for the place I’d grown up and the people who’ve always been there. I spent a couple of hours looking through old photographs and instantly became aware of the magic of this form of capture. I was transported back in time: to the first time I saw the Austrian alps and the bliss of being eight, to my impatience with the endless visits with friends and relatives who spoke a language I barely knew, and the simple things that brought me joy. I remembered making caterpillars in the sand in Florida, walking cobblestone streets in Brazil, the feel of the ocean tickling my toes and the Hawaiian sun warming my face. There was the stillness of Clear Lake in the dead of summer. Sunrises and sunsets and nights beneath the stars.

Most of all, there were people. People, people, people. Nothing is more valuable than time spent with people.

I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for my father who had taken most of the photos I was scrolling through. It is so easy to get caught up in the business of life. There is work to be done, a house to be cleaned, family to be taken care of and events to attend. We live in a world that exists in a state of constant motion, where we’re asked to constantly show up for things, but, how often do you truly show up for your own life? For this moment right here, right now, reading these words on this screen. Are you here? Or is your mind already racing somewhere else, to the other twenty seven things you have to get done today?

Life is short, and our time here on earth is so, so precious. There is a freaky phenomenon that occurs as we go through life: over the years, our perception of time speeds up. A year when we are thirty seems so much shorter than it did when we were three – and that’s because, comparatively, it is. When you are three years old, a year makes up one third of your life. When you are thirty, it is just 1/30 of all the years you’ve spent on earth.

There are 168 hours in each week and 8 736 hours in every year, which is simultaneously a lot more and a lot less time than you think. As humans, we tend to vastly overestimate what we can accomplish in seven days while we greatly underestimate all we can achieve in a year. We often forget that how we spend our time is up to us. Time is a choice. If you don’t prioritize the things you value most, you will find yourself living someone else’s life. In a world that is full of companies, products and ideas vying for our attention, it is easy to let our days be filled up with a job we hate, endless social media feeds and our five favourite shows on Netflix. We complain we never have enough time to spend with our friends or pursue that hobby that really lights us up, when really it’s up to us. We decide what we make time for, whether we choose to admit it or not.

One of the reasons I believe meditation is so valuable is that it brings us back to our breath. Our minds tend to spiral in one of two directions: we ruminate over the past we cannot change, and worry about a future we cannot control. In the process, we forget about this moment, right here, right now. Our lives are composed of nows, of memories and ordinary moments made extraordinary by the things we chose to do with them and the people who were by our side. No matter where we are in life, the breath is always there.

Sometimes the heart beats a little faster, and sometimes there are moments that take our breath away. But when we come back to the breath, we are reminded that we are alive and we are okay.

I am working to build my life around my priorities, not to let them go but make them cornerstones in the way I live my days. I want to live a life filled with vivid memories, stunning scenes and photographs and moments that made me smile. Because in the end, it’s worth it. This life may be short, but the ride is wild.

Break the Cycle

Everyone accumulates baggage as they go through life. Everyone deals with love and loss, doubt and pain and regret. And everyone deals with fear.

Ah, fear. Let’s talk about fear.

Everyone knows fear – if you tell me you don’t, you’re probably lying, unless you’ve had some secret revealed to you that remains hidden from the rest of the human race. If this is the case, by all means do share. If not, know you are not alone.

I’ve been dealing with fear for a number of years now, so I am quite familiar with the ways in which he likes to work. He’s got it down to a science – or at least, so he thinks. Brains like to think they know what’s going on. They freak out over subjects that remain beyond their grasp or things they can’t control. I’ve learned that brains can be incredibly valuable tools if used correctly, but they can also be incredibly cruel.

From the time I was young, my brain has always liked to be kept busy. If it felt at anytime that there wasn’t enough to do, it would create tasks for itself, which often lead to my brain getting itself stuck in repetitive feedback loops until something else would drag me out. Fear is a perfectly natural human instinct: it kept creatures alive for thousands of years before you and I arrived. I am aware that there are times it is a very reasonable response to an unknown situation. But I am also aware there are times that fear is entirely irrational, when it sticks its nose into places it has no business being.

I came to experience fear as something very visceral, concrete and real early on. When you are in gymnastics, fear is an every day occurrence. If you aren’t failing and falling regularly, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. When you’re propelling your tiny body several feet in the air, it seems natural to fear injury, but that’s the last thing you need to focus on. No matter how many times your coach tells you that you’ve done the progressions and as long as you follow through, no, you’re not going to land on your head, there is a primal instinct you will be fighting against until you reach a level of comfort with a skill. And fluke accidents just happen sometimes when you’re in such a high pressure sport. My brain knew this, and my coach’s confidence in my abilities didn’t stop my mind from spinning out of control.

There have been several times in my life when fear has felt like an insurmountable wall.

The body has three instinctual responses to fear: fight, flight, or freeze. I can’t count the number of times I’ve brushed up against that wall and been instantly paralyzed, unable to move. I would run at the vault only to slow half way down the runway. I would start into a acrobatic sequence never to get past the first move. Sometimes, the soles of my feel would create pools of sweat as I would stand on the four-inch wide balance beam for twenty minutes at a time, swinging my arms back and forth, unable to go for moves that should have been easy. When I finally managed to get myself to go, I would inevitably fail, just as I’d convinced myself I would. This never helped my confidence, but it did show me the power of the mind.

Fear manifests itself in different ways – gymnastics is just one example. When I was nine, I had the realization my parents would die before me, and I spent the next two months sobbing for hours after I went to bed, until I cried myself to sleep alone or in their company, scared they would be gone the next day. I learned that you can get struck by lightning even within the safety of a building, so during storms, the basement became was the only place I felt remotely safe. There was a time I was terrified I would get cancer, that our house would burn down and I would be stuck inside, or a criminal would break in and stab me in the night, and I would die young, leaving behind two heart broken parents.

I’ve since realized all these things I feared so deeply reside far beyond my control. And I am a person who does not like lack of control. But this is life – it’s uncertain and scary and unknowable, and therein lies its beauty.

These days, fear wears a new face in my life, but his voice sounds very much the same.

I fear I’ll make the wrong decisions, that I’m too much to handle or I’ll never be enough. I fear the same things I value the most: honesty and love, vulnerability and trust. I fear people and their unknowable thoughts and intentions. Most of all, I fear rejection. Speaking my truth can be enough to paralyze me to a point where words refuse to leave my mouth. If people are patient, I can often climb that insurmountable wall, but some days, I can’t. And that’s okay. Rejection is a wound that takes time to heal, and a scar that stubbornly stays.

These days, I am learning the way to work with fear is to break the cycle – when you find your brain stuck on repeat, you have to find ways to pull yourself out. Call a friend. Call your mom. Go for a walk and count the people you pass. Read a book. Meditate. Breathe. Scream and dance. Cry if you must. But never let yourself stay stuck for too long, or you’ll never live your life.

In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert explains the beautiful way she interacts with her fear. Instead of viewing it as something to be conquered, she gives it space to exist. She has a speech she gives this dear old friend anytime she embarks on a new project or endeavour:

“Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job very seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting – and, may I say, you are doing superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused… There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive” (25, 26).

Fear is necessary; it’s part of what it means to be human, what it means to be alive. Your fears say something about you, about the places you’ve been and the things you value most. Your fears, however, do not get to define you, so long as you don’t let them take control of your life. Everyone has baggage – it’s how you carry it that counts. Don’t be afraid to make space for your fears.

Know this: you are strong enough to break the cycle. And you are not alone.

A Reminder

What do you live for?

This is one of the most important questions we must continue to answer for ourselves, day after day. It’s stupidly easy to lose sight of the reasons we do anything in life, to let our days fall into patterns and habits and endless to-do lists of things we can never seem to get done on time. We live in a world where constant improvement is the standard we live by in all areas of our life; nothing is ever enough. We are constantly seeking to be more productive in our waking hours and more efficient with our sleep. We are taught that life is short and if you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards, so you better get going – no time to waste.

It seems we barely have the time to put the phone down to have a real conversation, face to face. “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, thanks. And you?” “Good, good. I’m very busy, you know – I better be going! This has been nice.” Such is the life of those who work to keep up with the Jones’. Always rushing. Always hurried. Always busy beyond measure.

I’m tired of the word “busy.”

I think the word “busy” has become a badge of honour in our society. The ends justify the means, right? Right? Wrong. We’re pushing people too hard, too fast, and we’re suffering for it. In hot pursuit of human and technological advancement, we are forgetting the things that make a life worth living, the things that make a person whole. No noble prize is worth missing out on a week spent camping in the Rockies with your family. No olympic gold medal will ever replace the joy of eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that ooze all over your fingers and face. No amount of money will ever compare with the warmth of the sun on your skin on the first sunny day in spring.

In our constant pursuit of improvement, we’ve developed the mindset that nothing is ever enough. We are never enough.

But we are. We are not what we do – we are so much more than that.

We are our memories and our loved ones and the challenges we’ve faced. We are everything we’ve ever overcome. We are the books we read and the movies we watch. We are the songs we dance to when no one is watching, and the music we turn up too loud. We are strong and vulnerable and courageous and lovable. We are not machines, we are human – nothing is more important than that. We are unique, and we are enough.

I’ve never been very good at celebrating my achievements. The mindset of constant pursuit was wired into me at a young age. I am slowly unlearning this way of life, but it is not easy, and I often forget. In the spring when I was sixteen and I suffered a torn ACL, my life slowed down for a while. Every April, there is a community of poets who participate in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) by committing to the 30/30 challenge – that is, they write 30 poems in 30 days. I decided to try my hand at the challenge, and so for thirty days I spent a lot of time wandering around in my mind, making observations and putting together verses of rhyme. I’ve always found the act of creation deeply satisfying, and I decided to keep the challenge going for myself even after the month was over.

It became a habit of mine to come up with short poems and haiku when I’m in the shower, usually something about a favourite moment, tableaux or lesson I’d learned that day. I’d fall out of this habit sometimes, but eventually I’d return and start writing again.

In her book, The Creative HabitTwyla Tharp explains that each person has a lens through which they view life, each with varying levels of zoom. This is most evident amongst artists, where we can note the two extremes. There are those who view the world from a distance – they like to take in the whole image at once, snapping thoughts through a wide angle lens. These are the painters who make abstract art, the photographers who capture a whole city lit up at night. Then there are those who focus more on the details of living, utilizing their sharp focus 100 mm lens. These are the choreographers who are inspired by the gait of a single person’s walk, the writer who creates a character so real you’d like to go for coffee with them sometime. They see all the little things others miss – the twitch of a hand, a fallen rose petal, a look passed between two secret lovers.

I have always been the later of the two. Poetry, for me, has become a means of slowing down and being grateful for the simple moments in my days. I am in the process of learning to be more present, to accept who I am in this moment, of seeing my strengths and accepting that I am enough – no strings attached.

Because sometimes life is messy and complicated and painful, but sometimes life is oh, so beautiful, and I want to remember that.

We all need to slow down sometimes. Recently, I’ve been blessed with a slower pace of life. I’ve stood in my kitchen almost every day to write during these last two weeks, the first two weeks of spring. There is this huge tree across the back alleyway from my apartment, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch it explode, from a mass of barren branches with barely visible buds to something whole and green and bursting with life. Normally, I wouldn’t have noticed the tree’s incremental progress until it was in full bloom. Most of us don’t. We complain about the winter, until one day we look up and everything is green.

It’s so easy to loose sight of the joys in life, to forget the reason that we do things. I love to write and yet sometimes, I let it become just another thing I have to do. But that’s wrong. That’s when so much of life becomes a burden. When I wake up in the morning, I get to choose what I do with my day – I don’t have to do anything.

I get to write, to cook and breathe and live, and that’s a gift. And that’s enough.

Love?

What is love?

This is a deeply rooted, fundamental question humans have been trying to answer for a long time. For centuries, philosophers, writers, scientists and psychologists have tried desperately to define love, to categorize it and stick it in a box. There are the four basic kinds of love and the five love love languages, Shakespeare and the Iliad and Grimm’s Brother’s fairy tales. People have done crazy things for love: they’ve died for love, murdered for love, searched the seven seas for love and given up when maybe it had been there, right in front of them, all along.

I’ve always had a funny relationship with love, simultaneously fascinated and terrified by it’s ability to control our actions and yet fix so much of what I saw wrong in the world. I think I was eight or nine years old the first time I said, “I love you.” I remember my mother used to say those words to me on a daily basis, and one day, she told me that sometimes, she liked to hear those words too. It was a weird concept for me. I’d never really thought about it before. One day, not long after that, I was standing in our sunny kitchen and my mother told me she loved me, like always. This time, I felt the words sitting at the back of my throat, heavy and awkward like a stone. I wanted to say them, and so I did, my tongue nearly tripping over the syllables. My mother smiled and responded with a hug while I stood there, feeling slightly self conscious and uncomfortable, trying to figure out why that had been so hard for me to say.

For me, the words we use hold great power. Words can inspire a nation, or tear a country to shreds. They can destroy a person’s confidence or place it in the wrong source, manipulating and skewing the truth to fit one person’s twisted point of view. But words can also encourage trust and vulnerability, motivate a child to learn or make someone feel less alone. Words can be terrible. Words can be beautiful. For me, the words “I love you” are some of the most powerful words of all time.

Maya Angelou once explained how she believes words are things and we must take great care in how we use them. “You must be careful of the words you use, or the words you allow to be used in your house… Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things – I think they get on the walls, they get in the wallpaper, they get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes and finally into you.” Words require trust.

I think love can be many things, but I know one thing it is not: judgement. Who am I to say that I’m right and you’re wrong? There are many different paths in life. Typically, it’s not so much a matter of what’s right and what’s wrong but a matter of what you believe in, what actions you chose to take and the consequences that go along with those actions.

Real love does not judge, and real love does not cause harm.

One of the things that angers me most in the world is when people argue over differences in opinion or belief. Far too many wars have been fought in the name of religion. If we take a closer look, the ancient religious are all built on the same foundation: the concept of love. If this is true, how can I tell you that just because you don’t follow my religion, just because you don’t believe what I believe, you’re going to Hell? How is that love?

I know Christians who are hypocrites and atheists who are some of the most caring people in my life. I know you probably don’t believe what I believe or see the world through my lens, but that’s okay – we’re all just trying to figure things out as we go, and we’re bound to encounter other opinions along the way. Who’s not to say that our beliefs can’t coexist, that different religions and theories and political parties connect with different people for a reason? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and as long as that opinion doesn’t ask that you cause harm or initiate suffering, I will respect that. To love is to give others the space to sit with their opinions and questions. If you truly believe what you say you do, then someone else’s perspective shouldn’t change that.

It is one thing to say that love does not judge, and another to put it into practice.

It is something I am learning and striving for every single day. First, I must learn how to stop judging myself, to unlearn a decade’s worth of bad habits. It’s one of the hardest journeys I’ve been on yet – I don’t know how to love myself for who I am, to accept that I am already enough. I’m very good at seeing the good in others, but not so good at seeing it in myself.

I think I’m still a little scared of love; I think we all are. I think it’s one of the most powerful forces in the universe, something to be reckoned with, not to be taken lightly. You can say “I love you” all you want, but ultimately those words are so powerful because they’re a commitment that require action. You can say “I love you” all you want, but if your actions show something different it means nothing. It’s very easy for those words to become a refrain, something we say without thinking about it. So the next time you say those words, look the person in the eyes and make sure you really mean it.

So what is love?

I’m still trying to figure that one out. I think it remains one of life’s greatest mysteries. I know that right now, for me, love means being there for the people in my life. It means baking cookies and making memories. It means looking up at the sky every once in a while to appreciate the fact that I’m alive. It means listening, really listening to someone’s story, even if it’s the tenth time I’ve heard it or I could be watching an episode of Arrow right now or I’m really, really tired and I just want to go to bed.

It means acknowledging the people in your life who have helped make you who you are.

Thanks mom.

Connecting Dots

Life is a funny thing sometimes.

Looking back on my life in the last number of years, I had no idea it would take me to this moment I’m standing in right now. Life does this thing where it’ll push you and pull you different places until you start heading in the direction you’re meant to go. You can be so utterly convinced you’re headed down the right path when – surprise – the ground gets torn out from beneath your feet.

You can hold on so tightly to something only to have it be ripped from your hands, only to find out it’s not meant to be.

Some things in life are worth fighting for, but I now know there is also value in letting go. My Opa had a saying he would always repeat when the going got tough – really, it is the mantra of his life. He would say, “Never give up.” If something’s not working, you try harder, you grit your teeth and make it work. If they say you can’t do something, you find a way.

It was a philosophy that was instilled in me from the time I was very young. This is how my grandparents taught my mother to go about life, and so naturally it got passed down to me. When you’re that young, you don’t see the pain being so stubborn can cause, you just believe the adults know best. So I fought my way through many things, holding on to fantasies and dreams I didn’t realize weren’t my own.

Artistic gymnastics runs through my blood: when my mother was very young she started into the sport, her own mother and father acting as both her parents and her coaches. When it became apparent that my mother had the passion and work ethic necessary to go far, she reached a level she would need to move to another province in order to continue on the path towards her goals. But this would mean their little girl would be away from home, so my grandparents decided to build their own path instead. They built their own gym, a gym which became a ‘home of the champions.’

After years of blood, sweat and tears, my mother went on to be successful on the international scene, achieving the status of an Olympian. Because of the boycott of 1980, she never got the chance to compete, and so I thought I wanted to complete this journey for her. In fact, for some time when I was young, I thought this was the only way to be a success in life. I had to carry on my family’s legacy.

This was an idea all my own – my family never forced me to continue, but whole-heartedly supported me in whatever path I chose. My gymnastics career, like my mother’s, was fraught with pain and injury, but unlike hers, mine came with very little success. I struggled with fear and mental blocks that resembled walls, with a distorted body image and loneliness and eating issues. I held on for eleven years, until at last I became a national level gymnast at age 16…only to tear my ACL two months later. This forced me to step back and take a hard look at my life.

I remember sitting in the car with my mom after I’d gone to see the sports doctor to be referred for an MRI. I was sobbing so hard it was difficult to breathe, let alone speak. The doctor hadn’t seen the imaging results yet, but he could already tell me it was very likely I’d torn the major stabilizing ligament in my knee. This meant surgery and a long, long road to recovery. In this moment, there was one thing I knew that played on repeat in my mind: “I don’t want to go back to gymnastics,” I said. And I knew in my gut, it was true.

As I looked back on the months leading up to the injury, I realized I’d grown depressed and lost my passion for the sport. Fear overshadowed the love of flying through the air I’d once known. After taking a week off at Christmas, on the first day I was supposed to return to the gym, I spent two hours with tears streaming down my face while my mom convinced me to go to training. In the week before the injury, my brain and body felt sluggish, disconnected. I was spending practices dreaming of going home to spend time with my family and would have a sick day at least one time per month.

In time, I realized that going to compete in the Olympics was no longer my dream. Maybe it had been at one point, but it was no longer the thing I wanted to do with my life; it was something I clung to as part of my identity. I didn’t know who I was without it. Gymnastics had become a means to an end.

Slowly, I started discovering things I was truly passionate about, things I wanted to pursue that had been there all along.

I did a lot of reading and thinking and soul searching, identifying some of the beliefs and values that sit at the core of who I am. That isn’t to say I’d learned my lesson; I took steps that led me down one path, only to find out once again, it would not lead me to be the best version of myself I can be. It was not the path for me.

Steve Jobs once said, “You can only connect the dots looking backwards.” We can’t predict the future, we can only live one day at a time. Every action we take has a consequence that effects our lives and the lives of those around us. I’ve learned that the world is a small place: every person on earth is connected by an average of six degrees of separation, which is a lot smaller than you’d think. This means that, if you sent out a letter, it would have to pass through the hands of an average of five people in order to make it back to you. Our lives are built on a kind of butterfly effect, where I know one decision I make today will impact someone I don’t even know tomorrow.

We can only connect the dots looking backwards, and sometimes those dots hurt.

Failure hurts. Rejection hurts. Broken hearts take time to heal, and it takes time to learn how to trust again. But these dots are also lessons and plot twists in the stories of our lives. I know if I hadn’t held on to gymnastics for so long, if I hadn’t followed certain curiosities or taken certain risks, there are people in my life who wouldn’t be where they are today. I wouldn’t be where I am today. Life is a process of living and learning, of testing the water with your big toe and knowing the water is cold but deciding to dive in anyways.

I’m grateful for all the dots that got me to where I am today. Looking back, many things make sense. I can also acknowledge that I have no idea where I’m going right now, that I’m floating and I don’t know what my next step will be. Life has kind of knocked me flat on my back, but I had a good friend remind me recently that sometimes, that’s okay.

Sometimes you have to lie down in the grass and look up at the stars for a while. Life will show you where to go, just you wait.