Answers (A Pep Talk)

“Ommmmmmm…”

“Whatcha doing?”

“Meditating.”

“What’s that?”

“Meditating. You know, sitting in stillness, breathing, being. Seeking inner peace and contentment with all that is right here, right now.”

“Oh. We’re doing that again.”

“What?”

“This meditating thing. It’s BORING. Why would anybody just sit there doing nothing when there are so many things to do and people to meet and places to see? Sitting still seems like a waste of time to me.”

“Mmmmm. You just don’t get it.”

Patience. I think that’s my word of the year. Or the word of my life. It has been a long, challenging year filled with ups and downs and many moments of “I have no idea where I am going, what am I doing with my life?!” followed by moments of “this is AMAZING!” Figuring out where you are going takes time. Building things worth building takes time. But sometimes I am young and sometimes I am impatient. I would like to have everything figured out NOW.

I will be the first to admit that my brain is hardly ever satisfied with where it is at any given moment, and recently I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Like many people partaking in the mindfulness movement, I long to show up and be more present for my life, but it baffles me why this is a question at all. Life is so beautiful, and we only get to live once. There is absolutely NOTHING I can do to control what happens in my future and NOTHING I can do to change the past, yet this is where my mind likes to stray to time and time again. Why is this? And how can I change it?

There is a time and place to remember the past. There is a time and place to look towards the future. But if we spend all our time watching the horizon or looking back over our shoulder, are we ever truly living?

My brain is a busy place. I imagine it to look sort of like Grand Central Station inside, with millions of thoughts coming and going every single day. Occasionally I’ll hop on a train with one of them and see where it leads me, but the rest of the thoughts are still there, never more than a few thousand miles away.

I’ve been feeling fairly restless lately with too many thoughts, ideas and projects competing for my attention – being a creative person can be busy work at times. My brain has been arguing with itself quite a bit, one side trying to keep track of everything I have going on while the other half tells me I am not doing enough so I better get off my butt and make something happen already or else there will be consequences. What consequences, you ask? I’m not sure either. But apparently, they’re there, like a ticking time-bomb that could explode at any minute if I don’t get moving.

You see, my brain likes to think it can control my life. Therefore, it likes to sit in the driver’s seat and act as the navigator at the same time. It has this need to have some semblance of a plan of where we are going and how we are going to get there at all times, and if it doesn’t? Well, things aren’t so pleasant for the passengers inside. They tend to get jostled around a lot until my brain gets some answers.

The thing is, life does not go according to plan, ever. No ifs, ands or buts about it. If it does miraculously go according to plan for a period of time, you often find the plan wasn’t actually what you were looking for all along and end up pulling off to the side of the road to check your map and figure out why you thought this path was such a good idea in the first place.

While I have grown to accept life’s plot twists as just another part of the journey, some part of my brain has not. It has been deeply aware of the fact that I have been floating of late and has therefore grown increasingly restless. There has been no plan. No direction, no burning passion or inclination to take one path over another. There has been curiosity, and there has been healing. Oh, the healing. But healing takes time, my brain says. You’re wasting time. No, I’m not, I tell my brain again. Do you wanna drive on two flat wheels? Didn’t think so. Neither do I. So we sit. And we think. And we ponder.

It’s easy for my brain to make it sound like I’ve been doing nothing. This isn’t true, either. The results of the work I’ve been doing have just been more intangible than I am used to. There haven’t been any overarching goals or five-year plans in mind. I’ve just been getting back on my feet and following my curiosities, one step at a time.

Still, my brain has been restless, and so what do I do when I’m restless? I research. I temporarily abandon any current projects in favour of figuring out my life beyond those deadlines, spending hours combing through the internet to get a clearer sense of what I want my life to look like at this time next year.

I suppose one could also call this procrastination.

This kind of procrastination can be quite productive at times. Well, not productive in the most acute sense of the word, but productive none the less. All that research soothed my brain to the point where I can now get back to work and know I’ll discover some ideas that were nowhere to be seen before, ideas that will enable me to move my projects forward.

Moderate procrastinators have actually been proven to be more successful and creative than their peers – no, I’m not making this up. In his TED Talk on the surprising habits of original thinkers, Adam Grant explains how he discovered this group of people whom he calls “originals,” and how they function differently from the rest of society. One of the defining traits of originals is that they are quick to start but slow to finish – as moderate procrastinators, they sit in between the people who always finish early and those who start so late that they have to scramble to get everything done on time.

Grant shares the data from an experiment that asked people to come up with new business ideas. There were three groups: one group was asked to do the task right away, while the other two groups were asked to procrastinate by playing Minesweeper – for either five or ten minutes each. Which group was the most creative, you might ask? It was the middle group, the one that procrastinated for five minutes before completing the task. People in this group were 16% more creative than those in the other two groups. Grant explains:

“Now, Minesweeper is awesome, but it’s not the driver of the effect, because if you play the game first before you learn about the task, there’s no creativity boost. It’s only when you’re told that you’re going to be working on this problem, and then you start procrastinating, but the task is still active in the back of your mind, that you start to incubate. Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.”

It’s reassuring to know my brain is not the only one that works this way. Grant goes on to explain that another defining feature of originals is that they are less afraid to fail than they are of failing to try. In essence, they would rather put forth a less-than-perfect but innovative product or idea if they saw the world could benefit than wait for it to be perfect or worse, let that idea sit up on a shelf until someone else worked up the courage to go do it. If their idea fails for some reason or another, they learn from their experience and take note of what they can do differently next time.

Left unchecked, procrastination can morph into this form of perfectionism that stops us from taking action in the first place. It settles like a fog in the mind that makes us forget what we truly want and dampens the excitement we have for our ideas. This is the most dangerous form of procrastination of all because it is so sneaky, you don’t even notice it. Some people even find this trait admirable.

I used to wear my perfectionism like a badge of honour, but now I see it more as a synonym for crippling self-doubt or fear of rejection than I do a source of pride. I am not proud of the times I have been too scared to try.

My tendency to procrastinate has produced some beautiful ideas in the last week – but my mind has also been wandering dangerously close to the murky lands of perfectionism. I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself, and as a result, I have been suffering from some pretty nasty writer’s block.

When I was in gymnastics, I had a bad habit on beam. There were certain skills around which I had developed very large mental blocks, and this made it extremely hard to actually practice said skills. I vividly remember the feeling: I would be standing on the beam, my arms above my head and feet side by side, perfectly aligned and ready to go. I had performed the skill countless times before and yet, I would stand there, sometimes for five minutes at a time, wiggling my sweaty feet and swinging my arms up and down to no avail. I was paralyzed by the fear that I might land on my head and break my neck and then never be able to move again.

Now, this may sound entirely logical to someone outside of the sport, but it was entirely not. I had never, not once landed on my head. I’ve never even come close. I knew this skill inside out. On competition day, I would stick the skill perfectly, without a single wobble; the next day, I would return to the gym to that same paralyzing fear and frustrating habit of stopping myself before I would even start.

I have no explanation for this phenomenon. I only knew that on these days, my brain became something of a prison cell. I was trapped. It was like I had opened my mouth to speak knowing full well what I wanted to say, only, no words would come out. Choking on your own thoughts is like choking on the air we breathe – no one can see what’s plaguing you, and you can’t see a way out.

Looking back now, I know my anxiety boiled down to this one thing: ultimately, there was no guarantee that anything I did would work out. In life, there never is. Each skill on beam was simply a micro example of this truth – I would know right away, and so I often felt I would just rather not find out.

Since I left gymnastics, I’ve experienced a high volume of what I’m now calling detours – choices I made that didn’t work out. These “failures” hurt at the moment, but I’m still standing and I’m stronger for it.

My brain likes to make life a whole lot more complicated than it actually is. Sometimes less is more and trying harder is not the answer. Sometimes the answer has been there all along. Sometimes you just need to take the first step, then the next, then the next, and learn to sit with the uncertainty that is the beauty of life.

Today, I am hereby denouncing perfectionism once and for all. I AM PERFECTLY IMPERFECT and PROUD OF IT. Because life is not perfect. Life is beautiful and wonderful and challenging and curious but life is NOT perfect. Life was not created to be perfect. We were not created to be perfect. Imperfection is where our beauty lies. Imperfection is honesty and connection and vulnerability and that is the life I want to live.

Maybe, just maybe, letting go of perfection is letting go of the outcome is letting go of everything but this moment right here, right now. Maybe letting go of perfection is showing compassion for ourselves and every living thing on earth because how you treat yourself is how you treat everyone else. Maybe letting go of perfection is being courageous and original and living our best lives, individually and collectively.

You have been given a life – do us all a favour and go live boldly, bravely, in unapologetically bright, vivid colours. Take up space. Wear your heart on your sleeve and live life out loud. Do your dreams, however big or small they may seem because the world needs it now, more than ever. The world will become a better place because we were willing to take a chance and colour outside the lines.

Go live a life worth remembering. That’s what I am going to do.

Who Am I?

Who am I?

I feel like I have been asking that question a lot lately. Perhaps this is normal, given who I am. I mean, what else does an introspective young writer like to do with her time?

When I ask myself that question, a very standard response pops into my mind. It’s one I’ve often given to people I am encountering for the first time. The order may change on any given day, but the answer goes something like this: I am a hand balancer. I am a writer. I am a hand balancer who writes, a writer who loves to stand on her hands. The details of this description, of course, have shifted slightly over the years – but their essence remains the same.

No matter which way you put it, I am a doing. I am defined by the things I do and the things I aspire to do in the future, something that will inevitably change time and time again as I grow through life.

Life is a series of experiments: there are so many things one can choose to do or explore or become. As a young person, all these options can be quite overwhelming, yet somehow, society tells us that by the time we graduate high school we should’ve already chosen one. Growing up is confusing enough as it is, and the pressure to define who we are by our aspirations only adds to the pressure to get it right the first time around.

I am not sure when exactly I became a doing, or how I came to be that way in the first place. All I know is that this method we’ve developed for defining ourselves is entirely unreliable, which leads me to believe we should reach for a new way.

I am very good at letting others know they are so much more than what they do. When it comes to myself, however, I struggle to apply this same truth. If I am not a hand balancer, then who am I?

I have been doing circus and acrobatics for three-quarters of my life – for me, to be upside down IS to be alive. I spent my childhood at my mother’s circus studio and my grandparents’ gym. Many of my best memories and most defining moments happened there.

When I wasn’t walking on tightropes and swinging from the bars, you could almost certainly find me doing a series of cartwheels across the lawn of my elementary school. For my seventh-grade talent show, I performed a piece on the aerial silks. I missed school functions for gymnastics training and circus productions as opposed to the other way around. I was never like anyone else in my school, and so they never understood my discipline or devotion to my sport. As a result, I almost always felt separate, somehow left out.

In eighth grade, I discovered how to hold a handstand; because they take up almost the same amount of space as if I were standing, I could do handstands anywhere, anytime. And so, in typical Maia-fashion, this became my new obsession. Anytime I was bored in gym class or if a teacher left the room, upside down I would be found. Upside down was my favourite way to be. I felt safe upside down.

There have been times in my life when this part of my identity was taken away for a time, and I struggled to find any sense of grounding without the thing I defined myself by. These were some of the hardest times of my life so far – I felt as though my world had dropped out from underneath me and did all I could just to get my head above water once again.

When I was eleven, I injured my back and had to take a break from training altogether. Food became my solace, and I spent the vast majority of my time watching videos and reading magazines about gymnastics, plotting the path of my comeback and rise towards my Olympic dream. I gained a lot of weight during my time off, and coming back was hard, much harder than I’d anticipated. A year and a half later, however, I started to see some success. Gymnastics was still the thing that defined me. I can do this, I thought.

When I tore my ACL five years later, I spent the first six weeks convinced nothing bad had happened. It was just a sprain, a minor setback, and I would be able to compete in three weeks, just as planned. I may have been determined, but determination will only get you so far when it comes to a legitimate injury. When I finally saw a doctor, it turned out I’d been wrong – I had torn the ACL and damaged the meniscus, and I would need surgery to repair both. I was devastated and terrified for many reasons all at once. In an instant I knew this one truth: it was time to move on.

So I left the sport for which I had lost my passion and pursued circus full time. Circus had always had a playful energy for me, and I didn’t realize how intense it could become at the time. You can put unnecessary amounts of pressure on yourself anywhere, and over time my relationship to circus grew strained. I clung to my craft with fear, fear of who I would be without it, that I would lose the body I’d worked so hard to maintain.

When the pain in my wrist became unbearable, it had already been hurting for many months. I was overtraining with bad alignment and not enough strength training to support the skill-base I was working to build. And so for two months, I couldn’t do any handstands. Maybe it was good for the partner work I was doing, but I felt as though I’d lost a piece of myself. Who would I be without handstands? How could I ever be good enough?

Each time I was forced to step away from my “doing,” I spent the whole time focused on doing everything I could to get back what I’d lost. I never allowed myself to pause, to feel remotely happy for any reason – how could I with this piece of me gone?

I realize now this created a clinginess, an energy of fear that made my training an obsession as opposed to something I truly enjoyed. I grew so attached to this doing and becoming I never took a moment to step back and learn who I am at my core.

About a month ago, my body started talking loudly again. I’d been ignoring a nagging pain in my right upper body for about a year, and my body was telling me it’d had enough. At first, I was deeply upset – I’d made so much progress, wouldn’t I lose it all and be forced to start from the beginning again? I began seeking treatment and inevitably, have had to take a break from hand balancing again.

This time, the process is no less scary than it was before, but my approach to my healing is a significantly different one.

I’ve decided to give my body the space and rest it needs to heal, truly heal from everything it’s been through over the last number of years. Sitting still is not my forte, but I am learning – your body will tell you what it needs if you only listen. My entire right shoulder is shifted up, higher than the left; this lack of blood flow and strength has caused a tilt in my body that will not go away on its own.

Indeed, I do need to go back to the basics and teach my body how to move again. Frustrating as it is, I know this process will enable me to continue to do what I love for far longer than I would if I kept training on a maligned joint. I am learning to be patient because I know it will be worth it in the long run.

I tell myself, love, love, LOVE. I love you, even when you feel broken. You are healing, and you will be stronger and even more beautiful for it, just like those Japanese pots that have shattered and been pieced back together with liquid gold.

I am approaching my healing from a place of love: loving my body and all it does for me every day, love for my craft and who I am at my core. I can still be happy without all the doing and aspiring and becoming. I can be happy right here, right now because life is pretty damn beautiful, no matter where you are.

Last week, I faced that question once again: who am I? Doubt and Fear lingered like shadows around the edges. Who am I, if I’m not a hand balancer? Would people still like me and respect me and want me in their life? Or am I utterly worthless without this skill?

So I began looking for answers. I genuinely do believe we are worth so much more than what we do, I’ve just struggled to define what that means for myself. Often when we let a problem sit in the back of our brain, the subconscious mind will come up with answers. A few hours later, my mind submitted a few tentative answers. A little later, I had a few more.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you make them feel.” It’s not always the doing that has the most enduring impact – sometimes it’s the simplest little things that count the most.

So who are you, deep down in your core? I challenge you to stop your doing for a second and just sit with this question. Because I promise you, doing things is important in life, but it’s not everything – there’s something more.

***

Something that has helped me in the past: VIA Strength Finders Test

Be You

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Alright, I’ll admit it: I have a great appreciation for quotes. I began collecting them when I was young. I spent hours flipping through inspirational books, folding over corners on pages I loved and highlighting ideas that struck me as true. They were things I wanted to remember. When I grew a little older, this time was spent on the computer, which I learned can be a bit of a rabbit hole in of itself. It’s funny, I began to realize, after a time many quotes began to say the same things, just in a different way.

Still, I continued to collect new ones. Quotes would be written down, transferred to notebooks and sticky notes and plastered all over my walls. There were quotes that became like mantras written on the inside of my mind – I would repeat to myself over and over again, particularly during challenging times. This particular quote was first said by Dr. Seuss, and it’s one of my all-time favourites. There is something in those words I find so comforting, even if I’ve struggled to validate their truth.

I would like to tell you I’ve never struggled to be myself, but if I did, I would be lying. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, and I seem to like to make things a lot harder for myself than they actually need to be.

My brain is like a sponge. I am constantly amazed by the amount of information it can soak up and retain. Sometimes this skill can be an incredible asset – I have endless amounts of data filed away for the day it might be useful, studying was never that hard, and I can pick up on new dance choreography with relative ease, so long as I am actually paying attention.

That is the key – focus. Our brains are truly powerful machines that process tens of thousands of thoughts every single day. How do you spend your thoughts? With so much going on in my mind at all times, I know I am very good at entertaining myself. This also means I am at risk of checking out of the present moment if I am bored by what I am doing and losing track of time if I’m interested. This is only sometimes funny when a professor asks you a question and you realize you were actually a million miles away, what were we talking about again?

At other times, my sponginess can be incredibly annoying. I can pick up on the fears, habits and beliefs of the people around me easily, without a conscious thought. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with – we all are. I find I adapt and change in ways I don’t even notice until I do something completely out of character and someone calls me out.

I lose myself in others.

Speaking your truth and living by your values shouldn’t be difficult, but it often is. Not because these things aren’t important to us, but because we have an instinctual desire to be accepted by our tribe, by the people we surround ourselves with. The notion of stepping outside of that can be terrifying. Fear works real hard to get us to fit in, or at the very least do something sensible like following along some predetermined path, we can do that, right? Not always. There comes a point in any life where you have to leap without the assurance of what comes next. You have to live your own story.

It’s funny to look back on my goals from the last number of years, how they’ve changed and shifted course. I can see how the media I was consuming and the people I looked up to at any given point directly influenced the steps I thought I should take.

As a young gymnast, Nastia Liukin was my idol. I watched her fly to Olympic glory in 2008 and dreamed that I would do the same…one day. A little older, I watched acrobatic duos on Instagram attend one of the most prestigious schools for circus arts in the world and I wanted to be just like them…one day. When I discovered author Julie Kagawa’s series, The Iron Fey, I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the way her writing compelled me on a journey filled with romance and plot twists. For a while, my writing began to sound just like hers, but I never took note of this small fact. I would publish a novel and be successful just like her…one day.

I latched onto the dreams of others because admitting to my own dreams made me feel foolish. And vulnerable – too vulnerable. What if someone laughed at me or thought less of me because of what I aspired to become? It’s one way to live with your living, beating heart on your sleeve, and that my friends, is terrifying. So for many years when my dreams came knocking, I politely declined. I took steps on the paths others had laid down before me because, if it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?

My own dreams do exist. They’re there. When I think about them, I can feel my face light up…but then there is the Fear.

I feared my dreams might seem selfish or stupid or insignificant in comparison to the aspirations of those around me. Even as recently as the last few months, I looked to the people who have inspired me to see how they reached their level of success. I considered going to regular university even though my gut told me otherwise. I tried on styles and patterns and platforms like one does hats – which one suited me best?

The answer, it turns out, was none of them. Often the road to our dreams can appear daunting – we see the goal looming over us on a snowcapped mountaintop, distant and far beyond our reach. We have no idea how we’ll get there. The path is unclear, riddled with fog and forks in the road. We are fully aware that some of these paths lead to dead ends while others will help us get further up the mountain. We just don’t know which one is which.

You could follow a path someone laid out before you. You could take every one of those steps and maybe you’ll find success…for a time. This option may seem logical or easy, but the truth is, life doesn’t work this way. The exact combination of steps that worked for others will not work for you because you are not them. You are your own person with your own experience, memories, circumstance and desires. Because you are your own person, you have your own journey to take. Yes, do listen to your elders and learn from those who have gone before you. But do not try to copy their story word for word because I can promise you this: it will not work.

If you can see the whole path laid out before you, it isn’t your path.

For much of my life, I have struggled. I have felt this constant pull: I am simultaneously too much and never enough to fit in. I’m a little different than the people around me, but never quite different enough to be considered a freak. I am a creative but I am also an intellectual…but I am also a hand balancer and baker and entrepreneur and friend. I am passionate about so many things it makes it nearly impossible to become too obsessive about any particular one, because if I spent my time feeling guilty for the time I spent doing handstands or writing or researching all the ways we can help reduce pollution, I would never get anything done.

No, I’m not the right combination of just enough and not too much to fit in or be anyone that I’m not. But I AM the perfect blend of elements to create a very unique compound: I am perfectly me. And you are too.

I hereby declare that you have permission to stop being anyone you’re not.

So go be you.

Rise

Hope. What is hope?

The dictionary defines hope as a verb: “to look forward with desire and reasonable confidence; to believe, desire or trust; to feel that something desired may happen sometime in the unforeseeable future.” I have been struggling with this word a lot lately, particularly in the last number of months. Maybe I should have looked up the definition a little sooner, maybe it would have given me some insight into the piece of the puzzle I was missing all along.

The concept of hope does not resonate with everyone, and I have had an incredibly hard time understanding why.

What is it that enables some people to keep going with a smile on their face even after enduring extreme hardship, while others give into the darkness after hardly anytime at all? Why wouldn’t everyone want this ability, this capacity for staying strong? I asked myself again and again but never got any closer to an answer that made any sense and satisfied my need to know.

I thought it was hope, but the definition I just read is not what I am describing at all. This definition means living in the future instead of showing up for your life as it is. It means not-so-blissful ignorance, sometimes refusing to change course when the winds shift. It is the hope that can be a false friend at times, fickle in the face of fear. It leaves you dreaming of a better day but often fails to get you to stand up and take action when the world pushes you out into a bloody fray.

Maybe hope isn’t the word I’m looking for after all. Maybe it’s something else, something more poignant, more capable of withstanding life’s raging storms.

The essence of what I see is a resilience, a stubborn joy and a love for the present moment, whatever that may look like at any given time. It is a willingness to sit with discomfort, to know that nothing is permanent and that this too shall pass. Life is constantly changing but this quality, this is the friend you can always count, the one that sticks around even after you’ve told him to go away.

Know there is beauty wherever you are right now, whatever you are celebrating or struggling with or holding on to through the night. Let yourself feel and cry and laugh and dance as you wander along your path. There is an ebb and flow to be found in living; if we let ourselves ride the current we will find there is a lightness of being, of life. A life raft is no longer necessary when each of us becomes our own light.

Buoyancy.

Buoyancy – that’s the word I’m looking for. Be your own life buoy in the ebb and flow of life. Be gentle with yourself but also don’t be afraid to take action. Through the heaviness of the things that weigh us down, each of us can rise.

Home

Time is a funny thing.

Simultaneously fluid and concrete, time is elusive, expansive and rigid. An hour can feel like an eternity, and week can pass in the blink of an eye. Time can be full or it can feel paper thin, never thick enough to hold all the activities and things want to do in a day, too little and too much existing within the same breath.

We must take great care in how we spend our time, for once it is gone, it can never be revived. It is the most precious resource in the world.

I’ve spent the last month or so packing up my life in one apartment and moving to a new one a few blocks down the road. Moving on your own for the first time is quite a daunting task, let me tell you. I am still shocked by the number of things I’ve managed to accumulate in such a short time. I have considered myself a fairly minimalistic person for a little while now; I am not overly attached to material things, but even I feel as if I am a hoarder in comparison to the true minimalists I’ve come to know in the last year.

My first week in my new place was a flurry of activity as I worked to make the place my own. I found I was unable to relax until I did. I lost whole chunks of time, hours long, as I shopped, painted the walls, constructed furniture and cleaned the rooms until my body was heavy with a different kind of fatigue than one I’d known before. As it turns out, revamping an apartment is a workout in its own right – I fell out of my normal schedule as I turned all my attention to the task at hand. My parents joined me for the last week of the month, helping me add the final touches to make my apartment truly feel like home.

Saying goodbye to my parents when I first moved a year ago was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. For me, Home has always been associated with people, and for my entire life leading up to that moment, they had been the people who had made my house a home. They were the ones I came home to at the end of the day, the ones who hugged me while I cried and laughed at my bad jokes. They had always just been there, and it took me a while to adjust to the distance.

It is so easy to take our parents for granted when we are young when we don’t necessarily realize everything they do for us. By the time we have graduated high school, it is estimated that we have spent about 80% of the time we will have with our parents over the course of our lives. If this is true, we’d better spend that remaining 20% wisely.

I am learning that when it comes to spending time with the people we love most, it is not always the quantity that counts but rather the quality.

The time we spend together is that much more memorable now for the time we spend apart. That being said, this last encounter was a much more joy-filled one than the ones that came before.

For the better part of the year, I had grown somewhat distant from myself, though I couldn’t see it at the time. I was in constant disbelief at what my life had become. It was a life I had dreamed of and observed from afar for years. My intel came through social media like Instagram and Facebook, where you only ever see a small portion of the story, the part they choose to let you see. Perhaps this disbelief was something of a warning sign – maybe my new reality felt so unbelievable because I wasn’t really living a life that was my own. I was living life on someone else’s terms, and a large part of me was suffering because of it.

In order to find some sense of grounding, I tried to attach Home to the new family of friends that had built itself around me. I had known these people for less than a year, yet I began to lose myself in them like they were the answer to all my prayers. When I returned to my childhood home for the first time since I’d moved, I spend the entire time persistently unhappy, convinced I’d been uprooted solely for the purpose of this trip and unaware of the discomfort that lay beneath.

What I didn’t understand at the time is that you can feel at home in more than one place at once. Subconciously, I yearned for the comfort of familiarity, of the place from which I’d come. I was so scared I wouldn’t want to return to my new life once I’d had a taste of this comfort that I forced myself to remain miserable instead of simply appreciating the beauty of that time.

I felt like a plant that had been ripped ever so rudely from the ground without a single moment’s notice to find its roots dangling in the air, naked and exposed to the harshness of the world. I faced such daunting questions of who am I? and is this really what I want to do? that I clung to what I could to feel safe. If I let go, I didn’t know if I would survive.

You are always stronger than you think – this I have learned time and again in the last number of months. Life will take you exactly where you need to be if you only trust. Trust and take action, this is the key. During those uncomfortable months, I was a passive player in my life. We may not be able to control many things, but we do control our actions. We choose which opportunities we pursue and which ones we let go, the people we share our time with and how we spend our energy.

I have struggled for a long time with external expectations and the desires of the people around me. Comparison truly is the thief of joy. I worried that because I was not following some path outlined by others or living my friends’ dreams, I was somehow doing it wrong. I worried I would grow to have regrets or become unsatisfied with the life I chose to live.

But just because someone else would be bored living my life doesn’t mean I should change. They don’t have to live my life, I do. If I don’t like the way I am living, I can choose to change.

After months of feeling uprooted, I’ve realized I love the repetition of ritual, the familiarity of the habits I return to time and time again. It is within this routine that my creativity thrives and I can push myself to excel. Sure, I also love to travel from time to time, but I always love coming home to the familiarity that enables adventure. From my roots, I will continue to grow.

Now my apartment is all set up, my parents have returned to their lives and I am finally at home in mine. I made this place my sanctuary, and I love it. For the first time in a long time, I feel at peace. Saying goodbye to my parents this was still challenging. I think it always will be. But the sadness only lives in a small corner of my heart this time – the rest of me is bursting with excitement and gratitude for this life I get to live. I get to learn and create and connect and inspire and live and dream among friends. And that is more than enough.

***

A NOTE: To anyone who has been reading this blog regularly, I am sorry for my absence this last month. I will be getting back to writing three times per week again this month. Cheers!

Chapters of Life

So much can happen in a single year of life.

I will never cease to be amazed by this simple fact. You can look out on a fresh year sitting before you, be inspired by the possibility and take your first steps in a certain direction – but there is absolutely no way to know what will happen next. No way! How foolish we are to think the universe will bend to fulfill our meticulously laid plans. Our intentions and deepest aspirations can manifest themselves in our lives if we hold them deeply in our hearts and do the work required to make it happen, but they will most often not show up in the package we first expect.

Certain points in our lives invite reflection on what has come before as we anticipate for what will happen next. We sense one chapter coming to an end and another about to begin, and time seems to slow out of reverence for the preciousness of life.

I have found myself in one of these periods most recently. This time of year has held significance for me for a long time, as it has always been the end of the school year and competitive season of gymnastics, a time for slowing down and simply being a kid. Last year held even more importance than normal: I had officially graduated high school, and it was time to enter the real world as an “adult.”

And so eleven months ago, I took a huge leap and stepped out on my own. I moved to a new city to attend the school of my dreams and left behind the familiarity of my childhood home in favour of adventure. This year proved to me that our late teens and early twenties are a time of great discovery. It is a time of firsts, irrational decision-making and a perpetually heightened emotional state. I’ve never much been a fan of failing or messiness, but it seems to be utterly unavoidable at this time of life. I have been on an impressive rollercoaster this last year, let me tell you. Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen. Life is quite the ride.

I look back now and feel as thought I am a completely different person from when I first stepped off that plane into the stifling heat of July.

It was the first one-way trip I’d ever taken, and the feelings were bittersweet. I remember journaling as we flew through the air several thousand feet above the ground. I was starting a new journal, and I wanted every word to be perfect. Still, to this day I cannot think of a word to describe the unique blend of sadness, fear, and exhilaration that tags along when you move to a new place. Leaving behind the people I’d grown up this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I knew it was what I had to do. Something in my gut told me I was making the right move.

For the first six months, I existed in disbelief and wonder at the richness of this new life I got to live. I was learning, growing, expanding to fill the space I had never felt back home. This new place became my home, and I hated the idea of leaving it for even a moment. I was surrounded by people who understood me and loved me for who I am – or at least, this part of me that has never before felt truly understood before.

I was attending one of the most prestigious schools in the world for the circus arts, and so the circus artist in my thrived while I neglected nearly everything else. I didn’t write a single poem for eight months, and the writer in me watched in increasing irritation as I failed to record a single detail from my life.

It is so easy for us to lie to ourselves at times, far easier than we like to admit. I viewed my life as one does a new lover: through rose tinted glasses that slowly, imperceptibly, deteriorate in time.

Yes, my fall semester was filled with beautiful moments and simple joys, with friendship and laughter and love. But there was also an underlying pain I was not dealing with, one I could only ignore for so long. I was tired all the time, fatigued in a way you cannot fully understand until you have experienced it for yourself, one even then I could not begin to understand. I played mind games with myself to get to the end of the week, and I spent much of my time looking forward to a weekend that never quite seemed long enough. I worked hard to squeeze myself into the mould the school had cast for me but no matter how hard I tried, I never really fit.

I was doing work that was, in many ways, extremely satisfying. Any kind of growth in that capacity usually is. I am incredibly grateful for that period of learning, and I have no regrets but for this one: I began going about my days in a way that was inauthentic and ultimately unsustainable, and I lost a large part of myself in the process.

The thing is, we are all multifaceted people – some are just more this way than others. I am not wired in a way where I thrive on a single-minded environment where nearly everything you do falls upon some pre-determined path. I do much better with the freedom to choose and simultaneously pursue a few different kinds of work aligned with my interests. Balance is key, I know this now. It took me many hard months to get here.

Sometimes people can see things in us we cannot see in ourselves; sometimes we are just too close to the problem.

Others can sense when you are lying to yourself, as a friend of mine once told me. There was a heaviness in my life that I was ignoring. Towards the end of the first month of the new year, one of my coaches approached me with a question that shook me to the core. In essence, she was asking one thing: are you happy? Is this really what you want to do?

I was forced to face a decision I’d been lingering on for about a year, one that held with it the gravity of my entire world. I knew my answer would change everything, literally everything about my path, where I would go and how I would move forward. Terrified and shaking, I chose to do what my gut was telling me. I ended a partnership that had grown toxic, the same partnership that guaranteed my place at school. I took action, and then it was my turn to wait. And wait. And wait.

A few months later, things blew up in my face in a way I had not anticipated. I faced more rejection in four months than I thought one heart could take. And yet, the day after the finale of one spectacular supernova and a mere three hours of sleep, I looked healthier than I had in months. I had a friend tell me my face was glowing.

Life has a funny sense of humour. At times, Life is not very funny at all. Our capacity to move through grief lies in our ability to remain open to the lessons Life has to teach us in the moments we’re on our knees, holding in our hands the two halves of a heart that has split in two. Trust the process – there are some things you cannot know.

I see now that this life I get to live in this moment is much more in line with what I truly want to do. It is, however, also a life I could not have imagined would be possible before my initial plans all went to shit. My intentions were clear all along, I just did not know they would manifest themselves in this way.

Each life is a work in progress. We cannot rewrite the past, but we can change how we approach the future. We can choose to give ourselves space to feel whatever we are feeling without holding on too tightly to ideas of what tomorrow may look like, whether that be for better or for worse. The only constant in a constantly changing world is change.

One short chapter in my life is coming to an end, and I never imagined I would be ready to move on so soon. But I am. This next chapter is going to be a good one, I can feel it. Here I come.

The Beauty of Empty Space

Confession No. 2: I am not very good at sitting in in-between spaces, and I am also not very good at sitting still.

I mean this in the most literal sense of the words – I am incapable, it seems, of doing nothing. As I am placing these thoughts down on paper, I hold a rock in my hand that is not occupied with the task of transcribing the words that come out of my brain. I do this to keep myself busy in the moments my mind drifts off into the void as I try to figure out what it is that I’m trying to say.

There are two exceptions to this rule. First, if I am watching a movie or performance of some kind that has my mind fully captivated, my entire body becomes engaged in the act of absorbing every detail and I am unlikely to move around too much unless I become uncomfortable. The same could be said of watching the sunset or reading a fascinating book. Second, if I am curled up next to someone I love, I am often quite content to just lay there. When I am truly relaxed, I just let my body melt and all is well in the world.

There was a time when even these moments of stillness disappeared from my life as I became obsessed with the feeling of getting things done. It was the only time I felt at ease with myself, in the wake of work well done.

My mind is extremely task oriented. I didn’t always used to be this way – I’m not sure when exactly things changed, but it was probably around the time I was fourteen or fifteen when I became aware of how short life really is. This realization set off a blaring siren in my brain. I grew to feel guilty if I wasn’t doing something my brain perceived to be “productive” at all times. For a while, it got so bad I couldn’t even sit down with my family to watch an hour-long episode of our favourite TV show we liked to follow each week. I had to be stretching or doing rehab exercises as the episode went on, and if I wasn’t I would usually hate myself for it after.

Just before my seventeenth birthday, I had to have surgery to repair a torn ligament in my knee that I had injured months before. Any procedure of that magnitude requires much rest in order that your body may have the energy to focus on healing, but I refused to let a lame leg slow me down. Within the first three days after surgery, I was already stubbornly attempting to do any form of exercise I could for fear that I might lose my body if I didn’t. I would go for slow, hobbling crutch walks when I was supposed to keep my leg elevated. I would find ways to work out my upper body without jostling my knee.  If I wasn’t moving or sleeping, I was convinced I should be learning something so I read as much as I could. Even as I struggled to find my way to the washroom, I refused to take the time I should.

That third day, my body began screaming so loudly I couldn’t ignore it anymore. The hospital-grade painkillers had worn off, and I was in a lot of pain. I came very close to passing out in the night when I got up to use the washroom, and a few more times after that. It became clear I was trying to do too much. I had to slow down, sleep, and sit still for a while if I was to heal at all.

The older we get, the faster time seems to pass.

People have been trying to explain this phenomenon forever. One of my favourite theories that I think makes complete sense: the further you get into life, the relative ratio that every year takes up in your memory becomes smaller. In other words, the slices of the pie get thinner as we age. When you are two, a year makes up 50% of your life. By the time you are fifty, the percentage has been reduced to 2. Therefore, every year seems shorter by comparison than the one before.

I think these jumps seem bigger when you are young – going from 1/15 to 1/15 is a bigger jump than going from 1/40 to 1/50. When I became viscerally aware of the passing of time in those early adolescent years, I panicked. There were so many things I wanted to do and achieve and produce in my one precious life, I didn’t want to waste a single moment on trivial pursuits but live each day with purpose. In order to do this, I hopped on the hyper-productivity train and joined the crowd of people looking to the same.

How could we better hack our time in order to fit in everything we want to get done? New strategies popped up every day, and I consumed self-help literature voraciously. I learned to map out visions for where I thought I wanted to go in life. I made vision boards in order to help keep me on track. I had my big five goals, ten smaller deliverables and top five values to live by, and I tried my best to act on them every day.

What I learned in the process is that goal-setting can be an extremely valuable tool,  but it can also be extremely stressful. We often overestimate what we can accomplish in one week, and grossly underestimate just how much we can grow in a year – you will go places you cannot predict, so trying to map out every inch of your life is utterly useless.

Most of all, I learned that life should be more than just a to-do list. This is something I have only been able to appreciate in looking backwards at all the time I spent unhappy because I was trying to just “get things done.” I would set so many goals and tasks for myself, only to end up accomplishing one or two to full capacity. The rest would just sit there collecting dust on a shelf. It caused me anxiety to end each day with a list of tasks I couldn’t complete, and I delved even deeper into the literature to find out what was wrong with me when I knew all along.

Today, we are being constantly bombarded with two heavily conflicting messages by a society that can’t make up its mind. We are told to HURRY UP AND GET THINGS DONE, LIFE IS SHORT AND THE CLOCK IS TICKING AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIEEEEEEEEEE. At the same time, we are being pursued by a different voice, one encouraging us to slow down and live life in the moment, take time to breathe and be grateful for the things we have. The thing is, even meditation and gratitude lists can become just another item on the To-Do list. Even time spent with loved ones can be a source of stress if we approach it with the wrong state of mind.

Sometimes doing nothing is the most productive thing you can do. Life is all about balance – knowing where you want to go in life, and yet leaving space for the things to happen that you know you cannot plan for.

I have found I am happiest when I exist in equilibrium, between intention and going with the flow. When I wake up on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I know I am going to write. I train handstands six days per week, but my practice changes depending on how my body is feeling. Beyond that, I like to fill much of the rest of my time making art, doing good work, learning or spending time with the people I care about. But I also like to leave some room to breathe, to admire the beauty of empty space.

One of my most vivid memories is of one evening on the beach in Kailua, Hawaii, when my family took a trip there a few years ago. My dad and I just sat there in the sand as my mother wandered closer to the shore to dip her toes into the ocean. A comfortable silence sat between us – there was nothing that needed to be said. We watched the sky radiate brilliant colours as the sun inch its way closer to the horizon before it disappeared until the next dawn.

What a spectacular way to start and finish a day, to watch the sun put on a show in the company of those we love most and do nothing at all. This is the way I want to live my life: intentional work and beautiful moments that make my heart feel full.

Ever so slowly but surely, I am learning how to sit still.