Lean In

(This post contains some facts about our current situation on Earth and what you can do to help.)

“Lean into the discomfort.”

This is one piece of advice I’ve gotten used to hearing over the last number of years. It seems to be a common theme among those looking to make a change in the world. As an artist and creative entrepreneur, this advice describes my job on a daily basis – I am to find the emotions and ideas that lie just beyond my comfort zone and venture into their territory. While I try to do this a little bit every day, I often find it’s easier said than done to push beyond the places I’ve been before.

How often do you lean into your discomfort?

If you’re like most people I know (myself included) the answer is not all that often. Deliberately finding the spaces that put us on edge is not generally something we like to do. Sure, there are those few adrenaline junkies out there who love the thrill of not knowing if they’re going to live or die today, but I think most of us can agree we prefer to do the exact opposite – we like to lean away from the things that make us uneasy. We like to walk very quickly glancing back over our shoulder with a smile plastered on our faces just to make sure no one is watching, then break out into an all-out sprint in the opposite direction.

Now, this isn’t entirely our fault. As humans, our brains are wired to run away at the first sign of danger, as fast as our two legs will carry us. It’s the very thing that kept us alive for so long in a world that saw us as dinner. Safety is one of the most basic human needs. But no matter what society would like to lead you to believe, safety is not the same thing as comfort. Sometimes remaining within our comfort zone is the most dangerous thing we can do.

I have been sitting with a lot of uncomfortable topics lately, topics that make me want to just look the other way. Of course, once you know the facts, it’s hard to do that. I know I find it extremely difficult to forget something once I learn the truth, especially within topics like these.

Topics like the fact that there is a prevalence of race and gender inequality, even in our seemingly progressive world today. How women who don’t look like me face challenges I will never know and how if I am not actively part of the solution, I am part of the problem; how there is so much more for me to know.

Topics like my own experiences of rejection and what I am doing to move through that pain. How that pain relates to everyone else’s, and the way in which I treat myself becomes the way in which I treat those closest to me, and I would never choose to be so hard on them.

Most of all, I have been taking a deeper look at the world around us, at this beautiful earth we call home. Global warming is real, people. If we don’t start making changes now, it will have catastrophic results.

I sometimes wish I were one of those people who could make light of a really serious topic, because I believe humour is disarming. I’m working on it, but in the mean time I’m just that person who feels things really, really deeply and wants to take on the world all at once.

The facts are shocking. Only one out of every ten people breathe safe air, according to WHO guidelines. Air pollution is responsible for one in three deaths related to stroke, chronic respiratory disease or lung cancer – including premature death among children. Rising temperatures create worse storms, droughts and heat waves, which in turn leads to an increase in food shortages and malnutrition in countries already struggling to make ends meet.

But the good news doesn’t stop there.  Each year, at least eight million tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans. The world’s largest floating collection of trash lives in the ocean between Hawaii and California in what is known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Often described as larger than Texas, it is home to 79 000 metric tons of plastic. This waste is composed of the usual culprits: plastic bags, straws and bottle caps. What we’re not paying attention to? Fishing equipment. Abandoned fishing equipment makes up for 46% of the floating island, while a majority of the rest waste is fishing gear of a different kind. One in three fish caught never makes it to the plate, and one-third of all commercial fish species are overfished.

These facts are just the tip of the melting iceberg, but they are overwhelming nonetheless. So what does it mean for you? For me? For the seven billion people we share this planet with and the generations to come?

The more I learn, the more I see how everything is intricately, inextricably connected. An increase in air pollution means farmers will yield less food from their crops, thus increasing food shortage and malnutrition. When we breathe air that is filled with particles of black carbon that penetrate our bodies’ defences, we suffer from issues like asthma, lung cancer and stroke and must spend more on health care to solve issues that could be avoided in the first place. More plastic in our oceans means fish eat more plastic which means we, in turn, eat more plastic which could be not-so-good for our health. When we waste food, we produce more methane and further contribute to the issue of world hunger. And so the cycle continues.

The good news (the real good news, this time) is this: we, as individuals, can and do make a difference with the choices we make every day. If we reduce the amount of pollution we create by driving less and making a conscious effort with our trash, we will be able to breathe easier and produce more food in the long run.

Of course, these are extremely complex issues. But there are a few things you can start doing, today.

You can say no to straws, bring your own reusable bags and a water bottle wherever you go. You can take the metro or bike to work instead of driving your car and enjoy a little extra sunshine along the way. You can buy food that requires less packaging or no packing at all. You can reach out to your community leaders and bring awareness to the issues at stake.

These are little things, but they are important nonetheless. Start with these. If you’re willing to dive a little deeper, do some research. The truest answers are often the ones we don’t want to hear.

According to the Drawdown, a comprehensive list of the top 100 things we can do to reduce climate change, the single greatest thing we can do as individuals is this: reduce food waste. Food waste accounts for approximates 8% of emissions worldwide. In higher income countries, we waste an average of 35% of the food we buy each year. THAT IS A LOT OF FOOD for such a simple solution. All we need to do is plan a little better, and eat what’s in the fridge.

Related to this: compost. Natural waste produced methane, a pollutant 80 times more powerful than CO2 when it comes to heating our atmosphere. Regular landfills are not equipt to deal with such a potent compound, but proper composting facilities are. Composted food gets a second life – it can be put to use instead of rotting in a landfill somewhere. Ew.

Now, I say these things, but I AM NOT A SAINT. I am only working on them myself. I am working on them one day, one step at a time. Honestly, I find composting gross. I’ve avoided it like a slimy sock until recently. I’ve realized how much of a difference it can make.

There is one thing I have found that collectively could have the most significant impact of all, but it’s something of a taboo subject. Are you ready for it? My third and final suggestion is this: move towards a plant-based diet.

GASP. Did I just say what you think I just said? Did I just imply the “v” word?

Calm down a minute. Please don’t leave this article because I might have just said something you might possibly disagree with. When I say going into uncomfortable spaces, the space of food is one of the tensest spaces, second only to any debates relating to politics. Food is deeply personal. Food is family and friends and good times and memories. Food is the thing that sustains us. Food is something different to every person on earth, but the basic fact is this: food is life. We cannot live without it, at least, not for very long.

I’m not saying you have to stop eating animal products. I’m not telling you to abandon meat. I am not here to bore you with the vices of the modern diet and virtues of veganism, there are plenty of sites out there to do that. But the one thing I will tell you is this: if you are serious about having an impact on our planet, consider adding more plants to your plate. Just think about it. When you do consume animal products, be a little more mindful of where they’re coming from. Maybe choose free-reign and local over the cheapest option out there. Maybe bulk up that meal with baked veggies and sauteed beans.

Food has been a touchy topic for me for several years. I am learning a new way to be mindful of what I eat. I am digging into the things that make me uncomfortable and why I feel that way. I am learning how I can give back to this planet that has already given me so much.

I am always learning. If you go through life with open eyes, you can too. Let these words give you the courage you need to look at something that makes you uncomfortable. Just a little.

Take one step today.

***

Intrigued? Check out these links:

Drawdown.org to learn about the top solutions to climate change.

BreatheLife to learn about air pollution and what you can do.

Deliciously Ella for plant-based recipes even carnivores will love.

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

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!

We Look At the Same Sky

I have a deep fascination with the sky.

I have for a long time, actually. It’s hard to say when exactly our love affair began, but from the time I started writing poetry in third grade, there has been a crucial connection between my creativity and the natural world. It is a recurring theme throughout my work – I always feel most inspired outdoors, generally walking and frequently observing the sky.

My love of the stars came when I read a book by one of my favourite childhood authors, Wendy Mass. I was eleven years old at the time. The novel, Every Soul a Star, is about three young strangers brought together on a campground to watch a total solar eclipse. The chapters are divided into their three different perspectives of the events that take place throughout the book. All the characters came alive in my mind, but I could best relate to the girl whose family had run the campground for several years, so long she could hardly remember anything else.

We read books to make us feel less alone, and these characters became my best friends in a time I felt quite lonely in a world that didn’t understand who I was. This girl did not know a traditional childhood, but rather she and her brother were brought up in the best classroom man never made, but one that existed long before the industrial revolution. She was engaged in an intimate relationship with the natural world, but her deepest love lay in the night sky.

It was in this book that I found my first astronomy lesson; I have taken great comfort in constellations ever since.

Having grown up in Winnipeg, I am more accustomed to sunny days than I am cloudy ones. I find it quite depressing to have the sun hidden from view for more than a few days at a time. The weather in Manitoba is rather intense, yes – this is what happens when you live in the middle of what was once a giant lake. It is extremely flat, so much so that you can see for a twelve-kilometre radius if there are no buildings to obstruct your view.

Because of the lack of change in elevation, the weather tends to stick around until a system comes through that is strong enough to move it along. Or there is a change in seasons. In winter, we get temperatures as low as -40 degrees C and then add the windchill. Let me tell you, that is cold. At the same time, in summer temperatures can climb above 30 degrees C. But no matter the season or time of day, you are more likely than not to find clear skies. It is one of the advantages to living in Manitoba.

If you’ve never been to the prairies, it may be hard for you to understand why anyone would live in such a bipolar climate. You may not be able to imagine the vastness of empty space that exists in a place where the sky is a canvas that lasts forever, further than the eye can see. There are entire stretches of uninterrupted land with nothing but farmers fields, rusty railroad tracks, and one or two rogue gas stations dotting the horizon. Even Winnipeg itself is sprawling – it can take more than three-quarters of an hour to get from one area to another in a city populated by less than a million people. It may not be the most exciting place to live, but it does have its own charm. I am grateful to have grown up there.

Now that I am living and traveling thousands of miles from the place I grew up, I find I instintively look to the skies for a piece of home.

It’s reassuring to know that, no matter where we end up in the world, the sky will always be there. I once saw a live movement production that told the stories of a few families of immigrants and their struggles in moving to a new land. After the show, we were privileged enough to meet the creator and listen to him speak about his inspiration for the show.

Because of a variety of factors, this man had spent long periods of time travelling. This took him away from his family and friends, scattered as they were across the globe. Distance can be quite hard on the heart, so this man found his own unique way of staying connected to the ones he loved. Each time he travelled, he would locate a park, sit down on an empty bench and look up at the sky. He would find comfort in the knowledge that somewhere, someone he loved was looking up at that same sky, even if they were a million miles from where he was.

The world may feel big at times, but it is also incredibly small. When we look to nature, we find this sense of connection that exists between all living things and resides within our hearts. We can reach for it when we find ourselves overwhelmed, tired, or unbareably lonely. It will always be there.

These days, I find myself looking up a lot. I am frequently distracted by whatever the sky is up to at a given moment in time. It’s quite comical, actually: I can be walking to a friend’s house at night, and I will stop dead in the middle of their back alleyway, just a few steps shy of their doorstep. The air is crisp with a winter’s chill or thick with the heat of summer. Sometimes I have words on the tip of my tongue that must be transcribed before they slip away, but most often I am simply sidetracked by the few stars that have managed to burst through the light pollution to pierce a gorgeous navy blue sky. I am overcome by a sense of wonder – the world is so utterly beautiful it literally takes my breath away.

Our world is built on patterns that repeat themselves time and time again. Take the number three, for example. Our days are composed of three distinct periods: sunrise, full light, sunset. In our solar system, the trio of the sun, the moon, and planet earth are necessary for life to thrive. There are three atoms that combine to create one molecule of water, three colours that combine to make visible light, and three main states of matter. The same could be said of the number seven, the hexagonal structure of a snowflake, or the ever-present golden ratio. Patterns are everywhere.

Patterns may be common in nature, but they can also teach us a thing or two about ourselves – what do you find yourself being drawn back to time and time again?

The best way to recognize these patterns within yourself is to spend some time alone with your own thoughts, to try things and gather data and then reflect on what you find. I find I am constantly pulled back to create and be in spaces with these three things: a body of water, a forest of green trees, and a breathtakingly beautiful sky. There is something in these elements that soothes my soul and lets me allows me to feel at peace in the world – I am home.

Listen to the signals your body gives you. Listen for what your heart has to say. Life is the process of rediscovering yourself as you wander. Have faith, you will find your way.