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.

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.

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.