The Stories We Choose

This is an 8-minute read.

Stories. The stories we hear and tell ourselves on a daily basis contain within them immeasurable amounts of power. They determine how we move through our everyday life, the way we see our future and how we relate to our own story, our past.

Do we trust or do we hide? Love or hate? Show compassion for those we do not understand or turn a blind eye to all those we label as “other?”

I have been doing a deep dive into my own story recently, re-examining my history and the lens through which I view it. It is often a somewhat uncomfortable process, this questioning of all the things we hold as truth. Honesty is one of my highest held values, but I’ve learned that in order to be honest with others, I must first learn to be honest with myself.

For someone who values honesty, I am incredibly good at ignoring facts that are staring me right in the face. I habitually lied to myself for a long time, and I find it hard to forgive the person I was during those years I spent under my own spell. The narratives I told myself often hid in plain sight, simmering somewhere just below the surface. I was too scared to dig anything up for fear of the turmoil it might cause within my life. So I bottled things up, put on a brave face and carried on. Until I couldn’t carry on any longer.

During my teen years, I struggled with my relationship to my body and, inevitably, the food I ate (or didn’t eat.) When I was eleven, I injured my back and as a result, gained a lot of weight and began to look like a woman, the one thing every young female gymnast fears most. My comeback was a struggle until I learned my body could change if I increased my cardio and hours of training while choosing to eat fewer carbs, so that is what I did. My coaches told me how good I looked, and everything was well. For a time.

As the years progressed, I became anorexic at a severity that was just mild enough I could continue to function and train at a high level, albeit not that well. I figured I was still eating food, so there was no way I had become “anorexic.” The word brought about images of girls tied to hospital beds, stick thin and fighting for their lives, and I resisted this idea, hard.

I was determined to be strict with my diet and exercise regime because it made me “feel better” within my body. Nothing wrong with that, right? Wrong. You can be a “healthy eater” and still be anorexic if the amount of calories you burn in a day far exceeds the fuel you take in. My body began feeding on my muscles when my fat reserves had dropped to something nearly non-existent. Still, I held on.

For a long time, every single decision I made was made out of fear.

I chose to eat the way I did in an attempt to control my body. I feared I might get fat if I ate any other way. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was a girl who was still too bulky, not the shell of myself I’d become. I was never elegant or pretty or thin enough for my idea of beauty. So I restricted myself and kept on running.

Eventually, my parents intervened at a point when my obsession was becoming life-threatening. I began to understand only months into my recovery how thin I had really been. The image I’d seen when I looked in the mirror did not match what other people had seen at all. This scared me more than anything else – the fact that the mind could play such a huge role in my perception of reality terrified me to the core.

Recovery has been a long, winding road with many tears, twists and turns. As I nourished my body with wholesome foods, I put on weight and began to have more energy once again. I had good people in my life there to reassure me when the mind games became too much, and their love helped me find a way through. No, you’re not eating too much. No, you’re not fat. Remember, you trained for five hours today? 

When I came out on the other end, I had treated the symptoms of anorexia. This was a huge accomplishment in of itself. But the underlying root of the problem that had caused this threat to my life, it was still there.

Hidden within the stories I told myself was a deeper belief that was holding me back from living a life of true joy.

Sometime in my early teens, I developed the belief that nothing I did was ever good enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t worthy of a beautiful life. I wasn’t worthy of love. Having grown up in the cutthroat world of women’s artistic gymnastics, my definition of success relied heavily upon outward appearances and one’s ability to be at the top of their field. I may have told myself these things didn’t matter to me, but the stories I’d consumed growing up were embedded in my mind. I didn’t believe in my own story of success – not yet.

My fractured relationship with myself gave space for others to sneak in and further undermine my confidence. I thought I didn’t deserve respect, so I didn’t stand up for myself. I felt I had “failed” in the past, so I told myself I was a failure. I had been known to act out of fear at times, and so I labelled myself a coward.

This is why I say the stories we tell ourselves are so powerful: they literally have the ability to shape our reality, whether we would like it that way or not. We need to learn to seperate the things we experience in life from our deepest beliefs about ourselves.

Language is incredibly powerful, but we use it so carelessly at times. I would like to remind you that having had your heart or trust broken once is different from being broken. Having experienced failure within something you care about does not mean you are a failure. Your outward appearance does not determine your worth as a human being and more than that, you are so much more than enough.

The truth is, the heart is an intricate thing. In time, as we grow closer to certain people in our lives, the lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’ begin to blur. Susan Piver, an author and longtime Buddist practitioner, explains in this podcast how in any deep relationship, the way we treat ourselves becomes the way in which we treat others. If we learn to show up for ourselves with the acceptance that we are ever-changing human beings who can be strong and kind and fearful and angry all at once, we are able to meet our fellow humans with a deeper sense of compassion, knowing they too experience all these things.

In order to be gentle and understanding with others, we must first learn to be gentle and understanding with ourselves.

For me, this year has been a lesson in healing and the value in being honest with oneself. Satya, as it is known in Sanskrit, is the practice of truth-telling in all domains of life. As it turns out, it is easy to say you value honesty, but it is so, so challenging to practice it for yourself. It takes great courage to stand up for what you believe in when you know there is an easier way.

I look back now, and sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t chosen bravery that moment back in January that changed my life. Sometimes you make a decision that sets off a chain reaction, and that’s exactly what I knew this moment was for me. Even then. It was absolutely terrifying but I couldn’t bear the thought of staying where I was a moment longer.

My life would likely look much different if I hadn’t tipped over that first domino that led to so much change and heartache. Would I have been truly happy? Probably not. Perhaps, in time. But I wouldn’t be standing in this beautiful moment sharing these words here with you. And that, for me, is enough.

In the end, fear never really disappears. It just manifests itself in different ways. The key is to learn to sit with our fears and doubts and give them space to breathe. Courage does not exist in the absence of fear, but rather, because of it. Do not let your fear write the stories you tell yourself every day. Do not give doubt the pen. You are the author of your own life, even if you forget now and then.

There is no right or wrong in life, only the path we choose. It is, however, vital for us to remember that one, simple fact as we go through our days: we have the power to choose.

So what is your truth? What story do you choose?

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 Here Now

Some days, my mind can be a very noisy place. Today is one of those days.

It can be extremely hard to write when my brain is busy trying to process a million things at once. As a matter of fact, it can be extremely hard to do anything at all. Making to-do lists and filing memories into the appropriate file cabinets so that they-may-not-be-lost-when-I-should-wish-to-retrieve-them takes up a lot of mental space. I am moving in less than a week, I have no idea what my life will look like in six months and holy shit, where did the last year go?

I swear, sometimes my thoughts travel at a speed that gives Light a run for its money. There is no way to keep up with them all, so I find myself just sitting here watching them pass as I try desperately to focus on the task at hand.

There are fruit flies buzzing around my kitchen as I stand here this morning, and today I feel like I share their attention span. Either that or I have evolved to possess the mental capacity of a goldfish. Go figure. Go Fish. Maybe I should go play cards or clean the kitchen instead. That sounds like a good idea… or not – maybe not.

Sometimes people tell me they admire what they call my “self-discipline.” They covet the ability to choose a task, to focus and get it done, something that is not so easy in a world riddled with distractions. But let me tell you something, it is not what it looks like at all. Where they see someone who has mastered the art of motivation or productivity, I am aware that the one thing that keeps me going are habits.

I know I must do handstands six days per week if I wish to grow as a hand balancer, so I do. If I want to be able to move with any level of ease, I know I must stretch every day, so I do. I have been making my bed every day at the very least since the age of ten, so it is not a question of whether or not I should do it when I get up in the morning – my hands are pulling at the sheets long before my groggy brain has a chance to suggest otherwise.

According to the University College London, it takes 66 days to wire in a new habit to the point of automaticity.This is just a fancy way of saying it becomes easier to do the new habit than it is to skip a day out of laziness, fatigue or lack of motivation when the time comes to do the thing that you know you should do.

Often times, we set goals for ourselves then forget about the thousands of tiny steps it will take to get us there. We imagine ourselves at the peak of the mountain before we’ve even begun our ascent. When it comes to actually do the work required to get us where we want to go in life, it is much easier to give up near the start than it is to stick it out past the messy middle and trudge through the trenches to our dreams.

As human beings, we are wired to avoid discomfort. It is how we survived for so many years when the elements were against us and an array of predators sought to see us dead. As tribal beings, our instinct tells us to do almost anything to avoid being cast out of the tribe. We seek the approval of others, and would often rather go places in groups than strike out on our own.

Spending time alone can make us feel deeply uncomfortable. When you have nothing around to distract you, you have no choice but to confront the thoughts that follow you around all the time. Sometimes these thoughts upset us or make us question our decisions in life. As uneasy as this process may make us feel, it is invaluable to step back and observe the patterns of your own mind.

I’ve noticed there is a cyclical nature to my thoughts – my brain likes to run itself in circles around the same ideas, like a dog chasing its tail with little success and no end in sight. These thoughts usually circle back to either the past or the unknown future, things over which I have virtually no control.

If it takes only 66 days to wire in a new habit, we must be careful what habits we choose to wire in. Even the way in which we process our thoughts and the things that happen to us in life can become a habit if we are not mindful of where our brain routinely wanders to.

There is a point when looking to the past in order to sort through your feelings is no longer healing – it becomes rumination over things you cannot change. There is a point where planning and dreaming about the future becomes a habit of living in a time you cannot yet see.

At some point, we just have to let go and be present, as scary as that may seem. We have to accept the choices that have brought us here and make peace with those forces we cannot control. If we don’t, our life will fly by before our eyes, before we have a chance to grasp the beauty that was right there before us all along.

Over the years, I have become intimately familiar with the process of creating habits. Writing is one place where I have struggled to keep these habits more than anything else. Creative endeavours require their own special brand of motivation, and sometimes I go to the shelves to find it is simply out of stock.

I have never quite mastered the art of stillness – there is much I have yet to learn in the ways of calming the brain. My ability to write relies heavily upon my ability to exist in the moment and be present with my thoughts. If I worry what people might think of my work as I am trying to get it out of my head and onto the page, there is no way I will be able to write what needs to be said. I have to give myself the permission to wander down unknown avenues, to be in the moment and trust that the process will take me where I need to go.

It is only recently I have been able to recognize these patterns that live within my mind. When I notice I have spent a period of time stuck in the past or worrying about the future, I force myself to slow down and come back to the moment.

Your five senses are a gift. Use them. Try to distinguish the flavours of your food each time you take a bite. Take note of textures and subtle sounds. What does the air feel like today? What colour is the sky? What do you smell when you first step outside, what noises do you hear?

This is what it is to be truly alive. When I notice I have been absent from my life for a time and pull myself back to where I am, I feel like a literal weight has been lifted off my forehead. It is a much happier, lighter way to live. I am working on being a little more present every day.

As Hagrid once said, “No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Doubt

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

A very wise man once said these words. As a hand balancer, I am reminded of their truth on a daily basis. If you can’t understand why on earth anyone would spend hours of their day trying to stand on their hands, I would tell you that it remains a mystery to me as well. For me, handstands are akin to a moving meditation. There is a feeling in the practice I have not been able to find in anything else – I do not know of a word that exists to describe it. I only know I am at home upside down, and so I continue the habit.

Handstands are a lesson in patience. Like anything else in life, some days are better than others; but unlike many things in life, the ups and downs make themselves tangible in a very visible way.

In a world of instant gratification, the art of hand balancing is an anomaly. It is a humbling reminder of the importance of consistent hard work over time. Sometimes when I am training in public places, people approach me and ask me to teach them how to do what I do. I smile and give them a few pointers and basic exercises they can do on their own, but most often they are looking for something I cannot give them. They are looking for some secret to let them bypass the hours of work that are required to achieve a level of mastery in any skill, not just in what I do. The thing is, most people are not willing to go that far and dedicate the time required to accomplish what they think they want to achieve. They just want to be good already, yesterday, five years ago. But it doesn’t work that way.

 do it. Minutes turn into hours which turn into years before you really start to see any headway at all. Because progress comes so slowly, you must pause and look backwards, to where you were six months ago or the first time you managed to stay inverted for more than five seconds on your own. You are taught to celebrate the smallest wins because that is all there is.

Handstands are special because they are a direct reflection of what is going on inside. I can tell if I am frustrated or mentally exhausted from a long day of work in how easily the balance comes. If I am feeling extremely emotional or disconnected from my body, it shows. Doubt sidles up beside me and snakes his arms around my own. My elbows begin to wobble and my hands can’t quite find the sweet spot where I am comfortable on the floor. Some days, the only way I can describe the feeling is this: it’s like I am belly dancing while standing on a moving boat. All while in a handstand.

It’s not as fun as it sounds.

More often then not, it’s a mental game. Sure, there are days where my muscles are fatigued from overtraining or I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. But I can usually overcome these factors if I can get into the right space in my head. The moment I allow Doubt a shot at the control panel is the moment I will fall. I forget the thousands of hours I’ve put into standing on my hands. If I can manage to stop consciously thinking about what I’m doing for thirty seconds and lighten up a little, my body takes over and I can suddenly balance again.

I experienced this phenomenon as recently as last night. I have struggled with Doubt for a long time, in many domains of my life. Doubt is a master of disguise. He and I are very well acquainted at this point, and I am only now beginning to understand his many sides. We’ve gone on a number of late night walks in which I let all my deepest fears fall on his sympathetic ears. He knows all my biggest aspirations as well, and he likes to use this to his advantage – not in a way that is conducive to my growth as a human being, but rather successful in keeping me exactly where he wants me. That is, not moving forward a single inch, but staying exactly where we are.

Recently, I’ve been able to identify some of his favourite tactics for getting into my head and manipulating my thoughts to suit him. There is that gentle, worried whisper, and the not-so-subtle whine. There are the times when he throws distasteful glances in my direction or when he gets up in my face and just shouts “WHY?”

My doubts are almost inextricably linked to a subconscious search for external validation, one I didn’t know I’d signed up for in the first place. I thought I could care less what other people think of me, but it turns out that assumption was wrong.

All this time, it seems I’ve been waiting for the right person to come along and tell me I am good enough when really, I need to see that in myself before I will believe anything anyone else says. For better or for worse, you only ever accept that which you believe you deserve.

We so easily fall into a pattern of thinking that says something needs to change before we will be satisfied with our life, be it our body, our financial situation or the relationships we are in. It’s like we are running a race chasing after the setting sun, and the horizon is our finish line. These extrinsic rewards or “markers of success” so often get tied up in what we believe about who we are, but they don’t need to. You don’t need to prove that you are worthy of fulfillment, of happiness or love – you already are, just the way you are.

I say this because I know. I’ve been there myself, a lot. It’s easy for me to get roped into thinking my years of experience in art and in life are negligible, simply because I am young. I’ve had a few people tell me as much, and for a time I grew to believe it. Sometimes I see all the people I perceive to be more skilled than I or more knowledgeable in their given field, and I get caught feeling like I am not good at what I do just because I see they are so amazing.

I am learning to appreciate the value of others without letting in diminish my perception of my own because everyone’s path is a little different. Just because my experience doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it is any less real or valuable. Each one of us is intelligent in our own way. If you can approach your daily interactions with this open mindset as opposed to one that is pretentious and closed, you will be surprised how much you can learn.

The stories we tell ourselves are incredibly powerful. Just look around at the people in your life, and you will see what I mean.

These stories have the ability to dictate how you go through life, how you overcome challenges and continue in the face of your fears. For a long time, I lost faith in my abilities to make even the simplest decisions – I was looking at all the places I had taken a wrong turn and ended up at a dead end, or had managed to lie to myself for a period of time when in my heart I knew something was wrong. I didn’t even trust my own feelings anymore, and so I allowed other people to tell me what I was feeling instead.

I had grown attached to the wrong story.

The way you see yourself refracts back out into the world, in the way you treat other people and even the earth itself. A person who knows their worth, who respects their own strengths and acknowledges their weaknesses is one who can respect the world around them. This is the kind of person I want to be.

Everyone deals with doubts and fears in everyday spaces where it does not serve them. We get to choose if we listen to what these voices have to say, or if we decide to call the shots instead. I used to scream at the walls when Doubt would show up to the one thing that brings me calm. Now, I just take a deep breath and quietly ask him to take a seat – I’ve got this one, thank you very much. I understand your concern, but I’ll be okay.

And know that you will be, too.

On Getting Started

Just start.

I tell myself this every single day. More often than not, I find deciding what to do and then taking the first step to be the most challenging part of any process, particularly when I am doing something creative. Which is, let’s be honest, pretty much every day.

There are a million different ways to be creative – creativity is not limited to the first few vocations that come to mind when you hear that word.

People often assume if they are not a writer, designer, or artist of some kind that they are not creative. This is a false pretense that comes from a society that loves to throw everyone and everything into neatly-labelled boxes and then tosses away the key. I find this assumption highly irritating. I would challenge you to take a closer look at the things you do every day and tell me you are not being creative in some way or another, whether that is cooking dinner for your family or finding a solution to a colleague’s crisis at work. Creativity is a hallmark quality of the human species, thank you very much. We would not be here today without it.

Maybe I am a little bit biased on this topic, but I don’t think that’s the case. I would consider myself a highly creative person in the more traditional sense of the word. I am an artist. I always have been, from the time I was very young. I loved making cards and drawings for the people in my life, for special occasions or just because I felt inspired to do so. In second grade, I was thrilled by a class we had called “Writer’s Workshop,” in which we would go from the idea phase of a story to producing an actual physical book. When I was ten, my Opa taught me how to sew, and I started my first company, Heart Balloon Ink. It was then that I learned my first lessons in branding and product design, and I would give all my friends handmade Pillows with a Purpose. (It was one way of marketing my creations, you know.)

Even as I spent hours with my mother, stitching together tiny felted creatures or crafting necklaces of hemp cord, holey seashells and beautiful beads, I grew to appreciate math and science all the same. I have a soft spot for solving formulas, and I loved my high school physics class. This analytical side of my brain goes directly against the philosophy that you can be skilled with a paintbrush or good with numbers, but never both.

I’ve always had the tendency to be a little rebellious, but not in the way you would think. I have never fit the mould of what is considered “normal.” Both an artist and a nerd, I am neither left brain nor right brain dominant, but instead, I like to sit somewhere in between. Making things is intrinsically satisfying for me, and my life is incomplete without it.

Maybe my love of creating comes from some genetic coding written into my DNA. Maybe it’s been passed down through my blood from the generations before me, from a time before computers and iPhones and TV.

I grew up in a close-knit family, the only kid among adults who loved to exercise their creativity in unconventional ways. My Opa was a bricklayer who then founded a construction company and built his own house. My Opa and Oma then established a world-class artistic gymnastics centre in the prairies so my mother could achieve her goal of reaching the Olympics, all without moving away from home.

After a successful career as an artistic gymnast and a stint of a few years where she coached in Guatemala, my mother went on to build her own space. What began as a dance studio has evolved into a vibrant training centre for the circus arts, none of which would have been possible without the help of my father. Dad is a creative engineer who did his masters in Robotics. He now spends his free time doing the rigging for the studio, designing and building original apparatus’ to compliment my mother’s wildest visions. They are a dream team come true.

In my family, if you want to do something, you find a way to make it happen.

This mentality was installed in me at such a young age that I never considered my entrepreneurial tendencies to be bold or rebellious at all. It was just the way things were done. Everyone in the inner circle of my family has lived many lives and is good at many things. I was taught that if you put in the time and worked hard enough, you could accomplish anything you set your mind to. Simple as that, right?

Except, sometimes it’s not so simple. When you’re young, you only see how brave or smart the adults in your life are, you don’t see everything they’ve struggled through in order to get to where they are. You don’t see their doubts and fears and the times they fought hard to make ends meet while working away at their dreams. You can’t understand why they encourage you down the “safer” of the paths laid out before you, why they say you should pursue the more logical of your aspirations when it’s because they don’t want you to have to struggle as they have. You can’t understand it, because you haven’t experienced it for yourself, and there are some things only living can teach us.

Creating things is extremely rewarding, but I will acknowledge there are days when it is also extremely hard. An idea can be so perfectly packaged in your head that you’re scared to take it out into the real world for fear that it may not live up to your lofty expectations. You can sit for hours with a blank canvas before you and a hand that refuses to move across the page, or fingers that refuse to type.

I find the first sentence is often the hardest for me to get right – I can most often fight my way through the middle of a piece, and there’s a burst of energy when you know you’re approaching the end. But without those first few words, I’m at a loss. I may have a vague idea where I’m going, but I haven’t found the right mode of transportation to get me there and I’m stranded until I do.

So some days, I tell myself, just start. Put something down on paper. It doesn’t have to be good. If it’s no good, no one ever has to see it. But you can’t edit what you can’t see, and I know there’s something in there just waiting to come out. C’mon, work with me.

Inspiration shows up every day you show up to work – some days it may just look a little different than others. Sometimes he’s wearing a suit, top hat and tie, and sometimes she shows up in baggy sweats and her ex-boyfriend’s t-shirt. And some days, the best days, Inspiration bursts into the room wearing hiking boots and a fully stocked backpack and announces the two of you are going on an adventure without further ado, are you ready yet? She’s been waiting all night and can’t wait to get on the road.

I don’t think I will ever fully understand how the human brain works. We are all wired so differently, and it is important to take the time necessary to figure out what makes each of us tick. For a long time, I struggled with the fact that I am passionate about so many things. I desperately wanted to narrow it down to just one or two, because somewhere along the line it got drilled into me that this was the only way to truly become world class at anything. The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither. Or at least, so they say.

The problem was, whenever I would try to jettison my many passions in favour of just one, I would end up restless and deeply unhappy.

I saw this as an affliction or some vital flaw in my wiring, and so I fought it – hard. In the last number of months, however, I’ve come to realize that maybe I’ve been looking at the “problem” all wrong. Maybe my love of many things is not my weakest point, but my greatest strength.

I am learning to be okay with the fact that my life may work in cycles. There are periods when I find I am drawing from an ever-flowing spring of words. Other times, my creativity is purely visual – I am all photography and illustration and graphic design. And then there are days beyond that where my mind is not working at all. I crave working with my hands or being in my body, knitting or dancing or sitting still. All are equally valuable acts of creation as I am working on the greatest piece of art my life will produce: the person I want to become.

But in order to get where I am going, I must take the first step. I must make a decision, any decision. Then I must begin.

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.