Musings on the year behind and the year ahead

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Another year comes to a close. 2016 brought so many triumphs, epiphanies, setbacks and moments of growth. I’ll be ringing in the new year at Bodega Ridge, with friends, food, bonfires, and surrounded by so much silence and loudness and spirit and nature. In a year where my need for connection to forests and the sea have been crystalized so clearly, it seems fitting for new beginnings to unfold in this setting. I continue to struggle to find the balance between my life in Toronto and my life out here on the West Coast.

Thoughts for the new year:

  • Whenever I talk to people about the writing workshops that I’m running, their eyes light up. It’s encouraging and empowering, and I can’t wait to see how these workshops grow in 2017.
  • I’ve relied on my science brain, and pure facts for a long time, and though I’m a really emotional, intuitive, sensitive person, I often try to distance myself from this aspect of my personality. Why? This year, I’m going to do my best to lean into the feeling side of myself more.
  • I did a tarot card reading for the new year with an old friend and a new friend, and one thing that came up was how I use charisma and humour to keep an arms length in intimate relationships, to avoid coming across as vulnerable. This practice is not helping me on any fronts, and I need to start allowing myself to be open up to people more deeply. Especially in romantic situations.
  • Also yes I am into tarot card readings, and burning sage, and crystals, and the universe, and all of that modern spirituality garbage, and I should probably just be real with myself about that and accept it. AMIRIGHT?!
  • I have all of the skills and experience that I need to take the next steps in my career, and life in general, and I just need to stop doubting myself. I don’t need to study more, or get a certificate, or take a workshop, I just need to do it. Action. Action Action.
  • I’ve spent half the year with mild injury and it’s been frustrating, but also a good lesson in balance, taking care of myself, and listening to my body. I always knew that physical activity was important to me, but it was taken to a next level in 2016. I am stronger than I have ever been in my life, and in the year ahead, I intend to be even stronger. I intend to lift weights, and run up mountains, and swim in the ocean, and row, and play sports, and bike, and adventure, and do all of the things, and feel strong and free and empowered in my own body. And through writing, and example, I want to help other people to feel this way too.
  • In the same vein as vulnerability in person, I’m going to become more vulnerable in my writing. I always tell myself that I should be writing more academic, well-researched thought pieces, and that’s fine, but in reality I think that the thing that I really have to offer in my personal writing is from the more personal.
  • I am very self-critical, so I can also take offers of help from other people as critical. Again, why? I’ve been doing a lot of self work in the past months checking my own feelings when it comes to self judgement and perceived judgement from others. It’s been hard. I grew up feeling that nothing was ever good enough for my parents, and this feeling carried over into adulthood. It’s hard to shake. It’s a process. And in the process of becoming less critical of myself, I’m also hoping to become less critical of others.
  • More listening to my gut.
  • More courage.
  • More adventure.
  • More stillness.
  • More work.
  • More strength.
  • More friends.
  • More sweat.
  • More vulnerability.
  • More connection.
  • More life.

Happy New Year all. May you find your north star, your tribe, and your bliss – whatever that may be – in the year to come.

Leading a life of leisure

The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and she mentioned that she recently made an effort to start learning Japanese again. It’s something that she’s always wanted to do, and though she has no immediate use for it in her daily life, it makes her feel really happy. Building on my last post, and the idea of physical activity just for the sake of being physical, I challenge you to make time to take up one hobby that you’ve been thinking about forever and ever JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT.

Just because you take up writing, doesn’t mean that you have to be working on a novel, or posting to a blog. It doesn’t matter if you’re terrible at drawing if it brings you pleasure; you don’t have to have a show one day, or even ever share it with anyone if you don’t want to; just do it because you like it. Do you like crafting? That’s great! You can do it without ever making an Etsy store. Do you like cooking fancy dinners? Do it just for you! You can have a dinner party if you want; or don’t. Have you always wanted to learn the cello? Take lessons! For fun!

Too often, there’s the expectation that every hobby we take up, or activity we partake in, has to be associated with a goal, or outcome, or has to turn into a side hustle. And there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want. But it’s also important to remember that it is completely legitimate and valid and NICE to do things just because they make you feel happy. It’s good to have goals – goals can give you a sense of purpose in life, and help you to feel accomplished and like you’re contributing something to the world. But it’s also good to do things without any expectation that they have to be productive.

You don’t even have to rationalize your ‘just for fun’ activities if you don’t want to. You don’t need to share an article about how painting in your free time makes you a better parent because some study found that it increases your ability to empathize with your children. You don’t need to justify learning a new language because actually you noticed that your industry is expanding into this market and it could be useful in the future. You don’t need to do crosswords, because you read somewhere that it will help you to stave off senility by increasing cognition, and also will somehow enhance your sex life through self perceived increase in intelligence and therefor projected confidence. You can take up activities for those reasons if you want to and that’s fine. But you can also just forget all of that shit; every last bit of it; and do something because it makes you smile. That is absolutely fine too.

Physical activity and personal fortitude

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At the core of every change in my life, there has always been physical activity.

In high school, it was every single sport. When I first moved to Vancouver as a teen, it was long solo bike rides, and intramural basketball. When I went through a rough breakup in my 20s, I turned to yoga. When I moved to Toronto 3 years ago, I took up running again. And recently, I’ve been working more and more on strength training.

Exercise is always there in one form or another, but when I’m seeking real change in other areas of my life, I usually undertake some kind of measurable physical challenge.
The past year has been filled with a lot of uncertainty. I left my job, and spent a lot of time hopping back and forth between Toronto and the West Coast, wondering what to do next. And because I needed something in my life that I felt sure of, I trained for my first ultramarathon. With all of the things in my life that were beyond my control, or that seemed nebulous and unsure, this was one major challenge that I could diligently work towards, that wasn’t entangled with the same complications as all of the other decisions in my life. I could just run. And in running a great distance, I could prove to myself that I had the fortitude, strength, and discipline to accomplish this one big thing, even if I was feeling a little lost about where to direct my energies in my career, and in daily life.

Then the fall hit, and I spent a lot of time travelling, and I fell a little out of my routine. I took a break from running because of injury, and took a break from the gym because I was mostly out of town. And that’s fine. Sometimes our bodies need rest, and sometimes as people, we just need a break from commitments and routine. But a month in, I was getting antsy. And I finally made some decisions about my life. For years, I’ve been saying, “I want to live in Toronto AND in BC! I want to work on all of these side projects! I want variety in my life!”, but instead of doing anything about it, I kind of just put the idea that I could make that happen on a shelf, and kept looking for a full-time job that I knew that I would never be fully satisfied with. Why? Because trying to do things differently is scary. TBH, every week I waffle back and forth between feeling like this is a great idea, and everything is going to be amazing, and thinking that it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m going to be broke as fuck, and actually just fucked in general if I keep thinking that full-time freelance is going to be a thing that I can do without just completely burning out while at the same time not getting anywhere. And by the way, who do I even think I am anyways? JUST GET A JOB, DUMMY.

But there is one important thing that I can do that always makes me feel better and stronger and more capable; that let’s me know deep in my bones that I’ve made the right decision; and that I know what I’m doing. And that thing is physical activity. Yes, there is also maintaining relationships with friends, and informational interviews, and hustle, and eating right, and other forms of self care. But nothing makes me feel so completely in control of my own destiny, and empowered and sure of my own strength, as overcoming physical goals. So I’m back at the gym, five days a week. I’m back running three times a week. I’m rowing, and lifting weights, and sprinting up hills. I’m pushing myself until my muscles shake and my lungs burn. And it’s not because I want to fit into a dress, or lose weight, or get my body beach ready. It’s because physical activity gives me a clarity of mind that I just can’t get anywhere else. And somehow, the more I build physical strength, the more this strength of body somehow spills over into strength in every other aspect of my life as well. It’s like I’m physically building myself a well that I can draw on for the energy that I need in other parts of my life.

I know that if physical activity isn’t a part of your every day life, that it can be really hard to get started. Maybe you’ve never been active; maybe you were teased as a kid and you hated sports; maybe you recently had a baby and you feel estranged from your own body; maybe you just think that exercise is stupid and it doesn’t fit in with your personal narrative about yourself.

I’m going to make you a promise though – if you find one physical thing that you think you could possibly like, and just try it for a while, let’s say once a week for three months to start, you will start to notice a change. Not necessarily in the way you look. You might not lose weight, or get swole, or have a thigh gap. But you will feel differently. Slowly that thing that you were dreading will become something that you look forward to. The thing that was so hard will become easy. And over time, your body will surprise you. Rather than being a fleshy vessel that you inhabit, it will become a source of personal fortitude.

So this blog post is part personal essay, part challenge. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, or you’ve never been active at all, give yourself the space to just give it a try. Not to “get fit”, or fast, or slim, or whatever, but to build your well. I know that getting started sucks, but I promise that one day down the road you will wake up and realize that physical activity has changed your life. All you have to do is keep showing up.