What are some major life goals that you have achieved that you are thankful for?
Facebook reminded me yesterday that on October 30/31st last year, I was sleeping on the side of a dormant volcano, right next to an actively erupting volcano, and I awoke to the most stunning view of my life:
Climbing these volcanoes had been an ever-present goal in front of me since early in 2016, as I gazed upon their peaks each day. I started working out and running to work towards this goal, and finally, on October 30, I climbed Acatenango (6 hours straight up) and then still had energy to climb FUEGO, which was rumbling and spewing lava!!!!
Achieving this goal gave me such a feeling of pride, internal force (and lava!) and motivation to accomplish my future goals!
Facebook also reminded me that on October 30, 2015, I flew to Scotland to meet up with a new friend I’d encountered in Spain (who is still a very good friend) for the fire festival in Edinburgh!!
But this year, October 30th is the biggest accomplishment of all, as I saw my first clients – a whole family – for art therapy, here in Canada, my first clients as an art therapist in my own country!! I was nervous and worried that maybe I’d forgotten how to do art therapy as I haven’t done it one-on-one since Guatemala!! But I was relieved to discover that I STILL GOT IT!!! It came naturally and it seemed to go really well.
Climbing a volcano or travelling to Edinburgh are things a lot of people can do, but actually working in the field I love and self-actualising as an art therapist, that is something that has taken me a lifetime to realise.
I am thankful for all of these big moments on my life journey.
What are some major life goals that you have achieved that you are thankful for?
#lifegoals #arttherapy #dreamcometrue #inspiration #youcandoit
I am sorry.
I forgive you.
I love you.
These are four sentences that I have been repeating to myself lately in my process of healing and growth. Yes, to myself. I am sorry for my mistakes, I forgive myself for them, I thank myself for being authentic, vulnerable, and courageous in this life, and remind myself that I love myself.
The last time I posted, I had just returned to Canada from over a year in Guatemala – and let me tell you, ever since, I have been learning from and processing a LOT, almost constantly, though mostly unconsciously, about my time in that country and in that orphanage. Suddenly in the past month, I’ve been confronted with how I have not been facing what that experience meant to me, and how it has impacted me. I have suddenly crashed into the realization that I’ve been suppressing memories and emotions, and doing my best to numb and distract myself for about 8 months.
When you live abroad, it affects you, changes you, and expands your worldview. I’ve done it several times. But when you LIVE IN AN INSTITUTION for a YEAR of your life, the ripple effects can surprise you. Almost everyday that I lived in the orphanage, and walked across the huge field separating the kid’s houses from my house, I found myself internally saying “only X more months to go” and “I can get through this”. I know now that I was tensed and braced and defending my heart and mind for an entire year! Only now, in the past month, am I loosening my grip and allowing the painful process of letting go, releasing, allowing, and actually looking at and feeling what I couldn’t allow myself to do while I was living there.
I sometimes worry that I will be unpacking this experience forever; however, as long as I am gentle with myself and accepting of whatever feelings arise as I peel back the layers, I am hoping it will allow me to grow and blossom and that the seeds that fell on the soil of my heart don’t turn to bitterness and rot.
For now, I can say that though my time living in that orphanage in Guatemala was very emotionally and mentally difficult, and though my self-esteem is still in deep recovery, I am thankful for the awakening that is unfolding from it.
I am thankful for each child there and the lessons they taught me about defences and how they can help us or hurt us.
I am thankful for the children who trusted me to help them and be with them in my art therapy room.
I am thankful for the few adults who actually really had the children’s best interest at heart.
I am thankful for the few friends I made there – your love and acceptance carried me through that year and I wouldn’t have stayed without your friendship. You were my bedrock.
I am thankful for the beauty of the nature in Guatemala – the powerful volcano that greeted me each day, the emerald green, rolling landscape, the vibrant flowers, the rippling lake. Your beauty soothed my weary soul.
I am also, I feel, more capable of being extra thankful for what I have in CANADA now – there’s nothing like living far from everything you have had and known to appreciate what you do indeed have.
I am thankful for having family and friends around me who LOVE ME AND CHALLENGE ME TO BE BETTER AND ALSO ACCEPT ME AS I AM! I lived with a group of volunteers who were, honestly, toxic. There was no love or understanding or acceptance, only competition, immaturity, and judgement. Leaving that behind was one of my biggest sighs of relief!
I am thankful for safety! I can walk down the street, even at night, and not worry that I will be kidnapped! We could only leave the orphanage during the day, and walk 7 minutes to the nearby town, but to get there we had to cross a bridge over a garbage-strewn stream, and there had been many kidnappings and attempted kidnappings and robberies on this bridge. Now I can walk around free, but I am conscious that many in this world cannot.
I am thankful for the work women have done in Canada to educate men about the value of women and that we are more than just sex objects or wombs to carry your children. We still have work to do, and men have much spiritual and emotional work to do to change millennia of viewing women as lesser, but I do not feel objectified or oppressed to the degree that I did in Guatemala. Here I have value for my brains and experiences and heart. Here, the rate of femmecide is MUCH LESS. I pray for the women in Guatemala that they hold fast to their intrinsic value and stand up for their rights.
These are not easy gratitudes, for they come with 1) the knowledge of what I didn’t have for a year of my life and how that is still affecting me and 2) what many continue to not have, and have never had, though they have the right to these basic things: safety, respect, and love. I have to live with this knowledge and with the feeling of powerlessness that sometimes washes over me. That is what I am living with and processing now, and at times it is very heavy. All I can say to the beautiful people who crossed my path is:
I am sorry.
I forgive you.
I love you.
First of all, how do I live?
Well some, including me, would say I’ve lead a pretty crazy, adventurous, out-there, and unconventional existence so far (although now I’m meeting 20 year-olds who’ve already gone to twice as many places as I have). See what you think:
When I was 18 I took a bus across Canada from Ontario to the Yukon to house-sit for a senior nun for the summer. (about 100 hours on the bus one-way btw!)
When I was 19 I went to Indonesia and taught English for a year.
Then I moved to Halifax and went to art school, which is crazy by any standard out there! I also got elected to students’ council and lead several student protests.
Halfway through art school I got bored (a.k.a. academics and stress gave me a nervous breakdown) and decided I needed to do something more real and in-line with my values, so I moved to Toronto to live and work with refugees for 8 months.
After finally completing art school I moved to Victoria B.C. to try to make (part of) my living as an artist selling my art on the street, while also getting a certificate to teach ESL
Victoria was far too middle-class, white, (and expensive) for my tastes so I flew to France, travelled around with a friend in his VW van, then from Italy I took a boat to Turkey where I worked on a few organic farms for a few months.
I was getting low on funds, so from Turkey I flew to South Korea and started teaching English there (ended up doing so for 2 years and 3 months).
In-between teaching gigs in Korea, I travelled to Peru and Bolivia with my best friend Corinne, oh, and I became a Baha’i (but that’s for another blog).
After Korea, life got pretty normal for about 3 years when I taught English to International students in a college in my hometown of London, Ontario.
During all of this teaching English stuff, I realized something was missing and finally concluded that my calling was to be an art therapist and if I didn’t do it, I would forever wonder “what if?!”
So in 2012 I moved to Montreal, learned French, and began the long, trying process of applying for the sole masters in art therapy degree in Canada. I finally got in and started in Fall 2013 and graduated in 2015.
At that point, my dad had asked me if I wanted to walk over 500 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with him, so that seemed like the next logical thing to do.
While walking the Camino, my mantra was “May the eyes of my heart be open” which I repeated about 100 times a day while walking 6-7 hours a day across the north of Spain until we reached León. (See, I was finally an art therapist, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with that – where I was meant to be, where I could be of most service).
I decided to leave the Camino and travel around Spain and visit old/make new friends, which is when I applied for a volunteer position doing art therapy with children in an orphanage in Guatemala!
Just before I flew to Scotland for the Fire festival on Halloween, I found out I had been accepted for the position in Guatemala, and I had better start becoming fluent in Spanish by early December, since the job started in January 2016!
I moved toGuatemala, learned Spanish, and spent 2016 learning way more from living in that orphanage than anything else in my life had previously prepared me for.
Just when I told myself I didn’t need any more crazy challenges, I applied to volunteer for The Red Pencil International, an art therapy organization that partners with on-the-ground NGOS in various relief/humanitarian missions. I was accepted to go to India for 6 weeks to work with women survivors of domestic violence/acid attacks.
I list all of these highlights (because really, the real living takes place in all the moments and details in-between!) to now answer the question of “how do you live like you live?!”
There are many answers for this but here is what presently comes to my heart and mind (in no particular order):
Of course, maybe you’re saying, it’s easy for me to live this way since I am single and I have such helpful parents. But I believe this way of living – following my heart, travelling a lot, doing meaningful work – a lot of my freedom comes from not investing in having stuff (more stuff than I need) and not putting my energy and money into consuming what I really don’t need. I just watched a great documentary that in fact inspired this blog post, it’s called MINIMALISM and I think there are reasons that this way of living (and it CAN be done with kids in tow!!) is catching on: people are realizing that just working so that you can live paycheque to paycheque, and spending all of your hard-earned pay on getting more stuff which doesn’t really fulfil you anyway, it’s not cutting it.
How many times have I heard “yeah but when are you going to come back to living real life?” If “real life” is feeling stuck, unhappy, in-debt, and stressed-out, then my answer is NEVER. Even when I’m living in my hometown I don’t subscribe to that lifestyle, though it’s very easy to fall into that way of thinking where you accept feeling stuck, unhappy, in-debt, and stressed-out because you convince yourself it is NORMAL. Because society tells us it is normal. It doesn’t have to be!
The point is, I have people who look at me with fear and/or admiration and say “how do you live like you live? I could NEVER live how you live.” Well maybe travelling all over the world and volunteering isn’t for everyone, but at the core of how I’m choosing to live my life is my belief that I OWN THIS ONE LIFE, and that it is precious, and that I’m going to do my best to live it without regrets because I’ve done what I feel called to do during my time on this planet. If you are operating from similar beliefs, no matter what that looks like, then you ARE living your life just like crazy ol’ me! But in YOUR OWN style.
P.S. – Here’s an amazingly good, kick-you-in-the-pants, motivational video in case you need some inspiration! It’s called “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives”. Boom!
What are the best lessons learned (for me at the orphanage Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos – and for you in 2016?)
What are you most proud of?
What will you miss (this one’s mainly for me I guess)
What are your top 5 experiences of the year?
My best lessons learned from NPH/2016:
To care LESS!! Yes, this sounds possibly negative, but it isn’t. For someone like me who gets incensed/irritated/angry about anything that has the slightest whiff of rudeness or injustice, this year has put me to the test! I have been learning not to care about whatever I cannot control – ie. the behaviour of others, chaos around me, cultural practices etc. The only thing I can control is MY REACTION to things, and my own actions. That is IT. If I get pissed off every time I see something I don’t like – whoa – recipe for early heart-attack or some horrible preventable illness. So I still care, but trying to care less about crap I can’t control or change.
Most results are invisible. I have been trying to plant seeds all year in the hearts and minds of the kids and I so far have only seen a few tiny sprouts of the evidence of this work. Like Bishop Oscar Romero said: “This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.” The test is to keep the faith that the work we do/have done will take root. But it is likely we will never see the results. We have to do the work anyway. (at least you mothers will see the fruits of your labor – all of the values you are instilling in your kids is taking root – I assure you. I was blessed with parents who taught me a love of life, a curiosity about the world, a sense of compassion for the poor, and lit my light of spirituality. I am the result of their love and hard-work!)
Friendship really is about quality not quantity. I already knew this, but I relied on and completely felt the power of only a few friendships getting me through the hardest parts of this year! I couldn’t have done it without their love for me and my worth mirrored in their eyes, and I know I will now have these friends for life. For LIFE!
People (especially kids) react and respond to you based on the message you give them: If you say over and over that they are bad, lazy, hyper, mean etc. they will receive that message and give back more of that. When I have looked into some of the kids’ eyes and told them I believe in them, that I know they are capable of changing their behaviour, that they are kind, that they do care and that I know above all despite their actions that they are good, they have responded in kind. Some have tried to prove me wrong, but I’ve seen the light catch and spark in their eyes when they hear from someone that they are good.
Not everyone will like you, but those who do are the only ones who really count, and are worth your time and energy. This one speaks for itself.
I am most proud of
Not giving up. I seriously thought about leaving the orphanage many many times. I didn’t. I did my best under the circumstances I was living in. I’ve learned that I have a heart of 1 part rock, 1 part gold, 1 part mush, and a core of pure light (as we all do!)
My work as an art therapist. There were many many many priceless, healing, powerful moments with the kids this year. May we all learn to love art/expression and give ourselves to it with abandon as much as kids do.
For standing up for myself again and again and not accepting rude, mean treatment. It didn’t stop the behaviour, and I could have stood up for myself with less force at times, but I did what I had to do to defend my personhood. No matter what, I’m glad that I didn’t allow people to trample me down.
Learning and cultivating what my body is capable of – ie. running a 5km race, climbing a very very steep volcano, eating whatever was put in front of me and making the most of it.
What I will miss
Hugs from the kids, kissing the tops of their heads, hearing their laughter, seeing their smiles.
The warm weather of Guatemala!!!!!!
The stunning views all around me – volcanoes, green rolling hills, humming-birds, the shimmering lake
The COLOURS!! Guatemalan textiles are probably the most colourful in the world and the mayan women wear them rain or shine. They are vibrant, dazzling, and fill my heart with my love of colour. I will miss these when I go back to Canada where everyone tends to wear black all winter! I think I’ll cover my walls with pictures I’ve taken here to keep the colours present.
My friends who I won’t see for (probably) a long long time. My two closest friends here are from Italy and New Zealand!!
Black beans. I know I can find and cook these in Canada, but they won’t be the same!
My top 5 experiences from 2016:
Hugs and love from the kids who let me into their hearts – hearing them say “Gracias, Hailey!”
Climbing volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango – seeing Fuego erupting in front of me!!
Seeing my friends and family back in Canada when I came home for a visit in July – feeling the love all around me and dancing to world music at Sunfest!
Running a 5km race! I proved to myself that I could do it and I didn’t slow down or walk once! (I only started learning how to run in April).
Swimming in Lago Atitlan – the waters there are…. magical? There’s something about them that soothed and healed my soul.
Extra #6: Traveling with my Dad. My dad and I discovered that we actually are great travel buddies when he came to visit me in Guatemala over Christmas. We had some happy and fun adventures together.
Extra #7: The (international) friendships I made. Really, I have felt amazed over and over by the beautiful people I attracted into my life and who continue to be inspirational, loyal, loving friends: Mayzy (Hawaii), Saydy and family (San Pedro), Juan Carlos (Guatemala), Emily Rose (Arizona), Wilmer (Guatemala), Reynaldo (Mexico), Mireia (Spain), Vanessa (New Zealand), and Suea (Italy). You are now part of my tribe and I’ll never forget you. Be forewarned – I’m very very loyal, so you’ll never get rid of me! hahahaaaa!
Why not reflect on these same questions for yourselves and send me your answers (either here or to firstname.lastname@example.org )
After a year like this, I’m excited for and curious about what adventures and challenges 2017 will bring! Bring it on – now I know I can handle anything!
If you had told me a year ago that I would or even COULD run a 5km race, I would have laughed. 5km doesn’t seem like much to some, but I’ve never seen myself as an athletic person, nor have I ever been a runner.
At least, that is, until I decided to climb a volcano. See, about 2 months ago I climbed a very tall (almost 4000 meters tall) volcano, which many had reported was the hardest thing they’d ever done. What???
I got to Guatemala back in December 2015, and already knew I wanted to see lava, since I was in the land of volcanoes! And how perfect – Acatenango and Fuego (a VERY active volcano) were both visible from the orphanage where I was living. How hard could it be? But then the reports started coming in from other volunteers who climbed it: “I would NEVER do it again – but it was amazing!” or “hardest climb I’ve ever done!” and this was coming from RUNNERS!
I started to have doubts that I could hack it, since I never saw myself as a runner or even remotely close to athletic. So when a friend asked if i’d like to climb it with him back in April 2016 my response was “oh nooooo, I’m nowhere near in shape for that!” To which he responded “ok, then we’ll start training you and you’ll be ready in no time!” He started sending me daily whatsapp messages outlining my training for the day. I started to climb the 50 steep stairs outside volunteer houses, and soon was doing 10 reps of those, squats, push-ups, lunges, and even the dreaded “burpees”!!
Then it was time to start running. I started off running 30 seconds, walking 1 minute. Then running 1 minute, walking 1 minute. Then running one minute, walking 30 seconds, and so on, until I could run for 3, 4, 5 minutes without needing to stop and walk! by September 2016 I was running 3 kilometers in about 21 minutes, without stopping. I knew it was time to
a) hike that volcano
b) sign-up for a run to keep myself motivated.
I signed up for a 5km run in Antigua for December 5th and then soon other volunteers were also signing up. My good friend Vanessa didn’t run, but she came along for moral support for my first run ever! I didn’t care too much about what time I set, as long as I just finished the darn run! It was on a dirt track through a coffee farm. It turned out to be fun (though really tough) and another volunteer decided to run along-side me even though she was faster than me. Whenever I’d start lagging, she’d smile and say “si se puede! I know you can do it!”
and you know what? I did it! I finished the run and felt
great! exhausted and like my lungs were going to implode – but I did it!
This year has been full of challenges that at times seems impossible for me – as you can imagine, it’s not always easy living in an orphanage and doing therapy with troubled kids. Climbing the volcano was not easy, but it was nowhere near the “hardest thing I’ve ever done!” I’d never thought of myself as a runner until I just stopped overthinking it and just started doing it! 2016 showed me that you can do pretty much anything you put your mind to. For this, I am very grateful.