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Taking Care Of Myself

Self care can sometimes be taking a step that may not seem rational like quitting your job, walking away from friendships and relationships, or literally standing up and walking away from a situation whether it be an event, a conversation, or a space you don’t feel safe in. Self care can be realizing the stressors in your life and doing a mass removal of them. That is what I have been focusing on lately.

I’ve been choosing myself and my well being over everything else. I’ve walked away from people and things that bring negativity and stress in my life and instead started putting myself first again. I’ve gone to yoga class instead of obligations because it was what I needed more for my health. I’ve spent a weekend saying goodbye to things that weighed me down and spent my days going out in nature and taking photos and videos for the joy of the art.

IMG_0642I made a decision I had had enough of the toxic atmosphere I was in, of the ridicule there. So I stood up and walked out, turned my phone off and felt the weight of the stress melt off my shoulders with the warm sun. I had forgot how much I missed the sun and I went out to trails I use to know well. I watched the sun stream across the open fields of grass and smiled as I approached a trail marker and realized it was part of the Trans Canada Trail – something that is on my bucket list.

I didn’t spend long here but it put me into a state of existential contemplation. I thought of all the things on my bucket list and what they would look like. I thought of how my life is bigger than these stressful times. I thought of future adventures but I also wondered what these places would look like twenty years from now. I wondered how much of our Earth will still be this wild and beautiful and how much of it will be gone.

I finished my night of breaking away from negativity at a hot yoga class. Standing in tree pose (Vrikshasana) looking out the window at the mountains in the distance and the hue of pink blanketing the landscape with the setting sun. I knew 100% that I had made the right decision even if it meant consistent money wasn’t coming into my bank account anymore.

It was breaking away from that atmosphere that inspired me to go out and enjoy my freedom. When I woke up I was graced with another great sunny day and set out to new trails I had never been to before with my cameras. I wanted to go out and enjoy nature while also just taking photographs for me again, for the love of the art, not for anything else. It brought back that childlike joy of discovering a new place, exploring, and being in awe of the beauty.

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I watched the rapids of a waterfall mesmerized by the patterns and continued along the trail to see what awaited me. I found a perfect juxtaposition between peaceful green trails and thrills as I stood beside three waterfalls all interconnecting. There were many different waterfalls I got to capture that day. I later sat at the top of one and as the water fell I looked down the canyon in front of me wondering how I could get down there to get photographs. It inspired a future adventure I knew I could accomplish to come up river into the canyon to get the photographs of the waterfalls from the perspective of the water below.

I haven’t had that much fun in a long time. As I walked back to my car I thought to myself how wonderful it felt to just go out with no time constraints, no expectations, not knowing what I would find but just enjoying it all. It’s what I miss most about travelling solo consistently – zero compromise. But it also reminded me the joy of discovering new things and just exploring for however long I wanted to so I could discover the area.

The next day I had to compromise to attend an event I didn’t want to be at. But it was a celebration because it was the last event volunteering for an NGO who had lost it’s way and gave me no appreciation for my huge contributions and dedication. As soon as the event finished I felt that same sense of freedom I had two days earlier with the weight of stress lifting off my shoulders. I was free from another constraint and knew that it opened me up to be able to seek out greater environmental opportunities.

kanaka-3I brought all that I needed to explore the area after the event if I still had energy. And luckily I not only had energy but the sun was still shining so I set off again out onto the trail to chase waterfalls. I rediscovered an area I hadn’t seen in 5 years and I worked hard to get the angles I wanted of the waterfalls despite fences or tourists everywhere. Despite the obstruction it was because of the fences that I was lead to a beach below where the water was so clear and beautiful I knew I had to come back on the next sunny day to swim. I looked out from the beach and saw rocks in the area that would be perfect for self portraits and I knew I had to return to capture the vision I had in my head (the feature photograph for this article is one of those).

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I didn’t want to retire from my adventures completely so I spent my last bit of daylight sitting in the forest with my watercolours. It was the first time in a long time I have remembered to bring them with me on an adventure to capture my inspiration with my words and paints instead of just my camera. I forgot how much fun it was to plein air paint. Eventually the mosquitos came out so I headed home to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day in a relaxed way with my mom.

me lynn canyon-5I did my research, checked out the weather and knew that I only really had one day where it was guaranteed sun to return back to the same spot for my swim and photographs. So a few days later I set off to get the portraits I had imagined in my head and to have my second polar swim of the year. I decided to again try to integrate video into my adventure, offering me the opportunity to experiment with a different artistic medium. It gave me so much joy creating something new and sharing my adventures with others from my days of freedom.

While drying off in the sun from my swim and packing up my gear I met someone from Spain visiting the area. I didn’t know at the time but he later told me that he was walking on the trail above while I swam and a guy made a comment to him about how crazy it was someone was swimming down there. He told me he had to come down to meet someone who would dare to swim in those waters.

This lead to one of my last adventures in my domino series of outdoor discovery. The next day was his last day in Vancouver and he had asked if I would meet him. While it wasn’t what I had planned I thought back to all the times I’ve been in a new city and a new friend I had met offered to take me on an adventure. It’s those spontaneous trips and memories that are the best I’ve had so I knew I wanted to pay it forward. I gave him a list of adventure ideas and he chose to do his first winter hike with me.

Despite a cloudy day we persevered out into the snow filled back country for a small hike hoping for the chance to catch a view through the clouds. Although that didn’t happen I still got to show him how to interact with the wild birds on their terms. I laughed to myself thinking “what a Canadian experience – in the snowy mountains having Canada’s national birds land on your hand”. As we headed down from the mountain we even had a deer cross the road near us. I was happy despite the lack of view it was a rich experience in wildlife.

It had been a great way to celebrate the Spring Equinox and as we returned to the city so did the sun. I got to enjoy the last little bit of sun we would have for awhile by the sea, excited to see blossoms in bloom on the trees. It was a great segue from winter to spring and into the next chapter of adventures to come.

It was because of that break out moment that I returned to the things that feel most rewarding in my life and bring me joy. I haven’t felt more inspired and free and joyous in a long time. Standing up for myself against people that don’t appreciate me and putting my mental health and joy first created a huge ripple effect through my life. It has significantly changed my level of happiness and creativity and productivity. I have created more in those 5 days than I have in months.

Never forget the power of putting what is best for you first. Never forget the power of walking away from things that are negative and no longer serve you (and knowing you don’t need to explain yourself if it’s going to fall on lost ears). Never forget the power of going after what you love and bringing joy into your days. I was grateful for the much needed reminder I ended up giving myself.

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The Cost Of Freedom

I’ve realized a prevailing trend in my life to seek out freedom and to break out against constraints put on me. It may be why I can procrastinate paying bills or doing something I know is necessary, simply because I don’t like being told when or how to do things. I’ve never really followed the way society is suppose to flow and have craved a way out.

My ideal life would be me on an island living by myself; thriving off the land, enjoying nature, and living in a more simple way. It’s why being a lighthouse keeper is on my bucket list. It’s also why doing the Trans Canada Trail (24,000 km across Canada by foot/bike) as well as a year long road trip across Canada living out of my car is part of that list. I want freedom to explore, freedom to follow my hearts joy, the freedom to ask myself “what do you want to do today?” and to go do that.

I was once told my idea of being able to live a life with joy and doing what I love for work was idealistic and not actually achievable by someone from an older generation. I laughed because it is entirely achievable because I have done it. A big barrier in living a life with joy every day? Money. It is only when you have a way to pay your bills and extra to follow your adventures, or relinquish bills from your life, that you can stop being so worried about making ends meet and staying in work you dislike.

You see the many times I’ve been sitting hating my life in a job I didn’t enjoy just to pay the bills I would always think, “There’s got to be more than this. Life can’t be just following the motions and hating our days until we die”. I’ve never been convinced or even persuaded I need to work for the majority of my life just to get 15 years of “peace” at the end (on the contingent I am healthy enough or still alive) when I’m too old and unable to do half the things I want to achieve anyway. I’ve never believed in the American dream people are sold because it resigns you to a miserable life.

Like so many other free spirits and wild souls I crave to follow my heart, to venture after what makes me come alive, and to strike out on my own path set entirely and only by me. “Normal” people view it as unstable while the rest of us free spirits know it is the exact opposite – it is more stable because we are doing what we love and choosing exactly what we want versus doing what other people tell us to do. We aren’t sheep following a set out life plan. We are out creating our life to be exactly what we want it to be. It is a fulfilling and exciting lifestyle and one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

If I were to die today I would feel that I lived an amazing life because I sought out adventure. Are there more things I want to do? Absolutely, there always will be, someone like me doesn’t ever become complacent or fully settled. But that’s my ambition to constantly learn and discover new things. But despite the ever growing bucket list I know I have lived life to the fullest and continuously accomplished my dreams along the way. I began living a life with joy the moment I stopped living for anyone or anything else.

I always tell my friends that if I die on the mountains or out there pulling one of my crazy adventures, to know that I died happy because I died doing what I love. To me no cliff side, no body of water, no adventure could ever be more terrifying than the thought of leading a life I hate on the bet I’ll be able to do all that I want later in life.

We aren’t guaranteed more time. We are guaranteed right here and right now and what we choose to do with it determines our lives. It’s why I say how I feel, it’s why I do what I want in the moment, it’s why I ask myself “what can I do today to make tomorrow better?” because you never know if you’ll be getting a tomorrow but you do have today.

I want my days to involve things I’m passionate about. I want my days to feel fulfilling. I want to feel good about what I am doing and what I am putting out into the world. It’s why I don’t compromise and I certainly won’t walk away from my morals or beliefs for money or fame or superficial things. Does it make things tough and more complicated? Definitely. But it guarantees the work that I am doing is contributing to my happiness and putting good out into the world. It means I can sleep at the end of the night proud of who I am and the life I lead.

While having no debt is the key to the type of freedom I crave I have learned it’s not worth compromising my happiness to get out of that hole. In time, in the right way, doing what I love, I will be able to find a freedom where I can up and leave on any adventure at any time. Until then I still struggle against those constraints, but I find my own way to make it work for me.

I know that you can’t outrun your problems with travel or by buying things. I know that money can buy comfort, can buy a better lifestyle, can buy a fake look of business profitability but materialistic things don’t give long lasting sustaining happiness. It’s why I don’t seek huge monetary wealth, I don’t seek being wealthy or popular. I simply seek comfort to follow my dreams and that is all I want for my life because in my mind I am already rich – I am rich in my unconditional friendships, I am rich with my courage, I am rich with opportunities.

I know that I will achieve what I want to. I know I will find ways to get to those dreams that seem far off because I continually cross dreams off my bucket list every year. I don’t just dream I make those dreams a reality and I am confident that no matter how long it takes I will cross those things off my list. For now I am finding my way to chase what I love while also allowing myself financial freedom. Will I retire with a huge amount of money? No. Will I be an old lady with laugh lines and a lot of wicked stories to tell, still adventuring in my 70’s because living a life I loved contributed to good health? Absolutely.

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My Polar Bear Swim 2018

My polar bear swims are always something really sacred to me. I don’t always complete it on the first of January but for me it is always the true beginning/start to my year. It started as something random that I thought I would try and has since then become a big tradition in my life. During my first polar swim I made a promise myself that as long as I was near water it would be my start to the year.

It is so much more than the rush of running into cold water as a shock into the new year (although that is a deep love of mine – shout out to my other adrenaline junkies). For me it is a physical representation of washing away all the old of the past year, letting go of it all, and moving forward fresh and renewed. It is as much a mental process as a physical one. From the moment I enter that water I vow to accept the past year for what it was and let it go and to move forward excited for what is to come.

Every year I choose a new location that is different than where I have gone before. Each location is special to me and has given me amazing memories. Every year it is a different experience and every year I am so grateful for the tradition. Some years I do it alone, other years I have some help. But regardless I always have a great time and come out of that water feeling refreshed and renewed.

Cold water and polar swims aren’t for everyone. Most people can’t stand cold water and the thought of a polar swim is “crazy”. But I’ve always been the one to chase after those experiences people call “crazy” because I know they are the ones that will be the most rewarding. I have been lucky in having a disposition for being able to withstand cold water conditions. Because of that and my love for water/the ocean I swim at any time of the year. It’s never a one time thing, you can catch me swimming at all times of the year. Just like hiking it is a way for me to reconnect with nature and myself.

I began documenting my polar swims ever since the beginning. The first year it was really just a simple photograph to show I had done it. But it evolved as I changed my direction within my photography. I started to take more self portraits which helped birth a new idea of having self portraits for every polar swim. This year I decided to experiment with video, a sister industry to the one I love so much. It is just me messing around with my camera but it is a new creative adventure for me to go on. My goal was to help others come with me on an experience that is so sacred to me. I had fun creating it and I enjoy sharing it with others. But for the coming years I think I will stick to self portraits instead.

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Drink Up As Much Life As You Can

As nomads we are pros at the statement “if you love something let it go, if it’s meant for you it will come back to you”. We can’t ask someone to stay when we know we wouldn’t want to be asked either. It’s the truest form of unconditional caring when you allow someone to go after their dreams even if it means you’re left behind, even if it means the end of a good thing.

I learned a really important lesson in my early twenties that has been a crucial part to understanding and coping with life. It was the simple statement of “this too shall pass”. And of course that helps to get through the tough times but I didn’t learn it in that way. I learned it in the positive way of making the most out of your days and enjoying the ride because nothing will last forever. But our memories are a collection of our lifetime, so we should create the best ones we can by really making the most out of life.

I’ve come to learn that even if you know something will end eventually that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it full force and make the most out of it. If we take the opportunities life gives us and make the damn most out of them there is no room for regret.

I’m still trying to master the art of letting go. But I do know that a key factor to being able to let go is to have lived it to the fullest so much that when it ends you can feel happy about it versus destroyed. You will feel grateful for the experience and the memories, sad to say goodbye, but you will know that you still have happiness ahead of you. Of course you will feel sad over the ending of something but not so much that it will destroy you, hold you back, or stop you from living in the present.

Some of my best memories and the best people in my life came from moments I knew wouldn’t last but I made the most out of it regardless (isn’t that the essence of what travelling is?). I’ve been more graceful at letting go of some people and places, others took me a long time to learn how to move forward because of their depth of meaning to me and the way they changed my life.

I think there will always be places and people I’ll be willing to welcome with open arms for all my life because of how deeply I’ve cared for them and they’ve cared for me. They are the people and places that I view highly, that have given me the best memories, and have changed me in the most positive ways.

Life has an interesting way of working itself out. I know this well. And because of it I have faith that sometimes what seems like an ending is only temporary and even if it isn’t, as cliché as it sounds, every ending is a new beginning. But you can’t hold on to that hoping and waiting. You’ve got to move on, you’ve got to live your life, and if those amazing things come full circle it’s an amazing experience. If they don’t you’ll most likely have made new amazing experiences and will continue to regardless.

Moving forward in the present is something which, if mastered, can free you from attachment and possession. It is easy to look at the past as better than it was and because of that, when our life’s aren’t to our satisfaction, we fall down the dark well of nostalgia. Nostalgia can be a friend or it can be a foe. It is when we get lost in wishing our life isn’t what it was that we lose ourselves in that well of despair. But if we are grateful for where we are (even if it may not be where we want to be), and look at the past with gratitude for helping to grow us, we then have a positive nostalgia.

We can also get trapped in the daunting fear of what is to come. The “should’s”, the “what if’s”, the list of all possible things that could go wrong in the future, so much so that it stops us from following our dreams or things that could make us happy. And when we get trapped by those mind games with ourselves, we lose sight of what is in front of us. And ironically, what is in front of us is what will determine our future. Our moments, our memories, our days, right here and right now, what we fill them with will determine the outcome of our lives.

I invite you to live in the present moment and know that your time is the most precious thing you have. We are given moments, we aren’t given more time. How you spend your minutes is how you spend your life. So you better make the damn most of it. You better honor how precious your time is and only offer it to those who also honor your presence in their life.

I hope you use your days to go after your dreams, to follow your joy. I hope that you get the blessing to meet people, or places, or situations that make you want more time or to make time stand still because you wish you could continue making those memories forever.

I hope that your time is filled with people and things that make you laugh, that keep you smiling, and help you to feel grateful for the life that you lead. Make sure you make the most of these moments, make the most out of your days and drink up as much of life as you can.

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One Heart, Two Homes

Someone once said to me “I think you can fall in love with cities the same way you fall in love with people”. I didn’t know it then but that statement would have a profound influence on my life. In my travels, and the countries I’ve lived in, I have learned that cities hold their own personalities just like people. One city can hurt you and another can heal you, one will be a place where you’ll thrive and another will be one with struggle.

Each city you reside in will bring out different parts of your personality. They have ways of forcing different parts of yourself to the surface. Of showing you different traits and skills are more important there than you may be use to. You are never the same person in each place you call home. Different cultures, languages, and lifestyles help to shape and mold your daily life. I am a different version of myself in each city/country and because of that I care for them differently.

Over the years I have come to know well the blessing and curse of having multiple places that you consider home. It is truly amazing to have multiple places in the world you can go to and feel at home. But your heart will never be whole again. No matter where you are there will always be another place you miss. That is the compromise you make in your heart when you love more than one place at the same time.

You see, I have one heart but two homes. I grew up in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada and it will always be where I come from. It will always be “the true north strong and free”. I feel I have its beauty to thank for leading me to pick up a camera and start shooting. But I left that home and moved to London, United Kingdom. There is where I made a home and built friends into family. Where I fell in love with its streets and the European life. These two places hold two very different lifestyles for me and I love both.

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In British Columbia the outdoor adventurer in me becomes prevalent. You’ll catch me in work out clothes, doing yoga, climbing mountains, swimming in the oceans or chasing waterfalls. But B.C. is mainly an unrequited love. No matter how much I love the natural beauty it has never treated me right. It is not where I am happiest, it is not where I am most appreciated, it is not where I feel like I am living my best life.

In London you’ll find me in formal business clothes, sitting in rooftop bars and beautiful places, enjoying the city life. It is where I chose to live for myself and where I built a home. It is a city I fell head over heels in love with and where I always feel complete. In London I am always grateful and happy. I have been the healthiest I’ve ever been. And I had friends who became family that love and support me unconditionally.

When I am in London I do miss the beauty of always seeing mountains and having the ocean or a lake just a short drive away. But when I am in B.C. there is a part of me that is missing. When I am in British Columbia I know which one has my heart more because there are times I can sob from how much I miss London and the United Kingdom. And when my plane lands in London I get this overwhelming sense of calm, happiness, and peace. I know I am where I need to be.

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I love both for different reasons and they each have a different place in my heart. They are both great loves of my life but different loves. I have no doubt that throughout my life I will come back to British Columbia to visit and spend months exploring its beauty. But it’s not where I will build my future. Instead London is a city I can see myself in for a long time. I don’t know that I will grow old there but it will be a significant chunk of my life.

You see there are some places that are special and unlike any other on the planet in the way they make you feel about yourself and your life. You feel like your life is a gift, you are always grateful and even on the days when your life may be up in flames you still feel lucky that you live in such an amazing place. London is that place for me and I’ve come to know how extremely unique that is to find. And my piece of advice is: if you find that place for yourself don’t let it go for anything.

Cities have a way of unlocking different parts to yourself that you didn’t know existed. London for me is a place where I thrive, where I am sure of myself, and where I am irrevocably happy. I became the woman I knew I always had in me but was beaten down and wired for struggle in Canada. Sometimes the home we were raised in isn’t the place we are meant to stay in. I encourage people to make homes in different cities and countries. You’ll discover new places but more importantly you’ll discover yourself.

Having a nomad and wanderlust filled heart I will always be moving and exploring and making different countries home. And in my travels I will miss my homes. But I know I have to explore and experience the world. I need to keep learning and discovering parts of myself. And in the end of the day I know that London will always be the one. The one I come back to, the one I am my truest self in, the one that I will love most.