I was standing on the shore as the sun set. The lake was a large blanket and the waves lapping at my feet were so small and thin they looked like someone was pulling a string under that blanket.
To my right, the hombre sky faded from blue to pink. To my left, where the sun was gently slipping beneath the horizon, the blue faded into yellow and shades of orange.
This being November, long after beach-lovers have given up for the winter, I was mostly alone. A flock of geese landed for the night, taking a break from their seasonal journey to the south.
I stood in reverence, barely able to take in so much beauty all at once. It was an embarrassment of riches – a thin place, as the Celtics say, where the sacred feels momentarily reachable through the veil.
Two thoughts landed in quick succession in my quieted mind.
First… “How amazing that the world offers up such beauty, so generously, when there is only one person here to witness it!”
Then… “But…I am a part of this beauty, not apart from it! I am not simply witness, I am part of nature. Just like the geese, I am a momentary part of this landscape.”
It took a little longer for the third thought to land. “If the natural world offers itself so generously, without reservation, and I am a part of that world, then who am I to do otherwise? Who am I to pretend I am separate? And who am I to allow my insecurities, doubts, fear, and social conditioning to get in the way of my contribution to the beauty I’m already part of?”
My eyes filled with tears. First, to truly believe I am beautiful and part of a beautiful world… that’s not a natural way for me to see myself. I have a thousand reasons why I am not good enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough to claim “beauty” as part of my identity. Second, to recognize that what I have to offer to the collective beauty of the world is unquestionably worthy disrupts the narrative that so often runs in my head.
But what if I begin to truly inhabit this belief, the same way the sun, the geese, the sand and the water do?
Not just me, but you, my dear reader. What if we embrace a radical belief in collective beauty and our part in contributing to that beauty? What if we deconstruct all of those voices in our heads that tell us otherwise, and we simply stand at the shore in reverence and humility and choose to believe we are part of what we see?
Will it change the way you do your work? Will it change the way you create? Will it change the way you show up for your friends? Will it change YOU?
This morning I had a lovely conversation with one of the people participating in our Holding Space Foundation Program who’s been following my work since my blog post went viral. She mentioned how impactful it had been to her to learn that I’d been toiling in relative anonymity for ten years before my post went viral and millions of people suddenly showed up at my website. That I continued to be faithful to the work despite how few people were noticing it early on meant a lot to her.
Maya, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that you, too, are part of the beauty of this world. You can stand on the shore and know that you are making a contribution, even when nobody else shows up to bear witness to the generosity of that beauty.
And I want you to know that too, dear reader. Stay faithful to your work, to your play, to your craft, and to your love. Show up on the shore again and again and offer up your contribution. Do it generously and without apology, even when it makes sense to nobody else but you.
I can’t promise you that millions will come, but I can promise that it matters. You matter. Your craft matters. Your love matters. Your beauty matters.
Let’s pretend we’re setting off on a long, leisurely walk together. Just you and I. We’re walking along the shore, an eagle is flying overhead, there’s just the right kind of gentle breeze on our faces. We dip our toes in the water now and then. Now, tell me… what would you like to talk about if you had all the time in the world for a conversation?
A little while later, after people had shared what they’d love to talk about, and several said they’d like to simply walk in silence, I said this:
The sun is shining. There’s nothing urgent I need to do. I’m going out for a real walk. I’ll pretend I’m taking you all with me.
On a whim, while I was walking, I started sharing photos from my walk, with the hashtag #ifyouwereherewithme. Here’s the sequence. Imagine we were on that walk together.
If you were here with me, I’d take you to my favourite place to wander, where deer often greet me and butterflies flit among the milkweed.
If you were here with me, we’d sit for a spell when the conversation got so juicy we’d need to look into each other’s eyes.
If you were here with me, I’d introduce you to the tree I call the Dancing Goddess Tree because of the way she reaches her thick limbs to the sky in praise.
If you were here with me, I’d tell you about the Spring I sat on the stone bench among the birch trees and wept because I realized I’d lived through a whole season without my mom.
If you were here with me, I’d invite you to leave the beaten path and step into the wild with me.
If you were here with me, we’d stop to stare in awe at the eagle circling above our heads.
If you were here with me, I’d tell you how I dream of living by water, and how the Red River near my house has to suffice for now.
If you were here with me, I’d tell you about the time I broke my foot and felt such a strong hunger for this place, I had my husband drop me off at the gate so I could limp part way in on crutches.
If you were here with me, I’d pour you a glass of iced tea and invite you to sit awhile when our wandering was done.
See those little pockets of green all over my neighbourhood? I’m attracted to them like a magnet to steel.
Since this has been my summer of wandering (and the summer of beautiful weather), and training for my upcoming 100 km walk, I’ve had a chance to explore a lot of green spaces. It’s become a habit of mine – scan a Google map, find a patch of green I haven’t explored yet, and go.
Sometimes I find lovely parks I didn’t know existed, with manicured paths, and child-filled play structures.
Often though, I walk past the manicured parks to the next green space.
My favourite discoveries are not the parks. My favourites are the untamed, unruly, un-manicured spaces that scream out to my inner child “EXPLORE ME!”
And explore them I do, these little pockets of wildness. I climb over underbrush, hop over puddles, shimmy under fallen trees, and push through thick branches, until I am so deep inside the green box on the map that the city just outside the boundary ceases to exist.
Inside the green I find hidden streams, magical trees, colourful mushrooms, raucous wildflowers, and – when I’m lucky – deer.
What I find most of all, though, in those untamed green spaces, is my own wild heart.
I remember what it means to be wild and unruly. I remember what it feels like to be free of the tidy little boxes I let society place me in. I feel the lilt come back to my step that tells me I am following my heart and not the expectations of others.
From the moment I step off the well-traveled path and into the green square on the map, I am transported back to my childhood, when I used to roam the woods on our farmland, imagining myself a gypsy or an explorer.
The child in me revived, I revel in each discovery. I stare in awe at the leaves quivering in the breeze and twinkling in the sunlight. I marvel at the patterns in the bark of trees. I giggle at the bare patches where it looks like fairies have danced. I look deeply into the magical eyes of deer.
It doesn’t take much to give my wild nature space to breath. Just a little green shape on a map.