"The Beauty of Being Nothing at all" is the story of a womyn, a person who has let go of all attachments to identity and who is simply being. Roaming landscapes and roads of Western and Northern Canada, she comes to rest at some of the most unusual and beautiful places. Here are the words that her journey inspires
There is a feeling, when the golden light hits your skin. A moment, where your eyes glow dark in contrast to it's healing light. 11pm. Midnight was around the corner and the sand at the top of the mountain glowed red under the just setting sun.
We were surrounded by lakes, dark clouds parting to emit a softness upon the world. The small mounds of earth ahead of us radiated peach and pink, the trees surrounding ranging from a bright yellow to a deep turquoise.
A slap of a beaver tail echoed through the valleys on either side of us, a warning of our presence, or perhaps a celebration?
We climbed a short, steep trail, our voices escalating in excitement and brief exertion. We reached the top and were stunned into momentary silence.
We were surrounded by lakes on either side, reflecting the beauty of their shores. Warmth of the receding day touched our skin, tinged with the coolness of the approaching midnight air.
The silence retreated as we proceeded, winding our way down to the still water.
I immediately, and excitedly, stripped naked, skipping towards the water with the free spirit of a child on the beach for the first time. Skin shining pink and warm under the light of golden hour. Everything was pure, everything was right, in that moment.
Everything was ours, handed to us on the waves of the Northern summer breeze.
It was then that I felt like gold.
Body insecurity can extend beyond physical beauty, or ones idea of it. The disconnect a womyn* may feel between her spirit and her physical body often stems from more than just idealizing a beauty standard.
There have been a few times I have uttered the words "I hate my body", with the immediate response of my partner (or whoever is in earshot) being "What! Why?! You are beautiful!"
And while I of course appreciate the sentiment, (and the enthusiasm and truth behind it when stated by my partner) I tend to roll my eyes in response as I mutter a quick thank you, because my disconnect to my body does not stem from feeling that I fail to fulfill some standard of beauty. My disconnect, my feelings of "hate" stem from chronic pain that has plagued me since I was young.
I watch people climb trees, ride bikes, lift anything of substantial weight and I feel jealousy. I feel a tinge of regret for my soul being inside the vessel it is in. I feel the desire to leap and jump and do cartwheels, but I can't. Chronic pain and inflammation has left my body weak and my muscles underdeveloped, and while I push through and maintain as healthy of a lifestyle as I possibly can under the circumstances of sickness, sometimes, I just hate my body. Sometimes, I just hate being in my body.
Being a wild womyn with chronic pain can be difficult, as my body often cannot operate in the ways in which I crave to express myself.
When I photograph myself, it is empowering, as I am often photographed naked and in movement. Playing outside with a camera and no clothes is one of the ways in which my body can express itself . It is one of the few ways I feel my spirit and my body connect on this physical plane.
I am grateful to have found this way of connection, as I am sure many womyn living with, and working through, dis-ease may not have found a form in which to mend the broken bonds between body and spirit.
To them I say,
Darling, you have strength beyond measure. Feel the hate for your broken vessel, let it fuel your love for your ethereal being. Your presence is felt and is honoured and your pain is here to help you, feel it, but do not feed it any more of your energy than it has already taken from you. You are beautiful because you are here and taking on more than most people can even imagine. It is possible to transcend your pain into peace, even for the briefest of moments. Close your eyes and go beyond everything that is here every once and a while, but do not forget that you are here to experience the human existence, and that my dear, begins with the body. The pain of it is not the end of you, nor does it make up who you are. You are so much more, nothing short of perfection as you are.
My dream is for us to move beyond the topic of beauty when discussing the body, and to move beyond the idea that we have to be in love with our souls vessel 24/7. Sometimes, it is OKAY for a womyn to hate her body. Sometimes it is more than LOOKS that create the feeling of disconnect between soul and body. Supporting womyn and girls in a healthy body relationship doesn't always mean complimenting, and when a female complains about their body it doesn't always relate to what it looks like.
More womyn suffer from chronic pain than is realized, than is talked about. And you know what, you do NOT have to LOVE your disease. HATE it. TALK about it. And show your body love and support in the majority of moments between the fires that fuel you.
*this spelling has been used to express the feminine spirit without the implications of the patriarchy and masculinity.
On being nothing
On my quest to being nothing, I have found one challenge remains; "who are you?"
This is a question that the people you encounter ask with their eyes, body language, and, more explicitly, with the expected common questions one says when encountering a new person:
"So, where are you from?"
"What are you studying?"
And most importantly
"What brings you here?"
All of these equate to the one, big question: WHO ARE YOU
To which I find it hard to answer.
My instinct, says "Nothing."
My mouth says
"Oooh I am Alberta born and raised, but have a travelling heart, I AM a nomad"
"I am studying Visual Arts, with the hopes of getting a masters in counselling, I WANT TO BE an art therapist"
And most importantly, what brings me here is the desire to be nothing, to have nothing, to be clean, to be clear, to be free. But I say:
"I've just always wanted to see the Yukon"
Why is it that I fear telling a single soul about the purpose of my trip, of myself, of my being?
I will tell you why, it is because I have never learned how to not have an identity! I'm making it up! I have no idea what I am doing!
So, in moments where I am put under the microscope, I TELL the person what they are seeing, instead of letting them just see it, because that is the human thing to do.
And while I am completely okay with the humanness of my claim to an identity, that is not the point, of my being here, in this space and body.
The point, is that I truly have no idea. The point is that I am trying something out, seeing how nothingness fits, just, you know, trying it on for size. And I am finding that it fits so incredibly well that I am in a state of shock, a shock that is so overwhelmingly underwhelming that it scares me.
To be nothing, is to be here so very presently that it is almost a state of unfeeling. Who knew, that peaceful nowness was simply what is? Wow, extraordinary! And yet, it fills my heart with fear. BECAUSE I will tell you, the very important because, it is because when you are nothing but here, there is nothing to DO and this sensation of nothing to DO, nothing to BE, nothing to WORK towards BEING seems SO UNNATURAL, and yet, that feeling of unnaturalness is unnatural in itself.
So now, I sit here laughing at this beautiful game of being, and am realizing that there is no such thing as being nothing, because whatever form you are in, you will be something.
However, letting go of a connection with identity can free you up for so much living, when one thing dies, another grows. And so, I let my "I AM's" become a nurse tree for my life. In other words, I let the IDEA of LIFE, that has grown on the shaky dust of the identity concept, fall to the earth, and from it grows actual, tangible, EXISTENCE.
So, who am I?
I don't fucking know!
What brings me here?
And I don't believe I need to find those things out to fulfill the qualifications of existing. I am already doing that simply by being present, by being nothing, and by feeling the beauty in that radiate through all my humanness.
Day 15, May 11th
Mountains surround me. It is morning and the light reflects it, something that it an unusual occurrence in this land.
This land, where the sun sleeps for only a few hours, gaining it's strength to shine full and strong all summer long.
This land, where the dirt of the Earth turns to sand, sage and spruce sprouting from it's gentle hands.
This land, where I now live, where I roam, where I see memories of home and feel the exhilaration of something, someplace entirely new.
I am waking with the Mountains. They boast their boldness in every direction, and radiant softness into my soul.
I have barely had the time to get to know them, completing my first day of work yesterday, and getting all my shopping done the day before. Today is my second day of work, and before then, I am going to do what my card reading suggested and simplify my life, get rid of any and all clutter, organize what is left so that I can move forward into each moment without the weight of possessions and ideas of identity.
I find that to be the greatest challenge in my life presently.
After relinquishing identity and emerging through the void without one to hold onto, I am finding this world one that is completely new to me and I am at a loss of how to navigate it.
I didn't realize how much I said and did before because of its relation to my perceived identity.
For instance, I went to the Desert (a large sand dune outside of Carcross) yesterday morning and began doing yoga. I found myself not fully engaged with it and realized it was because I didn't know how to do it just for me. I had only ever done it before because I liked who it made me (and for the health benefits!). But I had never really done it on my own for my own sake, for a spiritual experience, or even just to relax. There was always the intention of identity behind every movement.
So, with the sand and spruce surrounding me, I felt out what this all meant to me, I questioned if yoga pertained to my reality, or if it was something I just did for the sake of being able to say I did it.
I finished my practice and felt, well, a bit off, but in a surprising pleasing way.
I feel that so much of what I have done has been for identity, a check list of personality, and while I do not regret doing those things, I am happy to now be living with an open heart.
Living without identity is a little lighter, there is less to carry around, there is less worry of others perceptions, but it is strange. It is like going into a war without weapons, just with the faith that you will be okay no matter what happens.
& that has been my mantra; nothing can harm you, nothing can touch you, you are invincible with all your love.
Day 13, May 9th
It's been a full twenty four hours in the land of the midnight sun. My body, mind, and spirit are rejoicing, as absolute freedom has entered into this realm in which I exist.
There is so much love here. Love for the land, the people. I have already met so many beautiful souls wanting to show me all of their favourite places and sacred spaces. I have been invited to learn traditional beadwork, pick medicines, and go bear watching. I have been told I am adorable and everyone here will just love me. I have been warned (numerously) of the wildlife, and have learned A LOT about bears (did you know that province to province bears react/act differently??)
Most importantly I have RELAXED!
I spent the better part of the morning naked in the forest, playing, and the better part of the afternoon getting my final shopping done (bear spray, bear bells!)
I am now off to find a space to engage in a ritual and card reading, as I start work tomorrow and want to bless this moment and this feeling so as to carry it forward into the following days.
Day six/May 2
The past few days have been filled with this stunning knowing. A very intense feeling of being in the right place at the right time, which is something I had never experienced until now.
How lovely is it to know, to truly feel, that you are in a moment that you are supposed to be in. It is quite relaxing, although my heart still beats so fast sometimes I worry it will stop completely, like a fast talker halting conversation mid-sentence. But I put my faith in it regardless. Trust it.
That's why I am where I am, why I am doing what I am doing.
It wasn't that long ago that in response to my engagement announcement I was belittled and degraded by someone who hadn't even taken the time to know me, but rather, had chosen to assume dreadful and terrible things about my character. And I took it, wide eyed and sore hearted. I took it until (and it didn't take long) the spirit of the white wolf inside me no longer remained docile, but soared to the occasion, snarling.
The brief moment of conflict was like wolves in the wild, fighting over their young, spittle flying from their mouths and the look of pure death in their eyes.
I left before I could kill.
I had done it before and I wasn't about to break the promise to myself to never do it again (metaphorically speaking of course!)
But I left wounded, moaning, a wolf turning human after a full, and violent moon.
The consequences of this brief moment, which I must admit, had tremendous build up, was that my wolf spirit took over my being completely. I was left untrusting of everyone and everything. I was prepared to leave and be alone and angry forever. I hurriedly made plans to go to the Yukon, ready to escape the drama that had suddenly consumed my life.
I felt totally and utterly betrayed by my partner, who had watched helpless as two of his loved ones growled and snapped at each other, eventually drawing blood.
I felt it was partly his doing that we were in the situation in the first place, blame which he gracefully accepted. But that acceptance was not enough to achieve my forgiveness.
I spent the next few weeks in the most angry state I have ever experienced. I punched walls. I yelled. I screamed. I hit my head on the steering wheel over and over, trying to get the sound of my persecutor's raised voice and accusations out of my mind. I felt hate, rage, a desire to cause pain.
The wolf was out, she had a thirst for blood.
Thankfully, this all transpired during a time in my life that I was fully supported by friends and my family. A time where I was engaging in an elemental therapy program which was changing my life and my ability to live it with love in my heart.
The wolf was out and snarling, but all she really wanted was to roam free, and enjoy the world around her.
At this time, she was running through the dark forest, blind with lust for revenge, totally oblivious to her surroundings that she was getting lost in the woods she called home.
So, the human in me did all that she could do.
Before my meditation I asked for guidance, I asked for the ability to forgive, I asked to heal my wounds so I could stop hurting others.
I closed my eyes.
I saw the falcon (Gavin's spirit animal which has visited my dreams on more than one occasion, usually as a protector of me). He was still, resting on a large stump which was halfway out of the ocean.
The beach we were on was small, dark rocks were beneath us, wet with rain. The forest behind me smelt fresh and was thick with deep green lush. It was sunset.
I looked at the falcon, he had so much pain and sorrow in his eyes. I wanted to bite him, I wanted to gobble him up. Instead, I growled, low and menacing. The vibration of it made him flutter his wings in shock, almost as if he was about to take flight, talons directed towards my piercing blue eyes.
Instead of attacking, he relaxed and lowered his head in apology.
I huffed, turning away from him and running, fast and hard into the depths of the forest. I ran and ran, unable to stop, unable to even really see. Darkness came upon me and I stopped. Huffing white steam into the black night. I realized I had no idea where I was. I had been running and my anger had made me blind. I very much wanted to have a fire, to have the falcon with me to play with, to have fun dancing under the moon with my love.
There was a moment of deep regret. And then a sound in the forest snapped me back into my fury. Just an owl. He looked at me, yellow eyes bulging, I realized he was scared of me and I didn't like that. I sat down, letting out a whine, curling into myself to sleep.
Images flashed through my mind.
Me, white, pure, blue eyed, gracefully plucking my way through the forest, exploring and expanding my wolf mind.
The falcon, depressed, lonely, guilty, waiting for me to return to the beach I left him at.
Us, together, a fire blazing between us, dancing with so much trust between us that we glowed brighter than the flames.
I woke then, and knew what I had to do.
I had to use this time apart to focus solely on myself, to work on my trust with myself, my body, my emotions, the earth, and all connection. To trust that the falcon was doing the same. To trust that it would be enough, more than enough, to allow it to work between us. That our love was stronger than anything and that it lit us up so we shone brighter than stars.
I did so, and three months later I returned to the beach.
The falcon cried out to me, pure happiness lifting him from his resting place and we embraced, merging as one.
The wolf was still not human, but she was happy, and she was right where she wanted to be.
I opened my eyes.
Smiling, as the wolf faded from memory. I absorbed her into my skin, knowing her medicine was what I needed to get through this.
I got up, went to my journal, wrote it down, called the falcon, and told him everything would be okay.
Day three/April 29th
I woke up feeling nervous. My veins tingling beneath my skin. The sound of footsteps creaked above me. Dad was awake, 1/2 down. I got up and slowly got ready, trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach, but they continued to flutter nonetheless. I went to my bag and put on the dazzling blue topaz ring, looking down and beaming at it. My pup was on my bed and I snuggled up to her, showing her the ring.
"See Kona, I'm engaged"
She looked at me and burped softly, putting her head down to go back to sleep.
Well, now just to tell me parents, and hopefully they would be slightly more enthusiastic than Kona.
I paced downstairs, brushing my teeth, hair, washing my face (twice), and finally getting dressed. I put on my necklace filled with crystals and sighed, nothing left to do but go upstairs.
We had been engaged for three months, keeping it between us until we were ready. The announcement hadn't gone as planned with his parents, so, although in my head I knew it would go well with mine, my heart pounded with anxiety deep in my chest and the butterflies were bouncing around so fast I felt sick.
I cursed my tendency for panic attacks under my breath and kept trying to calm down, succeeding just enough to go upstairs.
I sat down on the couch across from my dad, making a coffee and some small talk. It felt like hours before my mom finally got up, coming into the living room with a brief "Good morning" and heading into the kitchen.
"WAIT! I practically jumped up onto the couch when she started to walk away.
She laughed at my strange burst of enthusiasm and stopped. They were both looking at me like I was slightly mad (which wasn't entirely unusual) when I blurted "I'm engaged!!"
The looked at me for a moment in stunned silence then my mom said
"To Gavin right?"
Her joke immediately made my nerves go away and we all laughed and hugged, my mom saying how she wasn't surprised at all, and was really excited for us.
We started talking wedding plans and calling family, and this huge relief washed over me, making me so relaxed for the first time in weeks I felt suddenly exhausted.
It feels so real now. I am engaged to my soulmate, to the person I believe came from the same star as me. We are a family, we are building something together that is beautiful, and strange, and makes us both so so happy.
There are no words to describe the love between us, but our engagement is a symbol of our deep connection and commitment to one another, and now I get to share that with all my friends and family and my heart is so full.
So now, the story of HOW it happened.
Gavin and I were at a park taking photos together. We were laughing and being silly as usual and this sudden feeling washed over me that was just like "I can't move forward from this moment until I say how I feel." How I felt was entirely at peace, entirely in the place I was supposed to be, and it was because of this human that I was with that I felt that way. I wanted it forever, and I wanted to give him all of me forever. So.. I got down on both knees, hugging him at the waist and (awkwardly) asked for him to marry me. He responded "of course!" but I didn't think he realized still that I was really proposing so I tried again,
"Yeah but, like, would you wanna be engaged now?"
He stared at me slightly shocked, the moment passed as quick as it came and we were kissing and hugging, I think he was saying yes but it is all a blur of happy fuzzy memory!
We are using the ring that my birth father bought for me when I was born; a blue topaz stone that matches my eyes. He passed away when I was young and I have had it, waiting to be worn for years. When I was 16 I had it sized for my ring finger, and now it is a symbol of everlasting love, as well as the only thing I have from my birth father. I'm so lucky to have such a special ring to use for my engagement. I am reminded of two amazing men every time I glance down.
I told him there was a storm inside my soul, he told me he’d never seen lightening strike so beautifully.
Day two/April 28
The morning came quickly, I woke once before light fell upon the earth and again when the sun rays just began to creep onto the pavement. Without even brushing my teeth I began to drive, putting more distance between myself and home.
I only meant to go a short distance, planning to stop at a park along the road to freshen up and eat. But my stomach felt full and I felt this weird sort of emptiness, so I filled it with fuel and drove for hours.
It was just me and a large truck on the road, it felt like we were partners in isolation. The small towns scattered along the mountain sides added to the feeling of a sweet sort of desolation that seemed to occupy this part of the world. We drove through little gold mining towns, once lush with tourism, now turned ragged and haunting. Dark against the light of the approaching day. Mothers and their children waited alongside the road for the school bus, their homely trailers behind them, so full with hoarded belongings that they had burst onto the surrounding lawns and trees.
The landscape was getting drier and drier, I licked my lips, feeling a sudden need for water, the kind that drips from cedar boughs after torrential rain. I shook my head, no time for missing my physical home. I breathed, trying to go within.
My spirit drifted in and out for hours, bobbing in waves of strange melancholy. It was only upon seeing the smiling face of my friend Jamie that burst me out of this bubble. Her beautiful light cast out all dread I had been holding onto since departing from my love the day before.
We drank orange juice and frolicked around the "God loves you store", a bustling place where one can find cheap second hand clothes and listen to their favourite gospel tunes all in one go.
After finding some keepers, including some, what can only be dubbed as grandma pants in a shade of baby blue, and a 1976 floral and lace dress, we lined up, chatting amongst ourselves about, well, our hair.
"Oh, I love your hair" a voice behind us said. We turned, and were met with sparkling eyes and a smiling face, bottom teeth completely missing.
"You girls are so beautiful, and smart, I can tell you're smart" the woman said, making Jamie and I exchange knowing glances and beam.
"Common sense just isn't so common anymore, and I can tell you two have it" she winked. We chatted with her in line for the next several minutes, agreeing that the spiritual revolution was indeed happening, thanks to our generation. She wished us luck on our journeys and gave us a both a big hug, she smelt lightly of cigarettes and dog hair, we then dubbed her "the wolf mother."
After saying goodbye to my dear friend, I went on my way, heading East towards the mountains I once called home and still held dear.
Besides being stopped for an hour at an avalanche blasting site, in which I used my time to paint leisurely outside (causing many of my traffic companions to stop and chat with me) the drive was fairly unremarkable. My concentration was heavily applied to staying on the bumpy road, that had no dividing lines, the mountains passing me almost went unnoticed. That is, until I reached my favourite spot along the side of the old, worn out highway between Canmore and Cochrane.
I pulled over, heart racing in anticipation.
The lake was still and silent, reflecting huge mountains, tinged with the pink of the setting sun. I got out of the car and got to work. Tripod set up, clothes off. The next hour was one of creation, of earthy ecstasy, of complete and total beauty.
I raced home after my mountain lake dip, revelling in the familiarity of this old road I used to travel on everyday to go to my sacred spaces.
I pulled up to a dark house, familiar, a place that was once home.
I opened the door.
A blur of black whizzed around me, squealing in excitement. Kona. My puppy. I picked her up and felt instantly at peace, my wet hair dripping onto the floor next to my bare feet.
This is happiness.
Day one/April 27
I woke up this morning from a dreamless sleep. I had tried so hard to stay awake, to memorize every last part of him. Looking over at the sleeping body beside me, I bit my lip in attempts not to cry. My hand reached out, soft skin meeting soft skin. He moaned in sleepy ecstasy, feeling my touch in both the dream and physical plane. I didn't know what time it was, around 6 am by the look of the pale pink sky and the silence, left over from the night. His body shifted beside me and he turned over, a flash of golden eyes looked and me and closed again. My heart swelled and sank, making me feel slightly motion sick. I tried so hard to keep away the "this is the last time" thoughts, and had been making good progress through the week until the final night, when the sound of his soft snores suddenly charged me with a chaotic longing to be with him forever. Now the last moment was everywhere.
This is the last time you will blink sleepily at me in the morning light.
This is the last time you will sigh and stretch, reaching out to touch me.
This is the last time your head will find my chest.
I sucked in these last moments so deeply, so as to hide them in my chest cavity for later when the simple fact of missing him made it hard for me to breath.
We stayed tangled up for a long time, but not long enough. Too soon came the time when he scrunched up and stretched, his naked body creating shapes that looked like strange sculptures. He got up to make us coffee, it took everything in me not to protest, not to make a scene. I simply gulped in that last time, putting it away with the others, and got out of bed.
Hours later, after many trips from boat to car, I was packed, organized, and already quite exhausted. The excitement was starting to build up as I drove away from my home, it started to fade as I approached my love's work for one last goodbye.
I waited in the parking lot, wanting time to move faster so he and I would be together sooner. Wanting time to move slower, so we never had to say goodbye.
Time stayed the same, and before long we had ten minutes left.
Knowing you have ten minutes left with the person you love most in the world is indescribable.
It is the space between heaven and hell.
Heaven, because you are with them, hell, because you know that heaven is fleeting.
We embraced, we cried. I watched him walk away, and he watched me drive.
Now I am here, by a small park in a small town.
And although I feel a small part of me is missing, I am happy to call him home and to know his heart is there to keep me safe and warm when I am ready to come back to it.
Leaving behind your love is not easy. But the right choice, the choice that gives you experience growth, and the opportunity to explore the world and yourself, rarely is.
I may miss him with all my heart, but I am not empty with lonely, rather I am full of his love and support, and there will never be a last time that I will receive it.
So I go to bed, the sound of a river running near my head, nearly drowning out the distant highway. There are no stars in the sky tonight as I look up, but I see them when I close my eyes.