The last month and a half has arguably been the most transitional time in my life — more so than leaving home for university, and certainly more so than the ultra-small lull period I had between finishing my undergrad and commencing my master’s research all under the same institutional umbrella that is UW. This has been the first time in my life that I haven’t immediately jumped to the next task, next challenge, next resume builder. I decided to leave Waterloo, having lived there for seven years, and return home to sort out my next step.
My goal right now is to get everything off my plate, clear my mind, and allow the ideas to flow in. I have been using a water analogy to describe how I have been feeling and what it is that I seek. I have felt as though my life has been very turbulent, waves crashing, white caps happening, the whole bit. I have been reacting and keeping busy without taking time to acknowledge purpose, feel grateful for what I have accomplished, or even really process what is going on. Since the completion of my master’s, the waters are calming, the pull of the tides is weakening, and I am now waiting for stillness. I don’t know what it is that I will do next, but I feel certain that with that stillness, small ripples will begin to make sense and I can start to chart a more meaningful and fulfilling course. I want to experience that sense of nothingness, find my authentic self, and start fresh. I realize this may not be a feeling that will last, or even be possible to attain, and that this weird twenty-something process is certainly not unique to me. I do, however, have a great appreciation for the fact that I can take the time to do this at all. My mom is so supportive; I feel ridiculously blessed to have her on my team so listen (and listen and listen…), encourage, and catch me should I fall. Many friends have also put up with my frequent “am I crazy?!” questioning and your affirmations have helped me to maintain conviction to this process. After having the waves to distract me all of these years, the imminent calm seems even more foreboding at times. Right now, doing nothing feels like the biggest risk of all.
I have been borrowing such descriptors as “mini-retirement” or “spiritual awakening” for this time in my life in an effort to categorize what I am doing – so like me to try to put everything in its own box. I have been getting very existential, which is scary because those thoughts aren’t easy to pin down and identify. And I have also found that for me, I cannot really process these things without verbalizing them. So during one particularly fruitful discussion with my mom, I found myself frantically scribbling on a scrap of paper in the middle of a crowded restaurant. I didn’t care about the venue; I was starting to make sense of all of these thoughts and get to the core of my fear and that sense of something missing. This is still such a work in progress so in an effort to keep it going, I have decided to share in this medium. Here is that piece of paper:
For me, it was helpful to think about things as being part of one system, but having different tiers: at the base, the first tier where factual information lives, including scientific theory, engineering principles, or social ideas; the second tier revolves around the methods in which that information is conveyed to a given audience, by way of education, visual art, facilitation, graphic design, networking, leadership, management, events, and activism; the top tier is the purpose. Why do we do what we do? I think this has been the key piece missing in my life, lost in the waves. I have distilled purpose into two parts: personal (or inward) and community (or outward), on a local to global scale. I think I have been undervaluing personal purpose, the part where self-fulfillment is reason enough to do something. To me, this goes hand-in-hand with spirituality, security, healthy habits, adventure, and income. Community purpose is anything that inspires others, improves someone else’s quality of life, or offers enlightenment. Having these ideals of what is important to me written in one place has helped to make things clearer, but my no means is this an exhaustive list. I have also started to internalize the sentiment that one person cannot change the world, but many people coming together sure can. If doing something for my own enjoyment can inspire a chain reaction where by other people are inspired, empowering them to find their own self-fulfillment, which goes on to inspire more people – that is enough. If I can encourage one person to be more open-minded about environmental issues and start to live more sustainably – that is enough. Taking the time to appreciate the small changes each individual has in a community – that is enough. Each little impact is progress. This shift in thinking has been so fundamental to me.
It is with this thoughtful openness and emotional sensitivity that I attended the David Suzuki Blue Dot Tour at Massey Hall in Toronto just over a week ago. Musical acts, like Danny Michel, Chantal Kreviazuk, and the Barenaked Ladies, were interspersed with moving talks and powerful visual vignettes. The messaging of the event was very clear, making the case for why Canadians need to fight for the right to a healthy environment and how to go about it. Speeches abounded, the most moving of which were delivered by Stephen Lewis, about the United Nations efforts to rally a collective fight against climate change, and Devon Page of Ecojustice, regarding that organizations attempts to curb the federal governments practice of loosening the protective powers of environmental regulations. Scientific and economic facts were juxtaposed with personal comment and emotive pleas, in perfect balance. And while each attendee was provided with a program containing a form requesting a donation to the David Suzuki foundation, it was not pushed. The objective of the evening was clear: spark small movements by imploring your municipal government to make the environment a priority, which will lead to change at a provincial and federal level.
The evening culminated in a final talk from David Suzuki himself. It was so moving to see someone in person who has been such an inspiration to me and so many others across the country. The energy in the hall was electric and yet when he spoke, you could hear a pin drop. Suzuki’s talk centered around the idea of changing perspectives and how standing up for our environment can be equated to combating racism and fighting for gender equality and the rights of the LGBT community. It is something we need to do collectively and start immediately in order to ensure that our natural spaces are preserved, our food system is secure, our water is clean to drink, and our air is fit to breathe. You can read more about the ways in which you can take action within your community here: http://bluedot.ca/take-action/. I must include the following video of a poem written for the occasion, which was the highlight of the event for me — Shane Koyczan’s ‘Shoulders’:
I woke up yesterday morning and looked around my childhood bedroom. My phone was filled with notifications from friends sending me water-related pictures, posts, and articles. On my desk lay pamphlets for Night\Shift alongside my ticket stub from Blue Dot. High on a shelf in a place of prominence, glasses with inscriptions about the benefits of drinking tap water, a gift from another water-loving friend. In my closet, the orange safety vest and mud-caked rubber boots lie in wait. I took the time to take in my surroundings and a feeling washed over me — I am thankful, I am doing my part, what I can contribute right now is enough, and purpose, however small, is the key to it all. What is your purpose?