Writing about my time at Härnösand Folk High is actually something I wanted to do while I was still there. I created a blog here on WordPress back in 2015 but nothing more came out of it. Every time I sat down to write my head went empty and got crowded all at the same time. All my intentions were pushed aside by fears and worries over what you would think about me and my words. I also wondered what I could possibly have to offer in this vast sea of already established bloggers and inspirational people. Of course I am still curious about you, but not because I am convinced you will think I am a complete nutcase or that my words are insignificant.
I also held my visions and dreams locked inside. I thought that I couldn’t write about what has not taken shape yet, that I can’t share what I don’t understand before I myself know how it all fits together. To show you the process, my unfinished or unpolished creativity, was unthinkable. It had to be something worth sharing. But do you know what? How can we hope for the sun to reach us if we hide in the shadows? This is something that I learned to acknowledge, a belief I strengthened during my time at Härnösand Folk High. For every time I let go of my words and share my thoughts and dreams, I grow more confident, no matter how strange or abstract it may be. To share who I am and what I do, what I envision, gives it substance. Makes it real. Like the little baby pines I planted a few weeks ago. I took them out of the cardboard box they arrived in and set them down in the earth. There they stand now, among moss and lingonberry bushes, stumps and flowers, beneath the sky to be nurtured and grow into a forest once again.
In the same way I share my words and my photos, and I love doing it. I believe in it. And that is how it is supposed to be, don’t you think? This is how I believe I manage to fight against the nervousness. I took those first steps, got over the threshold, let go of my fears and made space for what I truly feel and think, deep down. What I truly want.
I believe that to trust others we have to trust ourselves. I had no faith in my own abilities, and what I thought of myself was lower than low. When we trust someone we let them in, we open ourselves up and give them glimpses of our innermost selves. I did not think much of that person I was on the inside, I don’t think I even knew who that was, so to invite others to take part became very difficult.
The experience I want to share with you today took place during an excursion. We created so called Interest Groups of various kinds which met up about once a week (sometimes every two weeks) during the first hour of school on Fridays. The Outdoor Group I joined did many things together–walking in snow shoes, skiing. To start the day like that was so wonderful, and it gave so much energy. In April last year (2016), we went to a place by the ocean just outside of Härnösand called Smitingen. There is a beach, summer cottages, some trails, places to grill, and cliffs. On these cliffs I went head to head with my fears.
At first, I just enjoyed the adventure of being surrounded by nature, and these rocks were a comfortable challenge. I breathed deeply of the ocean air, savoured the scent of pine and resin mingling with that tangy breeze sweeping in with the waves. It wasn’t until later, as we reached the cliffs further up ahead, that my insecurities began to take over. And suddenly I stood there on the edge of a gaping crevice. Waves rushed in deep down below in the darkness, and in my eyes it looked like a death wish. At one point I even wondered if I would survive this or die and never see my family back in Finland again.
The very core of a Folk High is acceptance and equality. The individual. To be met as you are, for who you are right then and to be given the time and be offered the tools you need to take the necessary steps. For you. Because you aren’t there for anyone else but yourself. To work through and take on the challenges you need to get to where you want to go. And to do this, we have to work together. Accept and respect each other. This is the heart, and this is the spirit of a Folk High.
Out on those cliffs, with the waves crashing below, I met that deeply rooted fear and lacking trust. And then my teacher crossed over. Just like that. It’s easy, you can do this, he said. Do you trust me? A man jumping from cliff to cliff like he was born to do it. I told him no, but also that I didn’t really trust anyone. I kept looking over my shoulder to my friends, and argued there had to be another way around. Sure. Up. Which was even worse. I was literally petrified. But all throughout my hesitation, no one said a thing to make me feel I was being a coward or ridiculous. Nothing and no one but my own demons shouted at me.
I can’t do this. It won’t work. I’ll never get to the other side. I don’t want to. What a stupid idea to come out here–I’m slowing everyone down. They won’t catch me, they’ll lose their grip–I will lose my grip. I am such a pain in the ass.
My head was filled with impossibilities and my entire body responded according to my intentions, that I just couldn’t do it. I made a few half-hearted attempts but mostly I just clung to the sides and felt like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. My memory goes a little hazy here because once I made the decision to put my trust in the hands of others–my life, my body–I shut down all thought process, silenced the taunts and jabs of my ghostly persecutors, and gave myself over to the task at hand. The thing with fear is that the more you think about it, the worse it gets. Of course I wasn’t able to rationalise quite so well in the moment. But I am here, alive, and writing about it.
Once across to the other side, breathless and trembling, I said aloud from now on, every time I think I can’t do something, I will think of this day. And I have. I will never, ever forget. Not only did I build a little trust that day, but I drowned a good dose of my fears and left them there in those freezing waters. And the feeling that came with breaking myself loose, taking the chance, accepting the help of another human being was so powerful. I didn’t reflect much on it in that day or the weeks afterwards. Not until much later. And after I shared this experience in front of the school those couple of weeks ago, my teacher came up to me and gave me a hug. He told me he didn’t know it had had such an impact on me. How could he, though? I didn’t talk about it openly, not like this, not with these words and these reflections. But I am so glad I finally did.
This was only one of the challenges I met and took on during those two years. However, for each step I took in spite of I can’t do this reverberating through my entire being, I put down a stone. Piece by piece I built a foundation of self-confidence and trust in myself, a trust in the world around me. I took note and recorded proof with which to contradict those voices which always managed to convince me I couldn’t do something. They still try, but I pay them much less mind now because I know differently. I am not a failure. Just as long as I keep trying, keep taking those steps.
The teachers at this school had that special ability to find and help us focus on our strengths. For me, this was the key, since I already was so good at obsessing over my weaknesses. With this help I am now working on turning those weaknesses into strengths. After all, throughout my life I had adapted the habit of seeing so much from a negative point of view. Finding faults and ways to sabotage myself by staring myself blind at all that I couldn’t do, which resulted in one opportunity after another passing me by.
These days, instead of focusing on the possible failures and botched outcomes, I remind myself it will be an experience gained. I will be all the richer for having tried and failed than if I had done nothing. Success lies not within dodging failure but within embracing the opportunity and possibility to learn, gain, and grow. And we all start somewhere, don’t we? When we are little and learn to walk we fall on our butts, on our heads, bump into things and meet that fight with gravity and balance again and again. But in spite of the tears, the pain and frustration we never, ever give up. Failure is not a concept we conceive of at that stage in life. Just because we have that awareness now, why should we let that get in the way of passion and want, or make us shy away from dreams and visions?
I know that some days are tougher than others. Defeat hits us harder, our confidence falters, we see more failure than progress. What I have found is to at such times accept it and let it be so. What I have come to believe is that we have seasons within us just like the nature around us. For me, personally, spring is my toughest time. When everything seems to come to a stand-still, spring might even throw in the reverse. Winter returns and paints the world white, and those buds on the trees cannot seem to reach through to the sunlight, nor be coaxed by the birdsong. But the seasons change, every single year the world bursts into colour sooner or later. As do we. So to get to know ourselves and feel those seasons within, be kinder to ourselves, more understanding and have patience is I believe so very important.
I want to thank you so much for reading and joining me through this experience. If you want to share any of your own experiences that have in one way or another had an impact on your life, I would love to hear about it. For now, I wish you all a wonderful Friday, and a happy Midsummer Eve! ❤