Trust And Fear

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.

CliffsAndWaves

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.

CloseByCliffs

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.

CliffsAndOcean

CliffsAndStudent

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.

GlitteringOcean

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.

ScalingTheCliffs

TeacherAndStudent

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.

HighUpTheCliffs

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.

TheOutdoorGang

HappyUpTop

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! ❤

WeMadeIt

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Focusing Through A Storm

This week’s photo challenge couldn’t have come at a better time. I have mentioned before how much I love these challenges because of how they light up my brain and make ideas whoosh on in. Yesterday I only got one idea, but sometimes that is all it takes. One spark. One shot. Every day life is full of let-downs but also opportunities, and what matters is which one you latch on to. The choices you make. The chances you take. We have to find and nurture that one glowing ember and keep on moving toward our goals, toward our dreams. Do it in spite of how everything else seems to be working against you.

 

DanceToTheSunset

Yesterday I felt like I stepped out onto a battlefield and into the wild storm of past ghosts and spectral voices with only a fragile whisper to challenge them, and I want to tell you about it. In honour of today’s post, I have left all photos unedited, except for the very last one in this post.

Two nights ago at sunset the light was so incredibly gorgeous. I shouted out to Jay and Lilli: Shoes on, let’s go, we’re going outside to jump around like crazy in the sunset! And we did. Except Jay kind of just stood there, while Lilli, Loke and I ran around like we had ants in our pants.

I had my camera set up and took so many photos. When I got inside, though, and uploaded them I wanted to cry. Noise noise noise. Grainy colours. That was all I could focus on.

DanceToTheSunset_Cropped

The lens I shoot with the most is the one that came with my camera, an EFS 18-55 mm–a rather basic lens. I was in to Rauma some time ago to inquire about wide angle lenses, which I have read are great for landscape photography. The lady in the shop confirmed this, let me try one, and told me this little 18-55 mm I have definitely won’t do the job.

This lens has been a trusty companion throughout all these years, though, and I haven’t ever been disappointed. Not until the night I uploaded those sunset photos. All of yesterday I was so bummed out about it. It has to be the lens, I said to Jay. I am doing everything right. I am following the instructions and I am getting the hang of ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and the light metering. It has to be the lens. Right?

Is it? Maybe I am just not good enough.

Around midnight, when the sun had climbed behind the horizon, the mist arrived. Yes! Woohoo! I took my macro lens, knowing it certainly isn’t ideal for landscape, and went outside for another round. I spent most of that time staring at a spider web to figure out how to capture it. Only the faintest breeze danced along with the mist, and while I couldn’t feel it, the spider web swaying ever so slightly was proof enough.

WebInTheMist

PowerlinesInTheMist
I chose to focus on these shots littered with dust speckles.

BirchInMist

I told Jay: That’s it. I’m done. Nothing good comes out of this. I didn’t even bother trying to remove the speckles because they are absolutely everywhere.

I didn’t let it go, though. Figuring out what the problem was so I could fix it compelled me to keep trying. I sat down yesterday to scour my photography book that I ordered a few weeks ago. Apparently, the sharpest and most vivid-coloured images are created at between f8 and f11. Because of the shape of the lenses. And I had used f22 as we danced to the sunset. So yesterday evening I forced myself to give it another try.

My heart really wasn’t in it but, as always, energy filled every fiber of my body once the trees gathered around.

CareToDance
Care to dance?

DanceWithATree

Something funny happened. There I was, running up and down our little forest road, dancing and jumping and curtseying in front of a tree, asking for a dance, and out of nowhere a neighbour came walking toward me with their dog. Good evening! You get to be in my photo shoot, I said. He laughed, and then I started talking to the dog. I was so shocked that I just kept babbling, and I can’t remember what I said or much of what he said. I do remember that their dog is about to have puppies and is going away for several weeks.

Besides achieving to be bitten by mosquitoes about fifty times and getting actual ants up my skirt, I felt nothing came out of that photo shoot. I couldn’t see anything else but what I was already looking for. Faults. I felt like I was met by failure at every turn.

But then an e-mail arrived–The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge. Focus, it told me, and I read the post. All my woes were pushed aside as I got the idea to log in to my iCloud and look through my older photos, from almost two years ago.

RamvikOldSawMill
Ramvik’s old saw mill, about 30 kilometers from Härnösand, Sweden. It shut down in the 1950’s, or thereabouts. Autumn 2015.
MirroredLakeCopse
On my way to school one morning, I had to stop to take photos. Late autumn 2015.
MistAndFrost
This mist was enchanting.
MistyMountains
I stayed there for a long while, entranced by the spectacular play of light and colour across a frosty morning landscape.
SunriseFog
The mist got so thick I could hardly see as I drove on. But then the sun came through and I had to stop. Right in the middle of the road. Luckily, no other cars came. And all these photos were shot with my 18-55 mm lens.
BlurryBubbas
Loke isn’t in focus, but I love this shot. Shot with my Tamron 90mm macro lens.
OutOfFocusBubbas
Also with the Tamron macro lens.

 

 

One of the most important things I have learned so far on my journey has been to get to know and understand myself. One big part of me is my tendency to strive for perfection. It is a tough one, but I am trying to learn to see and use it as a great tool and asset instead of an obstacle. Weaving it together with my creativity and artistic sides when I also have a tendency to obsess, not let things go and go with the flow, however, is probably one of my biggest challenges. This is getting to the heart of it, this is where I break it or make it.

So far I have shared so many photos with you, majority taken with that 18-55 mm lens. Close-ups or landscapes. In all kinds of light and settings. So why did I suddenly lose my head over those sunset photos? Why could I not see how great they are? Well, I engaged the old me, focused on the mistakes, the faults, the failures. I didn’t see the whole picture, I didn’t remember I am on a journey. I expected too much of myself, too soon. In turn I missed out on all the things I did achieve. That I kept going in spite of feeling failure all the way down into my frozen toes. I didn’t give up–in spite of everything, I kept grabbing at opportunities.

Sometimes, even when we are convinced we are getting nowhere, deeper processes are at work. We need to trust in those, let go and cut ourselves some slack. I know it can seem impossible at times, but I dare to promise you that even when you cannot feel the wind it is there. Step back, look for signs. They are all around you, and within. And keep going, no matter what. You will get there.

MakeAWish
Arctic Starflower / Skogsstjärna / These are among the simplest yet most beautiful flowers I know.

 

A Personal Journey

Hello, everyone! I know I dropped off the radar but it seems like I have been in constant motion since Wednesday morning and I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write until now. The past few days have been amazing and I have been longing to get a moment to share them with you.

MomsLivingroom
In my mother’s living room.
TheRose
A gift.

Last week I got a message from the education coordinator at Härnösand’s Folk High in Sweden, where I studied for two years–two incredible years which came to play a big part in the personal journey I began back in 2014. I have had plenty of time now to land and process all the emotions and impressions from the past few days–and since I got her message–but even as I write I am overwhelmed anew. A tangle of happiness, wonder, and such a deep thankfulness it feels like I might lift off the ground. I cannot tell you how many times I have been on the verge of tears or how many words were choked by the emotion that provoked them.

HighCoastBridge
View from old route E4/“Riksväg 90”.

As I write, I sit in my father’s kitchen, a cup of coffee beside me, and with a view of the High Coast bridge outside our window. It is the most comfy place and I am so easily lost in thought and contemplation. Even though I feel and know the changes I have gone through, even though family, friends, and teachers have seen and confirmed them, I am still kind of gobsmacked that it got me elected for a stipend. A diploma with words of my accomplishments along this journey rests in my suitcase now, ready to travel back home to Finland to be framed. Honestly, I am going to put it on my wall. I both can and can’t believe it, do you know what I mean?

You know, I almost didn’t go. After I was contacted I ran out the door and across the farm to where my partner was in the middle of cleaning our machines. I had to shout over the rumble of the compressor. I told him about the invitation back to Härnösand Folk High and he reminded me of the timing belt that needs changing before any major trips should be made with the car. And there just wasn’t enough time to get the car into the workshop before I would have had to leave. The HFS education coordinator told me I could join them over Skype, so either way I would be with them throughout the event. And so I told her I couldn’t come.

My partner noticed how crestfallen I was, and I kept trying to come up with any alternative or solution to make the trip anyway. He told me you’ll regret it if you don’t go. I don’t believe in regrets, but I knew already on the inside that I hadn’t accepted I can’t be there. I guess I needed to hear that I could risk the fate of the timing belt–and the engine–take the chance. Sometimes, no matter how far you have come to trust in that inner voice, sometimes that little extra push is needed. So I went, and the car and I had a smooth and uneventful trip, all the way from Finland to Sweden.

CruiseShips

SunPillarsAndClouds

Marina

SomeFort

MeOnSundeck

I think once again on those words the speaker presenting the stipends gave, how important it is to find your own voice. For so long I lived with those borrowed voices I had collected over the years, and for so long I grew to resent the people behind those voices every single time I met failure and disappointment. So finding my own voice wasn’t only important for me and my own well-being and growth, but I have finally been able to let go of the world of weight my grudges encumbered me with. I can now with complete honesty say I do not feel contempt for anyone, no matter who they are or what they do. We are all on a journey–our very own path to find and establish that inner voice, find our place in this world. Sometimes we walk alone, and sometimes we walk alongside others. When my own voice is strong and clear, and the trust in myself sincere, I have come to see I hear and find it in me to understand and listen to others in ways I never could before.

For this, and for all the other challenges and opportunities to meet them I was given during my time at Härnösand Folk High, and to all the wonderful and amazing people I got to meet–I will be forever grateful. So this is not the end of a journey, it is only the beginning. And I eagerly and with more surety and confidence than ever take my next steps.

TopOfSkule
At the top of Skule mountain in the High Coast, Sweden. A sneak peek of the many more photos to come from that evening. 😉

As always, thank you so much for reading and I wish you all a cozy Sunday and a great week ahead. See you soon!

The Unintentional Prelude

Even though I moved back home to Finland to rejoin my family in December last year, I still haven’t unpacked all the boxes of stuff I brought with me. So when I started working on the blog post wherein I’ll share Loke’s and my 9-hour hike, I thought I would go through my journals to see what I might have written that day. It took me a while but I found it eventually… and got stuck reading what past-me had to say. I’m laughing at myself because I just mentioned the lacking organisational and time management skills in my previous post. It makes me think of this image I saw once, of counting sheep when trying to go to sleep, and it ends up with hey, Macarena!

So now I have hit a bit of a hey-macarena situation with my blog post. I intended to just add an excerpt from my journal entry, but one thing lead to another, and suddenly I had poured out a ton of words before even getting to the actual hike. So instead of deleting those words, I am posting them as a fitting example of my process. Let’s call it The Unintentional Prelude.

June 20, 2015

Dear present-me,

Hiked the High Coast trail today! Got a total of 32 km! I am not sure how I am still alive. Or sitting up. Poor Loke is totally pooped. But it sure was nice. More than nice. Awesome, even. I am so proud of myself for doing the entire 1st course of the High Coast trail! Oh. And BOY am I glad I invested in those Meindl hiking boots. Without them, my feet would be chopped pork.

I wish I would have had a diary excerpt to share from when my parents first moved us–my siblings and me–from a Stockholm suburb up to this area in 1989. Not that I really kept a journal back then. I was eight years old and I hadn’t found my love for words yet. Suffice to say, younger-me did not share my enthusiasm and love for Ångermanland, the northern province of Sweden in which the High Coast is located. To my young self it was dark, remote, and I knew no one, at first. All my friends were a world away. Winters seeped through the creaking walls of the old house, and outside the cover of snow seemed taller than I was (enough to bury our car at times). I didn’t dislike nature, but the loss of my friends and the world I knew muddled my impressions.

From old photographs and stories my parents have told, I know my father took me out on smaller hikes to pick berries and mushrooms already as a baby–I rode along in a sling on his back. And later on, as my siblings arrived and we got older and could use our own legs, we stumbled around in his footsteps, climbed large rocks, hunted insects and explored the undergrowth. We would help each other to lift smaller boulders to watch in fascination the intricate patterns created beneath by all manner of critters and little lizards. Once we found a snake sunning itself. Another time we crossed paths with elk calfs. It is safe to say my love for nature has long been cultivated in me, and I in it.

PastAdventures
At my request, Mom dug up some photos. Bless her.

When I came back to Härnösand in autumn 2014–and every other time through the years, really–I always remembered our family hikes with fondness. I took every opportunity I could to go back to those places we visited as children, coaxing whoever available along as well I could, but the one place that had the greater pull was a cabin built and maintained by a local outdoor organisation. It’s open all year round and is free to use by anyone. Nestled on a bare cliff on top of a ridge it gazes out over the amazing landscape that signifies the World Heritage of the High Coast.

View from Tuäggenstugan
Did you know that due to the post-glacial rebound, the High Coast rises 8 mm annually? And it will continue to do so for generations to come, gradually slowing down.

The trek up to Tuäggenstugan, as the cabin is called in Swedish, is situated a few minutes drive from a small village by the name of Ramvik, about 30 km northwest of Härnösand. My father still lives there in that creaky house I called home from the age of 8 to the age of 13 (and sporadically in later years).

IMG_0681
The house used to be pink once, and white-beige-ish before that. The two smaller windows were once shop-sized windows. The house’s bottom floor held a sewing and fabrics shop in the earlier 1900’s – 1950.

My father’s house–almost only a stone’s throw away from water–faces Ångermanälven, a 463 km long river. The name originates from Old Norse–anger–which seems to have various meanings, such as tight/narrow, and names of lakes and bays have contained some form of the word anger. Mostly in Norway, but also in Sweden. In this case maybe it refers to that the province of Ångermanland is full of fjord-like (fjord-ish?) formations, although by far not comparative to our neighbour’s majestic fjords.

If you looked closely at the photo taken from Tuäggenstugan you could see the pylons in the distance (tiny, tiny). That is a suspension bridge–Höga Kusten bron–which was inaugurated 20 years ago, now, this year. Before it was built you had to take a ferry to the other side, or drive another 15 or so kilometers further north to cross. Next to the High Coast bridge on the other side of the river, atop some cliffs, sits the High Coast Hotel–where they serve absolutely delicious food–and that is where my hike began. The hike this post was supposed to be about. Er, oops?

Regardless of taking a little detour, these sneaky extra words still tie into all the reasons why this place means so much to me. Which is something the younger-me, as I mentioned earlier, never would have thought she would one day say. As I write this, and truly think about it, I find myself smiling; the place I once couldn’t get far enough away from is the very place that much later would have such a big impact on my personal growth and, ultimately, my mental health. I won’t go into details or dedicate any major words to that here, and get sidetracked again, but when I left Finland over two years ago I was suffering from deep depression and anxiety, social phobia, PTSD–and, now, let me tell you that all that has changed.

Bliss
Feel the moment… just this moment.