In the first minutes of 2020, I was champagne drunk, dressed up and dancing like some combination of a child and an intoxicated Real Housewife with one of my best friends. Only a few hours later, we were peeling ourselves out of bed to participate in the new year’s day ritual I had only previously admired on my television screen from the comfort of my couch; the polar bear plunge. I spent the sunny first day of January surrounded by thousands of people laughing, shivering and doing something kind of crazy together. I ate falafel and drank vegan hot chocolate while enjoying the buzz of energy and exhilaration the frigid waters of English Bay had bestowed upon me. If January first was any indication, all signs pointed to a good year ahead.
Not long after that, I turned twenty-five and had one of my most memorable birthdays yet. I spent most of it with my family, dancing on the counter, eating Indian food and yes, drinking more champagne. I had a good feeling about 2020 and about my 25th year of life and I began the year feeling the most like myself that I maybe ever had.
I kept saying in my head “Twenty-five is mine”. Not in the sense that twenty-five wasn’t going to be anyone else’s (sharing is caring) or that this would finally be the year that I conquer the world, become a billionaire and retire to a beach. No. I said this to myself because after many different years of sitting in ages that felt like someone else’s, like it was warm from someone else’s butt, or the last occupant had reluctantly given up that seat for me, sitting in twenty-five felt like the perfect fit. It felt like home.
In the first couple months of the year, I focused on trying to put myself out there as a dancer and as a person, working hard to refine my skills and my craft as a creator and pushing myself to absorb as much of my education as possible. I began to fall back into some old patterns of expecting unrealistic outcomes of myself, pushing myself too hard and trying to force outcomes that weren’t ready or weren’t meant for me. My health issues were still very prominent and weighed heavily on my mind and spirit, but all in all, I still had a sense of optimism.
Even though I was struggling, I felt that I was just on the cusp of some sort of success, however small. I can best describe the feeling by comparing it to that of holding your breath through a long tunnel. It felt as though I had been holding my breath for so long, and I knew I was so close to the end of the tunnel where I could finally let out that massive exhale of relief and begin to breathe normally again.
And then came March; my car lurched to a stop and I finally exhaled. Not the exhale of relief following success that I was holding out for, but an exhale of surrender. For me, that actually turned out to be a type of relief in and of itself. I wasn’t at the end of the tunnel, but I finally let myself breathe. You see, at that time in my life, being told I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything was secretly a giant relief to me. Of course that relief was accompanied by a deep sense of fear and a grief for the world that I had never experienced to that magnitude. But if I’m honest, I found so much relief in surrendering and that really became the theme of the year for me.
So there I was, at a dead stop in the tunnel; surrendering to the circumstances and taking time to get some much needed oxygen. I felt no need to push my car forward at that time. I didn’t even want to get out of it. I witnessed some of the other people stopped in the tunnel immediately exit their cars. Some patrolled through the other vehicles wondering why we all had to stop in the first place, some walked straight to the back of their cars and began to push. I sat and observed all of this, remaining still.
Like many of us, I was guilty of spending multiple hours watching the news and social media to gain any kind of understanding on what was happening and what the next days, weeks and months would look like. Amidst processing all of that noise, I saw the people who had immediately decided to push their cars posting on Instagram saying things like “Stay ready!” “Use this time to better yourself” and “This is not a reason to give up.” And I could not. I just could not.
Personally, I didn’t have an ounce of motivation, drive, or desire to immediately keep pushing forward in my career, fitness, self-improvement or anything really when the world suddenly shut down. I shut down right with it. I barely moved for that whole first week and I remained so still for the rest of 2020 in many ways. Physically, yes, I spent a hell of a lot more time sitting on the couch, finding solace in things like The Bachelor, Too Hot to Handle and Love is Blind. I have zero regrets about this and actually plan to keep up with my newfound trashy television habit without an ounce of shame.
Stillness was a product of surrendering to the circumstances of life this year. On paper, I didn’t accomplish a whole lot in 2020, but I did learn a lot and I did finally allow myself to surrender. This year taught me a lot about what can happen when you surrender to stillness; there’s much to gain from slowing down (or perhaps stopping entirely) and taking in the current scenery with full acceptance of where you are. I’ve reflected on some of the lessons I learned from the stillness of 2020 and hold a great deal of gratitude for them. I believe they were lessons long overdue and I intend to commit myself to applying them in my next year of life.
My Dear 2020,
You taught me that more time does not necessarily mean more time. I had more time on my hands this year than I have since I was a kid and somehow I still did not come out of this year having knocked off every single thing on my to-do list. Why? Because that increase in time came with the caveat of a goddamn pandemic. And suddenly I needed way more time to process, cope and take care of my mind. I refuse to beat myself up for the things I failed to accomplish during my countless hours of ‘free time’ this year. I know now that prioritizing what is most important in the time that you do have rather than wishing for more of it is a much healthier way to approach time.
You taught me that rigidity is a ticking time bomb. You can build structures like rules, goals and routines with cement like rigidity, but if a heavy enough hammer comes down on them, they will crack – or sometimes crumble all together. Life needs space to breathe, move and adjust and the structures of life should hold enough flexibility to compensate for that need.
You taught me that done is better than perfect. I honestly can’t believe I’m typing that given my perfectionist erm, tendencies. If perfection lies at the top of a ten stair staircase, then focusing on perfection rather than progress is like spending weeks working up the courage to jump straight to the top, rather than working up the required strength by jumping on the first stair, then the second, and so forth. Done can eventually become perfect, but if you never get it done it will never get the chance to be perfect.
You taught me that no one else’s belief in me is as important as my own. I think a large part of me has always needed others to believe in me, or believe in my potential in order for me to believe too. Through the lens of my dance career, in the last year or so I haven’t had any mentors, directors, choreographers or employers of any kind to validate me or express their belief in me. It helped me figure out how to believe in myself and I realized that believing in my own damn self was key to enjoying the process of pursing a dance career but also just enjoying the exploration of movement.
You taught me how to strip everything back, look at myself, take care of myself, appreciate and nurture the relationships in my life and to accept and embrace my current circumstances. Surrendering to stillness finally reeled me in and helped me sit back into my own body, mind and spirit rather than constantly chasing, reaching and pursuing. A lot of things just sort of clicked once I did that. I sat in my own self, my own seat and found the value in exactly where I was.
As the world slowly inches out of this Pandemic, I am slowly inching my way out of the tunnel with the decision to breathe normally, enjoy the music and take my time. Had the pandemic not forced me to stop everything, I may have still been holding my breath, getting redder and redder in the face until I passed out in my car and inevitably crashed.
Those breaths did a lot more for me over the course of the year than just returning oxygen to my body. They allowed me to (safely) explore my home province, move into Vancouver with my best friend, fall back in love with my city, fall in actual love, spend time with my family and most importantly to actually be there fully for all of it.
I’m stepping into 2021 with the same friends, a lot of the same resolutions and admittedly, the same toenail polish. Same same, but very different. I still have no idea what 2021 holds realistically, but I am committing to continuing to allow myself to breathe through the tunnel, to leave ample room for adjustment, to make lots of space for love and to remember the lessons that this very challenging, tiring and valuable year taught me.
P.S. I do want to express HUGE gratitude and acknowledgement for my very privileged experience of this year. Myself and my loved ones remained safe and healthy and I know that was not the case for so many. May they remain safe and healthy for the rest of this pandemic (and beyond).