I hope you embraced the joy of being with your loved ones for the holidays and that you survived the commercial fury of this period of the year.
There’s no need to remind you that 2018 has come to an end and was replaced by 2019. I may be a bit late, but it’s still the occasion for me to be totally unoriginal and continue a tradition that’s important for me: to reflect on the year that has just ended. But before that, I wanted to first quickly mention my last trip (let’s not forget that Sowanders is first and foremost a travel blog): Morocco.
I went there at the beginning of November, to join some friends in that beautiful country. It wasn’t the first time I went to Morocco, you know it. Indeed, four years ago, an improvised three-week journey there influenced the most important decision I ever took in my life: the one to leave the certitude of the life I could have built in Switzerland in exchange for the adventures and lessons that were waiting for me on the road. So of course, to find myself there once again was also an opportunity to contemplate all of the things I have accomplished since then.
This journey has thus been very quiet and reflective, the occasion for me to relax, but also to take loads of photos of a vibrating and colourful country; those will decorate my words all along this text. They were taken in Imsouan and its surroundings, a small southern village where we were based, as well as during a roadtrip of a few days up North, towards Chefchaouen.
I would rather be writing these lines in a new notebook, because I feel as if I’ve turned many pages. I am new person. An ‘updated’ version of myself, since I last came to Morocco.
Why not. This eternal question that changed so much for me resonates in my head, remains of an impulsion that was born during my first trip here, a quest for other possibles.
I may have finally found the answer to this question. Maybe the answer to ‘why not?’ is just a dot instead of a question mark.
To stop questioning my life, seeking to justify it, and to start affirming it instead. Simply, to live!
We are in now in 2019. Exactly four years after my first stay in Morocco, in January 2015, and almost four years since the creation of this blog.
Who says ends and beginnings says perspective on the twelve months that have just gone by. For my part, I can easily claim that 2018 will have been one of the most beautiful years of my life. Ironically, it succeeded to the worst. The sun behind the clouds, the light at the end of the tunnel, the top of the mountain; interpret it as you want, but what’s sure is that having stood in the darkness for so long allowed me to truly appreciate the light, once back on. Oh of course, there is still lots of black next to lots of white, and mostly an infinity of shades of grey in between.
A life can be so short and so fragile, but it’s also very long and I know that a lot can happen over the years. Sometimes, anxiety wakes me up in the middle of the night, the overwhelming fear of something happening to the people I love, the terrible observation that our world is descending into chaos and destruction because of our daily actions, and then, terrorism, illnesses, accidents, war, what do I know! Danger is waiting for us everywhere, all the time. It’s often hard to conciliate this part of me linked to the great whole, this conscience of the problems of the world, to the futility of my own little problems.
However, I am learning more and more that a human life is made up of all those contradictions and that the smallest details of existence can harbor a great power, when big, universal events have only a small impact on our daily lives. Everything is a question of time, of course, and the fact that we are so connected means that it will all catch up with us in the end. What’s surprising is that it’s impossible to know what, when and how, and that it’s often in the most unexpected and seemingly insignificant that life really finds its meaning.
In the meantime, in all of that, I feel like I am growing and moving ahead slowly, at my rhythm. The answers never came to me in brutal ways, but rather unraveled before me little by little, as my steps bring me towards a certain destination, that I feel is familiar without however quite knowing where it is. Oh, how I like the hindsight that allows me to look at my life as if it were a book, searching for its meaning, slicing it up in chapters, finding its triggers, its twists, its main characters.
The Camino incarnated well this slow progression. I think about it everytime with a great smile on my face, and I remember it as one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, without a doubt. The words come missing to express the gratitude that takes hold of me when I think of the people I met, the messages, the lessons I found on my way to Santiago… Simply, the gift that it was, a gift I gave myself and that perhaps saved me. How could I have continued in this life, without giving myself the consideration I deserve?
‘To forgive myself, and move on.’ Such was my intention placed before walking, a mantra that stayed with me along the kilometers, but that may have as well been replaced with: ‘To dare to love myself‘.
2018 was the year when I learned to give myself time and space to make mistakes, to let go of the obsession of perfection. To accept and appreciate the messiness, just like with this clumsy article. Because slowly moving forward is better than not moving at all. Movement is something vital. Two years ago, I almost physically didn’t have the choice to move, the pain having taken control of my body and my mind, making me a stranger to myself, paralyzed, incapable of going anywhere. Now, I go a bit slower, but I go. I take different paths, I timidly open a few doors. Where I’m going? Only the future will tell…
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow.”
– Mary A. Radmacher
When I came home from Spain after the rebirth I experienced on the Camino, I actually didn’t know where to go. So, instead of throwing myself unconsciously towards new adventures, I preferred to take my time. Admittedly, I left again anyway (I mean, I’m still me), but without an unstoppable desire to always go further, to leave just for the sake of leaving. And you know what? Fewer things happened in my life, this summer. Actually, I didn’t even do anything really ‘productive’ for a while. And as a judgmental voice tried to convince me, and still does, that it was a proof of my laziness, my weakness, my lack of discipline, there is another one to which I’m learning to give more space, to hear louder than the other, and this one murmurs to me: ‘I am enough’.
‘I am enough’.
Not ‘I do enough’. Because I’m starting to understand that this irrational perfectionism, this need for achieving the impossible, is a way to convince myself that the day I’ll have written 15 books, finished 3 doctorates, seen all the countries in the world and so on, then and only then, I will be enough. And you know what ? I am enough, here and now. I am enough, in all my flaws, all my mistakes, all my weaknesses. And you reading me, you are too. The simple fact of existing demands great courage and perseverance, and for that, you have all my admiration.
I saw my wonderful cousin at a family meeting, and when I told her that the Camino was one of the best things that ever happened to me, she said: “You know Sophie, it didn’t ‘happen’ to you. You made it happen. You walked every single kilometer of the way, no one else.”
And it was a nice reminder, because no one can walk for anybody else. I took those steps. I might not have done everything perfectly, but at least I tried. I went out there. Fuck perfect! I accepted the fact that most of what is worthy of achieving takes time, and I worked hard. By doing so, I managed to manifest things in my life that I never would have even imagined a year before that. I was grateful to be reminded of that.
I thus became stronger. I reconnected to my body and acknowledged the importance of taking care of it. Walking was the start, and it was followed by attempts to regular exercise (not always successful). I walked 900 km, and then I biked 900 km, all in the same year. For someone often seen as very delicate and fragile (including through my own eyes), it feels good to feel strong, to feel like I won’t break so easily, like I can hold the distance. Now, I am my grounded and my legs can take me far, my shoulders can carry a lot of weight. Even if at times, my body also needs to rest.
Because it’s not only a question of being ‘strong’ or not. There really are things that only time can heal. Time is a funny thing. It feels at moments completely meaningless. Like when you meet up with an old friend and it’s as if nothing has ever changed. Or when you go back somewhere you’ve been to already and everything still looks similar, although nothing is the same anymore…
Self-love! What an amazing journey it has been, to allow me to fall in love with myself. It’s life-changing. Loving myself meant taking care of my body, as I mentioned before, but even more importantly of my heart and my mind. This year, my awareness about the ailments that affect my brain has grown, and I am better prepared to tackle the highs and lows of the roller coaster that inhabits me. That doesn’t mean being happy all the time; on the contrary, for me, it means honouring my pain and sadness by giving them the space and attention they deserve.
It also meant starting to truly accept myself for who I am. It’s okay if I am a little different. I still deserve my love anyway. My ways of living and perceiving the world around is part of all the colours that constitute mankind. And it happens to also be one of my major sources of inspiration; if I wasn’t feel a bit down and in need of comfort and introspection right now, I wouldn’t be writing this. What’s more is that the pain I often feel is part of the empathy I have for the world and its inhabitants, which I believe we desperately need more of.
I hurt a few people, too. Because on my journey to self-love, I am learning that it’s essential to put myself first at times. Of course, I am not happy about it, but I wouldn’t change it. I can’t be what everybody wants me to be, and I can’t apologize all my life for my choices.
My attitude towards travelling has also evolved this year. Although I finished my last journey emptied, disillusioned and a bit nauseous about what I saw in the travel industry, full of doubts about my own choices, I gave it another chance this year. I rediscovered the beauty in simple things, that I didn’t need to go to the other side of the planet to in awe of life.
I think that actually, true beauty lies above all in encounters with people, whether you’re here or there. And there’s beautiful people everywhere, if you choose to trust it. If you don’t look with your eyes. Again, I am circling back to this topic because it is essential. It’s our nature as social beings to seek connection. A shared laugh or memory is worth more than any material object. I am so grateful that some people chose to open their hearts to me and give me their trust and love. I have received so much from them.
What can I conclude from all of this? Well, maybe an encouragement to stay kind to others and to myself…
I really want to learn to give myself some slack, and appreciate the things I’ve accomplished instead of all the missed opportunities and lazy Sundays watching Netflix. Netflix is nice. Life doesn’t always have to be so serious. It’s okay to chill at times. Especially if, in the meantime, I still manage to keep up the good grades in self-disciplined distance studies as well as work a few different jobs, go to seven different countries in a year, perfect a language I’m learning (Arabic is the best :D), give a conference, read many books, meet new people, write the draft of what might be the most important work of my life, do therapy and slowly deal with my depressive tendencies and even publish my own book.
The list could go on. You get my point. I might not have a stable job or life, I might still depend on my parents for now and struggle with some ‘adult’ responsibilities, I might still happen to wake up in the middle of the night in anguish, and I still want to die at times. But my life is pretty awesome anyway. I have accomplished enough to feel really proud of myself. And I’m not saying all of this to receive congratulations, no, I’m sharing this with you in order to encourage you, reader, to honour yourself in the same way, because you are a beautiful human being who does plenty of beautiful things, and you are worthy of love. Most of all, of your own love. 🙂
To end with this positive reflection:
In 2018, there was ‘On the road towards other worlds’, the book that shaped my dreams of becoming a writer and was a first contribution to what I hope to build through my work, thus the allusion in the title of this post. Because I hope there will be many more! More books, more roads, more worlds. In 2019, and for all the years that will come after.
I the meantime, I wish you all a very, very, very Happy New Year. May it be full of love and imperfection.