A roller coaster, a bumpy ride, an uphill struggle.. That’s how I hear a lot of people remember 2015. I wouldn’t say I didn’t experience a fair share of twists and turns too, but there was a clear theme to the past year that I hope more people come to appreciate. The way I see it, it was a year of necessary challenges, calibration, transformation. We’ve had to face so much that inevitably we’ve been forced to reflect on and, in many cases, revise aspects of ourselves and our lives to feel closer to our own truth. The world is in a devastating condition. If this is what it takes for us to break out of our own constraints then it’s about time. For many, the frames that we have thus far relied on to define us are falling away.
For me, 2015 was an opportunity to tune into a knowledge essential for our times – knowing when to step back and observe, let a process have its course, and knowing when to step forward and actively nurture the progress towards what we want in life. And being the keeper of that knowledge for ourselves. I felt many times in the past year that nothing was happening, and then my friends say I got so much done in one year. After 15 years abroad, coming back to Sweden was like starting with a blank slate, uncertainty on a range of levels. But I do now look back on a row of exciting client assignments, budding business partnerships, and time building friendships, creating a home, growing a garden.
One true teacher of patience this year was indeed gardening. My wonderful charity partners gave me precious parcels of organic, non-GMO vegetable seeds from their Mesopotamian homeland, so I got down to earth in a literal sense and planted them with much enthusiasm. And I waited.. And waited.. When I eventually got tired of waiting and stopped looking, in what felt like an overnight miracle, my garden began gushing out huge squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and a bed of gorgeous golden pumpkin flowers that eventually made a Halloween lantern. It’s when we stop expecting something, that what is meant to unfold can truly blossom. But we have to plant the seeds.
And much beyond growth and reward, it was a year of endings and beginnings, of life and death, of love and vulnerability, of letting go and embracing. In 2015, my beloved aunt Isabella closed her eyes for the last time, after a long battle with cancer. Those eyes of hers, as I remember them, had magic powers. I don’t know anyone who could see into a person and pull out their truth with more grace than she could. In a most disarming way, she would see through facades and false pretences, insecurities and fears, and just allow someone to be themselves. She had no judgments or denials. And in just being her whole self, others would find glimpses of their own wholeness in her presence. For eight very special months I got to visit her several times a week. Sometimes I stayed with her. I would say goodnight and watch her sleep, and close my own eyes not knowing if she would awake the next morning. This acute awareness of her fragility made every word precious, every touch heartfelt. Never before in my life have I been more present in the moment.
Meanwhile, what was going on in her world of thoughts and feelings was truly beautiful and moving. There was no ounce of fear in her. She had prepared herself and her loved ones who could not bear the thought of life without her. She was getting ready to leave. And it was as if she was excited. As if she knew something was awaiting her, she just didn’t know what it was. We spoke about what it could be, and her imagination went wild, creating what was next after this life with no known reference points to constrain her. It helped her accept her pain and grow ever more enchanted by the ultimate uncertainty ahead of her.
Mike Horn says, “We all have our own mountain to climb.” That is so true. You might never know that someone you may perceive as flawless in every way may be struggling to overcome a feeling of inadequacy? You might never know that the person next door who is always upbeat and funny is fighting a fatal illness? We make assumptions abut people all the time – about their life, their relationships to themselves and to their surroundings, their happiness, their past, future and current circumstances. And we project their assumptions onto ourselves. What would you answer if I asked “What’s you’re safest space? What if it wasn’t there anymore? What do you need to feel dignified? What if you lost it? All of it.” Your truth is where your deepest sense of self meets an unfiltered worldview.
For many of us, 2015 was a year when two seemingly opposing forces demanded attention – meeting our own needs to feel whole, and extending ourselves to meet the needs of others. If these two are to dance gracefully, we have to shed the layers of identity that separate us from each other.
That is why I so admire my friends who have once left everything and lost everything, fought the array of feelings that prolonged uncertainty provokes, and had the patience to nurture a new life, in a new place, in new circumstances. And with all that competence, remaining humble, never taking anything for granted, and being exceedingly generous. They are to me by far the most dignified human beings I know.
Last year I wrote about one exceptional friend who fled his war-torn country at age 18, and spent two and a half years searching all over Europe for a welcoming and reliable place to call home. Two and a half years filled with as much intense hope as constant humiliation. Now in the last year over a million people have embarked on the same journey.
I wrote about my memorable meeting with the female commanders of the PKK, speaking about their goals of political engagement, women’s empowerment, supporting other oppressed groups, and educating children so they can create a more peaceful future. Those plans seem far-reached now that they are combating the Islamic State with one hand and defending themselves against Turkey’s military assaults with the other.
I wrote about their soldier who entered an IS camp and blew herself up in order to give a group of Yazidi women a chance to flee. And now thousands of Yazidi women are captured and kept by IS in warehouses, abused and traded as sex slaves.
And I wrote about how we must break the processes of radicalization by propagating an ever more enticing worldview in alternative to the messages that IS, Boko Haram and their likes use to recruit masses of youth from all over the world. And counter to all my hopes, xenophobia is spreading like wildfire, refugee camps are being vandalized, and regular practicing muslims in France are about to have no place of worship as their mosques are being shut down.
As recently as yesterday I found out that a young, bright and successful Kurdish reporter I met in Diyarbakir, Turkey, last year, who became a true hero to me in many regards, had faced threats related to his work documenting the elections and been forced to leave the country. Tomorrow I will sit with him again, hear his story, and perhaps, hopefully, be present enough so that he can reconnect with his dignity and begin to imagine what lies beyond the vast uncertainty ahead of him.
So what this time also calls us to do is step out of ourselves and our own needs and connect more deeply with the people around us. There is much that we don’t know about the future. There is even a lot we don’t know about the present moment. For those among us experiencing uncertainty right now, I hope you can find in yourself what you need to feel whole. I hope that you can picture in your wildest imagination the future of your dreams. And I hope that you can feel comfortable in waiting and letting it unfold, and know when to step forward to nurture the progress of your vision.
And I hope that you can sit with someone facing even greater uncertainty than yourself, and with just your presence make them feel a bit more whole. It is from that wholeness that the right answers will come to us. Not from fear, not from judgment, not from denial.
Then 2016 will be a year in which we all come to some degree closer to our own personal power. May it be the year of your wildest imagination.