Stories

Creating Light photo adventures & inspiring stories.
 

Nurture & Heal

{ Portrait 46 }

There is a visceral call from deep within to come home. To our bodies. Our spirit. Our ability to be with our selves. With presence, with honestly, creativity and compassion. 

We get caught experiencing our lives at a distance. Taking up a detached residence in the room at the top of the tower. Locked in for protection.

However, not realizing that in fact we're trapping ourselves. That through neglect and disrepair of everything below, those tower walls and their foundation, the very structures holding us up can and will come crashing down. 

Sonja portrait - eyes closed, hands on heart

And I've been there amongst the rubble. The devastating and messy result of not paying attention to the disconnect & the distance. Pushing too hard, too fast. And not taking the time and intention to care for myself in a nurturing sustainable way. I know what it's like to pick up those shattered pieces and put them back together. To laboriously, and tenderly re-lay the brick and mortar. Differently this time. Stronger. More aligned. And taking responsibility for maintaining it's strength and integrity.

Throughout this process, I've quested to define what self-care and self love mean to me. And it's involved a lot of listening. To my own physical body, creative being, and what brings me the most joy.

Realizing that it's not something that another person can tell me, or that I can find solely in an article or book. That it's something I need to choose and define for myself. 

And I was so very grateful to meet a beautiful soul creating a space for exactly that.

Sonja Portrait

Sonja and I met serendipitously a few months ago. And since then I've been able to be a part of the magic she's creating in the world. 

She is the founder of Nurture: A Retreat. A soul-filling weekend in the most peaceful oasis, Loretto Maryholme Spiritual Retreat Centre north of Toronto. A place and experience that encourages this personal growth through the art of loving self care. The retreat is attended by female entrepreneurs and creative/care-giving professionals and supports each of their unique journeys through a series of delicious, delightful and gorgeously hands-on workshops. It teaches some amazing skills, like gorgeous hand lettering, intuitive body movement & dance, and how to create healthy and nourishing delights in the kitchen. I was also personally honoured to facilitate the LANTERN workshop, helping women to celebrate the creative light within by making foraged flower crowns and getting them in touch with their inner goddess. All of this giving the participants the space & ability to choose, and create lovingly for themselves without judgement. 

Nurture Retreat - Dining table
Sonja in kitchen stirring pot.

Sonja let me photograph her in her kitchen. But this space is nothing close to ordinary. It is a room like many others, except true magic happens here. Love is infused and manifested through food. It is within this space that this inspiring woman comes alive. I felt so honoured to capture her in her blissful element. Creating wonder, stirring warmth, roasting deliciousness and folding layers of rich and light freshly whipped creme (a video included below of all said delightfulness).

Sonja's kitchen

Sonja shares what it means to truly care for herself. And how she incorporates these very meaningful practices into her life.  

"Self care means embracing it ALL. That my discomforts, fears, guts and darkness be met with acceptance and love. When that happens, it diffuses their power to run my life or keep me from my soul's purpose."

Sonja making food
Kitchen + Blackberry Pie

"I believe creativity is a way to foster this love. The relationship between myself and my darker parts must be nurtured and stoked and listened to, and I find the way has been to do the things I love, intentionally bringing them, like offerings, to the parts of me or my life I might not love yet."

Her go-tos are cooking/baking (obviously!) ....and also singing.

Roasted Coconut
Sprinkling roasted coconut onto blackberry pie

"I've folded difficult things into pie dough, or crafted lines of a song to sing like a balm to old wounds.

When the resistance inevitably showed up, I reminded myself of my intention: bring love to this! Bring love to this too! And that has been my mantra.

Since adopting this approach, I am seeing changes in my life I never imagined possible. It's what moves and motivates me to want to share this process with others."

Kitchen table + home cooked meal

Her advice?

"Start with doing something creative you know you love. Do that. Keep doing it. Follow the beauty in your life and ingest it daily, like vitamins.

Create and surround yourself with beauty intentionally in the spirit of building a foundation of lovingness that you can draw from and eventually face the unloved with it. Then, when something uncomfortable arises (and it always will - it REALLY helps to expect that), bring your chosen art to it.

Also know: that if the CONTAINER is love, then anything that happens or arises within it is acceptable to be loved. Any feeling/emotion/circumstance/instinct, etc. We can be that container, because we ARE, intrinsically, unconditionally, love."

She has another retreat coming up in the fall, just sayin!

 
Tiffany - 100 Portraits

Getting Messy ~Tiffany~

Vivian - 100 Portraits

Practicing Surrender ~Vivian~

 

 

Getting Messy

{ Portrait 45 }

I sat there on my mat with a piece of clay in my hands. Cool, but increasingly warming to my touch. My eyes closed and my mind focused on the malleable surface between my fingers. Pushing and kneading the earthen contours.

Exploring. Playing. Creating.

Like a kid again. 

Until, a tightness crept in. A presence of a voice within, constructing the end game and seeking comparison in the aim of perfection. And in turn, I found myself trying to smooth all the rough edges with an obsessive sense of judgement. Finding faults, and cracks everywhere. 

This exercise, a part of Tiffany's yoga + art therapy workshop, illuminates what happens within so many creative and human endeavours. It stops being about the joy, and the wonder and the experience.

And the simple act of creating for creation's sake. Living for living's sake. Just...being.

Instead, it starts to mirror our deeper fears, and the pressure that comes with trying to achieve perfection, or our definitions "success". 

Tiffany painting

Tiffany is an art therapist and yoga & mindfulness teacher who beautifully weaves together these two arts to create a unique healing practice that brings out the playfulness, curiosity and presence in those she teaches and works with. 

Tiffany_creating art

I asked her why she does the work that she does...

"Because everybody hurts. 

Because everybody has to face challenges in their life. Because life gets messy and the practices of yoga, mindfulness & art therapy have all helped to navigate & process difficult thoughts and feelings about challenging experiences in my life. More importantly they’ve helped me to build supportive coping practices for whenever life throws me another curve ball in the future...Which it will, because life is full of curve balls."  

"Life is full of a lot of light, joy and beauty...And sometimes you have to allow yourself to “get messy” to realize that."  

paint on hands

Tiffany finds that a great deal of the joy in her life comes from connecting with others.  And she is grateful for all of the people she's met through her work & the lessons that they have taught her. As a yoga teacher, an art therapist and a human-being, Tiffany's intention is to always to help others with whatever it is they are experiencing in their life, and to help them feel a little less alone in that experience.  

"Some of us release stress by moving our bodies, some of us gain self awareness by creating an energy scribble with a crayon, some us cope with stress by sitting still, and some of us just need to feel that we are seen and heard by another human being."

"The beauty of yoga and art therapy is that they are both supportive mindfulness-based practices that help a person to simply noticing how they are right now. From that place a person can move forward and I just simply do my best to create a safe space to hold each persons experience & process." 

Tiffany portrait

She also talks about how she connects with her well-being and her practice of self-care...

"When life gets really messy it becomes very difficult for me to practice self-care. My tendency is to keep busy by helping others in the midst of my stressful situations and this leads to me burning out. I tend to become very good at “doing” and I have felt in the past an incredible amount of guilt around making self-care a priority. This is something I’ve learned about myself over the years and something I continue to work on. For me it always comes back to setting appropriate boundaries, this includes honouring your need for self care. 

black and white paintbrush
artwork
Tiffany_yoga pose with paint brush

I think the greatest joy in my life comes from connecting with my family and close friends. Just being in their company is what makes my heart truly smile. I’ve learned that every moment is precious with those you love so I just try to soak up every moment that I can with them. This might include watching silly television shows, or cooking a yummy meal together, or walking my dog, or having a laugh attack that makes my belly hurt, or sipping a coffee in silence."

"Being with those I love & adore is the best thing for my soul."

Tiffany portrait

Tiffany is a gorgeous human being inside and out. And I was so glad to have seen her magic at work that day on the mat at 889 yoga surrounded in a sea of art supplies. I am truly inspired by her courage to take some of the hardest experiences of her life and transform them into a way to help heal and bring the joy of creating to others. She is something truly special

Tiffany Merritt | Art Therapist & Yoga Teacher

Music by ~ Odessa - I will be there

{ A big grateful thank you to 889 Yoga for letting us use their beautiful studio for our photoshoot. }

 
Vivian_dancing

Practicing Surrender ~Vivian~

Sacha Portrait

Our Sisters ~Sacha~

Stories Within

[Portrait 36]

There are so many stories inside of us. There's the ones we tell others. Polished, practiced, expected. Then there's those stories. The ones that are hard. That sit in our hearts collecting weight. The ones we hide with a layered varnish of dark paint. Afraid that if we expose the truth that we also are exposing our weakness and ugliness. Making ourselves vulnerable to the mocking and harsh judgement of our peers. Exposing all the imperfections we try so hard to keep hidden.

Last fall, I told one of these stories. One that I had let dig into my shoulders and as I carried the heavy weight with me for many years. A story I kept deep within, from a time in my life where I felt completely powerless. A failure. Ashamed. Different.

But I chose to tell it. And by doing so, I determinedly lifted away some of the heaviness, and set it on the ground. Where it could no longer pull me down with its power. 

Normale_Abby Klages

And earlier this year I saw a posting. A call for women creators and artists. A chance to tell their story and be a part of an inspiring publication celebrating and empowering other women and their industries. Giving them a voice and a platform to share a part of their work.  

I answered that call and was extremely honoured to have my piece selected for the first issue. The full published submission can be read here.

Abby Klages

Abby Klages is the creative and passionate creator behind Normale magazine. I finally got the chance to meet her at the opening night celebrating her first issue. I am truly amazed at her talent and ambition. And her way of artfully putting together a gorgeous masterpiece that lifts up the art and creations of other women. And I can't begin to describe the impact of seeing my own photographs and words in print and the delight of sharing the pages with other creative souls. 

We met again one extremely humid and hazy afternoon. It had just poured with rain, puddles scattered on the pavement as we pulled into the parking space. But as we stepped out onto the wet grass and I started taking photos, the sun started gleaming through the trees. Brilliantly illuminating not only the droplets lingering among the leaves of surrounding us, but also the subject before me. A creator herself, who perseveres towards putting her own work out into the world. 

Abby Klages Portrait

"There are so many days where I want to abandon my projects and my dream of working in a creative industry – just send my resume over to the local grocery store and that’s what I’ll do. But then there are other days where everything is going just right and you get back up on your feet and keep working towards your goal....It’s been a hell of a lot a work and some days I really feel like quitting but those days are definitely outweighed by the good days."

Abby Klages

"Just remember, not every day is going to be perfect, not everything you try is going to work out on the first go. But giving up and quitting should never be your first answer, or your second."

Normale is an independent arts and lifestyle magazine dedicated to celebrating women in creative industries. Driven to empower women and celebrate their triumphs, acknowledge their struggles, and share their stories and experiences, in order to influence and inspire others.

They aspire to give you a real representation of these creative women, through thoughtfully-curated photo series, essays, poems, interviews, illustrations and multimedia works. And aim not only to inform, but to engage, with voices that are strong, authentic, and wholly present in this ongoing discussion.


_MG_2310.jpg

       Finding Voice        ~Sherien~

Jaclyn

       Holistic Connection ~ Jaclyn ~

 

I am

{ An essay written for Issue 01 - Normale. An independent arts & lifestyle magazine dedicated to celebrating women in creative industries. }

Normale Magazine

I am a creator.

This statement. This proclamation. It’s something that I only grew to be able to say this past year. 

I was once asked recently, “What did you want to be when you grew up?”

And I said, “An artist.”

The man looked down at the camera hanging around my neck and simply replied, “Looks like you are one.”

Sometimes all it takes is a small shift in perspective to grant you liberation from the thoughts that you didn't even realize were limiting you. To let go of being someone tied to a fancy title and fitting neatly within a box that someone else has created. To feel the truth of living in your own skin. And constantly asking the question of how you want to spend your days. Actively being present, and participating in those activities that feel ripe with passion and heart. 

I love to create. When that man’s words hit me they granted with them, a freedom. A relief that lifted the heavy burden of expectation I had been carrying. The permission to create art, to do the things I truly love.

I have been creating things since my earliest of days. My love of drawing, the messy artistry of hands and brushes covered in paint and my overwhelming adoration of colour. I was told that when I as a small child, I would point to things and instead of proclaiming what they were I would call out “yellow!” or “blue!”. Which now looking back makes complete sense. But in my mind this creative love was first bridled as soon as I had to choose a direction. I remember selecting my university program because it was the most “practical” of the creative degrees I could apply for. And when toiling in the working world this view tightened even further. So closely I tied my value to that held by my job description and corresponding salary. 

And not to say these factors aren’t important to consider. I’ve worked as a public servant for the past 8 years. Safe, steady, comfortable. Something to be absolutely grateful for, and an experience that has made me who I am today. But with this recent revival of my inner artist, the way I saw my world and my work started to change. It brightened, it felt lighter & expansive, and full of colour. 

I truly believe there’s a creator in all of us and we have the ability to design our own lives. To take the canvas of our days and fill it with the colours of our own individual expression and desires. No matter what the medium. Learning to enjoy the process and putting love and thought into each brushstroke to create a masterpiece that is uniquely our own. 

The biggest motivator for me is the undeniable whisper that each moment might be our last. I want to be proud and to live a life well lived. Bountiful with memories, and filled with the truths and experiences that align with my soul. I want to look back at my last breath and see a full, colourful, beautiful and honest canvas. That isn’t necessarily perfect, or picturesque, but filled with love, hard work, and inspired living.  

I am a woman.

Last year I broke the silence on a personal truth that I had been holding tight for a long time. As a teenager I struggled deeply with my relationship with food and experienced several kinds of disordered eating. I battled with this as a young woman. Every. Single. Day. I felt the ever-present desire to feel skinnier, more attractive and desirable. This, paired with my perfectionist personality created a distorted and unhealthy view of the world and my relationships. Especially the one with myself. It felt good when my body was starving and empty. People would compliment me on how thin I looked, and it was upon these opinions which I would often place my entire value. 

And this unsteady start created a relationship with my food and my body that has taken over 10 years to repair. I still find a lot of these same negative self narratives continuing today, except now with small shifts in awareness. I’ve been able to start to redefine my own source of beauty, perfection, and acceptance. Something that I try to photograph and write about through my 100 Portraits project. 

I see these similar narratives within the women all around me. And it’s heart breaking. The pressure. The cruel inner dialogues. The restrictions and rules. The over binging. The guilt. The starvation of nutrients not only for the body, but for the soul. 

I thought that by pushing myself that I could finally fit into that desirable jean size, to get that cute boyfriend, to be happy, loveable and successful. But all that energy, all that self agonizing and hurtful destructive actions just stopped me from enjoying some of the best moments of my life.

So I’ve started making it my business to put on that bikini and jump into the water and roll with the waves at the beach. Yes. With the cellulite, with that belly that jiggles a little, with no makeup and crazy frizzy hair. Because those moments are beautiful. Our body is simply the vessel by which we are grounded in this world. A body that lets you feel the caress of the salty wind against your shoulders, allows you to see the glimmering sunlit dance on the water’s surface, and lets you walk with the tiny glorious grains of sand between your toes. 

My love for food extends deeply, beyond all these emotional struggles. As an outlet for creativity in the kitchen. Especially the act of sharing a meal and cooking for friends and loved ones. The ritual of sitting down at a table together as one. A gathering, an experience. Familiar and basic but filled with a sense of intimacy, community and sharing. I see it as the best way you can express love and caring towards another, by cooking a nourishing meal. Even (especially) if it’s a place setting for one. 

I’ve started being gentler on my body. It’s taken me all this time to truly comprehend that it’s the only one I’ve got. And to make the daily effort to treat it with the love and respect that I would my own daughter. The unconditional kind that is filled with deeper compassion and acceptance. To put myself and my body first and to invest in it’s well-being instead of it’s critical destruction. And that means finding balance. To listen less to the internal chatter and the societal pressures, and training an ear towards listening to it’s true needs. And I’m not quite there, I still have a way to go. But it’s about the intention. Constantly committing to the small actions, and decisions. Because they add up. To big things.

I am light.

I remember the moment. April 22nd of last year. I had made up my mind with a determined, wholehearted promise to myself. 

To let go of the life I was living for others. 

To free myself of the limiting beliefs that governed my time.

To redefine what was possible. 

And to decide that I, was enough.

But the journey had started long before. In the bathroom of my parents house when I purged all that I ate that day. Those mornings when I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. All those times when I was trying to keep someone close by saying all the things they wanted to hear. When I stayed at that job for 3 long years beyond the point where my heart and body could take it. And that moment where I completely broke down emotionally at the side of the road and knew something had to change. All of these moments. What started as whispers turned into screams from the universe, guided me to this culminating point.

April 22nd. A day where I cast aside the what-ifs and took my first steps towards those heart callings. Daring greatly to chase after my mission to help women with their own relationship with food, health and their body. Even though I didn’t quite know how. 

A few months earlier I had taken on the challenge of creating something for 100 days. My chosen word of the year was light, based on one question. “How do I want to feel?”. I desperately wanted to experience lightness in my heart, in how I ate, and chose to interact with my life and thoughts. I wanted to shake the darker times that I had experienced the year before and express this daily exploration through photographs. This process taught me to find light everywhere, in other people, and most importantly in myself. I was so inspired by this practice that I felt compelled to capture the radiance I saw in the women that surrounded me. To showcase what makes them shine and all the inspiring work they contribute to the world. Exploring more deeply our interactions with food, wellness and health. And how they all intermingle in a sustainable, good-for-your soul way. 

And this became the Women Creating Light project; a portrait series where I interviewed and photographed ten inspirational women. A beautiful spectrum of life coaches, cookbook authors, yoga instructors, naturopaths, holistic nutritionists among many others. And aside from all being radiant souls, I also noticed something else. That every one had their own individual struggles and yet they pushed beyond. Chased after that desire to make a difference and to live more fully.  And I was completely humbled to be able to capture their presence. Something that started as a small spark - a desire to capture light - grew into ten beautiful connections and a collection of images that would later turn into a gallery show. 

This project taught me how to get more comfortable with being open and vulnerable. When you’re so used to shielding your truest needs and showing the world the most palatable version of yourself, it’s hard to speak your truth. Every time I would publish a new part of the series I would feel a wrenching pit of nervousness in my gut. I chose to take this as a sign that I was doing something aligned with my bigger purpose, finding comfort in the uncomfortable. Bit by bit, I peeled back the layers. The beautiful parts but also the pieces I struggled most deeply with. Insecurities and second guessing, the deep fear of my words and images not being accepted, that I, with all my humanness was not enough. And by sharing these stories and photographs it allowed me to take a good look inside and find stillness in my own being.  

We are all running our own races. To compare and compete is to diminish our own story.

I choose to constantly push to grow and learn. To be a better version of myself, but at my own pace. Fighting for the same finish line as another person is just asking to be disappointed and feel as though you’ve failed. Instead I’m learning to race alone, and create my own vision of success and happiness. Which often means not always running, but also taking time to stand still. 

My greatest advice is, find joy.

Find it in your every day work. The mundane. The transitory moments. Find ways of packing more of it into your time on this earth, giving yourself permission to release those things that don’t serve you. Our canvases might not be blank, but we can choose to forgive and learn to accept the blemishes for what they are, to make our own unique and extraordinary mark on the world. And enjoy and appreciate this beautiful delicious mess we call life. 


Abby Klages

Abby Klages, the creator of Normale Magazine. A light and an inspiration. Much love for the space she has created for women's voices. Read Abby's story