“What do you really want?
Did you know that every single one of your desires is an expression of your soul’s longing to experience human life as you?
It’s true.
These pure impulses get filtered through our conditioning and show up distorted at times, but follow them back to their source and nothing you desire is anything but good and possible.”

“Your enormous soul had so many choices of who it could show up as.
It chose you.”

“Hello,” Life says, “Remember me?
We started out together here
When you were just a bundle
Of innocent amazement.
Remember how you saw the world
With nothing but wonder?
We were such rowdy playmates then.
We painted on the sky with clouds
And made magic out of
Clothespins and peanut butter.
Remember, can you, how I became stained and heavy
With trouble?
Not safe now. Lots of no.
They dressed me in painful clothes
And made you wear them, too.
You don’t recognize me, do you
But I’ve never abandoned you
Or lost my wild, happy desire
To show you
Play with you
Kiss you
Hide and seek down twisty paths
And always discover more.
Want to run away with me again?
Shall we elope without ever leaving
Because that’s possible, you know.
I’ve never been anywhere but here
Waiting for you
To remember.”

―Jacob Norby

I visited Croatia for the first time one year ago — May, to be exact — and had such an amazing time I knew I had to come back with my love. I think Dubrovnik may be one of my most favorite places in the world. It feels so old, romantic and rare, like you’ve just stepped into an old storybook.

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One more day and night here then we’re back in London!

We are raised to feel embarrassed for asking for too much, wanting more, apologizing for thinking too large–especially women. We make our wishes and our dreams smaller so we don’t make others uncomfortable.

I wasn’t raised to dream big. It was immediately pushed away as being frivolous and impossible. I spent my whole life, so far, fitting in just enough so I didn’t stand out. I spent it holding most of my dreams inside so as to not appear foolish. For making others uncomfortable.

How true is that statement: “Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle,” for they have dulled their own in fear of shining. It happens far too often and so many of us are squishing our dreams inside the deepest part of ourselves, unreleased and slowly losing shine.

Never feel ashamed for wanting, for dreaming beyond imagination. Remember, imagination is more important than observation. This is not just an open letter to you, as much as it is for me. Feel proud when you tell others what you desire. Because those who do sparkle will be attracted to yours.

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This ring is made of a london blue topaz which stands for expression, clarity, creative freedom, mainly the throat chakra, speaking up. 2 days ago the stone gently fell off onto the bed (if you look at the metal, it’s hard to believe how it broke) on the day of my birthday. It served me well and I feel it was a sign that I can do and be all those things without any help or crutch. Just me. 💙

You know when you’re walking down the street or sidewalk minding your own business and someone tells you “Smile” and you make half of an eye-contact at them, you’re thinking: 1) who the hell walks around smiling like they’re a Disneyland princess, 2) mind your own business and 3) no really, who walks around by themselves with permanent smiley face on at all times?

Well, I met Cindy traveling in Belize and she is one of those people. She walks around with her bright welcoming smile, openly tells her story and absolutely wants to know yours. She is so curious about everything and everyone and it is immediately contagious.

The more I got to know her, the more I wanted to share her story here for anyone who wants a little inspiration or just to get to know a cool person who travels and takes pictures. :)

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How did you get to where you are now? A travel photographer who travels the world. Did you just wake up and make it happen or was it a process?

It was most definitely a process! I am a firm believer in a person’s ability to re-invent herself. Sometime over and over and over again! I worked for many years after college as an outdoor guide and met myself in the wide open spaces and on the whitewater rivers. I truly loved my work and my life, but the combination of an ongoing fight with cancer, increasing pressure to get a “real job,” and a piece of me that yearned to be challenged intellectually while contributing to society in a meaningful way led me to law school. While the education was rigorous and stimulating and some of the work truly excited the part of me that thrives when called to take action, the prospect of practicing law felt constricting and there was an intuitive voice telling me it simply wasn’t the right fit for me.

In my third year of law school, I discovered photography. By the time I graduated from law school that spring, I’d decided to take the money I’d set aside for the bar exam and instead buy camera equipment! I spent the next several years building a successful wedding and portrait business. Around the same time, I was commissioned by an organization to photograph the work that they were doing in El Salvador and it rocked my world. While I’d traveled extensively around the United States and seen many of its wonders, my international experience was quite limited. That trip to El Salvador opened my eyes and I began to wonder what it might look like to seek more travel in my work. That process is still evolving, but since that first trip to El Salvador, I’ve returned there twice more, worked in Haiti, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, India, and Belize. With each trip, I am more inspired, more alive, and I feel ever more connected to the world around me, to people everywhere.

What advice do you have for people who are afraid to quit their job and go after what they truly want?

Trust yourself. Trust your gut… look hard at what you want. Is it really what you want? What are you willing to do to get there? To give up in the process? One of the most revolutionary discoveries of my life was the realization that creativity is something that a person practices. It waxes and wanes in proportion to the energy and work a person puts into it. For years I believed that creative people were simply born with a mysterious kind of talent, that it was inherent and genetic, like blue eyes or curly hair. When I started to ask questions and read more and look harder, I realized that I couldn’t find a single example of a person I considered creative who wasn’t working crazy hard to grow in their craft.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks about his early years writing in the back of his laundry room in the middle of the night after his day job and an evening of parenting. JK Rowling scribbled away and created Harry Potter despite tremendous financial struggle and being a single parent. These are people that, yes, are talented, but more than that, they were willing to give up convenience and certain comforts (often a full night’s rest!) to create, to pursue their calling. Robert M. Pirsig holds the Guinness Book of Record’s title for the most rejections (121) of what would become a best-seller for his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

It takes a lot of belief in your creation to keep going when others tell you it’s not worth it. My point here is this: you have to trust yourself to take a leap. You have to trust that you can figure out a way not to starve or become homeless in your pursuits (sometimes a creative endeavor in itself!), that your path in life isn’t defined by a single fork in the road but rather an endless series of insane intersections that will allow you to change directions at any time, that you can handle the insecurity and bumps and sometimes gigantic learning curves.

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You are a cancer survivor. How did that change your life?

I was initially diagnosed when I was in my early twenties and it changed everything. Everything. There is simply no way to continue going about day-to-day life with the same lazy assumption that I will eventually “figure it out,” that someday I will __ (fill in the blank). It’s cliché, I know, but I was confronted suddenly with the harsh reality that this– right now- is my life, and it could end at any moment without warning. It came to a head when a second round with cancer began, this time a little more serious and with more impact on my physical abilities. Suddenly unable to carry a backpack for miles (or, you know, walk to the mailbox), I simply couldn’t pursue the work I’d been doing (outdoor adventure guide) and I was deeply angry at my body for its betrayal. So I settled on law school and began making the arrangements.

During my first year of law school, cancer reared its ugly head again and it plagued me throughout the rest of school. So at exam time, I was spending much of my study time in radiology waiting rooms and talking with fellow patients facing grim prognoses. The effect of this was that, while I wanted to pass my exams and know the material, I just couldn’t quite manage to muster my classmates’ utter panic at the thought of potential failure. “But if you don’t do well enough, you won’t be able to finish!” they’d say, eyes wild with alarm, “You’re life will be over!” Except, as it turned out, it wouldn’t. I knew what over looked like. It looked like a chair in the chemo room that had been occupied a week before but was now empty. It looked like a 36 year old single mom whose double mastectomy didn’t get it all. A failed law school exam? That was pretty handle-able in the scheme of things and that attitude left a gaping divide between my classmates and myself. I wondered what that meant, and what to do with it. Law school isn’t just an educational investment, it’s a financial one. I was more than $150,000 in debt pursuing this degree, so it seemed like utter insanity to just walk away.

So I didn’t. At first.

I looked around at practice areas and found a few that could fit, that I could make work. It was in the midst of this that I bought my first-ever camera. I started to have this secret daydream about being a photographer, but it seemed so ludicrous, so completely outlandish. I wasn’t a creative person, I thought, I have no business even thinking about this. But the idea had taken hold. I started bargaining with myself, I’ll practice law for a few years and then I’ll pursue this…maybe I can practice law part time and do photography part time…maybe, maybe, maybe. I wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all the voice in my head that insisted on reminding me that later isn’t a guarantee, that someday doesn’t always happen. I’ve never wanted cancer survivor to become my identity, to become all that I saw when I looked in the mirror, to take over who I am and who I could be, but it is impossible to underestimate the tragic gift that being faced with the real possibility of imminent death can be. It doesn’t brook excuses or allow me to lie to myself for very long, it pushes truth into the light and forces me to act accordingly, whether that’s convenient or not.

You seem so open and curious to everyone and thing around you. Were you always this way or did you make a conscious decision to change?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t curious. Being curious, opening conversations, asking questions…not only have they helped me gain insight into things I never would have known or understood otherwise, but they have led to some amazing interactions and I have met some truly incredible and inspiring people. Thoreau thought that most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and maybe that’s true, but between moments of struggle, I’ve found that most people are leading complex, rich, emotional, amazing lives and have an uncanny ability to offer truth or connection or maybe just a shared laugh over a bite to eat at just the right moment. Many of my most precious memories have come directly as a result of being truly interested in knowing more about the people around me, what their story is, how they came to be in the place that I found them.

I’ve come a long way from that girl in middle school trying desperately hard to pretend she hadn’t stayed up all night reading the book assignment for class, in love with the characters and dying to talk to someone, anyone who felt as bowled over as she did! I can no longer imagine anyone I wouldn’t enjoy talking to or an opportunity to learn that I would pass up willingly!

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Cindy is a photographer, writer and soaker-inner of life who lives in Maine. Check out her writings and photography on her website.

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I just want to explore. Because those who discover every inch, crevice and piece of the world are really those who who are breathing every breath to know that every cell is a part of this universe. To know the universe is to know yourself. To know yourself is to know the universe. I am remembering. I am remembering my soul’s promise for this journey. To keep exploring the depths of the deepest shadow I have and keep finding. To remember.

Yes to every single word.

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2011 July 21 Lima, Peru

“Where are you from?” An older backpacker across from me asks with his spanish accent.

My throat is aching and I’m coughing up bits of phlegm — typical, travel small-talk is the last thing I want to do right now.

In less than forty seconds he has his laptop out, showing me his professional landscape photos and flipping through each one, naming them aloud like they are the names of his proud children.

They are beautiful but I feel a lack of enthusiasm, tired from my fever and the chilly winter weather.

“Would you like some tea? I have fresh honey with me too. I love bees.” A wide-toothed grin fills his face and he pulls out a litre size jar of honey.

I start to protest knowing that the kitchen is down the stairs but he is already up and gone in a second.

The hot tea slowly warms my body and my guard is melting away little by little.

“And you live here in Lima?” I ask.

He shakes his head with a smile. “I live here.” His arms motion over his things. “This is what I own.” I see a big backpack, an assortment of bags, a yoga mat, a Macbook, camera, a towel and boots.

He shows me more slides of his photography — each photo more majestic than the one before. Machu Picchu, sunsets over ruins, crisp enormous waves, cliffs with the view of waterfalls between giant jungles. I look at his brown, weathered skin. He must have had to hike for days just to get one of these shots.

“As long as I am healthy enough to surf, hike and take my pictures, I am happy. I like to think two minutes into my future; maybe three.”

I feel embarrassed for labeling him a backpacker — for brushing him off so quickly.

Each person has an amazing story if we choose to listen… if we choose to see them as a human being rather than the limiting roles or characters we define them as: a foreigner, a salesperson, a young teenager, an old person, a businessman, a waitress.

We miss a many opportunity when we believe and feed these false limitations. The most open thing we can do for another is to listen without feeling superior or inferior, without judgements and without our bounding opinions and labels.

He gets up, grabs a bag and his board, announcing that he’s going surfing. I thank him for the tea and silently thank him for this small, yet important lesson. As the sound of his steps become fainter and fainter, I look around, the cup warming my hands, and soak in the moment. I am here. This is where I wanted to be. Miles and miles away from home, surrounded by familiar strangers, sick with adventure and wild. I am here.

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“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter til they bloom, til you yourself burst into bloom.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Originally posted on OChristine blog.

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Four years ago, I left my life in Los Angeles and bought a one-way ticket to South America. I knew no spanish, didn’t know a soul there and had never even heard of a hostel. In five months, I volunteered in the jungle, slept in $5 a night rooms, did ayahuasca, tried guinea pig and alpaca, hiked under the stars, hitchhiked, slept on a wooden bamboo “bed,” taught a class of Peruvian children for one month, had more hangovers than I can count, got lost, kept exploring, and met so many amazing people that I still call my great friends today.

Then I came back. The universe brought me back so I could discover the loves of my life–my supportive partner, my dog and my art.

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Everyday I continue to nurture these loves, these passions. They give me inspiration, happiness and roots that ground me. They give me a place to call home.

 
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Still, my heart is a traveler’s heart. There is nothing comparable to the uncertainty, rush and curiosity of exploring a new city and a new culture! There are so many secrets waiting to be unveiled, so many paths waiting to be taken, so many treasures the universe offers to us.

 
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I don’t think that ever goes away. But now I have both. My loves and my freedom. My yin and my yang.

I’ve found my balance.

 
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More about Nikki Star: I am a writer, traveler, artist and believer of creating a beautiful life. I believe we all know more than we think we are capable of. We can be and create eternal beauty if we only allow ourselves to. You can join me on my journey at www.strippedcanvas.com. Also, find me on instagram @strippedcanvas.

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