Finding Inner Strength, Processing Love: Reflections about the Final Day of the 109 World Latvian Outreach Trip

If you’ve been keeping up with my activities this past week, you already know where I’ve been: in Latvia, on a 109 World Education social outreach trip and yoga excursion, volunteering with orphaned children. Every day I spent on the trip was meaningful and gave me new insight on my life as it stands right now, not to mention simply new insight on life in general.

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What I have noticed is that when I set intentions at the beginning of each day on the trip, I could go back and reflect on how they were each exhibited throughout my experiences. I’ve discussed the power of connection  from Friday in Latvia, and of empowerment HERE from Saturday. Moving forward into Sunday, I focused my intent on another important concept: inner strength.

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Sunday began early, like all days, with 7AM yoga led by Lara Heimann. As we all sat on our yoga mats in the conference center of the hotel, facing the window and the sun, Lara set our intention for the practice: channeling our core. She described that our core and source is what we connect to when we identify with ourselves. Which is true: the core is the center of our beings, physically and emotionally. Core strength helps with balance, consolidation, and internal security.

Balance always reminds me of my time in gymnastics. I remember the first time I realized that I could keep my balance better when I activated my core, while struggling with a skill on beam. I kept wobbling, and needed to figure out how to stay secure and steady. All other muscle groups being used, I was left with one to try: my core. And wouldn’t you know, it worked! I stopped wobbling, and learned control.

This parallels to life. When we are wobbling with our own confidence, strength, or sense of purpose, we become disconnected. Our heads and hearts begin to work disjointedly, compartmentalizing rationalization from emotion. Our actions, thoughts, and decisions lose cohesion, causing uncomfortable imbalance and insecurity. We forget that all of these separate aspects of ourselves have one thing in common: they are linked to our core. When we can reconnect to our core and make our hearts and mind in tune again, we regain our balance.

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Engaging our core is like giving ourselves an internal hug. It is like telling ourselves: “I am safe. Strong. Me.” When we learn to tune into our centers, we can consolidate our thoughts, bringing together heart and mind to uphold the utmost efficiency, and be as fully present as possible.

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Lara also mentioned another aspect of this which resonated with me. She stated that in order to be the most fully present with others as possible, we must first take care of ourselves. On so many aspects, this is incredibly difficult. I know that personally I will always put myself second to others, justifying my actions by telling myself that if I have anything to give, it should be given externally in the hopes of helping those who need it more than I do. I want more than anything to give my whole being to others. Yet the ironic thing is that I can only do this if there is enough of me to give. Like Lara said, I must take care of myself and be whole individually, so I will never run out of reserves of care for others.

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This is where I encounter one of the most difficult aspects of channeling our core: internal security. It is very easy to be confident in and encourage confidence in others, yet much more difficult to turn that inwards. Yet I do find that the more we focus on building that core strength the more our internal confidence grows. Just like in gymnastics, the more times I was able to squeeze my core and stop a wobble, the more willing I was to bring the skill to competition. The more we can learn internal consolidation in life, the more we can build internal security. Then, we can be a coach in others’ lives. We can be a better version of ourselves so we can make others better in turn.

I brought this lesson and these thoughts with me as we went to the SOS Children’s home for our last few hours with the kids in Latvia. It’s a good thing I did, because what an intense, core challenging day it was. It was so full of love, unexpected yet so genuine. So full of joy. Of truth. Of peace. Of beauty.

We arrived in the morning just like on Saturday, prepared to make the absolute most of the last day with the kids. Instead of specifically structured activities, on Sunday we instead simply took things as they came. This ended up being a fantastic approach, because each kid has their own personality and likes slightly different things anyways. I believe that supporting a child by letting them simply be themselves and follow their intuition is one of the best ways to allow them to explore their identity and potential.

From the get go, some of the kids chose to get their fabulous energy out by playing basketball and Frisbee. Some, like Leila (who you met in my last post), sat on my lap with me and a few others on the grass, playing patty cake. It touched my heart to see she still had her braids in from Saturday that I had given her. We crafted a flower crown together, Leila fetching small bluebells as I tied each together one by one. I tucked it into her hair, and she smiled her child-like smile and struck a little pose for me.

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Flower crown queen Leila

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Enjoying time in the sun

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Playing frisbee!

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That little exhibition of her inner personality reminded me of the daily intention of core connection. When the often closed doors of our hearts are unlocked, even slightly, light shines through. The more we crack the door, the more we connect to our core and regain internal strength. When Leila struck that movie star pose with just a tad bit of sass, she had a moment when she was in tune with herself. Through my encouragement, she felt safe enough to crack her heart, toughened I’m sure by the unfortunate situation she is in, and tap into pure Leila.

After that, I glanced around and all of a sudden I could see that happening everywhere, very much thanks to the support of us 109 World volunteers. There was a little girl who had stolen Soda/Lime’s camera, and at only 5 years old, she was snapping pictures like a pro, screaming “smile!” in Latvian at her subjects. I saw her and sensed a future photographer. There was a boy who I had noticed had spent the whole day seemingly distant with earbuds in his ears, until he finally shared what he had been listening to: a song he had composed and recorded himself about his girlfriend. He revealed his inner passion for composition and rap. I talked to Solvita, one of the older girls who the 109 crew already knew very well. She described how she has recently discovered her love for the countryside more than the city of Riga, and we commiserated over the current challenges of being on the job hunt. In another moment, a boy who had been mostly quiet and kept to himself playing pool surprised us all when he all of a sudden expressed his joy by imitating one of our group members, Gina, to a T and announcing “Awesome!” in English, like she often does, at whatever opportunity he could find. I had the chance to have a chat after lunch with an older boy (about 16), who told me of his passion for woodworking and hopes that one day he could live in Riga and do woodwork for a living.

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As each of these moments happened, children and teens alike were focusing not on their current situation, but instead on what their futures could hold and what roles they could play. They were glancing into their cores, and shining out from within.

After sharing our Sunday lunch of (homemade) vegetable soup topped with pesto and toasted chick peas, we cooled off inside and did more art. I began to make a collage along with several others from the 109 group and the children. We were mostly quiet, just engaging in a fun activity and soaking up each others’ presence. I knew that as each moment passed, our time with the kids was getting shorter, and it was hard to really focus, because I kept thinking about how I wanted more time than allotted. Yet, I also realized that trying to debate a futile point was not doing any good. I made a decision to change my mindset, and be more like the children around me.

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Making our soup!

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They knew just as well as I did that in an hour we would be leaving. Yet, they chose to deal with this reality not with melancholy sadness, but with a mature decision to remain solely on the present moment. The Now received the highest priority, trumping both past and present worries.

Still, the end of the day hit us hard when those 60 minutes did pass and it was time to leave. Tears sprung all around. Hugs were aplenty and thank yous were abundant. It was (and is) hard to accept that we only had a weekend with these kids to try and “make a difference” in their lives. Part of me doubts that 2 days could make that much of a dent. Yet the part of me that was physically there saw firsthand that making a difference was more than possible. Looking back, our departure itself speaks volumes about the impact we did truly have.

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Saying goodbye…a sad moment

I remember glancing around and spotting our group, mixed adults with Latvian orphans, engaging in tough goodbyes. It would have been very easy for the children to treat our group as some random people who jumped into their lives for a weekend to do some hippie art and cook vegetables with. But it was clear that we had become more than that to them. We had made a difference, and gotten through to them. I remember one of the younger boys clinging to our group photographer, Tomas, crying because he didn’t want to be separated. I remember Leila’s hand in mine and the small things she did to try and get me to stay longer, running into the house to fetch hair ties, pulling me near the grass to do cartwheels, or insisting on selfie after selfie. I can only imagine what her little mind was thinking as it schemed up hail Mary attempts to delay my exit. I remember, lastly, the final action by one of the children that solidified the fact that even in a short time we had become something with meaning to them. As our bus pulled away, I looked out the window and saw a boy chasing after us, waving. Showing our group that we did leave an impression.

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Final hugs

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Group photo

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1, 2, 3, LATVIA!

The rest of the bus ride back to Jurmala and our hotel was quiet, all of us lost in thought. After a quick pit stop in our rooms to refresh and shower, we again found ourselves back where we started the trip off: in a circle on the floor of a conference room. The only difference this time is that instead of a welcome circle, we were gathering for a closing discussion. I was extremely grateful for this, because after the experiences we shared together over the weekend, I was eager to share what came to my mind, as well as the minds of my peers.

Mirroring the first day, we shared one by one whatever we desired to about the weekend, the kids, and the trip. There was crying all around, but it was mostly tears out of the joy in knowing we had touched the hearts of the children. Sitting in that circle of amazing human beings I think made it hit home to all of us that every part of our group played a role in helping these kids, with the overall cumulative effect being magical and significant.

As we continued to work our way around the circle, love was a common theme. We reflected on how incredible it was that these kids were so willing to love, and to love fully. Despite the fact that we were complete strangers, they gave us their unconditional innocent trust from the moment they met us. They opened their hearts up to our love, and likewise gave us the love they too had. As a group we questioned: How do they do that—love so freely? It’s so incredibly hard to wrap one’s brain around this concept. If I suddenly woke up in their situation, I don’t know if I could have the resolve and bravery of these children. In discussion, we pointed out that these kids appear to have the uncanny ability to see the positive and find the silver lining of situations instead of reverting to allowing negativity to consume them.

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That mentality felt very foreign to us. We wondered: maybe that is a quality we have lost as we have outgrown childhood. But why? When do we lose the ability to always let hope trump despair? I believe that contrary to us grownups, kids have a stronger brush-it-off mentality to life. They approach situations on a fall down, pick yourself up basis. Simple. Did their fall get dirt on their clothes? Nothing a little detergent can’t handle. Did they scratch their knee? Band-Aids fix everything, and a cut won’t last forever. It will heal.

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Writing it down right now, this feels like such an easy concept. I mean, it’s logical. Why stress on the bad when the reason you tripped is simply because life is not supposed to be perfect? Falls are to be expected, if not guaranteed. The Latvian children at the orphanage have learned to brush themselves off, and rely on hope and perseverance to make it through whatever issues come their way. As adults, we should take a lesson from this.

I think that part of our role in Latvia was to just make some of these kid’s falls a little easier. We were the detergent, helping to fight that grass stain, the Band-Aid giving the cut an environment to heal in. We were shoulders to lean on, and friends to laugh with.

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We were in Latvia to simply be there for the kids

Despite this though, it still upsets me that these kids are facing their situations in the first place, and saddens me that we couldn’t simply pull them from their lives and start anew. As sensitive beings, our instincts are to reach out—to solve and fix what’s broken. I would have grabbed as many kids as I could and taken them home in a heartbeat. But I know that’s not possible, just as much as I know that wasn’t my role in coming to Latvia. In coming, our job was simply to fix on an in the moment basis. We were there to let kids simply be kids for a weekend, to not cause a dramatic life change with a snap of the fingers, but instead to begin building the foundation, brick by brick, for change to eventually occur.

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Building a foundation is so crucial

Quality over quantity was the mentality. The quantity of our time was small, but it was in focusing on the quality that we were able to touch hearts and minds. One of our group shared an analogy she has: that we leave pieces of our hearts behind with every person we meet. Knowing we could not literally steal these children away, we can rest with the fact that now, they have a little piece of each of our hearts with them. And we have pieces of theirs as well.

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Lara shared a poem that described the love we shared on the weekend perfectly. It’s by Mary Oliver, entitled “Of Love.”

 

“I have been in love more times than one,

Thank the Lord. Sometimes it was lasting

Whether active or not. Sometimes

It was all but ephemeral, maybe only

An afternoon, but not less real for that,

They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,

Or anyway beautiful people to me, of which

There are so many. You, and you, and you,

Whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe

Missed. Love, love, love, it was the

Core of my life, from which, of course, comes

The word for heart. And, oh, have I mentioned

That some of them were men and some were women

And some—now carry my revelation with you—

Were trees. Or places. Or music flying above

The names of their makers. Or clouds, or the sun

Which was the first, and the best, the most

Loyal for certain, who looked so faithfully

Into my eyes, every morning. So imagine

Such love of the world—its fervency, its shining, its

Innocence and hunger to give of itself—I imagine

This is how it began.”

 

Reading that poem again. It has even more impact than when I first heard it on Sunday afternoon. Love, love, love, the core of our lives. Our internal strength, personified in those we have “had the fortunes to meet, or maybe missed.” “You, and you, and you.” Mary Oliver also sees that we leave pieces of our heart all around. We love.

In Latvia this past week, love helped—it did make a difference, there is now no doubt in my mind. How can I be so certain? Look no further than the words of one of the kids, Ervin, who wrote in a thank you letter to 109 world: “You made me again strong.” We allowed him to reach inside and find his core, to be brave and unique and special and most importantly strong. That? That’s proof there is good in this world. That is unforgettable.

In the welcome circle on Day 1 of this trip, I remember saying that I was here (of many reasons) to simply share the love. Now, I can say that we did just that. Now go out, my friends, and share more love today and every day. The world, and the people you are around, can always use it.

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Love,

Rowena

P.S. I of course credit Soda/Lime with the vast majority of these photos! Without them, moments like they captured could never have been preserved so well.

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